Friday, January 16, 2015

Pulling the Weeds of Teaching and Learning - The Courageous Gardener

In many industries new knowledge and technology has enabled huge transformations of practice, think about a 1950’s dental surgery compared to one now.

Unfortunately education has not had the same social and economic drivers pushing it to remain current in the 21st century. As a result of this and the increase in availability of knowledge through technology a large percentage of students are not engaged by the industrial model of education. Through technology students can now choose when and how they access their learning. Often this technology and new knowledge including about learning is limited at education institutes due to the historical norms and assumptions.
As learners, educators and leaders we need to have the courage to push back against historical norms and assumptions that are prevalent in education and pull some of these "weeds" out of the educational garden to help improve student learning.
Possible examples of weeds could be :
  • a bell will determine length of learning and a timetable will determine what you are learning
  • students shall be organised by year of birth
  • Data use is a task for leadership not teachers
  • Students need to know content
  • Students and teachers need a long Christmas break
  • Teachers teaching alone and to groups of 25-30 students works best
  • subjects need to be separated out to be taught
  • Students can not use their Smartphones or devices at school
  • Teachers need to be in control of the learning
  • Data is only used to group children
However for this to occur:
  • we embrace the vision of “ will it make the student learn better?”
  • we pull the weeds of “busyiness” and look towards our main business of improving student and teacher learning by challenging the historical mindsets and assumptions.
  • increase student agency and engagement.
  • desilo teacher practise and set aside ample time for collaborative data use and planning.
  • get students, teachers and leaders all to analyse data to improve outcomes.
  • build a culture that focuses on trust and improvement, rather than blame
  • give teams the professional development and support they need around data literacy and evidence

Schools in the past were designed on the premise that the student was a mug and the teacher was the jug. The teacher was used to pour knowledge into their students heads in order for the learners to all come out of school the same and prepared for working in mass produced, production style jobs. These mass production line style jobs are now fewer and fewer and the creation of new knowledge is getting faster and faster and is very easy to access. How as a teacher do you determine what knowledge you should be pouring into the heads of your students, when new content is created every minute and students can access that knowledge 24/7 through a variety of mediums often learning more outside the school gates.

I often think now in education we have missed the boat so to speak and confuse “busyiness” with business.

Sir Peter Blake is well remembered for his vision for the 1995 America’s Cup challenge “will it make the boat go faster?”(Childress 2011). He often challenged his colleagues with that question and if the answer was no they stopped doing that action. Of course in education there is no boat however there is the lifelong learner and perhaps we need to rework Sir Peter Blake’s vision to “will it make the student learn better?”

I would argue that education is due for a transformation, from teachers always being the “sage on the stage” with all the knowledge to becoming “guide on the side” at times, supporting learners to gain the expertise to access and use knowledge.

Teachers need to start challenging some of the historical assumptions to ensure the vision of  “will it make the student learn better?” is embedded into schools decision making. The ability to challenge this assumptions and beliefs will be driven by data use and strong inquiry cycles. It will require teachers, schools and the Ministry of Education to reflect on present day schools and ask "does this practice make students learn better, where is the evidence?"

This transformation will include looking at the role of the teacher and school ensuring that we meet our obligations as part of the New Zealand Curriculum Vision of creating young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners (TKI, 2007). Our role will need to change from one of being an individual delivering content in siloed classrooms to a more collaborative, time rich, connected educator that understands and uses a range of data effectively
(Vickers, 2014).

Potentially data driven decision making and  knowledge building cycles are a way we can change historical assumptions and mindsets within schools and classrooms and begin to drive towards transformation within education leading to a greater engagement of students.

●       data needs to be seen as a tool to inform teaching and learning, and not as a tool for labelling or grouping learners.
●      There has to be teacher and leader education around data literacy, task creation and analysis of the information provided from the task.
●      There has to be analysis that includes conversations with staff involved to unpack the data.
●      Teachers must see themselves as learners and be self reflective, willing to change their own mindsets, historical assumptions and practices if necessary.
●      Cycles of evidence based inquiry must be engaged by the school to build the skills and knowledge required (Timperley, 2009).

Data and inquiry cycles are seen as an important part of transformation of teacher and school practice, however a lot of educators have the opinion that “Data use is a task for school leaders, and not teachers. My job is to teach and to take care of the children in my classroom” (Mandinach, 2012).
This opinion is often reinforced as teachers are tasked to collect and record data onto student management systems that are very time consuming and often seen as irrelevant to their teaching and students learning. Usually data is required at a national level to measure a school's performance rather than to improve its practice.

To begin to transform teachers, classrooms and schools, mindsets around data need to change. Teachers and leaders must learn how best to improve student learning by using data to inquire into their own practice, and then understand the impact of that practice.
Educators often look at the learner and ask “how can we change the way they learn” instead of thinking “what can I do differently in my practice to educate this learner”.

Regularly teachers “evidence-based” decision making beliefs and assumptions are due to a lack of data literacy and the ability to analyse and think critically about the data. When working with school’s on Teaching as Inquiry professional learning, questions around “what could the evidence look like?” are frequently asked. In our New Zealand Education system there seems to be a lack of professional learning around what is relevant data and data literacy for our inservice teachers and also our preservice training providers.

The cry of teachers stating a lack of time due to a number of factors will be a thing of the past once:
By driving the decisions within a school, based on appropriate, high quality data and following a knowledge building cycle, we can look at practices within a school and hope to answer the question “will it make the student learn better?” If the answer is no, we therefore must challenge our practices and determine if the practices are simply weeds that require pulling from the educational garden.

Childress, John, R. (2011, September 27). Will it make the boat go faster? [Web blog post]. Retrieved from
Mandinach, E. B. (2012). A Perfect Time for Data Use: Using Data-Driven Decision Making to Inform Practice. Educational Psychologist. doi:10.1080/00461520.2012.667064
Timperley, H. (2009, August). Using assessment data for improving teaching practice. Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) Conference.
Vickers, I. (2014, March). The uphill battle for teacher wellbeing. Education Review Series, Retrieved from APN Educational Media

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