Sunday, December 29, 2019

Three Games - Machi Koro, My First Carcassonne and Arkham Horror 3rd Ed

Machi Koro (G Rated)

I played this with my 10 year old and her grandparents.  A simple card game where you build a city engine that is run by dice.  Easy to learn and quick to play although it does have a finite life as it does get samey after a few plays.  Don't let the name fool you, it's all in easy to read English. A four player game that could definitely work in the classroom as it should play under an hour.

A couple of take-that elements to teach resilience and gamesmanship, some text and literacy, some optimisation and a little strategy.

Recommended for early to late teens.

Found online, at stores like Gamesworld or your local friendly hobby store.

My First Carcassonne (G rated)

I'm playing this with my 7 year old.  It's a tile laying game with some counting, network laying, creation of closed networks and simple optimisation strategies.  5-10 minutes long.  She often wants to play 3-4 games.  No literacy skills required.  Nice big chunky meeple.

She can now beat me reliably using basic strategies and is ready to move to full Carcassonne.  It was a great way to get her to want to play games (the harder games turned her off playing).

Recommended for getting young children interested in play based learning.

Reasonably easily located online (try Milsims, gamesEmpire or eBay).

Arkham Horror 3rd edition (M15+ Rated)

I'm playing this with my wife.  The game drips with theme and lots of text.  Takes 1.5 - 2hrs to play which limits its use in school unless able to leave setup over multiple days in a safe location.  Lots of bits and takes ages to set up and take down.  Would need to know the game thoroughly and enjoy it to play with high school age students.

Although the occult theme is attractive to students, parents may not be happy with the theme.  Be best checking first.  It's not gruesome or sex filled, but has demons, spells and the like.  If you are familiar with HP Lovecraft, it's based in the C'thulu mythos.

The game is really good and quick to learn for all its complexity. The mechanics and bits everywhere look great on the table but do overwhelm the gameplay from time to time, but with familiarity, it will hopefully become less overwhelming- especially during the mythos phase.

I'm not sure if I prefer this edition or the 2nd edition but given the old edition is getting hard to find, I'd stick with the new edition as new expansions are likely. 

From a learning perspective, it has a high literacy component, potential for roleplay, lots of instructional text, an algorithmic approach to turns and optimisation in managing the various aspects of play to solve the mystery before becoming overwhelmed by the mythic creatures.  Online tutorials such as Beccy Scott can be a great way to learn the game.

Recommended to play with your own teenage kids or your partner.

Found online, at stores like Gamesworld or your local friendly hobby store.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Writing an application - unwritten rules

To begin with, I think it is awful that we have a process where it is considered ok to have unwritten rules.  Thankfully there are schools that still have fair processes, but, as predicted many years ago, the  rise of independent public schools has resulted in unfair practices (processes that meet PSC guidelines in a limited fashion).

There are a number of unwritten rules that lead to some staff getting interviews and others not, purely on the way selection criteria/CV's are constructed and subsequently read.  The information on the jobsWA website on each application is very limited compared to what is actually being done to get roles.

The first unwritten rule is (to my mind) the most unfair.  The buzz term in resourcing schools is 'projection' into the role.  Projection requires you to answer questions as if you were in the role.  I'm not sure how this meets the Equity or Merit criteria for applications as it gives an unfair advantage to the incumbent and tells you little about what they have done (only what they would do based on model answers).  Some would say this is fair as having knowledge of the context is a part of assessing an applicant, but that could be taken into account in their interview answers. By limiting answers in selection criteria to "projecting" and not "actual experience" in roles that may deviate from the requirements of the role, it diminishes the value of a person with diverse experience and agility to move with requirements. It rewards responses with maintenance of the status quo through private knowledge, current unwritten objectives and agreement with existing practices.

The second unwritten rule is to abide by the word limit.  The word limit rewards someone with intimate knowledge of the school as they can be concise in answering questions in a way that solves problems within the school through projection.  It is harder as a non incumbent (an equity issue again) to identify what would meet school requirements thus requires further explanation to scatter gun what is required.

The third unwritten rule is to write SAO's or some other version of situation/action/outcome.  They are typically wordy and you are not sure which SAO will meet school requirements.  Be too specific and it looks like you have limited experience, be too general and you are not indicating how you solved the problem. Have too many and you have issues with the second rule.

The fourth unwritten rule is you can't expect inference from the CV.  An extreme example would be answering a leadership question in the selection criteria and not discussing chairing the curriculum team because it was not specific to the SAO used.  Some panels will not infer your experience from your CV if it is not specifically in the selection criteria.  A lack of inference (checked at interview) is being addressed at panel training, but is still common practice in schools.

The fifth unwritten rule is to make it as easy as possible for the panel to identify you as a worthy candidate.  Do not use a lot of bold, but bolding where you are attempting to meet selection criteria makes it easier for the panel to see that you have met the criteria (or attempted to answer the question).

"As a leader in the school, it was required ...", "In addressing financial requirements ..."

The sixth unwritten rule is not to read from your notes at interview.  I learned this at my last two wins and am not sure this is a universal rule.  In each case I had the questions in front of me (and only the questions), brought a bundle of notes (that I did not look at, but did review prior to the interview) and attempted to project how the panel would interact with me if I was in the job.

The seventh unwritten rule is that typically the panel will not talk to you during the interview other than to read the questions.  This may be an attempt to maintain a level playing field, but makes it difficult to know if you are answering the question.  Look for when they go to write something as this can be an indication you are on the right track.  A good teacher engages in conversations with students to create a rapport, for many of us, a one sided conversation is not natural and can diminish the ranking of an applicant.  It requires practice.  It's an odd way to assess cultural fit, to my mind the most important part of the interview process.

The eighth unwritten rule is to call the school before the selection criteria to get extra information.  WTF.  This practice is not universal (try taking calls from 90 applicants) but more common in leadership positions.  The couple of times I did it, I was asked what did I want to know? (I don't know what I don't know), or given general information that I could read online.  It felt like an imposition and I stopped doing it.  I think this is done to overcome the Equity issues outlined above with projection requirements but is commonly given advice in feedback.

The ninth unwritten rule is to call for feedback.  Do this.  Some people are wonderful at this and already have it prepared for you as it is a very common practice.  Assess what they say and amend your application.

The tenth unwritten rule is to get assistance writing your application.  Sadly the process is often the best applications get the interview and subsequently the best applicants do not get the job.  After all, good teachers stay put and do not job hop, thus do not have a lot of experience in application writing. Your only hope of avoiding "learning the required way to construct an application by trial and error", is to find someone that has recently managed to navigate the system. Find a recent "successful" applicant - say in the last 6 months and get them to read your application. Get their application to model from.

The eleventh unwritten rule is that if timelines are short, it is likely the school is wanting the incumbent and seeks to limit the time available for other applicants to tailor their selection criteria.  Prioritise the jobs with longer timeframes (if possible) or have an absolute standout and matched application ready for common positions (LA teacher, HOLA, SS, Deputy) for specific contexts (disadvantaged, LSC, high performance etc).  If you win, be prepared to have a disgruntled staff member that may have been promised the position, but the risk of appeal was too high to give them the position.

The twelfth unwritten rule is to let it be known to safe leaders that you are seeking another position and to keep an ear out for you.  Leaders talk and can put a good word in for you.  In many cases they will be asked about you off the record and be able to assess you against other candidates. Pick your time for leaving in advance, so that you leave on good terms (not just leaving because you hate everything and are discontent with the profession) and these references show you in the best light.  I don't know why performance management records are not available during reference checks - it's likely to avoid union issues and potential for bullying, but would make the process fairer if done properly as it would give an indication of your performance over time.

The last rule is a written rule but one worth keeping in mind.  Do your basic research and as with any job, tailor your selection criteria to it.  The Business Plan (school website), Annual Report (schools online website), school demographics and comparison data with your current school (mySchools website) have information that provides feedback on how your experience aligns with school requirements.  This is not projection, (where you are required to interpret this information and apply it in the new context - which biases the process), but allows you to identify what experiences you have may apply in your new context and outline those to put you in the best light.  Also if you are a grad, get into the grad pool.  No I mean it, do it now, it's a palaver but we are looking for you.

Not doing these things means that you have to hope that the school you are applying to runs a fair panel.  I've been lucky as the unwritten rules leave a bad taste in my mouth (leading to me trying to buck the system and write applications that allow the reader to see if I am a potential match from what I have done rather than construct a matchy application that may stretch the truth) and I am a big fan of centralised staffing (despite the inherent weaknesses of centralisation) as practices such as those above, to my mind, are counter productive and could be relatively easily overcome using performance data instead.

Good luck and I hope this helps.

Ps: Here's an earlier post after my last interview process in 2012.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

So what comes next?

Career management is an interesting problem in education.  Back in the day, a five year plan was probably sufficient to guide a young teacher through the first steps in education.

Year 1 - survival.  It doesn't matter that you are doing long hours and are losing the will to live.  Find a good mentor.  Talk about your issues.  As the new cab off the rank, your classes are likely to suck and will be a mishmash of whatever the grid throws at you.  Don't complain.  Don't overcomplicate it.    The classes you've been given are impossible to manage properly so use every trick you can think of to connect with the students and stop them piling out the door and annoying student services.  Get on a CMIS Course and learn some low key strategies. Bubble with enthusiasm.  If the year was too traumatic and you caused too much chaos, quickly move to another school and don't make so many mistakes this time.  Resist the urge to relief teach unless you can't get a proper gig.

Year 2 - critical times.  Classroom management should now be in order.  If you haven't managed to annoy anyone, they should be feeling sorry for you after the horror story you were dealt in your first year.  With slightly better classes, start to get your resources in order and start understanding how content fits together.  Your eyes will be sunken into your face and you will look slightly haggard, that sinking feeling that you made a mistake and teaching isn't what you thought it would be will occur.  This is the hump.  Embrace it.. generally speaking it gets better from here, Year 3 will be easier.

Year 3 - content mastery.  If you are finally teaching the same class twice, you will be starting to see how the content fits together in a way teachable to your kids.  There will be bad days when you just want to do your job but the kids will just not do what they should.  Little buggers.  Now that you've been deemed competent, the evil bastard doing timetabling will give you a horror mix of classes.  You will laugh in his/her face and get through the year with a semblance of sanity remaining and possibly looking ten years older than you are.  All those people that told you year 3 was easier are also evil lying bastards.

Year 4 - What the F%$4 happened.  This is when you look back and can't remember the names of students from year 1 but things are looking up. Those evil lying bastards knew something that you didn't know. Something clicks and you realise that teaching is a bit formulaic after you have content and behaviour mastery and you can start doing things you had hoped possible in your first year.  A smile returns to your face (though it possibly cracks when you try for the first time in four years).  Understand where you sit in the queue of better classes / opportunities at the school.  Don't get sad if someone else gets something you want, just figure out how they did it and be ready for the next one.  If you haven't already, start asking for that ATAR class.  If that evil lying bastard is around, thank them for guiding you and ensuring that you are ok.

Year 5 - Get Out. If you are still in the same place, get your butt into application mode and seek a school with better conditions than the one you are in.  Get your resume and CV done.  Get involved in the 'write your selection criteria' meetings with Exec.  Understand what opportunities that exist that float your boat.  By doing this, the school sees potential and one of two things happen - either promotional opportunities occur locally, or you take all your new found skills elsewhere and start again on the same cycle (though hopefully shorter).  Check to see if that evil lying bastard is willing to referee for you and will tell others how you are the best thing that ever happened to the education system; hopefully they are your line manager.  Year 5 is the critical step for career progression, it refreshes your enthusiasm, provides challenge and is the basis of any 5 year plan.

Years 6-10.  Look at what you want to do next and start doing it in your current role.  Aspire to HOLA?  Work on programmes and get a place on the curriculum committee.  Take a praccie and practice those management skills.  Join the social, board or ball committee.  Be active and gather more advocates for your career.  Don't sit back and wait for it to happen.  Volunteer for that two week role, lead the student council, anything that makes that CV align with your next chosen role.  Do some interviews, get interview skills and your CV right.   Your first interview is likely to suck. You won't be ready for that role you really want if you don't do the hard work early.  Don't get stuck in a school unless there are serious opportunities for progression.  It's harder than Year 2 but more rewarding at times.  Beware giving up teaching student time (it's an easy trap to fall into) - it's the buzz in teaching, without it, you can start again to wonder where the satisfaction is, even if it is a bit easier.  Students may make your hair flame in burning angst but they are also why we enter into this thing.

After that you'll have to ask someone that has successfully navigated it.  I'm still figuring it out too, although on a fairly accelerated trajectory. Have fun!