Friday, June 19, 2009

Head Student Lunch

I have just finished having lunch with 5 of my head students (Tara, Rita, Kayla, Chad and Quentin). We try to meet every week on a Friday, but I have had a lot of meetings and courses on a Friday so we hadn't met for awhile so I took them to Two Fish.

We had a great conversation with each explaining how they were tracking towards their qualifications and their planning for next year. We have a couple heading into Health Sciences, one into the Navy, one into engineering and one into writing. What a neat bunch with great aspirations.

The best conversation was the didcussion about our recent Three Day Wananga. I know not all of them were in favour of the programme but in responding to their questions I found myself explaining my vision for the school and schooling in general in the clearest way.

All of us, students and teachers, have been locked in by the shackles of three years of high stakes qualifications which promotes credit gathering to a higher level than learning. I really enjoyed talking about this with them. I explained that we could ignore the form of assessment and get into learning and it wouldn't matter what the assessment tool was they would still be able to prove their understanding. The tragedy is that the way we structure the learning now a chunk of kids cope successfully with the qualifications system, but another chunk don't. I believe if we packaged the learning in a model similar to the Three Day Wananga all of the time, these brightest kids would still be able to prove their learning, but just as importantly the rest of the kids would have more opportunity to do so as well.

At the moment, all it seems we can manage is tinkering around.

I had a good meeting with our Ahi Kaa team last night (piloting an integrated, home room approach). I was abit despondent before the meeting, but came away re-enthused as the group talked about how they could see it working better next year. They have committed to a project-based approach in Term IV when they have "permission" to abandon the traditional curriculum altogether.

Their thinking for next year includes trialling with two classes and having two teachers teaching the full core to each class. I like the sound of it. Now...... all I need is another dedicated room, some passionate staff wanting to work harder than every one else with no extra time and with really tight budgets. Should be easy!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Three Day Wananga

Last week we had a great learning time at our school when we held our first ever Three Day Wananga. This involved suspending our timetable for three days while students worked in multi age learning teams to complete a range of projects. We operated this within our House System to both generate more House Spirit and to make the organisation manageable.

Four weeks ago we held a Teacher Only Day to which students were invited (about 30 turned up!) when teachers decided on the learning projects they would offer. We then held House meetings and explained the projects to the kids who then selected which one they wanted to do. The House Leaders did a great job in running this process. Each House had a budget of $1000 to allocate as they saw fit.

On the Friday before staff had time together at our staff meeting and a further House meeting was held. It then kicked off over Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of the following week.

The projects included The Amazing Race, Beach Conservation, Reporting Events, Healthy Living and Fitness, T Shirt Design, Graffiti Art, Carved Mural, Mucking In On the Marae, Our Land Our Environment, Fitness Freaks, Life and Death For The Bush, Pests and Plants, Opo Col On Air, NZ's Next Top Shakespeare, Mountain Bike Track Clearing, News Broadcasts, Creating a School Sculpture, Boot Camp, Traditional Food Processes, Documentary of Katherine Mansfield, and Stories in Fabric.

We did a lot of learning process and structure wise. In the future we would have a set interval and lunch time as by making it flexible there were too many gaps in the fence for kids to move through. We would also have a tutor each morning to get an accurate attendance check. Unfortunately the Ministry of Education chose this week to do the nation-wide attendance survey! Normally our kids are not allowed off site at breaks, but with so many groups operating in and out of school this was impossible to enforce so we would have to think about that in the future. Also, because of the practical nature of many of the activities mufti was the best solution.

I have finished analysing the evaluations made by staff and have only partially completed the evaluations collected from 200 of our students (36%). The staff evaluations showed that 50% believed there was enough time given to prepare, 50% believed they were given enough guidance and support, 80% believed they were well-prepared, 86% believed there project was a valid learning experience, 97% believed their students largely responded positively, 92% believed they covered more than one Key Competency, and 81% believed they achieved their planned outcomes. I wonder if we would achieve these levels if we surveyed our traditional way of teaching and learning!

Staff have made suggestions for enhancing this programme and also made many positive comments supporting this type of learning including: high levels of student engagement, great student-student and teacher-student relationships formed, seeing students who often appear disinterested at school truly engaged in their activities, students achieved beyond expectations, it was a time of real discovery for me, senior students working as role models with juniors.

The big question is where to from here?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Learning Matters

Before the last election I expressed some concerns about National Party education policy. My concerns were focused on the policy in relation to national testing of primary and intermediate students. My observations on my sabbatical last year convinced me this was a flawed policy which had not contributed to increased achievement any where that it had been tried.

My concerns right now are quite different and announcements since the recent budget have made me feel we are in a state of siege from this government. Three different pieces of correspondence that I have received over the last 2 weeks threaten schools in general and make it particularly difficult for Opotiki College.

The first concerns the Extending High Standards Across Schools contract we have with the Ministry of Education. This is a contract we have to support 9 of our contributing primary schools to adopt restorative practices so that students feel less alienated from schooling and are able to engage more effectively with their learning. We are in our second year of a four year contract and we have recently been able to gain some traction.

In the first year we trained all principals, senior teachers and some BOT members. This year we extended our training to more teaching staff and have begun to form implementation teams within all schools.

I have just been informed that the contract is going to be terminated at the end of this year and all funding withdrawn. This puts seriously at risk the progress that we have made in our community of schools.

The next piece of correspondence informed us that Adult and Community Education is going to be slashed by 80%. Schools will only be able to offer community classes in literacy and numeracy. Gone are all the skills and interest based courses that help build our community and provide life-long learning opportunities for anyone from our community regardless of their educational background.

This is going to have a huge impact on our community.

To make matters worse our local Council proposed to abandon their 30 year contribution of $7500 to provide reception and administrative support for our Community Activities Office. After making a submission it appears that they will continue to provide support if the governement continues to provide Adult and Community Education funding.

So our local Council is doubling the impact by saying they will qwithdraw support if government provided support is withdrawn. Surely this is the time when the community needs to rally and look for ways to increase rather than reduce support!

The third, and most probably not the last piece of correspondence, informs us that staffing will be reduced by 1.5% at the end of 2010. This will mean one less teacher at Opotiki College. This may not seem much but at the moment our BOT is funding 2 extra teachers to support our curriculum. This is a high cost and cannot be sustained. The BOT will certainly not be able to support a further position.

While making these cuts the government has said it will provide $35 million for the private school sector!

The public education sector is under attack from this government and we are starting to reel. Education and learning is the key to our contry's and the Opotiki community's future: learning matters.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Final Conference Notes - Part Two

After getting off the ferry I decided to take the skytrain to the BC Stadium and visit the Sports Hall of Fame. When I got there I saw it cost $10 and didn't look that flash so I gave it a miss. I was looking for some present for Lucy who is quite hard to buy for. I then walked back along a main shopping street to my hotel stopping to check out music on the way.

I then decided to do a run around Stanley Park which I thought would be about 8k,in fact it was 10k. It's a great place to run, beside the sea all the way around and under Lion Bridge which links to Nprth Vancouver. Near the end of the run there were a few beaches which were packed solid with people. You had to watch when running because there are hundreds of rollerbladers and cyclists charging around as well.

When I got back to the main beach it was packed but no one was in the water. I couldn't figure out why so I leapt in anyway. It wasn't too cold but quite murky. After drying off I headed back to the hotel and began packing my bags. At about 7.30 I picked up a kebab and headed to the beach for tea where the boys from Kaiapoi found me. We chatted on the beach until the sun went down just before 10.00.

The next morning I joined them and Tim from Hamilton for coffee and breakfast before I had to head off to the airport. Thankfully at the airport I found a Winter Olympics bag for Lucy and when I arrived at LA I texted her and bought some LA T shirts which I thought she might like.

Unfortunately the plane from LA left late. I had a spare seat beside me and got quite a bit of sleep during the 13 hour long haul. About an hour before the end they realised I was going to struggle to make my connection to Whakatane so moved me into Premium Economy to be closer to the door. I wish they had done that earlier!

I had a mad sprint to the domestic and after some check in hassles made my plane only to arrive at Whakatane 15 minutes before Leigh!

It was good to be home!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Final Conference Notes - Part One

The Conference dinner was pretty good with great company, beautiful food and a disappointing guest speaker. At times, the conference has been a bit earnest with not enough celebration and humour. The dinner was when we should have had such a speaker. The band was great and a group of us danced most of the night.

My presentation was in the final slot on the final day and it went down very well. Lots came up afterwards to ask questions and to get my business card (which I later found had an error on it!). I was the invited to be part of a panel at the final conference session to answer questions from Howard Zehr on our thoughts of the conference. That was OK, but some of the academics on the panel pissed me off as they rambled on using long words. I mentioned that when I could get a word in!

That night the New Zealanders, and Aussie Glenn, went to a Japanese restaurant to plan our hosting of the conference in 2011. The food was outstanding and the conversation great.

The next morning I jumped on the hop on hop off bus and began a tour of the city. The tour was quite disappointing and I got off at the ferry terminal and cruised across the harbour to North Vancouver and boarded a bus for the 20 minute ride to Grouse Mountain. It was a very hot day - about 32 degrees (in fact the whole week has been great weather).

I enjoyed a cramped gondola ride up the mountain and discovered myself surrounded by large patches of snow. I spotted a bear in its cage then caught the ski lift to the summit. The views were outstanding and I was disappointed I didn't buy a ticket for the massive flying fox ride that looked quite terrifying.

After a nice coffee and some souvenir buying I headed down in the gondola, back on the bus and then over on the ferry again.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Leaving Vancouver

Originally uploaded by
Check out my last lot of photos. Fuller story to come. These photos are of the Kiwis dining together on last night of conference as we begin the planning process to host the next conference in two years time! There are laso photos on this link of my visit to Grouse Mountain and my run around Stanley Park. It's now 12.30am and I need some sleep before the long haul home beginning tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Can you see the squirrel in the garden outside the front door. Opotiki Opossums feel kinship!

Conference going OK. The best workshop so far was by Greg and Richard from Kaiapoi who have some wonderful PD activities to work with staff to keep the process moving along. Another dude, Ken Pierce, who seems slightly crazy in a good way, challenged us to look at bullying (and any traumatic incidents) in a different way. Start by asking victims what have been the good things for them about the incident! Sounds weird but he explained things well and I bought his book.

The conference dinner is on tonight and the final day is tomorrow with my presentation in the last workshop session in the afternoon!

Have met some great people, including a further meeting with Howard Zehr the acknowleged founder of Restorative Justice as an area of study. We presented together a couple of years ago in Auckland. He has used some of my material in his work and wants an updated copy of our Restorative Handbook for staff!!!! The boys from Kaiapoi had to acknowledge me in their presentation because their workbook was heavily based on ours, but quite enhanced so I will steal some ideas back!!!

For those who miss my normal food postings will be glad to know I had a beautiful Malaysian takeaway on the beach last night.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Vancouver Photos

This photo sort of shows how steep the climb was this morning. The rest of the photos are a bit boring, but they show the beach at the end of my road, the view from my hotel balcony (tall buildings, some sea, mountains with snow). The other photo is of Richard (from Kaiapoi) and Sharon (Welshwoman from Howick). We had a kebab on the beach at 9.30pm after the conference opening.

I'm a bit worried about the number of presenters here compared with the number of attendees!

24 Hours in Vancouver

All phone and laptop issues have been resolved. I can now make and receive calls, but cannot send or receive texts!!!

I spent hours trying to get EEEPC left mouse button to work. I emailed ASUS and they told me to reboot which meant I lost everything (thankfully I copied my photos first) and it still didn't work. I then prised the button off the computer without breaking it and cleaned it. It now works. Must've been Lucy or Leigh eating biscuits over it.

Yesterday afternoon (Sat) I strolled to the info centre then onto Steamworks which is a brewery/bar/restaurant. I started with a pint of India Pale Ale (was the best), followed by a pint of Pale Ale and then 1/2 pint of Porter (very nice). At this point I started talking to strangers and realised on slightly older than me couple wanted to buy me drinks and go out for a meal with them. They were pretty jolly so I declined and wobbled my way back to Hotel. By now Tina and I had missed each other three times on phone.

I then headed down the road and found a Vietnamese restaurant and sat at my table for one and had beautiful calamari, spicy chicken and a Canadian beer. I was now 'tired' so went home to bed.

I was about to leave my room at 9.00 for a run around Stanley Park when Tina rang and arranged to pick me up at 10.30 for a MTB ride. I dashed out for a quick brakfast of fruit and bagel (without the fruit because they forgot it but didn't charge me anyway.) Must be something to do with my accent as at lunch today I ordered a bacon and mushroom filo and they tried to give me a vegetarian one!

Tina picked me up and drove skillfully for about 45 minutes to SFU (Simon Fraser University). I had Greg's bike and I forgot to see what it was, but it was very nice! Brakes are on the other side though!

We started off with some very gnarly, gentle uphill single track - lots of roots, rocks, narrow bridges etc - and I only fell on my broken rib side once as I couldn't unclip. After about 20 minutes of that we had a steep granny gear climb up a gravel road to the top - about 30-40 minutes steeper than Amokura and it was very hot. Who told me it was going to be cold over here?

Then the fun started! From there there was about 20-30 minutes of downhill single track with the aforementioned rocks and roots and narrow bridges with some high drop offs thrown in. Once I realised the bike could cope with anything in its path I relaxed and only dismounted twice.

I was absolutely buggared but it was a great ride. No bears or cougars! I took my camera and only took one photo. Tina just kept going!

Tina took a wrong turn on the way back and we headed off in the wrong direction, but we soon got back.

Will post a couple of photos later.

I've registered and am about to head down to the welcome.