Thursday, 11 September 2014

How important is knowing the learner?

Last Thursday I had the privilege of heading to Samoa with a combined group of students from Hobsonville Point Primary and Secondary.

Sharyn and Sarah had done a huge amount of work with the 19 students raising funds for both the school we were visiting and working with, as well as with for the students expenses. The amount of planning and support for the trip from these two was amazing.

My role in the process was not very big at all, so heading to the airport on Thursday I was interested to see what would be happening.

19 students greeted me in matching self designed shirts excited and nervous at the same time. I knew the students by name at least, some a little more, I looked forward to getting to know them over the next 5 days.

What happened over the next 5 days was not a surprise but reinforced the idea of authentic learning. These students travelling away without devices, without make-up to home stay with strangers showed massive amounts of resilience and self management. The dispositional curriculums within both schools were being lived out in ways we could never recreate at school. They learnt a lot about themselves through the actions of their hosts and the way they lived. The students were moved that their teaching inspired these amazing kids from the school we worked with. The developed an understanding of what their life is really like compared to others.

The students showed collaborative skills, caring and support for one and other and were very warm and demanding of each other and themselves.

This trip made me incredibly proud to be involved with these schools. The students were amazing, the learning they were getting was something I wish all students could get. The experiences both challenging and exciting were embraced with open arms, even to the the point of not squealing at giant cockroaches.

When I think about our learning values at HPPS all were present in this journey for the students. The only downside was only staying half the time. I am sure Maurie will also get as much out of it as I did.

I came away knowing more than their names, I came away knowing them as learners!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Values, are they for learning or behaviour?

Often values at schools are talked about in relation to how we want our kids to be. We use words like "trust" and "respect". These values are incredibly important, especially when thinking restoratively. However, they are behavioural values and are of course an important feature of growing the whole child, especially when they link to a dispositional curriculum. What about learning though, what do we value here?

I have been doing a lot of thinking around what we value around learning. Having a clear understanding of what these values are and why we need them is important. Reflecting through the 'lens' of these learning values is one way of living out what we believe.

We started by asking the questions "what is powerful to learn and what is powerful learning?"

This has led us to thinking about our values around learning. We spent a lot of time looking at the 'why' for a lot of values, in the end we came up the following five, Relationships, Innovative Practice, Collaboration, Personalised Learning, Authentic Learning. They link and one can't really happen without the other.

Each staff meeting we "Walk the Walls"of each learning space and celebrate and critique and question the collaborative staff on what is happening in their learning space, again through the lens of the learning values. Making sure that we see clear connections in their practice and identifying the links between the values, acknowledging it's most powerful when all are present.

Relationships is the first value we all co-constructed together. This I believe is key to all we do. Relationships are at the heart of powerful learning. Relationships lead to a clearer pathway to personalising learning at all levels, for staff and students. Without relationships, how do we know the learner. It also helps with our second value...

Collaboration! This value is mentioned throughout a range of research around 21stC learning as an important skill/understanding of the future. It also is a crucial aspect of growing our staff. Many staff who are working here have never truly collaborated, they may have team taught, or shared responsibility, but never got to the essence of collaborating. This is a great value to grow with the staff. The students take to this far more efficiently as it's a natural part of their make-up.

Authentic learning is a real "no brainer" creating connections for students is vital. What is authentic to one, may not be to another, so again, knowing your learner is key. Co-constructing the authentic aspect for each students learning is the fun part of the learning journey.

Innovative Practice is another area we value. We get questioned on this a lot. For us, this is not about being trendy, having a device in every students hand, doing the latest fad. Innovative practice is how we reflect on the practice we are using. Asking- "Is it working for all of our students?" "Is it differentiating to meet needs?" "Are we asking ourselves why we are doing this?" These questions and reflections lead us onto our last learning value.

Personalising learning. This value is here not to look at individuals and create plans for each and everyone of them, this value is here because it links relationships, collaboration, authentic learning and innovative practice together to meet the needs of our students. Valuing them as an individual as part of a group. Valuing that they may need a different conversation than the student beside them, valuing the relationship they have with their family, valuing the needs they have. Again knowing the learner so we can positively impact on them.

This journey of living these values is an ongoing one for us as a learning community. The real power behind them, we have found, is how we use them as a reflective tool to see that what we are co-constructing is impacting on student outcomes. 

Using the learning values as a lens for reflecting has empowered staff to own their practice and think deeply about learning and have challenging conversations.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Why and the Practice

Learning and teaching is often a balancing act. How do you continue to grow a students world and also honour their voice? Taking students into the 'world they don't know, they don't know,' (John Holt has great stuff on this) is an important part of our job.

This then comes down to the importance of, 'WHY.' Why do we do what we do? Have we ever sat back and reflected on this? Do we constantly question ourselves?

Having never been a big researcher, the question of why has led me to read a lot more. Jane Gilbert's work around skills for the 21st C (we are after all, 14 years into it) as well as revisiting the NZC and honouring the Key Competencies. Recently, a great read on the development of the KCs was posted here.

The 'Why' I find easy however when I was involved in the start up of Discovery 1 School in Christchurch it was far more problematic.  At that time,  the research wasn't there to back up open spaces so we focused a lot on constructivism. Now, we have plenty to support the notion of student negotiated learning.

So, with the pedagogy in place the focus shifts to the question 'What is the andragogy?' More importantly, what is the practice? I believe now we can all access all the 'why' for both students and teachers however the practice is more challenging.

The conversations around practice are key. How do we honour the negotiation of a learning pathway and also honour the NZC? How do we impact on learning as an educator without putting out the fire? How do we look for progress in our students in a differentiated model? What is powerful to learn?

Asking these questions are the key in growing understanding around how practice can be challenged and changed. However, if you haven't looked at what you value about learning, it may all be in vain. My next post will be around "Learning Values" and how they drive change.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Students or Systems?

A constant battle going on with my thinking is what do we start with? Systems or students?

Students are important?

Do systems support students or make life easier for staff?

It always comes back to "what will impact more positively for students?" How is this using a growth mindset? What are we thinking?

Over the last few weeks we have been doing a lot of self review. This has included reviewing our induction for staff, induction for students, reporting to parents, SENCO and pastoral care.

The challenge for us has been around the systems that usually dictate how these areas function. From our first conversations as a team, we were determined to challenge everything we would usually do, and not start with teacher or management driven systems.

The rational behind this was that generally systems are in place to support staff. Often they have no impact on students learning or growth. With this in mind, everything we have developed has come from a student centred approach.

This approach has caused some angst, however, starting with the students and forgetting about how it will impact on staff often leads to great conversations. It leads to co-constructing the systems or strategies together as a team. Looking for ways of impacting on the students the most with our practice.

An area we have just realised we need a stronger system around is tracking those students who aren't "at" the SENCO level but need challenge or support. We co-constructed a way of identifying the students and created a clear pathway for the practice of the staff to impact on these students. The system fell out of a need rather than driving it without a clear purpose. With a clear purpose, the buy in from staff improves and the use, fits the need.

Creating systems to meet the needs of students has been challenging, but, so rewarding, to still see the students being the key focus. The work around this is not more, it's just different.

ERO this week, maybe that will clarify some of the thinking?

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Are we being responsive?

One of the challenges to the "mental model" teachers and leaders have is that staff should be very well planned. My question to this is, "how is this possible?"

If we are to be truly responsive to the needs of our students we cannot be over planned.

When designing immersion, I believe you can be strategic in what you design for students to help them develop a deeper understanding of the learning, eg if you have a science based immersion, the teach the students what a good procedure is, and why they need to know.

The link between the why and the how needs to be strong for students to retain that knowledge.

The real purpose for learning needs to be at the heart of what you are sharing with students.

Learning being linked/blended is important. Jane Gilbert talks of the fact that, "learning cannot be codified into disciplines." And yet, schools often run timetables that say maths, reading, writing. Isn't it all learning?

At Hobsonville Point, I ask staff firstly to design learning, not plan. I ask them to think about the natural links between a big concept, the dispositions we want our students to grow and then create clear connections to the NZC learning areas.

The result is a responsive learning design with a mix of just in time learning and learning designed for the immediate future needs of the students based around a real purpose.

Understanding, from a position of leadership, that staff will be on this journey at different rates is important. Knowing that the journey from novice to expert will be a challenge. Knowing the importance of 'rule governed behaviour' (scaffolding) in terms of providing support for staff on that journey. Leading staff to have PPK (Personal Practical Knowledge) means that you can watch the magic happen.

For me, it is a huge amount of fun watching staff challenge their mental model of planning and think responsive design instead.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

High Support and High Challenge or Warm and Demanding

One of the joys of working at Hobsonville Point Schools is the ability to sit back and watch. The PPP model (not a charter model) means that we have no property to manage. This allows me to be one of those annoying principals who hangs about, watching learning occur. I can ask questions, I can have learning conversations, I can make assumptions and I can engage with the learning.

This leads me to the title of the blog. One of the great benefits of two schools, with one board is the ability for us to learn collaboratively with staff from the secondary school. I am in the privileged position of having a weekly learning conversation with Maurie Abraham. Maurie often talks about the need for warm and demanding situations. I have always called them "high challenge and high support." I think I like Maurie's term better.

The freedoms I have mean I can create warm and demanding conversations with staff. The mindset needed is a growth one of course, and that is not always present at the start of their journey here, however it does shift with the more conversations we have. Kristyn, Lisa and Sharyn are working on a walk through and coaching model that will enable us to continue these warm and demanding conversations as we grow in numbers. It is a very exciting place to be in our journey.

As a leadership team we went to EduTECH a couple of weeks ago. For me this was a warm and demanding event. From the amazing Keynote speakers we had many warm moments of affirmation of what we are growing at HPPS for our learners. Creating an innovative, engaging and inspirational setting for learning to occur. The demanding part came when we thought collectively about how do we grow this with the sector. The advent of more MLE's, the need for more MLP, means we have to support other schools in developing new ways of learning. Change is needed and it's needed now.This is reinforced by this quote from the conference.

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

David Warlick

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Planning Learning or Designing Learning

When we look at "what is powerful learning?" and "what is powerful to learn?" it is important to think about what are we trying to achieve.

As teachers, we often plan for our students, creating learning we think they need. By doing this you have to ask are we missing out on an opportunity? That opportunity been one of being responsive? By being over planned we can be drawn into being the teacher who has full control over the learning journey of each child. We miss student voice, we miss student choice, we miss the opportunity to respond to the needs of our students. The Best Evidence Synthesis talks of, "teaching being responsive to student learning processes." If we just plan learning can we do this?

Designing learning has a different spin. Designing learning allows you to manage the learning process to both meet the needs imposed on you as well, and more importantly, meet the personalised needs of the students.

In designing learning our job is to provoke wonderings and questions through engaging immersion. This immersion should start the day and link carefully with the NZC learning areas and the essence of those (I talked about the essence of learning in another post). When you design learning you allow for links to be created between experiences and ideas. It allows us to engage with the curriculum at a more purposeful level, creating links to deepen understandings. Designing learning creates clarity around responsibilities and shows the importance of relationships.

Designing learning means that application is happening all of the time. Dr Jane Gilbert talks of knowledge happening in real world problem based contexts. This happens naturally because of how you manage this.

Staff at HPPS are in the process of designing the next learning process for the students in their cohort (mixed age for a number of reasons). This designing is based around the deep reflection from the last design, the use of space as the third teacher, mixing values and dispositions into the design and having deliberate acts of teaching to allow for deeper understanding and application of the experiences. Staff are also designing the key learning outcomes and assessment tools needed to move the students forward as learners and ensure that they maintain the understandings they have been immersed in.

It is really exciting to be sitting back and watching the level of design happening now compared with this time last year. The movement in thinking, practice and learning design is still developing and long may that last.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Essence of Learning

The Oxford Dictionary says the essence is....

As a staff, we have been exploring the essence of learning through the NZC. 

Some questions that we asked were:

  • What the learning areas really are? 
  • What is powerful to learn within these areas? 
  • What should we teach?, and 
  • How do we capture the true essence of these learning areas to enable strong engagement with them?

So, what did we do?
First, we identified the areas within the NZC that we were passionate about. It was interesting to see the strong feelings towards some learning areas over others. We broke into small teams attached to a learning area, that those people were passionate about, and this allowed us to create a brief statement that captured feelings so as to sell it to others.

Sharing these statements allowed us to place ourselves in the shoes of the learner and imagine learning through the essence statement. This created a lot of dialogue for us, we challenged, celebrated and re-designed these statements to fully connect with our values, dispositions and thinking about learning.

The result was draft statements for all the learning areas, these statements were then used as a reflection tool for us to look at our practice and make changes to live out what we believe about learning. Great actions took place!

It has been a start for us in developing our localised curriculum to meet the needs of our learners.

Sunday, 25 May 2014


Reflection, why do we do it?

We do it so we can change.

Last week we had Dr Julia Atkin work with us as a staff for three days. The focus was on curriculum development, specifically looking at designing learning through building essence statements. As with any work you do with Julia, you are challenged to think from the head and the heart.

We began the day by celebrating and sharing new learning, this quickly moved into sharing why we valued learning areas. It was interesting to notice those staff whose negative learning experiences at school had shaped their inner feelings towards certain subjects like maths. ( for more on maths read this)

Those who had a passion for a learning area then needed to sell, through a one liner, the essence of that subject to make the rest of the team want to learn that.

Over two days we worked on all the learning areas and co-constructed essence statements for them. Probably the best learning that fell out of the work was when we reflected on the essence statements and what actual practice was happening in the learning spaces.

I was in the privileged position of listening to the teams reflect on how much they were impacting on students. The change in thinking from that reflection was amazing as staff without prompting started to design learning in a different way that lived out what we value and believe about learning.

So how do I reflect on my learning? If my staff have to do this, then I should too.
I had a meeting with Julia and my leadership team. Julia led a discussion challenging the team to critique my work. It is always challenging to hear what you are not doing or doing that isn't working, but what better way to make sure you are impacting learning in a co-constructed way that allows for growth for all. I was very proud of the team as they spoke with clear examples about my practice, it again shows how special they are.

While a little battered and bruised, it also made me think carefully about how I designed the next meeting. Without trying to drive it, we started again from a reflective point of view, we reflected on 4 aspects of learning we believe in and did that against our values/immersion/dispositions/spaces. This was a powerful way to start re-designing learning for our next block. It was great to see how staff chose to reflect. Some saw it as an opportunity to re-imagine what was possible through the lens of immersion and values, while others took a more dispositional view. The results of this reflection won't be known until next meeting, however watching the learning happen this week, it has impacted already.

Reflection, it does lead to change.