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.
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.
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.
At St Luke’s Parent Involvement occurs when parents attend and assist at school organised events. It includes activities such as:
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
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.
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.
Over the last few weeks St Luke’s Marsden Park found itself in the news more than usual. That can be partly explained by our appearance on ABC’s 7:30, a television program with a national profile. Overall, the story portrayed St Luke’s in a positive light; however, the assertions by Jennifer Buckingham from the Centre of Independent Studies that, “the approach taken at St Luke’s really is an experiment” and, “there is a great risk that this experiment will fail”, could not be left unchallenged. It prompted the various responses including:
Jenifer Buckingham offered her comments from afar, without visiting St Luke’s and without speaking with any teacher, student or parent. I am unsure of her expertise but she certainly presented herself as an expert. If Jenifer did visit St Luke’s maybe we could find the middle ground that seemed to surface with this Twitter exchange.
Many threads appeared long after the initial tweet. One such example being,
Of course, comment about St Luke’s has not been limited to ABC’s 7:30. Before and after there have been comments and responses far and wide and across many forums, many them without much evidence. Most educators know that data and evidence are tools of the trade which need to be applied to local context. So, I offer the following:
Apparently, we areteaching our students to see testing as a waste. Well, we do not have exams at St Luke’s. We see little use in it for students until they reach Year 11. At times, teachers use pre and post testing as one strategy to assist students see learning growth from the beginning to the end of a unit of work. Furthermore, quizzes are occasionally uses as are lists which assist students to clarify what they already know and what they need to know. Students refining their lists of “need to knows” and “knows” offers a visible measure of how students deepen their understanding about a concept or content as they learn about it.
Apparently, we have Failing Grades. Well, we adhere to NSW Curriculum requirements of reporting to a five point scale; however, we don’t use A to E. That’s because we map each child’s growth against progressions, so, I am unaware of failing grades. There have been comparisons between our NAPLAN data with other ‘similar schools’. As a new school, St Luke’s did NAPLAN for the first time in 2017 with just 19 students (across Year 3 and 5). Those NAPLAN results are a measure of an extremely small student sample and may not provide a meaningful insight. I wonder how many of those ‘similar schools’ have grown by over 300 students for two years in a row, and, as a part of that growth, have over 40% of their students not speak English at home? Lastly, NAPLAN stands for National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy. NAPLAN is not a test, it is an assessment, a diagnostic tool which, four months after the event, provides individualised information about achievement levels with reference to strands of literacy and numeracy. The reality is that politicians and media then manipulate the data to develop leagues style tables to suit their own agendas
Occasionally there has been reference to families leaving our community. St Luke’s commenced in 2017 with 86 students across Kindergarten to Year 6. In 2019, we have over 670 students from K-8 with an over fifty nine 3-5 year olds attending our early learning centre each day. We currently provide 120 places for Kindergarten and have a waiting list this year. It is anticipated we will have a waiting list for Kindergarten, Year 1 and Year 2 in 2020. In the interests of transparency, we’ve had 7 dissatisfied families leave St Luke’s with only 3 of them citing a lack of testing and a lack of grades as the reason for leaving. Suffice to say, we assess student learning on a regular basis, with a strong emphasis on regular ongoing feedback. Research reminds us that if you provide feedback with grades, students ignore the feedback. We are confident that our teaching strategies and feedback processes assist student learning growth and we see evidence of this on a weekly basis.
We have even been accused of having a sub-standard educational philosophy. This reflection is offered by people who have not even visited the College and is not even worth addressing.
Other than attending school themselves or sending their own children to school, I am unsure of the educational qualifications and experience of self proclaimed experts. Mine? At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I have a Diploma in Teaching, Bachelor of Education, Graduate Certificate in Boys’ Education and two Masters Degrees. This complements my 30 years in education and 10 years as principal across two school settings.
Over the last 5-10 years, I have noticed an increasing number of politicians, media and people from all walks of life, who think they are entitled to offer ill-informed comment without relevant qualifications, knowledge and experience. For those of us involved in the day to day challenge of educating students for a changing world, we know that literacy and numeracy are important, and they serves as the non-negotiable foundations for further learning. In this rapidly changing world, we also know that students will need to learn to:
manage themselves in a world of short term contractual work, not a job for life.
relate with others in a world that growing in population with easy access to people through an online world at anytime.
inquire and pose questions, especially in a world where artificial intelligence will challenge us to respond to deep ethical questions.
think critically and develop ethical reasoning skills in an age of rapid technological advancement.
work collaboratively with others in creating solutions to real world challenges.
I trust we can all come together to acknowledge and address the need to provide learning pathways for students which develop the foundations of literacy and numeracy, as well as develop the capabilities required for a changing world. Anyone unqualified and without educational experience can only be considered as detractors from afar.
One day last week I had the opportunity to visit Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco. Since 1982, Autodesk has partnered with creative individuals and forward thinking organisations to use AutoCAD and other software, sometimes open source software, to shape a better world. Areas of focus include Architecture, Engineering & Construction; Automotive & Transportation; and, Manufacturing
When you visit you can,
“See how design shapes the world, from the buildings we live and work in, to the machines that propel us forward, to the products that enrich our everyday experiences” – https://www.autodesk.com/gallery/overview
Before the tour started I observed a book on the coffee table in the foyer. It got me to thinking, tinkering, adding, (even misappropriating?) it to read…
Our wonderful tour guide referenced many stories about exceptional design processes and how people are working together and inspired by each other to use technology to imagine and shape a better world.
Our wonderful tour guide informed the group that technology evolution is measured by 7 year increments and that it takes 12 years for invention to become reality; that is, from idea to concept to design to iteration(s) to production. The ideas and concepts are coming quicker than the technology can keep up. To date, ‘the successes’ have been due to the collaborative approach to innovation and the technology ‘catching up’. No one person can do innovation on their own anymore, and that is because access to technology in the cloud accelerates the exchange of knowledge which can be applied across countries and contexts.
There were numerous examples of innovation and I encourage you to visit the website to discover them. However, one of the standouts for me was the ‘Embrace’, a portable infant warmer that does not need continuous power supply. Purchased by non profits and sent to underdeveloped countries, innovative thinking at Stanford DSchool means approximately 20 million premature babies a year in developing countries can now be taken home – source, Autodesk Tour Guide, 8 May, 2019.
Of interest was seeing, touching and feeling the 3D Nike shoe which was worn by the women’s winner of the latest London Marathon.
It is great knowing that Autodesk is a champion for schools. They offer support for schools where students and teachers can,
“access the same software and creativity tools used by industry leaders worldwide and start to imagine, design, and make a better world”
Autodesk are going from design to product much faster and with less impact on the environment. They are using robots to recycle concrete for buildings, dams and bridges, do welding in factories, and will soon assist companies to locate robots on building sites to do the work of labourers. That’s a real life example on manual labour, even skilled labour, being replaced.
As an aside, Australia featured. As soon as you enter Autodesk Gallery you see a model of Optus Stadium, Perth. The latest addition to the nation’s stadium build, was innovative in the sense that every single contractor had to use BIM = Building Information Modelling software. BIM enables 3D tracking and animation of issues during design and construction phases of projects.
For those that don’t know, New Technology High School, located in Napa, a 75 minute drive north of San Francisco, was established 23 years ago. The ‘technology’ is no more or no less visible than many other schools. The focus is definitely on learning by bringing even more rigour to its highly credible project-based approach underpinned by their driving principles of learning.
Aaron Eisberg, the Learning Co-ordinator of the Centre For Excellence at New Technology High School, hosted my visit. Aaron kept ensuring his input and resources were directed to me and my context. He was acutely aware that I was the learner and continually asked questions such as, “What do need to know?” and, “Are you getting what you want out of this?” I was very much at the centre of the experience, much the same as the students at ‘New Tech High’.
Part of my visit was spent touring the campus led by a Year 12 student. As I walked the corridors and entered classrooms, it was obvious that group work is important. However, there is choice with that. There is no set figure of having to work in groups of say 4. One can work independently on a project but still be able to collaborate with experts external to the school as well as seek input and critique from other students within the same class.
A stand out take away for me was how much precision there is to connect senior students to the post school world whilst they are still at school. With that comes school based requirements additional to the required by the state for graduation. These include:
To support students complete these requirements, there are three counsellors on staff for just over 400 students from years 9-12. Along with wellbeing counsellors there is what is known as an Internships Counsellor. The role of this person is to work closely with each student to align their industry interest with post school possibilities. When speaking with two students about this requirement, they were very animated and stated it was a highlight of their time at New Tech. As aside, it is interesting to note, that students complete the 60 hours within the last 2 years and usually in their own time, outside of school hours.
The precision around ‘post school’ also sees students access ‘pre-college courses’ which, if need be, can be transferable to local California universities. Many of the students go above and beyond school requirements to complete engaging College courses within areas of interest. I was informed that one student had completed courses which saw them attain all first year university requirements and some of their second year university requirements. Due to local district agreements these courses are free for school students. So, not only are the university course costs reduced, so too is the length of stay at university. This option may not be for everyone, but it is great for each student to know that this is an option.
At the end of Year 12, a capstone event is organised by the College. This event provides each student with an opportunity to present an online folio of work to “showcase business entrepreneurship and market readiness skills” and, the public is invited – now there’s an authentic audience! I wonder if there have any been any job offers have come out of the evening? Hhhhmmmm.
The other stand out for me hearing about the professional learning communities where teachers work together in groups to respond to driving questions. These include:
What does effective assessment look like within the context of a project? Why, what, and how do we assess students?
How can scaffolding be used within a project to deepen rigour and applied learning?
How do we use culminating events to bring more authenticity and adult connections to our projects?
The intent is to ensure that project based learning continually evolves, improves and responds to the needs of student learning.
For many of you reading this, it will be no surprise to know New Tech High are doing great things, both with project based learning and working with students for post school life. The challenge is, how can that be scaled in a way that transforms learning across the United States and across the world? Well, the New Tech Network is one response to that.
A fault line runs underneath Napa Junction Elementary school. In 2014, the Napa Valley experienced an earthquake and while there was damage to the region the school remained rock solid despite the chaos.
That memory acts as a metaphor for the learning at this vibrant K-5 community. There is an unshakable belief that the students have to do the learning, and that is demonstrated by the teachers who challenges students with high expectations from as young as Kindergarten.
Principal, Donna Drago, courageously introduced Project Based Learning 5 years ago, 5 yeas after she started as principal at the school. Donna was quickly joined by champions on staff. Together, and over time, the results, outcomes and learning growth of students have all validated Donna’s decision.
Whilst PBL is integral to the work, the greatest observation I made is that there is no ‘dumbing down’ of the learning. Planning is meticulous and implementation of learning is methodical – in a good way. After being introduced to learning targets at the beginning of each unit, all of which remain highly visible throughout the days and weeks which follow, there is great expectation placed upon each student to know those learning targets and their individual progress towards achieving those targets. Furthermore, there is requirement that students can discuss their learning, talk about their highlights and reflect on their struggles – all of which I heard from children as young as 5.
Targeted professional learning provides the focus of teacher learning. The school acknowledges that all teachers are learners first. Each fortnight, extended time for professional learning (although this is not the only time) ensures that teachers extensively plan. This ensures quality teaching, not just through project based learning, but of the critical foundations of literacy and numeracy – it is rigorous!
There is great flow within lessons with smooth and seamless transitions between activities. During each activity, students know where they are supposed to be, with whom they are supposed to be working (individually, in groups or with the teacher) and what work will assist them with the ‘next steps’ towards the learning target. There is great growth for each child. One data set which supports this are the flattering state based test results.
Overall, whilst the classrooms did not have all the ‘bells and whistles’ of a shiny new learning environment, staff were completely committed to supporting students grow as capable learners who can confidently discuss and maturely reflect on their learning.
What else? Among many things,
I heard from Donna… “PBL lends itself best for Science” and “with the big push for the information as part of the (elementary) science course, it can incorporate literacy strategies really well”.
I was reminded that reading is highly instructional – “You have to teach reading. ‘I read’ is an online scholastic program which reinforces rather instructs.”
I saw this wonderful “Peace Path”.
I noticed the excitement of Year 4 students as they learnt how to engineer the fastest gravity powered green car through as well planned, rigorous PBL approach to learning as seen by the pictures below.
In conclusion, “thank you” Donna for taking the time to show me around as well as discuss learning and broader educational matters. “Thank you” to the teachers who warmly welcomed me into their classrooms, and special appreciation to the classroom ambassadors who spoke so articulately well to help me learn.
You know, the more classrooms I see and the more articles I read, the more I come to understand that whilst context is different from school to school, educational challenges and opportunities are universal the world over.
If you ever get the chance to visit Napa Junction Elementary School, please do yourself and favour, and enjoy!
The article reflects wider research which, on balance does acknowledge that rewards, merits, stickers and stamps can work, particularly for “hard-to-reach kids”. It also confirms that human nature can be to repeat good conduct that’s positively reinforced and/or avoids punishment.
“But a substantial body of social science research going back decades has concluded that giving rewards for certain types of behaviour is not only futile but harmful.”
In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink identifies seven drawbacks to extrinsic rewards. They are:
they cripple intrinsic motivation
stifle good conduct
can become habit-forming and
spur a short-term mindset.
With an increasing need to nurture creative contributors and innovative problem solvers for a changing world, offering rewards and merits can become what Daniel Pink calls, “a very dangerous game”.
We know what the research says and what what real life presents. There may always be a place for recognising student effort, behaviour or achievement ‘above and beyond’ what is expected of them. This leads me to ask… What are the reasons for handing out certificates or merits or rewards to students?
Using your manners? But isn’t this the expectation?
Producing your best effort with school work? But isn’t this the expectation?
High levels of attendance? Again, isn’t this the expectation? Maybe if a student was to do this 2 or 3 or 4 years in a row, that would be exceptional and quite probably above and beyond the expectation.
Instead of handing out rewards, merits, stickers and stamps, I am strong in the belief that we are better to catch students ‘doing good’ in the moment. Private words of encouragement in the moment have greater impact than the public monthly awards at assemblies, often when the moment has passed and been forgotten.
"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