Sunday, November 8, 2015


I've thought a lot about posting tonight but, uncharacteristically, have decided to be measured and strategic. Perhaps more will be said later about the nonsense in the Sunday Star Times.

The HPSS school community appreciates the messages we have received that support our journey.

I am not afraid of tomorrow, for I have seen yesterday and I love today.

William Allen White
Via Martin Hales @HPSS teacher

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"You've got to have control before you can teach them!"

"The country's top schools are in open revolt against the Ministry of Education for being forced into multimillion-dollar "barn" classrooms where students are left on their own to learn."

There is so much wrong with the opening sentence from this front page article of this week's Sunday Star Times. This 'top schools' label really irks me and sums up the too-narrow definition of what it means to be a great school. It is more, surely, than having more "NCEA scholarships" than any other school. As well, this label is an insult to the many outstanding schools that are in NZ that fail to meet this narrow definition.

And what about these multimillion-dollar "barn" classrooms where students are left on their own to learn? I've seen plenty of students left on their own to learn in traditional classrooms.

And where does the principal of one of NZ's top schools in Auckland get his reasoning to claim: "The personalised learning philosophy does not encourage students' development of thinking skills and creativity"? Perhaps he could start by coming to our school for a visit and talk with our students.

And the principal from one of the other top schools in Wellington espouses that, "students would not learn what they need to learn if left to their own devices." I have no idea how this is linked to a discussion on MLEs. Perhaps he should visit as well (and drop in at Te Karaka on the way and talk with Karyn Gray).

And then back to Auckland where the principal of another top school dismisses MLEs because "you've got to have control before you can teach them"! He seems to be arguing that teaching and learning begins with control from the teacher and that that is more easily managed by putting 30-35 students into an enclosed space with one teacher. Once control is established learning can occur!

This view belongs with the dinosaurs.

My biggest frustration is that these three principals are wheeled out to comment knowledgeably on a topic about which they obviously have very little knowledge. They're all good dudes but they should decline to comment on such issues.

Thankfully, before I read the article I came across this post by one of our students on our Facebook Page. She seems to have developed some thinking skills.

And on Saturday one of our students helped me run an information session for job applicants at our school. 

Faced with 60 teachers she was unfazed when she was asked to name the three qualities that teachers need to display to be a good teacher for her school:
  • Passion for our Vision
  • Active communication with students and families
  • Accommodate a range of needs and be flexible
Sally's blog post is an excellent response to the article. I hope principals of top schools find the time to read it.
And while they're reading blogs they should dip into Steve's post on learner agency to see how students truly develop thinking skills and creativity.
It was left to the Deputy Head Boy of one of these top schools to speak the most sense: "People feel like they're being watched so they're more focused on their behaviour, teachers stay on topic more." These are two good things: students being self-aware and teachers being purposeful. This is where the necessary control comes from so that learning can be effective. The principal from the other top school should go and have a chat with him.

We welcome any of these principals to come along and talk with our learners because it's the kids, and not us leaders, who tell it how it is.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Slow Learning

While our main focus over the last 3 years has been to create a quality learning environment for the students and teachers of Hobsonville Point Secondary School we have also made it clear to ourselves, and to anyone else who cares to listen, that we are out to redesign the NZ secondary schooling environment.

Back when I first started talking about this I most probably was thinking mainly about school structures and programme design features - structures and design features that would enable our pursuit of relevant and personalised learning. While I am convinced that these changes are vital it is more evident to me that the whole culture of schooling and learning that needs to be revisited.

I am absolutely over the moon with what we are achieving in our establishment journey but we a re very conscious of colleagues and other institutions and wider community who are critical of the culture we are trying to develop and the practices we are building to support that culture. We often get told we can only do what we are doing because we have a brand new building, we have hand-picked our staff, we are high decile etc.

Others talk about us using students as guinea pigs and having teething problems (I hope we always have teething problems!). Others have a view, without ever having visited our school, that there are no structures, that our students can do what they like and that we can't prove, as other schools can, that our students are learning.

Each one of these points could be the focus of its own blog post (and they may well emerge in one later). As far as I know every school hand picks it's staff. As well, I know that I have not been in a school whose structures that support Years 9 and 10 learning are so rigorous and where learning is tracked so closely. And yes, students have a huge say in their learning. We ask them to identify which contexts they would like to explore their learning in and we ask them to suggest the best ways for them to process their learning and the best ways to evidence their learning. As well, we seek their views on any major decisions we are going to make. We do not, however, abdicate any responsibility for curriculum coverage, learning progression or for having high expectations of what they are capable, especially when it comes to making responsible decisions about their own learning. Why would we want anything else in a school?
Staff listening to student voice on MyTime

We have had hundreds of visitors from schools across NZ, from Australia, from Singapore, from Korea, and from USA. What is hugely satisfying is that they not only leave impressed with what they see and experience, largely by talking with students, but that they feel inspired to go back into their environment and lead change to a different type of schooling.

I have the awesome privilege of escorting many of these visitors throughout our school and to hear what students say to them, to observe students in the act of learning, to hear what teachers say to them, and to observe teachers in the act of teaching.
Students explaining learning to one of our many visiting groups

I know our teachers are working very hard; there is no place for pre-planned units of work taken off a shelf in a school which is setting out to personalise learning and to make authenticity and relevance visible by linking subject disciplines together in forever changing combinations. As well, for the first time in their careers, teachers are Learning Coaches, Project Guides and collaborative planners, teachers and assessors. What I have noticed more clearly now, though, is that the act of teaching is calm, unhurried and responsive.
Calm, unhurried, responsive collaborative teaching in action

This has got me thinking about the concept of slow learning.

One of our Principles is to inspire students through deep challenge and inquiry, This is impossible to achieve when school is a mad rush to get through stuff while at the same time continually assessing the stuff. Such a culture place too much stress on both teachers and students.

I'm liking the sound of the slow learning movement. This has been reinforced through a series of meetings Claire and I have had with the 15 Year 11 students that we have and their families over the best pathways for them as they attempt to  move through their qualifications pathways. The realisation I have come to is that these students and their families enrolled in our school because they had faith in the model of learning we were aspiring to - which includes not contributing to the culture of assessment anxiety that exists in almost all schools (see ERO). Yet what we initially proposed to support this small group of learners was going to do just that (and create too much stress for staff). Claire really nailed it when she started talking about there being no need to rush and that it is OK to take time to move through and eventually graduate from school. As a result, almost all of these students, with the support of their parents, have decided to travel through school with the current Year 10 cohort with the likelihood of 6 years at secondary school. I see these students as the pioneers of the slow learning movement.

And when you look at our Vision (and I expect most schools') to create an inclusive and stimulating learning environment which empowers learners to contribute confidently and responsibly in a changing world and at our 2 Pathways of Excellence - Academic Excellence and Personal Excellence - how can you rush this through in a pressure cooker environment.

What might a slow learning movement mean?

Who's going to join us? We've got a group of lone nuts and first followers who would like you to join in.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Aligning Vision With Practice

To create an inclusive learning environment which empowers learners to contribute confidently and responsibly in an ever changing world.
Hobsonville Point Schools Vision

I love our vision because it not only refers to the what but also gives the why or the intent. Our intention as a school is to empower our learners (skills, knowledge, disposition and mindset) so that they can be active participants and contributors in a world that we acknowledge is forever changing (and doing so quite rapidly).

This vision tells us that it is now no longer good enough to just equip our students with a strong qualification, largely built around literacy and numeracy skills and fashioned around single bodies of knowledge known as subjects.. It requires us to do so much more.

The first thing it requires us to do is not to go to the back of the NZC where we see there are 8 Learning Areas and simply cross out the heading Learning Area and change it to Subject. An ever changing world requires graduates who can see connections across learning areas.

The second thing it requires us to do is to develop strong dispositions that point towards contribution, confidence, responsibility and those that equip people to cope with continual rapid change.

The first thing we did in planning to open this school was to settle on two equally important excellences that aligned with our vision. These are Academic Excellence and Personal Excellence. We believe these two help us to grow graduates who can contribute confidently and responsibly in an ever changing world.

Of course, the Academic Excellence is quite straight forward as schools are good at tracking and reporting this and we can use Curriculum Levels and NCEA as the main tool and measurement. But our vision requires learners to have more than this as it does not guarantee the ability to contribute confidently and responsibly in an ever changing world.

The problem with Personal Excellence there is there are not many existing models that point to what is needed to achieve our vision. At HPSS we settled on 10 Hobsonville Habits which might be seen as the equivalent of the Learning Areas from the Academic Excellence side of things. The challenge for us has been how do we define the habits, how do we make them visible, how do we make them part of our learning and how do we track progress against them. This is difficult but exciting work and we are looking forward to cracking it.

Like all schools we have a Mission Statement and ours is Innovate Engage, Inspire. Quite correctly you will say that all schools have similar aspirational words in their Mission. What I like about what we have done is to expand on them and to develop them into a set of principles that guide all curriculum decision  making we get involved in. In these uncertain times of developing a new school which is looking at secondary schooling through a different lens it is vital that we have such a set of principles. I am proud to say that they are proving to be strong guides for us.

These principles are supporting us when making very important decisions about learning. For example, when finalising our plans for our students in their Qualification Years as they move towards their NCEA L2 over 2 years we ask ourselves the following questions:

  • do these proposals allow students' learning to be personalised or are they simply attempting the same batch of standards as others who happen to be in the same programme as them
  • are students able to partner with experts in other learning areas and beyond our school walls and link their learning to the wider community
  • are they being required to be immersed deeply in their learning while pursuing challenging questions or are they merely covering enough to gain a large number of credits.

I love this framework we are operating in: a strong relevant vision, 2 pathways of excellence to support this vision, a defined set of dispositions to support this vision and a set of principles to guide our decision making which keeps us aligned with the vision.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Backstory - a source of pride

We hosted the Auckland secondary school participants in the National Aspiring Principals' Programme at HPSS on Friday and I was asked to spend half a hour outlining the journey I had undertaken to develop a vision for HPSS which was driving our establishment band implementation. Because both Claire and Sally were part of that group was going to be somewhat restrained by the need to tell the truth!

While the journey to this point has been very rewarding it has also been extremely challenging with many moments of uncertainty and imposter syndrome. However, this week I had read  a draft report from Noeleen Wright from the University of Waikato who has spent almost 3 years tracking our journey. Her descriptions and comments on our journey and what we have arrived at at this point was affirming and filled me with pride. I was able to link where we were at quite firmly to our vision.

The night before my NAPP session I thought about where the personal vision, moral purpose and set of principles had come from and while doing this was once again overcome with pride and a sense of satisfaction.

I thought about my time when I started teaching at Ngaruawahia High School in 1982 and how I quickly came to realise that this teaching and learning business was quite clearly a relationship thing. Coaching rugby and cricket, learning te Reo with parents, becoming comfortable on Turangawaewae Marae, sitting on the paepae and being immersed in Kingitanga kawa and history and then supporting parents to bring about the construction of a Wharenui on our site (which also included a takeover of the PTA and eventually Maori representation on BOT!) all shaped for me how teaching and learning was truly about ako and reciprocity. My ability to stand and whaikorero (with various levels of competence) was a result of me being the akonga and parents and students being the kaiako.

When I was at Opotiki College I was then in leadership positions and began to exert influence beyond my narrower sphere (eg classroom or department) and now more school-wide. This was made possible during my 10 years as DP as I worked with a wonderful Principal, Andrew Taylor, who shone the light on others and strongly encouraged and supported the leadership of others.

After spending `10 years overseeing the suspension of students and the exclusion of too many, when I was appointed I was determined to find another way. I eventually stumbled across the ideas of Restorative Practice (thank you Margaret Thorsborne) which gave me a framework to create processes, systems and responses more closely aligned with my own moral purpose. We completely stopped suspensions and quite unexpectedly achievement levels rose, ERO congratulated us on a respectful culture and the sun came up and went down (and, of course, kids were still naughty!).

Despite excellent achievement levels I was always haunted by knowing the names of the 30 kids who left every year without any qualifications at all so wondered what we could do to address that. That's when I started thinking about the idea of taking the concept of Relationship-based Behaviour Management and trying to establish a Relationship-based Pedagogy. Out of that came 100 minute learning periods (you try to teach in the traditional fashion for 100 minutes and see how you get on!) and small group Learning Advisories having two 100 minute blocks per week (you try only taking the roll and reading the notices and see how you get on!).

When I applied for the position at HPSS I boiled all of my preparation for the interview down to two sides of one A4 page with 2 simple headings of Curriculum and Pedagogy. These included a vision, a set of principles and a set of descriptors for each as well as a possible whole school framework. I checked this page out as part of my preparation for the NAPP session and was blown away by how this thinking is still driving us, with lots of what I had written actually present in our school.

What a nice place to be.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Learning and Leadership Inquiries

While our staff were formulating their teaching inquiries earlier this year I had a brief moment when I sat back and thought, "Well, I don't do any teaching so I wont need to do one of these. I'll be able to get on with my job." At the collaborative session we had organised for staff to meet with their critical friend to work on their "How Might I ....?" questions to frame their inquiry I plonked myself down by my critical friend, Cindy, who put me out of my misery straight away by claiming that the staff were my class and that I needed to inquire into how effective I was being in leading/teaching them
These are the 2 "How Might I?s" we settled on.
How might I consistently exhibit warm and demanding practices in my leadership of staff?
I have blogged about the Warm and Demanding concept several times and as every day passes in my leadership journey I am finding more and more comfort operating within this framework. I am continually asking myself if my responses to people or feedback to people whether I am displaying that I value them and their work and care for them while also showing that I expect all of us to work to a high level within our shared vision.
With the help of Cindy I have created a survey for staff exploring their views on how successful I am in achieving the Warm and Demanding balance and how effective that is for my leadership. The feedback will be immensely useful for me.
How might I maximise the opportunity of Mondays with Maurie to ensure our vision, values and principles are strengthened?
Every Monday morning I have a 15 minute slot at Kitchen Table (which I have called Mondays with Maurie). The main responsibility of this time is to confront particular issues of the time that we are dealing with and present my view of them through the lens of our vision, values and principles. Topics I have covered include:
  • personalised learning
  • strategic planning
  • student well-being and assessment
  • leading change with moral purpose and courage
  • managing behaviour in warm and demanding ways
  • homework guidelines
  • reporting
  • shared care of shared spaces
  • investing time and care in students
  • staff inter-personal issues
Just as teachers seek feedback from their students as to how effective their teaching has been, Cindy, once again, is supporting me to gain feedback from my 'class'. I am looking forward to the responses to the question on whether Mondays With Maurie has caused anyone to change the way they say, do or think.
Mondays With Maurie discussing Staff Well Being
Of course, my inquiry isn't the only one taking place. It was a privilege to have three staff share the progress with their own inquiries at the end of term. Liz was away but presented hers in hard copy while Andrea and Cindy gave a presentation to the staff.

Andrea presenting her inquiry

Authentic Learning with Cindy

And the neat thing is that our students are assisting us with our inquiries. One of our Student Council sub-committees (Hobsonville Habitat) is focusing on Learning and they have started exploring ways to gather student voice on learning and how best to provide that voice to staff.
Kane and Yasmin from the Learning Habitat leading discussions with Leaders of Learning
So, as Term 3 is about to start we're going to concentrate our main school inquiry on how might we design learning programmes and the structures that support them to support our learners from Years 9 - 11. Should be fun!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Rhetoric and Reality

I almost didn't go to the launch of David Hood's book, The Rhetoric and The Reality: New Zealand schools and schooling in the 21st century, last Wednesday night. It would mean a late afternoon drive to Hamilton to attend the function and then not getting home until 11.00pmish. I'd been feeling a bit flat all week and quite fatigued and nearly talked myself out of it.

I am so pleased I made the effort (and even managed to fit in a roadside-in-Huntly radio interview on the way down. This was supposed to be on an academic's claim that pen and paper should be banned from school but the article was in fact on the need for schools to align, quickly, with the needs of learners and their lives).

For 4-5 years I had been part of a network of principals, Coalition of 21st Century Schools, facilitated expertly by David Hood. It was here that I was introduced to the concept of the Paradigm of One and the much needed Paradigm of Many. It was here, under David's mentorship, that I explored what schooling might look like if we put students at the centre and met their needs and then developed the confidence to put some different things in place.

He exposed us to hard copy readings back then that now flow daily across my consciousness through Twitter. He took us on a study tour to Australia to explore Rich Tasks. It was powerful stuff (the power of which I did not appreciate at the time).

His gentle support (though I always sensed a level of impatience within him - after all he wrote his first book Our Secondary Schools Don't Work Anymore 17 years ago) encouraged me to introduce 3 Day Wananga, 100 Minute Learning Periods, small group Learning Advisories and High Impact Projects at Opotiki College in 2011/2012.

Since that time I have been at HPSS attempting to lead a school that allows a secondary school to work for our students by being relevant for them. The hope has also been that we may influence work in other schools. The Paradigm of One and The Paradigm of Many has become part of my mantra and I had forgotten that it had emerged from the work with David.

The launch was, appropriately at Tai Wananga, a school in Ruakura, Hamilton, that David had assisted in establishing. This is a school that not only allows Maori to achieve as Maori but also puts in place a model of secondary schooling that we at HPSS also aspire to.

In David's brief address to the gathering he spoke of the need for schools to place the needs, passions, lives and futures of their students at the centre of curriculum design, pedagogy and decision-making. It was a true tears in my eyes moment and reminded me of the influence he has had.

I was invited to stay and share a meal with him before heading home. Arrival at home was looking further away but I jumped at the opportunity. Over dinner we committed to maintaining our connection with David already booking in to visit us with me committing to taking staff to visit Tai Wananga. It was over dinner that his frustration and impatience with the rate of change in thinking about and practice in secondary schools was occurring.

It was a late arrival home but that short time with David had been invaluable.

You can view a review of his book (as well as a review of Sir Ken Robinson's new book) here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

It's Not Only The Kids Who Learn Here!

Danger! Super Heroes at Work!

I have grown to love the elegance of timetabling! Not timetabling as I once knew it when the concentration was on creating an administratively efficient machine that looked remarkably like last year's and contained the same type of 'acceptable restrictions' as in previous years and which required a shoe horn to force every one of our learners into! Such a timetable always resulted in comments such as , "I'd really like to do that but the timetable wont let me!" I'm embarrassed to say that I've uttered that tragic line in the past to either quell my own crazy ideas or to dismiss the crazy innovative thoughts of others.

The timetabling I've grown to love is that once subjugates the timetable to its role of representing the vision and values of the school and bringing life to the curriculum design principles that emerge from the vision and values - a timetable that is flexible and responsive with the needs of thelearner firmly at the centre.

As I said in my previous post we're onto our 3rd timetable structure. While our planned timetable for next semester is not different to the naked eye many of the principles behind its structure have changed. You may remember that I was excited about it being created over the summer on a piece of rolled out brown paper. We've now matured to the point we we have created our next one on a bare wall in The Tardis - our/my nickname for our visible planning space.

This was our first year with both Years 9 and 10 and despite the fact that Big Projects, Learning Hubs, SPIN Modules and MyTime were all delivered in multi age levels we decided to differentiate our Small Modules and deliver them as separate Year 9 and 10 Modules. Our reasons were valid but I must admit I would lie awake at night haunted by my dismissals of the Paradigm of One (traditional secondary schooling) which grouped kids together based entirely on the fact they were the same age. I lived in fear I would be reminded of that and be challenged as to why we were following suit. As well, I had aspirations that our Years 9 and 10 in the future would be differentiated as the Foundation Years of our school and would be able to access the appropriate programmes without us rationing them out based on their age.

I was also uncomfortable that we had moved away from teams of teachers working together to combine Learning Areas in the way they saw best fit the contexts of learning our students were suggesting to teachers and Learning Areas being combined without their input. While such enabling constraints did force some innovative thinking and it was important to experience this I still thought that perhaps administrative efficiency was having too much influence.

So what now then?

I was exhilarated and proud to be present when our Leaders of Learning overwhelmingly agreed that our Semester 2 Modules should be available to all learners and that we would seriously grapple with the generally ungrappled-with issue of true differentiation of learning.

By making this shift we found some of the previous enabling constraints were now less constraining and more enabling. Teams of teachers would now be free to collaboratively determine the Learning Area and teacher pairings. But we needed some rigour around how these pairings would develop based on our previous experience. Spurred on by Mark Osborne we decided to develop some 'Pairing Principles' to guide this process and here they are below.

The whole process has been enhanced by the determination to be transparent and visible. On the wall in the Tardis is everyone's allocated hours for next semester and my suggestion for their use. Staff can see how not only their own allocation is arrived at but also of every other staff member
As well, when every component was put up on the wall I photographed it and emailed to all staff with the invite to come and discuss what was being created. I also kept a running record on a whiteboard of emerging issues and questions to think about.

At tonight's LOL meeting in the Tardis and beneath the timetable wall above I shared the last remaining issue and within 5 minutes it was resolved collaboratively.

Tonight over a glass of red I've been thinking about another challenging but satisfying day. Kay Hawk spent the day guiding us through part of a robust process for SLT appraisal where she spoke of the need to "decrease feelings of lonely responsibility", the importance of being "explicit about the intent of different stages of consultation" and the vital importance of "an explicit school pedagogy."

Tonight's LOL meeting which dealt with the timetable and also included a robust discussion, ostensibly about developing a process to deal with student requests to move from one module to another but which was really about the importance of keeping the needs of our learners at the centre of all decision-making, somehow, in ways I still haven't clarified, resonated with those key messages I heard from Kay.

And then I remembered a snatched corridor conversation with Danielle at the end of last week when I was expressing my normal state of awe in which I held staff and their commitment to our kaupapa. Walking off she stated simply, "It's not only the kids who learn here, Maurie!"

Student Council at work in Tardis under gaze of Timetable!


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Life in the Pit Lane

It's tough work moving through the establishment of a new school, especially when driven by the desire to lead the way in reshaping what secondary schooling needs to be like to retain its relevancy.

We started this year with our 3rd timetable structure and after one term (actually 7 weeks of operation) we are now beginning the process of what our timetable will be like in Term 3. Obviously we need to make decisions soon so that we can plan to implement it. And then we have to move quickly during Term 3 to determine what our timetable will need to be like in our 3rd year of operation with a Year 9-11 cohort (and with a small group of Year 12s who snuck in while we looked the other way). Because whatever we decide we will need lead-in time to prepare.

Feels a bit like this

It seems like a never-ending cycle of review and redesign. And of course it is and it's the way it has to be if we wish to remain responsive to what's best for our students.

I'm really pleased with where we have progressed our thinking about how NCEA will fit within our Vision and Principles and best support our learners. Further detail can be found in my previous post and also in one from Claire.

We repeated our parent workshop with our students during the first week of term and as part of the workshop we asked our students to give us feedback on what they liked about what they heard and what concerns they still had:
What Do We Like?

  • more time to focus on quality
    • quality not quantity
    • get to focus deeply on a few credits rather than heaps of credits on the surface
    • more time to achieve higher goals
    • doing less better
  • less stress
    • I feel more calm
    • helping us to be less anxious
  • time to do other learning
  • time for life (out of school)
  • enjoy learning
  • become more confident
  • concentrate on passions and interests
  • achieve Level 1 when get Level 2
    • only need 20 credits in Year 11
  • no useless credits
  • it is a different way
  • internationally recognised
  • carry over credits from year to year
  • understand NCEA much more
  • not based on age but based on skill level
  • seems pretty nifty thankyou
  • the use of solo rubrics
  • simplicity
  • focus on Merit and Excellence
  • we get to enjoy school more
  • still get to keep combined subjects

It was cool to get this sort of feedback from our students as it showed that many of them really understand what is driving us at our school.

And what questions they were still asking!:

  • Still want to get a high grade in NCEA L1
  • Can we aim for more credits than 20 in L1?
  • What do I do if I fail L3 in my last year?
  • Are we doing enough learning now for NCEA?
  • Will there be support groups for people who are struggling?
  • How certain are you that we will get NCEA L2?
  • Do all L1 credits have to be in English and Maths?
  • Is it the more credits you get the better?
  • Will what I study for NCEA get me a job?
  • How will I know which credits to go for?
  • Will I be able to match my career choice with what I want to study?
  • What is the difference between internals and externals?
  • Will we be able to do scholarship?
  • Why not Cambridge?
  • Not doing L1 might mean we fail L2. We might be under more pressure at L2.
  • What about students who enjoy tests and exams?
  • Do we need literacy and numeracy at L2?

As well, ongoing feedback from parents has been great. We were part of a Hobsonville Point wider community open day this weekend and we opened up the school. When one set of parents came in to deliver food for their son who was part of the 48 hour Film Challenge that was going on they talked about their relief with our approach as their older son was experiencing quite high levels of stress with NCEA at L3 in the school that he attended.

I am very careful not to criticise individual schools at any time. I sincerely believe that the issue of stress and assessment anxiety around qualifications in particular (but not excluding junior school test anxiety) is a systemic issue. It is going to require some courageous schools to thumb their noses at league tables, reject the ethos of competition, accept the challenge of bringing parents along with them and placing the needs of students right at the centre.

Another process that is maturing at our school is our tracking and reporting. See Heemi's blog post on the detail. Last Friday our students accessed their mid module formative report as described in Heemi's post through the student portal and followed a process of analysing the comments, curriculum levels and SOLO indications with each student having a one-on-one conversation with their Coach.

Students analysing formative reports with Learning Coach conferencing with individual

At the end of the day parents were given access to the same through the parent portal. Because of what we did during Learning Hub at the end of the day we feel our students were well-placed to lead the discussion at home with their parents.

While we might like to slow the pace to the more gentle pace shown here by our wonderful Arohanui school mates paddling their waka in our school as they embrace our current theme/concept of Cultural Diversity I can't help but think it's going to be more like the pit-lane pace shown at the beginning.

Now....what next? That's right tomorrow's Mondays with Maurie is going to focus on the issue of homework. Wonder how that will pan out?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Behaviour Management and Leading with Shared Responsibility

I'm finding the above matrix to be very useful when thinking about a range of scenarios as we continue to establish our school. I used it to kick off this morning's 'Mondays with Maurie' Kitchen Table with staff which focused on managing student behaviour. I chose to focus on this as I was picking up messages from staff that some were finding their way with the management of student behaviour in a way that fitted with our kaupapa of restorative practices. Some conversations I had had with staff made me believe we weren't always getting the warm and demanding balance right.

I started off by reminding that while our kaupapa was one of shared responsibility for developing and operating our school there are times when we as teachers take a lead in that shared responsibility. Managing student behaviour is definitely one of the times when teachers need to lead while sharing the responsibility.

Being Warm and Demanding means that you not only care for the students as learners and young people but, just as importantly, you have high expectations of them and their behaviour (in this particular context). Being Warm and Demanding also means that you are firm, fair and consistent about insisting that your high expectations are being met.

Because we have some understanding of the teenager and their brain we apply the Warm and Demanding approach in full knowledge that teenagers will push against the boundaries and that most of them will need several reminders of the high expectations and some will need assertive correction.

I then reminded staff of the Pyramid of Restorative Practices which we had been exposed to before. The Pyramid sits firmly within the Warm and Demanding quadrant. While specific training and on-going practice is needed for the Mini Chat and above layers, the base of the pyramid is the age-old strategies effective teachers have used in classrooms around the world.

Relaxed Vigilance is a term, I think, I borrowed from Bill Rogers and lightly Less relaxed Vigilance is a term I introduced during my time at Opotiki College.

Relaxed Vigilance are strategies that are delivered low key and go virtually unnoticed by other students. They are brief, subtle reminders of expectations and many of the most effective are non-verbal. They include making eye contact, moving near, appropriate facial expressions, hand gestures and naming the student. When these strategies, rather than overt calling out of a student, are used most low-level behaviours are dealt with without interrupting the flow of learning and without a low-level behaviour escalating to a higher level and then definitely interrupting the flow of learning.

Slightly Less Relaxed Vigilance strategies are used when the above are unsuccessful. They are delivered in a calm, matter-of-fact tone, delivered as privately as possible and keep the focus on the primary behaviour without being drawn into side arguments. Strategies include beginning with an I statement (I want you to.....), language and tone of expectation ('thanks' which implies compliance, rather than 'please' which indicates a request), broken record (restating expectation in face of attempts to side track or not comply - use a maximum of 3 times), tune in (show you have heard the side issue response but restate the expectation), rule reminder (remind of our rule about ... put as a statement not as a question), limited choice (phone in your bag or on my desk), direct question (you are ......, what should you be doing), chosen consequences (if you choose to continue..... you will be [facing this consequence]).

In the brief time we had left we brainstormed what the common classroom behavioural issues were and began exploring successful strategies.

This is quite hard to read because it is my hand writing but was great to receive the bottom right response: clearly outline expectations from the start and accept need to go over again [and again].

We'll continue to do work on how we can lead with this shared responsibility.

Straight after this session I had a start-of-term Kitchen Table with our students (others may call it an Assembly) and the focus with them was the shared responsibility we all had to make sure our school evolved into the school we want it to be. I have asked them to ponder that question and then once they had decided to work actively on achieving that type of school. Because it's all very well that we as the staff have a view of what sort of school we want to have the reality is that we will have a school that our students want.

 I then set them the challenge of climbing these stairs every day, celebrating the Hobsonville Habits they were displaying strongly and identifying another to focus on for that day. Visible Habits.

Friday, April 3, 2015

How Might We Align NCEA With Our Vision

This question has not necessarily vexed us for a couple of years during our establishment phase and during out initial implementation phases but it has certainly been lying in wait for us. We've often been told that what you are doing with curriculum and pedagogy at your school is well and good for 'juniors' but wait until the restrictions and demands of NCEA start impacting on you.

To tell the truth, I haven't been too worried and I've made no secret of my simple strategy/solution which was to not offer NCEA Level 1 at all and just move into L2 in Year 12. I know announcing this position caused some disquiet amongst my colleagues but I think this made me more determined to keep announcing it to stretch what the possibilities might be. NCEA is an awesome qualification with huge flexibility and potential. I believe it is ripe for an innovative approach.

A few planets began to line up that helped to solidify my own thinking. The first was the release of the ERO National Report on Student Well-Being in Secondary Schools. See my post on its damning findings. This report solidified my own resolve to not lead a school that contributed to this situation. I then moved on to finding the courage to stick with this moral purpose. Of course, as a leader you need to take people with you and the courage to pursue a moral purpose is of no use if this doesn't happen.

Around about the same time while in deep, vigorous discussion within our SLT forum as were were debating what NCEA position we would be finalising and presenting to our staff, students and parents I felt my resolve strengthening and proclaimed that I didn't want to lead a school which rolled out NCEA like every other school was doing simply because not all of our staff would agree with anything other than that and that it would be a hard sell to our parents. We'd signed up for the hard and challenging work to bring life to our vision (I told myself).

Then I had to prepare a spotlight address at the National Aspiring Principal Programme on Leading for the future with a moral purpose (see previous post). The preparation for and delivery of this address not only focused myself on the responsibility I had to be courageous but it also influenced other key people who are necessary for us to be successful.
In introducing the topic to staff I reminded them that we were on a journey to redesign the secondary school experience in NZ. I reminded them that we had dismantled the NZC to discover its essence and then created our own curriculum and pedagogical models to realise its full potential. This is still on-going work. But I reminded them that our work was not done and that the qualification process was our next target.

As usual we started with what we wanted to end up with.

I then outlined to staff what the'principles' were that had been behind us coming to our position.

Staff were then shown a learning years framework which I had shared last year which showed how NCEA and our view on it could easily align with it.

And as we are finding ourselves doing more recently I presented an Elevator Statement that summarises our position.

 So how are we going to incorporate NCEA in a way that that aligned with the above principles and matched our learning years framework?

Let me show you a whiteboard I prepared earlier (and which featured prominently at our parents meeting)!
The intention of this masterpiece was to clarify the mix of numbers that can confuse: Year Levels, Curriculum Levels and NCEA Levels. I pointed out there was a strong link between the curriculum levels and NCEA levels but just a loose link with Year Levels.

I then explained why NCEA Level 1 was a qualification of little value; it leads to no employment or further training. Despite this all schools expose their 14 and 15 year olds to a full year of six subjects offering anywhere between 18 and 24 credits (both internal and external) meaning to get the 80 required (for a meaningless qualification) students were being exposed to 120-140 credits. It's like being hit by a tidal wave! All of a sudden their focus moves away from the joy of discovery and learning to credit chasing and teachers take their eye off the NZC and 'teach to the tests' - all for a qualification that has little value! Stress levels rise for everyone - students, teachers and parents.

Our plan is that our Year 11 students will achieve around 20 quality Level 1 or 2 credits that emerge from their co-constructed learning programmes. Most of these will be from their areas of interest and passion though if we identify that a learner will struggle to receive literacy and numeracy credits at Level 6 or 7 then we will direct them to the literacy and numeracy Unit Standards.

Our learners will take their 20 quality credits with them to Year 12. Their focus in Year 12 will be on 60 quality Level 2 or higher credits. When these are matched with the 20 they have brought with them they are awarded NCEA L1 and 2. They will have done this after having attempted around 100 credits over their 2 years rather than the 220-280 they may have had to attempt elsewhere.

Of course, it was important to explain to parents that while the learners weren't being exposed to a huge number of NCEA assessments they were still covering all of the Achievement Objectives from the NZC (in relevant Learning Areas) and would be assessed by the school and reported on them.

Claire then took over and described how we were meeting the needs of the small group of Year 11 students we had this year. In Week 1 of this year, after hearing student voice, teachers prepared module programmes for our learners with Learning Objectives from NZC.  few weekslater Claire asked teachers to investigate whether if they had any students achieving at CL6 could they see any internally assessed NCEA L1 Achievement Standards they could offer. This resulted in a long menu from all modules of possible Achievement Standards. Our Year 11 students were invited to negotiate with their teachers which ones they could attempt in their journey of collecting 20 credits.

This process is so powerful at many levels. Firstly, the NCEA Achievement Standards fell out of the programmes RATHER THAN BEING THE PRIME DRIVERS OF THE PROGRAMMES! Secondly, the students were empowered to lead the process and to negotiate their individual pathway. Thirdly, our staff can feel proud about walking the talk of personalising learning and assessment.

Our night was a huge success. We got a great endorsement from the NZQA representative present who championed our emphasis on quality rather than quantity and congratulated our moves to reduce assessment anxiety and reject the assessment driven curriculum. Throughout the evening our parents asked challenging questions in their attempt to understand. I congratulated them for helping create a school where they felt really comfortable challenging the Principal and SLT.

It was agreat way to start the final week of Term 1. And what a great way to end........

International Onesie Day!

Mad Hatters Tea Party!

See you next term at our weird and wonderful school!