Coronavirus and the VUCA world

Never have I better understood the term ‘VUCA’ than this past week. Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity were at levels I have not experienced before in my place of work. 

Throughout last week, teachers and support staff at St Luke’s Marsden Park just like every other school community, were unquestionably committed to ‘toe the party line’ and keep schools open as the daily volatility in response to the world wide coronarius pandemic unfolded. Staff constantly reminded students to wash their hands, cough into their elbow, maintain the hands off rule etc. etc. As a school we increased the scope of work for our cleaners, maintained a healthy provision of soap in student toilets and ensured our maintenance person cleaned each door handle every morning before the start of the school day. In contradiction, and for fear of self-shaming, we significantly reduced the amount of social media content because most photos showed students in breach of the 1.5 metre and 4 square metre guidelines.

In a world where coronavirus represents a worldwide health pandemic, the focus of state and federal leaders throughout last week was primarily economic. We heard most about the need to support business and provide economic stimulus to keep the country going. I support this approach because I understand that the prosperity of our country and its citizens depends on sound planning for the next 6-12 months. In the midst of all that proactive planning and implementation of an economic stimulus package, and amidst all the worldwide uncertainty, the message to schools and staff was to ‘soldier on and be stoic’. 

By the end of the week, the war cabinet approach did not sit well with a growing number of teachers and support staff. At the beginning of the week, many were concerned. By the end of the week many were worried, even anxious, yet our students and parents would never have known. As an example, we have five members of staff confronted with the heart wrenching decision to postpone their weddings. Another of our staff has a fiance who works interstate wondering about the impact of state and territory border shut downs. There are the staff who live with parents or in laws who are aged 70+, the same people who are increasingly being encouraged to self isolate, and we have other staff who have serious health issues to manage. They have great motivation to avoid contracting coronavirus. Staff in all schools have their own personal circumstances to manage whilst putting on a brave face for the students and parents of their communities.

Our parents quite rightly questioned the contradictions and ambiguity of public messaging and the reality of school settings. Some took matters into their own hands by choosing voluntary self isolation for themselves and their children. Our absentee rate went from a long term average of 5.8% to 14.9% this past week. For those schools who use Compass to track attendance, the School Absence Averages can be seen below.

 

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Source: John de la Motte – Group Chief Executive, Compass Group.

Our own Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) senior educational leaders were very strong in their messaging early last week, encouraging the government to take strong and decisive action. At one stage I was of the belief that our school community would be shut down by the end of the week. However, on Wednesday we read about the  ‘Government urging Catholic schools to remain open amid fears about coronavirus’; hence, a change in rhetoric by mid week.

What a week it was! Or, as one colleague shared,

Image 22-3-20 at 7.36 amNo doubt, there will be many more ‘weekyears’ like it in the months to come!

Over this weekend, mixed messaging continued. Bondi, in fact, all Eastern Suburbs beaches were closed, yet we are back to school on Monday. As one tweeter wrote,

“Children don’t spread the disease at school but if at home ‘roaming the streets’ they are spreading the disease. ????”

Also, Bishop Vincent Long provided the following advice, “Catholics from the Diocese of Parramatta are from 20 March 2020 dispensed from their Sunday Mass obligation until further notice (Canon 1248 §2 and Catechism 2181.)” Something I have never been told in my life as a Catholic. Not long after, Sunday Masses across Sydney were basically shut down. 

Throughout this weekend there has been constant messaging about the ‘4 square metre rule’. “Restaurants, bars, pubs and other venues are now being forced to comply with an indoor limit of one person for every four square metres.”  Our Prime Minister went on to say, “In addition to that, you should continue to practise wherever possible the 1 metre or 1.5 metre of healthy distance between each of us.” Whilst the government has excluded pharmacies, grocery stores, schools, public transport and workplaces from the current occupancy rules, the reality is that schools have parents, teachers and children who can transmit the virus just as easily as patrons can in pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants. 

As an aside, I was intrigued to hear about a school who recently enjoyed a victory in an inter school event. They decided to move their celebration event, known as a rally, from an inside venue to an outdoor venue. They implemented some but not all social distancing protocols and were therefore fined $20 000 for the experience. I have not heard news that the school shut down. As such, I am assuming they continued on with classes, which again, I assume were held in spaces that could uphold social distancing protocols.

I know the government leaders are in the unenviable position of trying to please all people all of the time. It is simply not possible for them to do so. They are in a tough place. On world comparisons, our state and federal governments compare well to most nations in the measures that they have taken and the speed of implementation. I applaud them for that. They know better than all of us, that we face a complex problem of the greatest magnitude and I suspect they know that future actions will need to be taken more swiftly to avoid the of depth, width and length of the pandemic and its impact.

With that in mind, and on behalf of the community of St Luke’s Marsden Park, possibly all school communities of all sectors, I look towards our leaders for clarity at a time when we in schools cannot implement the required health protocols and social distancing guidelines asked of the wider community. 

Knowing that school communities are part of and not separate from the wider community, I trust that the interests of staff, students and parents are a strong consideration when making decisions in the best interests of all.

Greg.

Masters of a new curriculum.

On Thursday 20 February, 2020 I participated as a panelist and attendee at the 2nd Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) schools summit. I tweeted at the end of the day…

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There was intriguing commentary about the future of education, not the least being the presentation from Professor Geoff Masters who is overseeing the NSW Curriculum review. An interim report was shared in October 2019 with the general conclusion being that there is need for major reform.

As part of the review, Professors Masters said it was obvious “too many students are disengaged from learning” and, “performance across many forums and tests have been in decline for quite some time with one example below.”

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Provided by Professor Geoff Masters AO at SMH Summit 20 February, 2020.

Professor Masters reflected, ”the decline in absolute terms in key indicators is almost unmatched in comparison to the rest of the world and the reform of the curriculum has the potential to arrest this decline. He also stated, “Decline in performance and increasing engagement are definitely related.”

Whilst there was reference to the usual standardised data sets, it was pleasing to hear the human side of the review. Professor Masters noted that the biggest bugbear of teachers was an overcrowded curriculum with little flexibility. He agreed by offering, 

Current syllabuses are too crowded with procedural content, ‘skating across the surface’ limiting the ability to cover more important ideas in more depth.

Professor Masters then hinted of what is to come. He started, “there is a need to get rid of the peripheral content” and, “if we design syllabuses for year levels we are going to get it wrong.” He even mentioned there might be a 30% reduction on current content.

So, what can we expect? Well, we may see the ‘time anchored’ approach to year level learning give way to a sequence of learning levels, “untied from time”, with students progressing to the next ‘level’ when they are ready.

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Provided by Professor Geoff Masters AO at SMH Summit 20 February, 2020.

The proposed curriculum prioritises students’ understandings of core concepts and principles and their practical application with the goal for every student to learn with understanding. The existing curriculum is not designed to ensure every student is appropriately challenged in their learning. The proposed new curriculum is structured as a sequence of learning units through which every student progresses. 

Upon reflection, if there is a reduction in content allowing students to appreciate the meaning and practical relevance of what they are learning through their interests and passions, may we soon all become masters of a new curriculum.

Yours in contemporary learning,

Greg.

P.S. As you know, comments, questions and wonderings are always welcome.

Steve Jobs, Success and P2P @stluke’s

About 2 weeks ago, like all schools, St Luke’s staff were right in the middle of reports, maintaining high standards for the remainder of the 2019 school year and, with ongoing employment of 30 staff for next year, even looking ahead to 2020.  
At the same time, I read an article penned by Steve Jobs, after which, I shared an email with staff. It appears below. 
Dear Staff,
 
 
The article resonated with me. One line which jumped out at me… One of the biggest reasons most of us don’t set out to achieve a huge goal is that we think we first need to develop a comprehensively detailed grand plan, one where every step is charted, every milestone identified — where success is pre-ordained.” My reflection…
  • Designing and establishing a new normal for preschool to post school is a very big goal and “success is not preordained.”
  • When teaching 2:60 with increased coaching and more to come in 2020, success looks different to a traditional classroom.
  • When provisioning for support staff across 5 educational services, it looks different!
 
When assessing the success of a beginning P-P setting, I look to enrolments as one indicator as to how we are going. By the time February 2020 rolls around we will have grown from 86 students in February 2017 to approximately 1000 students. Yes, this may be explained by the fact that we live in a growth corridor without much ‘competition’, but there are many students travelling past other schools to come to be a part of our community.
 
Another line which jumped out at me “People who eventually find success  start by trying things. Lots of things. They succeed at some. They fail at others. They learn from those successes and those failures.” Through fear of failure, we can sometimes we can feel the inclination to default to what we know. Let’s resist this. Push the boundaries when appropriate. Keep trying. Keep failing!
 
Just today I reflected with the campus leaders that it is a credit to all of us that many parents, system personnel and external commentators often forget that we are learning community not yet 3 years young, still establishing ourselves rather than a single service established school of many more years – there is a big difference!
 
The third line which I noted… “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Whilst there are some days we may not be able to connect all the dots, we will one day in the future! 
 
I know you will stay strong as we enter the second half of Term 4. There is still much work to be done and much joy to be had between now and the end of the year. Thank you for your work and commitment. 
 
Onwards and Upwards  
Greg.

 

An Online Student Dashboard

During much of Term 3 of 2019, there was a conscious decision by senior leadership at St Luke’s Catholic College to increase our engagement with parents and to hear their voice through surveys, Engagement Events and Learning Walks. As an aside, for more insights into Parent Learning Walks, feel free to watch this video produced by Linda McNeill.
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As a result of the engagement with parents, we acknowledge that many expressed their need for better and more regular information about their child’s learning and growth. This is not limited to St Luke’s. In fact, a number of principals have commented to me that the desire for information from parents about their child’s learning has increased over time.
This increased level of parent interest in their child’s learning and growth occurs in a world where there is rapid technology developments. This conditions us to a world of instant information provided by many sources through social media updates, mobile notifications and endless emails. Ease of access to information, engagement with curated news sources and particaption in online communities, is a part of our life. We only have to see the explosion of online shopping to know how technology has impacted on the retail sector. In that same world, machine learning and artificial intelligence have impacted of many professions including finance, law and accountancy.
With such change there is a strong argument that the education sector has not maintained the same levels of engagement with new technologies. This may explain the emerging question from some parents as to why schools cannot provide more insights about their child’s learning and growth on a more regular basis – and that is a fair question!
It could be argued that education has not maintained pace with other sectors when it comes to technology. In response to parents voicing their need for better and more regular information about their child at St Luke’s, we are supported by Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta (CEDP) and engaging with external agencies to develop a ‘student dashboard’. The online dashboard will provide an updated snapshot of a child’s progress in areas such as:
  • general capabilities as expressed through our 6 Pillars of Learning
  • literacy; in particular reading and writing
  • numeracy, and mathematical concepts
  • attendance patterns of absence and lateness to school.
Any student online dashboard will need to be far more interactive than a semester report. It will need to provide more information and be far more more readily available, more often. However, 24/7 access will not be something that St Luke’s will provide. The last thing any child needs is a parent or teacher hovering over them for incremental steps that may take days or weeks to notice and record.
When appropriate, we will invite parents to test and trial a draft prototype. We have the data at the ready; however, much of this data is stored in silos. These silos are not connected. The objective is to connect . these silos and personalise information for each child with student friendly visuals and parent friendly language.
Over the next few weeks and months, we will iteratively develop prototypes after engaging with teachers, parents, and, of course, students. I am most looking forward to seeing how our commitment to explicitly teach and assess general capabilities looks along side the traditional data sets associated with reading, writing and numeracy growth.
You are welcome to let me know your thinking.
Regards
Greg

Inquiry focused professional learning

Effective professional learning is collaborative, inquiry focused and aligned with immediate priority areas of the school. Over the course of this term, teachers at St Luke’s Catholic College have framed their professional learning in response to a driving question.

Initially,  a set of Draft Inquiry Questions were developed. They were:

    • What patterns of data emerge from 2019 TTFM reports?
    • How can Immersive Technologies (VR/AI/AR) support quality learning?
    • How can Pivot support teacher professional development?
    • What are the various options for a whole school (K-9) timetable in 2020?
    • How can 100 minutes of literacy work across 300 minutes in the day?
    • How can we develop Independence Progressions for each child?
    • Using Professor McGaw’s heat mapping exercise, how can we more precisely align learning outcomes with capabilities?
    • How can critical thinking be taught and assessed? As a beginning point:

After a ‘Knows’ and ‘Need to Knows’ exercise, complemented by more reflection and discussion, a final set of five questions were developed. They were:

  • How can we better use data (from parents, teachers and students) to support student learning?
  • How do different timetable options impact on student learning?
  • What are immersive technologies and how can teachers best use them to support learning?
  • How do we develop a shared understanding of how critical thinking is taught and assessed?
  • How can heat mapping capabilities assist our development of the St Luke’s 6 Pillars of Learning?

Once developed, as a professional learning community, we engaged in the inquiry by referencing aspects of… 

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A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry by Helen Timperley, Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert (2014). 

After scanning in Week 5, reflecting in Week 6, focusing in Week 7 & 8, in week 9 teams planned their presentation in week 10. Groups paired up and presented to another group using the the following scaffold:

  • What was your question?
  • How do you go about investigating that questions?
  • What were your learnings?
  • What are your recommendations?

The outcome? No real answers but definitely more ways forward. For example,

  • as a result of the inquiry question about timetable conducted throughout our Community PLMs in weeks 4-10 of this term, our next step will be to explore a little more of ‘what might be’. As such, in Term 4 we will implement our own action research. In weeks 1-4 of term 4, all teachers will ‘build in’ 5-10 minute play/brain breaks for K-6 in one hundred minute learning sessions after morning tea and after lunch. In week 5 we will review our project. We may then amend, adjust, or simply not do it for the remainder of the term. Whatever we do, and through our own experience, we will be more informed when making decisions about timetable for next year.
  • In this same spirit of action research, teachers will work with senior leaders to consider how music and movement can complement the KLAs of English, Mathematics and Religion from Kindergarten to Year 4. 
  • A number of teachers will use VR Headsets, AR Makr and Augmented Reality to deepen learning in classrooms.
  • Furthermore, a small team of teachers are developing assessment rubrics which integrate ACARA General Capabilities progressions with assessment of learning outcomes across KLAs.

I look forward to the ongoing process of inquiry deepening our understanding of how we enable student learning.

Regards

Greg

Next Practice

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In this day and age, contemporary learning has to be a balance of best practice and next practice. Best practice is what we know works well. A mix of teacher directed learning, especially in the early years, balanced with play and inquiry where students learn through doing, allows students to attain the necessary foundations of literacy, numeracy and core knowledge. They are the foundations which unlock the potential for each child’s future. However, they are no longer enough to sustain a young adult as they strive for a post school life of contentment and fulfilment.

The nature and pace of change in and across countries has brought into hard focus an acceptance that the skills students need for a fulfilling life extend far beyond those required by young people from previous times.

Dr Phil Lambert – SMH, October 8, 2018.

The education system as we know it does not greatly assist students prepare for this rapidly changing world. For those of us in schools, we need to wrestle more with ‘next practice’, rather than perfect ‘best practice’, and we all need to do it now!

The possibilities of ‘next practice’ are many, but for me it has to be about using  individualised data mapped to the Australian general capabilities for each student so they can better understand who they and are and what their strengths are. The explicit teaching and assessing of the ACARA General Capabilities needs to be embedded into the daily practice of learning.

‘Next practice’ learning is also about teachers harnessing the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to personalise learning. AI, when when used by discerning teachers, can accelerate feedback processes for students as well as assist students to self pace and self direct their own learning.

I realise that ‘next practice’ learning is about far more than the two big ticket items of AI and general capabilities, but whatever mainstream ‘next practice’ looks like, general capabilities will be embedded into a curriculum and there will be much personalised learning facilitated by teachers using sophisticated artificial intelligence tools.

Since St Luke’s Marsden Park commenced in 2017, a strong priority has been for each student to develop the capabilities required for a changing world as expressed through our 6 Pillars of Learning. Our twice yearly reports and student-led conferences reflect this commitment.  Furthermore, as part of our Pathways Program in Year 7 & 8, we partner with life coaches from Innerzone to ensure students can more accurately learn about their Strengths, Interests and Motivations – SIM, so that they can more deeply understand who they are, what they can do and what problems they want to solve. Our Year 8 students will soon articulate their life purpose statement. This will serve as the basis for their first draft post school pathways plan by the end of this year.

In the area of artificial intelligence, one programme we use is called ‘Scribo’. Scribo is a writing analysis platform which provides unique insights into who needs specific help to improve their writing. At St Luke’s, teachers have used Scribo to assess the student writing samples and provide effective feedback at a quicker rate, hence accelerating improved writing over time.

Next practice learning has to be about what we value for our learners. By focusing on the development of capabilities and using AI, our young people will be better prepared for  for a rapidly changing world.

Like always, comments are welcome.
Greg.

Parent Involvement and Engagement

Since the inception of St Luke’s in February 2017, one of the ongoing challenges of designing a ‘new normal’ for preschool to post school has been to clarify how we work in partnership with parents to nurture faith filled curious children to become creative contributors and innovative problem solvers for a changing world.

With reference to the Family-School and Community Partnerships Bureau. 2012 and other research, we know that purposeful partnerships between school and families create better conditions in which children learn more effectively. That same research reminds us that parental involvement and parental engagement have a positive impact on student academic achievement, social skills and behaviour.

Over the course of Term 2 2019, a few members of staff have collaboratively worked with parents to co-construct an understanding of parent involvement, parent engagement and community engagement. We know that targeted and purposeful parent involvement and engagement will support better learning outcomes. 

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At St Luke’s Parent Involvement occurs when parents attend and assist at school organised events. It includes activities such as:

  • Cooking pancakes
  • Assisting with Bar-B-Ques
  • Setting up spaces and places
  • Attending Liturgies and Monday assemblies
  • Participating at Community days
  • Helping out with sports events at CEDP and other representative days.

At St Luke’s, Parent Engagement occurs when parents participate in and contribute towards learning focused activities. Examples include:  

  • Parent Learning Walk
  • Kindergarten Orientation
  • Numeracy workshop
  • Reading workshop
  • Participating in Facebook Live event
  • Engagement with (yet to be developed) live online dashboards of student progress.
  • Engaging with child’s Post School Pathways Plan (Year 9 onwards)

At St Luke’s, Community Engagement is when parents, community partners and other industry experts support, contribute and value add to student learning. It could include:

  • Parent presentations to students, classes or large groups in an area of expertise.
  • Parent participation in learning spaces linking their expertise to learning focus of the small/large group.
  • Accepting Internships/Traineeships.
  • Mentoring students with Passion Projects.

We know that increased parent involvement, meaningful parent engagement and purposeful community engagement will ensure greater possibilities for each child to grow as a learner and as a person at St Luke’s. The next step is to work with parents to action this for the remainder of 2019.

Regards

Greg