Monday, February 29, 2016

Others' Voices

I had a topic I was going to post about tonight which was going to try to capture some early-forming thoughts on the differences and tensions between the two principles of excellence and equity and some thinking on good practice in relation to having a better chance of lifting achievement for targeted students. My thoughts on both of these areas are still developing so it risked being a bit of a ramble.

Fortunately before I began the post I clicked on the updated posts from my staff and after an hour of reading and posting brief comments I thought there was nothing better I could do but highlight their posts and encourage you to read them because this is where the truth lies.

I started with Trace's post which highlighted her commitment to carry out the same blogging habit that she was expecting from her students. This was neat to see but the real gold for me was following the links from this post to the blogs of her Hub students. Please view (and comment!) on some of these blogs. I was so proud of this small sample of our students who were making their academic and Habit goals visible to all who wished to see - and they were setting goals that showed they had reflected well on where they needed to focus. The stuff I have read tonight will be influencing my own goal setting in our Professional Learning this Friday.

I then viewed Vanna's blog which is a lovely mix of nervousness, courage and optimism which typifies that thing called 'mindset' which is often difficult to define but is clear and obvious when you  see it in action.

Somehow I had missed Andrea's post from last week which perfectly captures the why and how of our connected learning model. Having someone come from the 'real world' to teaching confirm that what we aspire to in our model and for our learners is what this real world needs. Andrea's observations of how naturally our students assume this way of learning to be was a true tears-in-the-eye moment for me.

The power of blogging was also brought home to me via Ros's post which captured Monique's (our Guidance Counsellor) presentation to staff last Friday on mindfulness and resilience. Monique had made a neat link to our mantra of Warm and Demanding and our underpinning principles of Restorative Practice but the SLT had to leave early to look after the Learning Communities as our professional learning time needed to run over time. Ros's post included the key points, links to resources and some important commentary which filled in the gaps for me.

Gerard's reflections in his post of how he is supporting habits in his Hub not only show the great work he is doing with them but shows how he is on his own journey in exploring these dispositions and how best to inspire his students to develop in each of them.

I then went back and re-read one of our new staff members' blog (Mic). What I loved here was a new staff member who, after only 2 weeks of being involved in the Big Project element of curriculum was able to produce a coherent explanation (and justification) of this important piece of curriculum framework.

And then from 2 weeks ago is Heemi's outstanding post on the work he is doing to track growth in the elements of our dispositional curriculum and Sally's post on our school's recent and wonderful focus on whanaungatanga and the building of relationships: the cornerstone of all effective learning.

This collection of student and teacher voice is where the truth lies.

Thank you to all, staff and students, for making our story visible, authentic and the truth.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Leadership Musings

I have a simple aspiration in my job and that is to be a good leader every single day.

Unfortunately, rather than being simple this is quite complex (as volumes of research on the topic will attest to). Leading a school requires you to lead students, lead staff and lead your parent community, at the very least.

Of course, when I talk leadership I mean much more than managing the status quo. For me it means leading massive change. Unfortunately (or excitedly), this also means attempting to show leadership across the wider education community.

So there are competing demands. What might be seen as good leadership by students may not be viewed in the same way by staff or parents etc etc.

Various personalities, including your own, have to be managed. I see myself as largely an introvert with a bit of extroversion thrown in and I try to juggle this internal confusion in a way that infects others with optimism, self-confidence and pride in their contributions. A previous leader I worked with (you know who you are, Boss) inspired me with the way he made sure the light shone on others and has motivated me ever since.

Despite ongoing symptoms of imposter syndrome I am developing a more settled view of leadership.

I am convinced a leader must have a clear vision which others can see the sense of and they must have a set of values which resonates with others and they must have a set of principles that support decision-making.

But once again, it's not as simple as that.This all comes to nothing without the leader having a strong sense of moral purpose AND courage to bring life to that moral purpose so that the vision can have some hope of being realised.

But it's both of these together. Moral purpose without courage seems pointless, maybe self-indulgent and will mean feeling far short of achieving the vision. And courage without a moral purpose may achieve little as it's like beating your chest merely for the sake of beating your chest.

Bit of a ramble, but that's how it is.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Building Relationships

Even though we are about to start Week 2 of the 2016 school year tomorrow will be the first time all of us will be gathering together. Our first week was spent doing what we believe is central to our school: building relationships. Every student and their family had a 40 minute meeting (some did go for over an hour) with the student's Learning Coach. We're firmly of the view that if you believe that strong relationships are central to learning then you need the structures, the commitment of time and the processes to build those relationships.

This first week was stunning and something I have never experienced before. Learning Coaches, both experienced and those in their first week in the job, were having powerful conversations with students and their families, talking about their passions and the way they like to learn. It is investing these types of conversations which put 'money in the bank' and will allow withdrawals later on.

All of the elements of our curriculum model are important as are the structures that support them. Learning Communities and Learning Hubs, as structures, and Learning Coaches as teachers who are the warm and demanding adults each student has in their corner, are crucial in our desire to build relationships and personalise learning. A great outline of this feature can be found here.

But it's tomorrow I'm really looking forward to; especially when we all gather together at the start of the day as we begin a full week of continuing to build relationships and to explore how learning best happens at our school. Even though the overwhelming emotion will be that of joy and promise there will be some sadness. Just this weekend the father of a new staff member passed away and 2 weeks ago another staff member's wife passed away. And we will once again acknowledge the three workers building our school who were killed when a tornado passed through in 2012.

I want to emphasise our vision with our students:

To create a stimulating and inclusive learning environment which empowers learners to contribute confidently and responsibly in a changing world.

It will be stimulating when we see students and teachers excited about their learning, planning it together, asking questions, seeking ways to show the evidence of their learning, looking for ways to participate, to contribute and to lead. We achieve the inclusive part when all, students and teachers alike, no matter their gender, their gender identity, their ethnicity, their nationality, their learning needs, their aspirations or their personalities find that they have a place in our school, a place where they are valued, where they are respected, where they are able to flourish without fear or anxiety.

I also want to emphasise the key principles that drive our curriculum decision-making. We want learning to be as personalised as possible. If students want to go to a school where everybody is doing the same thing as everyone else, where students plough their way through a textbook, where students complete worksheets for homework, where teachers provide all of the information, where they answer all of their questions for them, then this is not the school for them. Our teachers expect students to be involved in planning their learning, asking questions but not expecting someone else to provide the answers and they expect students to grow the responsibility to take charge of their learning.

As I have said earlier, we believe learning is a relationship-based activity, that’s why we all gather in a school together. It is not just a one-way street between a teacher and learner as an individual student. The best learning is based on powerful partnerships: partnerships with students and their teacher, with other students in the class, with teachers and students throughout the building and with our community both down the street and throughout the world. And if the result of this learning benefits someone else, helps them solve a problem or learn more themselves, then our learning comes alive.

Deep challenge and inquiry is a cornerstone of our school. We’re not about covering lots of stuff at a surface level, ploughing our way through textbooks, doing test after test, collecting credit after credit. We want learning to be deep, we want students posing and answering questions that are relevant and meaningful to them and which prepare them for a world which is quite different to that for which traditional secondary schools were designed for.

Like all schools we've still got challenges going forward especially as we cement our pathway to high quality qualifications and the development of personal excellence for all of our learners. However, there is a great vibe in our school. We've welcomed 11 new staff and are about to all come together for the next stage of our exciting and wonderful journey,
Taheretikitiki Building Relationships Amongst Staff

Collaborative Planning

Workshopping Learning Design

Project Planning and Decision Making