Saturday, March 4, 2017

Challenge of Biculturalism Lies With Pakeha

Disclaimer (if  that's the right term): I am a Pakeha and an atheist)

I've enjoyed revisiting this book several decades after I first read it. It was published  in 1992 and I bought it hot off the press. I had experienced my first 7 years as a teacher at Ngaruawahia High School in the heart of the Tainui Iwi and the Kingitanga movement.

While there I made my first foray into the Maori world. This included my first formal learning of Te Reo, experiencing powhiri, delivering whaikorero, participating in poukai and developing ways to support Maori aspirations in relation to education without charging in with the answers. I felt privileged to be made to feel at home at Turangawaewae and enjoyed many conversations with the late Maori Queen Dame Te Atairangikaahu. I had  a close relationship with her Private Secretary, Ngahia Gregory, who was on the teaching staff at Ngaruawahia High School. With her guidance and mentoring I was able to support the establishment of a "Bilingual Class" and was Chairman of the NHS Marae Committee that built the school Wharenui,Te Huingaongawai.

While these two (Bilingual Class and Wharenui) were physcically  visible outcomes the greatest outcome was the way in which, to make sure these projects came to fruition, Maori parents were supported to grow in confidence and move into key positions on the PTA and new-fangled BOTs.

None of these outcomes were my ideas. By listening to Maori students and their whanau their aspirations were clear, as were ideas on how to achieve them. I soon realised that where the support was needed was in navigating the Pakeha world and its institutions and ways of  operating. This is where I could help.

We had a great time - shooting geese on a farm and selling them at the Delta Hotel off the back of a trailer (fundraising), harvesting truckloads of ponga logs for the marae fence, and working alongside Rongo Wetere and his staff and students from Waipa Kokiri (soon to become Te Wananga o Aotearoa) to design and create our carvings for our whare and the wonderful murals for inside.

All through those 7 years this Pakeha atheist was finding ways to operate in a world rich with tikanga. At no stage was I asked or required to relinquish any important aspects of my Pakeha world. I truly hope I operated in a way that did not ask or require the same of the Maori I was working with.

The true winner out of these experiences was me. I began my journey of learning the reo and I came  to understand the concepts of whanaungatanga, manaakitanga, aroha, wairua, and mana motuhake.

I think I was beginning to develop an understanding of bi-culturalism: we all brought something to the table (our values, our principles, our world view, our practices ie our tikanga) and no one had to compromise on these important elements of  their tikanga.

When I  read James Ritchie's introduction in 1992 it resonated with me:

"There are two predominant cultures here, not one. Pakeha culture is dominant by power, history and majority. Maori culture is dominant by a longer history, by legacy and by its strength of survival and the passionate commitment of its people."  (p 6)

Without this understanding many view Pakeha culture as dominant and take this view to the concept of biculturalism. Such a position can lead to people exhibiting practices of ''biculturalism" in which the dominant culture requires the less dominant culture to have some important aspects of its tikanga pushed aside.

A case in point is the important tikanga element of wairua and its associated practices such as karakia. When I have participated in aspects of wairua within the Maori world such as karakia or himene, being an atheist, I have wondered how I can reconcile this. (Well, to tell the truth, I have rarely wondered about this and have felt little discomfort).

Reading James Ritche (a Pakeha atheist as well who's work was situated increasingly within the Maori world) has helped when I have felt I may have needed to reconcile (or more commonly justify the validity of wairua to Pakeha - even those who aspire to biculturalism):

"Spiritual concerns apply to all things. They are never obliterated and must be given full status and recognition. Pakeha are not expected to share such beliefs but are expected to respect them. Matters of the wairua are deeply and personally cultural; do not intrude upon them." (p 53)

In most cases in situations where there is a strong presence of wairua and spirituality such as karakia I simply close my eyes and think of things and people important to me. I do the same when at a Pakeha funeral and there are Christian prayers for the departed and their famiiliies. Sometimes I will not sing himene, but I must admit  I did belt out a strong Whakaria Mai at a recent funeral for a friend. No reconciling was necessary. I am proud of the fact that none of my responses show disrespect or require Maori to abandon what is important to them.

Too often in our institutions if Pakeha feel uncomfortable with aspects of wairua being incorporated in the institution's practices then such endeavours are abandoned. Once again the dominant culture requires the other to compromise and again the members of the less dominat culture continue to experience the levels of discomfort as a result to which Pakeha will not subject themselves.

In my view, it is too easy to play the "schools are secular" card to avoid Pakeha discomfort (while exacerbating discomfort of Maori). This is where the rubber hits the road and determines our true commitment to biculturalism. If we allow the "schools are secular" position to win the day we should, morally, remove our aspiration for biculturalism and reject the presence of Hauora (including) wairua from our Health and Dispositional Curricula.

I recently discussed these issues with a colleague who works within a major tertiary institution. He shared with me a reply he used to a Pakeha colleague who was opposed to karakia being used to start hui:

For me, inviting a Maori colleague to open a meeting is about giving more prominence and visibility to tikanga.  If for that person karakia is an important element of that opening then I am fine about that.

Most non-religious Pakeha would still attend religious-based funerals, with prayers and hymns, and find ways to respectfully be present. I assume they do this for the same reason I do: respect for others and their beliefs.

There is no doubt that much of what is seen as Maori spirituality has, since the mid 1800s, taken on a Christian belief system, but spirituality within the Maori world existed long before then. James Ritchie gives an interesting perspective:

"But to inflict my non-religious attitudes on Maori commits the same error as the early Christian missionaries did when they denied the validity of Maori belief." (p 54)

In schools, as Pakeha (who occupy most leadership and decision-making positions) we cannot dismiss these aspects of bi-culturalism because of levels of discomfort. For decades our Maori colleagues have had to endure high  levels of discomfort because the dominant culture has not acknowledged the important wairua aspects of their culture.

Monday, February 20, 2017

"The signature characteristic of 21st century schools is students at work"

Because staffing numbers and learning space (classroom) meterage are linked to student numbers the impact on pedagogy is strong.

These formulas mean there is only one thing you can do in a traditionally designed classroom and that is put one teacher with 30 kids. And when you put the traditional furniture in there, there's not a lot of room to swing the cat.  You certainly can't put 50 students and 2 teachers in those spaces, so the formula is saying that peer teaching cannot occur (so therefore is not valued.) As well, you can't put 1 teacher with 6 kids in those spaces because that will create overcrowding somewhere else, so the formula is saying that small group teaching cannot occur (so therefore is not valued.) And even when you go with the only possible combination of 1 teacher and 30 students you can do little beyond the teacher at the front, with some moving around with difficulty amongst the bags and 30 desks and chairs, while students remain at their allotted desk and chair.

Do we honestly think that even though this model might have been appropriate once that that is how learning has to occur? When even us baby boomers know that the world and the working environment is so different to what we experienced, that employability requires a completely different set of skills and dispositions (team work, problem-solving, critical thinking, multi-disciplinary, multi modal, communication, collaboration and creativity) and that our society needs people to develop a strong sense of contribution service and equity - even still we wish to limit pedagogy and learning to the one-size-fits-all model required by the traditional classroom.

If I had enough hair left to tear out I'd be even balder after reading articles like Bernadine Oliver-Kerby's ! Her title Children: Casualties of Flawed Teaching Theory suggests some sort of evidence based conclusions outlining the "Teaching Theory", identifying the flaws with evidence and pointing out the definition of "casualties". What we got was a piece of drivel based on, I suspect, casual observations at a surface level. The dismissive observations made at some point in time re handwriting are used to pan innovative teaching in innovative learning environments and given some national platform.

Thank you Bruce Hammonds for pointing me to Bob Pearlman's chapter from his book whch allows me to park the 'Casualties' article and its thinking in the trash.

I loved this from the chapter: "The signature characteristic of 21st century schools is students at work." Note, he does not mean students doing work (writing notes, reading quietly, answering questions from a textbook), but students at work. In my view, students  at work (meaningful work) has them exploring, making sense, generating ideas, testing assumptions, refining thinking, problem-solving, collaborating, seeking expertise, constructing, communicating, presenting, discussing, critiquing and evaluating.

To be at this type of work they need learning environments that allow for large group, small group, individual, teacher directed, student centred, multiple learning style opportunities. They also need 24/7 access to learning materials and supports (information, criteria, assessment rubrics, calendars, discussion boards and evaluation tools.)

Is Bernadine Oliver-Kerby really saying that these types of learning opportunities in these types of learning environments are not appropriate and relevant for our young people today and that the model and design that was appropriate in the 1950s is still so today? Why would we expect schools to operate on the same model in largely the same environment from then when we wouldn't tolerate it from our hospitals, transport systems, music industry, entertainment, legal, finance etc etc institutions?

I'm with Bob Pearlman. Let's have schools where students are at (meaningful) work. This may be, I suspect, a big part of the answer to the problems of student disengagement, under-achievement and anxiety.

Monday, February 6, 2017

NCEA - Deep Challenge and Inquiry

One of the Principles that has formed the foundations of our curriculum decision-making is to Inspire through Deep Challenge and Inquiry. When it came to making our decisions in relation to NCEA we were close to deciding to approach it in much the same way as all schools until we focused on this Principle.

Our approach which we settled on in early 2015 is described in an earlier post  by me and one by Claire. I included the following in that previous post:

I then explained why NCEA Level 1 was a qualification of little value; it leads to no employment or further training. Despite this all schools expose their 14 and 15 year olds to a full year of six subjects offering anywhere between 18 and 24 credits (both internal and external) meaning to get the 80 required (for a meaningless qualification) students were being exposed to 120-140 credits. It's like being hit by a tidal wave! All of a sudden their focus moves away from the joy of discovery and learning to credit chasing and teachers take their eye off the NZC and 'teach to the tests' - all for a qualification that has little value! Stress levels rise for everyone - students, teachers and parents.

Our plan is that our Year 11 students will achieve around 20 quality Level 1 or 2 credits that emerge from their co-constructed learning programmes. Most of these will be from their areas of interest and passion though if we identify that a learner will struggle to receive literacy and numeracy credits at Level 6 or 7 then we will direct them to the literacy and numeracy Unit Standards.

Our learners will take their 20 quality credits with them to Year 12. Their focus in Year 12 will be on 60 quality Level 2 or higher credits. When these are matched with the 20 they have brought with them they are awarded NCEA L1 and 2. They will have done this after having attempted around 100 credits over their 2 years rather than the 220-280 they may have had to attempt elsewhere.

So, as we approach our 4th year and have students moving into Year 12 (Q2 in our lingo), how did 2016 pan out for our Year 11 (Q1) learners?

We started 2016 by setting a target of every Q1 learner achieving 20 quality credits to lay the foundation for their 2 year journey to a quality NCEA L2. Programmes were set up in such a way that all learners would have the opportunity to attempt 20 - 40 credits.

This is what happened:

  • 97% achieved at least 20 credits (the 4 who did not are high priority learners). This shows we came close to the quantity part of our target. What about the quality?
  • 57% of all internal standards were awarded Merit or Excellence
  • 62% of all external standards were awarded Merit or Excellence

How well have the foundations been laid for a quality NCEA L2?
On average, our Q2 learners arrive this year with 12 Level 2 credits, meaning they need 48 at Level 2 or higher to gain their Level 2.

Our programmes will allow our Q2 learners to access 60 - 80 credits at Level 2 or higher and I am confident that we will achieve the quantity part of our target for them. I am also confident we will continue to nail the quality element. Our Q1 learners have flourished in an environment that concentrates on deep learning while avoiding the downside of assessment anxiety as they chase 80+ credits for a largely meaningless Level 1 qualification.

At HPSS we are all determined to maintain an environment focussing on deep learning and not on assessment even as our learners move through Q2 and into Q3 in 2018.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Die in the Ditch - Non-negotiable Principles for Learning Design

Not everyone believes that schooling needs to be transformed but those of us at HPSS believe that it does. We simply do not believe that schools as an institutional phenomenon will escape the same demand and pressure for change as most other institutions.
An important and very rewarding part of our development journey has been sharing our thinking with the hundreds of visitors that we have hosted. This has reminded me of the passion and openness that so many teachers have to make schooling as engaging and relevant as possible for learners. Almost all have agreed that students are struggling to engage and find learning stressful. They also recognise that teaching has become a hard slog with reduced rewards. Many also acknowledge that schools are becoming more like centres of assessment rather than centres of learning.

All of the visiting schools want answers to the question of what can be done at their school and, in some cases, believe that after a visit they will discover a model they can transplant into their own environment. Of course, they soon realise this is unlikely.

When we have worked closely with schools that are in the process of opening as new schools it has been more possible for them to adopt and adapt some of the structures that we have developed while taking the thinking further as a result of their vision, values and principles. For existing schools, however, this is much less of a possibility (and not desirable anyway).

So, what is it that we can share which can be of value to any school in the world no matter their context? The following are three elements that I believe can be put in place in some way in any school and will help move the school in a future-focused direction. I think you can call them principles and they can be evidenced in so many different ways. They are my current non-negotiables; the principles I would die in the ditch for.

Linked Learning
I am convinced that the solution to the complaints teachers hear as to "why are we learning this", "when will I ever use this" lies in linking learning ie not treating subjects as silos. Every day I witness students seeing the relevance of what they are learning simply because the learning they are engaged with requires them to draw on more than one 'subject'.

But the power of linking learning lies in the increased depth of learning that results, both for students and teachers. Examples exist in every connected module our students enrol in, but a standout was seeing students' understanding of an aspect of biology being extended to unanticipated levels as a result of it being wrapped together with an aspect of geography (and being taught by 2 subject specialists).

Any school can take steps to apply this principle simply by reconceptualising the use of time and allocate it to groups of subject specialists who teach the same class and collaboratively plan how they will teach to a common big idea (while developing their subject's concepts,skills and knowledge) over a period of time. This requires no change to timetables and class structures.

Co-construction of learning contexts
There is no doubt that each subject has important concepts, skills and content knowledge and these are non-negotiable. I think, however, that we as teachers have taken ownership of the contexts in which the learning of these has to take place and then held very tightly to them. The sad fact is that often the contexts we create, despite our best intentions, are not seen as engaging, relevant or authentic by our learners. For years I taught a topic focusing on migration by getting students to look at why Victorian Englanders migrated to NZ in the 19th century - all 30 students in the classwould move through this 6 week unit, If I had co-constructed with my learners after justifying the importance of studying the movement of people across and throughout the world I could have had some students inquiring into this important social science concept by exploring the movement of refugees from Syria, others inquiring into their heritage by looking at Pacific Island migration to Auckland and others etc, etc. We would have then culminated in presenting the common and the particular reasons, impacts etc.

I encourage all teachers to invite students into the decision-making re the contexts for the learning. Use your knowledge of your subjects' learning objectives to set the learning and assessment framework and guide the students through a deep learning inquiry. It is not only the learning that will be more engaging, the act of teaching will also be so.

Collaboration is the fuel that drives our engine. Collaboration enables practices that allow learning to be linked and enables students to be involved in co-constructing learning contexts. It brings collegiality to our everyday experience and overtly develops the important 21st century skills of teamwork and inter-personal skills in all learners.

These three principles can and will look very differently wherever they are applied. Each of the three can be applied in any school. The sun will still come up and still go down. Teachers and students will be more engaged.

Have a rewarding and engaging 2017!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

NCEA: My personal thoughts on a way forward

I've really enjoyed the series of articles in the NZ Herald on NCEA. Well done Kirsty Johnston!

While agreeing with the issue of disparity in the story: NCEA The Only Brown Kid In The Room I'm not comfortable with the status given to external exams as a 'higher' form of assessment. While the selection of programmes and standards for every student must be closely monitored I think it is a credit that schools and students can make strategic decisions. There seems to be a view that not doing external standards might be some sort of dumbing down. I prefer to see the opportunities for personalisation and responsiveness.

It was great to see in the article: The English Exam No-one Wants to Take strategic decision-making which seems to be OK because even "high achieving kids" choose not to sit this external.

If the answer to the question Are Exams Only For The Elite is yes I say good luck to the elite! Maybe the reason might have more to do with my belief that it is in the low decile schools where you see more innovation, responsiveness and personalisation. The simple path is to take all students down the same pathway with the range  and balance of internals and externals as we have always done them. We have to break down this acceptance of some special status for externals. Go Kia Aroha College.

I loved reading about Heretaunga College with Bruce Hart's focus on quality over quantity and the interesting and engaging courses his staff have innovatively created and the courage it has taken to reduce the  number of assessments.

Where do you reckon kids are more engaged in quality deep learning and achieving to their potential? In schools of innovative and responsive thinking like Heretaunga College and Kia Aroha College or in those schools where they start the year looking at the tsunami of assessments coming at then throughout the full year culminating in the 'elite, high status' externals at the end of the year?

We just need to remember the headlines from only a week ago when 15 year olds were "reduced to tears" with the stress of facing an exam which didn't look like the one they thought was coming at them. I was staggered to hear that schools found this a problem because this one external (worth 4 credits) was used as the sole prerequisite to allow a student to do Level 2 Calculus! What are we doing to our kids to subject them to this level of stress? How do such practices lead to deep learning and engagement, surely the goal of every school.

I recall reading in an ERO National Report on Priority Learners in 2012 where ERO's position was that "innovation and responsiveness should be the NORM (my emphasis) in all schools." And then in 2015 they issued a report on student well-being in secondary schools and I struggled to sleep after reading some of their findings. They included:

  • "The key factor was that students in ALL (my emphasis) schools were experiencing a very assessment driven curriculum and assessment anxiety (me again)."
    • Have a brief think of what might be meant by assessment anxiety and how it might act upon teenagers!
  • "In many schools the only people who understood the overall curriculum and competing demands on them were the students" !!! (me again).

I would like to propose a way forward:

  1. NCEA Level 1 becomes a qualification for priority learners only and it will be achieved over 2 - 3 years. It begins in Year 11 and not before.
  2. NCEA L2 is achieved as a result of a 2 year journey with same credit requirements as now (60 at L2 and 20 at any other level.) It begins in Year 11 and not before and students are not permitted to be entered in more than 40 in Year 11.
  3. Remove subject endorsement ("subjects" need to be replaced by courses that include learning and standards from a range of "subjects". Subject endorsement serves no useful purpose and unlike Course Endorsement for some reason has to be achieved in a calendar year - this reinforces subject siloisation and arbitrary time frames on a learning programme.) After all the NZC says, "All learning should make use of the natural connections that exist between learning areas and that link learning areas to the values and key competencies." (p 16). It also says, "When designing and reviewing their curriculum, schools select achievement objectives from each area in response to the identified interests and learning needs of their students." (p 44).
  4. Remove external assessment credits as a requirement for certificate endorsement. Do we really want to consign those students at Kia Aroha College to a 'lesser' qualification because of this antiquated requirement?
  5. Abolish the current scholarship arrangement and award the equivalent number of acknowledgements and funds to those who indicate a superior level of excellence at Level 3.
  6. NZQA works with universities to develop a less restrictive portfolio of evidence for entering restricted entry programmes. The current requirements are one of the biggest drags on innovation and responsiveness in the senior secondary school. (As an aside I would argue that the lack of agility on the behalf of universities is one of the biggest threats to their relevance.)
If you are a teacher I am sure you would welcome the huge reduction in your workload which must be addressed for you well-being and so that you can be innovative and responsive. These suggestions will reduce workload and stress for teachers, students and their parents while allowing innovation and responsiveness to flourish and make the way for deep, challenging learning.

We're putting some of these suggestions in place at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. This link takes you to a page on our website which documents our approach which is centred around a 2 year journey to a quality NCEA L2 with a limit on credits available in Year 11.

I'm going to encourage my DP, Claire Amos, to publish her thoughts on how the internal assessment process can be operated innovatively to free teachers up further so watch out for her post.

I'm keen to hear feedback on my views and proposals so please get in touch.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Others' Voices

I had a topic I was going to post about tonight which was going to try to capture some early-forming thoughts on the differences and tensions between the two principles of excellence and equity and some thinking on good practice in relation to having a better chance of lifting achievement for targeted students. My thoughts on both of these areas are still developing so it risked being a bit of a ramble.

Fortunately before I began the post I clicked on the updated posts from my staff and after an hour of reading and posting brief comments I thought there was nothing better I could do but highlight their posts and encourage you to read them because this is where the truth lies.

I started with Trace's post which highlighted her commitment to carry out the same blogging habit that she was expecting from her students. This was neat to see but the real gold for me was following the links from this post to the blogs of her Hub students. Please view (and comment!) on some of these blogs. I was so proud of this small sample of our students who were making their academic and Habit goals visible to all who wished to see - and they were setting goals that showed they had reflected well on where they needed to focus. The stuff I have read tonight will be influencing my own goal setting in our Professional Learning this Friday.

I then viewed Vanna's blog which is a lovely mix of nervousness, courage and optimism which typifies that thing called 'mindset' which is often difficult to define but is clear and obvious when you  see it in action.

Somehow I had missed Andrea's post from last week which perfectly captures the why and how of our connected learning model. Having someone come from the 'real world' to teaching confirm that what we aspire to in our model and for our learners is what this real world needs. Andrea's observations of how naturally our students assume this way of learning to be was a true tears-in-the-eye moment for me.

The power of blogging was also brought home to me via Ros's post which captured Monique's (our Guidance Counsellor) presentation to staff last Friday on mindfulness and resilience. Monique had made a neat link to our mantra of Warm and Demanding and our underpinning principles of Restorative Practice but the SLT had to leave early to look after the Learning Communities as our professional learning time needed to run over time. Ros's post included the key points, links to resources and some important commentary which filled in the gaps for me.

Gerard's reflections in his post of how he is supporting habits in his Hub not only show the great work he is doing with them but shows how he is on his own journey in exploring these dispositions and how best to inspire his students to develop in each of them.

I then went back and re-read one of our new staff members' blog (Mic). What I loved here was a new staff member who, after only 2 weeks of being involved in the Big Project element of curriculum was able to produce a coherent explanation (and justification) of this important piece of curriculum framework.

And then from 2 weeks ago is Heemi's outstanding post on the work he is doing to track growth in the elements of our dispositional curriculum and Sally's post on our school's recent and wonderful focus on whanaungatanga and the building of relationships: the cornerstone of all effective learning.

This collection of student and teacher voice is where the truth lies.

Thank you to all, staff and students, for making our story visible, authentic and the truth.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Leadership Musings

I have a simple aspiration in my job and that is to be a good leader every single day.

Unfortunately, rather than being simple this is quite complex (as volumes of research on the topic will attest to). Leading a school requires you to lead students, lead staff and lead your parent community, at the very least.

Of course, when I talk leadership I mean much more than managing the status quo. For me it means leading massive change. Unfortunately (or excitedly), this also means attempting to show leadership across the wider education community.

So there are competing demands. What might be seen as good leadership by students may not be viewed in the same way by staff or parents etc etc.

Various personalities, including your own, have to be managed. I see myself as largely an introvert with a bit of extroversion thrown in and I try to juggle this internal confusion in a way that infects others with optimism, self-confidence and pride in their contributions. A previous leader I worked with (you know who you are, Boss) inspired me with the way he made sure the light shone on others and has motivated me ever since.

Despite ongoing symptoms of imposter syndrome I am developing a more settled view of leadership.

I am convinced a leader must have a clear vision which others can see the sense of and they must have a set of values which resonates with others and they must have a set of principles that support decision-making.

But once again, it's not as simple as that.This all comes to nothing without the leader having a strong sense of moral purpose AND courage to bring life to that moral purpose so that the vision can have some hope of being realised.

But it's both of these together. Moral purpose without courage seems pointless, maybe self-indulgent and will mean feeling far short of achieving the vision. And courage without a moral purpose may achieve little as it's like beating your chest merely for the sake of beating your chest.

Bit of a ramble, but that's how it is.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Building Relationships

Even though we are about to start Week 2 of the 2016 school year tomorrow will be the first time all of us will be gathering together. Our first week was spent doing what we believe is central to our school: building relationships. Every student and their family had a 40 minute meeting (some did go for over an hour) with the student's Learning Coach. We're firmly of the view that if you believe that strong relationships are central to learning then you need the structures, the commitment of time and the processes to build those relationships.

This first week was stunning and something I have never experienced before. Learning Coaches, both experienced and those in their first week in the job, were having powerful conversations with students and their families, talking about their passions and the way they like to learn. It is investing these types of conversations which put 'money in the bank' and will allow withdrawals later on.

All of the elements of our curriculum model are important as are the structures that support them. Learning Communities and Learning Hubs, as structures, and Learning Coaches as teachers who are the warm and demanding adults each student has in their corner, are crucial in our desire to build relationships and personalise learning. A great outline of this feature can be found here.

But it's tomorrow I'm really looking forward to; especially when we all gather together at the start of the day as we begin a full week of continuing to build relationships and to explore how learning best happens at our school. Even though the overwhelming emotion will be that of joy and promise there will be some sadness. Just this weekend the father of a new staff member passed away and 2 weeks ago another staff member's wife passed away. And we will once again acknowledge the three workers building our school who were killed when a tornado passed through in 2012.

I want to emphasise our vision with our students:

To create a stimulating and inclusive learning environment which empowers learners to contribute confidently and responsibly in a changing world.

It will be stimulating when we see students and teachers excited about their learning, planning it together, asking questions, seeking ways to show the evidence of their learning, looking for ways to participate, to contribute and to lead. We achieve the inclusive part when all, students and teachers alike, no matter their gender, their gender identity, their ethnicity, their nationality, their learning needs, their aspirations or their personalities find that they have a place in our school, a place where they are valued, where they are respected, where they are able to flourish without fear or anxiety.

I also want to emphasise the key principles that drive our curriculum decision-making. We want learning to be as personalised as possible. If students want to go to a school where everybody is doing the same thing as everyone else, where students plough their way through a textbook, where students complete worksheets for homework, where teachers provide all of the information, where they answer all of their questions for them, then this is not the school for them. Our teachers expect students to be involved in planning their learning, asking questions but not expecting someone else to provide the answers and they expect students to grow the responsibility to take charge of their learning.

As I have said earlier, we believe learning is a relationship-based activity, that’s why we all gather in a school together. It is not just a one-way street between a teacher and learner as an individual student. The best learning is based on powerful partnerships: partnerships with students and their teacher, with other students in the class, with teachers and students throughout the building and with our community both down the street and throughout the world. And if the result of this learning benefits someone else, helps them solve a problem or learn more themselves, then our learning comes alive.

Deep challenge and inquiry is a cornerstone of our school. We’re not about covering lots of stuff at a surface level, ploughing our way through textbooks, doing test after test, collecting credit after credit. We want learning to be deep, we want students posing and answering questions that are relevant and meaningful to them and which prepare them for a world which is quite different to that for which traditional secondary schools were designed for.

Like all schools we've still got challenges going forward especially as we cement our pathway to high quality qualifications and the development of personal excellence for all of our learners. However, there is a great vibe in our school. We've welcomed 11 new staff and are about to all come together for the next stage of our exciting and wonderful journey,
Taheretikitiki Building Relationships Amongst Staff

Collaborative Planning

Workshopping Learning Design

Project Planning and Decision Making

Sunday, November 8, 2015


I've thought a lot about posting tonight but, uncharacteristically, have decided to be measured and strategic. Perhaps more will be said later about the nonsense in the Sunday Star Times.

The HPSS school community appreciates the messages we have received that support our journey.

I am not afraid of tomorrow, for I have seen yesterday and I love today.

William Allen White
Via Martin Hales @HPSS teacher

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"You've got to have control before you can teach them!"

"The country's top schools are in open revolt against the Ministry of Education for being forced into multimillion-dollar "barn" classrooms where students are left on their own to learn."

There is so much wrong with the opening sentence from this front page article of this week's Sunday Star Times. This 'top schools' label really irks me and sums up the too-narrow definition of what it means to be a great school. It is more, surely, than having more "NCEA scholarships" than any other school. As well, this label is an insult to the many outstanding schools that are in NZ that fail to meet this narrow definition.

And what about these multimillion-dollar "barn" classrooms where students are left on their own to learn? I've seen plenty of students left on their own to learn in traditional classrooms.

And where does the principal of one of NZ's top schools in Auckland get his reasoning to claim: "The personalised learning philosophy does not encourage students' development of thinking skills and creativity"? Perhaps he could start by coming to our school for a visit and talk with our students.

And the principal from one of the other top schools in Wellington espouses that, "students would not learn what they need to learn if left to their own devices." I have no idea how this is linked to a discussion on MLEs. Perhaps he should visit as well (and drop in at Te Karaka on the way and talk with Karyn Gray).

And then back to Auckland where the principal of another top school dismisses MLEs because "you've got to have control before you can teach them"! He seems to be arguing that teaching and learning begins with control from the teacher and that that is more easily managed by putting 30-35 students into an enclosed space with one teacher. Once control is established learning can occur!

This view belongs with the dinosaurs.

My biggest frustration is that these three principals are wheeled out to comment knowledgeably on a topic about which they obviously have very little knowledge. They're all good dudes but they should decline to comment on such issues.

Thankfully, before I read the article I came across this post by one of our students on our Facebook Page. She seems to have developed some thinking skills.

And on Saturday one of our students helped me run an information session for job applicants at our school. 

Faced with 60 teachers she was unfazed when she was asked to name the three qualities that teachers need to display to be a good teacher for her school:
  • Passion for our Vision
  • Active communication with students and families
  • Accommodate a range of needs and be flexible
Sally's blog post is an excellent response to the article. I hope principals of top schools find the time to read it.
And while they're reading blogs they should dip into Steve's post on learner agency to see how students truly develop thinking skills and creativity.
It was left to the Deputy Head Boy of one of these top schools to speak the most sense: "People feel like they're being watched so they're more focused on their behaviour, teachers stay on topic more." These are two good things: students being self-aware and teachers being purposeful. This is where the necessary control comes from so that learning can be effective. The principal from the other top school should go and have a chat with him.

We welcome any of these principals to come along and talk with our learners because it's the kids, and not us leaders, who tell it how it is.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Slow Learning

While our main focus over the last 3 years has been to create a quality learning environment for the students and teachers of Hobsonville Point Secondary School we have also made it clear to ourselves, and to anyone else who cares to listen, that we are out to redesign the NZ secondary schooling environment.

Back when I first started talking about this I most probably was thinking mainly about school structures and programme design features - structures and design features that would enable our pursuit of relevant and personalised learning. While I am convinced that these changes are vital it is more evident to me that the whole culture of schooling and learning that needs to be revisited.

I am absolutely over the moon with what we are achieving in our establishment journey but we a re very conscious of colleagues and other institutions and wider community who are critical of the culture we are trying to develop and the practices we are building to support that culture. We often get told we can only do what we are doing because we have a brand new building, we have hand-picked our staff, we are high decile etc.

Others talk about us using students as guinea pigs and having teething problems (I hope we always have teething problems!). Others have a view, without ever having visited our school, that there are no structures, that our students can do what they like and that we can't prove, as other schools can, that our students are learning.

Each one of these points could be the focus of its own blog post (and they may well emerge in one later). As far as I know every school hand picks it's staff. As well, I know that I have not been in a school whose structures that support Years 9 and 10 learning are so rigorous and where learning is tracked so closely. And yes, students have a huge say in their learning. We ask them to identify which contexts they would like to explore their learning in and we ask them to suggest the best ways for them to process their learning and the best ways to evidence their learning. As well, we seek their views on any major decisions we are going to make. We do not, however, abdicate any responsibility for curriculum coverage, learning progression or for having high expectations of what they are capable, especially when it comes to making responsible decisions about their own learning. Why would we want anything else in a school?
Staff listening to student voice on MyTime

We have had hundreds of visitors from schools across NZ, from Australia, from Singapore, from Korea, and from USA. What is hugely satisfying is that they not only leave impressed with what they see and experience, largely by talking with students, but that they feel inspired to go back into their environment and lead change to a different type of schooling.

I have the awesome privilege of escorting many of these visitors throughout our school and to hear what students say to them, to observe students in the act of learning, to hear what teachers say to them, and to observe teachers in the act of teaching.
Students explaining learning to one of our many visiting groups

I know our teachers are working very hard; there is no place for pre-planned units of work taken off a shelf in a school which is setting out to personalise learning and to make authenticity and relevance visible by linking subject disciplines together in forever changing combinations. As well, for the first time in their careers, teachers are Learning Coaches, Project Guides and collaborative planners, teachers and assessors. What I have noticed more clearly now, though, is that the act of teaching is calm, unhurried and responsive.
Calm, unhurried, responsive collaborative teaching in action

This has got me thinking about the concept of slow learning.

One of our Principles is to inspire students through deep challenge and inquiry, This is impossible to achieve when school is a mad rush to get through stuff while at the same time continually assessing the stuff. Such a culture place too much stress on both teachers and students.

I'm liking the sound of the slow learning movement. This has been reinforced through a series of meetings Claire and I have had with the 15 Year 11 students that we have and their families over the best pathways for them as they attempt to  move through their qualifications pathways. The realisation I have come to is that these students and their families enrolled in our school because they had faith in the model of learning we were aspiring to - which includes not contributing to the culture of assessment anxiety that exists in almost all schools (see ERO). Yet what we initially proposed to support this small group of learners was going to do just that (and create too much stress for staff). Claire really nailed it when she started talking about there being no need to rush and that it is OK to take time to move through and eventually graduate from school. As a result, almost all of these students, with the support of their parents, have decided to travel through school with the current Year 10 cohort with the likelihood of 6 years at secondary school. I see these students as the pioneers of the slow learning movement.

And when you look at our Vision (and I expect most schools') to create an inclusive and stimulating learning environment which empowers learners to contribute confidently and responsibly in a changing world and at our 2 Pathways of Excellence - Academic Excellence and Personal Excellence - how can you rush this through in a pressure cooker environment.

What might a slow learning movement mean?

Who's going to join us? We've got a group of lone nuts and first followers who would like you to join in.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Aligning Vision With Practice

To create an inclusive learning environment which empowers learners to contribute confidently and responsibly in an ever changing world.
Hobsonville Point Schools Vision

I love our vision because it not only refers to the what but also gives the why or the intent. Our intention as a school is to empower our learners (skills, knowledge, disposition and mindset) so that they can be active participants and contributors in a world that we acknowledge is forever changing (and doing so quite rapidly).

This vision tells us that it is now no longer good enough to just equip our students with a strong qualification, largely built around literacy and numeracy skills and fashioned around single bodies of knowledge known as subjects.. It requires us to do so much more.

The first thing it requires us to do is not to go to the back of the NZC where we see there are 8 Learning Areas and simply cross out the heading Learning Area and change it to Subject. An ever changing world requires graduates who can see connections across learning areas.

The second thing it requires us to do is to develop strong dispositions that point towards contribution, confidence, responsibility and those that equip people to cope with continual rapid change.

The first thing we did in planning to open this school was to settle on two equally important excellences that aligned with our vision. These are Academic Excellence and Personal Excellence. We believe these two help us to grow graduates who can contribute confidently and responsibly in an ever changing world.

Of course, the Academic Excellence is quite straight forward as schools are good at tracking and reporting this and we can use Curriculum Levels and NCEA as the main tool and measurement. But our vision requires learners to have more than this as it does not guarantee the ability to contribute confidently and responsibly in an ever changing world.

The problem with Personal Excellence there is there are not many existing models that point to what is needed to achieve our vision. At HPSS we settled on 10 Hobsonville Habits which might be seen as the equivalent of the Learning Areas from the Academic Excellence side of things. The challenge for us has been how do we define the habits, how do we make them visible, how do we make them part of our learning and how do we track progress against them. This is difficult but exciting work and we are looking forward to cracking it.

Like all schools we have a Mission Statement and ours is Innovate Engage, Inspire. Quite correctly you will say that all schools have similar aspirational words in their Mission. What I like about what we have done is to expand on them and to develop them into a set of principles that guide all curriculum decision  making we get involved in. In these uncertain times of developing a new school which is looking at secondary schooling through a different lens it is vital that we have such a set of principles. I am proud to say that they are proving to be strong guides for us.

These principles are supporting us when making very important decisions about learning. For example, when finalising our plans for our students in their Qualification Years as they move towards their NCEA L2 over 2 years we ask ourselves the following questions:

  • do these proposals allow students' learning to be personalised or are they simply attempting the same batch of standards as others who happen to be in the same programme as them
  • are students able to partner with experts in other learning areas and beyond our school walls and link their learning to the wider community
  • are they being required to be immersed deeply in their learning while pursuing challenging questions or are they merely covering enough to gain a large number of credits.

I love this framework we are operating in: a strong relevant vision, 2 pathways of excellence to support this vision, a defined set of dispositions to support this vision and a set of principles to guide our decision making which keeps us aligned with the vision.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Backstory - a source of pride

We hosted the Auckland secondary school participants in the National Aspiring Principals' Programme at HPSS on Friday and I was asked to spend half a hour outlining the journey I had undertaken to develop a vision for HPSS which was driving our establishment band implementation. Because both Claire and Sally were part of that group was going to be somewhat restrained by the need to tell the truth!

While the journey to this point has been very rewarding it has also been extremely challenging with many moments of uncertainty and imposter syndrome. However, this week I had read  a draft report from Noeleen Wright from the University of Waikato who has spent almost 3 years tracking our journey. Her descriptions and comments on our journey and what we have arrived at at this point was affirming and filled me with pride. I was able to link where we were at quite firmly to our vision.

The night before my NAPP session I thought about where the personal vision, moral purpose and set of principles had come from and while doing this was once again overcome with pride and a sense of satisfaction.

I thought about my time when I started teaching at Ngaruawahia High School in 1982 and how I quickly came to realise that this teaching and learning business was quite clearly a relationship thing. Coaching rugby and cricket, learning te Reo with parents, becoming comfortable on Turangawaewae Marae, sitting on the paepae and being immersed in Kingitanga kawa and history and then supporting parents to bring about the construction of a Wharenui on our site (which also included a takeover of the PTA and eventually Maori representation on BOT!) all shaped for me how teaching and learning was truly about ako and reciprocity. My ability to stand and whaikorero (with various levels of competence) was a result of me being the akonga and parents and students being the kaiako.

When I was at Opotiki College I was then in leadership positions and began to exert influence beyond my narrower sphere (eg classroom or department) and now more school-wide. This was made possible during my 10 years as DP as I worked with a wonderful Principal, Andrew Taylor, who shone the light on others and strongly encouraged and supported the leadership of others.

After spending `10 years overseeing the suspension of students and the exclusion of too many, when I was appointed I was determined to find another way. I eventually stumbled across the ideas of Restorative Practice (thank you Margaret Thorsborne) which gave me a framework to create processes, systems and responses more closely aligned with my own moral purpose. We completely stopped suspensions and quite unexpectedly achievement levels rose, ERO congratulated us on a respectful culture and the sun came up and went down (and, of course, kids were still naughty!).

Despite excellent achievement levels I was always haunted by knowing the names of the 30 kids who left every year without any qualifications at all so wondered what we could do to address that. That's when I started thinking about the idea of taking the concept of Relationship-based Behaviour Management and trying to establish a Relationship-based Pedagogy. Out of that came 100 minute learning periods (you try to teach in the traditional fashion for 100 minutes and see how you get on!) and small group Learning Advisories having two 100 minute blocks per week (you try only taking the roll and reading the notices and see how you get on!).

When I applied for the position at HPSS I boiled all of my preparation for the interview down to two sides of one A4 page with 2 simple headings of Curriculum and Pedagogy. These included a vision, a set of principles and a set of descriptors for each as well as a possible whole school framework. I checked this page out as part of my preparation for the NAPP session and was blown away by how this thinking is still driving us, with lots of what I had written actually present in our school.

What a nice place to be.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Learning and Leadership Inquiries

While our staff were formulating their teaching inquiries earlier this year I had a brief moment when I sat back and thought, "Well, I don't do any teaching so I wont need to do one of these. I'll be able to get on with my job." At the collaborative session we had organised for staff to meet with their critical friend to work on their "How Might I ....?" questions to frame their inquiry I plonked myself down by my critical friend, Cindy, who put me out of my misery straight away by claiming that the staff were my class and that I needed to inquire into how effective I was being in leading/teaching them
These are the 2 "How Might I?s" we settled on.
How might I consistently exhibit warm and demanding practices in my leadership of staff?
I have blogged about the Warm and Demanding concept several times and as every day passes in my leadership journey I am finding more and more comfort operating within this framework. I am continually asking myself if my responses to people or feedback to people whether I am displaying that I value them and their work and care for them while also showing that I expect all of us to work to a high level within our shared vision.
With the help of Cindy I have created a survey for staff exploring their views on how successful I am in achieving the Warm and Demanding balance and how effective that is for my leadership. The feedback will be immensely useful for me.
How might I maximise the opportunity of Mondays with Maurie to ensure our vision, values and principles are strengthened?
Every Monday morning I have a 15 minute slot at Kitchen Table (which I have called Mondays with Maurie). The main responsibility of this time is to confront particular issues of the time that we are dealing with and present my view of them through the lens of our vision, values and principles. Topics I have covered include:
  • personalised learning
  • strategic planning
  • student well-being and assessment
  • leading change with moral purpose and courage
  • managing behaviour in warm and demanding ways
  • homework guidelines
  • reporting
  • shared care of shared spaces
  • investing time and care in students
  • staff inter-personal issues
Just as teachers seek feedback from their students as to how effective their teaching has been, Cindy, once again, is supporting me to gain feedback from my 'class'. I am looking forward to the responses to the question on whether Mondays With Maurie has caused anyone to change the way they say, do or think.
Mondays With Maurie discussing Staff Well Being
Of course, my inquiry isn't the only one taking place. It was a privilege to have three staff share the progress with their own inquiries at the end of term. Liz was away but presented hers in hard copy while Andrea and Cindy gave a presentation to the staff.

Andrea presenting her inquiry

Authentic Learning with Cindy

And the neat thing is that our students are assisting us with our inquiries. One of our Student Council sub-committees (Hobsonville Habitat) is focusing on Learning and they have started exploring ways to gather student voice on learning and how best to provide that voice to staff.
Kane and Yasmin from the Learning Habitat leading discussions with Leaders of Learning
So, as Term 3 is about to start we're going to concentrate our main school inquiry on how might we design learning programmes and the structures that support them to support our learners from Years 9 - 11. Should be fun!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Rhetoric and Reality

I almost didn't go to the launch of David Hood's book, The Rhetoric and The Reality: New Zealand schools and schooling in the 21st century, last Wednesday night. It would mean a late afternoon drive to Hamilton to attend the function and then not getting home until 11.00pmish. I'd been feeling a bit flat all week and quite fatigued and nearly talked myself out of it.

I am so pleased I made the effort (and even managed to fit in a roadside-in-Huntly radio interview on the way down. This was supposed to be on an academic's claim that pen and paper should be banned from school but the article was in fact on the need for schools to align, quickly, with the needs of learners and their lives).

For 4-5 years I had been part of a network of principals, Coalition of 21st Century Schools, facilitated expertly by David Hood. It was here that I was introduced to the concept of the Paradigm of One and the much needed Paradigm of Many. It was here, under David's mentorship, that I explored what schooling might look like if we put students at the centre and met their needs and then developed the confidence to put some different things in place.

He exposed us to hard copy readings back then that now flow daily across my consciousness through Twitter. He took us on a study tour to Australia to explore Rich Tasks. It was powerful stuff (the power of which I did not appreciate at the time).

His gentle support (though I always sensed a level of impatience within him - after all he wrote his first book Our Secondary Schools Don't Work Anymore 17 years ago) encouraged me to introduce 3 Day Wananga, 100 Minute Learning Periods, small group Learning Advisories and High Impact Projects at Opotiki College in 2011/2012.

Since that time I have been at HPSS attempting to lead a school that allows a secondary school to work for our students by being relevant for them. The hope has also been that we may influence work in other schools. The Paradigm of One and The Paradigm of Many has become part of my mantra and I had forgotten that it had emerged from the work with David.

The launch was, appropriately at Tai Wananga, a school in Ruakura, Hamilton, that David had assisted in establishing. This is a school that not only allows Maori to achieve as Maori but also puts in place a model of secondary schooling that we at HPSS also aspire to.

In David's brief address to the gathering he spoke of the need for schools to place the needs, passions, lives and futures of their students at the centre of curriculum design, pedagogy and decision-making. It was a true tears in my eyes moment and reminded me of the influence he has had.

I was invited to stay and share a meal with him before heading home. Arrival at home was looking further away but I jumped at the opportunity. Over dinner we committed to maintaining our connection with David already booking in to visit us with me committing to taking staff to visit Tai Wananga. It was over dinner that his frustration and impatience with the rate of change in thinking about and practice in secondary schools was occurring.

It was a late arrival home but that short time with David had been invaluable.

You can view a review of his book (as well as a review of Sir Ken Robinson's new book) here.