Our school ran a Year 7 Learning Team Project with one class this year and the evaluations are extremely positive. The executive is currently working out how best to improve the learning outcomes of students, especially in the middle years of school. We really need to engage our 11-14 year olds much more effectively and to build on success in the immediate future. The whole staff are about to explore the ideas and structures discussed in this post.
We have been struggling with a number of issues at the school and time-lines are tight for being organised for 2009. It is extremely difficult to create the time and structures needed to implement far-reaching change and, as always, we need to do a better job leading. There has been debate about a range of the issues at the school, including previous ‘Able & Interested’ programs, consultation and the structure of our timetable. Not everything is perfectly set-up but the basic ideas of creating structures that allow for collaboration and professional development should be unchallengeable IMHO.
Some staff may well be cynical or skeptical and feel the weight of working cross-faculties in a different way but hopefully implementation and enthusiasm from a critical mass will be enough to affect change. We need a sense of urgency and the good sense to enjoy ourselves and have fun.
The ideas below contain the spirit of what may be attempted but there is much work to be done:
Year 7 Learning Teams Project in 2009
DHS must plan for the continual improvement and ever-ongoing revitalisation of teaching and learning at the school. The executive must set a clear direction that the entire school community can articulate, if we are to become a focused ‘community of learners’.
Our greatest assets, of course, are the professional teachers who work at the school.
If research is correct and 30% of student success is determined by the teacher (Hattie 2003) we should focus on developing teachers’ skills.
Staff should have structured and sustainable opportunities to participate in formal (and informal) Professional Development and Teacher Professional Learning if student outcomes are to improve. Opportunities to collaborate, in a structured manner during 2009 and onwards, can be facilitated through the introduction of Learning Teams (LTs) based on Year 7 class allocations.
When teachers have high expectations and a detailed, professional knowledge of how young people learn best, students are more likely to set and achieve challenging goals. Teaching strategies should be selected that build on students’ prior knowledge, provide scaffolds, structure, and sequence for learning; assessment tasks should assist students to understand where they need to improve and how then can achieve their potential.
Our focus must be holistic, not narrowly based on improving test scores; however, these will partially indicate success and areas for development.
Learning and teaching are two sides of the same coin. The strategy of organising teachers into cross-facultyLTs– based on Year 7 mixed ability classes – will provide learning opportunities for staff about best practice in teaching 11-14 year olds.
Collaborating in Learning Teams will assist teachers by strategically targeting professional development opportunities that will assist staff to:
- improve learning experiences and outcomes for all their students
- share insights gained when reflecting on their class and practice
- share teaching & learning ideas with colleagues,
- shape their own professional learning
- professionally develop their skills in the areas targeted by the school
- develop their theoretical perspectives on teaching and learning
- develop knowledge and skills with digital technologies
- understand ‘synergies’ between subject/faculties/courses
- develop their understanding of what it means to participate and collaborate in a ‘community of learners’
Conceptualising, the Australian Council of Deans of Education assertion that, “the skills of collaboration will supersede the competitive skills required in the old industrial economy, and the focus will shift to interpersonal relations and communications” (2003) is of the greatest importance to the future development of our learning community and educational health of the school.
Research suggests that the belief we are in a ‘community of learners’ where mutual respect, a relentless focus on learning, in a safe, relevant and inviting environment, is the key to improved educational outcomes. Our traditional concept that teachers teach, students learn, and administrators manage is challenged by this notion.
In a community of learners, everyone is about the business of learning, questioning, investigating, and seeking solutions collaboratively.
The areas targeted for ongoing professional development include:
- How students learn in the Middle Years (11-14) and ways to best organise a positive environment that fosters a love of learning and enthusiasm
- Teacher nominated areas for development or need/interest
- Whole school and subject specific literacy and numeracy strategies
- Collaborative and cooperative learning strategies
- Digital technologies and how they impact on learning
- Welfare and discipline – consistent classroom approaches
- Assessment for learning including extension of students and catering for diverse, individual needs
- Mixed ability teaching and constructivist approaches to teaching & learning
- Other relevant educational theory and classroom strategies where appropriate
Teachers, quite understandably will wish to know what it means practically, to be a Year 7 teacher involved in the Learning Teams Project. Staff are encouraged to:
- meet and collaborate with Year 7 teaching colleagues during whole school, committee and the usual meeting/TPL times – of course, class teachers can agree to additional gatherings
- participate via an email distribution list to ongoing discussions with their LT
- participate in TPL arranged by the school as well as their own areas of interest/need (see above)
- support LT agreed to approaches/initiatives
- explore cooperative and collaborative learning in their class
- consider being the facilitator or co-facilitator for their Learning Team
- complete an evaluation (or two) about the project
- recommend areas where HTs/faculties could further develop team approaches to curriculum in 2010
This Learning Teams approach should enable students to demonstrate:
i) enhanced engagement with learning
ii) improved literacy and numeracy
iii) greater collaboration and cooperative learning in class
iv) enhanced use of digital technologies for learning
v) enhanced well-being due to improved welfare and discipline
This project intends that teachers have:
i) improved formal and informal opportunities to work as a team with colleagues in other faculties developing a more integrated curriculum (where possible) teaching expertise, resources and strategies
ii) professional development about teaching middle years students, especially for literacy, numeracy and using digital technologies
iii) enhanced use of ICT for collaboration, teaching and learning
iv) leadership opportunities
v) opportunities to professionally develop colleagues’ and their own skills
FAQs (Frequently Anticipated Questions)
Q: What happens if I teach more than one x Year 7 class?
A: You will attend one class’ meeting (as suits faculty)
Q: What happens if I teach more than one x Year 7 class re: the email distribution list?
A: You will be on the CC list so that all can see you teach more than one x class (but may request to receive emails for one class)
Q: I teach TAS/Art/Maths and my class consists of different students to the English/Science/HSIE/PDHPE/Music teachers?
A:All staff should be in a LT for TPL but some of the students may be different depending on subject
Q: What happens if I disagree with my colleagues in the LT?
A: You have professional autonomy but should endeavour to be as supportive and positive as possible
Q: I am considering, but feel nervous about volunteering to be a facilitator, what does this entail?
A: Facilitators are necessary to assist with the organisation of teams rather than generating material or ideas. It should not be onerous but requires enthusiasm
Q: Do I have to be in a team if I teach Year 7?
A: Yes please!
Q:How will the school create the time needed for meeting/TPL?
A:Weeks 2, 6 & 10 have been committee meeting time during 2008 but much of this time will be available for TPL of one kind or another in 2009
7O Teachers – Collated: Evaluation of 2008 Learning Team – 2008
Anderson, Michelle and Cawsey Christine, Learning for Leadership – Building a School of Professional Practice, 2008
Australian Council of Deans of Education, 2003, The Role of the Teacher: Coming of Age, http://acde.edu.au/
Australian Literacy Educators Association http://www.myread.org/scaffolding.htm
Australian National Schools Network http://www.nsn.net.au
Gardner, H, 1993, Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice, Basic Books, NY
Hattie, J, 2003, Teachers Make a Difference: What is the research evidence?ACER http://www.acer.edu.au/workshops/documents/Teachers_Make_a_Difference_Hattie.pdf
Lee, M and Gaffney, M, Leading a Digital School – Principles and Practice, 2008
Ramsay, G, 2001, Quality Matters: Review of Teacher Education in NSW
Vinson, T. 2002. Report of the Independent Inquiry into Public Education in New South Wales. First Report
Vygotsky, L, 1978, Mind in Society, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA