Tuesday, 21 January 2014

So, what have you told us about homework?

You may remember that last term, I created a survey to gain your views on homework as a part of a school review on this. I wanted to review homework as it was timely to do so, especially given the high levels of home- school communication in regards to what is happening in the classroom.
The results were informative, but, probably not surprising. The responses ranged from some of you not wanting homework at all, to some wanting more.

Interestingly, staff have a similar range of views, and even with agreement on the need for homework or not, there is variety of opinions in terms of the purpose of homework! I think that the topic is one that is highly emotive and may not just be about whether it has an academic benefit for primary aged students, but includes  other issues as well- developing self discipline, responsibility and accountability, for example and many people see homework as a vehicle to develop these traits.

Some research indicates that at the primary school level, there is no educational advantage in having homework. In other words, it does not make a difference. Whole books such as 'THE HOMEWORK MYTH: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing' by Alfie Kohn (Da Capo Books, 2006)
have been dedicated to explaining why the idea of homework being advantageous is a fallacy. And yet we persist...

At school, we have looked at what the research is telling us about homework, have had a really good look at what you have told us and have also had some initial discussions around what we can agree on. This is what we have come up with so far:

  • Homework needs to be differentiated according to level and ability / need.

  • Reading is to be included.

  • Homework has to be consistent across the year group.

  • Online activities can be included either as practice or as extension

  • The level needs to be so that homework can be completed at an independent level.

  • It needs to be enjoyable.

§  Some Questions that we considered were:

  • Do we need parents to sign?

  • What do we do with non homework doers?

  • What is the level of accountability from our students/parents/teachers?

What do I think? Well, I do think reading for pleasure is an absolute essential! Have your child read any publication- books, graphic novels, comics, that ignite and sustain an interest in reading. I do think Mandarin practice is important and also practice in areas of difficulty. Some personal research related to a Unit of Inquiry that involves asking questions and finding out is also useful. Other than that, I think the opportunity to run and explore, to develop interests and passions which may last a lifetime (I have written previously about my son who only ever wanted to climb trees when he came home from school and is now a qualified arborist!) is essential to developing a well balanced life.

The challenge for us as a school is to try and please everyone. Yes, I know, totally impossible, but it is about finding a balance that we can all live with and agree to.

The quest continues...

Thursday, 16 January 2014

What's the buzz in education at the moment?

One thing I believe it is important for educators and especially school leaders to do, is to stay abreast of current educational thinking and trends. There are many ways of doing this- readings and conferences are two examples. Another way is by joining professional organisations. Bradbury School is a member of several, one of these being ASCD ( formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) which is a global educational organisation committed to developing and delivering innovative programs, products, and services that empower educators to support the success of each learner.

Each week, I receive an email (ASCD Worldwide Edition SmartBrief) telling me what is news in education around the world. These are some headlines from a recent one, which I thought I would share with you:
  • Should England model its schools after China's?
  • India's longer school hours face backlash
  • How students' happiness affects achievement
  • Classical music may improve children's concentration, listening skills
  • Australian schools adopt inquiry-based science curriculum
  • UK to study how students' brains work
  • Australian state considers shifting to online exams

It is always interesting to see what is making headlines in education around the world! I use the Smartbrief to do a quick measure and comparison with what is being developed/researched/proposed to what we do here at Bradbury! For example, we have an inquiry approach to science (tick), we use an online approach for most of our standardised exams (tick) we know that a happy student is one who learns and it is important to us that all of our students are happy (tick) but what about the findings on classical music to improve concentration and listening skills? (further consideration needed here!)

In this way, I hope that our approach reflects our desire to be current and to be a school that is always moving forward through an ongoing process of self review and reflection- a skill, interestingly, that we encourage in our students.

The following are some pictures of our Year 4 students enjoying working with our Artist in Residence this afternoon, creating wonderful clay heads.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Recruitment time!

It's that time of year already (it always seems to roll around so quickly after the new year begins) when I need to recruit and employ new teachers for the 2014/15 academic year. It is important to me that we have great teachers- but how is this achieved?

Current teachers need to give me their notice by the beginning of January if they intend to resign at the end of the current academic year. Some teachers leave during the school year, as has happened this year and so these vacancies are filled on a temporary basis until the main recruitment round when permanent appointments are made.

Once I know who is leaving, I then ask the other teachers for their class preference placements for the coming academic year. Some teachers, especially those fairly new to the profession, like to move to other levels to round out their teaching experience and gain an understanding of the developmental stages of learning and I believe that it is important to allow for this.

I also look for any gaps in skills or abilities that we might have because of the vacancies eg do we need someone who has a particular strength in a curriculum area or can coach netball, for example?

In this way, I build a propfile of the type of teaching experience and skills that I need to find teachers for. I can shortlist, question and appoint with this profile in mind.

All of the applications come in online. I work through each of them, looking for the teachers that in my opinion are the best fit. I look for experienced teachers, an understanding of inquiry, assessment and differentiation, as well as that 'x factor', that personal voice that makes me think they would fit in well with our school.

It is demanding work, I look at around 300-400 CVs in a very short space of time, around two weeks.
I mark electronically the applications for a 'long list' which I then circulate to the SLT or other leaders involved for their comment and input. We then have a system where we mark these CVs for a short list and then referees are called, which may then change the shortlist depending on the results. I also always ring the referees of selected candidates, just to get that personal feel of the information, I can ask further questions and really assure myself of the candidate's suitability for the job.

Each primary principal is in a team of three for interviewing purposes, based either in Hong Kong or in London. Each panel then interviews around eight candidates per day over a two week period, each interview lasting 30-40 minutes long. After each interview, which is videoed so that the other principals can see it if they wish, the interview is discussed in detail and candidates are given a rating based on their answers- not suitable, competent or highly competent. Once the interview rounds are over, the principals meet as a group to decide who they want to hire and a phone call is placed to the successful candidate. Phew! It is always a good feeling to get to this stage after a fairly heavy month!

I mentioned the 'X factor' above and although hard to qualify, these are the sorts of things I try to get a feel for in candidates:
  • They see teaching as a profession, or even better, a vocation, rather than just 'a job'. They love teaching and they understand that teaching is an art and are willing to put the time into crafting and perfecting that art i.e. long hours!
  • They have evidence of an effective classroom style
  • They are able to form positive relations- not just with students, but with adults as well
  • They have a track record of consistent excellence- this is where referee reports become valuable!
  • They have in depth content knowledge
  • They can demonstrate expert use of instructional methods
  • They have the capacity for growth, they see themselves as learners
  • They have steadiness of purpose and teaching personality
It is so important to make the utmost effort to get the best teachers possible. Teaching is an incredibly and usually underestimated complex act. Danielson (1996) estimates that a teacher makes more than 3,000 nontrivial decisions every day. No list can capture the extraordinary subtlety involved in making instant decisions about which student to call on, how to frame an impromptu question, or how to respond to an interruption. The late Madeline Hunter compared teaching to surgery, “where you think fast on your feet and do the best you can with the information you have. You must be very skilled, very knowledgeable, and exquisitely well trained, because neither the teacher nor the surgeon can say, ‘Everybody sit still until I figure out what in the heck we're gonna do next’ (Goldberg, 1990, p. 43).
Watching a great teacher at the top of their form can be compared to watching a great surgical or artistic performance. Great teaching appears effortless and seamless, but in reality is infinitely difficult and painstakingly planned. It is easy to believe that it is the simplest thing in the world—until you try to do it!
  • Canter, L., & Canter, M. (2002). Assertive discipline: Positive behavior management for today's classroom (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: Lee Canter & Associates.
    Danielson, C. (1996). Enhancing professional practice: A framework for teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
    Goldberg, M. (1990). Portrait of Madeline Hunter. Educational Leadership, 47(5), 41–43.