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!