A little while ago I went to the VATE English Coordinators Conference and have been wanting to write up my reflections on it ever since. And now here they are. The keynote lecture, by Chris Walsh, was on "Multiliteracies and Design in the secondary (or high school) English classroom". Looking at the kind of student who is sitting in front of us, and reminding us of the environment these young people are in when not at school (channeling Marc Prensky), Walsh focused on the variety of digital media available and wondered if "print based assessment" actually "disables" students. He pleaded with us to let the students represent what they know in new ways. No argument from me there. He demonstrated examples of student work from his classes in New York where his original experiments in making webpages (before Web 2.0) had been redesigned by students to incorporate elements of great design (channeling Dean Shareski's K12 online conference presentation). Some of the resources he mentioned can be found here and here.
The best session I went to was by Lisa McNeice. Titled "Leading Change" Lisa, poet and teacher, started her session with a story, which was a fine idea on a hot Friday afternoon. She talked about how the teachers in her department had worked on their vision, and asked us to write ours. This is what I wrote: "To build a team who work together, prepare and share experiences that we offer to our students and ourselves as a group of learners. We enact a curriculum with our students and model life long learning for them and ourselves through reflection, discussion and collaboration."
She talked about the things we might have to abandon in our pursuit of excellence (one suggestion was lengthy text assignments, especially ones consisting mainly of busy work) and the ways that she had sought to bring together the English teachers in her school as a team by means of a weekly morning tea. We discussed the need for itemising what it means to be professional rather than leaving it up to possible misunderstanding. She wrapped up by finishing the story - the theme of which was The Journey and emphasised that it takes time to change a work culture.
What I got out of the day was how hard it is to be the kind of English Coordinator I want to be, how much time, patience and tact (in short supply in my world) and how much more I could be doing. I got lots of ideas to consider in creating a "high performance work culture". A few ideas I want to implement in my Domain are:
1. Asking "What's the best English class you've ever taught?" and sharing this, using it as a goal.
2. Develop a bank of sample answers for tasks at each year level for discussion and modelling purposes
3. To focus on each teacher's strengths and goals for themselves as we go about working with students to maximise their potential.
It was a useful day and I'm glad I went.