“Student Voice” Informs Again!

In recent times I have been reminded of the powerful feedback students can provide for teachers and for me in my role as principal. One such example started a few weeks ago when I presented Year 9 2015 Interest Elective Information to all current Year 8 students.

In a nutshell, the New South Wales Board of Studies has clear expectations about what subjects can be taught and the mandated (minimum) hours for those subjects to be properly delivered. Across Years 7 to 10, our school delivers significantly more than the required number of hours for each and every subject. When a school does this they can then deliver options which are not mandated, like we do with Careers once a week in Year 10 and Sport once a week in Year 7 & 9.

A week later, I invited students to offer a comment via the Year 9 2015 Interest Elective Survey. The responses of that survey were distributed to a representative group of 10 Year 8 students (pictured below with me and Pedagogy Leader @Carl Heise) at a meeting on Wednesday of this week. They see the interest elective as an opportunity to inform them about their future employment. Also, they stated that if they have the choice to work in an area of interest they will be motivated to work harder because they will be more focused. The group informed me that we should continue to explore the idea.


As a result of that feedback, more work will be done with teachers over the next few months with the idea that teachers will work with students about actual subjects that might will offered. With regards to Year 9, 2015 we are asking these questions:

 “Do we do more of the same?” 
– “Can we use the surplus hours any better?” 
– “What would you learn if you could learn about anything you want?”

When exploring those questions, there is real excitement about the possibilities for students in Year 9, 2015. When more ‘concrete’ information is available, we will invite Year 8 parents to offer feedback before a final decision is made about subject offerings to Year 9, 2015. However, it has been the “Student Voice” that has convinced me to keep exploring this exciting initiative.
Any suggestions?

The #learningfrontiers Forum on Twitter

Yesterday, I received an invite from Jon Andrews @jca_1975 to participate in the #learningfrontiers forum on Twitter. Through @aitsl , Jon arranged an ‘active forum’ for one hour between 8 & 9 pm on Wednesday 19 March 2014. At around 8 pm educators from around Australia jumped onto Twitter, entered #learningfrontiers in the search tool and PRESTO, we were instantly connected in a virtual discussion room for the next hour.

Jon was invited by @aitsl to lead the forum by posing questions. As host, host Jon types in thw question starting with “Q1″ and concluded his 140 character tweet with the hashtag #learningfrontiers.  When responding, people led with “A1″ and also included #learningfrontiers in the response.

Jon’s first question was…. “Engagement is a community priority. Give E.G’s of HOW Sch L’drs & community partners create conditions for engagement?” The next 3 questions can be seen in the picture below.

Questions for #learningfrontiers 19 March 2014

The hour long forum was frenetic, inspiring, affirming, enriching, challenging and engaging – all in one! In that time I offered responses to questions, had some of my tweets retweeted, retweeted the tweets of others, answered one tro one questions put to me by forum participants, and also had my tweets favourited.

As part of this forum, I also engaged in ‘side conversations’. At one point I was offering colleagues a copy of our Pedagogy Leader Role Description. At another point, I shared a link to a video clip with @danhaesler & @stringer_andrea about teachers as coaches. From that conversation I was introduced to a blog which, in turn, saw me send the following email to @materdeiwagga teachers…..

Hello All,

Following on from our metaphor for this year ‘TEACHER AS COACH”, I found this when participating in the most recent #learningfrontiers forum on Twitter.
In the spirit of Professional Learning, it would be great if you responded to this blog. However, just reading the blog for 30 seconds or less would be great.

As part of the Forum, I was introduced to some excellent initiatives occurring in schools across the country. One of them included a school where teachers invited students to the Department Meetings. So, with a title of “Random Idea”, I sent this email to teachers…..

Hello All,

What about inviting students to the KLA Meetings next week?
Leave it with you.

No doubt I will get some interesting looks from teachers when I get up to speak at briefing in the morning.

In conclusion, #learningfrontiers reaffirmed my strong belief that Twitter offers an excellent professional learning network for anyone who wishes to participate in this virtual learning community. People are encouraging and supportive but also ask questions which challenge and occasional disturb me, in a good way!



HSC and Inquiry Learning – What is the link?

Just last week, I received an email which started with, “When you get a moment I am looking for some advice, a magic wand, or silver bullet.” The author was expressing an emerging concern about how to respond to teachers when they say, “Guided Inquiry is all good and well, but if we are not EXPLICITLY preparing them for the HSC we are not doing our Job.”

Over the last few years our school has continued to pursue Inquiry learning as the scaffold to support student-centred pedagogy. Like any new approach, there were trail blazers, followers over time and obvious nay-sayers who are determined to remain loyal to what has ‘worked’ over the last so many years.
The author of the email is a trail-blazer who works with teams of teachers to engage in learning initiatives which strive for student-centred pedagogy. The Guided Inquiry Framework used at the College, modelled on Ross Todd’s work, challenges teachers to forgo their dominant instructional approach to one of facilitator and coach. Guided Inquiry acknowledges that the teacher is just one context for student learning with other contexts being online platforms including social media.
And sooooo, the HSC/Inquiry Learning conundrum. The author of the email wrote…. “Guided Inquiry creates conditions of learning/growth and that the description of a successful HSC student = a student able to undertake Inquiry independently.” However, over the first six weeks of school when this teacher/leader has engaged in professional dialogue with colleagues, the (I must say) diminishing ‘nay-sayers’ still argue, “Guided Inquiry is all good and well, but if we are not EXPLICITLY preparing them for the HSC we are not doing our Job.” HHHHmmmmmm……
Towards the end of the email I was asked two questions….
1) Does Guided Inquiry facilitate a ‘better’ HSC student? If so, what does this better student look like?
2) What compelling evidence/tools/videos/hallucinogenic drugs are there available to be persuasive in building bridges between GI skills in Stage 4 = HSC skills in HSC?
Here is an edited version of my response…..
Interesting email. What you are  asking in a sense is, “What is the purpose of schooling? To an extreme, some parents would see school as child minding until their child is adult enough to get a job – random! With that being said, a few points……
I do not see it as an “either / or”. I see inquiry as supporting and scaffolding student learning, especially in those ‘higher domains’ of learning such as evaluation, synthesis and creativity. Rote learning for a HSC may not always develop those ‘higher domains’ as well as inquiry learning.
When done well, an Inquiry approach to learning supports rigorous learning, promotes formative assessment and builds student capacity to ‘know themselves as learners’. These are all great attributes to have for the HSC, are they not?
Year 12 is not all about the HSC. No doubt, the HSC forms a very strong focus, but Inquiring students ask discerning questions which not only value adds to the content driven nature of HSC, but life after the HSC.
Also, teachers are no longer the font of all knowledge. Teachers have now become one (still very important) context for student learning. If so, are we trying to encourage students to source information from more than just the teacher? An Inquiry approach supports that.
The skills of inquiry will benefit students for University as much if not more than the rote learning aspects of HSC examinations. Also, the skills of inquiry will benefit students who produce major works such as Visual Arts Major Works, Music Composition, Drama major performance, Society and Culture PIPs, CAFS IRPs, Textiles Major Works, Design and Technology Major Design Project, etc, etc,

Overall, you can see the benefits, some others may not. Not just yet anyway. 
What are your thoughts? Please let me know