Can There Really Be A Unicorn School?

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business review about ‘unicorn’ businesses, such as Uber, and how they have grown from simple ideas to worldwide business models which are challenging the status quo. HBR How Unicorns Grow. It made me think of kura in New Zealand and of course worldwide who are challenging the status quo and pushing for dramatic change in our education system of old.

After reading this article it made me think of how starting with a clean slate we could in-fact grow a unicorn. We would not be the first to try it and our unicorn may be different to others but with all mythical creatures we have our own interpretation. I like to think that a unicorn has a little bit of magic and all learning institutions have this but how do we use this ‘little bit of magic’ for good rather than evil. A tad dramatic possibly, however all researching on educational change is pointing in a certain direction but many are hesitant and fighting to stop ourselves from going towards the light.

What would a Unicorn School have?

Magic – This can be seen in the people within the unicorn school who feed and nurture the unicorn from a young age. People who care, people with passion, people who are invested in the values and mission of the kura. People who have a strong moral purpose for all learners, a moral purpose that to goes beyond the school gate with learning and support. I see this happening a lot already in many schools. All staff, sports coaches, cultural tutors, mentors and administrators often go above and beyond harnessing and exploring the passions  of students. Looks like we already have magic covered.

Ideal Growing/Living conditions – An environment that learners are connected to both the physical and spiritual world. An environment that is not ‘cut off’ from the resources that it needs. An environment that nurtures growth and safe exploration within the surrounds. An environment that explores connections to local and global networks, this can be achieved through online connections or face to face connections from the magical people previously mentioned. Conditions that feed the belly, soul and mind. Looks like we have ideal growing/living conditions covered.

Ability to Fly – This could be tricky but if we take the time we can often see learners challenging themselves with difficult tasks and challenges that they set themselves. I guess it depends on your definition of flying. To see a learner fly under their own steam and from their own creations, even if at times a little close to the sun. The magic and living conditions support them to fly.

With all the things mentioned above in place why are schools acting more like unicorns? We are so bogged down with meeting national standards assessment has begun to drive learning. Reporting back in a way that makes a child a level or a number is pleasing for whanau. We accept this. Hearing discussions  that “My child is above average” congratulations, above average how about inquisitive, curious, and creative. Would you like to be described as above average in your online profile, would you write this in an application letter. “I am above average and can meet deadlines”….I would rather be described as creative, curious and caring. Don’t get me wrong standards are important and a robust education system with appropriate checks and measures in place are important but lets be more like a unicorn. Whatever you want that makes you magic and able to fly.

Upon sharing this article with another teacher I was told unicorns are a lovely idea but not real….but they could be. Let’s do it, watch this space.



Knowing when you are being a DOPE

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As a way to learn more about our team we undertook a couple of personality tests to make connections and break down barriers. At times these types of tests can be seen as a glorified horoscope but at the same time there are some aspects that are helpful when informing next steps. Also people love nothing more than learning things about themselves as a way of justifying why they are like they are and there is much value in naming reality.

Last term the senior leadership team had taken part in the ‘Hermann brain’ test. This looks at whole brain thinking and we used to tool to see how we all think as individuals and then compared the results to see how we function as a group. The tool looks at what parts of our brain are more dominant than others and how to harness our power and use for good rather than evil. It also looks at where we go to in times of stress. My results were of some interest as I came out very even across all areas my weakest area was the analytical area  (blue) followed by the relational area (red). I thought I may have been a little more ‘red’ but knew that I was very practical and love getting the job done!


Once again lets not forget that the results of any type of brain or personality test are not conclusive and have been compared to Facebook quizzes which tell you which Kardashian you are most like and why.

After the test the natural discussion was ‘Oh that’s you in your red brain’ or ‘stop being so green and let me stay in my yellow’…..horoscope much?

With this in mind it was still important for our bigger team to go through a similar process to learn about  themselves with affirmations about their personalities and learning styles. The other aim was for people to learn about different types so they can be sympathetic when it comes to the space we are in and the activities we are taking part in.

The two tests we took were with the full staff under our own steam were the  DOPE Bird personality test and the Myers-Briggs 16 Personalities Test. We mainly looked at the introvert/extrovert aspects of the Myers-Briggs so that we could understand where people get their energy from. This is something to be mindful of when working in an open environment and many learning new big ideas in a short space of time. We needed to be aware of the energy of those around us and who needed what sort of space and who needs to be around people.

The DOPE, or PEDO test as it is sometimes known, neither is a great name for a test you want to give to new team members! This test splits people into types birds and you display traits of these birds. Peacock –  Showy & optimistic; Dove – peaceful &  friendly; Owl – wise & logical; Eagle – bold & decisive. I was a cross section of Peacock (14 points) and Eagle (11 points). This has legitimised me in being the centre of attention & telling people what to do!

This was a good process with the group as learning about ourselves and why we tick can help us to understand difference and support us in challenging situations where conflict may arise.

Next steps to look in more depth at the other personality styles so I can understand more about others as when you know about a dominant area you can often play up to this and use it to justify your behaviour. However I am sure as a teacher if a students was to say ‘I was being bossy and getting on with the job ‘cos I’m an eagle’. No matter what bird you are that doesn’t fly with me!

The reason for the blog title is also a reflection from my day today. As an Eagle we need to know the answers and I can relate to those people and give them what they want. I need to remember the doves are going with the flow and may become overwhelmed with the answers. So give everyone what they want in the timely, planned manner rather than overloading people with information.

Shiney Happy People

Day two in our growing kura was full of shines happen people who wear pumped from the previous day’s activities. They were open and ready to learn they have out their trust in the leadership team and by the end of the day most  were leading their own learning.

The day started with ‘Check & Connect’ (C&C), this is an idea my team and I are developing as a way of ensuring we take time each day to have focused meaningful conversations where akonga discuss ‘What’s on top for you?’ as part of a reflection from the day before. There is also another stimulus to get robust conversation going. One I like to start with early on in the groups development is ‘the meaning of your name’. This could be as the country of origin of your surname, story telling about your whakapapa or who named you and why did they choose this name. Let’s take Sophie Mary Ralph for example. Mary is my mothers middle name so I guess as part of a family tradition I got this name ( I also like to tell my younger sister it’s because I am the favourite!). My surname, Ralph, is of French origin and I should really find out more about this as it should be pronounced in the French way ( like Ralph Fiennes the actor). My first name, Sophie, means wisdom….well that’s obvious. Through the story telling around the group connections are made and the time is taken to reflect on where we came from and what brought us all here to where we are. It’s nice to see people stop and think about their name. We must remember at much time was taken to come up with your name and I know from speaking to new parents everyone has an opinion on baby names and when you announce a new born name we all want to know why the name was chosen and we almost insist in our asking at there must be a deep profound reason.

Today I learnt  a little more about my new colleagues and made more connections. The same exercise can be harder for younger learners and pre warning should be given as some feel shy or embarrassed when they don’t know anythin about their name.

Check & connect will play an important role in getting to know all learners and developing a group identity. I look forward to learning more about all akonga in our kura.

When  was the  last time you thought about the origins of your name and what don’t you know about it? I’ off to find out more about Ralph.

New Term and 21 New Teachers!

imagesAn exciting day today with 21 new teachers joining our team, including two staff from the satellite unit that is going to be within our kura.

My ‘words of wisdom’ from last term for myself were ‘Take Your Time and Be a Sponge’. I have been reflecting on this and how I  can support the transition of the new staff members to our place of learning. Transition is a process rather than a one off event and it is important to acknowledge the social and emotional learning journey that new staff will be on throughout the term and the different stages people will be at during this time.

Excitement Vs Grieving 

Depending on previous experiences everyone will have mixture of emotions potentially swinging from excitement to grief for what they have left behind. I found myself going through a ‘stage’ of shedding a skin as I felt more at home in my new surrounds. In his blog Bob Miglani discusses how to embrace the chaos. On one hand you are looking back with rose tinted glasses and this will happen in times of stress and uncertainty. This feeling can also swing in the opposite direction and you spend time demonizing the place you have left to make you feel better and to ease the grief.

Moving Forward…Next Steps For Me

What I have learnt from my personal experience in term 3 and from my observations and facilitation of transition this term I hope to develop into a robust programme that I can adapt for all staff and learners in the future. I aim to delve deeper into the process of transition and will reflect regularly including reading previous blog posts. Oh how I wish I had reflected more often on my own experiences in writing when I started last term!