So what are you doing differently this year in your classroom (and/or school)?

Whether you did a formal inquiry into your teaching practice last year or simply taught some kids and did some some stuff, one truth will remain - there are a number of things you need to change about your teaching and/or learning environment this year.

As my ancient buddy Heraclitus once stated (admittedly didn't hear him first hand, but am choosing to trust my sources), "the only constant is change". Now this is most certainly true of our world, society and most work places, but unfortunately bar a change of names on your class roll this often not the case in the classroom. I acknowledge change is challenging and many of you work in environments where change feels glacial at best, however that needn't bother any of us as change starts with you! Whether you are in a dynamic environment where everyone is striving for "adaptive expertise" or feel like you are a lone nut in a school where the status quo (which may well produce excellent academic results) is protected, there is nothing stopping you leading the charge, even if it is only in the safety of your most likely four walls of a classroom.

The chances are if you are the sort that reads this blog, you are already thinking about change, if so, I would love to hear your plans, if not, here are some scenarios and ideas of areas you might like to address and change up this year:

Scenario One: My kids results results were disappointing last year.

I start with this as this is often the data your HOD and SLT look at, and if you are teacher senior secondary it is the sort of thing that might have bummed you out when NCEA exam results were published in the holidays. The obvious thing to do is when you have your new cohort is to ensure that you know their learning needs in specific areas and ensure you address these through careful differentiation and UDL strategies (that we will discus more thoroughly later), however I suggest you do something different - address the personal elephant in the room. One thing I did a few years back when I was briefly HOD at AGGS was to get all of us to actually look more closely at ourselves. As teachers we be can very quick to look at student data and identify their potential strengths and areas that need greater support, but how often do we really do that to ourselves.

Here's the process: hunt out as many years class results of your own that you can get your hands on (even if you don't have the hard evidence I am sure you can work this out with some brutally honest reflection), now look at it closely and as objectively as possibly - which areas do your students tend to do well in and which do they do 'comparatively' suck at. At this point you need to quiet your internal defence mechanism that tries to blame the kid's weaknesses, socio-economic status and exam/assessment writer's flaws and be  really honest - are there some parts of the curriculum or subject that you teach that you don't like? Are there areas that you are weaker at, so gloss over, in comparison to the areas you LOVE and indulge in like a pig in mud. I bet, if you are REALLY honest, there is one or two areas where it's actually you who is a but sucky (for me it was on always Unfamiliar texts in English....big yawn...and I sucked). Next step, declare it, either in a quiet chat to someone you see as a support person or even better (if you have the team culture that makes this safe) share it as a group. Be sure to call the bullsh#tters who say their only flaw is caring too much or working too hard. If you are doing this as a group, once you have declared your area that needs addressing, get everyone to declare an area or two of success and choiceness - you can then use this as a way to find in-school mentors, and people you can bribe with coffee until they spill their secrets and resources. If you don't have team approach you can still sniff out those that love the stuff you love less and connect with them - coffee dates work well, classroom observations even better.

Scenario Two: My kids did okay/great/awesome, but if I'm honest, they were a bored and/or stressed (or maybe you were bored and/or stressed too) 


I am in a school where I have little autonomy and don't feel like I have much freedom to plan what I want.

First up, kids doing okay or even excellently academically is not an excuse to rest on your laurels and say "I nailed it!". High five yourself for sure, but this should simply free you up to focus on what other areas you need to change, iterate and evolve in your practice. Whether you are in a school where autonomy is limited or somewhere where you can do as you wish, the following are a range of innovations you might like try on for size. As with anything I suggest you wrap a teaching as inquiry approach around your personal change, ask yourself "What is important (and therefore worth spending time on), given where my students are at?" This will ensure you are not you are not just innovating for innovation's sake, that you are trialling these strategies because they meet your students needs in some way. And don't just limit yourself to strategies where there is lofty research and evidence base to prove their worth. Hattie is only talking about the sh#t that's been happening for years anyway, if we have any hope of NZ being the world leaders in education we need to stop looking solely in the rear-vision mirrors, instead put those headlights on full beam and look forward. I mean, Edmund Hillary didn't sit around waiting for the evidence that scaling Mt Everest would be choice for his career, he just cracked on and did it.

So what are some new strategies/approaches you could try?
  • Teach your kids about 'growth mindset' and 'grit' - we talk about this a lot as teachers and how we need have a growth mindset, but do you actually teach this to your students?? In a post I did last year as part of the #hackyrclass series I provided this definition - 
Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success—a simple idea that makes all the difference.
      In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.
          In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.
              Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports. It enhances relationships. When you read Mindset, you’ll see how.

                You might also like to teach your students about the idea of 'grit' or as TED Talker Angela Lee Duckworth puts it: grit (according to her) not ability is the key to success.
                • Introduce design thinking - Whilst it might be easy to write off design thinking as just another passing fancy of us educators that reckon we are all super cutting edge, it is important to recognise that design thinking has been around for ages and is not going anywhere, what feels flash in the pan for us is actually a well proven approach that we can use as teachers to iterate our planning and more importantly a skill we can share with our learners to ensure they really do become life long learners (and innovators). I have a full explanation of design thinking in a post from last year, where I included this definition:

                What is Design Thinking?

                “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” —Tim Brown, president and CEO

                Thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy. This approach, which IDEO calls design thinking, brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.

                Design thinking is a deeply human process that taps into abilities we all have but get overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. It relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional, and to express ourselves through means beyond words or symbols. Nobody wants to run an organization on feeling, intuition, and inspiration, but an over-reliance on the rational and the analytical can be just as risky. Design thinking provides an integrated third way".

                • Turn your classroom into a maker space - So why do we need to thinking about makerspaces? Because making things is choice, is fun and makes learning memorable. I bet if you reflect on your favourite experience as a learner, it most likely involved actually making something. Personally I think all teachers and all classes should be looking to develop one. The reason I think this is simply - they develop 21st Century Skills (particularly critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and problem solving) and provide students with opportunities to engage in constructivist/deep learning. Look at our New Zealand Curriculum and I also see many opportunities within a makerspace environment to engage in effective pedagogy and for students develop a wide range of competencies. In a post I did last year, I provided the following definition (and a whole lot of ideas and resources):
                What is a Makerspace?
                Makerspace describe a makerspace as community centres with tools. Makerspaces combine manufacturing equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling community members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals working alone. These spaces can take the form of loosely-organized individuals sharing space and tools, for-profit companies, non-profit corporations, organizations affiliated with or hosted within schools, universities or libraries, and more. All are united in the purpose of providing access to equipment, community, and education, and all are unique in exactly how they are arranged to fit the purposes of the community they serve.

                Makerspaces represent the democratization of design, engineering, fabrication and education. They are a fairly new phenomenon, but are beginning to produce projects with significant national impacts.
                • Let your kids go free range - I believe self-direction and developing student agency and efficacy is the fundamental shift all educators need to make to become more future-focused in their practice. In a sense we want step away from our 'caged' classrooms to develop increasingly 'free range learners'. Even if your school is not embracing of free-range approaches, there is a lot you can do in your classroom. In a post I wrote last year (yep, last year was very good year ;) I shared the following definition and a whole lot more thinking about this topic. 
                Free range learners who are:
                • Free to choose how they learn
                • Free to choose where they learn
                • Free to choose how they process their learning
                • Free to choose how they evidence their learning
                • Free to experience learning that is relevant and responsive to their needs not our limitations

                This does not mean the teacher becomes redundant, quite the opposite as they are challenged to provide authentic relevant contexts for learners, with just enough 'enabling constraints' to ensure that our little chickens don't accidentally cross the heavy traffic. Our roles need to change from teacher, to facilitator and ultimately to learning activator. Providing triggers and opportunities to learners to develop the relevant skills needed for their world (whilst somehow pleasing those pesky bloody UE requirements....universities of have a lot to answer for in relation to slowing progress).

                • Practice and teach the concept of 'mindfulness' - mindfulness, like design thinking might be easily written off as the next edu-fad, but personally, in a world where the pace of life and the amount of time we spend online, I believe mindfulness is simply a means to maintain balance. In terms of what mindfulness is, I like the infographic below. And this is not just for students, I have shared my journey towards increased mindfulness here (very much a work in progress).

                Scenario Three: We have just introduced BYOD and I am sh#tting myself.

                Fear not. BYOD is choice. It is not a destination, marker of modernity or an effective pedagogy (in and of it's self), it is simply access to a whole lot of approaches that can vastly improve student outcomes, engagement and autonomy (if used well). My main suggestion is that you actually make it about the students making the most of BYOD, not the teacher. You will achieve this by simply letting go a bit and letting students choose how they record their learning and share their learning and by ramping up your level of vigilance - don't be sitting at your teacher desk wondering why kids are distracted by the technology and access to cat videos. You need to be present (if you have to sit, sit behind them) or even better - amongst them! And you need to ensure their learning is interesting and relevant to them! Because if it isn't, a more interesting distraction is just a URL address away. Many moons ago, I made this wee EdTalk and this wrote this blogpost to provide a few simple ways STUDENTS can be the ones making the most of BYOD.


                1. Something new for 2015: Changes to our "Practical Science" course for Year 11 students. Starting in a traditional way with a topic about Chemical Reactions, and a predetermined NCEA AS to match (AS90947). Then it changes up a gear... Students use are guided to use the Scientific Method (Inquiry Processes?) to explore a question (or controversy) they have encountered about something they are passionate about. These can be individual or in groups. Over the year, the students are expected to complete at least two of these. We will use teacher-student conferences to determine which Science NCEA ASs we will use to measure the success and level of their learning. Within this, we also will cover Fair Testing, and assess it using AS90935, and are working with the English Dept to allow us to assess student work using AS90853. Freaking out about it...but so excited that I think these can be positive jitters!

                2. Something new for 2015- I am returning to classroom teaching in a job share role. We are focused on growth mindset approaches with our class, enhancing resilience and independence.


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