Thursday, October 20, 2016

Conscious Thought

Over the last two weeks we have been running an induction programme for 32 of our new staff-an induction programme that will continue for the majority of this term and for two weeks in January before our ākonga begin.

Every activity we've run has been very intentional and had conscious thought put into the purpose and outcome of the activity. It would have been very easy to just create a set of activities that would be enjoyable and fun and/or a set of activities that would "tell" our new staff all about the curriculum framework we have developed and the way we want to work at Haeata but that's not what we wanted to do.

We created a set of four guiding purposes for our induction programme and we have used our curriculum framework learning principles- which have a direct link to our school values to design the learning we have been doing together. Relationships are at the heart of our learning principles- but also important is authenticity, connectedness, culturally intelligent, inclusive, social, open and personalised learning.

Induction Purposes:
Build excitement in who we are and what we do
Getting to know the rest of the team- personally and professionally
Understanding Haeata-tanga- the way we will do things at Haeata, our identity at Haeata- individually, as a collective and as a Haeata team
Make connections- individually and as a team- within the team, and out in the community- whānau, local community, Christchurch

The term began with a mihi whakatau followed by kai and mihimihi so that connections and introductions were formed. Day 1 saw a myriad of icebreakers designed to help people get to know each other on a superficial level quickly and as a whole team. 

This was followed by our SLT presenting their digital korowai for ten minutes each. Staff were asked to sign up to a timetable to present their own digital korowai over the next fortnight. We know we will be a school that makes continual and regular use of technologies, but we didn't want to put technology training as such into the programme but rather consciously require people to build their technology skills by using technology to complete certain induction tasks. We've been blown away by peoples presentations- staff have been sincere, and honest and shared more of themselves than we had any expectation of- given we've only known each other a few days. We've laughed and cried with people as they have shared their journeys- both professional and personal.

Day 2 saw a workshop conducted by the EBOT on the well established values for the school. In the afternoon our kaiārahi (leaders) ran a passion unconference. Again this was a conscious decision to introduce staff who were not aware of the concept of an unconference, and of the language and expectations that come with an unconference- smackdowns, making choices on the spot, not doing how many people will attend a session etc. We expect to be working in a future focussed area of education and unconference is a big part of the PLD scene in future focused education currently, so we wanted to expose all staff to this early on.

Day 3 saw more icebreakers introduced- but this time rather than in the large groups- splitting into our hapori (learning teams), so that we could begin building deeper relationships with those other kaiako they were going to be working the closest with. The SLT ran a workshop titled unschooling and led some thinking about the importance of using the privilege of the time we have this term to de stress, to revive, and to read and reflect- to revisit our assumptions about learning and schooling and to build new beliefs together.
This afternoon saw staff introduced to their own Managing My Learning google site, so that they could begin reflecting and gathering evidence of their learning from the start. A practice we expect to be ongoing and continual for all staff and ākonga.

Day 4 saw our hapori leaders run their own session- a combination of icebreakers and some general chatting about excitements and fears, and some question gathering. Everyone was also led through a workshop around the learning principles we will use at Haeata for designing learning.

Day 5 was an Amazing Race. We began with a shared breakfast- 35 people who didn't know each other 5 days before all working together in a very small space in a very small kitchen to prepare and eat kai together. And it worked.

Again, conscious thought was put into creating Amazing Race teams to bring people together across the entire staff again, as the last two days had been spent a lot in hapori groups getting to know those people better. We are very consciously building opportunities to build relationships across the school as well as within hapori. We know that people might need to move hapori at short notice in February- when enrolments are more clear. We also know we have 10 more staff starting over the next four weeks, and another six who will begin in January. We need to very consciously build relationships now, but ensure those relationships are able to bend and sway and welcome new members to their teams easily as the term goes on.

Teams were given instructions and set off on their race while the SLT prepared and cooked a BBQ lunch. In the afternoon teams created a digital presentation of their race and the weekend with the presentations being shared over refreshments and some prizes being awarded as we all reminisced on the first week together.

We have used the frameworks our kaiārahi and kaiako will use with ākonga- learning principles as a design tool, breaking our time up into Kauapapa Ako ( the large group all learning together based on some of our big kauapapa, Puna Ako ( smaller groups working together to consolidate and extend some of the concepts from kauapapa Ako, and some MAI time (for people to follow their own lines of learning and wellbeing). We have integrated wellbeing activities throughout the weeks, just like we expect kaiārahi and kaiako to do with ākonga.

SLT modelled karakia, waiata mihi and tuku mihi all week and now hapori have taken on responsibility for that a week each over the remainder of the term.

Feedback from staff was overwhelmingly positive. They have relaxed, they have got to know each other in multiple ways. They have connected. Developing cultural intelligence has been a constant theme. Things have been social and open- everyone has shared honestly with each other. We have given some space for personalised learning. Staff have begun to be exposed to some of the backbone of the Haeata curriculum framework in a really authentic and inclusive way. And relationships have consciously and intentionally been at the heart of everything we have done.

"Conscious, reflective, intentional action is the bridge between theory and practice. " Jan Robertson

A video summary of Week 1:

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Power of Connections

Am sitting at the airport waiting for the first of two flights to fly home after three day in Rotorua at ULearn.

Sounded like a great idea in March when we decided as a leadership team to put in submissions to present at this years conference.  Heading off to Rotorua this week we were very aware that our staff begin next Monday and that time pressures were well and truly hitting in and I think beginning to wonder if this was a good use of our time.

I think we would all now say that it definitely was.

We've been in the fortunate and privileged position of having the last 9 months to think and read, and visit and reflect and cogitate. To form the basis of a curriculum and to think deeply about all the "That's The Way We've Always Done It," rhetoric in schools and to interrogate this and ask why a lot until we had a direction for which we would like learning to evolve at Haeata.

So I guess many of the sessions we attended were more affirming of the learning that we've been privileged to do than new stuff for us. But we would also all say that the process of considering and creating presentations about some of our work is hugely clarifying for our own beliefs and practices.

And the absolute real power in the last thee days was the opportunity to connect. To connect with people we only know or recognise form the online educational community. To connect kanohi te kanohi with old connections and create new connections. To talk and to challenge with old friends and with new connections.

Years ago I read Will Richardsons book where the subtitle is Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education.

I think that is a big part of the power of the ULearn conference. Where else do you get nigh on 2000 educators together in one space? (And with a significant more joining the back channels of live streaming and following the twitter threads.)

For me, personally, I reconnected with educators I worked with as long ago as 20 years ago. Amazing conversations , amazing stories to share and reconnections to form.

For us as a school we've been able to share a little part of the journey of Haeata so far and our passion and excitement for what is to come. 

Transforming education, and particularly transforming schooling is happening in little pocket all over Aotearoa. 
The power of connections is moving us steadily towards the tipping point where the changes so deeply needed in ours choosing system will become the whole clothing rather than just the pocket. 

The power of the understanding of the need for change when 2000 educators connect at an event like ULearn is palpable. Continuing to connect with each other- post conference is how we will work together in order to push that change over the timing point.

Thanks to all those old friends and colleagues Ive reconnected with in the last three days. What an awesome opportunity to do so. 

And welcome to all this new connections to my personal and professional learning network. Long may the conversations continue.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Looking Ahead to and Reflecting Back On ULearn

Preparing to head off to ULearn in a couple of days has made me reflect on past ULearn conferences.

I’ve been attending ULearn since its navcon days. I was motivated by hearing inspirational speakers like Julia Atkins, Joan Dalton and Cheryl Doig speak at the very first navcon I attended back in the early 2000's. In fact I would say my entire teaching landscape changed after that first conference. Having been involved in curriculum integration practice and reference groups for years, inquiry learn gin was the missing linkI’d been searching for and hearing Cheryl speak about the power of inquiry learning drove an immediate change in my practice. Hearing Julia speak about the history of education and the need for schooling to change gave me some of the language to be able to articulate what I'd been working towards in a classroom for some years. Hearing Joan present about the power of the language we use gave me much cause for consideration and reflection. I've continued to read and watch so much written and said by these women over the years. I am indeed fortunate that I have had the opportunity to work with them all through the years, and particularly privileged to have had the opportunity to work with them all this year on such a close level. They were indeed some of my first edu heroes- well before I ever knew if that term.

Changes in my teaching practice to include inquiry learning and in my leadership to really consider language used, combined with a new motivation and the ability to better articulate why schooling needed to change drove the next few years after that initial conference. By 2003 the benefits of Collaborative teaching and collaborative Practice followed. 

Within a couple of years I was back at ULearn, as it was known by 2004, with my co- teacher and we were presenting ourselves; on teaching through inquiry, on running self regulated programmes and on using technology to support these practices.

Through the years I’ve been to ULearn just about every year, missing 2012 and 2015 only. In 2009 my entire leadership team attended and it consolidated a lot of things for us as a team leading a school through some significant changes in practice. In 2011, as Principal of a different school I was fortunate enough to be able to take my entire teaching staff of 20 to the ULearn conference. A fantastic learning and social experience for all.

As I work on my presentations for this year I am feeling nervous. Although they are on topics I am passionate about, and I think have a fair experience in the old imposter syndrome hits in. (See previous post written in January 2015.) Adding to the nerves is the fact that I see a number of people I know signed up for one or more of my workshops. It’s always nerve wracking to present in front of people that really know you-warts and all! As a presenter you are always very aware that people have paid a lot of money to attend this conference, and you don’t want to be wasting their time or investment.

It is often said you get out of this conference as much as you put into it. As a fairly shy introvert I can remember the first few conferences and sticking like glue to the people I was attending with. I would flinch when the presenter said “turn and talk to someone,” thinking no-one would want to talk with me. Now I really get that phrase. To get as much out of the investment of going you need to talk, and think and reflect and you need to share that with other people to get the most out of your reflections. Social media has helped. Talking to people online has made it that much easier to find a commonality when you meet them in person- in fact its now fun to meet those people you get to know so well in online forums.

As I flick through all that is on offer this year I am really hopeful for the future of education and of schooling. While there are the technology ‘how=-to” theres also many many workshops on the bigger picture- on people who are transforming practice in their classrooms on a daily basis and why and how they are doing this. I look at workshops we were running back in this mid 2000’s about self regulated learning, about removing silo-subjects from the teaching landscape, about  collaborative teaching and they were more the exception. Now these kind of workshops are much more the norm. Maybe we really are getting near some kind of tipping point in New Zealand schools?

So, as I sit here on a Sunday preparing workshops instead of enjoying the beach on a warm and sunny holiday afternoon some people might ask why? Why not just go and enjoy the conference?

The conviction that things need to change. Still. The power of understanding the transformation needed to change practice. The chance to network and to build those understandings in wider and wider groups. The oporutntity to be part of the tipping point, that I hope we are on a pathway towards reaching in New Zealand schooling.

I look forward to seeing many people at ULearn- old colleagues, old friends, networks of people I know online but not face to face and I look forward to connecting with others using the #notatulearn hashtag.

And I hope that the people attending ULearn 2016 get just even a little bit of that inspiration I got from Julia, Joan and Cheryl all those years ago.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Being Happy in the Mess

A phrase we've used a lot this year as we plan and build a new school.

The physical mess is on the building site where some might say the real building is happening.
However one of my colleagues always talk about the fact that we are doing the real building- the stuff that makes your head hurt sometimes. This is the real mess. And it's the stuff we can't just make decisions about and move on. 

We need to inquire and think, and reflect, and percolate. We need to discuss and have dialogue and reflect some more.  We don't want to 'throw the baby out with the bath water,' but we also don't want to do what's always been done- especially if we can't identify a relevant reason for doing so in today's world.  The challenge of learning, unlearning and relearning, of designing, while at the same time doing the necessary as well, creates some of the mess.

As we start preparing for staff to begin with us next term the question becomes instead how ready are we to support them in finding their way through the mess? How much support and organisation and direction do we give them so they don't completely flounder? But how can we also give them time to get in the mess and wallow in it for a while?

None of us wants to be seen as disorganised, but I'm sure we will be seen as that at times. Not because we don't want to be organised but because sometimes building the plane while flying it, is the way we will create real magic. If it could all be tidied into neat little boxes we would do that but building a new school with new foci, and new ways of doing things is complex and profound. We've had the privilege of time to wallow and kick around in the mess. How do we give staff some time to do this but also meet their needs for some of the traditional organisation and direction they will be expecting?

Some of us are off to a seminar tomorrow titled Thriving in Complexity. That's what we want ourselves and our entire staff to be empowered to do- next term as we get to know each other and discover some new ways of working together, and next year when we start working with ākonga. We want to stay in the mess, we acknowledge that what we are doing and what we want to achieve is complex. And we want to thrive in that complexity.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

One Word Reflection Term 1

Tūhoro. My one word for 2016.

That was the plan, the goal, the desire for the year.

How is it going so far?

Having to negotiate the traffic to get to across town meetings was an interesting challenge to begin my time in Christchurch. Google maps seems to take me a different way each time. The traffic can be horrific and in places the parking even more so! My new colleagues witnessed one spectacular melt down when a 25 minute drive took me nearly an hour one morning a few weeks in. I have since learnt not to stress if I am a few minutes late. I have also learnt to check google the night before and to leave at least 15 minutes earlier than Aunty Google says to allow.
And I've learnt that just when I've learnt one way roadworks sprout up and I get lost all over again. 

Gradually over time I've explored a little. The beaches of New Brighton where I'm living are great. I've been on a Re-Start bus tour to get an idea of what has happened and what is being built in the central city. I've explored Hamner Springs and Diamond Harbour just out of Christchurch and will venture south over the next ten weeks. The South Island certainly has some beautiful spots to explore.

The death of my father less than a fortnight after I moved to Christchurch has been an exploration of a whole different sort than I envisaged when I chose this as my one word for 2016.
I've explored the world of grief. It's a strange phenomenon and one I had only fleeting prior experience of. Dad wasn't well, and hadn't been for a while. I guess you could say his death wasn't totally unexpected. However neither was it expected then and there. I now understand what people mean when they say grief comes in waves and that its okay to dive into that grief and explore it a little. That pushing stuff like that aside does no one any good. My father was an explorer. He was a pilot, a top dresser. He was a pioneer. He started blueberry growing in New Zealand. He led cooperatives and groups of people. He led a large family and is missed. A lot. However his family know how to explore for themselves- thanks to him and Mum, and will continue to do so. I am proud this has turned out to such an apt word for 2016.

I have a new school, a new position and new colleagues. 

The first part of the year has been about exploring how all those things fit, about getting to know them and allowing them to get to know me. This term I look forward to exploring our curriculum designing more, as well as the massive job of how we recruit for 40+ staff members collectively. I love that this requires me to explore research and read. I love that I can read during the day and that this forms part of the expectations of my position. Twitter and Extending my online PLN has been a really necessary part of my term. it's very rare to go somewhere new professionally and not meet someone face to face for the first time who you've already connected with online. and those familiar Twitter  chats both organised and spontaneous have helped me bridge over a time when I just needed to be by myself but not be all alone.

I've started my masters with a research proposal written and submitted for approval. It's hard doing it my distance but mar research proposal is in for feedback and I look forward to developing it further in Term 2.

So all in all a mixed bag of a  first term, but I'm certainly exploring, and will continue to do so. In reflection Im pretty impressed with what I've achieved.

In term 2 my specific goals will eb around exploring more of Christchurch- maybe some parts of the country to the South of Christchurch, and to explore meeting the educators and people in Christchurch outside of my general small work circle.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Things That Unsettle Us

When I woke up this morning I had been sent this article from Will Richardson.

It’s the third time in the last week I've been sent or tagged into this blogpost, all by people I completely respect in the field of learning, education and schooling, all by people trying to do something different in schooling, all by people that at times struggle to do this within mainstream education practices.

The posting is centred around the things that unsettle us in schooling. The things that upset us because they are not really talked about but we know that they should be addressed. Reading this article re-inspires in me a fire. 

When I get frustrated at the glacial pace of change in our schools (and I’m talking globally as much as anything closer to home) I am often told by mentors and friends to slow down, that its got to take time and to make any change effective we’ve got to take people with us. While I know all that, while I know and have lived the theories around change management and about effective changes in schools, frankly I’m a little tried of slowing down and waiting. 

The main questions the posting provokes for me?

Why are we still splitting learning into discrete little packages based around ‘subjects?

Who really says what our young people need to learn about? Before you passionately defend the content of the curriculum strands of our curriculum documents how much do you really understand about the history of curriculum development? Who actually made the original decisions that that content is the most important to learn at that age? And why? What was the purpose? Is it still valid?
Why are we giving learners technology, but not letting them utilise its capabilities? Why do we give them technology but not let them study the things that grab them wherever and whenever  they want/can/are able to?

Why are we still splitting learners into manageable little groups of the same-age?
How many high schools still run a separate programs for each year group? And apparently there are still intermediates out there who operate a Year 7 and a Year 8 programme, and even primary schools operating single programmes for each year group. And when Ive asked for justification I get told things like “our camp programme works this way,” or “we can design isolated programmes for each year group that way.” When this is being said by the same schools that say they are responsive to individual students it makes me very worried for schooling in the future.

What is success? In life, not in school as a representation of grades but in real-life? How much of what we do in schools is really feeding into this? How much of what we consider successful is what we really focus in developing programmes in and reporting on? 

Why do so many people knock the efforts of schools, and individual teachers trying to find the answers to some of these questions by doing things significantly differently than the “acceptable norm.” Do these detractors live in such a closed world that they cannot see that although the world has changed in exponential ways and the ways we all live (including them) have changed alongside this, schooling hasn’t really changed much at all? Do these detractors feel the same level of discomfort about the things outlined at all? Or do the detractors acknowledge some of this stuff but give up because its just too hard to effect change on the scale that is needed

When I started working in significantly different ways quite a few years ago now, I remember hosting a parent focus group with a really serious comment from a parent being  “You cant keep doing this…you are making learning too enjoyable and too engaging for our kids and that’s not fair to them when they go to High school. You've raised their expectations about what they think school should be like and they are going to feel let down in the future.” Thankfully this was responded to very well by other parents in the room which saved my incredulous repose from being uttered, However for me the scary thing is this was 14 years ago and the changes we were discussing that had parents scared and worried then, are still the changes we are fighting for in schools today. That really is glacial change. I still find myself having to defend the same kind of learning programmes to parents, to educators, and even to young people who have had their expectations of what school should be like shaped by the system, and lost all the natural curiosity and thirst for learning they have as pre-schoolers.

I am fortunate that for the last five years I was able to teach and lead in a school where we were allowed and encouraged some latitude in meeting needs and responding to some of the questions outlined above.

I am fortunate that I am now working in a new school that is being led by a visionary Board of Trustees and Principal who are committed to continue answering some of these questions and doing things differently in a brand new school from the start. 

Yes, I am fortunate. 

But I am still unsettled by the lack of wider change I see. Unsettled that “changes” I see in schools are really only ‘tweaks.’ The whole Innovative Learning Environment/Collaborative practice/Flexible spaces paradigm in New Zealand schools provides a great platform for significantly changing the way learning and school can look. But in many cases I see schools taking the old paradigms of subjects, and age groupings and  organisation and imposing those over the top of ILE’s.
Schools being responsive to parent demands of ‘the old ways were good enough for us,” but being completely unresponsive to learners individual needs. If we were being really responsive to individuals we wouldn't be pigeonholing them into set age groups to learn within and set ‘packages of learning’ to learn about. I remain concerned that those educators I see really trying to do things differently are those that are often then isolated in schools, who in the end either give up justifying their different programmes and ‘fall back into line’ or give up all together and leave the profession. We need to stand up and stop this happening.

What can we do to help the wider population understand why things need to change dramatically within schools? What can we do to celebrate those schools and educators that are pioneers? Rather than knocking them, how do we highlight them in positive ways? How do we effect system change rather than change on an individual or school-wide basis?

A lot of questions here.Not many answers but I’m going to spend the next couple of weeks of school break time pondering them. 

I might be fortunate in my individual work but what can I do to help system change rather than accept its glacial pace? 

Thanks to Will Richardson (, and those that have been discussing and sending this posting around over the last week for once again reigniting my fire.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Dreaming Schools...Dreaming Systems...

A post in response to the #edblognz February challenge to write about your dream school.

I’ve really struggled with writing this blog post. Not because I don't have lots of ideas, but in trying to narrow them down for a blogpost that would be easy and make sense to read! So I tried to narrow it down to a few words- freedom, personalisation, engagement, interactive, community-based. And I played around for a week but I wasn't happy with it. And then I realised was that I’m talking about is what I already know is happening- at least in some schools, and these are my current beliefs and practice. Not my dream for the future. So my challenge was- how do I dream into the future?

And then I realised- my dream school isn’t really about a school, it’s about a system. Its about transformational change on a big scale. Because while all those things I listed above, and more, are happening in some schools, they are not happening in all schools.
And then yesterday Kerri tweeted this quote from George Courus: “Kids need to be empowered not engaged.” And I thought to myself that’s the word Ive been looking for.

On all school levels my dream would actually be about empowerment. 

It’s about empowering our learners to know themselves and trusting them that they understand how best to learn. It’s about acknowledging valuing and protecting the natural learning curiosities that learners enter the school system with and empowering these to grow, rather than dampening them with the “must-do’s of our system.

Its about empowering teachers to be able to respond according to each and every learners individual needs. It’s about empowering teachers so they can respond to  individual students and their needs. 

Nathaniel ( blogged about anxiety in classrooms yesterday and linked his daughters blog- which I’ve also linked here. it's well worth a read. My dream school would empower all learners to be able to articulate this level of understanding about themselves, AND it would be about empowering teachers to respond accordingly. My dream school would be mean never having to read another blogpost like this where a learner can articulate their learning needs and show such a clear understanding of themselves, and not be having all these needs met. 

It’s about empowering leaders to give teachers “permission’ to meet individual needs without constant reference to how that end-outcome pass rate might look. Giving them permission to innovate. Its about empowering teachers to have faith that if they get the personal stuff right- that if each learner really gets themselves and knows how and why they learn best, then ultimately learning will flourish and grow, and that is what we are all there for. Its about leaders empowering teachers to understand that they are there to guide and mentor each learner, not be the oracle who knows best and has all the power in the learning equation. Not any more anyway.

And its also about the system empowering leaders to put the learning in their schools first, not the assessments. Its about empowering them to put learners well being before their outward school image of the standards or qualifications achieved. Its about wanting every young learner to be actively healthy and happy with options for their future.

Six or seven years ago I used to be quite happy to sit as a Principal in my own little school content and happy and probably somewhat smug knowing that we were doing this “ground-breaking” stuff.  And although I would get frustrated at the lack of movement in some schools I didn't do much but roll my eyes and moan about it within the confines of our safe environment. And then I realised that professionally wasn’t good enough of me. That I have a responsibility to the wider system. That doing good stuff in one school wasn’t going to have any long term effect  I couldn’t just sit back in my own school and not worry about what’s going on out there.I became much more acutely ware of the system and that we all need to play a part in transformation of the system. That we need to contribute and be bigger than just our current context.

I have had the privilege of setting up one new school in the last six years, and I got to do lots of ‘dream-school stuff. You can read about this throughout my blog.
I now have the exciting opportunity to live ‘dream school’ stuff on a much bigger scale as I work within a team for the year to set up another new school to begin next year. I’m living the talk and thinking around ‘dream-school’ every day as we talk and design what learning at Haeata Community Campus might look like. A dream job- yes. A dream year-sure.

But my ultimate dream is a system dream - where we don't just pay lip service to things like mental health. Where we don't just brush off how students feel-like has happened for our young learner linked above. Where we truly value each and every individual person. Where we truly collaborate as groups of schools to continue to the greater good. A system where we judge success by empowerment and engagement and health and wellbeing as well as and before the bunch of achievement statistics we use to judge schools and teachers and individual learners by presently.And where our whole system supports and subscribes to this.

If our system was empowered to have as its very first priority health and wellbeing, then surely the most amazing learning would be happening as a result. And the effects on society would be tremendous. We all know our young people are entering a very unknown world, and they need some really different skills to exist in this world. We’ve all heard the stories of young people with excellent university education who cant find appropriate employment and end up not working in those fields at all. We know the statistics about health issues facing us. We do know the future is really unknown. We need to empower our young people to be healthy and agile and adaptable as of necessity. And this needs to come first.  This requires some transformational change of expectations and understanding of the purpose of schooling from all sectors of society and at all levels of the system. And it requires us all to get involved.

That is my dream.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Breens Intermediate.....A Great Example of Many Things

Last week I,along with the rest of the Haeata team, had the privilege of visiting Breens Intermediate for a morning. I’d read things about Breens Intermediate previously- MOE case studies, and blogs from other visitors, so I was really looking forward to the visit. My expectations were well and truly met.

Breens Intermediate is a school that has clearly reflected on what will make learning engaging for their learners, and then put in place programmes to meet these. In doing so they have transformed the practice from that traditionally often seen in Intermediates to practice that anyone wanting to operate any form of Innovative learning practice could learn things from.

Collaborative practice was strong with a group of three teachers and two teacher aides working together with the equivalent of three classes. They worked with them in various ways. One classroom block we went into had three adults in one space working mainly with individuals while another was in another space taking a group workshop. The final adult was a support adult- roaming around all five spaces that students were working in. While the students had an attachment to one whānau teacher, there was an absolute sense of the collective. Those adults were responsible for all those students. The students as a whole all belonged together, were accountable to each other and supported each other.

Students knew what they were doing and showed some amazing independence and self direction for this time of the year. Students that needed more support were more restricted in some of their choices but this was being done in a positive way instead of the negative and restrictive way Ive seen it in some schools. There was a very strong strengths-based approach being taken to both learning and people management.

Technology learning (not just digital, but all technology) was integrated back into team learning each week, both before and after technology times. Technology wasn’t just something kids went off to that was totally disconnected from the rest of their learning programmes.

Programmes were responsive with most being centred around the theme for the term, but also some stand alone curriculum learning options and an independent booklet around the school’s dispositional curriculum that students could work on at any time it fitted into their personalised weekly schedule.

While they were operating as three “small schools” within the wider school, they were also aware of the need to keep things unified as a whole school and not be three completely separate units within the bigger picture. There was a very strong dealing of whānau, and of pastoral support tied right into learning programmes. These adults know their young people really well.

We spent most of the morning with Nikki and Nathan. They talked a lot about “re-setting.”  About taking that step sideways or back when things seemed a bit wobbly and figuring what was needed to steady things and doing it. It was refreshing to hear school leaders so honest about their successes, but also about how they handle things when they go wrong as well. I loved this part of our conversations. I find sometimes, that people in ILE type learning situations schedule so much, once they are working collaboratively that they find it hard to ‘find the space” to react accordingly and be flexible with their programme when the need arises.

Student voice was clear and evident and not restricted to the traditional “student council project” that doesn’t have any significant place in the learning programme, seen so often when schools think they are doing great things with student voice. Often student voice seems to be restricted to something extra curricula rather than feeding right into learning programmes. At Breens it was all about the learning.

The learners had real input into the ‘overriding school theme for the next term, before teachers sat down to plan it as a whole school team.

I overheard a student in one room be asked by another student what to do about something. There was a very firm discussion about what needed to have been done first, and she was sent off with the message “you need to do …first. Go and find a computer and get that done and then come back to me and I will help you…”

Breens is an example of so much I believe about Innovative learning practice:
  • strengths based
  • collaborative practice
  • self direction of learners
  • strong student voice into learning programmes
  • technologies integrated across all learning
  • conceptual theme based learning over extended periods of time

Breens is a great example that Innovative Learning Practice  does not need an Innovative Learning environment built before you start it. It’s a great example that the practice is so much more important than the environment is. It’s a great example that this stuff is possible in lower decile schools, just as much as it is in higher decide schools. It’s a great example of the power and importance of reflective practice.  It’s a great example of the power of collaborative practice. It’s a great example of the flexibility needed to make learning the best it possibly can be for the learners you have in front of you. In short, it’s a great example.

Definitely a place to visit should you ever get the opportunity. 
A privilege I’m pleased I got. 

Thanks Nikki, Nathan and the whole Breens team.