Writing about not writing: A mis-diagnosis

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What is it about writer’s block that just cannot be broken for days and sometimes weeks on end? I’ve been suffering it for weeks now and not sure when it will end. I have been reading and thinking and procrastinating and even losing sleep over it. It’s like all of these great ideas are rolling around in my head and yet I cannot get them out.

Last week I facilitated a workshop for newly arrived international PhD students and heard myself telling them that if there is no writing then there is no review or feedback to get. I heard myself telling them more than once yet I am not doing it myself! Do as I say not as I do and all that. A terrible case of imposter syndrome has gripped me and I feel desperately desperate.

Many months ago just after my confirmation and a week before my main supervisor left for a 6 month sabbatical, she set me a mountain of work to do. I passed my first milestone – confirmation – without amendments and in fact the panel was suitably impressed but that was short lived once my supervisor was gone. In that time we took on another supervisor and parted amicably with our associate supervisor. I met with the new supervisor, acting chief, a couple of times to talk and discuss where to from confirmation. He helped me review my ethics paperwork which was granted four weeks later as was ethics application to Catholic Education Melbourne and I even have the principal’s support from the research school. And yet I cannot write.

Further to this, the mountain of work my main supervisor left me included to read more and write up my lit review and methodology chapters. I have been reading but the latter two I haven’t started, although as I sit in front of the television on my mobile phone typing this first draft I realise I have done a little writing on two topics maybe 800 words in all. Surely that’s not enough is it? I have read and taken notes on many articles and am reading off and on two books my co supervisor offered in our first meeting (he doesn’t know that).

Last week I re-visited my rejected article co-written (well … sort of) with a previous supervisor on my minor research looking at relationships between teachers and teacher aides. I’ve decided that I want to do it over on my own but different, so last week I spent two days listening to the interview tapes again and reading through the transcripts but I did not write. I did practice some opening lines in my head as I did the washing and cooking and cleaning and other procrastinations but I DID NOT write. Why?

All this I did as well as attending several meetings at Uni to do with my work not my PhD and re-working my workshop for non-funded students, prepping questions for our monthly #survivephd twitter chat, as well as working on a coaching model review for one school and preparing proposals for schools who are enquiring about professional learning in 2017.

I’m a part-time PhD student and am currently in a state of non-academic-writing … or am I?

Having just written this post here on a recliner on my iPhone, it makes me feel a whole lot better and in fact I may have mis-diagnosed my condition.

I don’t have writer’s block. I may have a little imposter syndrome but certainly not writer’s block.

Tomorrow I shall write some more.
Thanks for reading 🙂

Eat in or take away? Day 1: Evidence Based Teaching Summit 2016

Last week I was invited to chair a panel discussion on policy and practice at the Informa summit on Evidence-Based Teaching and with that came the opportunity to attend two days of professional learning. I gained some wonderful insights and follow up for my own research, but I also came away with many more questions. You’ll see them filtered through the rest of the post.

Angela Carbone from Monash University opened proceedings delivering a keynote on the

What is student success?

What is student success?

resurgence of evidence-based teaching. She spoke of the need for evidence in order to ‘bust’ educational myths. To increase student success, we need valid, reliable, rigorous, accurate and timely evidence. But what is student success? What does it look like in the diverse classrooms of the 21st Century?

The second keynote was delivered by Dr. V. Darleen Opfer from the US. Teachers need to use a data driven approach in order to improve student learning but how do we support teachers to do this? Dr Opfer’s presentation was very practical and I could easily imagine her 5 recommendations working in our schools. She suggested:

  1. Making data an ongoing cycle using a variety of sources.
  2. Teaching students to examine their own data and set their own learning goals accordingly.
  3. Establishing a clear vision for the whole school.
  4. Providing the type of support that fosters a data-driven culture.
  5. Developing a data system that incorporates data from multiple sources.
Change doesn't kill you...

Change doesn’t kill you…the difficulty is not in developing new ideas but in escaping from old ones  (reflections from case study on literacy program by Jeff Symms).

In making data an ongoing process teachers will need to be taught how to collect and analyse the data. This may be facilitated through the appointment of a data facilitator, who is not just a number cruncher but one who can organise, explain and disseminate the data. Teachers can then interpret, develop hypotheses and modify instruction to suit -well if they had time… .Dr Opfer advised that teachers collect a variety of data including classroom performance (formative assessment) regularly and to look for patterns.  Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have time and thus it often takes a back seat when in fact data should be out on the field, playing and contributing to the learning and teaching in schools. Hence the need for a data-driven approach to be established as a whole school endeavour.  What could we do without in order to make time for targeted professional learning, access to data and to developing a whole school culture?

The conversation continued in Chris Ramsden‘s presentation. He challenged educators to make a

Create the climate

Create the climate

difference and thought teachers need ‘actionable’ data that is tangible and accessible. He introduced the notion of practice-based evidence instead of evidence-based practice. Ramsden discussed the general capabilities and questioned whether they are indeed visible in the learning and teaching in schools. In making a difference do we challenge our students to persevere, to grow and be hopeful of the future? Are we arming them with strategies, modeling empathy and humility and displaying a growth mindset? After all, we do need our students to figure things out for themselves and hence the need to encourage risk-taking and the skills to deal with failure.

David Zyngier (Monash University) was up next to discuss the evidence on the issue of class sizes. Of course, there are many arguments for and against smaller class sizes. I’m sure most teachers would support having fewer students in their classes but what we don’t seem to understand is that reducing class sizes requires a different teaching approach, jut as lengthening or shortening periods in secondary schools require a change in mindset. Dr. Peggy Kern from the University of Melbourne and Janis Coffey from PESA presented arguments in separate presentations for positive education. To create ‘better’ learners said Kern, through a focus on positive psychology, a ‘thrive not just survive’ mentality of holistic education needs to be adopted in schools. With one in four young people diagnosed with a mental disorder and one in four teachers in Victoria suffering stress-related illnesses, Coffey believes that schools can make a big difference in this area.

A lively panel discussion with Kevin Donnelly, Peter Goss and Justin Mullaly followed provoked by my opening remarks:

Are policy and practice truly that separate and what role does research play in the scenario? In evidence-based teaching –what is the evidence on which we base our teaching? Does the evidence that tends to prove or disprove something become the basis of belief or disbelief? And what of belief, which is essentially an opinion or conviction, what role does it play in schools?

Can our judgements as educators be credible? Might the empirical evidence we see, hear and think emphasise a more informed approach to evidence-based teaching? In fact, can it be that instead of evidence-based we perhaps adopt an evidence-informed teaching practice?

As Dylan Wiliam suggested in 2015 “…the simple truth is that, in education, everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere.” So are we to continuously believe the headlines we read – homework is bad, feedback is good, funding is not making a difference in our schools, or will we ever be able to make and follow through on our beliefs based on evidence-informed judgements? Are we to continuously answer to policy driven practice? What changes need to happen to successfully marry policy, practice, theory and experience in education AND have it truly enhance this highly complex and multifaceted notion of effective pedagogy?

Again and again the importance of giving time to educators so they can collaborate, attend PD, collect and analyse data. Here the implementation gap between policy and practice appears. There is no one answer, yet I think we all agree that evidence of student progress is required to inform practice and influence what teachers do. Justin Matthys (Maths Pathways) uttered one of my favourite lines of the first day “What matters is growth along a continuum – not keeping up with the course.” I wish more teachers would take heed of this advice.

Know your staff...

Know your staff…

I have always maintained that to ‘learn’ your students is a most effective way to assist them in their own learning and to experience ‘success’. The same can also be said in this final message visualised here in a slide presented by Jeff Symms: Know your staff…

End of the first day.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Day 2 reflections here

“Cook dinner, don’t just supply the ingredients” (Tomlinson)

You know when you hear something that really gels with you? It’s that moment when culture meets a light bulb moment and suddenly you know. You know this is something that just has to be said.

That light bulb moment

That light bulb moment

The other day it happened to me, sitting in the ACEL conference listening to Carol Tomlinson talking differentiation. Now this was not the first or even second time I’ve had the pleasure to hear her speak in person. I had even heard the differentiated story she told, but it was the first time I connected with it in a new way.  It really brings to the fore the idea of readiness to learn. In order to learn, one must be open to learning. So when we teach, how do we know whether our students are ready to learn? How do we know if we are ready to learn from them in return?

Tomlinson at ACEL conference 2016

Tomlinson at ACEL conference 2016

Tomlinson compares the ingredients for dinner with that of curriculum. As ingredients, they stand alone but have very little to offer unless combined with other ingredients to make a meal. In fact, depending on the ingredients one can make a myriad of meals using them in different combinations. Let’s take similar ingredients to those that Tomlinson uses in her comparison:

 

Ingredients

Ingredients

The above, when combined, will make a meal (or 5 if you live at my place – if you want a list, I’d be happy to forward one) – the same as all the components of teaching. Teaching isn’t just one ingredient but should be a whole lot of ingredients which are combined to create a great learning experience. In combining the ingredients, however, one doesn’t necessarily have to use them all in every meal but they can be used in different combinations. Teaching is like this too. These ingredients on their own are not very inviting – but in combinations can make a number of really appetising meals.

So let’s compare this idea to teaching. What are some of the ingredients in teaching and learning?

Relationship? I suggest kilos and kilos of it. In fact, in my opinion, there is very little, if any teaching or learning that happens without this ingredient.

Curriculum – knowledge and skills?

Assessment – formative and summative?

Differentiation?

Environment – inviting and safe?

Emotional Intelligence?

Curiosity?

Imagination?

FUN?

Communication?

Collaboration?

Policy?

What else would you add?

Share the commitment to teaching and learning

Share the commitment to teaching and learning

In teaching and learning, there may be any combination of the above and more. Each class would need more or less of these depending on the needs of the students in that particular class. Even if one is teaching the same content to the same year level in two different classes, the ingredients would not be identical in both type and quantity. So when planning your next ‘cooking’ session with your class think carefully about the ingredients and combine them in such a way that really gels with your class. Take the time to ask your students, ‘What would you like for dinner?’ It will help you to become a much better cook, I guarantee it and ultimately they’ll enjoy the meal a whole lot more.

Dinner's READY!!!!

Dinner’s READY!!!!

 

 

Thanks for reading 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lava lamps, origami, magic and many more pre-service teacher adventures

This year I am very excited about having my own tutorial group of 2nd year pre-service teachers. Our adventures began just four weeks ago and since then we have been busily exploring what it is to be a teacher and a learner. They are an interesting bunch of students coming from all different backgrounds and for the most part quite enthusiastic, although at times I think I’m more excited than they are! I love teaching. I have said it many times.

Having the opportunity to work with pre-service teachers has been one of my goals for many years. I want them to experience the same passion I have for teaching and I hope that this semester I can share some of my experiences with them so that they may come to love teaching as much as I do. I hope I can instil in them the essence of learning. They have the key to the future of education and I hope they use it wisely.

So while the first few weeks of tutes were all about theory, standards, their own experiences of schooling, their favourite teacher and a little boys’ Ed thrown in for good measure, this week was all about practice.

I just had the privilege of watching my tutorial group fully engage a class of Year 7 boys in a 30-minute session. My pre-service teachers were waiting on the pavement outside the school when I arrived. Nervous but excited. They had come with bags of tricks, coloured paper, bottles filled with oil and water, laptops containing presentations and videos to shares.

work in progress -homemade lava lamps

Work in progress -homemade lava lamps

The Year 7 boys we were to teach seemed anxious but ready for action. Each pair had 30 minutes to ‘teach’ a couple of students. They prepared a wonderful array of learning and the boys seemed to be lapping it up. As the lesson began the pre-service teachers showed no signs of their initial nervousness. Fourteen round tables, two teachers and two students on each totally engaged in learning and teaching.

Aerodynamics

Aerodynamics

A couple of groups displayed their plane making skills while others engaged in different aerodynamics feats.

time to see if it works

Time to see if it works

One group learnt magic tricks while others ventured into the world of critical thinking and music.

Making magic

Making magic

Teaching Chinese with music

Teaching Chinese with music

Boys on another table were experimenting with volcanic eruptions using Oreo biscuits. Another mixed a concoction of water, oil, food dye and alka seltzers to make homemade lava lamps. There was some history, space exploration, mathematical calculations, geometry and a whole lot more. The session flew by and in no time it was gone.

3-D geometry

3-D geometry

“One minute to go folks!” I call out. “Oh no,” says a student in the corner, “Quick! Let’s have another go!” he calls as they take one last shot at getting the plane to spin.

A round of applause goes out to my class and to the students and teachers who supported us at De La Salle College. I look forward to seeing these same pre-service teachers in action with a class of their own, approaching it with the same apprehension but feeling themselves ‘hooked’ as their students’ faces come alive with curiosity.

Teachers are not born great – they become great.

Be great teachers.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Moonshots and other really cool shooting stars

Last Sunday night’s Aussie Ed tweet chat was all about moonshots. You can read the storify later.

A Moonshot is literally the launch of a rocket into space. In more recent times the term has been introduced in education as a means to think ‘big’, think ‘innovatively’, think ‘huge’, think ‘change the world’ one small step at a time.  It can be big or small, done on your own or in collaboration with others.

What we said

The first question in the #aussieED chat asked this: In your opinion, what is a moonshot? My initial response was

What is a moonshot?

What is a moonshot?

You’ll notice my question mark at the end – obviously I had not heard this before and was taking a stab at it. As the chat continued and others shared their thoughts, it got me thinking about my own personal experiences with moonshots and those of the people around me, family, friends, students, colleagues, and parents. I really enjoyed reading what others thought about moonshot. I’d like to share a few -there were many others that you can read for yourself once you’ve finished. I’ll even give you the link. Keep reading…

Kim said this

Kim said this

A crazy idea

I love this! I’ll admit I’ve had some really crazy ideas over the years and was not afraid to see if they could go anywhere. My crazy idea that I could write a book came about simply because I thought I could. Mostly it’s pretty much finished but needs a little tinkering and possibly updating given I began writing it some years ago. Maybe I’ll shoot this one early next year.

Joel said this

Joel said this

It just won’t work…(really?)

This kind of comment just makes me more inclined to go after that which others think won’t work. I’m an optimist but more importantly I work hard to solve problems or issues. There are a great many things out there that people thought impossible  – imagine if we still thought the world was flat and if you went to the edge you’d fall and plunge to destruction. Thank goodness that belief was proved wrong. What else? Better still what other beliefs are there today that could be holding us back?

I’d like you to imagine a place where all children had the opportunity to learn in their own preferred way but also engage in other ways of learning so as to grow their repertoire as an ‘all round’ learner. Imagine a place where children and adults collaborated to change the world to make it an equitable, safe and sustainable place for all living creatures. Some have already started but it would be much more logical if we all worked towards it. So…let’s do it!

We can begin making a difference by taking Carl’s advice and developing a plan to save the world. Impossible? Do you mean making the plan or saving the world? Nothing is impossible.

Carl's plan

Carl’s plan

As Steve points out:

Steve said this

Steve said this

It is most important that we adults model how to deal with failure; after all without it we cannot learn. To make a mistake we have to take a risk, if we fail, we analyse why it happened and move on to make it better next time. Imagine if Edison stopped work after blowing up the first bulb.

Never give up

Never give up

Shake it out

Shake it out

Shake it out

I really like Karen’s idea of a moonshot too. I enjoy shaking things up – in fact I make trouble all the time. I say what I think and I back it up because taking a shot at something you truly believe will make a difference – so worth it. A major component of moonshots is to believe.

http://www.collegenetwork.com/blog/positive-self-talk-i-know-i-can-do-this

http://www.collegenetwork.com/blog/positive-self-talk-i-know-i-can-do-this

Last week I had to deal with a family issue interstate but had a consulting gig already booked which couldn’t be undone. So I asked a colleague if they would consider workshopping it for me. I never doubted her ability to do it – not because I’m so good but because she is. It’s a little like paying it forward – someone gave me a chance to shine long ago so I’m passing it on. Its success is in your hands.

exploding moonshots

exploding moonshots

What’s your moonshot?

Thanks for reading 🙂

(Now you can read the storify)

Sunday nights 8:30 AEST #aussieED