Monday was my first day back at work after the holidays, and lucky for me it was a student free day. CPR course in the morning and then office work for the rest of the day. In fact, Tuesday was a student free day too, though it wasn’t quite as crusiey. I had two workshops to deliver. I love my job no doubt, and I want to share what I know and help my teachers be stronger and better resourced, but to say I give these workshops with complete confidence would be a lie.
My first concern is always that I will bore the socks of the teachers and tell them things that they already know. I mean, a couple of them are straight out of university, surely they will have been taught the best teaching practise possible. What more can I offer them? Well, I can offer them chocolate, that’s what!
I planned to show a rather old but very enlightening clip by the visionary Ken Robinson, from there decided to bang on about one of my favourite pedagogies, Universal Design for Learning (UDL). I unpacked it and hopefully gave enough examples to make it practical for the teachers to implement. I adore UDL because it moves away from ’differentiation’, the idea that you plan a unit of work for the class and then make it different for the kids who struggle and the kids who need extension. UDL inspires teachers to think outside the box about the content they deliver, how they make it interesting for kids, and how they assess a student’s understanding of what was taught. I tell teachers that in its simplest form UDL is about making the lesson interesting and relevant to students. At the extreme end, if a student can express his or her understanding of medieval Europe through interpretive dance, then there is no reason a student can’t get an A+ for doing so. (The topic of a 5 point reporting scale will be a blog of another day!). I strongly encourage you to go to the CAST website and read up on UDL. Suggest it to your child’s school and teacher.
picture from http://cast.org/
I also gave a workshop on executive functioning and sensory processing. Understanding these two things, these essential elements that help to make us unique individuals, regardless of ability or diagnosis, gave me such an insight into not only myself, but also into the students I teach. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a naughty child and researching executive functioning and sensory processing (amongst other things) helped me to see clearly for the first time.
At our school in one secondary class we teach everything from Foundation (Prep) through to year 9 or 10. The classroom teacher was finding the diversity a bit of a struggle, and rightly so. The Principal has even given me an extra day of work just to help support this class. I am terrified about being back in the classroom but delighted at the chance to challenge myself. Can I actually do all the things I advise my teachers to do? I quickly called in the big guns to help and a week ago I had the privilege of consulting with a lecturer from our local university, specifically about this class. While he certainly gave me some helpful ideas and frameworks to follow, like the June Maker Model of Tiered Assessment, I was both reassured and dismayed to hear that in his honest opinion, we are already doing everything we should be doing for this class. I plan to share this second framework in my workshop tomorrow, plus throw in a little of Gardner and Bloom as well. Oldies but still useful.
But if what the lecturer said is really the case, and I feel like I have nothing new to offer in my workshops, then what hope is there that we can teach for the 21st century? How can I do better for my students? For my own daughter? I think I am simply projecting my own self-doubt and pursuit of teaching excellence onto my workshops. The nature of my workshops incorporated all of the teaching strategies I am trying to inform my teachers about. If nothing else, we will be working together, as a team of teachers, talking about how we can do better for our students. We will be brainstorming, collaborating and striving to do better. We are supported by one of the most amazing Principals I’ve ever had the blessing to know. He has a great passion for true inclusion and is a delight to work for/with. UDL plus tiered lessons and assessment should give us enough to keep us going for the rest of the year. Incorporating it into planning and having a supportive network of teachers will be imperative. As will be the chocolate!