As schools return for the third term, welcome to another exciting edition of Connected Leader.
Let me begin by thanking those of you who completed the APPA Teacher Education and Classroom Readiness survey. The resulting report has just been completed and we will comment on this important report in the next edition.
What do you picture when I mention the following terms: computer, ICT, coding, technology, digital, e-learning, flip teaching, programming, virtual world, cloud learning, etc…? Hopefully, not too many frightening or emotional responses. However, I would understand if there were at least a few who have been more than once impacted by the curse of a digital virus or bug; not to mention the failure of technology to work when you want it! We are expanding our knowledge and the impact of digital technology has created a huge shift in teaching and learning, our work practice and life in general.
I started in teaching with chalk and ink for technology. The pen replaced ink and the touch screen has replaced the blackboard and chalk by white board markers or remote controllers. This change has been fast in some schools and slower in others. The classroom practice and tools of 2105 are very different from 1975. Has teacher training kept up with this change? Graduates finishing at the end of 2014 would have started their course just before the iPad entered the market. In some schools they might now be expected to be operating their teaching and learning classes by iPad. I wondered what training they would have received. What training is now being provided?
Teaching is going through an evolution that is challenging many people. Maybe one reason is that for many teachers and parents their memory of school is different and so our mental mindsets are being challenged and we are needing to rebuild our model of school. It is like we (older teachers and parents) are living on Earth and our students are on Mars time, thinking and communication. I note for some the change has been actively taken up, whereas for others there is still work to be done. As Tony Wagner (2014) believes, we need a new dialogue for our children’s future. We need to acknowledge that school is different and “… maybe students today do need something different. I wonder what it is?” (p. 269). We need to be teaching the learning our students need today but unfortunately some are still teaching for yesterday.
I attended the 2016 EduTECH conference in Brisbane and noted the great enthusiasm by attendees for learning about the use of technology as a tool for learning. The other growing trend was sharing on innovative learning environments, maker spaces or Self Organising Learning Environments (SOLE: see Prof Sugata Mitra or http://soleaustralianetwork.wikiispaces.com/)
The conference opened with Eric Mazur (http://mazur.harvard.edu/). The key message for me was about assessment and how this is also changing. We are moving from standardised testing and learning to personalised learning and assessment. Computers or robotic machines will replace functions where repetition is required. Therefore, we need people who can adapt, solve problems and innovate new solutions. Mazur suggested four improvements for assessment to reflect the new learning approach: Open Book Exams; Team-based Learning; Focus on Feedback; and, Focus on Skills.
We need to “rethink assessment as we continue to educate people for yesterday not tomorrow.”
A discussion panel looked at the learning environment and I noted the following points for consideration by future planners of learning environments:
APPA has called for a National Digital Technologies Strategy. We need a strategy that will support primary schools to integrate digital technologies into the curriculum. Placing digital technologies and coding in the curriculum is just the start. We need every teacher to be confident in integrating digital technologies. This is vital for our students to develop the skills and capabilities to live and work in a digital world. The strategy must include the leadership of schools, resources for students and building the capacity of every teacher. We know of many primary schools embracing the digital learning world.
APPA is working with ScopeIT Education to support principals in building the capacity of their school to engage digital skills in an integrated model. With ScopeIT, technology takes off in the classroom and brings the ‘know how’ that empowers primary students of all ages to code and create their dreams. Whether introducing students to coding and real world, hands-on electric design or engaging in computer software, website and application design and construction, ScopeIT takes design and technology to a new level in our schools. ScopeIT brings the latest laptops, the most cutting-edge software available into every classroom. The activities are aligned to the curriculum and the learning is fun, interactive, engaging, inspiring and educational.
Recently, I visited Mt Kuring-Gai Public School in New South Wales to discuss the program with principal Glenn O’Neill and students. The enthusiasm for the program was evident and Glenn’s comment was simple: “It ticks all the boxes.” My key observation was the program builds the capacity of teachers and the students can readily access their learning when ScopeIT have finished for the day. This may just be a solution to bringing the best in IT to the classroom without the enormous outlay of technology hardware, connectivity issues or expensive professional learning offsite.
APPA will continue to work with national bodies ACARA and AITSL to build strong and informed learning platforms that assist school communities, principals and teachers in bringing our schools into the digital (Mars!) world of our students.
What a great opportunity to spend time with primary school colleagues from across Australia and New Zealand discussing and sharing innovations, leadership, ideas and strategies to create great schools. And shouldn’t we build strong partnerships with other schools? Still considering? Stop! Ring up three colleagues and come as a team. See it as networking and a great place for a study tour. We look forward to seeing many principals and school leaders from all sectors across Australia in Hobart come September.
I wish everyone an enjoyable and successful school term.
President, Australian Primary Principals Association
Mobile: 0466 655 468
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Where are you currently working as a school leader?
I am currently Head of Junior School at Wenona, a K-12 non-denominational girls school in North Sydney, NSW, where I oversee 40 staff and 320 students from kindergarten to year 6. This is my third year in the role and I have loved every minute of it. Wenona is a very dynamic, high performing school with a strong service learning tradition at its core. It has been exhilarating to work with our principal, Dr Briony Scott, to help realise her vision of educating ‘Renaissance Women’ who are not only exceptionally well-educated but are mindful, courageous, ambitious and thoughtful world citizens.
I have particularly enjoyed the challenge of designing learning experiences that equip girls to be comfortable stepping up to leadership roles, along with serving in the poorest areas of the world and speaking out for what they believe in. Girls need to be resilient and get out of their comfort zones; they need exposure to STEM subjects and they need to learn compassion, humility and service. It is daunting at times to reflect on the responsibility of being an educational leader today but there is no doubt about the value of this work. This is what makes my job so rewarding. I am making a difference to the younger women of tomorrow and it is exciting to be part of the journey with them.
How long have you been a school leader? What/where was your first appointment?
During my career I have enjoyed various educational leadership roles in both the secondary and primary sectors. I enjoy the natural curiosity and wonder of early childhood and the intellectual rigor of classes with adolescents. I have been teaching for 35 years. My love of literature and performing meant that training as a secondary English, history and drama teacher was a natural career for me. I still love analysing great texts, co-constructing essays and mounting school productions. My first school leadership role was as assistant to the principal at Kincoppal-Rose School, School of the Sacred Heart, in Rose Bay, Sydney, in 1991. The role was a new one at the school and encompassed pastoral care, student discipline and general organisation. I maintained a small teaching role and I would recommend that all principals/school leaders maintain some time in the classroom. There is nothing more rewarding for a teacher than building a strong rapport with students, presenting ideas and watching them relate, create, and grow. I was fortunate that the new head of the school was innovative and highly supportive. His mentoring of me gave me the confidence to design and implement a formalised pastoral care system of year co-ordinators and formal timetabled pastoral care lessons incorporating ‘learning to learn’ study skills, time management and self-reflection.
I went on to serve on the School Executive for eight years as Director of Pastoral Care and was then asked to serve as acting principal of the Junior School for a short while. I absolutely loved the role: the interaction with younger students, the greater communication with parents, the increased complexity of children’s foundational learning, and so I fell in love with primary education. I was permanently appointed to the role and served for 12 years in a very dynamic and strong community with a beautiful Sacred Heart tradition. After 27 years at Kincoppal-Rose Bay, I felt that I needed to be brave and practice what I preach with my students, i.e. ‘to get out of your comfort zone and take risks to learn and grow’. It was difficult to leave a school that had nurtured me professionally for so many years, and provided me with rich experiences with so many families and students.
I was appointed as deputy principal K-12 to The McDonald College, North Strathfield, in 2010. This is a co-educational Performing Arts school with students auditioning and specialising in either ballet, dance, drama, music or musical theatre. It was a pure joy to indulge my love of theatre by attending so many outstanding student performances and seeing what was possible through sheer hard work, countless hours of rehearsal and committed and talented teachers. There is something quite special about the energy and drive of young performers and elite sporting students. It is a privilege to design curriculum to allow students to be well-educated and to fit this around a demanding rehearsal/training schedule.
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When, and why, did you originally want to become a school leader?
The truth is that I never really set out to be a school leader. I just threw myself into the fabric of school life, both academically and co-curricular, and built many skills along the way. Collaboration with professional colleagues honed my skills, and when opportunities arose, I was lucky enough to be afforded these opportunities for growth. I love the chance to positively influence others and bring about change for the better. Devising a plan, nurturing the new ideas of others and combining the various skills of many, makes leadership in schools a very exciting role. When you are passionate about student learning and equipping them for an unknown future, it is very humbling and yet rewarding to play a role in bringing about transformation in the lives of those in your community. Leading fellow teachers, mentoring colleagues, setting up ‘step up’ moments for others all creates strong teams of educators working together to assist students. It is a noble profession, teaching.
Being a lifelong learner is part of being a school leader. The role modelling for staff, parents and students comes from the top. I don’t believe you can determine best pedagogy without the experience of being a student yourself. Learning with, and from, students and colleagues keeps one young and on an exciting professional and personal journey. I am currently taking the AIS (Association of Independent schools) Flagship Program for school leaders, a mindfulness course and a Growth Coaching course. The AIS course is assisting me to be more reflective in my practice and develop an action research project for my school; the mindfulness program is assisting with my personal growth and providing balance in my life as well as preparing me to teach mindfulness to other teachers and students. Finally, the Growth Coaching is assisting me to help teachers be the best they can be; it has taught me about listening and allowing others to map out steps to achieve their goals. There is much more I need and want to learn. But I do this with a sense of curiosity and adventure. My journey is truly a never-ending quest and odyssey.
What was your worst day?
Schools are communities. Educational leadership is highly relational, as well as operational and strategic. The death of a member of your school community is very confronting. Providing comfort to a child who has experienced death is a very delicate and important role. My worst days have been when I have witnessed intense pain and suffering in others; when a relationship has broken down and there is a ripple effect throughout the community or where there is a mental health issue. Your role is to listen and support others, manage communications and ensure dignity, respect and privacy for others. One of my hardest days was watching a child being taken home by one parent according to family court orders and that child being separated from siblings and the other parent. There is a tension between being strong for others and managing communications and processes with dignity. At these times, managing your own emotions can be very challenging.
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What makes you smile at work?
Children say exactly what they think. Their expressions and interpretations of life always make me smile. The humour of my hard-working colleagues brings me great perspective and joy. They have taught me not to take myself too seriously in the role and have fun while you are doing the most important job in the world. I often say to parents with complete sincerity, ‘I have the best job in the world.’ Recently, I got to take kindergarten to year 2 students on an outdoor adventure learning about water life. I held a two-day-old duckling and chased it in the school pond, read a story to all of years 3 to 6 as part of the National Story Telling Day, dressed up as a parrot for our ‘P for Peru’ fundraising party, and felt tears in my eyes as I sang Waltzing Matilda with year 6 at the National Reconciliation Day Assembly. All of these were just regular school activities and events. However, they are imbued with magic when seen through the eyes of children. When I read something written by a student and have a window into their thinking, I always smile. Teaching is indeed a vocation. I love my job!
Mrs Sharryn Naylor, Head of Junior School, Wenona, North Sydney, NSW
Debra J. Crouch
Mobile: 0413 009988
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Connected Leader is an official publication of the Australian Primary Principals Association. In close collaboration with APPA, Connected Leader is designed, produced and edited, specifically for APPA members, by Debra J. Crouch, Managing Director of Vivid Word and Image design, to enhance the professional learning of Australian primary school leaders.
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