Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Learning over Christmas Break

It is hard to believe that the Christmas break is nearly here! As write this, I can hear our Year 1 students practising for their Christmas carol concert next week. It has been a busy term for us all and both staff and students are ready for the break that is coming their way.

Parents can sometimes worry about their child missing out on school and that their learning may slip behind because of the time away from school. I am happy though, to let you know that this is not the case. We want our students to develop the attitude of 'life long learning' and this means that they understand that learning takes place where ever they happen to be.

Many of our students are lucky enough to visit new countries during their break, with a different language, different food and cultural values. It may even be the opposite season! These experiences offer wonderful learning opportunities to try something new and to begin to understand that for many people, the world works in a different way from what they know.

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There is no need to feel that your child needs to write a diary everyday, do their maths or learn their spelling words. They, like us, also need the chance to slow down, relax and refresh. The one thing I would suggest you keep up with however, is their reading. But no need to make it a lesson, read the guide books, the street signs, the new food lables together. Visit a local bookstore and let your child pick out a new book or reading material (yes, even a comic!)to enjoy.
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Learning opportunities are everywhere, not just at school with teachers. They also happen on holiday with our student's first teachers- their parents!

Happy holidays everyone.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Classroom environments- stimulating or distracting?

Recently for a staff meeting, we took the time to walk through each others classrooms. It may surprise you that teachers do not always get to visit other classrooms in the school, especially those in a different phase or year level. However, with the pace of school life, this does not happen as often as we might think. The goal was to see how learning progresses throughout the year levels through common themes, for example, the Learner Profile up in every classroom, different ideas for displays, resources and so on.

It was an idea that was met with a lot of enthusiasm and certainly sparked lots of discussion both during and after the visits. At the end of the walk through, we met to talk about what we had seen, the ideas we had picked up and the things that we wanted further discussion on.

A topic that generated lots of discussion was around classroom displays, specifically as to whether or not these are helpful or distracting to learning. Personally, I love classrooms that are full of colour, words, pictures and ideas. I enjoy walking into a classroom and be surrounded by student work and examples of the learning that is taking place. I remember loving a busy, colourful learning environment as a child and remember actually being distracted by the bare walls of my secondary classes, hating going into those rooms that I thought of as 'boring' because of the lack of displays or any sort of visual stimulation.
classroomviewjessicenatiempo.jpg - Classroom view
I was therefore, surprised to find that some of my colleagues find exactly the opposite, that they find the very colour and stimulation of the displays that I enjoy so much, distracting. One teacher has a corner where the displays are simpler, there are fewer colours and the graphics are plainer, specifically to cater for students who like less visual stimulation.

There has been some interesting research around this area. Researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University set up some laboratory classrooms and led their 'students' through six introductory science lessons on topics they were unfamiliar with. They found that their 'students' were more distracted in highly decorated classrooms and spent more time off task than when the lessons were conducted in bare wall classrooms. Of course, consideration needs to be given to the many variables that would be present in such an experiment and  further research in 'real' classrooms has been called for.

So where does the balance lie? How do teachers ensure that the colour I love so much does not distract from the learning of others who need a  calmer visual learning environment? I guess it lies, as always, in striking a balance and being being cognisant of the learners in each classroom. In my opinion, displays need to be student centered, not just decorative for decoration sake, but relate to and enhance understanding by being meaningfully referenced and connected to the current learning that is happening. It also needs to be, where possible, interactive- the 'Wonder Walls' that many of our classrooms have, is a good example of an interactive learning environment.

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It was very interesting to have this discussion as a staff, to realise that we have very real differences in the environmental conditions that help us learn. The discussion underscored and reminded us that we have to know our students well, not just academically, but emotionally as well- and know what works best for them as a collective while attending to individual differences.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

How do you lead innovation?

Image result for pictures of innovationInnovation is a big catch phrase in education these days. When our mission and vision were collaboratively written around six years ago, we actually included this concept as a part of our mission statement (were we being innovative by thinking about this concept way before it was so popular??)

We said that Bradbury School "builds strong foundations in a dynamic, innovative, and enjoyable learning environment".

So how do we do this?

Firstly, promoting innovation for innovation's sake and/or just to be different, is often a mistake. The process of innovation, while absolutely critical to progress and an integral part of achieving and maintaining excellence, must  be managed through a strategically based leadership approach that guides the process of innovation soundly to the overall goals, mission and vision of our school.

To my thinking, this requires a two pronged approach, starting with a top down process, but subsequently heavily reliant on the bottom up feedback loop:

In terms of top down- I see that an important role of leadership in our school is to set the stage. Firstly, by making sure that everyone clearly understands the goals and objectives of Bradbury.

Secondly, leadership needs to create an environment where innovation can take hold and flourish, within the framework of the school's strategic vision. This means fostering the understanding and belief that people are encouraged to think about their roles creatively and within these parametres, take 'smart risks'.

'Smart risks' means risks that are clearly defined and understood in the context of assuming of how such a risk, may, if successful, further the goals and objectives set out by the strategic vision.

Just as it is unwise to change for change's sake; it can be unwise to push innovation purely for innovation's sake.

Sustaining excellence at Bradbury

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I have been doing some thinking recently around the concept of 'excellence' and how this may be sustained in our school. I believe that this is a goal of all schools and not one principal would disagree that this is what they aim for.

So how do you sustain excellence?

I believe that it is essentially a three step process.

Firstly, you must have a clear vision of how 'excellence' is currently defined. Is it standardised test results, accreditation feedback, enrollment numbers or percentage of students entering university, for example? The definition of excellence should relate back to the mission and vision of the school, which in itself is a reflection of the school community's values. Image result for pictures of excellence

At Bradbury, excellence for us would be around the degree to which we inspire our learners, how meaningful and authentic our inquiry is, along with all of the accompanying skills such as thinking processes, problem solving, connecting big ideas; and the degree to which we instill in our students a sense that they are part of a bigger world community which they can enhance. For me personally as well, I think a large measure is the degree to which our students love learning and how engaged our parents feel.

Along with that, you need to have an understanding of the strengths, capabilities, relationships, governance and other equally important factors that blend together to create the current environment of excellence. A large part of this comes down to gaining a clear understanding of the strengths and capabilities of the team currently in place and how each contributes to the current environment of excellence.

Lastly, you need to be keenly attuned to the overall environment in order to be aware of changes that will be required BEFORE they are on top of you!

As a school that is already successful and operating at a high level of proficiency, the NEXT to last thing we should do is implement 'change for change's sake'.

The LAST thing we should do is to think change will never be required. It is as much of a sin to be lulled into complacency by high performance and adopt a 'no change' mindset, as it is to change things for change sake.

So, in summary, what is required is a combination of the right people working within a framework of the right strategy and vision, something I believe we have in place at Bradbury.

Image result for pictures of excellence