16 Sep 2015

Do we value technology over thinking, creativity, relationships and developing the whole child?



"The first global study on students' digital skills shows Australia is one of the highest users of technology in schools. Yet the country's reading and maths performance has declined over 2000 to 2012, based on data from 2012 Programme for International Student Assessement" 
The Age, September 16, 2015


I read this in the paper this morning. It got me thinking…... 

Do we value technology over thinking, creativity, relationships and developing the whole child? 

When new technology comes along often we are quick to get on board and feel the need to be up to date. This can occur from a desire to imitate others or from being influenced by a well manufactured marketing campaign that emphasises the fear of being left behind if we don't keep our children up to date with the latest in technology. To a certain extent this is true. We are now surrounded by technology and it is a part of our world now and in the future and there is no doubt technology does provide us with many tools that enhance opportunities for producing quality learning outcomes. It is the thinking skills, creativity, learning and understanding that needs to take place first that truly matters when it comes to using and effective teaching using technology as a tool.

Personal interactions, collaborations, discussions, development of concepts and thinking is a part of everyday life in business and in education. We then use the technology to explore and communicate these ideas and concepts but you can't have one without the other. The computer or ipad doesn't do all the thinking for you. Or does it?


"If students use smartphones to copy and paste prefabricated answers to questions, it is unlikely to help them become smarter." 

The Age, September 16, 2015

Are we in danger of allowing technology to take care of thinking so that we can become more reliant on it to provide us with opportunities? It seems we value technology more now than ever as a way to communicate, interact and to educate. However, it is the relationships, interactions and thinking skills that will ultimately provide success for our children in the future. There needs to be a balance so that our children are able to create, strategically develop, articulate and produce the ideas and jobs of the future. Simply relying on technology to solve problems is not going to cut it in their future.

"In this connected world you need collaboration, you need communication and creativity. If you get all three of those in someone, that's gold." 
Peter McAlpine, Senior Director of education for Adobe Asia Pacific.

Many schools have invested in technology thinking it will improve learning and provide their school with an edge. Investing in technology is perceived to be an advantage in providing children with the best possible opportunities for their future. 

There is more evidence to suggest that children's wellbeing and connection with their peers, their family and community has more beneficial outcomes for learning than does technology. Engaging parents in their child's education is so important, particularly in the use of technology as a learning tool. As a parent it is becoming increasingly difficult not only to keep up with technology in learning but also to engage with our children when they seem to be constantly online and disconnected. Understanding how to support their learning when it comes to technology is increasingly a challenge and in understanding how it is enhancing learning and future opportunities.

In many ways technology is enhancing the way learning is communicated and provided in various formats for students, however it is not able to cover all bases, particularly when it comes to a student feeling confident in their ability to perform tasks, to absorb, collect and process information and to have all round skills to be able to problem solve and use their knowledge.

Thinking carefully about how we use technology and what it is actually doing to our children and our society in general should be a huge area of focus, particularly for parents and educators. When it comes down to it, we need to stay connected with ourselves and each other before we totally rely on technology for the answers. 
Understanding technology in education is a topic I explore in my forthcoming book, Staying Connected - How to guide children on their learning journey. If you would like a preview copy of the book or further information about our workshops and consulting in education, email rachel@practicallylearning.com.au or contact Rachel on
0419 371 876

Weekly Perspective: 
"Creativity fosters the advanced critical thinking required for emerging 'creative and knowledge' economies, where 'smart jobs' are replacing muscle work." 
Peter McAlpine, Senior Director of education for Adobe Asia Pacific.

Contact Rachel on 0419 371 876 to learn more about how Practically Learning can assist you in developing and inspiring a positive learning culture in your school to improve learning outcomes for children.

To subscribe to our 5 Thought Bubbles e-newsletter visit our website at www.practicallylearning.com.au

8 Apr 2015

What if teachers were recognised for their strengths and empowered to be more creative and entrepreneurial in the classroom?


It wasn’t until I became a teacher, or should I say facilitator, in higher education that I ever really thought of teaching as being a creative profession. 
What I most enjoyed about the role was the creation of assessment tasks that challenged and inspired both myself and my students. I also loved the opportunity to deliver lessons that were interesting and engaging for my students to assist them to learn various ways. I would often ask them how they learned best and would structure lessons around each different style of learning. I received feedback from the students that my lessons were fun and interesting as I wasn’t just standing at a powerpoint the whole time boring them with facts. They were able to be engaged and interactive, relating the learning to real life situations that were relevant in their world. 

I loved being entrepreneurial in creating my own style of delivery, my own projects from scratch, drawing inspiration both from other creative people and my students. Although quite challenging at times, It was a thrill to witness the students thrive in understanding the concepts and challenges I was presenting to them. 

It got me thinking…..

What if teachers were encouraged to be more creative and entrepreneurial in their approach to developing tasks and lessons for children and also in their approach to running their classes? What if their main strengths were recognised and encouraged to empower them in their teaching.


1. Often when I speak with teachers they don’t see themselves as being creative or they are so weighed down with the expectations and accountability of achieving results from children they don’t have a chance to feel creative let alone be creative in their approach to preparing for teaching. Sometimes it may take someone to give them an opportunity they haven’t yet been given, to be recognised or given permission to draw on their strengths in being more creative in their approach.

2. Each school is different so there are certain rules to follow and in some cases there are boundaries. Often creativity can be seen as a soft option or something you do in your spare time. But creative thinking is essential for our future. The creative thinkers of the past led us to where we are today. 
If it weren’t for those people who were willing to take a risk and ignore the negativity that came their way, we wouldn’t have methods to provide light, sound, glass, cold ice for our drinks, heating, timing devices, iPhones, robotics……. the list goes on.

3. How well do you know your teachers and their strengths? The more entrepreneurial and creative that teachers are able to be in shaping the learning around exploring the interests of the children, the more this will influence children in their own mindset about their future. If we are set in our ways and only stick to one path, how are we able to grow? How are our children being encouraged to think beyond the obvious and explore opportunities without fear if their teachers aren’t able to do the same? This includes their parents and other influences on their learning.

4. Why are entrepreneurs not discussed more in schools? The qualities of scientists, inventors, artists, explorers and other change makers are so inspiring and make for wonderful conversations with children, not to mention what can be learned from them. The lessons we can all learn about persistence, courage, resilience, creativity and empowerment could mean the difference for many children when deciding on their future paths. 

5. Asking teachers to reflect on their own strengths and abilities can provide you with ideas to empower them in ways they may have never thought possible. Providing this for teachers may be the catalyst for adding excitement and inspiration to their teaching. We want our teachers to love coming to work each day so they can make a difference in the lives and future for children. 

These are just a few thoughts to think about as you continue to build relationships and improve wellbeing in your learning community. 

Contact Rachel on 0419 371 876 to learn more about how Practically Learning can assist you in developing and inspiring a positive learning culture in your school to improve learning outcomes for children.

Weekly Perspective: In a recent report on US PBS Newshour, one school in Boston explained how they changed their approach and became a collaborative, teacher led school with more of a focus on the student at the centre of learning, having conversations and making decisions on how to achieve this. 

“I felt like I had lost inspiration and wasn’t able to teach how I’d learned how to teach. I was contributing to unnecessary pain for children. I couldn’t keep teaching and hold onto any integrity.” Susan Sluyter, Mission Hill School Boston USA.

“The motto in Finland is trust through professionalism. Too often the teaching profession is a heads down, get the job done….instead of having time to reflect on how the world is changing. How is what I’m teaching today different from what I taught 10 or 20 years ago? How does it need to be different?” Tony Wagner, Harvard University


"We’re going to use student voices to shape our curriculum, shape the curriculum around their interests.” Jenerra Williams, Mission Hill School Boston USA. 
  

Until next time, keep thinking…...and taking action!

1 Apr 2015

Here's a thought: How can we be more mindful of our wellbeing and how it effects us and others?




Now that the first school term has ended it is worth reflecting on all of the positive achievements that have occurred over the past few weeks. Being a short term it is always tempting to cram in as much as possible to ensure the children are learning and achieving. 
Along with tight deadlines and short spans of time comes a lot of stress on everyone. Teachers become tired, as do the children and pretty soon our energy levels become too low or extremely high rather than calm and centred. 

Thank goodness there are holidays to look forward to. 

It got me thinking....

How can we become more mindful of those energy levels throughout the term and have strategies in place to ensure they don’t effect the quality of teaching and learning as well as the wellbeing of everyone in our learning community?

How can we be more mindful of our wellbeing and how it effects us and others? 

1. You may notice that everything seems to escalate towards the end of term and this can be due to many factors, most of all the energy that everyone is projecting without realising. 

This is a good time to slow down and try not to do too many things in the final weeks of school. Plan for quieter activities for the children so they are not feeling too hyperactive and are able to begin holidays feeling refreshed rather than tired.

2. Encourage families to be conscious of this time, that their children are becoming tired and that they need plenty of rest and extra understanding if they become highly emotional at home. Providing a calm environment at home can help during this time.

3. Teachers also need to be mindful of their wellbeing during this time as they too are tired and are feeling the energy of the children. If they are encouraged to spend some time outside school in taking care of their wellbeing this will be reflected in the energy they bring to the classroom. Also being mindful of how the children are feeling and working on ways to bring a sense of calm to the classroom will inevitably provide benefits for everyone.

4. Reflection on how activities and events have been presented and structured during the term and assessing how they may be implemented differently to ease pressure and stress on individuals is another way to be more strategic in approach and timing during next term and for the remainder of the year. 

5. Ask teachers for their feedback on how they feel at the end of term and work on strategies to improve overall processes and methods to ensure the school climate is calm and centred rather than rushed and frantic. 

These are just a few thoughts to end the term with positive energy and experiences to continue to build relationships and improve wellbeing in your learning community. 

Contact Rachel on 0419 371 876 to learn more about how Practically Learning can assist you in developing and inspiring a positive learning culture in your school to improve learning outcomes for children.

Weekly Perspective: 
“Without emotional understanding it is difficult to feel connected. Emotional relating opens the door for collaborative, integrative communication in which a dialogue can take place that allows us to connect to each other.” Daniel J Seigel and Mary Hartzell 


Until next time, keep thinking…...and taking action!

13 Mar 2015

Here's a thought: How can teachers learn to feel more confident and empowered?



Welcome to my thoughts. Over the past few years I have read many books and researched the climate of teaching. I've discovered that teachers are just like most people forging a career in their chosen profession. There are many highs and lows, with challenges to overcome and fears to conquer. 

An increased pressure to know it all and do it all is now more prevalent in our society. You have to be multi skilled and know how to multi task. However, most of us have never been trained or taught how to do this or to face our fears when something arises that we’re not sure about.

There is constant change and information overload, not enough time to process it, understand the information and how to explain it to others.
It’s no wonder there are more teachers than ever taking stress leave, sick days and quitting the profession early.

It got me thinking.....

1. Often people put their own pressures on themselves to get things right the first time and to have total control. There is no room for error or flexibility and if it’s not done properly the stress builds up. Teachers should be encouraged to learn how to embrace challenges as opportunities for self reflection, growth and improvement but also to learn from mistakes.

2. Creating an environment where teachers are encouraged to share their concerns without fear, particularly if they are new to the profession and are on a huge learning curve, can alleviate stress and provide a sense of certainty. Often we don’t let on that we are struggling, for fear of people thinking less of us. Vulnerability is sometimes a curse as we hide it most of the time when it is a normal part of human nature, especially when we ourselves are learning.

3. Each area of the teaching profession should be cause for reflection and growth, not just focussing on what is wrong but also what we are doing well. Developing rapport and positive relationships with students, other teachers and parents is the most important place to start. The flow on effect from developing positive relationships is increased engagement in learning, improved behaviours and learning outcomes and a positive learning environment where everyone involved feels safe and has the opportunity to feel empowered and thrive.

4. Self reflection and understanding yourself is crucial in developing as a person and as a professional. The most successful people in the world have personal development coaches to help them work on their fears, doubts and any barriers that are preventing them from being the person they want to be in life and in business. Coaching and mentoring Principals and teachers not only helps them to grow personally but also in their professional approach to teaching and learning.

5. Identifying those areas that can be changed to improve confidence for teachers will help to improve the learning outcomes for children.
An awareness of self leads to acceptance, flexibility, a change of perception or self realisation and connection, providing the tools to improve the culture of the teaching profession, particularly self confidence in teaching. 

Understanding teachers and how to build their confidence in developing relationships is an important area I explore with school Principals, their staff as well as parents and children in learning communities. I have developed research programs, resources, present workshops and provide strategies for parents and teachers in the four key focus areas of relationships, partnerships in learning, community and leadership and communication - all crucial in improving learning outcomes for children. 

Our CLEAR strategy planning tool and development coaching can assist schools in using a strategic approach to self reflection and improvement of teacher confidence.

For more information Contact Rachel on 0419 371 876 to learn more about how Practically Learning can assist you in developing and inspiring a positive learning culture in your school to improve learning outcomes for children.

Weekly Perspective: 
“Adopt an attitude of flexibility. If there's one emotion to cultivate to guarantee success, it's the ability to change your approach. Throughout your life there will be situations you won't be able to control. Your ability to be flexible in your rules, the meaning you attach to things, and your actions will determine your long-term success or failure, not to mention your level of personal joy.”

Tony Robbins

Contact Rachel on 0419 371 876 to learn more about how Practically Learning can assist you in developing and inspiring a positive learning culture in your school to improve learning outcomes for children.

To subscribe to our 5 Thought Bubbles e-newsletter visit our website at www.practicallylearning.com.au and click on make contact.

4 Mar 2015

Here's a thought: How can you encourage parents to support their children’s learning?




Welcome to my thoughts. There is alot of talk and extensive research about parent engagement and often there is some confusion about what this actually means and how to implement this as part of your school culture. 

It got me thinking.....

How are you providing opportunities for parents to be engaged with their children’s learning and how can you educate them on the importance of their supportive role for their child throughout their entire education, not just in the early years? 

1. Encourage families to set the scene for learning at home. Providing an environment that encourages conversations around learning, time and space to complete homework or read and most importantly, time for listening and being present for their child. 
To improve the opportunities for this, parents need to be further informed about what children are learning at school so they can have more meaningful conversations and understand what is happening in their world.

2. Provide information about what the children are learning in maths, inquiry, literacy etc and give examples of how the skills they are learning could be applied at home. 
Many parents ask their children how their day at school went and often ask the question, “What did you learn today?”. 
If they were equipped with more information they could instead ask, “What did you see on your excursion to Scienceworks today?”. 
If the question is related directly to the subject children are more likely to respond in enthusiastic conversation rather than “I don’t know” or “Not much”.

3. Encourage parents to link what children are learning at school with their home life and also demonstrate what they are learning through their outside school activities. An example may be if a child is playing sport they are learning teamwork, resilience, physical skills, maths, listening, understanding, grasping concepts and following rules which are all important life skills.  Having conversations around these provides children with further understanding of their own world and what they are learning while having fun.

4. Encourage parents to share stories of their own learning experiences in a positive way so children know that there are possibilities and opportunities when you focus and commit to learning. There are also challenges along the way that can be overcome. Encourage parents to share their own work experiences and what skills they use in their job to provide connections between learning at school and how it is applied in the adult world. 

5. Provide learning opportunities both at school and at home to encourage parents to see the value in what the children are learning at school and how they can provide support at home. Encourage this throughout all year levels, particularly as children move towards secondary, sharing in learning doesn’t need to stop once children reach year 7. Providing these opportunities improves and continues the relationship between parent and child and increases children’s awareness of learning and where it happens. 

Engaging parents in learning is a topic I explore with school Principals, their staff as well as parents and children in learning communities. I currently develop research programs, resources, present workshops and provide strategies for parents and teachers on the difference and importance of involvement and engagement and how they are crucial in improving learning outcomes for children. 

Weekly Perspective: 
In her book, “Do Parents Know They Matter - Raising achievement through parental engagement”, Alma Harris writes,“There are three ways to think about this relationship: Parent engagement for learning, parent engagement through learning and parent engagement about learning."

Until next week, keep thinking…...and taking action!

For more information Contact Rachel on 0419 371 876 to learn more about how Practically Learning can assist you in developing and inspiring a positive learning culture in your school to improve learning outcomes for children.

To subscribe to our 5 Thought Bubbles e-newsletter visit our website at www.practicallylearning.com.au and click on make contact.

21 Feb 2015

Here's a thought: How do the people in your learning community cope with change?



The nature of schools and life in fact, is that there is constant change. You would think as a human race we would be used to it by now with the many changes that have occurred, however I have noticed lately that many people struggle to cope when things change and are unsure of how to deal with it when it arises. 

It got me thinking…... 

How do the people in your learning community cope with change? 

1. When we are forced to go outside our comfort zone it can be difficult not to react in a way that is not helpful or useful. Most people are happiest when they have a sense of certainty and control. When uncertainty creeps in, it is then that a balance needs to be found. Consistency, honesty and communication can assist in providing that balance.

2. Where there is certainty, there is always an opposite; uncertainty. When it comes to school communities, some people may feel uncertain if a teacher leaves or a new Principal is to be appointed. The uncertainty often comes from a fear of the unknown and may be caused by that need for certainty, that everything is going to be ok. How you provide that certainty is crucial in continuing to build trust and prevent unnecessary anxieties.

3. When families or teachers leave a school, some parents begin to feel nervous and uncertain that they have made the right choice for their child. They may begin to wonder why people are leaving and think the worst. It may be as simple as some families are moving house, but the instant reaction may be, 'what is wrong with this school'? Being open and honest with people in the community can alleviate fears and uncertainties when they know the truth.

4. How do teachers feel when they are asked to change the way they teach or are introduced to new ways of thinking? Do they resist and why? What is the cause of this resistance? What do they fear? Guiding and exploring this with them and explaining the value in changing, helps to reduce resistance or anxieties. 

5. Change is inevitable and it is important to remember we are modelling our own reactions to change to the children in our learning communities. How we behave and respond when asked to change and be flexible is being observed and learned by those around us. 

Coping with change is a topic I explore with school Principals, their staff as well as parents and children in learning communities. Developing resilience skills and tools to cope with change should be considered for all members of the learning community. It is often discussed that children need to be taught how to be resilient, however many adults also fear change and may need support in moving through this process. After all, it is the adults around them that children learn from the most.

Weekly Perspective: 
Socrates says, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Contact Rachel on 0419 371 876 to learn more about how Practically Learning can assist you in developing and inspiring a positive learning culture in your school to improve learning outcomes for children.

To subscribe to our 5 Thought Bubbles e-newsletter visit our website at www.practicallylearning.com.au and click on make contact.

10 Feb 2015

Here's a thought: How to support your teachers when communicating with families.



Welcome to my thoughts.This week's focus is on communication from school to home and how to support teachers in understanding how to provide information more strategically and in a way that is easy for parents to understand.

1. Encourage teachers to provide information that is simple, relevant and to the point - if term outlines or weekly newsletters are too wordy or use complex terminology, they may not be read or understood by everyone. Encourage teachers to write as if talking with a friend rather than a colleague and break information down into small chunks or dot points.

So much information comes home in the first few weeks of school and it can be very overwhelming for some people, particularly parents who are new to the school experience. When information is presented using terminology that is unfamiliar or long words strung together, it can be difficult to decipher what the information is actually saying. Parents may also read the information and think, "Ok, now where do I fit in this picture?" They have the information given to them, now what do they do with that information?

2. Encourage teachers to provide a purpose for the information - educate parents on how they can support learning at home by having conversations with their children, making sure they set the scene for learning - to have time to complete any tasks and other activities at home and provide opportunities to enhance or support learning at school.

It is easy to forget that parents have been out of the school environment for a long time and are not familiar with having to be a parent in that environment. They remember being a student, but now their role has changed and there is no rule book on how to understand that role. When they are provided with information, they may not necessarily be aware of what to do with it. It is keeping them informed, but not always providing them with ways to support their child in their learning at home and how to use the information to do this. When providing information, it is important to keep this in mind; to provide the how along with the what.

3. Encourage conversations between teachers and parents around what activities children participate in outside school so teachers can develop learning at home activities for children that are related to what they are learning at school - making connections between home and school.

Conversations at the beginning of the year where the children and family are the focus provides valuable information for teachers in understanding the person they are teaching. These conversations also provide teachers with knowledge to build a relationship with children in the classroom by relating what they know about them with learning and being interested in them as a person. This is so valuable for children's wellbeing and for that child to enjoy learning with the teacher. I heard a great quote from a Principal at the Kidsmatter conference last year, "Children don't do school, they do relationships."

4. Encourage teachers to provide information that is consistent. If there is inconsistency in the names of programs, dates or events etc, it can be very confusing.

Inconsistency can result in building barriers that don't need to be created if there is some cross checking on documents and correspondence that goes home to families. Inconsistent dates, times and names for various things can also cause anxiety at home and sometimes children are affected by this. 

5. Always provide contact details so parents feel comfortable to email or approach teachers to ask a question if they are not sure about the communication they are reading or hearing from other parents or from their child. 

If there is misinterpretation or a misunderstanding, it is a good idea to have a system in place for parents to make contact with teachers or a specific staff member to ask questions. This can sometimes be a difficult area if someone is feeling anxious or stressed about getting things right. Parents want to do the best they can and may feel embarrassed asking questions. If teachers are able to provide information about how they can be contacted and provide reassurance that it is ok to ask questions, then highly emotional situations can be avoided. 

These are just a few thoughts to continue improving communication in your learning community. 

Contact Rachel on 0419 371 876 to learn more about how Practically Learning can assist you in developing and inspiring a positive learning culture in your school to improve learning outcomes for children.

Weekly Perspective: 
“The way we communicate with others and with ourselves ultimately determines the quality of our lives”  Anthony Robbins


To subscribe to our 5 Thought Bubbles e-newsletter visit our website at www.practicallylearning.com.au and click on make contact.