Sunday, February 22, 2015

Let The Moment Seize Us

While out trekking in the bush and in the rain this morning I was beginning to formulate what I was going to post this week. Thinking about the previous week I decided to theme and title it around "not letting history pass us quietly by" and then thought I would call it "Seize The Moment." However, after the trek I went to the cinema to see Boyhood (which, by the way is the best thing I've seen since Dark Horse) and was blown away by the last scene. Mason and his new friend commented that rather than seizing the moment it seemed it was more often the other way around and that "the moment seizes us".

Over the last 2 weeks I have found myself in hui at school, or simply part of conversations, and sitting back a little and observing, listening and reflecting on what was happening before me. Several times I was moved to comment that it was important to be consciously aware that something special was taking place which will contribute to a new way of looking at secondary schooling in our country.

At one of our first Learning Area Leaders (LALs) meeting while we were reflecting on a new timetable structure that appeared to have less freedoms in it our Science LAL, Andrea, asked if it would be OK since there were 2 Science modules on at the same time (both linked to 2 other learning areas) could they treat it as one large group and run a programme drawing on the strengths of the four teachers across both groups. It was a #tearsinmyeyes moment.

At our first Leaders of Learning (LOL) meeting Danielle, who has been leading the operation of MyTime (see Claire's post describing our curriculum elements), came in to present her plans for MyTime in 2015. She had shared her plans with SLT and I loved them because they built a strong structure and rigour around an important aspect of our curriculum model which could easily have become a bit fluffy. But I was a little nervous as MyTime and its structure had caused a lot of angst within our staff as a result of differeing views on its purpose. Because Danielle placed her proposals firmly within the values of our school with tight links to our Hobsonville Habits her proposal met with total support and approval. #tearsinmyeyes again!

Assessment processes had caused a lot of issues for us last year as we made a few decisions on the hoof in our attempts to include what we valued. It was an important place to be and has resulted in what I believe to be a rigorous process of collecting student and staff narratives for each learner which can be used to have meaningful conversations with learners and also to report to parents. In order to meet some of the concerns from parents we have agreed to report on the curriculum levels that students are working in, but in order to make it more meaningful, especially for our students, I have been determined to show differentiation within the levels by use of a thinking taxonomy. While we have some experts on our staff we also have some who are not.

At our next LAL meeting, our SCT and a bit of a guru with Solo, Cindy, presented on how SOLO could be used in a number of ways to achieve the differentiation, as well as being an outstanding tool for showing progressions for small sections of learning. Her introduction of Big and Little
Rubrics was another #tearsinmyeyes moment.

At one of our regular SLT Hui there were at least 3 more #tearsinmyeyes moments. We had a rigorous discussion around processes that supported our important IEMs (Individual Education Meetings) and we started off with some differences of opinion that soon found an equilibrium. We were able to live out our aspiration of being a team that had robust discussion followed by solid commitment to our agreed position.

At that same hui Lea, DP responsible for our Learning Hub programme, took us through the newly developed Learning Hub Handbook with its outline of a Learning Hub curriculum structure underpinned by a philosophy of responsiveness to the need at the time. The coup de grace, which produced this #tearsinmyeye moment was the rubric that had been developed to track, with links to evidence based on SOLO, each learners progress through the Hobsonville Habits. We are committed to pursuing Personal Excellence for each of our learners but I had been worried as I had not ever seen a way of evidencing progress within a dispositional curriculum. We're on our way to cracking this!

And then Claire presented to us on the plan to align NCEA processes with our vision and values. This is a whole new post, or series of posts.

We have had to be courageous in setting out to establish our school with our set of vision, values and principles. There have been many stressful times, but all have been outweighed by the many tearsinmyeyes moments.

There is no doubt that our plans for NCEA will require a high level of courage as we again do things differently so that we ensure that in the area of national qualifications we do not default to the norm but stay true to the vision, values and principles of our school.

A summary of what is affecting our thinking is:

  • NCEA L1 is a qualification that does not provide access to careers or tertiary study.
  • There is a growing concern of the impact of assessment driven curriculum on student well-being and we wish to alleviate the high levels of anxiety too many learners experience.
The recent ERO Report on student wellbeing in secondary schools makes a couple of damning conclusions:
  • "Very few schools were responding to this overload by reviewing and changing their curriculum and assessment practices"
  • "In many secondary the only people who understood the school curriculum and the competing demands on them, were the students"
I have been traumatised by this last statement since I read it last Thursday. At HPSS we are determined to show the courage necessary to not be a school that this can be said about.

The moment to have the opportunity to establish a different climate within a school concerning qualifications is about to seize us.

Kia kaha!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Infectious Dispositions and Powerful Partnerships

When reading Charlie's latest post I was reminded of something I used to say quite often at my last school to keep myself on track in developing my own mindset or to encourage others to develop their own mindset.

Both optimism and pessimism are infectious. Which one do you want to catch? Which one do you want to infect others with?

When I was first dabbling in school leadership I received some advice which directed me to spend time in all parts of the staffroom making sure I sat and talked with all staff and all groups. I followed this advice for several years consigning myself to some miserable and motivation-sapping experiences. While torturing myself on one particular occasion I kept having my attention drawn to a noisy, laughing crew across the staffroom. I soon recognised them as the movers and shakers in the school and they seemed to be feeding off each other's energy. As well, around them were other staff members with smiles on their faces being quietly infected by this raucous crew. Around me was doom and despair!

From that moment I decided to reject the earlier advice and make sure that whenever possible I was in the company of positive, optimistic, excited and energetic people. It's proven to be a great tactic. I think I had come across something which now falls into my understanding of growth mindset.

Google search for Warm and Demanding came up with this. Go Steve!

I also got to thinking about the concept of Warm and Demanding which has been gaining some currency. I recalled a conversation I had with a Social Studies teacher about 20 years ago who was performing below what I expected from a teacher. When he dismissed my concerns and expressed what I saw as low expectations for his students and the low expectations he had for himself I said firmly to him that these kids would only ever be in Form 4 Social Studies once in their whole life and they deserved to be given the best teaching we could give them.

I ended up having little impact on that particular teacher who very shortly after moved away from teaching in NZ. I think that was one of the first times I began to explore what initially became 'warm and strict' and has now emerged as 'warm and demanding'.

Both of these thoughts have made me realise that it takes a long time for thoughts to percolate in a meaningful way and that 'philosophies of leadership' develop through experience over time.

I can't let this post go by without celebrating the awesome living out of our principle of powerful partnerships that occurred as a result of our Waitangi Whanau celebration last Thursday.

We all know that relationships are at the heart of learning, but how successfully do schools really play that out? I am so rapt that we have stuck to our guns and committed our first 2 weeks of school to 'induction' (= getting to know each other as learners). And how many schools take the opportunity to cement relationships from the start of the year with their parents and wider community?

We had a stunning evening at HPPS sharing time with our families and many affirming conversations were held. I was moved to tweet 2 of the conversations when I got home.

One of the highlights for me was seeing a Dad, his daughter and Pete, our teacher, performing music together to the crowd.

I encourage you to check out both Sally's and Steve's blogs on the evening as they describe so well the link to our principles of learning.

I was blown away by last year's Waitangi Whanau event and wondered how this would compare. I think this year's was another step up. There seemed to be a real sense of pride from our parents about their schools. I kept hearing parents talking about high levels of engagement by their kids, their keenness to get back to school and how much they felt part of the schools.

I can't help but think that both students and parents are chomping at the bit to be fully engaged in schooling. Let's make sure we don't get in their way.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Enabling Constraints

Enabling constraints - this is a term that has been appearing in conversations I've been having over the last few months. When others have used it I've nodded wisely and tried to contribute to the conversation. Like with a number of concepts, such as growth mindset or warm and demanding, it's not until you are within a situation that brings these concepts to the fore that you truly understand them.

At the end of last year, after prototyping 2 timetables, we decided on a timetable structure for our new context ( 2 and a bit year levels, expanding staff, closer to NCEA). I needed convincing that we had settled on the correct model but was won around and set about building a structure that would deliver it and allow us to function at the start of the next year.

One of the things I loved that despite being this modern school with lots of technology the best way to do it was with brown paper and stickies. I viewed it as a retro masterpiece. It also proved to be an effective tool for collaborating as well. Anyone who wanted to come and contribute had to come into the room and do it rather than from their space in an on-line format. This meant misconceptions could be talked through in front of this beautiful structure. As well it was easy to see the whole picture at once and to move things around. I did worry that leaving it at school over the holidays without any useable copy of it was a bit risky (a cleaner could have rolled it up and/or the stickies could have fallen off!)

Despite revelling in it's beauty all holidays I still had disquiet about some of it's features. Apart from my own disuiet I did worry how some of our pioneering staff would view it, though most took the opportunity to help build it.

When I shared my disquiet with my Leadership Team, DP, Di Cavallo, agreed, but also talked about the power of enabling constraints to foster creativity and innovation. That's when I understood it!

With a mich higher level of confidence I rolled the brown paper out at our TOD and spoke about the enabling constraints (without using those terms). Shortly after that we met with our LALs (Learning Area Leaders) and Di nailed the power of enabling constraints and set the LALs the challenge of achieving innovation and creativity within that framework.
The brown paper reveal!
Doesn't look too bad in digital form either

How have staff responded? I encourage you to read recent posts from two of our leaders Ros MacEachern and Steve Mouldey. We were warned by a Principal who had been involved in creating a new school that often it was the staff who were appointed first who resisted any changes to what was initially created because of a sense of pride and/or ownership. These two posts show that this does not seem to be the case in our environment. We've done a lot of work on growth mindset and I think that has shown its value.

I was blown away in the LAL meeting when Andrea (Science) immediately saw the potential of testing the boundaries of the constraints and checked if her creative proposal was a flyer. I sat back and relished the moment.

And to see staff in action taking the time made available to collaboratively plan and to determinedly find connections in areas they wouldn't have naturally expected has me in even more awe of them.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Why Must We and How Might We?

Even though my last post joined the call to stop talking about it and just get on with it we still keep getting reminders of why the schooling system needs transformation. I've referred in previous posts to the demise faced by Kodak, the Swiss Watch Industry and the impending impact of change on the newspaper industry.

In the last 10 days three other examples of established businesses which we have taken for granted facing enormous unrest as the personalisation we want to promote in schooling is being demanded elsewhere.

I don't know anything about Uber but I think it is a customer-on-demand taxi service which is bypassing the established taxi companies. What I do know is that the taxi industry is demanding government intervention to reduce the impact on them. May be the best tactic would be to see how the current businesses could shift and explore how they might provide a similar experience.

A few days later I saw an ad for, Harmony, a peer-to-peer money lending system which bypasses banks and links lenders directly with borrowers. I suspect the banking system is going to have to either develop some agility and responsiveness or......?

Then today I read an article that described the major changes that we are going to be experiencing in our TV viewing over the next few weeks which will see traditional TV scheduling and viewing disappearing into the sunset, along with any organisation involved which doesn't develop the necessary agility.

There is no doubt that more and more of the 'institutions' we have been accustomed to are being transformed by the increasing demand for personalisation. Another example is the number of people I know who now no longer listen to a radio station but personalise their learning through Spotify.

Make no mistake; schools are going to be subjected to the same demands and we all need to be stretching to ensure we will be agile enough to transform. Future (not too far away!) focused schools are doing more than stretching and are already developing models that are able to respond to the desire for personalisation in schooling.

Even those of us (schools I mean) who are at the leading edge of this development need to keep testing if they are delivering.

I was comfortable, though a little disappointed, that five students were not to return this year. In each case it was because we had shifted too far from the traditional model for those parents (not necessarily supported by their kids). It has made sure that we will pose the question: "How Might We ensure our vision and practices are shared with our parents so that all develop confidence in us as an effective school?"

To hear tonight that one student was not returning because we hadn't been able to break free from the shackles of traditional schooling enough has made me sit up and think. This student and her family appreciate how far we have gone with inquiry and critical thinking but feel we haven't been able to place a student's creativity at the centre of all of their learning. They want their daughter's programme to be based entirely around her passions and areas of interest, totally unshackled from the constraints of a curriculum document's requirements for Learning Area coverage and from the shackles of a whole school timetable.

Bugger it! That's the sort of school I want!

How might we create a school that allows some young people to construct their own curriculum?

This is a big HMW and I'm looking forward to exploring some answers and I feel confident we'll give it a good crack. Why? You should see the team we have on deck for 2015:
Staff exploring the dimensions of what it means to be Warm and Demanding

How Might We unleash the potential of the people in this space to answer all of our HMWs?