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?