Friday, 14 July 2017

How can we start to implement disobedience now?

By now, many of you that read my blog will be familiar with this book.  I have to say that reading this book was a lightbulb turning on for me.  I could relate completely.

Number Agents was born out of this type of thinking.  I hated the way maths was being taught...I found it to be such a stand alone subject, which shouldn't really be the case if it is delivered well.  I was a numeracy project robot, blindly believing that this was the way I should teach math to my little people.  But I also had my own background of hating math, feeling stupid, hating pressure, suffering math anxiety (to this day) to draw upon.  I just couldn't marry up what I knew about math anxiety and the way I was teaching math.  I was lucky enough to attend a fabulous course based on Mantle of the Expert, and following this Number Agents was born.  It was my way of apply my own disobedient thinking to turn something I wasn't entirely happy with into something I am incredibly proud of.  Since this development we have had major reshuffles in the way we teach maths across our school, through reading the work of Jo Boaler and applying honest reflection to what we are doing, we have stripped away what we were doing and reshaped our approach.  Maths is not the only thing we have reshaped, but one you start to apply this type of thinking it is amazing how quickly it is possible to make change.  I see this as something we will continue to work on, as in my opinion we are constantly growing and changing based on the needs of the learners that enter our school...and this should be so.  Being disobedient to me, means being allowed to follow your hunches :)

Over the past week I have had time to blog, time to think, time to reflect on our system that I believe needs a major reshuffle.  I have had loads of positive feedback on my posts, with many nodding madly in agreement and sending me positive messages.  Apparently what I have been saying reflects many staff room discussions all around the country...that is so heartening.  I also know that I do and will continue to say things that confront some, that challenge their practice...I am not saying I am right and they are wrong, this blog is a reflection of my journey so far, a collection of my thoughts and generally a fair reflection of what we do in my school that works incredibly well for us.  It is also a reflection of who I am as a person, I like to challenge assumptions, I like to follow hunches, I like us to be able to qualify why it is we believe certain things to be the right thing to do, I like to research and develop my own professional understandings.  We have a settled, stable staff, and if measuring performance by academic success, we would be called high performing (I personally think this term is ridiculous.) From my point of view a high performing school is one that prioritises happiness and kindness, kindness to others and self.  One that allows learners to grow their talents and understand themselves as a learner.  It is one that fosters dispositions for the future that will be useful to children.  I could go on, but if you have read any of my other blog posts you will have a fair idea of what I define as success for our learners, these images will give you an idea if not.

And so what is our next step, how do we use this groundswell of feeling amongst teachers to our advantage.  How do we stop the movement of good teachers out of our profession due to stress, despondency and frustration?
I realise that in some schools management is not 'flexible' however I do believe we can apply disobedient thinking in a range of ways without needing management's help initially.
I do think we need to be brave though, we need to be prepared to have difficult conversations and most importantly take time to listen to each other.  To take the time that we are not all the same, but we should all share a common goal for our children.  Eventually we will need to all be on the same page if a school is to be successful, but if we do not start somewhere, then we fail to change anything.

So here are some ways I think everyone can begin to make change by applying disobedient thinking practices...there are probably many more :)

1) Stop and think about your daily practice.  How does your practice take into consideration the voice of the children.  Very honestly, would you want to be a child in your class?  Would you want to be part of the sessions being delivered, or would you be behaving badly?  Why are you doing what you are doing, have you been told to do it, are you working from someone else's ideas and planning...if so, why?

2)Start thinking about poor behaviour as stress.  I am unsure where I read this, but it was golden advice for me.  Children behave badlly often because of stress, finding the reason for this and coming at the behaviour from this point of view will probably really help you to reframe discussions with them and their parents.  It may also allow you to approach the behaviour in a more understanding way.  Think about ways children are managed, are there other ways to do it?

3)Encourage others to think about their practice.  Challenge each other, honestly look at what is happening and why is it being done, what is the value for the children?  If it is not valuable, why are we doing it?  Just because we always have is not a good enough answer.

4)Prioritise joy.  I took this advice from the book Teach Like Finland.  Close your classroom door and prioritise happiness.  Your happiness and the children's happiness.  An emotional connection is vitally important for children to develop deep connections and understandings.

5)I ask you to reflect openly about any tests you are using in your school.  What value are they adding, what are they possibly telling you that you did not already know.  Ask management to explain why that particular test is important.  Write down all of the ways you are assessing and try to slash as many tests as possible, particularly the timed tests.  If they are not informing your practice and helping children, then get rid of them.  I can not understand the value of testing a five year old within the first six months at school and in my opinion any school entry tests do not tell you anything you could have worked out by simply interacting with the child.  These tests are time consuming and take away from crucial time that could be spent building relationships.

6)Stop over planning.  If it is not valuable to you, why are you doing it.  Planning should be valuable and usable.  What is the point of the planning, is it genuinely helping you, or is it evidence for someone?  Spending hours planning writing sessions for a week is not valuable use of your time.   Look at the way you plan, is it useful?  Look at the inquiry or topic being taught.  Is it based on what children want to learn, are they guiding it in any way, or is it still on an odd and even year cycle?  I encourage you to look at the approach of Mantle of the Expert, it has transformed inquiry at our school.

7)Free up time in your timetable.  Try not to cram everything in.  Try to build slots in where you can just go with your gut, where children can follow urges.  Gosh darn it....just wing it sometimes....or even a little more often than sometimes, trust you professional instincts and allow the children to guide you.  Actively reflect on this afterwards and you will see how powerful this was.

8)Something useful I do is I create a mindmap (a very simple mindmap) with my main aims for the term in different areas.  This forms the skeleton of my planning and my teaching goes from there.

9)Prioritise the arts, don't let them slip out of your day because of other priorities, these are often the areas most loved by the children and joy is where it is at.  Allow children time to be creative,  and use their imagination.

10)If you have not watched this short video please do, it is a wonderful analogy for learning and helping all learners.

11)Rules, what rules have you got and why have you got them, are they about controlling children, and if so why do you need these rules?  In my experience the more engaging a classroom is, the more the learner can see themselves in the class, the more they feel heard, the less we need rules.  We don't have rules and the classroom has not fallen down on top of us :)

Once again these are my thoughts and my ideas.  I believe we are gathering momentum, many of us are feeling restricted and maligned in a system that often borders on malpractice when it comes to the emotional and social needs of children.

If you want to gain traction with those perhaps not on the same page these two books would be a good place to start:

Or simply watch this...the most amazingly powerful video about why our system needs to change (and yes I know it is not NZ, but it translates beautifully.)

I know we can create change together, let's turn our facebook page into wonderful posts about how we have managed to make changes for the benefit of our learners and ultimately, ourselves.

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