The #DLTV2014 Conference

It is hard to believe it is only a bit over a week since the first Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria Annual Conference.  It was a two day conference focussing on using digital tools for teaching and learning and innovation in our classrooms, which is the core focus of DLTV, the newly formed subject association.  DLTV works to ensure  “every learner is enabled, inspired and empowered to participate, contribute and shape their world through digital technology”.  It replaces what were two established subject associations in Victoria, VITTA and ICTEV.  As the two associations merged in January, forming DLTV, this was technically a first conference, although we were very lucky to bring our experiences from both organisations.

I was fortunate enough to be the chair for the conference meaning I was part of the planning from day one, which consisted of thinking of a theme. The theme, creating new connections, came very quickly to us and it made a lot of sense from our first meeting.  As educators we are always making connections, and so are our students as they learn. As two former subject associations we were making new connections in coming together. And the icing on the cake was that all of us on the conference committee know how important it is for educators to be connected in contemporary learning.

Once we had our theme in place we met to discuss what we wanted to achieve from the conference. For some time now I have been a big believer that professional learning is changing and there is no better team to be making that change than DLTV. Co- committee member, Kynan Robinson, is also passionate about modern learning (you can read his blog post about the conference here) and we knew we wanted to offer something to our delegates that reflected that if professional learning is changing so is our conference but at the same time provide an environment where people feel confident and comfortable.

It was from this discussion the the concept of a self organising conference came from.  What if the presenters got together and designed their own conference? What if some presenters decided not to have a structured 45 minute presentation but a session that you move in and out of at your own pace? What if the presenters decided to  team up and present rather than repeating the same sessions? And that was the direction we took.

Rather than asking for abstracts, which never really made sense to me anyway, we put a call out for expressions of interests.  No particular focus, no boundaries, no making your presentation fit.  Instead we looked at what the presenters wanted to present on and grouped these to make streams. From here we put these presenters in contact with each other to organise how their stream would run for the two days.   In some streams this was as simple as organising the order of their presentations.  For others it gave the opportunity to start the planning of their presentations fresh and working together to develop streamlined sessions.  Some presenters decided to pair up and present together while others decided to finish the day with a  panel of all the presenters in that stream.

One stream even took it a step further and decided to create a gaming in education playground which ran around three learning experiences. Delegates who headed to the session could participate in learning through presentation, learning through play and learning through experience. It was such an exciting area of the conference to drop by to as people were making poetry with Lego, playing Mario Bros with the Makey Makey and of course the very popular old style console games.

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Along side the gaming stream was the Institute of the Modern Learner.  At first the IOTML was not clear. A card handed by a nameless man in a jacket. A tweet here and there with the hashtag #fixthefuture. And then they started to infiltrate the keynotes.  A slide in Adrian Camm’s keynote followed by more tweets claiming we didn’t see anything.  It certainly had the imagination going and made you feel like you were part of something but at the same time know nothing. “The institute” is looking for thinkers who may be discouraged with the system to experiment and trial modern learnering, as we found at the end of the conference when they took over the final keynote! For me it was a great moment when two presenters took over the stage and talked of their passion as it proved it really is a conference owned by the delegates and presenters.

There were many aspects of the conference that I am very proud of.  One of them was having four Victorian keynotes (3 of which were teachers in classrooms) who demonstrated why we are leading the way in education.   And as Narissa Leung, our afternoon keynote, told us, is why we have the best educators in the world and was happy that DLTV are celebrating that.  For too long now we have flown in educators when we have such high quality educators right here in Victoria.  This was certainly reiterated by the speakers themselves as they opened with a thanks to DLTV for finally putting Victorian Educators on the stage.

Also at conference after conference I have seen more and more male keynotes and it had continued to puzzle me as I know there are so many amazing female educators doing innovating learning and teaching in our schools.  It was great to get two of these females on stage at DLTV and they certainly showed that women in education are great speakers, innovative teaches and have so much to share.  Both Britt  Gow and Narissa Leung were articulate with their message for educational change, engaging and passionate and had the audience enthralled as they shared their narrative of digital learning and teaching. Of course our other keynotes Adriam Camm and Khoa Doh were also exceptional.  Adrian started the conference with a  provoking presentation which made us doubt what we knew but  at the same time make the audience feel like they could make change right now. As for Khoa Doh, the moment he finished speaking I thought crowd’s applause would never stop. It was a special moment in the conference, reminding us that not everything is about technology but from our stories and experiences we can learn so much.

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Another moving moment was when Roland Guesthuasen used Morse code to send a message to space for Maggie Iaquinto who had passed away the week before the conference.  Maggie was such an important member of the IT community and much loved by VITTA and ICTEV.  She had a remarkable history  and the news of her passing certainly put a sombre feeling across the office and committee.  It was fitting that Roland chose to send a message into space for Maggie as she was the first civilian to speak to cosmonauts on Mir.  Using her computer and radio she was able to connect with over 19 cosmonauts over a number of years, using the little Russian she knew to assist her.  Later she set up an amateur radio station at her school so her IT students could quiz space scientists about the technology used on-board Mir.

On reflecting on the conference there are so many highlights it is difficult to list them all.  Some are around the structure, like having 15 minutes between sessions to chat and network, while others were around people like seeing pre service teachers presenting in their first conference.  Of course, regardless of what you do at a conference you are always judged by the quality of your wifi and food.  And I am confident in saying that we nailed it! Our catering was spot on for the dreary Melbourne day and not once did I have any problems with the wifi.

As exhausted as I was after the conference, I was certainly reinvigorated by reading through the tweets and feedback from delegates.  It was such as great feeling having positive feedback to the small changes we had made and the hard work we put in to ensuring delegates were able to experience n the conference in a new and exciting way. So where to next year?  Well, there is plenty more to do!  Certainly some tweaking from this year; better maps to get around, rethinking the rooms and learning spaces and getting more students involved.  Well, best get planning I guess!

 

 

 

 

#beerpedagogy and a new culture

On the weekend I attended the #beerpedagogy tweet up.  I always look forward to a #beerpedagogy event, and no not because of the beer!  You may be wondering what on earth #beerpedagogy is and it is probably just as you think.  A group of people who get together every now and then at a great craft beer location in Melbourne and talk pedagogy.  And we talk a lot of it!  I am lucky enough to attend a lot of educational meet ups in Melbourne and enjoy them all but #beerpedagogy is different to the others.  There are many robust conversations as we agree and disagree on the best way to solve all of the world’s education problems and have discussions on what the problems are. And we are pretty honest with each other as we probe and question our thoughts, learning from each other and being challenged as well.

The conversations are so good that often days and weeks afterwards I continue to grapple with them in my mind.  The one that is sticking in my mind from Friday’s #beerpedagogy was around autonomy and choice in education.  At one point I was questioned on my contradictions of educational philosophies where on one hand I want equity, centralised systems and an end to marketisation of education but on the other I cherish the opportunities autonomy gives me to focus on pedagogy based around inquiry, student centred approaches and the use of ICT in my classroom.  At the time I was quick to reply that I would trade it all if it meant that every child in Australia had the same opportunity for education. One where who your parents are, where you live and how much money you have is irrelevant in learning.

So the last couple of days have been spent reflecting on that.  I have been curious as to why we need to decide.  What is it that makes me think we can’t have both.  I think if anything it shows me that we are not yet in the same place when it comes to how we think students learn, what skills are important for students to learn and how best to do that. And the reason I felt I needed to choose is because the way I think our students should be learning is not yet the norm.  It reminds me of a quote I heard on the radio recently.  I have no idea what they were talking about and why it was important but I felt it worthy of writing down. “By treating it as normal it became a new culture.” So today that I have decided that I am not going to choose. I can still push for equity and maybe if I start treating inquiry, student driven learning as normal that together with a few of my #beerpedagogy mates it will become a new culture.

 

Oktoberfest

Image: ‘PUB FLAHERTY‘ Found on flickrcc.net

Professional Learning | Really?

You may have seen this YouTube clip that is circling social media at the moment.

It was taken at a Chicago Professional Development session and was shared as an example of why teachers are going out of their minds on the Washington Post blog, Answer Sheet. In the last couple of days I have also read Wes Fryer’s post, with a good reminder not to turn this into a stereotype and also Larry Ferlazzo’s blog, who felt “Yes, you can make a lot of things look bad taken out of context, but I don’t think a case can be made that this is appropriate for any professional development, or classroom, context….”

When I first watched it many emotions swarmed inside me; sadness, horror, embarrassment, anger, disbelief. At one stage I may have laughed at the outrageousness of it all.

There is one part of the video which continues to niggle at me. What makes me most upset is that no one stood up to it.  Are we so disempowered that we can’t stand up for what we know is right? Every teacher in the room knows this is not learning. But still they responded and chanted. And if I had been there I would have done exactly the same thing. I know that because I do already. I sit through “content delivery” at professional development after professional development and I feel myself being patronised but I continue to put up with it. I know better but still I let it go on.

If there is anything I can learn from this video it is that I need to speak up. I shouldn’t sit by and let this happen. I need to offer support to those facilitating professional learning and offer feedback. Not in a  survey but in a real face to face feedback.  I need to use my knowledge and experience about learning and share this with others.  I need to encourage others not to accept this either and nor should our students. I need to take a stand so this doesn’t become the stereotype of professional learning in any setting.

 

Climbing the Story Mountain

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Found on flickrcc.net

It is no secret that I miss the classroom.  After leaving the classroom 16 months ago I knew I would.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the work I do and the new learning I have been able to do has been amazing.  But the joy you get from trying something new and having a direct reaction to that is something I don’t get to do on a daily basis.  I have always been the type of teacher that will be walking by the lake on a Sunday morning and have an idea or make a connection and think about how I might be able to use that in the classroom.  I still have those ideas but often I don’t get the opportunity to put them into action.

I haven’t much talked about my role as an educational designer but, put simply, I work on 3 areas with academics; building resources, promoting self directed professional learning and providing opportunities for academics to network and share what they are doing.  I love the freedom my role has to think outside the box and offer different perspectives and ideas.

Quite often in my role I bring in what I have learnt in teaching to the team.  I am certainly the only person in the office to have a craft box and although mocked a lot, people still come by to use it!  My classroom pedagogy is definitely used when I present or workshop with others but in a business centric environment it is not often I get to bring my classroom experience to meetings.

Last week, however, did bring one of those opportunities.  Our team is in the process of creating  a 3 minute video explaining the purpose of our team and what we are trying to achieve.  It has been a difficult process trying to work out what direction the video should take and one I am glad to not to have been responsible for. But when we started discussing how the video should tell a story and be a narrative of what we were trying to do my mind started ticking over.

In the classroom if I was planning a narrative I would have used a story mountain, a  planning tool to set out the beginning., build up, dilemma, resolution and ending.  Why not use the same idea with our planning?

So we went to work.  My wonderful colleague ran the session for all of our team and although I could see people thinking what a waste of time, it was a highly successful activity.  As we are not always clear about our direction, what we want to achieve is difficult to articulate.  Enter story mountain.  By playing out the characters and thinking of it as a story, a bit like a fairytale, we were able to set out the journey we want to take.  The change we want to make.

The beginning described our setting.  where are we now and what does our current environment look like. Who are the people involved and who is the main character. The build up became the urgency of change.  Why did the change need to happen?  The dilemma is the barriers.  What we expected might get in our way and things we needed to overcome to get to the end. The resolution is the moment we will see some change and what it will look like and of course the ending became what we wanted to see at the end.  The change embedded and sustainable.

It has made it a lot easier to see what we are trying to do and where we are on our journey.  And I look forward to using it again for planning, especially in schools. It asks the questions such as what do we look like now and what do we want to be?  What could be the barriers along the way? At the end of change what do we want to look like.

Now I can’t wait to look back at the difference we have been able to make and rewrite the story. 

Why our schools are NOT failing your children

This morning I read this article by recent graduate Johanna O’Farrell in The Age.  Of course any article which opens with “Why your schools are failing your children: a teacher tells” piqued my interest.  I have always advocated for teachers telling their stories in our media rather than politicians but this one had my heart rate rising as she spoke of schools tossing aside “any sort of rigour, routine or repetition when it comes to classroom learning.”

I am truly concerned of Johanna’s experiences in schools where she believes that the strategy is that students “will simply learn to read and write by osmosis” and that rote learning should be a valid part of learning.

If we want our schools to factories of students who can travel a conveyer belt learning times tables through hours of chanting and memorising the laws of the English Language then maybe she has a point.  But I couldn’t imagine why we would want students to know facts in isolation and that a “blackboard and chalk, a pen and paper, a few good books and some learned teachers will suffice.” Isn’t an education of experiences which connect ideas, is in context with the real world and develop skills of self directed life long learning a more holistic approach?  Sure, we can rote learn many things if we believe the learning journey ends with our VCE results.

I am saddened that Johanna doesn’t have the knowledge to explain why students expression in English is wrong, not because she was denied learning about the laws of the English language but because she was not exposed to experience of curiosity, self directed learning and how to take control of her own learning.

Maybe this is a message that we need to be more articulate in what we are doing in schools.  I too believe that technology is not a silver bullet and have questioned the use of “genius hours” or “inquiry learning days.”  But I do believe that inquiry learning and technology should be embedded into our classrooms and become as normal as pen and paper learning and chalk and talk was in the past. We need to talk about why we do what we do.  It is more than engagement.  It is embedding real experiences and constructing knowledge through context, introducing conflicting ideas, connecting those experiences and developing their own understandings.

Maybe the more we talk about the why, the less misconception will be there about the relevance of education and demonstrate how schools are helping our students to succeed.

We hold the answers

This week I have been sent a newspaper article and a blog post, both of which resonated strongly with me and probably shows me that people know me well.

The first came as a tweet “@medg56 RT @Kenjaneth13: A 10 year old who sees the world as it is and envisions the way it should be tinyurl.com/la2l644 .. A young @melcashen….” To be honest I wish I was like this when I was 10 but my interest in politics has only come over the last couple of years.

Please take the time to read the post and even leave a comment.  After reading it I noticed I had tears streaming down my face.  Like Maggie, I have an interest in politics. An interest that started through the frustration of not being able to make a difference in education.  I decided I needed to know more about policy to understand what was happening in our education system so am completing my Master of Education Policy International.  I am hopeful that the more I understand, the more voice I will have to fight for education and the more people (politicians) will listen. Like Maggie I have the same why questions.

Maggie is obviously a special young lady who sees the world not only as it is but as it should be. This is the stuff we dream of teaching but instead there is a focus on tests rather than “potential, creativity and kindness.”

Another article was sent to me today by a colleague and definitely rings true. Last week saw the Education Columnist at the Daily Telegraph, Maralyn Parker, use the opportunity of her last day to share some advice with her readers.  Advice I also advocate.

Everything about your profession is politicised. Your classrooms, the facilities and resources available to you, the number and type of students you teach, what you teach, how you are taught to be teachers, what you are paid, the level of support given to you – all of these things are governed by highly politicised processes.” Her advice to this – be political.  And she is right!

We need to talk about politics, we need to talk to politicians.  We need to understand what is happening and ask questions.  We need to be educating our communities about what is happening.  No longer can we think we can’t make a difference.  It is time to make a difference, whether it is taking Maralyn’s advice and joining a union or a professional organisation, responding to discussion paper or even understanding what is happening through reading white papers such as the recent Victorian Government Action Paper. Talk about it at lunch time, in staff meetings and online. We hold the answers.

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I agree with Maralyn that we are at such a pivotal time in Australian Education.  Our new Education Minister is set to make a lot of changes to national curriculum, autonomy in schools and privatising HECS debts as a start. Now more than ever we need to focus on politics. Education depends on it.

And I don’t think it is fair to leave it to Maggie to ask the tough questions.

A last tour

Our last day of visits took us to two different places.  Our first was to Donhead Preparatory School, a Jesuit school in Wimbledon that is a stepping stone to some of the exclusive grammar schools in the area and although they focus on academic achievements the Jesuit way is more important for them.  It is not often I step into religious or independent schools but I see many similarities here to the school I taught in during my time in England.  Learning is organised by topics and although lessons are inquiry driven the assessment pieces and learning activities are similar to those I taught 5 years ago.  It is like stepping into a museum of my teaching career.  I am confused by how it makes me feel that teaching in the primary sector hasn’t changed and students are learning the same things as the children 10 years ago, in a world that has changed considerably since then.

The highlight of the visit was having Josh show us around.  He was entertaining, interesting and showed a true care to others around him.  I could see the values of the Jesuit school coming out in the way Josh interacts with us.  The school values the fact that every boy can be their best and that they are privileged so therefore must show generosity to others.  He obviously loved learning and being at school but he also understood that he was lucky to be in his position of privilege.

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It is interesting that the things we hear from this school is not about testing or scores. In fact they try and move away from that.  They don’t want students to be a label, such as other schools when they are labeled according to their academic score.  They recognise that childhood is under threat in the area they live, that test scores are strangling the innocence of kids in this area as they push to get into the best secondary schools.  I see a pattern here of the lower the socio economic area you live the more tests are the focus of your education, whereas the more privileged a student the less emphasis on tests.

Well I thought there was a pattern until I visited LeSoCo, the further education college in Lewisham. Further education colleges are a vocational alternative to 6th form colleges for students in their 12th and 13th year of schooling.   According to the LeSoCo Ofsted report, Lewisham is “ranked as the 31st most deprived of 326 local authorities in England, and is characterised by significant socio-economic and educational disadvantages.”  I was blown away by their approach to students.   Maybe it had something to do with being treated as adults, or at least young adults and this is supported by being at a different location to their lower secondary education.  It could also have to to with the ethos of the college. In all of the presentations at the college the students were referred to as learners.   A nice moment of respect was when a student stopped our guide, Mark, to ask where they needed to go to reset their internet account.  Mark, not quite sure where to send her, asked us politely if it would be OK if he showed her where to go. Even though he had visitors with him, he put the student first.

On our tour  of the drama and dance areas with Mark, I couldn’t help but be energised by his enthusiasm for the quality teachers they had at the college.  We visited a drama class with students who were in their second year of college.  I am not sure if it was the nature of a drama class but the teacher was using a dance steps to learn about Iambic Pentameter. It was very hands on.  One thing that was clear was the respect for  the students.  Mark was the quality teaching co-ordinator for the school and was very proud to have such a great teacher working at the school.  With constant feedback and experience based learning she was a teacher he was showcasing to others.

In the dance class it was interesting to see the students working together.  They had to produce  a short dance routine and were having an opportunity to practice, receiving feedback from their teacher.  Not really anything different to what we would expect in a dance class in Australia except I found the students to have a strong mutual respect for other students in the class.  As each of the pairs had their turn, the others in the class would offer their feedback and some students were asking for extra instruction from others. It was very supportive and I wonder how they have been able to create this.

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Aspirations

At today’s visit is to Quintin Kynaston Academy, located just around the corner from Abbey Road Studios, it was wonderful to have students greeting and talking to us as we signed in at the school.  Students sharing their school and being proud of their learning environment is always an exciting way to see a school.  These students were very eager to talk and chat as they showed us around the school.

After the tour we had the opportunity to see some specific areas of the school such as the young carers group.  This group of KS3 & 4 students are carers of parents with mental illnesses who meet weekly to talk about strategies, share frustrations and develop awareness across the school. The self referred group has 8 students today and they are open and articulate about why they are there.  It was lovely to see students who are forgotten by a system such as this getting support not only from their school but their peers too.

I also had an opportunity to see the Aspire unit at the school. This unit is similar to a Pupil Referral Unit but sits within the school.  Students are referred to a PRU if they are excluded or unable to attend mainstream school where they can receive a more tailored and personalised program and some of the students here are referrals such as these from outside schools but can also come from within the school.  What makes this unique is the fact that the referral unit is attached to the school and classes are taught by mainstream teachers.  In Aspire students work in small numbers with teachers and support staff towards 5 GCSEs with two optional subject areas such as construction, hospitality or art.

I could see they were very passionate about offering opportunities for students but I find I am second guessing the school’s motives.  Is it really the students they have in mind when developing these programs or is it about the money. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to appear to be putting down schools and teachers and I don’t for a minute think that teachers are thinking money but that it the effect the policy in this country has.

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Our second visit for the day cements my thinking about the pressures on schools with the push towards marketisation of education and academy schools. At our visit to the Jack Petchey Academy they explain they were one of the original new labor academies set up in 2006 to replace the failing Kingsland School with new buildings.

The idea of closing a school and starting a new one in exactly the same location to improve education intrigues me. I wonder how many of the students who attended the school before the closure of Kingsland school are still enrolled at the school.  I know that as a Labour Academy they would be able to select 10% of the students based on the specialisation of Health, Care and Medical Science as to change the socio economic standing of the school.  It would be interesting to see how long the school was closed for, where the students went in the meantime and how many of the original students returned to the school when it reopened.

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This visit certainly got the conversation going in our group.  Many were upset with the amount of testing that was done.  And it seemed they were very proud of testing their students every three weeks and completing ‘Mocksteds’ whereas to many of us that is not what education is about.  The school seemed to be very strict and rules were enforced tightly. I have always had a belief of education being a better method than adding rule after rule. It appeared here that there were a lot of rules enforcing what they believe students needed for their work life but I would question whether they are learning or  just becoming compliant.

The fact that the sponsor could decide on some rules within the school worried me. It was mentioned that Jack Petchey is a great sponsor and although he is interested in the school he does not enforce them to do anything, except for the rule about no chewing gum.  So although in this instance Jack Petchey doesn’t make the rules the system is set up that it is possible for sponsors to decide on the values, rules and the way the school is run.

A common theme of the academies we visited was their use of language to describe functions within the school.  On speaking to the deputy at Petchey I asked about using principal instead of head teacher.  She said she felt it sounded better and more “businessy.”  It is interesting that they found it was a good thing to be using business speak in their school.  They also used words like line manager, deploy and secure, demonstrating the changing face of schools.

Once again there is no blaming the school for this but this is the repercussion of the system in place.  In listening to the school they are passionate about offering the best possible opportunities for students but they are surrounded by a system which promotes competition and testing.

Guest Learner at St Catherine’s, Cambridge

Today we headed to Cambridge for our first school visit in England.  We arrive at Parkside Academy, which is a federation academy meaning they run more than one school.  In this case there are two secondary colleges and a Sixth Form college.  They are also about to have another school join their federation.  Federations begin when a successful school takes over the running of a less successful school.  At Parkside their reason for doing this is a feeling of obligation to help out the failing school and also the economies of scale which come with having two schools. This concerns me deeply when the government are no longer responsible for a school but this obligation falls to neighbouring schools.  If governments are no longer responsible for ensuring good quality education for everyone it sends a message that they don’t believe education should be a priority. Don’t get me wrong, Parkside appear to be doing a great job, but governments shouldn’t rely on this as a means to ‘fixing’ failing schools.

A short walk from the main campus of Parkside is their 6th form college (Years 12 & 13 or similar to VCE).  It offers the International Baccalaureate, an internationally renowned programme which encourages students to ask questions, develop their own identity, respect and communicate with others and learn how to learn. I am interested in how a programme like this fits into the rigid English inspection system. Ofsted, the office which carries out regular inspections on schools in England, is often presumed  to be looking for good test results or value added education. Here the focus is on creative learners who learn more than just facts and they believe this fits with the expectation of Ofsted.  It is interesting that some schools see Ofsted in relation to test results, where others look to the more holistic elements of education.

Our afternoon visit is one I have been looking forward to.  A look inside the hallowed halls of Cambridge University.  It really is like another world, not because of the fancy paintings on the walls or the beautifully manicured lawns but because of how few people get the opportunity to be part of the inner workings of Cambridge.  With only 400 students at St Catherine’s, from approximately 9000 undergraduates at the 31 colleges, you can see to get a University of Cambridge degree is a rather privileged affair.

Some of the features of the college include shortened terms where they attend for 3 x 8 week blocks.  It is expected throughout this time to be completely dedicated to college life and schooling.  Trips home for the weekend are discouraged during term time and you are expected to take part in the healthy competition between colleges.  A feature of the Cambridge system is the 1:1 mentor [programme where students spend an hour a week with their mentor teacher receiving guidance.

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But we weren’t actually there to learn about St Catherine’s but rather to attend a seminar on career policy by St Catherine’s Professor, Tony Watts. He spoke of his study into the development of careers guidance in 14 countries and concluded that no one does it very well.  Across the world there is a lack of education based around identity formation, occupational identify, industry connections, funding and curriculum focus.  He looks to Germany as a model most with their dual system, strong career advice, relationships with unions and the respected ideal of vocational learning.

As I leave St Catherine’s, making sure not to stand on the grass (it is only allowed by fellows and frowned upon by commoners!) I realise on the inside, St Catherine’s has many similarities to any university as they look to answer questions and learn what they can.

 

Tough Training

This post is part of a series reflecting on my international study tour to Copenhagen, Berlin and London.

Today’s visit, our last in Berlin, took us to a gymnasium in Kreuzberg, Leibniz Schule.  840 students attend this all day (which includes after school extra subjects and care for those who want it) school which has a 30% intake of German as a second language.  Students at this school are tracked from year 6 as they choose the more academic stream and work towards the Arbitur giving them access to university education.

Outside the school

Leibniz School has a focus on 5 pillars of languages, maths, music and arts, method curriculum ( teaching about organisation and management of learning) and civil learning.  The students who spoke to us from year 11 were very proud of their languages program and from listening to the fluent english speaking of the students it is obviously successful.  Students have the opportunity to be taught in English or French, giving them even more fluency.

As I saw in the Copenhagen schools, student activism is strong, although it appears to be more like what I have seen in Australia with students painting murals in the school buildings to brighten the environment.  They also attend the year 7 camp, as mentors, which runs for a week at the beginning of gymnasium to get to know each other and learn skills in time management and organisation.

Recently the school had worked with an educational initiative Mehr Als Lernen, translated to ‘More than Learning.’  Throughout this process the students worked with the organisation to implement more student activism.  This included having students workshop with teachers on how they felt the classes should be taught. Martine, the teacher in the room said it was a great initiative and the teachers learnt a lot from the experience although many did not take on board what was learned.

It is evident here that students have a lot more civic learning where each year they learn political science.  As the election has just taken place in Germany many of the students I have spoken to are very aware of politics and the policies of the different parties.  In fact at this school they had organised an internal vote.  Over a few weeks students learned about the different policies each party had and then voted according to their own preference.  As youth in Germany can not vote until the age of 18 (although the Länder or State elections allow people to vote from 16 upwards) it was not counted but they were able to compare how the student population voted compared to their electorate.  Here in Kruezberg the electorate is the only elected Green seat, like the Melbourne City electorate and the school voting also reflected this. After our recent election in Australia I have been thinking about the lack of education when it comes to our political system and believe this system in Germany is something Australian schools should be thinking about more.

We also had an opportunity to talk to some trainee teachers who were in the room.  Many of these teachers were in their late 20s and had already completed their Bachelor of Arts and a 2 year Master degree to become a teacher.  They were currently completing their 2 year teacher training time in schools, which they work at 40% of the standard wage.  As part of this practice the trainee teachers attend weekly seminars with teacher trainers, focussing on their schools and developing further their theoretical understandings.  They seem well supported and create a network in other graduate teachers, with the support of their training supervisor.

Talking to trainee teachers

Graduating students are allocated a school and it is a luck of the draw which location and school type you get. Speaking to one trainee teacher she had been allocated one of the toughest schools in Berlin, which was part of the new pilot school program, Gemeinschaftsschule, where students are not tracked into an integrated school or a gymnasium but all students attend the same school from first grade to 12th grade with the option of getting A levels or taking a more vocational strand. This school was chosen as a pilot school due to its difficult past.  It is well known in Berlin after the staff walked off the job in 2006 due to terrible working conditions and fear for their safety.

It was interesting to hear a trainee teacher talk about the positives to the tracking system as it wasn’t fair for the brighter students nor for the less academic students who didn’t get the extra help they needed.  Once again the idea of tracking students into more vocational and academic streams has positives I had neglected to see, and am not yet convinced of, the repercussions for students later in their learning career or lives. Obviously for Berlin they are making large changes to their education system and I am expecting their will be many changes to come in the next few years as they seem to be aligning more with the British/Australian system of inclusion.