17 February 2013

Responding to your latest ICOT musings

Bonté divine, Pascale,

SOLO - Is this Relational or Extended Abstract?
That ICOT conference has certainly generated a lot of reflection and analysis on your part! In a way it vindicates what you question the worth of in your latest post. 'Conference or Not?' I know there's evidence out there to show that this 'magistral' model isn't the most effective way of shifting thinking and leading to change but I'm still a fan, as long as what those speakers have to say is really mind-shifting or expanding. Conversation with colleagues is all very well but it has to have a catalyst and I think that could well be the presentations. What would be best, perhaps, is to follow each presentation with an opportunity for discussion. My problem with wave upon wave of presentations is that there isn't enough time to digest them before rushing off to the next one, the result being overload and loss of concentration. So maybe a judicious combination of presentations and time to wrestle a bit with the ideas immediately afterwards would be the best model. The evidence points to the fact that effective professional learning is an iterative process, offering multiple opportunities to revisit and develop ideas in a supported environment. I think this is a good argument for school-wide PD as the revisiting can be on-going and more or less scheduled as well as informal. However I think that subject teachers also need to get together between schools to adapt generic ideas to the particular constraints of their subject.
If I consider my shifts in thinking, and there have been a number, as you know, I have to admit that  most of them occurred as a direct result of having listened to an inspirational expert at a conference or teacher-only day.  What I'm not sure of is how my shifts in thinking > practice have been taken into account in research into what constitutes effective PD. Have I been left out of the equation?? (Boo hoo!) The trouble with such research is that it looks for fairly immediate results and a clear sign of cause and effect whereas with me, and I'm sure many other teachers, an idea is sown, it may sit around for yonks in the soil of my mind waiting for the right time to germinate and lead to a definite mind-shift and resultant evolution of practice. Sometimes the link is hard to make as the process tends to be a long one. There is necessarily an element of sychronicity about it too. The idea may reappear in a different context and generate the connections necessary to get that idea back into your mental 'in tray'. Good ideas have a habit of popping up in a timely fashion when you're most receptive to them and also when you have time to process them and adapt them to your particular situation. Like you, I'm a great convert to the power of the internet to disseminate new and exciting ways of bringing education into harmony with change taking place in the wider world. I'm also heartened by the democratisation of knowledge sharing. In our newly-created on-line professional communities (our PLNs) we can be invigorated both by acknowledged experts and each other. When we could and do watch/hear these experts on video, is there any real need to see them present in person? Is ICOT an anachronism? It certainly costs 'la peau des fesses' to attend, but fortunately non-attenders can follow on Twitter, through blog posts and YouTube clips. As far as you and I are concerned, will this blog conversation equal our face-to-face discussions? It won't be the same as there's more time for 'recul' between posts but it will leave more of a footprint that we can return to.
Now for a response to your other items:
Change or Die.
As you know, I've always favoured a wider picture approach and tend to apply the broad brush to things, trusting that if I've got the vision sussed then the details of how to move towards it will fall into place. This reminds me of SMART goals which were all the rage a few years ago. Personally I could barely contain my indifference to them. I've forgotten exactly what SMART stood for but it was all about dissecting ones goals into do-able, measurable, achievable segments so that we could tick them off as we achieved them. How systematic!! How bean-counting!!  YAWN!! As I have said, iconoclastically, since when did a SMART goal have what it takes to make you leap out of bed in eager anticipation? (Actually, I think I might have plundered that from some other thinker but I can't remember who)  If there's no associated vision, which is too often the case, the overall purpose can be lost sight of. I'm very interested in this contrast between management and leadership. For those firmly entrenched in the management camp I can't see 'influencing people's beliefs' as high on their agenda. It's more about making sure everything is tickety-boo and that students are being acquiescent in their correctly-worn uniforms. Numbers of Schols and NCEA results seem to be a major preoccupation and there is little questioning as to whether those results represent anything worthwhile in terms of equipping students for life after formal education. The NZC gives schools a mandate to consider the bigger societal picture and ERO should be making sure that this is at the core of the school culture.
'I have changed'. You sure have!! When I first met you in 2001 at the first NCEA jumbo day at Hamilton Girls High, I have to admit to having found you somewhat dogmatic in your approach. While I admired your confidence and obvious skill in helping your students to become good writers, I was surprised at your fairly strongly-expressed distaste for teaching literature, which I loved teaching. I might have even said to myself that Pascale and I could never be on the same wave length. How wrong I was. Over the years, and particularly during our collaboration I've watched you undergo a 'sea change' (fortunately not into 'something rich and strange' like 'thy father' in Shakespeare's 'Full Fathom Five.....'!) so that now you are a veritable sponge and vector for new ways of looking at education. Your growing uncertainty has been ultimately enriching, both to you, me and your colleagues, as it has led you to challenge the status quo. I think I've always been uncertain, and I certainly am at the moment as I prepare to return to the classroom. What is interesting is that in many ways I don't think I've changed a great deal (which may seem to contradict what I said before about my mind-shifts but I'll come back to this in another post). The recent exposure to the good ideas of Ken Robinson, Guy Claxton, Ewan McIntosh, John de Mado to name but a few, have served to vindicate what I've been feeling all along but was perhaps too reticent to articulate. Listening to them has given rise to a succession of 'eureka' moments when I've come to realise that I wasn't really out on a limb. Strange to say, although I may not have succeeded in changing many people's minds when I was teaching prior to 2006, I did feel reasonably supported in my iconoclasm. I remember saying to my principal 'If I had a scheme it would be a piece of fiction'  as no planning document could predict, much less dictate, what would take place in my classroom. If I'm teaching in a diagnostic way I'll be responding to the needs of the learners and how can those be factored into a programme before they've arisen? It would have to be very skeletal. The other thing that I was bold enough to say was that 'Bad' documentation didn't equal bad teaching and 'good' (read 'compliant') documentation was certainly no guarantee of good teaching. He had to agree.
Getting back to your change - should you systematise your approach? If you think it will help you in some way, go for it. As you know, I'm not systematic and I've passively resisted system mongers during my whole career and will continue to do so. A modicum of method in ones approach is no doubt necessary for coherence but I've had it with systems for which I can't see the justification. But I know that's not what you mean. You mean marshalling your thoughts. Collating all these wonderful ideas into some sort of synthesis that makes sense to you and deciding what how you're going to use them. The Extended Abstract phase - which brings me to.......
SOLO Taxonomy
This is a neat way of classifying learning stages that I will certainly be trying to incorporate into my teaching. I loved the lego analogy and will be showing this wee video to students to illustrate the idea. I think it would be relatively simple to use as a yardstick for students to understand where they are and identify the next steps. I'll be pondering on that one and adding it into the mix.
It would be good to talk to Fiona Bamford to see how far she's got with matching it up with her French teaching. Craig Perry and Fiona are right when they say that finding a common vision/  language/purpose doesn't happen overnight and that there may be hurdles. Guy Claxton would say 'so much the better if there are' as they create opportunities to hone the Magnificent 8 qualities. Maybe for NZ we should christen them the Magnificent No8 Qualities! Isn't that what we're trying to do - help students to develop their No8 débrouillardise (along with lots of other dispositions of course!)?

Well, that about wraps it up for this Sunday night. I've got so many things I'd like to talk about but 'y a pas le feu!'
A très bientôt
^. .^

1 comment:

  1. Maybe the title Conference or Not was not so well chosen… There is no replacing a conference as I tried to say as long as the speakers are truly of the caliber to bring in a challenge. I have attended too many lackluster conferences where the wave upon wave of presentations did little else but made me want to do something else. It is mainly about subject matter quality of delivery and participant's involvement: a bit like a lesson isn't it?

    Which brings me to think about the most useful thing I ever did as a teacher: shadow a student. We should all do that, and see how we feel at the end of the week: enthused and connected to our learning or indifferent and bored?
    Yes there must be cross school meetings for subject areas. What must change is that teachers expect someone (MoE, NZQA, Ilep…) to organize them for them: if there is a need and a will then why wait to be heard?
    It all goes done to time and money I guess. Yes ICOT registration is steep, and yes you can follow on twitter and see the prez online afterwards. What you can't replace is the people and the further amplification and the fact that you are "locked in" that conference mode for the time it lasts (rather that read the #ICOT2013 on the treadmill before taking a Skype call for instance)

    Love the points you make about what constitute effective PD: sorry to break it to you but you (and I ) have certainly been left out of the equation!!! It all goes down to what the figures or criteria use to measure "effective" are. The questionnaire at the end of the workshop that everyone ticks to get rid of a job, the "reporting back" from PD: the quickly put together one pager and pic to distribute to staff? Effective for who?The ones who deliver and have to write milestone reports? You are referring to Helen and yes I know that PD effect is not immediate. School wide long term, revisit often and teaching as inquiry are the way to go. And everybody needs to think about their goals and tinker with them so that they fit in the big picture

    Which brings me to systemising my approach : I see this as a "framework" that I could use to try to contain my uncertainty about many things, as I don't think I have an "inner framework". Teaching as inquiry cycle interest me and I would definitely use this open ended iterative type should I be in the classroom. You are so right: I was very much a programme person moving from one thing to the next, carrying the kids along, still having fun but not challenged to think /act differently (on the contrary, previous managers complemented me on my timeliness, orderly fashion, and ability to get things done… oh how much I could not take this anymore!)

    Flo is working with SOLO too. She ll be the one to help us develop more thoughts on that. Glad you seem interested it appeals to me. No doubt I will get in contact with Fiona a little later too. Let's see where your classes and their interests take you (and I tagging along!)

    Thank you Ruth for your fair and critical assessment of me: you are wearing great goggles! And if anything this space will allow us to go beyond what we ever had the time to tell each other, now that we write.

    Oh also, I think I have found my voice thanks to this also: so sometimes you may find me rabbiting on stuff that are not exactly relevant!

    And yep go for it: Magnificent No8 Qualities I reckon it has to be!


Let's go Back to the Drawing Board!