What can leaders learn from how teachers help kids learn?

I was in a classroom recently when a five year old came up to the teacher and said “They won’t let me join in their game.” At this point, the teacher had a choice. She could help the child to solve this issue for himself or tell the group to let him join/find him another activity to do. One option could potentially take ages and require plenty of ‘scaffolding.’ The other option would take a matter of seconds, but the child wouldn’t learn anything from it. Well, he would learn that the teacher would solve his problems for him and he didn’t have to do that for himself.

We are generally pretty good as teachers at taking option one. This teacher certainly was. She provided questions and prompts that gradually built up so the child could solve his own problem, which he did.

I think most of us do pretty well at thinking about what skills and dispositions students need and growing these in our students.  Most of us would look at the scenario above and think, “So what?! Who doesn’t do that?!” But do we do this when leading other teachers?

  • Do we say when we don’t know?
  • Do we nut tricky problems out together?
  • Do we ask probing questions?
  • What about genuinely curious questions?
  • Do we help teachers to feel comfortable being in ‘the pit’
  • Do we help teachers know what to do, when they don’t know what to do?
  • Do we help teachers become even better learners?

Or  are these strategies we use only with students? Are we more likely to provide answers, share the things we know or do, share a great reading… All with the goal of helping and growing teachers’ capacity but the message really is –

“I am the know-er. You are the learner. Now here is some information.”

Wouldn’t we call that ‘spoon feeding’ if we did it with students…?

Do we actually, really, collaborate? Or do we just love the buzz word?

I attended an Edge Works workshop last weekend that was fabulous and I’d like to share something that came out of it for me. This is something I have been gently mulling over for a while but something one of the participants (sorry, I forgotten his name…) said resonated with me. This clever chappie talked about the difference between communication, consultation and collaboration.

Communication

“The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium.” – Wikipedia.

I guess communication would be taking something someone knows and sticking it in someone else’s head.

Consultation

“The action or process of formally consulting or discussing.” – Wikipedia.

Hmm… I thought the rule with definitions was that you couldn’t use the word its self in the definition? So in this scenario, there is more than one party involved in some sort of dialogue, but one is more powerful than the other. Perhaps this is what we do in schools when we want ‘everyone to get on board.’

Collaboration

“Working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals.” – Wikipedia.

Now this must be one of the most over used words in education at the moment! I’d like to unpack it further. I have come to think that we use the term ‘collaborate’ when we do anything together, which I suppose is pretty accurate usage but I think we can break it up.

Division of labor – Say we are planning a school trip… we will organise it together, but I will organise transport, you will organise activities etc. Not a silly use of time, right?

Team work and lower level collaboration/cooperation  – I think this is lots of the collaboration we do as teachers. We might plan lessons together, discuss things in staff meeting together, help each other organise assembly, share ideas and practical solutions etc…

High level collaboration – I think this is what we tend to do less of. To me this means:

  • Making sense of ideas together
  • Thinking together to create new meaning and new understandings
  • Pushing everyone’s thinking and practice forward…

This is backed up by a great little blog post about building collegiality in schools, by Robert Evans. Have a look here.

How many discussions in our schools are genuinely collegial? How deeply are we collaborating?

Transformational? Pfft! I don’t have time for that!

I’ve been thinking lots about thinking lately and decided to put some of it in a blog post. This has all been spurred on by doing one of Jane Gilbert’s papers, where there is a massive focus on thinking and becoming an ‘intellectual adult.’

I thought I thought lots until this paper. However, I have now come to realise that I worry and I plan and I go over situations where I messed up a lot in my head… but I don’t do as much transformational thinking as I thought I did.

By this I mean the kind of thinking that often takes a long time, is difficult and not immediately rewarding, is metacognitive, analytical, creative… and transforms a little piece of you when you do it.

People talk about the difference between transactional vs transformational leadership and I have thought a bit about how this might apply to my day to day work over the past couple of years. However, what about transformational thinking? I’m not sure many of us do heaps of that. Which is slightly worrisome, because if we are in the process of re-imagining schools and education this is exactly what we need to be doing!

So how do we make time for this? How do we value it? I guess there could be lots of school systems we could put around it but on an individual level, what do we do? I think we need a (transactional) system to allow to this so I have started trialing a little system to see how it works for me. I have a doc with three headings:

  • Transformational: To Read/Watch/Listen/Talk To
  • Transformational: Thinking – this is where I put half thoughts, questions, reflections, ideas that I need to mull over and so forth.
  • Transactional – this is where the traditional ‘to do’ list goes as well as ideas that I can put into action with no more transformational thinking involved.

So far this has worked well. When I am reading, listening to a podcast, attending a conference, I add bits under each heading. Then the aim is to tackle all the transactional things as per normal but also do some thinking on my own or with others on at least one of the transformational things. I’m also trying to prioritise the Transformational docs a bit more.

What systems do you have to value your own thinking time and be more transformational in what you do and think about? How do you make this a priority?

A very special EduCafe…

Term’s 4’s EduCafe will be a little different…

At this event, we will be joined by Dr. David Moreau, from the Centre for Brain Research. The topic of conversation will be

“Training the brain: Current knowledge and implications for education.”

David MoreauDr. David Moreau is a neuroscientist at the Centre for Brain Research in Auckland. Prior to coming to New Zealand, David spent three years as a postdoctoral research  associate at Princeton University, New Jersey. His area of research concerns the  plasticity of the brain, that is, the capacity for the brain to change throughout the  lifespan. In this session, David will discuss current research and knowledge about  training the brain, as well as how this line of work can inform best practices when  children face learning difficulties. He will present the rationale for the MovinCog Initiative, a nationwide program intended to offer children the tools to thrive in  schools. Finally, he will discuss some applications of this line of work to our classrooms, with a few practical situations.

How will the evening work?

Modelled on the “World Cafe” style of discussion.

Nibbles and beverages provided.

What are the details?

Term 4: Thursday 19th November 2015

6pm, for 6:15 start

National Library Auckland

8 Stanley St, Parnell

FREE TICKETS HERE

Thank you to Dr David Moreau for providing us with his time and expertise.

Thank you to CORE Education and the National Library for making this event happen.

A very special EduCafe! Term 4: 19th November

Term’s 4’s EduCafe will be a little different…

At this event, we will be joined by Dr. David Moreau, from the Centre for Brain Research. The topic of conversation will be

“Training the brain: Current knowledge and implications for education.”

David MoreauDr. David Moreau is a neuroscientist at the Centre for Brain Research in Auckland. Prior to coming to New Zealand, David spent three years as a postdoctoral research  associate at Princeton University, New Jersey. His area of research concerns the  plasticity of the brain, that is, the capacity for the brain to change throughout the  lifespan. In this session, David will discuss current research and knowledge about  training the brain, as well as how this line of work can inform best practices when  children face learning difficulties. He will present the rationale for the MovinCog Initiative, a nationwide program intended to offer children the tools to thrive in  schools. Finally, he will discuss some applications of this line of work to our classrooms, with a few practical situations.

How will the evening work?

Modelled on the “World Cafe” style of discussion.

Nibbles and beverages provided.

What are the details?

Term 4: Thursday 19th November 2015

6pm, for 6:15 start

National Library Auckland

8 Stanley St, Parnell

FREE TICKETS HERE

Thank you to Dr David Moreau for providing us with his time and expertise.

Thank you to CORE Education and the National Library for making this event happen.

What do we think school should be like, to prepare us for life? – Discussion with Intermediate students.

I had a great chat with a class at Northcote Intermediate recently and thought I would share some of their insightful ideas with you.

Firstly, we had a bit of a talk about some current ‘push factors’ on education, that people talk lots about at the moment – technology, wicked problems, changes in the job landscape etc. Following this, the class got into groups and had a good discussion about what this means for schools – what should they do to prepare the students of today for life? What should change and what should remain the same?

Here are their ideas, in no particular order:

  • Teach science.
  • Up skill us to get into jobs where we can find new planets.
  • Lower the cost of education.
  • Learn the right things to match the jobs we want (here we had a bit of a debate about when it is best to move from a broad education to more specialisation).
  • Learn about sustainability.
  • Learn history so we can apply this in the future.
  • Have the opportunity to apply new learning.
  • Learn from the teacher, not just the internet.
  • Have supportive teachers.
  • Learn about robotics, computers and technology.
  • Learn the basics of reading, writing and maths.
  • Have more of a focus on careers counseling.
  • Don’t forget PE!
  • Have a focus on health.
  • Learn time management.
  • Become good questioners.
  • Learn patience.
  • Have more choice.
  • More of a focus on students’ passions.
  • Learn practical skills like cooking.
  • Don’t just focus on the academic. The social aspect of school is important too.
  • Learn social studies.

Thanks to the class at Northcote Intermediate for all your great ideas. It is so useful for us adults to hear kids’ perspectives on these things.

What’s the purpose of school? – Bringing some new learning and some old ideas together.

As you might have noticed if you read my blog, I have been doing a fair bit of reading lately. I’ve also been doing lots of thinking and have talked to plenty of people with differing perspectives lately. My challenge has been to bring all of this together to decipher what the purpose of school is (now).

I’ve decided to separate  the ideas out into the ‘how’ of learning, the attributes, skills, competencies and dispositions of great learners and the beliefs and values I’m thinking school should instill in students. I’ve also added a component which I have become convinced is missing in lots of our discussion around education – the ‘what’ – here I’ve pinched Michael Young’s term of ‘powerful knowledge’

What do you think? I’d love your feedback please!

My-learning diagram 2015 draft