All posts by Keith Birch

School leader with extensive experience leading curriculum, professional growth, information technologies and strategic projects in Australian and London independent secondary schools.

6 ‘P’ words for every meeting

 

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blog-images.forbes.com

As averse as I usually am to ‘top x lists’ (‘top 10’, etc.) because they tend to be simplistic, and lead to superficial understanding or practice, I think this one has merit – not just because it’s mine. I’ve formulated it over many years of attending, and leading, meetings at different levels in schools, including different groups: pupils, parents, middle leaders, senior leaders, and hybrids of these. If i were to tell the story of the least effective meetings that I’ve attended, I could put the reasons for their lack of effectiveness into one of the following headings.

I would argue that considering the 6 ‘P’ words below would enhance the effectiveness of all meetings; if all attendees ascribe to them, then meetings are at their most productive:

1. Purpose

Nothing startling about this one: ensuring everyone understands the purpose of the meeting brings, generally, a focus to everything that follows. It allows members to consider how their expertise relates to that purpose, and allows the committee membership to be decided by that purpose rather than some other, often bureaucratic, criterion.

2. Preparation

An obvious one: if you’re required to attend a meeting, then you’re expected to come prepared. Usually, papers, or perhaps just an agenda, have been distributed beforehand. Each attendee should arrive having read any information provided, or at least considered the contribution they might make to an agenda item, given their role within the organisation or the expertise they have that has led to their attendance.

3. Protocols

Clarifying from the outset the formalities of the meeting helps avoid wasted time and frustration. What are the terms of reference that need to be adhered to? Is a quorum needed to conduct business? How is absence from the meeting dealt with? It’s also the chairperson’s responsibility to set out – either at the start of the meeting, or beforehand – whether the meeting requires all comments to be made through the chairperson, or whether more direct discussion amongst members is acceptable, for example. Usually, it’s the degree to which the chairperson anticipates having to control interpersonal difficulties that informs this decision, in my experience. Other protocols include responsibility for taking and disseminating minutes and, at the meeting, for approving previous minutes, and so on. Another important protocol involves the way decisions are made: by majority vote, for example? It’s important to establish the competence of the meeting, too, in so far as its authority to make decisions – as opposed, say, to offer advice – needs to be understood.

4. Presence

Portable technologies, as much as I love them for their potential to make administrative tasks more efficient, have also made it much easier for meeting attendees to be distracted – just as we are concerned when pupils are not focused on the task at hand, so meeting organisers need to emphasise – perhaps as part of setting out meeting protocol – that each member is expected to be ‘present’: to be attending to the business of the meeting, not to emails, or lesson preparation, or holiday booking (I’ve seen them all). While it can be helpful to make notes as one goes, distributing scratch pads to individuals, and having succinct, comprehensive minutes taken, minimise the potential for distraction.

5. Participation

I’ve been to meetings where one or two people dominate discussions. They may hold the greatest expertise, or interest, in an item, or have the greatest investment in terms of ‘wins’ or ‘losses’. However, I would argue that contributions from all attendees should be sought, for two main reasons: first, it broadens the discussion in ways  that might not have been anticipated; second, it means that those present can’t claim not to have had the chance to offer their views. It’s also helpful if there are attendees who may not be as confident, or experienced in meetings, as others: the chairperson is not only validating their attendance, but is giving them practice of participating in this kind of forum.

6. Progress

Finally – every meeting should end with action points: a sense of what progress is expected following the meeting (and, if part of a series, prior to the next). Even if subsequent meetings are required to continue unresolved discussions, the progress expected could include reflection on what has been said already or further research to tease out an issue, and so on.

For what it’s worth.

 

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Kids who code from ‘The Weekend Australian’

http://media.theaustralian.com.au/kids-who-code/index.html

Supporting writing skills through computer programming?

How Can Coding Improve Your Child’s Writing Skills?

I’ve been struck by recent arguments (like the one in the article above) about the link between the activity of coding, and of writing in classrooms.

I think there’s a danger in pushing the links too vigorously: for sure, the more logical, analytical kind of writing shares many characteristics with sequencing and compiling lines (or other forms) of code, but the best writing often exploits and subverts convention. Perhaps it is unfortunate that, in the example above, the analogy is primarily with creative writing. The approach being promoted leads to formulaic writing that I would propose should be challenged, not entrenched, when writing creatively.

I accept that, in the early stages of teaching extended writing, a formula – or scaffold – is helpful, but overdependence on scaffolding, as I’ve observed in English/ Language Arts teaching even up to senior secondary classrooms, is too restrictive to produce authentic writing, in my opinion.

BYOD @ SRC – our experience this year

It’s certainly been an interesting year, rolling out a BYOD program in a school where an additional 200+ students will be joining us at the same time.

For an overview of the year, visit the College’s blog, which I started and then maintained as a way to collect information about developments as they occurred, and to which parents could be directed. This saved an enormous amount of repetitive email replies, and assisted parents – particularly those joining us in 2015 – in understanding the philosophy as well as the practical requirements of the program.

Our starting point was the lack of recurrent Federal Government funding for 1:1 devices, purchased in 2011 and 2012. As these devices approach end-of-(useful)-life, a replacement strategy was needed. We had three options, at the end of the day:

  1. retire all of the devices and return to labs
  2. purchase College-owned devices and continue to lend them to students
  3. make the provision of a suitable device the responsibility of the family.

Clearly, we’ve opted for the third of these: the first would see learning suffer, and the second would still be funded by parents. Our rationale for the third, in terms of the reasons in its favour (as opposed to against the other two options), included:

  1. recognising that students and families will already have devices they prefer to use and which are compatible with their home networks
  2. breaking the expectation that school-appropriate technology is only that which the College provides – with a wider range of hardware and software in play, students’ perceptions will shift in this regard.

Our rollout is staggered, so that 3 of our 6 year levels will be BYOD in 2015, and the other 3 in 2016. For details, click here.

Some factors that have simplified matters:

  • As we had already removed student network drives, we did not have to plan for their access via BYOD.
  • Much of our teaching materials for students is on browser-based sites such as Sharepoint and Schoolbox, helping us to be more device-agnostic
  • Our use of an e-commerce portal (optional) has streamlined major support issues for us by consolidating support through one log/ helpdesk
  • We have been able to use retired College devices as swaps when BYOD devices require extended offsite support
  • Our infrastructure – particularly wireless – has been tweaked and upgraded to cope fairly well with the number and variety of devices.

On the whole we would count the year a success. There were some teething problems with deliveries and collections, and a relative small number of devices have had chronic problems requiring multiple returns, but these have been managed. Mind you, those families affected by the repeated failure of their device have justifiably not considered the year a major success, but we have been able to issue replacement devices and monitor the fairly slow repairs process, providing feedback where helpful.

We are about to begin the second phase of the rollout, with the remaining 3 year levels requiring BYOD in 2016. We are updating the blog, hosting a device information session supported by most vendors (Apple and Microsoft will not accept our invitation to show off their wares, as opposed to HP, who are sending a representative), and opening up the e-commerce portal for orders in Term 4.

On the whole, our transition from College-owned devices to BYOD has been relatively painless.

11 Ways Finland’s Education System Shows Us that “Less is More”.

One could do worse for a framework to review what we all do as educators. Well worth the time to read and reflect.

Filling My Map

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When I left my 7th grade math classroom for my Fulbright research assignment in Finland I thought I would come back from this experience with more inspiring, engaging, innovative lessons.  I expected to have great new ideas on how to teach my mathematics curriculum and I would revamp my lessons so that I could include more curriculum, more math and get students to think more, talk more and do more math.

This drive to do more and More and MORE is a state of existence for most teachers in the US….it is engrained in us from day one.  There is a constant pressure to push our students to the next level to have them do bigger and better things.  The lessons have to be more exciting, more engaging and cover more content.  This phenomena  is driven by data, or parents, or administrators or simply by our work-centric society where we…

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