Monday, June 26, 2017

Sabbatical Implications for HPSS - Part 1 - Strong Affirmations

What Are The Implications for Hobsonville Point Secondary School?
During my sabbatical I attempted to visit schools that would challenge my thinking and provide direction for further development and innovation for our school. In choosing the schools I consulted with Grant Lichtman, an internationally recognised thinker on innovative schooling, colleagues who had visited schools for the same reason as me, and searched lists such as “100 Most Innovative Schools”.

While my thinking was challenged in many ways, I cannot escape the conclusion that our school is at the leading edge of innovation. What was most pleasing was that the principles that we had decided on to drive learning design - Innovate by Personalising Learning, Engage through Powerful Partnerships, Inspire With Deep Challenge and Inquiry - were very similar to the common principles I saw in the schools I visited - Personalisation, Authenticity, Connection, Inquiry.

Our school is still very early in its development journey and we are certainly disrupting the conventional schooling model. The affirmations I received do provide the confidence to continue  to build on our foundations and to persist with our approach to learning design. This view was reinforced by a staff member’s comment on one of my recent blog posts:

This "They could then invite students to suggest which example of migration from across history, or in the present, they (individuals, small groups) would like to explore to increase their understanding of this concept." is very motivating for students I believe. This term we have had students carry out the generic research process into a biological issue. This started broadly with students collectively exploring what makes something an issue in general, with examples and some debate, ultimately ending in a challenge of could there actually ever be anything that wasn't an issue or potentially an issue!! Students were then given a very large list of biological concepts and ideas and were able to pick one of these or some other of their own design, in which they were intensely interested, to research. This is a Q1 course with students being assessed on their biological understanding of the issue (for bio) and also their research capabilities (for eng and bio). The teaching and learning and assessment of these ideas have been carried out over a period of 6-7 weeks, with multiple checkpoints along the way. We insisted that the students chose something they were intensely interested in, so they felt motivated to manage their time effectively throughout this extended time and work purposefully throughout. Anecdotal student voice around this suggests that students have enjoyed having choice in what they are researching and have been motivated to continue through the process. Currently students are seeking feedback on their work...I am pushing them to add more depth and to refine for deeper understanding. Students think this is to ensure they meet the standard at Level 1. Ha...some of the work is what I would have seen from L3 students in the past.... So choice, I believe is intensely motivating, as is investigating into something that an individual is intensely interested in. Previously in another school the bio is taught and assessed in one context only eg should NZ use 1080? Fine if this floats your boat but not fine if you are not interested in this particularly. Students in this class have chosen topics such as "Should we be concerned about the bees?", "Should abortion be funded by the state?", "Should smoking be banned?" "Should society allow designer babies?", "Why is ocean acidification a problem?", "What is the impact of endangered animal trafficking?, "What is the impact of habitat destruction?", "What is bioaccumulation?", "Is Donald right about global warming? and so on....I am really looking forward to finding out what the students have found out!!

In an earlier blog post I published a draft Elevator Statement in an attempt to capture the essence of what I found was common across the innovative schools that I visited. This is what I came up with:

If we want learning to be personalised, authentic, and connected and to be preparing students for their lives in the 21st century, learning must be centred on high-interest projects, drawing on a range of specialist subjects, with opportunities for hands-on application and partnering with the community. There should be a genuine outcome from the learning and students must be partners in designing the learning.

After writing this I revisited the Elevator Statement that we wrote in December 2014 in an attempt to capture the particular essence of our school:

The HPSS model of learning truly engages learners by drawing on their interests and has deep challenge and inquiry at its centre at a time when our country and world need people who are engaged learners, able to work in teams of diverse people, solve complex problems and who enhance their own well-being by contributing strongly to the betterment of their communities.

While there are many similarities, I like, in the more recent iteration, the more overt statement of connected learning (“drawing on a range of specialist subjects”), the partnering with the community, rather than “contributing to the betterment of the community”, and the identification that “students must be partners in designing the learning”.

A further area of affirmation was for the work we are doing in developing a dispositional curriculum. All schools had a form of Learning Advisory (ours is known as Learning Hubs) but none had the same allocation of time or the planning scaffolds and rigour that we are working on developing. Any investigation of the way to best prepare young people for their rapidly changing world identifies the importance of certain dispositions.

As well, while I saw processes of learning design, time did not allow me to delve deeply into each school’s model. I did come away proud of our model. The way our Learning Design Model drives Learning Objectives linked to each Learning Area’s key concepts, skills and content and draws on student voice to determine learning contexts which all determines the framework for identifying progression is sound and rigorous.

Teaching as Inquiry is second-nature in New Zealand schools and it drives teachers to continually inquire into our practice and to be continually asking about our impact on student learning. My main focus during my visits was on cross-curricular, inquiry learning, and I did not come across a similar emphasis on teaching as inquiry during my visits,  which is not to say it was not there. School leaders I met with were impressed with our model of critical friend and spirals of inquiry.


  • Work collaboratively with a range of groups to design an amended Elevator Statement that captures the essence of what sets Hobsonville Point Secondary School apart.
    • Use this work as a platform to work with BOT to revisit Charter
  • Continue the ground-breaking work on developing the dispositional curriculum so it is very clearly part of the learning “we do around here.”
  • Keep our Learning Design Model at the centre of teacher and student collaborative design processes and activities.
  • Ensure the teaching as inquiry processes are resourced so that they continue to be central to teacher development and growth.

In my next post I will present what elements I see as ongoing challenges for us and areas on which we might need more focus to continue our development.

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