Archive for the 'Learning' Category

Crossing Language Barriers Via Family And Photos

We have a significant number of students from African background at our school. Now that in itself is too broad a description as the students we have enrolled hail from over twenty nations and cultures across the African continent. Two of the more major groups include Somali and Kurundi families, and our Community Development Officer has been working with some of our parents in playgroups and parent group meetings on a weekly basis. The Kurundi group meets with her, along with one of our multilingual BSSO’s (Bilingual School Support Officer) offering translation support, on a weekly basis to explore things of interest in the areas of health, support services, cooking and so on. Many of these mums have had little formal education prior to arriving in Australia, or had to make do with whatever was on offer in the refugee camps. Many are keen but lacking in confidence in being highly involved in their children’s education, and one of the aspects they feel out of touch in is the area of ICT.

Through our Community Development Officer, I have been approached to help address this need with this group this term. Many of the parents have phones or cameras but don’t know how to get the photos from the camera onto a computer or into printed form. They don’t feel confident in navigating their way around a laptop so we have decided the way to cross the barriers between what their kids know and their own skills to via Family Photos. I suggested that we work on making Snapfish printed photo books with the parents where they take photos from their phones or cameras, and use the Snapfish interface to create something they will really treasure. They can learn how to use cables to download photos into folders, how to find and look through photo files, how to use the internet to look up images they might want to include (country flags, images from their homeland) and how to use web technologies that involve drag and drop, typing in text, making choices from menus, making changes to a template and a whole bunch of skills that don’t necessarily need a strong command of English in order to be able to achieve. I’m looking forward to it- and hope that our hunch about the common connections that can be made through family photos can help these parents feel more empowered about the technology that is so commonplace in Australia and in our classrooms, and they can engage with their kids more easily. I’m looking forward to receiving my demo Snapfish booklet soon to help tune these adult learners in!

 

Some Unsolicited Advice About Report Writing

Here in South Australia, it is that time of year when mid-year reports go home to parents. I know there are a number of schools exploring and implementing better ways of reporting to parents using online technology but for the majority of South Australian primary schools, the reporting process is fairly uniform and consistent. Of course, things have evolved over time. When I first started teaching in the mid-80′s reports were hand written before then being drafted by hand and then typed up by skilled teacher aides. Eventually about over the last fifteen to twenty years it has evolved into a digital template (often as a Word document) where teachers allocate grades, evaluate social skills and dispositions towards learning and then write several paragraphs addressed to the parent / caregiver about the child’s progress thus far in the school year. Every school I’ve ever been at has had its own template, and more often than not kept tinkering with layout and sections to try and improve the final product. I can remember writing a five to six line paragraph for four core learning areas and then add a twelve to fifteen line summary that drew all of the observations about the student to a fitting conclusion. I suppose it says a fair bit about the slow pace of change in schools that I am still seeing a similar end product for reporting purposes now as from when I started my teaching career.

It is the written component that many teachers find difficult and laborious. I have seen teachers who have copies of books titled “Great Report Writing Comments and Phrases To Use” because they lack confidence in their own ability to construct sentences of quality. I have met teachers who openly admit that writing is a process that they dislike immensely, which leads me to wonder how they inspire their students to embrace and enjoy the art of writing in their classroom. I have been lucky. I actually quite enjoy the process of writing and reflecting on a student’s progress, and I thought I got pretty good at it. I know this from positive feedback I have received from parents over the years, from the fact that my proof reading colleagues have rarely corrected or changed any of my paragraphs and how when I look at other teachers’ reports (as I do now in my role as a leader / line manager) I know straight away if they are of a high standard and if not, I start mentally rewriting them as I read, drawing my own knowledge of the student into play.

So, I think that there are several components to successful report writing and a few definite issues or practices to avoid. The end goal should be that after the parent has read the report, their reaction is that the teacher really knows their child. Statements that are bland and wide open leave the parent wondering if the teacher really does know their child, and if they don’t, how can they trust any of the assessment judgements made elsewhere in the report? So personalising the comments is essential. Saying the child is “a good student” is meaningless. I really like it when teachers offer examples to back up their observations – Johnny has shown great leadership skills within our classroom as he demonstrated when organising the Red Nose Day for our class. I don’t mind teachers outlining some of the topics or content covered as long as they are also commenting about the child’s learning within that.

I think it is important to strike a balance in terms of the amount of information offered. A general comment that goes on and on and flows beyond the allocated space means that the writer is struggling to be succinct, and if I look closely might also contain doubled up phrases, overly descriptive language and use of meaningless cliches. The flip side is when too little is written and tactics like excessive paragraph breaks and a larger font are used to disguise the lack of written reflection. When editing reports, I would rather deal with the former as excess can always be tightened up and pruned back. I have generally found that these teachers really do know their students but struggle to contain everything they have to say neatly into the space provided. Too little gives an impression that the teacher does not see fit to elaborate about this student or that maybe they haven’t taken the time to really get to know that student.

Some teachers’ solution to the report writing blues is to adopt a formula. This can be helpful when used as a guide of things they want to cover within the report but the extreme version is where a cookie cutter report is written and the names of the students are just swapped in and out with some slight variations in choice of adjectives. The give away for these is when gender pronouns do not match the student, where another student’s name is still present or just the gnawing feeling of deja vu as I plow through the class set. (Really, every student in this class is a pleasure to have in the classroom and completed their mid term book report to a reasonable / good / great / amazing standard!) Following a formula is smart as long it isn’t copy paste and again, I can tell if the teacher is really reflecting on what the child has achieved:
Polly has structured her written texts well this semester. She frequently makes very strong connections between her experiences and the texts she is exposed to and writes about them with clarity. Ways for Polly to continue to promote improvement in her writing include elaborating her points further, explaining her position in finer detail and reviewing her usage of apostrophes of possession.
You can see that this sequence of sentences can follow a similar pattern for every student in the class BUT they have to be written individually. After all, each student has different strengths, abilities and ways of approaching learning, and will also have very individual goals to focus on moving forward.

Then there is also the power of positivity. I agree that sometimes parents need to know the plain unvarnished truth about their child’s efforts towards learning but there is still a way of doing it that avoids insulting or straight out negativity. Take this example:It is important that Harold understands the value of asking for help or clarification as he often waits for the teacher to notice his errors or uncertainty, while a more pro-active approach will see him getting help sooner and making better use of time.
This points out the issue but instead of laying blame at the student’s feet, offers a productive way forward. Parents will appreciate that.

Finally, a lot of teachers like to address the student directly in the last sentence or two. I don’t mind this tactic even though the report speaks to the parents as a focus, and I have done this myself on a regular basis. But as it finishes up what you are saying, make it strong and make it count. Don’t write something insipid: Good luck – I know you can do it! Be personal and memorable: Fergus, do not settle for average. Use your diary, apply yourself and see the change. We wish you the best for high school.

So if you’ve been writing reports, proof reading reports or are still to tackle them, remember that in many households, these documents are hoarded and treasured. You should feel proud of what you have written and want it to stand as a high quality example of teacher assessment of learning. Remember that this post is only from my perspective and should not be held as a definitive set of standards, more as food for thought and a plea to keep the quality high.

oldreport

photo credit: canonsnapper via photopin cc

From Entertainment To Learning

There are many factors that weigh into how quickly change of cultural mindset can occur. And as I’ve said before, at a school as complex as the one I work at, these factors are not easily or quickly countered. My school is considered as catering for a disadvantaged community but that does not mean universal neediness. It just means the range of what kids have access to in their home life is stretched out far wider than the average school. We have students who come to school hungry so teachers give them breakfast but also have kids who get dropped in Mercedes or BMWs. We have students whose parents never come for parent teacher interviews or avoid answering on their mobile if they see the school is calling, and we have kids who go to Kumon, and Saturday morning “Maths Wizard School” and then top it off with ethnic language school in the afternoon. We have kids who have no internet or computers and maybe a second hand parent owned mobile phone to kids who have laptops, iPads, Minecraft accounts, X Boxes and Playstation 4′s. We have kids who use phones and the web totally unsupervised and with free reign to kids who are strictly supervised during homework time to ensure that the internet is only being used for studious purposes.

It’s a different sort of disadvantage to the one described by Sugata Mitra in his “hole in the wall” research, where the kids involved had no access to education, had no access to social services and no technology of this kind in their world of poverty. When I heard him speak I kept thinking about our students and how regardless of social circumstance and simply because they live in an urban, Australian environment, are not as devoid of the infiltration of the commercial world of entertainment as those kids in rural India. I kept thinking that it was more likely that the “hole in the wall” kids would be self-learning, while the emotional influence of entertainment-heavy culture would have my students making different choices if the roles were reversed. And that culture is all pervasive – game shops, Foxtel, billboards, fun apps, fast food tie-ins, Snapchatting, Facebook games – it seems to be all about gratification dressed up as fun, and that combination is a hard way to combat.

I am convinced that for a sizeable section of my school student population, digital technology is simply about access to entertainment and socialising. It is a default mindset. It is the mindset that makes teachers wary about having personal mobile phones in the classroom, that keeps the most liberal minded technology leader cautious about taking off the web filtering. It affects teacher’s headspace about giving up control – the fear that by allowing access to technology, students will default to what entertains rather than what will challenge and educate. We willingly concede to the “fun factor” when teachers push Mathletics and similar online learning platforms as being good use of technology time. It is harder to push through to meaningful and targetted use of technology for learning, to move up from the lower rungs of Bloom’s Taxonomy and ensure that students are engaging in challenge and purpose. I’m not saying that games can’t be challenging and purposeful – but without skillful learning design scaffolding the process, the entertainment gratification urge pushes itself to the forefront.

So this is a issue that I struggle with a lot. How to move use of technology from entertainment to learning. To get teacher headspace in a place where laptops and iPads are not “free time” rewards but valuable tools for documenting and constructing learning. Is anyone out there feel like they are winning this battle in similar circumstances to me? I’d love to have a conversation – here or anywhere online.

Tensions

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.

EduTECH 2014 – Virtual Version

Cross-posted from my staff blog where I set up a Virtual EduTECH page for interested staff who wanted to know a bit more about the conference that the select five of us who went got to see. Putting this together showed me that sometimes someone else does say it better, than curation is a great way to assemble a shared experience and favouriting Tweets as the conference goes along is a heck of a lot easier than trawling back through 4 days of a #hashtagged Twitter stream. I think that if you didn’t get to go to this conference then a thorough exploration of the stuff assembled below will go pretty close to making you feel like you knew what was happening and the big ideas that flowed through the conference and out through the digital ecosphere.

—————————————————————————————————

Sugata Mitra - From a hole in the wall to the cloud
Article that summarises most of the ideas from his keynote.
He talked a lot about the concept of SOLE (Self Organising Learning Environments) – link to Tumblr showcasing examples and ideas.
Here is his talk summarised in cartoon form.


Anthony Salcito – Lead a Learning Revolution

Jenny LucaDigital Literacy  Enter in your school email address to access her slideshow

Judy o’ConnellWeb 3.0

Sir Ken Robinson – Learning To Be Creative
Keynote summary including links to videos shown.


Ewan McIntosh – Agile Leadership in Learning


Ewan’s talk summarised via Storify by corisel.

Gary Stager – Making School Reform

Tom Barrett – Creativity and the Australian Curriculum

Dan HaeslerHow to use technology to enhance student engagement, motivation and wellbeing

Joyce ValenzaHacking the Library

Greg Whitby - Developing a contemporary model of learning & teaching for a connected world

Ian JukesAligning technology initiatives in the age of disruptive innovation

Sue Waters, who works for Edublogs, took it upon herself to curate the photos, videos, tweets and blogposts into Flipboard creating a digital artifact that delves even deeper than this virtual line up here. Check it out – it is a real treat and shows the power of crowdsourcing showing that it is possible to see things from other people’s point of view. CHECK IT OUT!


EduTech 2014

Photo by my colleague, Salma.

Photo by my colleague, Salma.

I am on the return leg home from Brisbane where four of my colleagues and I have spent the past two days at EduTECH. Personally I think that this event is misnamed because it is much more about learning with a focus on the rapidly approaching future than any particular focus on technology. Sure, there are tons of vendors in the exhibition area; some plugging products at odds with the pedagogies being espoused in the keynote sessions. But looking through the list of speakers shows big picture thinkers, education leaders with a story of change to tell and other learning focussed edu-celebrities all of who contrast with the invited speakers from the Gold class sponsors who have to subtly (or not so) remind us of their products or services in their addresses. But they help to pay the bills and keep the costs to us delegates within range of our school budgets so their presence on the program is a given. Without fail, it was their sessions that had the quickest “vote with your feet” factor in play.

For someone like me whose role is centred on change and enriching use of technology the list of “want to see” speakers was comprehensive. I loved Sugata Mitra, couldn’t wait to hear from Jenny Luca and Judy O’Connell, enjoyed but felt a bit ho-hum about the big draw card Sir Ken Robinson, even though it feels like sacrilege to say so. (No death threats please, Ken Robinson fans!) Tom Barrett was great, Ian Jukes was fervent but captivating and where else could you face the difficult choice of either Ewan McIntosh or Gary Stager?

EduTECH is a bit of a keynote-fest but the subtle interactivity running through the online back channels meant you could peek into the minds of others as salient points were made in the Great Hall or Plaza Ballroom. During Ian Jukes’ closing keynote the #EduTECH hashtag stream reached over 10.5 thousand tweets and retweets. That’s a lot especially when I can remember conferences a few years back where you would be lucky to have 20 people in the flow of conversation. It was really interesting to see my colleagues all at varying stages of engagement with using Twitter as a tool for learning really embrace the interaction and the widening of the learning experience. They were truly experiencing the well worn phrase “The smartest person in the room is the room” and certainly, not on a scale that they had experienced before.


Sugata Mitra was interesting to me because of his research based approach to his work and how that influenced his conclusions. The big message that came through for me was about collaboration and students learning together. There were images of large screen computers with flexible furniture to facilitate students using the screen together to collaborate and to de-privatise the learning – a push away from the concepts of 1:1 devices. He talked about optimum learning being on the edge of chaos.

I must admit that I made the choice to make a early exit from the Vice President of Microsoft Education’s keynote as his message seemed to be leading down a well trodden path that I’ve seen enough times before, and not even find out what the gentleman from Intel planned to cover. That was fine, plenty stayed to listen and I wanted to connect with educators that I knew were here. Quite a few schools from South Australia had teams in attendance and it was great to connect with other colleagues in the process of enacting positive change. It was also a chance to meet a few more people who I’ve interacted with online over quite a few years. I had Jenny Luca sit a row in front of me (she made an interesting comment to me about me being someone who seemed to have retreated offline, a very true statement that requires more thought on my behalf) and I ran into Judy O’Connell in the exhibition hall. I ran into Tom Barrett again but we’ve crossed paths quite a few times over the last few years but it was my search for Sue Waters that would prove to be most elusive. Sue is someone who I have known online since 2006 when she was doing podcasting and other interesting stuff as part of her TAFE lecturer role. When I saw her name in the Twitter stream, my mind flashed back to Skype chats with cutting edge thinkers like Alex Hayes, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Clay Burell. Sue is now extremely well known as an integral part of the Edublogs team, where she gets to do what she enjoys most in her own words, helping others. I think that Sue is one of the most awesome people going around and it was totally worth the missed crossing paths and “Where are you now?” direct messages on Twitter to talk to her face to face ten minutes or so before the closing keynote. A funny side note is that Scott, one of the WGS teachers with our group, unwittingly met Sue the day before when he was searching for a way to charge his fast draining phone and offered to lend him a cord!

Both Ewan and Tom were excellent in their presentations with Ewan’s thoughts on tensions and leadership being particularly relevant for me and my current headspace in my recently resumed role. Before we left, I set up a Virtual EduTECH page on our new staff blog that embedded the #EduTECH stream to encourage interested staff to follow along. Before we left on Monday, my principal Frank had the page up on the flatscreen in the staffroom to help pique interest in what we were participating in. My task is now to curate links and videos from the important speakers so that the team who went have some memory triggers to help propagate the key themes and ideas that match our school’s directions.

Soaking in this big picture thinking for two days does require some thought decompression and entangling of intertwined messages. I’ll probably do that here over the course of a few posts here. But for now, as we begin the descent into Adelaide, this will do as the first part of that process.

Brisbane, Southbank side, pic by me.

Brisbane, Southbank side, pic by me.

Personal Lessons Learned

During Term of 2014, I applied for and was appointed to the acting position of the acting Head of School (Deputy Principal) here at my school, after our previous HOS took up a new appointment as a principal at the end of last year. I thought it would be good experience, although I felt quite daunted by the role, which was very different from my usual role of Assistant Principal. The areas of responsibility were different, the line management was different and the way my week unfolded was a big departure from my regular work patterns. As an acting position, my principal did not give me the full blown role, hanging onto some components that he felt he could manage, and likewise, I kept some aspects of my regular position instead of handing it all onto the colleague who also “acted up” into my role for the term.

About a month into this change of responsibilities, I knew that I wouldn’t be amongst the applicants to take on this role more permanently. I learned a lot in my term, but the role really felt daunting to me at times so deep down, I knew that at this time of my life, I wasn’t ready professionally to make the big “jump up” beyond this acting stint. But I learned a lot during my tenure, and I thought it would be a good idea to reflect on that time before my memory becomes foggy, and familiarity with my current role becomes engrained again.

Being a Head of School meant that colleagues did treat me differently. Some came by to talk to me and feel me out to see if I would be an ally in their part of the school picture or whether I would be someone to bypass. Instead of being a person to help pitch and help out with behaviour management, more serious issues were brought to me to deal with. I signed my first suspension letters in this role. It meant that I had to be ready to have hard conversations with colleagues about their work, and that I would provide them with what they needed to turn things around or to mend bridges.

I really found that this is a big people role, while my AP position focusses more on programs and resources. My AP role is about influencing classroom practice, while the Deputy role was more about driving school priorities, and in some ways, there was more of making colleagues accountable. Being a Deputy was definitely more about people looking to me to make decisions that they couldn’t or didn’t want to, while I do some of that deferring up or across in my current role. I had to draw a lot more on my skills of diplomacy both with colleagues and parents, and the role brought more in contact with our more challenging students. I also had to let go of some aspects of my AP work that are driven by my own innovation, and trust that the acting person would be fine without my direction.

Frank, my boss, invited me in for a chat on my last day in the role and asked me straight out what was the best part of being a Head of School at our school. I really had to stop and reflect because it had felt so much like putting one foot in front of the other that I wasn’t sure how to separate out various parts from each other. But then I recalled the weekly senior leadership meeting where it would be just the principal, the other permanent Head of School (Early Years) and I gathering to align diaries, make plans and decide on solutions and directions for the school. I said that while I thought it might sound silly, it felt good to feel important and that my input at that level was important, and that I was making a difference. Frank graciously said that no, it wasn’t silly and thanked me for my efforts and contributions.

I work at a very complex, quite challenging school where something is always happening. We have a new Head of School now, and luckily, it is a colleague that I knew previously through ICT networking connections and who I respect enormously. Our school has a large leadership team, far from the norm in South Australian schools, and each member brings a unique skillset and perspective to the running of the school. My principal has to delegate a lot – micromanagement just wouldn’t work in our school situation – and he has to trust that the leadership team he has constructed is in unison with the school’s chosen directions and that we present a united front to our even larger team of teachers and support staff. I am proud to be part of that team and happy that I got to “test drive” a more senior role within that team for the term. For now, I can go back to my weekly blend of Learning Technologies, Admin and Data with a better idea of what happens when I pass an issue up the chain of command.

Are PISA Results An Accurate Measure Of The Quality Of Education Anywhere?

Late last year, my principal passed along a document transcript of a keynote delivered by Dr Alan Reid from UniSA titled “Translating what? How PISA distorts policy, research and practice in education“. I’ve looked for a copy online but can’t seem to find one to link to so I am uploading the copy from my email inbox to share his analysis to a broader audience. I know that we used this transcript as a basis for a powerful dialogue around the proper use of data for learning in our leadership team, but the messages he delivers could translate well to any nation where the results from PISA are being used to publicly rate and rank how their students are doing. This is not the first time he has questioned the media’s and government’s over reliance on the rankings and data sets that these international tests provide.

Click on the link – Alan Reid keynote CredNovember14 – to download.

It seems that PISA can provoke warning signs of decline in any part of the world, but many media outlets here down under are quick to give these tests a very high level of credibility. A quick sample via Google shows this:

Maths results a concern in PISA schools study
New PISA results show education decline – it’s time to stop the slide
OECD report finds Australian students falling behind

And interestingly, within that last article was this observation from Dr Ken Boston:

Gonski review panellist and former director-general of NSW education Ken Boston said Australia should compare itself to Canada in OECD comparisons – which performed significantly higher than Australia in maths and reading.

Meanwhile, in Canada, who Australia should be seeking to emulate, PISA results are producing a similar reaction:

Canada’s students slipping in math and science, OECD finds

And this article from the Vancouver Sun, has this gem of an observation which perhaps sums up a lot of the hysteria worldwide regarding PISA:

The only people who really revel in the PISA announcement of where Canada sits in the world rankings are politicians, business leaders and university academics well positioned to take credit for successes in public education and blame those lazy overpaid teachers for any drop in the PISA rankings.

You could substitute any number of countries in Canada’s (or Australia’s) place and the statement would feel true to many educators who find the reality of their classroom to be quite detached from the results and how they are interpreted for the public’s benefit.

Anyway, have a read of Dr Reid’s keynote and let me know what you think.

The Corporate Helping Hand

Technology can be a major driver of innovation within any school setting. So, it makes sense that the corporations that develop and sell the devices, infrastructure and software that are part of this picture would want to be publicly visible as a key factor for positive change. A recent example of this came my way via Tim Holt who reflected on a partnership between Science Leadership Academy, an acknowledged innovative school in the US, and Dell who are funding Chromebooks and other benefits for the school. Now, this is a great coup for the school involved and is a win/win PR wise for both the school and the tech corporation who are very publicly providing this innovative support. But as Tim points out, “this sweetheart deal he is getting from Dell is NOTHING like what every other school will get“. There is a lot more to this story which you can follow through on the comments on Tim’s blog but I am interested in the point where the corporate helping hand starts to feel more like a forceful push in the back.

Corporations that have a stake in the education pie all want to be seen as the answer to innovation, or in many cases, just keeping pace. Schools are always under the pump when it comes to funding. Every Google Educator, Apple Distinguished Educator, Microsoft Innovative Educator or Intel Teach facilitator is the equivalent of me wearing my favourite Rip Curl tee-shirt out in public – a form of advertising. There is somewhat of an insinuation that those educators who sport these fancy titles, not earned from a university course or form of scholarship but from an application form or a weekend of workshopping, are somehow better or more qualified at being better educators than everyone else. (Disclosure: I have an Intel Teach course diploma somewhere in my cupboard and I can tell you that it has made little to no difference to my capacity as an educator.)

Late last term I went to a day event that was the launch of a partnership between my own education department (DECD) and Microsoft. I heard about it via a Community of Practice group that my school is involved in around Innovative Learning Environments, and we knew that a couple of schools within our group had been involved in the Microsoft Innovative Schools program so a colleague and I went along to see what this partnership could be offering or mean to the system as a whole. (Another disclosure: I have been involved in the Microsoft Innovative Schools program too, at the school I worked at prior to WGS, and benefitted from their sponsored interstate trips.) The message is one of the corporation is here to give back to you, the schools, here’s what we can offer you, here’s a sample of the sort of Professional Learning on offer. Which is great but being the sort of person I am, I tend to notice the subtle sub-messages, real or imagined, throughout the day that still bug me.

An example of when I feel the corporate heavy hand in the middle of my back – when a graphic of devices is shown to the audience, starting with the least powerful Smartphone then tablets then laptops and finally, the tablet PC as the ultimate learning machine. Windows machines dominate the graphic (as you would expect at a Microsoft funded day) and the sole token outsider in the graphic is an iPad just to the right of the Smartphone and well left of the inferred-superior Microsoft Surface. The message is clear about what constitutes an innovative learning device. We are also presented with a definitive list of 21st Century Learning skills – despite the fact that a quick search will provide many alternatives – but any professional learning from this partnership won’t be referencing any of the alternatives. And just in case, you think I am just being anti-MS, I think that Apple’s coining of the phrase “Challenge Based Learning” is just as blatant a grab for the pedagogical truth.

When I make decisions about the right tools for my students, I want that decision to be free of that feeling in the middle of my back. Schools should be free to decide that at a local level, and generally are, but partnerships that send heavy handed messages curb our freedom to help our students with learning and lessen world views instead of widening them.

I Can Appreciate What That Stephen Covey Guy Was On About Now

I’ve now been in my Assistant Principal role for just over two years now. It is a complex position in a complex school but I have enjoyed the challenge and change of responsibilities. There are several different components to the job and a lot of the time, it really feels like they are competing against each other for priority ranking in my working day. I think educators everywhere complain about not having time to get everything done but in a leadership role, it really feels magnified. And there have been times where the contending demands have reached a what-seems-to-me overwhelming level. When that happens, the telltale signs are (in Stephen Covey terms) when the urgent starts to take priority over the important at almost every turn. This also tends to sneak up on me until I realise that things are out of sync.

I had a timely conversation with my principal on Friday which helped me to step back from my role and see it all from a distance. This is really helpful in terms of seeing the competing demands as separate entities and how they can all assume urgency disguised as importance. Let me pick it apart here – for no one’s benefit but my own. This post is a way of sorting out some of the entangled bits and making some conscious decisions about the varying tasks.

For most of my work life, I have been a classroom teacher. I believe I was reasonably good at that, and using technology was something that I picked up relatively easily and used a way of opening up learning possibilities for my students. The initiative and innovation that I showed from the mid-nineties onwards earned me the chance to become a Coordinator for over eight years, but even in taking that first step on the rung of official leadership, most of my work time was based in the classroom. Being a classroom teacher has a certain workflow predictability to it. The week is timetabled, the curriculum is there to be implemented, planning is done in the time away from the students and while there is no doubt that there is a lot that a modern teacher must juggle and achieve, the deadlines and priorities have always felt clear.

There is a lot more autonomy in my current position. I have a administrative component that involves the construction and management of rosters. This includes Yard Duties, Non Instructional Time and Traffic Monitors for aspects of school life that runs all year round. I also manage smaller events like school photos and swimming and aquatics. I am responsible for student assessment data management and for running staff meeting PD sessions across the year on school priorities. When a teacher goes on leave, it is me who has to swing the changes to cover the absence. When teachers miss deadlines to submit student assessment results, it is me that has to follow up to remind them of their professional responsibilities. This is not a complaint but merely a recognition that smaller tasks fan out from the main ones and they all require time and attention in order for things to run smoothly. That seems to be one of the main goals of administration – efficiency. But it should not be confused for leadership.

I am also a line manager for a building of teachers. I meet with them around their professional development, read and proof their reports and act as first base for issues within their classrooms. This can fold over into aspects of behaviour management or pedagogical advice and guidance. Without saying much more, this year has been a difficult year for teachers under my line management. Issues arising from this has also contributed a great deal to my role distortion and need for re-prioritising. Make no mistake, it is hugely important to spend time in this area and in a complex site like mine, I am unavoidably called away from the other parts of my job regularly.

I am also involved in the management of what my principal titled “e-tech”. This involves the strategic purchases of technology equipment, the liaising with our tech support about issue prioritization and school goals, and the management of an important budget. There is a danger in spending too much time in this area as staff members can start to view me as part of the tech support team, there to help fix things or change password or to top up accounts.

I quite enjoy the parts of my job that I have mentioned so far. But to be honest, they are not the reason I am in this role. They are part of the role but we do have other leadership at my school that could take on these parts as well as me. Of course, the other leaders at my school are busy grappling with their own varying competing job pieces so this is just my share of what needs to be done.

But it is the innovative practice and change that I have the unique skill set for. It is the area where I am expected to lead out, but the area where I feel like things get squeezed out at the expense of the other. It is where my principal would like to see me involved in “coaching”. I do this stuff but I feel like it could be delivered and organised a lot better. The goal is help influence staff to make changes in their classroom practice and take advantage of technology to improve learning outcomes for their students. This is the important stuff – so use of projects, testbed classrooms and other innovations are things I need to consciously program time and energy for.

Revisiting my weekly timetable, my ongoing tasks and adjusting priorities needs to happen from time to time. Like a garden, there are times to prune some overgrowth back in order to give some underdeveloped aspects of my job an opportunity to flourish.