Managing Change, a ramble

When I started in education – back in the Brendan Nelson years – one of the many things that was drummed into me (along with lesson planning and not smiling before Easter), was how when you went into education, you also went into an environment that would be in a constant state of change. You needed to be adaptable.

It is easy for us to sit back and somewhat cynically say “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, but the reality is that things have changed, and that they will continue to. Look at curriculum. When I started teaching in Queensland it was the year when there was no “official” English curriculum, we used the last one that had been published and assumed that the next one would pick up the following year. We shrugged our collective shoulders and got on with it. Students continued to be taught and they (presumably) continued to learn (please note that this was also pre-NAPLAN). The new curriculum was published, lessons were revised and we moved on. Particularly me, I moved to the ACT, where the Every Chance to Learn was in its draft phase and being rolled out across the system. It was change – and even though there were complaints about “reinventing the wheel” and how this was “just another thing” that someone had thought up to make life difficult, it happened. Education means change.

Students aren’t the same as when I started teaching. One of the things I love (and miss) about the classroom is that there is the chance to learn from them as well, talk to teachers who have been about for a while and they will tell you that this is a change. As we have moved more to a technology based pedagogy, we have started to play in a playground that some teachers are not comfortable in. Indeed, as a part of the standards for teachers there is now a requirement that teachers are present in the digital space within the classroom (see 2.6 Information and Communication Technology), this particular playground is one that the teachers need to be okay with seeking the help of the student in order to operate.  This is a change.

Personal resilience in teaching is something that can be stretched too far. Managing the change in the classroom, both from a curriculum and a student management point of view, can be a challenge and it isn’t for everyone. Leaders of change can only do so much in this journey, individual teachers as a part of a team or community need to take on some of the challenge as well. They need to “own” the change, and of course it is up to the leader to give the individual the chance to play their part, but being a part of the team is a choice that individuals make.

I have watched good teachers leave teaching because they were incapable of managing change outside the classroom. They were inflexible and didn’t want to be a part of the narrative that was being built in a way that it was being offered to them, or they were incapable of building their own narrative that would fit with their expectations of how things should be. They couldn’t see that how we got somewhere didn’t matter, it was that the desired destination was reached that was the important thing.

These lessons learned in middle and high schools have been very important for me in the higher education sector. Working with innovation and change as a part of my everyday sometimes makes me jaded against those who just can’t see the light. Today I have to remember that they may make the journey, just not in the way that I would prefer that they would. I just hope that they get there soon. Because change is inevitable.

Katie Jean has left the building

This week marks the fifth week since I have left the classroom.

In the end it was a rather rushed departure from the schooling system, I still don’t know how long the break is going to be for, or if I am ever going to go back to high schools, but this is a change which I needed to make.

I am still working in education – but in the higher education sector at the university over the hill from me (it is nice to be able to walk to work).

Late last week I was asked why it was that I left, and if I am honest, I don’t think I know yet. I don’t think that it is a permanent shift out of the classroom, but I am also not sure what it is that I have to offer schools just now, I had given so much and was just so tired. So for the moment, I am working in a place I am enjoying, doing things that I love – and not having to deal with the things that were eating away at me.

But I am still trying to keep the students at the centre of it all.

Snippets from the classroom

Walking down the hallway listening in on the lessons underway is a fascinating exercise. Little bits from the different subjects – Industrial Revolution and the slave trade, quadrilateral equations, Vikings – all little parts which make up the whole of a student’s day.

Someone made the comment that it would be fascinating to tweet the snippets to the world… but then like everything in the classroom… context is everything.

Getting back on the educational horse

Horse

The end of term 4 seems like an age ago now, but heading back to work this week for the professional development, for the first time in about six years not studying, researching or doing anything extra, has taken something of a mind shift.

This is shaping up to be an interesting year as we work towards the MYP and PYP programmes, as well as change the structure of the school from a “middle school” approach to a more traditional faculty based structure. Change can be a challenge (at times), but this is proving to be a fascinating journey.

So I am slowly getting back on the educational horse, tweeting will recommence shortly… and I assume that by the end of week 2 it won’t feel like I have had a break at all…

The Hours?

Teachers work long hours… “holidays” are some of my most productive times, there are days I don’t get to my email until late at night and there are weeks where the only daylight I see during the week is on playground duty. But does all of this work make me an effective teacher?

Earlier this week the headlines screamed about the NSW Government’s proposal to introduce performance pay based on (what I assume is) the Australian Professional Standards for Teaching (if it is the AiTSL standards, this hasn’t been made clear). Now while the headlines were predominately about the ability of principals to be able to “sack” nonperforming teachers, or those who were seen to be “not meeting performance standards”, the reaction has been to something quite different.

And then the twitter lit up.

Teachers from across not only NSW, but other parts of the country began to tweet about their days work. How many hours they were there for, what they needed to do at home, the challenges, the victories and a whole lot of other things were aired.

Now I have been teaching for a while now – I made it through my first five years and so statistically speaking I am now going to be teaching for years to come. I know that there are some things which take me forever to do, and other things which I manage to get done relatively quickly. I am not the first at work in the morning, and sometimes I am the last to leave, but not all the time. I work at work. I also work at home, but that is my choice.

The hours I work don’t make me an effective teacher – my actions do.

Listing the hours worked isn’t as powerful as listing actions achieved during those hours.

</rant>

And for the record I am against performance pay.

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater

What seems like an age ago now I was involved as a senior research assistant on a project at one of the big universities in another state. The intention was that I use this research to complete a masters thesis, write a couple of papers, present at a couple of conferences and build the academic side of my life – something I have come to truly enjoy. But as so often happens with these things, life intervened and plans didn’t come off – well not completely.

Tonight I have been re-reading much of my work, trying to selvedge some of the ideas and concepts which I was writing about. Primarily it was looking at change management from the perspective of students and if there was any student voice included in this. There had been some pretty major structural change at the school and we, my supervisor and I, were specifically looking at this site (there were six or seven involved in the larger scale project), to see what the overall effects of the changes had been. At the time I had something of a bee in my bonnet about student voice (still do, but it is a bit more refined now – mostly because I think it needs to be authentic, not just ticking a box).

A lot of what I was looking at was based on the Middle School thinking about student engagement through building relationships, but expanding many of those lessons to all of the year levels – not just the ones in the middle. At the time my supervisor was intrigued, I was working at a Middle School, one of the first ones in Australia, but there was very little of the “middle school ethos” present in what I described as my working environment. And yet there was.

Building relationships with our students is core to what we do as teachers. We know that our students learn better when they are connected to what they are doing and who it is they are learning from. I know that there are some of my students who refuse to learn from teachers they don’t like, or perceive that don’t like them. During my research I looked at different models of school organisation, how it is that schools figure out who looks after the kids; who it is that they turn to when they need assistance.

When we are considering school organisations and changing from one structure to another, there is a temptation to consign the old way of doing things to the past in favor of the bright shiny and new. But we need to find a way to not be throwing the baby out with the bath water and build on the past rather than dismiss it.

Education, blogging and working in secret

I am seeing patterns at the moment, things are connecting for me and I don’t know if it is real or if it is just me seeing things.

A while ago I spoke at a staff meeting about reflective practice, I see this space as one where I can be reflective about what it is that I do and perhaps in working through what it is that I am teaching and how I am teaching I can see what is happening. Just after the presentation, I was approached by a colleague who made the comment that she found blogging to be a form of narcissism and didn’t think that is was appropriate for what it was that I was trying to achieve; in public was not the place for this. We should be private.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks and I was asked when the trolley of computers would be available to go into the classroom, the explanation given was that the teacher didn’t want to be in the lab – as it was “too public”.

Both of these things, expressions of wanting to hide away what it is that we do, the good, the bad, and the ugly, have really bothered me. I am over being told to hide what is happening in my classrooms, I work with some pretty amazing people (both students and teachers) and I want to be able to talk about it.