Friday, June 21, 2024

Finding Joy and Purpose in Leadership

 As 2023 handed over to 2024 I was making my way through the training for and finally completing the Tarawera Ultramarathon 100 Miler event. I posted a bit about it, using some of the thinking and lessons I was learning from that to explore the key elements of leadership, especially the importance of  knowing your 'why', understanding your purpose.

The photo below was taken at the 110k mark at 3 30am deep in the Okataina Forest, 23 1/2 hours after the start with just over 12 hours to go. I was well and truly buggared and had really struggled the previous 6 hours with a bit of throwing up and struggling to take the required nutrition on board.

At this point my daughter joined me as my pacer for the last 50k. Just after the photo was taken she suggested right now was a good time to remember my 'why'. This was a timely suggestion because my 'why' had been centred around really testing myself to see what I was capable of, and now I was in unknown territory distance wise and was facing a real test.

She also knew that my father (her grandfather to whom she was very close) was an inspiration to me. She reminded me that he often competed in the Redwoods and that we would feel his presence. As the mist settled in the forest, as the shadows crowded in and as strange noises emerged from just outside those shadows it was easy to feel his presence.

A few kilometres later as we were climbing to the peak she also made the cheery observation that in 3 hours time the sun would be rising for the 2nd time in the race and that it would feel like 'a new day'.

Despite the evidence in the photo I experienced a huge amount of joy as we set about bringing life to my 'why'.

Joy and purpose

Two weeks ago I was participating in an on-line session where a computer programmer from USA was presenting on the capability of AI to enable personalised learning for school students. He was a talented young man who would have been hugely successful in the corporate world, but had instead created a start-up that had attracted investment of money and expertise to break apart the shackles that seemed to be resisting our desire to find ways to truly personalise learning.

It was obvious that he was working from the standpoint of firmly placing the students at the centre - who were they, what were their interests and needs and what pedagogy would best promote their learning - and then determining if and how technology could support that.

His opening line to us was:

        "I'm where I'm meant to be in life. I've found joy and purpose."

This so resonated with me that I lost focus on the presentation for a bit as I rolled that thought around in my mind.

I've spent a lot of my time recently working with school leaders in ways that are supported by my leadership framework:

The importance of 'Joy' seems to be missing, but I suspect it could be one of the descriptors that would fit nicely in that sweet spot in the centre.

APDP Leadership Opportunity
Derek Wenmoth and I are about 3/4 through our Principal Leadership Support Programme, Refresh, Reconnect, Refocus, and the feedback from principals has been strong, including:

“I was in desperate need of a programme like this. This gave me the opportunity to participate in a transformative journey of professional learning and wellbeing, where I rediscovered my passion, reignited my purpose, and reconnected with my vision for leading in education. Together, we got to nurture not just academic excellence, but also the holistic wellbeing of our school communities. Because when we thrive, so does the entire educational ecosystem.”

We have been asked by non-Principal senior leaders (APs and DPs) to run a similar programme in 2025 with a particular focus on their leadership context. We have committed to do that and are seeking no-obligation registrations of interest through the link attached to this flyer.

Have a look and see if it's for you. If it isn't, please share with a colleague who might find this opportunity is just what they need.

Let me know if I can help in any way.

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Chatter About Charter School: Maurie's Musings

 If Charter Schools are the answer, what’s the question? 

I’ve been out and about amongst school leaders a lot and we often spend time talking about the wider issues the sector is facing, as well as what’s going on in their schools and what is dominating their thoughts.

Recently there have been a lot of wonderings about what the impact of Charter Schools might be on the wider education sector and what it might mean for them, their school and their colleagues and their schools. 

There’s not a lot of detail around yet, but the plan seems to be to move quite quickly.

This post attempts to capture my own musings on the topic influenced by what I have heard.

What is the problem that charter schools are seeking to address? 

In a recent press release, Associate Minister of Education David Seymour stated, “Charter schools provide educators with greater autonomy, create diversity in New Zealand’s education system, free educators from state and union interference, and raise overall educational achievement, especially for students who are underachieving or disengaged from the current system.” Based on this statement it would appear that Seymour believes that the state (government and Ministry of Education) and unions who look after the conditions of those who work for schools are getting in the way of improving the academic outcomes and the level of engagement of students. 

The Minister of Education, Erica Stanford has set out on a path of mandated common approaches to the delivery of education within the state school system. She has, among other things, mandated an hour a day each for reading, writing and mathematics, mandated structured literacy and banned cell phones in all schools. She seems to be pushing a one-size-fits-all approach and claims to be guided by the ‘Science of Learning’ in making these decisions. She obviously believes these, singular solutions, are the best approaches for all of our learners.

On the other hand, the Associate Minister of Education, David Seymour is rolling out his Charter School model which totally goes in the opposite direction, where it is all about innovation and choice. These schools, who will receive serious funding, will be able to choose their curriculum and their approach - they can make their own decisions about cell phones, about structured literacy, about how they allocate time. Presumably, he is basing his approach on a body of evidence.

They both can’t be right

One of the main concerns seems to be the environment of mixed messages that the sector is receiving from the Minister and Associate Minister

This poses the question - who is right? If more flexibility and choice is the answer, as Seymour is proposing, then why are state schools having that flexibility and choice restricted? Wouldn’t it make more sense to leverage the flexibility currently within the state system which includes Kura Kaupapa, Kura-a-Iwi, Special Character and other innovative approaches that exist?

If a more uniform, mandated approach is the answer, as Stanford is proposing, then why are we channelling millions of dollars into another model that is free to operate outside this approach?

How will Charter Schools operate within the education ecosystem

Up to 35 existing schools will be able to move to the Charter School model. Currently these schools can access support through the Ministry of Education for a wide range of reasons, including Trauma and Response, financial management, serious behaviour support and RTLBs, Iwi relationships and advice around leadership, school and community relationship issues.

Those schools that move to the fully-funded Charter School model will, presumably, have no free access to these services. This raises the potential concern that school leaders in the Charter School model may find themselves floundering and exposed without such support.

Some of us are wondering if more funding that state schools could be accessing, when schools are financially stretched,  may be diverted to similar supports being funded to be available for those in the Charter Schools.

As well, some are wondering what the impact might be on existing Professional Growth Cycle Networks. The assumption is that Charter School principals will not be required to participate in this valuable networking that supports their professional growth. If this is the case they will be missing a development opportunity. And what happens if they wish to participate but colleagues are not wanting to engage in such ways with school leaders who may be seen as undermining the State system?

How will existing staff be impacted

Concern is growing about the impact of radically changed employment conditions on staff employed in schools that shift to the Charter School Model. Those staff are currently employed according to a set of conditions in their current Employment Agreement. It remains unclear as to how these contracts and conditions will be affected if a school chooses to become a Charter School.

Many of those staff will not be in favour of the change and may, therefore, be restructured out of their position. There is a range of compensations available to them when this occurs which may result in a huge financial burden on the State and on boards.

There will also be some staff who may be happy with the move to being a Charter School but will need to maintain, at a minimum, their current conditions of employment.

Talk that the inability to transfer conditions or to be able to access redundancy rights that are within their current Agreements may be included in the legislation is a huge concern as this would signal a trampling of their current employment rights which are enjoyed by employees in most sectors.

These are just my musings which I believe others will also be thinking about. What are your thoughts?

Monday, April 8, 2024

Refresh, Reconnect and Refocus on Road Trip

I'm 4 weeks into a cool 8 week South Island road trip that is combining a bit of work (HMWLead) and holidaying with my wife. We've concentrated on the east coast and deep south. I've found it to be a great opportunity for my own refresh, reconnect and refocus.

After a few relaxing days in Kaikoura I co-facilitated with
Derek Wenmoth a school principals' retreat at Hanmer Springs, and the following week, after brief stop overs in Timaru and Oamaru, I spent a week based in Invercargill, where my son lives, and worked for 3 days at St Peter's in Gore assisting them with their deep learning Year 11 programme (no NCEA L1 - yeehah!) and their Years 7 to 9 programme. There's some courageous leadership going on there!

I also spent a day working with the SLT and curriculum leads from Māruawai in Gore supporting their wonderful connected learning programme they are designing for their junior school. There's some courageous leadership going on there.

I'm really looking forward to a continuing partnership with both of those schools.

The following week we slowly explored the Catlins (bucket list) before heading to Te Anau for 3 days which included a wonderful coach and boat trip to and through Milford Sound.

We've now made our way to Queenstown and after a day sightseeing there and in Arrowtown I start 2 days work at Liger Leadership Academy where I am supporting them in their Year 12 programme design and project based learning model design. They are doing great stuff, which you can check out on the latest Disrupted podcast where Claire Amos hosts the Liger principal, Daniel Cooper, so they won't need my input too much longer.

I'm very much looking forward to catching up with the team there after having spent a couple of days there last November.

I'm also looking forward to catching up with my ex DP from HPSS, Sally Hart, who is now DP at Mt Aspiring College. She has the wonderful privilege of hosting us at her whare for a couple of nights!

Most of the remaining 3 weeks will be a bit of a break but will be doing remote catch ups with the Hanmer participants to support their momentum.

The work at Hanmer has had Derek Wenmoth and myself being contacted to run something similar not only for another group of principals, but also Deputy Principals. Fill out the registration of interest link if you are keen to participate or send it to another leader who you think would benefit.

Thanks for reading about my road trip.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

How Might We Refresh Reconnect and Refocus our Leadership?


I was rapt when the Secondary Principals Council won 2 annual payments of $6000 for Principal Wellbeing in the latest Collective Agreement. Steering our schools through the pandemic in a way that kept students connected to their school and learning, balancing the wellbeing needs of students and staff and supporting the range of and rapidly developing protection measures put in place by the government was demanding work for principals. We had been asking for programmes such as professional supervision for many years and now principals could use this new resource to best support their wellbeing.

I was a little disturbed by the speed at which a range of wellbeing retreats in a number of Pacific Islands emerged which included a few half days focussing on personal wellbeing (with, I suspect, some tools to support wellbeing) and time for rest and relaxation. I was worried a bit about these because it was my view that yes, a few days relaxing on a Pacific Island might help you overcome some stress in the short-term, but it may not actually address the long-term stress that was impacting on the wellbeing of principals. The demands of leading our schools in these rapidly changing times would still exist after returning from such a break.

During a visit to Wellington last November I caught up with Derek Wenmoth for a coffee to discuss how we could work together to support principal wellbeing. It soon became clear that we shared the view that a principal’s wellbeing was best served when they clearly understood their ‘why’, their moral purpose, and were equipped with tools that allowed them to lead their school on a journey of transformation that was driven by this moral purpose. I certainly knew in my own principalship that being clear about what I was prepared to ’die in the ditch’ for meant I had the confidence to be courageous and to take action. I was able to reflect that my wellbeing was best served when my leadership was guided by my personal Leadership Model shown in the diagram below:

This conversation was the beginning of the work that resulted in Derek and I rolling out Refresh, Reconnect, Refocus – a programme that began with a 2 day retreat for 14 primary and secondary principals in Hanmer almost 2 weeks ago.

Over 2 days each participant was supported to re-engage with and explore their own moral purpose around their leadership, imagine a range of possibilities, identify an area of focus for their leadership, explore tools and frameworks for guiding their next steps and connecting with a buddy from the group to support each other over the next 20 weeks.

At the conclusion of the hui we agreed on 20 weeks of buddy connection, 1-on-1 connection with Derek or myself, webinars from experts and whole-group check-ins. We also committed to meeting face-to-face at the end of the 20 weeks to celebrate our progress.

The feedback, at this early stage, from the participants has been hugely positive. One participant posted on Facebook, “Best PLD ever!”

Other participant feedback included the following:

I loved the mix of Secondary and Primary Principals, quite unique. Sincere collaboration felt between all participants.

A good investment in my professional learning because it was organised and planned by experts who have a deep, authentic and proven understanding of what is important in schools ie what to focus on for the maximum benefit to schools and learners.

Two days of taking a breath and focussing on what really matters with passionate, engaged educational facilitators in a peaceful alpine setting. Listening and connecting with other principals who came to refresh, reconnect and refocus. This hui delivered all this and more.

Engaged, passionate, well informed facilitators who seamlessly worked together to deliver an outstanding programme of thought provoking leadership learning.

Refresh, Reconnect, Refocus is the perfect title for this professional development. It does just that. A fantastic retreat, space to think, relax and start to reconnect.

While the 2 day Retreat component is over the mahi now will be about remaining connected and focused over the next 20 weeks to build on the momentum that got underway at Hanmer.

As a facilitator I came away refreshed, reconnected and refocused!

What Next?

Derek challenged all participants to think of themselves as Systems Leaders, not just as leaders of their own school (see his post here). Tomorrow's Schools has us as leaders of our own entities, each doing our best to navigate the rapidly changing environment. There has never been, in my view, a rallying vision for us all to unite behind despite the best intentions of the Ministry, different Ministers and programmes like Kāhui Āko. It is time for a movement of like-minded leaders to connect and focus in meaningful and sustainable ways to support each other on this important journey of transformation. This felt like the beginnings of such a movement.

We've started with 14!

We’ve had a number of inquiries already about whether we’re planning to run this sort of programme into the future, including questions about running it for APs and DPs. If this is something you’d like to be a part of, or know of someone who might be interested, I encourage you to add your name to our registration of interest so that we can keep you informed of our plans moving forward into the second half of 2024 and 2025.

Think about joining a movement of like-minded leaders!

Register Your Interest Here

An opportunity for emerging leaders

We are both really motivated to work with newly appointed APs and DPs as they are our future principals. I can’t help but think how I would have benefitted, early in my leadership, from being supported to explore my moral purpose in relation to leadership, to explore different ways of leading and to become familiar with a range of tools and frameworks to support my leadership.

The drivers for change in schooling are not going to go away and it is vital, in my view, that leaders do not become part of the roadblocks.

If you want to be on this waka or know someone who should be on it, please register through this link or share it with that someone.

Register Your Interest Here


Saturday, March 2, 2024

How Might We Lead Towards a Qualification That Is Driven By Core Beliefs In Our Own School?

Last week I got an email from David Hood and he spoke about the launch of his book From Rhetoric to Reality, and about the work we had done together and the people we had worked with. I attended the book launch in May 2015 and on my return home published the following post:

Principal Possum, May 2015

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.

In his latest email there still existed a frustration with what had happened with NCEA, the missed opportunity with the Bali Haque led review of Tomorrow's Schools and some wonderings about where the new Government's policies would take us.

Last week I posted my thoughts and suggestions on NCEA Level 1 and I'm sure it was the exchange of communication with David that brought those thoughts to the surface.

Yesterday (Friday 1 March) it was pleasing to see a Letter to the Editor in the NZHerald from David Hood, which I have included below:

History of exams

The main problems with NCEA are firstly the decision to create three qualifications in the last three years of secondary school, the only country in the world to do so.

That is a tremendous load on students and teachers. This is why many schools are abandoning NCEA Level 1, but also because Level 1 has no value in the marketplace. Level 2 is now the base qualification for entry to employment or further education.

Secondly, was the decision to require the achievement of an arbitrary number of credits to be awarded for any one of the three qualifications. This inevitably led to debates on the relative value of different subjects, especially between “academic” and “vocational”.

Neither of these were recommended by the NZQA board back in 1992. NCEA was intended to be one qualification awarded when students graduated from school, and would record all credits achieved at whatever point in time in their schooling.

These recommendations were strongly opposed by a lobby group of mainly “prestigious” state and private boys’ schools. The result is a system now being criticised by James Bentley of St Peter’s College (NZ Herald, Feb 27).

David Hood, NZQA CEO 1990-97.

Imagine if that vision for qualifications described in his second to last paragraph had come to fruition!

I'm keen to keep imagining it as a possibility.

We can go close to this in our own schools under the current and new system simply by:

  • dropping NCEA Level 1 (and not replacing it with anything else!)
  • moving the focus to students spending their 2 or 3 years in the senior school achieving their quality qualification by the time they graduate. This requires:
    • a rejection of the focus on calendar year qualifications and shift to a focus on the qualification at graduation. This will take some courage as such a process is not represented well in league tables
    • a change in the mindset of teachers in the senior school to that similar to those in the junior school which has them focusing on deep, engaging learning programmes rather on the assessment event
    • reporting in the senior school to be on progress through the Curriculum Levels and to not include Achievement Standard results (these are already accessible in real time on schools' LMS's)
All of these are simple to bring about, but they do need to align with your own and your school's core beliefs about teaching, learning, engagement and qualifications.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Here I go again - NCEA Level 1!

For the first time in twenty years I didn't spend the summer break with some concerns about the upcoming school year nagging away at me like a rock under my towel on the beach. 

Every prior summer would have me worried about things like staffing, resourcing, property and also my own sense of my own capability and capacity. Retirement from principalship has brought some advantages (though I still miss the impending excitement for a fresh year with students and staff!).

I still got riled up about the seasonal issues that rise to the surface such as the cost of school uniform (who needs it?), the growing anxiety that some students would be experiencing as they grappled with the institutional demands of their school (uniform, jewelry, hair styles, fear of not fitting in, lack of connection) - obviously not all students, but apparently an increasing number.

Last week I came across this post on LinkedIn:

I got the dreaded question very early in my course this year - “When do we start NCEA?” Oh dear. How did we get to this point?

We have our young people so focused on outcomes we are in danger of losing the importance of learning for the sake of it. This has been recognised in the NCEA review of course. However, I am unsure whether that will change anything without teachers thinking a little differently.

To be clear, I was a big supporter of NCEA when it was introduced. I supported standards based assessment and influenced by David Hood’s excellent “Our Secondary Schools don’t work anymore”, was fired up for a major change to our education system for the good. There has been some. The increased flexibility and customisation of NCEA has enabled some innovation in both assessment and curriculum. The shift to internal assessment has created a far more equitable environment. 

However, NCEA seems to have become the curriculum. Topics are presented as standards. Teachers when meeting their students for the first time, show the NCEA standards. I generalise of course. It isn’t all like that. And once again, this is something the NCEA review is supposed to solve. We shall see.

I can think back to teaching Bursary, which for History was 40% internally assessed so it wasn’t all on the exam. The exam still dominated. However, at least none of my students rocked up asking when we start Bursary. It wasn’t like that.

NCEA is a system of assessment (and accreditation). It is there to assess student understanding. Not to drive learning. Not to become the sole focus. It isn’t that difficult to shunt into the background. It really isn’t. However, I rarely see that. It is ever present.

My question to teachers and schools is, do you feel the NCEA change will solve this?

 Anyone who's ever read or listened to me about this topic know my view, a view that we brought to life at Hobsonville Point Secondary School and brought about deep learning, quality qualifications and meaningful pathways for all:

  • NCEA Level 1 is a qualification with no currency
    • It is not needed for any job, further training or pathway
    • It is not needed prior to achieving Level 2 or Level 3
  • NCEA Level 1 is damaging to learning
    • It moves the focus from learning to being assessed
    • It creates the credit counting amongst students we are frustrated with
    • It creates the culture of asking how many credits something is worth before a student commits to any effort
    • It creates stress that impacts learning and engagement because of the continual focus on high-stakes assessment
  • NCEA Level 1 is damaging to teaching
    • It creates a culture of 'teaching to the test'
    • It creates massive teacher workload with it's incessant moderation
  • NCEA Level 1 takes time away from learning and teaching
    • Mock exams eating into learning time
    • Marking eating into teaching time

I posted my response to the Linkedin post as follows:

It doesn't matter whether it's the old or new NCEA it's the school/ teacher mindset that needs to change. We don't introduce learning episodes to students below NCEA by showing them the assessment, we should definitely describe the learning outcomes and then get on with the learning. We need a similar approach in qualification years. Clarify and share the learning outcomes, do the learning, and then collect evidence against the Learning Objectives. 

A couple of simple things I would do are:

1. Don't offer & assess L1 in Year 11. This only creates the culture of learning for credits a year too early for a qualification not 1 student needs. (see in post above). If your school is not open to this then:

2. Stop using formal reports to parents to report NCEA achievement. They can see the results in the LMS! This only reinforces that the most important outcome is the Achievement Standard when it should in fact be the learning. Report achievement against the Learning Objectives, preferably in relation to the NZC levels (as we do at every other year level).

3. Do not include a list of Achievement Standards on any course outline students get at the start of the course. Concentrate on what they will learn about and master in your course. You could include a generic statement that says students will be prepared to be successful in sufficient ASs to enable them to achieve their Qualification.

 I feel very strongly about the negative impact NCEA Level 1 has on most learners (despite most of them achieving it) and on most teachers (who end up being the most reluctant to look at removing it - until they actually experience it!). I also know I spend a lot of time pushing it uphill when it comes to this issue.

Anyway, if you want to explore how your school could explore this just reach out. It's simpler than you think.