Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Prioritising what's worthwhile in leading, learning and life

NASDAP 2013 Workshop #3, Eileen Piggot-Irvine.

Being quite a goal orientated person I have drawn to this workshop around goal setting. Eileen Piggot-Irvine is a kiwi working in Canada who has done significant research in education and in interested in neuroscience, particularly relating to goal setting. Key points from the workshop are as follows:

Goals are important. Setting goals is one of the key key components of successful leadership (IEL, 2011) and a core practice of effective educational leadership (Leithwood & Lloyd, 2009). Goals are linked to motivation and should be personally compelling, challenging and achievable (Aitken & Jantzi, 2006).

Two models from neuroscience have been discussed to consider when considering goal setting and appraisal. The first is the acronym SCARF (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness
and Fairness) and stands for the conditions which allow for 'approach' conditions for the brain - the PFC of the brain 'lights up' in approach conditions. The second the AIM framework and here Berkman & Rock (2012) narrow it down to three key components of goal pursuit Antecedents, Integration and Managing rewards and anticipation.

The work into neuroscience is fascinating and will no doubt contribute hugely to our understanding of how goal setting but for me key applications to come from the workshop include:

1. Ensuring ownership of goal setting, allowing all those involved to be able to input into the setting of goals (e.g. staff into teh setting of school goals, not just management/BOT)
2. The importance of the relatedness component in goal setting (the R in SCARF)
3. The provision of a framework to set goals (useful for staff & students). The 4 steps of reconnaissance, planning for improvement, carrying out the improvement, review/evaluation aligned with the formative assessment questions Where I am going? Where am I at? (reconnaissance) How do I need to get there? (planning for improvement) along with reviewing and planning the implementation (adjusting goals and/or plan).

I have immediately used the framework with students following their return from senior examinations as we map out the coming weeks before NCEA externals. They engaged with the process effectively and I look forward to working with them in helping them implement their plans. Hopefully the find the goal setting process a useful strategy to help them with life and learning too.

Teaching Motivation to the un-motivated

NASDAP Workshop #2, Margaret Ross

I have heard plenty about Margaret Ross but had never had the opportunity of attending one of her workshops - what a treat, she's got plenty great ideas alongside a sharp wit which added the appropriate humour along the way. The key points I got from the workshop were as follows:

Motivation is a journey, not a destination and the great joy of motivation is not the end result, but the hard work that gets us there. As Printrich and Schunk (2002) explain, motivation is "a process rather than a product. As a process we do not observe motivation directly...we infer from...choice of task, effort, persistence and verbalisation" they continue by stating, "motivation influences what, when and how we learn". Many students we may describe in our classes as un-motivated are actually quite motivated, it's just that they are motivated to be doing activities quite different from what we would desire them to be doing!

So, the real question is how do we motivate students to learn what we want them to learn? We of course want students who can display the key competency of Managing Self "this competency is associated with self-motivation, a can do attitude...students who manage themselves...enterprising, resourceful, reliable, resilient, establish personal goals, make plans, manage projects, set high standards. They have strategies for meeting challenges". One key step in enabling students to become better self-managers is realising as teachers we can help students develop skills and strategies to self manage better. A key component of this is helping students build self-efficacy or self-belief. Students are much more likely to be successful if they have a belief they can achieve something, rather than having the ability to do some (but not the accompanying belief). Take the marshmallow experiment for example (video here). Students who were able to resist eating the marshmallow display desirable traits such as managing impulsiveness by being future focused, they can delay pleasure. This belief in one's capability to organise and execute the course of action required to produce given attainments (Alderman, 2004) is known as self-efficacy.

So, if self-efficacy is one of the key components of student motivation how do we help develop this within our students? Margaret Ross suggested students develop self-efficacy four ways:
1. Task accomplishment (I've done this action successfully before) High Success
2. Vicarious experience (I see the successful performance of someone else who could not do it first) High Success
3. I get praise from the teacher (low success)
4. I feel good (low success)
Providing opportunities for students to experience success and build on it is key, alongside opportunities for them to see others do something (it's never easy to be the first person to try something new!) and sometimes this may need to be us as teachers modelling a process - such as the construction of an essay with all the crossing outs and changes along the way, rather than the providing the model essay as an exemplar (and not showing the process to getting it to this point!).

One of the final ways to motivate students comes back to showing what we want and teaching students how to do it - reciprocity - the response from a human to a friendly action is frequently much nicer and more cooperative. In contrast the response to a aggressive action is often hostile and nasty - students will give back 10x what you invest. Teachers give off a vibe and this is picked up by students, positive vibes generate and positive atmosphere. Negative vibes generate feelings within students that the teacher doesn't like them and is counter-productive. We can positively change the way we feel about a class (if needed) by thinking and acting differently and students will pick up on this and feed it back. Looking for ways to develop a sense of the whole group and not isolating parts of class or generating subgroups becomes part of this. It is also where rewards come in, using rewards to celebrate with the group and in doing so generating a feeling of belonging for everyone. Praise can then be used as affirmation for efforts put in by students, efforts to work independently on a calculation, try a new strategy, work with part of a group when usually preferring to work independently and so on. Saying "I was really impressed by the way you kept on task even though you were really frustrated" is powerful feedback and praise for a student that specifically reinforces building their habit of perseverance.

Of course nothing is more important than the relationships we develop with other students - Affirmations, celebrations and relationships!

Response: The majority of the workshop was affirmation of the way I like to work and the way our school's philosophy is built, which is great. My challenge is to look for ways to make students feel part of the group - I know in the past I've baked food, celebrated events etc. but doing more of this to generate a sense of togetherness and belonging would be invaluable.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fast brain & Slow brain thinking

NASDAP Workshop 1 workshop led by Tony Burkin

The beauty of being able to attend an education conference is the opportunity to do some big picture thinking and what better way to do it than attend a workshop on fast brain thinking and slow brain thinking. Put simply rather than just dealing with the obvious, what we see immediately in front us,  slow brain thinking challenges us to be looking "under the surface", to what lies beneath. Some of the gems Tony has shared are summarised below:

Tony argues lots of the gnats we are confronted with as senior leaders in a school every day are often unprofessional practice (such as staff not meeting deadlines for reports, not responding or reading emails, not marking and returning student work etc). Yet we are often slow to deal with these issues. For some reason we accept teachers as having these components to their practice as more often than not they are good teachers in the classroom. This unwillingness to confront the issues is often because using our fast brain we equate teaching practice with professional practice, yet we need to be able to see these separately. The teacher may be a great classroom teacher but this is separate from professional practice - using our slow brain enables us to distinguish these two forms of practice. Taking a step back to realise that it is sound professional practice that provides the right foundation for effective teaching practice can significantly alter the way we consider such actions.

Within school organisational structures there exists 3 sorts of practice - leadership practice, teaching practice and professional practice. Focus of professional development in schools for years has been on teaching practice but how do we bring in development around professional practice. Good professional practice underpins good teaching practice, developing good systems of professional practice such as allowing observation and critique, regular inquiry and journaling will allow for teachers to be more reflective and allow for insight into effective teaching practice. How might we develop and enhance professional practice? The secret is to develop a culture where learning and critical conversations between staff are an accepted and desirable part of the school.

When we consider values - the fast brain focuses only on enriching values (innovation, caring, excellence, integrity) but ignores selfish values (such as cunning, looking the best, avoiding conflict, independence etc). The slow brain acknowledges and lances these. The more we talk and be open about the selfish values the more we can then build on developing enriching values. We need to be establishing a culture where as reflective practitioners we use our own reflective feedback and the feedback from others to improve both our professional and teaching practice.

When we talk about learning we can talk about informational learning or transformational learning - it is transformational learning that has as its core reflection and inquiry. Slow braining takes us here and catalyses the right sort of learning for change. Leading change starts when teachers experience metanoia, real learning. Learning is not about motivation - it's about overcoming our defensiveness and re-wiring our thinking. Open to learning conversations are critical in this, to enabling teachers to be on a path of continuous improvement. These conversations do not just rely on the leader having the skills to carry it out but more that the culture of the school is developed such that we are all open to having these conversations and the learning that they generate.  

What do I take from all this? Two key things: the need for more professional practice to be brought more to the forefront of what we do, discuss and dedicate professional money develop towards. Secondly, the importance of continuing to develop a culture where open to learning conversations are part of how we operate, it's what we do. The challenge for me too is to demonstrate this as a leader by  modelling this.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Inequality in New Zealand

I have now been involved in teaching within the secondary school system for over 20 years. It is becoming increasingly apparent to me the emerging gulf between those on lower incomes and those very wealthy. I have witnessed student unable to attend trips or take up opportunities that others get purely because they can't afford it. I also know how many sacrifices some families make to enable their child to afford the schooling that should be of right, free. It is with a growing sense of injustice about this situation that has lead our school to be looking at ways to develop a sizeable fund to help those in need - so they don't miss out just because they are not able to afford it. We are hoping to develop a fund that businesses and alumni can feed into and that can support students to access opportunities they otherwise couldn't afford. Interestingly, a recent Ministry of Education circular stresses the fact that learning opportunities for students should not be withheld if students cannot afford to take them up (see circular here). I completely agree, yet the implications for schools and the current ways they operate, is significant. Of course this is all put forward without any significant funding changes by the Government.

I also, therefore look forward to reading my most recent purchase - Inequality in New Zealand edited by Max Rashbrooke. Robert Wade, an author of one of the chapters, discusses the rapid increase of wealth of the rich over the last 30 years and notes The sharp increase in income concentration at the top of national income distributions over recent decades should have prompted a … public debate about the question: ‘When are the rich too rich?’  He has a short interview here.

There is growing debate around inequality with respect to education and I look forward to being involved in these discussions and debates.