2010: Me, the Constructivist – teacher – learner, seeker of answers and maker of questions!

Reflecting on my year is important… and 2010 has been special! I knew my year would be busy, but I didn’t realise just how busy. Teacher Professional Leave (TPL) is a ‘once in a career’ opportunity for state teachers in Victoria. My goal was to make the most of this opportunity, teach my students well, trial new ideas and resources, write about them, open my classroom to visiting teachers, continue my writing here and collaborate and connect with educators within and outside my school about best practice.

My TPL partner and I started our project with huge questions. What is ‘best practice’ in teaching and learning? What is the e5 Instructional Model (e5IM)? The second question seems quite simple, but it’s certainly not. Every question we had led to a series of new questions, think ‘mind map’ and you’ll  understand what I mean. What and more importantly how do you plan for, and embed the e5 Instructional Model into classroom practice. What are the implications for whole school and classroom planning? What will this planning look like? Best practice and the e5 IM are not only linked, you really can’t have one without the other.

Our overall goal was to improve our own teacher practice, and to support others through sharing our learning. We were going to ‘be seen’ and be proactive in our quest. It’s a lot easier when you have a partner to work with because you can challenge each other’s ideas, encourage, and when the ‘going gets tough’ support each other. You can also move out of the ‘land of nice’ into the ‘land of challenge’, which we did on many occasions. Conversations around educational philosophy and teaching and learning, are necessary to bring about the ‘thinking’ needed for professional change.

Developing a collegial relationship based on honest discussion is vital, and being honest about your own practice crucial. Being an experienced teacher doesn’t guarantee best practice. Putting on a ‘learner’s hat’ and being a non-judgemental critical friend to yourself is the first step. Being prepared to relearn and throw out some existing practice in order to start again is daunting, but essential.

So what did I understand about engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate? How was I developing these domains within my teaching and learning? What capabilities were developing or evident in my practice, what were the performance indicators, and quality criteria being used, if any? Big questions! Which brings me to the quote below: –

‘Over the long term it is impossible to improve student performance without eventually improving the quality of teaching and learning that occurs in classrooms and schools. (Elmore 2004)

This simply meant that in order to improve the performance of my students, I needed to improve my practice, and to do this I needed to know what best practice is! I needed to know what my teaching philosophy was. I now know that I am indeed a Constructivist!

My TPL partner and I knew we wanted to connect and collaborate with educators locally and globally.  We know best practice doesn’t have borders. Improving teacher practice isn’t isolated to Victoria, Australia. The issues are the same everywhere, and when you start interacting in different forums you realise that educators are seeking the answers to these questions locally, across Australia and globally. This was an opportunity to learn about best practice from across the globe. Interest in the Victorian e5 Instructional Model is significant because there are very few resources which describe teacher practice and identify best teacher practice so well. More questions…How do you know what best teacher practice is without descriptors? Where do you start conversations around teacher practice without direction? Having a model provides focus and direction.

Unpacking the e5 Instructional Model, understanding what the model means to teacher practice and being able to articulate this to colleagues is pivotal to our TPL success criteria. So what did this model mean to educators and how would it be used and introduced in schools? We needed to understand and answer these questions? This is where having a PLN to support us has helped.

Using Ning, a social networking platform to start a Professional Learning Network (PLN) seemed to be where we needed to start. We had no idea of the challenge hosting a PLN would be. Encouraging others to share their ideas is hard, and we’ve found that educators are hesitant about putting their ideas out in a world forum. Collaboration between members of the PLN has been happening, but more via direct messaging basis. However, sharing has taken place, forum questions are discussed and personal research continually shared in the Ning. It has been amazing to see the calibre of educators joining this group globally.

As part of our TPL, my principal organised for us to join the Southern Metropolitan Region of Victoria Australia Instructional Rounds Program. Firstly our role was to be full participants of this professional development, and secondly to report for this group. Our reporting vehicle has been the Ning.

Being part of the Instructional Rounds (IR’s) program, a long with the e5 Instructional Model gave the focus needed to drive our project. Completing a review of current literature led us to find that this was indeed a global school improvement strategy designed to change school culture, the role of the principal and school leadership- sought of a ‘top down model’ that will eventually include teachers in the classroom. The principal is now seen as an Instructional Leader and for some this is a shift in their role.

 ‘It is what teachers think, what teachers do, and what teachers are, at the level of the classroom that ultimately shapes the kind of learning that young people get”. Andy Hargreaves & Michael Fullan

 Being part of the Instructional Rounds Pilot was challenging, interacting with a large group of principals a little intimidating, but this was our issue. The group were very welcoming, and it was interesting to listen to the discussions taking place. This group were knowledgeable, and my respect for role of a school principal has grown out of this experience. It is a complex role requiring the wearing of many ‘hats’.

Another professional development opportunity came my way in 2010. I was being trained as an Ultranet Lead User. Any initiative designed to move teaching and learning into the 21st century will have my full support. Hey, I’ve spent two years skilling myself for this! The Ultranet may have had a few ‘teething problems’, but this was to be expected. Victorian State Education is taking a massive leap forward and I welcome this! I can see the potential, but also recognise using the full capabilities of the Ultranet will take time to embed into classroom practice.   

Finally, because this post is becoming increasingly long, I need to say that my blog is important to me; it’s where I reflect, and share my practice with others. I still read back and even think about deleting some posts, but it’s a record of my changing practice as well. I write about the ‘work I do’ as a classroom teacher, and as a learner.

Thank you for visiting this space, sharing with me, emailing and leaving comments. It always amazes me how many people visit this space. Finally, I wish all a safe, happy and prosperous 2011.

Cheers Nina

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