“Make feedback normal. Not a performance review.”
– Ed Batista
In NSW classrooms, it is mandatory the Public Schol system, for teachers to have a Performance Development Plan each year to set goals and work towards achieving them to develop your practice.This is osensibly a good idea in cocept, however, the reality is that they are often treated as a compliance tool that must be completed rather than an opportunity for genuine growth and development. Part of the process is to have your lessons observed and feedback provided. Thispractice is fraught with issues, not least of which is that the moment another teacher enters the room, unless having other teachers in the room is the norm, the dynamic will be changed and the lesson observation and therefore the feedback is, is no longer based authentic as it is not based on the norm and is instead based on a changed lesson as the students will change their behaviour and we as teachers do change our practice someone else is there.
In a conference setting, however, it is the norma to have a room full of people that you do not necessarily know well interspersed with people you do know well, and also for conference organiser to come in, taking photos and observing the session before leaving again. So when Matt Burns, a brilliant Primary educator joined in my workshop on flipping the unit at FlipConAus, there were a few nerves. Matt is someone who knowledge and opinion I trust and respect and for me, it felt the same as if my lesson was being observed by my Stage Supervisor. However, it was also somewhat of a relief as it meant there was someone in the room whom I knew, whose opinion I trusted and respected, who was further along their journey and more developed with their flipped pedagogy than I, and who I knew that any feedback offered or given would genuinely come from a place of wanting to help grow and develop my own practice. It also meant that Matt effectively became just a part of the workshop.
I am very conscious of the fact that I am an early career teacher and so do not have authority vis-a-vis talking with fifteen or more years behind me is not something that I can do at this point and I asked Matt, after the workshop and the others had left, for his feedback. I know that receiving feedback, particularly constructive feedback can be a shock to the ego and quite challenging but I am aware that for me, it is what I need to grow and when an opportunity like this was presented I was not itnending to let it go. Feedback was provided and taken on baord, however, the feedback in one area really opened my eyes and changed my approach to planning.
The flipped unit planning tempalte that I had developed was based on the planning process that I had gone through in the past with colleageus in developing units of work; I had not seen a different approach in my conversations with any one. Matt felt that it was almost there, starting with the learning goal and what would be assessed.
What Matt showed me through our conversation and his diagram on the board was that the template needed a small tweak. The template was never, in my view, intended to be a super detailed every lesson mapped out planning tool. It was designed to be a broad brushstrokes, get the skeleton or framework down so that the detail can be hung from it afterwards. So the structure of the template was to have the learning outcomes first, followed by the outlines of the assessments, and then the breakdown od the skills and/or concepts that needed to be learned throughout the unit, and reflection at the end of the unit.
What I was missing was the rubric. When Matt said that he felt it should have the rubric included beforethe teaching and learning seqeuence overview I have to admit that I could not see why it was needed, that was more detail than I felt the planning document needed. Matt's point though was that if you knewwhat the syllabus outcome and learning goal was and you knew the what would be assessed and in what manner, then develeoping the marking rubric and making those decisions about what was important to you and what level of demonstration would achieve whatmark, then the rubric would effectively write the teaching and learning sequence.
This process may be old hat to some of you, but for me it was a revelation. I always felt there was something missing in how I had been shown to develop units or work; but I did not know enough to determine what it was, beyond knowing that I needed to decide what my actual learning outcome was. The process I had been shown and knew was to grab the scope and sequence to check what topic we were doing, plan out the teaching and learning sequence and then write the assessment task and rubric.
I wanted to preface all of that by actually determining the outcome and learning goal that I was trying to achieve. To do otherwise seemed like trying to navigate with a map or compass. I also knew that I wanted to have the assessment tasks known up front as this would ensure that as I developing the teaching and learnign sequence, I could ensure that I had hit each of the things that I had determined I wanted my students to be able to demonstrate in order to know they had achieved the learning goal.
Matt's position, which I have come around to, was that by developing the rubric for the assessments, you would know know not only the learning goal, what was being assessed and how (macro), but also what, within the assessment, were more or less important than other parts of the assessment. I.e. I have seen (and written) so many rubrics where there is a criteria to do with spelling and grammar etc. The level of importance you assign to that in an essay or other writing task is likely to be different than the importance assigned to the same criteria in a maths task.
Once you know what is being assessed and how at the micro level, that then effectively writes the teaching and learning sequence as those are the things that need to be taught and so they must be included in the sequence. This approach actually makes, in my opinion, the process of developing a unit of learning easier and more straightforward.
I have modified the unit planning template to reflect Matt's feedback and it can be downloaded here. As always, it is licensed under creative commons, so feel free to modify and share as needed. If you do make changes though, I would love to see the changes you have made, purely from a curiosity and are they changes that I should be making to the document myself.
Thank you to Matt for his time and feedback; and thank you for reading.
“Time stays long enough for those who use it.“
– Attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci
I am looking for some feedback on my teaching career progression and am hoping that you, my readers, are able to help. Last year I was fortunate enough to gain regular casual employment each week until I was eventually offered a temporary contract from Term Two through to the end of the year.That role was as a Release from Face-to-Face (RFF), or as I have heard it called elsewhere, Non-Contact or Supply Teaching. In this capacity, I had a timetable wherein I moved from class to class at set times, teaching digital literacy to students from Kindergarten up to Year Six.
This year, I have been offered a contract for the full year on a Year Five and Six composite class, for three days a week. I am discovering a great number of tasks that last year went unnoticed by me, as they did not fall within my purview, mainly administration issues. I had a conversation with another teacher recently who has gone the other way, from teaching a class in a job-share arrangement, back to an RFF role, and it was interesting that she is discovering all of the things that she no longer has to worry about.
It makes me glad that I was not offered a permanent position immediately after graduating, as I am not sure how I would have coped, worrying about programming and planning, accreditation, the actual teaching and building relationships with my students, if I had also been required to complete the various paperwork and administration with which I am now faced. It enabled me to spend a year focusing on my pedagogy and classroom habits, which I believe has put me in a position for this year where I am not as stressed about juggling everything.
It has also made me think about my career progression. The end goal, for myself, at least, is to gain a permanent position in a classroom. However at this point in time, and I am open to feedback on this, I am considering that I am better off not applying for permanent jobs this year. That might sound odd, however, I feel that in the long run, my teaching, and therefore, my students would be better served by having a full year in a class, with a full year’s worth of teaching a single class with all of the associated experiences which come with that, rather than potentially being offered a permanent position mid-year, causing consistency issues for myself and both sets of students.
Students are resilient, and would get over it, however as someone who changed schools a lot as a student, I feel that the disruption, and the time for students to adapt to a new teachers routines, processes, and quirks, mid-year, would cause significant issues in regards to classroom more issues than would be worth it.
Of course, the alternative would be to simply ask my Principal to not release me until the end of the year, should I be offered a permanent position elsewhere, which I have heard of happening. However, I am not sure how well that idea would be received, both by the current Principal and my new Principal.
My reasoning makes sense to me and I am happy with the decision, but I am open to feedback and other ideas on the issue from those more experienced.
“As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”
-Attributed to Amy Poehler
No single teacher, on their own, causes great things in the classroom or motivates students. That may sound odd, given that most classrooms are operated by a single teacher, but we do not cause great things to happen in isolation. The great moment in a lesson occurs because we have brainstormed how to deliver a particular lesson/skill/concept with a colleague, we have asked our partner or children for their feedback, we have sought feedback from our own students on how we can be better teachers for them and put that into practice, we have been to a professional development session of some description that has lit a fire under our tail and ignited a passion we were heretofore unaware of, the office staff have printed and distributed notes for any number of reasons.
In other words, we have collaborated in a variety of ways and with a variety of people. We do nothing in isolation. Ultimately, if we do not collaborate with our students, it will be irrelevant how amazing and inspiring our lesson plan is. Without their collaboration and buy-in, nothing is achieved.
I had a conversation this morning with a colleague who delivered my program to some classes on Friday, and her feedback was very useful. She pointed out that attempting to have students save a filed onto a communal USB was very time-intensive, and recommended simply using a class list as a tick and flick sheet, with a particular competency noted at the top of each column, and a tick if the competency was achieved. That was the initial idea, and somehow in the transition to using the class laptops as opposed to small groups, the method was cast aside. I used that method this morning, and it was much easier, and much simpler to put into practice in the classroom, and also when entering the data on the spreadsheet that my records are being kept on.
Collaboration with colleagues, especially around sharing what works is vital to a teachers success. How do you collaborate?
As always, thank you for reading, and I look forward to hearing from people about the collaboration that is going on.