Archive for May, 2008

I believe that the key to the success of our school as a learning community is the professionalism and open-mindedness of the staff. All of us here at St Peter Chanel School see ourselves as learners. We acknowledge that we are all on a learning journey together. That said, I also believe that it is my responsibility as leader to ensure that meaningful and relevant professional development opportunities are provided for the staff. I believe that a coordinated, long-term and systematic approach needs to be implemented. If we’re going to focus on the teaching/learning of reading or early learning pedagogy or . . . , then I think that all stakeholders need to be involved for an extended period of time – (not merely a year-long project). As well as utilising ‘external’ professionals we also use the expertise within our own school. That way we develop our own teachers as leaders of curriculum and develop our own consultancy power within the school. We need to nurture, support and encourage our teachers to lead and share learnings. We do this by providing real opportunities for learning and sharing to take place, by walking alongside them and by allowing them to participate in real decision making. As a result they are more confident in articulating sound understandings in pedagogy and more competent and creative in the classroom.

Well said Sue! Bravo!! I have already seen evidence of this, as I am working with some of her past colleagues in other schools. As young teachers, they have developed some extraordinary insights into teaching and learning as a result of Sue’s coaching. The supportive school structures that she put in place also encouraged educational innovation, risk-taking and collaborative critical reflection .

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That was the title of UK Professor Iram Siraj-Blatchford’s talk given at an early childhood seminar today organised by the Lady Gowrie Childcare Centre in Erskinville. What an engaging, enlightened and deeply knowledgeable educator she is! She passionately spoke about her longitudinal research concerning what makes pre-school education effective. When you consider the research team tracked pre-school students over 10 years across 900 primary schools……and now secondary schools….it made me think about what counts as effective practice in primary education – have we got a lot to learn from our (under valued and under paid) early childhood colleagues!!!

Iram’s key points were:

  • the home learning environment can have a significant impact on a child’s future learning success
  • reading to children, playing with letters and numbers, singing songs and nursery rhymes, painting and drawing, regular visits to libraries and regularly playing with friends have a significant impact on a child’s development
  • competency in the cognitive and the social domains are necessary for children to succeed in learning (so why our fixation with literacy and numeracy as priority assessment?)
  • Factors that influence the achievement gap are social class/parent education, poverty, the home learning environment and pre-school education
  • Children who experienced effective pre-school education were likely to have greater independence, self-regulation and concentration in the primary years
  • Similarly these children achieved better reading and writing outcomes by the age of 7 compared to those who did not experience pre-school
  • Effective pedagogy is not only teaching but also provision of “instructive learning environments and routines”
  • Children as teachers of pedagogy was a point that leapt out at me regarding effective learning
  • Interestingly, factors that influence learning by 10 years of age are birth weight, qualifications of parents (higher attainment) and socio-economic status
  • Greatest predictor of reading success? Vocabulary, in particular, amount of low density or low frequency words. The greater low frequency word/vocabulary, the greater success at reading. This is pertinent for our ESL children – see Jim Cummins.


attending an high (effective) pre-school is an innoculation to a crappy primary school.

Love it!!! Essentially, Iram was saying that her research shows that a child’s success at primary school is greatly influenced by the effectiveness of their pre-school experience – even if the primary school is not so effective. Of course, an effective pre-school school + effective primary school is the optimum!!!!!

If you ever get a chance to hear Iram speak, grab it!!!!!!!

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Now that I have the hang of blogging, I thought I’d start a wiki. It’s mainly for use with the teachers I am engaging in professional learning. Anyone can read it and contribute to the discussion, so I’d love to hear from you! But at the moment I am only inviting those teachers/colleagues working with me to help create the wiki. There’s a reason for that. More later……

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While I saw some innovation in education while visiting classrooms at Regents Park recently, I came across this interesting UK website while browsing Andrew Fraser’s blog. It is called Futurelab and it looks fabulous! It is quite comprehensive in exploring innovative practice in education with many links to other useful sites for educators. One that jumped out at me straight away was the Exploratree website. It is a free online resource for thinking guides or graphic organisers. Great for our work with ESL students!!

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I had one of those days yesterday where I was totally uplifted by seeing what other educators are doing – a direct contrast to my Melbourne conference experience last week!! Some brilliant pedagogy is taking place in the two grades that I visited, Kinder and Yr 1. The Kinder teachers are are really questioning what is developmentally appropriate learning for 5 and 6 year olds. As they incorporate more real experiences for the children across the KLAs, the teachers were able to see the benefits this had in both motivating students and also extending their language repertoire. I had great fun chatting to the children about their experiences in planting seeds, and I was amazed at their level of thinking. To top it off, the children had created online texts about planting the seeds and were very confident in having a go at reading them. Brilliant!

Year 1 are engaging in some exciting learning using digital microscopes. The classroom environment was just buzzing when I visited. It was clear to see how deeply engaged the children were in finding out about the lifecycles of chickens – particularly after viewing “Chicken Run”! I couldn’t help but catch the excitement generated by the 2 teachers. What I really liked, was the way the teachers are negotiating the curriculum with their students and in particular, allowing the children’s questions to direct the learning. This is a great example of good pedagogy driving the use of technology to enhance learning. It illustrates perfectly the points raised in this article from Educational Leadership journal about utilising technology for learning.

I suppose this reinforces my argument about utilising our classroom teachers more as leaders of professional learning for other teachers – and system personnel. See such exciting learning in action – from both students and teachers – nothing beats it!!

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The Refugee Council of Australia website has information about REFUGEE WEEK which will be celebrated from Sunday, June 15 to Saturday, June 21, to coincide with World Refugee Day (June 20).

The theme for Refugee Week in Australia is “A Place to Call Home”. For World Refugee Day in 2008, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is globally promoting the theme of “refugee protection”, whether that’s shelter or fair treatment or the right to seek asylum – particularly as the world this year prepares to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For many of our schools in the inner west of Sydney, this is an important week for all our students. It’s a great way to celebrate the positive contribution many of our refugee families have made to our communities. It also highlights the importance of of our responsibility to protect the rights of refugees who seek safe havens. Importantly, Refugee Week provides a great opportunity to learn more about refugees – after all, they have a lot to teach us!

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This thought is not far from my mind as I struggle through Day 2 of the “Classrooms at Work” conference in Melbourne. The catch phrase for the conference is Teachers can make a Difference. So why is it that I can’t find anything here to excite me ?? Why are the workshops not making a difference to me? Why can’t I connect with what is being presented?

I have been mulling this over with some of my colleagues who are also at the conference. While some are having more positive experiences than I am, others feel equally disappointed with the workshops so far. A number of issues came up when we got together over a glass of wine (!!) to reflect on the conference. (By the way, this was the most beneficial part of the conference for me – sharing insights with my colleagues.)

Our learning needs are different; our style of learning doesn’t always comfortably fit with the more gregarious American format (I’m sorry, but dancing to a ditty every 5 minutes just doesn’t do it for me!!!); and at times, the focus on “here are 20 top strategies……” as opposed to a deeper enagagement with the question WHY learn this way, just frustrated me. So it begs the question, why aren’t there more educators from Australia or New Zealand presenting?

Of course the great thing about being part of the conference is having time to reflect on learning alongside my colleagues and meet other educators across Australia and New Zealand. So what makes professional learning work for me? I have thought long and hard about this over the past 2 days. I like

  • to learn something I didn’t know before
  • authenticity not tokenism
  • to see examples of real learning in practice
  • to be given choice in my learning
  • to have time to reflect when I need to
  • to be deeply engaged, stimulated, motivated…
  • to be INSPIRED!

Here’s another teacher’s blog stating what they like to experience in professional learning.

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Talking with my colleagues today at CEO Sydney, I came away thinking that there is still a long way to go before we catch up with the digital world in education. As a “newbie” to blogs, wikis and other Web 2.0 tools, I am still on a sharp learning curve! So when I read informative wiki’s like Will Richardson’s and WebTools4U2use, I can’t help but get excited about the possibilities.

That’s the good thing about Web 2.0. It has amazing potential for learning. The bad? When we don’t access this potential for all our students. Interesting questions are raised about the digital divide encountered by disadvantaged students in the article Mind the Gap. The ugly? Still workin’ on it!

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Chatting with the team at Haberfield this afternoon, I thought this is where the real learning counts. The Kinder teachers, Principal and Specialist teacher invited me to join in their discussion to evaluate Kinder’s early learning program in term 1. And what a discussion it was!! Simply brilliant! Reflective enquiry at it’s best.

Facilitated by the Principal, they shared with me some of the significant learnings they have experienced in addition to the frustrations and challenges. From this, the discussion revolved around what is needed for planning Kinder 2009 – yes, it is never too early!! Their collective appetite for creative educational innovation is to be applauded. Such energy! And excitement about what could be done better!! As the Principal commented

This is where the real learning occurs – action research in the classroom.

I couldn’t agree more. The team has decided to really focus on involving the parents a lot more to inform them about the early learning program and importantly, to survey the parents to find out the their needs, warts and all! Can’t wait to hear more!!

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