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.  


  1. Sorry to hear you have been so unwell but I'm sure you are feeling great being back at Haeata. The day Haeata opened its doors, it was 'all eyes on you.' Everybody inside and outside education had an opinion on whether or not this massive change in our educational landscape would work - or not. Clearly you have felt this from within the education sector, your community and no doubt further afield. There are those who just want to see something innovative and transformative fail because it sits well outside of their comfort zone of what they know - especially in education. It also means they do not have to drastically change their own pedagogy. Haeata's success would mean change and with change comes fear - fear of the unknown.
    It is interesting to note that all new schools and/or businesses go through the same settling in process. Nothing is perfect initially, especially when people (or students in this case) are involved. Something that many people forget. Acknowledging those challenges in an open and honest way is acknowledging that you are on a journey and that the opening of Haeata was not a destination.
    Clearly your learners, staff, leaders and your surrounding community are at the heart of your decisions. They are the only ones that matter.
    Kia Kaha Haeata

  2. Kia kaha Karyn, I hope you are on the mend.
    Under the spotlight in soooooo many ways - demanding and draining, but also sparks a determination to do what's best for learners.
    As usual your words are from the heart and the head - honest and challenging.