"I'm realizing for the first time, your life goes on while you're trying to pursue this career. I saw my career as everything. But you have this life, too. Living your life fully, you come to know yourself better. You'll find the place for it."
- Attributed to Nicholas D'Agosto
Whilst this is rather late, given that term two ended nearly a month ago, I have been struggling with time and juggling a new direction in my career along with my family responsibilities and have not had time to write. Term two was, for me, incredibly hectic with trips for work visiting schools in Wagga, Wollongong, Tamworth, Coffs Harbour (twice), Port Macquarie and Nambucca Heads, and Dubbo, attendance at FutureSchools in Melbourne, the Association of Independent Schools IT conference in Canberra, EduTECH, FlipCon New Zealand, two deaths in the family which resulted in a funeral in Tamworth on one day followed by the second in Western Sydney the following day, as well as continuing to wrap my head around being a father to an increasingly independent and cheeky daughter.
One thing that I learned in term two was that I am often too focused on the details and forget to look at the bigger picture. I was away from home far too often in term two because I would look at a week and see that I had no bookings and so could get in a trip to a regional area to visit schools without looking how often that would have me away overall. A rookie error and one that I've corrected by blocking out the weeks when I will and will not be travelling regionally throughout term three and four to ensure no more than five regional trips of two to three nights each. Mrs C21 is much happier about that arrangement than she was with term two's travel arrangements.
I know that I have commented on this before, but I have noticed how there is a common threa running through every school that I have visited thus far, irrespective of socio-economic status, sector base (i.e. Public, Denominational, Independent etc.) and that is that students are all trying to deal with being teenagers and teachers are trying to do the best they can with what they have. As someone from w wholly public school background, as a student and a teacher, it is easy to fall into the trap of just assuming that non-public school teachers are in rich schools and therefore have it easy. I am coming to realise that that is certainly not the case. Whilst the school may be better funded and thus have access to better or more resources, the expectations and demands placed upon teachers are commensurately greater. The obvious example of this is the expectation in many non-public school that every teacher is involved in coaching a weekend sporting team and thus required to spend Saturday morning at a sporting ground with that team.
This realisation has reinforced the need for us as a profession to band together and protect our professionalism and use our expertise as educators to know how to teach to build and maintain networks to share knowledge, resources and practice across schools as we support the influx of new teachers to the profession. A quote from someone at FutureSchools has stuck with me; there is not a dearth of excellence i teaching, but the distribution of excellence is uneven.
Get involved in your local TeachMeet group and help promote professional unity and collegial sharing. Find an early career teacher with whom you can work and mentor to help support their growth as a teacher; but be mindful that they can also possibly teach you something. Brian Host said something to me a few years ago that has stayed with me and gave me the courage to be more active in sharing. He asked if I was presenting at FutureSchools (which is where we were when we were chatting) and I laughed at the apparent absurdity of the notion, remarkign that as an early career teacher I had nothing to offer on par with what others at FutureSchools could offer. Brian said (paraphrasing) that it is not about how long you have been teaching but about how you have been teaching.
I think that my mentality at that point in time is typical of many early career teachers as there seems to be an undercurrent of bias towards more experienced teachers, especially when it comes to trying to find a permanent job. We all come to teaching with out own backgrounds and we need to find a way of sharing that appropriately. Put your hand up to share at a TeachMeet, ask your Principal if you can share a pedagogical approach that has been working for you in the next staff meeting, apply to present at a conference...get involved and share your knowledge and expertise. Early Career Teacher is non synonomous with has no idea what they are doing. There will be somethign they are an expert in and as more experienced teachers we need to find and nurture those things whilst supporting them in the areas where they are strggling.
There is a great chance to get involved coming up. Steph Salazar is organising a TeachMeet event focusing on support and encouraging Pre-Service and Early Career Teachers which is taking place on Tuesday 22 August at Woolpack Hotel Parramatta.
"Have something cool to share as a PST or early career teacher? Perhaps you have golden advice for PSTs! Indicate below that you are interested in doing a presentation and we will be in contact. Any questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @stephygsalazar."
The above snippet is what this particular TeachMeet is focusing on. Not in Sydney? There is likely a TeachMeet group in your area and if not, then why not start one? TeachMeet events in my area started quite small several years ago and were organised by one person once a year. Now TMCoast runs an event each semester and has a consistent showing of between forty and fifty educators.
I will end this article there as it is will and truly well away from where I thought it would go. I would encourage you to register for TMWooly though as it will be a great event with lots of knowledge for and from pre-service and early career teachers.
"Debates focusing on the achievement gap, where in 2014 only 59% of Indigenous students complete Year 12 or equivalent compared with 85% of their non-Indigenous counterparts, tend to place an emphasis on contextual factors such as the role of poverty or socioeconomic status as an explanation of lower educational achievement.
In the wider public, this can spiral quickly into blaming students and families, or gives schools and teachers permission to find some comfort in the status quo.
Focusing on the opportunity to learn gap removes the emphasis from locating “the problem” in the person (or family or culture), and turns our attention to the accumulated differences in access to key educational resources."
- McKinley, E. (1994), The Conversation, "Stop focusing on 'the problem' in Indigenous education, and start looking at learning opportunities." Retrieved from tinyurl.com/jstlp9kp on 27 February 2017
TeachMeet events in Australia are popular, which a significant number occurring each term across the country. The Central Coast branch, TMCoast, organise two events each year, typically in Term One and Term Three. The next #TMCoast event is being held on Thursday, 16th March 2017 (Week Eight of Term One) in the Aboriginal Resource Room at Henry Kendall High School beginning at 5pm. A networking dinner (#TMEat) will be held afterwards, at Central Coast Leagues Club.
This event will be slightly different to a normal TeachMeet event. In respect to the local Aboriginal community and the Cooinda Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG), whose meeting place we are fortunate enough to be able to utilise for this event, we will be entering the room after being welcomed to the site by a member of the local Indigenous community through a smoking ceremony. The evening will then move to the Heritage Listed room, recognised as being of cultural significance by the NSW Department of Education and will include a Welcome to Country and a talk from a local Elder. As part of traditional cultural practices and protocols, rather than a series of short talks, we will be engaging in a yarn; sharing practices that celebrate and highlight Aboriginality in education, culture, that have provided benefit to the learning of Aboriginal students. We welcome anyone to attend who can share their own stories of or those who want to listen and learn and ask questions.
It is an event that I excited to be able to attend as it is an opportunity to engage more authentically with Indigenous culture. If you have ever been curious about Indigenous culture or about Aboriginality in education, then I would encourage you to come along. The image above is a link to the registration page. It is a free event, and will be followed by a meal at Central Coast Leagues Club for those interested.
On Friday of last week, I was fortunate enough to attend another TeachMeet, this time at Ourimbah on the Central Coast. After some conversations and encouragement from Paul Hamilton and Alfina Jacksonat FutureSchools earlier in the month, I decided to put my hand up to present this time, having sat quietly in the background at previous TeachMeets I had attended. For those who were unable to attend, and we had a good turnout on the night, I have storified the event, which is available here.
There was a broad range of speakers, from the inspiring Liesl Tesch (@LieslTesch), to TAFE teachers, Secondary English and Mathematics Teachers, an Actuary, Teachers Federation employees and Primary School Teachers, and a broad range of topics were covered as well. I nominated to speak about Flipped Learning, which is something I have been looking into for a while now and recently have been able to start putting into practice. I decided, rather late in the week, that I would like to flip my session and so put together a short video, which fit within my seven-minute timeslot going through the basics of what flipped learning was with the aim to turn my actual timeslot into a Q&A session so that we could go deeper.
Unfortunately, I left it rather late and in the end, the video did not get out in time for people to watch it, so I did end up presenting at the event. Despite my nerves (my heart rate kicked up to 115 beats per minute) the feedback was positive, and a colleague of mine who was there said I hid my nervousness well. I felt like I was speaking at the proverbial million miles an hour, but I had some good discussions with a few attendees after the event and was able to answer a few questions.
I tweeted out the link to the slide deck I used, which included links to some of the articles I have written on the topic, as well as links to other teachers who are flipping their practice. I include the link to that slide deck here for the benefit of those who are curious.
If you have the opportunity to share something at a TeachMeet in your own area, I would encourage you to bite the bullet, put aside your nerves and present. I am glad that I did, and hope to be to contribute again in the future.
You can find the TMCoast website here.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
– Attributed to Aristotle
Earlier in the year I attended a TeachMeet about Teaching for Thinking, or Teaching Philosophy in Schools at St Leo’s Catholic College, Wahroonga. The event was a very interesting one, with lots of challenging ideas about education and how we teach children to think. As always, I wrote a series of review articles, which you can find by clicking here.
Another Teaching for Thinking TeachMeet has been organised, to be held on Sunday, 29th November from 1300 to 1600 at Wyvern House Preparatory School in Stanmore.
From the invitational flyer:
The teachmeet will be an introductory platform for passionate and interested educators and leaders from a range of schools across Sydney to share their experiences, expertise, vision and learn from one another. Topics for discussion will include: Critical and Creative Thinking; Philosophy in the classroom; and Tools of inquiry The afternoon will include five presenters, a Q&A session, followed by an open forum/panel discussion. The teachmeet will also be a great opportunity to start a broader dialogue about teaching for thinking and build professional networks.
Speakers include Emeritus Professor Phil Cam, President of Philosophy in Schools NSW from the University of New South Wales speaking under the title Because and Therefore; Dr Britta Jensen an English and French teacher from Marist College North Shore speaking under the title Fostering a thinking disposition in our students; Mr Dan Smith Deputy Principal at Leichhardt Public School speaking under the title Bringing philosophy into school – 10 years of experience; Ms Sally Parker, a Science Teacher from Moriah College speaking under the title Stimulus material, Concept games and Questioning tools for the Science classroom; and Ms Ksenia Filatov, English and Philosophy Teacher at St Leo’s Catholic College speaking under Teaching and Applied Philosophy elective course for years 9-10.
To attend, please RSVP through this google form by Thursday 26th November.
“Girls have a lot of stuff.”
– Henrietta Miller
Henrietta Miller (@henriettam) speaking under the heading How sixteen chairs and twenty-eight students work. Henrietta opened by indicating that her first steps with changing learning spaces began with the opening of the bi-fold doors that separated her classroom from the next. This transformed two separate rooms into a single large room with two teachers, and was a small step. Take small steps, initially was a key theme throughout the night from the majority of speakers, as this will allow staff and students alike to adjust and get used to the idea of change and how it will impact their learning. Following on from this, Henrietta indicated that at the beginning of 2015, any walls in the two (now one) rooms that could be knocked out, were knocked out, which had this reaction from one attendee:
The remaining walls were transformed into functional walls through the use of whiteboard paint. The other key decision that was made was that no new furniture was purchased. This idea was echoed by a number of presenters on the night and the back channel indicated some agreement, in general, to the idea.
This drastic change necessitated that some retraining be done, for the students, as to how they thought about and utilised the learning space, moving towards considering what learning would be taking place in the session, what kind of learning space would be needed for that learning to take place and moving into that learning space, making use of a range of furniture. The need for retraining about how a learning space is conceived and utilised is a valid point, and it was pointed out by Cathy Maguire and Kylie Norburn that an induction into non-traditional learning spaces would be highly beneficial to teachers, both those already on staff, as well as new teachers as they entered the space in order to allow teachers to make full use of the learning space. Greg Longney (@Geelong71) also made the point, echoing that of Mark Liddell’s, that a change in learning spaces requires a change in culture. Monique Dalli (@1moniqued) took this further and commented that change without support can ‘fear out’ our students, causing them to react negatively in a range of ways. As many noted, starting with small changes is key, and this includes not attempting to change too much at any single point in time.
A common point throughout the evening was that there is a need for more usable space in the classroom, and Henrietta’s suggestion was to remove the teacher’s desk from the room. Create a place where belongings can be securely and safely stored, and then dump the desk. The space it takes up and the clutter that they often create, and the perils of storing something deep inside, never to be seen again, outweigh any benefits of having a desk. Additionally, it was noted, they create a barrier between the teacher and the students. Removing the desk creates an entirely new space that can be utilised in a variety of ways in different contexts.
Greg Longney (@Geelong71) followed on from Henrietta, talking to us about a building named C Block, but known as Cell Block, that was loathed by students. Greg indicated that a new Head of School wanted to reorganise and this is what followed:
After the reorganisation was completed, the new space was promptly over-filled with furniture, much of which was not actually wanted and Greg was quite strong on the point that the accountant should not be the one doing the ordering. The benefits of the change to the learning space however included significantly more natural light (generally a good thing), an increase in the amount of team-teaching that occurred and the ability to transform how the space was used and the learning activities that were able to be undertaken by students.
A very interesting point that Greg made was the review process undertaken by staff at the end of term, in the new space.Greg said that whiteboards were spread around the room, each with a different focus, and staff were asked to give feedback about the new learning space on the appropriate whiteboard, with a board for challenges, one for rewards etc. I feel like this is a part of the change process that often seems to be overlooked, and I like the way in which it was done in this instance at it provides an outlet for all staff. Greg did not indicate that a similar process was provided for students, however, I believe that that would have been a valuable process also. Greg closed by re-making a recurring theme; a changed learning space requires a changed culture.
Cathy Maguire and Kylie Norburn followed on, and they indicated that they began their change by removing the majority of furniture in a room to see how students coped and that changing the student culture around the learning space was, for them, a natural process. Students can, in their experience, see that the school and the staff are working to provide a higher quality learning space and it follows that the students will have a higher level of respect for the learning environment. I do not necessarily agree that this will be the case in every context, but as a general rule, I can see their point.
The big step that they made was to ensure that all furniture was light and movable to allow a high degree of flexibility and seating options for students. They made a very interesting point, that not all students will always need a hard surface at the same time. I am not entirely sure that I agree with the sentiment, as I can certainly envision situations where you do need all students to have access to a hard surface to lean upon as they write. However, I agree that it does not necessarily need to be a table. The point was made that there are other options.
I have seen classes use a class set of A3 whiteboards as their hard surface to lean upon, clipboards, appropriate sized books as well as the lap desks that are available.
Thank you for reading part two of my review of #TMSpaces. As always, please leave any feedback, questions or ideas in the comments section below and you can find the other articles int his series by clicking here.
“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s we rob them of tomorrow.”
– John Dewey, Schools of Tomorrow, 1915.
Last Thursday (15th October, 2016) I attended my very first Teach Meet which was hosted at Bradfield Senior College (@BradfieldSC). Phillip Cooke (@sailpip) organised the event with a focus on learning spaces, which for me is timely given the school rebuild that is ongoing in my current school. Naturally the back-channel was #TMSpaces and Phillip has already posted the link to the Storify of the Teach Meet. My thanks to Lily Young (@lilypilly) for posting a photo of the agenda which included a list of the speakers and their Twitter handles:
The first speaker was was Mark Liddell (@MarkLiddell) under the heading Seventy seats for fifty students and other related stories which he described as being an explanation of a range of train wrecks in changing learning space arrangements, layouts and uses.
Mark related that his experience with learning spaces has demonstrated that the key component for success in changing learning spaces is the culture of the school, beginning with the leadership culture. Mark continued by outlining that in one particular context, they began by working with Year Eleven students in 2011 and were looking to change the way they learned and provide more autonomy. They set out to break the timetable, allowing students the autonomy to choose when they wanted to do their learning. This challenged teachers to think about the best way they could manage the interactions with their students, as they now had to negotiate their teaching both in person and online. Mark said that this particular initiative failed as the culture of the school was not in the right place for such a move to be stable over a lengthy period of time.
The next initiative was a move with a Year Seven cohort to implement team teaching which enabled a re-imagining of the physical space. This change of the learning space did work and the following year it was rolled out for the new Year Seven, and the (now) Year Eight cohort. This threw up additional challenges for the school and the teachers. They found they needed more time for planning and negotiating who would teach what, without their being any more time available. The culture of the school and the leadership within the school was such that a rearranging of the timetable was able to be negotiated that allowed for this team teaching arrangement to continue to function.
Mark then talked about the need to re-imagine the way that we see and use learning spaces. Just because you have a single open learning space does not mean that it needs to be utilised as a single open learning space. A large learning space can be divided into multiple smaller spaces through a variety of methods. John Goh (@johnqgoh) echoed this point when he showed some photos of the way that spaces in the library at Merrylands East (@merrylandseast)had been divided up, without furniture, through the use of different coloured carpets and other cues:
Mark spoke about how the use of campfire spaces to disseminate information to students, or for class discussions has begun and that they have also been used as a launchpad for the day quite effectively.
Mark’s final point was that there is a relationship between learning spaces and John Hattie’s Eight Frames of Mind and that we should think about the learning spaces we place our students in by considering how the learning space will allow the mind frames to have an impact.
Following Mark, we heard from Lily Young (@lilypilly) who is a Teacher Librarian at Newington College (@library_nc) who spoke under the title The science behind standing and the way in which the amount of sitting (or standing) we do on a day to day basis impacts the health of our students. Lily began by asking us all to stand up, which she reminded us is what we do for the majority of the day, as teachers, but not what our students do. and that having a high level of sedentarism has been repeatedly shown, in both Australian and International literature, to have negative implications for health, including increased risk of high levels of bad cholesterol, obesity and heart disease. Lily indicated that sedentarism has been called the new cancer. A brief search on Google Scholar turned up this article from 2010 which indicates in the abstract that
“The literature review identified 18 articles pertaining to sedentary behavior and cancer risk, or to sedentary behavior and health outcomes in cancer survivors. Ten of these studies found statistically significant, positive associations between sedentary behavior and cancer outcomes. Sedentary behavior was associated with increased colorectal, endometrial, ovarian, and prostate cancer risk; cancer mortality in women; and weight gain in colorectal cancer survivors”
This article seems to back up Lily’s provocative statement. Lily indicated that we need to flip the model and have our students standing more and utilise standing desks or other appropriate methods to achieve this. I am a big fan of standing desks, and have been considering purchasing one for myself at home as between writing these blog articles, recording videos for school, research, and gaming, I spend a significant amount of time at the computer and am conscious of the lack of inactivity and how it makes me feel, given that I am normally a relatively active person, being a teacher notwithstanding. Unfortunately, they do not come cheaply. At least none of the ones I’ve been able to find do, though I would appreciate any links to reasonably priced standing tables.
Lily closed by asking if anyone had spent a day shadowing a student before. She spoke about a teacher who had done just that, for two days, and discovered how utterly draining it was. Fortunately, Mark Liddell posted a link to it.
I commend the article to you, as it is a thought provoking article that will make you re-evaluate how you teach and how much movement occurs in your class. I plan to ask my Stage Three students some questions around this very issue, namely, do I talk too much and expect them to be quiet, and still, too often.
I will halt there for this article, as it is already reasonably lengthy, and there are still a number of presenters to go. I hope that this article has caused you to look with fresh eyes at your learning space and how you utilise it, and to consider alternative ways that it can be set up to benefit the students. I would like to hear any feedback or thoughts on the topic as it is an area where there is still some contention amongst educators. You can find the other articles in this series by clicking here
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
– Attributed to Charles Dickens
I wrote an article yesterday about the benefits to myself and to my school community that come from investing time in your colleagues professional development and in your own. This afternoon I have the opportunity to attend my first TeachMeet. The Central Coast TeachMeet site website describes a TeachMeet as being a meeting or un-conference where teachers come together to share good practice, practical ideas and personal insights into a designated topic. Presentations are short (two or seven minutes) and are delivered, voluntarily by teachers who nominate in advance to present. Additionally, TeachMeets are an opportunity for teachers from a variety of sectors and backgrounds to meet and exchange experience, knowledge and ideas, and to invest in the broader school community.
Today’s Teachmeet is being hosted by Bradfield Senior College with the focus being learning spaces. This is a topic I am particularly interested in at the moment, with the movement of our school to open learning spaces as part of our school rebuild. On the back of the TeachMeet, is a TeachEat, an opportunity for further networking and exchanging of ideas, thoughts, insights and practices.I am very much looking to hearing from those who are speaking, about various uses of learning spaces, both traditional and alternative.
If you are interested in attending, click on this link to check the details and to register. If you are unable to attend, watch for the hashtag for the event on Twitter this afternoon #TMSpaces.