Last week, I was speaking to a 13 year old student of St Luke’s Catholic College who expressed their desire for teachers to continue using Canvas (our Learning Management System for Years 5-9) for their learning. Another student quipped, “Yeah, and you don’t have to come to school to use Canvas.” Such a comment is reflective of the enlightened understanding of how learning can work differently, and possibly better, in a hyper-connected world.
Over the last few weeks, we have surveyed staff, students and parents about their recent experiences of home learning and ‘Connected Learning’. There is much we have learnt and there is much to discern. For me a few standout reflections are:
K-4 parents who have hugely increased their connection with their child’s learning.
K-4 students articulating their thinking and uploading that to Seesaw.
Classroom introverts who ask far more questions in an online environment.
Older students enjoying the trust shown in them to self pace some of their work.
Whilst the above comments do not apply to everyone, we also need to remind ourselves that schooling as we currently know it does not suit everyone. The model of schooling still reflects an industrial model designed more than a century ago!
Over the last 3 weeks at St Luke’s Catholic College, we have conducted many and varied feedback processes with all stakeholders, students, staff and parents. A most recent survey with parents registered 436 completed responses – our largest ever response rate! From that survey:
Parents acknowledged that education needs to better adapt to a rapidly changing world.
Parents clearly expressed they believe students should learn to relate with one another, inquire and pose questions, think critically and create solutions to real world problems.
Parents strongly supported the College’s commitment of facilitating multiple qualifications and not just the one qualification of the HSC.
Parents overwhelmingly stated they would like their children to have a deep understanding of their strengths as reflected in a learner profile with has an online folio of evidence showcasing those strengths.
Very obviously, the above applies in an environment where the rigorous of literacy and numeracy from an early age are considered vital foundations and non-negotiable.
Most pleasing was parents confirming they will trust the College to provide learning opportunities which will prepare their children for this rapidly changing world. They, the parents, also registered their great support for the next steps of learning innovation at St Luke’s.
I am extremely appreciative that parents took the time to provide their feedback. Along with student and staff feedback, it will be a central part of decision making as we continue to design and establish the next iteration of a new normal learning.
The current coronavirus pandemic has impacted the world like no other event for the last 75 years. It has changed the way we communicate, socialise, live, work and play, and in the case of St Luke’s, how we learn. Our immediate teaching response was to tinker with ‘School Learning’ – relocate our current timetable and reproduce it in a refined and amended way for an online environment at home.
This will not be good enough into the near future.
Why? Within a few weeks we have learnt that online learning is relentlessly intense with much time dedicated towards managing a directive curriculum.Also, in many cases, parents have had to quickly adapt their homes and routines, which are not well resourced for traditional learning, in and among their own work from home. Families have felt that added pressure, staff have experienced more challenges than ever before, and many students are feeling a little lost, confused and even disconnected through social isolation.
In the last week of term, all staff have come together to review the situation. Our first step was to connect with families of 128 students (out of 945) who had not connected with either Seesaw or Canvas, our learning management platforms. I’m proud to say through the concerted efforts of office staff, teacher assistants and our IT team, there are now 28 families who are yet to establish connection to online learning for their children. Our goal is to have 100% of our families connected by the beginning of Term 2. It’s a lofty goal, but a goal worth pursuing in the interest of equity for all.
So, what next? What happens when all students, or at least the vast majority are connected for online learning? Well, we know learning has to change. From the beginning of next term, we will make the next step to move away from our recent and necessary immediate response to develop ‘Home Learning’ to a more ‘Connected Learning’ environment. Connected Learning is underpinned by a set of principles and enabled by a weekly routine for K-4 and a weekly routine for 5-9 with permission given to the household to amend and flex the routine based on local circumstance.
Connected Learning is a result of what we recently learnt and what we need to unlearn. Connected Learning is a blend of teacher-led, parent supported and self-directed learning which wraps around the wellbeing of each student. Connected Learning reimagines elements of the traditional where we have had to gorgo the order and certainty which we’ve been so used to for so long in schools. Most notably Connected Learning:
Maintains routine but reduces learning time. Online work is tiring, for everyone. 300 minutes per day in front of a screen is not sustainable. We cannot simply transfer the flow of our current timetable which adheres to NESA indicative hours and system directives. It will not work. Those days are not these days.
Focuses on wellbeing! During this time of isolation, each person needs to give attention to themselves. All students, families, and staff are encouraged to practice wellness, self-management and adopt an optimistic sense of perseverance.
Uses synchronous approaches so students can communicate what they can and can’t do.
Maximises the potential of Learning Management Systems and Learning Platforms to structure effective asynchronous learning for students to pace and direct their own learning.
At the moment we are seeking feedback from students (5-9) and parents. Their input will further refine ‘Connected Learning’ so that we commence Term 2 with a considered understanding of learning in this new 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.
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,
No 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.
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.”
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.
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,
P.S. As you know, comments, questions and wonderings are always welcome.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
"For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate observer, it's an immense pleasure to take up residence in multiplicity, in whatever is seething, moving, evanescent and infinite: you're not at home, but you feel at home everywhere, you're at the centre of everything yet you remain hidden from everybody." Baudelaire