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.