Education Nation | Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson - Encouraging students to become active participants in their learning
“We need to till and fertilise the soil before we can harvest the growth in our classroom.”
– Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson
Peter Mader’s session led into lunch (which was fantastic), after which I headed off to The Learner to hear from Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson (@prue_g and @ed_cuthbertson) about how to encourage students to become active participants in their own learning. It promised to be an interesting session, which was unfortunately poorly attended, but from which I learned a lot. Prue and Ed have kindly made their slide deck available and you can find it here.
They began by providing some context for the audience, indicating that they came from a low socioeconomic status (SES) area called Conder in the ACT. They qualified it by saying that low SES in the ACT is not the same as low SES in NSW or other states, but that they are, relatively speaking, disadvantaged and isolated from the rest of the region. They added that they have both been in the school, together, for some years, which is actually an unusual situation. Apparently the ACT used to have a policy in place to ensure cross-fertilisation of ideas and practices that a teacher moved to a new school every two years. The unintended consequence of this was that staffing in the school was fluid and there was constant change, resulting in it beign very difficult to build or change school culture. The practice has, thankfully, fallen by the wayside and has resulted in vastly improved relationships between staff members and between staff and students
We began by considering that we cannot empower students when teachers are not themselves empowered and were asked to consider and map on a Cartesian Plane, school practices that were low or high quality and were empowering or disempowering for teachers.
The audience spent time collaboratively filling in their own Cartesian planes and then came back together and shared the ideas. They related to us, as they added groups ideas to the plane, that they were shown this tool by Dan Meyer and that it provided a usable tool for helping a school move from across the plane to the top right-hand quadrant.
They explored the idea that it was impossible to teach the curriculum if a teacher too busy managing behaviour issues and how teachers need to sit down at the same level as students as part of the behaviour management process, conferencing with them to discuss the root cause of the behaviour. This goes back to the theory that all behaviour has a reason or purpose behind it. The school began using the mini-conference process as a way of addressing behaviour issues constructively and that as it gained traction and acceptance from teachers, students and parents, that they were then able to use it not only to assist in resolving teacher:student issues but also in resolving teacher:teacher and student:student issues.
The school invested time in helping staff develop their professional development plans (PDPs), identifying development opportunities that met both staff and school needs and used action research to gather data on what practices were and were not working and to be able to determine the level of impact that practices were having using data.
They spoke about the need to value the passion and knowledge of teachers and to invest in and then leverage that, compromising as needed logistically. The example they gave was that a science teacher wanted to run a particular program and had built up the interest in science to the point where students wanted to engage in that program. The school leadership was able to recognise the passion and knowledge of that teacher and gave the go-ahead for the program, with a quid-pro-quo of taking on an additional class.
The school also uses collaboratively teaching and have placed all Year Seven mathematics classes on the same line, allowing for team teaching, planning, programming, and assessing.
Another aspect of the school which I believe is fantastic is that every teacher in the school, including the Assistant Principals and the Deputy Principal, are expected to observe and provide feedback to two other teachers, as well be observed and given feedback about their own teaching practice. I have heard this concept given many names, but the underlying spirit is brilliant and promotes growth, learning, and best-practice and that it has resulted in significant growth throughout the entire teaching staff.
The school has also worked hard to remove useless and wasteful staff meetings consisting of items that belong in an e-mail. They map out the agendas for staff meetings for the full year and make them visible to the entire staff, creating an environment where e-mail meetings are reduced and promoting genuine discussion and debate on substantive issues. One of the issues examined was the use of funding and the recognition that data and accountability for the use of funding go hand in hand. To this end, funding began to be targeted to specific purposes and programs, which needed to be evaluated and the data used to determine success and the impact thereof through action research. One outcome of this was that the way rubrics were used to judge assessment tasks was changed. They are now structured and given to students indicating that by the end of the unit they need to be able to answer specific in-depth questions, rather than simply writing a report that uses a few keywords.
In order to improve the level of teacher wellbeing, the school instituted a family week wherein staff are encouraged to not arrive at school prior to 0800 and to not be on premises after 1530. In addition to this, once a week, each subject block (the school is grouped into three cross-faculty blocks) has a staff lunch. During that staff lunch, which is cooked by the staff specifically to share with each other, students are not allowed to go to that staffroom and all playground duties are taken care of by the other two faculty-blocks. I have written previously about the benefits of sharing a meal with colleagues, and they have held consistently for Lanyon High School staff.
One area that was identified as needing improvement was in collaboration with other schools. To this end, a learning community was established with nearby primary and secondary schools. As part of this, joint assemblies are held on a regular, but not interferingly regular, basis so that when students transition from primary to secondary, the school they attend is already relatively familiar due to the community environment that has been established.
At this point, we were asked to consider what an empowered student looked like and in our table groups, discussed and explored this with some consistent themes emerging in the room.
Prue and Ed also noted that if it is easy to measure, then it is probably not worth measuring, which led to a discussion about how do we measure if our students are empowered. Some tools that they use as a school include attendance rates, especially for those with historically low attendance as well as reading student reflection journals.
The discussion then moved onto an explanation of the merit and reward system that was being used across the school and that while it was working well and having positive effects, there was an awareness of Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards theory and the negative potential of extrinsic motivation. There was a discussion of the fact that some schools physically cannot get through the whole curriculum and that one way they were working through that issue was to utilise the learning by design methodology in their planning and programming, as well as peer feedback on practice.
They discovered that students were working on assignments outside of school hours, collaboratively, and diving into deep discussions on concepts that were being covered in class.
We are often told, as educators, that we need to leverage a student’s interest and teach to it. However, Prue and Ed argued that if a student likes bikes, do not give him a book about bikes and teach everything through bikes as that will only destroy the love of bikes. It is also, they said, our job to expose students to other ideas, concepts, and interests rather than allow them to become single-minded about something.
Closing out, Prue and Ed spoke to us briefly about the Giving Project they run through Years Seven, Eight and Nine, the use of a genuine student parliament which has input in the school and issues that affect students, and the last comment was from Prue; “that what works is not the right question. What works somewhere does not work everywhere.”
I enjoyed the session with Prue and Ed, their passion shone through and we heard some interesting ideas about engaging students in their own learning, stemming from a focus on improved school culture. The session was not well attended, I thought and did them a disservice, however, their enthusiasm was infectious and they engaged the audience well.
As always, thank you for reading. If you have missed the other articles in this Education Nation series, you can fidn the full list here.
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
Times listed in this article are correct at the time of publishing, but are subject to change.
It is interesting timing, sitting here composing this article, with Education Nation only a week away, considering that the topic for #satchatoz this past weekend was how [do] conferences help us grow professionally. I have been amazed at the response to both my interview with Professor Geoff Masters and the interview with Dr. David Zyngier. I am excited to announce that I have just received the interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly, who is arguing the side of private education in The Great Debate against Dr. Zyngier. You can get involved with The Great Debate by submitting a question for the moderated questions from the floor component of the Debate by clicking here.
Today, however, I want to have a look at the programs for the various conference streams. There is a lot to be excited about on the program for Education Nation, making it difficult to choose a particular stream to be involved in. Of course, each stream has a particular focus and which you will choose will vary according to your context and your needs. I am in the position of being able to move between the event streams thanks to the media pass, and it made for some very difficult choices, as I wanted to engage with at least one session in each stream across the two days.
I have included a copy of the EduNationAu Timetable, which I have put together from the separate programs on the Education Nation website to allow for seeing what was happening at any time and it showed that the events do not necessarily line up in regards to timings for each session. I have chosen the sessions I will be attending according to a few criteria:
The first session I plan to attend is in the Rethinking Reform stream, and will be my first opportunity to hear Brett Salakas (@Mrsalakas) speak. He will be exploring the subject of PISA and the growing fascination with the results and our place in relation to the other OECD member nations. It promises to provide an open and frank exploration of our current relationship with PISA pipe dreams and the cultural contexts involved. Following Brett’s session was my first dilemma.
Do I stay and listen to Professor Geoff Masters (@GMastersACER) identify and discuss the five most important challenges facing schools, or alternatively, head across to the Digital Dimensions stream to hear Simon McKenzie (@connectedtchr) identify if we have just made everything worse with the rollout of technology in schools, from both positive and negative perspectives. Simon’s session promises to be very intriguing and potentially controversial given the explosion of one-to-one and BYOD programs in recent years.
Both options are incredibly appealing, however, in the end, I decided to remain in my seat for Professor Masters’ session. Primarily due to time; both sessions are scheduled to commence at 0940, and though there is typically some fluidity in the actual timings at conferences, I wanted to avoid being that person who enters a room late and then proceeds to become the show as they attempt to find a seat, get there and then set up for the session. I look forward to reading the tweets stemming from Simon’s session, and please, if you write a blog article from that session (or any other), send me the link so that we can re-share it with the wider Education Nation PLN.
After the morning break, I plan to spend the entire second session engaging with one of the deep-dive workshops, The Leader. Specifically, I will be attending the session which examines strategies for bridging the gap when policy and practice diverge, presented by Peter Mader (@Mader_Peter). It is an interesting area to explore, and also a common problem. Educational policy is typically slow to respond to new information and requirements, particularly when it is required to run the gamut of a bureaucracy.
Michael’s session finished and provides me with a ten-minute window to move across to my next session, hearing from Ed Cutherbertson and Prue Gill (@Ed_Cuthbertson and @Prue_G) of Lanyon High School share strategies that teachers are able to utilise in their classroom to provide their students with voice and agency, allowing them to feel valued, and encouraging students to become active participants in their own learning. This session is a lengthy one, which gives me that it will provide a wide range of strategies to assist teachers in building those relationships, in providing the voice and agency to their students. Student voice and agency has been a topic of discussion more and more on social media and there is a body of research building around this issue.
Following the afternoon break, my first choice, actually, it was the first thing I marked down as wanting to attend, is The Great Debate between Dr. David Zyngier (@DZyngier) and Dr. Kevin Donnelly (@ESIAustralia). The debate surrounding public versus private education is a hot one, and both sides have some excellent arguments. I have not heard the two sides facing off in a debate before, and this is sure to be interesting and fiery. I have already published my interview with Dr. Zyngier and tomorrow I aim to publish the interview with Dr. Donnelly. Dr. Donnelly is well known in the media for his provocative statements, and I look forward to engaging with his responses, and to hearing the feedback on the article.
Do not forget to submit your questions about public education versus private education. There is still time!
Though my choices for the final session of day one of Education Nation were guided by The Great Debate, I am genuinely interested in hearing what Teresa Deshon has to say about the role of the pastoral curriculum in her case study; People of Character – Your Best Self. The academic curriculum takes the majority of our teaching time and Teresa’s question, “…[b]ut what of the pastoral curriculum?” is an excellent one. I am looking forward to hearing the strategies that Teresa and her colleagues have employed to change the focus to the pastoral curriculum, and still maintained the academic curriculum learning outcomes for their students.
At the end of day one of Education Nation, I will be attending the live #AussieEd event at Kirribilli Club (view map), tickets to which are still available. It will be my first AussieEd event, and am looking forward to it.
Day two begins bright and early, and pending Ministerial commitments, will begin for those in the Rethinking Reform forum, with an Address and Question and Answer session with the incumbent Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham (@birmo). I requested a pre-Education Nation interview with Minister Birmingham, which was accepted, however, with the announcement of the impending Federal election made shortly thereafter, I daresay I ended up down the priority list as neither myself nor my speaker liaison heard back regarding the interview. I am very curious to hear about his views on the future of education in Australia, as well as what questions from the floor will be accepted and how they will be answered.
The timing of Minister Birmingham’s address meant that I am unable to attend any other event streams in the morning session as I would be arriving midway through, which is never pleasant. That said, Lila Mularczyk’s (@LilaMularczyk) subsequent presentation examining trends in education policy and the translation to the Australian context will be very interesting. I feel that this session will follow on nicely from Brett Salakas’ day one keynote address. Both keynotes will be examining the Australian relationship with global educational systems, from slightly different perspectives. I look forward to seeing what crossover conclusions the two share.
I will be spending a significant portion of day two in the Rethinking Reform session, as returning from the morning will see me settling in for two sessions which I suspect will provide a lot of food for thought. Murat Dizdar will commence the session with an examination of how some schools in the NSW public education system are adopting the national education reform platform a discussion of the operational lessons that can be taken from those schools.
Following on from Murat, is Dr. Kenneth Wiltshire, presenting an exploration of the future of curriculum in Australia. Dr. Wiltshire is not likely to hold back, having been openly critical of the national curriculum and the process through which it has been developed. Dr. Wiltshire lays blame on the doorstep of ACARA itself, specifically the structure and functioning, labelling it a largely discredited body within education circles. I am very much looking forward to hearing him speak. As an early career teacher, the future of the curriculum is a rather important topic for me and my students, both now and in the future.
After Dr. Wiltshire’s presentation, I plan to take some time out. His speech will finish at roughly the same time as the concurrent sessions from The Leader, The Learner, and The Educator, and with all due respect to Phillip Cooke (@sailpip), who is presenting immediately after Dr. Wiltshire; a discussion of the HSC and how it prepares students for life after school is not in my area of interest at the moment. I believe that I would gain more benefit from taking some time to refresh my brain, to re-engage with my notes, get some writing done, explore The Playground and network and meet up with some educators that I have chatted with on Twitter in the past.
Following the lunch break, I will have the opportunity to hear Olivia O’Neil speak in the Digital Dimensions forum about redeveloping a school by engaging the emerging Gen Y teachers. I am looking forward to hearing Olivia speak, as I know a lot of what has been occurring at the school she is Principal of, Brighton Secondary College from conversations with Jeremy LeCornu (@MrLeCornu), whom I heard speak originally at FlipConAus last year. I am looking forward to hearing about a journey of which I already know a little bit from the perspective of the Principal, and the challenges that were faced from that vantage point and how they were dealt with.
I plan to remain in the Digital Dimensions forum to hear Leanne Steed and Elizabeth Amvrazis as they examine the purpose of education through a lens of technology-laden classrooms and the way in which technology can empower our students.
I will then be moving back to the Rethinking Reform forum to hear someone whom I admire greatly, Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) as she speaks about the relationship between the focus on using evidence-based pedagogies and the feeling of empowerment or disempowerment by teachers. Evidence-based pedagogies are another hot topic (I quite enjoy reading Greg Ashman’s (@greg_ashman) articles in this area). If the discussions about performance-based pay for teachers come to fruition, it will be an issue of even greater importance, and make the difference, perhaps, between teachers keeping and losing their positions.
The final Education Nation session on my agenda is part of The Educator stream, and I have chosen it specifically as it is a presentation on a topic that I am not still somewhat skeptical about. The Hewes family will be closing out The Educator with a workshop giving deeper insight into Project Based Learning (PBL). The workshop is slated to allow participants to design a PBL project, ostensibly, I presume, to take back to our classroom and implement. I am not entirely sure why I am skeptical about PBL. I suspect that a lot of it is most likely misconceptions, and I have heard some local horror stories about PBL gone wrong. That said, I am looking forward to engaging with this workshop, and hopefully coming away with a new understanding and appreciation for PBL and its place in my pedagogical toolkit.
That, as I mentioned, is the final session for Education Nation 2016. I am very much looking forward to the two days and fully expect that I will need the ensuing few days to recover mentally. What are your expected highlights for the event? Let me know via Twitter using #EduNationAu which will be the main event hashtag.
As always, thank you for reading, and stay tuned tomorrow for the interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly.
For the full list of articles in this series, please click here.