Monday, March 9, 2015

Aligning Practice with Vision

While our school has been in operation for 5 school terms we've been on the establishment journey for 10 terms. Over that period we spent a lot of time on establishing our vision, values and principles. The intent of the New Zealand Curriculum has been central in driving this establishment. Most of our time during the roll out phase, especially last year, has been spent on prototyping how we might bring life to to our vision, values and principles.

As a consequence of this prototyping we're onto our 3rd Specialised Learning Module structure and accompanying timetable, we've firmed up our Learning Hub and Learning Community curriculum, we've developed a rigorous Big Project planning and process model linked to our values and we've developed rigour around the planning and delivery of MyTime which links it firmly to our Hobsonville Habits.

We're constantly breaking new ground and, in fact, all of these are and will remain in prototype stage as we keep refining and being responsive.

The fact that we're constantly checking our plans against our vision, values and principles has meant that things seem to be fitting quite well. I suspect this is what experts are talking about when they speak of alignment. And it is this sense of alignment which gives me the confidence to work with our team to break new ground when we roll out our approach to NCEA.

At HPSS we are determined to provide our students with a high quality NCEA qualification which aligns strongly with our vision, values and principles and which breaks the cycle of credit chasing by students, 'teaching to the test' by teachers and the inordinate level of stress and assessment anxiety which disengages students from learning.

Last week Claire and I hosted the 13 Year 11 students and their parents and laid out our plans on how they would be prepared to achieve NCEA L2, as a minimum qualification, without devoting their Year 11 Year to the pointless pursuit of dozens of credits which only serves to take their focus off deep learning and understanding.

While we were questioned closely we were able to get our vision and message across and parents left with a great understanding. In one sense I was surprised how well our ideas were received, but on reflection I shouldn't have been. Our vision, values and principles are strong and well thought-out and because our qualifications plans are so strongly linked to them it all just felt right; this thing called alignment again.

Last Thursday I spoke in Wellington at the National Aspiring Principals Programme workshop for secondary. My topic was leading for the future with moral purpose. When preparing for this event I was sometimes overwhelmed by the vastness of such a topic. It wasn't until a few minutes before I spoke that I simplified it in my head down to:

  • have a clear vision and set of values and principles and have the courage to be determined to have them drive the practices and structures you implement and oversee in your school
The leading for the future part, of course, is making sure your vision, values and principles are appropriate for the future we are preparing our students for, but that's another post/story.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Leadership, Moral Purpose and Courage

Sometimes, I must admit, I used to often feel like the Leunig dude in the boat above. It fitted the perception of leadership being a solitary action and one in which you had little control or ability to set a particular direction.

I've got a 24 hour adventure race coming up in a fortnight so I have spent many long hours out trekking in the wonderful Waitakeres with only my own thoughts for company. I have found this valuable time to ruminate on a wide range of issues.
I use this time to think about what I will share with my staff on my weekly 15 minutes of "Mondays With Maurie". I use these weekly sessions to try to tie together our vision with the current issues we are grappling with.

My session this morning was an attempt to pull together common threads between our current 'next big thing' i.e. How Might We Align NCEA Pathways With Our Vision?, the troubling findings from the ERO National Report on Student Wellbeing in Secondary Schools (which, unfortunately, will end up having little impact on many schools and their practices) and what Leading For The Future With a Moral Purpose (the topic of a spotlight address I am making this week at the NAPP day in Wellington) actually means.

On reflecting on leadership I have experienced in schools in the past I realised most leadership was about managing the status quo (hardly an inspirational imperative for leadership). Then things changed a little so leaders had to now "manage change" as if it was an inconvenience that was disrupting the status quo. Change can't be managed, especially rapid change. Managing something means dealing with it when it's here and now so it is quite reactive. I came to the conclusion that leading for the future requires us to lead change.

However, we are not talking about change for change's sake. The change we lead has to have a moral purpose. What that moral purpose is will be different for every school and every leader, but it will define our contribution to the education sector in which we lead. At HPSS we believe that the current model of secondary schooling is not fit for purpose. It is, therefore, morally imperative that we lead a change so that it is fit for purpose.

How is this linked to the ERO Report and our thinking in relation to NCEA? I have always been concerned about something which is labelled by ERO as assessment anxiety. I have sat in staffrooms and at network meetings when teachers complain that the kids were refusing to do some learning activities because they didn't have credits attached to them or grizzled about Year 12 students who had their 60 credits by October and had "stopped learning" and I have seen kids struggling with the demands of internal and external assessment over their last 3 years at school.

ERO noted that in all 60+ secondary schools it looked at for its report that, "the key factor was that students in all schools were experiencing an assessment driven curriculum and assessment anxiety" and "In many schools the only people who understood the overall curriculum and the competing demands on them were the students."

These findings are intolerable and school leaders will respond not only according to their moral purpose but also according to their level of courage to be guided by it. That's what we are grappling with at the moment. Do we have the courage to set a different course with our wonderful NCEA qualification, a course that allows our students to retain their love of learning and joy of discovery and that addresses the growing incidence of assessment anxiety and mental unwellbeing?

I hope and think that we do have the courage to set a new course and I'm looking forward to sharing our planning.