I have an idea … instructional leadership in secondary education

In 2015, I was fortunate enough to have an instructional leadership role for technology as part of my school’s BYOD program.  I worked with every faculty in the school across Year 7-12 to build the capacity of teachers to use technology to transform learning. A Twitter conversation led me to revisit a more formalised instructional leadership strategy, Early Action for Success (EAfS). EAfS involves instructional leaders working in schools to build capacities of teachers in teaching literacy and numeracy. A look at their online resources revealed some interesting ideas to me, particularly the progressions of how children learn early numeracy skills like place value, mental calculations and using symbols. I also really liked the idea of instructional leaders building collaborative cultures of inquiry and supporting teachers in collecting, evaluating and using data to inform their practice.

So I started thinking about how a similar strategy of instructional leadership would look like in a secondary school context. Instead of literacy and numeracy, what would subject-based instructional leadership look like in secondary schools, particularly in Year 11 and 12?

Some of the challenges facing secondary schools include low numbers of students choosing to study Year 11 and 12 physics and higher levels of mathematics, lower numbers of girls studying Year 11 and 12 science and high level mathematics and implementation of integrated learning. How can we further improve curriculum instruction in these subjects to better meet the needs of students in local school contexts? What does quality physics instruction look like? Can instructional leaders play a role in this?

I tweeted this and it led to a very rich and diverse conversation about instructional leadership in secondary schools (click on the embedded tweet below to see the thread of conversation).

What if there were instructional leaders who work alongside head teachers, deputy principals and principals to support the school (or community of schools) for a specific need in time (eg. curriculum instruction in mathematics extension, science extension or integrated STEM)? These instructional leaders are selected by schools. They want to work with, and grow with the school. They aren’t experts parachuted in.

These instructional leaders work with school teams to build collaborative cultures of inquiry where teachers work together to use data and evidence to improve their practice. These instructional leaders are school-based and will continue teaching themselves (at a reduced load, say, 1 class).

How is this different to existing systems? How is this different to the role of existing head teachers, deputy principals and principals? These additional instructional leaders are for areas where the school may not have existing expertise. For example, a school implementing marine studies for the first time may not have anyone with expertise in that subject except for the classroom teacher of that class. An instructional leader for a community of schools requiring instructional expertise in marine studies can work with those teachers (and their head teachers) to build their capacities,

Like my tweet said, it is just an idea that came to me at 5am. And I like documenting and sharing crazy ideas.

What are your thoughts? Do you have instructional leaders at your school that are in addition to heads of department and are specific to a subject or area (eg gifted and talented; integrated learning)?

Meeting the challenges of teacher professional learning

As someone who has designed and delivered quite a few teacher professional learning (TPL), I have often reflected on the criteria and conditions of professional learning that will enable teachers to change their practice in a sustained way so that it becomes habit that makes an impact on student learning.

TPL sketchnote

Sources:
What is effective teacher professional development?
Designing effective teacher professional learning for improved student outcomes – research findings from NSW schools
Characteristics of Effective Professional Development: A Checklist

TPL is hard to design and deliver. Teachers can be a challenging audience. And change is hard. TPL is also a large investment, both in monetary terms and time. There’s the cost of the professional learning, travel, accommodation, teacher relief and then there’s the time factor. Teachers are away from their classes, they have to plan relief work and then follow up on these missed classes. Taking all this into consideration, TPL presenters and participants all want professional learning to make an impact on student learning. But how many times have we walked away from TPL, get a few good ideas, never implement them and continue with business as usual?

I have previously blogged about what I personally find to be effective TPL. For me it is essential that the TPL matches the strategy that it is trying to promote (please don’t tell me about active learning by making me sit down the whole day and listen to a series of lectures) and that there is follow-up. It is easy (and inspiring) to do one-hit-wonder TPL but what is being done after that to support teachers in the change process? Teacher professional learning is a process, not an event.

Recently I had the opportunity to design and implement sustained TPL for project based learning with schools that are part of the Connected Communities strategy. Many TPL for project based learning goes for 1 to 2 days where teachers learn the 101 of project based learning and produce a draft project plan for implementation. Then teachers are left to their own devices. There is rarely follow up for teachers to seek advice or receive feedback.

For the Connected Communities TPL on project based learning, we did a two-day, face-to-face conference, where teachers spent two days learning some PBL 101. But we didn’t leave it at that. This is what we are doing to make sure the project based learning PBL has impact on student learning and support teachers in changing their practice:

  • Learning about project based learning through project based learning so teachers experience the pedagogy themselves as learners
  • Teachers left the conference with a project based learning plan they can implement in the following term
  • Teachers are allocated half a term to refine their project based learning plan
  • An online professional learning community established so that teachers can further connect and support each other
  • Ongoing TPL that focus on other enabling conditions of project based learning (formative assessment, student collaboration, teacher questioning and collecting evidence to evaluate the impact of project based learning) – Teachers will access 5 online TPL modules where each module will have a live online meeting via Adobe Connect so that teachers can share their experiences while implementing project based learning and seek advice, feedback and support from each other and course instructors.

The online TPL will run through April to July 2017. I’m looking forward seeing the impact of this type of TPL where teacher learning is seen as a process and not an event.

Why every teacher should look into project based learning

Project based learning (PBL) is often misunderstood. On one side, it is touted as a strategy for “future focused learning” and “21st century learning”. On the other end, there is misconception that PBL involves sending students off to learn by themselves using “online research”. This is unfortunate as the more experience I have in implementing PBL, the more I see it as an overarching structure that combines a multitude of evidence-based teaching practices that ties in with goal 2 of the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians:

All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens.

Some of the features of successful learners include:

  • the capacity to learn and play an active role in their own learning
  • able to plan activities independently, collaborate, work in teams and communicate ideas
  • on a pathway towards continued success in further education, training or employment, and acquire the skills to make informed learning and employment decisions throughout their lives

In other words, we want our students to become life long learners who are self-regulated and self-directed. PBL is an effective way to teach students how to be self-regulated and self-directed learners, through evidence-based practices.

How does PBL develop self-regulated and self-directed learners?

The key word here is develop. Self-regulated and self-directed learners are made, not born. To be successful at PBL, students must have a level of self regulation and self direction. Many teachers implementing PBL for the first time find that their students have low levels of self regulation and self direction, which can make PBL frustrating for all. The learning design behind any PBL experience needs to have built-in teaching moments that build students’ skills in self regulation and self direction. One of the most useful papers I have found that describes this is Supporting Student Self-Regulated Learning in Problem- and Project-Based Learning. I have drafted a graphic that combines the paper and my own experience to show how teachers can design PBL experiences that scaffold student self regulation and self direction.

pbl-blog-graphic

To enable students to be successful in PBL, many of the strategies teachers need to use are evidence based. For a while now I have been using the Teaching and Learning Toolkit from Evidence for Learning. The site is a collation of Australian and international research that informs teachers on the impact on a range of teaching and learning strategies. A sort of the strategies show that the top 5 that make the most impact are:

The top 3 strategies, feedback, meta-cognition and self-regulation and collaborative learning are key components of PBL:

  • Feedback – The nature of PBL involves formative assessment, assessment for learning and assessment as learning. Students are constantly drafting and re-drafting their work based on feedback. This requires teachers to build in multiple opportunities for teacher feedback, peer feedback and self feedback. One of the best resources I have found in designing and implementing formative assessment and feedback is Strong Start, Great Teachers, particularly the sections on teacher questioning.
  • Meta-cognition and self-regulation – PBL allows the opportunity for students to monitor their own learning goals and the effectiveness of a range of learning strategies for them as individual learners. Students are regularly required to reflect and evaluate the progress of their projects.
  • Collaboration – PBL requires students to work as a learning community. They need to trust each other and respect each other to have effective self feedback, to work collaboratively as a team and to take risks in their learning. It is essential that teachers build and sustain a positive classroom culture to move their “class” to a community. it is also essential that teachers teach students how to collaborate. Collaboration and cooperation are skills that are learnt; they aren’t just naturally there in students.

A key component of success in PBL is for teachers to teach students how to be effective learners. Most students need high levels of teacher guidance to know how to act on feedback, how to give each other and themselves feedback, how to set goals, how to monitor their progress and how to work productively with others.

While PBL is not a silver bullet to solve all the challenges of education, it ties in many components of evidence based teaching. If teachers embark on PBL as long-term journey, their students will have more opportunities to develop into successful self-regulated, self-directed learners.

 

 

How to teach “soft skills” in project based learning

team-graphic

I have done quite a few teacher professional learning workshops on project based learning (PBL). Nearly all of them have involved telling teachers about elements of authentic PBL, how to design a ‘good’ driving question’ and the importance of formative assessment and feedback. I am currently working on another series of professional learning workshops on PBL,  but this time the team is also focusing on the “soft skills” of PBL. These soft skills include collaboration, student self-regulation, creativity, critical thinking, etc. These soft skills are included in the NSW syllabuses for the Australian Curriculum as Learning Across the Curriculum. In this blog post, I’m going to focus on collaboration.

PBL often require students to work in teams. If students are to work in teams successfully, they need to know how to collaborate. One thing I learnt very quickly in my PBL journey is that collaboration doesn’t come automatically for students. Simply putting students in groups and getting them to sit in a circle won’t teach them collaboration. If students don’t know how to collaborate, they will find the PBL experience frustrating and the teacher will find it frustrating. Like reading and writing, collaboration needs to be explicitly taught. But how?

In my PBL journey, I have found teaching students how to establish group norms, how to determine and assign roles to team members, how to backward map from timelines of due dates of tasks, and how to negotiate and compromise, to be crucial in PBL to be a successful learning experience. However, I have found the most important aspect of successful student collaboration is a safe learning environment; an environment where students trust each other, respect each other, support each other and feel comfortable enough with each other to take risks in their learning. What are the strategies to enable this? How can students be assessed and receive regular feedback on these aspects. Just like reading and writing, students need to know how they are going with their collaborative skills and what they need to do next to improve?

How do you teach collaboration in your classroom? How do you teach collaboration in PBL?

 

TeachMeet – professional learning by teachers for teachers

teachmeet-audience

This week I ran TeachMeet Futures at the University of Technology, Sydney. It was the third TeachMeet I ran and I have lost count of the number of TeachMeets I’ve attended. I went to my first TeachMeet more than 4 years ago. I still find TeachMeets to be one of the most valuable professional learning.

TeachMeets are structured and informal gatherings of teachers and educators with the purpose of sharing good practices and professional journeys. TeachMeets are educator-driven, not organisation-driven. Presenters are not paid; they volunteer their time and expertise to share with others. They are free. They are open to everyone. They happen outside of school hours. They have a strong online community. It is these characteristics that make TeachMeets are valuable part of a teacher’s suite of professional learning.

Because TeachMeets are free and open to everyone, presenters and participants range from pre-service teachers, teachers, educators who work with schools and university academics. Teachers come from all school sectors. It is this mix of people, who are all passionate about student learning, but work in very different contexts, that enable cross-pollination of ideas. Presentations are short and sweet, 7 minutes or 2 minutes so you get lots of ideas to work on and implement with your students. I also find the strong online community valuable. Like many other TeachMeets, TeachMeet Futures had a strong Twitter backchannel. This allowed people to learn from the TeachMeet even if they were not physically there and it allowed connections to be formed amongst presenters and participants beyond the TeachMeet. It also allows the thoughts and opinions of the TeachMeet to be revisited and reflected on after the event if the tweets are curated and saved via Storify. See the TeachMeet Futures Storify as an example.

So if you haven’t been to a TeachMeet, go to one. And if have been to a TeachMeet, go to another one or host one. The power and impact of TeachMeets stems from passionate teachers and educators sharing and learning from each other.

Why hackathons are the future of teacher professional learning


Yesterday I went to a OneNote Hackathon. A hackathon is basically a group of people, with similar passiona, getting together to solve problems. In the case of the OneNote Hackathon, it was a group of teachers who were passionate about using OneNote to enable improved student learning. We all had 2 minutes to pitch our problems. Problems ranged from using Staff OneNote notebooks to enhance teacher collaboration and increase productivity to creating out-of-the-box Student OneNote Class notebooks for various subjects that teachers can modify and personalise for their students. We then chose which problem we wanted to work on and spent the rest of the day working together on solutions that can be shared with everyone.


I really enjoyed the OneNote Hackathon. Not only did I learn a lot from the OneNote experts from the Microsoft Education team but also from other participant teachers. The Hackathon provided a time and space for a group of us who had similar goals to share our expertise and experience with others. We were from different school sectors, some of us taught high school or primary school or were in non-school based support roles. This enabled all of us to learn from diverse perspectives and contexts.

What I really liked about the Hackathon is the level of productivity. Unlike traditional teacher professional learning where teachers often listened passively to an ‘expert’, get some good ideas and then find they don’t have enough time or the processes to implement those ideas, hackathons let you collaborate with others to design and implement a solution. Hackathons also recognise that every teacher has something to contribute to other teachers’ learning. Just like TeachMeets, hackathons allow teachers to learn with and from each other.

It will be interesting to see how hackathons will be included in the suite of professional learning strategies available to teachers. Imagine a hackathon on the next School Development Day.

TeachMeet Kids – enabling teachers with young families to connect and share their practice

TeachMeet Kids

This week there was a TeachMeet with a difference. I organised the first TeachMeet Kids, a family-friendly TeachMeet. TeachMeets are a group of educators who come together to share their practice. Traditionally TeachMeets are held during after-school hours (between 5pm and 7pm) followed by TeachEat (dinner and drinks). I use to regularly go to TeachMeets but haven’t in the last year due to the birth of my daughter. I noticed that quite a few other educators have dropped out of the TeachMeet circles due to having children. Early evening is not a good time for teachers with young children. A few educators with young children indicated that they felt disconnected due to this.

And this thought came to me:

Why can’t we have a kid-friendly TeachMeet?

Why can’t we have a TeachMeet where educators can bring their children (if they wish)?

Why can’t we have a TeachMeet that’s during the day as early evening is reserved for the dinner and bath routine for the little ones and not everyone is lucky enough to have family to look after the kids?

The result of these thoughts was TeachMeet Kids. While TeachMeet Kids was targeted at educators with young children, any educator can attend. It was held in the school holidays during the day. Educators can bring their little ones if they wanted to. The venue was kid-friendly. It was pram accessible, had pram parking, close to public transport, had car parking, had baby change rooms and baby feeding facilities. All attendees knew to expect some rowdiness because this TeachMeet will also be attended by kids.

Australian National Maritime Museum very kindly provided a free space for TeachMeet Kids. Not only that, their museum educators also took the kids around on a pirates tour.

For me, TeachMeet Kids gave me back the opportunity to connect with educators like I did pre-baby days. I think TeachMeet Kids also enables the education community to tap into the expertise of educators who have young families. I learnt so much from the presenters. From how to use Kahoot! to enhance formative assessment, enabling all students to be leaders, film-making using mobile devices and making crystal radios to what it’s like to be a museum educator and embedding selfies as a learning tool.

I am looking forward to seeing more TeachMeet Kids 🙂