A new year, a new approach!

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A new year, a new approach.

Newsletters like this with a larger content will appear at 4- to 6-week intervals and weekly blogs will then unpack content in smaller bites in between.

This shift is a consequence of 2018 having been a year of major change for me, greater clarity on how education is slowly transforming into something quite new and how I can best contribute to this process.

Currently, there is no overarching vision for the education system that is emerging, which will fully develop young people to participate in the 21st century with the skills and abilities to face an uncertain future.

My three-year goal is to contribute to creating such a vision.  I will come back to this from time to time through this year and next.  This will need a broad-based collaboration to achieve.

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State compulsory schooling was initially based on the delivery of a limited explicit-knowledge-based curriculum, simple memory- and repetition-based pedagogies and a one-sided teacher-student relationship based on authority, the use of reward and punishment to get work done and summative assessment.  This was successful for a long time with only minor tweaks.

In our time, curriculum has become broader and deeper including a wider range of implicit and explicit knowledge.  To deliver this curriculum successfully has involved developments in pedagogy and in the nature of the teacher-student relationship.

Key developments are taking place in the overlap between the three areas as well as within each.

Major efforts have gone into the development of new curriculum content and the pedagogies needed to teach it, it is the area of relationship that is less well understood and so less well resourced.

My focus is on the teacher-student relationship and how to adapt it to meet curriculum and pedagogy needs for self-motivation, collaboration and formative assessment.

Thus, analysis leads me to have an emphasis on three key areas:

  • How teachers as individuals can manage their own responses to create an ideal environment to support student self-motivation and growth

  •   How systematic collection and use of student feedback to individual teachers can support an environment that enhances the value of formative assessment

  •   How middle leaders can develop to support and promote collaboration both in and out of the classroom

1.  How teachers as individuals can manage their own responses to create an ideal environment to support student self-motivation and growth

Way back in 2001 I had the opportunity to interview a range of teachers in a school in Sydney and one of those was what I subsequently called an outstanding teacher: no discipline problems, above average outcomes and an ability to cause students to want to do their work to their best ability without offering any reward or threatening any punishment.

This was a teacher in her early sixties and one thing she said to me has stayed with me ever since, “in my thirty years of teaching I have never had a discipline problem yet, in this school, there are two or three teachers whose sole objective on entering the classroom is to survive to the end of the lesson.”

I thought, what is she doing that makes her so successful, and why aren’t the others doing it too?

Answers to these questions have gradually emerged.  Understanding what outstanding teachers are doing led to developing a cognitive coaching methodology to emulate them.  Understanding why some teachers really struggled to engage students led to the ‘red brain blue brain’ framework (originally called ‘zones’) and a range of tactics and strategies to operate more at our best.

The final piece of the puzzle has been the recognition that what outstanding teachers are doing – the practice of encounter – is very hard simply to start doing.  Meditation and mindfulness (both solitary practices) create a pathway to get to encounter, and encounter, the only social - and the most powerful - of the three practices, can lead to the red brain fading away altogether.

There is now a clear pathway for any educator to develop to the practice of encounter, creating powerful relationships with their students, relationships that support the self-motivation of students and that are developmental for both teacher and student.

The book to support this shift is now out!

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We all have two brains, the ‘blue brain’ where we are at our best – confident, collaborative and creative – and the ‘red brain’ where we become self-focused, impulsive and emotional, where we lack choice. It seems we were born this way, but we weren’t.

The ‘red brain’ is a consequence of how we are brought up, how our society is structured and how society is replicated through our schools.  We learn to manage the ‘red brain’ to a greater or lesser extent. But we can also cause it to fade away … and not create it in our children in the first place.

It is this learnable capability that is instrumental in developing teacher-student relationships that fully support modern curriculum and pedagogy.

2.  How systematic collection and use of student feedback to individual teachers can support an environment that enhances the value of formative assessment

Student feedback to individual teachers has been part of my practice for a long time but always in an ancillary role.  One of the important insights I have had in 2018 is that the collection and use of student feedback is a way to safely and gently change the conditions around the teacher-student relationship towards a greater acceptance of two-way, formative feedback.

Putting in place a systematic means of collecting and using student feedback to individual teachers needs only an executive decision and a champion to develop a new, or adopt an existing, process i.e. it does not require behavioural change before it can be implemented.

My book ‘Student Feedback’, based on more than ten years of providing student feedback services, lays out step-by-step how to collect and use student feedback to stimulate practice change at the teacher-student level, the classroom level and the whole school level.

The aim of the book is, first, to help the reader build the energy and commitment to take the first step in putting such a process in place and, second, to provide a comprehensive resource to support ongoing implementation.

‘Student Feedback’ is just entering the final editing process and is due out after Easter, 2019.

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The systematic collection of anonymous student feedback is a gentle and safe way to support the progressive transformation of the teacher-student relationship from one where teaching – the transfer of knowledge and skills – is paramount, to one characterised by the learning and development of both adult and child.  The child develops the 21st century skills that are needed to face up to an uncertain future and the adult continues their professional development.

3.  How middle leaders can develop to support and promote collaboration both in and out of the classroom

The capability of middle leaders to lead is a very topical issue in schools.  As part of this I provide coaching and coaching training, and processes for improving team activities (meetings, workshops) to middle leaders.  However, it has become apparent that skill acquisition is not the central issue.

As I have been researching it seems that the level of meaning-making of the adults in schools is lagging that of adults in society more generally.   Anecdotally, senior leaders in schools are only now reaching the levels of meaning-making (‘Achiever’ in the framework that I am using) that is the norm for adults who are successful in middle and senior roles in the broader economy.  Most middle leaders seem still to operate at the level of meaning-making that is one (or more) levels below (mainly at the ‘Expert’ level).  Many senior school leaders have said to me “why can’t our middle leaders do what I can do?”  The reason is, they make sense of the world differently and until that changes they will continue to struggle in modern school environments.

My hypothesis is that by raising the level of meaning-making in middle leaders to the same level as senior leaders (and thus of successful adults in society, more generally) the leadership being exercised in schools will rise significantly, especially around collaboration in and out of the classroom, and students will have many more role models for what it takes to be a successful adult.

My research has shown that it is possible with a ten-week program to shift most middle leaders up one level of meaning-making.  The following charts are the outcomes of a program devised in 2004 – more than a decade ahead of its time!

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I am developing a large-scale survey program to establish current norms in education to compare with broader society norms to confirm the anecdotal evidence and I have planned several pilot intervention programs for terms 2 and 3 of this year to accumulate evidence that this change can be achieved.

The outcomes from this research and interventions will form the basis for a book scheduled for early 2020.

Three very significant areas that are only weakly supported, if at all, in our current education systems but that appear to be part of the fabric of the form of education that continues to emerge to develop our children to face up to an uncertain future, a future that, we know, will be very different from the past.

John Corrigan