The role of curriculum

In the second NPQSL face to face session we looked at leading the quality of teaching and learning within a school. We were asked to think about what high quality teaching and learning looks like in our schools and what this means to us personally. This provided some good reflection time for my own thinking about this means for me. I concluded that high quality teaching and learning is where students are forced into thinking about the topics of the subject under discussion. Thinking takes variety of forms. For me and my project, focused on implementing the DP, TOK is the key to horizontal collaboration within the DP programme, catalyzing not only a change in the way that student think but also how teachers think. Going forward I need to Establish a working group of teachers who are interested in improving their links to TOK.

At the start of the session on “driving the quality of teaching and learning” we were asked to list three priorities with regard to the quality of teaching and learning. Mine were:

  1. Making thinking the basis of both
  2. Developing good knowledge of the whole curriculum (Martin Robinson’s story)
  3. Developing knowledge of good practice – can the teacher make reasoned judgements about why they do what they do.

We then considered learning centered leadership: – how do we model, monitor and have dialogue. My group felt that it was important for leaders to be:

  1. Modelling preparedness, calm, openness and friendliness
  2. Still teaching?
  3. Using data
  4. Observations
  5. Conversations
  6. Diagnostic audit of peoples and there skills

Next we were asked to list ten ingredients for great teaching and to discuss why leaders may want to observe lessons, what the purposes of lesson observation were. My ingredients for great teaching were:

  1. Dialog
  2. Content knowledge
  3. Pedagogical content knowledge
  4. Evidence for teaching practice
  5. Prior knowledge
  6. Contextual – relevance for kids
  7. Focussed on concepts
  8. Timing – knowing when an intervention is appropriate or not
  9. Collaborative – outside the silo
  10. Firm friendliness

I also felt that observation is a great way to learn and be coached and time for teachers to observe each other is valuable if we want to enable coaching, mentoring and further development.

After sharing these within our groups we had to decide on the groups final five. We had a lot of good discussion about how learning is often confused with performance and other proxies, and that learning is actually quite a hard thing to actually observe in a lesson. Any attempt to observe a lesson for accountability purposes was doomed if you are hoping to look measure learning. Instead my group agreed that the best we could hope for was to look for proxies that may indicate high quality teaching. My group decided that our priorities were to look for :

  1. Positive relationships
  2. Feedback
  3. Knowing the students
  4. Knowledge of content and pedagogy
  5. High Expectations

I reflected that evidence is a key thing here: Knowledge in education is so tentative and unsure that no one can say with certainty this is right, or this way is wrong. Thus if we focus on the thinking behind what teachers are doing and why – are teachers able to engage with discussions and evidence why they are doing somethingt. To ensure great teaching I think it is important for leaders to smile, be open and approachable. We need to encourage discussion between teachers about their practice, provide opportunity for observation between teachers and focus more on teaching and learning, instead of getting drag into secondary tasks.

Going forward I need to work to facilitate this in my community and help to provide opportunity for this to happen, time for teachers to observe each other and time for them to have discussions with a view to improving the quality of teaching within the school. I need to support a focus on developing an understanding of the links between the subjects – horizontally and vertically – and encourage teachers to come out of the their silo.

How might this session influence your staff professional development policy?

How can you measure the impact of CPD? Carry out observations of trying out TOK activities, carry out a staff survey, have the CPD, start the written curriculum and then observe more activities and carry out an additional survey. Invite staff to take part in TOK and ATL collaboration.

Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)

Hong Kong Polytechnic University

PolyU viewed from the MTR station Hung Hom

On the morning of Thursday 28th March 2019, I visited the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. This university, opened on its current site in 1965 in its original carnation as the Hong Kong Technical College. It became a university in 1994 and is situated in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong’s Kowloon district. Boasting an impressively housed Design school, as well as its own 5 star hotel, PolyU is an impressive university. Students benefit from two years guaranteed accommodation 10 minutes walk from campus. In these halls generally two or three students share one room. There is a Swimming pool and Sports Centre on site.

During my tour of the Hong Kong Universities it was the only one that organized time for me to visit three different departments in the space of the morning. Like the other universities I visited this is a campus university with students housed in halls of residence within walking distance of the main academic buildings. I was first taken to see the Department of Humanities, The Design School and The School of Hotel Management. Like other universities in Hong Kong, students apply to specific programs and admission decisions are made at the program level by professors teaching the courses that students apply to.

During my tour of the Humanities Department I was shown the work of their linguistics laboratory where research is focused on understanding the processing and development of language in the Human Brain. Personally it was really interesting to see how the study of language and biology interact and gave me some new insights to bring back to my classroom. The faculty delivering the courses in communication were keen to stress the relevance of their degrees. Many of their graduates go on to work as interpreters and communications specialists. Two thirds of court interpreters in Hong Kong, for example, graduate from their programs. Students get exposure to hands on visual and verbal translation and they aim to produce students who are trilingual in Cantonese, English and Mandarin. The Design school covers a whole suit of programs from photography and digital media, through to interior and environmental design. A tour round the school which also houses an exhibition space, give a good insight into all main areas of Design and is truly a world class facility. Finally the Hotel School is attached to Hong Kong’s 5* Hotel Icon which is owned in full by HK PolyU and offers the leading Hotel Management courses in Asia.

Hotel Icon and PolyU’s Hotel School

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

View from HKUST campus overlooking Clear Water Bay and student housing.

My final visit of the week was to HKUST. This is another campus university but unlike the others it is located in Clear Water Bay in the east of the city. It does not have an MTR line and is connected to the nearest station Hang Hau by a 10 minute taxi or bus ride. It’s lack of connectivity to the city can be definitely seen as a plus. Surrounded by beautiful green hills and with commanding views over the bay, the campus feels very much like you are out of the city. Living here students can be cloistered away in their own community but are able to dive into the city relatively easily for the day if they wish. HKUST has four schools: Science, Engineering, Business; and Social Sciences. The Interdisciplinary Programs office allows students to study courses from different schools should they wish. Once again students apply directly to programs for admission, although HKUST allows students to apply to a school if they are undecided on exactly what program they wish to take. In this way HKUST, offers a combination of specialization or flexibility of study, different routes that will appeal to different students. All students take a Common Core of 36 credits that allow them to  develop their Professional and general knowledge in other areas. HKUST also operates a undergraduate research opportunities program, UROP, which gives students access to international networking and conferences. HKUST stressed that they are results orientated in their applications and IBDP students should be looking to score 38+ points.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CHUK) and The University of Hong Kong (HKU)

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

CHUK as viewed from the MTR station “university”

On the morning of Wednesday 27th March 2019, I visited the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). With around 16000 undergraduate students and about the same post graduates, this is a large  campus university founded in 1963 and is located in the New Territories of Hong Kong. The setting is very much sub urban, and stepping off the dedicated MTR (Hong Kong’s metro) station “University” you find yourself pleasantly outside the pace bustle of the pulsing metropolis. The University is nested in a series of green hills with views of the sea.

Despite the name, the language of instruction for the majority of courses is English and degree programs last for 4 years in the main although there are some exceptions (Medicine and Education courses being two examples). Bilingualism is encouraged, and international students may be required to take courses in Mandarin or Cantonese but ability to speak either of these languages is not a requirement of entry. Instead applicants need to have a minimum of a C in GCSE English or, for IB students, be on target to score a 4 in either English A or English B. For most programs these are the minimum language requirements to be able to study here, although some programs may have slightly more rigorous requirements. As always check the program requirements. Students can select three programs on application and IB applicants will need at least 30 points and significantly more than this for some programs.

They claim that they use student performance data at the university to work out comparisons between applicants with different educational backgrounds. The university develops new programs regularly for example they have introduced AI this year. IBDP Student can get up to a year advanced standing although many opt to take less. Admission selection decisions are made by the program faculties and not centrally. CHUK runs summer programs for Yr12/Grade 11 students in their summer holidays. This is currently a 2 week residential program where students take 2 courses each with 15 hours of instructional time. Very interestingly, the university has a collegial system. The collegial system allows students from different programs to live together, and runs in similar lines to UK universities with a similar system. In these colleges students take some general education courses and have a range of social and sporting events that they can take part in from formal dining to teams sport competitions against other colleges. They can indicate preference for colleges after they have been accepted. It is the only university in Hong Kong with this structure. Non-local students are guaranteed residence for 3 out of 4 years and can apply for it in their 4th year. Housing is only 1500USD per year.

The University of Hong Kong (HKU)

HKU’s “main building”

In the afternoon of Wednesday 27th March I visited the campus of the University of Hong Kong or HKU for short. HKU is a campus university located in the heart of Hong Kong Island and is the oldest of the nine universities in Hong Kong. So old in fact that it’s imaginatively named “main building” is in fact listed and persevered from being demolished to allow the construction of yet another sky scraper. HKU is a campus university, again served by its own MTR station “HKU” but it is stuck right in the cut and thrust of a thriving modern metropolis and therefore has a very different feel to either CUHK or HKUST. It is a large research-based university with academic focused undergraduate programs. The University campus is spread out East to West facing the bay. Students apply directly to the programs that are of interest to them and the offers of admission are made by the program faculty. In an unusual move for a Hong Kong university, HKU has recently published its entrance criteria for its programs although they are keen to stress that the figures represent the grades attained by the lowest performing students, as measured by examination data, admitted to their programs. Interestingly students can take degrees at HKU combined with other universities in the UK, France and the US. Students on these courses have the ability to graduate with degrees awarded from both partner institutions.

Both these universities, considered by many to be the best universities in Hong Kong, offer very different living experiences for students. Both are well connected to the city via the MTR but CHUK is greener and possesses a more open sub-urban environment, with the possibility for students to get outdoors for hikes from its doorsteps. HKU being located in the heart of the city is surrounded and hemmed in by skyscrapers giving students easy access to the heart of the city.

Models of change and influence: reflections on NPQSL F2F3

Session 3 began with a reflection of a change project that the participants have already been involved in. We were asked to reflect on our involvement in such a project and think about what steps we had taken to ensure change occurred with impact, as well as the threats to change that existed.

Some of the steps we identified were: appropriate staff training, making time for whole team discussion and collaboration both vertically (within departments) and horizontally (between departments), covering classes for teachers so that they could get out and observe new practice, identifying key players (later in the session I identified these as “early adoptors”) who were in position to help bring about the change, space and time for leadership to reflect on options for change, timing of communicating change, and taking the time to develop relationships to build trust.

Some of the threats to change that we identified were: low energy levels and the risk of burnout, too much to do to have time to look at the big picture, general resistance to change, and teacher workload.

We discussed the need to manage our own behaviour to ensure that a project could be a success. In international schools this can have the added complication that your colleagues also take the place of your family and friends; your support network. It can be all too easy to find yourself at home of an evening with your guard down and a comment can be made in front of a friend who is also a colleague.

The most insightful part of the day came when we turned our attention to particular models of change. This is new learning for me and excitingly provides a scaffold to really help me with my own work of implementing the IBDP at my current school. We looked at Kotter’s “8 steps of change” which, to me, is a model that focusses on the stakeholders and the structure of a change project. It provides a useful scaffold for thinking about a change project and therefore aids in planning it.

We then looked at the Kubler-Ross change curve, another model but one that focusses more on the human element and therefore provides a helpful model for thinking about the impacts on stakeholders – not just teachers, but parents and students too. The model could help explain why we have the parental problems we sometimes have and how to move them forward from those issues.

The second half of the day considered leadership behvaiour for successful leadership: Commitment, Collaboration, Personal Drive, Resilience, Awareness, Integrity and Respect. It was interesting during these session to reflect on my previous experiences. I can identify a time when good leaders have catalyzed me and moved me forward in my own thinking, or even got me thinking. None of these characteristics particularly stick out, although I would agree that they are important, but also good leaders, I think, are inspiring. They excite and challenge you to be more in your thinking and behavior.

Another useful point of the day was when we considered Roger’s adoptive categories. This was really interesting. It presented a way to think about approaching the role out of a project. Thinking about the last eight months, I can definitely idenftify colleagues who were early adoptors or innovators, providing support to the changes I have been trying to bring about. Knowledge of this model, once again provides a useful scaffold but one for building relationships as we move through the change process. Here we also identified the category of laggards, and sought reasons as to why individuals may resist change and how we can overcome this.

Before the final coaching session where we were able to spend time thinking about the development of our project, we considered the different styles of leadership and when these may or may not be appropriate. It made me once again think of prior leaders and really question what they were doing. I remember being frustrated at times, when decisions needed to be made and they weren’t – I put this squarely at the feet of leaders who were using an inappropriate leadership style for the situation. On reflection, I now have some clarity about why this year is proving so challenging. Sure, I have been teaching the IBDP since 2008 and guidance counseling since 2015, and I am no stranger to challenges and setting up new programs having had some particularly trying years doing so particularly 2016-2017, where my guidance counseling hours were reduced but the class sizes remained the same. That year I was setting up a program, teaching four classes of Biology, one class of TOK and running the DofE’s International Award. It was a frustrating year where I felt unlistened to and unsupported by leaders who just didn’t seem to get it. This year is different. My leaders get it. They are supportive but the real challenge comes not from learning another new job; DP Coordination, but learning this new job and learning how to effectively lead it at the same time, in addition to learning about college counseling in Asia.

Side effects in Education

Recently, in my NPQSL course we have been asked to reflect on the question “What is the moral purpose of education?” Education can be argued to have many moral purposes, and it comes down to an educators point of view; this is an opinion that I think many teachers and leaders would accept.

For example you could argue that the moral purpose of education is to allow individuals to experience a fulfilled life where they can experience and appreciate the whole of their humanity. You could also argue that education’s purpose is to serve society and better the community at large.

Where ever you stand on this spectrum, the very fact that there is a difference of opinion here makes education, as a profession, a little unique. Doctors, for example, would largely agree that the moral purpose of education is to save life.

In what works can hurt, Yong Zhao asks if educational research should be concerned with side effects in education. However appealing this analogy is misleading. In medicine there is a clear moral purpose: do no harm. This is a moral purpose that all medics subscribe too. Medics are driven by the desire to save and prolong life.

No single unifying moral principle exists in education and different schools and different teachers have different moral purposes.

Yong Zhao cites the medical profession as one that requires researchers to investigate side effects as well as the main affects of interventions. In light of calls for educational research to adopt similar methodologies to medical research and become more scientific he argues that this is an area that is overlooked.

Educational research is exclusively focussed on what works without looking at how much it hurts.

Reasons for this may be that education is universally perceived as good, although I would argue that medicine is also. I think the reasons that the education does not consider side effects so much is that the moral purpose of education is much less clear. As well as, this damage due to eduction may take a very long time to be observable and you can only measure that which can be observed – also there are huge numbers of conflating variables.

Zhao writes that education is dominated by a narrow focus on cognitive abilities derived in a small number of subjects measured by standardized tests so that scores in these tests become the measure of effectiveness. Other outcomes are rarely measured so we don’t know about any adverse effects.

More evidence is unlikely to stop the battles within education, but a consideration of side effects might. The education pendulum swings but there is really no progress. I can agree with some of this as any look at the history of the debates does see that these arguments do go on quite a way back.

A way forward to resolving the traditional/progressive debate may be the consideration of both main and side effects in education interventions.

Zhao highlights that direct instruction is effective but can stifle creativity and reduce confidence. He cites the progress of some Asian countries, where students have a lot of knowledge drilled into them but students suffer from lack of confidence, versus Western countries where students know less but have more confidence, as evidence that what works can hurt.  I wonder if this may be a relic of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Student may well be further along the knowledge curve and therefore less confident.

Many interventions that have sought to improve reading scores have reduced access to other subject areas, by eliminating subjects to make more time for reading prep. The negative effects of these interventions are now well documented: reducing access to other subjects only serves to reduce literacy scores.

I do think that by focussing only on what can be measured can lead us down the wrong path. Measurement is important and does have a place, but there are elements of human life that we don’t know how to measure or have barriers to measuring like cost and time. We shouldn’t ignore these areas.