Monday, November 13, 2023

How Might We Lead? Designing our new narrative

In my previous post I focused on the view that the number one principle seems to be that effective schools have clearly articulated and shared beliefs about learning that are lived in every classroom.

This post proposes that the clearly articulated and shared beliefs about learning that are lived in every classroom need to be driven by a vision and mission which are deeply informed by new contexts for learning. In the previous post I stated that, in the end, it doesn't matter what the core beliefs about learning are but that it was vital that they were lived in every classroom. But, of course, it does matter.

If we start, as we should, with the question:

  • "How do children and adults learn most powerfully and deeply in their lives?" (Modern Learners).
and we add:
  • "When they leave us, what will our students need to be able to do, and what kind of people will they be?" (Modern Learners)
and we take into account the rapidly changing and threatened world in store for our current learners (climate crisis, pandemics, increasing inequity, war, biodiversity threat, AI, world of work), we must explore, embrace and fully incorporate in our design of schools and of learning new ways in which we can learn and become educated.

These new ways of learning which will better prepare our ākonga for the realities of their fast-changing world need to be central and visible in a compelling narrative of what the school stands for and the principles that guide it.

Charles Leadbetter in Learning on Purpose (Centre for Strategic Action) says, " A compelling narrative has to convey both purpose and possibility, it speaks to identity (who you are, where you've come from and what you stand for) and intent (where you are going, what you want to achieve)." He also talks of the importance of being able to tell a coherent story about yourself. "with an arc into the future."

He describes a process to follow to establish the compelling narrative:
  • clearly identify the dominant narrative which you wish to challenge and "how it disables you from making change and what its weaknesses are, how it does not add up."
  • settle on a metaphor to build the narrative around. But make sure this reflects the new narrative (eg rather than competing, getting best scores etc more relevant metaphors might be around a growth in important dispositions that better prepare young people to flourish in the realities of the modern world.)
  • contextualise the narrative and metaphor to your current setting and propose new structures to support the narrative.
  • show what the way ahead looks like and the likely ways of navigating through
  • focus on the narrative being invitational so that it becomes compelling to be part of
In thinking about the new contexts for learning that should be driving our vision and mission and be central to our new compelling narrative I'd like to highlight Michael Fullan (quoting Hargreaves and O'Connor) in The Right Drivers For Whole System Success (Centre for Strategic Education) who identifies "collaboration embedded in the culture and life of the school," as a key factor in effective schools.

Another useful framework to assist with a new narrative for schools and learning is that described by the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (OECD) with their 7 Principles of Learning.
  • Learners at the centre
  • Social nature of learning
  • Emotions are integral to learning
  • Recognising individual differences
  • Stretching all students
  • Assessment for learning
  • Building horizontal connections
As well, in one of their Horizon Reports NMC looking at future trends to develop deeper learning identifies project-based learning and inquiry learning as effective pedagogical approaches for deeper learning.

The Innovation Unit in the UK encourages schools wanting to be more effective to personalise learning, connect learning to the outside world, adopt a version of project-based learning, develop approaches that have students doing the teaching and inviting students into the learning design process.

Developing a compelling new narrative for your school, especially one that is fully informed by new contexts for learning (collaboration, connected, co-constructed), could be demanding work, but it is also rewarding and exciting work.

We know what makes for deep learning. The next step is to capture that in a compelling narrative for our school.

I'm happy to help.

Monday, November 6, 2023

How Might We Lead With a Set of Common Beliefs (about learning!)


While exploring the Education Leadership group on Linkedin I came across this:

  •  "A competent curriculum leader is able to clearly articulate their philosophy on 'how students learn best.' They and their team need to lead with a common belief."
This jumped out at me as I've been spending some time delving into what seems to be the most important factors/principles that determine whether a school is effective or efficient (see previous post). What I have discovered to be one of the most important principles is no surprise as it has driven my work as an educational leader and has been the area where I have been focusing most of my work with schools and organisations with my consultancy HMWLead.

The number one principle seems to be that effective schools have clearly articulated and shared beliefs about learning that are lived in every classroom (Modern Learners). The simple bit might be determining what the shared beliefs about learning should be. Often, the harder bit is ensuring that they are lived in every classroom. The Education Leadership quote above, in my view, is pointing the way towards this happens - it is, in fact, by everyone leading with these common beliefs. If this happens then the practices to ensure it is happening in every classroom will emerge.

The quote also points to the fact that it is important that the core beliefs that drive a school should be about learning and about how people learn. It is all very well to have a set of core beliefs and values that are largely behavioural (eg respect, honesty, integrity etc) but learning beliefs and values should be front and centre in a school.

Determining what these shared beliefs about learning are should start with answering the question:

  • "How do children and adults learn most powerfully and deeply in their lives?" (Modern Learners).
The investigation I am carrying out certainly supports the assertion made by Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon from Modern Learners that without a collaboratively created/developed belief system about what makes learning powerful that is lived each day through classroom norms for learning and a common language, schools cannot develop each child to their potential as a learner.

If we accept that being a self-directed and self-determined learner is the most important skill to develop within our learners then it is vital that we take the time to discuss how we can create the conditions in our schools for these skills to develop. And when we have settled on the principles/beliefs that we believe create these conditions we have to make sure that they are visible everywhere in our school, in the language we use and the classroom practices we adopt.

Based on what we see in the research about what makes for powerful learning for today's students what are examples of some elements that could be the core of our beliefs about learning? Here are a few:

  • Know your students (Education Leadership, Bishop)
  • Learners at the centre (OECD, Innovation Unit)
  • Student agency (Education Leadership, Wenmouth)
  • Connect learning horizontally and to the real world (Innovation Unit, OECD)
  • Inquiry based approaches (OECD, Innovation Unit)
  • Experiential learning (Centre for Strategic Education, Innovation Unit)
  • Promote collaboration and interaction (Fullan, Education Leadership, OECD)
  • Measure what matters/A4L (Innovation Unit, OECD)
  • Stretch and support all learners (OECD, Education Leadership)
This is by no means an exhaustive list and cleverer people than I will be able to add to it. It is a good starting point for discussion as groups of teachers interrogate their beliefs and the beliefs of others about what makes for deep learning.

The key, of course, is then to discuss and agree what impacts these beliefs would have on our teaching practice. For example:

  • truly knowing my students and how they best learn will mean I'd have to adopt a relationship based approach to my pedagogy and implement culturally sustaining practices
  • knowing my students would mean I'd be aware of their needs, interests and passions and would incorporate them into my learning design, and my belief in student agency would have me co-constructing learning and assessment programmes with individual learners
  • belief in connected learning (across subjects and with the real world), inquiry-based approaches and experiential learning would have me exploring a relevant project-based learning model
  • promoting collaboration and interaction would mean incorporating appropriately organised and structured co-operative group work throughout my learning design
  • a belief that we should measure what matters will require me to search for ways to track how well my learners are collaborating, showing self-determination, being resilient in their learning etc. I will also need to ensure that all learners know what is expected of them and why that is expected
  • if I'm wishing to stretch and support all learners I will need to be designing learning according to the principles of Universal Design for Learning
In the end, it doesn't matter too much what the core beliefs about learning are (though I'll cover that in another post). What matters is that the core beliefs about learning are known, understood, shared and drive the learning in all classrooms.

I wonder if all schools can say they have a set of clearly articulated and shared beliefs about learning. If they do, I wonder if they know that they are truly lived in every classroom. I also wonder if all leaders lead with those common beliefs. I know that I couldn't have answered 'yes' to those questions throughout much of my leadership.

Once again, this looks like demanding work, but it also looks like rewarding and exciting work.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

How Might We Lead for Effectiveness Rather Than Efficiency?

I have been delving more deeply into the work of  Modern LearnersCentre for Educational Research and Innovation (OECD)Michael Fullan and Chris Leadbetter and their work with the Centre for Strategic EducationValerie Hannon and her work with the Innovation Unit and Russell Bishop's Teaching/Leading to the North-east which I mentioned in my previous post. I am doing this to attempt to distill the key principles relevant for schooling and learning design that are reflected in their work.

A couple of things have happened.

The first is Agency By Design (Derek Wenmouth et al) has been released and I've taken advantage of the free download. I've skimmed through it once and will soon digest it more thoroughly , but it looks to me as if they have done a great job in distilling those key principles, explaining them clearly and providing a framework for schools and their leaders to use to bring those principles to life. I'm still going to complete my own analysis as described above and take that lens to a deeper dive into their work.

The second is the discovery of a few quotes in the work of those mentioned above which really resonate with me and which capture the lens through which I believe I have operated as a school leader in the past and through which I approach the work I am doing now. Here they are:

  • "Modern learners' newfound ability to take full control of their learning is THE educational shift of our times." (Modern Learners)
  • "Cannot separate wellbeing and learning." (Fullan)
  • "The power of the relationships will always dwarf all other pedagogical strategies." (From an OECD source I can't find, so any help greatly appreciated!)
I also was drawn to the point of difference described in Modern Learners' 10 Principles For Schools of Modern Learning between Efficient Schools and Effective Schools.

Efficient schools are those that prize knowing over the ability to learn while effective schools focus on developing students as learners. Their document references Peter Drucker who reminds us that, "There is a difference between doing things right and doing the right thing." Drucker's colleague, Russell Ackoff goes on to add, "Doing things right is efficiency. Doing the right thing is effectiveness." 

If we accept the quote above, "Modern learners' newfound ability to take full control of their learning is THE educational shift of our times." (Modern Learners) and think about the difference between efficiency and effectiveness then we must ask ourselves if doing things right in the traditional school environment, while may be being efficient, is the right thing to do. I would argue that many of the practices that keep our schools efficient (streaming, learning in subject silos, paradigm of one - one class, one hour, one subject, one teacher, one set of learning activities, one pace of learning, one assessment) do not recognise this important educational shift.

The likely outcome of sticking to these practices of efficiency is that schools will become less effective. This will result in decreased student engagement (attendance, behaviour, motivation to learn) and decreased teacher engagement as it feels more and more like they're pushing it uphill. 

Another danger is that baby boomer politicians who do not understand this new educational shift and the relentlessness of it will impose policies on schools that may have some populist appeal but are simply focusing on efficiency and not effectiveness.

Both of these outcomes/dangers worry me.

It is vital that we interrogate some of these thoughts, be guided by research and evidence, and decide whether the goal for our school is effectiveness or efficiency and whether we embrace the opportunities afforded us by our students' "newfound ability to take full control of their learning." 

This looks like demanding work, but it also looks like rewarding and exciting work.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

How Might We Lead: Trying To Form New Habits


You might not connect with the following metaphor but it works for me.

I've been running 'competitively' for 50+ years. I don't think a lot about the 'how' of running; I reckon I know how to do it and I just get out and run. If someone asked me to describe how to run I'd have to stop and think because, for me, I just put one foot in front of the other and lean forward. The way I run is habitual and just happens.

I've recently discovered, though, that how I run has become not fit-for-purpose. As I've aged, my non-running muscles have weakened and I've discovered I've developed, unconsciously, a bent over shuffle type gait. Up until now it hasn't been too much of a problem as I shuffle along the roads and trails and accept the increasing and more-early-arriving pain is just part of the game.

However, I now want to run a 100 miler which brings a whole different purpose to why I'm running. This means I need to adopt a different 'how' as I won't make the 100 miles doing what I'm currently doing. The pain will be too much.

So, I've done some research and have adopted a different gait - one that has me running taller and making use of my glutes rather than focusing on my quads and hamstrings. Because this style has not yet become habitual I have to concentrate on my gait almost every single step to prevent myself falling back to old habits.

The new gait brings different issues. Pain and discomfort is emerging in new areas as I transition to a new way of running. I fully expect that things will get better with this. Also, to maintain the gait and the efficiency I expect, I need to do strength and flexibility exercises, especially to my core and in my hip area. I don't have a high level of motivation for this so it is something I need to really commit to and hold myself accountable.

While I'm confident that if I stick to my plans I will gain huge benefit I fully expect there to be problems on the way. I'll develop new niggles and new pains and I'll fall back into bad or previous habits. I have developed strategies to support me to stick to the new path.

I've realised the body was getting a bit creaky. This, along with my new 'why' (100  miler) has meant I need to develop a new 'how' with a new set of principles/guidelines (include strength and flexibility work in my training, be open to changing life-long habits etc), which will result in a different set of practices (the 'what') which I need to work on to become habitual (yoga at home, attend a gym, adopt a particular running technique).

I think sometimes schools are a bit like that. The institution has become a bit creaky while we persist with our habitual practices. This can lead to pain and niggles in the system. In my view, the 'why' of schooling has also changed as our world is changing dramatically with a range of global existential crises such as climate, pandemics, biodiversity reduction, increasing inequity, mis- and dis-information and conflict and issues in relation to AI etc.

We need to engage with these issues and understand our new 'why' and think about how we are going to respond and reposition schools and from there adopt new ways of doing 'schooling'.

The work to reposition schools can seem so daunting that we are tempted to stay with our habitual practices. While it is tough and demanding work it is certainly doable.

I am more and more convinced that how we do this work is to really focus on what it is that we know that creates the conditions for the best teaching and learning that is required today. We need to start with understanding and agreeing on how students learn best. From there we need to develop a set of core beliefs for which we are ready to "die in the ditch" and design our schools based on those core beliefs.

As part of my own professional learning I'm drilling into the work carried out by organisations such as Modern Learners, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (OECD), Michael Fullan and Chris Leadbetter and their work with the Centre for Strategic Education, Valerie Hannon and her work with the Innovation Unit and Russell Bishop's Teaching/Leading to the North-east.

For the sake of my own country-boy mind I want to hone in on what they are all saying and see if I can make sense of the essence of it all. The aim is to settle on a set of core beliefs that could determine some guiding principles that could drive some different and more appropriate practices which we could try to make habitual.

I hope the outcome could support us when we ponder the questions about how might we lead in our schools. I'll most probably post what I come across.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

How Might We Lead: What Might Be Possible


2 posts ago I wrote about the importance of making sure your big hairy goals are put out there for others to see. I think this gives some accountability and impetus when things start to drag or halt. I used the example of my goal to run 100 miles (160k) at the Tarawera Ultramarathon in February. I noted that I had been given advice to really establish my 'why' for doing such a crazy thing.

I've run more than 30 marathons, entered countless multi-sport races and full-day adventure races, run a 50k ultra, a 70k ultra and two 100k ultras. Every one was tough and after every one I swore, usually briefly, that that would be my last!

So why 100 miles? I have thought a lot about this and I think it's because I want to really test my limits, to test what I might be truly capable of. The risk of failure is very high (more than 50/50 I'd say): I might get injured by the intensity of the training, I might arrive at the start line carrying some niggles and not be able to finish, I might arrive at the start line feeling 100% and might not be able to finish OR I might arrive at the start line and complete it. All of those are possibilities. 

One thing is certain, between now and then and during the event, I'll be called upon to solve problems that emerge, many expected, some unexpected. And, of course, when you set out to really test what might be possible, it takes time. This will end up being a year-long project. It began with research and planning, some implementation, then some revisiting of the plan as problems emerged, and this will continue. All the time, there will be no guarantee of success. Even failure, though, will have me in a better place than I am today. I would have learned so much about myself which will be useful as I live out my life.

This is always the case when we think about what might be possible and we set out to find out.

I think this is how I have approached school leadership.

At Opotiki College after 10 years of being DP in charge of discipline in which I oversaw 50 suspensions a year (that's 500 over those ten years) and up to 10 exclusions per year (that's 100) I began to wonder what else might be possible. On appointment as principal I stopped all suspensions as we set out on a journey to explore if the principles of restorative practice might offer us a different way.

Like with the 100 miler, it involved research, planning, implementation and revisiting, overcoming hurdles and solving problems. As it was we were hugely successful with only 1 suspension in the next 10 years. The best outcomes were a creation of a culture of mutual respect, a change in pedagogy to one based on relationships and a massive lift in student achievement (Decile 1 school with achievement levels at NCEA Levels 1 -3 equal to the average of Decile 8-10 schools).

Instead of being curious about what might be possible we could have not taken the risks and stayed with the status quo. Instead in the following 10 years 500 kids weren't suspended and 100 kids weren't excluded, teaching improved and student engagement and achievement went through the roof. It was worth it.

At Hobsonville Point Secondary School we wondered what might be possible if we set out to design a schooling experience based on what evidence stated was more appropriate for what young people needed to thrive in an ever-changing world. Like with the 100 miler and the work at Opotiki, it involved research, planning, implementation and revisiting, overcoming hurdles and solving problems. All of these also required courage.

All of this work has led me to this model of leadership based on having a moral purpose that requires you to wonder about what might be possible, to have the courage to set out to explore and implement what might be possible, while always being open to the idea that you might be wrong and will need to amend.

This has formed the basis of all of the work I am now doing with HMWLead. Whether it has been working with governance facilitators, boards to support principal development, SLTs to investigate curriculum and pedagogy review or to think about new ways of schooling, or with individual principals to consider what might be possible in relation to how they lead it has always focused on clarifying core beliefs and values that drive us, which in turn gives us the courage to take action and lead.

When schools start thinking about what might be possible, rather than focusing on what they are doing now, that's when we see the beginnings of transformation.

In the wake of the election result all school leaders are going to have to be very clear about their moral purpose and what they are going to die in the ditch for so that they lead in the ways best for their school community.

What might be possible? Sing out if you think I can help in this space.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Working with How Might We Lead (HMWLead)

The HMWLead Website is now live. I invite you to go and check it out and give me any feedback.

The 'What We Offer' Page on the website gives a good description in general terms on how HMWLead can work with schools on their journey of transformation. This brief post gives a summary of the work we are currently doing with schools to give you an idea of the variety of ways we can work together.

School 1 (Secondary School in South Island)
Working with Senior Leadership Team to establish the principles to shape a curriculum review for Year 11 in 2024 before moving to a wider curriculum review for Years 9 and 10. We explored what makes for effective 21st Learning and thought about how these could be brought to life in their context.

School 2 (Secondary School in South Island)
About to begin working with the Senior Leadership Team as they embark on an exciting journey of transforming quite traditional learning and structures into an innovative model from Years 7 to 13.

School 3 (Secondary School in Upper North Island)
Providing mentoring of a new Principal as they begin their leadership in an innovative school.

School 4 (Secondary School in Lower North Island)
Supporting a new Principal with a new SLT to redesign their curriculum and institutional structures to better reflect the needs of their students and community and which is based on a clearly defined set of core beliefs and values (see previous post).

School 5 (Secondary School in Central North Island)
About to begin a refresh of the Years 9 - 10 curriculum so that it better meets the needs and interests of their students and community.

Governance Support Organisation
About to present a series of workshops on the why, what and how of leading schools in a way that is focused on a clear set of core beliefs and values.

Other Areas Being Explored
  • supporting a primary school with the principal appointment process
  • supporting an Intermediate school to revisit its core beliefs and values to establish more clarity and coherence

These partnerships have a strong focus on curriculum, but all of them involve leaders and teams exploring their core values and beliefs so that there is real coherence and clarity for their practices. Each partnership also provides opportunities to look at different ways of leading so that we grow how we lead and how we can grow others to lead.

​Sing out if you think there'd be value in us working together. Use the website or email me directly on

Monday, September 4, 2023

How Might We Lead - Why, Why, Why

 "Why, why, why?!" is a common response from my friend and inspirational guru on all things to do with positive relationships and restorative practice, Marg Thorsborne, when she comments on any of my many posts on the crazy training and/or racing adventures I get up to. Her response does make me pause and think "why?" and this is a good thing.

I've decided to enter in the Tarawera Ultra Trail Run 100 miler to be held next February. It's what I'd call one of those big, hairy audacious goals which has a reasonably high chance of failure. As is often the case, these sorts of goals need to be made public in some way to increase the level of accountability. If I kept it to myself it could be easier to quietly give up on it when the going gets tough, as it inevitably will.

That's the nature of big, hairy audacious goals - the going will get tough, and to prepare for that inevitability you need some counters - one of which is putting it out there publicly. My apologies, therefore, to those who follow me on Facebook or Instagram as I will hold myself to account through posting on those platforms!

When I was thinking of entering I contacted Eugene from Dirt Church Radio (Trail running podcast). I'd got to know him through the podcast as well as him being a parent of an ex-student - he also paced me to a sub 4 hour Rotorua Marathon! I asked him because I know he had completed the 100 miler at Tarawera and I reckon he has a good understanding of my ability. His reply really made me sit up and think, "But the question is ... do you want to? It's a race where you really need to have your why nailed down."

Of course, I should have known all this. Like all education leaders I was familiar with Simon Sinek's work on the importance of starting with the 'why', and in the very early years of the development of Hobsonville Point Secondary School we were supported by Julia Aitken to explore our core values and beliefs before developing a set of principles to guide the 'what' (our practices) using the following model (which she explores in From Values and Beliefs about Learning to Principles and Practice.)

Now it's time to practise what I preach, break out a template of the circles and start in the centre and drill down into my 'why' so that that can sustain me when it gets tough. I'll most probably post on that!

One thing I do know after 20 years of principalship in 2 very different schools is that having a deeply thought-out and clearly identified set of core values and beliefs as an individual teacher leader (moral purpose) and as a school (vision/mission/values) is the only way you have a chance of making sense of the education world and solving the many complex problems that come your way.

But of course you have to be conscientious about making sure that the core values and beliefs determine your principles for action and the resulting practices you will put in place. That's the challenging work! As is looking at your current practices (the way we do things around here) and putting them back through the filter, starting at the central circle. What do you do when something you have always done doesn't align with your core values and beliefs?

I've been doing a lot of thinking about my personal leadership model that I have developed over the last 2 decades:

I have found it relatively easy to work in the 'Moral Purpose' circle, developing my own set of values and my own 'why', working with others to do the same for a school and also working with individuals to develop their own.

The other 2 circles are a bit more challenging as they are a bit more to do with mindset/dispositions. While you can support people to access professional learning around Open to Learning Conversations how do you support leaders to be truly comfortable with the fact that they might be wrong! (More to come on that).

I have similarly struggled with the 'Courage' circle. Some people seem more naturally courageous than others, at first look. What does it take to be courageous as a leader? More and more, I'm of the belief that the foundation of courage comes from the centre of the three circles from Julia's model. It is when we are more certain about our/our organisation's core values and beliefs and the principles that emerge from them that we develop the confidence to be courageous, to stand for what we truly believe with a clear sense of our 'why'.

Maybe, the sweet spot where Moral Purpose and Courage overlaps comes from the centre circle of core values and beliefs.

My last post talked about the launching of HMWLead (How Might We Lead).  Thank you to those who have made contact and started working with me. So far, most of that work, while having a range of contexts and foci, requires looking at core values and beliefs as we look to solve problems and support leaders to lead with moral purpose and courage (while being open to learning!).

I'm really looking forward to developing and sharing my thinking about the need to think about different ways of leading. Sing out if you think I can help. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

How Might We Lead

 At the beginning of July this year I finished up as Principal of Hobsonville Point Secondary School after being the Foundation Principal for 10 years. For the 10 years prior to that I was Principal of Opotiki College and its Deputy Principal for 10 years before that. That's a lot of time in senior school leadership in 2 quite different contexts.

On the last day of the term (my last day at work with students and staff) I experienced a whole school send-off like nothing I had experienced or been part of before. This short video clip captures the culmination of that event.

The school had never performed a whole-school haka before and I discovered that they had spent Term 2 secretly practising it!

I have not shared this in this post because I think I'm anything special and I know others in similar situations have experienced similar to this. What this event did for me, though, was to make me stop and think, at the end of my school leadership career, what was the impact I did have and how did that come about. These are quite complex questions and will take some time to process and come to some conclusions.

I have decided that I still have more to contribute in the area of school leadership and am going to see if I can find ways to work alongside school leaders and aspiring school leaders (in secondary and primary schools) to support them to be the very best transformational leaders that they can be. I will be looking to work with those who want to move beyond being great managers of the status quo to being transformational, to lead with student and staff wellbeing at the centre, to address inequity, and to empower staff and students to be active engagers in the teaching and learning process so that they thrive in a rapidly changing and disrupted world.

To support this aspiration I will be launching my company HMWLead (How Might We Lead) in a couple of weeks, including a website with information which may help leaders decide if it would be of value to work together. While we could co-construct support for any aspect of school leadership, a summary of the areas where we could work together is as follows:

Leadership - How might we develop a personal model of leadership that gives us the confidence to lead others on a journey of transformation?

Reflective Practice - How might we support leaders to explore and implement a critical

reflective culture within their school?

Growth - How might we support leaders to implement a powerful 'growth cycle' in their school?

Visioning and Strategic Action- How might we support leaders to support the why and how of designing a powerful learning

vision for their school?

Team Development - How might we support leaders to understand the thinking preferences of their staff/teams and

grow capacity so that distributed leadership can effectively support the drive for transformation?

Restorative Practice - How might we support leaders to support the implementation of behaviour

management processes that are driven by the principles of restorative practice?

Connected Curriculum - How might we help leaders to support the why and how of designing a connected curriculum

model for their school?

Dispositional Curriculum - How might we support leaders to explore the opportunities to develop a dispositional curriculum

and related graduate profile?

Any way, there'll be more to come. Reach out to me on

if you can't wait for the launch and want to start talking!

Monday, October 3, 2022

Dispositional Curriculum: Supporting Young People to Cope/Thrive in a Disrupted World.

 When myself and my 3 DPs first met up to begin work at the start of 2013 we were presented with the following vision from the Establishment Board:

We picked apart every word as we were determined to bring life to it. All of us quickly identified that the last half of the Vision was describing our aspiration for our graduates; that they want to and know how to make the very rapidly changing world better.

This set us off on the pathway of settling on two pathways to Excellence:

We knew that we wouldn't be achieving our vision if our students were 'only' excellent in the field of academics. This did not necessarily mean that these students would be able to thrive in a changing world with a determination to make it better. We needed to ensure we had a curriculum that allowed us to promote the growth of certain dispositions.

This resulted in us settling on a curriculum model that included both academic and dispositional elements:

While we aspire to have the dispositions, listed on the right side of this visual and known as Hobsonville Habits, present throughout all 3 elements of our curriculum model we do locate them, purposefully, within the Learning Hub element.

Each child belongs to a Learning Hub of 16-17 students of mixed year levels and are mentored by a teacher, known as their Learning Coach, to achieve to their potential in both the Academic and Personal Excellence areas. Apart from a daily 10 minute Kitchen Table session at the start of each day which connects and build relationships, Learning Hubs have two 80 minute blocks a week where there is a focus on building the dispositions.

While focusing on a different Strand each term (Whanaungatanga, Huarahi Ako, Manaakitanga, Rangatiratanga), Learning Coaches focus on particular Hobsonville Habits to support the growth of each of their Hublings in these important dispositions.

More recently, once a term all teachers give time for students to make a reflection on their learning from all classes (modules and SPINs, Projects and Hub) and to tag them to the Hobsonville Habits. In this way students are collating a portfolio of evidence of development in the Habits and are able to share this growth when hosting their parents at their Individual Education Meeting. In this way our learners can see that the dispositions are part of everything they do at school.

Right from the beginning of our school's journey we were determined that Personal Excellence be as important as Academic Excellence. As a result, at our prizegiving we only acknowledge our Habits and Values. I've blogged about this earlier.

One of the things that the last almost 3 years of disruption has shown us is that those students who are strong in important dispositions (resilient, creative, adventurous, compassionate etc) were best able to cope and keep progressing. This experience now makes us believe that Personal Excellence is more important than Academic Excellence.

With disruption almost certainly continuing with further pandemics and climate disruption I suggest it is vital that all schools explore ways to bring a focus on such dispositions closer to "what we do around here".

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Connected Learning Supporting Specialist Knowledge

 Connected Learning

Promoting Specialist Knowledge

David Hood, in his book The Rhetoric and The Reality, which I touched on in a previous post, refers to the paradigm of one.

The Paradigm of One (the traditional secondary school structure)
Students are grouped into one class, based on one age, and for one hour go to one room where one teacher teaches one subject and students, largely, do one set of learning activities and work according to one timeline and at the one same time complete the one assessment activity.

Then the bell goes and they go down the corridor and for one hour go to one room where one teacher teaches one subject and students, largely, do one set of learning activities and work according to one timeline and at the one same time complete the one assessment activity.

Then the bell goes and etc, etc.

And what they learn in each of those one blocks is completely siloed and there are no connections between them.

I remain to be convinced that this is the best way to learn. I suppose it is OK if your definition of learning is limited to the reception and processing of knowledge in isolation from other knowledge, This is, no doubt, a vehicle for a level of learning.

I prefer a model of learning that, without downplaying the importance of specialist subject knowledge, raises the possibility of deeper learning. I believe this deeper learning can come about when we explore the connections between these specialist areas of knowledge.

Connected Learning in Action
While hosting a group of 35 Australian teachers at our school yesterday we spent a lot of time talking with students while they were engaged in learning (in the last block on the last day in the last week of term!). The majority of classes we visited were our Foundation classes (combined Years 9 and 10).
  • In one class (combined Visual Arts and English) students spoke confidently about how their exploration and research, involving close reading, comprehension and analysis of visual media (English) of graffitti and research on the topic of the difference between vandalism and art enabled them to produce thoughtful and high quality pieces of graffitti art (Visual Arts) with annotations linking their words and images to what they had learnt from their English.
  • Another class (combined Visual Arts and Science) had students who had engaged in microscope use skills to analyse the individual features of a plant so that they could recognise, name and explain their purpose (Science) and were now free-hand sketching the plants to such a level that they would not be out-of-place in a professional botannical sketch publication.
  • In another class (Maths and HPE) we came across students who had done some lessons previously on how statistics could be analysed, presented in grapic form, and explained in text. From there they had gone to the gymnasium where they had learned the skills involved in volleyball. At some point they collected data by video and written observation sheets and were now in class using the data to present their findings in graphic form. This class of 40 students were the most engaged I had seen in any Maths lesson
The above are only 3 examples of the numerous connected learning modules our students experience. None of them lack the important content, concepts or skills of any of the individual specialist subjects, but their learning and understanding is deepened when they explore the connections between the disciplines.

The Structure of Connected Learning
There is a bit of a view amongst some academics and commentators that when a school focuses on connected learning, or anything that looks like project based learning, and any model that incorporates student voice and co-construction that students are missing out on that all-important subject specialist knowledge. I do get frustrated by the limited lens that such commentators have with their belief that specialist subject knowledge must always be delivered by subject specialsists through a silo model with little co-construction with students.

At our school we absolutely believe in the importance of subject specialist knowledge delivered by absolutely specialist subject teachers ( we have at least one PHD in their subject area with the vast majority of staff with degrees, mainly at Masters level, in their subject area). We just believe that their are better, more engaging ways to deliver this important knowledge in a way that deepens learning.

When we started our school our specialist subject leads unpacked their curriculum area and backward mapped from a quality NCEA Level 2 what were the key foundational knowledge, concepts and skills students need to be strong in by the end of Year 10 to be successful in qualifications.

We then asked those specialist leads to group this key foundational learning into 8 episodes (1 per term over 2 years) and to identify in which term this learning would occur for our Foundation Learners. We did this so that it didn't matter whether a Science student was studying Science with Visual Art, or with Maths, or with Social Science they were all covering the same foundational learning. This is the case for all Learning Areas and it means students are not left with gaps in this key foundational knowledge.

To give even more coherence to their learning we settled on a big school-wide concept for each of the 8 terms which is addressed that term by each Learning Area.

This means that in the semester that is focusing on Identity  and Space and Place Social Science students might be focusing on Community/Migration, Science students might be focusing on DNA/Outer Space, English on how cultures and societies express themselves in and through Creative Writing etc, etc., while Maths students will be developing key mathematical competencies using the related learnig area as the context in which to apply their learning and develop their understanding.

Our approach certainly does not downplay the importance of specialist knowledge, in fact it increases its importance as we discover important connections with other specialist knowledge. It has the added bonus of having interesting contexts for learning that seem to engage our learners.

Get in touch if you'd like to explore how a focus on connected learning can happen in your school without any other changes to a school's way of structuring learning.