What a Teacher Says

Interview with Nicki Hunt, Teacher, Catherine McAuley School, Craigmore South Australia.

Interviewers: Lindsay Holmes & Adrian Glamorgan
October 2014

 

Welcome Nicki. How did you find out about Class Teaching eJournal?

My Principal and Deputy Principal approached Lindsay to discuss a way of recording teachers’ professional learning against AITSL standards.
I believe from that discussion the original software was developed and my school has been part of the pilot project as well as continuing to use it to this day.

Why not just use the traditional methods?

The eJournal allows us to set goals against the standards and it allows us to track our goals and our progress. Using traditional methods – pen and paper – things get lost and they get put in the bottom of filing cabinet drawers, whereas the eJournal is always available. It is available at school when I am working, it is available at home when I am preparing my lessons or setting myself a goal for the next period of time.

How have you used the Class Teaching eJournal?

I use the Class Teaching E journal to set myself goals. We originally started by just looking at two goals, 5.2 and 2.5, looking at literacy and numeracy and giving feedback. When I started setting myself goals against those two standards I found that I could actually add more detail to a lot more of the standards.

I now set myself goals to work towards. It also allows me to track my learning in those areas and to collect any evidence that I have and store it on-line on my eJournal.

Why not just have paper and hard copy?

Having an electronic journal allows me to access it at both school and at home. I don’t have to carry it around with me. It is all stored electronically. I won’t loose it. Basically, if I had a piece of paper and a pen, I would put it in the filing cabinet and perhaps forget it for 6 months at a time, whereas the eJournal is easy, is accessible from school, at home or wherever I am.

What is the best thing for you about having this eJournal, in terms of how you practice as a teacher?

The best thing about the eJournal, I suppose, is the goal setting. I am able to log on at any time and have a look at the focus areas that I feel that I have achieved or I have worked towards. It also tells me which ones I haven’t worked towards so I can really focus on doing something in my practice to work towards achieving those focus areas.

So can you give us an example of how you like to use goals?

Sure. I like to go onto my eJournal, at fairly regular time slots and have a look at the focus areas I need to perform. And I would and say, “I need to show evidence that I am a highly accomplished teacher in these areas”.  So that allows me very quickly to scan through, find where I am proficient and where I am lacking so that I set myself a goal for the areas where I am lacking and work towards achieving either a proficient standard or a highly accomplished standard, or even a lead teacher standard.

Can you give an example of a particular area where you did that in?

Sure. Thinking of literacy and numeracy in particular. Last year I was a national partnerships literacy and numeracy coach. I would have considered myself a proficient teacher, even a highly accomplished teacher in those domains. However to get to a lead teacher standard you need to be looking at how your pedagogy can help other people, so I was able to run staff meetings and provide professional learning opportunities for other teachers. Then, I could use what I had prepared for other teachers as evidence to say this is how I have achieved my lead teacher status in this area.

When you were doing that, was it a way of helping you structure your activities?

Yes it was. It allowed me to say I needed to be doing these sort of activities, preparing and presenting professional learning for other teachers in order to get to the lead teacher achievement standard for myself. So that was easy to set goals and identify how I could use the them (in my teaching)…. The journal gave me information about what I needed to do to achieve the lead teacher status. Using that information I went back to my office, prepared professional learning to other teachers in my school, presented it. Then I could upload that to my journal using their feedback and the materials that I had made for the professional learning in numeracy presentation. I had the evidence to say that this is why I believe I am working at this standard.

So, you already had the skills to do that but the eJournal was a scaffolding for that?

The journal showed me exactly what I need to do to get to that standard.
In particular, a lot of the work I was doing last year looked at the lead teacher status and it gave the words and the skills and, as you say, the scaffolding to say “this is what I am doing, this is what you need to do to achieve this”. That gave me a bit of guidance about what I needed to do in my own practice.

How has it effected your confidence, or your self organisation?

Organisation for sure!
There are areas that I would not have considered that I needed to provide evidence to say that I was doing this, such as teaching children with disabilities, teaching Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children. Those children are always included in my classroom program, but now, with the journal I can say that this is the exact strategy that I use to support that child. This is the exact strategy that I would use. Then I have got the evidence to upload, once again, to my journal and show other people that this is why I believe that I am highly accomplished teacher, in this area.

A lot of teachers are very busy, does this add to the workload or does it change how you do things?

In South Australia all teachers need to provide evidence of 60 hours of professional learning over a three year period. I could have certificate, after certificate, after certificate to say “yes I have attended this professional learning” and put them in my filing cabinet. But when I needed to produce them, it would be difficult to find them! The learning journal allows me to upload my certificates. I have them all there, all compacted, all in one place ready to go so, in the long run, it is a regular check in with the journal that will assist my organisation. In the long run it is going to be much, much easier to produce my evidence for my 60 hours of professional learning, to get my registration.

So, it sounds like a great tool for working on your own.

It is.

Does it change the way you work with other teachers

The professional learning journal allows you to seek feedback from other teachers, from your peers and from your leadership team. I can invite other people to look at my goals on my journal and provide them with evidence of how I achieve those goals. They can give me feedback – “Did you think of this”, “Could you have done this?” It allows me to then go back and add more to my practice as well as to my journal. I can also ask my leadership team, my principal or my deputy principal, “could you please have a look at this learning goal that I have set for myself. How do you think I have gone with achieving that goal. Do you think I need to do anything else?” And all of this is tracked electronically, so once again, pieces of paper get lost but I can show anyone who asks, evidence of me seeking feedback from my leadership team and how I have acted upon that feedback and how I have improved my practice from doing that.

Everyone will improve their practice in different ways, but how has the eJournal bought new insights to you working with peers?

I have been privileged to give feedback to other teachers on fantastic practices for which I have gone “wow, I really need to be doing something like that in my classroom” so it has been a really good idea for me to not only see how they have set their goals and what areas they have set their goals in, but then go into their classroom and have a look at what they have done and give them some feedback after our face to face contact.

Have you been in situations where people have given you feedback and spotted the odd ‘blind spot’ that you might have had.

Yeah, absolutely!
Feedback is about growing and learning. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees and other people can see a forest right there in front of you and will absolutely say, “I think you need to focus on this area a little bit more”. When you seek feedback, you have to be open to the idea of what other people are going to say. Feedback is not about praise, it is not just about making you feel good about your own practice. Feedback is about improving your practice so you need to be open to the idea that other people going to say ‘You need to focus on this.’ The eJournal is fantastic way of doing that. Other people can give you feedback in a way that they think is non-threatening. You can then go back, contemplate what they have said and asked you to consider in your own practice, implement it and then say: “now I have done this, can you give me some more feedback.” And generally the feedback is well done. You have gone back and reflected, you have changed your practice, you have included this and now you have achieved that highly accomplished, Lead Teacher status. Teachers are often used to working on their own, so having peer feedback, extends that, makes it a different experience.

Are there better ways to give feedback to peers?

I think the eJournal is a catalyst for conversation. I can seek feedback from other teachers, however it doesn’t replace the face to face contact that teachers need… especially if you are going in for an annual review meeting or anything like that. The journal is a way of giving feedback, of tracking feedback but you still need the face-to-face contact. You still need the human side as well and I believe that the journal allows that (by acting) as a catalyst for conversation.

How often do you like to ‘log on’?

Initially we were given time in our staff meetings, about 10 minutes every staff meeting. We found that didn’t work, so now we are given half an hour a term in a staff meeting to log on, but really I need for myself to log on 2-3 times a term. That’s about every 2-3 weeks to have a look at what I set myself, how I am tracking. Am I achieving that goal, do I need to change practice, do I need to seek feedback from anyone to achieve that goal. So for me it is about 2-3 times a term… about half an hour a term I can do that during my time working at school, my night time, before or after school. I can do it at home on the weekend. I find that at home on the weekend works best for me.

What’s it like being at home on the weekend working?

If I am able to log on at home, in my own time it gives me time to reflect, it gives me time to think about what I am going to do. It gives me time to prepare something in order to achieve that goal, so logging on at home, on the weekend, after school or evening, it is not cumbersome, it is not intrusive. It’s quick: “Oh, what am I working on this week, OK I ‘m working on contact with parents.” – Now I will go back and work out how I am going to do this in my classroom practice this week.

What are the drawbacks of this?

The drawbacks – it is one of those programs that if you do leave it for a while or are logging on say twice a year rather than twice a term it can get overwhelming with the amount or work you need to do. I find that regular check-ins with the journal, regularly uploading any evidence that I have, any certificates from professional learning that I have been to. If you allow that to get on top of you it is a big job, so the way I found around that was to do it regularly, in small chunks rather than in one big chunk.

The class teaching eJournal is a tool that can be used in different ways. Have you discovered any ways that you especially like using it that may not have been obvious when you first came across it?

I think the main way that the journal has helped me is collecting the evidence of my 60 hours across the three years.

So there is a compliance aspect that drives this for some people but apart from compliance, what is there in peer learning for you?
What would make you want to do this even if you didn’t have to worry about compliance?

Professional learning is a really important part of teaching – to keep your skills fresh, your understanding of how children learn fresh, and any new pedagogy coming through – it’s a great opportunity to renew your vigour, your enthusiasm for teaching. The professional learning journal allows me to track what I have done and allows me to track the interest areas that I particularly want to learn about, so I think that having the learning journal to track your professional learning is really relevant and valuable. Teachers are going to be naturally attracted to things they are interested in and ignore the things they are not interested in, so the professional learning eJournal allows me to know well that I have done four professional learning in that area, now I should try something else, just to keep my skills fresh in other areas as well. That’s really important as well.

If you were talking to teachers who were thinking about if they would use the journal what would you say?

I would say it is a really valuable way of collecting your information and keeping it all together in one place. It is a really valuable way of tracking your professional learning; both the things you are interested in, the things you are not so interested in, the things you wouldn’t think of normally with your professional learning.

I would say “give it a try, it is a really good way of tracking your professional learning”. “The standards that you are tracking yourself against cover a wide range of facets of teaching from the way you operate in the classroom to the way you go about operating in your community, and perhaps the learning journal would help you think about what you are doing in a variety of different ways”.

What about a school, a principal, what would you say about how you set up an environment for people to best use the eJournal?

I would recommend the journal to principals as well. For principals, the learning journal allows your staff to set and monitor their own learning goals for themselves. It allows you to identify areas you would like them to focus on for a while. It allows interaction between peers, teachers with teachers, it allows you to interact with your staff to set them some goals that they can work towards. As I said earlier, it is also a catalyst for conversations for review meetings whenever they are held in your school. I find it very non-threatening that I can seek feedback from teachers that I feel comfortable with, from leadership that I am comfortable with and we can have an open and honest conversation about my performance as a teacher.

Do you think it works best as a ‘whole of school’ approach to this, or can individual teachers take it up?

Either is fine. Individual teachers could operate their own learning journal is they are interested in using the journal to track their own professional learning or whole schools can set themselves a couple of standards to work towards as a whole school community.

What are the things that make it for you a ‘wow factor’ in your situation, compared to doing it on paper?

The learning journal is easy to operate. It contains all my information in own place. I can generate reports to show my proficiency in all areas. I can take that to other schools if I am seeking another – if I am going for a job interview.  I can take it to other teachers and say ‘what do you think I need to improve in?

The ‘wow factor’ is that it is compact, and easy and manageable.

End of interview