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.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Dreaming Schools...Dreaming Systems...

A post in response to the #edblognz February challenge to write about your dream school.

I’ve really struggled with writing this blog post. Not because I don't have lots of ideas, but in trying to narrow them down for a blogpost that would be easy and make sense to read! So I tried to narrow it down to a few words- freedom, personalisation, engagement, interactive, community-based. And I played around for a week but I wasn't happy with it. And then I realised was that I’m talking about is what I already know is happening- at least in some schools, and these are my current beliefs and practice. Not my dream for the future. So my challenge was- how do I dream into the future?

And then I realised- my dream school isn’t really about a school, it’s about a system. Its about transformational change on a big scale. Because while all those things I listed above, and more, are happening in some schools, they are not happening in all schools.
And then yesterday Kerri tweeted this quote from George Courus: “Kids need to be empowered not engaged.” And I thought to myself that’s the word Ive been looking for.

On all school levels my dream would actually be about empowerment. 

It’s about empowering our learners to know themselves and trusting them that they understand how best to learn. It’s about acknowledging valuing and protecting the natural learning curiosities that learners enter the school system with and empowering these to grow, rather than dampening them with the “must-do’s of our system.

Its about empowering teachers to be able to respond according to each and every learners individual needs. It’s about empowering teachers so they can respond to  individual students and their needs. 

Nathaniel ( blogged about anxiety in classrooms yesterday and linked his daughters blog- which I’ve also linked here. it's well worth a read. My dream school would empower all learners to be able to articulate this level of understanding about themselves, AND it would be about empowering teachers to respond accordingly. My dream school would be mean never having to read another blogpost like this where a learner can articulate their learning needs and show such a clear understanding of themselves, and not be having all these needs met. 

It’s about empowering leaders to give teachers “permission’ to meet individual needs without constant reference to how that end-outcome pass rate might look. Giving them permission to innovate. Its about empowering teachers to have faith that if they get the personal stuff right- that if each learner really gets themselves and knows how and why they learn best, then ultimately learning will flourish and grow, and that is what we are all there for. Its about leaders empowering teachers to understand that they are there to guide and mentor each learner, not be the oracle who knows best and has all the power in the learning equation. Not any more anyway.

And its also about the system empowering leaders to put the learning in their schools first, not the assessments. Its about empowering them to put learners well being before their outward school image of the standards or qualifications achieved. Its about wanting every young learner to be actively healthy and happy with options for their future.

Six or seven years ago I used to be quite happy to sit as a Principal in my own little school content and happy and probably somewhat smug knowing that we were doing this “ground-breaking” stuff.  And although I would get frustrated at the lack of movement in some schools I didn't do much but roll my eyes and moan about it within the confines of our safe environment. And then I realised that professionally wasn’t good enough of me. That I have a responsibility to the wider system. That doing good stuff in one school wasn’t going to have any long term effect  I couldn’t just sit back in my own school and not worry about what’s going on out there.I became much more acutely ware of the system and that we all need to play a part in transformation of the system. That we need to contribute and be bigger than just our current context.

I have had the privilege of setting up one new school in the last six years, and I got to do lots of ‘dream-school stuff. You can read about this throughout my blog.
I now have the exciting opportunity to live ‘dream school’ stuff on a much bigger scale as I work within a team for the year to set up another new school to begin next year. I’m living the talk and thinking around ‘dream-school’ every day as we talk and design what learning at Haeata Community Campus might look like. A dream job- yes. A dream year-sure.

But my ultimate dream is a system dream - where we don't just pay lip service to things like mental health. Where we don't just brush off how students feel-like has happened for our young learner linked above. Where we truly value each and every individual person. Where we truly collaborate as groups of schools to continue to the greater good. A system where we judge success by empowerment and engagement and health and wellbeing as well as and before the bunch of achievement statistics we use to judge schools and teachers and individual learners by presently.And where our whole system supports and subscribes to this.

If our system was empowered to have as its very first priority health and wellbeing, then surely the most amazing learning would be happening as a result. And the effects on society would be tremendous. We all know our young people are entering a very unknown world, and they need some really different skills to exist in this world. We’ve all heard the stories of young people with excellent university education who cant find appropriate employment and end up not working in those fields at all. We know the statistics about health issues facing us. We do know the future is really unknown. We need to empower our young people to be healthy and agile and adaptable as of necessity. And this needs to come first.  This requires some transformational change of expectations and understanding of the purpose of schooling from all sectors of society and at all levels of the system. And it requires us all to get involved.

That is my dream.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Breens Intermediate.....A Great Example of Many Things

Last week I,along with the rest of the Haeata team, had the privilege of visiting Breens Intermediate for a morning. I’d read things about Breens Intermediate previously- MOE case studies, and blogs from other visitors, so I was really looking forward to the visit. My expectations were well and truly met.

Breens Intermediate is a school that has clearly reflected on what will make learning engaging for their learners, and then put in place programmes to meet these. In doing so they have transformed the practice from that traditionally often seen in Intermediates to practice that anyone wanting to operate any form of Innovative learning practice could learn things from.

Collaborative practice was strong with a group of three teachers and two teacher aides working together with the equivalent of three classes. They worked with them in various ways. One classroom block we went into had three adults in one space working mainly with individuals while another was in another space taking a group workshop. The final adult was a support adult- roaming around all five spaces that students were working in. While the students had an attachment to one whānau teacher, there was an absolute sense of the collective. Those adults were responsible for all those students. The students as a whole all belonged together, were accountable to each other and supported each other.

Students knew what they were doing and showed some amazing independence and self direction for this time of the year. Students that needed more support were more restricted in some of their choices but this was being done in a positive way instead of the negative and restrictive way Ive seen it in some schools. There was a very strong strengths-based approach being taken to both learning and people management.

Technology learning (not just digital, but all technology) was integrated back into team learning each week, both before and after technology times. Technology wasn’t just something kids went off to that was totally disconnected from the rest of their learning programmes.

Programmes were responsive with most being centred around the theme for the term, but also some stand alone curriculum learning options and an independent booklet around the school’s dispositional curriculum that students could work on at any time it fitted into their personalised weekly schedule.

While they were operating as three “small schools” within the wider school, they were also aware of the need to keep things unified as a whole school and not be three completely separate units within the bigger picture. There was a very strong dealing of whānau, and of pastoral support tied right into learning programmes. These adults know their young people really well.

We spent most of the morning with Nikki and Nathan. They talked a lot about “re-setting.”  About taking that step sideways or back when things seemed a bit wobbly and figuring what was needed to steady things and doing it. It was refreshing to hear school leaders so honest about their successes, but also about how they handle things when they go wrong as well. I loved this part of our conversations. I find sometimes, that people in ILE type learning situations schedule so much, once they are working collaboratively that they find it hard to ‘find the space” to react accordingly and be flexible with their programme when the need arises.

Student voice was clear and evident and not restricted to the traditional “student council project” that doesn’t have any significant place in the learning programme, seen so often when schools think they are doing great things with student voice. Often student voice seems to be restricted to something extra curricula rather than feeding right into learning programmes. At Breens it was all about the learning.

The learners had real input into the ‘overriding school theme for the next term, before teachers sat down to plan it as a whole school team.

I overheard a student in one room be asked by another student what to do about something. There was a very firm discussion about what needed to have been done first, and she was sent off with the message “you need to do …first. Go and find a computer and get that done and then come back to me and I will help you…”

Breens is an example of so much I believe about Innovative learning practice:
  • strengths based
  • collaborative practice
  • self direction of learners
  • strong student voice into learning programmes
  • technologies integrated across all learning
  • conceptual theme based learning over extended periods of time

Breens is a great example that Innovative Learning Practice  does not need an Innovative Learning environment built before you start it. It’s a great example that the practice is so much more important than the environment is. It’s a great example that this stuff is possible in lower decile schools, just as much as it is in higher decide schools. It’s a great example of the power and importance of reflective practice.  It’s a great example of the power of collaborative practice. It’s a great example of the flexibility needed to make learning the best it possibly can be for the learners you have in front of you. In short, it’s a great example.

Definitely a place to visit should you ever get the opportunity. 
A privilege I’m pleased I got. 

Thanks Nikki, Nathan and the whole Breens team.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

My Learning Spaces

A very late February Edblognz Challenge 

My learning space for the last 6 weeks has been really different than being in a classroom or a school. The learning space for my colleagues and I has been the city of Christchurch.

While we have an office space situated at Aranui High School and we have spent some time in there

The office at Aranui High School

We have also been out and about visiting various groups and businesses. This has helped us be aware of whats available in theca its as we move into designing learning programmes for the students who will start wiht us next year. Its also been helpful to have conversations with businesses about what they really ant form school leavers, and be privileged to see the way different businesses manage their people and their workloads.

We are so quick to fall back on the way it has always been in schools and its been a real privilege to have this time to look at possibilities out there in their real world.

We've used public spaces like libraries.....

eBOT and SLT in the Aranui Library
and we've spent time on our building site...
The Building site for Haeata Community Campus

We've travelled the city looking at street art......

We've worked in Board rooms

At Sheffield Recruitment

and visited places of technology and action

Mind lab ChCh
and played in parks and playgrounds....

Margaret Mahy Park
We've visited businesses and seen them in action.

Office space at Jade

And worked in the corners of the odd cafe or two

We've talked a lot about needing to take time to unravel our thinking, to rid ourselves of the "notion" of what "school" must 'look like," before we get into designing what it might be. (Some people call this un-schooling or de-schooling)

And so when I need to reflect, and ponder on some of the things we are seeing...and discussing....and reading....

then I can sit on my porch with this view

Or walk 3 minutes to the beach and watch the sun rise.

It is an absolute privilege to have this time and be able to work in so many different spaces. What we will be able to design  through dong this will hopefully be the school of all dreams- for teachers,  but more importantly for whānau and most importantly for the young learners who will join us in 10 months time.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Mind Lab and PTC's

Mind lab Post 10/10

The Task:
Create a blog post where you reflect on your personal 32 week learning journey through the whole postgraduate programme with regard to the 12 Practising Teacher Criteria (PTC) in e-learning.
First choose three of the criteria you have met well. Briefly give examples of these from your practice. You can also refer to previous (DCL, LDC, R&C or APC) assessments that you now have as evidence.
Then plan and justify two main goals for your future development.

Completing the postgraduate certificate in Digital and Collaborative Technology over the last forty weeks has been an absolute joy. I have loved it. I have managed the workload alongside leading a busy school and holding a reasonably heavy teaching load as well at times. I remain so glad I have done it. 

Although I have been working in the field of digital technologies for as long as possible- I remember having one of those computers that got passed for teacher to teacher each week in my very first year of teaching in 1997- I learnt something new with these papers every week. I enjoyed being forced into practically experimenting with things I might not have chosen to like robotics.

I am finding it hard to select specific PTC as I believe my involvement withe these papers have strengthened all PTC. If i had to get specific I would say Criteria 4,5 and 7. Not only was this a great way to demonstrate my commitment to my own ongoing learning, it was also a great model for others. I know that staff certainly mentioned thinking about giving up their own study but seeing me persevere with mine with everything else I had to do inspired them to keep going. I loved that the papers were freely developed enough to let us have a real input. Thanks to Tim, in the Gisborne Mindlab for being so keen to hear from us as participants and letting us contribute to sessions and lead parts that were in areas we had specific skills, knowledge and experiences. The papers all gave such worndeful examples and suggestion for promoting collaborative, inclusive environments.

Having that experience last year will be invaluable as I have moved into a new positions where as one of four learning directors, alongside a Principal, I am currently working to design a completely new curriculum for a new school beginning next year. Will definitely be aiming to develop PTC 6 as we do this. As this new school will be strongly bicultural and multicultural everything we do has both  bicultural lens and a multicultural context to it so I will also be working to develop PTC 3 and 10.

Practising Teacher Criteria
Professional relationships and professional values
Criteria 1: Establish and maintain effective professional relationships focused on the learning and well-being of all ākonga.
Criteria 2: Demonstrate commitment to promoting the well-being of ākonga.
Criteria 3: Demonstrate commitment to bicultural partnership in Aotearoa / New Zealand.
Criteria 4: Demonstrate commitment to ongoing professional learning and development of professional personal practice.
Criteria 5: Show leadership that contributes to effective teaching and learning.
Professional knowledge in practice
Criteria 6: Conceptualise, plan, and implement an appropriate learning programme.
Criteria 7: Promote a collaborative, inclusive, and supportive learning environment.
Criteria 8: Demonstrate in practice their knowledge and understanding of how ākonga learn.
Criteria 9: Respond effectively to the diverse and cultural experiences and the varied strengths, interests, and needs of individuals and groups of ākonga.
Criteria 10: Work effectively within the bicultural context of Aotearoa NZ.
Criteria 11: Analyse and appropriately use assessment and information, which has been gathered formally and informally.

Criteria 12: Use critical inquiry and problem-solving effectively in their professional practice.