Friday, May 1, 2020

Strengthen and Bolster

I have watched, viewed and read with interest over the last six weeks as everyone has found a way to navigate through these interesting times we find ourselves in.

I need to write a disclaimer here that I am currently on sick leave so while I watch the twitter discussions, facebook feeds, professional writing and gatherings online I am in the slightly privileged space of being able to observe while not having to implement or coach and lead others to implement.

I hear the cries for change- that we've proven that we can change schools very rapidly and we need to keep these changes and this pace of change when we return to whatever our new normal is. I also hear the counter arguments that a solution in times of emergency can not and should not be transferred back into everyday practice.

I can understand both schools of thought.

However I do think this situation provides a window of opportunity to self reflect- particularly on the issue of engagement versus compliance. If you think you are getting engagement with learning because students have to attend your class and do what you say is it really engaging or is it a compliance? How do we get real engagement? If you are not getting engagement now why? It could be the personal circumstances of the student. It could be the inequities of the situation and their lack of access to the tools and resources. And it could be because they just don't connect with the learning being offered when they are not being forced to do it.

All of these discussions aside the biggest argument for me, in the current situation, is that of the importance of moving our schools much more rapidly towards transdisciplinary learning.

This doesn't mean let’s do a bit of science and then a bit of maths and a bit of English all centred around a theme.

It means how can we use our discrete knowledge of one discipline to strengthen and bolster our learning in another. When the government talks about an All of Government approach this is what they are talking about. The solution they have put in place has not been a health one or a science one or an economic one, it hasn't just been a legal solution or about provisioning for those without or looking ahead to employment issues. It’s a solution that encompasses all of these and more. It uses the knowledge from multiples areas to create a solution together. And most importantly overriding the health solution, the economic solution, the safety protection, the provision solution is one of both building humanity and understanding the interdependence of all of these things. The stand out message for me was Stay Home Save Lives Be Kind. We were constantly reminded to be kind, and the message was continual that by everyone doing their bit we would save lives even if your own wasn’t in immediate peril. We had to understand interdependence. And we had to respect humanity.

Transdisciplinary approaches are often decried by subject specialists as losing the integrity of their discipline. Actually a transdisciplinary approach still values the knowledge and deep understanding of each discipline, but the outcome of transdisciplinary learning is to use that knowledge and understanding to the benefit of another discipline in order to create a new solution to an issue or project.

It is not until we stop the competitive nature of disciplines in schools- where departments are compared to each other for who got the best passes, or the more students taking them, or the ‘right’ to teach certain standards that we will see progress.

It is not until we fully understand, subscribe to and all work together to create the interdependence of the learning of each discipline in a transdisciplinary model that we will see real life authentic learning happening.

It is not until we take an approach that puts humanity and the development of humanitarianism at the top of our priorities that we will be able to see real change in education, in schools and in the outcomes for all of society.

And to do that will take all of society's approach. While we still place such prominence on league tables and comparisons we push schools into a place where it is hard to have the courage to explore other models of learning. It seems innovation can only succeed as long as you still measure up to all the old measures in place.

Let’s create schools and learning that truly help everyone make the world a better place going forward.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Thanks to an Amazing Kaimahi team

Three years in. At the end of last year we just finished three years with our students.  It hasn’t been easy, but it has been worth it. 

There’s been laughter. There’s been tears. There’s been joy. There’s been sorrow.  And there’s been learning. So much learning. Sometimes unrecognised learning because it doesn’t fit the ‘picture’ of school learning, but learning there has been.

What’s made that learning happen?

The people definitely.  We’ve said hello to some and farewell to others. Some have left, knowing a piece of their heart will always stay with us despite the challenges, tribulations and joy of being involved in something that will be truly ground breaking for our learners. Others have left maybe relieved, as they struggled to align our practices with what they think schooling should be about. But all have contributed to the growth of our little corner of the schooling system.

The relationships. All schools say they are about relationships, and all are in their own ways. But over the last three years I’ve watched our teachers and learners develop a true sense of Ako. They learn from each other, with each other and for each other. Our teachers have let go of their teacher egos. It’s not about them, on the whole part, ever. To truly commit to Haeata has meant that our teachers, despite at times great personal sacrifice and detrimental publicity have risen above time and time again. How many times I have heard the refrain or similar in either words o'r actions- it’s not about me, it’s about them. Each individual learner. And that’s impossible without truly personal relationships- the relationships that are formed through 1-1 interactions and conversations.

The commitment to doing school differently. To not tweaking but to significant change.

Grant Lichtman in Thrive outlines the following about change: 
Making significant change is difficult, if not impossible, without the willingness to take a risk . In school terms, what do we mean by significant change ? Change is relative for each school; I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all recipes. But changing a textbook or a curriculum package is not significant. I would argue that a change is significant if it allows or requires the school to change one of the five basic parameters of what I have called the school “operating system.” 
  1. Changing how time is organised (day, week, month, year) 
  2. Changing how physical space is used: breaking the boundaries of traditional classrooms and/or static organization of learning space within those rooms 
  3. Changing how learners are organized (grouping by biological age, subject) 
  4. Changing the student-to-teacher ratio and relationship; changing the static “one teacher per X number of students” for every class period 
  5. Changing the ownership of learning, from teacher owned to co-owned and student 

At Haeata we’ve challenged traditional age grouping of students in schools. And along with that we’ve  challenged traditional leadership roles in both students and adults. No one is more important or deserves special treatment or roles just because of their age. People of all ages learn together. I’ve learnt a lot in my life from people 20 years and more my junior in age. People don’t deserve promotions just because they’ve been in the job the longest. People who hold certain positions don’t have an automatic right to sit in a better chair, or park in a better spot, or occupy a certain space. 

At Haeata we commit to a collective responsibility for success.Collective responsibility of many teachers for many students is a challenge. It requires new systems and intense communication- communication that is way different than traditional school communication lines. But it can also be ever so powerful. When a young person knows there are multiple adults investing in their success it means something to them.

We are working hard to be giving students of all ages, not just those who have “earned” the right on some adult set of criteria, a real voice in their learning. Our teachers are collaborating together to design timetables that are responsive to learners needs and that challenge the traditional uses of times in schools. Gone is the power one timetabler wields over learning and learners. 

At Haeata we give control of space to learners. Many teachers have a need to keep strong order in how they do things. My first memory as a beginning teacher is being required to take down a wall display because it wasn’t  backed and was slightly crooked and being stood over while I backed it and measured the wall to ensure the reinstallation was perfect and didn’t offend my tutor teachers sense of order. Creating purposeful uses of space, where students are not afraid to get involved In the “messy” of learning, where they don’t feel everything has to look perfect and satisfy someone else’s sense of order as a priority is important. Understanding, allowing and expecting that students will move things around within pre set spaces is part of our practice.

We've had a vision for learning and schooling and the courage to interrogate many of the more conventional practices that occur in most schools, for the potential value or otherwise they make to each individual student. A preparedness to interrogate the purpose of every practice before continuing it, or adding it into how we do things.

We enjoy the resilience and positivity of so many. We have amazing young people to work with, some of whom have their own challenges to overcome but many of whom are starting to show every sign of thriving. Not just surviving by gaining a qualification, but thriving in their own personalised way with confidence and a development of their own voice. 

But mostly this post is to celebrate the staff who have stuck with us, or who have joined us along the way. The staff who show amazing resilience, sometimes at great personal sacrifice amidst attempts at public shaming of something others are yet to understand.

You provide amazing opportunities for young people. You continue to ask why of the things we’ve accepted “just the way it is” in times gone past. You support each other, and even more importantly you challenge each other. You are passionate about what you do. You couldn’t keep doing it if you weren’t because it’s just too hard. It’s certainly not the easy way out. But it has been worth it. 

As we head into a our fourth year I sincerely hope you've all taken time to relax and refresh. Thank you for all you have done, and will continue to do.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Today we let you go, with our love, with our respect, and with our thanks.

Today I had the privilege of farewelling Andy Kai Fong from Haeata. 
These were my words:

Andy, where do we start? And even more poignant- where do we end?

This school has been so big for you. And all of our roles, everyone in this room, have been so big within the school too because of you. Because you empowered us all to have skin in the game, you stood beside us, not ahead of us, not behind us but beside us as together we all created something very special.

If you came to this job to appeal to the masses, to have a bit of a cruise, to not ruffle any feathers at any level of the system, then you have failed.

If you came to this job with the idea to do something different, to challenge conventional thinking, to disrupt education or at least conventional schooling as we used to understand it, then you have succeeded.

A couple of nights ago I asked a few staff to send me a few words that they thought described you for them - as a person and as a leader

Someone replied: Tough job- i thought yes he has had a tough job, then I re read and realised that they meant I had a tough job writing and delivering this speech. Yes I do. I’ve made many farewell speeches over the years and this certainly counts up there as one of the toughest. But it’s been made so much easier by the following selection of replies I received:

  • Rangatiratanga, quiet strength, thoughtful, considered, wise. Stamina, An example of a decent human being
  • Inspirational . A change leader. Empathetic. Great sense of humour. Charismatic. Open. Forward thinking. Special
  • Profound, composed, knowledgeable, future-focused, fair, witty, intelligent, articulate and thoughtful, committed..
  • A Courageous, entrepreneur who leads beside you and allows the light to shine on those he leads. Always does the hard graft from media front person to late night dishes and clean ups after big events. Committed to cultural responsiveness . Has held the tokotoko for Haeata in relentless exhilarating challenge of forging a new paradigm in education for Haeata, for Aotearoa and the world. I have nothing but respect, care and admiration for Andy
  • A leader where hierarchy is not a status, laughs with us, at himself and asks your opinion
  • Selfless leadership, Kind, Steady, Brave, Not just talk, but follow through too
  • Dependable, patient, convivial, effervescent, amazing, funny, supportive, Inspirational
  • Resilient, Committed, Warrior, Passionate, Honest, Inappropriate, Laughs at himself, Trailblazer , Fighter, Humble, Inspiring
  • Direct when needed, but never harsh, approachable but not a push over, cheerful but realistic, a whole lot of things I didn't think could co-exist within the same person. I have always thought he walked a difficult tight-rope very well.
I could carry on, there were more. But after all those head swelling comments we might need to bring you down to earth a little. I'm not sure if you know this or whether it will come as a surprise to you but not everyone has loved you. The media hasn't always been your friend. The system hasn't always been your friend. And as you strived to encourage and then insist on teacher practice that supported our vision, some staff were not your friends either.

In fact one of the criticisms I heard last year was you were trying to create a Utopian society. I was never quite sure what that meant. This is what Google told me: Utopian: Idealists- proposing or advocating impractically or impossibly ideal social and political schemes

Well actually my answer to that, believe it or not, is a quote: “Extraordinary people visualize not what is possible or probable, but rather what is impossible. And by visualizing the impossible, they begin to see it as possible” – Cherie Carter-Scott

That is what you have done here Andy. You have helped everyone live in the world of future possibility. You have helped us find out that when we believe in the impossible it slowly becomes possible. And you’ve done that with a calm serenity on the outside that I’m sure wasn't always there on the inside. But it’s the side you’ve always shown us, and the side you’ve always shown the world. In short you have been extraordinary just like the quote says.

Sure it hasn’t all been perfect. Anyone from the Burwood days remember the three hour session to co-construct how we will all dress at school, or session on whether we will “make” the kids leave their shoes outside the classroom. Sometimes the funny bone came out at the wrong moments, although that backbone and wishbone were ever present.

We were told when we started- If you are not being criticised, then you are not going far enough. If this is true then obviously we went far enough because we've certainly had our fair share of criticism. The way you have dealt with that criticism-especially the external criticism has been a lesson for all of us. You remain measured in your response. You encourage us all not to take it personally. You are always prepared to reflect on your role in any criticism received and how you could make that better or easier for next time. A true leader in so many senses.

I've used this very famous speech from Theodore Roosevelt a few times here over the last few years but I think it is worth reminding everyone here of right now: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Andy- you’ve been in the arena.

For four years now you’ve shown an absolute belief in the Haeata vision and a real backing of the Haeata people who stand behind that vision. You had some strong thinking around this but you’ve been prepared to allow all of us to help shape and contribute to that vision too. It is not just your vision.

As I wrote a few weeks ago- "What we need to remember is that when anyone leaves they leave a legacy, and for a Principal that legacy is in not just the vision they have created but in how they have created the living breathing day to day representation of that vision. And if that’s been done well, then there are many people who are able to keep developing that vision. Saying goodbye is personal- it is to the person. We are not saying goodbye to the vision." It is our commitment to the legacy you have begun here at Haeata that we will continue to evolve, strengthen and deepen that vision.

You’ve provoked our thinking and our reactions to situations inspiring us all to become not just better educators but better people. You empower and value everyone for where they are and where they can go to.

On a personal note, after having been a Principal for so long, I couldn't have come into this job and done it alongside too many people. You are one of those rare people. Finding out, not long after we started that we shared the same birthdate down to the year we were born in, kind of made sense. It emphasised the professional connection we had from Day 1. I will miss our continual professional chats- the sharing of reading and our reflections on that reading, wondering and debating the future of schooling, the challenging together of what the future could be for schooling and education. You have continually made me feel like your equal from Day 1. Finding someone who professionally challenges you, and allows you to challenge them, with a commonality of vision is so rare and I will consider myself so fortunate to have found that in you. Thank you for being my educational soul-mate (and I borrow that term from your wife) for the last four years.
There’s a pretty famous quote: “Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.” I don't think there’s too many people, if any, in this room that would say there life won’t forever be changed by the opportunity to work and walk alongside you Andy. Not only are you an inspiring leader and a credible educator, you are a rare and special human being. We will always treasure our time with you.

But it is time to say goodbye to you now. To thank you and to wish you all the best.

A few years ago a friend knew I was facing one of these tough goodbye speeches and they sent me this poem by Mary Oliver

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

And that’s the place I choose to end today.

Today we let you go, but know that we keep you in our bones, in this building, in this school, in our people and in our hearts

Today we let you go, and we know you go keeping a piece of us in your heart always.

Today we let you go, with our love, with our respect, and with our thanks.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Who Needs to be in the Conversation?

Garvey Berger (2019) says “The complexity of the world requires that we understand the greys, that we resist black-and-white solutions, that we ask different questions about unexpected and tangential options. But alas, we humans are built to simplify and segment, and it goes against all of our natural pulls to take another person’s perspective or to see a system in action.”

At a recent hui I attended with regards to assessment and qualifications someone said “We need to start this conversation about valuing different measures,” and someone else replied “ With respect- why are we still having this conversation? Some of us have been having this conversation for many years. The conversation should be resolved by now, yet we are still talking about the same stuff twenty years on.”

What we actually need to do is to ensure we are having the conversations with the right people or all that happens is we become an echo chamber. There are groups of educators out there who know we need to do more than just change the practices and pedagogies in our schools and classrooms. They know we need to change the way that success is measured. But until that gets changed system wide there will continue to be conflict, suspicion and tension at every level of the system.

Until systemic change and embracing of different measures of success become mainstream these educators are fighting against a system too big, even in New Zealand, for small groups to make but the smallest waves and impacts.

The advent of flexible learning environments and the change in practice this has required for some has been both a help and a hindrance. It’s made us aware of different pedagogies and practices possible. But those being judged the most successful in these environments are those that still measure up against the old measures. The measures that just simply aren’t the most appropriate measures for the world going forward, in my opinion anyway. The message, both implicit and explicit is we can only change our practices if we still succeed with the old measures. 

 As a profession, at every level of the profession,  we need to put the past aside, embrace the uncertainty and complexity that represents the world we live in today and be prepared to live in that grey. At every level of the profession we need to be able to stand back and look with new perspectives at a system that was designed for another time and the measures that support this.

One of the biggest impacts on me over the last 6 months has been understanding a theory that the wise Mary Chamberlain shared with our leadership team. (Cant remember the original reference sorry.)
She told us about this triangle where you have a vision for learning, the operational capacity of the school and the authorising environments. Like any three legged stool if one of those corners of the triangle is lesser than the others the stool can flip right over.
We talked about how our vision for a new way of learning oozes out of every pore in our school, from the people to the environment to what is said, to the actions seen, but that this could all fall over if we don’t get those authorising environments at least giving us enough space to continue to develop our operational capacity without compromising our vision. 

Yet recognising that the system and everyone that represents it is part of our authorising environment presents challenges. 

How do we ensure that those in the system, often technically our superiors, are prepared to acknowledge the grey, when they operate themselves in an environment of strict balances and measures? How do we influence the operational capacity of the system to live in complexity rather than the certainty of clinical measures of success. How do we allow a less risk averse system to develop? How do we influence enough to ensure those tasked with moving the system are reading deeply and widely and prepared to look from different personal perspectives?

While support networks on social media like twitter and groups like #disruptED are absolutely valuable, and have kept me going in this battle again and again, over time the energy and momentum goes unless we can get the right people into those conversations. In the last twenty years  I’ve seen some great people and excellent educators come into those networks,  contribute greatly for a few years and then disappear into oblivion or give up on the system all together and leave as their efforts for reform and transformation struggle to gain momentum outside of their small sphere of influence.

As the Garvey Berger quote at the beginning of this blog says “as humans we are preconditioned to simplify and segment.” It seems the more complex the world becomes, the more the authorising environments in our system, both school based and government based are trying to simplify, procedurise and segment our learning and our responses into controlled measures that disregard the complexity of our environments and the future. 

Living and being okay in the grey is not celebrated or encouraged and is actually disincentivized and criticised at all levels of the system we find ourselves in. Collective voice is needed to challenge this.  

We need to invest serious attention to looking at our schooling systems from different perspectives before they become completely irrelevant to the future for our young people. And we need to leverage the collective power of the people within the system to influence those authorising our system.   
“In the long run, we will neither need nor want professionals to work in the way that they did in the twentieth century and before.”


Berger, J. G. (2019). Unlocking leadership mindtraps: how to thrive in complexity. Stanford, CA: Stanford Briefs, an imprint of Stanford University Press.
Susskind, R. E., & Susskind, D. (2017). The future of the professions: how technology will transform the work of human experts. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Berger, J. G. (2019). Unlocking leadership mindtraps: how to thrive in complexity. Stanford, CA: Stanford Briefs, an imprint of Stanford University Press.

Susskind, R. E., & Susskind, D. (2017). The future of the professions: how technology will transform the work of human experts. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Berger, J. G. (2019). Unlocking leadership mindtraps: how to thrive in complexity. Stanford, CA: Stanford Briefs, an imprint of Stanford University Press.
Susskind, R. E., & Susskind, D. (2017). The future of the professions: how technology will transform the work of human experts. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Berger, J. G. (2019). Unlocking leadership mindtraps: how to thrive in complexity. Stanford, CA: Stanford Briefs, an imprint of Stanford University Press.
Susskind, R. E., & Susskind, D. (2017). The future of the professions: how technology will transform the work of human experts. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Saying Goodbye is Personal

Recently we’ve had a few staff leave, and others announce they are leaving over the next few months. 

While it is natural for some to second guess these departures and announcements it is important to remember that arrivals and departures at a school are often pretty common place, and especially so at a new school when everyone has started at the same time. We need to remember that changes in staff can represent where people are at in their personal and professional lives as much or more than being reflective of something in the school.

As a school leader over the last twenty years I have farewelled numerous fantastic teachers and other leaders, and been farewelled myself, saying goodbye to tremendous practitioners and valued friends. I’ve left, or others have, for new opportunities both personally and professionally. Schools become like families and it is wrenching to pull yourself out of that family and move on. The tension and inner debate between developing your career and breaking the bonds of family you have created with other human beings is ever present.

A few years ago I wrote this blogpost  about moving on and saying goodbye from the vantage point of being a Principal in another new school. Much of this blogpost applies at Haeata too.

To create a school from scratch is no easy task. We have great privileges. New property, new resources, lead in time to develop thinking, and unlearn and relearn, to debate philosophies and create vision.  
But it’s also hard work. Really hard work. Creating relationships from scratch. Amongst staff. Between staff and students. Amongst students. Between schools and whānau and the wider communities. Building processes and procedures and systems from scratch with both the advantages and disadvantages of not having tradition. Being innovative in the design and delivery of learning while still being measured by indicators of success from a different system.

As a new school we attract immense attention, immense interest, immense acclaim and also immense criticism. And all of those form their own challenges. We are challenged sometimes from people who have never put a foot in the place but make assumptions based on hearsay. Sometimes from people who should know better. So for people in our place a certain level of resilience and and a level of courage to remain committed to a vision despite those challenges has been a vital disposition to grow. Nowhere in a school is holding that vision more important than in the role of Principal. So the news of an imminent departure of our foundation principal is certainly unsettling. Without diminishing the significance of the other departures we have already had, and those that are imminent, the announcement of a Principal leaving is always major.

What we need to remember is that when anyone leaves they leave a legacy, and for a Principal that legacy is in not just the vision they have created but in how they have created the living breathing day to day representation of that vision. And if that’s been done well, then there are many people who are able to keep developing that vision. 

So as we prepare to say goodbye to a principal who has been vital and instrumental and an absolute key in the success of our school so far, to a Principal who has shown courage in the face of adversary over and over, we remember that we are saying goodbye to the person not to the vision. And as we have said goodbye to others, or prepare to soon, we remember they have all been part of growing that vision too and the practice they leave behind is a part of everything we are, everything we be every day and we take a part of all of them into the future with us. We will always be linked by that vision that has been created together.

Creating that vision together and making it come alive is what makes so many schools special places to be. And it is what makes saying goodbye difficult. In the immortal words of Winnie the Pooh ( AA Milne) “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

As this post is titled, saying goodbye is personal. We are saying goodbye, or preparing to, to people who have become like family, to people we have worked hard to grow a vision with. 

But saying goodbye is personal- it is to the person. 
We are not saying goodbye to the vision.

 That will continue to grow.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Motivated, Heartened and Plain Excited Again!

Wow- totally feeling energised and hopeful heading into the second day of the Leading a Digital School conference in Melbourne.

After some recent times of feeling disheartened  and disillusioned by the education system, my faith in the future of education and schooling has gone a long way to being restored after a fantastic first day at conference yesterday.

The conference kicked off with the MC- Rick Noack- sharing a pearl of wisdom about collecting driftwood on the beach not sure what art you will make out of it and encouraging delegates to apply this to the conference- attend with an open mind never knowing where you will get the nuggets of gold from.

Jane Hunter kicked off the first keynote with a fantastic rendition of some of her recent research. So refreshing to hear an academic researcher speak with such passion and understanding of the schooling system and give such practical examples of her research and the implications coming from it.

Some of my favourite quotes from Jane’s presentation:

“STEM can’t be stand alone subjects, they need to be thought about in terms of arts and humanities too.”

“We are not going to solve the world’s problems if we remain in our silos, if we keep teaching sciences from a pure science viewpoint, we need to move to a transdisciplinary approach.”

“The answer is not to put in Specialist teachers but to deepen the capacity of all teachers.”

Jane finished her presentation by sharing this quote from Ruha Benjamin speaking at ISTE- “We must incubate a better world in the minds and hearts of our students...” 
The video of this keynote is now on my to be watched list.

First workshop up was us presenting about our challenge to the status quo in schools- about about how we are trying everyday to make practice at Haeata about learning not about schooling.  Having decided to not centre our presentation around a slideshow that we talked to we had created some infographics that compared our learning approach to that of a conventional school and spent a great hour leading a discussion with the delegates in our session about this. Great to hear Jono talk with such passion and clarity about what teachers and learners at Haeata do.

Next up was a session with Adrian Camm on developing the visioning process. He took us through a visioning process he has used successfully. The thing that struck me was his point about making sure you are asking the right questions- the questions he got us to work through were indeed powerful to surface our beliefs about learning and schooling. As Adrian said Developing a powerful shared vision begins with deeply understanding your own beliefs and purpose.”

My unexpected jewel of the day was attending a session run by Josh McQuade. Josh is in his 3rd year of teaching and he was just so humble and honest about how he is trying to disrupt the system, leverage technology and engage his learners. He shared his successes but also his failures so honestly. He has developed great thought provoking questions for students t guide them through their learning processes. He had such a heart for teaching and young people and he proved to me that pockets of innovation even within big conventional systems are so important.  I was just quite blown away by his absolute commitment to keep challenging things and to not be in that large statistic of teachers who leave within their first five years. The future of education is so much brighter when we can retain young teachers of Josh’s quality and commitment in our profession.

The final keynote of the day was Adrian Camm- what a motivational and thought provoking way to end a fantastic day of thinking and learning. Adrian talked about the principles of leading change and then the innately human principles of leading a digital school. Some of my favourite quotes:

“I’m more excited now than I’ve ever been about the potential of what school can be.”

“Schools must think systemically and acknowledge they are complex human centred places of learning.”

“Being a leader is one of the most exhausting but satisfying things you can do.”

“What it means to be human is going to be challenged, and students must be able to regulate, be ethical global citizens Our moral imperative is to support students to be an ethical global citizen.”

I love the challenge that Adrian left us with- lets stop the continual harassment on social media- of conventional vs non conventional educators, of this side or that side, lets come together as a professional group and stand up and be counted for contributing to the future. Let's be those ethical global citizens we need to be educating our young people to be.

As a direct result of today I've purchased two books that Im hoping to get into over the weekend- Jane's book on High possibility classrooms and a book on Gamestorming recommended by Adrian

Thanks to @iwbnet and Margot and Rick for such an inspiring first day.

You always think twice about spending valuable time away from your school on school days.

And there are times I have wondered and questioned the value of face to face conferences given the amount of access we now have to resources and speakers online.

But this day was one of the best I have spent at a conference for many years.

Looking forward to the next two.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

New Practices and Teacher Autonomy

In a chance online encounter for another purpose I ended up in yet another conversation with a teacher frustrated and challenged by teaching in a MLE. She was “yet to be convinced” of any value or advantage. She feels she’s lost her autonomy and her ability to be creative. She now has to teach reading, writing and maths groups to a timetable that matches perfectly with the three other teachers she shares a space with. While there may be some advantage in that the grouping they can use over four classes means each group has more similar needs and the academic  content can be closely targeted, isn’t this just a form of streaming? Aren’t we starting to learn that ability grouping causes as many issues as it solves? I remain concerned that primary teachers, many of whom have decried the use of streaming and adherence to rigid timetables in the secondary system are now doing the same instead of using new teaching spaces as the driver to actually interrogate and change their teaching practice.

I’ve heard many times now- A modern learning environment is not a modern learning environment if all that has changed is the space and our practice has not changed. If we are going into these new spaces and putting four groups of learners and four teachers and multiplying what we once did by four then all that is likely to occur is stress and burnout. 

I love collaborative teaching for the flexibility it could bring to the learning experience for our learners. The ability to tap into different passions and skill sets. The opportunities for modelling of and experiencing social situations and learning. But I wonder whether we are taking enough time to consider as leaders what that actually means for learning and then taking the time to support our teachers into interrogating their practice and then most importantly giving them licence to explore new practice. New practice is not doing the same thing just with four teachers in a bigger space. Too often I’m thinking the new practice stops at the organisational stage of how will we make this work?

Yes, I agree teaching in a MLE can feel like a loss of autonomy for a teacher if nothing else but the space changes and now you are having to cater for and cooperate with multiple adults and learners.  But if practice changes autonomy is possible.  Autonomy within a collective agreement responsibility and towards a collective outcome for our learners. 

Agency is one of the important keys in a modern learning environment.Developing multiple opportunities and pathways for learner agency requires us to change our view of agency in a learning environment. If we organise and stream our learners and tell them where they have to be and with whom they have to be every moment of the day are we providing opportunities for them to have agency over their learning? A vital skill for their growth and their future. 

Teacher agency and autonomy now fits under a much bigger umbrella. Within a team having a vision for learning that is clear, with teacher actions and decisions able to be linked to that. Flexibility within the learning environment for learners to take multiple pathways towards that vision, teachers relearning their roles in order to provide scaffolds within those choices, rather than their role being to dictate those choices. . So for teachers rather than creating the big picture of the learning themselves, then giving students some limited choices underneath a clearly adult designed pathway, it’s about working together to provide the pathways as learners start taking them. This requires a much more responsive approach that needs flexibility in approach and timetabling and planning, and some different measures of success.

Which brings me to the crux. If we keep measuring new practices with old measures we will continue to move at a glacial pace in schools. 

We need to have courage to change our practices, which also means changing our organisation and changing our measures.  And leaders need to have courage to let go of some of the old. What point is there in giving teachers freedom to innovate, or ask them to give learners lots of agentic opportunities and then insist on measuring the success with the same measures that were used and more appropriate to another time.

If we don’t work to change things at every level, then we will continue to simply frustrate and burn out teachers as we move more and more into modern learning environments.

Some Previous Posts I've written on similar topics:

MLE and MLP- a returning fad, or something that could be truly transformative?