Stunned!!!

I’m sitting under a tree and using the free wifi that guests can access throughout Harvard. To say that I’m stunned and in awe of this beautiful learning facility is probably the best way to describe my feelings right now. I could never imagine as a son of a WW11 refugee, a former public school student and now a public school teacher and principal, that one day I would end up with the opportunity to study at Harvard. The Public Education Foundation Harvard Club Teachers Mutual Bank Scholarship have all come to together to make this happen.

Harvard is a university town with student accommodation jotted throughout the streets and intermingled with the various learning facilities and shops. Just down the road (if you like long walks), is Boston University and Boston College. So all three facilities are fairly close together to provide a learning community. What is noticeable about Harvard is the number of young people walking around town or sitting around using a device in an open area or a cafe. Just a minute a ago, I noticed a proud young student walking out of his building and showing his parents where he had been staying and studying.

Founded in the 17th Century, John Harvard had a passion for education and bequeath funding that ultimately resulted in the oldest university in the United States and the most prestigious in the world along with Cambridge and Oxford. It’s this richness and history that makes Harvard, along with the research and not doubt the professors that I’ll meet.

As I finish this blog, I feel an immense sense of motivation to provide even better opportunities for our students to ensure they have all the life opportunities that have been afforded to me by originally my parents and later with the support from so many educators.

 

 

 

We Need a Science Museum

We Need a Science Museum

Yesterday I visited the Boston Museum of Science and marvelled at all the interactive displays throughout the three floors and the various stands where people could conduct themed science experiments with the assistance of staff. It was an amazing place divided into so many scientific sections that a school excursion would barely get through 10% of the museum.

Within the Museum of Science, specific areas and times were set for people to teach various concepts in a theatre like environment. In one section, a scientist was talking about the life cycle of an aldabara giant tortoise with it actually roaming freely (if that’s what you call their movements) on a low stage in an amphitheatre.

Right next door to the theatre but in the same building, a domed shaped planetarium showed various  conceptual videos of space in a darkened room with reclining seats. I learnt so much about different moons and their structures in our solar system.

Throughout my self guided walk through the museum, I felt embarrassed that our current Federal Government does not have a Science Minister and cuts to CSIRO and other scientific organisations have left a massive void and commitment to Science in our country. As I ventured into each section, I noticed the number of parents with their child in the interactive displays and explaining scientific concepts and the high levels of engagement in learning.

Boston, with the Museum of Science and their massive medical research facilities (there’s a railway station named after the medical facilities) understands the importance of developing inquisitive minds.

I just hope that in the future,  someone will take a lead and build something even better than the Boston Museum of Science to enable our students to have access to a wonderful learning environment.

 

 

We All Need a Dry July

We All Need a Dry July

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.

 

Where is the sense of urgency?

My time in LA has come to a close and now I’m off to Harvard for the main reason for this trip – that is to undertake the Leadership: An Evolving Vision Course.

As I leave LA, competing thoughts come to my mind. The lavish lifestyles of the so called ‘fame’ is quite obvious in a town like Hollywood. Most of the actors live  on Mullholland Drive in the surrounding mountains with a few still hanging around. Beverly Hills. The expensive mansions with landscaped gardens and gated communities means that many of those actors are living in surreal environments. Other places like Disneyland, Universal Studios and Warners Bros Studios often create a world that we like to live in, where happy endings and fun times are often the norm in the various motion picture or sitcoms genres.

At the other end of town, I saw a vast array of homelessness in Hollywood (not sure about other areas of LA) with people begging and sleeping on the streets each night, rummaging through the bins by day and trying to do start ups anyway they can. It was sad to see children in this predicament with their mothers or father begging on the street in the morning and at the same place late at night. It’s the later that drives any educator in the importance of education in alleviating the potential of poverty for our young students in our classroom each day. Until you truly experience poverty or see the effects on a daily basis, you never really quite understand what people go through each day and night.

To raise the plight of homelessness, I was recently delighted to hear that DEC Secretary Dr Michele Bruniges participating in the Vinnies CEO sleep out. This is a worthwhile fundraising activity that we should all support. In 2015, I am hopeful that we could do a local sleep out with some of the MEPS staff.

Returning back to what I saw, the dual societyin LA is something I don’t want to emulate for our Australian society. It is important that our Federal Government, regardless of parties, support the 5th and 6 year of Gonski and ensure that those that are most vulnerable are given opportunity to succeed in life. I don’t want to look back in 10 years time and see the increase in homelessness on our street or the increase in mental health issues associated from poverty.

As I leave LA, the importance of providing a relevant, stimulating and personalised education for our students is more important to me than ever. Yesterday, I had the good fortune to finish my LA stint of my travels with a tour of Universal Studios. My tour guide named Blair (and she nows that I was going to write about her)  had the most remarkable knowledge about films and sitcoms, and she was barely in her early 20’s. She could tell where various scenes in movies or television shows were set and name the actors. At the end of the tour, I asked her about her schooling and where she built up her interests and knowledge.  I received the reply that none of it came from school but rather a passion and interests in the film industry. She indicated that as a young child, she spent all her time watching movies and learning about the different actors and their lives.

The lesson here is that sometimes we can easily create a mismatch in what we teach and what students want to learn – maybe this is the first sign of disengagement for students. Instead, we need to be more relevant for those that are having the most difficulties  engaging in school by tailoring the curriculum in a more personalised and relevant manner by taking into account the interests and passions. I know this is not easy to do but I’m seeing on social media twitter that many of my colleagues are doing that each day now.

There is a sense of urgency in education to make a substantial change. Rather than wait, we need to have a real ‘crack’ at making change that takes into account how students learn with the proliferation of technology use, where students learn, and how we go about teaching presently and into the future.  Without the fundamental changes, we may end up with more disengage students and ultimately more homelessness.

Over the next week, my excitement is building as I move closer to Harvard and my course.  The Harvard Club Australia, Teachers Mutual Bank and the Public Education Forum are giving me the chance to see a global world and now the urgency is more evident as I can see the sadness in the alternative.

(Note: this blog was written at 4am in the morning at NYC Penn St Station after doing an all nighter.)