A Letter To Myself- Year Two At Rolleston College Horoeka Haemata

We have just begun year two and welcomed 220 new learners to our wonderful kura bringing our roll to 448. The people, both young and old we are all learners and we are all learning everyday this makes it a wonderful fast-paced place to be.

At the start of 2017 I set out the challenge to all staff and learners to write a letter to themselves in the first week of being part of the college community. We put those letters in a kete, upon leaving that person gets their letter. The learners write “Dear future me” or “Dear year 13 me”, and each staff member will have a different timeline.

All new members of our community are going through this process at the moment. I love this idea and I really wish I had followed through and written my letter in 2017! I have a few blogs which pin point where I was at at certain times in the year but I have missed the opportunity (and I’m not the only one!) to have that letter from day 1.

So writing this letter at the start of the College’s second year I want to reflect on 3 key areas that I would not have even considered a year or more ago. I didn’t know what I know now and have a deep understanding of the importance of connecting with learners, learner leadership and collaboration. Here’s my reflection and goals for my time at Horoeka Haemata for 2018.



This was my Ako group early in 2017, Hotoke 4, we are in the middle of ‘Check and Connect’. Something all Ako groups do each morning. We discuss ‘peaks and pits’ or ‘what’s on top’, what ever the topic we check in each day ’round the table this is a way of gauging where learners are at, learners get to check in with each other and learn from others who they might not normally connect with. This group will travel on their journey through the College together, meeting daily and discovering more connections. I can’t wait to see where they are at in 2021!

A key reason why I wanted to work in this environment is the importance I place on relationships within the school community. So connecting with the learners in my Ako group and all other classes was a no-brainer. But what about the adults we work with. No longer in a single cell or on the far side of the school in a block on your own. I am now working in shared spaces both in my teacher workspace and the learning spaces. I see more adults in my day, which is nice and it reaffirms by belief in the importance of connecting with the staff as well as the learners. This also highlights that taking the time to connect as people outside of the job is important. I have one colleague who works in a similar manner to me and we often get straight to the point regarding the lesson when we worked together in term 4 and we discussed our work modes during this time both acknowledging that is what we do but it doesn’t mean we don’t care. We often chat personal after the ‘on top’ stuff and teaching are done. With other team members I start with them before we get into work mode. Knowing your people and their needs is super important to build the trust that is needed. The trust that you will get the job done and the trust that you care about them as a person.


The image below is our 35 learner leaders (all yr9) from 2017. This pic is from the leadership  day they spent with the student leaders from Middleton Grange. The older students were able to share their knowledge and experience of leadership and ran workshops through the day.


The learner leadership team are a great example of how the learning has gone beyond the “classroom” and learners have the opportunity to take things in any direction.

We had a vision for learner leadership where the learners would get to have their say.  Research was carried out in 2016 to see what learner leadership would look like. On day one someone asked ‘Is there going to be a head girl?’ the response was ‘how would we do that? Are you head girl for a year? what if you do a really good/bad job?’ does that mean you get to stay on? do you give it up after a year?’ There is no correct response but it was food for thought and gave the learners something to think about. Their idea of traditional leadership models was challenged, we know one size does not fit all and accepting that we don’t have to have everything decided, ratified and set in stone  has allowed for freedom of expression and adaptation of an idea to suit the learners.

A good example of the organic leadership model in the college is even though the leadership roles we set up they were modified in each whānau to suit what was happening in that environment. Basic roles were Whānau Ambassador (the cheerleader front people responsible for mustering spirit), the Hauora Council (along the lines of student council). Each whānau approached this in different ways, some had 2 whānau ambassadors, some had 4 including deputies, some had none and the learners were fluid adapting and fulfilling a role when needed depending on their skills, availability and passion for the project.

Had a written this letter to myself I never would have imagined I would see leadership grow across all areas of the school. We are at the point now where we are reviewing what we developed and looking to the next year of leaders and aiming for over 40 leaders. What I have confirmed over the year is that you don’t need a badge to be a leader and your badge doesn’t make you a leader.


Another area for reflection after one year as a typically functioning school is the collaboration aspect. As a staff we are part of several teams some are relatively fixed such as SLT, Learning Leaders (similar to HOF/HOD), Whānau. Some are fluid such as learning teams connected, selected and committees which may have changed each term or as the needs arise. Collaborating is a big part of what we do as teachers anyway and as a developing  school we are constantly cutting new paths, creating new connections and learning to unlearn everything we ever thought we knew about collaboration!

Collaboration is something I think we would all like to say we do well. I think I do but I’m not so sure. Having a shared doc where activities and learning tasks are added to make sure the learners are busy is a type of collaboration. You need to take the time to chat things through and as teachers we are so often time poor you just have to hit go and go with your instincts and experiences to be able to engage the learners.

A personal challenge this year is to collaborate better. I am working as part of some new teams and some existing teams. I can draw my previous experiences but this cannot simply be transplanted to each new context, team or group. It can be a starting point but not the only point you visit. My first advice to our new staff was Take your time & be a sponge  and this is what I intend on doing to move forward.


Upon recently reading the Harvard Business Review Sept-Oct 2017 edition I read an article on Multi-teaming which supports collaboration in the workplace. It outlined the pros and cons of this and the reason why many companies are moving towards this. This has given me some insight into where I need to go next and how my thinking needs to change.

Multi-teaming increased efficiency recognising that a team doesn’t need 100% of the people 100% of the time. It allows for the transfer of knowledge from different pathways that may have never been explored. It allows for highly specialised people to dip in and out when needed.

The risks involved include the transmitting of shock when all are busy, the group cohesion can suffer, and burn out. However technology allows us to be connected when not physically present. I am working on a shared doc at present as part of a new initiative within the kura and the discussion everytime we meet is ‘we need to get onto this application doc’ I had missed the initial meetings and felt like it wasn’t mine (my own thoughts not the groups!) I finally engaged in the doc and was able to add the depth need in the a specialised area, this is me dipping in. I get it! True collaboration means you’re not stepping on toes and even if you are if you know your team and they know you have trust and the relationship to move the project forward. Collaboration is not about me and how I feel it is about the team. Even though my task focused brain may have seen the conversation of ‘we must get on to this doc’ as a time wasting meeting, it was us laying the ground rules for our team, hearing ideas, listening, processing, feeding back and then making a move. Slow and steady rather than knee jerk reactions.

One of my first reflections to staff after I had been in this role for a term was stop look listen and breathe. Good things take time and so does collaboration part of my goal for collaboration this year will also include Engaging in robust conversations. To do this I don’t need to be a steam roller with my ideas, throw them out there see what people think and steam roll ahead while they process. I need to stop look listen and breathe, before engaging in robust conversation once everyone has had the chance to process.

If I had written a letter to myself last year it would have said all the right things. I am so lucky to be in the position, I am part of a great team, the opportunities are endless. This is all true however one year on I am able to think deeper and pin point exactly who I am, who I was and who I want to be and I’m not quite there yet but getting closer every day. This blog post is my letter to myself combined with my personal professional goals for the year. I wish I had reflected more over the year on paper or here, but in my head I did and what’s still in there is what is needed.


Bees do it…Holacracy as a collaborative tool for Education

‘The heroic leader standing atop a hierarchy, bending the school community to his or her purposes’

(Camburn, E., Rowan, B. & Taylor, J.E. (2003) Distributed leadership in schools)

Collaboration is a key tool for driving teaching and learning in schools and even though working collaboratively is not new to educational practices acknowledging shared responsibility can be difficult for some. When leadership is distributed there is an uneasiness as we are familiar with models of heroic leadership that top down leadership offers. The certainty that has come with top down is one that we are frustrated by, feel disappointed in and think we could do better.  However, when given the opportunity to working collaboratively some still struggle to embrace what distributed leadership has to offer. We are so used to waiting to hear what to do next, following orders, or complaining about big decisions that are made, that for some when given the opportunity we are still unsure about what we can actually make final decisions on.

Holacracy is a way of learning how to leader collaboratively as we develop new ecosystems in our schools.  There is always going to be the person who has the final say on decisions that affect the entire structure and vision of the organisation. After all the buck stops with the principal or Board of Trustees who are entrusted to make sure the school does not stray to far from it’s moral purpose. Holacracy is derived from holarchy from the 1967 book The Ghost in the machine by Arthur Koestler. Holons are small parts who depend and support the whole, similar to ecosystems. Think bees in a beehive.


Ref: Business Insider

Holacracy is considered a “flat” system that fosters flexibility, innovation and efficiency. Engagement and productivity usually jump on board at some point however it can be difficult for some to let go as we are used to being masters of our small universes in our traditional departments. This system looks like it is a mix and mingle that you can get swept up in, however even more organisation is required to allow all those involved in the different roles and circles to be able to function. One big difference is the innovation and ideas come from all over rather than top down.

This is how the teaching work place is going so we can expect that this will have a flow on how learners operate in innovative, flexible learning environments. Traditionally teachers have largely worked in most cases separate buildings or departments since time began. So as we come together to work collaboratively acknowledging a change in the wider system is imperative and common sense.

Working in collaborative teams takes time, effort and openness. To be able to be honest with your team and to have a voice you can’t expect smooth sailing all the time. The collaborative process that musicians go through produces some amazing pieces of music but it’s not always smooth sailing. There is a reason Fleetwood Mac created great music when recording the album Rumours at high personal cost. Even working closely with family can work for a good time but not always a long time, the Gallagher brothers can attest to this. The right amount of letting go, listening and time to digest is important. However the pressure we are under to produce resources and meet deadlines means it something has to give and as a team the norms will be developed early on but it is OK do go through what Tuckman describes as the stages of group development. The forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning stages of group formation as suggested by Tuckman are not always embraced but should be acknowledged even if they only service justify why things may be going  a certain way in a collaborative team.


{ref: https://wit.edu/lit/engage/empower-groups}

Holacracy gives is one way forward when working in a collaborative team that is part of a bigger machine. What are the advantages and disadvantages?


  • Fast changing world allows us to be flexible
  • Encourages innovation within a team
  • Able to adapt quickly to needs
  • Being responsive to young people’s learning needs
  • Empowers all and allows for distributed leadership
  • Developing higher level thinking skills


  • A big change of culture in education, like turning an ocean liner
  • People don’t like change
  • Gives people no-one to complain about if they can’t complain about the boss holding them back or making all the decisions…which they disagree with.
  • Small circles end up like hierarchical systems due to the group being unable to change.

Overall the disadvantages are around individuals who struggle to be team players or find themselves feeling threatened professionally. The old adage no idea is a bad idea, as long as the learner is at the centre and it fits with the values, vision and beliefs of the organisation then you can’t go wrong.  Holacracy processes enable people to respond faster, give clarity and autonomy to all. Incremental improvements are possible without the tyranny of waiting for all to agree. A collaborative group can move forward  and everyone drives continual improvement.

My inspiration for this blog was from The Harvard Business Review (Jul-Aug 2016, p.47) gives a good glossary of management terms that explain the roles within the organisation through to the individual and holacracy is one of many possibilities. There is much more research to be done looking at the different terms and seeing how they can be applied in an educational setting. The possibilities are endless! Some terms include:

  • Podularity – Self management system with individual pods, a microcosm.
  • Cabal – team forms organically to work towards a major multidisciplinary goal.
  • Lead Link – role within a circle who allocates roles and assign resources responsible for a certain process.

The article is geared towards business however it can easily be applied in educational settings.



My final thoughts: Holacracy is a redefinition of a traditional system and supports collaborative environments. We cannot be ignorant and think that some sort of hierarchy does not exist whether we have a triangle or a circle, the boss does get paid the big bucks for a reason. Everyone has a voice and has the opportunity to be heard, this is what we want for our learners too. Let it go, lap it up and jump on board, the worse that could happen is that you could learn something new or be affirmed that what you were doing in traditional planning in your department was on the money anyway and the rest of the world has joined you. Share the load and don’t be afraid.




It’s The Simple Things In Life: A snapshot of worldwide wellbeing

Worldwide trends in wellbeing seem to all point in the same direction… He aha te mea nui o te ao? What is the most important thing in the world? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata It is the people, it is the people, it is the people. Worldwide trends highlight the importance of wellbeing and give us many models to look to for inspiration.


Hygge (pronounced ‘hoo- ) is the Danish and Norwegian concept of wellbeing.  Hygge does not translate easily into English but can be described as coziness or cosy around together. Hygge is about enjoying life’s wholeness and safety. Embracing the simple pleasures in life – a good book, a warm fire, time with friends and family, good food, good wine. This makes me think about the 5 ways to wellbeing making time for hygge and acknowledging that it’s ok to stop, disconnect from our smartphones, taking a mindful moment.

We can do this in the classroom – not the wine part! Hygge is also about creating a relaxing space for learners to find flow and be inspired to learn as a community.  Each person feels relaxed in a different space so it could be a quiet reading nook or a sunny spot in a busy space. If you know your learner you can get hygge, through checking in with them daily, celebrating successes and failures in learning. Acknowledging courage in learning so the trusted relaxed atmosphere will grow.  Getting learners to understand empathy can also create the ‘coziness’ that is required for hygge. I guess there’s a reason why the Scandinavian countries are always ahead of the game when it comes to looking after themselves and their people

Sitting alongside hygge is lagom (pronounced ‘lar-gohm’) which means ‘just the right amount’. It’s about striking the perfect balance between work and play. I guess once you have your hygge in order lagom will come!



The Japanese secret to health and wellbeing is ‘Ikigai’. The Japanese believe that ‘Ikigai’ is the reason for being. The venn diagram shows the importance of four main aspects of life: What you are good at; What you love; What the world needs; What you get paid for. The word has origins from the work ‘kai; meaning shell, which are highly valued and ikigai derived from kai to mean value in living.

In a highly structured,  innovative, busy society it is not surprising that the Japanese focus on ikigai. The main focus is on happiness and ikigai allows you to look forward even if things are tough right now. However, I guess a country that also has the phenomenon of ‘karoshi’ (working yourself to death) needs ikigai!

As a teaching tool ikigai could be used to help learners who are wanting to make decisions on learning pathways, career or tertiary pathways in the senior school. The venn diagram gives a way of looking a the big picture and is a practical tool. Not as cosy as hygge!

NZ: Hauora

Here in Aotearoa we have the ‘Hauora’ model of wellbeing, which uses ‘Te Whare Tapa Wha’ model was developed by Dr Mason Durie a Psychiatrist who is known for his contribution to Māori health. This model and the dimensions were cemented in New Zealand health practices during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Te Whare Tapa Wha is the house of four walls and is an holistic approach to wellbeing. Te Whare acknowledges that all four walls which represent our health and they support each other. The walls are Te Taha Hinengaro (psychological health), Te Taha Wairua (spiritual health), Te Taha Tinana (physical health), and Te Taha Whanau (family health).

te whare

Health education was introduced into NZ education system around 1918 when the flu epidemic was at it’s peak hygiene, exercise, fresh air and good food were on the menu. This remained the focus throughout most of the 20th Century. By 1999 the NZC as we know it ensured Health as well as Physical Education was an essential learning area, with hauora an underlying concept within the curriculum.  The great things about health education in New Zealand is that it has always been responsive and we are in a time of change and innovation so expanding the concept of hauora outside the HPE curriculum.

Hauora is the unique multi-dimensional model of wellbeing that translates to ‘breath of life’ and we can easily use this model schoolwide to support learners to identify where they are at with their wellbeing and where potential weak links are. Hauora similar to Ikigai gives a practical way of assessing where an individual is at.

Why wellbeing in school?

The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 wellbeing survey  analysed learners motivation to do well in school, their relationships with peers, teachers,how they spend their time outside of school and their home life. The report reveals that there is considerable anxieties around school work and tests. The role of the school is important to support learners and create conditions for wellbeing. Creating an environment that is positive and encourages success as well as celebrating failure can lead to less anxiety.



I wish I had to tools to navigate when I was at high school. Since I began teaching I have had a passion for pastoral care and the development of positive learning relationships with learners. The support I received as a learner at my secondary school in Christchurch. (Thank you Mrs Robertson, my Dean and teacher at secondary school) has stayed with me throughout my own teaching career and I often think back the support I received and am grateful someone bothered. Don’t get me wrong, life was stable for me but let’s face it being a teenager can be rough. Navigating the stormy seas of  friendships, relationships and learning. Building resilience to tackle what life throws at you is important, particularly when your frontal lob has gone into hibernation. So embracing the wellbeing tools that are out there and easily accessible is a no-brainer.

Worldwide wellbeing is a response to our fast -paced lives where we are connected and our attention is constantly divided. The importance of wellbeing and being proactive with our responses to ākonga needs in schools has also come to the fore. We have the hauora model embedded in our curriculum and there are trends worldwide that we can look to for inspiration and to use as a mirror at different times in our lives. As Michael Franti said “It’s never too late“.



Life Long Learner or Life Long Trier?

 Practice what you preach: Mastery in Learning

We expect all learners to master what they are exploring or studying and to have the desire to ‘go deep’ with their learning. Frustrations are echoed in classrooms across the world with teachers gripes and groans about learners doing the bare minimum to pass the test, get the credits or avoid a rewrite. 

What do we as teachers do to encourage deeper learning?

Let’s be honest I am sure we have all been guilty of teaching to the test at one time or another in our careers as a way of getting ‘the system’ off our back. We are time poor and are always complaining that there is not enough time to explore or extend our learners due to the bell, end of term or pressure to move onto the next thing as we ram more average information into learners heads. We desire to have the time to sit, be curious and wonder ‘what if…’ or ‘what next…’ but when was the last time you did this yourself with your learning.


I give you a personal example I call myself a musician, my house is full of musical instruments that I can play and when asked ‘what do you play?’ my response ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’. This is my justification for why I have never ‘gone deep’ on any instrument…until the drums.

Can’t be that hard can it? You listen to a song and hit the drums in time. I was directed to lessons with a somewhat hidden treasure that is lurking in the Christchurch music scene as an internationally recognised musician and tutor of percussion. In my first lesson with Doug Brush about 4 years ago I told him that I wanted to learn to play a certain song, we still haven’t got to that song as he is still teaching me the alphabet of drumming. Once I have all the pieces of the puzzle, all the techniques, basic skills and can put them altogether I can play any song. We all know this when we start teaching toddlers the alphabet, we are dead keen to get them to write their name and master a handful of letters, but we make sure they go to school with some idea of the whole alphabet under their belt. I am now learning how to learn as a percussion player, this is something no other music tutor taught me. Not their fault as they were always ‘teaching to the test’ preparing me for an up and coming performance or exam. This is what we expect from our specialist music teachers then wonder why they aren’t able to go deep.

Mastery of learning in any area suggests that if the appropriate learning conditions are there it will happen. My learning conditions: For 15 years I have worked in music departments with drum kits & itinerant percussion specialists & worked with learners at varying levels. I would look at the kit, ask questions of the visiting tutors. I would buy the books with songs to learn, I would wonder why my senior music students would not “practice” but merely play through their songs and call it practice.

For many of the instruments I have learnt in recent years – guitar, voice, trumpet, drums – the reason for me taking an interest is to learn what techniques apply to this instrument so I can effectively and authentically grade the learners for NCEA. Another reason is so I can put myself in the shoes of my learners and to see just how hard it might be on their instrument. I soon learnt that power chords on a guitar were in fact an easy way out for the young learner playing Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ (standard repertoire for any year 11 bass, guitar or drummer all 5min 32secs of it). I was expecting the learners to have the skills to master their instrument and learn the alphabet of their instrument, but we were time poor and the desire to master the instrument wasn’t always there. In the end overall it was about the credits.

Mastery also suggests that a learner has more than one try at something. Well I’ve had a few tries and this is what leads me to being ‘jack of all trades’ (The Ralph family motto, what does that tell you? that’s a whole other can of worms!). Also mastery suggests the end or completion of something, but we know learning is never finished. We should really look at mastery as building upon skills this is the way SOLO taxonomy supports learning and the drive to go deeper and explore more.


Daniel Goleman discusses the 10,000 hours myth in his book Focus: The Driver of Hidden Excellence. (which has taken me about 3 months to read, don’t get me wrong it’s a good book, I just lack what it is about!). Goleman discusses quality of time spent on something and not just quantity. In relation to music I see this as practise vs playing, so many of my learners over the years have claimed to have practised for hours in a week when in fact they have played. This is also good practice but if you want to get better it is quality over quantity. I once worked in a private school in the UK where a Cellist would practice for hours. It was a very quiet practice session for the most part as he spent hours lying on the floor stretching and getting his body ready before he even touched the cello. This was proper practice. This is playing drills, learning scales, considering your posture, listening to your instrument before you crunch and crash through the song.

The next steps for my learning here is to consider how my current learners are learning rather than doing or being busy. If we want to grow life long learners who can master a skill and be willing to take a few side steps or pause we need to give them time. Make time, we have time.

Thanks to my car pool buddy Rob Ferguson for the conversation that lead to this post and got me thinking I need to pull finger and stop being jack. I’m off to practice now…or will I just play?

(practice or practise…who knows!)


Intelligence is more that just academic

Daniel Goleman tells the story of a college student who got a B on a test and the went to see his lecturer and stabbed him in the neck. eiHe went on to graduate and become a doctor. The issue was that the grade was not high enough for what he needed for medical school so he got mad. There was a court case and the remaining issue for the lecturer was that he never apologised for his actions. The student was obviously academically intelligent but not emotionally intelligent.

Intelligence is more that just academic. I believe to be an effective teaching practitioner in a 21st century kura we need to acknowledge  this fact.

Living in Otautahi we know a lot about anxiety and resilience in our young learners. The current year 9 cohort at my kura were about 6-7 years old when the big quakes struck and rolled the city for a time. Anxiety is a big issue with younger learners and it seems that only now are we seeing some of the fall out as these learner transition between schools, citywide. When learners begin secondary school there tends to be a drop academically while they transition. They are more aware of the world around them and are making more connections in person and online. Image is increasingly more important and the haves and have not’s start to notice each other even more. We need to acknowledge that the transition to secondary school is a process and not a one off event.

How can we ensure the transition process is right & safe for learners?

Transition has usually consisted of a entrance test, tour of the school, and peer support from senior students. What do you do if you don’t have senior students? We currently do not have any senior akonga so we are relying on the relationships developed with teachers and those in the community. We are using recognised programmes such as Travellers which support learners in seeing that is a journey and understanding resilience, loss and change is important for personal and social development. We are utilising support services such as the 24/7 Youth team who are extremely proactive in supporting our learners both in and out of  the classroom. Developing community connections and making the school accessible for whanau has also been of importance.

Through the programmes and support systems we are developing we are also acknowledging the cognitive skills and abilities that learners have.

This term I have begun to introduce mindfulness practices into the college with teachers and learners having taster mindfulness sessions. Through the Pause, Breathe, Smile course learners will have the opportunity not only to learn about mindfulness practices but to learn how their brains work and why they react the way they do.

For years we have taught content and rammed it into kids brains. Dare I saw it we have taught to the test, come on we’ve all been there. Why haven’t we spent time outside of the science class teaching learners how their brains work so that they can understand better how they learn? Learning about breathing, the vagus nerve and neuroplasticity is exciting for learners and who doesn’t want to know more about themselves.

Looking at how and why people react the way they do through resilience, mentoring or mindfulness programmes enables, or maybe even empowers learners to understand how they learn rather than what to learn. Understanding our emotional intelligence is the start.

Coming Out as a 21st Century Learner & Educator

So this is my coming out story. Not everyone will be pleased to hear this story but I imagine the ones who come across this blog will be able to relate and those that are scared of my story won’t come across this anyway as they may not have discovered ‘Web 2.0’.

I must admit I have been dabbling for a few years and truthfully this is who I am deep down. It’s not an easy life I have chosen and I have had come challenging conversations with friends and colleagues who do not agree 100% with the path I have chosen. I have tried things here and there to see what worked and I often wondered why others weren’t always on board with the way I wanted to be. Sometimes I have told people what I am trying and some say it’s OK, they don’t have a problem…but not in their classroom. It’s not a ‘traditional’ path or journey that I am on but I think this is the right thing for me at this time.

I have chosen the path towards becoming an innovative teaching practitioner and am lucky enough to be working in an innovative learning environment. I have the opportunity to teach collaboratively with integrated learning areas where between 2 & 4 subjects are taught as one seamless learning vehicle. We call one of our learning vehicles ‘Connected’, which is the traditional core subjects together to give learners a real world view of how subjects come together once you get outside of the school gates. In recent conversations I have had with secondary and tertiary educators regarding innovative ways of engaging young learners have often taken a turn for the worst. It always begins with listening to how my kura is challenging the status quo and they agree and accept that this is a good thing encouraging learners to embrace the key competencies, problem solve, analyse information and come to their own conclusion that this is a good way forward.

What am I teaching that is so offensive to some teachers?

Using the concept of ‘movement’ we are currently teaching learners the connections between performing arts, social sciences, maths, English and science.  I have explained this to many teachers in across all sectors of education from primary through to tertiary. In one situation the person listened, then thought, then freaked out and back-pedalled. The conversation finished with “But sometimes you just need to sit them down and give them content”. Well of course this might happen from time to time but surely we can move forward being the keepers of knowledge. Learners should get to decide their learning journey at some point.

Throughout my professional career I haven’t felt that I quite fit, I recall a discussion around differentiation in the classroom. I didn’t understand what it was and why people were struggling to implement this in their teaching. I queried this with a fellow Arts teacher and realised this is what we did all day everyday and I didn’t think there was any other way. Surely making sure each learner is treated as the individual they are and the learning programme should be able to engage them at any level and they should feel success. I call it the “Yes!” moment, the time when the learner does a fist pump in the air when they succeed in learning. Don’t all learners deserve this when learning? If not we may as well bring out the dunce hat.dunce


What do we want for our learners in 2017?

Bottom line we want them to develop critical thinking skills for the 21st Century. In many schools teachers complain about the lack of ownership by learners for accessing information. If learners don’t find it in the first 2-3 Google hits they give up.  Therefore don’t we want learners to be able to dig a bit deeper than surface learning? Through analysing, reasoning and evaluating learners can use these skills across many different content areas. If we content dump and teach to the test we cannot get high level reasoning skills or questioning that is needed to develop critical thinkers.

Reinventing the wheel in classrooms across the world is common place through collaboration across learning clusters, Communities of Learning, subject associations is commonplace. Collaboration is a critical skill that exists within learning areas so why not school wide? Applying higher levels of thinking to real world situations is a necessary skill. Teachers do it already, let’s allow learner the same privilege.

Making league tables look good does not equal analyse and evaluate. I recently developed a new course for year 9 learners where they had to go through the design thinking process to create and carry out a social action. The end result, they researched and found out where the need was, however when it came to carrying out the social action things did not go to plan. Epic fail some would say…or did they learn how to plan, collaborate, speak with members of local social service providers. I wrestled with myself as I wanted to ‘save’ them and make sure the social actions they planned happened, but I held off so that they could see the personal learning that took place and not what I had orchestrated. On completion of the course they problem solvedreflected, made real world applications and realised that you can still learn from your mistakes.

Critical thinking is essential to empowering learners to be the master of their destiny.

We are masters of our universe, kings and queens of our classrooms and it is challenging what we know and how we have always been. We have all been students in the classroom from Year 1 -13, some of us even continued into tertiary education. My family are OK with my life choice at this stage, they don’t get it, they have their own experiences of how life was for them at school and how it has always been. They listen but we don’t talk about it too much. It almost seems too painful for them, like I am dismissing all of their educational experiences. Were their experiences wrong? I had the same schooling and still turned out this way. Am I wrong now? Do I have the spirit to live this life. I read online and in books about how it can be, I’ve seen lots in real life and I think united we stand. But as we challenge everything that people ever thought about education we must expect that as somewhat pioneers there will be some resistance.

So coming out as a 21st century educator and learner within my circle of life has been tough. I keep things I am doing in my kura to myself alot, not a secret but a knowing that I am on the right path for me. I cannot change anyone to my way of being unless they want to. Just because they hang out with me they won’t catch it…some might but it was always in them, it’s not down to me. But if I can demonstrate how it can be then I am sure more people would be open to talking about it with me.

The year is 2017, you have a smartphone, cars are electric and you can be assessed on sustainability as part of NCEA. These kids need our help so let’s open the real world to them and empower them to keep this ball of fire alive.

I’m out as a 21st learner and I’m proud!

Learning Coach & Advisory: What a ‘Form Teacher’ was always meant to be and wasn’t.

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. 

What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

For me teaching is about fostering the learning relationship and connecting with ãkonga to find their passions and walk beside them on their learning journey so that they are able to navigate their learning with support. The ‘guide on the side’ as opposed to leading with a carrot. It’s about people helping people.


In addition to the teaching & learning relationship an important element is pastoral care, which has become increasingly more important in education as we focus more on the learning relationship between the teacher and learner.

Pastoral Care As Form Teacher And Dean

My pastoral care journey as secondary school student is typical of the model in secondary schools worldwide and typical of the system that I have taught in. I had a form teacher and was part of a vertical form class. We met once a day for 15 mins and all students from year 9 -13 stood awkwardly around while the notices were read, we were reprimanded about our uniform and asked about our whereabouts from certain classes we had missed. The teacher then busied himself with jobs before his next class, I went to this room for five years and waited. I was not engaged in any learning and we all accepted this is what you did. The UK system called registration happened at the start of the day and after lunch. They were the two roll call opportunities of the day as long as you were there at these two sessions you were present for the day. It was an administrative thing. In NZ making the time longer was meant to equal better pastoral care, we were now in an identified group, we had our picture taken for the year book, I purchased one in my first year of high school. A memory of some people who I used to stand in the same room as for 15 mins. I should have taken a picture of me with the people I stood at the bus stop with, at least we took a journey together!

The issue is the form teachers role has always been a goodwill role. This is not counted as ‘contact’ time and in 15 mins how much of a relationship can we really build with each learner let alone facilitate a relationship or connections between the learners?

As a teacher I accepted this culture that this is ‘just how we do things around here‘. Our contracts discuss non-contacts etc and we all agree we are usually going above and beyond but this is OK because it’s about the kids. This is a very simplistic view but you get the point.

The next layer up from the form teacher is the Dean and this usually kicks in when things go wrong. Reactive rather than proactive and hours allocated are often more than leaders of curriculum areas. For example as an HOD I had 1 hour a week to attend to all HOD responsibilities and as a Dean/Head of House I had 5 hours per week to attend to pastoral responsibilities. This gives us a glimpse into the importance of pastoral care in schools. The main basic function of a school is teaching and learning but why are their so many more hours put into pastoral care? Because if the learners aren’t happy and supported in their learning journey then we cannot effectively teach and cater to their needs.

From another learner growing up in the traditional system I want to share their experience of pastoral care from the form teacher. “We spent 20 mins in the morning and 20 mins in the afternoon with our form teacher, plus she taught us for one subject as juniors. This meant we had the chance to establish a relationship. This was great for year 9 but as we moved through the school we had a new form teacher every year.

OK, there is some improvement in this model as there is a learning connection made. however what happened next…?

Do you think they knew you, knew what made you tick and anything about your learning? “This worked in the junior school as we were taught by this person, but in the senior school it started to wane. Big stuff happened and it was not the form teacher I went to. I didn’t really want my form teacher to know, privacy was still important & I really didn’t have the relationship with me”.

The outcome of form time is that it becomes the room you go to to wait and despite the most dedicated teachers best efforts it’s very difficult to build a connection with each learner let alone the learners building connections with their peers when they have few shared experiences at school.

So how can we improve on this traditional model of pastoral care?

Simple, distribute the responsibilities of pastoral care to more people by giving them more time also and make it count. As a form teacher you are more likely to be effective if you have the time to connect with the learners and if you know something about them as learners and are connected to the curriculum in some way. Make sure there are learning experiences and connections made.

Solution: Advisory or Learning Coach

big pic.PNGDennis Littky Co-fonder of Big Picture Learning identifies the importance of teachers being in an ‘Advisory ‘ role for the learner.  A few years ago his book “The Big Picture: Education is Everyone’s Business” was recommended to me by a group of innovative school principals. I sat on this info for about 3 years and when I began my journey as part of the start up team for a new kura I finally got down to reading it. I thought maybe it would be irrelevant now as was over 10 years old, but it is fascinating to find that we are just getting there in NZ. His innovative ideas back in early 2000’s was a world I was just walking into.

What is Learning Advisory?

A Learning Advisor is a teacher who has a small group  of ãkonga who they work with regularly & they work in partnership with home to ensure the learner gets the necessary support and goes in the desired direction. Check out this clip which explains it. Littky emphasises the importance of small schools as in the USA there is a tendancy for schools to be like small towns with between 2000-5000 learners making it very easy to fall through the cracks. An extract from the book The Big Picture: Education is everyone business by Dennis Littky. This extract discusses the idea of one student at a time

Ako Learning Coach

In our kura we foster this relationship through ãkonga having a Learning Coach who works with them during Ako. Ako is every day for 100 mins, first thing in the morning Mon-Thurs and last thing on a Fri after lunch. During Ako learners work on Quest projects, which follow the concept of passion projects where learner have the chance to delve deeper into an area they are interested in. Or they may choose to try to learn a new skill and experience something new. Either way they write an in-depth plan and reflect on the process as they move through their learning. The Learning Coach also supports them with  a personalised reading programme. They are challenged to read a wide variety of texts and reflect on what they have read, then blog and finally read others blogs and learn how to communicate & reflect online in a positive constructive way. A bit more writing than “LOL”  or “Like” which an example of how many online interactions can go. We challenge them to think critically and go deep with this process.

The Learning Coach facilitates the learning at this time as well as developing connections with the learners and between the learners. The Learning Coach is the constant in the learners day, and the relationship will be maintained over the 5 years that the learner is in the kura. Building a rapport with home and the learner is key to the process so that the triangle of the home-school-learner partnership.


What happens to the ãkonga who doesn’t get on with the Learning Coach who they are ‘stuck with’? If the foundations have been laid the learner feels that there is a person they can go to who can advocate for them. They will have a sense of belonging and they have made a connection somewhere in the school with one staff member, if not we are not doing our job.

I see the connection demonstrated in this diagram which I created last year as the concept of Ako learning time was first presented to me. The idea that the Learning Coach, ãkonga, and whanau are consistent in the relationship and the mentor can change over time as a need arises. Therefore it is represented as a dotted line as the mentor may not come on board until a learning focus is found. This role could be filled by a sports coach, music tutor, specialist teacher, supervisor during an internship or employer at a part-time job.

Ako learning time

The Ako Learning Coach role is working well In a very short space of time it has become apparent that we know our learners very well. Through the connections made the learners are able to ask for support, be challenged in their learning and whanau are coming into school for celebrations of learning rather than reacting to negative incidents that might have happened

The African proverb reminds us “It takes a whole village to raise a child” and guess what…we got this.

Want to know more about Big Picture schools see this 15 page summary of Big Picture Education