Friday, December 6, 2013

Being Happy

"Happy" is an answer I have used many times this year:

- What do you want to be?
- What do we want our learners to leave being?
- What does personal excellence mean?

I often quote my mother with "I just want everyone to be happy".  Unfortunately when I do this I start with "as my mother would say" and then use the slightly desperate tone of a mother who just wants her kids to stop arguing (sorry Mum).  

So, what do I mean when I keep saying I just want our kids to be happy?  Let's face it, one can be happy, but at another's expense.  Also, I think as adults and teachers we are very good at thinking we know what 'being happy' should be like for our kids.  Unfortunately those ideas are often attached to some fixed mindsets, or experiences from when we were at school.  I find myself, on a daily basis, saying to myself (often out loud) take of your teacher hat and put on your kid hat.  

Blogging hasn't been one of my fortes.  It seems to happen when I really want to get something out there or I get very excited.  To be honest, I have been in a state of excitement all year on this journey of starting a new school with a phenomenal team of people.  But my 'excitement levels' peaked on Friday when this Ted Talk clip was shared with me.  A 13 year old boy answers the question: "What if we made education about how to be healthy and happy?'

 And who best to hear it from - a kid!  I had to hold myself down from yelling out over and over again, "this is what I meant."  Thank you Logan LaPlante. 

We are all learners and we all need to hack education together.  We had 130 learners with us on Monday for Orientation Day and we started the hacking.  Watching this makes me super excited about the future of HPSS.  

Monday, August 26, 2013

Know your learners: lessons gained from the sideline

Knowing our learners is something that I, on a daily basis, harp on about.  It's through knowing our learners, who they are, what they bring, their views, their whanau and their connections that form the foundations of positive relationships. And another thing I keep harping on about is my strong belief that our relationships with our learners is  the underlying success for effective teaching and learning. 

love those moments when you see something you believe in so passionately in action.  Tonight I drove in a slightly maniacal fashion to get Mack to her first taekwondo training with the Titirangi club. Master Mark Hall has a reputation for being a bit of a hard-arse - known to clip the odd ear and get a bit physical and is definitely lacking in the PC department.  I felt nervous for Mack. Her expectations were set high.  She had left behind her Opotiki club and a phenomenal coach who had connected with Mack on many levels. 

From the moment Mack walked in the door he made her feel welcome and despite being surrounded by lots of little people dressed in white he took the time to find out who she was. Then after checking she was insured, suggested she be in the adult group which meant sitting through an hour of the juniors training. Within 5 minutes of watching it was obvious - this guy knows his learners. 50+ odd kids and he didn't just know them by name, but knew their quirks and just how far he could push them.  Whit belts through to black belts - all at the same time, all totally engaged. 

WARM YET DEMANDING. Yep - this guy is tough and he expects a lot. But, also with the toughness is a sense of humor, and a real passion for the sport and for his students. I have a feeling his students would do anything for him - actually they were!  

There was nothing flashy. Definitely no bells and whistles in the titirangi war memorial hall. What there was were strong relationships between coach and students. Mark expects from them their very best and his students are prepared to give it because they know he gives a damn!

3 hours later and while I didn't feel the urge to Kung fu anything I did learn a little bit more about the practice of developing great relationships with our learners. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

What does it mean to be Culturally Responsive?

We've just been through a process of appointing our Leaders of Learning and this was a question that caused some robust discussion amongst our team.  Often, the answer you expect to hear is influenced strongly by your own personal experiences.

For me, my most recent experiences have been in a Decile One school, where 80% of our students were Maori.  When thinking 'cultural responsiveness' I reflect on Te Kotahitanga, the Treaty of Waitangi and the importance of valuing and validating what each student brings to the classroom.  Also the importance of being responsive to students experiences and co-constructing the learning around their views and knowledge.  Working in this environment my focus was largely on lifting Maori Achievement - not just academically, but also about finding ways for school to be a successful place for Maori.  The evidence was clear, that what is effective for Maori students is effective for all students.

This clip from Andrew Solomon, talking about 'Love, no matter what' reminded me that being culturally responsive is more than just valuing and validating the views and beliefs that learners bring, but also about accepting their identities.  

I love how he talks about Vertical and Horizontal Identities.  Vertical Identity is what's passed down through generations - ethnicity, nationality, language, sometimes religion.  While some of these things are difficult, no one attempts to cure them.  Horizontal Identity refers to the things that you often have to learn from a peer group, things that you don't have in common with your family and what often makes you quite alien to your parents.  These are the things that people almost always try to cure.  Andrew Solomon makes reference to being gay, the deaf community, to families with down syndrome and autistic children.  These are all examples of identities that form cultures.  The challenge is how others accept individual identities.  Solomon talks about three levels of acceptance:  self acceptance, family acceptance and social acceptance.  They don't always con-incide.  Children who don't 'fit' into what their family deems as 'normal' often feel that their parents don't love them.  Solomon talks about the idea that a parent's love for their children is unconditional, the issue is that often parents don't accept them, and that acceptance takes time.

Being responsive isn't just about acknowledging, but also about being accepting.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Relationships - the power of the Advisory

Visits to the Self Directed Schools in Canada: Westmount in Hamilton, Mary Ward in Toronto, Bishop Carroll in Calgary and Thomas Haney in Vancouver reinforced the impact that the 'Teacher Advisor' can have on students and how they experience school.  My passion around the advisory concept, and around students and their whanau having that one person they can connect with, has developed through having my own advisory group at my previous school, and exploring ways to ensure students are at the centre of the learning. Also, having positive relationships with students has always been an underlining philosophy for me as a teacher  - It's not rocket science!  Let's face it - any ineffective personal or working relationship results in a toxic environment for all involved, so why do we go there? 

Open to learning conversations and restorative practices are popular initiatives dominating the educational world and it all makes complete sense  - in theory it seems so simple.   What's the problem? 

Lets not forget that positive relationships are not a new concept in schools and I feel slightly frightened when an educator mentions it like it's some revelation.  Forming strong connections with students, I would argue, is the underlying success for effective teaching and learning - and it has been happening for years.  What hasn't happened is structures put in place to support the concept of a teacher as an advisor, a mentor, or in our case at Hobsonville Point, a Coach.

Deans, Tutors (a couple of roles that come to mind) are people put into these positions to be pastoral and academic mentors.  Most of the time they are people that connect with students through forming positive relationships, however, at the same time they are landed with large groups of students which then limits that expectation to provide each student with what they need.  

The Advisory concept advocates for small groups of no more than 15 students.  It also advocates for quality time, not just 5 - 10 minutes of a morning.  Our Coaches will be that one person that advocates for students and builds and fosters caring relationships, along with academic mentoring.  The Coach will be that person who ensures each student is engaged and challenged in learning and experiences that are relevant to them.  The Coach will have the time and skills to build our learners to be inquirers and self directed learners as well as working with students to explore interests and pursue passions that can be linked back to their learning.  The Coach will be that go to person for family and ensure that students and whanau don't get lost in the education system.  

Our challenge is to not lose sight of what is important - our students, and to ensure that everything we do must ensure students are at the centre.  'Personalised Learning' is a concept that, as teachers, we all want to aspire to, but it's extremely challenging to truly personalise learning for students when they are being processed through levels at schools based on their age and a timetable structured around teacher and their specific subjects rather then student needs.  What is most exciting here at Hobsonville Point, is that we are in a position to make a change.  

At times it feels like we are venturing into the unknown and while we are drawing on research and what we've seen in our travels, what we are doing is radically different.  What keeps us grounded and what reassures us that we are doing the right thing is seeing the potential of how our thinking, planning and developing will enable true student centred and personalised learning to occur.   Students belonging to a Learning Hub, with a Coach is just one aspect to ensure students remain at the centre of everything we do.     

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Kicking off at The Met

Since leaving NZ a week ago it's been a whirlwind, starting with two days in New York before hiring a car to drive to Providence, Rhode Island. Providence is home to The Met - a Big Picture school, founded by Dennis Littkey And Elliot Washor. It was great to see in action what I had been reading about. Since then we have flown to Boston for a night so that we could get up early enough to fly to Toronto, hire a car and drive to Westmount High School in Hamilton. The next day, Friday, we visited Mary Ward High School for the day. Now we're in Calgary and I'm still a bit blogless! I had intended to blog my way through but at the moment am faced with three unfinished drafts! So, I shall begin - one school at a time:

I did regret not being able to investigate Providence more. The part that I saw was picturesque with cobbled streets and beautiful achrchitecture. The Rhode Island art school contributed to the artsy feel of the place. We had breakfast in this great cafe which relied on local and organic produce and emphasised the importance of staying local and supporting the community. It made me reflect on the potential Hobsonville point community has to create a sustainable culture which embraces and supports innovation and creativity. This idea of strong partnerships set the scene for the day.

The Met campus was built in 2000 and it wasn't flash learning spaces and technology that stood out (they didn't really feature at all), but rather the strong and positive relationships between students and advisors and the general buzz of students engaged and in control of their learning. It was quite difficult to pin down any specific structures and while this was frustrating it was also an indicator that the lack of visible structure was probably due to students learning being so personalised - getting on with their own learning, with schedules dependent on what their needs were at that time. I have been quite an avid reader of Big Picture material and possibly my take on what I saw was slightly clouded by my expectations of what I thought should be happening. Staff who talked to us were very Big Picture positive and students were delightful and very much part of the vision, however, at times it felt like I was in the midst of a marketing campaign.

Don't get me wrong, what I saw was a very successful model that is definitely working, but it's a model that comes with lots of glossy brochures (Maybe that's an American thing). I also got a sense that its a model that is relatively fixed and I'm of the firm belief that a successful educational model is one that is continually evolving. Maybe, because it is so pedagogically based, it can afford to be more static? In reflection it was good to see my idea of a perfect model flawed, just for the fact that it required me to challenge my own thinking. For example, a state numeracy test has been recently introduced and to deal with this they pull all their 9th graders together and teach them maths in a fairly traditional way. Relationships are so strong that the students appeared to be coping with this shift, however, it seem to contradict the teaching and learning that The Met advocates for - through authentic and rich tasks, developed around students passions. It was a reminder of the importance of keeping teaching and learning at the forefront, and not be dictated by structures and assessment.

The Met is set out as schools within a school. We spent the day in Unity. A couple of structures that are in place is the 'school' coming together as a group in the morning for a 'pick-me-up' which could be notices, achievements, current events etc... Two days a week are designated to Internships, where a number of students are mentored and working with people in the community on career paths or interests that are relevant to them. Each day students are in school they spend time in the morning and afternoon In their advisory. This is when they talk about and plan what their learning will look like for the day. In between this time students are either working in advisory spaces, attending interest models and working on big projects. We were able to see students pitch their business plans at their business awards which resulted in real partnerships and funding. Students ownership of their proposals in an authentic environment was impressive and really defined who they were as learners. Despite my perceived 'fuzziness', academic rigour was at the forefront. Students don't move on because they are another year older. They move on when they can meet expectations and learning outcomes, displaying evidence of their learning in authentic contexts.

It's been 6 days since our visit to The Met so this blog is a bit behind schedule (much to the amusement of my colleagues - as I have mentioned posting it every day!).

The Met visit was very much a 'one way experience'. We were there purely to see their model, not to engage in discussions which shared teaching and learning experiences. We even got to meet Denis Littkey (bit of a movie star moment). I was a little disappointed when he shook our hands, then poof... He was gone. What I learnt, or rather, what was reinforced for me: an open mind is crucial. Also, the importance of leaving what you know at the door - use it later to help form thinking, but to go into these school visits with no expectations / judgements of what you think it should be like.

What I came away with: recognising the value of the advisory role in ensuring all students needs are met and that no one slips through the gaps. The power of partnerships - The Met has done this well, forming and maintaining partnerships, which enable successful internships and ensures learning is happening in and outside of the school building. Passion and interest projects which engage students and enable learning to be personalised. The importance of applying an academically rigorous structure to students projects to ensure depth and breadth. The Met has developed a model that is highly successful for their students. Students are engaged and passionate about their learning. They are pursuing their interests in authentic contexts and students see themselves as professionals in their pursuits.

We aren't about applying the Big Picture model to our environment, but are about identifying what works well and creating a teaching and learning environment relevant for our students.

Overall, a great start to our tour of innovative and future focused schools.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Making a difference

This is my last blog before we head of on our trip to America and Canada to visit a variety of schools that have reputations for their innovative approach to teaching and learning.  We land in New York and visit 'The Met' in Providence, Rhode Island and then to Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver to a number of Self-Directed Learning Schools.  I plan to blog my way around as I have a feeling I'll have plenty to talk about.  It would be fair to say, we are very excited.  Claire has done a great job with her recent blog to explain where we are going and why, so check it out:

Overseas travel alone is a treat, but for me, to visit a school, 'The Met', founded by Dennis Littky is, not to sound too corny a dream come true!  When I reflect on what has most recently shaped my thinking and informed my practice, it's Dennis Litkky's work (along with Eliot Levine), particularly his books, 'One Kid at a Time' and 'Big Picture Education'.  This leads to my slight diversion about what has made a difference for me:

We have just finished presenting information sessions to fellow educators who are interested in pursuing a leader of learning role at Hobsonville Point Secondary School.  It has been a valuable exercise for us as a team to really bring our thinking together, so far.  Also, when you are required to introduce yourself, you can't help but reflect on how you've got to this point.  Opotiki College has been a significant factor.   The positive and nurturing atmosphere along with high academic success that was notable at Opotiki College can be largely credited to strong leadership (by this I don't just mean the Senior Leadership Team, but leadership across the school), along with the willingness of teachers to have their practices and thinking continually challenged.  There was also a strong commitment to Te Kotahitanga, Restorative Practices and more recently the shift to 100 minute teaching blocks and the establishment of Learning Advisory groups (students in small groups with one key teacher who is their pastoral and academic mentor as they move through school).  Also, twelve years before Opotiki, I was at the Outward Bound School and that experience was very much the catalyst for me to think about the possibilities for teaching and learning outside the traditional model. The Outward Bound model uses the outdoor environment as their tool.  Ironically, the Ministry of Education refused to accept my time there as 'teaching time', however, at that point I was 6 years into my teaching career and it was the first place that I experienced school wide student engagement, authentic and project driven teaching and learning, built on a strong vision and values.  Students connected strongly with their instructor and through the development of this positive relationship were able to be challenged and exposed to numerous experiences.  

We all bring experiences and practices that inform our thinking.  Despite the different schools and the different communities we've all been involved in, one thing remains the same - students at the centre of teaching and learning.

Back to the now, and to my point!  Our thinking around Hobsonville Point Secondary School isn't something we're plucking from thin air.  Our thinking is largely influenced by current research and evidence, along with our experiences and own practice in education.  

So - what do we know?  What is the evidence telling us? Positive relationships and the powerful influence of every student having at least one teacher that they connect with to support their journey through school, to ensure their learning is personalised for them, is key.  Another strong message is that students engage in their learning when it is authentic and relevant to them.  HOW OBVIOUS IS THIS? - the idea that students respond well when there are positive relationships?  That students are engaged when learning is relevant?  I don't think people disagree with these statements and I know that there are pockets of exceptional teaching and learning happening in most schools.  However, it is not school wide as most schools are operating within traditional structures which don't allow for longer and more flexible blocks of learning.  Students are, if anything, often structured into large tutor groups for 10 minutes at the beginning of each day, therefore not allowing for 'tutors' to be able to provide the pastoral and academic support required.  

Some of the structures we are thinking about at Hobsonville Point Secondary School are Learning Hubs - students in small groups with a Learning Coach who will be their person. Each student's Learning Coach will work with their students and their families to ensure learning is rigourous and challenging, yet ultimately, personalised and relevant to what that student needs at that time. Learning Coaches will ensure students are engaging in a range of experiences to ignite passions and foster inquiry learning.   Learning will also occur through big projects which will not only allow for authenticity, but also the ability to form strong partnerships with the community. Specialised learning will be sort when required and will be driven by student’s needs, rather than assessment.  Our 'timetable' (even if we call it that) will be driven by students, rather than teachers.  

Some, who have head our vision, have referred to us as being 'brave' and 'courageous'. (Others have looked slightly daunted).  While we enjoy the accolades, that's not what drives us.  We have a responsibility to provide an environment that allows all students to be successful, to be thinkers, innovators, creators and collaborators.  To be students who can contribute positively to their school and their community.   What drives us is the belief that this is possible.  

We don't have all the answers to the 'how to' yet, but are desperately looking forward to our travels where some of our 'how to' questions can be addressed.  This doesn't mean we are going to find a successful model and apply it.  Our research and visiting of other schools is so we can see what works well and become more informed so that we can develop a model that works for our school, our students and our community.

New York - here we come!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Is Moral Purpose enough?

Ken Robinson, in his presentation, "Schools kill creativity," says:

The education system has mined our minds in the way that we've strip mined the earth for a particular commodity and for the future it won't service.  We have to re-think the fundamental purposes on which we are educating our children.  We need to celebrate the gift of the human imagination - Seeing our creative capacities for the richness that they are and seeing our children for the hope that the are.  Our task is to educate their whole being so they can face this future."

We are in a privileged position at Hobsonville Point Schools to develop a school that embraces creativity and create an environment that allows students to pursue passions and enjoy learning.  An environment that sees students for who they are and what they bring, rather than seeing what 'box' they can fit into.  This is not to say it can't be done anywhere else.  As I've said previously, a modern learning environment helps, but it's not the catalyst.  An environment where students are at the centre, where they have every opportunity possible to pursue their interests and link their learning to their passions is completely reliant on teacher disposition.

So what is the right disposition?  Teachers who are agentic, not deficit:  they don't hold all the knowledge and value, rather than judge, the views that each of their students bring.  They don't dictate to students what they are going to learn, but collaborate and co-construct each students learning around students prior knowledge. They love working with students - they like children!  They want to know their students for who they are, not for what they can turn them into.  Teachers who can personalise students learning.

Wouldn't these dispositions be the expectation? I have an unfailing belief that people enter the teaching profession because they want to make a difference - they have a moral purpose.    Michael Fullan defines 'moral purpose' as "acting with the intention of making a positive difference in the lives of the people it affects." So what happens?  What goes wrong?  Why do some (actually too many) educators fall into the trap of teaching to assessment, continue with traditional teaching methods and content that clearly don't fit their students and take the approach that 'one size fits all?  Some would argue that current school environments and structures don't allow for '21st century teaching and learning'.  Or that they are meeting the demands of the community.  And yes, these reasons may be true, however, they can't be the reason for poor teacher practice.  Pressure from the school community is a very real issue.  However, it's what we do with that pressure, those demands, that is most important.  Many of our communities / parents views of what school should look like is based on their experiences and what worked for them (or in some cases - what didn't work).   It is our responsibility to work with our families about what education should look like to best meet the needs of their children. As for structures, currently there is a an emphasis on modern learning environments.  With a lot of restructuring happening, schools are being outfitted with open learning spaces and state of the art technology, but the shift that needs to happen before the structural one is a pedagogical one.  In all educational institutions we need to ensure we're not putting the cart before the horse.  Effective teaching and learning will only occur if the teacher that is placed in that modern leraning environment has the mindset and disposition to make a difference.

I still stand strong that moral purpose is alive and well.  However, it is not enough and it will not result in effective teaching and learning.  Once again I refer to Fullan, who I think captures the essence of what is needed: Teachers must become change agents - "Moral purpose keeps teachers close to the needs of children and youth; change agentry causes them to develop better strategies for accomplishing their moral goals."  Fullan sees four core capacities for building greater change capacity - personal vision building/ inquiry, mastery and collaboration.  

So, to answer the question of what happens? (or in this case, what doesn't happen?) When teacher's rest on having 'moral purpose' and don't continually inquire into what making a difference means for individual students, nothing changes.   'Personal vision building' means to continually examine why we choose teaching.  The desire to continually inquire ensures our purpose is never static.  We must be willing life-long learners, especially if it's a capacity we want to develop in our students.  Inquiry is also crucial for keeping our purpose / vision relevant and alive.  'Mastery'  is about achieving deeper understanding and to ensure our mindset is evolving to meet the demands of a forever changing environment.  The ability to collaborate is vital - to be leaders of pedagogical change we can't learn on our own.  

Bottom line:  teaching and learning is not a static profession.  We must move beyond a 'moral purpose' to make a sustainable difference.

Good reading:  Fullan, Michael: Why teachers must become change agents (Educational Leadership; March 1993; 50,6; Research Library, page 12-17)  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What works?

 You just have to google 21st Century Learning / Personalised learning / Big Picture Ed / any of those key words to get a very clear message - The current model of education no longer fits.  As Sugata Mitra says, it's not broken - it's actually still very robust as it has been around for the last 300 years, producing students with set skills.  This may have worked at a time when the nature of the workforce could be easily determined. However, now jobs of the future are undetermined.  Set skills are no longer the desired product for the workforce.  The design needs to be changed in order to develop thinkers and problem solvers (amongst other things).  What do we do when something becomes outdated?  I'd suggest that we don't hang in there with it, hoping it might make a comeback some day!  Or when we do attempt to bring it back, we find that it will never quite have the same impact as it once did (my hand-knitted leg warmers are coming to mind, along with Stubbies and wine cooler - they'd make an impact - but the wrong kind).  I digress.  My point - why keep on doing the same purley becuase that's what we've always done?

Look even closer to home - this same message is being reinforced by ERO and the NZC.  So, why  is it so challenging for educators to shift their thinking and practice?  For the very reason that Sugata suggests - the traditional model is so robust, however, this does not mean it's the right way.  Why change when you can show that a high percentage of your students are leaving your school with excellent qualifications?  However, just because they have the Quals, does this mean they've been engaged in learning, or have they just been doing what it takes to get through a predictable system.  I'm not saying that teaching and learning has not been effective - there is some outstanding practice occurring  but often in pockets.  Unfortunately, education is so assessment driven, but, as I keep questioning, does leaving school with a heap of credits equate to leaving school as confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners?

Our challenge isn't just knowing what education needs to look like, but also how to make it happen?

Over the last few weeks through investigating community projects that we could form partnerships with and through meeting fellow educators who are interested in what we are doing at Hobsonville Point, it has been incredible refreshing to connect with people who are passionate about education, passionate about teaching young people and providing opportunities for them to continually inquire and grow, and also passionate about their own learning.

I reflected back to my time at school and what made me pursue an English teaching pathway:  A teacher.  So often our own passions are ignited because of opportunities we are given, experiences we have or through positive relationships we develop.  Mr Lee was an avid and fanatical English teacher and quite the expert around all things 'English'.  However, this isn't what drove him.  What set him apart from your typical siloed subject teacher was his passion for teaching and learning and his desire to engage students in anyway possible - even if this meant putting himself out of his comfort zone!  On the other hand, my interest in History was quickly killed off by a teacher who was driven by the desire to fill her students with the information required to complete the assessments!  The specialist knowledge that teachers bring is important, but their disposition to be passionate, reflective, inquirers, innovative, learners, and pedagogically driven as opposed to  subject driven (this list is endless) is more important.

We have to remember - we are not teaching students to be 21st century learners - this is what they already are.  It's our responsible to provide them with the environment and opportunties to be 21st century learners and stop plying them with traditional models for the only reason being that this is what we have always done.

My daughter has just had a week at her school camp and had am incredible experience, learning lots, without realising she was learning (she thought she was just having fun!).  But now it's back to school and making sure she can cover enough to be assessed against the National Standards - not so fun.  Why do we seperate these experiences?  Education needs to be turned upside down.  When students have positive relationships with their teachers and are engaged in relavant and authentic teaching and learning experiences, the assessment will happen, amongst other wonderous things.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Letting Learning Happen

This Ted Talk from Sugata Mitra is inspiring.  His 'hole in the wall' experiment provides the evidence for the argument that schools, as we know them, are obsolete.   Some key message: It's not about making learning happen, it's about letting learning happen.  Also, it's not about telling students 'the answers' it's about asking the 'wondrous questions'.  Ask the wondrous question then sit back and enjoy the answer.

Monday, February 25, 2013

How do you know?

Over the last couple of weeks our focus has been around the vision and values of Hobsonville Point Secondary School.  This had led to me reflecting on what's informed my thinking and I continue to ask myself the question, how do I know what is the right way?

A few years ago, in the role of a DP I realised I was getting caught up in the day to day grind of day relief, uniforms and lunchtime detentions... (I'm sure I was doing more than this, but these tasks seemed to be at the forefront.)    As an English teacher my sole purpose had been to continually reflect on my practice and inquire into ways I could engage my students in the learning.  I didn't want to lose this passion just because of a change in role. We were also on the Restorative Practice and Te Kotahitanga pathways and this reinforced how important relationships were, however, it was becoming more and more obvious that in order to make a real difference to teaching and learning a dramatic change needed to be made.  For me, that meant viewing myself as a leader of learning, a leader of pedagogical change and not just slipping into the role of an 'administrator'.

Initiatives that we had embedded, such as restorative practices led to an improved school environment and better results, but we still had students that weren't achieving and for me this is never good enough.  Yes, their attendance may have been poor,blah, blah, blah (and all that deficit thinking that goes on) but, the question was (and always will be), what were we going to do about it?  Applying new ideas to an existing structure will always have some sort of impact, but it won't make the difference that is required because it still leaves the door open for teachers to continue doing what they've always done.  Like I've said in my previous blog - changing education to meet the needs of our learners takes more than building modern learning environments and providing technological devices - it requires a change in thinking.  However, to support this change in thinking, structural changes do need to be made.  My experience of this is going from 5 x 50minute classes a day to 3 x 100minute blocks of learning.  To make this shift successfully as a teacher you have to change the way you teach, you have to inquire into ways of engaging your students effectively for longer periods of time.  This opens up the opportunity of project based learning and engaging students in their interests.  It also opens up the opportunity to engage staff in professional learning that is relevant to their practice.  

The work of Litky tells us of the value of small groups of students with one teacher who is their pastoral and academic mentor.  Hence the structural change of Tutor to Learning Advisor.  We often struggle with what to call these groups and while the name should not be the issue, it is important that we use language that helps us avoid slipping back into the 'old way' of doing it. Being a Learning Advisor to a group of 15 students for 2 x 100min blocks a week as opposed to a Tutor to 30 students 10min each morning, once again demands a change in thinking and practice. It provided the opportunity to take the 'One Kid at a time' approach.   As a Learning Advisor you are able to spend time with each student to not only form strong relationships, but also to investigate who they are, what they're passionate about and work with them and their families to co-construct their learning around what is important and relevant to them.  For me, my time at Opotiki College and being a Leader of Learning and a Learning Advisory was just the beginning - tip of the iceberg stuff.   Applying changes to an existing structure is a challenge as you are asking staff and students to re-think what they have always done and for some, what they have always known.  This is when evidence is vital and while at times you feel like you are venturing into the unknown, especially so at Hobsonville Point where we are starting from scratch, it is crucial that you stay informed with the research and literature.   

It's also crucial that we form strong partnerships and listen to what people have to say.  I had one of 'those moments' last year with my Learning Advisory group at Opotiki College.  We were in the middle of 'dream maps' and investigating passions when a student said, "why have their been all these changes?"  I had been so busy engaging staff in changing practice based on evidence, that I had forgotten about student voice!  My group where loving what they were doing but didn't really know why.  This lead to an amazing teaching and learning moment for not just my students, but me.  They asked me to present to them what I had delivered to staff.  From this point they then decided they wanted to inquire further into their characteristics as 21st century learners and to research the generation gap.  This lead to their student-led project on making resources to inform teachers how they like to learn.  Priceless!  Speaking of valuable partnerships, we have already, this year, visited schools that have reputations for being innovative and the conversations we have with fellow educators are invaluable.    Speaking of visiting  innovative schools, this is the perfect opportunity to drop in our up and coming trip to visit the MET School in Rhode Island, Westmount School and Mary Ward School in Toronto, Bishop Carroll School in Calgary and Thomas Haney School in Vancouver.  This may sound like a fairly glamorous field trip (yay), but it's also about us continually inquiring into what will work best for our students.  

I have this vision of every student having a strong connection with 'their person' (Learning Advisor / mentor ...) and co-constructing their learning around their passions, seeking expertise knowledge across curriculum areas as they require it, rather than having it delivered to them in subject areas where it fits into the teachers timetable.   My vision is of students and teachers who are engaged in projects that not only ignite their passion, but are authentic and do more than tick the assessment completed box.  The traditional teaching model sits students in classrooms and provides them with the information to pass the required assessment.  This may result in students leaving school with excellence endorsed certificates, but does this make them "confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners?" (NZC)

My excitement about being part of the Hobsonville Point Secondary School journey is the opportunity to continue to inquire into what's best for our students and to continue to be part of an educational environment that  finds ways for all students to be successful in learning.

Unpacking the vision and identifying what our school and our staff will look like has been a powerful exercise and has made me even more aware of the importance of continually reflecting on my own thinking.  While we all bring valuable knowledge to the team, it's what we don't know that is just as important.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why Change?

The New Zealand Curriculum calls for young people who will be "confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners."  It's an innovative document, which provides the blueprint for 21st Century teaching and learning.  However, this document is very much like the modern learning environment - it isn't going to transform education on its own.  The transformation of eduction to meet the needs of our 21st Century learners requires not only educators, but also the public / our community, to understand the shift around concepts such as knowledge and learning.  To be effective and innovative educational leaders it is our responsibility to ensure that not only our students and staff understand the vision, but also our community.

While I understand why we are completely re-framing education and re-creating an environment which defies a traditional school environment,  I am also aware that not everyone is on the same kaupapa.  I recently showed my family around the Hobsonville Point Primary School. Of course they were blown away by the design of the building, but I sensed some confusion around the lack of traditional school devices - such as walls, whiteboards and that general institutional look and feel.  It's not that they don't want to 'get it,' but rather that their understanding of education has been shaped by their own experiences at school - both good and bad, but largely a traditional educational experience.

Traditionally the secondary education model has been a 'one size fits all' model.  Students receive instruction around specific subjects and then navigate their way through various assessment to show they have retained the information.  How well they responded to the skills and concepts delivered, determined their pathway - vocational or academic (and others!?).  This kind of education may have equipped students in the industrial age?  However, we have to change what we do to equip our young people for life in the 21st century.  Unfortunately, this traditional model (or variations of it) still occurs.  I have very clear memories of being drafted into 'girls subjects' when I was at College - it was the mid 1980's!  I had a passion for Architecture and in order to get a place in the 'boys subjects' to pursue my passion I had to do a great deal of foot stomping.  Unfortunately, the environment created by the teacher (a reaction to having 'a girl' in his class) soon extinguished that dream.  Education in New Zealand has had some revolutionary moments in an attempt to shift to meet demands, however, this has often only really resulted in tweaking at the edges and more than often hasn't had the student at the centre.   

I've just finished reading the MOE document: Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching - a New Zealand perspective   A key point for me, when looking at why we need to change what we do, is the discussion around what is knowledge.  It identifies that one of our biggest challenges is understanding the paradigm shift in the meaning of such words.   Traditionally, knowledge  is content, concepts and skills required for subjects.  The learner assimilates that knowledge and shows how well they have 'learnt' it through assessment.  In the context of the 21st century learner the concept of knowledge needs to be viewed as a verb, rather than a noun.  Instead, knowledge involves creating (doing) and solving problems and finding solutions to challenges as they arise. The shift is to develop everyone's capabilities to work with knowledge.  This isn't to say that subject specific knowledge isn't important, it still has it's place.  However, it is about how it is used.  The 21st century teacher does not have all the expertise, but instead has the disposition to collaborate with students in a 'knowledge-building' environment and to co-construct learning around what is relevant for students.   Education as we know it needs to be turned upside down so that it is centred around the learner, rather than the learner conforming to the system.

Our challenge at Hobsonville Point Secondary School is to continue to build strong relationships with our families and the wider community and to ensure that the movement between the school environment and community is seamless.  By doing this our Vision will be transparent.

Changing Education Paradigms

This might shed some light on what I'm trying to say in my previous blog!  

Monday, February 11, 2013

How did I get to this point?

I arrived in Auckland from Opotiki two weeks ago to take up my post as one of 3 DP's at Hobsonville Point Secondary School.  Day 1:  Navigating my way from Mangere Bridge (current abode) to Hobsonville Point.  Quite exciting, considering for the last 6 years I have lived 100 metres from Opotiki College!  Made it.  Stopped and stared in awe at the construction site of our new secondary school - the enormity of the challenge ahead slowly sinking in.  Arrived at the new HP Primary School and tried to restrain myself from running around in absolute delight in, what one can aptly name, a modern learning environment.  I spent week 1 pinching myself and asking how this country girl got to this point?    

A few thoughts come to light.  Firstly, that my experiences so far have set me up for the Hobsonville Point challenge.   I was lucky enough to work with an innovative team at Opotiki College who through continual inquiry into what was best for our students turned teaching and learning upside down to implement a 21st century teaching and learning model - within an existing school structure.  Some of the radical changes was the shift to 100minute teaching blocks, High Impact Projects and the establishment of Learning Advisories. This will always be a work in progress, but what was most exciting was to be part of a vision that placed students and their passions and interests at the heart of the teaching and learning.  Secondly, I have an unfailing belief that all students can learn and that I can make a difference.  Thirdly, I don't have all the answers but I can't wait to work with colleagues and students to continue to find ways for them to achieve and reach their full potential.  

What I do know? 

Relationships are key, as are high expectations - of ourselves and our students.  At the core of our teaching and learning their must be a strong vision, informed by current and relevant research and inquiry.  Student's learning must be relevant to them and to be truely valuable needs to draw on their passions and interests.  I also know that 21st century teaching and learning does not require a 21st century modern learning environment.   Sure, it helps and for me at HPSS, our state of the art environment is a privilege - not a give-in.  However, a modern learning environment does not equate to effective teaching and learning - quality education is a mindset, not a bunch of fancy buildings.  

What do we have to do?  

De-school!  (It's actually harder than it sounds)  It's about continually challenging ourselves about what education is, what it looks like and where it needs to go.  It's about making it relevant for our 21st Century learners.  The world we live in is evolving at a rapid pace - so why has education remained so static?  It's about changing the way we think and not hitting the default button.  Defaulting - not going back to what we know, the way we've always done it, just because the going gets tough.  So at the moment, along with de-schooling, there's a lot of 're-framing' and 'unbundling' going on.  

How do we do it?

 Currently my 'how to' is realitvely simple, but as I continue on this journey I'm sure my reflections will gain more deepth.  The how to is never losing sight of our vision - a vision which has students at the heart of it.