Sunday, June 17, 2018

Championing Our Gifted Students

Although this blog post is part of the celebration that is Gifted Awareness Week in Aotearoa New Zealand and our Gifted Blog Tour that is held each year I think every week is Gifted Awareness Week.

As teachers, we are always determined to celebrate our amazing students.  As the late Rita Pierson said, we ARE their champions and they need us now more than ever.   We get excited by their successes and achievements and this is so easy to do when they're in our area of focus during the week but how do we make sure that we do this when they're not - when, for example - they're part of a one-day gifted and talented school?  For these students, it can be even more important to provide that crucial link between the two learning environments - to celebrate their achievements and shout them from the rooftops.  Why?  Because relationships and connections are everything in learning and teaching.  Because it celebrates and normalises who they are - it makes it okay to be gifted and keeps us connected to them.  And it absolutely is okay to be gifted.  So many of our gifted students have to fight to be accepted when we should be celebrating that giftedness and as my colleague, Andrea Delaune writes in her blog post for Gifted Awareness Week - having a party for it!  This has really struck a chord with me.

So then, how do we change this thinking to make sure that the connections are strong and that our gifted students are truly valued? How do we create and change a culture to make it a collaborative one where learning is shared and celebrated between the two learning environments?  Where students don't become targets because they go to a different school one day a week? 

Like many things, it comes from the top down. The teacher sets the tone - be champions for our students.  It's not that hard and it's a whole lot of fun.

Back in 2011 I had quite a large group of gifted students attending a one-day school and wanted to find ways to connect, share, value and celebrate their learning so I talked to their teachers at their other school and also to the students themselves and we set up their blogs - all of my students had them in our home classroom and they also had them at their one-day school so they could share the learning from both environments.  The value of the feedback that was shared by the students, teachers and parents/whanau was powerful and had a huge impact on learning and confidence.

We also devised a plan where they could run workshops to share their learning across the school when they returned. This was voluntary initially but they were all very keen so we ran with it and it was very successful.  It didn't take a lot of time and it created exceptionally strong relationships in the classroom.  The learning from both directions was valued and celebrated, as were the students.

There are now so many different ways to connect and collaborate.  I've posted recently about one - using Hapara  and I've created a test Workspace in Hapara to try this out - you can take a look at it here and let me know what you think - is it something you think could be valuable for creating a better understanding and deeper, collaborative connections?  This one helps to connect the home school, the one-day school, students and their parents/whanau and caregivers.

Hapara - Workspace - Gifted and Talented Collaborations

Seesaw - student-driven digital portfolios and blogs are other ways that the learning can be continued along with workshops discussed above.  Talk to your students - they will have so many ideas for ways to share their learning with you. 

We've got to create better connections and be champions for these students in particular.  I will leave you with the fabulous Rita Pierson. I've shared this so many times, including with many students whose response was simply - "She gets us."

                                         Rita Pierson - Every Kid Needs A Champion

Monday, May 14, 2018

Creating Greater Communication for our Gifted and Talented Students and their Teachers

Many of our gifted and talented students attend a one-day school and as teachers, we often don't really know what they learn there apart from following a blog, if the one-day school or student has one, or reading emails to keep us up-to-date with students' learning and progress.  If we don't make time to talk to our students about their days then we may not fully understand or appreciate what learning looks like for them at the schools or what their experiences are.  What are the alternatives? How can we make this a more valuable and connected experience for all involved?

As part of my research for my PhD in gifted and talented education, I've been thinking about ways to help create a deeper connection between the two learning environments.  When I was in the classroom I used Google Classroom and Hapara as a way of promoting learner agency (this is a great post from CORE Education), and making sure that my students had strong voices in their day-to-day learning and teaching, (I always see students as teachers as well as learners and vice versa for teachers).  A few years earlier I had a large number of students who attended a one-day school in Invercargill and they always had opportunities to run workshops when they returned so that they could share their experiences and skills with the rest of the class and school.  This, combined with using a tool like the Hapara Workspace could have many positive implications for our gifted and talented students and would really value their learning experiences outside of their home school.

Google Classroom

To test my thinking about this, I recently completed the Hapara Champion Educator Programme.  This is the first of three that you can complete increasing your skill level and expertise in using Hapara.  It is run over a few weeks and is completely asynchronous - great if you're a fan of any time, anywhere learning and need it to be flexible to fit around other commitments. The organisers recommend around 5 hours per week.

Through exploring the new features of Hapara which have changed quite a bit since I was using it in 2015, I can see that this has so many possibilities for being able to connect home schools with the one-day schools and to link parents and caregivers into the learning as well. 

For the third and final task, we had to create a Workspace as an example of what we'd learned and this was a chance to put into practice what I'd been thinking about.  My reflection on the 'Why' of the Workspace for Gifted and Talented Learners can be found here.

Gifted and Talented Collaborations Workspace

The next phase of learning about Hapara is the Champion Scholar programme.  I will be using this to see where the possibilities created in the first programme can lead.  At this stage, I may also look for schools who would like to try this idea out as part of my research.  I will keep you up to date with progress on here but if you're interested in any part of this, please don't hesitate to contact me or add a comment. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Vulnerabilities of Being A Teacher

Last Friday's chat on #whatisschool was all about our vulnerabilities as teachers.  The minute I read the questions, I thought they would be a great challenge for me as a reflective teacher (this links to a long-ish post with links to many other posts on reflective practice over the years).  As the chat progressed I was humbled by the depth of sharing and the honesty of individuals whom I value and respect as colleagues around the globe.  That's the power of being involved in weekly Twitter chats such as these - they push your learning and you are able to reflect more deeply because of where the conversations head.  You don't always get these opportunities during one-off professional learning sessions.  I've blogged about this before here and here and my Masters thesis was on the power of online Communities of Practice and their potential to change teacher professional learning and practice.

Back to this week's chat though - and this was one that really made me reflect on my practice and my vulnerabilities as a teacher.  Even the first question was quite tough - we're often not good at identifying our strengths.  If I could choose one strength, then it would have to be empathy - I hope that I will always have empathy for the students and the families I come in contact with.  Personally, I don't believe you can reach your students unless you have this.   I also know that I'm not afraid to fail, to make mistakes and let my students see me doing this.  This is so important if we want to encourage our students to develop a growth mindset and be a learner alongside our students.  I've often been challenged on how much I collaborate in my planning with students but I have no problem with this.  After all, it is THEIR learning.  That was part of the discussion for Question 2.

Question 3 was a tough one - as a teacher, what are my vulnerabilities?  It was tough, not because I don't have any - I have plenty - it was because there are many to work on.  I'm a perfectionist, and I can be very critical of myself and others.  I have high expectations for myself and others but sometimes I need to engage brain before mouth, particularly with adults. This is always something I continue to work on.  I know that I care too much and have trouble switching off which can lead to this frustration.

Question 5 prompted a really interesting discussion around what happens when a colleague notices our vulnerabilities - what would we want them to do.  One of the most powerful experiences of my teaching career happened when I was involved in a very well set-up Critical Friends programme where the feedback was always honest and constructive and delivered through a coaching platform.  I would always want to be told when I'm missing the point, or not communicating effectively or not delivering as I should.  We expect to be able to do this with our students in order for them to become the best they can be.  Shouldn't we also expect this for ourselves as learners too?  Sometimes it's not always easy to hear - and I've been in this situation where it has been some of the most difficult feedback to receive because I'm certainly not perfect, but I hope it's helped me to be a better teacher / leader - and person - and that I've been able to reflect honestly on the feedback for my own benefit and for the benefit of those around me.

Sometimes our vulnerabilities need to be faced.  Sometimes they can be a strength and sometimes they are something that needs to be faced honestly and worked on.  That's what learning and teaching - and growth - is all about.

The following TedTalk by Brené Brown  is all about the Power of Vulnerability.  It's worth watching:

The Power of Sketchnoting

A couple of weeks ago I participated in the weekly #whatisschool Twitter chat which that week was hosted by @sylviaduckworth.  Many of you reading this will know her as the guru of #Sketchnoting - something I've long been a fan of using...with my students.  It has so much potential for helping students organise their thinking and share their learning so, of course, I was going to be a fan.  I had been toying with the idea of using it to help me organise my, at times, wandering mind for my studies but had really dismissed the idea due to a lack of artistic ability but when I saw the topic of the chat, I thought I'd lurk and see what other's had to say...

Isn't it funny how, as teachers, we are our students' biggest cheerleaders when it comes to wanting them to have a growth mindset and give things a not expect to be perfect at something...but when it comes to our own growth mindset that sage advice often goes out the window??!!  What do they say about 'Physician heal thyself'.  A lot can be learned from this.
How many times do we say this...but do we practise it ourselves?

As usual, the conversation on the weekly chat lead to deep reflection about my own beliefs about learning - it's funny how a 140 character Tweet can do that sometimes.  I've always been very vocal about things such as pedagogy before tools in the case of my passion for all things digital and ideas / content before surface features in writing, as just two examples, but here I was, reluctant to give something a 'go' which I knew would be powerful for my own learning just because I might be lacking in the artistic department.  What message would that be sending to my students if they knew about that..?

So...I'm going to be exploring sketchnoting throughout my PhD studies in gifted education as a way to explore my thinking and record my learning. It's something different and I'd be very keen to find out if any other PhD students have explored this.  Watch this space - or the page on this blog I'm going to dedicate to my PhD learning journey.  I'm going to practise what I preach and develop a growth mindset around this - after all - as everyone in the chat kept saying, and I tell my's about the ideas not the art...

Image by Sylvia Duckworth

Saturday, February 17, 2018

What about the Sweetness and Light of Teaching?

Friday's chat on #whatisschool was all about the sweetness and light of teaching - appropriate seeing as it was #nationalgumdropday - did you know there was such a thing?? I did not, but I'm very happy that there is.  (You should learn something new every day).

Back to the serious issue at hand.  When was the last time you celebrated the 'sweetness and light' of being a teacher? Of teaching and learning?  Take a moment to think about that one.  I know I did when I saw what the topic was for today's chat.  It wasn't so much the topic - it was the questions that really challenged me and then the chat itself even more so.  That's the power of a PLN (Professional Learning Network).  It doesn't matter whether they're face-to-face or online.  As long as they push you to reflect on your practice, to really get down deep into your thinking and beliefs about what you do, then they're really worth their weight in gold.

I love my online PLNs because they include such a wide range of educators from all sectors and from all parts of New Zealand and the globe.  That's real real power and real challenge if you truly want to be a reflective practitioner.  I've blogged about this many times before, (A few links to previous posts are below).  It's something I'm really passionate about and believe it's essential if we want to be the best we can be - for our students and also for ourselves and our colleagues.

Image source: #whatisschool Twitter chat

It really was the questions - and the discussion - that got me today though... Sweetness and light? 

I love a laugh but teaching and learning is a serious business - isn't it?  I wasn't too sure about this one... Then, as always the chat started and made me really question my own thinking and practice.
Image source: #whatisschool Twitter chat

  Think about this for a moment...

When was the last time we did this?  Have we ever done it?
Have we forgotten how to celebrate the joy of what we do?
What would happen if we stopped to take 10 minutes in each professional learning session or staff meeting to celebrate what we do?  How would that change our environment?  Is this something you already do?  What difference would it make to you? To your teaching and learning? Could it be a way of addressing teacher burnout?

Maybe we need to sometimes just take a little time out to reflect and celebrate the sweetness and light - the gumdrops of this crazy profession.

If you'd like to read through the gumdrops of wisdom from the chat today, please click this Storify link.

#whatisschool chat can be found on Twitter at 12.00pm NZDT.


Reflecting on Reflective Practice

Connecting to Your PLN for Powerful Reflective Practice

Communities of Practice

On Being A Connected Educator and Why I'm Grateful for the Connections

Social Media as a Learning Tool

Connecting to Your PLN for Powerful Reflective Practice

#whatisschool #reflectivepractice #CommunitiesofPractice

Friday, February 9, 2018

Learning - it's not just about testing my friend

I was having a fascinating conversation with a very articulate 9 year-old yesterday about learning and what it meant to him and he came out with the statement I've quoted above.  My heart sank a little but I knew that, in the past few years with the focus we've had in Aotearoa/New Zealand on the National Standards, that this had become the reality for many of our students.  This is not what teachers want for their learners and hopefully, there will now be a shift in practice with the Bill introduced yesterday by the Labour Government to remove National Standards.

Teachers are professionals. They know on a minute-by-minute basis how their students are achieving. They are making these assessments against their knowledge of their learners and the National Curriculum and the background knowledge they have of the criteria of the formal tools constantly.  They don't stop.

Coincidentally, in my Twitter newsfeed this morning, a blog post by Steve Wheeler, (@timbuckteeth) popped up.  Learning is a Journey - his latest blog post.

He writes about the importance of learning as a 'process not a product' and I couldn't agree more! Have we become forced to be so focused on the end result of the assessment that we've lost sight of that?  I hope not and there are great Principals and teachers out there that continue to fight incredibly hard to keep that process to the forefront of learning.  I wonder if the students see this though.  Have we made it explicit enough to and for them?  

Do they understand it as clearly as we do and what can we do to make it clearer to them?

We, (and our students), need assessment to know the next learning steps for our students but is learning 'driven by assessment' as Steve Wheeler suggests?  I think, to a certain extent, it has been... particularly when you read the quote from a very wise 9 year-old.  I'd love your thoughts.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Feedback - What Works?

In 2011 one of my research projects for my Masters looked at feedback and what had the greatest impact on learning and teaching.  My focus was on writing and, in particular, what motivated 'reluctant' writers.  It was really interesting research to complete and I nearly carried on with it for my PhD but have gone down the path of Gifted and Talented for that.

The Slideshare presentation summarises the research but the main points are:

There Are 4 Main Types of Feedback

  1. Personal Praise Feedback
  2. Summative - 'Right' or 'Wrong' Feedback
  3. Self-regulatory Feedback
  4. Process Feedback
Two of these are more effective than the other two - do you know which ones and why and how they work?  It's a really fascinating area.  Have a look at the slides for a summary of what each one is and how and why they work.  The slides also detail the 'traps' we can fall into as teachers when giving feedback.

Being able to give effective feedback - and knowing what makes 'effective' feedback (had a great debate with a fellow student over that word), is something that I've had to practice.  It doesn't always come easy and it's so easy to say - 'That's fantastic!'  'Well done!'  These, in themselves, are not bad things to say - they are Feedback Type 1 - as long as they go along with Feedback Type 3 or 4, (more in the slides).  I'd love your feedback on this...

The Slideshare presentation below is a summary of the findings.