Monday, February 4, 2013

Importance of Mentoring

You have received your notification for your very first appointment as a teacher. You have feeling of great excitement and some of trepidation. Excitement that after all that time in training and the hundreds assignments you have written have all paid off. You have been recognised by an employer as having the ability to teach.

The apprehension is about your feelings of competence and confidence. Teaching is a highly complex job. You ask yourself questions.  Will the students respond to your style of teaching? Will they do as you ask them to do? Will they all learn what you teach them? How will the parents ,who have entrusted you with their children, like what you do to facilitate the classroom learning environment.

Experiences in those first few months last a lifetime. As a young teacher I remember my first class and those first few months as if they were yesterday.  At a very small school a few kilometres from my home I struck out on a career in education that has lasted over half a century.  I don’t blame my principal for his lack of mentoring skills; rather I know that he did the best that he knew how, given the skills, knowledge and understanding he had at that time.  

 We have learned so much about the importance of mentoring fledgling teachers since then. However the research is still showing that in Australia and New Zealand as in other countries in the Western world nearly one third of early career teachers ‘burn out’ or resign within the first three to five years.

An article in the  Age newspaper in 2011 suggests that until we confront the reasons for these teachers leaving, we will not overcome the chronic teacher shortages being experienced.

 It is not pay that early career teachers cite as the reason for leaving. Common reasons are given such as the

·         disparity between their preparation and the expectations of the job

·         feeling isolated and unsupported in their classroom

The nature of diversity of schools and their students and the perceptions of early career teachers about what being in charge of the classroom is really like can lead to frustration and feelings of being overwhelmed.  Coming to terms with this can be learned by experience.  If those teachers were supported by a trained mentor, they would deal with this disparity more easily.  

Milburn quotes Downes (2011) in saying…

"Teaching is one of the few professions where beginners are put into the deep end, almost thoughtlessly. If governments are serious about reducing attrition rates and improving the quality of teaching, then where are the structured, systematic programs that ease teachers into the complexity and diversity of their work?"
Formally trained mentors whose work is recognised by time and funding commitments would be a good step forward to reducing attrition rates and improving the quality of teaching.

 Let’s find ways to keep that initial excitement and enthusiasm going for the sake of our children and for the often idealistic early career teachers.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What we want now compared to what we want most

 Eric Jensen shares some interesting research. 

In the study, humans were offered snack food (peanuts, M & Ms, raisins, etc.) and the chimps were offered a desirable fruit (grapes). Each "competitor" was offered two treats now OR six treats later. The chimps were willing to wait ("Good impulse control, Bonzo") for a larger treat a whopping 72% of the time. Humans were only willing to defer gratification a paltry 19% of the time! Are chimps "smarter" than humans? Well, I would argue that humans simply "outsmart themselves" much of the time (Rosati AG, et al. 2007). The humans explained that they could have "resisted" the snacks "if they really wanted to." Does this sound familiar? This leads to unhappiness over spending and weight gains, plus a lot of guilt (which often turns to depression.) So what's going on in the brain?

The brain's way of regulating motivation is through the production and release of a common neurotransmitter called dopamine. But dopamine is more the brain's way of steering and biasing you towards biologically rewarding behaviors than it is for actually having happiness. In short, dopamine is nature's way of guiding you to pleasure. A thousand years ago, happiness came from security, affiliation, status, food and sex. But today, there are countless other ways to "trick" our brain into those "time-tested" states of future pleasure (Blum, et al. 2012). We feel the pleasure in finding a bargain more than actually wearing the outfit. Pleasures include eating fatty snacks (RIGHT NOW vs. waiting), making online purchases, gambling, shopping, prescriptive (or illegal) drug usage, cheating (on taxes or your spouse), spending money (or the illusion of saving money), checking for interesting emails, and web-browsing (novelty is rewarding.)

So, what's the big problem with all of those dopamine-producing things we do? The problem is that we use a number of strategies to rationalize the event by eating more, spending more, exercising less and the result is often guilt. Then we try to get past the guilt by trying to make ourselves feel better with more snacking, more online shopping and wild promises of how much exercise we'll do tomorrow. (It's always pushed into the future, isn't it?) The strategies we use (e.g. "discounting the future, misleading ourselves, overestimating our willpower) can all help us feel good in the short term ("Woo-hoo! I saved 33% on that purchase."), but feel badly in the long haul when guilt sets in.

Millions purchase weight loss products, workout equipment, supplements and diet books. The dopamine floods the brain with the promise of a skinny body, but when the products arrive at your house, you still have to choose between the new reality of actually USING the product and something else more fun for the brain (eating, checking emails or shopping online.) The ordering of the product is what produced the dopamine. This may be unfair, but our body will continue to seek immediate pleasure (Egecioglu, E, et al. 2011), unless you have powerful strategies in place.
You might be wondering what strategies can you put in place to better regulate that "pleasure-seeking dopamine" that seems to wreak havoc on your life. You're about to find out the secrets to a healthier, happier you, especially with the holidays coming up.

Practical Applications
What have we learned about our brain from the research above?
First, let's apply the lesson to the classroom, then to yourself. In the classroom, it's not the actual reward that makes kids feel motivated to do or get something. It's the promise and prediction of a good feeling that is a core "driver" of student behavior. That's why teachers who continually "hook" kids in with the promise of something fun (social, novel, exciting, status-building, challenging or otherwise beneficial) can keep kids motivated to work hard. This suggests that you practice those "buy-in" strategies. For example, "Hey kids! I just thought of something that's really weird. You want to try it out?"
But what about in your own life? How do you deal with the brain's continual "tricking" you into "fake" pleasures such as the promise of weight loss, the promises of the pleasure from a new kitchen appliance, or the promise of an abundant, joy boosting flower or vegetable garden?
There are a number of strategies I can suggest and each one has to do with regulating your own brain. Here they are in no particular order:
  1. Set aside specific times to make the key decisions (food, money, exercise, relationships, etc.) when you're less stressed. Your will power is stronger and you'll make better decisions.
  2. When you feel most temped by the rush of dopamine for the "promise" of pleasure... stop and slow down. Focus on your breath for two minutes. Breathe in divine "support" though your nose and exhaling the day's stress through your mouth. You'll make better decisions.
  3. Create "default decisions" in advance. Set your exercise workout outfit in an obvious place you can see and change into easily. Get rid of kitchen foods you should not eat so you're not tempted. Decide in advance what you'll order in a restaurant (even if everyone else orders "comfort foods") or enjoy at an upcoming holiday party.
  4. Do "micro-workouts" to keep your body in equilibrium. Do a fast five-minute walk, or climb 2-3 floors up the stairs, or do five minutes on a treadmill or elliptical machine. Short workouts shift your mood (you get the dopamine) without doing destructive behaviors.
  5. Keep your budget posted ("I get $200 a month), so you can feel free to browse, but only spend cautiously online. At the malls, leave your credit card at home and only pay cash.
  6. Stop (I mean this!) making yourself feel guilty for bad decisions. The research shows guilt is NOT a good motivator for better behaviors. Instead, forgive yourself and move on.
  7. Every time you have a decision to make (should I exercise, eat this food, spend money, etc.) remember what you need to do and need to avoid. Then, keep focusing on your main goal. "Do I want a healthy body or not?"
Interested in more reading on this topic? I suggest: 1) What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite (David DiSalvo) and 2) The Willpower Instinct (Kelly McGonigal). Remember, the thought of buying these books might make you anticipate pleasure. But then, you'll have to: a) buy and read them, and b) implement what you read.
Do you have enough grit to follow through and do them both? Otherwise, you better stick with meditation!

Read more from Eric Jensen

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Feedback from Collegial Coaching program

Ten participants in a recent Collegial Coaching program recorded the following reflections

What, so what, now what

  • Research shows coaching model as part of PD is more effective than other models e.g. evaluating model
  • Research support Collegial Coaching
  • Ongoing support
  • Workshop
  • % that is transferred through coaching and follow up
  • Application/transfer of knowledge requires follow up and coaching
  • Follow up

So what

  • What does it look like in my school?   What does the DP and Principal want from this?
  • Training in coaching and what makes good PD is needed for teachers
  • Nature of follow up
  • Workshop
  • PD Structure and the transfer of PD
  • Being conscious about the PD we engage in and the follow up needed  --> on site coaching

Now What

  • Setting priorities – link to ‘time required’ table
  • How will PD look in my context?  How will we support teachers in classrooms?
  • Better prepare myself
  • How am I going to do this at St Bernard’s
  • Discuss with exec team – who will be trained -> what are our priorities
  • Develop a professional learning community
  • Individual, group, personality, experience

Response wheel

  • Evaluation – can lead to negativity.  Coaching – positive approach, more meaningful, ownership by the inviting teacher
  • Coaching is providing factual observations to allow teachers to self reflect/evaluate.  Evaluation  is feeding back opinions – forming judgements
  • This collegial coaching model is more supportive and allows effective self-reflection
  • Coaching reflects the reality of practice back to the practitioner- evaluation measures practice to/against  criteria to determine quality
  • Coaching – not hierarchies, using terms that don’t imply over/under e.g. supervision- inviting teacher.  Look at base word – value – implies opinion/bias/to who?  For whom?
  • Collegial Coaching is not judging.  Evaluation is.  Collegial Coaching does not involve opinions – it is based on facts – what you see and hear.  Collegial Coaching is acting as a mirror.  Inviting teacher is encouraged to evaluate (themselves)
  • Coaching is not advice.  TRUST and RELATIONSHIPS.  Coaching is facts only (what you see and hear)
  • Coaching is for self reflection.  Between 2 people – coach and inviting teacher
  • Evaluation is about the observer making judgements/evaluations.  Collegial Coaching is about the observer providing factual information so that the inviting teacher can make his or her own evaluation.
  • Coaching is self evaluation by the inviting teacher, facts not opinions, evaluation – opinion.  Coaching is working together with the inviting teacher.  Confidential
  • Fact v judge, invited to participate, equals v superior, follow up on both parties.
  • Evaluation-  formal, negative, judging, dictating. Owned by the judger.  Coaching team, factual, conversation, follow up, supportive, owned by the teacher.

Responses in common

  • Evaluation is a judging process ( +ve/-ve)  not always invited.  Collegial Coaching is factual, invited, follow up, self evaluation on both parts (2 people) confidential
  • Trust relationships between two ‘even’ people.  Based on facts, what you see and hear.  Evaluating and reflecting for the teacher.
  • Share control.  Coaching à self reflection.  Evaluation à opinions

Harvard Minute Paper
What major point have you learned today?

  • Coaching model is based on factual observations which allow the inviting teacher self evaluate/reflect.  This is very different to other models e.g. evaluation – where the opinions are given and judgements are made
  • Collegial Coaching is a positive non-threatening coaching methods where the inviting teacher self reflects on learning supported by the coach
  • Huge difference between Collegial Coaching and Evaluative Coaching Collegial Coaching à facts not opinions
  • Coaching is a feedback process rather than evaluation ( mirror).  Equal 2 party decision on focus elements of the lesson
  • Collegial Coaching is factual only.  It’s digging deeper into an inviting teacher’s beliefs on pedagogy.  It is allowing the teacher to self reflect to allow them to go where they want to go
  • Useful to share information before observing lessonsà teachers should have a clear understanding of what they are inviting the observer to do.
  • Collegial Coaching = facts not opinions/ judgement
  • Need for providing facts based on observations as opposed to the more traditional approach to supervision and advice
  • Collegial Coaching is self evaluative for both people involved
  • It’s all about facts
  • Pedagogy is important and needs to be pulled out in the pre conference

One burning unanswered question

  • How can this be effectively implemented across the school?
  • How and I going to make this work at school?
  • How is this going to be effectively implemented?
  • How to structure introduction of Collegial Coaching to the school.
  • Nothing so far
  • What will this look like in my school context?
  • Nothing unanswered so far
  • How can I do this without a floating teacher at my school

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How Can You Foster MORE Student Effort?

Eric Jensen tells us about student effort in this newsletter article.

 The Research
Here is what the research tells us about effort: there are many causes, each requiring many different solutions. But let's cut to the chase. Kids who grow up with exposure to chronic and acute stress (without the coping skills) typically have more of a sense of the "world happening to them" (vs. having a strong locus of control). They either display anger (one symptom of a stress disorder) or helplessness (another symptom of a stress disorder) at school. Research suggests stress specifically impairs attentional control (Liston, et al., 2009). Children living in poverty experience significantly greater chronic stress than do their more affluent counterparts (Almeida, Neupert, Banks, & Serido, 2005). This means you'll see kids who look like they're either trying to "get in your face" or trying to "quit on you." We also know low childhood SES (socioeconomic status) correlates with chronic stress exposure and reduced working memory (Evans, et al., 2009).

The relevance is simple; to engage kids who have had serious adversity (financial or other stress issues), you'll need to provide a trusting relationship. Trusting relationships with both teachers and other adults are ranked as a top-ten student achievement factor (JA Hattie, 2009). Show kids how much you care first, before they care about you. Also, you'll want to provide more of a sense of control for the students in school. Reducing anxiety in kids has a strong correlation with student achievement (0.40 effect size contributing to student achievement). Both relationships and sense of control mitigate the effects of stress disorders. If your kids don't fit into this particular description, the next paragraph is for you. In fact, the next seven factors are each a separate jewel.

Practical Applications
You can have very active kids this year. Even at the secondary school level, there are kids who are inert in one class and very engaged in another. As a teacher, you have more to do with how your kids behave than you give yourself credit for. Here are seven more strategies, in addition to developing trusting relationships and allowing students to have a sense of control (see above).
  1. Show more passion for learning and your content (the student brain's "mirror neurons" may get activated by your passion, and mimic your excitement for learning)
  2. Use specific buy-in strategies to hook in students (build relevance)
  3. Make it their idea (inclusion, choice and control)
  4. Lower the risk (making failures part of the learning process and providing better support for ELL)
  5. Build the Learner's Mindset ("I can grow!")
  6. Increase Feedback ("It's the best motivator")
  7. Stair-step the Effort (Baby steps work)
Your passion will "hook in" more learners than most strategies. Use body language, voice inflection and facial expressions to augment passionate words about the new learning. Additionally, use "buy-in strategies" to build some of the "hooks" that keep students interested. Make it their idea (inclusion, choice and control). Lower the risk (appreciate every hand that goes up and every student's effort, whether the answer is good or not. Say, "Thanks very much, who else?") Build the Learner's Mindset (Tell kids that their brain can change and whatever they did last year, this year can be better). Increase Feedback; it's the single best motivator. Use affirmations, quality content feedback, peer feedback, mini quizzes, partner-developed quizzes, and verbal feedback from you on their strategy, effort or their attitude. Finally use the stair-step strategy. When asking students to do a complex activity, have them do it in small parts that are easier to say "yes" to. Yes, baby steps work if you move fast!

Build these engagement factors into your own work with a simple system. It's called lesson planning and it's free. If you have not yet tested out our new companion website (, be sure to visit when you get the chance. It's simple, effective and FREE!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Should you be in to Brainwashing?

Eric Jensen, author and professional development presenter has this to say about changing beliefs.

The Research
Brainwashing is the altering of beliefs, knowledge or attitudes in the mind of another. The first of your two questions is, "Should I do brainwashing?" The answer is an emphatic, "Yes!" Second, "Why?" Humans live their lives and take actions based on their narratives. Our own narrative is the aggregate of our daily routines, habits and predictive decisions, actions, values and conversations we engage in. Humans are remarkably true to their own "story". At school, the story that students create and identify with is especially important.

For example, research tells us that one of the single greatest factors contributing to student achievement (ranking in the top 3) is the student's prediction (their likely path) of how they'll do in school (Hattie, JA, 2009). This factor tells us that a student's belief about their academic future is critical. This speaks to their optimism and hopes as well as their belief in their own capacity to learn and grow. Some students think they're "stuck" at their present cognitive level. This "fixed mindset" is deadly. In addition, a separate factor - the student's attitude, is also a moderately robust predictive factor, too (Blackwell, L.S., Trzesniewski, K.H., & Dweck, C.S., 2007). Taken together, these two factors can form either a significant asset or serious liability.

Teachers may think of a student as "sharp" or "slow" and these beliefs are typically counterproductive. Labeling students as either bright or "not showing much promise" changes outcomes (Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L., 1992). Teachers tend to favor those who show "more promise" and spend less time with the less promising individuals. In fact, the research shows that NOT labeling students to begin with is better, and it's a powerful factor in student achievement (Hattie, JA, 2009).

These actions can be a liability when teachers or parents frequently make use of ability-related labels ("You're smart" or "You're a little slow"), or describe students as maintaining stable academic levels of performance over periods of time. This can implicitly convey maladaptive and lowered expectations of ability to children (Heyman, GD, 2008). Our prediction of our future does, indeed, change our beliefs and actions (Chang, 2001).

The strength of these two factors suggests that you can gain enormous "return on effort" by altering them. In other words, by altering a student's prediction and attitude about how they'll do in your class, your chances are high that their changed attitude will change how they achieve. While struggling teachers often notice or complain about student "attitudes", one of the things that strong teachers do is to purposefully alter student perceptions of themselves.

Practical Applications
Our second question is, "How can I effectively change the minds of others?" First, be blunt! Tell your students explicitly, in plain English that "Your brain can change!" Let them know IQ is NOT fixed. Teach them that new learning can change the brain. Show them videos on people that overcame obstacles to change themselves (

Focus on things that the student can alter, such as a strategy, attitude or effort. Labels can become an asset when teachers shift their thinking to that of a variable (not fixed) asset dependent. Author of Mindset, Carol Dweck, says that the way to talk to students is critical (2006). Check out this You Tube:
She suggests that you say:
"You really studied for your English test, and your improvement shows it. 
You read the material over several times, outlined it, and tested yourself on it. That really worked!" 
"I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it." 
"It was a long, hard assignment, but you stuck to it and got it done. You stayed at your desk, kept up your concentration, and kept working. That's great!" 
"I like that you took on that challenging project for your science class. It will take a lot of work--doing the research, designing the machine, buying the parts, and building it. You're going to learn a lot of great things."
Starting today, you can begin to alter one of the single biggest achievement factors. You can stack the deck in your favor. You can alter what students think about themselves! You can do that by the way you talk about learning, the brain and change. It's just as, or even more, important for the staff to know this about themselves. Ensure that every single staff (without exception) understands that the brain can change (but not if the teacher does not change). This year, let's focus on changing brains with a HUGE attitude upgrade. A better attitude means you'll see more student effort. That will make all of our jobs easier!

In closing, whether you teach kids, serve as an administrator or staff developer, or are a parent of your own kids, you have an obligation to influence others. But if their brain is the same, there's no change in behavior or attitude. Changing attitudes is the kind of change that will provide the greatest return. What is your plan for positive brainwashing your students this year?

Eric has a great newsletter with articles like this.  Access it through the website.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Who or what is NEVILLE?

Musgrave Hill State School on the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia has a history of working with professional development programs such as Teachers, Learners and Behaviours and Cooperative Learning, both instigated by two previous deputy principals. 
Most schools share a name of the suburb where they are located.  Musgrave Hill is not a suburb.  Often people did not know where the school is.  In marketing the school it was important to define a point of difference. 

Musgrave Hill has students that draw from outside the area as it is known as a school where children with special needs are successfully integrated and nurtured. This is what the school does really well. 

 It was as a result of a whole school commitment to developing the best possible learning experience for students and the implementation of ideas from the professional learning gained through professional development activities that led to a number of practices in the school.

 The notion of creating a class mission statement began initially with stage groups (multi-age class groupings) creating stage mission statements and a motto.  This in turn led to the individual classes creating their own mission statements and mottos.

 To embed this at the whole school level, the 2006 Triennial School Review led to the further development of the school mission statement.  This statement was in the strategic plan but was not something that readily came to mind for staff at the school.

 It became important that the school mission statement had value and that it became a permanent reference point for agreement about the direction of the school.  In 2011 this mission statement became part of a lengthy process of refinement. The final statement was the following.

  To nurture, engage and value individual differences for life long  learning,
empowering students

The acromyn NEVILLE that linked all the main words of the Mission Statement was born.  The next step was to try and decide what or who was NEVILLE.  Was he a mascot, a person, a doll, a caricature?  It proved hard to decide but through lengthy discussion of ideas a wordle using the mission statement was designed.

Peita Lack, Murray Gleadhill  and Candiece Ledwidge alongside the Mission Statement for the school.

 This re branding with the Wordle as the mission statement is now a highly visible and  an attractive descriptive statement for everyone entering the school to see. 
 Further work is planned to embed this mission statement as the basis for the qualities found in every classroom.  NEVILLE is not a person or a mascot or a caricature.  It needs to be embodied in everyone, in each classroom and play area of the school.  This is the next challenge.
 The fear that this will be just a one shot wonder will be dissipated when it does become part of the common language and the common understandings of everyone in the school – students and staff alike.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Study supports use of coaching

A 1989 research project was aimed at the following questions about a school which had undertaken a whole school Excellence in Teaching program two years previously.

What evidence is there to support an argument that most components of ETAC (Excellence in Teaching and Coaching) are still being used in the school?

What are these components?

Which components can be shown to have been instrumental in supporting and maintaining the program to a level at which it currently operates?

To what extent does the literature support these claims as critical in sustaining an inservice program in  the school?

The summary of the project states...

In response to the initial questions which form the focus of this study, the evidence gathered validates the claim that ETAC components are still being used in the school.  The components of the original content of the program, the peer coaching and the induction sessions have led to a residual effect and continue to influence classroom practice.  Each component is identified in the literature as a contributing factor that has sustained the effects of ETAC at this school.