Thursday, October 14, 2021

Time to Calm The Farm - Schools are not in chaos

These are challenging times as we deal with a very tricky global pandemic and school leaders are being called upon to lead when the conditions and the criteria are changing quite rapidly. I want to paint a different picture than what has been presented in some media headlines over the last few days and which has also been presented in some education-focused Facebook groups.

I am writing this on Thursday morning, so just short of 3 days since the announcement of testing and vaccination mandates. Facebook groups have included a clamour of agitation, anger and panic from a very small group of teachers and leaders about the lack of detail to support us in our work. The group is small but their clamour has occupied these spaces and can give a distorted view of our profession.

I'll kick off by saying that I have received the exact same Bulletins from the MOE and I have found them clear and timely. By Monday night I knew that my school in Auckland would not be opening as normal on the following Monday. I knew that before any of my staff could return to school to teach students (whenever that may be) that we would all need to produce a clear Covid test and I knew as a Principal that I would need to operate a confidential register for that. I knew that all staff would need to be fully immunised (2 jabs plus 2 weeks) by January 1 2022 and have first jab by November 15 and that I needed to keep a confidential register of that. I also knew that all staff, after return, would need to provide a clear Covid test weekly until they reached full immunisation status.

By the end of Tuesday I fine-tuned my current staff register on vaccination status - this was one I created a couple of months ago when I requested my staff share their vaccination status with me and keep me updated as they progressed through the vaccination process. I told them I respected their right not to supply that information. The good news was that all but 2 of my 91 were happy to do so knowing it was confidential to me. Very quickly I modified it to include Covid testing results and a confirmation of vaccination status.

By the end of Wednesday I was able to confirm all of this with my staff and immediately began to receive the updates and evidence I require from them. That is continuing this morning.

I am not waiting to hear from MOE about how I have conversations with any staff who are currently not vaccinated. This is because I know how to have these conversations. They have no choice but to be fully vaccinated by 2022 and my conversations with them will be all about supporting them to make the decision that will work for them - all of the time respecting their decision. I'm not panicing about that because I have until November 15th to do my best to support them to become vaccinated.

This morning I received a very clear outline from my union describing my obligations which supported the steps I had already taken.

But this is what I'm annoyed about:

School board chairman resigns abruptly after Covid vaccine made mandatory for teachers

Did everybody who saw this headline read this sentence in it?:

When asked if the decision related to the Covid-19 vaccine, he said “no, not directly”.

And I read this this morning:

Northland educators slam Covid-19 vaccine mandate for teaching workforce

The article quoted 2 primary principals who had some opposition to the mandate and 1 secondary principal who supported it. Such a headline is an insult to 'Northland educators".

Then I read:

The article produced no evidence to indicate chaos. One primary principal was quoted saying she didn't know how to talk with teachers who were going to resign and a sector leader who stated some principals were concerned but many were very supportive.

Thankfully I came across these 2 tweets from a respected ex school leader:

NZ schools not in chaos over government decision to mandate vaccination. In an emergency, leaders flourish and managers wither. Schools will soon find out if their principal is a leader - builds strong relationships & who is knowledgeable, calm, inclusive, humble and articulate.

What BS! It’s in times of emergency that leaders flourish and managers wither. Schools will soon be finding out whether or not their principal is a leader possessing strong relational skills, knowledgeable, calm, inclusive, humble and articulate.

It's times like this that the true nature of our leadership is revealed. We can't control the spin the media puts on things because they see some loose canons spouting on Facebook, but we can definitely control how we lead in this space. We can oppose decisions or express concerns but, as a leader, we have an obligation to spread calm, hope and optimism.

I'll finish with this from Peter Garelja's tweet above:

Schools will soon be finding out whether or not their principal is a leader possessing strong relational skills, knowledgeable, calm, inclusive, humble and articulate.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Plan For Opening School for Term 4

 Like a lot of people, I imagine, I've done some grieving about our Covid situation. However, since the movement from 4 to 3 and the further relaxing of the restrictions I've comforted myself with the view that even if we'd stayed in Level 4 or not relaxed the Level 3 conditions we'd still be in almost exactly the same position.

What I've been grieving about the most is the return to school. I felt we had done a good job on maintaining learning during lockdown. Our focus on wellbeing and connection first seemed to maintain a good enough level of engagement. I was truly feeling that with a return to school in Term 4, with exams delayed and Learning Recognition Credits, that we would be able to support our students to have qualification success.

Right now, I don't think schools should be fully opening up on October 18th because too many of our population, especially the most vulnerable, are not vaccinated. I fear schools will become super spreader environments.

So what can we do? We need a plan that supports graduating students to gain their qualification while maintaining a school environment that is safe for students and teachers.

I have a plan that I believe would work for our school, and with a little mindshift, it should work elsewhere. It requires a couple of starting points in the way we think about qualifications for 2021.

  • we need to focus on only those students who are graduating this year
  • we need to temporarily (if you must) suspend the acceptance of calendar year qualifications
    • any student in Year 12 who is returning next year does not need to gain Level 2 in 2021. They will pick it up in 2022 as they begin their journey towards Level 3. If a school has NCEA Level 2 credits as a prerequisite for Level 3 they need to throw that out and have teacher judgement on a student's ability to cope with Level 3 as the only prerequisite.
School Opening Plan Term 4

Schools open on October 18th only for students who are graduating at the end of the year (all Year 13s and some Year 12s). We have already surveyed our students in Year 12 as to who will be or may be leaving (very small group).

Schools create a timetable for those students and the affected staff only.

  • I suggest Monday Subject 1 all day, Tuesday Subject 2 all day etc. The advantages of such a timetable are:
    • sustained time for students and teachers to identify where learners are at and to create next steps forward
    • easier student/teacher bubble management to keep people safer. Teachers coming in for one or two full days, rather than chopping and changing blocks and periods throughout the week seems safer to me.
Classes for Years 9 -12 (we don't do NCEA Level 1) would continue on-line as they have been operating for most of Term 3.

Of course, all appropriate health and safety measures which are required for Alert Level 3 (apart from bubble size and composition) would be in place.

Keen to hear what you think.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Time to Question Calendar Year Qualifications - relieve stress and workload and deepen learning

Last year I published a post entitled How to Manage NCEA in a Covid Affected 2020. At that time (April 2020) there was a lot of uncertainty, but by year's end NZQA had responded with a delayed start to examinations, Recognition of Learning Credits and an amended UE requirement. Also, some universities were open to allowing Principal recommendation for UE. As a result, I know that for our school, achievement levels were strong and that students were not disadvantaged. This is not to say, however, that it wasn't a big struggle for teachers and many students.

A lightbulb moment for many of my Year 12 students was when I gathered them all together on return from the first long lockdown and asked them to raise their hand if they were returning in 2021. As expected, in excess of 90% raised their hands. That's when I told them that since they were returning they had no need to be anxious about NCEA L2 because they only needed to focus on their graduation qualification and that they had a further year to gain that. I pointed out that if, as a result of their year being affected by Covid, that after doing their best they had achieved only 65 of their 80 credits by year's end, they would simply return the next year, undertake a Level 3 programme and that when they earned their first 15 credits they would be awarded their NCEA L2 and be 15 credits on their way to the 60 they needed for Level 3.

The advantages from them having this understanding included reducing their levels of anxiety and allowing us to focus on those students who were graduating at the end of 2020 (our Year 13s and a small number of Year 12s). This relieved a lot of workload and stress for my staff. Of course, it was also important to communicate this to our parents.

We have always said at our school that we have no interest in calendar year qualifications, especially a structure that builds them in over a very stressful final 3 years of secondary school. Of course, there is always some sort of 'cost' for this. This year I have already had to wade in and defend our school from an ignorant Linkedin post from an academic who saw that we had close to 100% non-achievement at NCEA L1 which meant that our 'experiment' with a different pedagogical approach was an absolute failure and that myself and the Board needed to be held to account. A quick analysis of our leavers' qualifications and very high levels of Excellence and Merit Endorsed qualifications at Level 2 and 3 would have saved him his embarrassment.

It is our firm view that 3 years of calendar year qualifications do not lead to deep and engaged learning and do not contribute to positive student wellbeing. That is why we have never offered NCEA L1 as a Year 11 qualification. Rather our Year 11 students start out on their first year of a 2 to 3 year journey to get their quality graduation qualification. During 2020 it was a huge relief to not have to drive a whole cohort (Year 11) towards a meaningless qualification while trying to do our best for our graduating cohort. For our Year 11s we just stuck with our existing target of 20 quality credits towards their quality Level 2 qualification.

I encourage schools once again to revisit how they manage qualifications because our new and once again Covid-affected reality means we should look at things differently.

Up here in Auckland we don't know when we will be returning to on-site school. We do know that NZQA and MOE will create processes once again to allow for the interruptions to on-site learning such as a delayed start to NCEA, Recognition of Learning credits and amendments to UE requirements. That helps put us at ease. 

At some point we will return to our physical schools and our students and staff will return to our sites affected by a number of issues: 

  • some will be grieving
  • many whānau will be affected by health issues
  • many students' whānau will be facing employment uncertainty
  • most whānau will be faced with financial hardship
  • all students will be spread across the full range on the continuum of what learning progress they made while off-site. Some may have flourished and soared, many may have managed to just keep up, and many more will have struggled
Areas we will need to focus on
  • Whakawhanaunga - welcoming our staff and students back into the physical space and re-inducting into how we now work in our kura
  • Accommodating the full range of well-being situations all will be in
  • Establishing the full range of learning progressions and differentiating so that we can accelerate those who have struggled while maintaining the momentum of all
  • Progress towards qualifications 
Our approach in any year, Covid-affected or not, results in the following
  • on average, students at the end of Year 11 have 20 Level 1 credits and 10 at Level 2
  • during their Year 12 year, after picking up a further 50 credits (usually at Level 2), they are awarded Level 1 and are close to achieving Level 2
  • at the end of Year 12 many students may well not have met the requirements for Level 2 (though we ensure those graduating at the end of Year 12 achieve Level 1 or 2 - whatever is appropriate for them). This is not a concern for us because on their return the following year as a Year 13 student they meet the requirements of Level 2 (usually early in the year) and most go on to achieve Level 3.
  • very high levels of Excellence and Merit Endorsed qualifications

Positive outcomes are the reduction in teacher workload (setting, marking, moderating, resubmitting), the creation of more time to focus on learning, a reduction (though not complete elimination) of student stress and anxiety in relation to assessment and qualifications, the uncoupling of the assessment 'tail' waving the learning 'dog', and an increase in the quality of qualifications achieved.

More and more schools are moving towards not offering NCEA Level 1 as a full year Year 11 qualification and I know for many school leaders that they see this as a step too far for them as they worry about their staff and parent reaction. I'm happy to talk with any leader/teacher about these issues.

What I do encourage school leaders to consider is the focus on calendar year qualifications. Simply by moving your focus to graduate qualifications you free up the yoke of assessment overload for students, assessment overload for staff and the pressure of league tables as they are not relevant for schools who do not aim for calendar year qualifications.

Such a strategy slows the assessment journey down which allows for learning to go more deeply.

I'm always happy to be contacted to discuss how these ideas work in reality.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Old Thinking vs New Thinking: NCEA Frustrations and MIssed Opportunities and the Power of Language - a brief gripe

We've missed a huge opportunity with the opportunity to review NCEA. Many of the changes have cemented old thinking and old ways of structuring learning in schools when there is a desperate need for new thinking.

While it's awesome to have Achievement Standards that support Maori Performing Arts and that they qualify for UE why are we insisting on calling Te Ao Haka a new 'subject'? This is old thinking. New thinking acknowledges there is a suite of standards that can be grouped together to create a programme of learning for students and that these programmes are not subjects.

I'm not even sure why we have Course Endorsements which are, in reality, Subject endorsements. This old thinking reinforces subjects as the main structure for delivering learning programmes. New thinking has schools developing connected learning programmes which still deliver across them important subject specialist skills and knowledge.

Even if we accept Course Endorsements are a good idea the criteria for them reinforces that external assessment is vital in any learning programme. For some students, a programme almost entirely made up of internal assessments, with very few external assessments, is the best programme for them. But old thinking says that they cannot qualify for this thing called Course Endorsement.

Why are we still talking about 'subject lists' at each level? This is old thinking. New thinking would provide a suite of Achievement Standards grouped into Learning Areas which are used to assess the learning that emerges from the programmes for qualifications.

And this 50/50 split of internals and externals for each 'subject' is so arbitrary and old thinking. New thinking, incorporating the principles of UDL, allows for a broad range of methods of collating evidence of understanding.

I know cleverer people than me will have answers to these, but all of the answers I have seen definitely sit in the old thinking paradigm!

Gripe over (for now)!

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Wellbeing is Learning!

More and more in my leadership growth journey I have come to realise the importance of wellbeing in learning. 

It began with delving into the principles of restorative practice and realising that all behavioural issues harm a relationship so the focus, when there has been misbehaviour, should be on repairing the harm to the relationship rather than on punishing the wrongdoing.

Then my involvement with the Te Kotahitanga programme exposed me to the thinking that for teachers to be effective, particularly for Maori but therefore all students then they need to demonstrate on a daily basis that they care for their students as culturally located individuals and that they have high expectations of the learning for all students. Such thinking placing the importance of relationships at the centre. And, of course, positive relationships depend on the wellbeing of all involved in the relationship to be nurtured.

The combination of exploring relationship-based behaviour management with the Te Kotahitanga inspired pedagogical approach got me thinking of what makes an effective relationship-based approach to curriculum and pedagogy.

I settled on a framework built around the concept of effective teachers being both warm and  demanding at the same time. By this I meant that students had to see very clearly that their teachers cared for them as learners and that those teachers not only had high expectations for them as learners but that they also had high expectations of themselves as teachers to support all students to learn. Such a construct requires a clear focus on the wellbeing of both student and teacher.

I have blogged before on Bishop's book, Teaching to the North East, which captures wonderfully that combination of warm and demanding. He talks of teachers and schools developing a family-like context for learning. And, of course, such a context requires a focus on wellbeing.

Belief in such principles have played a key role in the development of Hobsonville Point Secondary School. Structures and processes such as our Learning Hub structure and dispositional curriculum, as represented by our Hobsonville Habits, have relationships and wellbeing firmly at the core. This is one reason why when the pandemic struck we didn't have to pivot too far to ensure our approach around learning progress, student engagement and qualification preparation was based on focusing on the wellbeing of students and staff.

In between the 2 Auckland lockdowns I received a copy of Michael Fullan's The right drivers for whole school system success (CSE, Feb 2021). In this he talks about 4 "right drivers" to replace 4 "wrong drivers". The right drivers (with the corresponding wrong driver in brackets) are:

  • Wellbeing and Learning (Academics Obsession)
  • Social Intelligence (Machine Intelligence)
  • Equality Investments (Austerity)
  • Systemness (Fragmentation)
So far, I have only read the section on Wellbeing and Learning vs Academic Obsession. It has really resonated with me as I reflect on the first 3 days of our new Alert Level 3 and realise everything I have done since the Saturday night announcement has been focused on ensuring the wellbeing of students (delivering and issuing laptops and other resources) and staff (clear and, hopefully, compassionate communication re doing our best). Here is my summary of the main points:

Academic Obsession

He begins by arguing that the focus entirely on academic grades and degrees is damaging for learning and learners. He argues this focus results in narrow learning "that severely distorts what people learn and need in the 21st century." He says that despite the privileged students who succeed to gain the high grades there are no winners. He labels these students as 'wounded winners' and quotes research which concludes:

"In spite of their economic and social advantages, they experience among the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorder, somatic complaints, and unhappiness of any group of children in this country."

He then moves onto his case for arguing why Wellbeing and Learning is a more appropriate driver and starts with:

"In our ever-complex and contentious world we can no longer afford to separate wellbeing and learning. For one thing wellbeing is learning. As complexity in the world has evolved, Wellbeing and Learning represent an integrated concept. You cannot be successful in one without the other."

He also shares a definition of wellbeing:

"People become good at life when they feel safe, valued and have a sense of purpose and meaning. There is a need to be engaged in meaningful activities that contribute to the wellbeing of others. In the face of adversity, being able to navigate to the resources that you need to get out of the situation - known as resilience - is an essential component. To get there one needs to identify values, goals and needs as well as personal strengths. The competencies you need to achieve this, I think are the 6 Cs [Character, Citizenship, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity and Critical Thinking] as long as compassion and empathy are emphasised."

In exploring this driver he concludes that there is a huge gap between how schools are organised and how young people learn so fall well short of ensuring the wellbeing of these young people.

He proposes a Learning Design Model which combines 4 elements that lead to deep learning and incorporates Wellbeing and Learning as an integrated concept.

This model builds on what is known about the neuroscience of learning such as:
  • student as inquirer and knowledge builder
  • learning connects meaningfully to student interest and voice
  • connects students to the world with authentic problem solving
  • making mistakes and learning from them strengthens learning
  • collaboration and other forms of connecting with other people and ideas
More detail on how this model operates, particularly in relation to the global competencies, in a way that a model focusing on Academic Obsession cannot is included on pages 17 - 19 of the publication.

Note: no one is arguing that there is no focus at all on academic success. If the main driver is Wellbeing and Learning then academic success which supports young people to thrive in a complex world is more likely to occur.

I'm looking forward to reading and blogging on Social Intelligence vs Machine Intelligence.

Kia kaha. Kia ora.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Tuesdays with Maurie: Warm and Demanding to start the year


Every second Tuesday I get to host a morning Kitchen Table (Staff Hui) for our staff from 8 30 - 9 00am so obviously it's called Tuesdays with Maurie. Tomorrow is our first day with the whole school and we have a full day of Learning Hub based activities planned focusing on whanaungatanga and building relationships. As well, we have 14 new or returning staff so such a focus is crucial. The last thing they need to hear from me is 30 minutes of "do this, do that" so I've decided to leave them with one message.

I've never believed in the "Don't smile before Easter" advice many of us used to get when setting out on a new year. I am, however, a firm believer in setting the foundations of an effective and positive teacher/student relationship right from the first minute. So, I thought I'd just speak to these two slides to build on my message at our Noho to start the year and what I covered in my last post.

Right from the very beginning when we are building relationships and then when we move into delivering our curriculum, both academic and dispositional, and while we interact throughout our kura and building in so many ways we have to ensure we are warm AND demanding. Russel Bishop describes this as teaching to the North-East - high relationships AND high teaching skills. He calls upon us to create a family- like context for learning, interact in that environment in ways that we know promote learning and monitor learners' progress. This is a great model of pedagogy for all schools to adopt.

We don't kick off with academic classes until the end of the week as we concentrate on building relationships. But the advice is the same - be warm AND demanding even as we are focusing on whanaungatanga. The Thorsborne and Blood model below is my go-to and is similar to Bishop's. This model supports the operation of restorative practice principles in a school when dealing with misbehaviour or, more accurately, harmed relationships, but is valid for all interactions in a school.

The optimal place to be, on both models, is the top right corner (the north-east). It's too easy to sit in the bottom right corner and go soft on the high expectations and the demandingness. It is my view that staying there is just as ineffective as being in any of the two left quadrants.

My message is that by starting and staying with being warm and demanding is the best strategy, is fairer on the students, and gives them the best opportunity to engage effectively with you. Starting anywhere else makes it tougher to get to the north-east later.

Have a great start to the year.

Monday, February 1, 2021

2021: How to Thrive: Whanaungatanga and Wellbeing @ HPSS

 Like all kura we learned a great deal from the heavily COVID affected 2020, and like all kura we're determined to embed that learning as we prepare for a "who knows what 2021 will have in store for us" year.

While many staff and students struggled at different times during 2020 we are able to begin this year reflecting, with pride, on how well we did. We concentrated on maintaining strong connections and communicating, looking out for each other, and we focussed on wellbeing. We were, though, very fortunate that our Learning Hub Model which has been central to our school since we began is all about connections, communicating, whanaungatanga, manaakitanga and wellbeing.

In recognition of the tough and demanding year we had experienced, with the knowledge that there was little certainty as to how 'normal' the year ahead would be and aware that 14 staff were either joining us for the first time or returning from leave we decided to hold a 2 day noho for all staff (teaching and non-teaching) at a local marae,  Te Piringatanga o Te Maungaarongo, with a total focus on whanaungatanga. We experienced a very warm pōwhiri in Te Hau Moana followed by 85 staff standing to introduce themselves by way of pepeha as we sat in a circle. All staff were involved in preparing meals and serving their colleagues over the 2 days and all activities that explored aspects of our curriculum or pedagogy involved staff connecting with and sharing with others, adding to the experience of whanaungatanga. In the evening there was a poi-making workshop and others sat in front of Te Hau Moana singing waiata. One of the highlights was beginning the second day shortly after sunrise with a collaborative physical activity involving breathing and movement led by Jack Gray of Atamira.

In the short session I led exploring the whakapapa of our kura I finished with the 5 key beliefs that I believe staff needed to thrive in our school in these uncertain times which may be of interest to other educators.

Relationships: the belief that strong and positive relationships between all involved is essential. But it has to be a particular type of relationship: Russell Bishop describes it as teaching in the North-east (see an earlier post) and at HPSS we refer to it as warm and demanding:

Restorative: the belief that hurtful actions or words, or any wrongdoing, harms a relationship so whenever such harm occurs the focus must be on repairing the relationship. Teenagers (and adults) will do wrong and school has to be a safe place to get it wrong, admit harm and then put things right. Young people will need help with this time and time again (hopefully adults less often!):

Culturally Sustainable Practice and Pedagogy: the belief that we have a Tiriti obligation to make sure that we meet the aspirations of Maori in our school. We have to get past the mantra that what is good for Maori is good for everyone and deliver what is good for Maori even if it is not good for anyone else.

Growth Mindset: the belief that it is important to give things a go, try your best, learn from getting it wrong and shining the light on the success of others.

Open to Learning:  the belief that whatever we believe to be the case, whatever we believe are the motivations of others, whatever we believe to be the best course of action we might be wrong.

So how will we cope and, hopefully thrive, in 2021?

  • being warm and demanding on self and others
  • focusing on maintaining and being willing to repair relationships
  • making it our mission to truly honour our Tiriti obligation
  • learning from our mistakes and celebrating the success of others
  • accepting we might be wrong; and above all
  • looking out for each other

Thursday, April 16, 2020

How to Manage NCEA in Covid-affected 2020

A Rider
I want to start by saying that I have no ulterior motive for putting forward the following suggested strategy. My focus is entirely on the well-being of students and staff and strongly believe the positive outcomes would easily outweigh any perceived negative outcomes. As well, I can't help but draw on our experience at Hobsonville Point Secondary School over the last 7 years where I have witnessed a deep engagement with learning and high quality qualification achievement by our learners, But, also, I cannot help but draw on my previous 20 years experience as a school leader in a decile 1 school (where, by the way, I would be implementing a strategy similar to that described here).

Covid-affected 2020
At some point we will return to our physical schools. At this stage we are not sure whether our students would have missed out on 3, 4 or more weeks of on-site, physical school. It is very important to remember that whatever that time of off-site is, the actual lost time to that important on-site face-to-face learning will be much longer.

Here's why:
Our students (and staff) will return to our sites affected by a number of issues:

  • some will be grieving
  • many whānau will be affected by health issues
  • many students' whānau will be facing employment uncertainty
  • most whānau will be faced with financial hardship
  • all students will be spread across the full range on the continuum of what learning progress they made while off-site. Some may have flourished and soared, many may have managed to just keep up, and many more will have struggled
Areas we will need to focus on
  • Whakawhanaunga - welcoming our staff and students back into the physical space and re-inducting into how we now work in our kura
  • Accommodating the full range of well-being situations all will be in
  • Establishing the full range of learning progressions and differentiating so that we can accelerate those who have struggled while maintaining the momentum of all
  • Progress towards qualifications

As far as 2020 qualifications are concerned we must have the time and energy to focus on those students who are graduating this year, while ensuring we keep building the foundations for quality qualifications for those students not graduating this year.

In devising our strategies for how we navigate our way through the reality of what impact Covid 19 has had on our schools and learners, and will continue to do so, and which allow us to have the focus described above we may need to be reminded of the following points made in the latest NZQA Update which included a slide show (unfortunately these important points were buried as bullet point 4 on slide 8 under the heading NZQA advises you consider):

  • using the flexibility of the qualification. 
    • Students don't need to complete a lower level qualification before moving to the next level. If students don't manage to achieve sufficient credits, those they subsequently achieve from a higher level can fill any gaps in achievement at a lower level.
    • Students can catch up and be awarded their certificate in 2021 if they are returning to school.

These points are a reminder that
  • students do not need to achieve Level 1 to gain Level 2 or Level 3 and, in fact, don't need L2 to get L3. 
  • on the way to achieving their final qualification students do not need to complete each lower level in a calendar year
HPSS example of the above in practice
  • on average, students at the end of Year 11 have 20 Level 1 credits and 10 at Level 2
  • during their Year 12 year, after picking up a further 50 credits (usually at Level 2), they are awarded Level 1 and are close to achieving Level 2
  • at the end of Year 12 many students may well not have met the requirements for Level 2 (though we ensure those graduating at the end of Year 12 achieve Level 1 or 2 - whatever is appropriate for them). This is not a concern for us because on their return the following year as a Year 13 student they meet the requirements of Level 2 (usually early in the year) and most go on to achieve Level 3.
All such an approach takes is an acceptance of the NZQA advice above, a mindset that rejects calendar year achievement of each qualification level and a lack of concern for league tables. At our school, we believe the most important measure is the quality of qualifications of leavers, not the steps along the way.

Positive outcomes are the reduction in teacher workload (setting, marking, moderating, resubmitting), the creation of more time to focus on learning, a reduction (though not complete elimination) of student stress and anxiety in relation to assessment and qualifications, the uncoupling of the assessment 'tail' waving the learning 'dog', and an increase in the quality of qualifications achieved.

What about those who only achieve Level 1?
Once again I can only call on my last 7 years at HPSS and the 20 years in my previous decile 1 school.
The latest statistics I can find are as follows:
  • 10% of students leave school without at least Level 1
  • 10% leave school with Level 1 as their highest qualification
At least we know that by doing things differently we can't have a more negative impact on the first group than we are already having. (I do believe, however, that with a much less focus on NCEA in Year 11 eg not exposing struggling learners to a year of 100-120 credits, then we have more chance in engaging them in school and learning and increasing the possibility they might return for a 4th year and have more chance of gaining their Level 1. That is certainly my current experience). However, in the meantime let's accept at least we won't be making their situation worse.

Quite rightly, the focus is on the second group and the actual percentage will differ across schools. I encourage schools to examine the pathways of those students who have left to determine whether Level 1 was necessary for them to be on that pathway. We have students who leave our school with Level 1 as their highest qualification, most of them on appropriate pathways, but none of them actually needed Level 1 to get onto that pathway, so they would not have been disadvantaged without achieving Level 1. As well, it is my experience that many of the students who currently leave with just Level 1, if they are on a slower assessment journey, largely focused on their intended pathway, actually end up achieving Level 2 after the end of 4 years at school.

A Strategy Worth Considering? - Slow it down and go more deeply
I shudder to think what the reduced 2020 school year will look like for our Year 11 learners if they are still faced with programmes based on assessing them against 120 credits. So I suggest the following as worthy of consideration:

1. Depending on a school's particular context it considers suspending NCEA Level 1 as a full qualification for its Year 11 learners for 2020.

But what would their year, and the year of the teacher look like?
  • Teachers would not have to amend their programmes. They would still teach the full important concepts, skills and knowledge of their specialist subject, laying strong foundations for success in the following year at Level 2
  • The large amount of time usually dedicated to the assessment of NCEA standards would be freed up for more learning
  • Schools could decide that each subject can offer a maximum of 2 standards per subject so that students are still progressing the qualification ladder (or whatever maximum suits them best in consultation with each Learning Area).
  • Because of more time allowing for deeper learning, schools may find that they can offer some of their Year 11 students assessment pitched at Level 2.
  • Feedback and reporting to students and parents could be as it currently is for Years 9 and 10 - against Level 6 of the NZC
2. Ease up on the credit chase for Level 2 for students in Year 12 who you know will be returning in 2021 as they will gain Level 2 during their Year 13 year.

There are lots, but the biggest shift is a mindset shift from school leaders, who then lead the mindset shift for their staff, students and parents. Putting a well-being lens over such a strategy is hard to argue against.

As well, if you are considering such a strategy it's good to know you are not alone. Over the last 10 days I have hosted 2 Zui (Zoom Hui) with 30 secondary school leaders who are seriously exploring suspending NCEA Level 1 as a full qualification this year and I want to thank them for sharpening my thinking and giving more detail to this proposed strategy.

It seems to me that the Ministry and NZQA are reluctant to message that a valid strategy for schools to consider, depending on their context, the suspension of Level 1 as a full year qualification in 2020. The closest to that we can get is the NZQA message above.

If you want to explore this type of strategy further, make contact and I can link a few people together.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

"We got this" Preparing for Off-site Learning

We had a Staff Only Day yesterday to ensure we were prepared for off-site learning with a shared common understanding of what we meant by off-site learning. Last week we had scheduled it for Wednesday, but on Sunday night we made the decision to move it to Tuesday. In the middle of planning for it on Monday we stopped to listen to the PM's announcement about school closure. In a few short days we had moved from some planning around a possibility to suddenly a certainty.

We had held several Pop Up Hui with interested staff over the preceding 10 days and spent a lot of time agreeing on principles and then expectations based on them, before we started looking at tools and how. Our principles could be best summed up as:

  • Getting the balance between supporting students to continue learning while off-site and the expectations on staff coping with school closure and the particular demands that that places on their own whanau.

All of the planning work has been done by our colleagues who have brought the full range of perspectives and curriculum foci along with a diverse set of personal circumstances to guide us to this stage. I thank them for that - it was a privilege to be part of that thinking and decision-making.

This was our plan for the day:

To support students and parents to have some sort of structure to their day we are having an outward facing ‘timetable’ as follows:
  • 9 30am Hub Check-in
  • 10 00 - 10 45 Block 1
  • 11 00 - 11 45 Block 2
  • 12 45 - 1 30 Block 3
  • 1 45 - 2 30 Block 4

We fully understand that some schools reject the idea of any formal structure but I was motivated by Karen Spencer's Blog and the need to be thinking at this point in time of those less confident in managing themselves through this. I made it clear to staff that it was an outward facing structure in which we, and many of our students, would operate flexibly according to our own circumstances.

Key points I made to the staff at the start of the day were

  • While your status will be “working from home” there is no expectation that you will be engaging with learners and ‘delivering’ for the 45 minutes of each of your timetabled blocks
  • What we are proposing now will need adjusting as the plane-that-we-are-flying-while-building travels a bit further and we learn from our experience
  • We have agreed on what tools we will use (very few) so that it is not too complicated from the student/parent facing end and how and who will communicate with students and parents
    • Staff communication with students/whanau via GC, email only. No sharing of staff personal phone numbers or use of personal social media accounts. Safe and professional cyber practices are even more important when we are remote from each other and our students.
    • Concerns around student engagement, ‘presence’ and progress will be channelled through Coaches using a uniform process
  • We have kept a strong focus on the well-being of all. Now that we are faced with a school closure, it is vital that we maintain the strong connections and sense of whanau that exist among us. One of the things we will do is explore the best way to run an as full staff as possible meet up once a week. This will be important if any school closure goes on for a long period.
    • One of the things we have set up that will operate from the start of any closure is a process for a staff hauora check once a week with their SLT member.

The following visual captures our expectations of staff:

This ABC for staff aligns with our current learning design practice and has connections and whanaungatanga at its core. There's a daily Hub Check-in at 9 30 (via the completion of a Offsite Planner for the day and a weekly Google Meet with the whole Hub.

We completed a set of expectations for students
The ABC for students aligns with our normal school expectations and is built around our 10 Hobsonville Habits.

The large part of the rest of the day was developing staff expertise on the tools we would all be using. The day before we had worked with our Kaiārahi (Head Students) as part of our SOD Planning Team and we tested our set of expectations for staff and students with them and they created the following to make very clear the tools we would be using and why.

We created 2 key documents/processes to ensure a focus on Hauora. The first was to help us focus on student hauora and support them in their daily planning. Our expectation is that when off-site learning kicks off next term on 15 April students will do a daily check in to Hub and complete this plan.

As well, to ensure we were also having a regular focus on staff hauora we created a document/process for staff. Once a week they complete the document and is shared with their relevant SLT member.

There's no doubt that we'll end up changing the way we will operate, especially if the closures go on for a while, but we reckon we've got a strong foundation.

It was an absolute privilege having our awesome Kaiārahi working with us in the lead up and during the day. I'm excited about their plans to keep leading the student body during this closure period.

See you on the other side of this bit of time.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Year @HPSS Starts With Focus on Manaakitanga and Whanaungatanga

We all know that effective teaching and learning (ako) is a relationship thing. In my last post I highlighted Russell Bishop's work in Teaching to the North East which steps you through the research that the only effective teaching is a combination of high teaching skills AND high relationships. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for those seeking a framework for a relationship-based pedagogy.

It is through our focus at HPSS on the concepts of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga, especially in those very important days at the start of the year, that we bring these concepts to life. While any of the one events I outline below would occur in most schools I'm proud of the complete, cohesive approach we follow.

It begins in August of the previous year when we hold individual 30 minute enrolment interviews with the whole family. I attempt to run the vast majority of these but my SLT support (especially over the first 3 days). The hui is centred entirely on getting to know each other and is guided by the following questions:

  • What is the student looking forward to about coming to our school?
  • What is the student most anxious about coming to our school?
  • What are the parents most looking forward to about their child coming to our school?
  • What are the parents most anxious about their child coming to our school?
  • What does the child enjoy learning the most? What do they least enjoy/find the most challenging?
  • What are the child's aspirations through  and beyond school?
  • What are the parents' expectations of us as a school.
All of the answers are shared with the student's Learning Coach so that the Coach has some key information about the student and their family before they even meet.

It continues in November when we bring Year 8 students into our school for half a day to participate in our Big Project Exhibition where  they interact with our students and their projects to whet their own appetite for such learning.

Then in late November we have an Orientation Day for all of our students who have chosen to enrol with us for the following year. This day is entirely focused on manaakitanga and begins with a mihi whakatau (my highlight is cooking the barbecue and serving the Year 8 students for lunch - though my PA is moving in on my place behind the BBQ so feeling a bit threatened!), and on whanaungatanga. Unlike in other schools there is absolutely no testing. Students are allocated to their Learning Communities and participate in a range of interactive and physical activities that get them to know each other, get to know their teachers and to be introduced into our design thinking approach to learning.

In the week before school starts we hold a full day of induction with our new staff. Once again the focus is on manaakitanga and whanaungatanga rather than overloading with information. We cover the key foundation frameworks in our school covered in a previous post and captured in the following visual.

They then complete a group exploration of our neighbourhood capturing photographic evidence of the Hobsonville Habits in action and then join us for lunch at a local cafe.

New staff induction

The following day we have a full Staff Only Day which begins with a powhiri for our new staff. We then gather and cycle through the pre-prepared slide capturing each staff member's (including all ancillary and support staff) pepeha, including visuals of importance to them. With more and more staff (about 70 now) this takes a bit of time, but it is vital if we are serious about whanaungatanga.

In the following Week 1 of school students and families attend an Individual Education Meeting (IEM) to connect with the Learning Coach before classes get under way. As well, during that week we hold an International Student Induction Day (supported by senior and ex students), Peer Mediation training day, and a day for seniors who wish to participate in leadership roles (totally self-selected). On that day they devote time to the planning for the Friday when Year 9s attend their first day. That day begins with a mihi whakatau then the senior students take over for the day supporting the Year 9 students through more in-depth workshops on how learning and relating operate in our school. No testing though!

Senior students supporting International Student Induction

Week 2 and still no timetabled classes yet. All students are together on the Monday for the first time and they spend all day in their Learning Hub and Learning Communities creating connections between each other. On the Tuesday students participate for the full day, in their Learning Communities, on a range of  challenges, both physical and academic, to build on the connections formed the previous day and to develop the spirit of collaboration (one of our school Values) while experiencing the full set of Hobsonville Habits.

It's not until we reach Wednesday of Week 2 that students begin timetabled classes. It's a special feature of our school that we dedicate the time, resource and kaha to the concentration on manaakitanga and whanaungatanga. Still no testing!

Then we cap it off on the Wednesday evening with a Waitangi Whanau Picnic in conjunction with HP Primary School as we extend our focus on Manaakitanga and Whanaungatanga to our parent community across both schools. The combination of food trucks, student music performances and whānau gathering on picnic blankets is a great way to cap off this very important focus.

It's Saturday at the end of Week 2 and because of this great work on this most important stuff led by our outstanding staff I'm really looking forward to Monday and the first full week of timetabled classes. I think we're now ready.