Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Sir Ken Robinson at EduTECH – in the flesh!

Sir Ken in person has been a highlight. The anticipation was high and this often leads to a bit of a ‘let-down’ moment, BUT not this time.  Despite him being so out there in the on-line world (I stalk him on Ted Talk, own and have read his books  - spent most of 2013 gushing over ‘The Element), his presentation was fresh, provocative, funny and serious all at the same time. 

I loved his analogy of our traditional education system being like industrial farming:  caged, controlled, dictated, system and outcome driven – producing the same.

The challenge is for Educators / Education  to become ‘organic’.  Check out Claire’s blog on Sir Ken that explains the 4 principles of organic farming that need to be applied to education:

  • Health – create conditions for well-being.  With the emphasis not on the output, but on the culture.
  • Ecology – cherish diversity, not a single culture.
  • Fairness
  • Care
I also loved his reference to human resources being like natural resources – they are there, we just have to keep digging and exploring.   Ultimately our job is to create a climate for growth and this growth comes from beneath.  Sir Ken talked about change happening through growth bubbling up from beneath – it won’t happen from the top down, or if it does – it won’t be healthy growth.

He is a real storyteller and between weaving in and of very funny tales the message was clear that the need to take action and do things differently is urgent.  There is an urgency to make a pedagogical shift and to see education as the tool to be innovative and to make a difference.  Sir Ken talks about the potential everyone has to be creative and talked about creativity as a metaphor for thinking about education differently.  The need to focus on the culture of schools, not on the tests and assessments and results (the outcomes) reminded me of growth mindset and the need for educators to questions what it means to be a ‘teacher’.  Sir Ken reminded us that a lot of learning and knowledge our kids acquire, is what they learn themselves. (Example; We don’t teach out kids to speak, they learn).  Our role is to encourage, facilitate and guide. 

To sum up:  Change our minds and change our practice.  Rethink and reimagine school culture.  Our role as educators isn’t to impart our knowledge onto / into our kids, but to unleash potential and to foster and guide growth from the inside out. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lessons from Teenagers - a reality check!

Lesson 1:

This morning I arrived at school early to figure out how to take Google Docs and put them into MyPortfolio.  My Hub kids, when asked what they wanted to know more about, had identified using 'MyPortfolio' for evidencing their learning.  So, I was going to show my Learning Hub how to set up their Goal Setting page.  An hour later I had reached frustration point:  my 'model' I was preparing was full of empty 'embedded media' boxes!!!  Plan B:  show them how to set up a page and then consult one of my more expert colleagues on what I was trying to achieve.  

After our Hub 'check-in', Sugata Mitra's Ted Talk about his 'hole in the wall' project and 'creating a school in the cloud' provoked a great discussion around what constitutes education.  It reminded us that engagement in learning happens when dispositions of curiosity, resilience, inquiry are ignited; not when you are put in a Modern Learning Environment with all the mod-cons.  It was also a timely reminder that learning doesn't just occur when there is a 'teacher' present.  

This unwittingly unfolded into me then demonstrating setting up a page in my portfolio and expressing my frustration at what I had not been able to achieve.  Instantly, one of my students announced that he knew how to do it, took over my laptop, had me sign onto another machine and taught (guided) us through what to do.  Not only did I learn a valuable skill, I picked up a few effective teaching tips.  

What unfolded out of this learning moment for me was the reminder that 'the answer is in the room'.  But also, to be a learner alongside your students and to facilitate learning; not expect to be, or try to be the fountain of all knowledge. 

My Hub are now in the process of identifying what we need to know and want to know and are co-constructing a plan for the term which involves different hub members facilitating the learning. 

It continued to be a day of 'lessons' for me and even more self reflection. 

Lesson 2:  

This afternoon two girls, who I had formed a relationship with through a common passion for music, came and asked me if I could access some sheet music for them.  They wanted it as soon as possible, but were busy working on their Big Project and I had offered to help.  They did look at me strangely when I suggested I could pop over to the music store and have a look, or ring them up.  But they left me to it.    I sat down at my desk and had a 'great idea' - I would google it.  In 5 minutes I had found the music, purchased it, downloaded it and delivered it to them.  I was ecstatic - more about how amazed the girls would be at what I had done!  They were grateful, but not at all surprised that I had worked a small miracle (or so I thought) in 5 minutes flat.  

Slightly miffed, I engaged my thinking brain.  My 42 year old lens had slipped back a decade or so to how I used to access such resources.  Accessing what we want, when we want it at the touch of a button may still be awe-inspiring to me, but not to our kids.  Lesson learnt:  keep up!  I really enjoyed Pete McGhie's recent blog about 'knowing your learners' and the importance of being "proficient at many aspects of youth culture".  

So, to sum up my day:  I am a life Long Learner - every day!  The answer is in the room.  Teen culture - keep up!

Friday, April 25, 2014

"Practice what you preach, Vellenoweth!"

Talking to myself - a sign of madness or just another mode of self reflection?  Either way, I do it all the time.  However, the real question right now is - what's brought this self talk title on?

Firstly, I want to introduce the role of a critical friend.  I value and enjoy having critical friends and relish the conversations and reflection that comes from their critique.  But I haven't always felt like this.  I still remember the days when critique about my practice made me feel personally affronted, defensive, judgemental ... So, what's changed:  the shift from personal to professional; to it being about the learner / learning, not about me; and ultimately, the shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset (another whole blog topic!)  Part of this process has not been just about valuing others critique, but also about being able to critique myself.  

This doesn't mean I don't slip back to what I know at times, but it's about being able to check myself when this happens.  I encourage everyone to become their own critical friend!

The title of this blog came from today's personal reflection on my own practice.  For the up and coming Term 2, I am running a SPIN module (100 minute block, once a week) called 'Passion to Project.'  My idea for this has been influenced by the Big Picture Education model where students learning is linked to their passions and interests.  I want to give students the opportunity to explore what they are passionate about it, make sense, focus, generate, test, refine, share - and be able to continually ask themselves so what? and where to next? (The stages of our Learning Design Model).  This might mean linking to mentors, finding funding, accessing local, national, world wide agencies.  Ultimately, 'Passion to Project' is about learners making their learning relevant, authentic and meaningful for them.  

This morning I started an email to Steve to ask him to send me a list of students who had chosen my module.  I had an idea in my head that all my students would be starting at the 'explore a passion' stage, finding an aspect to focus on and being able to turn their passion into a project.  I, "the teacher," was going to veto the list based on my judgements as to who was ready.


What was I thinking?
  • I was thinking, I can keep my course all neat and tidy.
  • I was thinking, I know who's ready to explore a passion and what their outcome will be.
  • I was thinking, if I control who is in it, the course will be a success.
  • I was thinking, I know better than the kids about what they are passionate about.
  • I was thinking, I can have this course planned and ready to go for day one and the pressure will be off.

How did my critical friend self react?  She said:
  • Who are you to assume the reasons as to why the students choose your course?
  • Who are you to decide wether or not these kids are passionate about something?
  • If these kids come with a passion in mind, who are you to tell them what stage they are at?
  • If you really want to engage kids in learning through their passions, then who are you to box them up, control their process and have a predetermined start and outcome?
  • Who are you to make this module about you and not about the students?  


In order to be your own critical friend, knowing yourself is key.  But, a willingness and openness to being a learner is paramount.  My journey at HPSS has allowed me to really explore teaching and learning - as a learner, not just as a teacher and this, I believe, has made all the difference.  

It's important to note that my revelations about 'Passion Projects' didn't just happen.  My shift from teacher-centred to learner-centred thinking was provoked through my own learning.  I never did finish my email to Steve, but instead picked up my latest read, 'The Falconer' by Grant Lichtman.  I've only just started it, but it was a certain reminder of what's important - the learner and everyone's capacity to be the learner, the teacher, the guide ...

My students and I will both be learners and teachers in the course of our 'Passion to Project' and what we do won't just occur in a 100min block once a week and it won't just happen within the school building.  Grant Lichtman writes about wanting us to "exhibit qualities like invention, courage, creativity, insight, design, and vision," a lot more than knowing "the capitals of South America or the sequence of presidents and kings, fractions, computer science, art history, running a cash register, or throwing a football."  He asks, "why in our great system of child rearing and primary, secondary, college, graduate, and postgraduate education is there no course of study titled something like Strategies for Becoming Who I Want to Be?" I love his reference to learning being a journey, much like Dorothy's in Oz: "There are just some things that no Good Witch or teacher or boss or parent can discover for us; we have to learn it for ourselves." 

I also revisited Ramsay Mulsallam's Ted Talk: 3 rules to spark learning.  He talks about students questions being the greatest tools for learning.  The 3 rules he identifies are:  
  • Curiosity comes first:  questions can be windows to great instruction, but not the other way around.
  • Embrace the mess:  trial and error are crucial.
  • Practice reflection:  what we do is important and it deserves our care, but it also deserves our revision.

Mulsallam challenges educators to leave behind the simple role of decimators of content and embrace a new paradigm as curators of curiosity and inquiry.

- I accept!

So, in order to practice what I preach, I will ensure the journey I am about to embark on is driven by the learners questions and curiosity.  I will embrace the mess and guide direction, rather than control it.  And I will continually challenge myself and my students to keep and searching for the 'so what?', and the 'what if?'

Ramsay Mulsallam's Ted Talk: 3 rules to spark learning

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Under the influence of Big Picture Education

Last week I spent three days with my team at the Big Picture Conference in Wellington.  To sum up, it was amazing, affirming, inspiring and challenging. 

Some big questions being asked were: Can we shift? - Shift what? – Practice, mindset, pedagogy?  Can the Big Picture Education model inspire and influence schools?  Can it be done?

The easiest way to sum up the Big Picture Education Model is that it is student centred rather than teacher centred, with a strong focus on relationships and building on learners’ interests and passions. 

The time at the conference made me feel immensely proud to be part of the team at Hobsonville Point Secondary School.  We have a strong vision, which is centred on what is right for all learners.  A highlight was being able to present our story and show what is possible for Education.  This does not mean we have all the answers and I was able to talk about being okay with feeling uncomfortable.  Every day I feel challenged or am challenging others (respectfully of course).  It is easy, when feeling frustrated or uncertain to want to slip back into what we know and a couple of key actions at HPSS which combat this are, “respectful critique’ and ‘warm and demanding’.  If we had everything planned out for the next few years, then we would have lost sight of what is important – our learners. I love how Ros MacEachern talks about the plan we do have in place, in her latest blog:

“The 'plan' that was very firmly in place at the start of this term was the vision and values of our new school, Hobsonville Point Secondary, and all the supporting structures (or 'enabling constraints') that were so carefully built by the foundation staff last year; the learning hub model, the specialised learning modules and the big projects as well as our emphasis on blended learning

Whilst our kaupapa is never in doubt: innovate, engage, inspire; the 'way of doing things' at HPSS is obviously still evolving although I can tell you that it certainly involves a lot of passion and excitement and, importantly, collaboration and openness.”

Back to the Big Picture Conference: Some of the key messages were the power of the learner’s voice and their learning stories; along with the influence of the advisory model – that one key person for each learner.  It was really fitting that I told one of our learner’s stories to illustrate learning at HPSS, but also to talk about how ‘Big Picture’ has inspired our thinking.  It went like this:

Mackenzie (a.k.a Macca) likes to get to school early to hang out in her Community Space, Taheretikitiki.  It’s ‘cool’ because her Learning Coach, Steve is there and he always asks her about her weekend at surf club – a passion they both share. Monday mornings are 'hilarious 'because all the staff meet to play their ukuleles and sing really loud – like they think they are really good!' Macca likes that they have ‘no shame’.

Before going to her Big Learning Module for the day, Macca, and the 7 other kids in her hub check in with Steve around the ‘campfire’ where they touch base and share what there learning looks like for the day.  Part of that is negotiating and planning ‘mytime’ for the week– a chance to sign up to interest groups, or to get some extra support.  For Macca, it’s about what she needs at that time.  She thinks it’s good that Steve helps her negotiate, otherwise she’d just do all sport.  This weeks 'cool,' because she’s working with another student on an ad they are making and on the other days she’s planning to finish her surf life saving workbook before Rookies on Sunday.  She’s also signed up to ‘sports academy’ to plan her Taekwondo’ training schedule.  She’s loving that her sporting passions are an everyday part of her learning.   Macca signed up to the ‘Expressing yourself’ Module because it combines music, food, art, writing – all the things she’s into.  She’s surprised at how much fun she’s having learning – fun and learning haven’t always gone together for Mack.
 Tuesdays are ‘cool’ too.  The morning is spent in Hubs.  This week she has been preparing for her student-led conference.  Macca’s experience of parent-teacher interviews was  the teacher talking about her.  But now she gets to tell her learning story and show the evidence.  Tuesday afternoons are spent in Big Projects – Mack is ecstatic.  Last week all the Big Projects were launched – her top four picks were all ‘awesome’, but she’s got into ‘wilderness warriors’ – the coolest!  They are going to work with the community to support local wildlife – this will mean spending time at the zoo, learning about traps – and probably wearing warrior paint! 

Wed morning after Hub check in with Steve, Macca goes to ‘expressing yourself with music’ and then in the afternoon she has signed up to ‘Construction of Me’ – the highlight here has been using the microscope to look at samples.  Macca has been learning about her DNA – and is going to get to build it. 

Thursdays are ‘cool as’ because it’s a day of Spins: Life Fit, French Taster then Choreography and movement. 

Friday kicks off at 10am with Hub Time then her NZ Kiwi Icon module -  Macca’s surprised that Maths has been given a whole new meaning – it makes sense and has been fun, because it is linked to her designing and developing a sculpture.  Staff have PD Friday mornings, but Macca’s started to come to school early because it's a great time to work on her project.  

Macca’s summary of  school:  “Cool” – why? – “because it’s fun” – what do you mean by that?  It makes sense, not in an ‘it’s easy way’, but "I know what I’m doing and why?  The teachers aren’t grumpy and there’s none of that ‘no sir, yes sir stuff’ – first names makes it feel like we are on the same level.  If I say something is boring, they want to know why and do things differently.  I like my coach, he cares, but he asks lots of questions and I end up trying different things that I probably wouldn’t have done.  I’m doing heaps and there is lots of choice, but in Hub time with Steve I’m able to bring it all together.  Steve keeps saying about learning happening in and outside of the school building – I get this.  Steve and all my teachers know what I’m into and include this in my learning – it feels like they care about who I am."

Macca is a foundation student at HPSS.  She is also my daughter, however, this is not an isolated story, but the story of a Hobsonville Point learner.  Each of their stories have common themes:  Strong connections with a key person – their coach who guides and supports them.  Learning being fun and relevant.  Large chunks of time to allow for Inquiry.   Choice and exposure to a number of opportunities that either link to or ignite passions. 

Telling Macca’s story, was a chance to show how Big Picture Education has inspired our thinking.  But, Hobsonville Point is just my latest chapter in my Big Picture story. 

I then tracked back to Opotiki College where I was a Deputy Principal. Ten years ago there was not just a desire, but a real need for change:
  • The need to build a more positive school culture
  • The need to address stand-downs and suspensions
  • The need to address a growing drug and gang problem
  • The need to lift our kids achievement
  • The need to develop strong partnerships with our community
  • The need to challenge our ‘most punitive school’ label
With Maurie Abraham (now Principal at HPSS) at the helm leading change we embraced:
  • Restorative Practices
  • Te Kotahitanga
  • A strong values based programme
It was about making the shift from Relationship based Behaviour Management to Relationship Based Pedagogy. 

Over a five year period the shift was dramatic (in a good way)  - BUT questions still needed to be asked and addressed:
  • What about the small group still leaving without a qualification?
  • What about the students still achieving below their potential?
  • What about the students achieving successful academic results but who were not engaged?
  • And what about the students leaving with academic qualifications but not as confident, connected, actively involved, life long learners?
The questions was: How where we going to combine all these effective initiatives and ensure we were meeting every learners needs?

So, the next chapter started when Maurie, on sabbatical, visited ‘The Met’ school in Rhode Island.  To cut a long story short he retuned with a solution:

-       One Kid at a Time – he handed me this and said I think you should read it. This followed with Denis Litkeys ‘Big Picture Education’.

The solution:  Advisory groups – ensuring that every child had at least one key person that they could connect with.  The Big Picture Education model was the catalyst for a Pedagogical Shift.  We couldn’t just keep tweaking:  


Pedagogical Shift  required a change in practice and therefore a change in structures to support the practice.  Along with the Learning Advisory model, also put in place was:
  • 100 minute blocks to provide opportunity for projects and inquiry
  • High Impact projects to expose learners to opportunities
  • Passion Projects – to ensure we were making teaching and learning relevant to our kids interests.
We were definitely building the aeroplane as we flew it and some key aspects were highlighted:
  • Unstructure requires structure.
  • Just because staff have the right mindset, they still need support in developing the skills to be an advisor.
  • Relationships that are warm and demanding are the key to a rigorous advisory. 
The Advisory Model brought everything together – restorative, rigour, relationships, passions, student centred…

So, now, back to HPSS for the most recent chapter in The Big Picture journey: 

Our School Curriculum is made up of 3 equal parts:
  • Hubs (Learning Advisories)
  • Project Learning (Forming partnerships to make a difference in the world we live in.)
  • Specialised Learning Modules (Learning modules that integrate curriculum areas and are framed by inquiry)
We brought our Leaders of Learning on board for the beginning of Term 3, 2013. My team and I are responsible for the development of the Hub (Advisory model) and each Learning Team Leader leads a Community which has 5 coaches (advisors) with their Hubs. The work my team has done has been phenomenal and it has shifted me from ‘what I bring from Opotiki’ to the model we are developing for our learners at Hobsonville Point. 

Some WOW moment so far: 
  • The relationships developed between coaches and hubs.
  • The positive impact from whanau through our commitment of each coach making      contact home every 2 weeks.
  • The power of conferencing and working alongside our kids to evidence their learning    stories. 
I summed my conference presentation up with what I know now:
  • The Hub and our role as Coaches allows us to make learning relevant, connected and personalised for ALL our learners
  • The importance of making your  Hub your Herd / your Pack  / your Flock
  •  Be a learner in your Hub
  •  Don’t stop finding ways to know your learners (It’s not a Term 1 task
  •  Assume nothing! Suspend Judgement – Open to Learning
  • Build relationships through learning conversations and high expectation
  • Be  Warm and demanding
  •  Track Learners learning journeys from a dispositional base (Hobsonville Habits)
  •  Grow learners capabilities to be inquirers and Self-Directed Learners
  • Create structures and resources that ensure rigour, but allow for flexibility and personalisation
  • Develop sustainable connections with whanau
  • Negotiate / co-construct LearnPaths to ensure exposure and coverage
  • Don’t give up on anyone!
-       Learning Advisories are the key.  If that is the one thing a school does, then they will make a difference to a learners experience at school.  Underpinning an effective Advisory is a strong dispositional curriculum – it is already there – in the form of the Key Competencies.

Back to those big questions: 
  • Can we shift? Shift what? – Practice, mindset, pedagogy …  ABSOLUTELY! 
  • Can the Big Picture Education model inspire and influence schools – ABSOLUTELY! 
  • Can it be done  – ABSOLUTELY!