Monday, February 22, 2016

Lethargic, chaotic or focused?

In my yoga class yesterday the teacher spoke to us about the mind.  She told us that there are only really 3 states of mind, lethargic, chaotic or focused.  The lethargic mind is one that is vague, bored, dull and lazy - the mind of the couch potato that lacks direction.  The chaotic mind is a stream of thoughts flooding the mind and generally being very distracted.  Often we are not simply one mind or the other, but swing between them - it seems we have very little control over our mind!  The aim of yoga, she told us, is that we become more focused and aware - something she referred to as being "consciously awake".  This also seems to be the aim of mindfulness, which seems to be catching on in schools.

Our school counsellor has been trying out some mindfulness apps with students, and today I decided to take a look at those apps myself.  Many of them have a free series of introductory exercises, for around 10 days or so.  I thought I'd have a go at these and then write a blog post about whether I thought it could be beneficial to buy the paid app.  The apps I've downloaded so far are:
  • Stop, Breathe & Think
  • Headspace
  • Pranayama Universal Breathing
I'm interested to know if anyone uses these apps, in particular with students, and if so what impact has been noticed on students' work or behaviour.

Another thing, of course, I've thought about is how the 3 states of mind relate to teaching.  I can think of times in my own career where I was lethargic - basically following a text book.  At other times I think I was fairly chaotic, following students' questions down every rabbit hole.  Now I hope that most of the time I'm focused.  And yet, thinking about this also calls to mind a quotation for a reading we did at last Tuesday's faculty meeting.  I don't want to be so focused that I'm not flexible:
All good teachers must be flexible and responsive to their students’ needs. In simple terms, it sometimes means that we need to be able to change on the fly - such as when they already know the chosen teaching point or if it is not appropriate for them at that time. This is crucial as every moment we spend with the child is a learning moment. Our inability to be flexible makes us an ineffective teacher. 
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Friday, February 19, 2016

Making global connections goes hand-in-hand with digital citizenship

This week I've been preparing for one of my presentations for next week's ASB Un-Plugged.  The presentation is about how we use data to personalise professional learning for our teachers.  We are asking teachers to make a short video reflection about this, and today I watched one of these, made by one of our 4th grade teachers, where she reflected on how looking at the data had allowed her to identify gaps in her practice, or concepts that she was not very intentional about teaching.  For example, she said that she did talk to her students about digital citizenship, but in the past this had been more reactive than proactive. She spoke about how over the past couple of years she has set goals based on digital citizenship and making global connections - the two of which go hand-in-hand.

I've also been reflecting on how our tech coaching initiative has led to more of an emphasis on digital citizenship.  One of our tech coaches is a Grade 5 teacher, and he has encouraged goals around digital citizenship for the Grade 4 and 5 teachers that he coaches.  At the start of the year, we always talk to the students about being responsible digital citizens, in the light of our responsible use policy, as we want students to be able to protect themselves and others and to respect others when using technology.  Following this, coaches can reach out to teachers, students and parents so that they best understand how to maximize the advantages of technology use, while avoiding the dangers.  Our coaches need to be at the forefront of investigating the implications of new technologies that our students use.  For example Skype can be used for good, to connect with others around the world in a global bookclub, where they encounter unique viewpoints and ideas that are different from their own, but at the same time we are aware that at times it has been used for private chatting at the weekends and evenings that has caused upset to some students.  We need to find a balance between using technology to build the understandings that students need for their future, while at the same time protecting students from its misuse.

In this respect we rely heavily on our tech coaches to work with our teachers to model best practices and to encourage them to talk to the students and parents to raise awareness about the issues.

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Management -v- discipline

At the TTP on Saturday, one of my colleagues, Celine, made a great presentation about the difference between classroom management and classroom discipline.  I took some notes which I've decided to share here - as her advice was good and many will find it useful.

In a nutshell, Celine explained that management is all about what the teacher does, whereas discipline is connected to how the students behave.  Management is the responsibility of the teacher, whereas discipline becomes the responsibility of the students.  Management is about routines and procedures.  Discipline is about rules and sanctions or consequences.  Basically her message was that the more effective management is, then the less you have to rely on discipline.

Celine asked us to think about a recent time when we had to discipline students because of our own poor classroom management.  She said "Be aware - 95% of the time that you need to discipline it's your own fault."  She shared several strategies, for example:

  • Establish the classroom rules from Day 1, preferably in conjunction with the students.  
  • Make sure the rules reflect your philosophy of education.
  • The rules need to be clear - about what students must do, not a list of don'ts.  They should be posted in the room for all to see.
  • There should only be 5 or 6 rules - so focus on what is important
  • The rules need to be for behaviour only - not for processes or routines.
We need to think about what our expectations are for classroom management, and then we need to think about the procedures and actions WE will take in order to achieve those expectations.  She stressed how important it is to reflect on our practice.  For example:
  • If our expectation is that students are active 80% of the time .... WE need to give them tasks to do as soon as they come into the classroom and WE need to speak less so they can do more.
  • If we want students to be quiet when being given instructions .... We need to give short, clear instructions and only speak when all are listening. 
  • If we want students to stay on task ..... WE need to give them challenging activities and to explain to them why these are important
  • If we want students to learn and make progress in all lessons .... WE need to plan to be quiet and reflective at the end of the lessons
Celine's final words really struck home with me - "Do not find excuses for your problems - find solutions!"

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Putting it into Practice - ASB's Teacher Training Programme

On Saturday 61 teachers from 16 organisations in Mumbai and beyond graduated from ASB's Teacher Training Programme (TTP).    This programme has been running since 2011, and we have already had 3 batches of teachers pass through it - one of whom is now employed in our school!  In the first 4 years, we ran the programme as a 2 year one, but following feedback last year decided to try it out as a one-year programme this year, with teachers meeting more frequently (on Saturdays).  In this batch we also expanded our out-reach - so included teachers from schools in Pune, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh.  Out of the 64 teachers who started the programme this year, 61 of them graduated and around half of them had 100% attendance - even though for some this involved an overnight train journey or even a train journey of 18 hours to attend in one case!

Our final session was a reflective one, where the teachers explained how they had put into practice what they had learned.  I'm sharing some of their observations here.

Akanksha - this NGO was set up in 1991 to address inequalities in Indian education, in particular among children from low-income communities.  The aim was to maximize the potential of the children and their motto is "aspire, achieve, be the change".  Currently in Mumbai they have 8 centres and 16 schools.  The teachers from Akanksha identified the following things that they had put into practice during the TTP:

  • Responsive Classroom practices, in particular the morning meeting and energizers, and the reinforcing, reminding and redirecting language.  They felt the class meetings had really increased student participation
  • Non-verbal signals
  • Inquiry - having students frame their own questions and pose them to each other.  The teachers said they have noticed a huge increase in reading comprehension as a result.
Some practices they found harder to implement in their schools included the issues of having to tweak the timetable to include morning meetings - though this will be built into their school schedule next year.

Bombay Teen Challenge - this NGO works to rescue battered women and children who are victims of the Red Light district.  Their aim is to give vocational training to help restore their lives.  In June 2015 they set up the BTC Academy for students from Kindergarten to Grade 7, and next year they will go to higher grades too.  BTC identified many TTP practices that are now in place:
  • The morning meeting every day sets a positive environment.  
  • They have a weekly appreciation of students who are recognized by the whole school
  • They have embraced modern teaching techniques, with around 60-70% of their learning now being activity based.
  • They have interactive and responsive classrooms (that are definitely not quiet!)
  • They have set up differentiated reading groups
Leadership Boulevard is an NGO that designs curriculum for schoosl in Gujarat.  Teachers from this NGO noticed changes in:
  • Teacher language
  • More emphasis on the developmental stages of the children
  • English and Hindi being used as well as Gujarati
  • Differentiation in maths
Save the Children - was set up in Mumbai in 1988 and has impacted more than 200,000 children's lives.  Its aim is to prevent the exploitation of and discrimination against children.  Our local branch of STC runs a special care facility for children with hearing and mental impairments.  They have introduced a holistic education with a focus on vocational training.  Currently they work with 230 children.

Avasara - started as an after school enrichment progamme for Mumbai's brightest girls from poor backgrounds and has now opened a school in Pune.  The focus is on accelerating the academic and leadership potential of the girls.  It started as a 3 1/2 hour daily after-school programme.  Avasara has now introduced:
  • Responsive Classroom - with a proactive approach towards expectations and discipline
  • Differentiation by content, product, process, affect and environment to incorporate more kinaesthetic and visual learning
  • More meaningful student-teacher interactions
  • Students now seem more responsive to the consequences of their actions, which has led to better classroom management
  • Monthly PLC meetings which have led to customized teaching methodologies for the context of the school
Down to Earth - is an NGO that is now 10 years old which works in the Cuffe Parade slum area of Mumbai.  As well as the weekday educational programme, they also run a weekend sports and art programme.  Their teachers told us that they had:
  • Introduced ultimate frisbee in order to mix up boys and girls
  • Introduced PBL
  • Introduced peer learning, with students teaching others.
  • Prepared anchor charts and flashcards for all their activities
  • Used Responsive Classroom language with students, in particular reminding language to make students more responsible for themselves.
  • Grouped students for needs-based learning.
  • Used time-outs to calm students
  • Used morning meeting to greet and bond students
They noticed a big increase in students taking initiative as a result of all the above.

In my first year in India I often said I felt a very strong sense of karma - of being in exactly the right place at the right time - but I didn't know why.  The more I get involved in the TTP, the more I feel that this is my reason for being here.  These teachers work in the most challenging of situations, and often for lower pay than they would in the state system.  After the TTP Saturdays, they are going back to their schools, training their colleagues, and making a difference in the lives of thousands of students.  These dedicated teachers are building India's future.  I'm humbled to be able to help them in this journey.

Photo above is a brass tree of life statue, given to us by the Aarambh School in Raipur.  It's a traditional Indian handicraft from Chhatisgarh.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Tech coaching for professional learning

This is my fourth blog post where I'm reflecting on our tech integration programme along with the ISTE Standards for Coaches.  This post is going to focus on Standard 4:  Professional Development and Program Evaluation.  At ASB our tech coaches are involved in goal setting, planning conversations, reflecting conversations and helping with the collection of evidence of student learning.  They also run professional learning sessions such as PlayDates and facilitate during some of the weekly staff meetings.  In the book Effective Digital Learning Environments, Jo Williamson writes:
Technology coaches are specialized professional development experts.  Their core mission is to help other educators maximize the use of technology in schools.  To pursue this mission, technology coaches need an advanced understanding of how teachers acquire new knowledge and skills.  They also need to know which types of professional learning activities are most likely to help teachers improve their classroom practices. Technology coaches use their expertise to design, develop and deliver high-quality professional development programs that help their colleagues learn about and learn with technology.
We all know that the best professional learning is on-going and job-embedded.  It is not a one-time workshop or dropping in to trouble-shoot a problem.  Tech coaches are used to teaching children - and they need to understand that adults are already expert learners and want their experiences to be valued.  The best way to work with adults is to ensure they are self-directed and constructing their own knowledge - and actually that's the best way to teach children too!

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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tech coaching to promote digital age learning environments

Every week I have a meeting with one of the secondary school tech integration coaches, where we practice the various cognitive coaching conversations with each other.  Yesterday I wanted to talk about how best I could support the elementary tech coaches when they coach teachers in a grade that they do not teach.  Basically, as far as cognitive coaching goes, the coach doesn't suggest what to do, but instead empowers the teachers to be self-directed.  Suggesting what to do, or working with a team to create something are other support functions (consulting and collaborating).  We talked about the fact that it shouldn't really be necessary to have a deep knowledge of the curriculum if you are coaching, as the support function is different.

Today I looked again at the ISTE Standards for Coaches, and feel that Standard 3 on digital age learning environments relates much more to instructional coaching than to cognitive coaching.  Some of the support functions mentioned in Standard 3 appear to be very different from our model of coaching.  However some of these instructional coach functions we definitely do get involved in.

For example, as teaching, learning and assessments change, planning and reflecting conversations with teachers can help them.  ISTE-C 3a and b talk about encouraging teachers to move towards more collaborative instructional and learning practices and helping teachers manage the changing classroom environment, possibly by finding, developing, sharing and implementing ideas in a technology-rich learning environment.  3c goes further and looks at online and blended learning - both for students and teachers. Again, our tech coaches can support teachers who want to blend some online learning with what they are doing in class.  At the same time our tech coaches often recommend participating in online PD to our teachers through ASB's Online Academy.

At the start of last school year we informed our teachers that tech coaches were not the same as technical support technicians.  Our tech coaches are focused on instructional approaches, not fixing broken equipment or hooking up devices.  However it's clear that our coaches are often the first point of call for teachers in their grade who are experiencing technical difficulties.  They have stepped up and helped their colleagues to resolve these problems and given them to confidence to know how to tackle them if they occur again.

Our tech coaches are often involved in prototyping new tools and devices in their classrooms.  Some of them have explored apps such as Morfo and Aurasma, some have looked at whole programmes such as using blogging as an ePortfolio, and others have concentrated on things like using mobile devices for formative assessments.  Chatting with a couple of the tech coaches today, they told me that they are constantly scanning for new technologies and evaluating new resources which they can suggest to the teachers they are coaching.

I'm still thinking about how we move between the support functions of coach, collaborator and consultant, and I'll be chatting more with our tech coaches about this over the next couple of weeks.

Do you use a model of tech coaching at your school?  If so I'd love to hear about your experiences.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Visionary Leadership

One of our aims in introducing a tech integration coaching programme (TIC) at ASB was to distribute tech leadership, to empower teachers to develop their leadership capacity to bring about change.  Because of this I have started looking at the ISTE-Cs as a way of evaluating how successful we have been in developing the leadership skills of our coaches.

As stated in the ISTE-C Standard 1a, it's important that we have a shared vision for technology integration.  At ASB this vision is for the purposeful, integrated use of technology tools to inspire creativity and innovation, support continuous inquiry, foster collaboration, enhance learning and achievement in all academic areas, and enable students to develop critical thinking skills, apply information literacy and manage complexity. This vision was constructed before we had TICs, but we feel it's important that they can communicate the vision and to help their colleagues to implement it.

Looking further in this standard, it's clear that our TICs are advocates for using technology to improve teaching and learning.  Often they need to initiate and manage change as we move towards a more student-led inquiry approach.  The standard describes how "excellent tech coaches are skillful change agents who help other educators see the need to adopt new tools and techniques."  Our TICs often need to provide instructional, technical and emotional support during these times of change.

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Evaluating the impact of tech coaching on teaching, learning and assessment

This is our second year of tech integration coaching at ASB, and currently we have 10 teachers who have taken on the additional responsibilities of coaching their colleagues.  To be clear about this:  all our tech integration coaches (TICs) are full time teachers, who have applied for this additional role. They are not given time off to do this, as most of them are coaching the teams they are actually a part of, but they do get an extra PD stipend to enable them to grow into the role.  Many of our TICs have used this stipend for the Foundation Training in Cognitive Coaching and for attending the annual ISTE Conference.

The ISTE-Cs contains a number of coaching rubrics that we used at the start of the year as part of a calibrating coaching conversation.  Do our coaches see themselves as approaching, meeting or exceeding the standards?  Since some of our coaches were new this year (and did not yet have any PD in coaching at that point) we expected that some would be approaching the standards and others would be meeting them.  Approaching the standards, in essence, is being able to identify and explain strategies and tools for tech integration. The new coaches are already applying what they know when using technology in their own classrooms, which is what we would expect as a prerequisite to becoming a tech coach, but probably at this point have not yet actively started modelling this for other teachers.

A coach who is meeting the ISTE-C standards is likely to be applying their knowledge and classroom experiences and modelling and coaching others.  To exceed the standards, a tech coach would need to analyze and evaluate the support they have given in order to provide evidence of helping colleagues achieve new skills and be able to show the impact that this has had on student learning.

The standard that I would encourage most of our coaches to focus on in their first year as a coach is Standard 2:  Teaching, Learning and Assessment.  To do this our TICs need to help their colleagues to use technology effectively - which is why we have found it vital to have coaches that are already part of teams and who are knowledgable and skillful in both their curriculum and in technology.  In Standard 2 the emphasis is on coaching and modelling to address both the content standards and technology literacy, while at the same time transforming the classroom into a  student-centred environment that meets the diverse needs and interests of all students.  During the 18 months since we have had tech coaches, I've observed the TICs trying out new ideas and tools in their own classrooms and then introducing them to their colleagues (for example using blogs as ePortfolios in Kindergarten, and using different formative assessment tools such as Kahoot, Padlet, Socrative and TodaysMeet in Grade 5), and I've seen several of them reaching out with their classes to other schools and experts around the world to collaborate in new ways, for example publishing their students' work to a wider audience (using Book Creator in Grade 5).

Much of what our TICs have been involved in is moving learning engagements and assessments away from a repackaging of facts, to tap into more higher-order thinking that support creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.  A good example of this was the recent unit our 5th Graders did where students first used online simulations to build an understanding of running a small business, then moved on to another simulation about world trade, and finally set up and ran their own small business for a morning.

At ASB we are really good at grouping and regrouping to differentiate and pesonalize the learning. We use many strategies that meet students' readiness and learning styles.  We also use a number of electronic resources for this such as Khan Academy, IXL and Mathletics in math, and Tumble Books, RazKids and Quizlet in literacy.  In Kindergarten and Grade 1 the students have "Dailies" where they move to different stations such as Listen to Reading, Read to Self and so on, where they are working independently and at their own level using some of these online resources.

Our TICs also work with teachers to create resources that can be used with students.  This could be a resource website or something as simple as a Google Form to collect in feedback.  We expect our TICs to have a strong knowledge of instructional design so that they can give good help and advice when coaching their colleagues to create learning engagements and evaluate student work.

Assessment and data analysis is becoming increasingly important for our TICs.  I've seen an increase in tools being used for formative assessments that have given feedback to teachers and allowed them to adjust their instruction.  As well as this I've seen technology being used to construct online forms and surveys, make rubrics for self and peer evaluation, and to give feedback directly onto the students' products.  Over the past 4 years, we have had an annual tech audit where we have collected and analyzed student artefacts, both by ISTE-S Standard and according to Bloom's Digital Taxonomy.  The TICs have assisted teachers in adding their artefacts onto the Google Site where the evidence has been visualized, analyzed and interpreted, and then used by the TICs as part of their initial coaching conversations with teachers to help them set their goals for the year. The data collected has been used to determine teachers' strengths and areas for growth, and we have been able to target the growth with personalized PD.  Evidence from the tech audits in the elementary school shows a change in the way technology has been used over the past 3 years. In 2013 the majority of artefacts collected indicated that technology was being used for tasks that involved lower-order thinking (62% of artefacts collected in 2013 were characterized as remembering and understanding). By 2015 the number of artefacts showing lower-order thinking had dropped to 27%. Conversely, artefacts characterized as applying, analyzing and evaluating, which accounted for 20% of the total number collected in 2013, are now in the majority: in 2015, 51% of artefacts submitted were tagged by teachers as applying analyzing and evaluating. There has also been a small increase in the number of artefacts categorized as creating - from 18% in 2013 to 22% in 2015.

To meet the requirements of the ISTE-C our TICs have had to becoming knowledgeable about more than just technology - as you can see they need to develop their expertise in teaching, learning and assessment.  They need to be able to help their colleagues to use technology for effective teaching, and they need to be able to provide evidence that they have brought about positive changes that have led to improved student achievement.   Looking at the evidence from our Tech Audits, it would seem that our "full-time teachers, part-time coaches" have exceeded expectations.

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016


A friend of mine who moved from London to the north of England put her daughter into the local village school.  There were 2 classes, what we would call in England the "infants" class from ages 5 - 7 and the "junior" class from ages 8 - 11.  Both classes involved mixed age teaching.  My friend's daughter is now about to embark upon her Ph.D.  An early education in a "micro-school" clearly worked for her.

In last month's R&D meeting we discussed micro-schools - not really schools set up by themselves but more the concept of a "school within a school".  We discussed how a micro-school could be one way of testing new ideas about personalizing learning.  A micro-school is one that would serve less than 153 students (the magical Dunbar's number, mentioned in a previous post) as research has shown that when a school gets beyond 150 students it becomes difficult for adults to keep track of individual students.  In a micro-school learning is mainly student-led, with students given more power to determine how they spend their time.  Teachers in such schools are most definitely the "guides on the side", managing a wide variety of learning styles in a community of learners where students are free to follow their interests and curiosities and where they have autonomy and ownership over their work.

Although all micro-schools vary, there are a number of commonalities, including the push to make learning more authentic.  The focus is on interdisciplinary learning, customized for each child, where students construct their knowledge and skills through inquiry. Today's micro-schools use technology to capture data on student progress, and so can easily evaluate what each student is learning, and at the same time many of these schools empower the students to collaboratively create and define the standards of the class.  These schools generally focus on one project at a time, and allow students to go through several iterations of the projects when creating and redefining their work.

Research into micro-schools brought us to The Future of School website, where there are posts about creating tiny schools.  The following quotation is taken from the article about micro-schools:
Obsolescence - not brokenness - is the problem.  We need to explore entirely new methods of organizing our schools, distilling what the most important role for schools might be instead of heaping ever more requirements on an old model.
At our R&D meeting we started discussing what a micro-school would look like, based on the school within a school model.  We looked at The Innovation Academy at the American School of Lima in Peru, and we made a very early start on ideating what a micro-school could be like in our community. Watch out for future updates as we continue this work.

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