Saturday, February 25, 2017

Unlearning What Schooling Can Mean

"This school isn't strict enough," was the lament of the 14 year old girl I followed as she was leaving the learning space for the fourth time during the morning and I was remonstrating with her to return to her allocated group and space within the flexible learning environment 280 11-15 year olds and their 12 teachers were thrust 10 days earlier.

"Tell me about that," I requested. "Every time you have left I've followed you and requested politely that you return. What do you mean by strict?"

Her answer saddened me. It also angered me, and challenged me.

According to this beautiful young lady- who so obviously has much talent and potential, but also has been very challenged by her past schooling and in turn has been and is immensely challenging of schooling and authority in any form, I was informed that strict meant shutting you in a room where you couldn't leave and making you do a worksheet silently.

So the conversation went on with me explaining that I didn't really think a random worksheet would help her learning. The response: "this isn't about learning, it's about being a proper school. "

My heart sunk. Here I was observing a group of teachers working harder than they ever had, who were pushing themselves way outside their comfort zones and their past specialist teaching areas, creating and  delivering high interest, practical, hands on learning activities requiring discussion and debate and thinking, and here they were facing a group of pre- teens and teenagers who have an understanding after 6-10 years in our education system that proper learning, or at least proper schooling, consists of sitting in a room silently or quietly doing worksheets. Or at least being told what to do and what to learn and how to learn it and complying.

Since when did learning have no place in schooling in some of our young people's minds and lives and hearts? What are we going to do about that? Are we going to continue to perpetuate the myth that "well-controlled" classrooms where everyone is silent or at least quiet and appears to be actively following instructions and doing the task adds up to effective learning? Or at least effective schooling?

Are we going to continue to explicitly and implicitly give young people the message that learning (or at least schooling) is something that an adult has to do to you in order for it to be proper or real?

We spent three months together as a foundation staff working on unschooling ourselves from our notion of what learning in the school system has been in the past and what it possibly could be in the future. We knew we would be working alongside some young people who have been completely disenfranchised with the schooling system they have worked in and we were determined that we will re- engage these young people. The ones who couldn't conform to the old system, the ones already jaded by a system that so clearly doesn't meet their needs.

We knew we would have to work hard to induct young people who have achieved and had a traditional sense of school success validated by their past experiences. We are having to work even harder to induct young people who have been failed by their past experiences of schooling into an understanding that schooling can equal learning and that this learning can be meaningful to them in deeply personal ways. We need to accept that just because they have been failed by one system they are not just going to magically accept and become part of a new system.

We worked solidly, and without the normal interruptions of a school, for 7 hours a day on this for three months as a staff in our build up to opening. And we just broke the surface. We need to very careful we don't judge ourselves, or allow others to judge us, because some of our young people haven't immediately fallen into line with a completely different way of schooling- even if they were failed by previous systems. We need to have patience, and tolerance and belief in what we are doing. We need strong support systems around us to prevent disenchantment in what we are doing and to prevent temptations to fall back to the past when it gets hard. We need to reflect back on all the talking and learning we have done about implementation dips and learning pits.

And we need to keep going. To keep changing and transforming what being at school is and means.  How learning and schooling could be. One day at a time. Sometimes even one hour or one minute at a time. Definitely one young person at a time.

To all our kaiako and kaiārahi and kaiawhina working so hard every day delivering and every night preparing I want to publicly say- you are awesome. You have a vision and a commitment to developing individual young people to be both learners and the best people they can be that is admirable. You are showing resilience and compassion, passion and commitment and it is an honour to stand amongst you.

It will take time, And that is okay. Change, real change, has to if its to be effective and sustainable.

I look forward to the day I can have a conversation with the young lady quoted above and she can equate her schooling with real life learning that is meaningful for her and where she is in her life right now.

And I have every faith that with the support of our Haeata staff that time will come. Every faith and a total belief.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Conscious Thought

Over the last two weeks we have been running an induction programme for 32 of our new staff-an induction programme that will continue for the majority of this term and for two weeks in January before our ākonga begin.

Every activity we've run has been very intentional and had conscious thought put into the purpose and outcome of the activity. It would have been very easy to just create a set of activities that would be enjoyable and fun and/or a set of activities that would "tell" our new staff all about the curriculum framework we have developed and the way we want to work at Haeata but that's not what we wanted to do.

We created a set of four guiding purposes for our induction programme and we have used our curriculum framework learning principles- which have a direct link to our school values to design the learning we have been doing together. Relationships are at the heart of our learning principles- but also important is authenticity, connectedness, culturally intelligent, inclusive, social, open and personalised learning.

Induction Purposes:
Build excitement in who we are and what we do
Getting to know the rest of the team- personally and professionally
Understanding Haeata-tanga- the way we will do things at Haeata, our identity at Haeata- individually, as a collective and as a Haeata team
Make connections- individually and as a team- within the team, and out in the community- whānau, local community, Christchurch

The term began with a mihi whakatau followed by kai and mihimihi so that connections and introductions were formed. Day 1 saw a myriad of icebreakers designed to help people get to know each other on a superficial level quickly and as a whole team. 

This was followed by our SLT presenting their digital korowai for ten minutes each. Staff were asked to sign up to a timetable to present their own digital korowai over the next fortnight. We know we will be a school that makes continual and regular use of technologies, but we didn't want to put technology training as such into the programme but rather consciously require people to build their technology skills by using technology to complete certain induction tasks. We've been blown away by peoples presentations- staff have been sincere, and honest and shared more of themselves than we had any expectation of- given we've only known each other a few days. We've laughed and cried with people as they have shared their journeys- both professional and personal.

Day 2 saw a workshop conducted by the EBOT on the well established values for the school. In the afternoon our kaiārahi (leaders) ran a passion unconference. Again this was a conscious decision to introduce staff who were not aware of the concept of an unconference, and of the language and expectations that come with an unconference- smackdowns, making choices on the spot, not doing how many people will attend a session etc. We expect to be working in a future focussed area of education and unconference is a big part of the PLD scene in future focused education currently, so we wanted to expose all staff to this early on.

Day 3 saw more icebreakers introduced- but this time rather than in the large groups- splitting into our hapori (learning teams), so that we could begin building deeper relationships with those other kaiako they were going to be working the closest with. The SLT ran a workshop titled unschooling and led some thinking about the importance of using the privilege of the time we have this term to de stress, to revive, and to read and reflect- to revisit our assumptions about learning and schooling and to build new beliefs together.
This afternoon saw staff introduced to their own Managing My Learning google site, so that they could begin reflecting and gathering evidence of their learning from the start. A practice we expect to be ongoing and continual for all staff and ākonga.

Day 4 saw our hapori leaders run their own session- a combination of icebreakers and some general chatting about excitements and fears, and some question gathering. Everyone was also led through a workshop around the learning principles we will use at Haeata for designing learning.

Day 5 was an Amazing Race. We began with a shared breakfast- 35 people who didn't know each other 5 days before all working together in a very small space in a very small kitchen to prepare and eat kai together. And it worked.

Again, conscious thought was put into creating Amazing Race teams to bring people together across the entire staff again, as the last two days had been spent a lot in hapori groups getting to know those people better. We are very consciously building opportunities to build relationships across the school as well as within hapori. We know that people might need to move hapori at short notice in February- when enrolments are more clear. We also know we have 10 more staff starting over the next four weeks, and another six who will begin in January. We need to very consciously build relationships now, but ensure those relationships are able to bend and sway and welcome new members to their teams easily as the term goes on.

Teams were given instructions and set off on their race while the SLT prepared and cooked a BBQ lunch. In the afternoon teams created a digital presentation of their race and the weekend with the presentations being shared over refreshments and some prizes being awarded as we all reminisced on the first week together.

We have used the frameworks our kaiārahi and kaiako will use with ākonga- learning principles as a design tool, breaking our time up into Kauapapa Ako ( the large group all learning together based on some of our big kauapapa, Puna Ako ( smaller groups working together to consolidate and extend some of the concepts from kauapapa Ako, and some MAI time (for people to follow their own lines of learning and wellbeing). We have integrated wellbeing activities throughout the weeks, just like we expect kaiārahi and kaiako to do with ākonga.

SLT modelled karakia, waiata mihi and tuku mihi all week and now hapori have taken on responsibility for that a week each over the remainder of the term.

Feedback from staff was overwhelmingly positive. They have relaxed, they have got to know each other in multiple ways. They have connected. Developing cultural intelligence has been a constant theme. Things have been social and open- everyone has shared honestly with each other. We have given some space for personalised learning. Staff have begun to be exposed to some of the backbone of the Haeata curriculum framework in a really authentic and inclusive way. And relationships have consciously and intentionally been at the heart of everything we have done.

"Conscious, reflective, intentional action is the bridge between theory and practice. " Jan Robertson

A video summary of Week 1:

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Power of Connections

Am sitting at the airport waiting for the first of two flights to fly home after three day in Rotorua at ULearn.

Sounded like a great idea in March when we decided as a leadership team to put in submissions to present at this years conference.  Heading off to Rotorua this week we were very aware that our staff begin next Monday and that time pressures were well and truly hitting in and I think beginning to wonder if this was a good use of our time.

I think we would all now say that it definitely was.

We've been in the fortunate and privileged position of having the last 9 months to think and read, and visit and reflect and cogitate. To form the basis of a curriculum and to think deeply about all the "That's The Way We've Always Done It," rhetoric in schools and to interrogate this and ask why a lot until we had a direction for which we would like learning to evolve at Haeata.

So I guess many of the sessions we attended were more affirming of the learning that we've been privileged to do than new stuff for us. But we would also all say that the process of considering and creating presentations about some of our work is hugely clarifying for our own beliefs and practices.

And the absolute real power in the last thee days was the opportunity to connect. To connect with people we only know or recognise form the online educational community. To connect kanohi te kanohi with old connections and create new connections. To talk and to challenge with old friends and with new connections.

Years ago I read Will Richardsons book where the subtitle is Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education.

I think that is a big part of the power of the ULearn conference. Where else do you get nigh on 2000 educators together in one space? (And with a significant more joining the back channels of live streaming and following the twitter threads.)

For me, personally, I reconnected with educators I worked with as long ago as 20 years ago. Amazing conversations , amazing stories to share and reconnections to form.

For us as a school we've been able to share a little part of the journey of Haeata so far and our passion and excitement for what is to come. 

Transforming education, and particularly transforming schooling is happening in little pocket all over Aotearoa. 
The power of connections is moving us steadily towards the tipping point where the changes so deeply needed in ours choosing system will become the whole clothing rather than just the pocket. 

The power of the understanding of the need for change when 2000 educators connect at an event like ULearn is palpable. Continuing to connect with each other- post conference is how we will work together in order to push that change over the timing point.

Thanks to all those old friends and colleagues Ive reconnected with in the last three days. What an awesome opportunity to do so. 

And welcome to all this new connections to my personal and professional learning network. Long may the conversations continue.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Looking Ahead to and Reflecting Back On ULearn

Preparing to head off to ULearn in a couple of days has made me reflect on past ULearn conferences.

I’ve been attending ULearn since its navcon days. I was motivated by hearing inspirational speakers like Julia Atkins, Joan Dalton and Cheryl Doig speak at the very first navcon I attended back in the early 2000's. In fact I would say my entire teaching landscape changed after that first conference. Having been involved in curriculum integration practice and reference groups for years, inquiry learn gin was the missing linkI’d been searching for and hearing Cheryl speak about the power of inquiry learning drove an immediate change in my practice. Hearing Julia speak about the history of education and the need for schooling to change gave me some of the language to be able to articulate what I'd been working towards in a classroom for some years. Hearing Joan present about the power of the language we use gave me much cause for consideration and reflection. I've continued to read and watch so much written and said by these women over the years. I am indeed fortunate that I have had the opportunity to work with them all through the years, and particularly privileged to have had the opportunity to work with them all this year on such a close level. They were indeed some of my first edu heroes- well before I ever knew if that term.

Changes in my teaching practice to include inquiry learning and in my leadership to really consider language used, combined with a new motivation and the ability to better articulate why schooling needed to change drove the next few years after that initial conference. By 2003 the benefits of Collaborative teaching and collaborative Practice followed. 

Within a couple of years I was back at ULearn, as it was known by 2004, with my co- teacher and we were presenting ourselves; on teaching through inquiry, on running self regulated programmes and on using technology to support these practices.

Through the years I’ve been to ULearn just about every year, missing 2012 and 2015 only. In 2009 my entire leadership team attended and it consolidated a lot of things for us as a team leading a school through some significant changes in practice. In 2011, as Principal of a different school I was fortunate enough to be able to take my entire teaching staff of 20 to the ULearn conference. A fantastic learning and social experience for all.

As I work on my presentations for this year I am feeling nervous. Although they are on topics I am passionate about, and I think have a fair experience in the old imposter syndrome hits in. (See previous post written in January 2015.) Adding to the nerves is the fact that I see a number of people I know signed up for one or more of my workshops. It’s always nerve wracking to present in front of people that really know you-warts and all! As a presenter you are always very aware that people have paid a lot of money to attend this conference, and you don’t want to be wasting their time or investment.

It is often said you get out of this conference as much as you put into it. As a fairly shy introvert I can remember the first few conferences and sticking like glue to the people I was attending with. I would flinch when the presenter said “turn and talk to someone,” thinking no-one would want to talk with me. Now I really get that phrase. To get as much out of the investment of going you need to talk, and think and reflect and you need to share that with other people to get the most out of your reflections. Social media has helped. Talking to people online has made it that much easier to find a commonality when you meet them in person- in fact its now fun to meet those people you get to know so well in online forums.

As I flick through all that is on offer this year I am really hopeful for the future of education and of schooling. While there are the technology ‘how=-to” theres also many many workshops on the bigger picture- on people who are transforming practice in their classrooms on a daily basis and why and how they are doing this. I look at workshops we were running back in this mid 2000’s about self regulated learning, about removing silo-subjects from the teaching landscape, about  collaborative teaching and they were more the exception. Now these kind of workshops are much more the norm. Maybe we really are getting near some kind of tipping point in New Zealand schools?

So, as I sit here on a Sunday preparing workshops instead of enjoying the beach on a warm and sunny holiday afternoon some people might ask why? Why not just go and enjoy the conference?

The conviction that things need to change. Still. The power of understanding the transformation needed to change practice. The chance to network and to build those understandings in wider and wider groups. The oporutntity to be part of the tipping point, that I hope we are on a pathway towards reaching in New Zealand schooling.

I look forward to seeing many people at ULearn- old colleagues, old friends, networks of people I know online but not face to face and I look forward to connecting with others using the #notatulearn hashtag.

And I hope that the people attending ULearn 2016 get just even a little bit of that inspiration I got from Julia, Joan and Cheryl all those years ago.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Being Happy in the Mess

A phrase we've used a lot this year as we plan and build a new school.

The physical mess is on the building site where some might say the real building is happening.
However one of my colleagues always talk about the fact that we are doing the real building- the stuff that makes your head hurt sometimes. This is the real mess. And it's the stuff we can't just make decisions about and move on. 

We need to inquire and think, and reflect, and percolate. We need to discuss and have dialogue and reflect some more.  We don't want to 'throw the baby out with the bath water,' but we also don't want to do what's always been done- especially if we can't identify a relevant reason for doing so in today's world.  The challenge of learning, unlearning and relearning, of designing, while at the same time doing the necessary as well, creates some of the mess.

As we start preparing for staff to begin with us next term the question becomes instead how ready are we to support them in finding their way through the mess? How much support and organisation and direction do we give them so they don't completely flounder? But how can we also give them time to get in the mess and wallow in it for a while?

None of us wants to be seen as disorganised, but I'm sure we will be seen as that at times. Not because we don't want to be organised but because sometimes building the plane while flying it, is the way we will create real magic. If it could all be tidied into neat little boxes we would do that but building a new school with new foci, and new ways of doing things is complex and profound. We've had the privilege of time to wallow and kick around in the mess. How do we give staff some time to do this but also meet their needs for some of the traditional organisation and direction they will be expecting?

Some of us are off to a seminar tomorrow titled Thriving in Complexity. That's what we want ourselves and our entire staff to be empowered to do- next term as we get to know each other and discover some new ways of working together, and next year when we start working with ākonga. We want to stay in the mess, we acknowledge that what we are doing and what we want to achieve is complex. And we want to thrive in that complexity.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

One Word Reflection Term 1

Tūhoro. My one word for 2016.

That was the plan, the goal, the desire for the year.

How is it going so far?

Having to negotiate the traffic to get to across town meetings was an interesting challenge to begin my time in Christchurch. Google maps seems to take me a different way each time. The traffic can be horrific and in places the parking even more so! My new colleagues witnessed one spectacular melt down when a 25 minute drive took me nearly an hour one morning a few weeks in. I have since learnt not to stress if I am a few minutes late. I have also learnt to check google the night before and to leave at least 15 minutes earlier than Aunty Google says to allow.
And I've learnt that just when I've learnt one way roadworks sprout up and I get lost all over again. 

Gradually over time I've explored a little. The beaches of New Brighton where I'm living are great. I've been on a Re-Start bus tour to get an idea of what has happened and what is being built in the central city. I've explored Hamner Springs and Diamond Harbour just out of Christchurch and will venture south over the next ten weeks. The South Island certainly has some beautiful spots to explore.

The death of my father less than a fortnight after I moved to Christchurch has been an exploration of a whole different sort than I envisaged when I chose this as my one word for 2016.
I've explored the world of grief. It's a strange phenomenon and one I had only fleeting prior experience of. Dad wasn't well, and hadn't been for a while. I guess you could say his death wasn't totally unexpected. However neither was it expected then and there. I now understand what people mean when they say grief comes in waves and that its okay to dive into that grief and explore it a little. That pushing stuff like that aside does no one any good. My father was an explorer. He was a pilot, a top dresser. He was a pioneer. He started blueberry growing in New Zealand. He led cooperatives and groups of people. He led a large family and is missed. A lot. However his family know how to explore for themselves- thanks to him and Mum, and will continue to do so. I am proud this has turned out to such an apt word for 2016.

I have a new school, a new position and new colleagues. 

The first part of the year has been about exploring how all those things fit, about getting to know them and allowing them to get to know me. This term I look forward to exploring our curriculum designing more, as well as the massive job of how we recruit for 40+ staff members collectively. I love that this requires me to explore research and read. I love that I can read during the day and that this forms part of the expectations of my position. Twitter and Extending my online PLN has been a really necessary part of my term. it's very rare to go somewhere new professionally and not meet someone face to face for the first time who you've already connected with online. and those familiar Twitter  chats both organised and spontaneous have helped me bridge over a time when I just needed to be by myself but not be all alone.

I've started my masters with a research proposal written and submitted for approval. It's hard doing it my distance but mar research proposal is in for feedback and I look forward to developing it further in Term 2.

So all in all a mixed bag of a  first term, but I'm certainly exploring, and will continue to do so. In reflection Im pretty impressed with what I've achieved.

In term 2 my specific goals will eb around exploring more of Christchurch- maybe some parts of the country to the South of Christchurch, and to explore meeting the educators and people in Christchurch outside of my general small work circle.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Things That Unsettle Us

When I woke up this morning I had been sent this article from Will Richardson.

It’s the third time in the last week I've been sent or tagged into this blogpost, all by people I completely respect in the field of learning, education and schooling, all by people trying to do something different in schooling, all by people that at times struggle to do this within mainstream education practices.

The posting is centred around the things that unsettle us in schooling. The things that upset us because they are not really talked about but we know that they should be addressed. Reading this article re-inspires in me a fire. 

When I get frustrated at the glacial pace of change in our schools (and I’m talking globally as much as anything closer to home) I am often told by mentors and friends to slow down, that its got to take time and to make any change effective we’ve got to take people with us. While I know all that, while I know and have lived the theories around change management and about effective changes in schools, frankly I’m a little tried of slowing down and waiting. 

The main questions the posting provokes for me?

Why are we still splitting learning into discrete little packages based around ‘subjects?

Who really says what our young people need to learn about? Before you passionately defend the content of the curriculum strands of our curriculum documents how much do you really understand about the history of curriculum development? Who actually made the original decisions that that content is the most important to learn at that age? And why? What was the purpose? Is it still valid?
Why are we giving learners technology, but not letting them utilise its capabilities? Why do we give them technology but not let them study the things that grab them wherever and whenever  they want/can/are able to?

Why are we still splitting learners into manageable little groups of the same-age?
How many high schools still run a separate programs for each year group? And apparently there are still intermediates out there who operate a Year 7 and a Year 8 programme, and even primary schools operating single programmes for each year group. And when Ive asked for justification I get told things like “our camp programme works this way,” or “we can design isolated programmes for each year group that way.” When this is being said by the same schools that say they are responsive to individual students it makes me very worried for schooling in the future.

What is success? In life, not in school as a representation of grades but in real-life? How much of what we do in schools is really feeding into this? How much of what we consider successful is what we really focus in developing programmes in and reporting on? 

Why do so many people knock the efforts of schools, and individual teachers trying to find the answers to some of these questions by doing things significantly differently than the “acceptable norm.” Do these detractors live in such a closed world that they cannot see that although the world has changed in exponential ways and the ways we all live (including them) have changed alongside this, schooling hasn’t really changed much at all? Do these detractors feel the same level of discomfort about the things outlined at all? Or do the detractors acknowledge some of this stuff but give up because its just too hard to effect change on the scale that is needed

When I started working in significantly different ways quite a few years ago now, I remember hosting a parent focus group with a really serious comment from a parent being  “You cant keep doing this…you are making learning too enjoyable and too engaging for our kids and that’s not fair to them when they go to High school. You've raised their expectations about what they think school should be like and they are going to feel let down in the future.” Thankfully this was responded to very well by other parents in the room which saved my incredulous repose from being uttered, However for me the scary thing is this was 14 years ago and the changes we were discussing that had parents scared and worried then, are still the changes we are fighting for in schools today. That really is glacial change. I still find myself having to defend the same kind of learning programmes to parents, to educators, and even to young people who have had their expectations of what school should be like shaped by the system, and lost all the natural curiosity and thirst for learning they have as pre-schoolers.

I am fortunate that for the last five years I was able to teach and lead in a school where we were allowed and encouraged some latitude in meeting needs and responding to some of the questions outlined above.

I am fortunate that I am now working in a new school that is being led by a visionary Board of Trustees and Principal who are committed to continue answering some of these questions and doing things differently in a brand new school from the start. 

Yes, I am fortunate. 

But I am still unsettled by the lack of wider change I see. Unsettled that “changes” I see in schools are really only ‘tweaks.’ The whole Innovative Learning Environment/Collaborative practice/Flexible spaces paradigm in New Zealand schools provides a great platform for significantly changing the way learning and school can look. But in many cases I see schools taking the old paradigms of subjects, and age groupings and  organisation and imposing those over the top of ILE’s.
Schools being responsive to parent demands of ‘the old ways were good enough for us,” but being completely unresponsive to learners individual needs. If we were being really responsive to individuals we wouldn't be pigeonholing them into set age groups to learn within and set ‘packages of learning’ to learn about. I remain concerned that those educators I see really trying to do things differently are those that are often then isolated in schools, who in the end either give up justifying their different programmes and ‘fall back into line’ or give up all together and leave the profession. We need to stand up and stop this happening.

What can we do to help the wider population understand why things need to change dramatically within schools? What can we do to celebrate those schools and educators that are pioneers? Rather than knocking them, how do we highlight them in positive ways? How do we effect system change rather than change on an individual or school-wide basis?

A lot of questions here.Not many answers but I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks of school break time pondering them. 

I might be fortunate in my individual work but what can I do to help system change rather than accept its glacial pace? 

Thanks to Will Richardson (, and those that have been discussing and sending this posting around over the last week for once again reigniting my fire.