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.     

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