Monday, August 31, 2009

The coolest school librarian ever!

For a while now I've been waxing lyrical about a blog that I follow called Skerricks. Written by Ruth Buchanan, an Australian Teacher Librarian (and my personal hero!), it focusses on the things that happen within the school library that Ruth looks after.
Skerricks is always full of amusing anecdotes, helpful resources for TL's, and great ideas to give your school library the WOW factor.
Today's post 'Trailer Time' tells about how Ruth set up a lunchtime movie-fest in the library, showing trailers for movies that have bookish connections. Of course, she wisely pointed out to the students that the library had books available for borrowing that related to said movies! (She's no slouch on the library promotion front!)
Ruth is so cool!
Why don't you head over to Skerricks and check it out?

My morning cuppa.



Just enjoying some Twinings 'Afternoon Tea' (in the morning!) using the gorgeous handmade tea set that my sister gave me for my birthday. Thanks Kathie!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Attitude of Gratitude



I am passionate about committing to living a life of gratitude.

Why?

  1. I have soooo much to be thankful for.
  2. It helps keep me mentally healthy.
  3. It makes me more able to make a positive difference in the world.

What do I mean by living a life of gratitude? (It definitely doesn't mean being thankful for everything, even bad things.)

It means:

  • Noticing good things, experiencing them fully, and feeling thankful for them.
  • Letting people know that I truly appreciate them when I thank them.
  • Taking the time to consciously 'count my blessings', even when things get tough.

The 'Attitude of Gratitude' is number one, in my 'five things'. To find out more about the 'five things', head to Living Your Five.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Living Your Five

I encourage you all - yes, you! - to visit Living Your Five and to get involved.
I visit the blogs that I follow regularly, and I see so much that I love! So much that informs me and entertains me; book reviews, photos, videos, opinion pieces, personal stories...
The blogs that I follow make me laugh, and occasionally, cry. They make me say to myself, 'I must try/see/read/do that!'. I follow links that lead me to other blogs, useful articles, competitions and interesting issues. I 'meet' new friends, leave comments, and take away lots and lots of ideas.
Nothing has excited me as much as Living Your Five.
I don't want to say too much, because I want to pique your interest so that you head over there to see for yourself. But it's all about figuring out what is most important in your life; what excites and motivates you, what you're passionate about; and putting it into practice.
And of course there is fun and competitions where you can win stuff!
If this post inspires you to check out Living Your Five then leave me a comment to let me know. And stay tuned for more...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Manifesto for the School...Are we taking over the world?

Beare, H. (2001). Building a manifesto for the school as a provider. In Creating the future school (pp.113-127). London: Routledge/Falmer.

Some chapter titles are more scary than others...

"Make your own and the school's objectives explicit, simple, and crystal clear." (Beare, 2001, p. 113)

This chapter deals with the issue of how to organise the school to ensure that it achieves its core goals. It discusses the use of school charters, in which an agreement is made between a school and the Education Department covering:
  • the school's current profile and underlying philosophy
  • the school's curriculum and learning program (including targets)
  • the school's learning environment
  • the school's accountability
  • the school's management
  • the school's resources

This document includes what the school is now like, what is stands for as an institution, what its priorities are, what criteria it will be assessed on, and how each of its functioning parts are to be made to conform with its vision statement. This document could also be called a strategic plan.

School charters or strategic plans should help a school to be more specific about its intentions, more efficient and effective, and more accountable for educational outcomes.

The quality of learning outcomes should rank above all other considerations.

The steps to take in writing such a document include:

  1. draw a profile of the school as it is at present
  2. compose a vision statement for the school
  3. bring the school's objectives, priorities and budget in line with the vision

The fundamental principles of the school's vision must be translated into a practical plan of action. Each objective will be written as a set of implementation strategies with targets and performance indicators to measure progress. The responsibility with coming up with 'winning tactics' is entrusted to the teaching staff, as long as they are consistent with the overall strategy. A useful technique is determining where we want to be, then working out where we need to be at intermediate points along the way in order to achieve the ultimate objective.

When the document is complete, it should ensure that everything within the school conforms with the vision, the objectives, and with the detailed plan. Everyone in the school is working toward the same goals and is on the same page. Anything that falls outside the agreed goals and priorities is not given resources.

What is not said in this chapter, but is obvious to me, is that for this to work, the whole school must participate and have ownership of the vision, objectives and plans of the school. Without this, there is either a dictatorship, or anarchy.

Must.Write.My.Assignment.

My ETL501 Assignment is due on Monday 7th September. Less than two weeks away. I must
  1. Critically evaluate 2 sets of website evaluation criteria.
  2. Critically evaluate 4 websites in relation to a specified topic.

Topic 4 (of ETL501) is titled Critical Evaluation of Print and Electronic Resources, and it's where most of the information needed for the assignment is.

Herring (my lecturer, and author of our text the internet and information skills: a guide for teachers and school librarians) suggests that when evaluating websites, we need to consider

  • technical criteria (does it work?)
  • reliability criteria (can we trust it?)
  • educational criteria (is it suitable for our purpose and audience?)

In The ABC's of Website Evaluation, Kathy Schrock (guru of website evaluation) discusses many aspects of the website that should be assessed, including:

authority, bias, citations, dates, efficiency, fallacy, graphics, information availability, links, navigability, ...

The difficulty is that both these authoritative sources of information about website evaluation are written in prose form, albeit with dot points included. When comparing other sets of website evaluation criteria with these sources, we must read and consider carefully, as there is no quick checklist to consult.

In fact, the whole first part of the assignment can become a bit of a circular argument: we have a set of criteria for website evaluation that we are evaluating, and what criteria are we using for our evaluation, and have we evaluated the criteria that we are using to evaluate the criteria...

There are lots and lots of sets of website evaluation criteria out there. Finding a couple of sets to evaluate is not a problem. Making sure that my evaluation is clear and concise is the issue.

For the second part of the assignment, I am going to consider a topic from the Stage 5 (Years 9 and 10) Mathematics syllabus (NSW). Mathematics!!! (I hear you gasp!) Yes, folks, maths. I am a maths teacher, and the section of the course that I'm thinking about is PAS5.3.4 'Draws and interprets a variety of graphs including parabolas, cubics, exponentials and circles and applies coordinate geometry techniques to solve problems.'

This topic can be time-consuming and difficult to teach. It involves a lot of graphs, which, if hand drawn, take a long time and are prone to errors. The syllabus itself advises 'Graphics calculators and various computer programs facilitate the investigation of the shapes of curves and the effect on the equation of multiplying by, or adding, a constant.' That is mathematics speak for "A good website/computer application can make graphing quick and easy. The results are right before your eyes! A lot of different equations can be graphed in a short amount of time, and their similarities, differences and any patterns can be investigated. The effect on the graph of changing certain parts of the equation can be seen quickly."

So what I am looking for is some websites that provide opportunities for students to graph equations. But more than that, I'm looking for websites that provide some sort of structured investigation, have an interactive component, and a certain level of animation! But what I have to remember is that the point of the assignment is NOT to find 4 wonderful websites that meet my needs. The point of the assignment is to use website evaluation criteria to evaluate 4 websites that I do find.

Wish me luck, and any suggestions for websites can be left in the comments and will be very much appreciated!

Internet Searching 101



What do you do if you need information? Google it.

Topic 3 of ETL501 is titled 'Effective Search Strategies', and is all about how teacher librarians can:

  1. Become experts at using information retrieval tools and techniques to find information for teachers and students.
  2. Help teachers and students to improve their own internet search strategies.

When my children have a school project and use the internet to search for information, watching them makes me want to scream. In fact, I'd rather not be in the house at all when they're searching the internet for information.

Why?

They have only one option for searching for information - Google.

They have only one preferred site - Wikipedia.

They have unreasonable expectations i.e. that they can type a question into google and that it will spit out the answer, that their search will take a maximum of 5 minutes, and that the information they get will be easy to understand, interesting, and correct.

AAAAAAAAARRRGH!!!

You would think, having a wonderful mother like me, so knowledgable and helpful (!), they would enjoy searching for information on the internet. NOOOOO...

Anything I suggest is boring, too difficult, too time-consuming, or just plain WRONG.

The cries of "I don't get it!", "Why is it giving me this - it has nothing to do with what I'm looking for!", "There's nothing on it!" and "I can't find anything!" are enough to send me running in the opposite direction.

Interestingly enough, they seem to have no trouble finding what they want to look at on You Tube! Of course, I could explain to them that it's because they're actually using the right tool for the job, in the right way, and that they don't mind getting sidetracked by other, unrelated information, but why bother...they wouldn't listen to me anyway!

Enough raving...back to the topic at hand - effective search strategies.

I cannot tell you how fabulous I think Noodletools is! It has, among other things, a feature called 'Choose the best search'. It has links to many different search engines and directories, listed under headings like I need facts, I need opinions and perspectives, and I need help to define my topic.

As an exercise, I used Clusty to search using the terms volcanoes schools teaching. I had never seen or heard of Clusty before, but Noodletools suggests it as good for brainstorming topic ideas, narrowing a topic or uncovering buried sites. Results are displayed in clusters.

The idea of the exercise was to find sites suitable for a secondary school geography teacher to use (it did not say whether the teacher was using the sites for his/her own subject information, ideas for teaching strategies/lesson plans, or to suggest to students for their own research/learning activities).

The results list top ten found http://www.teach-nology.com/themes/science/volcano which would provide the teacher with some options to look at.

When I clicked on the 'science' cluster I also got http://www.erth.waikato.ac.nz/schools which is designed to provide assistance with the teaching of Earth Sciences.

When I clicked on the 'lesson, plan' cluster I also got http://geology.com/teacher which has a wide range of teacher resources.

This exercise highlighted for me a very important point. If a third party is looking for websites (for example, the teacher librarian looking for websites for the geography teacher), then the instructions on what is being looked for better be very clear and specific. The purpose of the information is especially critical, otherwise the teacher librarian may think they have come up with some wonderful websites, only to find out that they don't do what the teacher wants them to do. This is a similar problem to one I have when I'm helping my children. Inevitably when I get them to some websites that I think will be wonderful, they reply, "No, Mum, that's not what I want.". Do your own searching is a pretty good rule of thumb!

Apart from Noodletools, there are some other web-based helps for successful internet searching. AskScott bills itself as a 'virtual reference librarian', provides a service similar to Noodletools, and has an internet search tutorial.

The Seven Habits is a fount of knowledge! Links galore to articles galore about all aspects of internet searching. The most useful bits (in my opinion!):

  • Use quotation marks around phrases to tell the search engine to only bring back pages that include the search terms exactly how you typed them in order.
  • Get out of the habit of using one search engine for everything. Like Noodletools, this encourages asking yourself questions such as "Do I have a general search question that can be aked with a few key words?", "Do I need an answer quickly and don't want to search for it?" (My children - should use - Answers.com, BrainBoost, Factbites or Ask Jeeves.), "Do I need help narrowing or broadening my search?", "Do I need academic or research oriented results?", "Am I looking for multimedia?" etc.
  • Get some tricks up your sleeve, like using inurl: , boolean logic, and site: .
  • Learn a bit about how things work so that you are using the right tool for the job.

As another exercise, I used Surfwax to search using the terms 'drought in NSW' causes effects. I had never used this metasearch engine before. The initial search gave me 388000 pages found, but I discovered an excellent feature that I could use to narrow my search focus. It provides 'sitesnap' which gives a snapshot of the site, followed by a list of 'focus words' used on the site. By adding the focus words 'drought problems' to the search I cut it down to 43 pages found, and adding 'causes big dry' I got just 10 good results. With more experience and practice, I think I could get good results from this tool.

The intention of the exercise was again to find sites suitable for a secondary school teacher. So I decided to try Librarian's Internet Index which is billed as 'websites you can trust'. My initial search using 'drought in NSW' causes effects got no results. Using just 'drought in NSW' was not successful either. Using just drought got 46 pages. On the positive side, there was an excellent description of the content of each page given. On the negative side, nothing found was suitable.

I also had a go at a Yahoo video search, thinking that the teacher might appreciate a documentary to show the class. Unfortunately, I was not successful at finding anything useful.

I'm sure that with practice and experience, I will be able to pull this all together to become a fabulously effective internet searcher. But will my children...???

Monday, August 24, 2009

Avoiding Uni Work




By now, you may have figured out that I often use my blog to avoid doing useful, productive work like academic reading and writing assignments!
It seems like the more work I have to do, the more addicted I am to 'just one more post'.
Velvet, from vvb32reads has bestowed me with both of these awards recently. I am such a lucky girl to have good friends like Velvet. I promise I'll pass these on just as soon as I get around to it!
Also, while doing the rounds of the blogs that I follow, I found this cool challenge at Eclectic/Eccentric. I am not going to participate, but it looks fun, so why don't you check it out?

Feel Good Music for Spring

It feels like spring here today. It's warm, and I can smell a heady mix of Jasmine and wood smoke (from the Rural Fire Service doing hazard reduction burns before the bushfire season starts).

Here's some music that I think is just right for driving in the car with the windows down!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!


It's my birthday today, and this is a picture of the beautiful bracelet that my husband and children gave me. Gorgeous isn't it! I may have had a hand in steering them in the right direction...(junk mail does come in handy sometimes!)

They also bought me a copy of Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris, number 4 in the Southern Vampires/Sookie Stackhouse series. Hooray! Better yet, my husband and I have started watching True Blood together. It's always better to have someone to share the fun with. One of these days I'll get around to writing some more reviews for the Sookie Stackhouse challenge...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Being Thankful


I've had a somewhat difficult week, mainly because I've been feeling the pinch when it comes to getting everything done for uni. My assignment due dates are rapidly approaching, and my pile of academic reading seems to be getting bigger rather than smaller. But today I've had a day where I've been reminded of all the good things in my life, and I'd like to pay them a little tribute now.

1. My husband.
He really is a sweetheart, and very helpful, rather multi-talented, and quite good-looking to boot! The best thing...he notices when I seem to be going under due to stress, and takes steps to make my life easier. What a catch!

2. My friend Fiona (no, not me, the other Fiona)
She's very thoughtful. Great to talk to. We have a laugh, but can also talk about the serious things.

3. My family.
I'm so thankful that I have healthy happy kids. My parents are always so helpful. My brother and sister and their partners and children fill my life with love and joy. Even my in-laws are nice!!! They are genuinely loving. How blessed am I!

I hope this post inspires you to think about the wonderful people that you have in your life and take the time to be thankful for them.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Attack of the Zombie Chickens!


Many, many thanks to Sarbear at My Life is an Effing Fairy Tale for awarding me the Zombie Chicken Award!

This prestigious award is given to bloggers who, and I quote,...
"regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words"

I'm blushing...

I have decided to be just a little bit serious in passing on this award, and am giving it to some blogs that produce very helpful, library-related information that helps me along the road to becoming a teacher librarian.

1. Skerricks
2. The Hub
3. Libraries Interact
4. Librarian in Black
5. ANZ litlovers blog
6. Hey Jude
7. Library Garden

If you stop by one of these blogs, please leave them a comment and tell them that the zombie chickens sent you!

Are your eyes glazed over yet?

Welch, L. (2006). Groundwork: the situation analysis. In the other 51 weeks: A marketing handbook for librarians (pp. 25-43). Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies.

This article looks at planning for the library from a marketing point of view.

Good marketing relies on making the client paramount in our considerations. We can think of our (the library's) client as the school itself, or our clients as our students and teachers. I think we probably need to look at it both ways.

The SWOT technique helps us to analyse our current situation:
S - strengths
W - weaknesses (clients go elsewhere) This is quite an issue for a school library. How many students or teachers search independently for information or reading material at home on the internet or at the public library etc.
O - opportunities (new trends to be capitalised on) This also seems quite applicable to the school library scenario. Often by the time schools get new technologies, they are not so new anymore!
T - threats (things that effect the library's ability to deliver) Again very relevant. Budget and staffing shortfalls are obvious threats, as is the necessity for teacher librarians to be scheduled for RFF.

The library's goals must be consistent with the school (of course). The 'success' of the library depends on its performance being recognised within the context of the goals of the school.

Schools with a strong culture have clear identifiable values. Unfortunately some schools have struggled with change and have not got a clear vision or mission. A mission statement should be brief, distinctive, enthusing and realistic. It should state the basic philosophy and purpose of the organisation. It should include both an opportunity and a statement of commitment.

Changes in technology, legislation, and social trends (etc) can change the organisational environment in which the library operates. The school itself must cope with these changes too.

In order to honestly appraise the current performance of the library, we must:
* List the client groups that the library serves and identify their real needs.
* List the current services and products provided.
* Identify the true cost of these services.
* Identify who uses the services.
* Ask 'What is the gap between what our clients want and what we offer?'.
* Consider what should be retained, what should be modified and what should be discontinued.
* Ask 'What new offerings could we develop?'.

To transform rhetoric to action: translate the mission statement into specific objectives, then make goals which are quantifiable and state who, what when and how. Finally, decide on how resources will be allocated to meet the different goals.

Re-reading what I have written, there's a bit of this and a bit of that here. It all makes sense to me. I think though, that teachers and others working in schools are often so overworked and rushed that they seldom can take time to think through issues like this in a systematic way. I think they could relate to the cry, "We don't have time to do it properly!" The next challenge is to work out how to make the time to do it properly.

Are we there yet?

Reading, reading, reading,
Thinking, thinking, thinking,
Writing, writing, writing,
But what am I learning?

Davies, B.J. & Davies, B. (2005). The strategic dimensions of leadership. In B. Davies, L. Ellison & C. Bowring-Carr (Eds.), School leadership in the 21st century: Developing a strategic approach (2nd ed.) (pp.7-16). London & New York: Routledge Falmer.

Strategic leaders have the following characteristics:
1. They can link long-range visions to daily work.
2. They can translate strategy into action.
3. They can identify the projects to be undertaken to get where they want to go.
4. They are able to align people and unify organisations.
5. They can influence people and direct their actions through goals.
6. They can determine the critical moments when interventions will be able to develop new visions and/or strategies.
7. They have the insight to know when to do something as well as what to do.
8. They know it is important to help people to develop deeper capabilities and understandings to enable them to meet new challenges long term.
9. They have a sense of dissatisfaction or restlessness with the present, being able to see the 'leap' that they want to take.
10. They have the capacity to absorb, learn and to create an organisation which supports learning.
11. They are able to adapt as required and respond flexibly.
12. They are opportunistic and proactive.
13. They have leadership wisdom - a balance of various intelligences, personal values and the ability to resolve conflicts.

Don't these strategic leaders sound wonderful?!?

A School Without a Principal


This picture has abolutely nothing to do with this post. I just think it's cool!

This next article seems to be the perfect antidote to my last post about lack of leadership in my group work assignment team.

Barnett, D., McKowen, C. & Bloom, G. (1998). A school without a principal. Educational Leadership, 55(7), 48-49.

This article is the personal reflections of teachers working at Anzar High School in California. The school uses a team leadership model, and considers its 'Communication Guidelines' to be the centre of the school culture.

These guidelines include:
* Commitment to practicing good communication.
* Collectively owning problems and collectively solving them. This means that teachers are learning to anticipate problems that would not always be apparent to teachers. They commit to the idea that the needs of the school outweigh the needs of individual teachers or of the teachers as a group.
* Allowing conflict and being accountable for speaking up.
* Commitment to help and support others.
* Commitment to honesty.

The teachers sing the praises of their school team leadership model. They concede that it is challenging, but they truly believe that it works.

I wonder how many teachers would enjoy working in this type of school? I wonder how it will go in the long term?

And I wonder if there is anything in this that can be applied to my own experiences. Mu first impression is that this sort of teamwork is time consuming and takes quite a while to become established. Not ideal for a short term team with a deadline.
So, a bit more reflection on teamwork is in order. Last night my assignment group had a chat session to consolidate what we had individually managed in terms of the group task. It wasn't the most successful group session.

Firstly, it's hard to multi-task when you're using a chat facility. If you're talking via skype, you can be scanning a website or document on the screen or digging up an article from the pile on your desk, but when you're 'chatting' you need most of your attention trained on reading and typing. That was an issue for us, as someone would seem to drop off the earth for a while, but it was just that they were loading a new document onto google docs, or editing the powerpoint. It was virtually impossible to do two things at once.

The good news is, I learnt something new! I now know how to split my screen in two so that I can have the chat on one half, and another page open on the other half. Yay for me!

Secondly, I'm starting to feel the frustration building amongst the team members. Just little things, but I'm not feeling the love, the way I was when we began! I get the impression that a couple of people are trying really hard to play nice and get along!

In my most recent post about team work, I briefly considered the idea of leadership, noted that our group didn't have a leader, and wondered if we needed one. Well, I think we would be more effective with a leader, but I also think that it is impossible to have one in our case. I don't think anyone would want one of the group to take on that role. So it's not going to happen.

My next reading:

Beck, J. & Yeager, N. (1994). Making teams work: An underused window of opportunity. In The leader's window: Mastering the four styles of leadership to build high-performing teams (pp. 183-206). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Why do teams sometimes fail? We have a culture of individualism. If a teamwork exercise is injected into an organisation which doesn't have structures to support teamwork, the 'team' is a gimmick, rather than something that is integrated with the daily workplace. I can relate...

How can teams succeed? Those in charge of leading teams must learn skills to make their team work. and if you don't have a leader...

Each team goes through developmental stages.
1. Forming
Group members need to know: 'Why we are here?' and 'What's my piece of the action?'.
Communication in this stage should be mostly downward from the leader to the group members. The leader should provide information, clear directions and complete explanations.
Our group is still trying to do this bit without a clear leader.
2. Focusing
This stage centres on buy-in and ownership. Structures, procedures and norms are established here. The leader should encourage questions, ideas and input, and facilitate communication. A lot of the communication at this stage should be upward, from team members to the leader.
Our group provides opportunities to communicate and add ideas and input, but we go around in circles a lot because we don't have a leader.
3. Performing
This stage is characterised by productivity. Group members need responsibility, the opportunity to use their knowledge and skills, and feedback and recognition of their efforts.
We are trying to be productive...
4. Leveling
The group needs a catalyst for change to refocus on new goals. The leader can give group members the opportunity to share in the problem solving process to re-clarify roles and the mission of the team.
Our group will never get to this stage, as we will disband once the assignment is done. (Please Roy, if you read this, I don't really want you to do this, but I think we'd learn a lot more if we were forced to keep our groups and continue to work on more projects.)

So, my main observation from this reading is that our group would perform much better with a leader. Hmmmm.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bloggers are the Nicest People!


The Lemonade Award
awarded for great attitude or gratitude

received from Miss R at Miss Remmers' Review.

Isn't it wonderful that although I haven't reviewed a book in ages, there are still people out there reading and enjoying my blog! To find out a bit more about The Lemonade Award, and see who else was awarded one, click here.
Thanks so much for the encouragement Miss R! And now I'm going to spread the love by nominating some other bloggers that demonstrate great attitude and gratitude.
  1. Sarbear at My Life is an Effing Fairy Tale! Honestly, I would award Sarbear simply for her blog's title! And she has an ipod on her blog...v.v.cool.
  2. Witch Baby at Witch Baby's Journey. (My number 1 commenter of late.)
  3. Dawn at She Is Too Fond Of Books ...and it has addled her brain! Yes, I like a bit of humour in my life!
  4. Cathy at Cathy's library skills progress. You need a bit of humour with your library skills progress...
  5. Rachael at Reflective Journal of a student Teacher-Librarian. OK, so the blog title doesn't really 'pop'...
  6. Penny at Pen's TL Blog.
  7. Amber at amber.

Congratulations one and all!

Reflections on Teamwork

Law, S. & Glover, D. (2000). Leading Effective Teams. In Educational leadership and learning: Practice, policy and research (pp. 71-86). Buckingham: Open University Press.
Law and Glover relate teamwork and the leadership of effective teams to the educational (school) context. I am going to consider the article from the point of view of one who is currently working in a team. How is our group for assignment 1 going? Can I see any pointers towards success or failure in this article?
A team is a group that is deliberately constructed for a particular purpose. Well, that's certainly true of us! We've been thrown together to:
1. Complete a set task (assignment 1A) which is a powerpoint presentation including the purpose and audience of our article, an abstract of our article, and a list of references.
2. Demonstrate our ability to collaborate on a task, communicate with one another, and 'team build'.
3. Provide us with opportunities and experiences in collaboration, communication and teamwork that we can later reflect on for assignment 1B.
The benefits of working in a team include:
  • help/support
  • coordinates activities
  • generates commitment
  • meets human need for belonging
  • identifies learning needs
  • provides learning opportunities
  • enhances communication
  • enhances working environment

So how does our team stack up? I think that completing the task of assignment 1A as a group, rather than individually, definitely provides help/support, identifies learning needs and provides learning opportunities. We share ideas, insights, helpful resources we have found and other knowledge. And if we didn't have such a DEADLINE to worry about, I would say that it definitely makes our work more "satisfying, stimulating and enjoyable" (Law & Glover, p. 73). But our group is 'artificial', in that we are not people working together in an organisation that have formed a team. In that case, I can see how a team approach would enhance communication and coordinate activities. It doesn't really apply in our case. How about the idea of generating commitment? I'm pretty sure that we're all pretty committed to passing our assignment! Are we more committed out of a sense of responsibility to the group? Lastly, the human need for belonging? I'm pretty sure that we're all having that need met outside our uni studies...

Law & Glover discuss the development of teams. Team members face issues along the road to team cohesion including "Am I part of this group?", "What degree of influence do I have in this group?", "What is the level of intimacy in this group?", and "Does the group like and accept me?". Often a team goes through the developmental phases of 'forming', 'storming', 'norming' and 'performing' (finally 'adjourning'). Teams may not work effectively if they haven't worked through their issues, resolved their leadership, or clearly defined their purpose, mission and objectives.

And here's where our group (and all the others grappling with this assignment) will have troubles. Firstly, we just don't have time for our team to develop. We need to go rapidly from 'forming' to 'performing', with very little time for us to overcome our worries about influence, acceptance and intimacy, or work through our objectives to come to a shared understanding. Secondly, leadership? What leadership? We have been thrown together as four equals. Do we have a leader? Do we need a leader? Will we each take on the leadership role at different times?

Next Law & Glover talk about conformity within teams. The team environment tends to push members towards conformity. Firstly, we use the other group members beliefs, attitudes and opinions to validate our own views, and secondly, we want to be liked and accepted. Is this dynamic at work in our group? Well certainly we're using our fellow group members as sounding boards to refine our own ideas about the task. "What do you think this means?", "Are we expected to...?", "I think...what do you think?", are examples of our discussions. I'm sure that at least a little part of us also wants to be liked and accepted, but I think more important is the fact that we are working to such a short deadline. This puts pressure on us to conform purely for the purpose of 'getting on with it'. Too much questioning and disagreeing wastes too much precious time that we could be using on the task itself.

I found the table on p. 81 of the Glover & Law article particularly interesting. It was adapted from the work of Belbin. It lists the different roles that can be undertaken by individuals working in a team and some of the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of each role. For example, the 'Innovator' is a serious-minded individual who synthesises new ideas. While he/she has imagination, intellectual ability and creativity, he/she tends to prefer ideas over people, and can disregard practical issues. Fascinating stuff!

There is an increasing emphasis on teamwork in the field of school effectiveness. It seems that classroom relationships and management approaches reflect the larger school culture of relationships and management. And student learning outcomes are effected by student-teacher relationships.

Lastly, Glover & Law suggest some traps that teams can fall into which diminish their effectiveness:

  • emphasising tasks over process
  • too much discussion and not enough problem-solving action
  • too little celebration of achievement (must not fall into this one!!!)
  • too much reactive behaviour and not enough proactive thinking
  • not enough development of team skills and behaviour

All in all, much food for thought.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What is 'reference' material, and other curly questions.

Topic 2 of ETL501 is called Print and Electronic Information Resources. The first issue it addresses is 'Exactly what is the definition of reference material in the age of electronic resources?'
My first thought, harking back to my school days, was the 'reference section' in my local public library. Located upstairs, it housed World Book, Encyclopaedia Brittanica, and various other dictionaries and atlases. The books could not be borrowed, so I used to either sit at one of the desks laboriously making notes, or carefully photocopy the pages that I needed (making sure I budgeted my money).
Now, of course, not being able to borrow a physical resource is not an issue! So what exactly constitutes a 'reference work'?
Katz, W.A. (2002). Reference librarians on the information highway. In Introduction to reference work: Volume 1 Basic Information Services (8th ed.) (pp. 3-38). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Katz lists bilbliographies, indices, encyclopaedias, yearbooks, almanacs, handbooks, directories, dictionaries, biographical sources e.g. Who's Who, atlases, guidebooks and dictionaries of place names as various reference sources. What distinguishes these sources?
They provide definitive, authoritative information. They compile information for ease of reference. So we have now arrived at something of a definition: a reference work allows for quick, easy access to authoritative information.
The internet allows free access to many reference works including encyclopaedias, dictionaries, biographical sources, directories, bibliographies and indexes. However, some free to access sources on the internet lack the authority to be labelled reference works. The forum hosted quite a lot of debate on the subject of Wikipedia. Should we advise our students against using it? Encourage them to use it wisely?
Without training and help, our students are going to make a lot of mistakes and run into a lot of trouble when searching for information online. Accepting what's written on Wikipedia as gospel may be the least of their problems! Some of the pros of Wikipedia are: children can usually understand what they read, it is generally accurate on most matters, it is familiar, and easy to find. So as long as children understand the limitations (i.e. lack of authority), I think we can teach them to use Wikipedia as informed readers. Perhaps they can read the Wikipedia entry on a topic to get an overview, which will help them to identify keywords for further searching. Perhaps they can use the links provided to find more authoritative sources on the topic.
Unfortunately, many of the authoritative reference works online are available only by subscription or the payment of a fee.
I attempted to use Katz's criteria to evaluate Merriam-Webster Online The Language Center.
Purpose, Scope and Currency can be evaluated by accessing the "About Us" page and heading to "FAQ". It settles the fact that the information is directly from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and that the same publisher is responsible for the website and the dictionary itself. Check! That also covers Authority.
How about Audience? Merriam-Webster is an American dictionary, so not the first choice for Australian students. However, a closer look at the "About Us" page leads to some interesting information for potential advertisers. The page waxes lyrical about the well-educated, affluent users that frequent the Merriam-Webster site!
It's free, so that settles Cost. Check!
Now what about the Search experience, Navigational Aids, Logical and Practical Organisation, Graphics, Layout and Links? I've got one word for you: ADVERTISING!!! The brightest, most attention-getting things on the page are the ads. They distract. They get in the way. The actual search results are displayed with the minimum of fuss, but the page is so busy that children would find it difficult to navigate back to their search. And it links to other (subscription-based) Merriam-Webster products! Buh-Bow! (That is the sound of the contestant getting it very, very wrong!)
The last criteria is Objectivity. I'm at a loss as to what to say here. It's a dictionary, and I'm not sure how to evaluate objectivity.
Would I recommend Merriam-Webster to be used by my students? No.
My next little assignment was to head off to the Australian Dictionary of Biography Online. I evaluated the information given on two prominent Australians, one past and one present.
For my present day Australian, I chose Jane Rutter, a virtuoso flautist. Unfortunately, she wasn't listed.
For the other I searched for Dame Nellie Melba. The information seemed thorough. Check! The article provided links to other articles within the site such as people named within her biography that were also listed. However it gave no links to more information about Dame Nellie Melba outside the site. And the language level? Too difficult for primary school students and probably more suitable for senior rather than junior high school students. So would I suggest using this site to my students? Perhaps...
Next I checked out the Commonwealth Government Online Directory. I searched 'Immigration', and got 120 results, linking me to different key people or offices, their responsibilites, and how to contact them. Useful for school students???
Lastly, a search of the Australian National Bibliographic Database Libraries Australia. This resource lists the copies of books, CDs, kits, and other physical resources that are available at every library in Australia. Great if you want to track a specific item down!
Whew! That's it for me and topic 2!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Collaboration, Communication and Teamwork





These guys look like they're having fun, don't they? It's good to do things with a friend!



This semester I have a group work assignment. I wasn't feeling too enthusiastic, to be honest. It isn't that I don't like working with other people...nothing like that! It's just that I know how hard it is for me to fit in my uni study with all my other responsibilities. I know it is exactly the same for my fellow group workers. So I guess I worried that we would find it hard to coordinate our free time, and I also hated the thought of holding up other people's work by being too slow.

Another issue is the fact that we instinctively prioritise the group work above our other work so that we don't inconvenience the others, and then end up falling behind in other areas. It's hard to find the correct balance. Also, we tend to bend over backwards to be helpful and 'make it work', so to speak, rather than being able to just selfishly plow ahead on our own agenda.

So, anyway, how is it going so far? I'm glad you asked...

We have settled on a topic! Hooray! Greg is going to run it by our lecturer to get the go-ahead, but we're pretty happy with it. "Improving Student Learning by Aligning Information Services with the School's Mission Statement." Sounds impressive, huh?

Our skype conference call was a bit of a dud. We just couldn't seem to have all of us talking together and being able to all hear each other, and we weren't exactly sure what the problem was. Since we had all set aside the time to talk, and we really needed to settle on a topic, we used the chat room on our group work site instead. Linda and Greg helpfully updated our wiki so that we had a record of everything we discussed.

So now we're moving ahead on getting some resources together before our next chat on Wednesday night. It's great that we're making progress, but I must admit that because I'll want to make a good showing on Wed with the others, it will put pressure on my ability to do any other uni work. My other subject's first assigment will be suffering. There just aren't enough hours in the day, and I'm so talented at wasting time!

Anyway, onward and upward...

Castaway in Oz (2)





My daughter helpfully posed for me "reading" the copy of The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand that I won on a contest hosted by Beth Fish Reads.

We were at her brother's footy match.

Josh plays for Gosford Tigers Junior Australian Football Club Under 10's, and an "Aussie Rules" match seemed like a suitable Australian adventure for The Castaways to embark on!

To find out more about Australian Football, head to the Australian Football Leagues official website.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hough, M. & Paine, J. (1997). Collaborative decision making with teams. (pp. 110-127). In Creating quality learning communities. South Melbourne: Macmillan.

Did not find this reading nearly as exciting as the last one!

This reading develops the idea of 'collaborative decision making' which is an open system where knowledge and power is shared. The decision making is undertaken by a team which is genuinely representative of all stakeholders.
The authors name a 'lead learning team', which writes the strategic plan for the school and projects outcomes in line with the shared vision and beliefs of the school. They then go on to write the annual management plan, detailing particular outcomes and strategies.
A 'task learning team', in contrast, is established to address a particular system within the school, and make recommendations to the principal in regard to implementation of their decisions. This approach leads to 'roving leadership', where any member of the school community is empowered to play a leadership role.

It's no wonder I'm always behind on my uni reading.





Just could not resist this giveaway that Velvet is hosting at vvb32 reads! The picture at the top (red dress) is the 'mad men me' that I made! Voluptuous, sexy. Underneath is how I have represented Jane Austen in 'mad men form'. Oh, dear, she looks a bit mousy doesn't she!!! What fun!

A Six Step Approach to Decision Making

Harvey, T.R., Bearley, W.L. & Corkrum, S.M. (2001). Core steps in decision making. In The practical decision maker: A handbook for decision making and problem solving in organisations. (pp. 17-34). Lanham & London: The Scarecrow Press.
I really enjoyed this reading. It made a lot of sense to me. It describes a six step process for approaching 'problems' in an organisation.
1. Mind set
I love this bit! Change your language to call the problem an 'opportunity' or a 'challenge', or even a 'situation that needs attention'. This will get you in the right head space for creative thinking.
Also, know your context. An organisation with a clear sense of vision and mission has a firm foundation on which to make decisions. Is that your circumstance? A trusting and supportive environment is more conducive to group problem solving. Does that describe your organisation? What are the parameters, or 'givens' of the situation, such as resources or legal requirements, which may effect decision making? Who are the 'stakeholders' in the situation? Are there any potential conflicts?
2. Problem Definition
There must be a clear understanding of the 'problem' by all stakeholders. You may need to determine the gap between expectations and existing conditions, clearly define a new opportunity, clearly define a new outcome, or set clear goals to move towards a vision.
3. Solution Criteria
This is a new idea for me, and I can clearly see its value. Here you must come up with a list of criteria that describe a 'good solution', including both MUST and SHOULD criteria.
4. Possible Solutions
Generate as many possible solutions as you can, and determine any consequences they have.
DO NOT MAKE ANY JUDGEMENTS AT THIS STAGE!!!
5. Solution Choice
Evaluate the possible choices against the solution criteria that you have written. This is wonderful - you have a clear and unbiased way of evaluating solutions! Your best solutions satisfy all of the MUST criteria, most of the SHOULD criteria, and have the fewest consequences. You may have to combine two or more ideas, or even 'go back to the drawing board'.
6. Implementation
Identify the steps required to implement the solution, the resources required, who will do what, and how progress will be measured.
After this process has been worked through, you should evaluate both the solution itself, to see if it is working, and the decision making process. Also, see if the solution is applicable to any other 'problems'.
As I said, to me this is a straightforward and practical process to put in place. What do you think?

Challenge Progress





I have signed up for 2 reading challenges: The Sookie Stackhouse reading challenge hosted by Beth Fish Reads and the Everything Austen challenge hosted by Stephanie's Written Word.

So how am I progressing...

The Sookie Stackhouse challenge requires me to read all the books in Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampires series. Here is a list of the books, with links to reviews of the ones I have finished:

Dead Until Dark, I actually posted two non-review reviews on this one!

Living Dead in Dallas

Club Dead

Dead to the World

Dead as a Doornail

Definitely Dead

All Together Dead

From Dead to Worse

Dead and Gone

So far I am at 3/9 for the Sookie Stackhouse challenge.

The Everything Austen challenge requires me to 'experience' (read, watch, listen to...) 6 Austen related books, movies etc.

So far I have only read Lost in Austen by Emma Campbell Webster. So I am 1/6 in the Everything Austen challenge.

I can't wait until I feel just a little bit more 'on top of things' with my uni work, so I can allow myself a treat, and read something for fun!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Grab your coffee!

You will need it to stay awake!

What follows it a bit of a summary of the second half of Loertscher's Taxonomies of the School Library Media Program.
As before, I'm trying to contain my comments to issues that concern the teaching and learning context. I'm also going to try to inject a bit of interest into it because, looking back over my previous posts of this nature, it can get a bit boring!
Collaboration
The goal is for teachers and teacher librarians to work together as partners. The TL will need to be aware of individual teacher's teaching styles in order to choose the best strategies to move from service and support to advice and alternatives to partnership.
If there is a strong constructivist model of learning being used we will also be colaborating with students.
It is important to know how often collaboration occurs, with which teachers or subject areas, and if there are organisational factors that either encourage or discourage collaboration.
It is also important to know what activities the facilities and technology of the library can support successfully.
Do library rules, facilities, organisation, technology and materials help or hinder students' progress?
How is the library and librarian's time scheduled? Priority should be given to activities with educational impact, rather than housekeeping or babysitting.
Building Power Readers
More books leads to more reading leads to better readers leads to other learning advantages.
Do the library rules and organisation allow plenty of access to books? Are there strategies in place to ensure that students read, read, read?
Enhancing Learning through Technology
What technology is available, and to whom? Technology can inject a new richness to teaching and learning experiences, but does the school have the appropriate tools and software? How is access and training technology organised?
Information Literacy
Does the school use an information process model for research? Information literacy skills are best taught when integrated into curriculum. Are there structures in place that allow the TL to work with teachers to link information literacy strategies with content?
Support
Are there any volunteers available to help with routine tasks in the library? Or perhaps to share expertise with students?
Are there any possible outside sources of funding?
The Information Infrastructure
Are there enough staff?
Are equipment and software upgraded as needed?
Is the library collection appropriate to the school's needs? Consist of various media? Changed or updated regularly?
How far has the library progressed in its digital collection?
New technology should be considered based on its contribution to learning/educational impact.
Evaluation
Are there procedures in place to evaluate the success of library programs?
I like my approach today better than previous similar posts. I think I have moved from simply summarising material to analysing and applying it! Hooray for me - I'm using higher order thinking skills!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Look honey - I fixed it!





Do you live with a DIY-er? I do.

For a while I had been living with no cupboard or shelf space in my laundry. The cleaning products were stacked on the floor and along the wall's framework - exposed because the gyprocking hadn't been finished. Not ideal, but with no toddlers likely to guzzle down a bottle of laundry bleach, not a big problem.

Then there was some banging and drilling in the laundry and lo and behold (!) I had a lovely wall cupboard with shelves for all my bits and pieces. ('Thanks honey, that's wonderful!') Just one small problem...the cupboard prevents me from opening my washing machine all the way, so it won't stay open while I load or unload the clothes.

Not a problem for super-hubby! Look closely and you will see that he drilled a hole in the cupboard and fashioned a hook out of...I'm not sure what, and ta da (!) problem fixed!!!

What would I do without him?

Taxonomies of the School Library Media Program - considering teaching and learning context.

Taxonomy - division into ordered groups or categories (check out the complete definition at dictionary.com)
This book:
Loertscher, D. (2000). Taxonomies of the School Library Media Program (2nd ed.). San Jose: Hi Willow Research and Publications.
was also 'recommended reading' for topic 1 of ETL501 'The learning and teaching context of information resource provision'.
As with Improving Learning, this book has a lot to say on the topic of leadership, which is pertinent to ETL504. It is also due back at the uni library on Wednesday. For now, I'm going to confine my comments to things relevant to the teaching and learning context.
  1. Pressures on teachers include:
  • teach more content in less time
  • teach in such a way that students score high on achievement tests
  • improve student learning by matching resources totheir learning styles and abilities
  • provide opportunities for students to develop independent learning and problem solving skills
  • provide a variety of methods for classroom teaching and learning activities
  • stimulate students' creativity and experimentation
  1. Teachers tend to use either mainly behaviourist or mainly constructivist styles of teaching.
  2. Teachers vary in their use of the library, its resources and the teacher librarian:
  • self-contained teaching (no use of library)
  • teaching with a borrowed or electronically accessible collection (independent use of library for resources)
  • using the library staff as an idea resource
  • using the library staff and resources for enrichment of a unit of work
  • using the library staff and resources as an integral part of a unit of work
  • the teacher and TL experiment with partnerships in teaching and learning
  • teacher/TL partnerships become a natural part of teaching and learning
  • teachers involve the TL in curriculum development
  1. The TL can use various strategies to help teachers to make better use of the library:
  • Reading - TL can suggest that teachers have a rotating collection of high-interest materials moved from the library into the classroom, read aloud to students and schedule time for silent reading, let students choose from a wide variety of materials when completing assignments, and role model reading to the students.
  • Technology - TL can suggest to teachers ways to inject technology into learning, perhaps by changing the nature of the final product required.
  • Information literacy - TL can help teachers to integrate information literacy skills into all units of instruction.
  • Resource-based teaching and learning units - TL can work to establish collaboration with teachers.
  1. Students should be able to gain many benefits from the library, but vary in the use of its staff and resources:
  • no involvement
  • spontaneous involvement (just pops in occasionally for something)
  • gets assistance with information, materials or technology for specific needs
  • gets involved with specific campaigns run by the library (e.g. book week)
  • building skills for utilising all the resources of the library
  • is involved in planned, structured activities in the library
  • the student becomes a 'power reader' (more later)
  • the student becomes a 'power learner' (more later)
  • the student is equipped for lifelong library use.
  1. The level of principal support effects the success of the library:
  • ambivalence or neglect of the library
  • makes an effort to understand the role of the modern TL in a world of information technology
  • attracts a TL to head the program who has the vision and energy to creat and maintain a solid program
  • creates a partnership with the TL and places that person on the leadership team of the school
  • creates an organisational structure that allows the library program to succeed
  • provides leadership in building financial support over the long term
  • expects TL to be involved with collaboration, reading, enhancing learning through technology and information literacy
  • assesses the impact of the library program on the academic achievement of the students

So far, we have seen that the principal, the teachers and the students all have an impact on the learning and teaching context that the teacher librarian and library are working within. More to follow...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

It's official - My Blog Rocks!!!


With many thanks to 'Miss R' (as I like to call her) at Miss Remmers' Review who awarded me this, along with some other fabulous blogs that you can check out via her rocking post here.
The list of blogs that I follow is growing and growing...some days I just can't get around to all of them. So I'm going to pass on this award to the blogs that are 'can't miss' for me, the ones that I make sure I visit even when I don't have time to visit everyone. These are the blogs that I know I can rely on for interesting, informative and fun posts!
  1. Alex the Girl at Please Try Again.
  2. Angie at A Book A Day.
  3. Witch Baby at Witch Baby's Journey.

Congratulations one and all!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Improving Learning - considering learning and teaching context.

Topic 1 of ETL501 is called The learning and teaching context of information resource provision. The recommended reading included

Glover, D., & Law, S. (2002). Improving Learning: Professional Practice in Secondary Schools. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Interestingly enough, though this book was set as reading for ETL501, it also has a lot to say about leadership, and is pertinent to ETL504 as well. Unfortunately it's due back at the library on Wednesday, so I'm trying to make as many notes about it as possible.
For this post, I'm only considering content of the book that is relevant to learning and teaching context.
  • Teachers and schools face many pressures such as trying to meet educational standards, improve (external) test results, innovation overload and socio-economic issues.
  • Some of the factors which impact the success of classroom learning are physical environment, teaching styles, teacher/student relationships and the relevance and difficulty of material/tasks.
  • Resources and equipment must support the school's priorities for improvement.
  • Effective teaching and learning requires clear, positive expectations, task differentiation, a range of teaching strategies and assessment of progress and understanding.
  • It can be difficult and time-consuming to prepare learning programs that take into account individual preferred learning styles. Group work and ICT can be used to vary learning experiences.
  • The move towards constructivist models of learning puts pressure on teachers who need to prepare students to sit external tests.
  • Some techniques that can be used include carefully constructed homework, use of questioning, opportunities to exercise higher order cognitive skills and well-planned lessons that include connecting new knowledge to previous work.
  • Schools can build up a 'bank' of materials for different abilities and styles which can be used and modified year after year.
  • Different school cultures effect approaches to both relationships and teaching, consider in particular approaches to behaviour management and assessment.
  • There are tensions in the curriculum caused by differing expectations: are we preparing students for work, for further study, or for life?
  • 'Key skills' are communication, application of number, information technology, improving one's own learning, problem solving and working with others.
  • Particular issues are the integration of key skills across the curriculum, discussion of the relevance of topics and the importance of revision.
  • Boys and girls tend to differ in preferred learning styles, and some teaching, behaviour management and assessment strategies might favour one over the other.
  • All students could benefit from more positive interactions with teachers and more pastoral support.
  • External factors include resourcing, classroom limitations and curriculum demands.
  • Professional development for teachers should include beliefs, knowledge and understanding as well as competencies.

So, how do all these points impact the role of the teacher librarian in resourcing?

  1. The TL needs to be aware of all the competing pressures that the teachers face in their particular school context.
  2. The TL must be well-versed in the mission of the school and its current goals, so that resources match priorities.
  3. Teachers need resources that will support them to improve teaching and learning by expanding their range of teaching strategies, taking into account various preferred learning styles and encouraging higher order thinking skills.
  4. The TL can facilitate the storage and sharing of learning and teaching materials.
  5. The TL can provide teachers will information regarding alternatives to behaviour management and assessment.
  6. The TL can provide teachers with material to support their overall professional development, but particularly in regard to the particular challenges of the school context.

Friday, August 7, 2009

A little light relief!

Heaven knows you all deserve a break after reading through my waffling on quality management!
I found this very cool embroidery via Skerricks, a blog written by a fabulous teacher librarian called Ruth Buchanan.
If you'd like to check out the place to get this, and other fantastic stitching patterns, head to http://sublimestitching.com/sexylibrarians.html

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What is Quality Management in Education or Quality Learning

From
Tribus, M. (n.d.) Quality Management in Education. Haywood, California: Author. Retrieved August 5, 2009 from http://deming-network.org/qmgt_inedu.pdf
What is the aim of applying quality management to education?
  • to enhance the productivity of teachers
  • to allow teachers and students to find greater joy in their work
  • to ensure that students are more likely to make a positive contribution to society when they leave school

What is quality management?

It is a new, or different way of approaching the task of managing an organisation which endeavours to:

  • harmonise the efforts of all players
  • help workers to approach tasks with enthusiasm
  • help workers to participate in work improvement
  • change the relationship between managers and workers
  • take a 'systems view' of things
  • connect the organisations processes to its mission/purpose
  • provide every member with opportunities for personal growth/development
  • allow workers to be active, creative contributors
  • constantly innovate and improve
  • ensure that the interests of the workers and the greater good are served simultaneously
  • help managers to create a nurturing environment, acting as mentors and facilitators
  • shape a favourable future despite inevitable external change
  • encourage teamwork
  • encourage shared values and knowledge of the mission

This, to me, sounds like utopia! Things that have been missing for me in my work experiences are nurturing, mentors, a shared vision/purpose/mission, being encouraged to pursue personal growth, being encouraged to contribute creatively, and teamwork.

Principle 1 The people work in a system. The job of the manager is to work on the system, to improve it continuously, with their help.

Unfortunately, school systems are rarely interested in hearing suggestions for improvement from their teachers, and teachers don't always want to receive feedback on their teaching from students. Rather than specific, personal criticism, what is needed is a definition of what a quality experience would be.

Principle 2 Quality is never your problem. Quality improvement is the answer to your problem. Whatever the problem, begin by asking the question, "What does it mean to solve this problem with quality?" Then proceed to make your decision by putting quality first.

Quality is about how the teaching and learning experience unfolds. Students should be encouraged to discuss "Why am I here?", "What am I trying to do?", "What can the teacher do to help?", "How will we know when we're doing it?".

Principle 3 If you want to improve the product, put your attention on the process whereby the product is made.

It's obvious: if you want to improve students' achievements, concentrate on improving the teaching/learning process.

Principle 4 If you try to improve the performance of a system of people, procedures, practices and machines by setting goals and targets for the individual parts of the system, the system will defeat you every time and you will pay a price where you least expect it.

It's good to set goals for education, but don't use individual outcomes as the sole measure of success. Rather than test results, what should be foremost is ensuring that students increase their knowledge, know-how, wisdom and character. Different levels of competency should be defined for each aspect of learning, decided jointly with students. Teachers also need to help students to increase their autonomy, and develop the skills of defining problems and deciding what quality solutions are.

From Quality Learning Australia Pty Ltd. (2009). Principles of Quality Learning and Improvement. Retrieved August 5, 2009 from http://www.qla.com.au/pages/Principles.html

Quality Learning Australia also have a list of principles (12!).

  1. People work in a system. Systems determine how an organisation and its people perform.
  2. Shared purpose and a clear vision of excellence align effort.
  3. Activities are components of processes. Improving systems and processes improves performance, relationships and behaviour.
  4. Clients define quality and form perceptions.
  5. Sustainability requires management of relationships with stakeholders.
  6. Improvement is rarely achieved without the planned application of appropriate strategies and methods.
  7. Knowledge and improvement are derived from theory, prediction, observation and reflection.
  8. Facts and data are needed to measure progress and improve decision-making.
  9. Systems and processes are subject to variation that affects predictability and performance.
  10. Removing barriers to intrinsic motivation improves performance.
  11. Change is a process not an event.
  12. It is everybody's job to improve the systems and processes for which they are responsible by working with their people and role modelling these principles.

These principles are obviously more detailed that Tribus' four, but have the same flavour and general direction. Quality Learning Australia seems to have made an effort to be more concrete.

Streeton Primary School. (2000). The 12 quality principles. In G. Askew (Ed.), Q is for Quality (pp. 12-24). Yallambie, Victoria: Author.

This final article considers some examples of practical applications of the 12 quality principles. They are ordered, and expressed, a little differently than on the Quality Learning Australia website.

The examples include:

  • All members of the school community know the key phrases used to identify the school. But, more importantly, they can explain the meaning behind these statements.
  • Plans are documented. Everyone has access to them and understands them.
  • A teacher listens as students talk about their needs, and uses tools to identify preferred modes of learning. Using this information the teacher and students develop individually orientated programs.
  • Processes are in place to ensure the communication and recognition of ideas.
  • Staff and students use a variety of tools to help with brainstorming, problem solving and decision making.
  • The leadership team sets aside time to reflect on particular systems within the school, studying data and working on these systems to improve them.
  • When difficulties arise, students and staff see them and their possible solutions in the light of the school's shared values and processes.

As I said at the beginning, utopia!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"A successful school improvement intervention will generate staff commitment to actions that are designed to promote greater effectiveness." (Bennett, 2001, p. 120)
This seems fairly self-evident, but is well put, and good to keep at the front of our minds as we consider leadership within schools.
Other thoughts from
Bennett, N. (2001). Power, structure and culture: an organisational view of school effectiveness and school improvement. In A. Harris & N. Bennett (Eds), School effectiveness and school improvement: alternative perspectives, (pp. 89-122). London: Continuum.
We can consider an organisation, such as a school, as a system, in that:
  • it is oriented towards the pursuit of particular goals
  • participants share a common interest in the survival of the system (organisation)
  • participants engage in collective activities
  • it is influenced by its environment
  • there is interdependence between different parts of the whole
  • the whole is interdependent with other systems (organisations)
  • participants (members) 'are' the system (organisation)
  • it has a defined purpose, task and technologies which may be influenced or even defined by outside conditions (organisations are effected by societal institutions and norms)

The structure of an organisation:

  • implies that tasks and responsibilities are allocated to best meet the overall system purpose
  • can change
  • includes the physical 'workplace' structures such as classroom/school design and arrangement
  • includes work group structures such as class and faculty groups
  • includes job descriptions and procedures
  • is effected by legal requirements such as OHS
  • is effected by social norms and expectations (ie: what a school/class 'should' look like)

The culture of an organisation:

  • is the concept of what the organisation is about, its 'mission'
  • is the norms 'how we do things' and expectations 'how we should do things'
  • includes what the members believe about their work
  • defines an organisation as distinctive from other organisations
  • often rests upon wider norms and expectations 'how schools do and should do things'

Structure and culture both impact the relationships between members of an organisation.

Power is exercised in exchanges between members of the organisation. The structures and cultures of the organisation define the legitimacy of this exercise of power. Some exercise of power is seen as illegitimate and leads to mere compliance rather than commitment.

This brings us back to our original effort to generate staff commitment to effective actions. It is therefore essential that power is used legitimately.