Stranger, Acquaintance, Friend? Where’s your learning at?

How can we ensure our learning is more than an acquaintance, certainly more than a stranger. At least a friend, if not best friend. How have we come to a point where I have spoken to a 6 year old who told me “I don’t like learning”. How does a 6 year old know this? At this age a 6 year old’s world consists of their family, including extended family. This means they are getting the message from a place pretty close to home. The message is that you only learn at school, and yes it might be hard at school, but that is what the teachers are for. The caregivers in this case may have, through negative learning experiences, made learning at best…an acquaintance. What can we do to change this thinking?

Design Thinking & UDL

Last year I delved into the world of design thinking and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and to see how they fit or can compliment and support deeper learning. Upon reflection I had merely been given terms to define what I had always been doing, as a teacher in ‘The Arts’ this is the only way to allow for creativity and learner ownership. Design thinking is a problem solving process where you build upon initial ideas through following five steps. The steps are: emphasize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. This process allows depth and breath in a project that cannot be achieved through research alone. Through the latter half of 2016 I was able to explore and understand how design thinking and UDL could be used in many learning contexts beyond the Arts and I had terms defining the creative process. Using design thinking and UDL means we need to move away from the content driven ‘chalk n talk’ teaching that we are accustomed to and allow learners to make mistakes and try things for themselves. However, the idea of the unknown can be a challenge for all learners old and young.

imgresIn the business world Design Thinking puts the customer in the frame seeing what they want this something we must consider with our learners.In a “Are We There Yet? Insights on how to lead by design” Sam Bucolo discusses the slow cooker of change and the idea of creating the specific customer for a business. A customer whose needs to could be met through the design process. In business the customer is always right and we want to keep the customer happy. In education the idea is similar, but no profit to be made.

In 2016 our kura developed ‘Seedman’ who became the vision of what we wanted our learners to be. Great DT on the part of the initial SLT (Principal & two senior leaders) team as those of us that followed completely understood the direction & thinking that had gone into all the processes that were being developed. Having Seedman meant we could constantly go back to it to see if we were meeting the needs. Moving forward our ‘Seedman’ has come to life in the form of our learners and we can now make them make them part of the design process as we develop systems, strategies and initiatives in our future focused kura. We need to understand the slow cooker idea and respect the process for our learners, however it is not easy when content is important to stakeholders.

Design Thinking in the Classroom

Learners from age 9-11 begin to understand the world around them they begin to develop a sense of something bigger than them. So hooking them into design thinking at the start of their secondary school journey is a no-brainer. They are  ready to discover! UX design or ‘user experience’ design is about enhancing user satisfaction. Some of the first steps in this area came from the redesign of dashboards on planes and then cars. It was important to make the design simple but effective so that the people operating these machines were able to navigate around the dashboard with ease and success. Allowing little room for operator error (thank God because I still don’t understand how planes stay up there so long so I am glad that the dashboard is easy to navigate!). Apple has done the same in refining their design of the iPod towards the iPhone and iPad used UX design principles.  What can we do in the classroom and in schools with UX design and DT to enhance the user experience? What have you tried? Previously I allowed access to all areas for all learners at all times. This gave them access to the tools they needed to design what they wanted. This was a stand alone block where music, sound tech and performing arts tech was taught. Learners had access to a wide range of musical instruments (traditional through to contemporary), recording equipment (mics, computers, MIDI interface, controllers etc), sound tech equipment including PA systems. Despite all the equipment access to the space was key. Allowing learners to use rooms when needed for extended periods of time allowed them to create and go through the design process and I was constantly reevaluating and making changes to the space in consultation with the users in a somewhat UX design way. What were the results and outcomes for the learners? Ownership and the ability to connect with others in a meaningful way on a real life project not just “for credits”. For many learners it opened doors for their next learning steps, for many it confirmed they had come as far as they wanted to but at least they hadn’t paid fees for a tertiary course before they found out.

imgresDavid Perkins “Future Wise: Educating our children for a changing world” discusses that we are used to educating for the known and now need to move into educating for the unknown. Nimble learners who learn for understanding, the question is how do you know you understand. Problem solving is a big part of this. The bigger picture is that understanding is more than knowing and important soft skills are needed to apply the skills we have learnt. Content needs to become meaningful. big understanding help with insight, ethics, actions and opportunities.

New information is accumulated daily but students needs to know more, quicker, how can we process this information in the knowledge era. Perkins often discusses quadratic equations that we never use and we need to be able to access skills related to analysing statistics to which are more relevant in our daily lives. Making content meaningful and relevant is key. This means showing that learning is relevant to the wider world and not just that moment in the classroom.

Relevance is currently unsupported by the ‘subject’ rich system of secondary teaching. Get rid of separate subjects to create meaning, relevance and context. This requires 21st century thinking skills and application. We need to think beyond content, topic, subjects and disciplines to get an understanding of the big picture. Therefore, creating multidisciplinary courses that require learners to think outside the traditional square of the single-cell classroom.

Its been said before but…we need to prepare students not just with content knowledge we cannot predict what is needed in the future, but we do know that global issues of sustainability, energy sources, and conflict will remain global issues. Let’s ensure our learners are able to decode decipher and have the foundation skills to learn and contribute to the communities that they live in. 21st century learning is not just ‘googling it’. The social contact and collaboration that schools offer as well as creativity are needed for learners to develop the skills needs to live in the future and not just with “The Jetsons”. There is no one answer but we need to make the possibilities available it is our moral purpose as educators.

imgresBy the way here’s the future of learning from The Jetsons. We don’t have flying cars, but we do still have classes that look like this!

So going back to the title of this post…I would love to ask this question of caregivers of our learners – Is learning a stranger, acquaintance, or friend? Remember, it’s never too late to reconnect with an old friend!


New Year, New School, New Approach?

The 2017 academic year has kicked off and after what seems like an age we have opened the doors to our new kura. We have a sparkly new building in a reasonably sparkly new setting (The Town of the Future…)


However I am certain in saying that if we were located in any building we would most certainly be engaging in the innovative, exciting and learner-centred kura that is unfolding before my eyes.

The team of Learning Coaches….or teachers… applied for the positions were selected on their dispositions rather than their ‘subject’ areas. It is inspiring to hear teachers when asked “what subject do you teach?” reply ” I teach learners, not subjects”. To have an open minded staff willing to learn, willing to push the boundaries and try new things is heart-warming and I know I am in the right place for my own learning journey at this time.

We ARE lucky, yes, but we could have gone down the same path as always with teacher centred content  delivery, but the establishment Board of Trustees (eBoT), who we are wholeheartedly grateful for their vision, have supported innovation and the challenge of bringing learning into the 21st Century in this the ‘Town of the Future’. The eBoT support giving learners the opportunity  and tools for life rather than content driven secondary education which would suit some teachers and communities. Challenging the status quo is where it’s at and the eBoT and Principal are up for the challenge and they have a crew of passionate, driven staff who are willing to go the extra mile to make this a benchmark school which others may get some inspiration from.

What’s different?

The pastoral care that has always been hinted at is in action and the time that we are always so lacking in schools has been given. (Biggest gripe of teacher ‘more time’) Remember ‘form time’, ‘registration’ or ‘tutor group’? Well give it 500mins per week and you have something that we can call pastoral care where relationships count. Now this is not new for NZ or the world but it is a growing trend that is working. The Learning Coach is responsible for the learners in their Ako group and will establish a home -school partnership which will span the learners time at the College. An individual reading programme (Rolleston Reads) will be established to encourage if not a love of reading, but the tools to read widely and with depth. Quest projects will be undertaken by learners to see where their passions are, to spend time working on areas of difficulty, and to see if that is really what you want to do when you grow up. Learning Coaches will support learners as they ‘navigate‘ through secondary school with the support of caregivers. This will lead to no surprises and all learners getting the individual support that is needed. No more factory assembled learners here. Of the 12 learners in my Ako group I am intrigued as to where they will take me on their journey and what learning I will need to do to support them. I can’t wait!

Multidisciplinary learning is also a key focus. Connected is where learners spend 400mins a week supported by 3 to 4 teachers in what would traditionally be known as the ‘core subjects’. Making connections between these areas and seeing the fit in the wider world is key to creating well rounded learners who understand the world they live in and the connections within. This block of learning begins this week, I was asked by a learner where is math and science on my timetable. I wonder how long before they are talking the talk that they will be walking?


Selected learning is about learners finding out where their place might be in the world and once again making links. Learners will experience two different blocks of 200mins of selected per week. Proof, Bandquest, Power of Team,  Web Design and Be a Creative Rebel are only some of the choices available to learners in term 1. How did we come up with these options? We surveyed the learners and asked them what they wanted. The research behind Student centred learning tells us that replacing the chalk n’ talk style lectures that we are familiar with, with self-paced, authentic and engaging learning experiences there is greater retention of knowledge and confidence for a learner to move forward and either dig deeper or broaden their horizons. Therefore we recognised we need to listen to the learners, caregivers and community from the outset so we are delivery an authentic, appropriate curriculum.

New school, new year, new approach?


In answer to the heading of this blog, it’s a resounding ‘YES’ for now. We are open and on track to listen and learn from those around us. As a teacher I am continuing on my learning journey and am yet to set a personal learning goal for the year, but I know it is going to be difficult to decide where to focus my energies. Should it be on developing my Hauora vision to make it something that may be a benchmark for others (crikey!) or should it be on developing a learner-centred leadership programme (The Power of Team) or should it be working on Stop, Look, Listen something I remember from my first year at primary school (Powers Hall Infants School). Something to consider when crossing the road AND when learning.


The purpose of this blog post is to discuss the vehicles for learning in our kura and for me to reflect back at the end of the year on our journey. This post outlines nothing new from what I learnt in July 2016 but now that it is a realisation I feel that it is important to acknowledge and document this story as it unfolds.

Finally thank you to the eBOT, Tom and Steve for all they have done thus far.  I know the staff will do you proud and we could not have got this far without you. I hope we get to walk beside you on this journey for some time to come and that your vision shines through in all whole spend time in this valuable kura.

Waiho i te toipoto, Kaua i te toiroa.

Let us keep close together, not wide apart.