Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Communities Of Practice. Mind Lab Week 25.

A community of practice is a group of people who use their collective wisdom, experience and academic interests to consider, debate and clarify thinking. In the context of professions such as teaching, our communities of practice are the platforms upon which we build and arrange our personal and / or professional position on issues that matter to us as professionals. We try out ideas on each other and use the process of the Inquiry and Advocacy (Hands on Educational Consultancy PTY Ltd) Approach to test each other's thinking, and help each other to probe deeper by challenging ideas.

Wenger (2002) states that "Communities of practice are the basic building blocks of a social learning system because they are the social 'containers' of the competencies that make up such a system. By participating in these communities, we define with each other what constitutes competence in a given context " By engaging with our communities of practice, we uncover the layers of our thinking in order to unearth the essential elements of what we as leaders of our learning community believe are the basis of our core business: providing quality opportunities to raise student outcomes and all of the multi layered contexts that this implies.

My Main Community of Practice is the school where I work. Within that community are sub communities that make up the larger community. Of these communities the one that I am most influenced by, is the Senior Leadership team of which I am a part. Our community is the Principal and two Deputy Principals. The Principal works in our shared office and we engage on a daily basis in learning conversations where we debate and challenge each others thinking.  We are focused on the  primary function of our profession which is to ensure the delivery of the best opportunities for our children to grow into life long learners who are confident, connected and caring citizens. I contribute to this community of practice by bringing my training, experience, professional studies, and passion to the current focus; that of creating the best innovative learning community that we are able.

Within the context of our school there are several other communities of practice. These include communities within teaching teams;  Professional Learning Groups where teachers share their Teaching as Inquiry processes with groups from across the school. Other communities are the  curriculum or special shared interest groups. Also there is the community of practice that is made up by the Middle Leaders in the school.

Communities of practice, allow us to reflect on our practice in a more public forum than personal reflection may. One may have a feeling but can not identify or clarify where that thought is leading until it is articulated to one's peers. Finlay (2008) says that "for some, reflective practice simply refers to adopting a thinking approach to practice. Communities of practice allow us to do this more explicitly (assuming the community is a 'safe' one).

When I think of my communities of practice, I am mindful that communities of practice contribute to a person's professional and personal growth. The face to face communities that I am involved with include my Professional Learning Group that came out of a previous school; a group that I facilitate a Middle Leaders course with; the School Leaders Network; New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning leaders network (which was the inspiration behind the name of my professional blog) and Mind Lab fellow students. All of these networks contribute to my thinking about best practice.

The specialist areas of practice that I bring to my community, essentially lie in my coaching and mentoring experience. I have had considerable training in coaching and mentoring and these areas of practice, combined with my years in the classroom, leadership experience and passion for  Restorative Practice are what I bring to my communities of practice.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Project Based Learning

"Project based learning (PBL) is a student centred teaching method.  It involves students selecting, planning, investigating and producing a product that solves a real life problem or answers a question. This is generally carried over an extended period of time." This is taken from the literature review that Jo Earl and I have recently written on PBL. It is the concise version of an explanation of what PBL is. There is a wealth of material on the description, benefits and challenges of PBL. (see reference list at the bottom of this post for some of these)
It took me some time and much thought to get my head around Project Based Learning. I knew that it sounded innovative and exciting and would promote student agency, but I just couldn't get my head around a few things:

  1. How do you organise it?
  2. How do you make sure that the children are contributing equally( that the less confident or harder to engage children are engaged?
  3. How do you assess it?
  4. How do you know that 'the curriculum' is being covered?
  5. How do you find suitable projects?
  6. How do you cater for different abilities? and many more questions..
I knew from what I had read and was beginning to hear, that PBL is a way that we will engage our students, make education more applicable to life, promote the competencies of the future (Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Citizenship Critical thinking, Character) as Michael Fullan (2014) promotes in his 'A Rich Seam'

I already had self regulated learning happening in my class, (I was feeling pretty self satisfied) my team was engaging in some effective but still sylo based collaboration (within subject areas, literacy, numeracy, Inquiry, Independent projects,) and I knew without really knowing how, that PBL was where I wanted to be heading. I even found myself saying in staff PD that in the future when our students have even more agency and our learning is more project based (but not in the 80's and 90's way of 'doing a project - doing Fiji' or 'doing Japan') that we will really be catering for our children in so many ways. I still didn't know how it would work.

What made the penny drop for me was when I attended the Maths Symposium in Christchurch in 2014. I attended a workshop on rich learning tasks in maths. All of a sudden the answers to all of the questions above popped into my head. The facilitator had us using sample problems from the Figure it Out series and converting them into open ended, multi strategy level problems. She showed us how to set the driving question, and then monitor the way the children set about solving the problem in their mixed ability groups. She showed us how to provide workshops that her observations picked up as next steps for groups across groups. Suddenly I could see how this could work with bigger, longer lasting contextualised problems. The light came on! I went back to my then staff and ran the same workshop. I was delighted to see the same penny drop with several of the staff. Some of us started with rich learning tasks, which then led on to the project based learning approach.

It is interesting to me that in this country, the early adopters for innovative learning tend to come from primary. Secondary schools are beginning to adopt innovative learning practices with their year 9 and 10 students as these students are coming as a wave out of primary. Secondary teachers say that the constraints of NCEA make innovative learning too hard beyond those two years. I say it is coming. (PBL in secondary) ECE teachers will tell us, correctly, that this 'innovative' learning is the way they have always believed education should cater for learners' needs, as some visitors from local ECE's recently pointed out to us. Yet Fullan and Couros (Posts from The Principal of Change and Innovative Mindset ) and many others began their PBL journey in high schools. Some years ago, Jo and I studied and presented about a school that Fullan worked with on PBL called the Mary Ward School in Canada. These students worked on real life problems in a hub where multi discipline teachers were together and where the students could access the help of the teacher that they needed to learn the relevant knowledge and skills from.

Through our ongoing studies, we can see the benefits to the students of PBL: engagement, relevance, 21C competencies, (6 C's) and using technology for new learning and global communication. This is exciting.

Buck Institute for Education, (2015). Adapted from Setting the Standards for Project Based Learning; A Proven Approach to Rigorous Classroom Instruction, by John Larmer, JOhn Mergendoller, Susie Boss (ASCD 2015)

Bell, S. (2010). Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century: Skills for the Future. The Clearing House, 83:39-43. doi:10.1080/00098650903505415

Catapano, S., & Gray, J. (2015). Saturday School: Implementing Project-Based Learning in an Urban School. PennGSE Perspectives on Urban Education, 12(1). Retrieved from:

Clark, A. (2006). Changing Classroom Practice to Include the Project Approach. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 8(2).

Diffily, D. (2002). Project-Based Learning: Meeting Social Studies Standards and the Needs of Gifted Learners. Gifted Child Today, 10762175, 25(3)

English, M., & Kitsantas, A. (2013). Supporting Student Self-Regulated Learning in Problem- and Project-Based Learning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning. 7(2)
Available at:

Galvan, M., & Coronado, J. (2014). Problem-Based and Project-Based Learning: Promoting Differentiated Instruction. National Teacher Education Journal, 7(4)

Hertzog, N. (2007). Transporting Pedagogy: Implementing the Project Approach in Two First-Grade Classrooms. Journal of Advanced Academics 18(4)

Holm, M. (2011). Project-Based Instruction: A Review of the Literature on Effectiveness in PreKindergarten through 12th Grade Classrooms. InSight: Rivier Academic Journal, 7(2)

Lee, C. (2015). Project-Based Learning and Invitations: A Comparison. Journal of Curriculum Theorising, 30(3)

Lin, T. (2016). The Evolution of Education. Your Weekend The Press.

Loyens, S., Madga, J., & Rikers, R. (2008). Self-Directed Learning and Problem-Based Learning and its relationships with Self-Regulated Learning. Educ Psychol Rev (2008) 20:411-427. DOI 10.1007/s10648-9082-7

Ministry of Education. (2013). Ka Hikitia Accelerating Success 2013-2017. The Maori Education Strategy. Wellington, NZ.

Rangahau: Principles of Kaupapa Maori. (n.d.) Retrieved from: http://

Sungur, S. & Tekkaya, C. (2006). Effects of Problem-Based Learning and Traditional Instruction on Self-Regulated Learning. The Journal of Educational Research, 99(5).

Tamim, S., & Grant, M. (2013). Definitions and Uses: Case Study of Teachers Implementing Project-based Learning. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning. 7(2)

Thomas, J. (2000). A Review of Research on Project-Based Learning. San Rafael, California 94903. Retrieved from

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Teaching as Inquiry

I have been an enthusiast about Teaching as Inquiry ever since it was introduced to me 8 or so years ago as part of my Middle Leadership training. It makes perfect sense that teachers would engage in reflection about their own teaching and the impact that they are having on the outcomes of students in their class.
As is stated in the New Zealand Curriculum:

NZC pg. 35

Einstein's definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results. It is the same thinking for Teaching as Inquiry. By focusing on an aspect of our teaching and its effectiveness, it stands to reason that by trying something new, thinking about it, doing some research to support that trial, adapting and re trialling, then it must cause positive outcome for the target students. 

NZC pg. 35
It also makes sense that Leadership and Teaching as Inquiries would benefit from the collective wisdom obtained through professional dialogue. My first experience with Teaching as Inquiry was an extremely structured and prescriptive approach that was based on the then 'in vogue' Ariki project

What has emerged over time and is still very effective is Teaching as Inquiry combined with in - school Professional Learning Groups. It is quite confusing at first because added to the mix over the past few years, we have collaborative teams working on a Teaching as Inquiry together. So we have Collaborative teams collecting data in order to decide on a target area and group to focus an Inquiry on. Add an across - the - school Professional Learning Group and there is initially a recipe for confusion!
 I am impressed with how well our current staff has picked up the threads and woven them together. 

The PLG's meet twice a term and have professional conversations about the Teaching as Inquiries. They share research that supports and informs the Inquiry and they use the Inquiry / Advocacy approach to question and help the presenter probe deeper into their thinking. The members of the across school PLG's then go back to their collaborative groups with new thinking to share and ideas to try for their collaborative Teaching as Inquiry.

The Team leaders are contributing to the collaborative Inquiry of their team, but their focus is on their Leadership of the team by enabling and facilitating the professional dialogue around data that in turn informs the teaching as Inquiry. This involves the production of a team data board.  I have had several very productive sessions with a couple of the team leaders about what these data meetings look like. As I discussed with one leader today, we discuss our children and their needs every day, the data just focuses us more closely on exactly who needs what?

 The CPPA Middle Leaders course has been the catalyst that has moved our team leaders away from the traditional role of administrators and has given them more of a student centred focus. I gained hugely from first participating in, then facilitating this course over the past few years and am now a proud coach of the current facilitators.