Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Holiday reading

One of the enjoyable aspects of having a non-contact break is having a bit more time and space for professional reading. This break I have spent time delving into a series of research on Effective Educational Practice from The International Academy Of Education (they sound important don’t they!). As part of its mission, the Academy provides syntheses of research on educational topics of international importance.
The first handbook I read was titled Effective Educational Practices, with the first theme ‘Parental involvement’. Read on if you’d like to explore some of the things that jumped out to me.

Parental involvement: Learning is enhanced when schools encourage parents to stimulate their children’s intellectual development.
Dozens of studies have shown that the home environment has a powerful effect on what children and youth learn within and outside school. The environment is considerably more powerful than the parents’ income and education in influencing what children learn in the first six years of life and during the twelve years of primary and secondary education.
Co-operative efforts by parents and educators to modify alterable academic conditions in the home have strong beneficial effects on learning.
Sometimes called the ‘curriculum of the home’, the home environment refers to the informed parent / child conversations about school and everyday events; encouragement and discussion of leisure reading; monitoring and critical review of television viewing and peer activities; deferral of immediate gratification to accomplish long term goals; expressions of affection and interest in the child’s academic and other progress as a person; and perhaps, among such unremitting efforts, laughter and caprice. Reading to children and discussing everyday events prepare them for academic activities before attending school.
Co-operation between educators and parents can support these approaches. Educators can suggest specific activities likely to promote children’s learning at home and in school. They can also develop and organize large-scale teacher/parent programmes to promote academically stimulating conditions and activities outside the school in a systematic manner.

My thoughts:
Here are some of the reflective thoughts that entered mind when I read this.
Firstly I was taken back to a ‘meet and chat’ meeting we had with four new parents to our school. As a leadership crew we have aimed to be more deliberate with meeting parents of our new entrant children when they come for their pre-school visits. Basically, during one of their visits, we aim to have a cuppa, bickie and informal chat about things to do with school in general, and specifics for our school. At the last meeting, one of the questions raised was ‘What should I do to ‘prepare’ my child for school? I’ve been reading to them lots but feel concerned that they can’t write their name yet. Should I be nailing them with this over the holidays so that maybe they have it before they start?’ Our response was, “keep enjoying reading with them, take some time to talk about things they could enjoy about school, and you could do some writing - but make sure it is enjoyable”. It’s pleasing to see this sort of approach supported by the research above. The cluster of schools that we are a part of is involved in localised research at the moment about what skills, abilities and attitudes our recent arrivals to school come with. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this. I’m very interested in the conversations happening at the moment about child ‘preparedness‘ for school.
I feel a sense danger when I start to see and hear lots about ‘preparing’ children for school. I wonder sometimes if the focus can narrow too early and that zones of proximal development may be lost. I’m very interested in child development and psychology and look forward to growing my knowledge about this and how it relates to learning. As educators we need to be prepared for children in our schools, not the other way around. A recent ASCD (American Society Of Curriculum Development) article recently resonated with me, where a kindergarten (or new entrant in our system) teacher describes the start of school in terms of transitions. “it’s the only time that children will begin school, and it should be a place where both children and families adjust to a new challenging context”. She worries though, that we’ve let go of what makes kindergarten a safe place for children to start. In our push to do more, sooner, faster, we fragment children into little pieces of assessment information and let go of the activities that enabled us to get to know them in more personal and integrated way. Is this a danger we face in our schools? Will a drive towards national standards shrink our curriculum and put pressure on to get children to fit? I hope not. My philosophy has been built around developing in our children a love for learning. We have children entering our schools from diverse backgrounds and with a range of experiences, and it is our duty to accept and value this and make the biggest difference for each of them. This will be challenging and look different for each learner, but is also the vital and exciting job we’ve signed up for.

On a different note, we had great attendance at our recent parent / teacher / learner conferences with 95% of parents attending learning focussed meetings with teachers. These conferences can provide a great opportunity for co-construction of goals and thinking about educational progressions, and also as an opportunity to think about how we can work together to achieve goals. Our conference sheets have a section on them for how we can help at home, which can also be useful to this end.
The Family Reading and Maths Evenings held by the Busy Bees over recent years have offered great practical tips and support for parents with learning at home. This is a model I think we could and should extend. Yes, it does require extra time for our teachers, but can also help make a big difference in working towards our vision and moral purpose as educators. Having children attend, keeping it practical and personalising towards children seem to be catalysts in having high attendance to these. When we have offered sessions for parents that are more general, are more theory based, or don’t involve students, we generally have small attendance. Over time this can lead to a sense that ‘it’s not worth it’, however, maybe the formula hasn’t been quite right to attract the people in the first instance. We have to think creatively about how we make links with our parents and community - and particularly with those who are the 5% who didn’t or don’t attend our conferences. This is another challenge for us, but again could be vital and is another part of the exciting job we’ve signed up for.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Something I related to

I have recently completed reading Kerre Woodham and Gareth Browns book about Kerre's marathon running experience. I found them a light and easy read with some good humour and interesting messages in them.
I've struggled a bit since running the Ohope Half Marathon. I went for a run a four days after the event and found it a hard task. I felt tired, physically fatigued and dragged myself around for ten k's. I found that my heart wasn't in it much either. Part of me was a bit concerned about feeling like this, as I've entered to run the Rotorua Marathon that takes place in two weeks. What if I don't snap out of it? Will I have an experience that will feel like I'm running it because I have to, not because I want to? If that's the case, I might really find the experience unenjoyable and a drag. That's not what I want for this, only my second marathon experience. Following my less than successful after half marathon experience I made a conscious decision to take a weeks break from running. I thought I'd listen to my body and take time to physically and mentally recharge for it. It was a very full on week work wise as well, so taking the running out of the mix might be helpful from that perspective as well.
That takes me back to Kerre Woodham, and the title for this post. In the final chapter of her second book, Kerre reflects on the experiences of her running, and some self found wisdom from it. I think it's worth sharing, so here goes...
"I remember reading Lorraine Moller's autobiography, On The Wings of Mercury, and thinking how sad it was that she'd spent so much time beating herself up for coming third and not first. She seemed to have spent the first 30 years of her life in physical and mental pain, and I thought what a waste that was. And yet I'd gone and done exactly the same thing for the better part of a year. We're far too tough on ourselves. Its important to focus on what we can do, what we have done, the successes rather than the failures, otherwise it makes for a miserable life. None of us is perfect. Each of us is just trying to do the best we can and live the most productive and enjoyable life we can in the time we have on the planet".
With some of the events I've run, I've put extra pressure on myself with time goals. At Ohope I ran a 1:32. My big goal is to run a half in under 1:30, and I thought I was going to achieve it on that day. I pushed myself, but came up short. With the Goat last year, I basically had the most horrible and humbling day. I was struggling by the time I was ten k's into it, and hated the whole second half of it. I did learn quite a bit from that experience, and that learning helped me after Ohope. I haven't beaten myself up too much - 1:32 is still a pretty good time for me, and I'll keep the goal alive. I think the key thing I learnt from the Goat though, is to aim to enjoy my running. If I'm feeling like I'm hitting the wall, and not enjoying it, then maybe I need a break. Hopefully that will help me more in the long run.
Tomorrow I'm heading out for my first run in over a week. I'm going to make sure I enjoy it, and keep my confidence up for an enjoyable marathon.
Back to Kerre to finish...
"If your reality is one you don't like, change it. We're only here for a short time and every day is precious. If you don't want to change your life , if you actually quite like your wife, your kids and your job, remember to take the time to enjoy them. Think of those who through circumstance or ill health will never be able to fulfill their dreams. Take ten minutes of every day to appreciate all you have and all you have achieved. Then take a deep breath and give the sigh of a satisfied person before heading back into the maelstrom that is life".
Thanks Kerre.