Sunday, November 18, 2018

DisruptedNZ has arrived

It's been an interesting week for the education sector, with most of the focus on teacher industrial action. It's disappointing the Coalition Government is dealing with the grief but that's the nature of politics. There does seem to be quite a nice shift in overwhelming community support for teachers, which is cool.

My week started with a bit of nervousness around the RNZ Insight programme which was aired last Sunday morning. Education Reporter, John Gerritsen, had spent some time in our school talking with me and some of our students. You always get a bit nervous about how balanced such an article might be, especially since I knew John was speaking with a range of principals to get a range of views.
Lots of people told me how balanced they thought it was. I must admit I was once again frustrated with the situation those of us who are trying to innovate and transform the secondary school experience for our students. Despite the couple of hours of recording at our school it seemed that the article focused on the fact that 8 - 10 families left our school at the end of our first year and then once again when we introduced our NCEA model. Te Haeata in Christchurch was given the same treatment with the focus on the number of exclusions they experienced in their first year.

What impression of the schools are the listeners left with?

But the most disappointing aspect was that while I, Andy or Claire did not criticise what other schools were doing (which we had some authority to do as we have all taught in such schools) 2 other principals spoke ignorantly about MLEs (carpeted barns), why integrated learning didn't work (using as evidence an ill-advised model they had experienced which had one teacher attempting to cover a range of specialised subjects - thereby consigning more well-researched and rigorous models to the same discard pile) and, most offensively, the claim that project-based learning or inquiry learning was a primary school approach and had no place in a secondary school where students need to do well in things like Physics etc (I advise him to visit our school where students are excelling in these specialist subjects through an inquiry, cross-curricula approach).

Why do principals who have no knowledge or understanding of the approaches used by HPSS, ASHS and Te Haeata believe they can go about panning them?

This question leads me to the second frustration of the week. A couple of primary schools were reported as stopping having prizegiving ceremonies. Whether you agree with their decision or not, my view would be that they gave it careful consideration and made what they thought was the best decision for their school.

But then what happens?

We get another RNZ report!

I wonder why some school leaders feel the need to comment on these types of decisions made by other schools. Those other schools will now, no doubt, have to deal with some pushback from their community based on the views published in the article.

Anyway, the week ended well. #DisruptedNZ was launched!

We've had enough of fighting the types of pushback outlined above by ourselves so have come together to support each other and also to reach out and support those teachers trying to push innovation in their own schools, sometimes in the face of several barriers.

We've launched a Facebook Group, DisruptED and we're also on Twitter @DisruptedNZ. And last Friday we launched our first of a fortnightly series of podcasts where we want to reach out to teachers throughout NZ and help connect the innovators that are in all schools. The first podcast was a conversation amongst ourselves sharing our thoughts on leading in this space and in the future we'll be talking with people like you. We want to encourage teachers to share with us their stories of innovation and disruption, so please use the various platforms to share your stories.

Here's the link to our first podcast on SoundCloud.

We finished off the day on Friday by being a panel for Kāhui Ako Across School Leads:

When running along the beautiful Te Henga trail this afternoon and struggling with the distance, hills, heat and ageing body I felt less alone and more connected as a school leader than ever before!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

NCEA Review - Let's have one qualification, not 3.

Like a lot of education people I've thought deeply about the opportunity we have had to contribute to the review of NCEA. I have included in this post the submission I ended up making.

NCEA Submission
I submit that NCEA needs to be looked at as a single qualification, not three, which has three levels of attainment. I also submit that we have to move away from looking at NCEA qualifications as calendar year events that have to be achieved within the calendar year of Years 11, 12 and 13.

This can be achieved by thinking of Years 11, 12 and 13 as a 2 or 3 year journey to a quality qualification. For some this will be the equivalent of the current L3 and for some the equivalent of the current L2. I submit that results should only be uploaded at the point of leaving secondary schooling and mid year in Year 13 (for those still at school if universities still require to use our qualification for entry).
  • A person leaving school mid-year 12 would have their results submitted at that point and the level of qualification achieved awarded.
  • This would be the same for any student leaving during Year 13.
  • All students enrolled in Year 13 would have their results submitted at a point in the year required by universities for pre-enrolment and then on completion of their Year 13 year.

This breaks the calendar-year mindset and prevents the creation and publishing of calendar year, qualification level league tables. The only league tables that could be produced would be in relation to qualifications gained by all leavers in any one year.

This raises the question of what to provide for those who leave school before achieving the equivalent of the current L2. These students typically move into further training or employment. These students should graduate with a personal Statement of Capabilities which provides a summary of evidence of important capabilities. These capabilities would emerge from exploring the ‘soft skills’ from the front of the New Zealand Curriculum and be informed by input from the employer community. A template to be used by all schools across the country could easily be created with guidelines on how to summarise the evidence for each element. Students would collate the evidence over their total secondary school journey and have it finalised on graduation. Such a ‘document’ would be beneficial for all graduates, but for the 10 - 15% who currently leave without L2 it would have even more value and definitely more value than a completed or partially completed L1.

I also submit that it is important not to require the achievement of any literacy and numeracy requirement (either foundation or academic) in a single calendar year. Students should be free to collect the evidence of their level of literacy and numeracy throughout their qualification journey, however long that may be. As well, there should be no exclusions between Unit and Achievement Standards for the achievement of Literacy and Numeracy - eg students should be able to achieve the literacy requirements with a combination of Unit and Achievement Standards.

Rather than making project-based learning a compulsory requirement I submit that there be created a suite of standards (inquiry, collaborative problem-solving, communication etc) that could be used in a cross-curricula, authentic project for those schools who are well-placed to use such an approach. Digital, cultural and financial literacies could be incorporated in such a suite of standards.

I submit that subject endorsement be removed as it supports the siloisation of Learning Areas. The endorsement of qualifications at Merit or Excellence is sufficient to acknowledge deeper levels of learning and higher achievement.

I submit that all state schools should have to provide access for all students to NCEA and that for those schools who do not to be considered not as state schools and have their funding affected accordingly. State schools should not be allowed to opt out of providing our national qualification.

Further Discussion
I think there is much value in moving to one qualification to be awarded on graduation which is the point at which results would be uploaded to NZQA (obviously they will already have records of any externals).

The single qualification could have a range of levels of endorsement which would reflect the level of the NZC at which the learning is evidenced. Such a mechanism would recognise student performance at Levels 7 and 8 (+) and also incorporate the concepts of Merit and Excellence as the present system does.

Schools, obviously, would be tracking learners' achievements as they do now for Years 9 and 10 learners and would be required to report such information to parents and BOT. By not reporting qualification assessments to NZQA until graduation then we move away from the "league tables" issue where schools and communities freak out about how their school will rank against other schools in relation to how their 15 year olds were going, a full 2 years before they graduate! I know for a fact that some of my colleagues show reluctance to bring about teaching, learning and assessment changes in their schools which they know will benefit deeper learning and reduce student stress and teacher workload simply because of league tables. That tail should definitely not be wagging the dog.

I also think there is huge value in creating a national "Statement of Capabilities" (needs another name) for each learner. This will enable schools to embrace the powerful dispositions, principles and values from the front end of the NZC.

Interested in any thoughts.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Powerful Partnerships - Hononga Kaha

Last Wednesday we were privileged to launch New Zealand's first Secondary School Maori Cultural Kit, Te Pātaka. This is an App which allows users to develop their understanding of Tikanga and Te Reo by swiping to hear correct pronunciation, recording their own voice and using templates to construct their own mihi. It also includes information on the history and tikanga of our mana whenua, Te Kawerau ā Maki.

Powerful Partnerships is a key principle we have followed in the design of our school and this project, from the beginning, has been powerful partnerships in action.

The first partnership was between our school and Steven Renata, CEO of Kiwa Digital.
With Steven Renata Promoting the Launch
The chance nature of our initial meeting which kicked off the project is described briefly in this newspaper article.

But the creation of such an App required further partnerships and the most important one was with mana whenua, Te Kawerau ā Maki. Both Steven and HPSS were determined to use this project as an opportunity to begin the development of a meaningful and sustainable relationship between kura and mana whenua.

We had a wonderful night on Wednesday with a powhiri for Te Kawerau ā Maki and a launch of the App.

Welcoming Te Kawerau ā Maki

Presentation of App by Steven Renata
We've only just begun our journey of forging a strong and sustainable relationship with Te Kawerau ā Maki but it certainly feels as if strong foundations have been laid.

Check out the App on the Apple or Play Store. You might be able to use it for any personal gals you may have set during Te Wiki o Te Reo Maori: Kia Kaha Te Reo Maori.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Well-being - How Dirt Church Radio Came to My Rescue

I've been really struggling - nothing major but a combination of worrying about resourcing (current staffing formulas don't support the innovative pedagogy required to maximise the potential of Innovative Learning Spaces and a student-centred curriculum), working through the process of replacing of our Foundation DP, Claire Amos (who has moved onto principalship at Albany Senior High School - well done, Sally Hart for winning our position), having other staff move on (promotion - well done, Cindy Wynn, moving cities - boo hoo, and 5 going on maternity leave!), reshuffling middle leadership positions for the new year, seeking staff in hard to staff areas in the middle of a crisis in quality teacher supply, being involved in the NCEA Review, and then getting quite sick on day 1 this term with a massive head cold which morphed into full on flu and if I have the horribly named 100 day cough I'm only 42 days in!

My energy levels have been low (falling asleep at about 9pm, struggling to get up in the morning) and really not feeling on top of things at school. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by an awesome team at school who have just got on with things and kept me in the loop (thanks Lea Vellenoweth, Sally Hart, Jill MacDonald - my SLT Team - and Maliina - PA - and Jill Gatcum - Business Manager - and our awesome front desk team).

This all seems a bit gloomy and I know I have no monopoly on getting run down etc, but I'm blogging (after 4 months absence) because I feel as if I've turned a corner, and the impetus for that came from quite a surprising area and reminded me that proclaiming that you put well-being at the centre in your school means that, while the main focus of this is for students and your staff, you're no good if you don't think about your own well-being.

I'm fortunate to have an outstanding BOT which, earlier in the year, built into my performance management a requirement that I try to take a 1/2 day off site each week to be able to focus on some of the bigger stuff without interruption (managed it most weeks last term but failing on that this term), one full day off each weekend (doing my best) and a full week off each term break.

What I had noticed, as I was feeling sorry for myself,  was that for various reasons I had not got involved in as many adventure races this year (only 2) and as a result through the winter I had drifted away from regular exercise. At 60 years old you can only keep fit on memory for a short period and it's harder to convince yourself that you're fit when you're not!

Just by chance I stumbled across a couple of crazy buggers (one of whom is a parent [Eugene Bingham] of one of our students) who have set up this thing called Dirt Church Radio. I listened to their first podcast while flying to Wellington and then the 2nd on the way home a couple of days later (I'd gone to Wellington to attend a conference and then go onto Beervana - tickets paid by my extended whanau - only to spend 3 of the 5 days in bed and missing Beervana!). So Eugene and his mate Matt Rayment have inspired me in a couple of ways.

The first is that they've got me out running again (running might be a stretch - have built up from 3k shuffles to 5k shuffles) and they introduced me to the trails at Riverhead where I went yesterday with my wife and we mudlarked our way around for 12k. After a fortnight of 4 runs and a trek per week I'm thinking a 10k run might be possible next weekend.
Saturday's Trek

But secondly, and more importantly, they have inspired me by the way they have used the context of trail and ultra running, and the medium of kōrero with interesting people to explore the human condition. These podcasts have reminded me that mindset is everything and that most crazy things are possible.

So my goals are:

  1. 4 runs of increasing distance and 1 trek per week
  2. Look for some races
  3. Be mindful of own mindset (keep those podcasts coming Dirt Church Radio!)
  4. Try my best to do what BOT has told me to do
  5. Get blogging
  6. Have more days like today - it's Fathers Day so went with my son to Real Groovy and we bought some cool vinyl to "share" (he's not a father so they are mainly mine!) and going out to dinner tonight to catch up with daughter to celebrate her birthday (haven't seen her for about 3 weeks) and have the stereo up loud (as it is now!).

Friday, April 27, 2018

A Step Forward: Knowledge and Skills, Capabilities and Competencies: the Chicken and the Egg

I'm loving the kōrero flying around about the hierarchy of skills, knowledge, competencies and capabilities. Much cleverer people than me are making strong contributions to the kōrero but I'm doing my best to make sense of it for me. I got a bit confused observing the kōrero between @briarlipson and @ThomasHaig (and the others who contributed) because I couldn't quite understand the equation knowledge = skills, or was it the other way around, or if you couldn't have knowledge without skills, or skills without knowledge, or if you were allowed to have both, or if one was more important than the other.

This morning I listened to Valerie Hannon on RNZ and I must admit it created some clarity for me, though I do suspect her views are those that are quite prevalent in my echo chamber so I have to watch out I don't get caught up in an "unstable consensus of experts." I loved the three emphases for schooling and learning that have emerged from the Innovation Unit and are most probably evident in Hannon's book Thrive which I'm about to purchase:

  1. Well-being at the centre
  2. Competencies not content
  3. Learner Agency
And I like the 4 levels of Thriving she touches on in the broadcast (she doesn't get to finish them because the interviewer talked too much):

  1. Thriving at the Global level
  2. Thriving at the Societal level
  3. Thriving at the Intrapersonal level
  4. Thriving at the Interpersonal level
Most of all I loved how she argued for the place of knowledge and skills. She claims what are most important are Competencies and that to be strong in them you need to build knowledge, learn and develop skills and explore attitudes and values. This makes more sense to me and is helping me grapple with the kōrero that is circulating.

I think Valerie Hannon and Elizabeth Rata might disagree on the actual 'what' of knowledge in the type of learning we need to create the world we want. In The Basic Flaw in our Education System  she argues for the English Curriculum to be standardised. I wasn't sure what to make of it as I am not an English teacher but I did enjoy Gillian Hubbard's response in her article English teaching not perfect, but it works. Her observations are certainly what match my experience of working with and observing English teachers and learners in English classrooms over many years.

And amongst all this I have personally been grappling with my dissatisfaction and frustration with how we measure achievement. This long-simmering frustration was spurred along by some recent input from Dr Ann Milne who has focused the light quite clearly on the total cultural inappropriateness of how we traditionally measure achievement.

I desperately want to find another way of measuring a different, but more appropriate, both culturally and for-the-sake-of-our-planet-and-future-for-our-kids, type of success. I made the mistake of mentioning this at our last BOT meeting so this challenge has now been formalised into my appraisal!

A couple of days ago I sent out the following tweet:
I have been inundated with suggestions and support with many wanting to be part of the conversation. I'm collecting all of the responses with the hashtag #gradprofile  and would welcome more contributors.

Then amongst all this excitement I wake to read in the NZ Herald a story under the headline Wellington School to completely drop NCEA in favour of Cambridge exams. The principal's comment that her school would be "the first in Wellington to drop NCEA" reminded me of the Monty Python 100m dash for people with no sense of direction when one of the competitors headed off in the opposite direction. (Go on! Watch it!). She was also quoted as saying that amongst her students she "saw lethargic practice" and that her learners were often saying "achieved is enough." I respectfully suggest that it is not the qualification that determines practice or learning motivation, it is the culture of a school and it's approach to the design of learning. At the conclusion of the article she states she is "pretty confident they will do really, really well." I'm sure they'll do really, really well in Cambridge. I hope they'll do really, really well in the world described so well by Valerie Hannon.

At least the principal claims she's "not afraid to take a step forward"! I suppose it's all about what you are moving forward to.

Great conversations!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Leadership and Legacy: Part 3

#tearsinmyeyes moment during our Student Council meeting today which confirms many of our Q3 (Year 13 students) are thinking about their legacy in terms of their leadership. In my last 2 blog posts I described some examples  of how some students were doing this.

During General Business today one of the students shared his belief that as Student Councillors they needed to be more deliberate about being leaders throughout the school; that to be a Councillor they had to do more than merely attending meetings. It was good to see all those around the table nodding their heads.

This led to another student saying that, in her experience, making the small effort to notice a student by themselves at break time and going up and introducing yourself and sharing a little bit could be the one thing that gets the student to go home and talk about their neat day and who they met and talked with. She went on to encourage her colleagues to seek such connections with students of all 'types' as it contributed to your own understanding of the diversity around us. I was impressed with her insight.

At that point I talked with the students about how natural it is to want to stick with your own peer group and/or sub-group, especially in break times. I shared how uncomfortable I found it to mix widely in groups of people, especially when I didn't know them well. I also talked that this was one of the challenges of true leadership; to push aside your own uncertainties and social inhibitions and to show you can connect with a diverse group.

After the meeting one of the students remained to talk with me about how that day she had been talking with a new senior student and discovered that this student was struggling with our model of learning, particularly in one of her modules. This made the student who was talking with me realise that because she/we were familiar with the model and had, in fact, been with it throughout its development, not everyone understood it immediately. The new student talked about the confusion she was having with one module, so my senior asked who the teacher was and encouraged her to come with her to talk with the teacher. The new student needed some encouragement but it happened right there and then and the Student Council member moved on after having connected them.

By themselves, they may seem like small actions but collectively they are blowing me away and this type of student leadership will become the legacy of these foundation students.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Leadership and Legacy:Part 2

My last post featured the example of one of our Q3 (Year 13) students who had responded to my challenge of making 2018, their final year as Establishment/Foundation Students, one of Leadership  and Legacy. How were they going to show leadership and, more importantly, what legacy would that leadership leave.

There have been another couple of great examples of that. One of our younger students has been experiencing anxiety about attending school and part of that is because of conflict she is having with one of her peers, which at times makes her feel unsafe. During one lunchtime last week I went to check in the social space where I knew she hung out to make sure she was OK. I needn't have worried as one of our male Q3 students was aware of the situation and was hanging out with her ("engaging her in conversation to keep her mind of things" was what he told me.) His decision to do that was leadership and the use of calm and caring presence by a student's peer when seeing a need is his desired legacy.

At another time during the week a female Q3 student came to meet with me to discuss a number of issues around supporting students. She spoke of her struggles in her first couple of years at our school when she was trying to support a friend who was struggling with quite serious personal issues. She obviously didn't have the skills to solve her friend's problems but she has realised that the skills she needed were to support her friend to access the right specialist support.

I suggested she think further on the topic and then make contact with our Guidance Staff to see what could come about. A coupe of days later she copied me into her email she sent to Guidance Staff which included this paragraph:

I would like to float the idea of forming some kind of initiative within the school, working with the Wellbeing Habitat, to help raise awareness about how to seek help and also give people the skills to not try to take on the problems themselves but convince them to talk to someone who can. I believe that this will make a massive difference as it will help everyone affected.

Thinking about this topic, coming to talk with me and then synthesising her thoughts before contacting Guidance staff is an example of her leadership. The initiative that she will design with the Guidance Staff and the student Well-being Habitat will be her legacy.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Leadership and Legacy

It's continuing to be an exciting time at HPSS on our establishment journey. This is the beginning of our 5th year with students, so not only will it be the first year with all 5 Year Levels, it will also be the final year for those students who began as our true foundation students in Year 9 in 2014. 


The above visual shows our original thinking about our cohorts once we were complete. While some of the terminology has changed through that journey it still largely reflects our situation. As we develop personalisation and increase specialisation our students move through the Foundation Years, into the Qualification Years and then their Launchpad or Pathways Year. That first group has reached that final stage.

It takes many years to build a sustainable culture, certainly no less than 5, and we are now at year 5. Those initial foundation year students have 1 year left to leave their legacy. My message to them over the years has always been that I know what sort of school I want, but the school we’ll get is the school they create!

I’ve asked them to think about their legacy. Is it to be some sort of foundation art work or trophy or similar taonga to stand in our school or is it the taonga of a sustainable respectful culture.

So many of our Q3 (Year 13) students have taken up this challenge. Last week one of our students organised senior buddies for the Year 9 students in her Learning Community and got the Year 9 students to complete a 'Rose, Bud, Thorn' exercise about their initial experiences of our school. They did this with the support of their buddies. Out of this exercise she was able to identify students who were feeling a bit alone and connect them with others. She was also able to help some sort through some personal relationship issues that had emerged. Following on she has collated all of their responses ready for feedback.

This is an example of her Leadership.

The Legacy component has emerged from her Learning Community Leader working with her to have a Buddy/Year 9 session included in the weekly Learning Community programme. I expect this model to endure in this Learning Community and may well spread to the other Communities.

Our focus, as a school, for the year is on developing a sustainable respectful culture and our focus for the term is developing whanaungatanga. This student has embraced these areas of focus while displaying leadership and beginning to create her legacy.

I really want our Q3 students to be practised and ready for their lives in a very short 12 months when they’re out there! Í’d love to have then coming and going as they please determined by their learning needs! I know that would work for some of our learners but also not for all. This creates a tension. I’ve talked with them about starting the year with a tight hand on the rudder and my desire to have conversations with them as the term and year unfolds re loosening the hand on the rudder for individuals, groups, or the whole cohort.

If the majority of our Q3 students embrace the challenge of Leadership and Legacy in similar ways to that described above, the hand will become lighter on the rudder quite quickly, which, in turn, will be a great legacy that they leave for future Q3 cohorts.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Whanaungatanga: 3 cool things that happened at school today

Our first 2 weeks at school concentrate on forming and (re)building relationships. We all know teaching and learning is a relationship-based activity so it is important that each new year allows the time and space to do this meaningfully. In fact, our theme at Hobsonville Point Secondary School for our Learning Hub and Learning Community focus for the whole of Term One is Whanaungatanga.

Today 3 cool things were happening to bring this focus to life.

1. Staff koha to new staff.
At this morning's Tuesdays With Maurie (yay at last I got a Tuesday!) our 7 new staff had groups of existing staff randomly allocated to them. After being reminded of our strong and visible principles of personalising learning, powerful partnerships and deep challenge and inquiry group members were invited to share as their koha their strongest or most memorable example of when they had supported the personalising of learning, facilitated learning partnerships for their students from outside our school and witnessed students involved in deep challenge and inquiry.

HPSS Staff Offering Koha to New Staff
It was very cool to see and hear such great sharing. Just quietly, I  was pretty pleased to come up with this contingency plan when I walked in in the morning to find our servers etc were down and I couldn't go ahead with my carefully prepared presentation and had to quickly come up with this (and it was much better than I had planned anyway!)

2. Senior student koha to new students
Throughout the day senior students who had volunteered attended a workshop so that they could prepare to welcome and support our new students. They explored the notion of student leadership and planned in their Learning Communities so that they could run a relationship-building and getting-to-know-our-school programme for the rest of our students- especially those new to our school. They also focused on how they would take the lead at our Learning Community overnight camps which will be taking place next week.

Senior HPSS Students Preparing Their Koha for New Students
Our vision talks  about empowering young people to contribute confidently and responsibly. This group of  Q2 and Q3 (Years 12 and 13) students were bringing that to life in spades and creating a strong legacy for the school they have helped create.

3. Student/Parent/Coach Individual Education Meetings (IEMs)
As has  become traditional at our school, teaching and learning doesn't start until the important players in a young person's education (themselves, their whanau and their Learning Coach) (re)connect and start getting to know each other. This is  the most powerful of the powerful partnerships we espouse at our school and I'm very proud of the time and space we give to this.

Our Year 9 students have had us  visit them in their contributing school, have visited us with their school, enrolled with their parents at a meeting with myself or a member of the SLT, and attended a full day Orientation Day. The IEM  is the next step in that important transition to secondary school. By concentrating on the relationships and taking our time the transition is much more doable.

It was a very cool day! Whanaungatanga everywhere!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Deep Learning and Well-being (students and staff): A Way Forward for NCEA?

Claire Amos Steve Mouldey and Gerard MacManus have inspired me to get my blogging going again. As well, over the summer I read Grant Lichtman's latest book Moving the Rock and was reminded by his belief that connectivity empowers innovation, that innovative thinking doesn't occur in an isolated space, but in a connected setting. So if I want to keep up with the innovative thinking I'd better keep practising and modelling connection - one way is through my blog.

At the end of the summer holidays I was interviewed by Kathryn Ryan on Radio NZ Nine to Noon. I had been asked to talk about the motivation for and principles behind our decision to bypass NCEA Level 1 and send our Year 11 learners on a 2 year journey to a quality Level 2. We'd been talking this talk for a number of years and our 2017 students were the first cohort to move through that journey.

The decision to follow this path was based on our principle of Inspire through deep challenge and inquiry. If we wished to remain true to this principle we did not feel we could subject our Year 11 learners to a year of surface learning in a bid to chase in excess of 100 credits to gain NCEA L1, which is a qualification of very little currency. All of us on the staff had seen many examples of over-stressed kids in Year 11, losing all engagement with deep learning in their pursuit of credits. We had certainly seen and experienced the huge demands on teacher workload supporting students in this pursuit. As a result, in designing our approach to delivering NCEA the first principle we decided on was reduce stress.

We couldn't be happier with how things have played out at our school. Our students, at the end of the calendar year, have achieved NCEA L2 to a level expected by students from schools such as ours and the level of Merit or  Excellence endorsed qualifications was higher than expected.

What is more pleasing is the largely calm manner in which our students went about compiling their quality NCEA L2. I had learning conversations with most of our Year 12 students as the year drew to a close and 2 things stood out:

  1. The low levels of stress and anxiety many were experiencing as they explained their progress towards their quality qualification
  2. One student, in particular, reminding me that there was no panic or alarm that he was on track to achieve 'only'  70 of the credits he needed for Level 2 to be awarded in 2017 because he was coming back in 2018 as a Year 13 student and would pick up his Level 2 as he moved towards gaining his Level 3. This was a reminder to me to wind back the level of stress around NCEA.
I began to think about how we set our students on a 2 year journey to their quality qualification and that we didn't get hung up on reporting where they were at at the end of the Year 11 calendar year. Now that our narrative is changing to a 3 year journey towards a quality qualification I am wondering why we get hung up on where  every kid  is at at the end of the calendar year, while at the same time wondering what our school will look like in League  Tables which look at results over a calendar year.

With the upcoming review of NCEA, which has some great thinkers involved, I've been thinking about how our experience could influence the outcome of that review.

How about this  as a possibility?

  • A single qualification is awarded when a student graduates from secondary school.
  • The level of the qualification is determined by each student's best, say, 80 credits achieved over their last 1, 2 or 3 years at secondary school.
    • If a student knows they will be at school until the end of Year 13 and will be achieving the equivalent of NCEA L3 they shouldn't have to be jumping through the hoops and continual qualifications assessment required of Level 1 and 2. They could be spending those years engaged in deep learning as they bring together the evidence of this deep learning.
  • Published levels of school achievements would simply be the level of qualifications achieved by students as they graduate.

I'm only a country boy and there will be lots of fish hooks in my suggestion but if the starting point is the promotion of deep learning and student and staff well-being it might be worth considering.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Urgency. Transformation. Optimism. The way for schools.

During my sabbatical visits all school leaders spoke of the 'parent push-back' they encountered. While many spoke of having the confidence of the large percentage of their parent community they had to spend a lot of time dealing with small groups who wished to move their schools back to more traditional models. This is despite all parents knowing what the schools were like before they applied for their child to attend.

I am of the view that expecting and dealing with this type of push-back is an essential part of the leadership of a school contributing to the transformation of education. I also believe that we at HPSS have the confidence of the majority of our parents. Most of them see their kids wanting to be at school, being engaged in their learning, and developing excellent dispositions to prepare them for their present and future.

The frustrations I experience are with groups who do not have a connection with the school forming a view of our model without investigating it. Some of our parents tell me that some of their friends tell them we are a school where kids can do what they like, where there is no testing etc. While we are doing things differently, both of these are far from the truth.

Over the last few days I attended a Minister of Education Cross Sector Forum at which the new Digital Technologies Curriculum was introduced and have read some articles on future schooling etc. All of this has strengthened my resolve for how we are approaching education at our school. But, more importantly, I am feeling for the first time a groundswell gaining momentum and a shared sense of urgency.

It started at the Cross Sector Forum where a group of Lynfield College students from their Robotics Club spoke of their experiences. Even though they ae national and world champions they spoke only a little about their robotics. They talked about how the type of learning they experienced through their interest in robotics "taught them how to lead and taught them how to teach"! They talked about how they were knees deep in breaking down gender stereotypes. They also noted that the fun and passion they experienced in their robotics learning was not replicated across the rest of their learning. That's the challenge for us. If students are motivated enough to spend hours of their spare time having fun, exploring their passion and learning deeply about not only technical skills but inter-personal and self-regulation skills as well, surely we as teachers and schools can be motivated to make this possible for all learning.

This was followed up by Education Minister Nikki Kay who spoke of digital fluency as an essential life skill and that we were now moving past the structure provision phase to the people moving phase. She acknowledged issues of teacher workload and stated that if assessment is a major cause of workload then that was "an easy fix". I love the sound of that. You can read a recent blog post from Claire Amos on an innovative approach which removes high stakes assessment from schools and teachers so we can concentrate on deep learning and supporting students to collate evidence of learning.

Frances Valintine, an Education Futurist (think MindLab), then painted a clear picture of the world not too far in the future that we need to be preparing students for (something which I firmly believe conventional schooling is not doing). She spoke about:

  • moving from 'using digital' to 'being digital'
  • now time to hack education
  • the largest group in the world are Generation Z (currently in schools) and largely being taught by Baby Boomers and Generation X - are we holding them back?
  • entrepreneurship is in the DNA of Gen Z
    • they see the digital revolution as creating jobs (Baby boomers talk of it destroying jobs!)
While the Digital Technology curriculum is only a part of what a school delivers (though gaining increasing prominence) the messages from the Minister and Frances have filled me with hope. Have a listen to Claire's interview on Radio NZ which captures the excitement and optimism many of us feel.

I really enjoyed seeing one of Frances' slides which captured how schools could lead in this new environment.
 The last 2 points resonate as they ae central to the vision at our school:

  1. Create a delightful education experience. Contextualise all learning in real-world scenarios.
  2. Develop a student-led environment

This morning I came across this article in the Sydney Herald. It identifies the importance of literacy and numeracy as key skills, but it also identifies the need for the development of another range of skills conventional schools are not necessarily bringing to the fore:

  • resilience
  • growth mindset
  • capacity to fail and try again
  • empathy
  • collaboration
  • creativity
It also, quite correctly, acknowledges great teaching will never be obsolete and that "the relationships teachers form with students, to inspire them and lead them to greater things, will be more important than ever." It doesn't, however, hide the fact that teaching has to be different to be great in this new environment.

And picking up on the workload issue of assessment, we often frame this as a negative impact on teachers (which it is) but this morning I also read this article which describes the impact on a particular student.

So there are plenty of reasons to support the transformation of secondary schools. I am not comfortable with a model of learning and assessing having such a impact on the well-being of the young people we are supposed to be serving. Solutions to this issue will also have positive impacts on teachers. And we can't escape the digital revolution which is occurring right now.

There are certainly pitfalls ahead of us but if we invest in our young people, get out of their way a bit and concentrate on the development of dispositions and ethical behaviour I'm more optimistic than pessimistic.

We also need strong national leadership which partners with us to bring our communities with us. Right now I have confidence in our Minister to play her part and hope she maintains a strong partnership with thinkers like Frances Valintine and listens to the voice and questions from leaders such as Claire Amos (and the many others doing great stuff in our schools).

The future is in the hands of these Gen Z in our schools. I know none of the ones I work with would sell citizenship to the highest bidder or accept that it is OK for people to live on the street or factor in poverty as an inevitable outcome of how we do things in our country.

More optimistic than pessimistic!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Implications for HPSS - Part 2 - Challenges

My previous post concentrated on the aspects of my sabbatical which provided affirmations for what we are already doing at HPSS. This post attempts to capture what I see as the areas of challenge or further development.

Student Self-Regulation
I have been critical of conventional secondary schools which complain that their students are not independent, self-regulated learners but give them no opportunity to be so. In most schools, up until the age of 18 students are closely regulated by external factors: timetable, bells, rules, teachers. While such factors can make schools more ‘manageable’ and lead to great academic results, they do not promote self-regulation and, quite possibly, contribute to our high university drop-out rate.

I have always wanted our school to be one in which students were given daily opportunities to self-regulate. A simple representation of this is by having no bells. Another layer has been our Floor Time (originally MyTime) programme. It originally allowed students to opt into up to 3 workshops a week to “do whatever I need to do know, where I need  to do it and with whom I need to do it.” It has now become a more regulated time on our timetable with less self-regulation.

My visits have reinforced my view that we need to look for more ways for students to self regulate. I have reflected that too often we may not ‘loosen the leash’ and provide opportunities for self-regulation because not all students will cope so we end up tightening things to accommodate those students. I’d like to flip that and provide more self-regulation opportunities but have arrangements to accommodate those who are unable to manage.

Following are two examples I have been thinking about and want to explore with my staff:

  • Learning Hub time be voluntary for Year 13s (and possibly Year 12s.)
    • I think a large group would still attend and another large group would make excellent use of their time to continue their learning. A small group would waste the opportunity.
    • With the Year 13s (and possibly Year 12s) this would give an opportunity for the senior Hub students (Year 11 or 12) to have a formalised leadership role in the Hub.
    • This has the advantage of providing more time in a senior student’s timetable to determine how to use their time best to progress their learning.
    • It would also give more opportunity for Learning Coaches to concentrate on developing our Foundation students and preparing them for self-regulation.
    • I can’t think of a worst case scenario if this was implemented that would keep me awake at night.
  • Non-staffed class time for Year 13 students.
    • If a student had 3 blocks of time allocated in a week to a subject/module only 2 of these would be staffed. Direct teaching and support would occur in the staffed blocks and students would continue through the programme, independently, in the non-staffed block. Many programmes delivered at NYC iSchool were delivered in this ‘blended’ approach with access to resources and support made available on-line (as we do now).
    • The added advantage would be that students could determine how they would use their 5 non-staffed blocks (assuming they were doing 5 subjects/modules) at any given time. Because of workload demands they might use 2 (or more) unstaffed blocks to work on one subject in one week.
      • This provides further opportunity for self-regulation and moves closer to how they have to manage their time at university.

Students as Partners in Learning Design
There is no doubt that when I saw students engaged as true partners in the design of their learning, engagement levels were at their highest. This was sometimes at the level of choosing project topics but moved through the continuum to include planning a full project inquiry, with teacher support, determining the learning context and the product of or evidence of learning. I saw many examples of deeper than expected learning and all schools had excellent attainment levels in statewide assessment/testing.

At Hobsonville Point Secondary School we attempt to involve students in co-designing their learning. Before each semester’s module planning we get students to explore their understanding of the overarching concepts (Identity, Space and Place, Citizenship, Systems and How Things Work, Relationships, Cultural Diversity, Innovations and Transformations) and then to suggest contexts for learning (eg How Did The Universe Begin? How Serious is Climate Exchange? Why Are There Refugees?). Teachers then collaborate to plan modules to offer students. As well, within each module students have a part to play in designing their learning (see blog post comments included in previous post.)

I am finding myself asking how we could both embed and extend this concept further. What does a school look like when students are authentic partners in learning and schooling in general?

At this stage my plans are to:
  • Carry out a stocktake of the current situation of “Students as Partners in Learning Design”.
    • Explore the concept with the Learning Habitat and gather their views of the current situation
    • Gather some staff voice via ‘Kitchen Table With Maurie’
  • Explore further areas of opportunity to have students as authentic partners.
    • Begin with Learning Habitat and then cast to wider student group.

Some opportunities I have been thinking about include:
  • Ambassadors to host touring groups
  • Involvement in staff appointments
  • Formalise student involvement in feedback to staff re their teaching
  • Involvement in restorative practice processes so that impact of behaviours and outcomes on wider student body is taken into account

Parents as Partners
A neat outcome of increasing the strength of partnership with students will be in supporting us to bring parents and the wider community on board. All schools I visited spoke of the challenge of ‘parental push-back’ in relation to their attempts to transform secondary education. This occurred in all schools, despite their vision and models of learning being well-known before families enrolled their children (in fact, most, if not all, of these schools were over-subscribed and had waiting lists).

In discussing this issue at each school the responses were similar. Julie Abraham, at Design Tech, captured the common message with “being unalterably clear on what we are about” and having the courage to stay true to the vision. I have often spoken of the need for a school leader to have a clear moral purpose and the courage to see that carried out. This was a common message from the schools I visited.

I am of the view that the most powerful and effective ambassadors of any school are its students. Because they are immersed in the daily life of a school and continually breathe the air of the culture of the place they know what a school is about and if it is the right place for them. Because I see our students interacting with our many visitors and I hear them talking about the school and their learning I know most of them are fully on board. More than one student has told me that their parents “now understand” and that while earlier on there was a risk that they would be removed by their parents they feel the relief of that increased understanding.

By increasing the opportunities for authentic partnership with our students, I believe they will be even more powerful and effective ambassadors for our school in their own families and the wider community.

Currently we have many practices in place to partner with parents. They include:
  • Start the year with Individual Education Meetings (IEMs) and repeat throughout the year
  • Waitangi Whanau Celebration in collaboration with Hobsonville Point Primary School
  • Fortnightly Newsletter, Facebook updates and School App communications
  • Hub Coach communication home
  • Parent workshops/conference
  • Morning Tea With Maurie

Later this year I plan to focus my collection of parent voice on the effectiveness of the current parent partnership opportunities and ask what else we could do to make it more effective.