Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wonderful teachers might not be so wonderful

How do you know what kids actually learn? Teachers know what they are teaching, but what learning actually takes place? My mate Pezza has really gone deep on these questions and has looked at research that really has made a difference. I have read a few really interesting pieces and he has had great success tracking down the experts. Dr Graham Nutthall certainly was a man ahead of his time, and I keep coming back to what he said in an interview with Kim Hill. I suppose research can be difficult to read, but imagine listening to a radio host (who asks good questions) asking the researcher and getting the good oil. Interesting stuff.

So what can we learn :

Teachers hardly ever know what’s going on with their students.

How little the teacher impacts on the average student even though the teacher thinks he or she is doing a very good job.

In fact, we find out that a substantial amount of what teachers teach, or attempt to teach, is already known by a significant number of kids in the class. Up to 50%.

Hill: So when you talk to children or even adults ... People often say I had a fantastic teacher. Does that mean that teacher is fantastic? Is that the best kind of reference a teacher can get? Is that meaningful?

Nuttall: I think it’s meaningful within our cultural expectations of what good teachers are about; the teacher had a sense of humour, explained things clearly to us, he really cared about me, and a whole lot of things like that which motivates kids and makes them feel good. And those are the kinds of teachers which they will remember. The older generation will remember teachers who were pretty tough on them but made them work hard. But things like working hard and explaining things clearly and so on are all surface features. You could have in fact learned very little from these wonderful teachers.

I have put the whole interview here it may take 30 minutes to read but worth the effort.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mac Vs PC

So you want some evidence as to the durability of a mac ?
A Principal friend of mine lost everything in a house fire, EVERYTHING, luckily the kids/family got out.
The house just melted in front of them. The brigade got the hoses going but it was way too late.
However two pieces of technology survived. The flames, heat, water and smoke damage stopped everything from ticking, well almost everything.
Uncle Steve would be proud.

The macbook ticks along nicely thank you, oh the other piece of technology that is still going great is her iphone.

Get them all on Board - a pun - ha

So the Podgorani has been on tour. We have been working hard at building a future direction for the school that is owned by all. The hard thing is that teachers are all opinionated bastards, and general know it alls. Add to that the way they like to do things (insert my way or the highway) and it could have been a recipe for disaster. However the Podgorani has a staff of gems, yes we still have opinion, debate and occasional over reaction but who hasn't? So after getting all thirty staff through the 6 chosen schools we looked long and hard at the way things are done, what we were scared of, what made sense and what we saw as a need for us.
The ideas ran wild and the wish list continues to grow out of hand.
How to prioritize what works for us is always a real challenge.
However the real genius of the staff inquiry was taking the Board of Trustees on the same tour. The discussions and observations from the BOT were on very similar levels to the staff, their ideas, contributions and buy-in is just magnificent.
It's hard to describe but while having a debrief session over a quiet beer our Principal friend Dr Cox arrived. He joined the discussion, he was sitting next to a trustee. I watched Dr Cox, he was listening to the trustee describe a moment that he'd observed in a school during the day. Inference is often a bit of a guess, but the look on Dr Cox's face was saying : shit this guy knows his stuff, what a great trustee, what a brilliant idea from the Podgorani, he really has his BOT paddling the same waka. Yes that was inference, but those were the exact things I was thinking and I know Dr Cox was on the same level. This was confirmed when he text me later. Being called clever may have been an exaggeration but the idea was a gem, as for the rugby, lets no go there.

Some ideas to help it work:
Give your BOT an opportunity to contribute.
Take them on an overnighter, you can get the informal discussions working.
Make sure they get an opportunity to see your own school too.
Visit a range of deciles, include a private school.
Choose Principals not schools.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Are you a visitor in your own school?

Visitors to school can sometimes be a distraction followed by an annoying loss of time. This can easily be the perception, but often it is far from the truth. We have become so accustomed to our friendly visitors that the staff, children, school office, leadership team actually enjoy sharing, looking, watching and asking all sorts of questions. What I have realised is that it keeps me listening to staff, finding out what is happening with kids learning, watching children, gathering information about the way they learn, interacting, talking, everything actually. It has really helped me get to know so many kids.
I had a great moment the other day when a teacher came to me in the staffroom to explain a moment that happened in their class which related to some practice she is working on. The visitors coming through the school have enabled me to use them as a vehicle to continually see and talk about learning but more importantly for teachers to share their practice with outsiders. How many times have you walked into a classroom as a Principal and wanted to ask what are you doing? whats this guy up to? and any other question you want without feeling like you are threatening or digging for info.
I am always out talking to kids, but visitors give you some formality. The Board of Trustees of our school are on a learning curve to see if we can write an amazing charter in conjunction with staff and our community. We are visiting seven schools in Christchurch, for a good look around. Before we travelled I made them come on a "visitors tour" of our school. Luckily Shirley Temples cousin, Teresea from Palmerston North, was visiting that day with ex colleague Mary. So the BOT got a visit of their own school, with the whole Principal spiel, and the dig around go anywhere tour. My BOT were just so full of praise, they say they learnt so much, it was genuine. Has your BOT toured your school?
Have they been through all the rooms?
Have they seen and heard your vision in action?
Do you need visitors to get out and talk to kids, teachers?
Just take the time to be in rooms !
Just take time to talk with parents !
Just take time to talk to kids !
Now we are visitors. I am trying to behave like a good visitor. We are on tour. Must remember a good gift. Food is always appreciated.

I wanted to share this very quick answer from our parent survey. It warms your heart, well it warmed mine as much as Israel Daggs try.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

iPads early days - here are a few tips

iPads have a big place but how do we go about getting them in classes and working well. There are always the early adopters, some hit the headlines a month or two back, how they had ipads in their school. I had the whole (jealous) and cynical, "I bet they are stuffing up the image and snycing and app store stuff". So now we have a set of iPads, here is what I have discovered:
- each ipad takes about 7 minutes to get up and running
- have one main image ipad, he/she will be your friend, love it, care for it, ours is called Cardy.
- you can connect as many ipads as you like to one itunes library/set of apps
- after initially restoring from a backup of the first ipad it was easy to do the next one and so on
- when you plug in an ipad that has been restored it automatically backs up, you don't really want this because you want to restore from that one main image, and backups are all called the same thing as all your ipads are named the same because you restored them from one image. easy fix, ring Ash
- plug in your main image ipad (Cardy) and it backs up and syncs any changes. click on the name of the ipad and change its name to something you wont forget, ours is called ipadCardiganBayMaster, a mouthful but hang in there. Now after renaming, right click on the ipad in the left window of itunes and scroll down to backup. the backup will appear in the itunes preferences~devices window and it will have that big long random name (easy to find).
- Now when you plug in a different ipad you can let it backup or interrupt the back up, and just restore from your master which you have named so aptly.
- each sync/restore only takes a matter of minutes (7max)
- now use your computer that you sync from, to be your download center, or use your master ipad to download onto, as it will sync, backup and be the one you will restore from each time.
- the other ipads will be clones of one master, my plan is to hand the master to a person who has a handle on how ipads work, let them be the boss of the apps, pages, etc.
- there are some app issues with bought apps and putting them on more than one ipad, at the moment we are sticking to free apps, but a bought app will go across multiple ipads. I dont know if app sellers would be happy knowing one app can go on many machines. Will investigate the iTunes terms.

So far so good with the set up now how good will they be in the classrooms. at the moment the teachers are getting first go. They gotta know that these aren't a gimmick, and we must have educational apps. Teachers get their ipads tomorrow, should be a fun morning.

oh other tips- name the ipads, we have gone for horses, Cardigan Bay, Veandercross, Rough Habit etc engrave them "stolen from >>>> Primary School". Kids will remember names, not numbers. label the chargers and ipod cable too. love those label makers.

New discoveries :
All the ipads are running well but I have new apps and a software update, but the master has the same name as all of the restored ipads. So UPDATE your master sync it, and get your new apps on it. BUT before you disconnect and restore the other ones, change the name of your master so you dont get confused. Every time your master is synced and backed up change its name. Remember to right click on your master and choose backup after renaming.

New Discoveries :
When you are looking to update and run a new set of apps, you must put your master in first. Every ipad you have has the same image and name, therefore if you plug in some plonker ipad that has had apps downloaded on it these apps will sync and back up. If you then put in your master then the apps from the other ipad will sync onto you master, something you dont want.
If you put in an ipad that isnt your master before syncing and renaming (see update above) then before it syncs and backs-up swipe on the ipad screen when it tries to sync, that is the fast easy way to stop the sync. If you click in itunes and try to cancel syncs it will beach ball and basically piss you off. Swipe to stop sync, its a good tip believe me.

Update 3
After a month or so we have had the ipads (not the master) wanting to sync their apps and compromising the master ipad. So now we sync the master, and then before syncing the others to the renamed master we go to setting on the device and reset/erase the ipad, thus when it syncs it just gets the new clean image. Easy and way less hassle.