Thursday, July 22, 2021

New Term blues

I try not to take a term for granted.  Teaching children is a privilege I may not always be capable of delivering to the level required.  13 years of each term - am I going to make it to the next term - am I good enough to do this well?  Should I hand it over to someone more capable?  At the end of each term, a sense of relief, but we can feel tired and a bit jaded.  The first week of a break is recovery and recharging the battery during the second week starts the readiness process for the following term.

Ego usually kicks in and says "yes I am more than good enough/ready", but not always.  It only takes a bad result or a poorly handled situation to start that internal conversation of have I been promoted beyond my ability and I should I step aside for someone that has more natural ability and doesn't have to work as hard to get similar results. 

It's a rare term when I return after a break and think - I'm ready and let's get into it.  It's usually a mix of trepidation, knowledge of what needs to be done and concern about what could arise as we enter the door.  This can reduce the enthusiasm that needs to be present at the start of each term after a break.  I'm mindful of the blues as it can infect a team with negativity and reduce it's ability to be flexible and agile but this anxiety is also what leads to high performance!

Term 3 is a pressure cooker and week 8 is the most difficult week of the year - a time when the pressure is at its worst - ATAR, grumpy kids, assessment due.  Teachers start thinking that being promoted or seeking greener pastures is preferable to increasing demands and behavioural concerns.  The silly season starts with a merry go round of teachers changing between roles and schools.  With these changes comes more pressure on leaders to keep teachers in front of classrooms and maintaining delivery standards.  It's no wonder that leaders at the start of the term can have a few more wrinkles than before the holidays.

The main message here is that even the most outwardly confident leaders have doubts about the direction they are taking, can lack confidence and are constantly reviewing how they should deliver.  As much as they are trying to support you, they need to know that you believe in what they are trying to achieve and require this belief to make things happen.  This is true from mentoring a peer all the way up to the Principal.

Any change a leader does is bound to upset someone - getting everyone to agree is a difficult/pointless task as it often leads to "good enough solutions" rather than optimal ones, the compromises required to make everyone happy negate the benefits sought (and the change is often better abandoned than pursued).  The pursuit of a goal can stress the belief in a leader when the status quo requires less work than the improvement sought, a status quo likely gained as it made life easier for teachers but is not in the best interest of students.

Thank goodness that HOLAs still teach - without the positive feedback from students it is sometimes a  thankless task.  

Friday, July 2, 2021

Screencasting, blended and flipped classrooms

Blended classrooms and flipped classrooms were quite the fad for a time.  I've had a bash at both and find blended classrooms to be vastly superior to flipped classrooms, with neither more effective than standard classroom teaching with a whiteboard and text.  My interest has always been in underperforming students and ICT is one of the tools I use with them, typically not exclusively but as a part of a bigger solution and generally not for initial instruction. 

Where technology replaces a teacher, it usually fails abysmally to overcome engagement, gaps in learning and pastoral care issues that are the bread and butter of today's classroom.  

Despite this, I have produced over 200 5 to 10 minute videos over the last two years for students. Each might get watched 8-10 times per year. Speaking with a local publisher that came to visit, he asked why bother?  There are hundreds of teachers producing resources and few being utilised, where is the return for effort?  I didn't argue, but did smile.  I think on this I have cracked how this IT malarky is useful in the classroom.  It's not rocket science but has taken 13 years to realise.

Let me make this clear.  As the main teaching tool, first point of introduction to a topic, generally speaking, a video is a poor teaching tool.  For disengaged or students that lack the ability to learn independently, it is useless.  In both of these cases, intervention is required by the teacher to engage students before any meaningful learning can occur.

What it can do is address many of the secondary issues faced in a classroom and promote higher levels of success.

- Students that are absent due to illness have access to the learning for the day
- Students can use it as a revision tool prior to assessment
- Students can use it to revisit the material taught and gain depth to their understanding by re-examining difficult parts
- It extends the reach of a classroom by providing assistance outside of class time
- It improves my teaching as I have to think prior to presenting to the class how I wish to introduce the topic
- It can assist me recall from year to year how to best teach a topic

- It provides feedback on parts of the course students are finding difficult (more students tend to watch)
- It provides an avenue for having a second crack at teaching a concept when I haven't connected fully during class
- It provides avenues for discussion about how I teach and how a topic can be taught (particularly useful for working with new teachers)

- The assistance given to students is in the form that I teach (as opposed to tools produced by others) and in the form I will later assess to the level required by the WA Syllabus.

- Parents access the videos to ensure they are teaching using the method required to the level required.
- It is another avenue to show that I care about my students.
- It is an opportunity to revisit syllabus dot points 
- It removes student excuses for not completing or understanding work.

- It actively, repeatedly models how to deconstruct a text and use a worked example.


Addressing the publishers issue, if a video takes 10-15 minutes to create and only 8-10 students look at it,  it is a good use of time.  With 200 videos available, that's 800 individual interventions that would not have occurred otherwise.  Each successful intervention raises confidence and reduces disengagement (which can be important with students on the edge of disengagement).  

Intervention one on one during lunch time is a more common intervention, but much less efficient.  Even every lunch, 50 per term would only be 200 interventions.  If the recordings are utilised for more than one year that could double or triple their effectiveness.

It's important to realise that I say to students that they do not have to watch them (unless under covid lockdown and it is the only teaching instruction available from me) and they do not include all that is taught in class - it is a support for them, not a way for me to get out of teaching (avoiding the complaints being made about universities).

If you would like to see some of the work I have done, it's all on Youtube here and some on Prezi from the link on the right from a long time ago before my interval in admin.


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Assessment and retention

 For many years schools ran to a basic formula:

1. Set Programme based on Syllabus

2. Teach

3. Revise

4. Test 

5. Correct major issues (repeat 2,3,4,5 for each topic)

6. Exam 

7. Grade students to normalised performance (repeat 2,3,4,5,6,7 for each semester)

The major issue with this approach was that the level of students on entry was not evaluated, grades were based on cohort performance, delivery was more important than learning and student anxiety for high stakes testing impacted on health and student performance.


This process changed during outcomes based education to:

1. Diagnose level of students using existing grades and standardised testing

2. Set Programme based on evidence

3. Teach

4. Check level of understanding through formative assessment

5. Revise

6. Perform summative assessment  using appropriate assessment technique  

7. Correct major issues (repeat 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 for each topic)  

8. Grade students to developmental continuum (repeat 2,3,4,5,6,7 for each semester)

The issue with this approach is that the requirement to follow the Syllabus is not clear and the overhead for meeting the needs of every student is higher.  Schools can deviate significantly from the intended curriculum and grading can become difficult as what is being taught in each school is different, as is interpretation of the developmental continuum.


This process changed during the A-E standardised grading period (Australian Curriculum) to:

1. Set Programme based on Syllabus.

2. Diagnose level of students using existing grades and standardised testing

3. Set level of delivery based on evidence gathered

4. Teach

5. Check level of understanding through formative assessment

6. Revise

7. Perform summative assessment using appropriate assessment technique  

8. Correct major issues (repeat 2,3,4,5,6,7,8 for each topic)  

9. Grade students using on grade related descriptors based on their predicted end of year performance (repeat 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 for each semester)

During this iteration, teaching to the test became prevalent as the need for retention reduced without exams.  Over time, without retention, the level of learning decreased resulting in increasing levels of failing students by Year 10.  The standard set for each year level was unable to be achieved for large numbers of students increasing levels of anxiety as they encountered increasing levels of failure.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Lockdown and education

With four days of an 11 day term remaining, teachers are crawling to the finishing line.  Kids and staff are ratty and tired. Parents in the northern suburbs will be keeping students home for fear of getting the Delta strain and students will be looking forward to a break from the hum drum of school.

It would be nice if teachers were given the same status as other essential workers if we are required to work together in a Covid high risk area with little ones with limited hygeine skills.  Given we support those that are essential services (that can't operate without us) makes us essential services too?

With 50% of students at school, whatever is being taught has to either be retaught, create gaps or be revision.  It's not really very effective learning.

Mark McGowan is the people's premier.  Given the current questioning of why schools are open, it would be expected that he closes them in the next day or two.   It wasn't taken well that schools were kept open purely for essential services and not because children require an education or that education is valued by society!

The pressure on some teachers at the moment is considerable and should not be underestimated. Fear of covid has clear and observable effects on teaching staff, especially those that are also caring for elderly and are not vaccinated.

The vaccine rollout is currently slow due to fears of vaccine side effects (both Pfizer and Astra Zenica) and due to availability of vaccines.  


The next few days should be an interesting time again.  Bring on the break to reset everything again.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Reporting, Pathways and Streaming

Students are commonly placed in Pathways in schools commonly known as streams.  These streams set the level of teaching to ensure students are successful at the work that they attempt.  One class may focus more on the higher conceptual ideas leading to higher grades and other may focus on lower ability work.   All from the same year level syllabus, just at different difficulty levels. 

Students that succeed at a high level in their Pathway are given the option of promotion to a higher class and those underperforming are placed into a class where they are more likely to find success.

Many considerations are made when examining Pathway changes:

  • Whether swaps are available to maintain classroom size (and would also benefit from change)
  • Maximum class size restrictions
  • Content being delivered (where courses are not aligned)
  • Gender balance
  • Pastoral care
  • Reporting periods
  • Student aspirations
  • Demand for seats (whether other students are seeking the place in the class desired)

Reporting plays a large part in deciding who may be moved between Pathways.  An evidence base is required before a student is moved.  Once identified, success of the student in the new pathway is influenced by the preparation done by the recommending teacher prior to the move.  This would normally involve:

  • Warning guardians and student that a move is imminent without improvement 6-8 weeks before the move.
  • Talking to the parent about the need for the move when the decision has been made
  • Discussing with the student what would be required to return to the class if desired
  • Examining the impact on aspiration and possible grades of the move
  • Identifying the difference in expected behaviour/work ethic required in new Pathway
  • Discussing that the first 4-5 weeks to be difficult during transition
  • The student discussing expectations with the new teacher
  • Indicating the required classroom behaviours and study habits
  • Introducing the student to the new teacher

Where this has not been done, it can cause considerable additional difficulty, angst, anxiety and resistance to the Pathway move, instead of relief or welcoming of a new challenge.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Self Sabotaging or inhibiting your career in Education

Self sabotaging is something I've watched a lot in education, it can be devastating to a career.  Self sabotaging is doing things that will inhibit your progression as a teacher or administrator.  One of the self sabotaging criteria is underperformance and a lack of reflective practice. This is at the heart of doing things that are the opposite of what is desired as a teacher or administrator.

Signs that a teacher is underperforming:

- Hiding performance / resisting transparency measures

- Student performance is lower than standardised metrics or moderated results with other classes

- Attempting to deflect/criticise/identify/draw attention to other teachers that may also be underperforming

- A lack of self reflection / lack of evidence that underperformance is being addressed

- An inability/unwillingness to collaborate effectively with all members of the team

- Student/Parent complaints

- Requests for others to do their work or be paid extra for work that is part of their job description

- Unwillingness to contribute outside of 8.30 to 3.00 

- Requirements for admin to regularly intercede due to conflict 

- Lack of modification of identified undesirable behaviours

- actively seek to avoid classroom teaching

- personalising criticism rather than seeking to address an issue

- Fear and discipline is the main motivator to encourage learning

If someone is seeking promotion to HOLA, Student Services or Administration they need to have support that they have the ability to perform in that role and evidence that they have recently performed in that role.  Staff don't often realise that when a leader is requested for a recommendation they cannot over inflate the negative and need to identify what they can do as well as any weaknesses.  All staff have weaknesses that can be addressed over time.  That notwithstanding, underperforming staff seeking promotion are typically unable to show the qualities that would make them competitive for promotion and have some of the following qualities:

Signs of self sabotaging:

- Alienating those whose support is required for promotion

- Creating factions seeking to undermine initiatives to improve student performance 

- Promoting the good old days without promoting the changes that have been successful 

- Being inflexible / cantankerous / obstinant / passive aggressive / passive defiant / avoidant

- inflated opinion of ability

- Not seeking or taking opportunities to display skills and attributes

- low self esteem (depression) / highly inflated self esteem (narcissism) 

- are not clear about their career aspirations

- have not sought assistance with their application / have attracted few mentors

- Seeking to get their own way by "bullying", aggressive or emotional language

These behaviours need to be discouraged as they are not good for the health of the organisation, or the person exhibiting these behaviours as they will often be unaware of why they are not getting the recognition or promotion they believe they deserve.

Bullying is an important one. In today's society no-one should promote someone known for bullying.   This is an absolute headache for admin as a bully will create work for those working around them for the sake of "efficiency" benefits that rarely exist or put people down to raise their own self esteem causing anxiety, low morale and turnover of staff.

Good leadership requires making it clear what desirable and undesirable behaviours are and providing a clear organisational vision. Management is required for compliance issues, where leading staff willingly fails and/or where corrective instruction is required.  Leadership tends to focus on macro decisions regarding the pathway of a faculty (relying on professionalism to interpret correctly the direction given), "micro" management should be minimised to what is absolutely necessary to get a person to fulfil their responsibilities.

Unmanageable staff need to either be limited in scope (typically because they are highly functional in a subset of roles needed by an organisation) and/or be informed that their behaviours are unacceptable, informed as to why, the possible consequences of these behaviours and given a period of time to rectify their behaviour. It should be clear that Management is not bullying, but management should be underpinned by an evidence base, clear communication or an instruction from higher in management.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Covid and Good Enough Teaching

I was talking with a colleague on Friday and conversation returned to online education.  The premise was if online teaching was good enough and more cost effective than online delivery, would schools move to online delivery for students in courses where it was reasonably effective.

The hypothesis was that is is possible for a highly skilled teacher (top 10% of teachers skilled in delivering the course) to deliver highly effective content for a Methods course to a large number of students (>1000).  If this was possible, it would have the potential to reduce costs significantly, as the IT infrastructure has already been significantly implemented (and tested during Covid) and face-to-face teachers would not be required.  If each class is about 20 students, that's 50 teachers at $24000 per year, $1.2 million dollars.  If a fifth of that was allocated to online tutors and markers, that's still a saving of about 1 million dollars.  Where schools are struggling to run small courses and SCSA prevents mixed year classes - this could be a godsend.  Schools wouldn't even run classrooms, just timetable time for students to be at home working.  After the content was created it could be re-run year after year.  This is already happening in University mathematics courses.

My colleague took this further and said that the online course would deliver better instructional content than current classrooms in face-to-face mode.  Information could be standardised more easily to the intent of syllabus writers, typically teachers delivering courses face-to-face are not in the highly skilled category, teachers have competing demands in different courses and may have issues impacting on performance from outside the classroom.

Theoretically we could run schools in an online/offline more, where students come to school for socialisation, tutoring and assessment and stay at home for the rest of the time learning online.  Content would be superior and the teaching environment could be better utilised in a cheaper "good enough" solution - the ultimate aim of any bean counter.  Schools could support a greater number of students and become much more efficient delivering content.

Could a compromise be that all ATAR courses be delivered online/offline and students only attend schools 2.5 days per week?

The obvious counter to all of this is that not all high school students are motivated enough to work online for a long period, schools do more than deliver content, context and socio-economic factors impact implementation and research is required to analyse how students impacted by covid perform at University and other higher learning online. 

Education has not evolved for 100 years and is predominantly still delivered in the same mode despite significant changes in technology.  Education appears to be on the precipice of a technology disruption.  Will we too be the victims of automation, or will we navigate it somehow to continue to be an integral part of society?

Sunday, April 4, 2021

The bucket

Alan Hughes (Level 9 HOLA) introduced me to the idea of the bucket.  The bucket represents the resilience of a student.  Each time a student offers an answer and gets a negative response (laughing, teasing, being wrong) they lose a little of themselves out of the bucket.  If they get a positive response, the bucket starts to fill again.

As the bucket gets more and more depleted, they get more unwilling to put themselves out there.  When it is near the bottom, they will protect what is left by refusing to answer, refusing to try, being defiant and protective of what little self esteem they have left in the bucket.  Adolescence is a difficult time, between hormones, increasing academic ability, fragile confidence, peer issues, seeking independence and protective parents, a lot is drawing out of the bucket.

It is important to ensure that students never reach the point of protecting themselves.  The bucket should be overflowing with enthusiasm with opportunities to build self confidence - not everyone outside of the classroom will understand that this is important or why you are working with this student.  It starts with a welcome, hello and something positive that they can contribute.  

When a child has little in the bucket it is important to provide opportunities to refill it before it reaches the point of self protection.

When a child is at the point of self protection, a caring person will let them know it is ok and help them refill the bucket - preferably assisting with diminishing demands on the bucket from outside the classroom.

Since it was first introduced to me, I have appreciated the bucket analogy and it assists in understanding why Alan is such a great person and teacher.  He lives the analogy and has assisted many students refill the bucket.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Performance Anxiety and measures of success

Anxiety is a two edged sword.  Can't perform without it, can't perform with too much of it.

Understanding how success impacts anxiety is an important part of the performance anxiety picture.  Where we set the bar for students is important as it provides them with what sort of performance constitutes success.

One measure of success is achievement - this is where a student is able to do something expected at a prescribed point in time.  A student that can write their name consistently is an achievement in pre-primary, but an area of concern if they were still trying to do this in Year 4.

Another measure of success is progress - this is where a student is able to do something later that they could not do at a previous point in time.  A student that could not tell the time in Year 6, but can do so in Year 7 is an indicator of progress.

A third measure of success is a normalised ranking.  With normalised ranking, a student is doing better compared to their peers longitudinally over a period of time.  A student was 5th in the class for spelling in test 1, was 1st in test 2 and consistently in the top 10 for the year.  Achievement is measured for each test, progress is monitored as they move up and down the class ranking.

Traditionally schools have used normalised ranking to give students feedback as to how they are progressing towards year level achievement standards.  This allows students to feel successful as they measure themselves against peers and do better or worse dependent on effort (something that they can control).  Whether a child is meeting the Year level achievement standard is irrelevant as long as they are making progress with their peers. 

Movement to a national achievement standard changed this to having an achievement focus, and as consequence a large group of students now encounter constant failure with D/E grades.  In extreme circumstances, students would also face failing "assessment after assessment" being measured against grading standards that they had no ability to reach, to support the awarding of D/E grades.

This focus on achievement rather than progress increased performance anxiety and is currently at epidemic levels in schools.  Success lowers performance anxiety and anxiousness caused by the fear of failure.  If students only face constant failure then anxiety will rise to unbearable levels preventing progress.  An outlet is needed for anxiety to be released.  This is where we are today and it will take academics to prove this true with the benefit of hindsight.  

Should we set student success to be:

- achievement of excellence (eg. through a focus on Year level Achievement Standards);
- progress (eg. improvement in skills over time); or
- ranking (eg. position in a class of similar students).

Should we frame this within an understanding of:

- Constantly seeking excellence (with an understanding that the bar moves with the definition of developmental "excellence");
- Always doing your best (with an understanding that continuous effort is required); or
- Putting in the effort where required (with an understanding that you can only do what you can do and develop reserves where possible).


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Closing the gap in student performance

 


The blue graph represents a learning curve of an average student
The red graph represents a learning curve of a student that has fallen behind
The gap between A and B / C and D represents how the gap grows between two students over time.

If nothing is done, the red student falls further and further behind the blue student.

To bridge students from A to B or from C to D requires a level of intervention - doing something beyond classroom teaching. Either focus on blue students and allow red students to fall further behind, focus on red students and slow the curve of blue students or differentiate and allow both to progress.
  • Students need to do more (not less) work to catch up
  • It needs to be focused on developing current skills required and addressing gaps in skills
  • Intervention available needs to be targeted to where formative assessment identifies issues and pre-prepared resources are available to address common issues outside of classtime
Streaming and Differentiation (typically applied as mutually exclusive strategies) attempt to address the issues faced by a teacher of students with different learning requirements.

One method of addressing the needs of both groups is to ability stream, putting students together of like abilities.  It can reduce the load for a teacher in a classroom by reducing what needs to be taught to a narrower band.  One issue with this approach is the low expectation/low ability bias - students that are behind have lower abilities so we should have lower expectations - thus learning is slower and below ability levels.  Overcoming this bias is difficult but can be done.  

Deficits of streaming
  • Tendency for lower expectations
  • Fewer positive role models/peer support
  • Re-inforcement of the difficulties faced rather than successes
  • Normalising absences/poor behaviour/low effort
  • Lower classes typically given to less able teachers
  • Transition between streams can be problematic (difficultly leap, unsupported during transition, infrequent restreaming)
  • Typically delivers to the bottom/middle of the class
  • Individualised support is not a focus (the focus is identifying work at level for the class) thus bridging the gap is less likely to address issues at a student level
  • Little/No support in Research to support an increase in learning for streamed students in average schools (Hattie)
Differentiation is a possible alternative where students are covering same topic in class but at different levels.  Rather than a structural/environmental change, this is a change in approach of the teacher.  This requires a higher level of teacher skill, organsation and discipline to do effectively.  Signs that this is being done:
  • Strong communication between teacher/student/parent.
  • Diagnostic assessment completed prior to each topic
  • Identification of gaps and remedies identified for gaps
  • Students completing different work based on ability
  • Assessment provided at multiple levels
  • Addressing students that have gaps with clear measurable strategies typically outside of the classroom
  • Requires advanced knowledge of scope and sequence of topics beyond year level
  • Safe learning environment where all students are confident to ask questions
  • Results of the group as a whole are increasing (fewer failing students)
It is possible to do both at the same time, but needs recognition that streaming alone does not address closing the gap between students - to do this requires going further than teaching bottom/middle of the class given and that differentiation when the gap is large in Mathematics is load intensive. That is streaming requires less work (class instruction is more targeted as there is smaller variation between students) and differentiation more work (increased variation between students decreases the effectiveness of traditional class based instruction).  Given class based instruction is the preferred delivery mode in schools, reluctance to differentiate can be considerable.

Intervention is the process of moving a student from the bottom curve to the top curve through action at a group or individual level (eg. from B to A or from D to C). This could include:
  • Pastoral support to assist in managing issues at home or incidental mental health needs
  • Tutoring outside of class time
  • Addressing individual needs within the classroom to increase learning beyond the average speed in the class
  • Catch up classes over the holidays
  • Work sent home to parents aimed at addressing gaps in learning
  • Acceleration of programmes of work
  • Changing focus of existing programmes to address student needs
  • ICT applications aimed to assist particular types of students
  • Withdrawal from options classes or creation of options classes to focus on Literacy and Numeracy or Extension (eg Period 25, Period 6)
  • After school classes
A major feature of intervention is that it is above what is done for the average student and is able to be stopped once the student has caught up.  This allows catch up (rather than falling behind) as students are still progressing to a greater or lesser degree with the rest of the class (as opposed to a withdrawal/differentiated/streamed model.  Students are doing more in order to catch up and once on the curve are able to stay on the curve as the reason for learning more slowly than the rest of the class is overcome and the intervention is able to stop and be redirected to another student.   Where it can't end with the student on the leaning curve without ongoing intervention to prevent falling behind again, the strategy I think it should be defined as differentiation as it is an ongoing need of the student.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

If I can't succeed, why try?

Where a child has not found success they will lose motivation.  This will result in loss of self esteem, reduce effort and create a cycle of failure.

This is true of adults too.

It is important that a student believes that they can succeed.  There are many levers that can be used to get a student to develop the understanding that they can succeed.

1. Provide work at level

2. Provide extrinsic motivation to seek success (such as rewards for effort during learning)

3. Develop an appreciation for intrinsic rewards (such as earned praise)

4. Provide a focus for learning (such as developing a career focus)

5. Place students at a similar level that are also seeking to understand a concept

6. Chunk contents into smaller and more easily understood concepts

7. Space practice to encourage retention

8. Provide formative assessment to focus learning on concepts found difficult

9. Develop an appreciation for revision practices (establish cause (study) and effect (do better))

10. Use environmental print (posters etc)

11. Present and repackage information multimodally (visually, aurally, written, orally)

12. Use ICT effectively (this is a topic in itself)

13. Scaffold well (understanding their prior learning)

14. Provide access to practice work

15. Develop an understanding that they have control over what they can learn - they control the effort that they put into learning and the result of that learning.

16. Overcome test anxiety through overlearning 

17. Explicitly teaching how to use a text (how to use a worked example, checking answers, getting to the assessment level questions at the end of exercises, reading ahead, using an index, reading the glossary, identifying hints to worked examples)

18. Developing the confidence to ask questions

19. Checking understanding

20. Using a calm and constructive approach to teaching (especially for trauma, Autism, PTSD, anxious students)

21. Reduce load, focus exposure to practice work (to prevent tiredness and fatigue) - this appears counterintuitive, but a student undergoing high levels of learning will tire quickly overcoming high levels of anxiety - driving them to continue doing pratice work is counterintuitive to a positive learning environment. The trick is to identify when overcoming loafing and when genuine fatigue is being encountered (the student may not know!).

Often, if queried about why a child is not succeeding, the answer given is a lack of resilience.  To my mind this is the effect rather than the cause.  Where "resilience" is the issue, often the steps to allieviating the effect need further examination.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

All students deserve to find success

In our careers we have moments of epiphany.  That moment where you realise that you need to refocus what you are doing or take what you know and apply it in different ways.  Sometimes it's about remembering a concept that you had learned that you had forgotten, sometimes it's synthesized from your learning and in moments of genius it's inspiration and something truly new.

At the moment I'm coming to grips with the idea that school is an experience that every child has once.  A formative experience that has the potential to impact for many years to come.  An experience that is more than content, more than pedagogy, more than social skills, striving for excellence, resilience and a whole heap of other stuff that we fill it with.

It's about a young life finding their way in the world.

How this young person defines themselves is based on their experiences, for the majority of their time from 4 years old to 18 years old in our care.  

Most of the what we teach them is irrelevant 12 years later.  Typing, how to play a sport, woodwork, sewing, calculus, grammar, spelling, greek history, water cycle - 90% of what we teach will not be used again to the detail level it is taught.  The meta learning is important but most is forgotten 25 seconds after assessment.

What is not forgotten is the Dance concert, the kind teacher that noticed them and made a fuss, the excursion to the beach, the carnival where the team won, first love, being bullied, farting on the mat - experiences that helped form young minds.  

This is our biggest job - ensuring that the experiences are positive ones and that we are there to pick them up kindly when they are not positive.  Sometimes we are so focused on "high care, high expectations" we have forgotten what makes school a positive experience for children - experiences to remember.

If a child has positive and formative experiences that make the child an empathic and productive citizen, they have found success. All children deserve to find this success and we need to focus on making this happen.  Measuring this and increasing the quality of experiences to my mind is a better metric of success than any median ATAR score or measures of school attainment.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Where to for low ability students?

There are those children that can cope with whatever you throw at them.  They've known some conflict in the home, have played some team sport, know empathy and are generally well rounded kids.  When faced with a situation where they might fail, they're willing to give it a go.  They have a modicum of ability and do ok.

There are a growing group that know they lack the ability to reach the Year Level achievement standard and can't understand the Year level syllabus content.  They cry, run, distrupt others, are scared, get angry and a host of other emotions that seem well outside what one would expect from a good student.  These children can be labeled without resilience and disruptive.  They face 12 years of behaviour management, feeling like failures and may suffer a range of mental health issues.

I'm not sure resilience is the problem - it's a symptom of a system that tries to get kids to fit a model, rather than the social requirement of schools fitting the needs of the student.  As legislation continues to increase the scope of schools, schools are buckling under the financial strain it causes to provide this level of service.

In today's enlightened world we don't just go, "toughen up princess" without looking a little deeper.  Why are students acting this way and how can we help them reach a point where they can continue learning?

It's up to us as educators to gain trust of the student and find a way to help them.

How do we walk the fine line of childhood reticence to do work that is not fun and where students are at risk from emotional breakdown?  We're not Psychologists, Social Workers, Doctors, Nurses, Psychiatrists, their parents - yet as teachers we often have to interpret vague instructions by all of these , teach for six hours a day and balance the best advice available of how to assist a child learn, often with a group of similar other students requiring similar attention in the class.

The basic answer is that it is hard and is part of the experience teachers are now expected to have.  The ability to differentiate pedagogy and content for students is a requirement of teaching and not something we can just say - "I don't do that".  It's defined into the job via the AITSL standards and legislation.

It's impossible to get Professional Development to satisfy all cases faced with (Autism cases in particular are individual and we just have to examine each case as we go and do our best).  It's not an limitless budget, compromises need to be made.

The next challenge in education isn't meeting the needs of high performing students, it is working with the students that feel like they don't belong and providing them with meaningful pathways to employment.  This is a complex question that has been made more difficult with Covid and automation shutting down service industries that would normally use manual labour.  It's an issue that needs to be addressed.

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Finding a positive mindset

Often in teaching things are not done the way you would like.  Things were done differently in the past and now you are being asked to change.  The changes appear to be worse than what was done before.

You can do a few things, some that are positive, will help you adjust and develop a positive mindest:

- seek to understand the change

- look for the positive in the change

- identify where you can learn new skills

- assist in the analysis of the changes

- discuss the changes openly in a constructive manner

- examine ways to make the change work for you

- be willing to give the change a chance

- understand it is not always the implementer that has instigated the change

- you may not be able to be told all of the reasons for the change


There are things that you can do that can cause you distress and potentially affect your career:

- lose perspective (make it out to be bigger than it is)

- whiteant the person making the change (be positive to the person but negative out of earshot)

- actively seek allies to create groundswell to undermine the change (seek to change the opinions of others to oppose the change)

- encourage others to speak up against the change (this is especially poor when senior members encourage younger members but do not speak up themselves for fear of being seen as overly negative)

- passively resist the change (say that you will but not do it)

- be overly negative about the change (discuss it as a failure before it has had a chance to succeed)

- personalise attacks and be adversarial (attack the person rather than consider the change)

- be the squeaky wheel (that is known for complaining)

- be the rebel (that is known for obstructing change)


It is tempting to fall into negative habits. It's hard when changes make your job harder (and easier for others) and it can taint your whole outlook on teaching if you are not careful.  

Ultimately it is not possible to provide an optimal environment with the perfect amount of personel available, optimal class sizes and all of the resources required to do the job all of the time.  It is a compromise between available resources, wants and needs.  Things that work may not be sustainable in the holistic balance that is the delivery of education in a school.

Where a school has a bloated upper school offering, small class sizes and is well resourced, it indicates that there are some hard times ahead.  Unfortunately with increased scrutiny on schools, this cannot be sustained any more under the one-line budget.

Monday, March 1, 2021

ICT Products for schools

ICT vendors have cottoned onto Voluntary contributions.  Government schools can charge up to $235 per year in voluntary charges.  This is an easy target for IT vendors as it is something that parents will pay for and a low number of students use it compared to the number that it is paid for.

The usual sales pitch goes like this:

Free trial - with no obligation.  There is a hidden cost as implementation has a cost in training, set up experimentation and teaching to students.

Teachers use trial, some parents use trial.  

Price is given for the whole school (knowing that a small proportion will use the tool).  Thus the price sounds small, but on a usage basis can be upward of $50 per student, subsidised by parents that are not using it.  In many cases senior school is included in the per capita price, but very little is offered to that student group (and they are excluded from voluntary contributions) making it something covered by the school.  

It is also a sop to parents that want OLNA support, but with very little evidence of success assisting disengaged students that need the support but won't use ICT.

Removing it after the trial causes conflict with teachers that are invested in it.  

I'm not saying it is not effective for some - it is just that the cost is hidden in an average charge for all students including a vast majority not using them.

Evidence such as Hattie's meta analysis does not support ICT solutions either as effective.

Students forced to use it quickly dislike it as it is often poorly targeted practice work.  I'd like to think home time is for finishing work not completed in class, intervention work targeted by the teacher, revision and study, together with extra curricular activities.  There is no space for poorly targeted practice.

Trying to pay for a targeted solution (eg only for the kids that need and will use it) results in vendors jacking up the price, often 200% the cost of the whole school solution, verifying to some degree the deceptive business model (paying for something with parent monies that are not appropriate for the students the product is bought for.)

Mathspace and Mathsonline use this approach and Mangahigh may use this approach but I have not been in contact with them for some time (I did like their adaptive tests but am still waiting to see a good, reliable, valid adaptive test written to complement the classroom syllabus).  Mathletics used a similar marketing approach to Mathspace and Mathsonline, but has a smaller footprint in high school and may not insist on schoolwide deployment with dwindling market share.

The worst thing is when effectiveness is not evaluated - when it is just a marketing sop to parents to show the school is ICT ready.  As an IT person, it is crazy to see this amount of money being thrown around like confetti.  After all, the cost of delivery is nil after the product is designed and the development is not rocket science.  It's a market crying for a no cost, syllabus based solution.

Maybe if I get annoyed enough I'll sit and write one.  The technology is now freely available, it just needs to be put in a market ready format. 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Tips for students entering ATAR (Mathematics) courses

This is by no means an exhaustive list:

Be kind, to yourself, to others.  It is the most worthwhile lifelong advice as it has infinite returns.  

Don't be a patsy - people will try and take advantage of kind people. Be savvy about who you work with.

Don't panic.  There will be peaks and troughs where you are on top of the world and when you question if you can do this.  Find a rock that will keep you centred - a good friend, course counsellor, parent, relative, deputy.  Teachers are generally a poor choice as they lack perspective.

Love is in the air.  You will feel the most intense emotions of your life.  It's ok, it's biological.  Sadly, it passes, enjoy it whilst it's in your system.

If you are finding it difficult to finish exercises set in under 2 hours move to doing every 2nd question.  It is more important to get to the end of exercises, reach the harder questions and attempt the revision/study guide than get bogged down in repetition of similar questions. 

Regular study is hard to do.  The miscellanous exercises in Sadler are great for this as they keep learned concepts in the front of the mind.

Learn how to use your calculator.  Know when it is faster to use your calculator than by hand.

Draw a diagram. Draw a diagram. Draw a diagram. Draw a diagram.

Be mindful of the routines that you set up.  If you are settling into a 12 lunch to 12am routine, this will make it difficult for you to adjust back to 7am to 7pm at school (moving your clock backwards is much more difficult than moving it forwards). It is unwise to get into the habit of working late as it gives you nowhere to go if you temporarily fall behind due to assessment crunch (you can't work later without impacting on the next day).   

Find a place in the home, make it comfortable and use it solely for study.   A bed is generally a bad place for study or mooching with your phone - (the message to your body should be to sleep here. Studying in bed may result in finding it difficult to get to sleep).  Reading for pleasure to tire your eyes in bed (without the light stimulus of a phone or iPad which will wake you up) can be good instead if you are finding it difficult to nod off.

Once you do the Revision questions you will be able to determine if you need to work faster or are on track.  The rule of thumb is 1 mark, 1 minute.  Marks aren't really allocated by time (they are allocated based on syllabus dot points), but it is a fairly reliable estimate.  If you aren't working fast enough, what is missing?  Conceptual understanding, computational speed, ability to maintain concentration, ability, distraction, effort, focus, work ethic?  Timing yourself when doing revision questions is worthwhile.  Questions will take a little longer during assessment as you will also have to decide which technique to apply and how.

Asking good questions is a key factor in success.  A good question has the following factors: it is specific, it contains what you have attempted, it identifies what you think the issue is. "I don't get Trigonometry. Can I have some help?" is not a good question as it does not identify where to start.  "I can't manipulate the Sine Rule, here is my attempt. How do I make theta the subject of the equation in C1E1Q2a?" is a specific question that can be easily answered online.  Another good question might be, "I watched the screencast and understood the example until ... can the skipped steps be added or explained."  It is a good idea to post a picture of your attempt, to make it easier to identify the problem.

Gaining the confidence to ask questions in front of peers is a valuable skill that will benefit you through school and all forms of higher education. As time progresses you will worry less about what people think and more about how important it is to keep on the learning curve and not leave gaps in understanding.

Often the answer to the question resides in the set exercise set and you will be directed to complete the exercise without the answer to your question provided.  The question is answered in context in the exercise by doing questions (rather than being talked at), building your knowledge to the point where the method can be easily understood.  If you skip too many questions (or exercises) then the flow of the new information will be more difficult to integrate with your existing knowledge and gaps occurs making it harder to apply your knowledge in unfamiliar settings.

Be aware of the question that is interesting but not on topic.  These are welcome but need to be asked at the relevant time (not in the middle of instruction!) and typically not distracting the rest of the class from the focus of the lesson.  

Look after yourself. It is important to look after the little things that are not study.  Are you eating well, regularly and hydrating?  Are you sleeping regular hours?   Are you exercising at least 30 minutes a day? Have you put some time aside for social requirements and fun?  Are you having regular breaks?  Keeping yourself well is the most important element for ATAR success - if you run down it will prevent you from working and achieving your best.

The learning curve is a way of thinking about learning.  If you are on the learning curve, the next step is logical, obvious and easier than if there are gaps in your learning.  When you fall off the curve, learning stops and you require intervention to learn the pre-requisite information that you have previously missed before you can learn the next concept on the curve.  A typical trap that students fall into, causing falling off the curve, is to focus on one subject to the detriment of others.  You need to take a holistic approach and do a little of each course each night, even if one course is demanding all the attention in the world (I'm looking at you English!).

Be aware that complacency and procrastination are your enemy.  Basically, get stuff done. If you are tired, rest.  If you are lethargic, get some exercise.  If you are hungry, eat. If you are struggling, ask for help.  Laziness is not a genetic trait, it's a bad habit and an excuse for not getting stuff done.

Groupthink occurs when students rely on shared knowledge to complete problems.  Students come unstuck when they attempt assessments as the other students in the group have part of the understanding and they can't complete it alone.  It is important that you experience each question and attempt the difficult parts before asking for help without relying on others to think their way through the difficult parts for you. This is different from working together on a question (already attempted on their own), where students are contributing equally and leave with the same level of understanding (which is great!).

Many students have reached this point in their education through ability alone and find Mathematics easy - but this won't last forever, don't get complacent.  At some point you will have to work hard (this is called developing a work ethic) or fail.  There is no point in blaming and whinging about the past - it is done - instead work on what you can control, your input into the course, your health and stay on the learning curve.

Look for opportunities to develop your network outside of school.  A job, friends of the family, Rotary, Lions, Special interest groups, sports, friends from other schools, youth groups, church groups, joining a band are all good ways of developing yourself as a person beyond that of a student.

Be kind to your parents.  You are moody, under pressure, have hormones rampaging, smelly and are generally an unpleasant being to be around.  They have protected you until now and don't know when is the right time to allow you some independence.  If they make mistakes, you suffer and don't have a wealth of experience to judge when they are doing the right thing. They are bred to worry about you - it's genetic, they can't help it.  Sleeping on someone's couch is not independence - it is mooching.  A checkout job on Thursday does not put a roof over your head.  

Check the programme and ensure that you understand each syllabus dot point.

Create a study group, set a time to meet and allocate a dot point to each person (to idenitfy the main learning points/demanding questions and questions that might be asked in an exam) to bring to the meeting. Another method is to allocate the same dot point and what each other thinks is important.  This can be done online too!  A good starting point is doing some of the questions that I have done solutions for on Connect - if they were hard then, they probably still are.

Use your revision guide effectively. Pick a number out of 10 and complete that question from each chapter that we have completed thus far. Repeat.

Complete any practice tests given.

Check the programme and ensure that you understand each syllabus dot point.

Create a list of all the exercises in the text.  Tick off every exercise that you have completed.

Get a copy of the previous WACE exam.  Mark off all the questions we have already covered. Do them.

Check the Charlie Watson website and make sure that you know how that calculator works for each topic.

Create a timeline of when assessment is completed until the end of the year.  Check weeks of the year that are busy so that you can try to lesson your load prior to those times or negotiate with teachers to move assessments a little so that they are not all on the same day (weeks 4 and 8 and 13 are typically bad).

Find some "me" time to enjoy with your friends.  Socialising a little is important to maintain a healthy headspace - just don't over do it (I'm looking at you gamers!).  Use it to motivate you to study.

Get your parents on board to monitor how you are doing.  Listen to them if they think you are overdoing it or slacking off.

Check the programme and ensure that you understand each syllabus dot point.

Get a copy of the formula sheet and have it sitting next to you.

Start preparing your end of year cheat sheet for each topic.

Create a quiet space to study.  If you need music, make it music that you have listened to a thousand times (not the radio or the latest spotify list).  This way it will not distract your conscious thought and act like white noise to block out distractions from your environment.

Set up a study plan between now and the proposed 1st semester exam date. Split the time remaining into the number of chapters completed.  Revise your notes each day for each chapter.  Do the things above in that time!


Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Entering Teaching after being in a competitive, adversarial environment

If you have come from an adversarial environment, where being the best means rising through the ranks and increasing your earning capacity you are in for a rude shock when you become a teacher.  

Teaching has a flat management structure where seniority is the main mechanism for increasing wages and retaining staff.  There have been multiple pushes to change this over time, (L3CT, Senior Teacher come to mind), but for the vast majority teaching a class seniority is it. There is some competition for ATAR and 11/12 classes.  There is little to compete against to be noticed for the few promotional positions outside of teaching in Student services/Admin, Head of Department, Deputy/Associate Principal and  Principal.

AITSL attempted to provide a framework for personal growth in the AITSL standards and to my mind it gives the best indication of where education (and a lot of industry) is trying to go.  Rather that competing (or being adversarial) with your peers, the current movement is to "one" team where everyone seeks continuous improvement.  As continuous training is expensive, knowledge sharing is the main lever used within the organisation to drive continuous improvement.  This is not possible if knowledge sharing is restricted through a competitive environment where restricting knowledge gets you ahead.

The AITSL standards have this embedded.  A graduate teacher is learning how to teach. A competent teacher teaches well. A highly accomplished teacher mentors other teachers.  A lead teacher is contributing to the community and the education sector.  It firmly puts the skills and task of teaching a classroom well in the competent level.

This can leave the competitive person from industry scratching their head.  "I'm a better teacher than them, I should be promoted".  "Look at what I have done, why should they get the promotion." "It must be that someone is doing a hatchet job on me in admin, I am better than others being promoted."  "I have not been personally developed this year.  The lack of development is holding me back."

None of these things are about knowledge and skills sharing. There is a skill to developing others and this is the desired skill in Leadership.  Mentoring and sharing takes more effort than doing it yourself.  Doing it yourself is not the preferred option if the goal of the task is to empower others.  

The insight is that the knowledge is not yours, but belongs to the organisation.  If you choose not to share and martyr yourself doing it yourself, you are withholding information the organisation has paid to develop.   Once teachers let go of ownership of what is "theirs" and realise that sharing is productive, it takes away a burden, is uplifting and creates that team environment the envy of organisational cultures. The effort in sharing and developing something collaboratively is required and worthwhile.  It becomes a pleasure watching others grow through what you have contributed and surpass what even you can currently do, encouraging you to seek further growth.

Often in the corporate world, forming cliques, being obstructive and putting the knife into an underperforming colleague is ok to gain promotion.  Identify their weaknesses, expose them and assume their role.  Very 80s.  Today, we don't do this.  Evidence is used to identify areas of investigation, we consider the evidence, work together to apply measures to attempt to rectify known issues and measure the results.  In teaching few staff are ever removed, the importance is to retrain and support them if they are underperforming - it is expensive to train a teacher (four years of university plus three years of graduate level performance), losing staff to what is now recognised as workplace bullying is poor management.

And here's the rub, if you are not visibly contributing to organisational growth (or are actively obstructing it) you will not be seen as a highly accomplished teacher (no matter how good you are in the classroom).  You may be seen as a competent teacher, but will not be considered for leadership as you lack the skills to lead a team effectively and will be a drain on the Leadership team preventing issues that you are causing, requiring constant "management" and restricting growth of the organisation. 

I try and help those making the transition to the new paradigm as I had to when I entered the profession.  It's not always easy and becomes a fairly repetitive discussion until it sinks in. The "one organisation" model aims to promote those that can work with others well for the betterment of the organisation, leading to organisational growth.  Being able to be collegiate and collaborative is the key that opens doors.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Measuring Performance of Upper School Courses

Participation, Retention and Achievement are three measures I look at in Upper school to measure the health of our Learning Area.  These summary statistics should not be treated as a goal or KPI, but instead as a way of identifying areas of investigation for improvement.  All too often summary statistics hide the actual situation found if an investigation into raw data is done thereafter.  With relatively small samples the summary statistics may not be reliable or valid.


1. Participation (Course Entry)

How many students enter a course?  It is not compulsory to do a Mathematics course in Year 11 and 12, they can opt out if they wish.  My belief is that all students should complete Mathematics courses in Year 11/12 as a life skill.  Any number lower than 100% indicates that improvement can be achieved.

To keep it simple, I check RTP for the course at the end of S2 and count total students.  The total number of students in the cohort is found in schools online or SIS. Divide these and you have the participation number. Participation should be measured at the end of each year of Upper School.  Participation data should be compared with standardised testing data (NAPLAN, PAT etc) to validate participation results.

This is a measure of the success of creating an appeal to enter the course.  Factors impacting participation could include past performance, lower school pathways, reputation for success, teachers in lower school, teachers in upper school, how well the course is sold to students, course counselling techniques, course counsellors, trends in careers post schooling.


2. Retention (Course Completion)

Are students staying in the course from the beginning? Students are able to change out of the course if they wish. Students swapping and changing courses is not optimal. Any number lower than 100% indicates that improvement can be achieved.

Again, to keep it simple I check RTP for the course at the end of S2 and count the withdrawn students. Participation numbers are found in (1.) above. Divide these and you have the retention number.  Retention should be measured at the end of each year of Upper School.

This is a measure of success of the Upper School Course, course recommendations, teaching methods and course counselling.  Factors impacting retention could include mental health of students and the teacher, teaching pedagogy, student ability, lower school preparation, parental support, resilience and the difficulty level set for the course.


3. Achievement

Are students achieving at the level expected for the course?  Students need to achieve a meaningful result for the course to be worthwhile. For Methods and Specialist the mean is 65 for an average student, Applications is 55 for an average student.  In each case about 57 will contribute to a 70 ATAR score. C grades or higher for General students are useful for demonstrating competence.

To measure achievement I count how many students in RTP are achieving above 57 and divide it by the retention rate (2.) including withdrawn students.  I also calculate the Mean result for both years (without withdrawn students) and check the exam results in both semesters. If there is a large deviation from other assessment scores it provides an avenue for investigation.  It is also important to check the SAIS Year 12 report to check school vs external exam results. If students need recounselling this is done at the end of S1 and S2 Year 11 and at the start of S1 Year 12.

This is the end goal, how many students performed within the expected parameters of the course after completing the course.  Factors impacting achievement could include study skills, exam preparation, engagement with schooling, student motivation, course counselling/ability, cohort strength, work ethic,  extracurricular activities, sickness/mental health/misadventure, 5th/6th course bias and teaching pedagogy.


With these three measures, the health of a course can be established.  It is important to not only look at achievement as it can hide strategies that fail the student interest test - such as counselling students out of courses to boost achievement figures (low retention rates) where standardised testing indicates that students should pass.  

Sunday, January 31, 2021

What did we learn from the last period of online learning and the 2020 cohort?

Last year we had a short period of online learning.    We learned a lot about online learning and its impact in a relatively short period of time.

1. Student Motivation

Not all students will be motivated enough to complete work assigned online.  It is imperative that someone keeps an eye on students and informs parents when students do not complete the work set.  Leaving them in hope that they will complete the work set (or face the consequences later) is not a sufficient response.  The impact goes well beyond the few weeks away from school.

2. Use a variety of online teaching methods

Students consume information in a variety of ways, but have been predominantly taught to consume visually and aurally.  Screencasts work for some students, particularly those with high work ethic and reasonable levels of concentration.  Students that struggle with self motivation and rely on the threat of teacher consequence, require social encouragement or require positive reinforcement to stay on task will struggle with a passive learning environment.  For these students it important to engage some level of social media (even if it is just a Connect discussion group or a Webex session) to provide the additional stimulus and interaction required to work.  Teaching "on the fly" is less likely to work and preparation in lieu of face-to-face teaching time is required.

3. Anxiety is a real issue

Students encounter increased anxiety regarding the Covid outbreak and the uncertainty attached to an new learning environment can encounter a block that will prevent working.  We don't know if the outbreak is a five day or five month event.  Given that high performing students are prone to high levels of anxiety (especially at the pointy end of 11 and 12), this can be debilitating without a teacher guiding them and alleviating the anxiety by moderating workload and providing encouragement.

4. Content is hit and miss

Online learning is a developing medium.  Technology has improved, delivery is easier and has wider saturation than ever before.  This coupled with the need to make, tailor or find good content without the same level of student feedback found in a classroom is difficult.  A teacher's ability to create content varies greatly from teacher to teacher and class to class.

5. Student Confidence

Not all students have the confidence to raise their hand online and say they need help.  If they stay quiet, no-one will know until the assessment point that they did not understand what was required.  The same checks and balances used within a classroom (checking answers, verifying concepts with each student, attendance checks) are all required in a modified way in an online classroom.

6. SCSA and the Department

We don't know how SCSA or the Schools Directorate within the Department will react.  SCSA may relax requirements as they did last year or stand firm and require online learning to fill the gap.  The Department was not comfortable leaving teachers to teach from home last time (justifiably as they required re-skilling) and has initially not required teachers to return to school but will recommence teaching online in some form if students are away for an extended period.  

7. Universities and higher learning

Universities require bums on seats to ensure funding and are likely to use any way possible to ensure that they reach student quotas.  By providing additional alternate entry means, students are able to bypass the rigor of ATAR external exams and lose motivation to complete courses.  This coupled to the loss of pre-requisites allows students to pick and choose whether they need to finish courses if their WACE is already secure.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Deflating enthusiasm and complaints management

It's easy to deflate someones enthusiasm.  As a HOLA you are on the end of every complaint and every perceived inequity in your department.  I don't always deal with them in the moment as well as I could without other things on my mind.  I try and create a shared vision with everyone along for the ride but it's possible to deflate my enthusiasm for the vision and have conflict derail the shared vision when those you are working are fixated on minor resolvable issues and ignoring the big picture of improvement both in conditions and achievement.

Being mindful of the following can give some insight into the issues faced by HOLAs and Administration in complaint management and resolution.

Here are some things to think about before making a complaint.

Fairness

If someone gets something that you do not, that does not make it unfair.  Believing this makes you sound entitled.  If someone gets more help, it might be because they need it.  If someone gets less help it may be because they are being given an opportunity to show what they can do.  If someone gets more help it may just be because a series of events have lead to this with no ill intent to anyone.  A big goal is not able to be achieved in one step with everyone contributing equally and it may take time to reach everyone or for everyone to see the benefits - for a period you may be required to do more until resources are available for everyone. Waiting for everyone to complete the same amount of work would make the task take infinitely longer where reluctant, incapable, obstructive, lacking experience, with personal issues, or have conflicting/higher priorities are involved.

Is my situation better than it was?

If I look backwards has someone made my situation better overall than it would have been otherwise?  Putting this one incident aside, consistently has an effort been made to improve my situation by them?  How much goodwill will I lose from making this complaint and how much does it have the potential to impact on future opportunities. Is it worth making a scene and what will it accomplish?

Is this my job?

If at the end of the day you are asking to do a basic task of a teacher:

  • plan for a class
  • assess ability of a student
  • teach the class
  • cater to student individual needs
  • identify resources for students

then being resentful for having not having someone to do any of this work for you can lead to inferences of laziness or incompetence.  At the end of the day, others can prepare and assist you by passing on resources to you for you to use in your class, but you will still have to evaluate them and ensure they are suitable.  If you require someone else to do your work for you, you are expecting them to do your duties of teaching your class, a role you are being paid to do. 

What do I want from this?

If you do not realise what you want from a complaint, it's a whinge.  A complaint needs to lead to an outcome that will improve student outcomes.  Have a very clear idea about what you want, and consider the previous point whether it is a desire or something that is actually a part of your regular duties.

What forum can I use to address this issue?

Is this about power and embarrassment or about change for the good of students?  If I make this complaint public (in the staffroom, to the Principal or Deputy, by discussing it with others in the faculty) will it alter the relationship I have with this person and limit future opportunities? How long will it take to rectify it if things go wrong?  Is the timing right for discussing it?  What frame of mind am I in?  Would it be better to send an email or have a private discussion? 

I suggest strongly resisting complaining publicly as is not a good way to make a name for yourself.  People will respond differently if you make a complaint in front of others than if you do it privately and seek a conversation (either through responding to an email or in person).  If you have had ample time to use different means to state your concern and choose to do it in public, it says something about you and the relationship you have within the hierarchy.  Nobody wants public conflict - ensure you have exhausted all other avenues before using this path.

How can I ensure that what I am asking for is reasonable?

Be very careful about issuing demands is my best piece of advice.  A demand infers entitlement - if you are not entitled to the demand, by definition you are behaving in an entitled way and this will be judged by your peers and your HOLA.  When working in a hierarchy (which most schools are), my suggestion is to ask "up", and the times that you can tell "down" to someone below you in the hierarchy is very limited (generally for compliance issues only such as SCSA, Dept Policy or Business Plan objective requirements).  Resist telling "up", it is out of place and shows a lack of respect and understanding of leadership which has the potential to be detrimental to your future self and will take considerable time to repair leading to blaming others for lack of progress that you have had a part in.

Being a negative bystander

If you see someone in a situation that has the potential to end poorly, don't let them self destruct. Point out that what they are doing is not productive and seek ways to remedy the situation.  At a minimum don't inflame it - if you do then you are a part of the problem.  Often a person will calm down and reconsider their position if they are not encouraged by those with an agenda of derailing the vision.  People that seek to undermine a shared vision are noticed and will be overlooked or be counselled if it is overt enough. Those that are seen as being productive, cooperative, capable and willing to contribute will be rewarded first - this is the basis of merit, the ability to contribute towards organisational goals - note that I did not say personal goals (these are irrelevant if they do not align with organisational goals that you are paid to follow!).  It makes sense to promote those seeking to work within the system and makes no sense to reward those that actively seek to disrupt it.

Leaders have to make best efforts to bring everyone with them.  This means that, on occasion, people will not come along, leading to inequity of effort or may have competing priorities that lead to some things not happening.  It's not always personal, it's not necessarily laziness, it may just be circumstance.  We need to be reasonable about what we demand, and work in an adult environment where requests are made and not have a public "tantrum" or play "no speakies" in the hope we will get our own way.  As term progresses and pressures rise, conflict can occur.  The trick is how to deal with it and I am by no means an expert - it is wise to observe those that handle and navigate conflict well and learn from their successes.

Monday, January 18, 2021

2021 New Year excitement

Hi,

It's a new year.  All that preparation done last year and over the holidays is about to bear fruit.  Graduates are getting ready for their first classes, students are entering high school for the first time, students are preparing for their first run at Year 12 ATAR.

For us it is a year of firsts.  New programmes in all year groups, teachers have their own classrooms, expectations of what teachers need to do have been clearly developed, feedback to students through Connect, SENN, SEQTA and Reporting to parents has been reimplemented and refined over the last year.  Kids have been placed into classes where they can perform and things should come together nicely.

Every so often things fall nicely into place and you can make a push for improvement.  This never comes without a good deal of hard work and last year was surely a year of hard work to put the building blocks in place.  If teachers follow the grading guidance given, participate in streaming processes actively, engage with the new BMIS, instructional model and business plan and actively communicate well with each other there is a huge potential for improvement.

I put my preliminary work on Connect and can see 15 of the 20 ATAR Methods students looking at content and preparing for the fast paced start in a course that doesn't let up until second semester.  I'm really interested to hear from students about what they thought about the preliminary videos, how to make them more interesting and whether the time and effort of producing them was worthwhile.  The great thing is that I only have to do them once, now is just identifying errors and re-recording them when required.  It's really interesting watching students through analytics and the time that they put into preparation.

I also released the teaching videos for the first six weeks of term and some students have engaged with these too.  This is a continuation of my "Just in time" approach to teaching - giving students information when they need it, in a form they readily consume, with access to help to avoid frustration.  If they're a little ahead - this will help them adjust to the additional work requirements of ATAR 11 classes and hopefully reduce the Exam anxiety and typical low performance in Semester 1.

It's great to see teachers actively working together to develop courses of work.  We have some strong teams developing courses that cater to student needs and move away from it's what's in the text, to a student centric, syllabus and engagement approach to instruction.

Our kids and parents are a little blame happy, some look to who to blame before reflecting on what they could have done to rectify the situation.  This is something we have to target in earlier years to give students back a 'locus of control' and get them to realise there is a lot they can do to improve their results before starting the blame game.  Revision, study, work ethic, work practices, attendance, engagement, ICT usage all impact on results in addition to instructional techniques.  These other things do not happen overnight - students have to be shown these to do well by parents and teaching staff.

Here's to a great year!


Friday, January 8, 2021

Locus of control

My daughter does Karate.  She was finding some of it a bit hard, and I didn't have enough knowledge to help her. So I signed up.  Immediately I was put into a position where I had to follow instruction and do as I was told.  It was weird and uncomfortable.  Thankfully I injured my achilles tendon walking on soft sand and have had to stop for now as the cardio was killing me.  I'm an old, unfit Maths teacher.. What was I thinking?

A child returning to school after a prolonged absence is in this position.  They have had a locus of control at home - they might be looking after siblings, roaming the streets with friends, getting into minor mischief, defying their parents/experiencing poor parenting/with high levels of conflict, be from a refugee background, have a culture where students take responsibility from a young age, lack support for education from home.  All of a sudden they are placed into a role where they have to do as they are told.  They can't get help when they want it and it's all your fault that they are misbehaving, bored, late to class, have irregular attendance, mental health issues and can't do the work.

If this is not acted upon, this can go very badly and instantly create an oppositional environment.  There are a number of ways that this can be dealt with.

1. Give the child responsibility

This is commonly the "go to" response. It doesn't address the problem and leaves the student with the feeling that they are still in control.  In their mind, "I'll do this for you as it fulfils my need to be in control".  The "Why should I?" comes out and the child has little reason to cooperate.  It tends to work with low level cases. 

2. Retrain the behaviour (when are behaviours occurring, what is needed to change)

Explicitly identify the behaviours that are undesirable, provide encouragement for changing the behaviours and consequences when the behaviours occur.  This requires a contract with the child, contact with the parent and a level of consistency across classes.  This is time consuming, allowing the child to increase their influence, creates an oppositional environment, but works eventually, especially if paired with someone (like the HOLA or Deputy) that can step in when they overstep the mark.

3. Understand who they are (who are they)

Seek to understand the environment from which they come.  Talk to student services and get an understanding of their background.  Have a talk with their parents.  Talk to them about how they feel.  Talk to them about their impact in the classroom.  This is an adult conversation so it will be awkward and filled with silences.

3. Develop a rapport (why is change required)

Talk about what you need from them as a student. How would a class perform if students could do whatever they want, whenever they want?  With 30 students, that's two minutes per student during an hour lesson.  When they are late, they miss the 7 minutes of instruction that results in them not being able to work.  Being absent leaves holes in their education.  No one has a right to disrupt another's education - it's the role of a teacher to ensure that this does not happen. When the time is right, they will be able to take an instruction and give up control - and it's ok.  Add in some positive reinforcement (implicit/explicit depending on developmental level). They have a lifetime to be in charge, it's a release to let someone else do it for a change.  

4. Success (how to make into ongoing success)

Get them to success as soon as possible.  Something needs to replace the need for control.  If it is success you are on the road to ongoing improvement in behaviour.  Suggest strategies that you think will work (moving them away from disruptive peers, give them resources (pens, paper, calculator), a high five for being on time etc) and create a lesson where they will be able to do the work and explicitly make a direct connection with the change in locus of control.  Gradually the change in behaviour through rapport needs to be a change in behaviour through desire for success.  Change the locus of control from behaviour (I do what I want because I have the right to do so) to seeking success (I choose to do the work the teacher asks because it helps me find success).