Some of the educators at Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) are giving up eating cake as part of their dry July challenge. I have real confidence that they will survive the month and possibly into the following months too (now that would be an even greater challenge).
Imagine for a moment that we all embraced a challenge in our lives during our resumption back to school after the vacation period, that was difficult and placed us in a position that completely shifts our comfort zone into a phase where we feel under stress and pressure. Maybe it could be a challenged imposed upon us due to change of circumstances beyond our control or something that we decided to do. A challenge that will completely transform our teaching and takes us out of what I call a default zone (a pedagogy that we feel at ease). This could be for some teachers a total removal of worksheets and or the use of an interactive whiteboard as edutainment for students, and replaced with experiential learning or another pedagogy where students self regulate their own learning.
As teachers, we must continually strive to implement innovative and creative strategies with our students and not fall into the trap of being formulaic in our approach each day. It’s far too easy to turn up to school each day, go through the motions of teaching by providing ‘work’ without any consideration as to whether students have learnt anything or not, and then depart thinking that it must have been a good day because the students completed the tasks. If we take the mystery and adventure out of teaching, then students will look for alternatives due to technology, and our effectiveness will be limited with the resultant that school becomes redundant.
Far too long, school leaders have been constrained by national and in some cases international standardised testing to justify a school’s success. I am not one of those leaders seeing that paradigm as a justification for my overall performance as a school leader. It’s ironic that the concept of ‘lifelong learners’ is often bantered about as a soft end goal cushion for a school mission or plan and yet we try to siphon and measure learning in 13 years of primary and secondary schooling. Instead school leaders need ot be part of the innovative and creative process (not a sideline spectator) and develop a culture where risk taking, trial and error, research and sharing are all valued, including the possibility of many ‘that didn’t work’ happening.
Some people may disagree with me but I have seen many examples of how technology is replacing people who once commanded jobs during my travels. In LA for example, I walked into Union Station and saw a beautiful decadent waiting area, where people must have queue to be served train tickets behind a row of counters, only now replaced with automatic dispensing ticket machine.
I am often amazed by the challenges that my teachers at Merrylands East make each day with the students. This has not been easy for them to shift their view of student learning and then create collaborative team teaching in open learning spaces, and develop a pedagogy that requires students to discover rather than be told knowledge. I thank them for it and the whole school transformation that has occurred. The sacrifice has been enormous and not without the emotional pressures of giving up their comfort zone in order to develop a better product for our students. Time and time again, self reflections have led to an evolving process where what was once seen as innovative and produced student outcomes, eventually ended up reaching a limitation with new challenges created. As part of this trip, I have been taking photos and making notes on my phone for even more possibilities to discuss on my return.
For our students, the challenges have meant a refocus on seeing learning rather than school each day. By removing some of the infrastructure traditionally associated with last century schools, students have more freedom and choice to discover while balancing recreation and relaxation. My staff and I are seeing better products being produced, more articulate and confident students and a supportive community. Part of this transformation has come about by students being advocates of their learning with keystakeholders and not measuring themselves against each other through some numeric score.
On the second day of the Harvard Course, participants are undertaking a project adventure program where I’m sure that we will put ourselves in difficult and awkward but challenging positions. Our resilience will be tested and I am anticipating that I’ll learn even more about myself and leadership.