Monday, 13 April 2020

Home Learning ; One Parent Shares their Story

Faith, hope and innovation at our school were key themes of my previous post. Please place your faith and hope in our innovative staff as we are assure all families that our children will flourish with Home Learning this term. Let's focus on the core values our children live out at school as we support each other with a positive mindset at home.

On Sunday 22nd March, the Victorian Premier announced that schools would close early, almost a week before Term 1 was officially due to end. The global COVID-19 pandemic was unfolding. Every few days new restrictions were introduced until home isolation became the norm for most of us.

Fortunately, at the end of Term 1, our teachers had prepared and uploaded Term 2 Home Learning resources on our Learning Community Site. We wanted to be ready in case school wouldn't resume. At that stage, little did we comprehend the full meaning of the national "Stay Home and Stay Safe" slogan.

On Tuesday 7th April, just before Easter, we were officially told that schools would remain closed for Term 2. Immediately our staff responded. We held a Zoom leadership meeting and began to review and prepare detailed plans to ensure a smooth and supportive transition for our community to Home Learning.

In the interim, I received a number of emails from parents with questions, concerns and worries over and above the COVID-19 challenges already impacting families. To support parents and hopefully allay any anxiety, I responded with a Frequently Asked Questions FAQ tab on the Learning Community Site. Our staff have indeed been working hard behind the scenes. You can access a preview of the detailed daily planner which includes time to share tasks with the teacher and extension opportunities at this link. 

Amidst these communications, I received an Easter blessing. It was an encouraging message of hope in the form of an email from a parent, Brooke, who trialled our Home Learning resources with her children during the holidays. Brooke was happy for me to share her story to help encourage and support other parents. Brooke is a mother of two children, Evie in Year 3 and Chloe in Prep. Just as Brooke said to her daughters.. "this will look and feel different to school", we cannot and do not intend for you to replicate school learning at home but together we can create a supportive Home Learning environment that works for your family.

Here is Brooke's story..

I made sure that the girls are aware that we are continuing to do their schoolwork daily, but that it will look and feel different to their classrooms. It’s sub-structured, so I ensure that we still go for a walk or a quick bike ride. I utilise Cosmic Kids for yoga classes, and I know there are other resources to keep the kids active inside when its wet and cold. I also incorporate learning, so they aren’t even aware they are learning i.e. cooking, getting them to get the specific ingredients, use their maths skills etc…… or I may make up a scavenger hunt out in the backyard and they need to tick off their items from their list.

The night prior, I set all of us up for the following day. I will go through what they have completed and what needs to be actioned and make an outline for the next day. I make sure that Evie incorporates reading every day and she completes her daily diary after she has read. She will spend 20-30 mins reading and may do this over 2 parts of the day.  She is organised. We have her weekly spelling words so each day she writes these into her book and practices and on Friday I do a spelling and dictation test with her. Evie is also attentive and makes time each day for her writing. I normally get Evie to complete these tasks when I am working one on one with Chloe, as I know she is more than capable and completes these successfully. Chloe, who obviously in Prep needs support, especially in terms of reading and understanding words, phonics and pronunciation.

We have been working on the year level documents provided on the school Learning Community Site which provide good guidance. As Evie is self-sufficient and motivated she can complete her maths tasks, and when Chloe is working on something independently, I will then sit with Evie and we go through this. We identify if she didn’t understand anything, work through and then correct her work. Besides writing and maths, some days we allocate the other tasks such as narrative writing which Evie did a great job on. She drafted this, we discussed it and when she was happy, she wrote it into her book.

I am also allowing them time to be creative. They make up stories together and they both love drawing and colouring so I give them that opportunity and it breaks up the day for all of us. I have been using FUSE and they have good resources. I think keeping the children involved too is important as they can then take ownership. I know Evie would specify if there was something, she wanted to work on i.e. history work etc. For the Youtube clips they both watched these together and again it's just making the time to do this.  I ask them questions afterwards to gauge their understanding.

In terms of Chloe, Reading Eggs has been fantastic, she is really doing well on that. I am encouraging her to continue with this. She completes Reading Eggs and Sunshine Online daily for 30-60 mins per day and she is very keen which is positive. We have utilised Top Marks for her maths and again I follow up in everyday discussions to get her thinking. For me, the biggest concern with a Prep is ensuring they can read, so I am working hard on this, and trying to put things in place to help such as Reading Eggs. I am working on Chloe's understanding of phonic and the chunking of words, so we break them apart. I have printed Oxford wordlists and specific words that I have turned into my own cue cards/flash cards and daily I focus on 5-10 words and we go through these, pronouncing them, sounding them out so she actually understands them and then do a mini test at the end of it to gauge where she is at.

We read daily, and I was hoping we may be able to get some readers from school. She finished her scrapbook and loved this. I have other similar worksheets and books that she also completes. I encourage writing, she writes the alphabet fully for me, and is learning how to space out her letters and put them on a line. Chloe also writes the days of the week and she practices her name. I am just getting her to feel confident with her writing and again understanding her letters and words.

Other adhoc things I incorporate – puzzles, they love memory games, play – using their imagination, keeping them active, helping around the house, cooking etc.

Personally, I have found knowing what you want to achieve for the day makes it easier, as I then know what one child can do whilst I am focussing on the other. I break up the work spaces too giving them variety. Some days we are all on the dining table, other days they are working on the kitchen bench or I have one in the other lounge room where I can see reading and then focussing on the other so that both get the attention they need.

What do the girls think of Home Learning ?
Evie shares, “Despite missing being at school and seeing all of my friends I am enjoying being at home and learning with my Mum & sister. It’s a different type of learning, but we are making the most of it and Mum is making it enjoyable for us both”.
Chloe said, “I miss my friends, but I am trying to learn how to read and keep doing my work. Mum helps me with writing, and I love Reading Eggs and Sunshine Online!” 

Brooke said to me, "I can understand that there are many parents feeling anxious about the term, it’s not always easy juggling it, but having the guidance we have been given via yourself and the teachers, and so many great resources out there it alleviates some of the stress."

Thanks to Brooke for sharing her story and photos of her family in action.

Every home setting will naturally be unique to the family living there. You will be able to support your children's learning in a way that works for your family. Please understand that our experienced and approachable staff will be with you all of the way and we know that a strong parent school partnership supported by our core values will enable all of us to adapt to this new way of learning and change2flourish.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Rome, Review, Regeneration leads to Faith, Hope and Innovation

Two incredibly deep and rich experiences in 2019 contributed to the regeneration of a leadership model enabling authentic growth of shared capability across our school in 2020.
Principals from across Melbourne connect at the Trevi Fountain
The first experience was a sponsored, residential formation program in Italy entitled Educating Head, Heart and Hands made available through a partnership between Catholic Education Melbourne (CEM) and Australian Catholic University (ACU). The intensive residential programme was taught through ACU's postgraduate unit Catholic Education - Mission, Culture and Spirituality. After three weeks of lectures, workshops and excursions to places of religious significance including an audience with Pope Francis, I attempted to capture my reflection in several ways. I presented a slideshow of photos and gifted artefacts to the staff, board and the children at my school. Yet, this was all at a superficial level. I remained dissatisfied with my efforts.
Eight months later, I realise that the breadth and depth of the Rome immersive learning experience was boundless.
The powerful experience still lingers within my very being and is subconsciously influencing my thoughts, decisions, interactions and dialogue with colleagues, family and friends.
Here is a brief snapshot of statements that reflect my experience in Rome:
  • Rome oozes Catholicity from every nook and cranny 
  • Rome is a vibrant city where social actions abound
  • Frescoes from the past tell stories that bring rich Catholic and interfaith traditions to life today
  • The Vatican offices shared strong messages about the need for an educational revolution focused on humanity (Global Compact on Education)
  • Encyclical "Laudato Si" is more than caring for the environment but about caring for the sacred dignity of humanity.
  • "Education is a matter of the heart.." St John Bosco
  • Be positive and celebrate our Catholic faith. Celebrate all of the good that Catholics from the past have done and Catholics from the present are doing now.
  • Celebrate the faith-filled God that is welcoming, forgiving and loving, not condescending or judging.
Wise words from CEM leaders during the post-program session continue to resound within my head, heart and hands: "tap into something rich and deep"; "it's a well to draw upon"; "our system will be richer for the experience" (Sharkey, Fumei & Lennon, 2019).

Immediately after Rome, I was immersed into the second experience, our four yearly school review. We were fortunate to be able to choose the style of the review. We chose a Specific Focus Review as a specialised challenge for improvement in specific, focused areas emanating from rigorous, evidence-based self-reflection.
The review was an authentic, deep inquiry into school wide practices led by an independent reviewer in conjunction with CEM. You can read about the review process at this link. As the review was a true inquiry, the outcome was unexpected, yet aligned with our school vision and core values and made perfect sense. You can read the full review report prepared by Mary Wilson, the Lead Reviewer at this link.
An outcome of the review was that staff developed a totally different leadership model to trial as a "practice field" for 2020. The process of developing this model and the way it is still evolving in practice is innovative for our unique school community. The model is inherently underpinned by the message from Rome:
We are all responsible together as teachers and leaders in our school to carry out the message from Vatican II - the mission of the Church ; to enable the full flourishing of humanity.

For the past two years, staff professional learning with the Schools That Deliver Network, is enabling our community to flourish. Every staff member has en equal voice in all decisions within our school. At the same time, we make space and time for every individual to share their gifts and talents and contribute to bringing our school wide shared vision to life not excluding students and parents.
For example:
  • "We seek opportunities for social justice connections.." Student-driven initiatives such as Hayden's Helping Hands led by the Palmer family is an outreach action from the heart.  
  • "St Patrick's school taps into the expertise and initiatives of our parents.." numerous parents are contributing their skills to workgroups including: Child Safety; Occupational Health and Safety; Inclusion and Diversity; Grants; Education ; Parents and Friends

Using a "Schools That Deliver mindset" where every voice is heard, staff reflected on the recommendations from the review (the "archaeological dig") and a new leadership model that encourages everyone to take ownership and contribute collectively emerged.
At the staff Consultative Meeting in October 2019, based on the review data, it was clear that school wide traditional Positions of Leadership (POL) needed to be revisited and recontextualised to align with the review outcomes and school vision narrative. The Consultative Committee agreed that the Leadership Team (8 teachers representative of all areas across the school) would work together and use the review data and staff voice collated from two post review staff meetings to develop a team based POL model. The outcome is a team based approach to growing leadership capacity and capability across our staff.

The team based approach is a shift from silos of learning led by independent leaders to collaborative learning teams. Every staff member is part of an equitable team and together take responsibility within three areas agreed on by staff: Faith and Community; Faith, Wellbeing and Diversity; Faith and Curriculum. 
Just as all schools include Child Safety on every meeting agenda, we agreed to include the word "faith" in all of our teams. We want to ensure that the Catholicity of our school is kept at the forefront of all that we do.
The first sentence of our shared school vision states: St Patrick's is a school where our Catholic identity underpins all we do. Our new School Improvement Plan reflects this innovative approach. Once a week after school, two POL leaders from within each team work alongside staff to achieve the annual actions developed by teams from the School Improvement Plan.

Four years ago, little did I know that the words inscribed on a thoughtful gift from a colleague; "For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a for a future "(Jeremiah 29:11) would inspire our whole school community.

The gift is the centrepiece of the meeting table in my office and has remained in view for those gathering around the table for numerous meetings over the past three years.
When our 2020 Leadership Team met before the new school year began, the theme of hope emerged in light of a summer of devastating bushfires and ongoing challenges for colleagues, family members and friends and the more recent Coronavirus (COVID -19) pandemic.
As a principal representative on the Victorian Association of Catholic Primary School Principals (VACPSP) conference committee, all members agreed that the theme for the 2021 conference will be Hope - Hope for now and whatever lies ahead. I was pleased to be able to share aspects of my Rome experience to underpin my contribution in supporting the hope theme for the VACPSP conference.

We have commenced 2020 with a renewed focus on who we are as teachers and leaders in a Catholic school today within a plural context. We have hope for our community and each other.

We are hopeful that our planned approach to build staff capability will "create autonomy for staff to drive innovation for things that matter to them " (Edwards 2018). Being innovative is not about jumping in at the deep end and trying the latest fad. Innovation means "stretching our learning and going beyond what we already know ; moving beyond the safety of competence" ( Edwards 2018). Innovation is about being purposeful about understanding the needs of a context and taking brave actions for improvement based on an in depth analysis of data.
The focus of the 2018 Schools That Deliver Conference was a powerful Innovation Model designed by Edwards and Witten-Hannah. You can read my reflection at this link and watch the short video I created. The Innovation Model has a proven record of delivering significant results in business, sporting and educational institutions.
Edwards and Witten-Hannah Innovation Model
I can liken our regeneration and recontextualisation experience to the Edwards and Witten-Hannah Innovation Model:
  • Phase One of Innovation: The Understanding Phase The strong, deep and effective self-review process led by Mary Wilson, enabled us to deeply understand our needs with the one resounding recommendation that came for all parties: To embrace, embed and embody in all we do.... "St Patrick's is a school where our Catholic identity underpins all we do".
  • Phase Two of Innovation: The Design Phase The post review engagement activities with staff and leadership enabled an opportunity to present multiple solutions and identify the strongest leadership model to test in 2020.
  • Phase Three of Innovation: The Implementation Phase The team leadership model is now being tested as a practice field for 2020 and six weeks into the school year response from staff so far include: "We are all learning together";"Authentic staff voice is guiding our decisions";"We are all hands on now, problem solving together. We are no longer reliant on one person's knowledge"; "We have to remind each other of the Senge mental models we follow as a staff - "slower is faster" and "less is more"; "the knowledge is in the room".
  • Phase Four of Innovation: The Refine Phase Weekly cadence review meetings focus on feedback and invite rich, open and honest dialogue enabling ongoing refinement of the model.
As recommended in our review report: "Teachers and leaders are all taking responsibility with the powerful voice of classroom practitioners guiding the pace, peeling back complex layers and aiming to do less and do it well, enabling the Catholic identity to authentically underpin all that we do at St Patrick's."
Pope Francis reminds us that he is still learning. We are all learning and we are responsible for deepening our faith together. Our diversity is a gift and contributes to our ability to enrich the head, hearts and minds of each other and the diversity of our community. We are fortunate to work in a system that allows freedom to innovate and places trust in school leaders to understand the unique needs of their school communities.
Purposeful and continuous iterations of our leadership model will contribute to the regeneration and growth of shared capability across our school and provide agency for our community to flourish.

Catholic Education Melbourne for sponsoring the Educating, Head, Hearts and Hands formation program for Principals and Leaders 2019.
Dr Paul Sharkey, Paul Fumei and Chris Lennon (wise CEM leaders quoted above).
Professor Sr Peta Goldburg rsm (LIC), Professor Br David Hall fms and Fr Anthony Casamento csma from ACU & CUA Campus Garibaldi 28, Rome
Mary Wilson from BATS Your vision your future
William Martin, John Edwards, Mary Wilson, Teresa Edwards from Schools That Deliver
Annie Nelson, Principal, St Mary's Gore, New Zealand (thank you for your gift of hope x)

Research for the above blogpost began in 2019 during a time when Rome was untouched by COVID-19. Today, on the 26th March 2020, only two weeks after publishing this post, Italy and many countries around the world including Australia and New Zealand have gone into lock down to enable humanity to survive the fatal virus. I recently read that although silence abounds in the deserted streets of Rome, the church bells continue to ring out. With heartfelt prayers for healthcare workers and essential service personnel at the forefront of this pandemic may we hold tight to the sacred dignity of humanity with a profound sense of hope and a renewed future.

I wish to acknowledge Laura Kelly Fanucci, the author of this poem published on 18 March 2020:

When this is over, may we never again take for granted
A handshake with a stranger, Full shelves at the store, Conversations with neighbours, 
A crowded theatre, Friday night out, The taste of communion
A routine checkup, The school rush each morning, Coffee with a friend, The stadium roaring
Each deep breath, A boring Tuesday,
Life itself.
When this ends, may we find that we have become more like the people 
we wanted to be, we were called to be, we hoped to be and may we stay that way — better for each other because of the worst.