Opening up thinking about education today for tomorrow - Imagining possibilities and solutions

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Frameworks for improvement – Hill, Crévola and Fullan

There is nothing as practical as a good theory and nothing as theoretical as good practice.

The following are just some thoughts on what I have learnt over the years about improving literacy and numeracy.

Develop a whole school approach
From my experience a whole school approach to improvement is the only way. In designing the numeracy strategy for the 114 Sydney Catholic systemic schools (and more recently pushing that up into lower secondary), Hill and Crévola’s model, Design elements for effective school improvement, was used.

The model was also used in improving early literacy through the CLaSS project from Victoria, Australia.

The model identifies 8 elements that lead to improvement across the school. When the 8 elements are developed it leads to a change in teacher beliefs and understanding and improvement in student learning. It is an evidence-based approach.

Develop pictures and images of what it might look like on the ground
Perhaps this is vision.

Part of the design of the numeracy strategy included developing a set of Descriptors of effective implementation,based upon the elements of the Hill and Crévola model, to assist schools in developing numeracy plans.

The descriptors provided a picture of what practice might look like in improving numeracy learning.

The Breakthrough Framework
In more recent years the Hill and Crévola model has been further developed through their work with Michael Fullan. This model is referred to as the Breakthrough framework.

Their book, Breakthrough outlines the framework and approach.

What is interesting to me is the shift away from beliefs and understandings which was at the centre of the Hill and Crévola model to Moral Purpose with precision, personalisation and professional learning (3-Ps) at the centre.

This, to me, indicates a shift away from changing teachers to improving teaching practice.

Don’t underestimate leadership
One of the constant surprises, yet at the same time stating the bleeding obvious, is the importance of leadership and coordination.

Within the primary sector, with the numeracy strategy, it was sometimes the case that this leadership would "be given" to a numeracy coordinator (Numeracy Focus Teacher). It was described as distributive leadership with the principal and assistant principal stepping back.

Where there was little or no direct involvement from the senior positional leaders in the school the effectiveness of the strategy appeared to be diminished.

It could be argued that the depth and breadth of the leadership with a clear moral purpose, supported by the elements of the framework, will lead to better learning outcomes and opportunities for all students.

What is required is both senior leadership of the school and distributed leadership across the school.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Teachers leading improvement

Earlier this week I attended a showcase of work, undertaken by about 30 schools in the Sydney Catholic schools sector. The work was focused on improving learning for students in Years 5 to 8 (middle years) in mathematics. I was impressed by the quality of what had been achieved and more importantly by the quality of the thinking of teachers.

The work commenced last year under my leadership until I changed jobs in July. What was exciting was seeing the growth in teacher confidence and their capacity to engage in the professional problems they are faced with in mathematics.

For a while now I have been of the opinion that school improvement is essentially about improving the quality of learning. At the heart of this are teachers. This sounds obvious.

The challenge for me is how to connect teachers in authentic ways with improving schools by improving learning.

Some of my thinking was sharpened when I attended a range of sessions at the 2003 International Congress of School Effectiveness here in Sydney on teacher-led development work. It was there that I came across David Frost from the Leadership For Learning consortium at Cambridge University who had done some interesting work in the area. In 2006 I was fortunate to spend a week with David Frost and his other colleagues Judy Durrant and Gary Holden. (Resources below)

What appealed to me most about the framework was that it connected teachers' professional learning interests with student needs and the school’s identified needs. Often I found that action research remained at the realm of “teacher hobby” often undertaken by a passionate and dedicated teacher, but frequently in isolation from the school’s improvement agenda.

Teacher-led development work allows for rich, context-based learning. It is a process that builds teacher capacity through strategic engagement in professional problems with a focus on school improvement at the classroom/learning spaces level.

Underpinning the teacher-led development process are:
  • Action research approaches to professional learning

  • Reflective practice

  • Evidence-based school improvement

  • Teacher leadership.

It was great to see the results of two years work by teachers in using teacher-led development work in building their capacity to lead improvement through the mathematics projects.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Passion for Teaching

Yesterday I was at a gathering with colleagues and was struck by the energy and vibrancy of the group that had gathered. What struck me most was the passion for teaching.

The passion presented itself through the strong belief in themselves as teachers who can make a difference in the lives of students. It was evident in their commitment, enthusiasm and intelligence that they each brought to their work and a deeply held belief that they can make a difference to students and students' learning. Each of the teachers had a love of learning and saw themselves as learners.

These teachers demonstrated what Tim Brighouse describes as the 4 Es of great teachers:
· Excitement
· Enthusiasm
· Effort
· Energy.

The gathering prompted me to go back and dip into Christopher Day’s book, A Passion for Teaching. The book helped me gain a perspective within a review and improvement culture.

What teaching needs now, more than ever, are passionate people with a belief in the possible for all students, the intelligence and creativity to design and implement learning experiences, and the capability to bring about improvements where it matters most - in the learning spaces for all students.

Friday, November 02, 2007

From Knowing to Doing

Recently I was working with a group of teachers who had formed a learning network with a focus on assessment.

In the discussions around what they had learnt from their involvement a theme seemed to be emerging:

We know what the research is telling us about assessment
for learning, feedback, strategic questioning and teaching for deep understanding. We know we need to do something. However, the doing is hard.
This knowing-doing gap is hard to bridge. Pfeffer and Sutton address this issue from a corporate perspective in their book, The Knowing-Doing Gap. In the book they state that, “Knowledge that is implemented is much more likely to be acquired from learning by doing.” (p.6)

Underpinning the doing is the need to operate from a philosophical base that guides not only what is done but why it is done. The development of philosophical inquiry and a shift away from pragmatism in schools may assist in the doing and develop deeper professional understandings.

Some other key points for consideration in bridging the Knowing-Doing Gap in schools and school systems include:
  • Overcoming obstacles rather than identifying why it can’t be done – A can do approach;
  • Not substituting memory for thinking – there can be tendency to fall back on the default position of how things have been done in the past meaning that things often are not really thought through;
  • The need for cognitive closure (Pffefer and Sutton, p. 88) by bringing assumptions to the surface, challenging the sacred cows and providing opportunities to recreate;
  • Encouraging courageous behaviour (Pffefer and Sutton, p. 107) – what I would call responsible risk taking;
  • Recognising that there is no learning without error (Pfeffer and Sutton, 131) – my belief that it is possible to fail forward to success.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Enough of reviewing - let's put the energy into improving

I've had the opportunity to have spent 3 days working with leader colleagues from across the Parramatta system of schools facilitated by Michael Fullan.

It was refreshing to focus energies on possibilities of improvement by building capacity that is beyond formulaic reviewing and measuring school effectiveness. I love the phrase that I picked up in Scotland when visiting there in 2006: "Weighing the pig more often doesn't make it fatter!"

Achieving improvement
Michael presented a framework that focused on improvement through PRECISION and SPECIFICITY around what works in moving things forward with a clear focus on a small number of goals. To achieve improvement three things are needed:
Transparency of results and practice + Non-judgementalism + Good help.

I think that this is what Tim Brighouse did to bring about the change in Birmingham under his stewardship.

The challenge
The challenge for me, and for all interested in school improvement is to engage in authentic ways with schools communities, the teachers, their leaders, the students in exploring the issues that challenge the school.

A theory of action
The way forward inovolves developing a Theory of Action that has the dual effect of improving learning outcomes and life opportunities for students as well as building the capacity of the school. With this would come increased satisfaction in teaching.

An unrelenting focus on learning
What is required is an unrelenting focus on students and their learning, with a precision and specificity focused on Pedagogical Synergy - the alignment of curriculum, assessment and pedagogy(teaching/instruction).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Are schools becoming obsolete?

Recently I came across a headline: Schools in developing nations adapting faster to 21st century than rich ones, OECD says.
The claim is made that, in some developing countries, schools may be adapting faster to the changing needs of today.

I have maintained for a number of years that schools and schooling, as we know it (certainly here in Australia) risks becoming a quaint oddity. Schools are places where students go during the day, between set hours, and do particular types of learning at set times.

Somehow the learning is not connected to the reality of how children and young people learn and engage in the world. We know that rich learning happens before kids commence school; that much significant learning happens outside of school structures.

Schools risk becoming fine examples of how learning used to happen in an industrial era.

In many ways schools are becoming obsolete – worn out but still in use (if they aren’t already). This is a term used by Hedley Beare in a publication from iNET entitled, How we envisage schooling in the 21st Century. Much of the political and system energy around schools and schooling goes into public reassurance that obsolete schooling is somehow able to deliver now and into the future.

We are trapped into old imaginaries of school and breaking out of these imaginaries is hard work. The way forward is through networking people, ideas and learning and moving beyond the confines of building, teacher, subject.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Creativity and Innovation: Beyond Best Practice presentation

The responses to my presentation at the recent ACEL conference have been very positive.

I am always interested in what others take away with from presentations and am happy to receive correspondence to explore ideas further.

From the emails I have received since it would seem that the following were key messages taken away:
1. Teaching should be seen as the Learning Profession - this my catch phrase at the moment.
2. Teaching, as a profession, should claim learning as its territory.
3. Best Practice should be seen as indicative practice rather than prescribed practice.
4. The challenges posed by the concept of Next Practice are worth exploring further.

The Innovations Unit in England has been pioneering the way with Next Practice in schooling and education.

I have included in the Links for this Blog some of the useful references developed by The Innovations Unit on Next Practice.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thinking a way forward

Today I presented to a group at the Australian Council for Educational Leaders. The presentation was entitled, Creativity and Innovation in Education: Moving beyond best practice. I was surprised by the fact that the workshop paper session was attended by over 100 people.

There appears to be a some serendipity and convergence of thinking. As a profession I think that teachers and educational leaders are looking for ways forward.

For me there are some key things.

An increasing awareness that schooling (as it is largely practiced in Western, English-speaking countries) is largely obsolete. It still functions, but not as well as it could. Many policies related to schools are more about public assurance from this position of obsolescence.

For me, finding answers to the problems that face the profession lies with the profession. I believe that teachers can play a significant role in providing solutions to the problems facing education. Part of this movement forward requires teaching to view itself as the learning profession.

One of the limiting factors in moving forward are the views of teachers and teaching held not only by others outside of the profession, but by teachers themselves. These views can see teachers as implementers of policy reforms and initiatives of others outside of the profession. There is a perception that teachers also require stronger accountability and tighter standards (to give public assurance).

The challenge is to make a difference to the learning outcomes and life chances of all students. Seeking public reassurance may lead to superficial differences for students.

The challenge is to find authentic ways to engage teachers in improving their practice.

Monday, July 02, 2007

New Position

I'm excited! I have been offered a position with Parramatta CEO as one of the newly appointed Team Leaders. Parramatta CEO's Executive Director, Greg Whitby was recently announced as one of The Bulletin magazine's Top 100 Thinkers. It is a great opportunity to be part of a venture that is focused on transformation of learning and teaching - to move from the industrial models and approaches.

For me this is an opportunity to put into practice my own thinking and understandings as reflected in my Churchill Fellowship. The focus on innovation, collaboration, networking and capacity building has great potential in transforming learning and teaching.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Further interest and interesting developments

Two further things have happened.

1. Letter from Prof. Brian Caldwell
Brian Caldwell acted as my project referee and something of an e-mentor in developing the submission for the Churchill Fellowship. He was a great support and very encourgaging.

Recently I received a letter from Brian regarding my Final Report. In the letter he says,
"I must say ... that your report is the very best I have read - in context and presentation.
The way you conceptualise what you learnt is extraordinary. I would highlight, especially, figure 9 on page 38, which could surely be the basis of policy, practice and many publications and presentations."

This response to my report is very encouraging particulalry given the somewhat mute response and interest expressed up until the last couple of months.

2. Teaching Australia
I had had a meeting with Fran Hinton from Teaching Australia earlier this year regarding my Churchill project and gave her a copy of my report. Today I happened to be on the Teaching Australia web site. I noticed with interest that recently Teaching Australia had called for a Request for Proposal seeking proposals to undertake feasibility studies for a Centre for Pedagogy and a National Clearinghouse for Educational Research, as well as Victoria University having been selected to undertake research into effective and sustainable partnerships between universities and schools. These developments appear to be related to some of my recommendations.

Interest is growing

It has been an interesting few weeks.

The Australian Catholic University (Strathfield) invited me to present on my Churchill project as part of their seminar series. I presented an overview of my project in an hour long presentation entitled What difference can we make? It used a series of case strudies from the trip to explore some of the concepts.

The seminar was well received with over 30 participants across the Government, Catholic and Independent sectors. Word of mouth has led to some further presentations within the system I work for, to some key groups.

It is exciting to open up the thinking of others who are positioned to make a difference to the students they teach, their schools and the profession.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What difference can we make: Teachers innovating and building professional knowledge

I had the opportunity to present to a group of Primary Assistant Principals in the Southern region of Sydney. The presentation was essentially a repeat of a presentation I did as part of the seminar series at Australian Catholic University.
The group seemed to respond well to the concepts being put forward.
The significant ones for me seerm to be:
  • slow learning to go deep - not just for students but for teachers
  • teacher-led development work that provides a framework for teachers engaging in school improvement at the classroom level
  • Disciplined innovation that provides a scaffold for engaging in innovation
  • The focus in school review and improvement should be on improvement, not measuring.

At the heart for me is a desire that Teaching be seen to be The Learning Profession. Again this notion of courageous leadership and the courage to lead seem to be strong at the moment.

I am interested to see where the thinking and conversations develop and how. My goal in presenting is not so much to provide answers, but rather to open up and stimulate thinking.

More and more I am getting a sense of asking the questions about do we desire things to be like, what should things be like in education and what can I do about it? How can I contribute my expertise to achieving the desired outcomes of the profession?

There needs to be conversations about what is desirable and for whom.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Leading for Learning in a world that is flat

Today I presented a session to a group of principals on leading for learning. In providing a key note I hoped to open up thinking, conversations and possibilities. The notion of a flat world (as developed by Friedman) was drawn upon to highlight the lateral connectivity that exists in the world.
The presenation explored a new imaginary for schooling and education, networked learning, the need for disciplined innovation and possibilities for developing next practice. These were concepts that I developed as a result of my Churchill Fellowship.
As a result of the presentation and discussions there are a few thoughts that emerged:
  • there is a need for courageous leadership in schools and systems
  • focusing on what I have to do (compliance, regulations, etc.) limits the possibilities of what I could do to transform learning and schooling
  • networking is important for developing possibilities, ideas and ways forward that transcend the system
  • individual schools can move forward towards excellence/greatness more quickly than systems can.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

It's Time...

After a bit of a hiatus I have decided to continue this blog as a learning journal following on from my Churchill Fellowship. This time last year I was away and swimming in thoughts and possibilities.

The challenge of writing a report for The Churchill Trust took something of the gloss off the experience as I only had 10 weeks to sythesise ideas and submit the report. To some extent the report fails to capture the full extent of my learnings. The report submitted to the Trust can be found via the link to the right. I have made some minor editings (mostly typos) sincing submitting it.

Interest in the report, the trip and my learnings was some what muted initially upon my return. A fair bit of grass roots interest - not too much interest from within the education system I work for (which disappointed me). They were in the throws of developing a new School Review and Improvement model. The system has a strong tradition of strategic management and review.

I did however have the opportunity to do the following presentations:
  • Teaching: The Learning Profession - Some thoughts for growing the profession (Annual general meeting of NSW Pofessional Teachers Council 29/11/2006)
  • Outside the box: Alternatives within a regulatory environment (Consultants of the NSW Association of Independent Schools 14/09/2006)

I also had an opportunity to meet with Fran Hinton, Chief Executive of Teaching Australia, thanks to the support and encouragement of Sue Gazis (a colleague at the NSW Institute of Teachers).

In the last few weeks things seem to be changing with an increased interest in the project and my thinking and learnings from the experience.

More to come on that later.

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