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.

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