Connected Learning

Jarrod Lamshed

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Noticing the ‘good stuff’

It’s easy to notice the things that people do that bother us. We don’t even have to try. When someone behaves in a way you don’t like, it draws your attention and drives you crazy. It’s easy to let this stuff take over your day and quickly become a bit of a grump! On top of this, we are bombarded with bad news stories on TV and radio and every time we go online we are greeted with something horrific that someone has done somewhere in the world. It’s different than when I grew up. The only news bulletin I ever saw was at 6pm each day and I’m sure that my parents were able to shield me from the really bad stuff by turning off the one screen we had. With the amazing benefit of the instant information we have today comes the downside of not being able to restrict the flow of ‘bad news’ to our children as well as we could before. This isn’t the end of the world… but it’s something to think about.

With this in mind, it’s really important to teach our kids to notice the ‘good stuff’. We try and make this a part of everyday in our classroom. Making the time to pause and notice someone doing something good takes a conscious effort! Like everyone else, I more naturally notice the student repeatedly tapping their pen on the table before I notice the student quietly getting on with their work. By making the effort to stop and publicly notice the positive it slowly becomes part of the culture in our classroom. Doing this at home is even more tricky! In our house it feels like we are ALWAYS rushing off to something and always running late. At these times I still fall into the role of cranky dad… but I’m trying!

This is particularly important for our boys. When you look at statistics around our boys and young men, it’s not great news. Suicide rates are incredibly high for boys and men aged 14 – 35 compared to women and we have all seen data around domestic violence that says that our young men are becoming perpetrators. As a parent of a son AND a daughter I find this slightly terrifying! There’s not a simple answer to these problems but it’s a conversation that we need to keep having.

In our class we attempt to promote a positive outlook in lots of different ways. We try to promote our failures and mistakes as something we do publicly and without shame. This helps to break down the stigma around ‘messing things up’ and creates a willingness for our boys to ask for help and support when they feel like they need it. Another way we do this is by making regular times to formally and genuinely acknowledge people for the good things they do. This doesn’t mean only things like ‘getting a good mark in a test’ but also for trying to improve at something or showing courage and persistence in a tricky situation. As a teacher, this is a pleasure to see!

Our boys have agreed to show you a snapshot of these acknowledgements in the video below.


 

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Changing Perceptions

before and after

Throughout this year I’ve been working with a group of boys at our school on challenging stereotypes. I’ve written (a lot!) about my thoughts on this topic and about the work we’ve been doing around this in the classroom.

While doing some reflection work, one of our students made the comment that he felt like the group now looked at their future in a positive way and that before our work they weren’t doing this. Even though they hadn’t realised it, their self image for the future was based around the images in the ‘before’ graphic.

We had certainly hoped that opening up the discussion would help our boys to understand that what they see in the movies and in other media weren’t realistic portrayals of what their future’s should be like. We didn’t necessarily think we’d see such a significant change in such a short time.

Our next step is working towards our boys becoming the positive male role models in our school community.

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Today Tonight – TV Report

Over the last few weeks, the gender based learning that’s been happening at our school has been under the spotlight with an article in our local paper and now the TV news story above from the ‘Today Tonight’ program. This isn’t something that I’m particularly comfortable doing! But, I believe in the work we are doing in this area and am glad that we can be a part of the discussion.

My co-teacher in this program, Aimee Aparicio, and I both worked in a single gender program in my last school, Hackham East Primary. After attending a workshop with Ian Lillico, an Australian expert in boys education, another colleague, Rebecca Hepworth and I started trialling some of our new learning. Drawing heavily on Lillico’s work and that of Michael Gurian, we were supported by our school leadership to build a strong single gender program that still exists there today. At our peak, we had single gender and mixed class options from year 2 to year 7.

In our new roles at Woodend Primary school, Aimee and I can see that the needs of boys and girls at Hackham East aren’t unique. in fact, world wide data suggests that programs like these would have value in any school anywhere.

The program that we are running now is a great start. We have been able to tackle some topics around gender stereotypes and masculinity. An important part of this for us is that we are seeing the students becoming the drivers of this learning. They want to spread the message within the school community. This post from a student last night is a great example of that.

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This is great to see. Students empowered to make a difference in their communities. What we are doing isn’t difficult. It just takes a willingness to try something different. The conversation around the individual needs of boys and girls in schools is happening and we look forward to seeing where it goes.

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Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions

quote-Ken-Blanchard-feedback-is-the-breakfast-of-champions-66830“Feedback is the breakfast of champions”. This is an interesting quote. Breakfast of champions conjures up images of Rocky downing a raw egg… not something that is necessarily enjoyable, but it has an important purpose in his plan for self improvement. I think, for many people, feedback is a bit the same.

Feedback is an interesting thing. It’s something that we know is vital for improving students learning. Giving students regular, targeted feedback helps them to improve. No arguments… we accept this as fact. This isn’t something that is specific to schools either. As parents we regularly give ‘feedback’ (sometimes in the form of light ranting) to our kids and sometimes they take this on board and learn from it. When we have problems we don’t know how to deal with, we talk to our trusted people and take on what they say to help us make the right decision. Feedback is everywhere… a natural part of our lives.

So, why is it that the idea of professional feedback makes many of us uncomfortable? If regular targeted feedback helps students improve, surely it’s not a stretch that it will do the same for us.

We are lucky there in South Australia that we have a Department supported tool to help us manage feedback easily. The TfEL (Teaching for Effective Learning) Compass allows us to seek feedback from students, parents and colleagues. It’s a powerful tool that is easy to use. If your are in SA and haven’t tried it, it’s certainly worth exploring.

The idea of hearing what our students really think can be a scary thing! Nobody wants to hear that the lesson we spent hours planning and preparing was a flop. But, it’s important that we do hear it. We need to know WHY it was a flop. What hit the mark and what went terribly wrong? What can we learn from this experience that will help us do a better job next time? Even when something goes well, there will always be feedback that can help it be even better. This is the nature of our job. Nothing is ever finished.

In Australia we have a set of Standards for teachers (AITSL) that are now tied directly to our teacher registration requirements. I believe that this is a good thing. In the past we’ve often had the problem of not knowing what is expected of us. We have often felt like the benchmark keeps shifting. Now, the expectations are right there in black and white. We can’t meet these expectations without the help of feedback. Standard 3.6 says…

Conduct regular reviews of teaching and learning programs using multiple sources of evidence including: student assessment data, curriculum documents, teaching practices and feedback from parents/ carers, students and colleagues.

This is something we HAVE TO do. It’s not an option.

I think that 99% of us want to do our jobs the best that we can. More than that, we want the best for our students. Moving past the discomfort we feel and seeking honest, regular, targeted feedback is the best way to achieve this.

So, how do we make this happen? Even with a firm willingness to push forward we still have the struggles of ‘not enough time’ and finding regular, quick ways to get the feedback we need. How does this happen in your classroom? What tools and strategies to you use?

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Bridging Gender Gap in a Brave New World

In last weeks Messenger Newspaper, Amy Moran wrote an article discussing the idea that gender education is the key to reducing domestic and sexual abuse statistics. After a discussion about the article on Twitter, Amy asked if, colleague, Aimee Aparicio and I would be a part of a follow up story looking at the gender learning program we have started with our classes. It’s always an interesting experience to be involved in something like this but the article is a positive one, and we are glad to be a part of the discussion.

 

Messenger Community News

 

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System Overload

53ccc3e8f73817df89f77a3211a68253Yesterday we had a representative from our teacher’s union visit our school. It’s enterprise bargaining time again and she was visiting to let us know how the process was going. One of the issues the union is addressing in this round of discussions is the problem of excessive work load. This is a real problem. It’s nine o’clock on a Friday night and I’ve just finished working. Twice this week I’ve told my daughter I couldn’t listen to her read because I had work to do. I’ve been at work by 7:30 every morning and not out the door at the end of the day until after five. Most nights there is ‘homework’ for me that means I’m not helping my kids with their’s. I’d like to say this is unusual, but it’s a fairly normal week. I think this is true for many of us. I’m not sure how the union thinks that they can change this, but I wish them luck!

I’m not complaining (well maybe I am a little bit). This is the job I chose and I wouldn’t choose to do anything else. I don’t know that anything can be done about it. As a leader in a school, the work is there and it needs to be done. I think what we can do a better job of as leaders is making sure that we don’t overload our teachers.

Planning and managing a strong learning environment takes a lot of time and energy. Our teachers work hard. Throw in committees, parent meetings, professional development, report writing, staff meetings, yard duty and it can start feeling like good classroom practice come second to the ‘stuff’.

As leaders, I think we need to try and give our teachers a break. I’m not saying we can take away all the ‘stuff’, but shaving 5 mins off the occasional staff meeting instead of running 5 mins over can make a big difference to people’s headsets. Being aware that pushing forward with our work as leaders can have an effect on teachers workloads in essential. It’s not an easy balance to find. We certainly aren’t the only profession that has a tough workload and I know there’s not an easy fix. The push of ‘getting through everything’ means that it’s hard to justify these mini breaks, but I believe that the pros outweigh the cons.

We are in a profession where we need to be more aware of each other. Releasing the pressure valve occasionally is good for everyone. When people feel less stressed they are more aware of each other and provide a good support network for work mates. This is important. Covering the yard duty of a colleague who’s had three extra meetings this week, might be the thing that helps prevent their whole week going to the pack. This is better for teachers, it’s better for leaders and most importantly it’s better for students and classroom learning.

It’s a hard act to pull off, but we’ll keep trying.

 

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Managing Professional Development

profdev_tree_480-1Professional development is important. It’s something that schools and leadership teams need to value and see as an investment in high quality learning. Having said this, when we decide to shell out substantial resources (money or closure days etc) we have an expectation that it will be money well spent.

I have been to a few professional development sessions recently that, although they have given me good things to take away, have left me feeling like something was missing. For me it was the ‘big picture’ stuff. They didn’t quite have the hook that challenged my thinking to the point where I felt a need to act on something. Speaking with other staff at my school, some agreed with me, but many loved these sessions. They felt that they had ‘hit the mark’ for them.

We know that one speaker or session isn’t going to suit everyone’s needs. Like our students, we all come with different experiences, different passions, different roles, a different number of years in the job… so how do we do this better? We aim for differentiation for our students. Should we doing more to provide this for teachers or is that unrealistic? With school and department priorities in the mix, can we really offer good differentiation for our teachers? I’d like to think so.

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Activating the Hidden Talent

The-greatest-leader-is-not-necessarily-the-one-who-does-the-greatest-things.-He-is-the-one-that-gets-the-people-to-do-the-greatest-thingsI’ve presented a lot of workshops over the years I’ve been teaching. It’s a great experience that forces me to critically reflect on my practice. When you stand in front of an audience you need be ready to back up what your saying and answer the curly questions that are thrown at you. You need to know your stuff.

This doesn’t mean that we need to be the all knowing expert on everything, but we need to have looked at our own practice through a critical lens and have a good understanding of why we do things the way we do.

Something that I need to better as a leader is to activate opportunities for other staff at my school to be able to do the same. There are many times that we run small professional development sessions within our school that other staff could be a part of. With a consistently long list of ‘things’ to do, it’s easy to use this excuse to just run these sessions myself. I guess this is the leadership version of the ‘default mode’ that we all fall back to when we get stressed or busy. Instead of taking this easy way out, I need to be making more time to activate those around me.

Our schools are full of hidden talent. I say hidden because a lot of the magic happens behind closed doors, and many teachers don’t automatically feel comfortable sharing the great practice that is happening in their classrooms. As a leader in the school, I need to be having conversations with these teachers and support them to share with others as often as I can. When I began teaching I had leaders that helped me find opportunities to share and develop this side of my learning. Without that, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that have been so important in developing my teaching. This is something that I need to a better job at from now on.

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Social Media in Schools

Periscope-logoSocial media is well and truly a part of our lives. We tweet our way through TV shows, Instagram photos of our dinner, pin that craft idea and update our Facebook status to let everyone know what we’re up to or share endless photos of our kids (sorry). For our kids, the world of social media is even more crowded adding Snapchat, Kik, Omegle and Vine… the list goes on. It’s almost impossible to keep up with, with new services popping up regularly.

Given the huge number of services to wade through paired with the hype around children’s safety in these spaces, you can almost be forgiven for wanting to steer clear of social media in the classroom altogether… almost.

There is a lot already written supporting the use of social media in schools. From taking control of your school’s digital footprint, to drip feeding information to your school communities, the applications are wide and varied. For me though, the exciting stuff happens in the classroom.

In many of our classrooms at Woodend Primary School, our teachers are using Facebook to improve their communication with parents. Replacing regular class newsletters, Facebook groups have become an interactive way to bring parents into the classroom. We decided that rather than continue trying to get parents to go to a new space, we would go to them. Most of us are on Facebook and know that ignoring that red notification dot is not really an option! These groups have been well received and are now a natural extension of our school community.

Even better, several classes are regularly using social media to connect their learning with others classes around the world. Twitter being used alongside student blogs has let students start building authentic audiences for their learning.

Twitter has also helped our class along with Jess Ottewell’s class make connections with the Behind the News television series. Behind the News is a current affairs show aimed at a student audience. Each week our classes have been using twitter to ask questions about the week’s stories and to share our ideas and learning. Last week, we were contacted by the show to be a part of a new ‘Ask the Reporter’ session using the new app ‘Periscope’. We were one of only a handful of classrooms to be invited to participate in this trial event where we were able to send questions via Twitter and have them answered live by a reported from the show.

Apart from the obvious added value to the learning in our classrooms, this is a great example of how a new social media app has been harnessed for a learning purpose. A lot of reports surrounding ‘Periscope’ have been negative, highlighting the possible negative uses of the app. As educators, it’s important that we see past the knee jerk reaction surrounding social media and look deeper at how it can add to learning in our classrooms.

The video of this event is posted below.

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A Stroke of Genius

jobs-300x225There’s a lot of googleable information about the origins of ‘Genius Hour. From the perspective of being based on Google’s 20% time  or inspired by the ‘Caine’s Arcade‘ video… you can take your pick. In our classroom, the idea for our ‘genius’ time comes from a desire to be absolutely engaged in learning.

Any of us that pride ourselves on being life long learners know how this works. We get hold of an idea that goes around and around in our minds until we have an opportunity to spend some time digging into it. The REALLY good ideas can’t wait and the digging often happens when we should be sound asleep!

The premise for genius projects in our classroom is based around that same idea. We are always looking for ways to better engage kids in learning. We want them to be enthusiastic learners during classes, so… why not give them an opportunity to learn about something that they are already enthusiastic about?

Over the years I’ve done this with my students, I’ve heard the arguments against it. Where’s the structure? How is this covering the curriculum (hmmm)? There’s no control over what’s happening? How can you be in charge of so many different projects at once? For many teachers, this can be a difficult concept to grasp. The idea of students co-constructing the learning… students setting the structure around the project… students investigating the curriculum… is something new for many. I am NOT in charge of these projects, students are. Isn’t that the end game? We want to develop students that become independent learners? Surely they aren’t going to achieve this without practicing it.

I think, sometimes, we create too much of a gap between what WE expect as learners and what we see as acceptable learning for kids. We have all been to professional development that we see as sub standard. It’s either too much talk… it isn’t pitched right.. or we just aren’t interested. Why do we expect that our classrooms are any different? When we have an opportunity to design our own learning and make it completely relevant to us we are more engaged. We not only commit our working time to it but will dig deeper into it at home. This is what genius projects do for students.

Seeing the value in loving learning is essential. If kids are cheering when you say it’s time to work on these projects, that’s got to be a good thing. Not only are they engaged, but they are learning. Currently I have a student creating scale models of famous political buildings (yes this is his passion) using minecraft. This is a student that doesn’t engage in maths lessons, but here, he is calculating scale reductions of measurement.. area, perimeter, volume. He’s writing willingly about types of government.. it amazes me every time. We have another student who is challenging our school’s fundraising policy to get her idea off the ground and raise money for motor neuron disease. She is writing persuasive texts, preparing presentations for the principal, designing a business plan and budget to support her idea. It’s a wonderful thing.

Another criticism of ‘Genius Hour’ is that this type of learning should be happening all the time… and they are right. That is part of the reason that we’ve opted for the ‘Genius Projects’ title and dropped the ‘hour’. In reality, whatever amount of time we allow kids to work on these ideas at school, they spend more of their own time own it at home.

We are certainly a long way from all learning being as engaging as this, but we are working on it.

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