Thursday, October 4, 2018

What Is Success? Redefining School

Due to a number of different things in my life I only completed my degree a couple of years ago at a ripe old age of 49. I’ve also recently also got into post graduate study with the eventual aim of a masters qualification. While I love reading, and thinking and dialogue about all things education, am I doing it because I sincerely think it’s going to make me a better educator or leader? No, I’m not. I’m doing it because it may open doors for me that not having that qualification on paper would be closed. Despite the fact that I’ve  been an educator for 30 years and in senior leadership and principalship for 22 years in some widely varied and interesting places that have all helped me become the educator and leader I am that one piece of paper would mean more than all that successful experience to some people. Why is that?

I have a brother who barely finished high school. He spent considerable time of his last year at secondary school playing spacies- which was actually helping him regain coordination after a sizeable brain tumour was diagnosed and removed when he was 16.  He is now a very successful businessman, having run many small and medium businesses in his life, has a comprehensive housing portfolio and is positioned to have a significant and influential role in one of our countries political parties. Successful? Many would say highly so.

I have a sister who spent most of her high school years in a lot of trouble- the cliched sex, drugs and rock and roll comes easily to mind. Im not sure what school qualifications she emerged from the system with, but I can’t imagine they were startling.
She is, today, an accomplished  self employed business owner, supplementing her hairdressing salon with the most incredible pieces of art which she sells as a sideline in her hairdressing salon. 
She loves people, connects effortlessly with a wide range of others and has the most varied kind of people forge connections with her. Successful? Absolutely.

I have a daughter who excelled in visual art and drama at secondary school. Right through to the end of secondary school, how many times was I told she needed to do “real” subjects if she was going to be successful in life? When she left school and didn’t know what she wanted to do and worked in hospitality for a few years, how many times was I told to make her go and study or she’ll never do it? Like that was going to be the measure of her success or otherwise in life. In actuality she did go and study at tertiary level but years later when she’d actually figured out what she was truly passionate about. And this young person that hadn’t really got or loved the “real” subjects at school studied science and law and loved it because it had a context that was meaningful to her. And now she is onto her third career, all careers in which she has had to care deeply and compassionately about living creatures- animals and other human beings. How better to measure the success of the child you raised but in how they care for other living things in their careers, and in what a loving partner she is to her husband? I could not be prouder of the successful person she is.

I have a friend who has left jobs without a new one lined up on more than one occasion because the institution he was working for did not mesh with his own value system.  I personally think he is both  highly successful and a passionate advocate for what he does today because he proved to himself, and others, that he is highly principled and prepared to stand behind those beliefs and values in a way that others might decry as being a quitter or showing a lack of perseverance.

I often write messages- blogs, twitter etc, that are aimed at other educators and what needs to change in the institutionalism of schooling, but this post is aimed at my wider community- the community of family and friends I have who are not educators.

The above stories and hundreds of similar ones illustrate why it is imperative that all of society, not just educators, re evaluate what success in the school system actually is, and what indeed the purpose of the school system is. If success in the school system is not necessarily reflective of success in life, what do we need to change?

Educators have been talking about this stuff, or some of us have, for years. We can’t do it alone. Because to adapt or change the school system means we have to adapt and reimagine the role of schooling in society and the role of society in schooling. 

It’s not simple like extend the school day or school year and make kids do more of the same. That’s just making them get better at the wrong things. It’s  highly complex and means we have to deeply and carefully examine all our carefully construed biases. Our bias about what success in life constitutes. Our biases about the role school does or does not play in that success. Our biases about whether School is a place to gain a qualification or a place to hone what being a member of society means to us. A place to be docilely compliant to the adults in power and control or a place to work out what our values are and how to be successful in applying them to whatever we turn our hand in life to. Our biases about the role that qualifications do or do not play in the success of our lives.

We need your support when we try to do things differently, we do not need calls for back to basics or statements like it was ok for me-didn’t do me any harm.

It was ok for you because the society you went into was vastly different.

I lived for the first 30 years of my life without the internet. My daughter has never known a world without it. Just the internet itself has incredibly changed our lives. It’s not ok for School to be the same it was for you. It may not have harmed you, but it also is unlikely to have prepared you for society as it is today.

The new basics are very different from the old basics. Your life is irrevocably different due  to developments in  internet and technology, in transportation and communication. Why do some still support school being the same way? The basics to survive and thrive in life today are different than they were in the past. 

We do not need to hear bring back the cane.  We don’t want to raise young people who think it is ok for someone in power to humiliate them and hurt them in order to coerce them into doing what they think is right.

We want to develop young people who care deeply and problem solve and fix the problems we’ve caused in the world today.

We want to raise young people who don’t believe everything everyone tells them. We want to grow people who are discriminate about what they believe. We want them to have principles and to be prepared to live by those principles.

Next time you think young people have no staying power and should be able to stick to things they don’t agree with because it’s "good for them" think about what criteria you are using for “good.”

And next time you hear about schools trying different things, question why.

When schools are trying to move away from subjects to a problem based approach that integrates subject knowledge and skills into solving big problems or delving into deep issues they are trying to prepare young people for approaching big world problems rather than memorising chunks of content in discrete and disconnected ways.

When schools are moving from tight to broad age groups they are trying to be  more like society is. Where else, ever, do we segregate ourselves based on such tight age groupings? As adults do we only play with or work with or learn with other people within 12 months of our birthdate? Why do we continue to think children learn best in this segregation?

When schools are trying to develop self managing learners, who will be able to direct themselves in society and work why do some call for them to just do what they are told. If we don’t develop those self determination skills at a young age we will have groups of adults waiting to be told what to do, like factory workers of the past, not like the active problem solvers we need to preserve society and our environment moving forward.

When schools are trying to be collaborative they are trying to help out young people learn that we will be able to progress much further and effectively if we work together as a team instead of row after row of single units. We will make a better world for all of us together than just you can make for yourself.

When schools are trying to use space flexibly and you get confused because that doesn't look like school a you remember it being, think about what else still looks the same as it did when you were at school.

And while we are at it as well as reevaluating what makes a young person successful and what the role of schooling is in that lets also reevaluate our definition of what makes a successful school.  Next time you read a media beat up or a list of school rankings listing the most successful schools by a magazine take a bit more time to interrogate the criteria of success being applied, and even more time to deeply consider whether those success criteria are going to mean anything in the lives of those young people in 5 or 10 years time.

Please take some time to consider what success in life means to you. And then how your current understanding of success in school matches this and if you need to spend some time re defining this in today’s context in your own mind so that you can join us in understanding and helping others to understand why schooling as we knew it has to change. And change fast. And change significantly.

Many of us inside the system are trying to change it. Vastly change it, not just tweak it a little. We need your help, and even more importantly your understanding. We need your support in our activism and we need you to talk about this with everyone. These changes aren’t just about and for the school system. They are about and for society and we need to spread this message widely.

From Factory Order to the Complexity of Nature

We all know the old metaphor of school being like a factory. It's a bit cliche now- it's been used so much.

During the industrial revolution, factories were revolutionised by the assembly line. Each person in the line would have responsibility for a certain part of the product, and when they all worked together, the finished product would come together. Rather than one person making a product, a whole lot of people working together could get it done much, much faster.

Schools were based on this assembly line model. Children were grouped into batches (year groups) and were moved through the process with a whole lot of different people contributing to the overall product. The children would have a different subject every hour and those hours would be separated by bells. Efficiency was valued over everything else. (Jono Broom- Moving Away from the Factory Model, January 2014)

"...the first factory-type schools, whose main purpose was to prepare kids to obey, follow a schedule, and be trained and retrained for the assembly-line jobs most of them were going to take on." (Will Richardson, 'Why School' September 12)

In some cases, authors have used the term "factory model" as a metaphor. As an example, the animation and text of Sir Ken Robinson's TedTalk compares students in schools to materials in a factory and references children's "date of manufacturing" as a sorting mechanism.

One of my challenges for the week, after reading the article Education Needs Different Metaphors by Sam Chaltain was to invent a new metaphor for schooling the way we are doing it now.

I pondered and thought and read. And the more I searched for something truly inspirational to create the more stuck I became. I could think of lots of examples in nature, but I think I was looking for something else.

However a walk down the beach on a beautiful Christchurch October afternoon had me come upon this. And I just stood there thinking that's it. That pile of sticks is the metaphor for everything we do at Haeata.

Maybe the new metaphors come to me so much from nature because nature is so fluid and ever changing. Maybe thats why nature is beckoning to me as a metaphor.

So how do the sticks represent Haeata for me?

  • There's lots of different things happening simultaneously just like you can walk into our learning environments and find 800 children all doing something different. 
  • Some of the logs are supporting other logs while also doing their own thing just like our teachers support and learn with, alongside and from our students. 
  • Sometime birds and seagulls swoop in and land on the logs for a little while and then fly off again, just like how we engage people from outside school to supplement and support whats happening inside 
  • There's a firm grounding underneath what looks like a random structure just like how what appears to be a random group of kids all doing random things to the outside eye when you come into Haeata actually has a real structure and serious consideration to that structure underneath. 
  • In short there are multiple connections leading to multiple pathways.

To use the terms of the Cynefin framework we have moved from the simple (factory analogy) to the complex.

Much harder to understand. Not linear.

Much more exciting and energising and giving a place for all to be, to learn and to grow. Not like the old model designed to fail as many as it was designed to let succeed.

A place for all to grow in whichever way is best for them supported by many others in many different ways.

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.