Focusing on Focus Groups

Consistent policy and curriculum review, responsive actions to school culture and embedding meaningful and lasting practices are, of course, always at the forefront of school leadership. In a busy, dynamic school environment time can be one of the most critical barriers to implementing changes effectively. One of the most effective models I have experienced in order to facilitate change in policy or practice was that of introducing Focus groups as part of leading the Primary School team. Once key areas to focus upon had been selected from the school’s strategic plan this approach was most effective because:

– teachers selected an area of interest from these identified focus areas, therefore allowing them to develop and invest time into something they were particularly passionate about or interested in.

– all community members were involved, class teachers, specialists, assistants and support staff.

–  meetings were flexible – the group decided when to meet each week and how to facilitate this.

– each focus group set their own shared goals.

– a simple, clear structure for the focus groups was developed with teachers.

– regular reporting back time was scheduled into the 8 – 10 week period with a final date given for groups presentations.

– emphasis for focus groups was placed upon gathering, reviewing data and presenting proposals for change or solutions to problems.

– discussion and collaboration became more embedded practice in professional culture.

– teachers benefitted from working in smaller groups, giving individuals greater opportunity to share their own personal ideas and discuss at length with colleagues.

– final decisions could be made in the various ‘focus’ areas by the whole team. This followed the group presentations and feedback, ensuring decisions were shared with the whole team.

Using time productively and effectively made everyone feel like we were progressing forward and sharing the workload in doing so. Just as we would do in a classroom, breaking tasks down, differentiating, giving ownership and allowing individuals the space and time to select areas of interest and take control is always going to be the most powerful approach for everyone!

Being Mindful following BETT 2014

I was delighted to be able to attend BETT 2014 in London this past month and, just as last year, have come back inspired and renewed with ideas as to how to engage and inspire students through using technology mindfully; with purpose and taking a balanced approach. Reflecting on BETT this year these two words, mindful and balance, are what spring to the forefront. I believe  being mindful and finding balance are going to be fundamental in moving forward with how we enrich student learning through use of technology.

At present, I have, quite literally, maxed out the memory space on my iPad with the number of apps I have downloaded, however, I know that my first step post BETT will be deleting apps and reflecting on the tools I will use and introduce to teachers and students now back at ISM. That is not to say that all the apps on my iPad aren’t brilliant in their own right, but what is relevant, suitable and going to be effective right now at my school?

Being mindful, I believe, is going to become a term that we will hear more and more in our everyday lives, it is actually something that we actively now have to draw attention to, as evolution has pulled us away from doing just that, from being aware in the present. We  are so ‘busy’ and ‘connected ‘ all the time that we  quite simply have forgotten to be present in the here and now.

I think being mindful can also can be applied to our use of technology as educators; we must be mindful when introducing new tools and experiences to students, and whilst embracing the innovation we must also evaluate and reflect upon its use. Here are some questions I will be asking when deciding what tools and apps to share with teaches and students.

Is it serving a true purpose in this moment?

Is it enriching the message or learning that I would like the learner to engage in?

Is it delivering or conveying information in the most effective way?

Is it helping to provoke questions and engage the learner in deeper thinking?

I also believe that balance is going to be something we must consider in both our teaching and learning. I certainly have come away from BETT with a determination to be more mindful about the tools I use, and, how they impact learning.  Finding balance, well that, as always is going to be a constant tightrope walk!

All Change

Change is something which affects us all on both a small and large scale, sometimes we choose to change a routine or habit or sometimes we are faced with change in a much more dramatic or life-changing way. I recently was discussing ‘change’ with friends and colleagues and it got me wondering,  is it the actual change  itself that presents the challenge or is it more the context or way in which we view the change that impacts us? Furthermore, what makes children so much more adaptable to change?

Working in an International School environment, change, on a larger scale is, in many ways part of daily life. Colleagues, students and families come and go, and change in opinions can be widespread (and sometimes surprising) with such a mixture of cultures and backgrounds.

When I really started to think about ‘change’, one word came to mind, and that was acceptance.

The beginning of the school year always brings about a great deal of change. Whether it be change of teachers, students, books and materials, or even greater change such as moving countries or schools. I have noticed that quite often change is deemed as ‘bad’, ‘unsettling’, ‘challenging’ or ‘disruptive’. When you share the term ‘change’, even on a basic level ‘change your shoes’, ‘change your attitude’, ‘change your mind’ for all of these tasks effort is involved and acceptance that there is actually a need for change.

Yet when I started to think about well known sayings or quotations that related to change they seemed to have more positive connotations.

‘A change is as good as a rest’ and  ‘You must be the change you wish to see in the world.’ Mahatma Gandhi

So what is it really that so often heralds this gloomy dark cloud over the idea of ‘change’?images

It seems to me that any sort of  ‘change’ requires three ingredients, effort, acceptance and self-awareness.

First of all to initiate any change large or small, effort is required to make the change happen. Secondly there needs to be an acceptance of the change or need for change and finally we need to demonstrate some self awareness of how we respond and react to the change.

When I consider how children seem much more adaptable to change it seems that their willingness to accept change, itself changes their outlook to being one of simply just ‘being’, that ‘change is going to happen so what must I do to cope with the change?’. Much less time is spent by children over how to prevent change and much more time is spent accepting and reflecting on what they must do to cope with the change.

So, whether I consider making changes, large or small, or I am faced with changes I am going to try to do so with acceptance, effort and self-awareness! Who knows, maybe this small ‘change’ in attitude might just ‘change’ my outlook for the better.

Learning Attitudes

Fostering positive attitudes towards learning is as crucial to young learners as any other piece of knowledge or skill I can share, so weekly assembly is the perfect space in which to do so as a Primary School community.

We started off the school year with introducing two of our Learning Attitudes, Independence & Confidence. I am always fascinated by our students’ interpretation of our Learning Attitudes, and no matter how many times we discuss these something new arises, for example ‘Can NO be a word that shows confidence and Independence just as much as YES?’. I loved how students questioned each other, and me in our sorting activity during Assembly!

I am always looking for engaging ways to make the meaning of these words, which is what is really important, stick with students, so what more perfect way than a Sesame Street song! Find the assembly prezi below.

This Frog: Independence & Confidence Prezi

Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn!

School seems eerily quiet at the moment, you know that feeling when something just isn’t quite right?

2013-08-28 13.20.02

Well, the thing is, we have yet to actually welcome any students into school for the new term and, in reality, a school is not really a school at all unless you have students. I had blogged about this concept of students making the learning environment previously in, ‘What is a classroom?’

https://jennyofee.com/2012/08/27/what-is-a-classroom/

In many respects, it seems the wrong way round for teachers to be creating, planning and preparing everything students are ‘going to learn’ in the year ahead when we haven’t even met the students in our classes yet!

It made me think of this wonderful TED Talk by Adora Svitak, ‘What adults can learn from kids’:


So, when the students do arrive at school, we need to listen to them to learn and to facilitate learning; learn what they need from us, learn where they are in their learning journey, learn how they learn and learn what interests them to challenge and ignite a passion for being curious to learn more.

We also are blessed with possibility to learn new skills and knowledge from them, for example, I hope to continue to develop our ‘Digital Leaders’, a role that @mrJonesICT  began to develop with Primary School students last year. These ‘Digital Leaders’ can teach and support learning in classrooms immensely with their extensive skills and knowledge in ICT. Adults learn from kids.

We all have curriculums to follow, standards, benchmarks and perhaps exams to prepare our students for, but ultimately, if we want to connect with and help students achieve their potential we need to listen to them and believe in their capabilities. I fully intend to listen and to learn from the young learners around me. Building self-awareness around listening to our students can only serve to continue strengthening learning in our community. As @adorasv said, ‘Learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal’.

Appreciation

Handing yourself over to be a student in a completely new discipline or unfamiliar territory can be daunting and this was where I found myself this summer during my Yoga Teacher Training at YogaWorks in Soho, NYC. The whole experience has taught me such a lot as both an educator and as a learner, and reminded me just how often we undervalue the power and impact of a truly GREAT teacher.

There have been many articles and posts written about the key ingredients to maximising learning in a classroom, how to engage students, strategies and tools that can be used to connect students with their learning and how to structure a lesson to maintain student interest. When it comes down to it however, what really makes the difference, is the teacher. It is a complex and arduous task to define what actually makes a truly GREAT teacher, but somehow you just know one when they cross your path.

When I found myself in the Yoga Studio, my classroom for a month, with Paula Liberis, I realised she was exactly that, a truly GREAT teacher. Someone who inspires and who is inspired, someone who has passion for their discipline and shares that in every aspect of their teaching. Someone who engages every student in the room and treats everyone equally. Someone who models and encompasses the values that they teach. Someone who connects to their students in an authentic, sincere way. Ultimately, someone who cares about the learning, invests in the learners and is also a reflective learner themselves.

It seemed appropriate then, that at the beginning of a new school year, this be my first post for the term ahead:  Appreciation of GREAT teachers.

My focus this term is to show appreciation for all of the GREAT teachers who are around me, those both near and far. Every time a student leaves with a lasting memory of their learning; an ancedote a teacher has shared to help them understand something or an experience they have participated in that has inspired, amazed or challenged their thinking, a GREAT teacher has been at work. GREAT teachers are a gift to be appreciated.

No Expectations

Expectations.

Think for a moment about what you expect from yourself, your students, your family, your friends & your colleagues. As an educator I have a lot of expectations, of myself, my colleagues and my students. I would convey the idea that I had ‘high expectations’ – I think wanting to empower myself and others to ‘rise to the challenge.’ Well, looking back now I was mistaken…

During this school holiday period, I enrolled in a 200hr Yoga Teacher Training program at YogaWorks in New York, some might say not quite a holiday! I most definitely had expectations.

Expectations of myself, of fellow classmates, of the teachers, the course and of what my body could do. What I hadn’t expected was to come away with letting go of expectations. I was challenged to ask: Does having expectations actually empower us?

In fact, I have left expectations behind, all of them. For all these years, I have been saying it’s good to have high expectations of yourself and of others, when really, what I actually meant all this time was – BELIEF. I am not advocating letting go of striving for the best outcome or challenging yourself or others to reach their full potential what I am saying is remove the negativity that expectation drags around with it. For me, it took placing myself in the midst of a whirlwind of self-expectation and to be challenged in a completely new learning environment. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing, inspirational teacher and fellow students to enable me to recognize the power of belief.

What a revelation!

Belief in yourself, belief in your students, belief in your family, your friends and your colleagues.

Ultimately, I have learnt how powerful a single word can be.

What a difference to say to a student, ‘I believe in you’ rather than ‘I have high expectations of you’. How much more positive, empowering and supportive. I learnt a huge amount during my Yoga teacher training and I am just realising how much of it will connect back to my work as an educator with young learners.

I will be returning to the school year with a focus on choosing my words carefully; freeing myself, my colleagues and students from expectations and; replacing these with belief. So, believe in your students, colleagues, friends, family and most importantly yourself and see the rewards you reap.