Towards a strategy: mission, vision and data

Originally posted on January 26, 2019 @ 12:20 pm

This term I am starting my National Professional Qualification for Senior Leadership (NPQSL) and last Saturday travelled to Beijing to attend the first face to face session on succeeding in senior leadership.

The pre-session activities had been focussed on culture, mission and vision statements. Prior to this, I had thought of these statements as being nebulous and having no real bearing on the real business of schools. To be fair in the majority of the schools I have worked in, these are not things that have been referenced or referred to in the daily working of teachers. In fact, it is only in one school which I was involved in setting up where I can remember a meeting discussing these things. We were asked, in a meeting, to suggest ideas for our mission and vision statements and then we never referred to them again. I can remember one close friend being frustrated because no one he was working with seemed to understand what the mission and vision statements of a school were for or how they might be used. Looking back, I question whether any of the leaders I had worked for in the past really new what these things were.

The session reading began to shine a new light on these ideas for me and I summarise my notes on what I read at the end of this blog post.

In essence, a vision statement should be future orientated and formulate what the community is working towards in the long-term. I write community because whilst a school will have a vision statement, I think it is important they groups within and above the level of the whole school should also pay attention to what their vision is. If this is right I should think about what the vision is for KS5 and this vision should be linked to my schools vision as well. Vision statements should be reviewed on a regular basis in consultation with the people who work within those communities.

Mission statements are focussed on the present and the action that a community is taking to bring about that vision. Like a vision statement this mission statement will need to be reviewed regularly with input from all community members.

Both the mission and the vision of the community should influence decisions that are made in the daily “workground” and should be a lens through which policy is produced, disseminated and questioned. One of the colleagues I met had started as HOD for in a new department. They had placed a board up with titles of areas that they didn’t know about and asked their team members to write down things that they thought the HOD needed to know. From this they formulated a vision and mission for the department which is the lens by which they examine actions in department meetings.

These statements need to carefully formulated so that they can be used and communicated appropriately. Aside from their uses as described above we need to think about how they are communicated with the parental community and how they can be used to work with the parental community. There was the suggestion that we can interview parents when students are interviewed to carefully explain our vision and values in one to one situations.

When vision, mission and value statements are combined with data analysis they can be the backbone for creating a strategic plan to allow the school or community to move forward. Senior leadership has a focus on vision creating. Compared to middle leadership who have a specific team focus, and will be implementing that vision, senior leaders need to think broadly.

At this stage I think that identifying my moral purpose and the vision for my area is absolutely paramount. Both on an individual level and for the IB DP at my school. My thesis and the schools thesis need to be synthesised together for the IBDP and the UGO office.

Pre-Reading Notes

Moral Purpose – Michael Fullan

Five attributes of leadership; moral purpose, understanding change process, strong relationships, knowledge adding and coherence among multiple priorities. Moral purpose is both ends and means but we have mixed motives and that is fine. Moral purpose doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It interacts with the other components of leadership. Two case studies illustrate this: the national literacy and numeracy strategy in England and Monsanto. For leadership to be effective it must have 1. An explicit making a difference purpose. 2. Use strategies that mobilise many people to tackle tough problems 3 be held accountable by measured indicators of success 4 mobilise others sense of moral purpose Acting with moral purpose in a complex world can have insidious consequences. coherence making can be guided by moral purpose. Moral purpose must contend with diversity. Difference in morality from different cultures

Moral leadership by John West Burnham

Behaviour which is consistent with personal and organisational values which in turn are derived from a coherent ethical system. Decisions in education are naturally ethical decisions so leaders need to be ethically literate. The trad vs progressive debate. Professions have ethical purpose. Communities have a consensus over the values that they think are important. Leadership needs to secure this agreement. Culture is the expression of and reinforcement of the ethics of a community. Leaders exemplify what that society and community most value. Moral leadership can be taught through engagement with the meta narratives of ethical classics, reflection in action, coaching and networking.

Vision, strategy and planning in education by Mark Brundrett

To be effective agents of change, leaders in schools need a clear idea of some end goal. Vision is focussed on some goal to be achieved in the future. Leaders need to conceptualise and articulate a vision to influence followers through five mechanisms: 1 giving direction and purpose 2 organise action around future goals 3 provides a sense of identity and meaning 4 provides a common framework 5 vision may develop organisational norms. Personal visions possibly arise from a variety of different causes. Vision must be both individual and collective. Visions in schools and organisations will only succeed if they are bought into by the staff at all levels. Vision and strategy need to be linked at the outset and on an ongoing basis. If strategy is about achieving goals then it is inseparable from vision. Good strategy involves the organisation as a whole just like the vision. Strategies must encourage the involvement of as many people as possible so that they have a sense of ownership. Strategy must take account of long-term intentions and aspirations, the external environment, the internal strengths of the organisation, the prevailing organisational culture, expectations of stakeholders, future resources. Priorities change in education so it can be difficult to plot a straight line approach to strategy and planning. Four abcd approach to translating strategy into action: articulate, build (images metaphors experience) create (dialogues cognitive) define (formal plans)
Targets can help move things forward. School leaders need to have a vision of the school they wish to create. This will be personal but will accord with the aspirations of the wider community. Vision needs shared ownership.

What makes a school a learning organisation – OECD report

The model focuses on:

  • Developing a vision centered on the learning of the students
  • Creating and supporting continuous learning opportunities for staff
  • Promoting team learning and collaboration among all staff
  • Establishing a culture of inquiry, innovation and exploration
  • Embedding systems for collecting and exchanging knowledge and learning
  • Learning with and from the external environment and larger system
  • Modelling and growing learning leadership

Trust time technology and thinking are the four T’s that underpin the above elements. Developing a shared vision is the result of a process that involves all stakeholders. We need integrate all including those on the margins of society as alienation poses a threat to democracy. The vision needs to aim to enhance the lives of all learners. Excellence and equity are not mutually exclusive goals. Some countries have managed to successfully improve outcomes of the most disadvantaged. (Disadvantaged is often implicitly financial but also language as in EAL learners in a globalised society.)

Setting direction vision and values

Generating culture is a high priority for leaders and the concept has a synergy with vision and value statements. Values statements are concerned with behaviour. It can be used as a lens to view decision-making and the formulation of policy. Mission statement are concerned with the present and present actions. It is about what the organisation does or is attempting to do. The vision statement is about the future and linked to ideas about future goals. These statements need to be actualised and this is achieved through culture as shown in Scheins model (see picture). Culture will make or break a school and changing culture is time-consuming. All of the statements above, like all good plans, should be time limited. Changing culture involved conjoining content and process. They are always a work in progress. Various models can be used to implement culture change. This eight step model suggests:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency. Don’t change the culture if the arguments for changing it have not been convincing.
  2. Form a powerful guiding coalition
  3. Create a vision
  4. Communicate the vision. Instead of the presentation use listening and questioning during conversations to broker by in. (Turning statements into questions could be a good way to build relationships with peeps)
  5. Empowering others
    Coaching here through conversation is paramount
  6. Planning for short-term wins
  7. Consolidating improvements and producing more change
  8. Institutionalising new approaches

Developing a school wide Academic Honesty Policy II

Originally posted on January 14, 2019 @ 8:10 pm

In November I shared the first stages of my thinking about developing our academic honesty policy. In this post I want to follow-up, to document the most recent steps.

Last Monday, while trying to find my mind, which I appeared to have left somewhere between the UK and China, I lead the second inset session on academic honesty. Running inset when you are jet lagged isn’t fun – especially when all the team is equally as tired!

During this session, I followed a very similar model to October’s inset, using chalk talk as a way to elicit thoughts and ideas about the academic honesty policy.

I am keen not to simply impose my ideas about academic honesty on the teaching body but to encourage by in, I want to grow a policy as a team. It may seem like this is a little esoteric, but having a shared understanding of the why’s, what’s and how’s of teaching academic honesty is a really important part of what we do as educators. Understanding the issues of good practice in this area impacts on many other aspects of classroom practice and should engender a change in the way that we approach planning of units, lessons and tasks.

We started the session with a Quizlet live game of academic honesty terminology before moving on to practice the chalk talk again. I was inspired by my Christmas reading of Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21C and so started with the question:

–What is more important:

–developing students knowledge of facts or ability to critique and discuss facts?

Following from that we rotated around the three questions of:

  1. Why teach academic honesty
  2. How teach academic honesty
  3. When teach academic honesty

Finally, the team was asked to present the discussion points and ideas on the question sheets that they started with to the rest of the group.

Before ending the session with a call for volunteers to join a working party, I shared the results from the staff citation survey that I conducted in November. These results certainly gave me some food for thought as there were some good arguments presented for not having a centralised citation policy. Most staff thought it would be a good idea to have a centralised policy but the arguments against it were that essential that students should be exposed to a variety of different ways, no one way is right, students joining the school may have learned different systems and should be allowed to demonstrate that learning. All valid points and I must have admit shifted my thinking on this one a little.

Another advantage of decentralising the policy could be that departments take responsibility for agreeing a policy together and therefore think about and implement a procedure that is useful for them. Considering that only one member of staff has taken me up on my offer to form a working party to develop a policy, this could be another avenue for ensuring buy in to the new policy. I may ask HODs to formulate a policy and to let me know what system they are going to teach to ensure that we avoid the attitude of “let some other department deal with it”.

Now I need to think about how to take this forward so that we can launch a policy next August. I have now had staff contribute to the triage of where the school is at. Now we need to decide what to put in the policy and write it and I need to think of how best to achieve this, if teachers don’t volunteer to join the working group?


Developing a school wide Academic Honesty Policy I

Originally posted on November 20, 2018 @ 10:14 am

One of my focuses this year as Diploma Programme Coordinator will be to work with the schools educators to devise a secondary wide academic honesty policy. This is the first time I have had to lead a collaborative project across the secondary and I am spending a lot of time thinking about how best to implement this.

The easiest thing, and the first thing that I considered, would have been to simply lift policies from previous schools (with permission of course – oh the irony!) and adopt it in the new context. On reflection I decided not to go down this path because doing so would have meant we lost a good opportunity for collaboration amongst the team and would have probably also ensured that we didn’t get the buy in and subsequent up-skilling, that we need if the policy is going to be successful.

Teaching academic honesty is one of those things that I think it is easy to expect everyone on the teaching team to be able to do and assume that they know how to do it when in fact there may well be understandable knowledge gaps within the team. Different people also respond to their own knowledge gaps differently. Not admitting to knowledge gaps is an behaviour that can develop insidiously in educators due to perceived peer, parent and student expectations. The culture of a school may well be one where, admitting ignorance is something that is frowned upon. I am also aware that simply admitting ignorance isn’t enough. People need to be motivated to fill the gaps once identified and this process takes effort. We all avoid the effortful path at times.

For this project, I decided to go down the long road and start afresh. I want buy-in from the team and I want to identify skill needs amongst the team so that we can begin to help teachers develop their own skills in this area, as well as develop a deeper understanding of the IB requirements for academic honesty.

One of the things that I learned as a workshop leader with the IB is that all training sessions with staff should aim to help colleagues develop their teaching skills and share pedagogical techniques as a secondary objective to the primary aims of the session. Thus, when I utilised one staff inset session in October, I planned to use visible thinking routine “chalk talk” as a route to triage where the team was in their thinking and understanding about academic honesty.

I started this session by introducing chalk talk with a practice question. On a prior inset session led by another team member we had looked at Hattie’s research and so to transition from that I chose the question: “Is homework necessary?” to get the team used to the format of the chalk talk.

For the main event, I took questions from the IBO’s documentation on academic honesty and grouped them into categories. I prepared the session in advance by writing questions onto the back of the paper I was going to use. In this chalk-talk, instead of answering one question and rotating through each table, each table had a different set of questions that each group responded too as they rotated through them.

The results can be seen here:

Following from the chalk talk, I asked each group to summarise the discussion and responses prompted by the questions they started with. I gave them 15minutes to prepare a presentation for the rest of the team, and asked them to reflect on that instruction: how do they effectively get their students to collaborate on tasks like this? How do we teach students to work collaboratively or do we expect that they will be able to do it? We ended the session by sharing the general findings from each of the groups.

Following on from this session I have written and disseminated a survey based around some of the concepts surrounding academic honesty and citations, in order to give staff a chance to have some continual input into the formation of our academic honesty policy. In January I hope to be able to review the data collected from this chalk talk and survey to begin working on developing our policy but I am unsure of where to take this next to ensure collaboration and buy-in amongst the team. If you have any ideas I would love to hear them!


The Extended Essay: The central support for teaching ATL skills?

Originally posted on November 3, 2018 @ 12:00 pm

I have reservations about the IB ATLs. I have written about this previously, mainly focussing on the approaches to teaching and I don’t really want to go over these issues again, suffice to say that it still causes me concern that the IB, as the only truly global non-national/international curriculum has such strong ideology that underpins what it requires teachers do. In fact the more I think about it, the more concerned I am by the fact that, on reflection, most teacher training curriculums that I am aware are not balanced and do not give good education to teachers on evidence, history, philosophy. Instead they simply uncritically present one ideology as fact.

My previous post focussed on the approaches to teaching. In this post I want to focus on the IB’s approaches to learning which I will refer to in this post simply as ATls. Hopefully this post will be a bit more positive!

There are certainly areas of the of the ATLs that I have come to appreciate. Before I get there I just want to state that from what I have read, I think that the evidence from cognitive science is pretty clear cut: there are no such things as general learning/thinking skills. More over, I don’t think that the often quoted 21st Century learning skills or 4Cs of: Communication, Collaboration, Critical-thinking, Creativity are anymore important in the 21st Century than they were in the 19th and 20th centuries (they were referred to then; they are nothing new now) and I think the whole enterprise of trying to teach them outside of domains is an exercise that will only make our education system weaker, not stronger.

To make the ATLs work within the school context they need to be linked to and embedded in domain specific content. Some of them maybe more generalisable than others and in that sense may be more malleable for being taught independently, but most will need to be embedded within the teaching of specific content of a domain.

For example, elements of the self-management tranche of the identified ATLs may well be more stand alone, or at least can be taught independently of subject matter. However, teaching students about time-management still needs material to work on, in this case the students own general workload at school.

Mindfulness is another self-management skill that can be taught independently and, in my opinion, to great value for the learner. However for this to be affective it needs staff buy-in and training. While mindfulness is the new trendy idea, there is a lot of misunderstanding about what it actually is.

Thinking skills, communication skills and research skills, as identified by the IB’s ATL guide all require teaching and embedding within content. In terms of the Communication and research skills, one of the central pillars to teaching these is the Extended Essay.

In most schools the Extended Essay process is placed to the middle to end of the DP, with students perhaps beginning the process in term two of the first year and ending sometime around Christmas of the second year. This year we have gone to the extreme of bringing it to the front of the process as we feel it underpins and provides so many opportunities to explicitly teach the ATLs but still linking them to specific subject knowledge.

We have introduced our students to the process this September and have planned in specific interventions that look at research skills and communication skills, while we also begin to map out how these skills are taught vertically from year 7.

Our current year 12 students are supported through the process with clear scaffolding. First they are asked to think about general topics and clearly led through ways to identify and think about ideas. Subsequently, we introduce them to the library and its resources in a series of sessions which first look at the library and its resources in general before looking at the databases we have access to and how researchers utilise these resources appropriately using boolean operators..

Students are then asked to draft a proposal for their Extended Essay which would include the research question, an outline of the subquestions and a list of potential sources that can be used. This proposal needs to be agreed to and signed off by their supervisor before Christmas of the first year. The proposal becomes the basis for the first formal reflection.

In the second term, we show students how to critically appraise sources and continue to give them support in writing their outline for their essay. This takes place un until April where they submit their outline to the supervisors and follow up with a second meeting.

Following on from this meeting students will recieve feedback and after their exams, during their core week, they are given time to work on writing their Extended Essay in the morning with the aim that they would have a first draft completed by the end of the third term and submitted to their supervisor, this would form the basis of their interim reflection and their third meeting.

Student can then finalise their work over the summer, submitting it and completing their viva voce at the start of their second year. In this way this major piece of work is completed before the bulk of internal assessments and university applications begin.

By front loading the extended essay process in this way, I believe that the team has a greater chance of explicitly teaching, the research and communication skills needed to succeed in the extended essay. This reduces the chances of these skills being left to chance and also allows students to be able to apply these skills in their internal assessments for their other subject.

Finally by also, bringing some of the other internal assessments into the later half of the first year, we can begin to help students develop strategies for their own time management and organisational skills, by explictly showing them how they balance the commitments of the extended essay, internal assessments and other work. This can be done early in the course, allowing them to apply these skills later in the course.


Whole school support for EAL learners II

Originally posted on October 26, 2018 @ 1:50 pm

Imagine a normal primary school in an anglophone country like the UK or US. Now imagine taking a year 4/grade 3 or year 5/grade 4 child from that school and giving them an academic program aimed at year 12/grade 11 or year 13/grade 12 students. It could be AP, A Levels, IB DP. The course doesn’t matter here. Lets just assume that these children would be taking academic, pre-university courses in the the humanities/social science and the natural sciences. For the sake of argument, lets assume that these fictional children have the social and emotional skills of 17-18 year olds. Clearly I am not describing a real situation here.

From a purely academic point of view: what would happen? Would those children succeed? Would they have the background knowledge, understanding and vocabulary skills to access in class discussions? Or text books for that matter? Or even to understand what the teacher was talking about?

Now, I wonder, how would the teachers, tasked with teaching these children respond? What strategies could classroom practitioners employ to help their students achieve? How could the curriculum coordinators and Heads of Year respond to implement strategies to allow the children to access the curriculum? What would you do?

What makes an EAL student like a primary schooler?

Of course, this never happens in practice or does it? Is there any cohort of students in international schools that would somewhat match this description? I would contend that there are, to varying degrees, and in varying numbers, students who fit this description as EAL students.

Now clearly, an average 17 year old student, has cognitive abilities beyond that of an average 10 year old and certainly, we would hope, more advanced social and emotional skills. And indeed they probably do know more.

But how do we ensure that, when a high school accepts an older student who has never had any prior formal instruction in academic disciplines in the language of the school, and will ultimately sit exams in that new language, this child will be able to succeed.

Some might answer that schools shouldn’t admit students when they cannot meet their needs. I would agree. But I have seen schools that do admit students when they can’t meet their needs; usually when a child’s needs meet the economic needs of a school, the latter concerns tend to win.

My concern here really revolves around the question: If most major testing systems in the English Language (AP, IBDP etc) are norm referenced, then aren’t we simply propping up the performance of our native language speakers with the ultimately poorer performance of non-native speakers? Are our anglophone speakers succeeding on the back of the poorer performance of our EAL students (on an international level)?

Of course, in international schools, there is a lot of variance and there is certainly flexibility in the system. Most students who can’t access the full curriculum will be able to graduate from the school with some form of modified curriculum. But we need to ensure that students have as many options available to them when they leave us as possible. Going to an international school is a privilege and affords so many additional benefits to kids that they may not have had in there home country but we need to ensure that students are able to succeed after they leave us.

How do we solve these problems?

In practical terms when, as a coordinator, I have a cohort of students for the majority of whom English is a second language and many of whom have only been learning their academic subjects in English for a few short years, how do I put strategies in place to support them as best I can?

I have written here, here and here in the past about classroom strategies for teaching upper secondary curriculums to EAL students. I am an interested novice. But now as a coordinator I am concerned about curriculum level interventions.

The context will matter both in terms of the cohorts profile and the curriculums that can be offered as well as their flexibility. I coordinate the IB, which is a flexible system in the sense that, when combined with an American style High School Diploma, students have the option of taking IB certificates in as many or as few courses as they would like.

But I am blue-skying today and want to think about how to offer the full Diploma to as many of my students as possible in this imaginary cohort.

Making the Diploma accessible

There are ways to do this but it may require restrictions in certain areas, for example limiting extended essay subject selection to the students mother tongue or English B if the students level of English is so low that the team feels this would preclude them for taking the extended essay in another academic subject, like business studies or economics for example.

And what level of English is too low? Whats the cut off? Recently I have discussed, with colleagues, using lexile analysis to determine what the English grade reading level is of my EAL students as well as the lexile score. This is a measure of how dense a text is. The lexile score is useful for a number of reasons. It can be used to work out what the equivalent reading age in English is for the EAL students and it can compared to the lexile level of the textbooks used on the course, allowing teachers to the see the difference in where there kids are at and the material they need to present.

The lexile analysis of a biology textbook. The level ranges from Y13/G12 to post secondary!

Lexile analysis can be performed here. Teachers can set up their own accounts but I think this should be done centrally on a term by term basis or semester by semester basis and the information shared with students and their families, as well as teachers as part of a set of on going sharing of strategies and training on support EAL students in the academic classroom.

Hirsch (2016) claims that “Vocabulary size is the outward and visible sign of an inward acquisition of knowledge.”Lexile analysis therefore shows us not only what these students can read but what they know in English as well. Hirsch makes the case that the more domain specific knowledge students acquire, the more their vocabulary naturally increases. This is why, for Hirsch, knowledge rich elementary curriculums are so important. They ensure that students acquire vocabulary and this vocabulary acquisition is the magic formula for reducing inequality. Children from affluent families have more vocabulary when they start school (they oral life at home is richer) compared to their disadvantaged peers and knowledge curriculums help them to catch up.

In a sense our EAL students are like disadvantaged native language children; they certainly don’t benefit from homes where English is spoken and so they don’t benefit from expanding their knowledge and vocabulary in English when they leave school.

The matthew effect shows how learners who have knowledge will tend to acquire more at a faster rate and those with less will acquire knowledge more slowly. This is one of the important psychological principles often overlooked by commentators who claim if we teach knowledge then our kids will be competing with computers. Teaching knowledge is the only way to ensure that they can be life long learners; the more knowledge we have in our brains the quicker we gain new knowledge.  This is also known as the knowledge capital principle it takes knowledge to make knowledge.

Hirsch also claims that “High school is too late to be taking coherent content seriously” as part of his argument for knowledge rich elementary curriculums. Where does this leave our EAL students?

Evidence from cognitive science also shows us that knowledge is domain specific and that it doesn’t transfer readily. Thus students may now about the detailed components that make up the processes of photosynthesis in Korean, but they are unlikely to be able to transfer this knowledge from Korean into English. This creates real problems when it comes to supporting EAL students in the mainstream academic classrooms.

Taking all of the above int account, it seems that we need to begin by getting students exposed to speaking and thinking in English as much as possible.

Let me be clear here, as I have run into hot water on this one in schools. If the aim of a school is to have students graduate by passing English language academic exams for whatever greater purpose, then I think that in school, whenever possible, students need to be encouraged to speak English. I don’t say this because I am a cultural imperialist but because it is demonstrably the best way of getting students to learn the academic subjects, most of the time.

As an IBDP Coordinator this means, among other things, ensuring that students get as much time in the English acquisition classroom as possible. I would consider placing all the students into the English B HL class  at the start of their course. This would give them more hours in the acquisition classroom initially. As they progressed through the course we could look at their progress to see if they could afford to drop down to SL.

Clearly there is a balance to be struck here. Forcing kids to be taking an HL subject they might not be into could seriously backfire in terms of motivation and so continual communication with teachers, students and parents is essential.

To ensure that students felt like they were making progress (and therefore maintaining their motivation – psychology) I would consider having dedicated EAL support after school. This time would be given over to allow the students to do grade-levelled reading in English.

I also apply the IB research discussed in this post to ensure that their is ongoing monitoring of the learners progress, too often students are assessed at the beginning of the year and never again. Ongoing, regular assessment of learners progress is necessary here.

Since beginning to write this, I have been introduced to a piece of software that appears to be an answer to some of these questions.

I hope that ongoing posts on this topic will help me explore the strategies that can be put in place to ensure all learners succeed.


E.D. Hirsch (2016) Why knowledge matters: Rescuing our children from failed educational theories. Harvard Education press

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