Tuesday, 7 July 2020

The Process of Making Changes

Throughout my working life (teaching and non-teaching), I've worked for, with and under many different people with different leadership styles. I have started to recognise what I really value in a leader, and what isn't as effective for me and my development. I'm now at the point in my career where I am wanting to up-skill to be able to become a leader of others, so The Education Hub's webinar 'Shifting the focus from change to improvement' caught my eye (Distinguished Professor Viviane Robinson). The session was focused around making changes and why/how these changes are being made.

There were several questions that left me thinking, as outlined in my sketchnote. One question in particular was related to listening to staff and students before making any changes, or suggesting new initiatives. The biggest thing that I took away from this webinar was how important that is. To really stop and listen to why someone (or why a group of people) are doing something the way they are currently. They are going to have understandings, evidence, observations to justify their reasoning, which you may have not considered, even if you are their leader. From this conversation your change/initiative/proposal may adapt, using the knowledge and feedback you now have. Don't just make this decision on your own, listen to the why, listen to your colleagues, include them in your decision-making process.

The second takeaway for me, was what are the different puzzle pieces that contribute to the problem or issue you are suggesting to adapt/alter. From conversations with staff and/or students, you may find there are several factors at play for the low achievement for example, not just how the unit of learning that is delivered. For instance, there may be low achievement because the teacher needs support with behaviour management, or the class sizes may be too big for 1:1 support, or they don't have the content knowledge to deepen learning for higher grades. All of these puzzle pieces will contribute in some way, some more than others. So if the major puzzle piece is the need for professional development around behaviour management strategies, but they are offered a course on deepening content learning, this won't support success toward increasing student achievement for that particular staff member. Reiterating the importance of including your colleagues in the process of adaptations/additions/changes etc.

Finally, Viviane discussed in detail her theory engagement model, as pictured alongside, which is explored in her book Reduce Change to Increase Improvement. Put simply, the first step before making any changes is for parties to agree on the proposed problem. From there, evidence to suggest why this is a problem needs to revealed. This step obviously includes discussions with staff as aforementioned, but can also include open and honest conversations with students, lesson observations and assessment data. Evaluating the evidence gathered, considering the overarching problem and discussing the alternatives is step three. To conclude the cycle, the new ideas/resources/suggestions are to be trialled and implemented. The cycle of course continues to repeat itself, to determine what the long term changes are for staff and ultimately students (positive and negative).

Overall, I recommend watching this webinar for any new leader, or anyone like me who is aspiring to be a leader. It really leaves you thinking about the importance of consultation before diving into any changes!

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Lockdown Learnings

After the first three weeks of online teaching and learning, I asked my Senior students for feedback about the challenges they were facing, but also the things they were enjoying. After reading through their comments, I kept these in the back of my mind when planning lessons, communicating with the students and setting tasks for them to complete. 

Three weeks later, at the end of lockdown, I asked the students if they'd comment again. I was interested to see if there was much of a change. Many of the messages, as highlighted below, remained much the same. However, there was a positive change in attitude towards learning online/from home from many of the students, when compared to the first Google Form. I thought it was particularly interesting to note how honest they were, not only with me but with themselves!

The most common positives across the three classes were:
  • Flexibility: Many enjoyed being able to work at their own pace, and complete tasks when they felt comfortable. If they completed that subject, they liked they were able to work on something else they needed to do, or they could look ahead at other tasks for that class to do.
  • Feeling part of a class: Rather than the teacher just asking if they had questions, or just explaining the task and leaving, the kids enjoyed opportunities to connect with each other, time to do things that weren't related to work like quizzes and chats, and also doing some tasks online with others in a similar way they would in class such as group discussions.
  • Increased independence: Although there were clearly some students who struggled to manage their time, several commented that they enjoyed the opportunity to further develop their independence and self management skills.
The most common negatives were:
  • Too much work: There was significant feedback from the students explaining they were feeling overwhelmed across the board with how much work they were needing to complete. Some felt they were being asked to complete more than when we were at school!
  • Lack of motivation: This was evident throughout the 6+ weeks. Due to the comfort of their own home, distractions, lack of self management and/or feeling overwhelmed (and who knows what other reasons!), there were lots of students who struggled to motivate themselves to complete their learning. This lack of motivation is what concerns me the most - have we now got an even bigger divide between the students who are ahead and the students who are falling behind?
  • Less 1:1 time with the teacher: I found this hard too. Much less opportunity for face to face feedback, and less 'teachable moments'. It seems many struggled not being able to ask questions as often, or able to seek immediate feedback. I don't know how they expected us to reply to their emails instantly though! (Certainly an admin nightmare, that I didn't enjoy!)
I previously posted about the things I was enjoying about online teaching and learning. They mostly related to student creativity and having those 1:1 chats with the kids. I plan to continue to provide opportunities for them to be creative where possible, and of course being online has made me rethink/be creative about the ways I can teach too! I would also like to try and continue some of the positives from lockdown (from my own experience, in addition to student feedback);
  • In class flexibility: I certainly enjoyed having a less regimented timetable, and it's clear the students did too. I will be giving opportunities for my Senior classes to develop their self management, and choosing how they utilise their time. If they want to work on another subject, then they can... here's hoping that doesn't backfire! This also relates to Ako Orewa, and the importance of students prioritising tasks/ deciding what is important to complete at that time and working at their own pace.
  • Knowing ahead of time what's happening: I always gave a vague plan of what was happening in the few lessons to come before home learning, but didn't always upload the actual activities or tasks they were going to complete. I am going to try give students time to check out what they are doing before class, so they are more aware of where we are heading.
  • Some time not related to work: A few students commented on the enjoyment they found from watching movies that reinforced or showed what they were learning about, or having quizzes and games with other students, or just general chat. I think sometimes with the pressure of NCEA, the pressure of time, the pressure for students to do well, we sometimes forget that they are kids. That they want to connect, share, reflect, analyse and sometimes they need a break. Just like we do.
Like many, I have felt nervous being back at school the last 10 days. Like online learning, it's going to take a bit of adjustment to get back into a routine, but we will get there!