• Secretary's update

Every Student Podcast: Banora Point Public School

10 March 2020

The principal and staff of Banora Point Public School talk to Mark Scott about the power of positive feedback.

Transcript

Mark Scott

Hi, I'm Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education. Welcome to Every Student the podcast where I get to introduce you to some of our great leaders in education. Today we're in conversation at Banora Point Public School where I am today with the Principal Paul Taylor, Assistant Principal Nicole Crawford and classroom teacher Genevieve Esgate. Genevieve of course is a marathon runner and a winner of the premier sporting challenge on my team in our victorious 2018 celebration.

Look, it's great to be here at Banora Point and Paul this is an unusual school, this is a different school, you've got a very clear approach about what you are trying to bring about with teaching and learning here. Tell us a little about your philosophy here at Banora Point.

Paul Taylor

What we're doing at Banora Point I'd like to summarise as this we want our children to develop ownership of their learning and to be able to apply that in purposeful way. Ownership of purposeful learning sounds simple but there is a lot of layers to it.

Mark Scott

Project based learning is a feature of what happens here but it is not all that happens here I am interested that there are all these signs around the school that talk about crew, people being in crew explain crew to us?

Paul Taylor

Crew is we're all in this together, we are not going to get there until we all get there together. I think crew there is an understanding that we're all clear about where we are going and we are supporting each other to get there. At Banora we are in very early days with this work but I am seeing crew both at a classroom level and a whole school level. People working together, people trusting each other, people giving each other feedback and feeling safe that if I have a go at this I am going to be in good company.

Mark Scott

You're teaching that to the students and you are doing that in a very clear didactic way in a sense that I was in a class this morning and that is the way they start every day in a sense reflect on their learning and reflect on their learning together.

Paul Taylor

That's right and it is developing that sense of togetherness and family really at the school. We want children to feel safe and secure as though they belong and that they are cared for and that they matter. That is a really big part of starting any day off well.

Mark Scott

It is also a factor for your staff as well to create that kind of environment with them.

Paul Taylor

With staff leading this work in the classroom it is really helping them to reflect on how they go about their work every day with each other because we need to be crew if we are going to be successful.

Mark Scott

You have been strongly influenced by the work of the American educator Ron Berger tell us a little bit about Ron's work and how Ron has shaped your philosophy and approach at your previous school Turramurra North and now here at Banora Point.

Paul Taylor

I first Ron's book An Ethic of Excellence, I think it was in about 2015 I was really frustrated that it had taken me until then however many years into my career to discover the work but it just makes so much sense to any educator I think who really is in this profession. It is a calling and Ron's words he wraps up so much wisdom about what our work really is about in such a concise and effective way and there is a lot more to this than Austin's Butterfly as most people know Ron for and the more I unpacked Ron's work and the work of EL Education (Expeditionary Learning) the more I realised just how much value there was.

Mark Scott

Nicole a lot of the focus of the EL work and what Ron has outlined is a focus on quality and a lot of the work I've seen today students have been at work on projects over some months and multiple drafts, multiple in a sense experiments in learning and a focus on feedback tell us about that drafting and feedback philosophy that very much underpins a lot of the work here.

Nicole Crawford

The approach that we take is three pronged, it is about character, it is about academic excellence and it is about ensuring quality work and I suppose that really comes under the quality work aspect of what we are doing. It is instilling in kids that what they do is for an audience so when you give them work for a purpose and they know that at the end they are going to be sharing that work beyond their classroom wall to the community then there is an onus on them to make sure that it is the very best that they can do. I know every teacher would have heard the words "I'm dumb" from students it is not something we hear from our students very often anymore. They are seeking from each other feedback because they know that the work they do is important and they know that it has value beyond just for themselves, they are sharing it with teachers, they are sharing it with peers, they are sharing it with parents through celebrations of learning but they are also sharing it to the community. Some of the work that they do creates books which go into our local libraries, which go into our community so there are lots of things that our kids are doing that takes their learning beyond just them and that gives them the impetus to do things like drafts because they want to make sure that it is the very best quality that they can do and that is a critical factor of what we are doing in this work.

Mark Scott

Take us through a bit of the approach to the project based work here. It struck me that there is a big ambitious projects, all students in a certain year will be doing a project, teachers will be planning this work together and it will be executed over a term or more.

Nicole Crawford

Yes those projects have come after a really strong pedagogical base for teachers, of them understanding very well what is good teaching, what is it they need from their kids and what do they see in the children? The projects that teachers are producing so for example Genevieve's class did one on service, came from her own children's needs and what they wanted to learn. It is a very authentic thing. Those projects are produced that way and underpinned by very explicit teaching so there is a strong component of process where the teacher is guiding through learning targets, checks for understanding, children using their own data of how they are going to keep the project going and the teacher is guiding that very very carefully.

Mark Scott

Genevieve why don't you take us through this service project, I saw some great work displayed up on the walls around here that your students did last year. Take us through how you can see that work and what that involves for the students.

Genevieve Esgate

The project had a driving question which was "what does it mean to be of service?". We explored the notion of service, what the community would look like with or without service and the importance of service in our community. Students had that opportunity to have their own choice and voice, they could look into a service that was of interest to them so with that came engagement. Students straightaway had that desire to want to explore that because that particular service was something that meant something to them.

We explored various types of services. Students then formed groups, they selected a particular service for example the SES or one of the animal shelters or homeless shelters. They then had to make contact with that service in the hope of finding a volunteer that they could celebrate and investigate more from so there were fourteen groups in the class, some were two students, some were three students depending on the needs of the students and the numbers that I had. They then had the opportunity to make contact with that service so that was a really exciting opportunity for the students given that responsibility to actually make the contact themselves, they couldn't believe that they were given that responsibility, they had to make the contact.

Through phone calls and emails they made contact with various organisations, found someone within those organisations that they could celebrate and that also came with a few challenges. Sometimes they had an idea of a service and they were hoping to find someone within that service and through that they came through a few struggles where some of them didn't have someone that was available to do this project. Then they had to troubleshoot those issues along the way. They then had to investigate asking interview questions.

They had to really understand what kind of questions really will elicit the information that they wanted to find from these people. They really had to craft really really solid interview questions and make those interview questions answer what they wanted to find out. They crafted those over time, they invited their volunteers to the school and they filmed their interview taking place. They then had to go back with the data from that interview and really note take, get the crucial parts out of those conversations out of those interviews and that itself was an element of challenge for many of the students.

With that data they then had to formulate a biographical text. In order to be able to do that they had to understand what a good biographical text looked like. There was models of excellence where students investigated different types of biographical texts and their purpose, they identified what that looked like and then they used the notes that they had to craft over time a really quality piece of biographical text.

Mark Scott

To what extent was a lot of your work involved and the planning of this, planning and understanding the learning that you would hope that would take place with this experience?

Genevieve Esgate

I had to really think backward plan I guess you would say, anticipate what was going to come along the way and really have very set learning targets for my students that they had to achieve along the way. Deadlines there are a lot of deadlines in projects which actually motivate the students to get the work done but having those really explicit learning targets before the project takes place and a very clear calendar of when things have to be done by makes it really clear process for the students.

Mark Scott

Paul let me come back to you, we have talked a bit about project based learning and then as I said there is more than project based learning taking place here but project based learning has its critics as well as its supporters when it doesn't work why isn't it working and what are you trying to put in place here to make sure that project based learning is a successful experience for students and teachers?

Paul Taylor

I think it is really important that we clarify what we believe high quality project based learning is and I actually think we need to do that as a department. It is a very broad term it is a bit like saying cars are inefficient and comparing a 1968 Chev V8 to an electric car of today, they are all cars and the level of efficiency is vastly different and if we are looking into the classroom of project based learning done poorly as opposed to high quality project based learning then we are really talking about very different things. For a start it is very clear to me that it is not high impact strategies as identified by Hattie or project based learning because we know that many have interpreted Hattie's work so that inquiry learning as an effect size I think at 30.34 but really we're saying we are learning here and through the work of EL that you can't do high quality project based learning without those high effect sizes as foundational in a high quality project.

We started with the pedagogy, the design of learning how do you help someone to be a leader of their own learning. We started from that side of the room rather than we are going to start with the project so we really wanted to establish and make it really clear for our teachers how do we help someone to step inside their learning and be a powerful learner. We wanted to establish that before we plug that into meaningful, purposeful work so that ownership of purposeful learning. I am glad we went that way although I do see other examples from around the world where maybe they have started with the project and the deeper they have found themselves in that swimming pool they have decided that they better refine their stroke whereas we started practicing our stroke before we dived in.

Mark Scott

It strikes me that a lot of the work is upfront here in detailed preparation and planning before these projects are unleashed. We talk a lot about demands on teachers and teacher workload. How do you go about managing the teacher workload issues particularly when you are setting up projects like this?

Paul Taylor

I think teachers have to believe that this is what we must do and if you have got something as powerful as the vision that Ron Berger manages to articulate in his book that I mentioned earlier there is very few teachers that I have worked with over a twenty-five year plus career that wouldn't say this is what teaching has always meant to me. You start with that really powerful draw of we know this makes sense and if things makes sense and it is much easier for people to buy into that. As people have bought into that vision they want to do the best work that they have ever done and they want to share that journey with their colleagues and really my job is just to provide the time and the guidance, the boundaries and the tips along the way and if you can find somebody as exceptional as we have with Cindy Guzzwell who had just finished her time with EL as the Managing Director of Professional Learning, we got to work with her face to face and virtually over the last couple of years there is not that much to worry about.

Mark Scott

Tell me Nicole the way you are going about the delivery of these big projects it will be a different learning experience for many students here than it would have been for their parents. How do you go about convincing parents that a term exploring whales or a term exploring setting up gardens, growing vegetables, harvesting product or a term exploring service in the community that there is great learning taking place through those deep dive projects?

Nicole Crawford

We have a very engaged parent community and very obviously interested in their children's progress. To be quite honest I think a lot of the sell of what we're doing and the power of what we do is when the kids go home every day talking about what they're learning. Them being able to articulate to their own parents what it is they are doing, what was the learning target, where am I up to, how did that inspire me to do some really good quality work today? We have had celebrations of learning where at the end of these projects which they are quite long, teachers are working together very collaboratively because you were talking before about workload one of the things that we have done is give stage time to allow teachers to work together so that they can do these projects at a high level. Our kids are very in the learning, the content that they cover is the content that they are interested in and teachers are very responsive to what they are getting back from the kids within the project. While we have very clear plans and we have strong explicit teaching as part of the project there is that part of which is the craft of a teacher to be responsive to what the kids need. The feedback that we get from them and the way that we are evaluating their success and assessing them is how we lead how the project goes.

Mark Scott

You mentioned earlier character as being a cornerstone of what it is, you're teaching and developing talk a little bit more about that why is character a starting point?

Nicole Crawford

Because without character in place the rest of it is very difficult. You are not going to get buy in from children if they don't have the character skills they need to be a learner. Things like having perseverance, being collaborative, being a citizen not only within their own classroom or within their own school but within the world is very important for them to be a learner. We have got teachers as well modelling that character, we explicitly teach it because not all children come to school with the same skill set. We make a very considered approach to character. We have times where we circle up of a morning to make sure that we can explore things like compassion, things like perseverance and how that looks like at the level of the kids that we are providing it will look different how we do that in kindergarten to how we do that in Year 6 but we are doing it across the school and over time their understanding of those elements of character build that is a very important part of being a global citizen when they finish school.

Paul Taylor

I would just like to add to that I feel that I see a world that is rapidly automating and I see machine like behaviour from humans not being very valuable as a world progresses. We need our kids to be, schools need to be crafting opportunities locally so that our children are developing the essence of what it means to be a human and I think that is what is going to be valuable. Understanding that our values connect to all that we think and all that we do our behaviour really to me is a very important principle of why we should be developing character. If I was to review all of the successful people in Australia character is a big part of their success and values in schools are essential.

Mark Scott

Genevieve one of the things that struck me talking to the students here today, we talked earlier about the drafts and they will write multiple versions of a story or a piece of descriptive prose they are writing or do multiple versions of artwork and you are training them how to critique that themselves but also to critique each other in a way that seems to reflect character education but also seems to reflect in a sense constructive critical engagement.

One of the things that struck me as well I find when I am writing another draft seems a bit like a chore, I am not sure if you just program them all really well here but no-one would admit to me that they were bored by doing multiple drafts partly because of the feedback process that you are setting up. How do you develop in young children and the students here feedback skills?

Genevieve Esgate

What we have done here at Banora Point is rather than do it straight through a project before we have commenced a project with the students we have given them ample opportunities to have a go at the giving of feedback which is a challenge to students at the beginning of this whole process. Sometimes they just want to write "oh I like it, it's good, that's great" and that is the first thing they are going to do when they first try and give feedback. They are not used to giving constructive feedback to each other. It really is something that we have to model to them. Quite often I know before I started my project last year I would have a student offer a piece of text that they might let me model a critique of and I explicitly modelled the kind specific and helpful feedback.

Mark Scott

It is interesting that every student I met was using those three words.

Genevieve Esgate

They were.

Mark Scott

Kind, specific, helpful.

Genevieve Esgate

It is across the school, it is something that we have got all the kids to understand and it is really good to see their progress. Initially they are not giving that really deep feedback they are afraid to say what they want to say because they might be afraid of offending the person but when we put it as a focus of we are helping each other as crew develop the highest possible quality work that we can when the students look at it like our peers are here to help us improve our work they take on a different perspective when they are critiquing each other and when they are accepting that feedback and they know it is just as important to give quality feedback as it is to receive quality feedback. If they want the quality from their peers they know they have got to give it to their peers as well. They have got to dive deeply into looking at their peers work and really look at things that they can improve. As soon as they practice it more and more they do get better and better at it but initially they don't have that natural want to give that.

Mark Scott

You are teaching them those skills and all the way through.

Genevieve Esgate

All the way through and it is something that really does require a lot of practice the more they have that opportunity. What I found is the longer we've been doing this students will come through the years and I know that some had done projects the year before and the students that had done projects the year before were just that little step ahead in giving the kind specific helpful feedback because they had done it before and it wasn't new to them.

Nicole Crawford

It is very closely linked to the learning targets that we do as well particularly the specific part about it to get around "oh that looks good" you need to be specific and how do they know how to be specific we need to pull apart the learning target and that is what we do at the beginning of a lesson or a series of lessons. What is it we are trying to achieve here, what does that look like, what is the verb in the learning because then when they are giving feedback that is what they are looking for for the words and that is how they can make it specific. We don't have a lot of trouble with them being kind and being helpful to me the real skill is learning to be specific and the learning targets are critical for that.

Mark Scott

Paul you mentioned Hattie earlier one of the things that Hattie identifies as keys to a successful school is collective efficacy and having spent the day on the ground here today it strikes me that there is an enormous unanimity and commitment of approach that you have with the staff here to the work that you are rolling out. If you just dropped in here you would have thought you had been here for ten years, you haven't been here for ten years you have only been here for two or three. How have you gone about convincing the staff that you should have this shared, unified and committed approach to such a structured way of rolling out pedagogy at the school?

Paul Taylor

I don't know, I started with sharing a really big picture vision of why this was really important and I talked about our challenges as a globe, I talked about the world that our children are going to be living in and what is going to be really important for them to build success from and I guess I tried to link that back to the work of EL. I did give every single teacher a copy of an Ethic of Excellence, I think I mentioned earlier to you today, I have even given you a copy Mark so that they had a chance to share in that vision and I think that was a really important step but also working with Cindy Guzzwell from EL Education around what does this look like in practice and how are we going to be able to do that here, we really broke that down and made it step by step.

Mark Scott

We know that all schools in New South Wales are working towards these targets that we are agreeing on around literacy and numeracy and attendance and engagement and you are saying to me that you are confident that you will continue to hit those stretched targets that you are putting down almost as a by-product of creating this engaged focus learning through the work that you are doing here.

Paul Taylor

If the focus is crafting high quality work and crafting high quality people then there is really no doubt in my mind that the results are going to be successful schools. I just can't imagine that having a negative impact on our test scores.

Mark Scott

And you are already seeing a bit of that aren't you?

Paul Taylor

Yes we are seeing solid growth in many areas gone from being below like schools to above like schools and again to above state across most of the elements of NAPLAN Years 3 and Year 5 and our growth is higher than like schools but we are doing it for that reason. We want our children to know what powerful learning feels like, looks like and so that they have that foundation. When they walk out the gate in Year 6 we want them to know that they have something powerful to contribute to this world and as EL Education says we are getting smart to do good.

Mark Scott

We first came across each other, I had heard about the work that you were doing at North Turramurra but you have established this conference that you run by teachers for teachers iOnTheFuture tell us a bit about iOnTheFuture.

Paul Taylor

I just felt that there has to be something better out there, I took myself on many journeys, I was fortunate to do two NSW Premier's Teachers Scholarships back in the early 2000's and there is so much going on in the education world across the globe that is so interesting and I guess it was an opportunity to bring a lot of that high class work going on elsewhere that might have been a bit different to some of the things that we were doing as a system back to Australia. The event got quite big over the years and with that lots of stress in managing the function of it all. We are now moving into rather than the why, why should we bring forward educational change we are bringing in now how do we do that with three day institutes.

Mark Scott

I want to think you all for your time today it has been terrific to spend a day on the ground here at Banora Point and meet so many students and spend time with you guys and the executive team. What is really clear to me is the passion that exists here to set up young people to be lifelong learners so that they are leaders of their own learning very much engaged in what it is they want to learn and how they are going to do that and very very engaged in the projects but also in the school community that you are creating here.

I am sure that people will beat a path to your door as they do already to learn more about what is happening here at Banora Point, thanks very much all of you for your time today.

Mark Scott

Thank you for listening to this episode of every student. Never miss an episode by subscribing on your podcast platform of choice or by heading to our website at education.nsw.gov.au/every-student-podcast or if you know someone who is a remarkable innovative educator who we could all learn from you can get in touch with us via Twitter at NSW Education on Facebook or email everystudentpodcast@det.nsw.edu.au. Thanks again and I will catch you next time.

End of transcript

Further reading

Mark Scott

About the Secretary

Mark Scott is Secretary of the Department of Education. He has worked as a teacher, in public administration and as a journalist and media executive. He is committed to public education and learning environments where every child can flourish.

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