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action research # 2

September 22, 2012

Wild weather in Perth last week resulted in our annual athletics carnival being postponed; sad news for students, especially year 12 House Captains with plans for Leavers’ Week in Dunsborough next term (a carnival re-scheduling clash is imminent). Stage 2 of the action research process – gathering and reflecting on data collected during meetings and interviews – proved as emotionally turbulent as the storm clouds which broke yesterday.

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Let’s start with positives. Here is an overview of what staff currently define as effective about Gifted & Talented delivery at our school:

  • Collaborative group – staff professional learning community and student endeavours are focused on learning
  • Curriculum structured at an appropriate level to needs
  • Enrichment
  • Differentiation
  • Students are distinct individuals and staff have staying power, tenacity, fortitude in adversity
  • Dedicated room assists in defining & creating identity
  • Coordinator role investigates/ monitors
  • Relationships yield joy
  • Sharing with others rejuvenates practice (this was a reference to our weekly Techie Brekky sessions)
  • Inspires creative, innovative, challenging teaching with open-ended tasks
  • Students are interested & engaged & doing well; some amazing test results

It was the emotional tone underlying words that held me in check.  I stayed in the torrent of expressed concerns and listened.  Difficult territory to inhabit, let alone map and codify. By Thursday night, I felt exhausted, and this morning was my first opportunity to sleep in without an alarm to interrupt dreamscapes.

At the risk of sounding naive, I knew that passions were keenly felt (our school has a long history of academic achievement and pride, and rebuilding coupled with relocation on split campuses has been challenging), but it was the sense of injustice that I was learning about first hand. Blame often arises as a side effect of emotional turmoil.

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This is what parents said was working against G&T program delivery:

  • Going through difficult times while we bear with the relocation
  • School perceived in a negative light, so students buy into negativity outside the community
  • Students are labelled as nerds/ homework then becomes an avoidance mechanism
  • Perception that students outside G&T programme don’t have to do so much work, and this becomes ingrained
  • Lackadaisical student habits
  • Split site, therefore student leadership difficult to promote
  • Students not necessarily performing at expected levels/ discussion around when perceptions are set after second term exams in year 10

Written up like this as a blog posting minimises heat, alleviating a little of the sting of these words. At the time, listening gave my cheeks a rose-tainted gleam.  What can I do about it? I wondered. This is huge. Not so enormous today, methinks.  The wonders of a good night’s sleep!

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Suggested improvements were also shared by parents:

  • Change culture
  • Sustain students’ sense of wonderment and awe
  • Maintain transition, link and build relationships
  • Celebrate
  • Live the school motto with pride (G&T shirt collars?); reignite passion by celebrating successes
  • Emphasise rigour, relevance, relationships

Culture change? Wow – the immensity of scale: Culture is situated in human activity and circulates.  Hard to isolate, taken for granted when harmonious, there is a concomitant difficulty in asserting cultural change, especially for people oblivious to the nuances of a school community, and perhaps feeling inadequate to the task of defining the school’s culture, embedded as it is in expression of feelings and emotions (Beatty, 2005).

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This morning, the view framed by my study window is once again suffused with sunlight; a little windy, perhaps, but no storm damage sustained. If collaborative cultures demand shared creation of new knowledge, then openness is an essential part of the process of creating a vigorous, robust learning community (Beatty, 2007). Difficult as it was exposing stakeholders’ perceptions, their similarities as well as differences in perspective (student vs. staff; administration vs. parents), I am at the edge of a maelstrom leading the review process.

Chaos feels uncomfortable, and emotional stamina is crucial. Am I up to the challenge? My inner voice is saying yes.

References

Beatty, B. (2005). Emotional Leadership In: B. Davies (Ed.). The essentials of school leadership (pp. 122-144).London: Corwin Press.

Beatty, B. (2007). Going through the emotions: leadership that gets to the heart of school renewal. Australian Journal of Education 51(3), 328-340. Retrieved September 22, 2012 from EBSCO host.

 

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