Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Power of Space

I was sitting in a learning community space on Friday afternoon chatting to a couple of our  leaders reflecting on the last couple of weeks. It was 90 minutes since school had “officially”  finished. 

In wandered a 15 year old boy, who grabbed a couple of pieces of bread from the ever present loaves sitting on the benches, popped them in one of the many toasters that fill the bench tops and then grabbed out some butter and jam- also always available- and made his toast, shared a few words with the teachers whom I was talking with, wished us all a good weekend and sauntered off.

Last week I wandered through  the same spot during learning time. A few different groups of kids were sitting in the space working. So were a few teachers who were in their scheduled non contact breaks. In one corner a teenage boy was making himself some toast to take back to his work and at the same time making a piece for a teacher, who he delivered it to, had a brief chat about what they were both working on and then both headed back into their own work.

The function of this space, set up in the middle of a larger open flexible learning community is quite incredible, and powerful. 

Anyone can use the facilities and ingredients to create something to eat whenever they feel they need to, not restricted to certain times.

Teachers and students sit there at break times and heat and eat lunch together. 

It works as a learning space, as a social space and as a meeting space.

Collective responsibility for keeping it tidy is gradually becoming the norm, rather than the  responsibility of one person or a specific group of people.

"Many learning spaces now resemble places of collegiality, intellectual intrigue and comfort, as opposed to the restrictive and monotonous classrooms many of us experienced in years past."

The teachers I was chatting with reflected that of all the space changes and re purposing of space we had done 6 weeks ago this space was probably the most significant and powerful.

It’s allowing teachers and students to build relationships in different ways- ways that are reflective of life outside of the traditional boundaries of school.

It has allowed two previously separately operating groups of teachers to come together and forge common connections. 

It’s taken away an artificial divide between students and teachers so carefully constructed over many years in our schooling system and is helping instill a new paradigm of learning together, of learning alongside each other, of all being learners together.

“Its not about creating learning for kids, it’s about discovering that leaning with them,” @ModernLearners 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Compliance and Complacency and Culture

I've written in the past about collaboration not being a soft option in teaching. Collaboration, when done properly requires great skill and facilitation. It is not about blindly building a social adult culture where everyone backs each other regardless. True collaboration is about building a culture where  everyone on a team is working towards the same vision and everyone on the team is prepared to hold everyone else in the team to that vision. It's about building more, and better, together than you could possibly do by yourself.

Lately I've been doing a lot of thinking about the push we have in many schools to develop a real self direction and self determination of learning in our students. 

Just like when we first started developing collaborative practice in schools this was sometimes mistaken for a developing a social adult culture of blind support and agreement for all, I can see the possibility of misunderstanding self directed learning and it becoming a reason to become complacent about student learning and achievement. To accept anything goes because we are committed to a journey towards student self determination is to completely misunderstand the reason that empowering our young people to think and direct themselves is so vital for their future.

We still need to have high expectations of the learning our young people can do, and we need to help them develop their ability to direct their life- including their own learning. Its not about preparing them for life after school. Its about empowering them to make the most of their life right now, in order to develop the best skills possible for their future life. We need to work carefully with each young person to empower then to aim high, and we need to use a range of indicators with which to identify the success of those aims. Those indicators might include a growing satisfaction with personal achievements, a growing sense of taking a rightful place in the world, and other such intrinsic motivations. Yet they may also include more traditional measures of success such as learning being measured against standards and other extrinsic motivations. 

The act of teaching is highly complex, and the emergence of empowering students towards a self management, and ultimately self direction of their own learning has only made the role of a teacher even more complex. 

Opportunities for all teaching strategies- direct instruction, coaching, mentoring, facilitation, consultation must be sought, identified and acted upon, sometimes simultaneously with one learner or multiple learners at the same time. 
Knowing when to move from one to the other is a complex mix of knowledge, behaviours and instinct. Knowledge of human development, knowledge of the learning process, knowledge of content and knowledge of the learner all interplay. Relationships are really important. So is learning. And balancing those is tricky. 

If we teach as a purely cognitive task- our teaching can be cold. Without warm relationships the learning is possible but it will not be as effective
If we teach as a purely emotional task- our teaching can become social at best and narcissistic at worse. Without high expectations the learning is possible but it becomes unintentional. In addition if we don't hold those with which we develop strong relationships to account for the way they treat others, then a culture of dependency on us and exclusivity of our relationship can develop.

When your individual success as a teacher is dependent on a balancing act of developing strong positive relationships with students, but also holding high expectations of what they can achieve and holding them to these high expectations it is no longer possible to just move through the motions of compliance to a set of actions that will guarantee your success. Teachers looking for  tick-box sets of actions will struggle with developing self directed learners. Each young person is different. 

If we want to empower our young people in our classrooms today to take direction and responsibility for themselves then we need to develop positive relationships that also have a sense of expectation inherent in those relationships for how we will treat others and how we will learn and demonstrate our achievements.

We need to ensure we do not replace a culture of compliance for our learners with a culture of complacency. 

We need powerful positive relationships, with developed personalised expectations and we need to develop a culture of care and confidence, of capacity and capability. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Accountability and Collective Responsibility

This term our senior classes in Years 7-13 are having a real push on accountability.

There is so much personalisation of our programmes that in order to help our students grow towards being empowered self directed learners, it is really necessary for us to scaffold them into this with some clear and very regular mentoring.

We have 12 teaching blocks during the week. Some students attend mostly workshop in these 12 blocks. Others are almost solely working on their own projects and inquiries. At the start of each block all students return to their mentor groups- a smaller group of between 10 and 20 students and check in. They do the attendance register and then they have in depth learning conversations wiht their mentor teacher about what they are going to do in the next learning block. Are they heading off to work with a teacher? and where? Are they working on their own independent learning? Where are they going to choose to do this? What do they want to achieve?  They do this at the beginning of each of these 12 blocks during the week for a full half hour. 

That is accountability building for our students. it's also accountability building and even more importnat a building of collective responsibility for our teachers.
In times gone past teachers just focussed on the students they taught and nothing else. There was even competition- my class achieved higher than yours. Many times this was encouraged by leadership and systems within a school

We want to truly build a system where our set of teachers are working together to collectively be responsible for the success- in all its definitions for all of our students.

Our place not my classroom. Our learners, not my students.

Yesterday afternoon we had our weekly combined professional learning and learning design session. We spent the first half focusing on building our pedagogy. 

We worked with our paired mentor teachers in our Puna Ako groupings to look at our accountability systems, to identify students we needed to target. 

We gave some feedback to all teachers about the quality and quantity of learning narratives we had written in the last week. See this post on the importance of our learning narratives.

And then we focussed more on content, wiht each teacher having an opportunity to highlight the learning content question they were having wiht one individual student. They presented this to the group of 30 in sets of 4 and then other teachers chose the person they thought they could help most and gathered for a 5 minute session discussing and making suggestions. We repeated the cycle four times.

What great conversations- what great advice and help was received.

To see a circle of 8 teachers siting discussing one child- maybe a Year 12 student working on an individual inquiry with a technology base- but being given some suggestions and advice by 3 primary trained teachers, a teacher wiht a Health and PE specialist background, a Teacher wiht a specialist English background, a textiles specialist, and a Science specialist. What magic these teachers can make by joining their heads together for each and every student.

I love the power of area schools to truly strip away the imaginary, and sometime imposed, lines between secondary trained and primary trained teachers and give us the opportunity to learn from each other in order to provide rich ands real learning opportunities for our learners.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Teacher Complexity and Changing Roles

In a week where so much is focused on the work and worth and value of a teacher, I have reflected on the ever increasing complexity of the role of a teacher over the 30 years I have been teaching.

The stereotypical picture of a teacher standing in front of a set of neatly aligned rows of desks with students eagerly facing them ready to regurgitate the knowledge they impart is a far picture from the reality for a teacher of today.

The impact of MLE's or ILE's or FLE's or 21st century learning environments has had huge impact on the practice required from many teachers. For some schools the move to 21st century learning practices has happened with or without these environments.

Lesley Murrihy from Amesbury School wrote this great post last week:  All MLEs are not the same: Towards a "high level" definition

Lesley says "MLEs don’t have to have open and flexible physical environments, though it can be very helpful, but the teachers within them do have to be open and flexible and evidence-based in their approach to teaching and learning to ensure they are continually meeting the needs of every student."

I totally agree with Lesley when she says: "For me, the point of more open, flexible environments is to ensure that we can continually meet the needs of each and every student."

In order to do this no longer can we, or should we, expect a teacher to just prepare and deliver lessons. Also we can no longer put students in one set of groupings and expect that that will be it for them.

As I said in this post three years ago: "To truly personalise programmes means being responsive to individuals needs in an ongoing way. And you cant personalise programmes when learners are stuck in set, inflexible groupings." 

At Haeata we are working with our teachers to really re-think the role of the teacher. This means putting value on the different acts and practices we expect of them- much more than just preparing and delivering a package of learning. While that is one of the practices we expect, we also require teachers to think carefully about designing the independent learning they require from students. Developing our young people to be able to manage and direct their own independent learning is such an important skills for their future according to employer surveys.

We value the time we want teachers to spend conferencing with individual students about their work. We value this by making this an official part of their timetable. The buy-off of this is that we don't expect them spend as much time as teachers in some other school preparing and delivering "lessons" to students. They are expected to use at least the same amount of time conferencing with individual students. And their timetable reflects this. 

Maybe they conference students they deliver workshops and packages of learning to, but they also conference a range of other students too. Collective responsibility for the learning of all students by all teachers is one of our aspirational aims. How much more success will a young person get when everyone is truly committed to their success. they may have individual champions amongst staff members but everyone is committed to their success- however that has been defined for them.

When I first started working in a 21st century learning environment nearly 20 years ago, one of the biggest mistakes my co-teacher and I made was thinking we weren't "doing our job" if we weren't actively planning and delivering a workshop to a group of students every block of the day. It took his very wise mother to say to me one day you need to schedule time when you are not actively delivering to have learning conversations with students about what they are learning. How true that was. 

The power of reflection on past learning and the direction you are able to give to future learning is so powerful in a 1-1 conversation. One of the great advantages of changing an environment physically is that you can free teachers up to have these vitally important conversations by writing the script for how you expect teachers and students to use their time.

We also have a commitment at Haeata to working alongside our young people to directly impact on their wellbeing- to directly teach and develop elements of social and emotional wellbeing in order to help each of them grow into socially productive constructive citizens of the future. Our timetable allocates at least 3 x 90 minute blocks to this a week for Year 1's right through to Year 13's. A huge commitment of time out of the teaching week- because we value it, and we show we value it by giving time to it.

The ERO report on effective teaching says: Teaching is challenging and complex. To help every student make progress, teachers have to find out what each student knows and can do. Teachers want to build on the strengths of each of their students.
It goes on  
Effective teachers give students information about their achievement and progress to help them understand what they have already learnt and what they should focus on next. 
To do this, teachers ask themselves: 
• In what ways do I provide each student with easily accessible resources that help them to work independently? 
• Do I provide students with examples and learning models that help them understand what high quality work looks like?
 • How do I design learning activities and experiences to help each student achieve their learning goals? 
• Do students receive regular, specific and constructive oral and written feedback about what they have successfully learnt and what they need to work on next? 
• Can all students talk about what they have learnt, how well they are achieving and their next learning steps?
 • What opportunities do students have to take part in or lead discussions with me about their learning?

Teaching is certainly a far more complex job today than when I began teaching 30 years ago. I don't think anyone would have too much debate with the set of ERO questions above. Truly working towards being able to answer an outstanding yes to each of these questions would see our learners in good stead.

But to do that- to truly personalise their learning, we do have to explore how we can change the practices and roles we value in teachers, and we do have to explore how we can change what we give time to in schools. Saying we value something but giving no time to it will not cause transformation in learning practices.

Whatever it is your school stands for, whatever it is you value, how does your acknowledgement of teacher time and roles reflect this?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Learning Opportunities

Term 3 2018 sees us enter into our seventh term of operation - Week 61. That's Pretty tiny in the life of a school.

As we enter into our new term we continue to evolve and grow our programmes- trying to stay true to our vision to create extraordinary learning for every student. To personalise the learning experience and redefine success at school for each and every young person.

This term we have done some very purposeful thinking about how we are using staff and space to the most effect. To this end we have merged some of our Year 7-13 programmes. 

Until now we were operating in a Year 7-10 and a Year 11-13 silo with two combined blocks of time a week where all teachers offered MAI time options to all Year 7-13 students. This was a good step along the journey of joining these two age groups and groups of kaiako together. This term we are trying to further merge these groups.

While these students are mostly still opting into learning options separately from each other- and have maintained their own separate Puna Ako groups we are sharing space and staff more purposefully across both groups of students.

At the start of each block of time during the day students go back and touch base with their Puna Ako teacher to check in with what they are going to be doing and to be accountable for what they said they would do in the last block.

This morning in one hour block of time there were workshops occurring on:

Sustainability- using the Earths resources sustainably

Playlab- a game based workshop to explore the development of motivation skills

Chemical Changes- a kitchen based workshop looking at chemical changes that occur when we mix substances

Positive Changes- a goal setting workshop looking at setting plans for individuals futures

Step and Pump- a physical based fitneess workshop 

Projects Workshop- students needing help on their individual projects could attend this workshop to develop their project plans.

What an amazing array of learning opportunities- and there will be the same range offerred over the next two blocks as well.

In addition there were a range of other students working independently- one space is particularly designated for independent working that is social and collaborative and another is particularly designated for independent working that is quiet and focussed. 

A number of teachers were roaming and conferencing with these learners. Another set of teachers were staffing particular spaces the makerspace, the performing arts area, the wet space, the garden- so that students wanting or needing to work in these spaces had some support.

The big mindset change this term has been in redefining the roles of teachers and students and in how we use space.

At Haeata a student cannot passively turn up to each class and compliantly go through the motions of listening to a teacher, regurgitating information and succeeding. they need to actively plan their day and their learning, using their various teachers as experts for different parts of their learning.

At Haeata a teacher may deliver a workshop to a group of students 4 or 5 times during the week. 

They also have a close relationship with their Puna Ako group- both with direct teaching of social and emotional skills, and in helping them organise their learning and stay accountable to their planning of their learning.

They spend some time staffing various spaces around the school so that individual students can easily go to these spaces and get the help they require for their own planned learning, rather than have learning delivered to them by teachers.

And they also spend significant time during the week conferencing with individual students about their learning. This is as important a part of their position as delivering a pre planned workshop is. 

In fact I would venture to say it is probably going to become the most important role of a kaiako at Haeata as we continue to evolve.

It's been exciting  to be part of and witness the next learning evolution step at Haeata. After attending such professional learning events as the Future of Learning in the recent holidays it is indeed rewarding to consider that our kaiako are working hard with our young learners to set them up for a very different future than the one schools have set up young people up for in the past. 

These students are not guinea pigs; they are not being socially disadvantaged- as recent critics of schools with modern learning environments claim. 
Instead they are being helped understand and prepare for a future- their future- that requires some very different skills and attributes- academically and socially.  

It is not, and cannot be about what our adults feel comfortable with giving control over of. It must be about developing these young people to best be a constructive part of their own futures.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Personal Well-being and the Blame Game

This year I’ve come to a real revelation about personal well-being that is probably common sense to many people. 

In essence- we cannot blame or expect anyone else to take responsibility for our wellbeing- we are truly responsible for that ourselves.

It’s really easy to say we don’t have enough time to exercise or the resources  to eat properly.
But that’s a choice we are making about our own priorities. No one else has that power over those priorities unless we give them that power. 

The Eleanor Roosevelt quote No one has the power to make you feel inferior without your consent jumps to mind there. 

My plan for myself this year is all about simplicity. You can read about that here

In education we work in a stressful human dense hot bed of complexity. It is easy to start drowning in this unless you get your head above it. It is easy to say if only students or whānau or our colleagues or our leadership do this then my wellbeing will be so much better. Where is our own responsibility in this? 

This year I’ve tried meditation, mindfulness and flotation therapy as tools to help with this. But actually those are tools not actual self care. The real self care and personal wellbeing sits in your head. And sits in every action you take every day, not the actions you take when you have to squeeze in the time for a commercial piece of consumerism self care.

Someone I really respect for their professional and personal knowledge and recently posted this article about personal wellbeing on Facebook and it really resonated with me. 

True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice build a life you don' tneed to regularly escape from.  
If you find yourself having to regularly indulge in consumer self-care, it’s because you are disconnected from actual self-care, which has very little to do with “treating yourself” and a whole lot do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness.

I am lucky to have friends and mentors in my life who call out negative self talk for what it is and make me stay real about taking responsibility for my own wellbeing rather than lay blame for it anywhere or with anyone else. When I was stating to feel like I was drowning a little recently a really simple message from a friend made a huge difference: "Let love out, let love in." 
How simple but how real?

And those six words reminded me that it is all about my headspace not about what other people are doing or saying. The heaviest thing in my mind can be me, and therefore the lightest thing in my mind can also be me. The thing that can stop me can also be the thing that frees me. Those six words were enough for me to remember I had the power to not feel like I was drowning. That I was responsibe and no-one else.

I am proud to work in a school environment where we highlight this with one of the statements in our job description being “Take ownership and plan for your own well-being -Be aware of and take care of your own hauora"

The fact this sits in our job description is a testament to the importance we place on managing ourselves for o=all our people- not just our students.

If we cannot stand up and do this for ourselves- not as a treat or a special occasion-  but in an ongoing regular way then how can we possibly inspire this in the young people we work with and for? We want them to learn to do for themselves and therefore we need to do for ourselves, every day in small and big ways, not as one off initiatives or indulgent treats.

It's how we treat ourselves, inside and out every day that really matters, and will ultimately matter to the young people we serve if we want anything to change for them.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Do You Have the Courage to Change? To Explore? To Share?

Our current education system seems so often to celebrate glacial change and sabotage anything that is different. I’ve said before it requires courage to do something off the usual beaten path in anything, and I think particularly in education. And now I would add it takes absolute fortitude to stay off that beaten path and not return to it when the doubters and the saboteurs, the confused and the misled all raise their head.

Our new school has been in operation for 25 weeks. That’s less than 130 days. I want to celebrate our staff and students who I believe are showing huge courage, at times in the face of a degree of adversity and challenge.

When you’ve been building something for just over 100 days you won’t have it all perfect. Infact if you think you’re ever going to have it perfect you’ve probably forgotten you are dealing with people, and people can’t be managed in the same way a system for inanimate objects can.

If you have a real commitment to interrogate everything you implement in your new school ( because when else would you ever have the opportunity to do this) and ensure that it meets a need for learners and their now and their  futures then you are committed to not just easily implementing things that have worked somewhere in the past for some learners.  And you have to accept this is going to take time as you figure out the difference between an old best practice and the next practice our current learners need.

You have to accept that to do some new things you have to give people permission to stop doing some of the old things.

A new school is under every spotlight possible- and often with a negativity from people who don’t understand some of the above.

I’ve been away from school very ill for a few weeks. As I returned to school full-time over the last fortnight   I just feel so proud to be a small part of Haeata. I guess it’s easy to see movement and change when you haven’t been totally immersed in something for a few weeks. You go back in with different eyes

I’ve seen so much that is amazing- amazing learning, but even more importantly amazing relationships and amazing connections both in and out of the school.

We know it’s not perfect. We still have disengaged and disaffected young people who persist in behaviours that contribute to a possible negative image of our school. We know that those behaviours haven’t just been created this year and are the result- sometimes of years of contributed responsibility from a range of different systems. We also know some of those behaviours are currently being attributed to us. We need to have courage not to get caught up in the negative publicity this ever decreasing group of  students bring with them and not allow the pressure of that to alter our course.

And this is where our staff have my widest respect and admiration. Because rather than hiding away because there are some behaviors that are not what we want to promote and advertise, our staff and students continue to put themselves out there.

Our Year 9-10 league team played in a final yesterday. They were farewelled from the school through a line up of 5-8 year olds doing a haka, serenading them, celebrating them, admiring them.  It wasn’t completely polished, but it was absolutely heartfelt and amazingly touching. I’ve been in schools where only the polished performers would be put out doing that. Our staff have the courage to let everyone participate regardless of where their development is.

We’ve had groups out of school performing in the community as a service. These are not always our oldest or our most proficient students. Our staff are having the courage to get our students- of all ages and abilities- out into the community and help them see the importance of contributing to the community. Be interesting to debate how important it is to develop in our young people an understanding of the importance of them contributing to the community versus their ability to be at or above a National standard. Where do we need to prioritise our efforts?

One of our hapori had an exhibition of work they had been doing over the last four weeks today. There were students who didn’t have anything to show. There were a few students who probably embarrassed teachers with their lack of engagement and their lack of respect to others learning. These teachers could have been worried they would be judged by those few students. But there were a large number of students who were proud of their work, and had lots to show and talk about and got huge value out of the opportunity. Rather than waiting until all those students were ready, or hiding away those that weren't those teachers had the courage to open themselves and their students up to the world- warts and all.  And many of those students rose to the occasion. By being exposed to that rather than hidden away from it, some of those who didn’t engage will be more ready to next time.

For those from the outside that took the time to visit, they know it’s not all perfect, that it’s a work in progress. It’s not about image and portraying a perfect image to the world. It’s about saying we are doing really important work here, we are working on developing learning that will be meaningful for our learners, and it’s a work in progress. And we will be courageous and share that every step of the way, rather than waiting until we have something that looks more ‘perfect.’ What we do have is the courage of our school philosophies and practices, which have been  researched and thought about and discussed and debated. Which continue to evolve as we develop understandings and relationships with our students and their whānau.

A group of our oldest students travel to Auckland this weekend to compete in a national band competition. Yesterday afternoon they were playing from the staff room balcony, creating a vibe right across the school. We know there’s still some issues to sort with having 5 year olds through to 18 year olds share a campus. But we have also always been committed that we won’t separate those young people from each other. Because when you have the courage to allow that mixing you get this absolute magic of relationships- natural relationships that happen outside school being a normal part of school too. It frustrates me endlessly that there are still schools out there battling a perception that you cannot have more than 1 year of young people together and have effective learning happening. So many valuable real life learning opportunities being lost.

Today we had a significant group of secondary educators visit school as part of an ongoing professional learning group that operates city wide. Some of our leaders and teachers ran panels where they talked about their thinking and programmes around NCEA (Year 11-13) and their approach to planning through an integrated collaborative approach (Year 7-10). The feedback was very clear in that the attendees commented largely on the courageousness of our panel leaders to be frank and tell their stories so far with absolute honesty about the challenges as well as the successes.  We are not pretending everything is perfect yet, or that it ever will be. But we will continue to be brave and try things to meet the needs of every young person, and we will be courageous in continuing to share our stories.

Last week a group of architects and educators toured the school one evening. Some of our older students came along- completely voluntarily- to lead tours from 6-8pm that evening. How courageous did I think the 17 year old was who said to a pile of adults- “I know people out there say bad stuff about our school. You know I reckon hardly anyone who says that stuff has been in here, because if they came in here and saw what kind of learning many of us are doing, and how our teachers are working with us to actually make that learning happen they would soon change their story?”

It continues to be hard for some people to understand and accept the changes but we want to share our story- challenges and all.

There is some amazing stuff happening at Haeata. And much of this is about helping young people develop to be in a position where they can best take charge of their own future, in what are sure uncertain times, as well as be positive, successful contributing members of society.

How refreshing it is to be surrounded by such courageous people, who are doing such courageous work every day.  

How inspiring it is to see those you work with every day have such courage and openness in their work.

We will be sharing our story for years. We will make mistakes and we will share those. But we will also have great success. And we will share those too. Because we hope by sharing our stories, we will inspire others to be courageous, to take those bold moves out into a new future.