What have you done this year to make a difference?
As it comes to the end of the school year it is good to reflect on the positive and the not so positive experiences to identify changes and allow for further professional and personal growth.
“We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.” (American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey)
Reflection is a powerful mechanism behind learning according to the study;“Learning by Thinking: How Reflection Improves Performance” (Stefano, Pisano & Staats, Harvard University 2014)
The results suggest that:
- Learning from direct experience can be more effective if reflected upon along with the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.
- Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
- Reflection builds one’s confidence in the ability to achieve a goal which in turn translates into higher rates of learning.
Teaching can become an all-consuming passion as we strive to make a difference and my reflections from my own personal and professional Principal Teaching position, in a small rural school on The Isle of Mull, 2016-17 academic year reveal and evidence how and why…
I am greeting the last week of this term with additional excitement as I will be travelling down to London, to the palace of Westminster, for a presentation event and a tour of the Houses of Parliament with a P7 pupil and her parent. My pupil’s dedication and talent for learning has won her the SGN Scottish regional prize for raising awareness about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. She now could win the GDNs National Prize. Winning the regional prize had an emotional impact on her which she exhibited through both tears and laughter with combined shock and self-pride.
This trip will not only have an impact on her, her family’s experiences and future memories but also that of others with her creative, powerful poem and rap performance message that could save lives. Research suggests that having positive experiences can shape and build how we view ourselves and the stories that we have, to share, can shape who we become. The money she has also won will benefit her personally as well as the school’s community nature trail. She would like to provide for fellow pupils to be involved in a workshop to build a wishing well that can be placed along our nature trail. This opportunity allows for a further learning experience, a feature for the nature trail, whilst additionally benefitting the school by encouraging donations. The differences that have been made in this one learning experience alone are immeasurable.
It will also be quite a poignant time for me as my own formative years involved the influence and inspiration of my grandad Sydney Bidwell ,who was the Southall MP for 26 years. I still have the special memories of visiting the House of Commons with him, on numerous occasions, ingrained within my being. I was also Christened there. He will be in my thoughts and I will be reflecting further on where my life’s stories have led me, shaping my thinking and my life.
“The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms.” — Rukeyser (1968)
Research: “Selves Creating Stories Creating Selves: A Process Model of Self-Development.” (McLean et al, 2007)) suggests a developmental model that shapes who we become which is based on the stories that we have, to tell. I was blessed with a happy, healthy carefree childhood full of nurturing, inspiring and positive memories. I hope that our P7 pupil will take forward positive memories from hers to support her health and well-being.
Wow! What a journey this has been; from actively researching in my summer holidays last year, in the new term with pupils, visiting, seeking support, guidance, constructing, designing leaflets, maps and information boards our efforts have culminated in the development of a nature trail through our local area which will further enhance our learning opportunities. With only five pupils on our rural island school role for next year the establishment of creating meaningful, interactive experiences for our pupils is paramount. Motivation, the learner’s internal drive to understand and to promote the learning process is important, as identified in numerous educational research articles based on Vygotsky’s theories of social constructivism (Vygotsky, Lev (1978). Mind in Society. London: Harvard University Press.) They support the fact that knowledge is actively constructed by the learner and it can only grow under the guidance of or in collaboration with others. The nature trail will provide us with a platform to invite other learning communities to join us for outdoor STEM learning sessions. It is also an experience for locals and tourists alike to stop for a while and appreciate the wildlife and natural beauty of our local area. We have won the regional Prize in The Better Energy School Awards and we have received large funding from ACHA and generous donations from the community to now take it forward. It looks set to be a huge success for many reasons. I am looking forward to experiencing the difference it will also make to next year.
#Shed2lab… This year a Lochdonhead alumnus who is now a professor of maths and science at Queens University came to teach the pupils about the properties of magnets and to visit our shed, officially changing it to a laboratory. The pupils designed, painted and created the lab themselves, with community support with benching, shelves, hooks and camouflaging fishing net! The difference to our conservation garden is that we now have a stimulating base to conduct our science experiments furthermore to continue to embed our learning for sustainability. It was an emotional time for our visitor Professor Robert Bowman as his mum had just sadly died, and been buried locally, a few days before his visit to the school. It was, I believe, a life affirming visit for him and us. The difference he made sharing his skills, experience and knowledge is immeasurable and I am extremely grateful he and his partner Sharon O’Connor came further more the generous science equipment that they also donated that will leave a further lasting impact.
Our pupils were also involved in a young leaders Scottish engineering award project where they had to research Scottish inventors, inventions and then exhibit their designer thinking skills, to create their own invention. This involved enlisting the support of a local professional engineer to guide them through the process. Pupil’s invented a hot and cold onesie, a speed limit alarm, a drone shed designer, an essential travel pack, a book holder for when in the bath, a welly boot washer and a dog paw washer. Three pupils received certificates with distinction and four with merit. The most powerful result was the thinking skills involved that were evident throughout the process, recorded in our learning rubrics based on Blooms Taxonomy (2000).
In A Curriculum for Excellence building the curriculum 4; skills for learning, skills for life and skills for work (The Scottish Government, Edinburgh, 2009) emphasises the need for thinking skills across learning. It asserts “Skills in thinking relate closely to skills in literacy and numeracy. Thinking allows learners to explore text and information of all kinds critically and to use them purposefully.”
“In Improving Scottish Education 2005-2008, HMIE states: “Curriculum for Excellence sets high expectations of rigour. This means that teachers should plan consistently for appropriate pace, challenge, depth and progression, and consciously promote the development of high order thinking skills.” It is important that all learners are given appropriate opportunities to develop their thinking skills. These skills can be developed across a range of contexts including through more practical or applied learning opportunities.” (www.gov.scot/Publications/2009)
In addition, we also entered the Glengorm Art Competition where pupils were to paint a Mull wildlife animal. Instead of teaching them an artistic strategy, for them to follow, the learning was facilitated by encouraging the pupils to research a medium on the internet and use this to develop their pictures. It put them in charge of the learning process. The skills of remembering, understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating and creating appeared through charcoal, pencil, printing, watercolours and acrylic pictures ready for exhibition. They were rewarded for their efforts with a first and second place and one pupil was announced the overall winner which will result in her visiting Glengorm to go on a foraging adventure. The pupils work will be displayed in the Glengorm nature trail laboratory over the summer. Self-esteem in pupils and their belief in themselves as learners has been raised. The observed confidence and development of critical curiosity has resulted in pupils who are eager to have fun with their learning and to enjoy being the best they can be.
This week we are going to have a very proud Celebration of Achievement celebrating the positive differences that have been made. It will also coincide with the official opening of The Lochdon Swan Nature Trail.
We have achieved a silver sports award, helped by one pupil running a pool club. Another pupil won two gold medals on sports day.
Core literacy and numeracy lessons have been intertwined throughout the year with our interdisciplinary learning and other necessary discrete areas of the curriculum.
Reading has been a key focus through our Accelerated Reading scheme, The First Ministers reading challenge, using a reciprocal reading and paired reading approach in a class book study and our home learning. We were runners up in the world book day competition with our Narnia book corner. One pupil has read nearly 2 million words – which is twice the amount the whole class read last year. Numeracy learning has been approached through number talks, mental maths, active maths and creative maths inspired by Jo Boaler and Sumdog. Using a range of informative assessments and end of term formal assessments has provided further evidence that a difference has been made to the numeracy and literacy attainment – I am proud to say it has been raised in all pupils.
A “Home Learning Club” was also introduced this year, inspired by Bearsden Academy, who shared their learning at a collaborative Argyll and Bute leadership day (on a Saturday) aimed at developing the quality and quantity of pupil’s home learning. Part of our improvement plan was to involve parents and partners and the club’s development became my PT action plan: The club witnessed 100% attendance, improved home learning and members of the community visiting to support the pupils. Parents feedback also indicated its positive support. An extremely satisfying difference.
We also began the school blog. https://lochdonprimaryschool.wordpress.com It has made a vast difference in the way that we record and share learning, attainment and achievements furthermore it has enhanced the communication with parents. I have continued to share and learn about best practice on twitter , following the blogs of Adam Hill and Lenabellina and have received likes, comments and re-tweets from encouraging fellow practitioners and our acting Head of Education, as well as the MSP Michael Russell – who opened our science laboratory the day after his Brexit role was announced with him becoming “The Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe.” His dedication and passion to honour his commitment to the children’s invite was admirable and so much appreciated.
Teamwork, co-operation and a sense of belonging have developed further in our school, the parents and wider community this past year through the various learning experiences and opportunities. The support given to one another under our positive, caring and respectful ethos has truly made a difference to our achievements and we could not have achieved all that we have without those vital ingredients. Right alongside our encouraging Head Teacher and teaching team is our Clerical and Classroom assistant who holds everything together, our school cook who nourishes and entertains us, the school janitor who cleans to an amazingly high standard so that our school is always clean, healthy and well cared for. She even tidies the pens and washes our cups up if we have been too busy to tidy them away! I thank them all for the differences that they have made…
I have also been fortunate enough to work with a variety of inspiring professionals throughout Argyll and Bute on the Literacy forum. We have created the first draft of our local authorities literacy strategy which will make a difference by informing practitioners across the area. We also delivered literacy workshops across our authority and I met the professional hurdle of leading an event and delivering a practical intervention session. It has made a positive difference to the self-belief in my abilities to relate to fellow practitioners on the island and determination to rise to challenges. The belief that I can and am making a difference to learners.
According to research by Hattie (2003), “Teachers Make a Difference, what is the research evidence?” (University of Auckland) teachers account for about 30% of the variance in a child’s potential learning. He suggests that it is what teachers know, do, and care about which is very powerful in this learning equation. Therefore, it is essential that I continue to reflect and learn from all experiences to support the best educational experiences I can for my pupils.
It is perhaps unfortunate then that the biggest obstacle this year has been managing time and allowing for continued professional development. This was particularly notable on two occasions. Once over the last month of the Christmas term when Christmas shows, parties, events in school needs additional planning and then put into practice (we wrote our own Christmas play – Santa Strikes Back). On a personal level juggling work, family and home commitments when school finishes so close to Christmas provided a further challenge. It was also my sons 18th birthday the day before the end of term. Phew! I made it to the festivities in one piece – just!
The next obstacles arrived after Easter. The teacher that covers my McCrone and Management time was signed off with a broken foot. Working to maintain the high standard of Education delivered to the children was further challenged with the lack of supply staff. The rising work load and lack of non-contact time did unfortunately, I believe, impact into my personal life and I found it difficult to maintain the work life balance in the most tiring of terms and I had to dig deep to rediscover and keep my resilience at work and have a huge amount to thank my supportive family, friends and colleagues for.
Therein lies my professional and personal goal for next year to organise my time and work commitments in a healthier, kinder to self, more considered way thus continuing to be able to make a difference. I am going to first wind down and relax before gently listening, counselling and coaching myself over the summer holidays to put the necessary steps, that I need to make in practice, on paper to ensure that I achieve my goal. My continued good health, positivity, enthusiasm and happiness to make a difference relies on it.
Seeking happiness? Remember the good times, forget the regrets. (2nd May 2011, San Francisco State University)
…Suggests the study. It states that people who look at the past through rose-tinted glasses are happier than those who focus on negative past experiences and regrets. The study helps explain why personality has such a strong influence on a person’s happiness. The findings suggest that persons with certain personality traits are happier than others because of the way they think about their past, present and future. Whilst I do agree with this I think that it is also important to stop and evaluate the negative so that we can make the change that is needed to transfer that perspective into a positive one whilst also being sure to identify the successes.
Throughout my professional and personal reflections of the year I recognise that I owe an enormous amount of gratitude to the pupils I have learned with. Their enthusiasm to “Learn Like Pirates” (Paul Solarz (2015) Dave Burgess Consulting, Incorporated) was inspirational and motivating, their ideas were infectious and every day they would lift my world and allow me to experience life through their eyes. On even the most difficult of days it is hard to be anything but ‘up’ around children. None of our achievements would have been possible without their determination to succeed and be their best. The support of the parents has also been heartening. Their unwavering belief in the school and the education that it is providing for their children and the practical on hand help has been rewarding for all.
So has does my personality and attitude to learning and education make a difference? Personally, at home, I have experienced a challenging year untangling myself from the fallout of a past relationship, and negotiating with solicitors. I have had to model and be the embodiment of the very lifelong personal (ELLI) learning skills that I strive to teach my learners. Unsettlingly my home had to go on the market. I have overseen more than 8 viewings and am still without a buyer. The successes experienced in my family life have been that my eldest son passed his HNC in Bag Piping at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow and has recently left home to pursue a life in the military police. My daughter confidently sat her Nat 5 exams and has played the tenor drum at various locations around Scotland with the Army cadet pipes and drums. My ten-year-old son has kept his smile and maintained his calm composure, whilst earning a glowing school report. My parents who live locally have kept good health and stayed a gentle ever caring presence
I myself was also lucky enough to meet a wonderful, kind and generous hearted man who has supported me and been there for me throughout the last years personal and professional learning experiences. He has supported my ideas with enthusiasm and a steadfast belief in me. He made a big difference by applying his practical skills to tasks that I could not have completed alone.
He accepted (as best he could) the long hours, tiredness and irrational moments whilst we shared much needed, special time and escapism outings together. He listened and talked with me at length, was always there for me and helped me problem solve. He held my hand and hugged me when I needed it. He was my hero, my rock and my port in a storm; who has helped to create new happy memories that will shape my future stories and my future universe. I could not have made the differences without him. For all of that I am extremely grateful to him.
The exhaustion, the challenges of being the partner to someone who works hard to make a difference to others and the toll that can take became too much for him to handle… He has walked away…
He made an enormous difference to my life with his ever calm, patient and cheerful presence. I am only left with the hope that I have in some way made a positive difference in his life too and with the hope that next year will bring even more happy, inspiring and positive differences, both professionally and personally. I really, seriously hope it does.
So “Happy Summer holidays” fellow practitioners and difference makers.
Enjoy your well-deserved rest…
What have you done this year to make a difference?