Friday, 9 October 2015

Activity 5 - Professional Connection Map


Map of my Professional Connections for Elm Park School

This map shows my connections within my professional community at Elm Park School.  The many professional and personal connections I have made over the years through my teaching journey (and am still making) have shaped, and continue to shape, the teacher I have become.  By collaborating, sharing, discussing, observing and reflecting with these connections, I have learnt, developed and grown as a teacher and leader, however there is always more to learn and strive towards.

The notion of interdisciplinarity as outlined by Mathison and Freeman (1997) is that by bringing two or more disciplines consciously together, we can enhance "critical thinking skills and in-depth content"(p.12) in student learning.  However the professional connections and experiences I have had over my teaching career have led me further that this, towards an intergative approach where, as Mathison and Freeman (1997) state, the "students' and teachers' concerns and ideas, transcends the disciplines in a search for coherence and meaning, and is built through daily negotiations and interactions" (p.12).  More on this follows...

In my Professonal Connections Map I have identified 5 main groups of connections:

1. Students in R28/29

A colleague and I started a lone MLE in our otherwise predominantly traditional pedagogy based school.  We have incorporated a Student Directed Learning (SDL) programme in our classroom this year moving towards what Mathison and Freeman (1997) refer to as an "integrative curriculum"(p.20), going beyond the interdisciplinary model.  This has been a challenging process that only came about after being inspired by, learning from and watching other teachers and education professionals embark on this learning path.  The students in our class, and my colleague, have been inspiring for me and taught me as much as I have taught them.  

There have been many benefits and challenges working in this integrated way.

The Benefits

  • The students in our class have become more empowered and independent in their learning.  They are learning how to manage themselves and their learning.  They are motivated and eager to engage in learning.
  • Collaboration amongst teachers and students has led to deeper thinking and engagement in the learning.  Students are getting better at problem solving and taking risks.
  • Students are making more connections with each other and the wider community, be it on-line (other schools, blogs etc) or within our local community.
  • Students are able to learn at their own pace and at their own level.  They support and scaffold each other in their learning.
  • Learning is relevant to the students' worlds, thier problems and needs and what is important to them, therefore they are more engaged and it makes the learning more meaningful to them.
The Challenges
  • This approach has been a huge shift for both teachers and students in terms of mindsets towards teaching and learning.  As a teacher it was a challenging for me to let go of the locus of control to a large extent and give it over to the students.  In turn they found it difficult to adjust from being largely dependent on being told what to do and when, to being independent, having to think laterally and being responsible for their own learning.  They have been so used to being "spoon-fed" to a certain extent, many felt very challenged taking control of their own learning.
  • Being the only class in the school doing this type of teaching and learning has led to some misunderstanding from colleagues.  
  • Some students with learning and behaviour issues have struggled in this enviroment and this has led to an adjustment in the programme for these students and teacher-directed support.  


2. Staff at EPS

The staff at EPS have a huge range of personal and professional experiences to learn from, and share, with each other.  These connections and wealth of experience are invaluable in terms of learning from each other, sharing resources, ideas, information, approaches and strengths.  We all have our strengths and by combining these strengths and collaborating, we are able to provide students with a greater range of views and information to enable a broader understanding for our students (Mathison and Freeman, p.19).

3. Local Community

We are very connected to our local community through a number of different programmes and initiatives, including free school programmes at our local art gallery, Te Tuhi, the Koanga Festival (an annual Kapa Haka event in the East Auckland area), Walking School Bus and YouthTown Sports programme to name a few.  By taking advantage of these programmes and initiatives we are able to enrich the learning for our students and provide experiences they may otherwise not have access to.     

4. Curriculum

At EPS we have used the strengths and experiences of teachers in our school to produce reading and writing progressions for both teachers and students to use to guide their learning.  These are working documents that are currently under review as we strive to ensure that they are relevant and applicable in accordamce with the current NZ Curriculum and National Standards. 

Assessment for Learning (AFoL) is also an expectation in our school and we have had much PD on this with experienced teachers modelling and scaffolding less experiences teachers in the practice.  

5. On-line Communities

I have found on-line communities to be a major source of inspiration and motivation that have hugely shaped who I am as a teacher.  It is from these connections, and those of fellow teachers from other schools, locally and internationally, who have provided me with a pathway towards the SDL learning programmes that my colleague and I have incorporated in our classroom.  There is a massivie wealth of information in the on-line world for educators.  By establishing a Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Twitter, Facebook, VLN, Google Hangouts etc, I have gained invaluable information and advice to inform me of current pedagogy and educational themes.      

In conclusion, being connected, and having a Professional Learning Network, whether it is on-line, within your school, community etc is an essential part of being an effective teacher.  By connecting and collaborating with colleagues and educational professionals, we are ensuring we maintain our status as a teaching "profession".  It is our responsibility as teachers to ensure we keep up to date with current pegagogies, and practices to enable our students become life-long learners and responsible citizens in the 21st century.  

References

Mathison,S.. & Freeman, M.(1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, 1997. Retrieved from http://www.albany.edu/cela/reports/mathisonlogic12004.pdf







Thursday, 8 October 2015

Activity 4 - Your Professional Community

According to Wenger (2012) communities of practice are "groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly" (p.12).  

My professional community is Elm Park School.

Elm Park School Community

About EPS (EPS website) 
  • Decile 5 school (changed in 2015 from Decile 6)
  • Contributing - Years 1-6
  • A culturally, socially and economically diverse community 
  • Nearly 30 different ethnicities
            * 30% NZ European
            * 20% Pasifika
            * 15% NZ Māori
            * 13% Chinese
            * 10% Indian
            * 5% Other European
            * 7% Other   

Elm Park School Stakeholders

There are two groups of key stakeholders in our Elm Park School Community are:
  • Approx. 570 students
  • Principal, 3 Deputy Principals, 27 teachers, 14 support staff
In what ways do they influence your practice?

The cultural and social backgrounds of the students in my school community is a huge influence on my practice.  Because we have such a diverse range of cultures and social groups, it is important that I get to know my students, how they learn best, what they are interested in and any barriers to their learning.  This helps me ensure that I plan learning experiences and activities that will be relevant and of interest to them.

As Wenger (2012) points out, within a community of practice members develop though a "shared repotoire of resources" (p.2).  The experience and wealth of knowledge of the teaching staff at my school has enabled me to grow as a teacher through sharing knowledge, resources, skills and interests etc.  I enjoy stepping outside my comfort zone and trying new things as I know I have the support of my colleagues and students.       

What are the current issues in your community? How would you or your community address them?

One of the main issues in our community has been the lack of home/school partnership in working together to help our students become the best they can be. As stated previously, we are a Decile 5 school in a very diverse cultural and economic are.  Many of our parents and caregivers are both working to support their families and whanau.  Unfortunately this means that they often don't have the time to interact with school as much as we would like and parent/caregiver support at assemblies, fundraisers, school events can be quite low.  On the positive side however, Student Led Conferences (SLC's) which are held twice a year and often well attended.  Despite providing many opportunities such as information evenings, family evenings, PTA events, surveys etc, to engage our wider community/families/whanau attendance/responses have generally been poor.  

To address this issue, we have become involved in Mutukoroa (2015) which is "a home-school learning partnership that seeks to accelerate learning progress and achievement for students in years 1, 2 and 3" (p.1).  This initiative is aimed at engaging our wider community in the school community and their child's learning. We also have a Facebook page, phone app and electronic newsletter to provide alternative options to keep the wider community informed and up to date with what is happening in our school.    

Another current issue in our school is the never ending shift towards changing our practices towards 21st Century learning pedagogies and environments.  My colleague and I were the first teachers at school to make this shift into an Innovative Learning Environment (ILO) and now others are looking to follow this move.  Being in an old, traditional school means we have to develop these learning environment in the current prefab, traditional type classrooms but whilst the physical environment is one aspect of ILE's, probably the most important shift is in the pedagogy and mindsets of the community as a whole, students included.

What are the challenges that you face in your practice?


The challenges I face are:

  • I am the type of person who loves to take up challenges and am constantly looking to innovate and improve my teaching practice.  It seems that at times some of my colleagues can feel a bit threatened by this and it becomes a type of competition.  For me it is about the students and becoming a better teacher to help them become the best they can be! 
  • Time is always a challenge in the teaching profession.  There never seems to be enough time to get everything done.  Having a community of practice helps to keep things in perspective and enables the sharing of ideas and resources which is essential in supporting each other and getting some sort of work/life balance.
  • Addressing the needs of low achieving students and students with behavioural issues is another issue.  Finding ways to motivate them to engage in their learning can be a challenge.  
There are always, and will be challenges in teaching and learning.  The important thing at the end of the day is encouraging our students to be curious, engage in learning, use the elarning productively and become life-long learners.

References

Elm Park School. (2015). Retrieved October 2, 2015, from Elm Park School: http://www.elmpark.school.nz/

Mutukaroa. (2015). Retrieved October 2, 2015, from http://mutukaroa.org.nz/

Wenger, E. (2012, January 6). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved June 16, 2015, from WengerTrayner.com: http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/06-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf



Saturday, 3 October 2015

Activity 3 - Response's to Finlay's (2008) Article

Purpose of the article

This article by Finlay, "Reflecting on Reflective Practice" (Finlay, 2008), explores the ideas and debates around reflective practice, how it is currently used in professional practice and some suggestions for "effective reflective practice involving critical reflection for educators" (p.2).   


Reflective practice is complex 


Finlay acknowledges that there are many different meanings of reflective practice and that it means different things to different groups and in different contexts (p.2).  She points out that reflective practice does not work if not applied effectively (p.10) and that it is hard to apply and teach it properly as there is a "lack or consensus and clarity" (p.7) around the concept of reflective practice and a number of different versions and models of reflective practice.


Reflection ‘in’ and ‘on’ practice

An interesting point from this section is the concept by Schon (1983) about the two types of reflection: "reflection-on-action" (thinking after the event) and "reflection-in-action" (thinking during the event) (p.3).  I agree with what Schon says in terms of reflective practice developing more from an "reflection-on-action" type of reflection to "reflection-in-action" as teachers gain experience and confidence in teaching.  I can relate to this.  I remember initially as a new, inexperienced teacher that my reflections were largely retrospective and often occurred after a lesson, or at the end of the day when I was reflecting on what had happened during the day, what went well and what didn't go so well.   As I have become a more experienced teacher, I have have definitely become more of a "reflection-in-action" type of teacher in that I get a sense with how the lesson is going while I'm teaching and can adjust accordingly.  

When planning I ask myself similar questions to those outlined by Grushka, Hinde-McLeod and Reynolds in their ‘reflection for action,' particularly what is the purpose of the lesson - if I am not clear on that then my students won't be (p.4).

Reflection, critical reflection and reflexivity - a continuum  

The continuum (p.6) that Finlay suggested to differentiate between these three concepts, reflection, critical reflection and reflexivity, is very effective.  It gives a clear distinction between the three concepts.  

Whilst I have always know about the concepts of reflection and critical reflection, reflexivity is a new term for me but is not a foreign idea.  Personally whilst I know I am not a very effective critical reflector, I often think in terms of how I myself affect a situation or event.  

Critiquing reflective practice

It was interesting reading this section as many of the points made highlight my concerns with reflective practice, in particular the following aspects:
  1. Time poor - As a busy teacher with many added responsibilities it is often hard to find the time to reflect effectively.  I have to balance my life/work balance and sadly the time to reflect often suffers.
  2. Ethical concerns/Pedalogical Concerns - This is not so much a concern for me but as a Tutor Teacher and Associate Teacher I often notice that reflections made by my trainees etc can sometimes be forced and contrived.  I worry that they may not be getting as much out of these as they could be, and that the expectations of constant reflection can lead to apathy and indifference.  As Finlay points out "when required of individuals through learning and assessment exercises, reflections can end up being superficial, strategic and guarded" (p.14).
 Nurturing effective reflective practice

This section is of particular interest to me in terms of teaching and engaging students in effective reflection.  At my school active, regular reflection is an integral part of our teaching and learning.  It is an expectation that students reflect on a number of pieces of "evidence" of their learning and publish this in their learning blogs.  Students are expected to use their reflections and observations to inform next learning steps.  

At our level (primary) they are introduced to fairly simple reflection models initially (written and self/peer assessments), but as Finlay points out as the students become more confident, they are encouraged to think more deeply and critically (p. 16).  After reading this article and reflecting on how we are getting our students to reflect in our school, I think we are probably limiting our students to one or two particular styles of reflection, particularly retrospective, and written relfections, rather than promoting a range of reflective strategies to avoid boredom and complacency (p.17) and make the reflections more effective.

Conclusion

Overall this article has given me a lot to think about in terms of reflective practice.  It is clear that there is not a lot of consensus and clarity as to what reflective practice is and how it should be taught/used effectively.  As an educator, I know that reflection is an intrinsic part of teaching and learning to enable me to become a better teacher and learner!

References

Finlay, L. (2008). Reflecting on ‘Reflective practice’. Open University, Practice-based professional learning centre. Retrieved June 16, 2015, from http://www.open.ac.uk/opencetl/files/opencetl/file/ecms/web-content/Finlay-%282008%29-Reflecting-on-reflective-practice-PBPL-paper-52.pdf

Friday, 2 October 2015

Activity 2: Reflection on Learning and Practice


What have I learned from this course?

As a person who is always keen to learn new ways of doing things and how I can be a better teacher, I was really excited to embark on this course this year. I was looking forward to learning new things to share with my students and colleagues, being challenged, meeting like-minded teachers and having fun... and this course has really delivered all of these things.  

Three things I learnt about myself as a learner:


Learning Modality
Whilst I always thought of myself as more of a visual learner, I have found that I enjoyed the combination of learning approaches provided during this course - visual, auditory and kinesthetic (Powell, 2013, p.62).  In particiular, the kinesthetic approach (which I usually cringe at the thought of) of being able to try out new things during the hands-on sessions in the course, such as the 3D printing, making videos, performing skits, whilst was uncomfortable at times, was also a lot of fun and I felt proud and accomplished when I rose to the challenge.


Collaboration
I have also enjoyed being able to collaborate with others on tasks and assignments.  This learning style, although one that I use in all the time in my classroom, is a very different approach to the learning and teaching that I grew up with in school and university.  It is great to be able to be the student and appreciate how effective for learning it is.  To be able to discuss concepts, issues, tasks, problems etc with my colleagues has been a powerful way to learn and it has been invaluable listening to different perspectives and reasonings (Hargreaves, 2007 p.188).


Assessment and Reflection
I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to present assignments in a different way other than the traditional essay.  As a visual learner, it is much more satisfying for me to be able to put my thoughts and findings together in a visual way with images, tables, animations etc.  It has helped me with my learning and absorption of the information and concepts we have learnt about.  It has underlined to me that this type of assessment is a valid and valuable way to assess students in the 21st Century.  I have also become more reflective, although this is one of my biggest challenges.  As a teacher I am always reflecting, however I am not so good at analysing these reflections and taking 
                            action.  I still have a long way to go but this course has forced me to 
                            acknowledge and face this weakness.  

Changes in my Practice.


Taking more risks
I have never been afraid to take risks in my teaching.  I have often put my hand up at school to trial new things, eg trialling iPads when they first came out, using blogs as a platform for e-portfolios, running a classroom as a MLE, but this year I have been inspired, partly by things I have seen on this course to try new things and take more risks.  The biggest risk for most teachers is to let go of the learning control in the classroom.  This is what we have been doing in our classroom for the last term and a half - we have been running a SDL (Self-Directed Learning) programme.  It jas been very challenging for both students and teachers but it has also been very liberating and exciting. Looking                             more deeply into teaching approaches such as the Flipped Classroom, Blended 
                            Classroom, Inquiry-Led Leanrning etc has really informed my practice and led 
                            me to experiment with some opf these concepts, especially the Flipped 
                            Classroom (Bergman & Sams, 2012).


  Awareness of Mindsets
  This year I have been introduced to Carol Dweck's concept of Growth Mindsets     (Dweck, 2006), initially through a collegue at school and then through this 
  course.  It is a concept that has really appealed to me as I have had a number 
  of very capable students over the years who have been limited by, what I now 
  know is, a fixed mindset. Being aware of this and sharing this concept with the 
  students has been a big aha moment for me and will hopefully help those fixed 
  mindset students become more able to take risks, persevere and develop as 
  learners.

   
 Awareness as a Leader Over the last few years I have been taking on more leadership roles in school 
 and this has led to some leadership PD, but not alot. I think this is a failing in    our education system, that we are putting people in leadership roles but not  necessarily giving them enough PD and assistance to help them in these roles.  I enjoyed the leadership aspect of this course.  It has made me analyse and  reflect on my own leadership style and the type of leader I want to be.    


References

Bergmann, J. & Sams, A. (2012). Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day.
Washington, DC: International Society for Technology in Education. https://books.google.co.nz/books?isbn=1564844684

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Random House.


Hargreaves, E. (2007). The validity of collaborative assessment for learning.Assessment in Education14(2), 185-199.


Powell, S.D. (2005). Excerpt from Introduction to Middle School. 

                 Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/learning-modalities/