Leadership

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I attended a day hosted on behalf of our partnership on PAT Data today as one of my school's representatives. Student Achievement Data is one of the key parts of my role as Assistant Principal and this testing system is one that I have made the effort to become familiar with. I have blogged about some of my work in this area before so for me, the presenter was going over some familiar ground in her introduction. As she spoke, I started typing up questions that were forming in my brain about this form of testing and the data it produces.

Does standard equal average?

How do these standards then translate into comparisons for Australian schools v. other countries?

Do we set standard as average which can be variable according to the cohort (even an Australian wide cohort as measured by ACER) or is it political when standards are determined externally and then we measure whether our students are above, below or matching?

Interesting that in a multiple choice test, a correct guess is measured as evidence of student achievement – so, should we discourage the “just have a try” method if it is likely to end up with a guess?

If a child guessing produces a scattered graph where the easy questions are wrong, are the guessed correct answers of greater difficulty discounted in calculating the score?

I got answers to most of these questions along the way, but it led me tonight to pondering about the concept of making a difference.

I was lucky enough to attend EduTECH last week for the fourth time, taking a team of seven colleagues with me. For me, the highlight was a presentation and then a workshop from EduChangemakers, Aaron Tait and Dave Faulkner, totally focussed on the concept of making a difference for students. If you read this blog and/or follow me on Twitter, you will know that I have complained about the term "edupreneur" and expressed concerns about its wider connotations. So, I was surprised at myself to be blown away by this duo's authenticity and story. We had just sat through a middling presentation by a private school who had done a makeover of their learning spaces, struggling to come to terms with terms like "non-selective" (code for they don't screen potential students for academic standards prior to enrolling, no different from the vast majority of government schools) and "double streaming" (they have more than one Year 2 class - we chuckled that we must be quadruple streaming Year Twos at WGS!) and then Dave came up on stage and told us the story of his first day at Halls Creek District School where the first student he encountered looked at him and said, "What the f#^& are you looking at?"

All of a sudden, we had someone in front of us who understood disadvantage and battling disengagement, who was telling us about how to empower teachers to solve problems in new ways. I did a complete 180 degree turn in my thinking and even went down straight after the presentation to buy their new "Edupreneur" book. Both Aaron and Dave were down there at the time and were down to earth and friendly to talk to, and they both encouraged me to come to their workshop even it was officially full. The workshop was a whirlwind taste of their full day workshop change process which uses Design Thinking as its basis.

No, now I am reading the book which is focussed on teacher-led innovation. As the title of this post suggest, this is all linked to the innate desire of most educators to make a difference. This can be on a small or major scale but it is surely a driver of any teacher who participates in any form of professional learning or self improvement. It is also the desire of systems who choose testing systems like PAT.

What making a difference looks like can wax and wane over time. I know it has for me. Even when I see some educators on Twitter participate in self-promotion and in-crowd shoutouts, I know that they are only seeking to make a difference for their students. I was probably like that a decade ago, full of idealism and a desire not only to make a difference but to be seen to be making a difference. But time can erode self confidence and the bravado and self righteousness of youth can be replaced by doubt. Every now and again, it is good to take stock and re-ask the question, "How can I make a difference for the students I work with?'

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I posted last year about my new model for Digital Leadership here at WGS and also presented about my plans at a local TeachMeet and at one of the TeachMeets at EduTech in June. the concept was to use badges as a way of recognising skills and contribution of students involved in the program - and as a model that would be intrinsic rather than extrinsic in its overall philosophy. I advertised for interested students, talked them through my plans while emphasising that my ideas were still in beta form. And it was very successful with over fifty students from Years 5 to 7 having some form of involvement. It was deliberately designed to be flexible and allow for students to buy in and commit to doing as much as they felt comfortable with. They played with and ironed out teething problems with some new robotics for me, ran lunchtime MinecraftEDU clubs for interested students and spent an afternoon every week with me looking to improve their digital skills. I had based it on the two areas of big interest around our school - Minecraft and robotics (mainly Spheros) - we then had digital leaders support teachers in their first foray into robotics which was great because student peer tutelage and troubleshooting allowed me to spend more time ensuring that the teacher's confidence levels in this area were on the right track. A core group of leaders volunteered to help with our senior special class experience MinecraftEDU for the first time and built some real bonds with the students within that class. It was amazing to see the leaders really show patience and interest in others, and see that extend into social connections out in the school yard as well. I had two leaders volunteer to be buddies for two at risk early years students, again using Minecraft as the medium, but being calm positive role models for these young students was the real achievement beyond any digital skills being honed.

I did notice a few things about the sort of student who is interested in my program though. They generally are kids who enjoy being helpful but don't always have the self confidence to push themselves forward. They enjoy learning new things and having some status as an "expert" but rarely use that as a platform for showing off. I also noted that the Year 5 students were the keenest and most enthusiastic, but some were prone to see the Digital opportunities first and then become scarce when the leadership aspect was being emphasised. Year 7 students tended to dwindle to a handful as there seemed to be other leadership and community service opportunities available exclusively for their year level at our school competing for their attention. The Year 6 students were the most reliable and the ones who had joined the program for the leadership and helping aspect first with the digital playtime being a bonus second. I have also had a couple of students who come from very disadvantaged homes who gain a great sense of self belief and worth from being involved.

So, when it came around to thinking about what changes would make the program better for this year, I invited eight of the most engaged 2015 Digital Leaders to a round table discussion to help me design this year's version. They were really helpful, and helped me iron out some of the kinks in my new plans. They even helped to conceptualise the new lanyards and create the idea of a Senior Lanyard to retain and recognise those students who were going to be involved for a second year.

So, instead of eight different badges centered around Minecraft etc, I thought that I would separate the badges into Digital Badges and Leadership Badges so that the leadership aspect (working with classes, being a mentor or a buddy, running a lunchtime club, helping a new Leader become proficient) shared equal billing with the Digital side of things. I also wanted to broaden beyond Spheros and Minecraft and create expertise in a wider range of other Digital learning initiatives that are available or needed development at our school - things like Lego Stop Motion, Beebots and game creation.

2016dl

So throughout Term 1, the Friday afternoon time that I have has been dedicated to covering the Digital side of the ledger. We started with the familiar and ran Minecraft in the first few weeks, then Beebots and finally started on some Lego Stop Motion movies. Ninety minutes once a week goes pretty fast, and I had kids nominate what they were interested in and created a schedule with equal number of slots for boys and girls. I gave priority to kids who signed up for more options, and when I found our LittleBits kits in their hiding place, I found some kids who were ready to learn and become familiar with this technology and move on from Minecraft early. These kids were all new Year 5 Leaders and we quickly formed a Junior Inventors Club for them to run at lunchtimes catering for interested Early Years students.

So, the plan is to continue offering time to use the Digital options on a Friday, but start to expand the Leaders' opportunities to earn their Leadership badges throughout the next term. The new lanyards have arrived and will be given out to all Term 1 participants who attended at least two sessions, with badges to be awarded as the year progresses. Teachers will then be able to seek the services of this group of Leaders as required - and this group of dedicated students will find an outlet for their unique talents.

2015 has been a very busy year for me from a work perspective and although I have learned heaps, not much of that learning has ended up here of late. Part of that has been the fact that a lot of my steep learning curve has been in the people management aspect and the collaborative leadership part of my job, all of which have confidentiality issues that limit me from sharing too much too readily. There have been moments of high challenge when people's futures and relationships were quite fragile, and where I have had to work hard on diplomatic solutions that still haven't left everyone happy with the end resolution. However, there are a few things that I can reflect on.

We tried a new product called Class Creator when constructing our 2016 classes. This was definitely a worthwhile investment as after all of the teacher data was inputted, it created classes that were a good starting point for further negotiation. Whenever someone considered shifting a child to a different class, I could look them up and see who they needed to be separated from, what a move would do to their friendship options and whether they had students who were conducive to their learning success. The company themselves were quick to help out with any technical hassles. Our school certainly still tested the outer limits of what the software could do - for instance, we found you couldn't program in separations from students in different year levels. Class Creator said that would require an even more complex algorithm!! But because we knew about the limitation, we could work around. But avoiding that first initial bunfight of getting teachers to put names out onto class sheets was avoided. When someone said, "Can't we just have straight classes in this year level?", I could run it through Class Creator, create the scenario and people could see for themselves whether it would work or not, or what were the compromises that would need to be made to make it happen. So, a big tick for this product.

I ran a Sphero workshop for EdTechSA in Week 7 of all times and that was pretty successful. I'm due to do another one early in 2016, and I am seeing more teachers becoming confident in using the robots themselves. Another teacher has discovered another robotics product with potential called Ozobots, and is keen to enlist my help to explore their potential for learning in 2016. I am confident that more teachers will get on board, especially as I have already seen some of our teachers get involved in a DECD Digital Technologies project focussed on the use of Makey Makeys in buddy class projects. Mel, one of the teachers involved, has been leading out in the area of robotics as can be seen in the video below.

Along with three other colleagues, I attended training for the Microsoft Peer Coaching course, led by my line manager and acting principal, Marg Clark (who happens to be one of only two qualified trainers). Karen Butler from DECD also helped lead some of the training as Marg's "apprentice" but essentially it was about becoming familiar with 21CLD and then rehearsing the required skills and techniques to facilitate professional conversations about planned learning with peers. I am hoping that some of my Green Building teachers who I line manage will be keen to participate and have me as their coach in 2016. We have also been working with Tom Barrett from NoTosh on Design Thinking, and looking to develop that more within our school in 2016.

Speaking of 2016, we are welcoming a new principal to the school. Having a new person at the helm is always going to mean that things are about to change but we need to embrace the opportunities that will come with this, while highlighting to our new boss all of the great stuff that goes on and makes the school such a great place to work at where staff feel like they are making a real difference to the students from our increasingly complex community.

At the moment, I am enjoying the time to recharge my batteries, spend time with the family and get in a few games of golf. At the moment I am enjoying a patch of improvement in this area, and have even started a blog to capture some of my learning and experiences in this area. The audience for that particular niche could be very small indeed!! I am having fun playing a few games on my son's new PS4 and even reading my way through the PC Grant novel series by Ben Aaronovitch. We'll see how 2016 develops soon enough.

 

dllanyards

Tomorrow morning at the Primary Years Assembly, I will be presenting six more Digital Leaders lanyards bringing the number of newly qualified Leaders up to twenty two. My photo shows the pile ready with the badge grid showing badges earned so far complete with the glamorous purple lanyard (called the forgotten colour of our school uniform by our Music teacher!) with teal custom printing.

The cost for each lanyard is around five dollars. The plastic sleeve is worth about fifty cents and the printing is a few cents extra. A modest investment considering what the students and the school get in return. We are not talking about privileged students here - far from it.

For that price, I get enthusiasm and dedication. For that price, students get opportunity and a shot at showcasing their skills. For that price, the school gets expertise, hosted lunchtime activities and teachers get access to student experts who can help get their learning programs running smoothly. For that price, students get a chance to feel special, to feel pride in helping others, in having fun and getting to learn something new. For that price, I get to build new relationships, I get to re-engage some challenging kids and I get to push this whole idea along to become something that is a positive, embedded part of the school.

Worth every cent, I say.

I described my Digital Leadership initiative in my last post and how students have signed on to participate. I managed to secure some time in our Resource Centre to supplement the lunchtime sessions so that students could work towards their badges. We have started with the twin options of MinecraftEDU and Sphero Robotics, but potentially down the track, the program could expand to Digital Leadership in iPads, BeeBots or other technology connected possibilities. We've had a Minecraft server for a few years now and I've blogged about some of the ways it has been used at our school after the research our school has done in the past.

But the Spheros are brand new to me and the students. So in the last three weeks since I took delivery of the 15 little robotic balls, I have held two afternoons and four lunchtime sessions with the sole intent of letting the Leaders loose to work things out for themselves. It has been fascinating to watch. We have a few accessories to use with the Spheros - rubberised covers, small plastic chariots that have a Lego like connection section and Terrain packs with ramps, poles and connectors to create a stunt park or obstacle course. I nabbed a building's travel case of ten iPads and downloaded eight of the most useful Sphero apps, and supplemented them with my own staff iPad and a couple of spare Nexus 7 tablets not currently being used for anything else.

The first challenge was getting the Spheros to connect and communicate with a device. The connection is made via Bluetooth and every Sphero flashes its own tri-colour sequence when woken. My eBay special at home here has a sequence of Green, Blue, Red so it appears in the BlueTooth settings as Sphero-GBR. But you can imagine the mayhem when a whole bunch of stuents double tap their Spheros to wake them, forget to see what sequence is flashing and are confronted by a list of four to seven visible devices that are offering connection!greensphero bluesphero

We started to see that often the Sphero the Leader wanted to use would not respond, or would suddenly start showing its blue aiming light but be under the control of someone else in the room who did not really know what their app was doing but they could tell they were connected to something! Once the connection issues were sorted, students had no problems getting the Spheros moving around the area using the Drive app - a simple set of controls allowing direction and speed as well as the ability to change LED colours and a limited number of "tricks" (zigzag, figure 8, square, circle, lightning). They tried out the nubby covers, zoomed around in the chariots, even allowing me to insert my iPhone into one of them and filming a Sphero Chariot POV of the Resource Centre surrounds.

Eventually, a couple of the students asked to use the Terrain Pack gear and starting setting up jumps and obstacle challenges to drive the Spheros over and through. One of the badges I had designated was a Rally Driver's badge and we had some discussion about what this would entail. I talked about being able to successfully negotiate a prescribed route but that they could set up their own challenge. A number decided that getting over the long ramp as pictured left would be testament to their skill but it turned out not to be as easy as they first imagined! The Sphero's smooth surface spun and skidded on the way up so some Leaders switched to a cover to get some much needed traction. Eventually there was a lot of excitement as Spheros veered off track at the last second, as successful attempts went unwitnessed and unverified. A lot of play and a lot of learning was going on in all sessions, and the cooperative learning I envisaged was starting to unfold.

A couple of more adventurous students decided to try out some of the other apps. One leader tried out the Sphero app which turns the use of the ball into a gaming experience with levels, points and rewards. This is quite a good way to get students thinking creatively about the Sphero and not just see it as a toy to drive around. The tricks that can be unlocked in the Core Exchange show that colour and movement sequences can be humorous and artistic, and can lead to the use of the MacroLab app where the programming aspect of Spheros can be utilised. Only a a small number of students have felt confident enough to have a go in this app but the pride in creating and programming a simple Macro could be clearly seen in the face of the two Leaders who just had to show me what they had coded.

These leaders clearly need more time to grow their expertise and I am learning a lot just simply through observation and trying to solve their problems as they arise. Some students are even keen to help me pack everything up at the end of a session, ensuring that all Spheros are powered down and "asleep", everything in its correct box and easy to access for the next time. I want this group of about twenty students to be able to assist me when I start using these robotic balls with middle primary classes. One test lesson with a class in my building taught me that one teacher on his or her own will struggle to get first timers up and going without headaches galore. Having some expert Leaders on hand to help with connection, modelling appropriate care and encouragement will be of benefit to all parties. The teacher will appreciate the support, the students in the class will get a better lesson and the leaders will have helped others in their learning and put their particular skills to great use.

One of the things that emerged from our 2012 WGS action research project around gaming for learning was the idea of acknowledging digital skills and expertise of students in a Digital Leaders program. As the student researchers played in the Minecraft environment or used the XBox, it became apparent that some students fell naturally into the role of instructors, organisers and coaches. In 2013, I formally organised the first group of Digital Leaders for our school, earmarking Friday afternoons as a time where they could work in-world in our MinecraftEDU server. These students were volunteers from the upper primary classes, and had a mix of responsibilities ranging from troubleshooting for younger students invited to participate, mentoring some handpicked disengaged students to running lunchtime sessions for middle primary kids. It was quite informal - but I began to see Digital Leadership as offering an opportunity for students to demonstrate leadership in a different form. Some of the students who became embedded in the program were shy, or struggled academically or socially. But in this role, they grew in confidence because they had expertise that other students saw as valuable and desirable. These students were acknowledged at the end of 2013 with certificates but I think they appreciated the gift of time where they could showcase their talents and interact with peers who had the same digital bent.

In 2014, some of the same kids continued with the program but through a combination of factors, we now longer had access to a time in the weekly timetable to set aside for this group. I ended up running Minecraft sessions four lunchtimes a week across the school using our new suite of Digital Leader laptops, but the Leaders dwindled to a small but loyal group of volunteers. Some of the lunchtime groups attracted students who were struggling in the social whirlwind of the lunchtime playground and saw time absorbed in Minecraft as a safe haven. But looking back, I can see that I didn't invest enough time in the actual Leaders and really leaned on their goodwill for the entire year. They were great kids but as they were moving onto high school this year, I knew things had to change. But I couldn't work out what the way forward should look like.

As this year started, I would run into kids in the yard asking me, "When are you starting Minecraft back up again, Mr Wegner?"

I had lunchtimes free to actually eat my lunch but I was feeling guilty about not providing an option that kids were super keen on. My big pile of priorities to get off the ground kept stalling the inevitable moment when I would have to get started. But I knew that the Digital Leaders program needed some structure, needed fresh student participants and I wasn't ready to do anything until I knew what was required. The weeks ticked by. I thought kids would grow tired asking about lunchtime Minecraft but the almost daily queries continued.

Then on a Partnership Leadership day with Anthony Muhammad, the structure of the 2015 program came to me. We were having a morning tea break. I had taken delivery of my new Spheros earlier in the week. I had just been nibbling on a pastry when the concept came to me - a badge system that acknowledged skills and allowed progression and responsibility. I scribbled the basic structure on notepaper during what remained of the break, and put some more finishing touches during the lunch break. The next day, I fleshed it out using Cmaps and ran the idea past a few colleagues. I used ClassBadges.com to create and find the badges I needed and to provide the tracking system I would need. I typed up the whole thing into a clear structure that could be used with staff and students. You can download a copy here.

2015dlIt is loosely based on a gamification hierarchy. Demonstrate a skill in either MinecraftEDU or Sphero Robotics and earn a badge. Earn all of the badges in that level and then level up. What I wanted was a system where as many kids who were interested could join in and progress at their own pace. Getting students from Apprentice to Assistant will give me the expertise needed to start to run lunchtime sessions again. Diversifying from a Minecraft only diet will also attract a different type of student, but again with choice as a driving factor students can choose one path or the other - or both! Moving up from the Apprentice level also grants students their official lanyard with ID plastic tag where a printout display of earned badges with the student's name shows others what the Leader is qualified to help with or what role he or she can perform. I ordered cool purple lanyards (the school's overlooked colour) with WGS Digital Leadership embossed on them, and presented the whole concept to the Year 3 - 7 classes at an assembly on the following Tuesday after my initial brainwave.

Three weeks later, I have 51 students enrolled in the program. As expected, students are at all different stages but I presented the first official lanyards to six very proud students at last week's 3-7 Assembly. I'll be giving out some more this coming week at the end of term Whole School Assembly. I have run lunchtime sessions for potential leaders only alternating between using our MinecraftEDU server and learning how the new Sphero robotic balls work. I have found enough ninety minute sessions to get back that valuable time that leaders need as an additional incentive to provide support down the track. Students use the Leadership blueprint to plan their approach to earning badges, and are diligent about providing evidence so that the next badge can be awarded and tracked.

My vision is that there will be a core group of students who can be rostered on for lunchtime activity sessions, and be on call to help teachers who want to use either Minecraft or the Spheros in their classroom. I hope by opening it up to so many students that I am providing opportunity for younger students to gain experience in sharing their expertise with others. I am also hoping that a small group of students have the chance to become a Diplomat or Advisor, where visitors to our school can hear first hand from talented students about the unique opportunities we offer in this ares for our students. So far, it is off to a promising start.

During Ewan McIntosh's keynote on Wednesday, I posted the following reaction to Twitter:

For me, the theme of #EduTECH is tensions - between pedagogies, between possibilities and constraints, between curriculum and creativity...

I've thought about tensions in education before in the past. But Ewan's discussion about tensions and contradictions, followed by Tom Barrett's presentation on creativity which also talked about tensions, started some contemplation within my own mind about how I go about my own learning and then transferring that to my professional life as an educator and leader. This post will be an attempt to sort some of that out and to address some of my past frustrations in a new, more informed light. I don't want to rehash Ewan's address here but this great visual presentation from Cathy Hunt aka @art_cathyhunt sums up the key ideas.

I've been looking back at the almost three years that I've been at WGS with a feeling of frustration in a number of areas. I know that the school is immensely complex and challenging, and I have been on a steep learning curve since arriving. However, there are a lot of times when I feel like I haven't made that much of a difference to the place, or that the school hasn't moved to places that it should have under my guidance. I remember applying for the job and talking to another ICT peer here in Adelaide about the opportunity. He suggested that the position would be ideal - a brand new school, no previous incumbent or set ICT directions, a blank canvas, so to speak professional opportunity wise. I had visions of heading up a drive of innovation where technology would be embedded in rich and meaningful ways, where connected staff planned and provided leading edge learning for their students and there would be outside recognition of these programs.

Well, WGS is innovative and doing a great job catering for the needs of its students and I am privileged to be part of a large progressive leadership team, but it is my own contribution that caused me frustration. Everyone else seemed to have their act together and knew what they were doing while I (in my mind) struggled to be clear about directions, about making the right decisions and most of all, about getting teacher buy in for the essential role of technology in re-imagining learning for our students. Maybe it is part of the reason I started to retreat from participation in educational social media - I felt like I didn't have successes to highlight, that every connection seemed to be on track with their professional programs but me. The evidence was in front of me - educators who used to be just like me when I was a coordinator / classroom teacher were heading up important leadership roles, being headhunted to showcase their answers at conferences and being referenced as thought leaders in publications and books. Not that I wanted any of that - but I didn't want to feel like the only one who feels like they don't know what they are doing.

There are two Hugh MacLeod cartoons that speak to me above all others. One is aspirational:

And the other is to help me feel good:

So, to to hear Ewan and Tom talk about tensions made me reflect about the tensions I experience in my daily professional life. There are plenty of them. There is the tension between ensuring that there are enough devices available for use and the fact that any devices can be used to enable student learning at a deep level. There is tension between dealing with urgent behaviour management issues at the expense of more big picture planning - the former robs the latter of time, but leaving the former means that extra thought for the latter could well be wasted. Tensions exist across the school - teachers are encouraged to use structure to keep students on task and because looseness can descend into chaos within a minute, but over-structure promotes disengagement and constrains freedom of choice for learners. I personalise learning for teachers at PD sessions but it is difficult when the range stretches from Twitter enthusiasts to teachers who struggle to sign up for an online account - mirroring the broad range of our students.

I have probably achieved a lot more in my role at this school than I am prepared to give myself credit for. But I don't like to use valid reasons as excuses, so I need to open up myself to more sharing, more consultation with my colleagues and making networked learning a key part of a leadership and role resurgence that is necessary for both the school, my colleagues and myself.

I was recently asked to respond to the question, "What makes a great leader as opposed to a good leader?" As my thinking really went across the whole idea of being a leader regardless of official title, I thought I would post my list here for wider interaction.  The words left of the arrow are in the Good category, still necessary as great does not preclude good, and the Great stuff is on the right of the arrow.

Manager >
Leader

supporting priorities > vision

improvement > innovation

principal support > creation of new aspects

today’s job as described > new thinking and sustainability

supportive > trust leading to challenge

works well with others > connects and inspires

self confidence > colleagues’ confidence

work with community > engage and influence

knows students > makes meaningful connections