Data and our students

Had a great day today learning from Dr Lyn Sharratt about ‘Putting Faces on the data.’ This morning I was worried that the session might focus on sources of data that are not appropriate to us at Adelaide West. However, the whole day focussed on strategies that have been proven to improve literacy in Canadian schools that would work for us. At the core of her thinking is the reiteration that

Each student can achieve high standards, given the right time and the right support” and ‘Each teacher can teach to high standards given the right asistance.”

So good to be in a room full of people who were able to discuss this at face value even when I described our students and their challenges. But this is a challenge faced by other schools considering students with other challenges – home backgrounds, language issues etc. I was reminded of Kevin Honeycutt and  the two Jason’s presentationss at te ILT conference 2014 trying to re-engage ‘lost’ learners.

The research that Lyn presented talked about 14 parameters for schools to use to help them improve students’ outcomes. One of these was  the importance of literacy coaches – thanks to Jane Farrall students and teachers at Adelaide West have had quality literacy coaching for a couple of years and we are starting to collect data showing how this is benefiting our students.  Enjoyed discussion  with a few people about why DECD literacy coaches  have not  made it into special schools yet – remembering that all students can learn makes it crucial that those who find traditional academic learning challenging should make our system policy makers think about supporting the work in special schools in the same way as schools for typically developing students – or am I wrong here? Surely some of the resources around literacy and numeracy learning should be directed to the most needy of our system’s students.

Lyn talked about the value of student work as data which I really appreciated as that’s a great way for class staff to reflect on learning and look at the way forward for individual students. We can make data walls around this work in a way that reflects our studetns powerful learning without feeling that the data set excludes them – as NAPLAN and other standard data tools seem to do.

The other thing that really resonated for me was how leaders need to become lead-learners, engaging with professional development and learning alongside the teachers and students as part of the learning journey. a great quote from one of Lyn’s students – ‘ You can’t lead where you won’t go!’ Must always remember this – everyone should be collaborative learners or the students lose out.   I would love to try to have a showcase day for our school to show the community what  literacy learning looks like for our students – any thoughts on whether this would have appeal?

Why I teach and how do I improve? A think piece following the Inclusive Learning Technologies conference 2014

Having just spent three days on the Gold Coast at the Inclusive Learning Technologies conference 2014 I woke up this morning with a few reflections.

Kevin Honeycutt, who was the opening keynote speaker for the conference was, for me an inspiring reminder of what I think is the foundation of good teachers belief systems – that teachers can change the lives of their students. This core belief is something that is fundamental to great teaching but soemtimes, in the ‘busyness’ of classroom and school life we lose track of it. Kevin also talked about how many teachers are ‘secret geniuses’ – doing great work in their own classrooms but not sharing that with others. He asked that we do this for the sake of students everywehre. My question here is really about how we persuade teachers to talk about their practice as widely as possible?

One of the reasons I was at the conference was to present on our school’s journey with the Australian Curriculum and I was proud to do so, Adelaide West Special Educaiton Centre has great educators doing great work with our students.But I didn’t present it as a finished piece of work – more as a snapshot of what we are doing.  Presenting at conferences is a great way to reflect on your own practice and to ‘moderate’ it against that of other people. Thank you to participants from other schools who approached me afterwards to share examples of their practice and to suggest collaboration in one form or another – Bring it on!

 Another great aspect of conferences is to discuss things like the Australian Curriculum, that aim to offer students and their families some assurance that the program in their child’s school offers learning experiences similar to that of students in another school. I was saddened to hear from a parent who said that her child is not offered opportunities to develop literacy skills in the way that we do at Adelaide West and doesn’t get the variety of learning experience that students at school need across a broad and balanced curriculum. How can we talk about effective inclusion if special school effectively exclude themselves by not taking part in a curriculum that aims to be for everyone? I know the Australian Curriculum is not perfect and it could have been done better but it’s what we’ve got for now. Our students face enormous challenges to their learning – surely its not fair to them to refuse to address the challenge of a curriculum document? We can’t wait until we feel they are ready for a particular experience  or can cope with more complex learning experiences – I am reminded of the story of a young man who had lost the use of his legs and had very limited use of his arms following an accident. His rehabilitation team had devised a plan, that would take several weeks to teach him how to tie his shoelaces. His response was that this was a waste of his time as,

“I dont have the time to learn to tie my shoelaces badly. If you teach me the skills I need to become a business leader I can pay someone to tie my shoelaces well. “

Our students don’t have time for us to wait until we think they’re ready to learn – they need to experience things about life and the world in as rich a way as we educators can make it for them – and that is where technology opens up endless opportunities.

Maybe one of the reasons that teachers don’t like sharing  their practice is because education is an imperfect science – we feel that there is always more we can be doing. Kevin Honeycutt talked about how ‘perfect is the enemy of done’ and another keynote speaker, Carole Zangari, considered that we do more harm by what we don’t do than by what we do. We can’t wait for the perfect communication system, the perfect startegy for teaching literacy – our students pay too high a price for our delay. We can’t wait unitl we consider we are doing ‘best practice’ – as Greg O’Connor said, call it ‘good practice’ as best practice implies nothing can get better.

 One of the themes that ran through many presentations was that of needing to have high expectations of our students. To me, this implies the need to have high expectations of ourselves. In order to improve our teaching, surely we need to expose ourselves by showing other educators what we do and inviting their input into our practice. Then we can begin to be sure that we are doing all we can to give our students the best lives they can have.

I would love to hear what other people have to say about the best ways to help all our teachers stop being ‘secret geniuses’ and get them sharing. Please comment

Reflect Shift Transform

the ACEL ASEPA Congress on creating Inclusive Schools today I’ve heard input around inclusion from people based in the UK, in China and New Zealand as well as Australia. There were, as ever, some very quotable moments; notably Prof. Philip Garner from the Univeristy of Northamption in the UK who asked the delegates at the conference to reflect on why they are in education and why they want to create inlclusive schools. His statement was that most teachers want:

‘Children to coexist in mutual respect so that their learning is enhanced and they thrive socially and emotionally’

I don’t think there can be any  arguments with that statement from any educators but most of the day involved discussion about different ways of achieving this. I was struck by the resonance between Prof Garners key note at the beginning of the day and that of Leith Comer, who spoke about the way that maori are now included within New Zealand  culture in a way that benefits everyone. Prof Garner spoke about the need for cooperation not competition in the development of inclusive schooling whereas Leith Comer talked of how the project he is currently involved in; Excel Rotorua is based around collaboration and not competition across the city of rotorua. Comparing such models of collaboration, cooperation and inclusion with the more competitive models of academic achievement and comparisons of how countries perform in the OECD PISA  survey discussed by governments around the world the tensions in this area are obvious and a number of speakers touched on this.

It was good to see practitioners from a number of sites presenting their stories. I gave a presentation on the ever deepening relationship between Adelaide West Special Education Centre and Ocean View College. The best part of this was the video of students from the two sites interacting and taking about their experiences. I do not have parent consent to share thse videos online but have attached the presentation without pictures. ACELASEPA L Fenech I only had a fifteen minute time slot and therefore had to rush through many of the slides I had prepared from surveys of staff, parents and students. You may like to read this in more detail at your leisure. It ws good to have ongoing discussions with some people who came to my session about how social interaction between students from mainstream schools and those for whom their learning needs requires a curriculum adjusted significantly to meet theirindividual needs. Students from Adelaide West have high needs in a range of areas that mean that our special setting is the best educational placement for them. However, interaction and the chance to develop friendships with their peers from Ocean View offers unique and unreplaceable play and language opportunities. The whole community benefits from these interactions and I am honoured to have played a part in this relationship.

A session that I really enjoyed was that presented by Carolyn Blunden, principal of Warakirri College Her description of the way that students at Warakirri, who had been ‘rejected’ by many other educational establishments, are given a sense of success and independence was fascinating and inspirational. Warakirri provide opportunities for personalised learning and a more adult learning focus for teenagers who may otherwise be at risk of never receiving any recognised educational qualifications.

This Congress is the first on inclusive schools presented by ACEL and ASEPA  and attendance was less than one would hope for given the importance  of inclusion for so many students; be it because of their race, ability, culture, sexual orientaiton etc. I hope that this does not mean this is a one-off event as there were so much valuable information presented today. I hope tomorrow is as good!