Sunday, July 14, 2019

Named a Paul Harris Fellow!


This week was shaping up to be a shocker.. 6 fillings, four hours in the chair, another hour getting my ears cleaned out, 4 plumbers trying to find a leaky hot tap under the house, stood on a nail, kicked in the knee, hours writing 52 pages of content creating a course below my level of expertise (I really am clueless below year 7). Trying to get back some mojo after returning to my substantive role as 11/12 coordinator.

Well.. that turned around fast and came out of the blue.

Last year I was asked to attend one of the changeover nights with the Rotary club that partners with the school.  We've worked together over the past 5 or so years and they have done wonderful things with our kids.  I've sat in the background and helped where I can.  They're more friends that colleagues now.

The changeover night came around again and I was asked to go.  It's a small thing to attend and a fun and jovial evening.  They're genuinely nice people and it is always great to associate with them.

They asked that I speak about our Interact club with some students and the outgoing Principal (which I did with pleasure as it is a great thing) and about the other things that Rotary has done in the school.  The kids spoke well as they always do. When I had finished, they asked that I stay on stage and then the club president proceeded to name me a Paul Harris fellow for doing what I do at school.  I was presented with a badge and a medallion.

To say I was shocked was a bit of an understatement as I enable stuff, typically I don't have a lot of time to actually do stuff.  To nominate a fellow they have to donate $1000 US to their Rotary charity (which is no mean feat) for someone that turns up to their events twice a year. The people in the club that have been nominated, generally have a lifetime of service behind them.  Those wearing their medallions were generally club past presidents. I'm not even a member!

I felt a little bit of a fraud but very thankful for their thoughts and best wishes.

So there you go.. recognised for what I do with the kids.  A very cool thing and thank you Heirisson Rotary.  You have certainly put wind in my sails.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

One person can make a difference

I've had "One person can make a difference" written on my door for the last nine months.  It's a reminder that much that is done in a school starts with one person.  It's a statement supported by Hattie in his indication that teacher impact has the largest effect on student learning. My latest project shows the power of one person running with an idea.

With my current period as Deputy, returning to my role as 11/12 coordinator and with the start of a new Principal, it's important to find the next thing that keeps you motivated.  Schools aren't a place where you can rely on your line manager to identify what that might be, so it's important to be on the lookout for it.

For me, the main thing that will change is the return to the classroom for four periods a week, as I haven't taught whilst being Deputy, other than the odd bit of tutoring students that come to my office.  I've been given  a dysfunctional Maths class, the most challenging class in the school and one that needed further assistance.  I've had some practicum students who have been observing them for me and we have a great team generated and some defined outcomes that we seek to achieve.

It's something that I would suggest to any educator that has more than three years of experience.  Find a project, if one comes to an end, find another project - something that will drive your motivation and keep you engaged.  It's a great way to be noticed in the school and can create some great collaborative activities that keeps the mind working and prevents you becoming stale in your role.

Better still, if you can make something that has a lasting effect beyond your involvement.  I've been lucky to have had a few of these, maths summer school, mathematics academy, ICT committee, this blog, after school music classes, the boys group, the interact club - but I've also had my set of failures to go with them, projects that have died a slow death.   Don't become disheartened if your project does not have the take-up that you thought it would.  Be supportive of others if they are trying to get their project up and running.

This current project is a doozy though.  To think I could go in as a teacher and just fix things based on my teaching experience would be fairly egotistical and prone to failure - after all they have had an experienced teacher all year.  To succeed we need to try something different.  I've had a bee in my bonnet about "imputed disabilities" and reporting to "year level achievement standards all year".  Ann eMarie Benson at SCSA made the comment to me that if 2/3 of the students at your school cannot meet year level achievement standards, then your school is doing something wrong, and it is something that has stuck with me.  We have some intervention work to do.

I was lucky enough to do the SEN reporting at the start of the year and discovered a tool that might be able to provide the glue for the project.  Coupled with the SCSA K-10 scope and sequence document, it provided the broad brush to create IEPs for the 25 students in the class. By using PAT tests and NAPLAN results I was able to identify where the class was and with help from the Semester 1 teacher I laid out a programme of work for term three that complemented work done in Semester 1.  My practicum students observed the class over the past three weeks and collated their predominant behaviours and attention spans across different learning areas and noted in which classes they were most dysfunctional.  The school Psychologist is working closely with me for the first week to identify desired classroom behaviours.  We created seating plans and a list of desired behaviours.

Now, as I said - it is not about just going into the class and doing good teaching, they have had that.  It's about intervention, which by definition is something different.  The next step was to identify resources that were available to assist driving learning.  The school has no new resources available at this time of year (thus I'm being deployed to the class as the best available resource), I have the semester 1 teacher remaining with me, but have identified a couple of ex-students studying teaching that have agreed to come in and work.  The local university has also pledged teaching students to pop in and assist as my skills in k-7 teaching are limited and I will need to do some heavy lifting to get up to speed and assist them assist the kids.

In any success driven class we need strong feedback loops indicating the level of success achieved.  For this I have gone old school and printed A1 posters for the wall indicating each student has 14 tasks to overcome this term and bought gold circles to paste up.  Some would see this as public shaming, but the 14 tasks are individualised and noted in the IEPs - if we have set the outcomes correctly, then this could drive a little competition and could be a strong success indicator to kids.  We also used the observations done to drive classroom behaviours through a four point behaviour poster which controversially uses some negative language (the PBIS language is missing, but has been ineffectual in semester 1 anyway), it's something I will need to monitor to see if it works.  If the posters don't work - it's ok! We just rip them down.  I've put the IEP in student portfolios so that they know what we are trying to achieve - and each assessment goes in there so that it can be looked back at as a path from what they knew to what they know now.  NCCD quality teaching ideas can easily be embedded in the interventions for each student attempted by myself or associated teaching staff.  Staff from outside the class that have seen that these kids are at risk have pledged their support.  We have pens, books and other resources to limit avoidant behaviours.  They have watched me suspend students all semester - so I come in with authority, now I need to develop a caring rapport to match.

I have worked with the English HOLA and Principal to indicate that this is a model that does not have an overhead, uses resources that are available, lives with the student (SEN reports can be used and progress from 8-10) - it is a low risk project that can be supported.  I'm not sure if this is destined to be a failed project or a success - but I'm keen to attempt something that has not been successful in the past and create a new string for the school that parents and the school can crow about.  It's important that communication to parents from the beginning is strong and continuous - especially as much of the contact to date has been behaviour related and class reports were for the most part indicating limited progress and students that are behind.  Here is the potential for the school response to be vigorous and effective (and maybe even recognised as a good solution for others to model).

.. and if you have a chance to work with practicum students, do it.  Yes you will get the occasional plonker, but on the whole they can fire you up and help you achieve work you cannot do on your own.  The current pair have certainly done that and can run with an idea (and generate some great ones through observation) once it is seeded and hopefully get a good appreciation of what is possible.  Without them, we wouldn't be this far down the track without teaching a lesson. Yay!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Vocational vs career teachers

With teacher pay improving over the years, teaching is a competitive career with other professions.  A teacher can rapidly be on a six figure salary and be trained on an ongoing basis with career options going ahead.

The profession is changing from one which was fundamentally filled with vocational teachers, who entered teaching because they had a love of teaching and a desire to teach, to a profession with a mix of vocational teachers and those who enter it as a long term career, one of the few that are predicted to last for the next 20 years through technological change.

This is a not necessarily a bad thing, but it does raise a challenge for vocational teachers as they are vulnerable in the system.  By vocational teachers not targeting advancement, school run the risk of dissatisfied vocational teachers who are unaware of the gauntlet required for advancement - they will advance slower than career teachers.

For instance, a teacher focuses on their student cohorts and their craft.  Over many years they become a passionate and great classroom teacher.  They see a career teacher that is not as good a teacher, does not understand the craft required to become truly great at what they do but that has targeted the KPIs that are required for advancement.  The career teacher can talk eduspeak, self promote actively, are involved in projects that meet STAR objectives, actively seek promotional positions, understand how to write a CV and answer interview questions, have been at multiple schools over a short period - burn bright but over short periods.  Once the balance tips towards career teachers (are we there now? Panel training indicates we are!), this becomes the model for advancement.

The question I ask myself is does this help kids get better in classes?  Does this promote better mentoring of young teachers?

There's a little voice in the back of my head that says - "yep, but vocational teachers, the passionate ones can also be the flaky, argumentative, the most painful teachers to manage as they are needy and require constant guidance compared to the focused teachers on career progression."  And I hear you little voice, but when I look at exceptional student outcomes, being 50% in doesn't cut it compared to what some of these teachers can achieve.  An evidence base shows this over and over again.

Are we, by encouraging a career based approach, turning our vocational teachers away from their passionate, "this is my life", approach towards a more career based (I do this for the wage and the six hour day) sustainable and minimal intervention approach because it is easier to manage and less likely to cause management pain, even if the evidence shows that it has lower student outcomes?

If this is the case, and to a lesser or greater degree I believe it is,  we need to re-evaluate how we remunerate teachers and the merit system that in its current form is encouraging a change to a career workforce rather than a vocational one and that where career satisfaction is through advancement, not through student achievement.  A teacher for life, cared for by the system, developing their skills, recognised by the community for what they can do, moving passionately with changes in pedagogy required and realising that they are blessed for being involved with a system that guides our youth not for the career progression that they are not getting.

How to get teaching to that point is an interesting intellectual question.