Sunday, November 16, 2014

We've Finally Opened

  I loved our official opening which was on Friday 7 November. What really struck me were the comments the three students who represented their Learning Communities made from the stage. As I was sitting there listening to them I was overcome with how clearly these three students, speaking on behalf of their school mates, really understood what we are on about. No one could more clearly describe the type of learning environment we had been hoping to create.  

Jalen sharing his thoughts on HPSS

Antonia reflecting on how she has been challenged

Karea nailing the learning model

Alan and I expressing our joy after hearing our kids talk about their learning.

Monday, October 27, 2014

How might we ....Thinking about paddling in unison

Thinking about paddling the waka, not only in the same direction, but also in unison!

I'm about to get dangerously close to being excited by the prospect of strategic planning! The SLT has begun a round of workshops with Kay Hawk to help us formulate a structure for strategic planning. She has got us thinking about what are the Big Rocks that should form the foundations of our strategic thinking.

As well, Claire and I were fortunate to spend a day talking with Ewan McIntosh from NoTosh where we concentrated on specific actions  we could immerse ourselves in to better involve others and to capitalise on the huge pool of great ideas that exist in our building.

I followed up by reading his book How To Come Up With Great Ideas and was taken with the concept of "How might we ....?" The combination of these three words has helped me reconcile the conflict I have been experiencing with the legislative requirement to formulate a 3-5 year Strategic Plan and the desire to remain responsive and agile in a fast changing environment.

The "how" implies the need to explore a range of strategies. "Might" makes it clear that even though we might be successful with our strategy we may just easily be unsuccessful. And the "we" makes it clear that it is a shared activity.

The excitement comes from tying together the Big Rocks and the "How Might We" and linking them to our clearly established principles for learning. We're still in the early days of  strategising our strategic planning but this sort of thinking has put a neat energy into this activity.

Brainstorming the Big Rocks of Learning @ Hobsonville Point, Thinking @ Hobsonville Point and Relating @ Hobsonville Point
Linking the Big Rocks to our Principles: Innovate, Engage, Inspire
Once we've filled up the matrix with our brainstormed 'small rocks' we'll look at formulating them into "How Might We..." statements.

Such a process helps resolve the inner conflict. We're not going to base our venture on a plan but rather build it on a strategic foundation. If our foundation of Big Rocks are stable (as a result of firm links with our principles of learning) any plans we make can be fluid, allowing our school to remain an agile organisation.

An outstanding example of linking a myriad of processes (in this case around assessment and reporting) to one of our foundation rocks (learning design) to establish coherence is Di Cavallo's visual which she workshopped with our staff last week.

My desire is to have a strategic plan that looks more like the visual above than a numbered list of Strategic Goals and Targets.

Another important foundation rock for our school is a strong culture of collegial and collaborative professional learning where we openly share knowledge. The power of collaboration is brought home to me every day at Hobsonville Point Secondary School.

Sharing our best ideas on getting to know our learners

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner


Most of my posts have been describing the things we as teachers and students have been doing as we make our way through our first year. I have really enjoyed chronicling those things from my point of view.

Recently I have been doing a lot of pondering on leadership and how it plays out in an environment such as ours. I thought I would share some of my ponderings.

The title of the post refers to a great, inspirational book I read when I was at my athletic peak! (2 hrs 38 for a marathon!!). It emphasised the loneliness of such a crazy sport. Twice this week I have sought the peace and wonder of the Waitakere Ranges and done some great training. While the training is itself important I realised it was the aloneness I was seeking. Just like back in the marathon days it was those hours of solitude that helped bring some personal coherence to my thinking and I have found that happening again.

The question of leadership has been preying on my mind. Many of our people have been thrust into very big, important and impactful leadership areas which for many has been a big ask.

I remember when I was Deputy Principal I used to get frustrated with my boss (we're now great friends and he has been my most influential mentor) because he seemed to take so long to move some things forward. When I expressed these frustrations with him he used his great line of, "There might be another way of looking at this, Maurie."

There were 2 very important conclusions I formed from this man and our conversations. The first was the absolute golden rule that I would never express these frustrations with anyone else at all. He was the only one I shared them with. It is with a sense of pride that I understand the level of integrity that he presented me with as a way of acting.

The second realisation links to the blog post title. I had a much narrower view of the school and its complex relationships than he did.This is not surprising: I was a DP, a man of action, getting things done and ticking them off. He had a much broader view and was in for the long haul; not being there for years himself but promoting the vision, managing relationships so that was possible, charting a course through very complex issues and growing the people around him. Quick fire fixes may have given some short term solution but didn't keep us in the long game. And most importantly, quick fire fixes reduced the opportunity for people to learn from their leadership experiences and grow as leaders, rather than being shed.

By working with him I began to develop a sense that you didn't really understand the principal job until you actually were in the seat yourself. Even though he provided me with buckets of across school leadership opportunities, it wasn't until I took over from him that I truly realised it wasn't until you were there that you began to understand the role.

Especially in an environment as dynamic and challenging as ours it is vital that leadership, both of operation and preserving, promoting and growing our vision has to be distributed.

When speaking to a colleague who had opened a new school shortly after he had left he said one of the challenges he faced was continually pushing forward with new ideas as he was the one expected to be doing that. He felt that if he wasn't doing that then he would face criticism from those he was working with.

My view is different. I hope they say of my leadership at HPSS that I led the way with a vision and ideas early on in the journey but as time passed others picked up the mantle of bringing the vision to reality as a shared responsibility and that they saw this as opportunity and as a healthy way for a future focused school to travel.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Powerful Partnerships

I am often asked what I think are the most important aspects of our curriculum and pedagogy model at HPSS. I'm sure I've given lots of different answers but for the moment I've settled on the two that support our principle of powerful partnerships: authentic learning and collaborative teaching.

The power of authentic learning was made clearest to me at our first Big Project exhibition when the students presented their banners on our Hobsonville Habits to AV Jennings and the Hobsonville Land Company. The quality of the finished products and the way in which our students were able to talk about their learning was very impressive.

Big Projects this term have once again created an authentic context for our learners. We have partnered up with Auckland Council and half the school are working on creating an original show with original music that portrays Auckland 2025 through the eyes of young people.

Drama improvisation activities to prepare for show
The other half of the school are working on ways to heighten awareness for the local environment as we have discovered a site in our vicinity heavily polluted with nursery plant bags which is also the site of one of NZ's most threatened plants.

Students exploring the affected sites
Our students also experienced another authentic learning situation when they hosted candidates from the local Upper Harbour electorate at school where they questioned them on topics ranging from youth issues to child abuse to Auckland's transport problems.

Questions being posed

Paula Bennett replies while candidates wait their turn

All of these will need to keep their day job!
I spend a lot of my time viewing learning in action. This is because I'm either taking visiting groups, observing staff or just out and about. As a result of doing this I have realised the power of collaborative teaching.

As we move through the year teachers are trying different ways of making the most of collaboration. Sometimes one teacher will be addressing the whole group while other times each of the teachers in the team will be taking different groups and at other times they are all facilitating throughout the class.

I had the privilege of Steve and Danielle last week. While Danielle collected a group around her mobile classroom (a whiteboard) and provided scaffolds for their learning, Steve moved around the other groups of students and kept them focused by asking tem challenging questions.

Danielle in the background in her mobile classroom
while Steve works with a group
Cindy and Megan working together to support learning

Jill including Annette, our Business Manager, as students pitch their projects
However, the most heart warming authentic learning and collaborative teaching I witnessed last week when I came across 2 of our students, Angus and Josh, running a workshop where they had been supporting 6 year olds to create electrical circuits.

I am firmly of the opinion that it is these two things schools need to find ways to incorporate in their curriculum and pedagogy, no matter what context they operate in or what structures either enable or restrict them so that schooling is relevant and engaging for our students.

Try to make learning authentic for the learners and try to enable collaboration in planning and teaching for the teachers.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

HPSS - a High Viz School

Right from when we first started preparing to establish our school we were very purposeful about being visible - visible to anyone who wanted to see what was going on. DP, Claire Amos, was already a practicising blogger when she came on board while my own blogging had gone on a bit of a vacation. Inspired by the connections Claire was making throughout the world I launched back into it. When Steve arrived he brought another level and showed how we could all be comfortable sharing our successes, challenges and times of confusion and indecision. His approach was inspirational. Many other staff have joined in with varying degrees of regularity. You can see their blogs on my right hand side bar (any staff who are regularly blogging and are not present there please email me your blog address and I'll get it there).

I have found the blogging to be a great way to process thinking, reflect on our progress, and wonder about the future. I am particularly proud of the fact that we have all been comfortable with sharing the warts and all of our journey. The power of the feedback we receive cannot be underestimated. I reckon we might be the first school in New Zealand to have its establishment journey so openly and widely shared and documented.

One of the things I first noticed after my shift to Auckland was the high level of competition between schools and the over-riding motivation for schools to protect their patch, while at the same time raiding the patches of other schools in the region. This is a practice and driving force that I cannot get my head around! Schools and leaders with this mindset would simply not allow the widespread and open sharing that flows out of HPSS - makes me proud of the environment and culture we are creating!

These three paragraphs have served as a long-winded introduction to my thoughts of the wonderful edchatNZ Conference we have just hosted and which has exposed us to another level of visibility. It was an absolute brainwave on Danielle's part to have it begin on a Friday so that not only could participants attend workshops run by the outstanding list of presenters we had but they could also just sit in on our normal classes which were running throughout the day. They were encouraged to take part in lessons and talk with the students about their learning. On the Saturday they then had the opportunity to attend workshops run by our staff to further explore the practice and models they had observed the day before.

There were three stars of the conference in my eyes.

The first was obviously Danielle who is the instigator and driving force behind the fortnightly twitter conversation known as EdChat. So many good discussions have emerged from that event so she decided to have a conference which anyone could afford ($20!) and which would bring together those who had already connected on a regular basis through EdChat. The conference was outstanding and a huge credit to Danielle. The best way to check it out if you missed this great opportunity check out the #edchatnz stream on twitter. This particular stream was out trending Telecom and Spark on the day of their launch!

The second was the staff of HPSS. I have already been impressed with their courage - firstly for leaping on board with us on this journey to revolutionise the traditional model of secondary school and secondly for sharing their journey as I described above. But it is their courage in going a step further with making their practice so visible. Last Friday 300 teachers - not your average, run-of-the-mill teacher, but 300 teachers whose thinking about teaching and learning is also at the cutting edge - observed their practice all day, participated in their lessons, asked questions and talked with our students! I spent the day observing them calmly going about their normal practice as throngs of strangers moved around them. Watching how they came across (calm, confident, knowledgeable, expert, open) was almost the highlight, for me, of the conference.

But the real stars were our students.
Our students just carried on as normal and coped with many visitors not only participating in their lessons but also questioning them on topics ranging from, "How do you think this will work with NCEA?" (imagine asking this of 13 year olds 23 weeks into their secondary schooling!) to, "How do you know you are learning?" Of course, this was meat and veg for our kids (see my previous post).

To see how well this question was answered check out Matt Nicoll's post which includes him naming one of our students, Sheena, as one of the people he connected with and learned from (see below)

Who are 3 people that you connected with and what did you learn from them?
Reid Walker: he is even funnier in person and one of the few people at #edchatNZ with a worse "filter" than me.
Nanogirl/Michelle Dickinson: I was already an unashamed "fan boy" but I was unaware how much of her own time and money she puts into spreading her passion and talent. I really hope we can host her when she visits Christchurch.
Sheena, a Year 9 HPSS student: The discussion we had about "How do you know you are learning?" was inspiring. You are an articulate young lady and further evidence that young people are indeed self-aware and self-driven. I loved your statements about the differences between learning and assessment, and the arbitrary labels we put on things in education. Thank you for connecting with me!

And then on Saturday one of the several students who turned up was Josh Hardy, who attended Pam Hook's session on SOLO thinking alongside his Learning Coach, Danielle, so he could learn more about this thinking taxonomy!

Wherever, I turned on Friday students were talking openly, confidently, knowingly and expertly on their learning. It was all summed up for me by a teacher from the conference who talked of the 'eloquence' with which students talked about their learning. I promptly shared this via Twitter.

I'm the first to acknowledge that we have so much more to do, sometimes it seems so overwhelming, but consistent student voice, in all its forms, led me to say to our Board Chair, Alan Curtis, who attended the full conference, that I think we might be on the verge of creating something special.

His response was something like, "There's no might about it!"

To any EdChatters out there who came to our conference read this post please stay connected with each other. Let's keep all of our practices visible and let's challenge all of those who seek to keep things covered up. By openly sharing our practice we can challenge those who protect their patch while raiding the patch of others.
"Follow the revolution!"

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"I can't believe how much she has learned!"

Student Voice is a rallying call as one of the key elements in a relevant, student-centred learning environment. Often, if student voice is present at all, it is merely confined to co-constructing contexts and activities for learning. At HPSS we certainly include student voice at this stage. Near the end of last term students took part in a workshop where they explored out Term III concept of citizenship and then brainstormed the contexts which they would like to explore as they increase their understanding of citizenship. In the following week teachers met in teams to design Modules based on this student voice and following that students then selected the Modules, with the support of their Learning Coach, which interested them.

But it is our students'ability to talk openly, confidently and knowledgeably about their own learning and learning progressions that has impressed me, made me even more confident about our vision and model and motivated me to tell parents at our recent Open Evening that the learning that has occurred at our school has exceeded my expectations.

The quotation in this post's title was made by a mother of one of our students after a 30 minute Individual Education Meeting where the student, supported by her Learning Coach, shared her learning and her progress towards achieving her learning goals. All day and into the evening I saw and heard the full range of our students talking about their learning and observed parents beaming with pride and increasing understanding of what our school is about: learning, not subjects and confident, informed young people who can do more than regurgitate facts and formulas.

Later in the week staff were invited to share their IEM experiences. Comments that stood out for me were:
"I like the feeling that kids see meas on their side."
"I am reminded of the power of conversations."
"It was heartening to see the change in parents. Many spoke of how they now saw their children in a different light."

It reminded me of last term's Big Project evening which featured in my last post where our students engaged parents and visitors in discussions about their Big Project and the learning. I knew then that something special was happening.

At HPSS we are enjoying showing hospitality to many visiting groups every week. So far they have come from Australia, Singapore, USA and all around NZ. The visitors are free to interact with our students in the learning environment and spend a lot of time talking with students about their learning. I feel really privileged to witness these discussions. Students, all of them, are able to clearly describe what they are doing, what the Learning Areas are and why they are carrying out this learning. Visitors often walk away from these conversations disbelieving that our kids are 13 - 14 years old only.
Visitors get to see students collaborating in their learning

TVNZ's Seven Sharp spent 4 hours filming at our school a couple of weeks ago as they were preparing a 4 minute piece on how learning can now look with a focus on our school and Mindlab. After watching a little of the filming from the sidelines and hearing our students respond to some quite challenging questions from the reporter I was confident that despite any spin that might be put on the topic that our kids, speaking confidently about their learning, would shine through.

And they did! Check out the clip here. One of our DPs, Claire Amos, facilitated the shoot and has written a neat reflection on the article which fleshes out the points covered.

Right at the end of last term we also surveyed our students and parents on how they were feeling about certain aspects of the school and for their overall impressions.
What students said about quality of relationships between students

What students said about the quality of relationships between students and teachers

How students described their overall view of HPSS

How Parents described their overall view of HPSS
I can't believe how much we are all learning!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Big Projects

We use Specialised Learning Modules, Learning Hub, MyTime and Big Projects to enable students to experience the NewZealand Curriculum in a variety of packages rather than just the single subject, single class, single teacher model that is part of the paradigm of one.

Big Projects are a major part of our curriculum. This YouTube clip has our project leader, Sarah Wakeford, explaining the intent of Big Projects and how they work.

Our first Big Project concentrated on Building our Culture and aligned with our Term I big concept of identity and our Term II big concept of Space and Place. This web page explains how students were supported to contribute.

The culmination of this first Big Project occurred on the evening of June 26 when students presented the results of their work to the community. Students positioned themselves beneath the relevant banner that detailed the Hobsonville Habit disposition that was evident in their project work. They talked about their project and answered questions from their parents.

Watching these students talk so confidently about their learning, with their work displayed as if in a gallery with parents wandering around with their souvenir programme it was important to remind ourselves that we were dealing with 13 year olds who had spent merely 3 hours one day a week for 15 weeks to get to this point.

After this viewing session we were treated to poetry recital, orchestral music, dance, drama and modern music from our wonderfully talented students.

This was our mission of Innovate Engage Inspire in action. As a result of forming a powerful partnership with the Hobsonville Land Company our students were inspired to produce high quality work which impressed the audience and the HLC. I am convinced the authenticity of the learning context drove accountability and rigour so that high quality work was produced and high quality learning took place.

Mock ups of some of the banners on display in our auditorium

The following is a selection of photos taken at the event:

Seems like we're ready to launch into the next Big Project which will result in a school show!