How can we improve our e-learning capabilities?

I did a presentation at a local college’s teacher only day today which was focused on their use of e-learning. The brief was to help ensure that e-learning was embedded as an integral and purposeful part of the practice at their school; as well as gaining an understanding of the sorts of capabilities students from their feeder schools would come to college with.

This is the presentation I used, if you are interested:




Catching up with kids 1:1

At the Emerging Leaders Un-conference in the holidays I was lucky to hear Claire Amos discuss her experiences in the Self-Diredcted schools in Canada. A lot of what she discussed was very much secondary focused but one particular idea stuck with me and I decided to see if I could primary school-ify it and see if I could make it work in a regular New Zealand state school.

Claire talked about the flexible manner in which students at these schools decided what they were going to do and when in a normal school day. In a secondary setting this obviously brings some challenges, since students are stepping between all sorts of different subject teachers. So these schools have what they call Learning Progress Interviews with their ‘Teaching Advisor’ to catch up with students regularly and discuss their learning and how things are going. An email of the minutes of the meeting is then automatically sent home.

I thought this was a great idea and, even though I conference with kids really regularly on a 1:1 basis, these meetings are short and highly focused on a particular learning intention. There is little discussion around their skill set as  a learner or any sort of pastoral care  aspect to the discussion either. So I thought I’d have 10 minute ‘Catch Up Meetings  with students before school and in my senior teacher release.  In total I’d have 8 meetings a week, meaning students would have a chat with me about once a month. Not ideal but I don’t really have any more time for these meetings than that.

The purpose of these meetings was for students to talk one on one with their teacher about how school is going for them and discuss how they can make improvements in their skill set as a learner. For example, we may discuss time management, leadership, independence and so on. It is a chance for me to help the children to become a more effective learner and to touch base with them on a relatively regular basis. After each meeting, I email  a copy of the minutes of the meeting  home so parents can see what was discussed and, if appropriate, follow up at home.

The next step was to check in with the students about this. Would it me helpful? Did they want to do it? I asked the students to do the compass points thinking routine to let me know. The results of this were interesting. Students liked the idea but they were worried their parents would tell them off  instead of helping them at home. The solution to this was to write the minutes together as the meeting progressed so the students were happy with what is going home.

I began having these meetings last week and they seem to be going well. I’m getting to discuss things with students I wouldn’t  ordinarily and finding out a bit more about what makes these kids tick. I’m not really sure about their parents’ thoughts on this as I’ve only had one reply to my emails I’ve been sending home. Hopefully parents find this a useful insight and a way to instigate learning related conversations at home.

Students have commented that the meetings help clarify what is going well and what they need to work on; as well as decreasing their stress levels as we discuss a solution to problems they are having.

So far so good!

Kids helping kids

A little while ago, the class reflected on whether there was more to being a successful learner than concentrating hard and working hard. They decided that there most definitely was! From this came the idea of ‘learning buddies.’ Students would tell me what learning skills they were good at and which they needed to work on (such as risk taking and goal setting). From this, I paired up children as a ‘teacher’ and ‘student’ according to their strengths and weaknesses. The teacher would help the student with a skill they were good at but the student needed to work on.

It was a bit of an experiment  I really had no idea how this would work: whether the teachers would put enough effort in, whether they would have the skills to help their peers and whether the students would actually gain any learning skills from the experience. In the back of my mind I thought, at the very least, all the children would learn some leadership skills; they’d get a buzz out of helping out their peers with something they were deemed an expert at; they’d have to think of someone other than themselves; they’d have to problem solve and be creative when their teaching idea didn’t work; and they’d have to take on some more responsibility within the classroom.

It turns out all the outcomes I wished for have eventuated. The students are liking the responsibility and the challenge. They are realising that helping others can be difficult but can be hugely rewarding too. Of course there have been children who have struggled to plan and help others but, for the most part, they have solved their own problems with help from their peers. They are basically team teaching at their own instigation.

The creativity in teaching has been great to see too. An awful lot of effort has been put in to designing brilliant lessons. One child had to help another with creativity and designed an activity whereby she would pose a scenario and the ‘student’ would have to write ideas down both within a box drawn on the piece of paper and outside the box. This way, according to the teacher, the student would be able to see clearly and visually what creative thinking was all about.

I don’t think I will keep this exact system going for too much longer but students have started taking their own ‘opt-in’ meetings with small groups and they will also begin taking ‘In your element’ lessons to share their passions too. Everyone is a teacher and a learner in Room 3.

Springboard Trust Leadership in Education Forum

I was lucky enough to attend the Springboard Trust’s Leadership in Education Forum recently where global, national and local education issues were discussed. The day begun with a McKinsey and Company representative guiding us though their report “How the world’s best school systems come out on top“. This was followed by a talk from Cathy Wylie and one from Bruce Adin. Below is a brief outline of the highlights and most interesting points for me.

  • The most scarce resource in schools is collaboration, not money.
  • New Zealand schools and classes can be incredibly fragmented, which leads to a lack of collaboration, which is key to improving schools and school systems.
  • In New Zealand, we have an incredibly high variation in academic performance within schools. We also have a comparatively high effect from socio-economic factors on academic achievement  here.
  • To help improve our schools, teachers need plenty of autonomy to  try out small scale innovations. Then we must share these innovations to make ‘micro’ innovations ‘macro’.
  • Peer accountability and support is key in improving teacher capabilities, as opposed to teacher accountability to a higher body.
  • The biggest changes in teacher effectiveness come from professional development, not school resourcing.
  • Collaborative practice isn’t just about sharing, it’s about making practice as public as possible.
  • Your teaching team is only as good as your weakest member. We’re all good, or none of us are good enough.
  • There are huge benefits for teachers to have a career pathway for  highly effective ‘expert’ teachers. This has been successful in Shanghai.

I couldn’t get over the number of times the experts at this forum talked about the benefits of collaboration when you already have an effective schooling system but want to improve it further. Our schools are incredibly fragmented and if you aren’t on Twitter, don’t follow blogs, don’t attend conferences and so on; classrooms can be pretty isolated places. This really highlighted the importance for teachers to join such networks; to avoid just waiting for school run PD and connective opportunities to come our way; and to be more proactive in our learning and sharing. It was perfect timing for me to attend this forum as I had just started promoting EduCafe – an event which has the (almost) sole purpose of allowing people to connect more face to face outside of the usual boundaries of schools, heirachy, subject, year level and position.

All in all a well worthwhile event to attend. A big thank you to the Springboard Trust!

Youth and (relative) Inexperience in Education

I was lucky enough to take part in Sonya Van Schaijik‘s initiative “TeachMeetNZ” on the weekend and presented a little 3 minuite presentation titled Youth and (relative) Inexperience in Education.

My slides and notes are below if you are intereted in my experiences of being a new, young teacher in New Zealand.

Hi, I’m Emma and I’m in my 4th year of primary school teaching based in Auckland. I’d like to talk a little about youth and relative inexperience in education today.

I grew up in a rather traditional household. Hardly “children should only speak when they are spoken to” but still a pretty old fashioned upbringing for the 80s and 90s. I grew up with my grandfather as a figure head who will still only sit at the head of the table, demands respect and ensures everyone knows he is the PATRIACH! I come from a family where children listened, obeyed and respected adults

Hopefully you don’t get me wrong, I had a lovely childhood and wouldn’t change a single thing. But, as with everybody  I am a product of my upbringing.

I entered the workforce believing that respect was earned over a long period of time;  that wisdom was like a fine wine and evolved with maturity; that you could expect to ‘do your time’ at the bottom of the heap in a workplace, before anyone would listen to you.

Since I’ve been in education, I’ve learned something. Of course you earn respect, you do get wiser as you age and you can’t expect to walk into high paying managerial jobs straight out of university. BUT, in the education world, young, inexperienced teachers are treated with more respect than any other industry I know of.

So here’s the pat on the back: I’ve found that, in education, if you have something decent to say, you will be heard, no matter what your age, position or time in the job.

Not only do young teachers have a voice, their perspective is often considered important. I’ve talked to so many people who really value the ideas of teachers who are new to the game.

They have the ability to look at the status quo and ask WHY are we doing that?! Is there a better way to do it? They don’t have years of ingrained practices that can get in the way of such questioning. New teachers are often also incredibly reflective and analytical which, of course, helps with achieving quality practice.

I’ve also learned that you can be an effective and respected leader when you’re under 30. This is revolutionary for me and never seems to happen in my friends’ industries!

In education I think we see past a lack and wrinkles and comfortable shoes and look for the quality in thinking and practice.

So, I’m glad I decided to become a teacher after a fair while of avoiding the profession and following in the steps of my father. I’ve had to completely re-evaluate the place youth has in any work place and am so pleased I was so wrong!

I hope you feel a warm pat on the back, I hope I’m not in the minority of new teachers who feel the same way and I hope we continue treating new teachers the way we do. I’m certainly trying to give the same experience to the young members I work with as a new leader.


Have a look at the entire TeachMeetNZ session here.