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.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Love Your Work....but.....Embrace Your Life

  • I have a rash. it’s nasty and red, and sore and most of all it’s itchy. All the time. I’ve been ignoring it for over a week.
  • It’s March 19 today. I’ve just had a haircut. I postponed it on January 20 and it’s taken me that long to go back.
  • I washed my sheets and hung them outside for the first time in six weeks today. (Please no-one show my mother this blog.)
  • Yesterday I went to watch a group of young people from school perform at 10am. By 12 noon I was home in bed. Apart from a couple of 20 minute interludes on Facebook or on my emails I basically slept for 8 hours, then got up for an hour and then went back to bed and slept the night through.

When I did wake up for an hour yesterday evening I read this posting from Lesley Murrihy.  Because I know Lesley well, and one of her AP’s very well- the general topic of the blog wasn’t news to me, and I’ve always loved reading what Lesley writes.  But this time there were some very strong messages that really hit home to me.

One paragraph in particular I’ve re-read over and over again.
As a baby boomer and part of the second wave feminist movement, I grew up understanding “sacrifice”; and I have worked increasingly hard in support of equitable outcomes for all students - not sacrificing my family for the cause, but sacrificing my own needs and desires and my health and wellbeing. There have been many, many others like me. 

I am part of a team that opened a new school six weeks ago. We were hoping there might be 500-600 students. There are over 900. Our staff are working harder and in more challenging ways with more complex students than any of us ever imagined. 

My time is stretched between supporting staff, and building relationships with students and their whānau- supporting them all as they adapt to new environs, pedagogies and people.

There’s always a lot of things waiting on the wunderlist (my on-line to do list) to be checked off, many of them urgent. Those that aren’t urgent are very often even more important than the ones on the urgent list.

A number of people have gently suggested I look exhausted over the last couple of weeks. I’ve kind of blown them off… said “yep, I’m a bit tired…”….. and kept going. But after a week of a nasty rash that I have 99.5% eliminated being anything but stress, and realising I had to spend an extra 8 hours of a day on the weekend just sleeping I need to acknowledge Lesley’s words.  I am sacrificing my own need and desires and my health and wellbeing. And as  a senior leader that is not something I want to do- either for my own health and wellbeing, or as an example for other staff of what we might expect them to be or do.

I’m in the fortunate position of having been here before- as far as stating up a new school. I know we’re in it for the long haul and that the energy required na the complexities we will need to work through are going to be like this for a couple of years- It’s not going to magically sort itself in another 4 weeks or even in another term. 
And I swore to myself two months ago I would not do this to myself again this time around, yet here we are six weeks in and I’m already doing it.

Sacrificing ourselves for others is somehow somewhere seen as noble by many woman of my generation. Others may call it martyrdom. I need to remember this. I am not being noble. I am closer to martyrdom and that is not going to help anyone. 

I need tor remember my oneword goal for the year-embrace.  An act of accepting something willingly or enthusiastically.  And that was all about embracing life, embracing opportunities. But i’ve buried myself so deep in the day to day work that I wouldn’t at the moment recognise opportunities if they did come along. Not an example I want to set, or a way I want to live.

I want to still be there front and centre in two years time, in three years time- supporting and helping, challenging and growing- both myself and others. I don’t want to have burnt out, or be tired and bitter. I don’t want to spend two years covered in an itchy rash or sleeping the entire weekend just to get through another week. I want to support others, and actually I want to inspire others, and thats not going to be achieved through sacrificing myself. Its going to be achieved by looking after myself. And I need to make sure thats the message others I work alongside are getting too.

And while I am working hard to support our staff, our students and our whānau in the amazing concept that will be Haeata, I also want to work nationally and internationally with people like Lesley to explore the sustainability of our teaching workforce. The sustainability of developing personalised learning that meets the needs of every learner, without buying out the life and soul of every educator. Like Lesley I am totally committed to meeting the personalised needs of each learner we work wiht. But I completely agree with her that we need to find some different ways of resourcing this than the traditional ways we have resourced schools if we are to be sustainably successful. Our younger generations will not, neither should they, embrace the notions of sacrifice some of us have spent much of our lives basing our actions around.

For the record I’ve spent the afternoon embracing life.
  • I’ve bought a nice roast to cook-something I don't often do living alone. And some ingredients to make a tasty salad. With the increased bonus that I can sue this to make lunches for the next couple of days. I’ve prepared breakfasts to take wth me so I am providing my body with healthy nutrients rather than pretending to myself I don’t have time to bother with eating.
  • I’ve been for a walk on the beach I live 200 metres from and haven’t seen in a fortnight.
  • I’ve sat and practised mindfulness quietly for 15 minutes and then put on some music and tidied up the house so it feels nicer to come home to.

I’ll still be at work at 6am tomorrow, but I’ll be there more refreshed. And ultimately of more use to people. And if some things that I wanted done are not done- is that really going to be a big deal in a months time? in a years time? (to be a bit cliche.) 

I’ll have to reassess the urgent and the important priorities for tomorrow, but thats something to embrace. And I will need to figure out ways of reminding myself to do this continually without the prompting of a nasty rash, or 8 hours extra sleep, or people telling me I look horribly exhausted. 

I love my job, even through the exhaustion I absolutely love what we are doing and what we are working towards. I have no regrets. But while I love my work I am embracing my life.

What Should Schools Really Teach?

Over the last two weeks there has been a huge amount of comment and articles in the media about the concept of consent and in general about sexuality and relationship education and whether it is the job of schools or parents to teach this. In a school we often hear both sides of this argument. We hear from one group of people that they want us to leave all of this to parents and concentrate on “the curriculum.” And we hear from the group of people who think schools should teach everything and anything that goes wrong with teenagers in society is because schools haven’t done their job well enough.

I’m not sure it’s that simple. Parents are absolutely our children’s first teachers, and should continue to be this for their children even after they enter the schooling system. But the school system, by it’s very nature a social institution, can perhaps harness a part of social education more difficult for some parents to access and if the school system and the family system worked together on this- imagine what could be achieved.  In fact many of us in schools would say that teaching a dispositional curriculum- in partnership with whānau whoever possible- is the most important thing we do to prepare todays young peoples for their futures.

A leader at Haeata sent me this blogpost this morning. It’s all about relational aggression. We are seeing a lot of this at school at the moment. 

In teenage boys it tends to manifest itself in physical aggression, and a bit of a pack mentality- you offended my friend so now we are going to gather support and get you.  Normally this can be dealt with. It takes a lot of time, and preparedness to address things and move on for all parties. Restorative practice by it’s very nature is not quick or one-off but over time will pay huge dividends.

In girls the relational aggression is often more insidious. Sometimes it is physical threats and intimidation but often its more covert than this. Exclusion of people, silent treatment, “taking away” friends etc. I re-watched the movie Mean Girls last weekend. It’s not complete fiction. I see those scenes playing out in front of my eyes every day. These forms of aggression are not as easy to deal with as the physical aggression, especially when its often followed with “I was just kidding,” or other such phrases quoted in this article. To restore a relationship you need to be prepared to accept you ahem done something to damage it in the first place. You need to have some empathy for the person you ahem damaged. Sometimes this is a lot easier with physical aggression than it is with more insidious forms of relational aggression.

There are some great suggestions for helping- both parents and teacher in this article
I love the suggestions of actively teaching our young people to be upstanders, distracters and supporters. If we are being reposbive to our students current needs then teaching some of these skill will become our next ‘curriculum,” because fi they develop those skills then they will be better ready to access other parts of the curriculum.

We all have a responsibility to help our teenagers work through their issues and find better, more healthy ways of working through this aggression than the strategies they may currently have. That is the only way they will break this cycle as adults. And that is the responsibility of an entire society- school absolutely, whānau absolutely, but we also need help and support for some young people- more help than is sometimes available at schools or in homes.

I think the most important statement in the article is:
Never say, “That’s just girls”, or “boys will be boys” for that matter. We can be better than that. Or at least we can try.

Let’s work together and aim to help all our young people grow up to be the very best people they can be- not just learners, not just family members, but the very best people they can be. That's our true curriculum.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Unlearning What Schooling Can Mean

"This school isn't strict enough," was the lament of the 14 year old girl I followed as she was leaving the learning space for the fourth time during the morning and I was remonstrating with her to return to her allocated group and space within the flexible learning environment 280 11-15 year olds and their 12 teachers were thrust 10 days earlier.

"Tell me about that," I requested. "Every time you have left I've followed you and requested politely that you return. What do you mean by strict?"

Her answer saddened me. It also angered me, and challenged me.

According to this beautiful young lady- who so obviously has much talent and potential, but also has been very challenged by her past schooling and in turn has been and is immensely challenging of schooling and authority in any form, I was informed that strict meant shutting you in a room where you couldn't leave and making you do a worksheet silently.

So the conversation went on with me explaining that I didn't really think a random worksheet would help her learning. The response: "this isn't about learning, it's about being a proper school. "

My heart sunk. Here I was observing a group of teachers working harder than they ever had, who were pushing themselves way outside their comfort zones and their past specialist teaching areas, creating and  delivering high interest, practical, hands on learning activities requiring discussion and debate and thinking, and here they were facing a group of pre- teens and teenagers who have an understanding after 6-10 years in our education system that proper learning, or at least proper schooling, consists of sitting in a room silently or quietly doing worksheets. Or at least being told what to do and what to learn and how to learn it and complying.

Since when did learning have no place in schooling in some of our young people's minds and lives and hearts? What are we going to do about that? Are we going to continue to perpetuate the myth that "well-controlled" classrooms where everyone is silent or at least quiet and appears to be actively following instructions and doing the task adds up to effective learning? Or at least effective schooling?

Are we going to continue to explicitly and implicitly give young people the message that learning (or at least schooling) is something that an adult has to do to you in order for it to be proper or real?

We spent three months together as a foundation staff working on unschooling ourselves from our notion of what learning in the school system has been in the past and what it possibly could be in the future. We knew we would be working alongside some young people who have been completely disenfranchised with the schooling system they have worked in and we were determined that we will re- engage these young people. The ones who couldn't conform to the old system, the ones already jaded by a system that so clearly doesn't meet their needs.

We knew we would have to work hard to induct young people who have achieved and had a traditional sense of school success validated by their past experiences. We are having to work even harder to induct young people who have been failed by their past experiences of schooling into an understanding that schooling can equal learning and that this learning can be meaningful to them in deeply personal ways. We need to accept that just because they have been failed by one system they are not just going to magically accept and become part of a new system.

We worked solidly, and without the normal interruptions of a school, for 7 hours a day on this for three months as a staff in our build up to opening. And we just broke the surface. We need to very careful we don't judge ourselves, or allow others to judge us, because some of our young people haven't immediately fallen into line with a completely different way of schooling- even if they were failed by previous systems. We need to have patience, and tolerance and belief in what we are doing. We need strong support systems around us to prevent disenchantment in what we are doing and to prevent temptations to fall back to the past when it gets hard. We need to reflect back on all the talking and learning we have done about implementation dips and learning pits.

And we need to keep going. To keep changing and transforming what being at school is and means.  How learning and schooling could be. One day at a time. Sometimes even one hour or one minute at a time. Definitely one young person at a time.

To all our kaiako and kaiārahi and kaiawhina working so hard every day delivering and every night preparing I want to publicly say- you are awesome. You have a vision and a commitment to developing individual young people to be both learners and the best people they can be that is admirable. You are showing resilience and compassion, passion and commitment and it is an honour to stand amongst you.

It will take time, And that is okay. Change, real change, has to if its to be effective and sustainable.

I look forward to the day I can have a conversation with the young lady quoted above and she can equate her schooling with real life learning that is meaningful for her and where she is in her life right now.

And I have every faith that with the support of our Haeata staff that time will come. Every faith and a total belief.