Connected Learning

Jarrod Lamshed

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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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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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Sparking Change

Change is a funny thing. Some people like it, but for many it brings about feelings of discomfort and anxiety. Being a member of the first group, I find the challenge that change brings exciting. The opportunity to participate in new learning is something that is fairly unique to our profession. In many jobs new information is distributed, but teachers get to participate in the learning. We get to take new ideas and try them out. We have the luxury (for the most part) to decide if something new improves the learning in our classrooms or not and then decide what to add to our practice and what to leave out.

The process we go through in doing this is extremely valuable. It challenges the ideas we have about how students learn and, just as importantly, it challenges our own learning. I firmly believe that a growth mindset is necessary for us to do our jobs properly. Being unwilling to consider new ideas is detrimental to our student’s learning. One of the most powerful things we can do is model learning to our kids. It shows them that we are the ‘life long learners’ that we want them to be.

Having said this, the realities of our day to day work are often harsh. The overwhelming feeling of having ‘too many balls in the air’ can plunge us into our default modes very quickly. It’s not ideal, but it’s a real thing. When we are stressed and busy we fall back to what we know works and it can feel like there isn’t time to try new things.

So how do we break through this feeling? I don’t know that there’s an easy answer. For me, it was being exposed to some high level professional development at an EdTechSA (formerly CEGSA) conference. I was already engaging with new learning regularly, but for whatever reason, the connections I made both to what was being said by the keynotes and in my discussions with other attendees left me with a need to commit myself deeper to new learning. George Couros, Summer Howarth and Louka Parry were some of these people.

I have been lucky enough to follow this up with regular, inspiring, professional development opportunities both locally and at two EduTech conferences in Brisbane. My connections (mostly through Twitter) with generous educators like Alec Couros and Stephen Heppell alongside a huge number of connected local and global school based teachers has helped me to continue my new learning every day.

In a few weeks, I look forward to taking 25 staff from my school to this year’s EduTech conference. This is a huge investment for our school but one that is well worth the cost. Over the last year I have asked our teachers to consider a lot of change and they have all shown a willingness to invest their time and effort in what I have had to say. To me, this says that our students are in good hands. I work with a group of teachers that have stepped a long way out of their comfort zone. For me, being able to take them to EduTech, I hope will provide an opportunity for our staff to make some new connections of their own.

 

 

 

 

 

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Time to Take Off the Mask

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the South Australian premiere of “The Mask You Live In”, a film by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. 

“The Mask You Live In” is a documentary that focusses on boys and young men as they struggle to find their identities among our society’s definition of masculinity. The film addresses some important questions and highlights some scary statistics from the USA, many of which I fear closely represent our own statistics in Australia and those in many other countries.

Many times, in previous posts, I’ve raised a lot of the same points. Nearly all of our violent crimes are committed by men, our boys are significantly more likely than girls to have learning issues, boys drop out of school at a much higher rate than girls, the highest number of suicides in our country is by young men… the list goes on. Unfortunately this documentary didn’t have a magic bag full of solutions.

What the film did do, was highlight the conversation. Jennifer Siebel Newsom has captured some extremely powerful stories to narrate this problem. This movie will go a long way to bringing the discussion out of the shadows and into the mainstream. 

It’s a discussion that needs to happen. Last night in Adelaide a service was held to remember those that have lost their lives to domestic violence. It is a horrendous realisation that we even need an event like this. But we do, with an average of 2 women a week killed by their current or former partner in Australia this year. Horrifying. It’s easy to see this as someone else’s problem, but realistically and statistically any of our sons can become these men.

“The Mask You Live In” goes a long way to clearing up how we got here. The cultural pressure we put on our boys to ‘man up’ is intense. It’s everywhere. In our sports teams, music, TV, movies… the message says “be tough”… “don’t be a sook”. Most men have at some time either said or have been told to “toughen up”. It has to stop.

This week has given us a strong example of how our society not only promotes an image of ‘toughness’ but also accepts violence against others. Most of our Facebook newsfeeds have been over run by promotions and news stories about the recent Mayweather vs Pacquiao boxing match. I’m not jumping into a debate over the merits of boxing as a sport, but with celebrities lining the front row at the bout, its hard for young boys (or even we men) to ignore the fact that this manly boxing thing draws out the cool people. My big problem here is that one of the contenders, Mayweather, is a convicted wife beater. A witness statement written by his young son has been making the rounds and it is gut wrenching to read. Even with this knowledge, someone (or many people) somewhere has given this guy a chance to earn a share of $300 million (yes million) by beating someone. Not only that, but we have gone out in droves to watch and participate in the hype. In my opinion, we were focussing on the wrong hype. Domestic violence accepted and rewarded. Not good enough.

I don’t know what the answer is (still), but I’m glad the conversation is happening.

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Weekly Round Up

This year, in my new role, there has been a big focus on supporting the professional learning of others. Being new at this, this has meant that I have let my own professional development slip. This is obviously not ok, so I’ve made a renewed commitment to put aside some time to get this back on track. I’ve missed it. Professional reading, listening, viewing…. engaging, is what keeps me inspired and and striving for improvement in my own practice. This weekly round up (who am I kidding, more like semi weekly) is to reflect on and share what I’ve been looking at.

Teacher Education Review Podcast: Interview with Richard Gerver
Richard Gerver is a new find for me. He isn’t someone that I had come across before in my professional learning. It seems I’ve been missing out. This interview covers thoughts on innovative change, project based learning, and effective leadership. It’s well worth a listen. Following up from this, I’m now reading Richard’s book “Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today”. It’s an interesting read, especially looking at it from a leadership viewpoint as well as a teacher headset.

Techlandia Podcast: Interview with George Couros
I’ve listened to George (@gcouros) MANY times before and every time, I still get something out of it. This time around, I was particularly interested in the way that George has used social media to set up an authentic communication and sharing space for his district. Wouldn’t it be great to this happening here? As a new leader, I can see the benefits. A chance to create the narrative for not only our school, but our partnership. A chance to create a positive and powerful online presence and open up real communication between our schools, parents and students. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to affect this type of change from my level of leadership? I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m just saying it needs some more thought. I think creating some momentum at a district level (Education Director?) is needed. Food for thought.

Both of these podcast episodes are worth listening to. Both have achieved some critical thinking and ideas for change.

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Up to Standard?

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This year I became part of a school leadership team for the first time. It’s been a crazy year and has whizzed by at high speed. It’s been a very positive year, but one thing that dropped off my radar was regular blogging. As we move toward the end of the year, I feel like I’ve finally established this as a part of my regular routine again. This is important for my reflection… and sanity. I’ve made some changes to the blog to force myself to step up my game. I’ve added the AITSL Principal Standards and will blog against these as I move forward. In my new role, I preach the need for us to challenge ourselves and to continually improve our practice. It’s important that I model this, and expect the same for myself. The addition of these additional standards is a work in progress. I haven’t been able to find examples of blogs that are using these so I welcome and appreciate any feedback about how they are implemented here.

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AITSL – Illustration of Practice

Last year, I was contacted by AITSL about our school participating in an Illustration of Practice project. It was certainly a worthwhile project for us to be involved in. Being involved with AITSL has improved my teaching without a doubt. The reflection process is an important one and the AITSL Standards for Teachers give me something to reflect against.

Since using the standards as a tool for my professional learning, I have been able to identify not only my strengths, but als the areas that I need to focus on more. In conjunction with this blog, I now have a mechanism for regular reflective learning that keeps me accountable to myself as well as a positive industry standard.

Below is one of three final videos produced by AITSL for their Illustrations of Practice collection. I look forward to sharing the other Hackham East Illustrations soon.

It can also be found on the official AITSL website at http://www.teacherstandards.aitsl.edu.au/Illustrations/Details/IOP00251

Visit the AITSL site and join the discussion.


 

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