Thursday, 4 May 2017

What did I learn today? Part four

Today, Lisa and I visited Nueva School in Hillsborough. We spent time at the pre-K to Middle school.

The Pre-K and grades one and two are housed in an old summer house that used to belong to the Crocker Family (not baking but banking). They have utilised Reggio thinking as well as play based, discovery and design thinking to create learning that is really student focused. Mess is everywhere in a play-centre type set up, with staff allowing creativity and ownership at the expense of pretty!

The old family home.

 The view from the front door.

The skills they set out to achieve are embedded from an early age, growing in complexity as they move through the school. Some areas of learning are not explored until certain ages, but they have thought a great deal about the why sitting behind it.

The Nueva School's learning goals include:
  • To inspire a passion for lifelong learning
  • To foster social and emotional acuity
  • To develop a child's imaginative mind
  • To enable children to learn how to make choices that will benefit the world
  • To establish foundational skills in all subject areas
  • To encourage strong habits of learning
  • To learn research and design thinking skills
  • To help students reflect on their particular learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses
  • To give students myriad opportunities to learn through hands-on exploration
  • To support students as they develop resilience and intrinsic motivation

They have used the spaces in the old house well to create indoor outdoor flow with a real sense of the student being at the heart.

The 8th graders have the opportunity to dig really deeply into an area of interest through a recital project. The goals for this are
Eighth Grade Recital Projects require students to:
  • choose a project area and make a plan.
  • recruit and meet with a mentor (an adult who is not a parent) in the field of study.
  • write a research paper (1,000 words or more) that builds knowledge of an aspect of the project and/or gives greater context for the project.
  • draft a comprehensive project plan with monthly updates to help students learn project-management techniques for long-term projects.
  • design and implement a "Bettering the World" component for the project. Generally, this falls into three categories: 1) Raise funds or using a skill to help a nonprofit organization, 2) educate others about some aspect of their project, and 3) demonstrate that the project itself somehow benefits the world.

As you move through the school the spaces are newer and more purpose built to allow subject specialisation, for more design thinking and the building of empathy that goes with it. The school still has a very graded approach and we didn't see differentiation going on, but understand that there is opportunities at both ends for support.

So what did I learn today?

I learned that we give schools exceptional tours and go deeply into the why.

I learned that the importance of experiential learning along with contextual academic links can be powerful at any age.

I learned that deliberate acts of teaching at the point of need are more effective than a random planned piece of learning.

I learned that to have some headspace and time to talk really does re-ignite the passion for the challenges we face. I know I need to temper this with the needs of the staff who are at school at the coal face, so I thank Lisa who has been listening to me ramble on about idea after idea.

We have a couple of days left before we head back. I am very grateful to all those who helped make this happen, the Board at school, my wonderful staff, thanks Erin and team for holding the fort. Maurie for inviting me to gatecrash his sabbatical, lisa for putting up with me and of course Sarah and the kids for helping me escape for a week.

It's been an amazing week and I will return.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

What did I learn today? Part three

Today Lisa and I travelled an hour and a half south to Monte Vista Christian School in Watsonville 10-18 year olds). We were driven there by Steve Sharp a very charismatic leader who has been transforming the school for the last thirteen years.

Steve had a vision of using space (all 5 senses) and tools to create change in practice. He has done this by being the first in many ways. Steve was the first in the world to put iPads in students hands. He has made sure technology is at the forefront of everything that he does and allows students to manage their learning with the right tools. He worked with local and overseas furniture manufacturers to design items that would empower change. he had little he could do with the structural design apart from working on the inside, knocking out walls etc.

This approach has worked to a point,  the next step is to add the language and why's to help with the next steps. As Steve retires soon, his leadership team have the task of continuing the strong vision they have.

One of the great things we saw was the decoration of the spaces to match the subject.

This is an example of their french learning space

This is an example of their American History space.

The spaces were furnished with items collected from garage sales and Op Shops to match the student and staff thinking about how the spaces could look.

The whole campus was spectacular in terms of facilities, from the sports fields to the fleet of buses.

Got to stop in at Apple HQ on the way home too

What did I learn today?

I learned that the use of the 5 senses in spaces can enhance learning.

That students respond differently to spaces designed to work in conjunction with a subject.

I learned that what we are doing is really powerful learning, that the staff at Monte Vista were blown away by.

I learned that the staff at this school are well looked after and give all of themselves to the students.

I learned that a large group of teenagers (800 of them) when treated as adults will respond like them, we were very impressed with the way they interacted with each other and us as visitors, heads up speaking clearly to us and each other, not a grunt in sight.

Tomorrow we head to Nueva School.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

What did I learn today? Part Two

Today I had the pleasure of visiting Designtech High School with Lisa and Maurie. This school has been open about as long as us and are in an old warehouse space, moving into a brand new school in January. They have been lucky enough to have Oracle founder Larry Ellison build the school for them, the plans look amazing. 

The school creates a mix of academic, dispositional and project work to help students navigate through high school. They use design thinking from Stanford University as the main form of learning design. Julie, a passionate educator, who showed us around, believes that through the process of design, the students develop the skills to be successful in real life, especially the dispositional skills involved in creativity, problem solving, collaboration, risk taking, sharing, service and dealing with failure.

Students learn in a cycle of comprehending, performance tasks and assessing their learning. below are some of the results of the performance tasks that demonstrate their growing skills and understandings.

The space they have, they have used well, and engaged with the students and staff to make it work. Specialist areas have been designed by students to meet their needs, all the while being mindful of how it will impact of others learning. This image of their maker space is an example of an area that students created so they could be noisy without disrupting others learning.

What did I learn today?

I learned that having time to talk with Lisa and Maurie is always inspirational and challenging.

I learned that Hobsonville Point Secondary are leading the way with secondary education, the challenge they face, which is different to Designtech, is what Universities are looking for. 

I have learned that over here, places like Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley have alternative pathways, rather than just the SAT's, as a way of getting into higher education. The universities are aware of the drop out rates of those first year students as they arrive with them being totally stressed by assessment anxiety. They see those students who learn differently as being crucial to the ever changing landscape we live in.

I learned that asking students what they now know is crucial to understand if your teaching has been effective (I knew this already, but it was good to be reminded)

I learned that all students find it hard to plan and stick to a plan, this doesn't mean we will stop, it means we will keep looking for more and more effective ways for students to own their learning journey.

I learned that going to a diner in San Francisco means you get massive meals, none of us finished them.

Tomorrow we head to Monte Vista School, more on that tomorrow.

Monday, 1 May 2017

What did I learn today?

After 5 and a bit years of everything being solely focused on Hobsonville Point Primary (HPPS) and the team, I felt it was time to fill my cup a little from different sources and find some interesting inspiration.

I have a great relationship with Maurie Abraham who runs Hobsonville Point Secondary. After a conversation around what next,  Maurie shared a little of his plan to go on sabbatical, he asked "why don't I join him?" So here I am with Lisa, my amazing DP and Maurie, for a week, as we look for some innovation and inspiration in San Francisco.

We left Auckland on Friday night and arrived Friday afternoon, we have had a few days acclimatising to the time difference , the craft beer and awesome food. Not to mention the 40km on a bike that was supposed to be half that!

 Today was our first school visit and we had the pleasure of visiting Brightworks Academy.

We had time with Karen and Gever who shared their passion for student led learning and allowing risk within what they do.

Karen started the tour by sharing an important metaphor around one of their founding principles of trust.

This drop saw is the first experience all five year olds have when they arrive at school. They learn how to use it, they learn the danger, the precision, the planning, the possibilities and the rules around it. They use this as a scaffold for all learning, "we trust you to learn!"

Tools are everywhere! From the ones in the image to the adults, they call them collaborators, who are always around to support and challenge learning.

The workshop is available for the students to access and utilise the skills of making, thereby making meaning of their learning through doing so. Staff support the planning of the project with a natural integration of the learning areas, however as we see at HPPS, there can be a tension between the contextual and curriculum.

It reminded me a lot of Discovery 1 in the ways students could speak about their learning, the passion with which they dived into self selected projects (at Brightworks they have contexts within which these projects live).

The sense of student ownership was strong and staff truely knew their learners and pushed the rigour behind the learning at all stages.

So what did I learn?

I learned that I am very lucky to have an amazing group of educators and community to work with. I believe we were show casing many of the attributes that made Brightworks so amazing.

I learned that while we believe we are engaging in true student voice, we could challenge ourselves further.

I learned that knowing your learner is still the most influential factor in student growth.

I learned that my cup can get filled by talking with passionate educators.

Tomorrow we go to D-School at Stanford University. More to learn tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Would you want to be in your classroom?

This was a question I posed to a group of educators recently.  It was interesting to see their responses, as for many, it was negative or a look of horror at the thought. The idea that we do, what we have always done without questioning, following up from what we learned in teachers college then imposing that on our students, is a problematic notion.

So, why would we do this? How do we impact on todays learners by thinking only of yesterdays practice? It's not about throwing away practice of the past, it's about re-imagining what is possible to impact on our learners. For example, when educational newspaper articles, like the recent one on maths teaching come out, we often get fearful of the consequences and reactions by our parent community. This is when we need to be brave and work for and with the students. We need to reference research done by educators, not the Business Round Table.

If we are constantly doing the same thing, how are we reflecting on our practice? Are we putting ourselves in the shoes of the student and looking at active engagement?

I believe that reflective practice as a staff is crucial in growing capacity to impact on learners. How do we encourage this? We practice it ourselves. As leaders we need to think - would I want to be lead like this? and work from there. We need to foster a growth mindset around being a learner.

One of the comments from Carol Dweck that hit home for me was around growing reflective practice with staff. She said to me, "if staff know that you have their back, they will take more risks."

There is so much truth in this statement. I talked with my staff about this and those that were very comfortable taking risks and reflective were quite clear that they knew I had their back. This was not so clear for those who were more formative in taking risks. My job - make it clear!

As a leader, it is our job to grow our staff from being a novice to expert. We provide the scaffold (Rule Governed Behaviour) for them to grow on this journey, we are warm and demanding with them. 

It is staffs' job to 'know their learner,' to know when they are a novice and when to shift them towards expert, as well as developing an understanding of expected milestones of the journey.

I also like the notion of the ZPD thinking, not just for our students but also for staff- what are you capable of with support?

How do we know they want to be in your class? If you know them as a learner, if you impact on their learning at a personal level, if you develop a relationship with them, then you have them. Don't always do what you have done.... think differently about learning and what impacts most on students, not what makes it work for you as a teacher - practice not systems!

My son is a good example of a school looking at the importance of knowing the learner. He has just completed his first 6 hour adventure race. He did this with his principal and two of his teachers. They know more about him, he knows more about them, will this improve his learning? Of course it will.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

MLE, MLP is it just learning?

In the two and a bit years we have been open we have hosted over 1500 visitors. These visitors come for a range of reasons, looking at space, looking at student agency, looking at how we integrate ICT, looking at collaborative teaching and so on...

The new term of MLP keeps coming up, modern learning practice. So what is this, how does it work, or simply put, is it just learning?

Consider this from John Holt

This is a statement that makes total sense. It's about engaging our learners in a world that makes sense to them. Not a world prescribed by a long term plan without the responsive nature of teaching attached.  Surely, this is common sense.

When you sit back as a teacher, do you ever reflect on what you are teaching? Do you reflect on it's importance or relevance? Would what you teach be important in the child's life? We are blessed with very future focused open curriculum, do subject areas get in the way of this? Do they end up driving learning? Are we just keeping kids busy? The freedoms within the NZC are huge, have tests and compliance got in the way of creating learning that is purposeful and engaging?

To me MLP is the process of re-designing learning based on sound research and thinking. There is an abundance of research in place now around effective learning. Online courses from universities, like Stanford, around learning theory, are everywhere. A google search today reveals many possibilities around pedagogy, 10 years ago this would have been very different.

When you look at the effect size of teaching practice from Hattie, or the research Nuthall has undertaken it evidences what we should be engaging in. Edger Dale refers to it a lot, this was back in the late 60's.

The work and thinking is there: engage students in the process of learning, make learning purposeful and relevant, don't hold the power as a educator-share it, make learning about next steps, share assessment and make that assessment work for the student not for compliance, embrace a dispositional curriculum to grow the whole child.

To me it all starts with learning values and the deep thinking around why we do what we do.

MLP is a change in the traditional mental model of control and outcomes in schools, based on an industrial model of years ago. David Warlick summed it up well with this quote

No generation in history has ever been so thoroughly prepared for the 
“Industrial Age” as the current generation.

What does this say about our practice? Change is hard, change is challenging, change is necessary. MLP is just learning in a natural, curious and child centred way.

Monday, 26 January 2015

We begin again.

So in less than a week we kick off year 3 of Hobsonville Point Primary. Big thanks to Lisa and Sharyn for all their work and support. Big thanks to the establishment BOT who have just finished their term as governers of the schools. Maurie who supports challenges etc (very warm and demanding) and to those on the front lines (the amazing teaching staff).

What makes the start of the year special is that for me, holidays, elicit thinking, wondering and endless possibilities.

We will be working collaboratively over the next few days and I am looking forward to seeking out the why behind learning decisions. Making sure nothing has been planned to far ahead (they don't know all their learners as yet). Getting them to the point of engaging, inspiring and innovating to help grow amazing learners.

Collectively our roles in the school is to look at ways of creating the most positive impact on our students. In recent workshops around the future of both our schools, Maurie and I have driven lots of our thinking through the starter of "How might we....." 

On our staff retreat this is the focus we have, for example our first "how might we" on the list is

How might we foster ownership of the "why" in our learning values so we can have a shared understanding of the practice?

The question allows us to dig deep without any preconceived answers and our hope is full collaboration into the conversations we have together.

It allows for the generating of ideas, it means we can go blue/yellow (Hermanns stuff) to start and to dig deep. We can follow with the green/red once we have been generative.

Like many, my goals of holiday reading have been not as robust as I would have hoped, my excitement lies with the conversations ahead. It lies with leading these through the lens of the learning values, it lies with growing the new staff we have (see Reid's blog for info on what they went through). It mostly lies with action, lets get doing this.