In partnership with schools and DEECD, VICCSO is creating practical, state-of-the-art tools to support face-to-face and on-line conversations in school communities. This is a major project.
The tools may assist schools with developing shared views about 21st century education, tackling hot topics and promoting respectful dialogue among teachers, parents and students.
For more information about this exciting initiative, contact Nicholas Abbey on 0402 152 634 or at .
What follows in this section is a brief analysis of:
- Powerful conversations - what makes a conversation powerful and productive and why are such conversations of the utmost importance for all school communities
- Ground rules for conversations
- How the Department's e5 model can be used as a tool for powerful conversations among not only teachers but also parents, students and community members.
Based on the work of many schools, we have provided examples of questions that participants in school community conversations may want to use. These questions are organised according to the 5 Es of engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate.
I was impressed with how frank and open the discussion was. It challenged and confronted all of us with new thoughts and ideas, compelling us to think afresh about the possibilities in education and what can be done to improve outcomes. School principal following a school community conversation
If a school's shared understanding and framework for powerful learning experiences in classrooms, homes, workplaces and community settings is to emerge and really make a difference, the process for developing it is as important as the framework itself.
Development of a framework thus requires powerful conversations among all stakeholders. Easier said than done, but principals report that the pay-offs by way of improved learning outcomes can be immense! Especially when school community members of culturally and socially diverse backgrounds are involved.
What makes a conversation powerful?
What is a 'powerful' conversation? Schools organise workshops and forums in which teachers, parents and students are involved in exploring key questions - prompting many ideas and insights which a leadership team, education sub-committee and school council can build into a shared framework for powerful learning.
A powerful conversation can open up new possibilities for practice. It may help a school and its community to:
- Build trust and respect in the face of different views
- Listen deeply to understand what others really care about
- Address tough dilemmas and competing priorities
- Think strategically while operating practically.
Yet at work, in school communities and in our personal lives we can both consciously and unconsciously avoid having the conversations that may make a major difference.
Ground rules for conversations
A school may set ground rules for its meetings and conversations.
Ground rules are of tremendous importance – and yet are often overlooked as a tool. Devoting an hour to working on ground rules can save countless hours in the future.
It is also important to refer to them regularly. Some schools print them on a poster that is taped to the wall so they are visible at every meeting. Ground rules can be added to your standing orders.
The following ground rules are a mix of the ground rules used by several schools. They are relevant to all small group, committee or school council meetings as well as larger community forums.
Sample ground rules
- Everyone to propose matters that may be placed on the agenda that is distributed prior to the meeting
- Everyone to express their views at the meeting
- Making an effort to listen carefully and to understand each other’s views
- Using body language to show warmth and acceptance and to encourage others to relax and respond in kind
- Mutual learning
- Thinking about what’s best for the community as a whole and not just any one part of it.
We understand that:
- Disagreement and robust debate are opportunities to learn more about an issue and to, ultimately, make a wiser group decision.
- Talking over the top of people
- Not saying anything (e.g., the problem of conflict avoidance)
- Being aggressive or rude
- Taking ‘cheap shots’
- Factions, stacking meetings, hidden agendas and undermining
- Rubber stamping
- Non-collaborative body language (e.g., people rolling their eyes when another person is speaking).
- Non-threatening ways to enforce these rules such as the whole group playing a lighthearted role in addressing violations.
USING e5 in school communities
Designed to support the work of school leaders and teachers in improving instructional practice and developing professional learning, Darrell Fraser emphasises that the Department's
“e5 instructional model is not a recipe for teacher practice but rather a framework to inform conversations".
The e5 model has many uses. As a school community tool it can:
- Build a strong school community coalition of constituencies and voices (teachers, parents, students and community members)
- Sustain an on-going community dialogue between the many groups and partnerships in a school and its community
- Contribute to the development of a shared understanding and framework for powerful learning experiences in classrooms, homes, workplaces and community settings.
The 5 Es of engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate can be used on many levels: by teachers reflecting on classroom practice, leadership teams and school councils and parents and community members. While the ideas provided below can be used by any one of these groups, they are intended for broader, more inclusive gatherings that involve all school community members.
Complementing e5 and the 5Es (see the background paper The BSCS 5E Instructional Model: Origins and Effectiveness, 2006), e5 school community is thus underpinned by the view that:
- Educational improvement is always 'co-owned' in partnerships of educators, parents, students and community members
- Student achievement depends on the development of seamless connections between school, homes and the community.
Providing a focus for combined school staff, student, parent and community conversations and policy making and planning over the course of a year and more, each of the five phases has a specific function. To support this, the 5 Es are reworked as follows.
1. Engage the community and establish the ground rules
The engage phase can stimulate school community thinking about improvement, identify challenges and raise questions.
An initial e5 team may meet to answer the five Ws (Who, What, Where, When and Why) as a first step in the five-phase process.
Brainstorming these questions can obviously help the team to build ownership, divide up responsibilities and prepare a budget and time line. Related key questions may include:
- How can we make sure that participation in an e5 process is representative of the school community? What are the barriers to engagement and how can we overcome these barriers?
- What will be the ground rules for an e5 process (to help to create 'safe places' for openness and sharing)?
- Do we need a facilitator to assist us? (A facilitator may, of course, be critical to making an e5 process work).
Once small group discussions and perhaps some larger forums over time are underway during this engage phase, examples of questions that participants may want to consider are:
- What are the challenges that are we trying to tackle?
- What does learning of the future look and sound like?
- What is powerful learning for all and what promotes? (In this regard, see Dianne Peck's paper)
- What can all of us do together to improve learning outcomes for all students and reduce the achievement gap?
- What are our shared school community values, philosophy, vision, policies and goals? How do they relate to the on-going development of teaching practice?
- What can be improved for parents and community members in assisting teachers in the classroom and with community-based learning (e.g., sustainability education and field work)?
- How can parents of diverse backgrounds be engaged as real partners with teachers? What is our school already doing well in this regard? What else needs to be done?
- What can schools, families, workplaces and community organisations (e.g., sporting clubs) do to best support teachers’ work in connecting with student interests and past learning?
As has long been practiced by many schools, successful engagement requires safe places in which teachers, parents, students and community members feel that they can:
- Engage in open and honest ideas sharing
- Be critical in a mutually respectful way
- Co-develop better ways of doing things.
Schools also develop multiple entry points. This may mean starting small on issues that matter most to people and commencing the e5 process with a few key questions. Informal settings and small groups may also be safer places for participants to begin with.
Besides the pivotal role of a good facilitator in a face-to-face meeting, on-line resources exist that can also support school stakeholders to learn and work together. Examples include:
2. Explore experiences, ideas, evidence and opportunities
During the explore phase, workshop activities may help to further tease out the experiences and ideas of teachers, parents, students and community members. Questions may include:
- What are our different experiences at this school? What would we like to see improved?
- How can teachers, parents and students best use their ideas and experiences in teams to generate new possibilities?
- What teams of teachers, parents, students and community members should be established (e.g., a technology or sustainability education team)?
- How can school, family, workplace and community settings best provide experiences for students to generate and investigate challenging questions?
- What real-world problems can be brought in to the classroom for students to explore and solve?
- Are classrooms connected to communities of practitioners in science, maths, art, music and other fields?
- How can we best foster consistency with learning routines across school, family and community settings?
- How can we best develop common expectations as to student attendance, homework and participation?
- What are the opportunities to better combine academic and applied learning and real world problem solving?
- What education models (e.g., a P-12 cluster or a community hub) should our school be developing?
3. Explain the links between the community and practice
Just as the 5Es help students sequence their learning to develop their understanding, so, too, the 5Es can support all school community members to learn more about their community and its implications for improvements in teaching practice.
A framework for powerful learning may reveal and 'explain' these links between progress in teaching and a school's values, vision, goals, philosophy and so on. Questions may include:
- How can the school assist all school community members to see how teaching practice in the classroom co-develops and is aligned with a school's values, theories, philosophy, vision and goals, links to evidence and research and policies?
- How can these connections help to improve teaching practice?
- Are these connections strong enough to create a shared school community framework for powerful learning?
- What areas of practice can be improved given students' cultural and social backgrounds?
- Is instructional practice culturally and socially inclusive? (see, for example, Communities of Effective Practice which looks at the 5Es and cultural relevance)
- How can school, family, workplace and community settings best provide opportunities for students to demonstrate their conceptual understanding and practical learning skills?
This phase may include increased use of a common language and links to the latest educational research.
4. Elaborate to further develop and apply what is shared
During the elaborate phase, to further develop and deepen the shared understanding and apply knowledge by way of problem solving and better practices, questions may include:
- What problems can we solve?
- What practices can be improved?
- What else can be done to build on-going dialogue among teachers, parents and students about improving educational experiences and learning outcomes?
- How can communication between teachers, parents and students be improved?
- How well are technologies (e.g., students co-creating wikis) used to build the home-school educational partnership? What is the next phase?
- How can transparency and accountability to the community (and the work of a school council, in this regard) be improved?
- How can family, community and workplace settings help to further challenge and extend students’ conceptual understanding and skills?
- How can we make better use of the expertise that resides in our school community?
5. Evaluate the achievements and identify the next steps
During this phase, participants may evaluate the extent to which they have developed a shared understanding and used it to solve problems and improve practices. Questions may include:
- Have we achieved what we set out to do?
- Have we made progress toward a shared understanding and framework for powerful learning?
- How can schools, families, workplaces and the community best support students to assess their progress against learning goals and prepare a performance of understanding?
- How do we ensure that judgements about student performance are consistent across school, family and community settings?
- Which external audiences can students prepare projects for? In which community locations can students' work be displayed?
- What are the different opportunities for all students to experience some kind of publicly visible success?
- How can schools, families, workplaces and the community best assist students to identify their future learning goals?
- How can students’ learning goals be made more relevant to all educational settings, and vice versa?
- What else remains to be worked on together?
Using questions such as these in joint teacher-parent forums, wider community gatherings, school council and SRC meetings and other committees and teams, all of which obviously take a lot of time to develop, e5 can help to remake staff, student, parent and community conversations and planning around improving learning.