Leadership Culture 201: Two steps to transforming your school

CompassTwo steps to transforming your school:

Step 1: Find your true north

Step 2: Do everything that will make Step 1 happen

Many of us agree that the historical model of school is broken and not serving the future, or even the present. Often the factory analogy of separation is used to describe the education that many of us received:oldschool

  • Separated rooms

  • Separated teachers

  • Separated classes

  • Separated furniture

  • Separated preparation and planning

This model has led to teachers as the driver, represents dependence and independence (not interdependence), one size fits all, confrontation, control and the relational tensions that often arise. Students usually become either compliant and passive vessels, or defiant and active resistors.

Many educators know that transformation is essential, collaboration is necessary and rethinking student success an imperative. We also know that it’s not a simple thing to transform a school, but perhaps distilling the magnitude of change to a few key priorities can help.

PDOur team at SCIL, the innovation centre at NBCS in Sydney, works with educators to kick-start or facilitate one or a few priorities on the journey of change. When edu-visitors come to the school I often sense they are overwhelmed by the possibilities and sometimes have difficulty articulating the impact of the experience. We notice that there can be two main responses:

  • I want to do everything

  • I can’t do anything

Over time we have refined our process and program for the day to help visitors interpret the experience and begin to articulate their next steps. Essential to this is the concept of navigating the journey and finding their own ‘true north’. What they are seeing when they come to NBCS is almost 10 years of development. It didn’t happen overnight, but under Stephen Harris’ leadership this ship is navigating toward ‘true north’.

Step 1: Find your ‘true north’

Authentic leadership requires a compass to guide and map the path ahead. Mariners know that locating true north is essential for accurate navigation. Magnetic north varies from place to place over time. To find true north it is necessary to know, but not follow, local magnetic variations. Finding your true north, rather than the magnetic north, will mean that you aren’t meandering but focussed on where you are going.

What is ‘true north’ for your students? It may be something like: To create learning culture that gives every student every opportunity to succeed.

What is ‘true north’ for your staff? It may be something like: To support and challenge educators to grow and stretch as they provide students every opportunity to succeed.

What is ‘true north’ for yourself? It may be something like: To be the leader that my team/school needs me to be for their success.

Do everything that will make Step 1 happenplectrum

Once true north is identified and success is articulated, then what? Perhaps it is gaining alignment of your community across a few important areas:

  • empowering students

  • growing staff

  • renewing parent and community mindsets

And then setting your priorities and milestones that will break down the ‘separated’ mindset:

  • Articulating the desired culture for learning, relating and leadership

  • Rethinking pedagogy that empowers the learner

  • Questioning everything that has been traditionally associated with ‘school’

  • Establishing shared language

  • Ensuring collaboration on all levels

  • Creating the physical and virtual environment to support

GatewayWhen the teams leave NBCS after their day we hope they have been given the time and space to process and develop at least one ‘next step’. Transforming the concept of school, something that is so embedded in our society, is not for the faint-hearted.

But we feel, at least, that as we grow a tribe of like-minded and committed educators we all know we are part of something very important, life-changing.

@anneknock

To visit Northern Beaches Christian School and find out more about what we do at SCIL visit our website 

 

 

Let’s change the way teachers learn, so we can change the way teachers teach #mim14

We’ve just concluded our fifth Making it Mobile workshop, held at Northern Beaches Christian School. Excited and passionate educators arrived from Queensland, Victoria, ACT, UK, NZ  and Sydney.

At Making it Mobile we present a professional learning experience that gives meaningful and helpful input as well as providing teams with the time and the space to play with the ideas and create something they can implement with their students in the following week. The  professional learning is presented in a physical learning environment that recreates the open spaces at NBCS. IMG_1214

The workshop is held over two days. The first day has input from our SCIL team. A keynote from Stephen Harris sets the scene for rethinking the paradigm of school, then we commence the rolling workshops, practical, hand-on input to get started or perhaps grow as practitioners. IMG_1228

Our workshops are led by teachers who have been using these ideas and practices with their own students. We want participants to be able to implement new approaches to learning, that are collaborative and engaging no matter where they are. There is a process to the workshops across the first day:

101: Blooms Gardners Matrix – how engage students and provide choice with minimum resources and low tech

201: Personalise Learning – how can you use technology/apps to create exciting learning opportunitiesIMG_1230

301: Project-Based Learning – getting started in with PBL

All the while, participants are reminded of the theme for the following day:

What will you build?

The next day teacher-teams have the time and space to play with their ideas, a very rare luxury. The participants get to work, with the NBCS team who are on hand to provide on-the-shoulder help. As I walk around I am reminded of the phrase, “learning is hard fun”, eavesdropping on deep conversations about learning.



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The day concludes with each team providing a quick visual summary of their learning, then participating in a gallery walk as ideas are shared and critiqued.

As I spoke to one of the excited participants, she passionately described what she had learnt and the ideas she will implement into her teaching and learning program on Monday.

It is very satisfying to see educators work through the process of anticipation, excitement, struggling with idea, engaging in deep conversations and emerging with real and tangible ideas.

@anneknock

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What’s in the ‘secret sauce’ of an innovative school? The SCIL story

The ZoneNorthern Beaches Christian School (NBCS), on the suburban fringe of Sydney has gained a reputation for innovation. There are many components that make this so, including, engaging learning programs, the physical spaces and places around the school, passionate and engaged students, and motivated and inspiring teachers.

For the many hundreds of educational visitors who come to the school each year these things are clearly evident. They visit NBCS hoping to learn from their experience, keen to implement ideas into their own teaching practice in their own school.

TofflerYet, what they are experiencing on any given day is the result of years of dedication to the vision to reinvent ‘school’ accompanied by a dogged determination to grow the capacity of educators with, as Toffler described the it, the ability to “learn, unlearn and relearn”.

In 2005 the principal at NBCS, Stephen Harris, began to think deeply about the impact of technology on the future of school and learning. The journey of innovation started in a couple of key ways. Firstly, he put the building blocks in place to enable online learning, and secondly,  established Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL), a ‘place’ where teacher innovation and professional learning could have expression. Each of these weren’t just good ideas, but seen as essential parts of the vision of education for the future.

As the vision and culture of NBCS was embedded and the learning spaces transformed, the school started to attract attention from across Australia and around the world. It started with educators who wanted a tour of the school, then the SCIL team shaped the innovation as professional learning packages for other educators. From 2010, SCIL began to broaden its reach, PD programs for teachers and school leaders, international study tours and executive consultations began to be developed.

Innovative teachers often feel the constraints of those who fear change, they may have great ideas but are regularly told, “No, we don’t do that here.” or “No, the government won’t let us”. The original iteration of SCIL provided a place for innovative educators at NBCS to bypass potential discouraging responses and play with their great ideas.

Professional learning can even be fun!The culture at NBCS gives permission for innovation to flourish. This is accompanied by professional learning that empowers teachers to embrace change. It is one thing to cast a big vision, and another to maintain it. On a weekly basis, all staff at NBCS participate in PD, with content and delivery sourced from the wealth of internal capacity. An important part of growing a great staff is their ability to share with and to equip colleagues. The beginning of each new school year time is set aside for whole staff PD – to cast vision and set priorities for the year.

This experience has had the added benefit of enabling the teachers to lift professionally. When visiting groups spend time talking to teachers, it is fascinating to hear them articulate and re-articulate their approaches to learning, how they use the spaces and engage with students. It is second nature for the teachers to use the language of innovation, as they are surrounded by it on a daily basis.

The secret sauce? When educators come to NBCS they often make the comment, “I thought I was coming to see buildings, and now I know it is so much more.

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That “much more” is the seemingly intangible element, how the vision for an innovative school is continually cast by the principal and then lived and breathed across the school. Essential to this, however, is continual professional development that is focussed on current and future learning needs of the educators, addressing the identified priorities. The educators at NBCS have the responsibility to equip a generation of young people who are independent, engaged and passionate about making a difference to their world.

A responsibility they do not take lightly.

@anneknock

Starting the year at NBCS: Putting the F.U.N in PD to build a positive culture of collaboration and connection.

We all knew it was coming.  It's a building site

At the end of 2013, as the school year was finishing, the construction (and demolition) crews were coming into NBCS. Project Barcelona, the much awaited development of transforming the physical space of ‘school’ into a whole new model was underway. The brief that principal Stephen Harris gave to the architect was to create a new heart of the school that provided a space for learning, connection and social interaction.

When the staff returned a week before the school year started they would see the
Barcelona Airport
significant disruption that Project Barcelona would potentially bring to their routines, the construction site is of significant proportions in the middle of the school campus:

Project Barcelona will define the heart and spine of the school campus and lead the way in new innovative learning. (WMK, Architect)

The inspiration came from Barcelona Airport, with its large canopy overarching the activity within. 

Under these conditions it is essential that staff commence the year with a positive frame of mind and then model and reinforce this to their students. It was going to be a challenging year and a half, but the outcome will be worth it.

What are the challenges facing the school’s community?

  • The hoarding erected around the perimeter of the site creates an inner ring of corridors, interspersed with viewing windows.

  • There are only two ways to get around from one side of the school to the other… the long way or the long way.

  • Perceived loss of gathering spaces (and toilets) for students

  • Significant rooming changes due to demolished buildings

  • The knowledge that this project won’t be completed until the second half of 2015

  • Noise, trucks, workers, dust.

This is not a scenario for the faint-hearted! It was important to be clear of the outcomes of the beginning of year staff PD Days:

  • Set a positive attitude for the year ahead

  • Staff to model this positive/can do approach to students

  • Staff are still able teach innovatively and collaboratively

  • Build the culture that we are all in this together

Stephen Harris devised a series of collaborative activities that would build community, get people working together, know their way around the school, make a contribution to enhancing the physical environment, tackle the pressing issues and, most importantly, have fun.

Each year at NBCS the week before school commences has a series of first gatherings

Day 1: Senior Leadership Team (SLT)

Day 2: Senior Leadership Team and School Executive Team (SET) – Learning Leaders and Stage/Grade Leaders

Day 3: All staff together.

This process began with the SLT. Stephen led the tour around the school, making note of toilet changes, learning space changes and the impact that these will have on the leadership of the school. And then the fun began.

The day before, he had created the first mural to brighten up the hoarding. It was an outline of himself. Then the SLT were placed in groups to devise a pitch that would build on this lonely figure to create something fun. Each group were to pitch their idea, Dragons Den style to the others. When the project was selected the SLT become the project team to make it a reality. This activity set the tone for creating a mural along the hoarding, but also put the SLT together within a collaborative project, working together on assigned roles and owning the outcome.

SLT Collaborative Project

The finished artwork

When SET arrived the next day the culture of fun and collaboration was underway. This larger group, together with SLT, about 40 people was set a different challenge for collaboration. Stephen presented a moderate budgetary allowance, to fund a way to encourage staff and build morale. Using the Dragon’s Den method of pitching an idea, combined with the Athenian method of casting votes with broken pieces of a clay pot, each group set to work. The composition of the groups were random, an important element of building community across the school. The winning group’s idea was selected after the old pots were smashed and each of us voted using a piece of clay.

On the third day of the series, the fun really began. Within a 90 minute time frame mixed groups of primary, secondary, admin and SLT were presented with the challenge:

Choose at least 3 of these activities and complete within 1.5 hour timeframe

Physical challenge: determine the fastest way your team can go on a lap of the short stay car park. Timed as a relay circuit. I'm pretty good at riding that chair

Art challenge: comedic / fun interpretation of some aspect of school life on a construction panel

Artists at work

Lego challenge: create a representation of a building at NBCS

Working with Lego

Photo challenge: photograph your team in an outrageous location or activity on site

The photo challenge

Film challenge: create a 60 second video advertising any aspect of the NBCS site as a holiday destination. Watch Steve Collis’ NBCS Caving Adventure on YouTube

The creativity that came out of the activity was amazing. The fun laughter and energy around the school was contagious, as people gathered art materials, film props, snuck into construction vehicles for photos and raced around the carpark. Along the way people learn new skills from their colleagues.

The initial outcomes were definitely achieved, but the greatest outcome was an incredible sense of community and connection amongst the staff. The newest teachers immediately felt like part of the community and we all had new and shared experiences that we could laugh about. In addition to these, there were team-based activities directly related to the work for the year.

Once the students arrived there was an atmosphere of excitement for what lay ahead.

How did the staff at your school year start?

How are you reinforcing your culture of community and collaboration?

@anneknock

“If you have a choice between a great teacher and a smaller class, go for a great teacher” 10 steps to greatness

Education policy adviser to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Andreas Schleicher said, “too much money had been spent reducing class sizes, instead of boosting teacher performance”.

Northern Beaches Christian School, is becoming known as one of the world’s most innovative schools. Each week we host individuals and groups from across Australia and around the world who come to see the spaces, the students at work and learn from our journey. Our teachers are critical to successful learning, and the principal, Stephen Harris, made the decision quite a while ago, to invest in teacher PD, through ongoing weekly professional learning, and quarterly immersive whole staff PD.

To answer the question ‘What makes a great teacher?’ I only need to look around the school to be inspired.

So, what are some of the necessary elements of a great teacher?

1. Love kids and believe the best for them.  photo (35)

Relationships matter above everything. At TED Talk Education, Rita Pierson*, in her talk Every Kid needs a Champion said, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like”. And the corollary is that they like people who like them.

2. Embrace your purpose.

There is an old tale about two men building a wall. When asked “what are you doing?”, the first replied, “Building a wall”, while the second answered, “Making a home for a family.” Effective education is centred on the student and their future, not just ploughing through content.

3. Read the times.

Look around. We live in a visual, digital and interconnected world, where visible-learning, video and audio are legitimate ways of showing deep learning. Yet so many educators still hold to the written word as being the true, and perhaps only, reflection of rigour.

4. Anticipate the future.

The change is rapid, learn from your students and start to predict. Although there is uncertainty, teachers need to step out into the unknown. Three years ago, did you see what tablet technology could bring to education?

5. Understand your value

Once you knew the content to be taught, and you were the expert in the students’ eyes. Today we can’t possibly hold all the information available and your students can access the world’s experts. Reinvent your unique contribution.

6. Work together

The world is collaborative and connected, yet many classrooms remain a lonely place where the teaching is a one-to-many activity, which may be repeated in each classroom down the corridor. Team work bring richness to the process.

7. Get comfortable with vulnerability

Success as a team can only be achieved through being real and open with one another, rather than being defensive about (professional) territory. It is very rewarding and sometimes messy.

8. Pursue excellence

Excellence means doing the very best with what is in your hand – it doesn’t mean perfectionism. It means continually making small improvements and not getting comfortable, ever (well, at least not for too long).

9. Get connected

The internet and the world of social media is the world of your students. Learn from them. Use Twitter as your professional learning network, get connected in person with other passionate educators.

10. Keep learning and doing.

I’ve heard it said that students learn their teacher, before they learn the subject. If you are a passionate learner, curious and engaged, imagine what you can pass on to your students.

@anneknock

*In researching this piece I was saddened to read that Ms Pierson passed away in June 2013

Kicking off the new school year. Never “same old, same old” here at Northern Beaches Christian School

In Australia the end of January is the start of the new academic year. Within a few days of getting back into it I usually gaze out the window, trying to recall the vacation and thinking to myself that perhaps it was just a dream?

(No, I really did have Christmas in Paris with my family)

Like many schools, Northern Beaches Christian School started the new year with a couple of days for professional learning activities with the staff. I have been the Director of Development at SCIL* for a few years and for the staff, each start to the new school year is always different from the previous year. Professional learning experiences are shaped around the key elements of the vision, reflecting the priorities of the year ahead.

This year, the priorities are GLO – Growth, Leadership, Opportunities. When the principal, Stephen Harris starts each year he outlines the priorities that will be the focus of the year, each of these areas are the further advancement to the vision:

Exceed Expectations.

Stephen expressed this further as he articulated the SCIL Learning Model

At its simplest form the SCIL Learning Model is essentially about learning and opportunity. On the one hand, there is a recurrent focus on developing a strong culture of self-directed learning, with an emphasis on critical and applied deep thinking. Project-based learning supports this approach well. On the other hand, we wish all students to recognise, have access to and take up opportunities that will grow them as pro-active compassionate leaders with integrity and moral strength, as they journey through their learning.

Central to the priorities is embedding project-based learning as a consistent element across the learning culture of the school, in every faculty, at each grade level.

1Like many schools, the first few days before the students return provide a valuable opportunity for professional learning and growth. This year it started with a session by an external facilitator, outlining the Apple model of challenge-based learning.

After some initial input and guidance, teaching teams set about developing their own interest projects that were then shared with their peers at the conclusion of the day. Embedded into the project was the use of an app or other element that may have been new to them.

The following day was set aside for the teams to critically analyse and develop how PBL can become a normal part of the teaching and learning at a faculty level.

In previous years teams have embarked on an ‘amazing race’ stye adventure around the city, imagining spaces for learning in all sorts of non-school contexts, or working on Bloom/Gardner’s matrix with like-minded peers to create a project that would improve a learning space within the school.

Do you see a pattern here with the professional learning?

  • Directly linked to the school’s priorities.
  • Immerses the teachers in the learning environment that we want for the students.
  • Teachers need work in teams.
  • ‘Facilitator talk’ is capped to the necessary 
  • Opportunity to pursue a passion or interest area
  • Challenge of using new technology as part of the project
  • Learn new skills necessary to complete the project

The professional learning opportunities gives the teacher the first hand learning experiences that we seek for our students.

If we want to change the way teachers teach, we need to change the way teachers learn.

Happy 2013!

@anneknock

*SCIL is the innovation and professional services focus within Northern Beaches Christian School. The SCIL Learning Model is currently being developed as a resource and will be available this year.