Saturday, January 31, 2015

Being: a Teacher

So I have returned to teaching and I’m doing short term contracts. I made this choice for myself because I really didn’t know what steps to take next. In fact there are many reasons why I made this choice:

  1. I’ll get paid, ya know? There are bills and adult responsibilities that have to be taken care of and an income helps in this regard.
  2. I can take some time off as I need without having to ask for approval. I can get things in my life sorted – whether that be project or house work or garden. I will have more time.
  3. I get some variety in my life.
  4. There is limited responsibility. I am still responsible and professional. But at the end of the day, I walk away. I am not required to do rosters or work an 11 hour day to cover staff who are sick because there are no available relief staff and none of my team are able to, or will work a longer shift.
  5. I get to be. The Being part of Belonging, Being and Becoming. I get to experience that too. I am there for the children. I am not feeling the same pressures I once felt as a teacher or director or teaching director.
  6. I can experiment with documenting children’s learning - with my writing style, what I choose to include or leave out and all that jazz.
  7. I can really focus on myself – my professional self. Who I am. Who I am for the children. Who I am for the team. I get to observe myself and how children respond to me. I’m finding it quite interesting.
  8. I can bide my time ... work and figure out who I want to be when I grow up. Because, at the end of the day, I have no idea what direction I want to travel in.
  9. I don’t have to get sucked into centre/service/organizational politics. I go to work. I do my job. I do the best job I can. I go home. Tada!
  10. I will have plenty to reflect upon ... which means I can write about it ... which means I can do my Teacher’s Ink. work as well as a few of my other of my other projects!
  11. I will be able to practice what my brain now knows after the last two years of mentoring and thinking ... Which can only be a good thing.

© Teacher’s Ink. 2015 All Rights Reserved

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dear Team ...

Dear Team,

First, I should tell you where I’m coming from. I think about the children. I’m not always right, and I’m not always equally fair to absolutely everyone, but the first and foremost thought running through my mind is the children, both collectively and as a cluster of individuals.

I want the children to have the best experience they can in the space I am in - with the other individuals they are with, both adult and child. Now, I don’t mean I want them to be happy all the time. That’s not a realistic possibility, but I want them to be safe, valued and heard. I want them to feel connected to the learning community as well as the world as a whole. I want them to be on a journey of discovering who they are as an individual in this life.

One of the aspects of my role is to give directions and guidance in regards to interacting and supervising, setting up of learning spaces, routine tasks, as well as workplace health and safety.  I don’t give directions because I enjoy doing it. I do it because I need to.  I am trying to manage and lead a service community which is made up of children and their families, our local community, educators and the many other individuals who step inside our door. It’s not easy. I need your understanding and your assistance.

I want the children to be safe, well and engaged – getting the most out of the moments they are in. This means we have to create dynamic learning environments that will encourage children to play and learn. We should engage with the children with respect and not take overpower them. We need to move around and spread ourselves across the space and the children. Parking ourselves at the art table because we like crafting ourselves isn't what we are here for. We need to 'work the party' and be accessible to all, not just the few.

I want the educators to be safe. I don’t want you to injure yourself or your colleagues. I don’t want to see you stressed and miserable. I want you to enjoy the great many hours you are spending at work. I want to mentor you and support you as evolving and growing professionals. You’re not here to babysit or be babysat yourself. I want you to be the best educators you can possibly be. This is something we can work on together, but only if you will let me.

I’m not the perfect leader, but I can promise you I am trying my best. My best will fluctuate from one moment to another, one day to another. That doesn’t mean I’m inconsistent, it means I’m human, like you. It also means that I am growing. I too evolve as a professional and learn new things each and every day.

You and I are legally responsible for the children in our care. That means, each and every thing you do, don’t do, say or don’t say has consequences. Now these consequences might be minor, a scratch on a knee because you didn't speak to your colleagues about leaving the room for a moment, but they might also be major and result in a trip to the hospital with a fracture. We hold the children’s lives in our hands. We are answerable to the child – both the child as they are now and also as they will be as an adult.  This is why records are kept until children are 25 years old. 

We answer to the child’s parents and families. We answer to our managers at every level. We are also answerable to the licensing and regulatory bodies as well as the law. Please do not take this responsibility lightly, I don’t.

Please work with me. Together we could achieve so very much, but it is something we need to do together, as a team. I cannot do this alone. 

Kind Regards,

Your Leader

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Extend Extending Extensions

DISCLAIMER: I shall have to preface this post and probably every post I write from now on with: I do not subscribe to the Assessment and Rating process. I am down with the NQS and QIPs and the EYLF – for the most part. I am a reflective practitioner and I love learning and improving.  I think A&R is a colossal waste of money that could be spent many other ways – research, educational support for current and future educators ... funding for services etc. I’m a teacher, an educational leader’s educational leader, a mentor, an educator, a weaver of curriculum. I do my own thing, as I was educated to do and I do it with pride and knowledge and experience sitting behind my pedagogical choices. I am a professional and I don’t need to be asked to prove it to others repeatedly.

Anyway, let’s start the show ... 

The inspiration for this article is from online forums where over and over I see educators asking about extension ideas for experiences or activities that they have observed children engaged in. I believe that the idea behind this is that these educators will then know what to plan for the child. I struggle with this notion for a few reasons. One of which is - a bunch of strangers on the internet do not know the child, nor do they know the learning that you are trying to foster for that child. They also don't know the learning that you have observed, unless of course you have articulated that - simply asking for an extension activity idea based upon another activity isn't the point of planning. Even when it is interest based.

It seems to me that by planning from one activity observed to another activity provided we are missing a critical element or two  - learning being the major part. We are missing the learning observed and identified through thoughtful analysis or reflection. And we are missing the potential learning we wish to foster. Activities or experiences do not equal learning. 

I have to acknowledge that I have a few personal professional issues with extensions as they are used in the early childhood education field today (I find "follow-ups" abhorrent).

I'd like to make a few points in regards to "extensions"  and I know I’m repeating myself a bit, but I so want to make these points. Repeatedly. 
  1. An ‘extension’ or ‘extension of learning’ is not an obligatory blanket requirement of the NQS and EYLF nor is it a ‘must do’ for the ‘what’s next.’
  2. We are the educators, we have the knowledge, experience, and the position to be able to choose what to extend upon, as well as how and when we extend it. We should own our professionalism. Like a boss. You earned it. (This is not to detract from the rights of children).
  3. Where do children's rights fit into all of this? When do they get to choose their own extensions? And for how long they extend their own interest in learming? Why must the educator have all that power?
  4. We don’t need to extend everything.
  5. An extension does not need to be a separate activity or experience.
  6. An extension can be something that we do in the moment - a sneaky little intentional teaching strategy.
  7. An extension is not a follow-up. A follow-up is not an extension. Yet the two are often used interchangeably. 
Just so we're all on the same page,a follow-up and an extension can be defined as:

  •   A follow-up - is “the act or an instance of following up” or “something that follows up
  •  An extension - is “the action of extending:  state of being extended” or “a part constituting an addition”

I hate follow-ups (like, heaps) -- it's not a secret -- and I think that using “extensions” as the new “follow-up”  isn't the direction we have to go in. Who decided that this was the cycle of planning for early childhood services anyway? Who decided that this was quality and then started to perpetuate that myth. 

You observe a moment in time, analyse, plan a follow-up activity, implement that activity and then 'tick that box' - all to say that you've completed the cycle of planning for the (each) child? And if you do 40 of these, two times a month, then each child is sufficiently included in the planning cycle?!?!?!?! 

Go away. That's so superficial and not sustainable! How overworked and worn out and tired are you? Seriously? How much planning do you have to do at home because you cannot do the panning at work because you're too busy trying to catch up with the follow-ups/extensions/extensions of so called learning?!?!?!

Some of you are doing (are required to do by your Educational Leaders or your Managers) five of these a month per child - sometimes regardless of the child's attendance pattern!... I feel for you. I really do. It is beyond ridiculous. RIDICULOUS! I'm all about being genuine, human, and authentic. It's about relationships, connections, conversations. Learning and teaching is complex. It CANNOT be simplified into one learning story observation whatever the hell you want to call it and a follow-up-extended-extending-extension-of-learning. 

The NQS requires us to have a planning cycle which is informed and guided by our assessment of children's learning and development: "Element 1.2.1 Each child’s learning and development is assessed as part of an ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation."  We can plan using the broad learning outcomes, child developmental theory and our knowledge of each and every child in our care as a guide. There are of course so many other elements we can weave into our plans that I could explore here, but I'd run out of room. And honestly its difficult enough for me to maintain one train of thought, let alone 10. 

The NQS indicates that we should use teaching strategies intentionally to support and extend children’s learning potential. The NQS doesn’t tell us how. We work that little gem out for ourselves. The NQS does not demand that we extend everything we observe, everything we plan, everything we see. The NQS does not demand a follow-up activity attached to each and every written document. It just doesn’t. If you are convinced it does, please point me to where it says so... If an Assessor told you so (and I know that some have) ask them nicely to support you in understanding this, and could they please show you where - in the Early Years Learning Framework? In the Regulations? In the Law? In the Standards? WHERE!? it says so!?

It is my belief that 'follow-ups' and the current interpretation of 'extensions' as follow-ups is a leftover or residual understanding from the times before. The boxes. The Monday to Monday, Tuesday to Tuesday type of planning. Activity to activity. All those little boxes, little boxes ... Let's have a little sing-a-long shall we?

Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
- Malvina Reynolds - 

I love a good protest song ... 

I'd like to explore point number six further: “extension can be something that you do, such as a sneaky little intentional teaching strategy.” I mean we can support the child in the here and now. A word of encouragement, resources to extend the time the child engages in the play or resources that add a new level of complexity to that play, some open-ended questions that prompt the child’s thinking, a sustained conversation between educator and child, or a group of children... All these are teaching strategies. Teaching strategies, used intentionally to extend the opportunities for learning in the moment that the child is actively engaged in - that is an extension – I think that this should be our definition of an extension – the little thing or the big thing we did to support the child at the time which facilitated the learning potential further. 

An extension can be another experience flowing from the original moment - which may seem unrelated but is in fact quite related - Aunt Annie explores that in her blog article "Extending children's play, and the joy of red herrings" - so if you can do something in the moment, do it. And realise that it might not be 'like to like' or 'same to same'  - as Aunt Annie explores in her writing it can be 'like to different to very different'. 

If you can’t see the learning potential in that moment for the children or that particular child, then move onto another moment and devote some brain power to that. Be gentle with yourself. Don't belittle yourself or feel inadequate. You don't have to have the 'one answer' or the 'one right activity' - the perfect solution follow-up-future-extension-of-learning-idea.

If you know the child, know their development, their needs, their strengths, their gifts and their challenges then you should know what to do. Know the child. Plan for the child. Don't plan for an activity. An activity is not learning.

If you know what learning you’re trying to facilitate then you might have a better idea of what you’re going to do to promote opportunities for further learning. [Did you note that I said 'opportunities'? As in plural? As in not just one?] Keep in mind that not all children will want to learn the same thing at the same time in the same way OR that all children are capable of learning the same thing in the same way at the same time ... Children are individuals who have unique learning interests and needs and speeds. Just like us. Children are people too. Don't forget that.

I would like us all (well, mainly them, the them that annoy me, the them that are the system) to embrace the fact that not all learning can be planned or forecast. 

Sometimes the best learning just happens.

- G

© Teacher’s Ink. 2014 All Rights Reserved 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How Many Different Ways Do You Need to Document? (Really?)

People are confused and lost when it comes to programming and planning. Look, I totally get that you’re lost. I do. As a curriculum mentor I knew what I was doing, and then the more input people had into my thinking and practice the more confused it became. The more I read online the more convoluted it seemed. I thought that was bullshit. I decided to become a pedagogical hermit for a little while and I delved into the Standards and I wrapped my head around them. I shut out the background noise and I looked at the Standards themselves. NOT other people’s interpretation of them. Start at the beginning. The Standards.

Now what amazes me is some of these self-professed consultants. I am not a consultant hater. In fact I can think of three brilliant consultants that I know who rock. They are smart and challenging and cluey. One challenges the crap out of my mind but I adore that. I need that.

Be aware that not all consultants are created equal. KNOW who you are paying. KNOW who you are trusting with YOUR reputation. The consultants don’t go through Assessment and Rating. You do. You can’t blame them when you get working towards because your program lacks depth and continuity. And I have yet to see a money back guarantee.

I wonder about these shonky consultants. I especially wonder about consultants who promise you more with less documenting and yet they show you 25 different ways to document and meet the supposed requirement of the NQF?! How is 25 less? Guess how many styles of documenting I used to use when I was a practicing teacher? My curriculum cycle had three elements to it. So that is three documents. On the side I’d do little documentations or displays but they would slot into the Day Book or the Curriculum Reflections, plus the Children’s Portfolios. THREE. Then the types of documentations or observation formats I would create in the children’s portfolios? I made them all up. So it was essentially say about five different documents. And NOT one of them was a Learning Story. I am yet to be a fan. I might change my mind in future, but as of today, I don’t particularly like them. They’re too time consuming. I don’t have time. You don’t have time. Are you doing them at home? You shouldn’t have to! Home should be YOUR time.
I’ve seen it published that “old fashioned” ways of documenting such as anecdotes and jottings and checklists are no longer valid.
I’m going to be seriously blunt.

Fuck off.

Why are they not valid? Because everyone is taught to do them when they study? No one has to come to trainings or workshops or conferences to learn how to fill out a checklist or take a jotting? 

Guess what... Anecdotes and jottings and even checklists are still valid forms of documenting. And I STRONGLY suggest you do them.

Look, programming and planning under the NQS is not the simplest thing in the world, but it also doesn’t need to be the most complicated. Slapping 25 different formats that you’ve briefly been shown photos of is not going to get you far. It’s bullshit. It’s sales-pitches and marketing designed to get your money. It’s sure as hell NOT going to get you the promised “Exceeding” ... Why not do two or three or five and do them brilliantly? Why spread yourself so bloody thin that you’re completely transparent that no one can see you or what you’re trying so desperately to achieve?

I have so much more to say, but that will do for now.

© Teacher’s Ink. 2014 All Rights Reserved

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Direction of Teacher's Ink.

Greetings & Salutations,

I've been quiet of late, because I stepped out of a teaching and directing role into that of a children’s services advisor. A large part of that job meant I had, I suppose access to people’s secrets, insecurities, strengths and challenges. I wanted my relationships with the educators that I was working with in a mentoring capacity to be based upon trust. While, for the most part, my blog is anonymous, I didn't want to take advantage of others and betray trust. That’s not cool. At all. So I've been quiet more or less for two years. I've still been reflecting, but it’s been more on the inside than the out.

I'm going to be entering into a new phase in my life so that may lead to more documented reflections. I will be pondering the direction of this blog, but I think that I will write about my teaching practice more than anything else. I know I've been political and I know I've thrown around judgements ... but as I may be teaching again, I think I want to really turn the lens towards myself and my skills, strengths and challenges. I'm certainly an imperfect teacher.

I mentioned previously that I wanted to work on Reflective Practice and Intentional Teaching and that still stands. Those two notions will tie in perfectly with the direction I’d like to take this blog. So there we have it.

So that’s where things will most likely be heading ... Stay tuned. 

G @ Teacher's Ink.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Where Am I?

Greetings... I have been quiet for a while as I've been engaged in a few other projects as well as starting up a small business. The small business alone has pretty much take up a year of my life. Plus I work full-time as an advisor and have home-life-responsibilities.

I clearly need to work on my time management strategies! But that's not really a new discovery.

I have two ideas I'd like to explore within the pages of my blog. The first is Intentional Teaching and the second is Reflective Practice. I've been wanting to work on these for quite a while actually - but ya know - TIME. Where does it go, and how does one find more?

I've written my two ideas on a post-it note and I have a page of time management strategy plan thingy-ma-bobs.

I shall write again.

I shall.

- G @ Teacher's Ink.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Why So Many Ways to Document?

When I studied the first time around I learned how to observe and document using the following methods:

Anecdotal Observations
Running Records
Time Samples
Event Samples
Sociograms ...

I'm sure there were more, but those are the ones that come to mind.

That was 1996. Waaaay back when.

Now, there are training organizations, the now defunct DEEWR with their 'Educators Guide'  and the self-proclaimed consultants who are passing the old formats of observations off as if they are something new, and adding:

Morning meeting minutes
Afternoon meeting minutes
Reflective practice
Reflective Oblongs
Children's Philosophies
Family Philosophies
Learning Stories
Mind Maps
Analysis of learning

Do you not wonder why you are being told to spread yourself too thin? And who are these experts? Have they been through Assessment and Rating themselves? Have they even managed a centre consistently under the new National Quality Standards? What are their early childhood qualifications? Are they certified? Or are they just out to make a quick buck out of your insecurity and fear? If they were really out to help you, they wouldn't charge you exorbitantly for their time and supposed expertise.

I am a consultant. That's my nine to five. But I resent using the word because of those who are laying claim to it. Abusing it. Abusing you.

No one, NO ONE can get you exceeding. EVER. Apart from the fact that I have little faith in the A&R system as it is, I certainly think that if a centre gets Exceeding then it's their own doing. They did the work, not the books that they read, the websites they joined or the consultants they consulted with. The centre earned it. Not the hired help.

Are you even comfortable with someone claiming to take credit for your hard work? Is that fair? Is it ethical for someone to take your success, pass it off as their own, and then use your success to advertise themselves to make more money from other educators and service providers?

Just because someone delivers something in a way that you connect with. Just because they are charismatic and friendly, doesn't mean that they are speaking the truth and giving you sound information or advice.

My advice to you: Stick with a few styles of documentation and do them well. You only need a few. Don't fall for the "children's magical voices" bullshit. Writing anything down is worthless without some serious reflection behind it. And children are not magical beings. They are people. If you called me magical I'd smack you across the head for demeaning me and tell you it was just fairy dust. Don't. Call. Me. Magical. It's degrading. I'm a person who deserves respect.

Don't fall for empty promises and spread yourself too thin. That is not the path to a "Meeting" rating much less an "Exceeding" one.

Reflection is deeper than asking the children what they liked or didn't like about their day. Reflection is not about what you liked or what 'went' well or how lovely it was in the sandpit with all the children playing so nicely or what the children said.

I've given you plenty of professional reflection on my blog - go read it.

So what sorts of documentation would I use?

The Teacher's Ink Approved Documentation Methods: < tongue in cheek in case ya didn't know.
Anecdotal observations
Photo montages

And then I'd tie it all in together with my reflections of my knowledge of the child and what I would like to see the child working on in the near future.

I personally am not a fan of (New Zealand) Learning Stories - I think they're great for NZ and I think they're fabulous for centres that are above ratio and provide their educators with a) a computer and b) extensive time to document. Otherwise who has time to do them? I didn't.

I've never particularly liked them. And most people don't do them properly anyway. I doubt that many people know they come from NZ in the first place. You don't need to do them. They're not required. No matter what anyone says. There is NOTHING in the NQS or EYLF that says you need to use them.

So in regards to children's portfolios, I would have five main documentation formats. Five. That's it. FIVE. Not 10, not 20 or 30 or 86 different ways to document (yeah you think I'm joking? I've heard this one).

Pick five, and do them well. Especially the jottings - do lots of them! They're more meaningful that a whole long drawn out story.

In regards to hiring consultants, Google them, do some research! Just because they're nice and charismatic doesn't mean they're qualified.

Remember that: Charismatic is NOT the same as Qualified.

And a pretty portfolio is NOT an assessment of learning nor is it your curriculum documentation.

Portfolios are not even required, yet many of us do them. But that's another story.

I think perhaps the moral of this story is that you shouldn't spread yourself too think. You're not Vegemite.

Work smarter, not harder. I know. That's what they say. They all say it. But they're full of shit. Because they tell you to do it 10 or 20 or 30 or 86 different ways.

© Teacher’s Ink. 2014 All Rights Reserved