Thursday, 27 July 2017

Changing horses

Over the last couple of days, as a staff, we have been having professional learning about Careers/Pathways education, so that we can advise our hublings and help them to think about a wide range of possible futures. This has started me thinking about my own career, and those of others my age, who are in a world where things are changing in a way we are the least likely to understand. 

In the last year or so I have been morphing from an English teacher into a History and Classics one. It has been (and still is) a huge change for me as I feel that I just don't have the depth of subject knowledge that my colleagues in this school, or in those subject areas in other schools, have. As an experienced teacher, I feel quite challenged by not really knowing what I need to know, and realise that it will take me a long time to gain the depth to feel confident about facilitating my students into and through big stakes assessments.

At the same time, one of the facts that we learned at our professional learning is that typically, on average, millennials spend between nine and twelve months in a job. When employers are talking about longer retention, they are talking in terms of 18 months being good. (What?! I feel so old...)

How do I fit my concept of long-term learning and continuous development into a format that my hublings will ever be able to use? And how do I look at myself and what I do as not being completely out of sync with the way things are in the world.

I think there are some things that apply, whatever stage of ones career we might be at, and whatever generation we belong to:
  • Be prepared for continuous change - in my case, it is very slow, over a long period of time. For my hublings, it will be a lot quicker. But for each of us, it needs to be at a pace that we can assimilate. The point is to acknowledge that it will happen, and therefore to make sure that for each of us, it will proceed in a way that is planned and advantageous to us - not just to wake up and find that change has happened and either we don't know what to do now, or we have been left behind.
  • Be prepared that it might not work - my husband last year left the Armed Forces after a very long career; lots of different roles but the same organisation throughout. He moved into the commercial sphere. He knows that the move was the right thing, and the job that he has had since that point has been an excellent introduction to that outside world. But, it has been challenging, and stressful, and it may well not be the right place to stay. Looking at the stats that our Pathways Leader (Careers teacher) was telling us, maybe he should be moving on. Maybe he needs to take this experience and learn from it, and look for something not quite the same. Understanding that something is not quite right, is not the right fit, is not failure. If it doesn't work, it is a learning experience, and moving on without making it work is actually okay.
  • Be happy - my job is stressful, and full-on, and I really am not making things easier for myself by taking on new roles and study in addition to my everyday teaching (which isn't everyday at the best of times anyway). But I love it. I want to learn more, I want to be involved more, I want what I do to make a real difference. I came back to teaching three years ago for financial reasons, and I really feel that if I had not found a niche where I can be excited about what I do, I would not still be here. And I also feel that if the excitement isn't there, then it is the wrong place to be, whatever your career, but especially in Education!
The saying goes "don't change horses mid-stream", which means once you have made a decision, you should stick to it. But I don't think this is true any longer. I think that the parameters that are in place at any given point of one's career are not fixed forever, and so as our priorities, our understanding, our interests, and our circumstances all change, so we should actually be prepared to make the leap from one horse to the other, even if it doesn't seem like the safest thing to do.

What do you think? What other ideas do you have that I can explain to my hublings at the same time as I assimilate it myself? Is the idea of a career a completely unrealistic, dead thing? Let me know...

#hpsschool  #continuouslearning  #careerforlife?  

Saturday, 25 March 2017

I made a thing!

I've been wanting to get my hublings to do some serious thinking. And I would like at the same time to let other people know what is important to me. I've been wanting to do that for a while now.

I have several friends who are facebook activists, and they do a good job of putting lots of provoking articles into my feed - some of those I ignore, but a lot of them start me thinking about what is important to me, and why I feel that way.

The only problem is, for me, facebook is a place for keeping in touch with my friends, and being social - I don't feel comfortable with swamping my friends with things. Apart from photos of the Toads, of course.

So this morning, I was thinking. I have been using my hub's google classroom to put things in, but that's only good so far. They can read it but no-one else can. What might be a way I could spread things wider? I thought about starting another blog, but then I thought I'd try something different. Does a webpage go further than a blog? Who knows? Not me.

As a staff we were told about the 'new' google sites thing at the start of the year; that it was easier to use than the old one. I had had a play with the old one before, but my technological-challenged-ness didn't get very far with that. 

I tried the new one. I built a website! With two pages on it! And I think I can add more as I go ... hmm, I'll have to keep playing.

It was actually pretty easy, even for me. There are some things that don't quite work, like it doesn't have the ability to put a comments box in. But I have put my hub down as editors, so they at least should be able (theoretically) to put their thinking in. The rest of you will have to wait until google updates things. 

It does look cool. I hope you like it.

Tracey's Propaganda Pages

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Hermann's and my brains

It's the first week back in classes (well, it was when I started this... ) and I am meeting my hublings as a group for the first time. Some of them know me well and some are new this year, so we all need to learn about each other at the same time as we learn about ourselves and our learning.

As a tool, I have used the Hobsonville Point modified version of Herrmann's Brain analysis which calls the four sectors strategising, organising, imagining and relating. Each of us used a set of cards to find out what sort of characteristics we have in our learning, me included, and made a pie chart showing the different aspects of our personalities.

As you can see, I am strong in organising, can do some strategising, and am not so great at relating and imagining. This is not a judgement about my character or anything, it is simply a screenshot of how my brain works at the moment, and it shows me where I have strengths, as well as the things that I can be working on.  I can also relate this to other things that I know about myself - like the fact that my desk is either beautifully tidy and colour-coordinated, or it is carnage; or that I know I am extremely introverted, so relating for me only happens easily on a small group or individual basis - and from there I can set some goals going forward.

At Hobsonville Point, we have modified the traditional Herrmann's Brain four quadrants to align with the learning that our students do in hub, so that our hub curriculum is structured like this:
The four quadrants reflect the original Herrmann's Brain model, but we have also added in the communicating idea as a central hub, and surrounded the whole lot with our Hobsonville Habits, which are the dispositions we need to make all of the other things happen.

My own goals for the year will be very much around the relating strand, both carrying on from my teaching inquiry from last year, as well as extending my practice in other ways. I feel I should also be doing something in the imagining direction, but there are so many truly creative types at our school that I feel a bit overawed, and I need to put the formal learning (which would be where my imagining strengths are) on hold while I sort out a few other important things. Maybe next year...

Anyway, my students have also been formulating goals based around what they have learned about themselves doing this exercise. They have used the hub learning objectives and built their own goal statements using the generic hub curriculum ones; so for example if they are not so good at evidencing their work in hub they might have chosen the last LO and modified it to read: to GENERATE by communicating my learning through my blog more. (I don't think anyone has actually done that one; as a group, my hub feel they do plenty of blogging, thank you very much). 

The whole point of this is that it is a tool, one of a range of many, and we are using it in combination with other tools to think about our learning. This meta-learning is really what this is all about - if we understand how we learn, and why certain kinds of learning work for us, we can make our learning more successful. At the same time, we can work out strategies to make the types of learning that we find challenging less so. After all, in life, things are not going to be presented in the way that we find easiest or best, whether that be in the workplace or elsewhere, and so we need to know tools that will help us make sense of what we are coming up against, so that we can make it work for us. 

If my hublings are learning that from this exercise, then they are learning a whole lot more than just how to answer questions. I am too.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Excellent questions

My students always astonish me.

When asked at the start of my latest term course "What is the one most important or interesting thing you want to learn?" my year 9 and 10 students came back to me with ideas like:
  • I would like to learn more about extremists who perform terrorism, what psychologically makes them think that is okay.
  • How did communism lose popularity among countries?
  • I would like to learn a bit more about what makes a healthy and well-structured economy, also maybe the business aspect of that too.
  • Which is more effective are economic isms or political isms in terms of benefit of the country?
  • I want to look at terrorism, and what views they have on political, social and economics - why they feel they have to use extreme measures for patriotism.
They also want to know about fascism, capitalism, communism, racism, sexism, and feminism.  All this in 80 minutes a week for effectively six weeks!

A little context - the course is called 'All the isms', and as part of our school focus on How Things Work I was planning to how some political and economic systems work. What I found after this first set of questions was that I had to add in a whole other focus, and now we are looking at ideologies as well.

We started yesterday with some of the political stuff; after an introduction from John Green with Crash Course World History - Capitalism and Socialism and Nikkim with Adam Smith vs. Karl Marx we had a discussion about how all of those things work, the political spectrum, and the realities of politics as compared to the ideologies. Then I asked if there were any questions.

And then one student blew me away by asking "Where do authoritarianism and liberalism fit into all of that?"

What an excellent question! Not only is it asking something really thoughtful, it is also showing how that student had processed all of the information beforehand, and become so engaged that he was looking for deeper meaning.

I LIKE this kind of teaching; where we are talking about stuff which is real and meaningful to students; where the naughty boy is so engaged that he is leading the discussion; where the learning is driven by the questions students ask, we all explore them together, and then we realise that there are no right answers.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Notes for a new term

The end of the first semester has meant a bit of reflection about the successes and failures of the courses that have just finished, so that particularly the failures can make my this semester's courses better. In the spirit of so many blog posts and suchlike, I am going to do a top-5 list of things I can do better this time around.

1. Don't overcomplicate things. It is good to offer options to students and to give them freedom to choose or take their inquiries in the direction that appeals to them, however, in one of my modules I ended up assessing two different standards at two different levels, which meant four sets of marking and moderating. Not to mention the sheer logistics of differentiating my instructions to students! Madness. It is much better to do one thing really well, and have choice within that as necessary.

2. Keep the learning objectives in mind. No matter what you are teaching, you will have to report on it at some point. If you use your learning objectives to keep your teaching on track, it also will make the reporting both relevant and easier. (This doesn't mean 'teach to the test', that is something else again, because what a test is, is and should be completely different from learning objectives.) Learning objectives are what your students are supposed to be learning, so shouldn't that be what you (I) are teaching?

3. Mark as you go. I am a shocker for leaving everything till the big main assessment, and then having all of my classes with marking due in the same week. And marking is not my favourite part of this job.  Even though all of the work that students are doing throughout the course is relevant, and there are some good, assessable activities amongst them, which won't even take that long, I just somehow always seem to forget that, and end up at a point where if I were to mark everything that I originally intended, it would take me three weeks longer than I actually have. So, do lots of small bits of marking, and don't procrastinate, and even, plan small bits that you will mark within a larger class or activity and then, do just that bit. (I'm being aspirational here, I know, but it's a plan...)

4. It's okay to do teaching. A lot of what we do is inquiry based, and student choice and voice are really important. But to begin a new course or class, actually students do need some context, so that they can find out what they don't know, in order to find out 'the answer', or an answer. And sometimes, some information, via some sort of text, and then some questions about it, equals scaffolding! Seriously, this definition only just occurred to me right now. I am so pleased with myself. Because I like teaching, and making students think about stuff they never would have themselves, and I like to take their brains and make them hurt, just a bit, and this is because one of the things that is most important to me is doing the action of thinking. Students are not always going to know what questions to ask, but you can lead them towards those questions.

5. Do what you love. The best classes are the ones you are really involved in because it's what you are really passionate about or interested in. Students know that too. The teachers I remember are the ones who really loved their content, so that even if I hated it (Animal Farm and allegory in 7th form English, anyone?), I still responded to it. That's as true now the classes are called year whatever as it was when they were primers, standards and forms. So the stuff you geek out on as a person - and we all do - should be the stuff you teach, simple as that.

I have a plan now, and at nearly the end of week one, I am achieving it so far. We'll see how the rest of the term and semester go.

Just as an aside, isn't it funny how so many years of experience make you think there is nothing left to learn, but then you start to do things differently, and the learning starts all over? I much prefer the continually learning version, it's a lot more fun.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Something (else) completely new - the follow-up.

Last Tuesday, for the first time ever, I presented a professional learning workshop to a group of teachers. Not from my school, but from 3 other local high schools in a combined schools professional learning day, so to an unknown audience. As I described last week, beforehand, I was feeling quite daunted by the whole thing, because it is quite different presenting to your peers from a position of equality than it is teaching a class of students.

In the end, as everyone told me it would, it went really well. I tried not to include too much (and skipped the part where I had written in orange to skip if I was running short of time) and had a mix of theory/information and practical activities. I followed my plan, and the timings I included seemed to be pretty realistic ...

Until it got to the bit where I was demonstrating how we do things here. In the best possible way, the workshop got hijacked at that point, because there were so many interesting and interested questions. The last half hour completely disappeared. 

In the same way that a sidetrack in class can be the best teaching you do, because of the engagement and questioning involved, that last half hour was probably the most productive in making my 'students' think about their own practice and how it might be modified. They were really interested in the practicalities; having accepted that change needs to happen in their own contexts, they really wanted to know how. I feel that I was helpful, both in initiating some of the thinking, and with providing the beginnings of answers. I know that I gave them plenty to take back to their own schools.

I also got lots of requests for access to the information sources I shared and the ideas, so I put together a slideshow which included everything. In hindsight, I should have done it beforehand, and used that to run the workshop, but that is definitely part of the learning curve. Having done this once, I definitely want to do it again.

Here is the slideshow I put together:

I think the main thing that I was trying to convey, and the most important idea for me anyway, is that modern learning doesn't necessarily need beautiful high-tech surroundings to happen in. In many ways, having this available to new schools is a deterrent to schools and teachers who are in traditional surroundings, as they feel the practice is tied to the environment. Modern learning practice is simply another way of thinking about the role of education and teachers, in that the focus is on the learning of the students, not the teaching of the teachers. Looking at the NZ curriculum and understanding what it really wants us as practitioners to do, and then looking for ways to do that, can take anyone in any environment forward; all it needs is the will to make that cognitive change.

My Hero!

My hub's task this morning is to write about someone who is a hero to them, and explain why.

One of my heroes is my mum. Generally because she is such an awesome mum, and still the kind of person I want to be when I grow up, but particularly at the moment because she is dealing in an incredible way with cancer. 

Since February, Mum has been going through the cancer journey. Throughout the process - discovery, surgery, recovery, chemo - she has been amazingly positive and resilient. She has taken everything in her stride and seen all of the process as a way of becoming healthy again, rather than as being sick. Her physical and mental well-being has been something that she has always maintained, and this attitude has carried her through.

I think the way Mum lives her life, with positivity and proactiveness, has carried through into this episode of it, and it is this character which I admire in her. She is always looking to the future and making her present meaningful in building towards that future. At the same time she is very matter-of-fact in her way of dealing with stuff, there is no drama or self-pity, and I really admire this too.

She always has been my role model, and my hero. I don't think that will ever change.