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…)

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

http://www.herrmannsolutions.com/what-is-whole-brain-thinking-2/

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.  http://www.embracethechaos.com/2014/06/how-to-adapt-to-change-in-the-workplace-6-tips-to-gain-control-and-move-forward/

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!

Student Leadership in Schools: How can teacher do better for learners?

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Student leadership, why? Why do we need to foster leadership and develop leadership skills in ākonga?

Primary and secondary schools can provide opportunities for young people who have limited social capital to build networks, connections, understand worlds of work and tertiary study. If, as one study suggests, “the greater the total amount of leadership exercised, the better off is the organisation” (Leithwood & Jantzi, 1998), then the exercising of student leadership within the school must contribute to its efficacy and effectiveness.

We all have our own experience and versions of student leadership in schools. Some elements and ideas work well and some…not so much. As with educational models overall student leadership is in need of an overhaul in schools. A big call from me but after seeing student leadership in action and undertaking some initial research I am developing with a the help of a colleague (Thanks Hayden Shaw!) a new ideal of learner leadership that meets the needs of the learners now and in the future. Not a model that meets the need of the schools who sometimes want “leaders” to do the jobs we don’t want to.

Current Model Vs Student Ideal

Many existing models of student leadership are hierarchical, based on popularity in sport, academia, culture etc, and teachers are the gatekeepers of the roles. We’ve all seen it, student vote, teachers vote, teachers votes are more heavily weighted and then those who we knew were going to get picked do. They do an OK job with some help from a teacher as a mentor and various examples of short and long term leadership courses.

The student ideal would be non-hierarchical, practical, informal and situational. With this in mind here are some ideas that we are working on in our kura. Our initial discussion was that we wanted to foster leadership in all areas, acknowledge that not everyone wants to lead, we needed to define what leadership is for learners, and  what will they actually do?

The idea of a revolving leadership model was floated and we knew that we needed to ensure we guided the learners rather than give them a badge/title and leave them to it….then wonder why they fail. To us revolving leadership meant a chance for many students to have the opportunity to “lead” where and when they felt comfortable.

Another element we felt was important was having an allocated time for all learners to develop leadership skills. This means offering a course where they can learn leadership skills and learn about different styles of leadership. It is important for them to harness the skills they have and to know that being a leader in a school is about being responsible for something and following through. It does not just mean speaking in assemblies and rallying the troops for inter-school competitions. The course on offer would be open to all at different stages of the academic year for all to explore and grow.

Potential leadership opportunities

  • Students as data source  where students might provide information via a student opinion survey for adults to utilise as part of their decision making.
  • Students as active respondents who respond to invitations to join in discussion with adults.
  • Students as co-inquirers who support staff to take a lead research role.
  • Students as knowledge creators supported by staff.
  • Students as joint authors participating in decision-making alongside staff and learning to live in a democracy where there is shared responsibility, (Fielding, 2012).

Using the ideas above and other research mentioned this is the model of learner leadership that we are going to explore for the remainder of the year with more research and much discussion to come.

  • Te Rōpū Hauora – a student council model with representatives from all groups that meets regularly. Membership can change but is reasonable static as we move forward.
  • Ambassadors – who represent the college in all areas for a period of time when representation is needed for events on-site and off-site
  • Specialist Kaitiaki – to meet the needs that arise across the school eg: Tech angels, Librarians etc
  • Learner Action Group – groups formed as and when needed eg: Environmental Action Group who see a need for more sun protection & put ideas into action etc.

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This is the first of version of learner leadership that has been developed in recent weeks. I look forward to meeting the leadership needs of the learners in an authentic way and wonder what this model will look like in 12 months after much robust discussion and research. I believe student leadership must fit the context in which it exists and for this to happen student voice is imperative.

Watch this space…

Reflections on Reading ‘Futurewise’

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I recently chugged through “Futurewise: Educating our children for a changing world” by David N. Perkins. Chugged because it was not the easiest of reads as I have been reading lots of educational change books recently and initially this book seemed to be singing the same tune as the others. That is it’s time to drag the existing school system into the 21st Century and create 21C learners who have the skills and abilities to be adaptable, creative, curious, resilient, innovative…. I could go on but your get the picture. To a degree this book is telling us this however there is more to it. I see it as a bit of a ‘how to’ guide with many examples relating to other areas of innovation and creativity where people are making wiser decisions with the tools that surround them. I guess that’s it for the traditional school, we are not making the most of the tools that are around us. We have the Internet and many believe that this equals the new way of teaching and in many places this IS what is happening. Traditional ‘chalk n’ talk’ lessons are have been replaced with “Google this…” in the hope that students will see what is out there for them and just go with it. However if they do not have the skills and abilities  to do more that just Google it then they may as well be in a content dumping classroom where the teacher just hits unload for an hour. This account of the traditional school model may seem simplistic but you get the picture.

So what did I learn from reading David N. Perkins “Futurewise”? Firstly, lifeworthy learning which basically means what is worth learning? He returns to the idea of the quadratic equation and what is the point of learning it, he discusses how this could be justified as the pandoras box of things you need to know by teachers. Throughout the book the quadratic equation idea comes up and there are 6 trends that can be applied to lifeworthy learning: beyond 21C skills & dispositions; beyond traditional subject disciplines; beyond traditional interdisciplinary topics & problems; beyond regional perspectives; beyond mastering content; and beyond prescribed content.

When combined these trends can shape the way education could be for learners.This means developing learners who are inquisitive and know how to use the tools at their disposal. This means teachers getting on-board and finding out for themselves what IS lifeworthy learning for them.

Secondly, the concept of big this includes big questions and big understandings Perkins explains that this forms part of the inquiry process. Big includes the trends in society and ensuring that learners can hack the pace of what they are presented with. Big know-how, knowledge and ideas. Insight into the content we are receiving to help us move forward and unpack what we are hearing. An understanding of the actions that we can take to make a difference in a wider context that just our own, think local/act global actions. This include an understanding of ethics and leads to opportunities to varying degrees. Growing and allowing for learner agency is what comes out of big.

We have heard this before but as secondary teachers we must remember that we are teachers of students first not teachers of subjects. Why are tertiary teaching institutions in this country not getting this? Some are having a go but it seems in a very rigid tick box fashion.

Hey, I’m not telling anyone anything new that hasn’t been heard before, just my thought from reading ‘Furturewise’. Have a go get through it I think I will go back for a second look to gain even more insight in a few months or a year and then she how my own teaching practice reflects the 6 trends that are discussed in the introductory chapter.

After writing this blog entry I think I would re-phrase my opening sentence about ‘chugging’ through the book to read ‘I have just finished my first digestion of Futurewise and I will be going back for more’

Kia pai to rā!