Monday, June 26, 2017

Sabbatical Implications for HPSS - Part 1 - Strong Affirmations

What Are The Implications for Hobsonville Point Secondary School?
During my sabbatical I attempted to visit schools that would challenge my thinking and provide direction for further development and innovation for our school. In choosing the schools I consulted with Grant Lichtman, an internationally recognised thinker on innovative schooling, colleagues who had visited schools for the same reason as me, and searched lists such as “100 Most Innovative Schools”.

While my thinking was challenged in many ways, I cannot escape the conclusion that our school is at the leading edge of innovation. What was most pleasing was that the principles that we had decided on to drive learning design - Innovate by Personalising Learning, Engage through Powerful Partnerships, Inspire With Deep Challenge and Inquiry - were very similar to the common principles I saw in the schools I visited - Personalisation, Authenticity, Connection, Inquiry.

Our school is still very early in its development journey and we are certainly disrupting the conventional schooling model. The affirmations I received do provide the confidence to continue  to build on our foundations and to persist with our approach to learning design. This view was reinforced by a staff member’s comment on one of my recent blog posts:

This "They could then invite students to suggest which example of migration from across history, or in the present, they (individuals, small groups) would like to explore to increase their understanding of this concept." is very motivating for students I believe. This term we have had students carry out the generic research process into a biological issue. This started broadly with students collectively exploring what makes something an issue in general, with examples and some debate, ultimately ending in a challenge of could there actually ever be anything that wasn't an issue or potentially an issue!! Students were then given a very large list of biological concepts and ideas and were able to pick one of these or some other of their own design, in which they were intensely interested, to research. This is a Q1 course with students being assessed on their biological understanding of the issue (for bio) and also their research capabilities (for eng and bio). The teaching and learning and assessment of these ideas have been carried out over a period of 6-7 weeks, with multiple checkpoints along the way. We insisted that the students chose something they were intensely interested in, so they felt motivated to manage their time effectively throughout this extended time and work purposefully throughout. Anecdotal student voice around this suggests that students have enjoyed having choice in what they are researching and have been motivated to continue through the process. Currently students are seeking feedback on their work...I am pushing them to add more depth and to refine for deeper understanding. Students think this is to ensure they meet the standard at Level 1. Ha...some of the work is what I would have seen from L3 students in the past.... So choice, I believe is intensely motivating, as is investigating into something that an individual is intensely interested in. Previously in another school the bio is taught and assessed in one context only eg should NZ use 1080? Fine if this floats your boat but not fine if you are not interested in this particularly. Students in this class have chosen topics such as "Should we be concerned about the bees?", "Should abortion be funded by the state?", "Should smoking be banned?" "Should society allow designer babies?", "Why is ocean acidification a problem?", "What is the impact of endangered animal trafficking?, "What is the impact of habitat destruction?", "What is bioaccumulation?", "Is Donald right about global warming? and so on....I am really looking forward to finding out what the students have found out!!

In an earlier blog post I published a draft Elevator Statement in an attempt to capture the essence of what I found was common across the innovative schools that I visited. This is what I came up with:

If we want learning to be personalised, authentic, and connected and to be preparing students for their lives in the 21st century, learning must be centred on high-interest projects, drawing on a range of specialist subjects, with opportunities for hands-on application and partnering with the community. There should be a genuine outcome from the learning and students must be partners in designing the learning.

After writing this I revisited the Elevator Statement that we wrote in December 2014 in an attempt to capture the particular essence of our school:

The HPSS model of learning truly engages learners by drawing on their interests and has deep challenge and inquiry at its centre at a time when our country and world need people who are engaged learners, able to work in teams of diverse people, solve complex problems and who enhance their own well-being by contributing strongly to the betterment of their communities.

While there are many similarities, I like, in the more recent iteration, the more overt statement of connected learning (“drawing on a range of specialist subjects”), the partnering with the community, rather than “contributing to the betterment of the community”, and the identification that “students must be partners in designing the learning”.

A further area of affirmation was for the work we are doing in developing a dispositional curriculum. All schools had a form of Learning Advisory (ours is known as Learning Hubs) but none had the same allocation of time or the planning scaffolds and rigour that we are working on developing. Any investigation of the way to best prepare young people for their rapidly changing world identifies the importance of certain dispositions.

As well, while I saw processes of learning design, time did not allow me to delve deeply into each school’s model. I did come away proud of our model. The way our Learning Design Model drives Learning Objectives linked to each Learning Area’s key concepts, skills and content and draws on student voice to determine learning contexts which all determines the framework for identifying progression is sound and rigorous.

Teaching as Inquiry is second-nature in New Zealand schools and it drives teachers to continually inquire into our practice and to be continually asking about our impact on student learning. My main focus during my visits was on cross-curricular, inquiry learning, and I did not come across a similar emphasis on teaching as inquiry during my visits,  which is not to say it was not there. School leaders I met with were impressed with our model of critical friend and spirals of inquiry.


  • Work collaboratively with a range of groups to design an amended Elevator Statement that captures the essence of what sets Hobsonville Point Secondary School apart.
    • Use this work as a platform to work with BOT to revisit Charter
  • Continue the ground-breaking work on developing the dispositional curriculum so it is very clearly part of the learning “we do around here.”
  • Keep our Learning Design Model at the centre of teacher and student collaborative design processes and activities.
  • Ensure the teaching as inquiry processes are resourced so that they continue to be central to teacher development and growth.

In my next post I will present what elements I see as ongoing challenges for us and areas on which we might need more focus to continue our development.

Monday, June 19, 2017

What Could Schools Do To Promote Personalisation and Authenticity

In this next post on my sabbatical I provide suggestions on what schools could do to explore PBL and make learning more personalised and authentic and forming connections between learning areas.

What Could Existing Schools Do To Reflect These Principles?

  • Explore models of Project-based learning. A clear model that all staff understand and commit to and through which students are scaffolded is essential to provide rigour and prevent low quality experiences and outcomes. The following links could be a good place to start:
  • Make every effort to provide opportunities for learning to be connected across subjects. Even with a traditional, single-subject timetable it’s not difficult to change mindsets and school practices to enable students to establish connections.
    • Schools could start by determining common themes that could drive learning contexts across the whole school or particular year levels. This would, at least, allow all subjects to connect to the common theme.
      Grade level Themes at SLA
    • Meeting structures could be turned on their head and regular meetings for the common teachers of each class to discuss how learning could be connected across more than one subject. Students could work on high-interest projects which they have had a say in creating in classes timetabled for 2 or 3 of their subjects. Completing one piece of work, drawing on several subjects and being supported by several teachers will not only result in a quality outcome and deeper learning, but reduce workload for students and for  teachers. Perhaps Departments could be required to find times to run their meetings when necessary, rather than having them scheduled. This reinforces that the focus in our school is on collaborative practice rather than subject silos.
  • Teachers in all classes could share with their students the responsibility of determining the context in which learning could take place. Teachers would still take responsibility for developing the important learning/achievement objectives but invite students to be design partners in determining the context.
    • Rather than informing a class that they are studying Migration and that they would do this by learning about Victorian English people and their migration to and settling in New Zealand, a Social Studies teacher could explore with students the concept of Migration and establish its worthiness of study. They could then invite students to suggest which example of migration from across history, or in the present, they (individuals, small groups) would like to explore to increase their understanding of this concept. Teachers and students would design activities together which allowed the important learning objectives to be met.
  • Wherever possible, provide multiple opportunities for students to provide evidence of their learning.
    • If all students have to write an essay to show their understanding of an important science concept, then those who are poor essay writers will not do well, despite perhaps having a high level of understanding of the science concept. As long as the learning objectives can be met allow students to show their understanding, whether it be by essay, piece of art, spoken word etc.
  • Include some contact or experience with the community or expertise from beyond the school in all planning of learning programmes.
    • At the very least, this could be a guest speaker/facilitator but can include off-site visits, individual/small group mentor relationships, on-line communication and connection with expertise, or a client relationship.
  • Encourage the public sharing and discussion of student work.
    • At the very least, this could be presenting findings back to the class with high expectations of how to make a quality presentation and how to provide quality feedback but can include presenting to students from outside the class or at another school, parents, and mentors and clients who have been involved in the learning.
    • Think about where these presentations should take place.The school might be appropriate but so might a community space (library, parks, malls), a conference or place of work.

I hope these suggestions show how schools, no matter their context, can bring life to the principles of personalisation, authenticity, connection and collaboration.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Principles in Practice - Observations from Sabbatical

In this post I try to capture how each school brought to life the principles of personalisation, authenticity and connectedness. I conclude with an elevator statement that captures what is common across the schools.

How Do These Principles Play Out In Practice?
All schools saw a type of project-based learning, with learning connected across a high interest project, as the best vehicle to bring all of their learning design principles to fruition. All believed this led to more engagement and deeper learning.

A range of practices that were driven by personalisation was evident across all schools. The most common approach was to give students choice. At DesignTech High School 2 full days were dedicated to students selecting appropriate Labs. Teachers could use the LMS to direct students to compulsory Labs or students could select the Design Garage (Maker Space), Office Hours (individual or small group access to a teacher, independent work or Fitness.

At NYC iSchool students from all grade levels can take whatever ‘Elective’ which was appropriate to their interest, resulting in Grade 9 - 12 students in the same class.

All schools gave opportunities for students to use multiple ways to evidence learning. There were very few times when all students in a programme had to produce the exact same assessment.
Authenticity was achieved in each school in similar ways. They all ran programmes that were centred around high-interest projects and involved learning by doing. Students work on real-world problems and pose and/or tackle big questions. All schools required students to have some form of public presentation of much of their work and most schools ran an internship programme with whole school or certain year levels out of school.

The connectedness nature of learning was apparent in a number of ways. At High Tech High because the same group of students had the same teachers for all of their subjects the teachers would collaborate and support students to complete their projects across two subjects. Examples are described in this blog post.

At DesignTech they suspend their timetable for two weeks 4 times per year. During this time, known as d.lab, students opt to work on a solution to a real world problem, drawing on a range of subject disciplines.

During 2 days a week at Nueva High School students opt into a range of labs where they have opportunities to pursue their passions in a multi-disciplinary project.

The common feature across all schools was that student inquiry and a rigorous process of project-based learning underpinned the learning model.

  • At NYC iSchool their Challenge-based Modules (1 per term) had students focusing on real world challenges so they could build their understanding of big ideas and broad global concepts. It was their view that this allowed for the development and application of 21st century skills.
  • At the Science Leadership Academy all courses had students involved in inquiry learning and completing projects that they co-construct with each other and their teachers. This school followed Wiggins Model of Understanding by Design.
  • At High Tech High project-based learning was at the core of all learning programmes. Here they followed the Stanford model (Empathise, Define, Ideate, Test).
  • Inquiry-based and project-based learning was also at the centre at Nueva High School. Following rigorous design thinking processes students become active participants in learning, identifying solutions where they can make changes for the better while developing the personal and collaborative tools to take action.
  • At DesignTech students used a project-based  learning approach, supported by design thinking, to work on local and global challenges, research real problems and develop authentic solutions.

My Elevator Statement

If we want learning to be personalised, authentic, and connected and to be preparing students for their lives in the 21st century, learning must be centred on high-interest projects, drawing on a range of specialist subjects, with opportunities for hands-on application and partnering with the community. There should be a genuine outcome from the learning and students must be partners in designing the learning.

Other Observations (some still to be explored)

  • A clear set of principles needs to drive learning design and learning decisions.
  • Maker Spaces are key spaces in schools
  • Build in time in weekly schedule where students have responsibility to make good decisions and self-regulate. Do not water this down to the lowest common denominator as the majority of students will miss out because of the few who cannot self-regulate.
  • A learning design model is vital in providing frameworks and rigour, but students (and staff) must be scaffolded through to be comfortable within that framework.
  • Students don’t need an adult in front of them supervising their learning at all times. Some learning can be a blend of teacher and on-line learning (Language learning at NYC iSchool) or of teacher and un-supervised sessions.
  • Restorative practices that develop trust and responsibility and require empathy and self-regulation support the development of vital 21st century dispositions.
  • Internships and externships provide wonderful opportunities for authenticity in student learning.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Common Principles That Guide The Design of Learning in Furure-Focused Schools

What I Discovered From My Visits on Sabbatical

The purpose of my school visits was to find out if the principles that drove the design of learning in other innovative, future-focused schools were similar.

Please access a fuller blog post for each of the schools:

I’ll attempt to provide some observations by referring to my three focusing questions.

What Principles Have Guided The Design of Learning?
  • Learning should be personalised
“At DesignTech, we believe that students are most successful when their education is personalised to their needs, and they are asked to use their knowledge to improve the world around them.”
“High Tech High teachers practice a learner-centred, inclusive approach that supports and challenges each student. Students pursue their passions through projects, and reflect on their learning.”
  • Learning should be authentic
“At Nueva, Learn by Doing, Learn by Caring permeates everything we do. Nueva teachers craft curricula that enables students to bring classroom learning to life by designing original experiments, running simulations, and solving real-world problems.”
“The NYC iSchool program is designed to offer students opportunities to engage in meaningful work that has relevance to them and the world.”
“[At High Tech High] students engage in work that matters to them, to their teachers, and to the world outside of school.”
  • Learning should be connected
“High Tech High school projects integrate hands and minds and incorporate inquiry across multiple disciplines, leading to the creation of meaningful and beautiful work.”
“With a focus on developing collaborative and cross-disciplinary thinking, the curriculum is designed to engage students in finding and developing their passions.”
  • Learning and design of learning should involve collaboration (between teachers and with students).
“High Tech High teachers collaborate to design curriculum and projects … while seeking student experience and voice. With students as design partners, staff function as reflective practitioners.”
  • Learning should address dispositional development.
“We [] also believe that students must learn not only academic skills such as literacy and mathematics, but the transferable success skills of collaboration and persistence.”
“[Nueva High School] gives students essential tools that enable them to: develop ability to self-regulate, managing their attention, focus and learning; take risks that enhance their growth, both personally and academically; overcome setbacks, both big and small; develop supportive relationships and embrace diversity; collaborate successfully.”

Why Were These Principles Decided Upon?
Julie Abraham from DesignTech High School spoke of her experience in previous, more traditional schools where she witnessed stressed students, university dropouts, conflicted parents, subject siloisation and conveyor belt schooling. She used the analogy of students as cyclists biking faster and faster, competing with the rest of the field, but getting no nearer the finishing line.

Davion from The Nueva High School shared with me that universities had been telling them too many students arrive without being able to write competently, having mental health issues (anxiety around schooling) and little resilience and self-regulation.

Isora Bailey from NYC iSchool was adamant that high school could no longer be about learning a defined set of concepts - that high school for the 21st century needed to emphasise the learning process and thinking skills.

At Nueva, as at all schools, it is a recognition that the rapidly changing world requires a different curriculum:
Our inquiry-based curriculum develops students who are resilient, thoughtful leaders and collaborators with robust problem-solving skills, and the creativity required for success in a rapidly changing global environment.”

Chris, at The Science Leadership Academy, was of the view that deeper learning required subjects to be viewed as lenses and not as silos. Students saw learning as more relevant when it was connected across learning disciplines.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

First Musings on Sabbatical Visits

After the privilege and excitement of traveling and visiting schools that have held my interest for several years I am now attempting to make sense of what I have experienced to see what this means for my own school. As well, I am hopeful that other schools may see some way forward from my findings.

My Understanding of Future-Focused Schooling
I am often challenged as to why there is a need for a major transformation of secondary schooling.  Many still believe the current model is the best and that with some tweaking it can continue to serve our young people well. I have the view that the world is vastly different from when the current model was designed and rapid change fuelled by the technological and knowledge revolutions will continue. The problems and issues that the world is facing now and will face in the future are complex and require new ways of thinking and working. I believe schools have a vital role to play in helping young people explore the new ways of thinking and working.

All of the schools I visited spoke of the need for transformation in education. Leaders in these schools all believed the traditional model were beset with stressed students, over-worked staff, university dropouts, conflicted parents, subject siloisation and conveyor belt schooling. Julie Abraham, from DesignTech School. used the analogy of students as cyclists biking faster and faster, competing with the rest of the field, but getting no nearer the finishing line.

My own inquiries and experiences over the last 5 years in leading the establishment of Hobsonville Point Secondary School have led me to a set of principles that need to be evident in learning and learning design so that learning is both engaging and relevant.

Learning Needs To Be Connected
Learning is about making connections between what is known and what is being learned. When we teach subjects in silos we reduce dramatically the likelihood of forming links with other subjects; links which can deepen our understanding and increase the likelihood of relevance for the learner. When students can draw on a range of disciplines, including the related knowledge and skills that each learning area possesses, they are more likely to deepen their understanding of a particular concept.

Learning Needs To Be Co-constructed
For students to be engaged in learning they have to feel a connection. The last thing they need is to feel they are part of a mass production line, learning the same material at the same time and pace as everyone else and having the learning context determined, usually by a teacher, without any input from them. For learning to be relevant and engaging for our diverse learners we must invite them into the conversation that determines the learning contexts. This does not mean we as teachers abdicate responsibility for ensuring coverage of important concepts, skills and knowledge.

Learning Needs To Be Collaborative
Having the ability to work in teams of diverse people and to have well-developed interpersonal skills are vital. These are the key skills students require now to be effective in the workforce. It must be the norm in schools to have students learning in teams and growing their interpersonal skills.

At Hobsonville Point Secondary School we have embedded these ideas of connectedness, co-construction and collaboration in our three principles of personalised learning, powerful partnerships and deep challenge and inquiry.

The purpose of my school visits was to find out if the principles that drove the design of learning in other innovative, future-focused schools were similar.

What I Discovered From My Visits
Please access a fuller blog post for each of the schools:

My next post will summarise  the learning design principles I came across in these visits.