Saturday, 7 September 2019

Archaeological Dig Unearths Invaluable Treasures

After returning from a trip to Rome, a city known for it's archaeological treasures,  I was astonished to discover that our school review would mirror an "archaeological dig". The"dig" was an authentic, hands on experience, where open ended questions generated rich, deep dialogue and the unearthing of layer upon layer of invaluable treasures.

An archaeological "dig" in Rome.
In April 2019, our leadership team began gathering evidence of student, staff and parent voice to inform our Specific Focus School Review (this link provides background information about the review). The evidence reflected our core value focus around respect and positivity and included records of conversations, emails, See saw posts and notes from meetings with the Student Representative Council. Preparation for the review involved completing a self-assessment of the Leadership and Management, Student Well Being and Religious School Improvement Framework (SIF) Rubrics from Catholic Education Melbourne. We also revisited our Enhancing Catholic Identity survey data and RE surveys in light of the Horizons of Hope education framework for the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

The review led by Mary Wilson (renowned international, executive coach ) took place towards the end of August 2019. The agreed focus question that drove the review was:

How could our research and inquiry culture be further developed to maximise impact for the learner?

Striving to remain loyal to the voice of staff explicitly articulated in a vision narrative developed with the Schools That Deliver Network early in 2018, meant making sure our review specifically aligned with the vision. You can read about the vision process at this link.

In the shared vision it states:

“The whole staff are involved in decisions regarding Action Research. Any research is relevant to the needs of our learners and is used to strengthen outcomes, ensuring the curriculum has a positive and meaningful impact.”

The agreed review methodology was:

1. Staff action research will inform the review and the future focus.
2. The action learning process will be utilised throughout the review period as the data is used to design action, perform the action, gather more data and design new action, perform that action and so on.
3. The review will involve all staff, students and wider community.
4. The review will be led by the leadership team.

On the second day of the review, Mary invited the leadership team to carry out an archaeological dig of the evidence. We worked in pairs to examine the evidence in depth, leading to the revelation of treasures; affirmations, commendations and recommendations. Here were some of the questions that guided the archaeological dig:

How has our research inquiry process maximised impact for our learners ?
What are the things we need to develop further ?
What are the key impacts of our action research based culture ? and What have we done really well ?

Commendations -  Based on the data, what are the key things we have embedded with great quality ?
Affirmations - What are we doing well and need to keep working on ?
Recommendations -What are the next steps going forward ?

At the end of the "dig", we met with staff and shared the process but not the treasures with them. Staff were given time to work in pairs and record their commendations, affirmations and recommendations.

SNAP !! When we matched the leadership treasures to the staff treasures - they aligned perfectly.

What are the treasures ? What are the affirmations, commendations and recommendations ?
Once we receive the formal report from Mary, we will proudly share our treasures and our next steps forward.

Rest assured, feedback about the experience of the review was resoundingly positive.
Some of the words and phrases used by staff to describe the review included :
ownership, transparency, collaboration, explicit, supportive, energising, exciting, trust in the process and the facilitator, the archeological dig, the time for rich dialogue and reflection with leadership and staff, triads gave everyone a voice.
One leader said, "In the past, reviews have been academic centred. This was more about the social and emotional well being of the students"
Another leader stated, "I am proud of the progress we have made. We now have a positive staff culture where everyone is committed to our vision and the well being of all learners ".

An archaeological dig unearthed invaluable school treasures. 
The treasures align with our vision.
We can be assured that:
Learners leave St Patrick’s self motivated and ready to make a positive impact on their world.

A recent student led Daffodil Day

Special thanks to Mary Wilson, Maree Holmes (Principal Consultant, CEM), our St Patrick's leadership team and all staff, students and community members who contributed to the review. Thanks to Catholic Education Melbourne for allowing our school to take ownership of the process and enable the review to be an authentic, organic, energising and engaging action research project.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Specific Focus Review Through a Core Values Lens

What is a school review ?
Every four years, a school is formally reviewed to compliment the school's ongoing self-review practices. A formal review is an opportunity to ensure the full flourishing of every student in the school's care and the school's commitment to achieving the highest possible standards.
Our school is due to be reviewed this year.
The following information is a summary of Catholic Education Melbourne (CEM) resources with regards to a school review.

These are the key questions a review should answer:
  • How do we ensure that review covers the multi-dimensional nature of learning?
  • How do we ensure that review has a clear focus on supporting teacher quality?
  • How do we ensure that review leads to specific and disciplined cycles of improvement?
  • How do we ensure that the religious dimension is deeply embedded within the review process? 

How do we make the review an authentic part of school life and not an extra ?
Schools can decide on the review style that best meets their needs. In order for the review to purposefully align with our shared vision and core value work, we have chosen to have a Specific Focus Review. For this style of review, we engage an independent expert to work with the school and plan the review in partnership with the CEM regional office. The independent expert is known as a critical friend. The critical friend supports the leadership team to carry out a rigorous review and concludes with a report. The report provides recommendations to ensure the school is committed to achieving the highest standards possible and contributing to the full flourishing of every student. Our Specific Focus review will take place in Week 7 for two days during Term 3.
The final review report is prepared by the critical friend.
A necessary component of all styles of review is the compliance audit. This is carried out over one full day by a VRQA (Victorian Registration & Qualifications Authority) compliance auditor. Our compliance audit will take place for one day during Week 8 in Term 3.
By the end of Term 3 our review will be complete and we will receive a personalised report to inform our school improvement planning for the next four years.

Religious Dimension for 2019
 All CEM schools engaging in school review will engage with the religious dimension during 2019 through a process of self reflection which incorporates a newly developed School Improvement Framework Religious Dimension Scaffold and Rubric.
The Religious Dimension Scaffold will suggest ways in which all of the dimensions of the review might be considered from a Catholic perspective. The scaffold will also support schools to evaluate those elements of school life which are explicitly religious: prayer, Religious Education, liturgy and pastoral care. The rubric will highlight the critical areas of school life which need to be evaluated to ensure that its Catholic identity is at the centre of the school’s ongoing improvement agenda.

Core values agreed on by staff
 How will we gather evidence for our review ?
We will use the core values as the lens through which we gather data for the review. The values were chosen by staff in 2018 as the five key ways to treat each other at our school. The values link to the CEM Horizons of Hope curriculum with a clear focus on honouring the sacred dignity of the human person. If we concentrate on the human element, we will build a sense of belonging and increase student wellbeing data whilst contributing to a natural lift in academic standards.

We will spend about eight weeks focusing on each of the core values beginning with We respect and value one another, followed by We are positive. We will develop shared meanings of the values and  be explicit about what they look like in action. This will help to strengthen them and bring them to life in our community. Staff and children will be able to be "core value detectives" and gather real life examples of children demonstrating the values happening in a positive way in the playground and in the classroom.
During Term 2 and the first half of Term 3 we will review the way the core values are maximising impact for the learner by gathering evidence of the values in action through:
  • Stories and feedback from conversations with parents
  • Academic data through NAPLAN and assessment reports
  • Insight SRC data
  • Resilience Survey Data
  • Stories from children at school
  • Newsletters, website, social media, staff meetings and board meetings 
  • Personnel around the school such as teachers, office staff, LSO's
  • OSH Team Kids (share the core values with them too)
  • Awards recognising the core values in context
  • Seesaw across the school
  • Explicit reference of the values during dialogue and meetings with each other, children and parents.
  • Linking the values to school wide displays
It will be important to share what we are doing with our community and encourage parents to let us know if they see something that doesn't align with our core values.

We aim to ensure we have authentic, real, caring, compassionate human beings in the classrooms, in our school and within our community.  The core values are our "soul stuff". Through using them as a lens for our review we will be able to enhance performance for the benefit of our whole community.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Storming to Norming; Multiple Voices Co Design Quality Actions to Propel Our School Forward

St Patrick's school is committed to a positive, proactive three year professional development plan to shift us from being a great school to an outstanding beacon of excellence that delivers optimum results for the whole community (Hawkins, 2018).

The above quote is taken from a reflection entitled Empowerment, Passion and Unified Purpose which includes valuable feedback from staff after Phase 1 of our Schools That Deliver professional learning journey in 2018. At the time, all staff articulated a shared vision and identified the core values needed to bring the vision to life. 
When one staff member stated, "... Let the ruckus storm journey begin..." little did we comprehend the enormous challenges we would encounter during the storming phase of our journey.

Edwards and Martin's definition of the storming phase based on the work of Tuckman
The April 2018 to April 2019 research year resulted in deep storming. Storming is the outcome of tension between where a group is at and where it needs to go; in our case to align with the shared vision. Weathering the predicted stormy seas during the action research year was challenging for many staff. Eventually, every voice contributed to outstanding research presentations and in doing so grew as educators ready to embark on Phase 2; the norming part of the lifecycle of a healthy, collaborative group. 
Slide from presentation Day 1 Schools That Deliver Conference

How did we get to where we are at now ?
Here is a link to the process that led to the Schools That Deliver professional learning journey. Students become the leaders of the future through internally driven change.
Here is a link to our shared vision and core values as voted by the staff in April 2018. Staff generate future focused shared vision for all learners.
The slide below from the Schools That Deliver presentation shows the forming and storming part of Phase 1 of our professional learning journey.

Phase 2 April 2019 - Staff Share Powerful Presentations
Staff are to be commended for the research they carried out as evidenced in powerful and creative  presentations (including treasure hunts, quizzes and dance) shared on the first of two days of our personalised Schools That Deliver Conference.
After a school term that highlighted the resilience and collegiality of our incredible staff, every research team member gave of their best when presenting the culmination of twelve months of learning. Staff shared analysis of rich survey data and professional readings to support their recommendations.
The four research teams focused on key areas that staff had collectively agreed were vital for realising our shared school vision. The four areas are prayer, well being, feedback and inquiry.

Here is an outline of the key recommendations from each research team and the connection the teams made to our shared vision:

Our Faith Community
"St Patrick's is a school where our Catholic culture underpins all we do. Our staff teach and model Catholic values making our faith real and relevant to the students. We practice daily prayer and promote fluidity between our parish, school and parent body..."
  • We have a Catholic culture that invites all to prayer, enabling deep encounters between faith and contemporary life.
  • To enable this encounter with God through prayer, all staff and students learn about the different forms of prayer and make them a part of our daily practice.
The Faith Community team present their research to staff.
Social and Emotional Wellbeing for ALL Learners
" A healthy mindset, coupled with resilience and well-developed social skills ensures all learners are equipped to deal with life's challenges, and have the skills to positively resolve conflict and communicate their ideas and emotions... Learners leave St Patrick's self-motivated ready to make a positive impact on their world."
Students leave St Patrick's with a sense of belonging, self-motivation and ready to make an impact on their world...Sense of belonging. This will happen through:
  • A well being programme that targets the needs of our learners and builds their "sense of belonging'
  • A whole school Wellbeing program created and owned by all stakeholders at St Patrick's
  • This program would be a working document that evolves and can be adapted/customised to meet the needs of our learners.
One of the slides from the Social and Emotional Wellbeing for All presentation 
The Power of Feedback
"We value rich, regular, quality feedback..."
  • We have a feedback culture where staff, students and parents receive rich, timely, regular feedback.
  • All staff have a clear understanding of feedback strategies
Inquiry based learning
" Ongoing data tracking leads to learning that is differentiated therefore optimising engagement...Both students and teachers are excited about learning, involving themselves in rich, open ended tasks both inside and outside the classroom...Learners leave St Patrick's self motivated and ready to make an impact on their world."
  • We access a comprehensive Prep to Year 6 Inquiry Planner that follows a "good fit" model,
  • Our inquiry planner reflects student voice which is collected in the early stages of the unit of work
Staff Co Design Actions in the Norming Phase 
Following the staff presentations, a facilitative questioning process (Butler & Edwards), was used to determine agreed mental models (values and beliefs that drive behaviours) to guide future actions. Then design teams contributed recommendations towards the sequence for a school improvement plan. The plan addresses the priority work needed for the next five years to drive the school vision forward and ensure we make a positive impact for all learners.
The School's That Deliver facilitators used this approach to draw out staff mental models
The principal was given the challenging responsibility to creatively merge diverse staff recommendations into a concise school improvement plan. Then staff teams worked to unpack the immediate, short term actions in great detail. As a result, a whole school community renewed focus on our core values and the official launch of SeeSaw will commence immediately.
Draft plan presented to the staff by the principal in response to staff recommendations
Special recognition is given to the Schools That Deliver Network for the inclusion of their slides in this reflection. In particular, our heartfelt thanks go to Mary Wilson, Bill Martin, and Teresa Edwards for facilitating the conference with great wisdom and expertise; involving the active participation of our team of forty staff over two full days.
Teresa, Bill and Mary 
Bill Martin shared with staff, "If you action your staff research recommendations, with great quality over time, there won't be many Catholic schools like you in the world. You will be the best there is."
Strengthened and enriched as a committed staff team, we are eager to propel our school forward with renewed energy, quality, passion and purpose to ensure we make a positive impact for every learner in our care.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

"Snap !" Reimagined Network Aligns with School's Vision

Explicit clarity around the purposeful alignment of professional learning outcomes, forms part of the ongoing role of leaders. Making links to past, current and potential future practice, supports deep reflection in a community of learners wishing to make an impact on learning outcomes.
Snap card game image acknowledge Irish resources 
Striving to remain loyal to the voice of staff explicitly articulated in a vision narrative developed with the Schools That Deliver Network means making sure external professional learning opportunities specifically link to the vision.

When the Catholic Education Office in the Southern Regions (SRO) of Melbourne announced significant changes to their Professional Learning Network structure for 2019, it was important to understand the potential impact going forward. The "reimagined" new network is known as the School Wide Improvement Forum (SWIF). SWIF is for school leadership teams including Principals, Deputy Principals, Learning & Teaching Leaders, Mathematics Leaders, Literacy Leaders and Learning Diversity Leaders. SWIF aims to:
  • Build effective leadership teams to improve learning outcomes for all students
  • Support leaders to strategically plan for improvement
  • Support leaders to evaluate the impact of improvement plans
  • Utilise content such as literacy or numeracy as the context for improving pedagogical practice
The SWIF aims clearly align to the St Patrick school's vision, in particular this part "..Any research is relevant to the needs of our learners and is used to strengthen outcomes, ensuring the curriculum has a positive and meaningful impact..." You can access the full vision narrative at this link.

Dr Ryan Dunn @DunnEducation @agileschools #agile leadership.
Dr Ryan Dunn, Director at Agile Schools and lecturer at the University of Melbourne, has been engaged to guide the SRO as a critical friend in this important work. Dunn has considerable experience within education and has advised and collaborated with schools and districts across the USA and Australia. 
I wish to acknowledge Dunn for the inclusion of some slides (see below) from Dunn's presentation to the SRO schools.

Dr Ryan Dunn presents to 150 leaders from Catholic schools across the Southern Region 
Key Learning and Links from Day 1 February 2019 with Dr Ryan Dunn
  • Dunn recommends a deliberate, disciplined approach to intentional improvement through responsive and reflective work.
  • Confusion is an essential part of learning. A productive struggle is vital for staff and students.
  • Make sure clarity leads to complexity and a change in teaching practice to ensure the enhancement of learning outcomes for students.
Slide acknowledge Dunn
Engagement - what does it look like ? 
Dunn explores a range of interpretations of engagement :
  1.  Behavioural engagement - surface routines and expectations in the classroom to create a learning environment
  2. Cognitive engagement - increasing the rigour in the classroom by moving beyond the surface through, for example, application, analysis and critique
  3. Relational engagement - engaged through cooperative teaching and collaboration with others

Slide acknowledge Dunn
  • We have a moral imperative around the work that we do. We must teach beyond the acquisition of social capital gained through shallow exposure to learning merely by the children walking through the classroom door.
  •  One year of teaching leads to value added for every student - one  year of growth and improvement.
Slide acknowledge Dunn
  • Ryan explains teacher expertise growth should always be a focus. Significant improvement is needed  not because we are underperforming, but because we can be even better. We need to constantly look at the next steps on our improvement journey known as deep, expertise development. 

    Slide acknowledge Dunn

    New Mental Models
    Mental models are also referred to as part of the Schools That Deliver Network professional learning. The following information from Dunn helps to give clarity around mental models:
    • Be deliberate and intentional about improving practice and in doing so practice and develop new mental models for the way we do things. For example, over time, learning to drive an automatic car becomes natural. You develop a mental model of thinking around driving and you become competent. If you wanted to drive a manual car, you would have to make a deliberate effort to move out of your comfort zone and learn a new mental model for how to drive. You would need time to practice and improve to become an expert. 
    • We need to continually be open to new mental models about the way we teach and through perseverance move from novice to competent to adaptive to expert (Dreyfus model of skill acquisition (see below). We become responsive over time. 
    • Developing team mental models ( a shared understanding of our approach). In the Schools That Deliver Action Research teams, we work together to bring our vision to life. Dunn explains that we can become better equipped as a staff to deal with problems when we work together. This is through slowing down, going deep together, asking the why questions and explicitly developing pedagogical practice.
    Novice to Expert
    The reference to the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition links to the Schools That Deliver 2018 Innovation Conference. Below is a link to the 3 minute video developed to capture two days of learning from the conference.
    In the video:
    "......Thirdly, the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition (1980) progresses from novice to expert. The competence level often becomes the comfort zone. Stretching and challenging learning to the proficient and expert level is necessary to truly engage in deep innovation for success...." (Hawkins, 2018 Disruption, creativity, innovate2flourish )

    Acknowledge the University of South Australia - Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition 
    Five Principles of Deliberate Practice 
    Dunn shared five principles of deliberate practice:
    1. Push beyond one's comfort zone
    2. Work towards well-defined specific goals
    3. Focus intently on practice activities (this links clearly to the Schools That Deliver Practice Field's)
    4. Receive and respond to high quality feedback
    5. Develop a mental model of expertise.

    Slide acknowledge Dunn
    • Dunn introduced the Clarify Canvas below. It is a valuable tool for staff preparing to present task descriptors for recommendations based on twelve months of action research for the future Schools That Deliver Network conference.
    Slide acknowledge Dunn
    • The Check-in Meeting Norms shared at the SWIF day by Dunn contain elements that align with our current Schools That deliver work especially our core values.
    Slide acknowledge Dunn
    "Snap !"As the SWIF team review short term school improvement goals to ensure they impact positive pedagogical practices, we can be reassured that there is alignment between our work, our vision and the expectations of the regional education office.

    Sunday, 24 February 2019

    Michael Carr-Gregg - 10 Ways to Optimise Well Being

    Fortunately, one of our local Catholic school principals is a friend of the well respected Dr Michael Carr - Gregg. Dr Carr-Gregg gave a presentation to twenty principals at our first network meeting for 2019. I have to admit, having been away from Australia for many years, I wasn't familiar with Carr-Gregg's immense portfolio of work. "Michael is one of Australia's highest profile psychologists working in all form of media..." You can read more at this link.

    Here are ten research based steps for supporting leadership, staff, student and community well being. Let's all find time to action this valuable advice.

    Michael Carr-Gregg presents to the South Eastern Catholic Principal Network

    Carr-Gregg commenced by sharing a number of recommended resources:
    • The first one focused on exercise and brain function in Brain Rules by John Medina. Spending time with family & friends is valuable for managing stress.
    • K10 test is a screening instrument and it can be downloaded from the Beyond Blue website. It only has ten questions and takes two minutes to complete. It is great for all of us. You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. We all need to recognise this.
    • Mental Health First Aid Australia Each year 1 in 5 Australians will experience a mental illness. Many people are not knowledgeable or confident to offer assistance. Physical first aid is accepted and widespread in our community, however most do not cover mental health problems. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) teaches people the skills to help someone who they are concerned about. 
    • A starting point for us to take back to schools or workplaces is to think about our current life energy as  psychological eggs in a basket. We have 30 eggs and 3 baskets. One basket is for life/self, a second for family and the third for school/education/work. What’s the distribution of our own eggs ? If too many eggs are in the work basket - it is a disaster for us and our health.

    Image from  FreightWaves
    The optimal balance is: 15 eggs for self, 10 eggs for family and 5 golden eggs for work. If we function at our optimum level, then the quality and output of work is very high. It's time to start thinking about how we can put eggs into our own baskets.

    Here are 10  research based proactive strategies for an optimum work life balance:

    1. We can change the way we think about things by reframing what’s happened to see the positives. Change your thinking by Sarah Edelman is an excellent read. Online e couch (effective for many/ researched and approved) developed by Australian National University - free online Australian therapy, valuable for everyone.
    This Way Up (Victorian) therapy

    2. Gratitude: See life as it is and focus on the good bits. Three blessings technique. Free app. Three Good Things - A happiness technique. Research has proven that we can rewire our brain for the positive. We can be quantifiably happier and have a higher level of well being (16 years of research has shown it is sustainable). The more positivity in your life, the more it expands - you sleep better, have an effective immune systems and this reduces any anxiety or depression.
    Gratitude Journal app

    Three Good Things app

    3. Why Kindness is good for you. The more volunteering we do the longer we live. Supporting and helping others sends feel good endorphins through our bodies. Feel good, do good. Apps for classrooms - The Kindness App 
    The Kindnes App

    4. When we’re together, everything is better. Greatest predictor of well being is a rich repertoire of friends. We need to support and encourage the importance of socialising and doing things together.

    5. Be active - 10,000 steps is beneficial. Relax with mindfulness, meditation and prayer. We require eight hours sleep. Sleep hygiene is vital. Ted Talk Professor Russell Foster - Prof Sleep Studies - Oxford. Include link for staff. This video is a crash course on the science of sleep and suggests to dim the lights half an hour before bed to prepare for a good night’s sleep. Reading with a lamp is much better than looking at a device. The room needs to be cool, quiet and dark so that the body temperature drops and melatonin is produced.
    Couch to 5K app is a great challenge for staff, a 13 week challenge. It is a gentle exercise programme. You can lose weight and oxygenate the brain. This gets the endorphins flowing. Exercise means less anxiety.
    Couch to 5K app
    Relax App is the mental health app of the year. It helps you to get a better night’s rest
    Relax Melodies: Sleep Sounds

    6. Mindfulness App - the favourite one is smiling minds. It has developmental stages and has revolutionised the whole practice.  We can all benefit from 10 mins of mindfulness per day. It will lower blood pressure. If students practise in schools, there are lower levels of bullying and mental health for children

    7. Find time to lose yourself in something your love. Learning new stuff - research shows the more you learn the higher your level of wellbeing.

    8. It helps to know what you are looking forward too. Have a bucket list. Bucket List app
    We benefit psychologically by creating our very own bucket list.

    9. Don’t compare your insides with other people’s outsides. Accept your own strengths and weaknesses. Focus on the good bits of us. Good Blocks 
    Improve your mood, self esteem and body image
    10. The meaning of life  Finding a sense of connectedness that transcends the material world is beneficial to our wellbeing. We cannot underestimate the benefits of spirituality. Findings from psychological literature have proven the value of this form of connectedness.
    Image from Spiritual Healing
    As leaders, modelling these 10 ways to optimise well being will help ensure that we put more eggs into our self basket.

    I wish to acknowledge Dr Michael Carr- Gregg for the material shared above. Anyone wishing to contact Carr-Gregg can do so directly through his website at this link.