Monday, 23 December 2013

I'm writing a book. - Eeek!!!!!!

For my sabbatical I have decided to write a book. Straight away I hear myself answering the question "So what are doing on your sabbatical? ", with "Umm, well I'm kind of writing a book" , and I follow that up quickly with "actually it might just be a pamphlet".  It gets a laugh. I know what I'm doing though - it's called saving face in advance. I am a huge reader of books - there is never a time when I am not reading one - the thing is I have never lost my awe of the people who write them.  For me there is something magical about these people and I am finding it somewhat arrogant of myself to imagine I could enter the magical realm.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Knowledge still valued.

I would love Auckland University's Elizabeth Rata to go into a secondary school and talk with the teachers and the students about what is being taught and what is being learned because what she will see is that knowledge is as important and valued as it ever was.
I am wondering how real the view is from inside the university. My reading of the New Zealand curriculum document(and I have read it often and am working with it) suggests that students absolutely need knowledge. If you are to investigate as a mathematician then there is knowledge that you require and there are skills that you need. The teacher has to be an expert, there is no way around that.
At the same time the students need to be able to use the knowledge and that is the exciting dimension that the curriculum represents. It is not a decision that the schools have made - it is a responsible response that schools are making to prepare students for the world they are entering.
Andreas Schleicher puts it well :  "You get paid not for what you know but for what you do with what you know."

PS  This was a letter to the Herald that was published - Because I read the Herald on my phone I didn't have access to the letters so I didn't know it had been published.  - I wonder how many other people read the Herald online and how effective letters are in changing the world.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

To do a doctorate or not to do a doctorate ????

I started to think about doing a doctorate and so started reading research on professional learning in schools. Gosh! I have to say I get pretty frustrated ! These experts ? saying over and over how you need to set up professional learning groups for teachers so that they can share good practice etc etc. They all say the same thing !

- It just seems so shallow. The questions I want to ask are

1) So who sets the group up ?
2) Are the groups set up artificially OR do they serve a function in the school ?
3) Who decides what is worth spending time on ?
4) Who does the teaching or is it enough to be learners together ?
5) What kind of rigour is put in place to ensure that the learning groups make a difference to the students ?
6) Where does achievement data fit with the groups ?
7) Who checks on the quality of the learning ?
8) Who teaches teachers about giving feedback to each other in a way that will make a difference ?
9) Who teaches teachers about accepting feedback that is given ?
10 ) What is the role of the senior leadership team ?
11) What is the role of the students in all of this ?

Maybe I have just not read the right books yet.

The thing is that all these questions are being answered every day in our schools. I am not sure that I can face any more of the literature.

Any Suggestions ?

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Pit-crew ---Tutorials

I was talking with some board members from Tai Wananga yesterday and was explaining why we had allocated so much time to tutorials - 200 minutes every week and why we are so committed to keeping the numbers low - 15 per group and only 5 students at each level and I was reminded as I was speaking of the commitment of our foundation board of trustees to the tutorial concept.

They likened the tutorial to a pit-crew. - So the wheels are falling off, the car is skidding out of control, disaster is looming - STOP - pull over to the side and there's the pit-crew, waiting at the ready - new wheels to attach, pep-talk, brush down -- and lo and behold you're back on track.

It's a great metaphor and a reminder that the care and attention required for each individual was never going to happen in 15 minutes every morning alongside the notices, uniform check, attendance check with 20 - 30 students rearing to get to their first class.

Challenge or inspiration .

Really interesting conversation transpired in our leaders' meeting. We were discussing our professional inquiry and how we could best take a lead in ensuring high quality inquiries. We were talking about the need to challenge when we could see inquiries that were not on track. It was interesting because some teachers were saying how they themselves didn't like challenge and how difficult they found it to deal a challenge to someone they really liked and wanted to maintain a relationship with. So we were talking about how best to have that difficult conversation.
Suddenly one teacher stopped the discussion and said " Well actually I've never been challenged over my inquiries." There was a bit of a hush and we were all thinking - Mmm I wonder who her slack mentor is - and then she said "I've only ever been inspired, inspired to make the changes that I needed to make and I am wondering if the job of  the leader is not to challenge the other but to challenge yourself to be inspiring so that the person you are trying to influence feels inspired by you to make the necessary changes rather than challenged."

I think  that's very  cool. Suddenly the challenge (somewhat negative) is flipped on its head and becomes inspiration (always positive).

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Your teacher talked with you ? Yeah right !!!!!

Very excited to be at the School Trustees Association Conference - 840 passionate parent educators  who have taken their places on Boards of Trustees to support their schools, their communities, and above all their kids.

Miranda and I presented a workshop on the importance of research and inquiry and the sorts of question Boards can be asking of their principals and their schools.

At one point in my presentation I asked the audience of about 70 to think back to a time when they had failed an assessment in school - there was a bit of laughter - obviously that was not too difficult to do - and then I asked them -'Do you ever remember a time when a teacher sat next to you and said something like - Let's talk about why you have failed this assignment OR -how can I help you understand the bits you have missed ? OR -what is is that stopped you learning this ? OR -maybe I've missed something in my teaching, can you help me with that ? OR -let's find a way together to make sure this failure does not happen again ?  ---- The laughter grew louder and louder. YEAH RIGHT ! was the general mood.

Please let's stop the craziness. Let's encourage all our teachers to be inquirers. How else do you learn how to be a teacher if you don't inquire from your students. The answer of course is that YOU DON"T - you just make the same old mistakes over and over and maintain the status quo.

You might just as well stay home and knit !!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Let's change the career structures.

Andreas Schleicher commented that New Zealand would be the top in the world in education IF we could solve the major problem we have of one in five of our students not achieving.

One of the challenges he posed was how to get our best teachers and leaders into our most challenging schools.

We talked about making that part of the career structure. Maybe for teachers to advance to the next career stage they need to have worked some time in a challenging school.Maybe before DPs can become principals there would be a requirement to spend some time in a challenging school and to show that they had been part of  making a difference for the students in that school.

Seriously - the young teachers that I know who quite clearly have a career in teaching would jump at this challenge. It would be such an exciting opportunity for them. They are all people who want to make a difference in the world. That's easy to spot. Of course they can do it anyway but to make it part of the career structure would add a highly motivating dimension to teaching as a long term career.

I would be very interested in comments from other people on this issue.

Friday, 12 July 2013

You get paid not for what you know..........

Great to be at the breakfast and later the dinner with Andreas Schleicher. So interesting to hear someone with that huge perspective. One of the comments (among lots of others) he made was -"'You get paid not for what you know, but for what you do with what you know."
He was making the point again that education has to respond to the needs of the students now. Being creative, innovative and thoughtful is a requirement for everyone.

Steve Maharey the Vice chancellor of Massey university visited our students on Thursday and he made exactly he same point to them. He told them to make the most of the impact projects because it is in the projects that they do the learning that will be required of them at university and in the jobs they will be involved in. The world has changed from when their parents left school. They need to know how to solve problems, be part of teams, how to lead, how to contribute. He talked to them about keeping their options open, not getting too focussed on one particular career goal. He impressed on our students that because of their experience with the impact projects they will already have an edge and to be aware of the edge that they have.

It is just great to have this endorsement from two people for who are so reputable one who has a global perspective and one a national, university perspective.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Tony Iro and Science

Attended coaches' breakfast this morning where Tony Iro presented. I was fascinated by the parallels between teaching and sport. Tony talked about the players who did really well very often saw playing as a science. They didn't just practise, they also watched hours of videos looking at  strategies and different game plays. He describes them as the scientists. Yes they have to be fit but they also need to know the game. It's by watching and building a data bank of good play that brings the improvement. It's the same with teaching isn't it ? - If you want to be a better teacher then at some point you need to see it as a science. Just like the players who want to be champions, watch, watch, watch-- what are the tactics that successful teachers use ? Practise them in  your own game - perfect one strategy then move to another, perfect that and move on to another. Eventually be the teacher that other young players are keen to watch.
Teaching is a scientific endeavour - just like sport.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Measuring Success

We have just had the league table results published in the Metro magazine. So we all look anxiously at our own schools and compare ourselves with all the other schools. Hopefully we look at least okay.
 I am not opposed to the league tables actually - we need to have a yardstick and the league tables are as good as any. What I am not sure though is that they are the only yardstick.

 On Saturday night I went to the show CABARET performed at the school by the students. I know that as part of the impact project, groups of students have designed and taught the choreography and I know that the students have designed and built the set. The sense of achievement these students feel at the end of a hugely successful show is outstanding. They have had to be enterprising, resourceful, reliable and resilient. They have had to establish goals, make plans, manage projects and set high standards. They have had to develop strategies for meeting challenges and they have had to know when to follow and when to lead and when and how to act independently. (straight from the NZC)
 From this experience these students are more confident and more ready to find their place in the world.

Our four young men who have set up the Young Engineers' Association in New Zealand had an amazingly successful day. 33 school teams presented on the day.University lecturers were their guest speakers and the feedback was overwhelming. They are already planning the next day for next year when they will be at University in Auckland. The same thing applies as above. The sense of satisfaction for these young men is overwhelming - They made comments like - "We just can't believe that what started out as just talking ended up in such a fantastic day - and everything went well"
And again how much readier they are to face the world of university and beyond.

 Sean a Year 12 young man did our Tuesday presentation to the staff. He presented to us his application which he will have ready to launch at the end of this impact project semester. It is an application that teaches music theory. Sean spoke about how hard he has to work on the application because historically is is the 'second mouse who gets the cheese". He is determined to be the first mouse and the second mouse. Sean is working on his own with support from an inschool mentor and external providers of information. He knows he will finish because he has learnt to persevere even when things look incredibly hard.
Sean is quite clearly going to be successful in the tech world.

 So how do we present these stories to the media or ERO or to prospective parents ? How do we record and measure that success ?

Thursday, 20 June 2013

YENGA continued

Here are our boys one day before the big event. Such a huge accomplishment. 170 students from across Auckland are attending. I wish them the best of luck.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Appalling results

I am intrigued by the results of the national standards published last week.Although they are not surprising they are appalling. We have somehow got used to the fact that so many Maori and Pasifika students do not achieve that we no longer gasp in horror.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Enabling Constraints

My friend Rose gave me a picture of a bird of paradise - and it serves me well as a metaphor for "enabling constraints". The structured point on the stem has a plan, is on a mission, knows exactly where it is going. There is no wavering. The beautiful flourish of orange and purple  flowers  are made possible because of  that underlying structure.
The Best Evidence Synthesis gives - Ensuring an orderly and supportive environment -an effect size of 0.27 in comparison with 0.84 which is - Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development. It is still high on the list of important things to give time to and needs to be attended to.
I am enjoying watching our team leaders planning for the second round of impact projects. I was in Sharon's community and it was great to see how engaged all the students were in the selection process. Sharon set up three groups. The Group called group 1 was the group of students who already knew exactly what the project was to be about and were ready to go. Those students were given the proposal sheets and they were on the way. Group 2 was the group of students who knew what project they were doing and wanted to move to a new community because they were keen to move to a mentor in a different community. Those students were given a sheet and on it they had to write a paragraph about why they wanted the change - how it would support the development of their project. Once they had written the paragraph they could get the move endorsed and signed off by the tutor and then head off to the new mentor and get the same sheet signed there. Group 3 was the group that had not yet decided on their project. I liked the way Sharon said to all the students -"That is a good place to be and today is about resolving that ." Those students were asked to go to the seminar room and they would work with a teacher to discuss and then find a project that would work for them.
At the same time that all of that was happening the DPs in charge of each area had a list of students, from the tutors, who had not found great success in their previous project. These students were interviewed separately. I was also involved in this process because I have responsibility for two communities. What I enjoyed about the conversations I was involved with (and the DPs reported the same ) is the commitment that the students have to the projects and their honest reflection on why they did not find success the first time round.\
So back to the enabling constraints - I am excited by the constraints that the team leaders are putting in around the projects and I am absolutely excited by the depth of learning that is becoming more and more apparent in the projects designed by the students.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

A Bad Teacher with an ipad.

I loved what Peter Garelja said at the Emerging Leaders' conference in the weekend. He was talking about the effect of ICT, and that in the hands of a poor teacher it really will have as little or no effect because 'a bad teacher with an ipad is a bad teacher with an ipad."
I remember thinking the same thing about the class size debate last year. A bad teacher with a small class is a bad teacher with a small class. I know that some countries have made the decision to go with bigger class sizes - NOT TO SAVE MONEY - but to give teachers more preparation time and time to engage in their own rigorous learning. This is a no goer of course but I can't help but add that a good teacher with a small class is a good teacher with a big class is a good teacher.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

It's in the relationship!

Sometimes you've used an example so often that you forget it's a good one.
We all know (from every researcher and from every students you ask ) that when students have positive relationships with their teachers they are more likely to engage with the learning and to be successful.
The nature of that word 'relationship' is interesting. Relationship imples that there are two equal parties respecting each other and being willing to consider each other's point of view.
In Te Kotahitanga one of the exercises we got teachers to engage with was to consider their own relationships.
Just imagine, we'd say, if you went home tonight and said to your partner "Now look there's a problem here in our relationship but guess what! I am an expert, I have studied for a very long time and I know a problem when I see one and you know what ? the problem is you."
Mmmmm you might just be packing your bags and looking for shelter for the night.
So then let's consider our relationships with our students. Can we honestly say that we don't do exactly that sometimes ? Do we always see our students as equal partners in this teaching and learning and do we always consider their point of view ? OR do we always have the answer because really, deep down we know for sure we  that the problem is them?
Just something to consider.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Teaching REALLY is inquiry.

When I learnt Maori I always wondered why the word 'ako' means both to teach and to learn because I really thought they were two different things - there was teaching and there was learning.
However, of course, it makes huge sense - simply one does not exist without the other. And that makes sense of that saying - If you have taught something and the students haven't learnt it then you haven' t taught it. The ONLY response you can have as a teacher is to INQUIRE from the students where the gap is and once you have discovered that, to fill the gap -that's what teaching is.The next step, and the one we sometimes let go is to make SURE in your next planning that you work to mitigate against the same thing happening again because that is what perfecting the art of teaching is.
Teaching really is inquiry.

Endorsement for impact projects.

I was in Whitcoulls today and was  served by Nick, an ex student. Nick is studying architecture at university. I asked him how it was going and he answered "You have no idea how well impact projects prepare you for university. It's insane !!!. We are just always doing projects."
I am pleased for Nick. He looks confident - obviously he is doing what is right for him.  And of course I am delighted with his passionate endorsement for impact projects.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Learning Intentions

I have been thinking a lot about Isaac's Tuesday morning presentation on learning intentions, and in particular on making the learning intentions explicit for the students at the beginning of every period.
Isaac made some comments that are worth keeping in mind.
1) When he was told he HAD to have the learning intentions written up for the students to see, he did his best but did not see much purpose to them.
2) It wasn't till he grasped hold of the idea for himself, read Hattie's research "Visible Learning", did some serious research on what the intentions should look like, that he actually started to see the value.
3) Even when he could see the value it still took him another 6 months of practice to actually reap the benefits with his students.
The value for him now is that -
1) The explicit learning intentions give him a clear direction for his planning.
2) They direct the feedback he gives to students.
3) They give the students a clear sense of purpose for the lesson.

There are a great many lessons we can draw from this but one thing is for sure  -- learning does not happen by chance. It happens with 'intentional' teaching.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

You are so wise !

I was chatting to a group of students yesterday and the conversation made me laugh. Our quote "It's not if you are bright it's how you are bright" came up. One young woman said "I LOVE that quote . It's going to be my quote till I die." Another young woman looked a bit shamefaced and she said "I was with a group of my friends and we were talking about all the bright kids so I said 'It's not if you are bright it's how you are bright." She said the whole conversation stopped and one of her friends said "Oh you are SO wise !!!!" She said "I didn't even say that I hadn't just thought of it."
The reason I laughed is because I 've been to a conference where the quote was put up and it had my name under it. Like this young woman I didn't own up either. I think, like her I just wanted everyone to think that I was wise.
Actually we got the quote from Jane Gilbert's book and I'm sure she got it from Howard Gardiner. In the end who cares - we have all said it and it belongs to all of us and what's more if we really believed it and acted on it our schools would be very different.
It's a very cool saying and the kids love it. We are all wise.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Who is the teacher ?

Currently the students are presenting their impact projects to their communities. Yesterday I sat in on one community and I was fascinated again by the way students learn in this technological age.

Jonah is studying sculpture. He said "Because I am an artist I want to learn as many skills as I can" - His project is called BUSTING CAESAR. He got the idea for making a bust of Caesar from his classics teacher. (He joked that he had considered busting the principal - thought it would be cool to have the bust at the top of the stairs where the students come in -mmmm the kids laughed with gusto - not me however - the horror of it !!!!!!) He has used videos off YouTube to teach himself. He said he likes the pace of the videos and the fact that he can go back over and over the instructions until he gets it right. He has teacher mentors and he has valued the input that the teachers have had but his main learning has come from the videos. An issue for him was the hair - he could find nothing on YouTube about how to make the hair so he had to improvise. He is very pleased with his result. I asked him whether he would enter his work for NCEA credits. He was emphatic in his reply - this was about learning for himself - he is already getting enough credits elsewhere. The final comment of his presentation was "I have achieved a lot more than I expected of myself ".

Kenneth, a year 11 student says he LOVES making films and it is what he does in his spare time. The impact project is a dream for him because he can do what he loves all day. He is into 3D animation. He learns online how to use programmes. The first one he tried he found in the end was too difficult for him so he went searching and found one that was easy for him to manipulate. He has ended up with a 3minute, 35second film which he says he is very satisfied with . He says the video is smooth and the colour flawless. He is very excited about the next project because he won't be wasting time looking for the right programme and he is ready to complete the movie he has started. He likes the tutorials on line because he can go at his own pace.

Queenie and Anneke are choreographing CABARET. This is a different genre for them from the last year show and they have had to come to terms with the style of burlesque. They said it had been pretty easy because they just googled it and they had been able to watch heaps of dances on YouTube that they could get ideas from.They said that so far they have choreographed eight dances and they have found the best way to teach the dances is to record themselves doing the dances and making the video available for all the students. They expect when the students come to the rehearsals that they have a pretty good idea of how the routines go.

What a fabulous world we live in !!!! Learning can be done in so many exciting and engaging ways.

All this confirms for me that for us to be truly a 21st century school we must provide space and opportunity for students to learn without the restrictions of the teachers, the curriculum and the assessment.

Drama Design for Impact Project

It's Wednesday again - an opportunity to talk with students about their impact projects. Today I spoke with Sarah, Tara and Sam who are producing a working set for the cast and crew of CABARET. They talked of their pride in achieving something that had such an obvious impact. Last year they designed the set for RETURN TO THE FORBIDDEN PLANET, and they chuckled when they described how much more organised and well prepared they were this year. They knew exactly what to expect and were able to mitigate against potential disasters. It was their reflection on last year that supported their success this year. For example this year they have spent a lot more time reading through the play and working out the transitions. Sarah said she had spent two whole Wednesdays doing that and how hugely important that was in getting the stage work exactly right.
They are also very aware this year of sustainability. They are thinking hard about how they can use what they are preparing for this production for the next production - SWEENY TODD --AND they are keeping records to make it easier for students who pick up the project next year.
When I asked about what they had learnt for their future all three were quick to talk about the value of their learning about working in a team. They know they have different strengths - Sarah is the organiser, she HAS to have all the paper work exactly right - she is the paperwork queen. Tara is into the construction and design - she is delighted to have Sarah managing the paperwork. Sam is mainly interested in the design and like Tara is very happy that Sarah is taking care of the stuff he has no interest in. They have learnt the value of playing to everyone's strengths. They know when to lead and when to follow. They are happy to challenge each other and through the challenge their personal relationships have become stronger. They are excited about how the experience has increased their self confidence. A big challenge is having to renegotiate when a design that they have come up with does not work and getting feedback that they have to work with. They can see that all these experiences have given them confidence in dealing with people who do not always agree with them. ( They don't know it but they are talking about the KEY COMPETENCIES ).
Sarah, Sam and Tara are very, very excited that they have had this opportunity and I am delighted for them. The students shared their tumblr account with me so I could see exactly what they have been working on and I think it is worth sharing with you. Just click here to see the progress of these very professional set designers

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Teaching IS inquiry.

Our teachers have just presented the first round of their professional inquiries. In their inquiries they take the time to talk with a selection of their students who have not achieved and work with the students to come up with an intervention that will work. How times have changed.
I remember in my first year of teaching in Rotorua. I had a year 11 class ( the fifth form then ).
At the mid year exams which were a practice for School Certificate at the end of the year my top student gained 82% and my bottom student gained 27%. I carried on teaching till the end of the year and lo and behold in the actual exam the marks were identical - 82% at the top, 27% at the bottom. I clearly remember my HOD calling me up and saying to me that I was obviously very good at marking because I had got the marks exactly right at the half way mark. I believed for quite some time that that was true. I was a very good marker. Dear me ! What he should have said was " Good God woman you might just as well have stayed home for six months- you have not made a blind bit of difference for either of these students."

It's no longer good enough to ignore the data that is in front of you. Teaching IS inquiry - As a teacher you have a duty to find success for every student and to always check with the students why it is that what you taught they did not learn, to find out from them what it is that they need from you in order to find the success that they are owed.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Why ChallengeED ?

In New Zealand, principals go to conferences and DPs go to conferences but there is no conference where the full senior leadership team can go together. What we have done three times now is go together to the ACEL conferences in Australia. ChallengED aims to fill the gap in New Zealand.

Vivianne Robinson in Student Centred Leadership says this:
  "I was asked if the five dimensions would be a good framework for evaluating principals. I replied that I would prefer they were used to evaluate the strength of leadership across the school and in particular departments or units. The scope of the work is too great and the expertise required too broad to reasonably expect a single leader to demonstrate high or even moderate levels of competence in all five dimensions."

It makes sense to have an organisation where a whole senior leadership team can gather together to discuss and share and have conversations that matter with other senior leadership teams.

 1) There is outstanding research in New Zealand on leadership. Obviously the Best Evidence Synthesis stands at the top. As senior leadership teams we need the time and space to discuss the five dimensions of leadership that have the most effect on students outcomes. How do we clear the decks so that "Promoting and participating in teacher learning and development " which has double the effect size of any other dimension becomes what we spend most of our time on ? It is not easy. What is easier is to have a quick read and then file away the document because it all just seems too hard. And it is too hard if we as principals see it as our lone task. ChallengED will give us that space to talk with each other and our colleagues about how we make it work. We all want the best there is no doubt about that but how do we do it ?

2) There is also a mountain of research on learning in this century - the huge impact that the internet is having on the role of the teacher. Students no longer need teachers to provide them with information - they have all the information they need right there on those cellphones that drive us bananas. How do we harness the technology in a way that engages, excites and supports our students? At ChallengED we can share what we have learnt works and use that knowledge to develop great practice in our own schools.

3) We need the opportunity and space to act as leaders of education in New Zealand. Right now charter schools are being promoted, and the review of the Teachers' Council is underway. We need to have an informed view on these issues and any other issue that is being promoted politically. How often do we, on our own, respond?  ChallengED gives us the opportunity to have a collective voice, a voice that represents a wide group of informed leaders.

ChallengED will give us the opportunity to challenge the way we do things in a supportive and challenging environment.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

It's what we do

I had a very heartwarming discussion with two of our head students today. The students are planning a day which they have called Young Leaders' Voice @ASHS where they are inviting head students from a group of Auckland schools to come and discuss issues that are important for them. Nicky Kaye will be the guest speaker. (Nicky is the new second Minister of Education in new Zealand.) We were discussing how the day would go and who would do the introductions etc etc. One of the students said  "When we welcome everyone here we need to speak in Maori first " - I was quite taken aback - it is usually me who suggests that. Before I could answer the other student said "Yes we do , we need to show the other students that that is the way we do things around here."
 How cool is that ! And yes it is the way we do things around here.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Wacky PD

I have been reading a great deal lately about PD for teachers that is the most likely to lead to improved student outcomes. All of them are very clear that one off PD days for an individual teacher serve no purpose whatsoever. Gosh I remember the days. They were so exciting. It meant a day off from teaching where you could meet up with all your mates, the food was always great and you could have a good moan about everything that was wrong with the world. Student outcomes did not feature at all. I have no recollection of ever discussing student outcomes.
Perhaps my most bizarre was a writing course with a woman called Mona (I can't remember her surname). She was an expert on teaching personal writing. So there we were on our day off ready to learn about how to get our students to feel more comfortable writing a story from personal experience. She asked us to sit on the floor facing the wall. We had to think of a story and then tell it out loud to the wall. We all did exactly that. At the time when we were all teachers together it seemed reasonable even if somewhat strange. I couldn't wait to try it with my Year 12 class with whom I was doing a writing unit. I organised the room and when the students came in I explained the process to them. The students were compliant and down they sat facing the wall. All seemed to be going well until a young woman called Claire suddenly rolled back and cried out, "Ms Cavanagh, this is ridiculous, this time you have gone too far !!! " The other students all chimed in with great whoops of laughter "We're not doing it! " they chorused. To be honest I was a bit taken aback to start with but I could see their point. I just wished I had seen the point a bit earlier.
Not all the days were as crazy as that but a lot came close. They were certainly fun but they bore no connection at all to raising achievement for the students sitting in front of us.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Charter Schools? Why not?

I have just listened to two TED talks - one by Geoffrey Canada and one by Bill Gates. Both these educators have set up charter schools in the States and both have had huge success. Geoffrey Canada talks about the school he went to himself that had a 48% failure rate and now so many years later still has a 48% failure rate. Bill Gates talks about feedback for teachers and that the only way to improve teaching is by making the feedback more sophisticated than just 'satisfactory' or 'not'. None of this is rocket science but the point I would like to make is that as a schooling system in New Zealand we are not catering for 1 in 5 of our students. The PISA results are very clear about that. If we carry on doing what we are doing, then for sure we will be having the same conversations in 5 years, 10 years and 20 years. Why not try charter schools ? They don't have to be "bad' schools - maybe we could see it as an opportunity to model some excellent and effective practice for our 1 in 5 students. Let's set up 'great' charter schools. There's enough high quality research in New Zealand to guide us. It could quite possibly be the best solution.

Friday, 10 May 2013

It's not like a school

I was talking yesterday with a young man who has been in the school only three days.I wanted to check with him how he was settling in. It was great to see him so excited. His big thing is music and he had already sussed out the potential for himself of impact projects. On Wednesday he had met with the itinerant music teacher who will be his mentor and he had decided on a project in which he will compose his own songs and then design a cover for an album. He knows he will need support for both but he is very confident about achieving both tasks to industry standard.
"This is just so amazing, "he said." It's not like a school - it's just like a place you come to learn stuff."
Obviously for him there is a difference between the two - a school and a place you come to learn stuff.
For me the pleasure is that this was the dream - a place that kids would be excited by.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

In Other Words - by Glenn Colquhoun

I read this poem today in INGENIO, the university of Auckland Alumni Magazine.

In Other Words

In other words
a poem is a way
of knowing you are alive
as shocking as fish leaping out of deep
as sharp as
light stabbing
through a row of trees,
as bold as
opening up your eyes during prayer
as simple as
lying awake in the middle of the night
listening to the sound od people snoring.
Every minute
of every day
of every life
is a full library.
        Glenn Colquhoun

I Love the idea of every minute being a full library. It's just cool.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

We banned cellphones - we did what ?

I received feedback today about my graduation speech from a young woman who is teacher training. She was particularly inspired by my comments about the use of technology in schools. It reminded me of comments I heard at a principals' conference a few years back. It was at a time when we really thought we had to ban cellphones and there was huge pressure about it.
One principal boasted that he had taken a cellphone into an assembly and placed in on a stool. He told the students to watch closely and with a great flourish he picked up a sledgehammer and slammed it down on the cellphone, smashing it to bits. Obviously  there was a shocked gasp from the student body. "That," he said in his stern principal's voice, "is what I will do to your cellphone if I EVER see it at school."
Another principal followed up with his story. He told us with great relish how he had taken a bucket of water in to assembly, held a cellphone over the bucket and said "this is what I will do to your cellphone if I ever see it at school"and with that he dropped it with flourish into the water. Of course, there was an equal gasp of horror from the students.
It really is pretty funny because it won't be long before all of us will look back in horror and say -- We did what ?????

Friday, 26 April 2013

The best school in New Zealand.

With the latest census completed, it won't be long before every principal in the country will get a letter which will tell them the news of their latest decile ranking. The ranking will either stay the same or it will go up which means less money but good PR because you can say "Yeah - look at us -we've gone up from a decile 5 to a 6. Or it will go down and that means more money but you will keep quiet about it just in case the community sees it as a fall from grace.
The decile ratings are determined by the census data showing the wealth of the families within the school. They have absolutely nothing to do with how well or otherwise the school is doing.
The government needs the decile ratings - absolutely but only for funding purposes - of course, decile one schools need more funding than decile 10 schools - that just makes sense. The tragedy is that the decile ratings define the school. Who needs the information that actually the poorest families send their kids to this school and the wealthiest families send their kids to that school   --- certainly not the kids at the school.
I am reminded of a great conversation I had with a young woman in Year 9 at Ngaruawahia High School. I had done my usual rant about what a great school we were in, great teachers etc etc. After the assembly she came up to me this young woman and asked _"Ms Cavanagh, is this the best school in New Zealand ?" I thought for a while and then answered "Well, you know I have been in lots of schools in New Zealand and actually yes - I think it is - I really do think it is the best school."
Her face lit up "Chaa" she said, "Chaa".
Funnily enough I didn't tell her that this was a decile one school. I was the principal, she was the student. She was at the best school!!!! And that's where the story ends.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Tips for impact projects.

Chinaya is very committed to impact projects and she is concerned that some students do not grasp the opportunity with enough seriousness. She worries that they miss out on what is such a powerful learning opportunity. For her impact project this semester she is creating a website "Tips for impact projects." She and her project partner, Jerry, are showcasing 10 projects. They are following the projects through from the proposal stage to the final presentation. They are interviewing the students at each stage and trying to find some agreement on what it is that supports a project to be successful. When they have completed the investigation they will publish parts of the interviews and give some very positive and sound advice for all students on how to engage in and complete a successful project.
I am really looking forward to the outcome of this project.

Small steps indeed !!!!!!

For his impact project, Dylan with great confidence is setting up YENGA (Young Engineers Association) for students across New Zealand. He has found inspiration from participation in ModelUnited nations. He is keen to set up a similar structure for young engineers. He envisages a day where there is a speaker to set the day off and then there is a competition in which school teams participate. He has contacted Auckland University and not surprisingly has found huge enthusiasm. They have already promised to provide the speaker. Dylan has set the date for the first symposium which is June 22. His task now is to contact the schools and get participants. He is using FACEBOOK and is confident he will get the numbers.
Dylan is working with a team of committed physics students. He says they are all going to Auckland University next year and want to develop and lead the group so that it gains momentum not just for school students but for University students as well. They see it developing as a New Zealand wide organisation.
I ask him if he is thinking of going global. He laughs and says, 'Small steps, Barbara, small steps."

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Emperor has no clothes

I love this quote (but can't remember which book I got it out of) . It kind of makes me laugh but there is a dagger in there that we need to be mindful of.

"One question that interests me is what became of the child who revealed the emperor was naked ?
Did he or she get rewarded and become a national hero?
Did his or her actions become forgotten as the empire continued to act in naked and brutal ways, and the hustlers and advisers profited from the stupidity system ?
Did the child give up, internalise the norms of stupidity and sustain blows to his or her sense of self-worth ?"

Mmmmmmmm. Let's hope for the rewards.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Moved by this response

Hi Barbara,
My name is Dearna and I am mother of two young boys. I am also a relief teacher aide and currently doing my Teacher Aide certificate through the Open Polytechnic.
My oldest son is seven years old and has Autism and ADHD and is in a mainstream school here in Hamilton. Yesterday I came to Auckland to the Bruce Mason centre to see my sister graduate. And I heard your speech. I loved what you had to say. I loved that you challenged all those going into teaching to challenge the status quo, to dig a little deeper and to make a difference. To believe that EVERY child has the ability to learn. I believe passionately in all that you said. And I wanted to tell you that your speech gave me hope. If even a small percentage of those new teachers really heard what you had to say yesterday then I have hope for children like my son, “the round pegs in the square holes”. I have hope that those teachers will dig a little deeper and see what we as parents see, the huge potential and the valuable contribution that our children have to make in the world.
Thank You,

What if your contribution is the key ingredient ?

Massey University Graduation Ceremony


by Barbara Cavanagh

Tuesday 16 April 2012 Bruce Mason Centre

Kia ora koutou
Nga mihi nui ki a koutou no te kura matua o Albany.

Congratulations – This is a major achievement for all of you today. It is the culmination of serious and hard work and we are here today to acknowledge that in this very grand ceremony.

You have walked up the streets of Takapuna and arrived at this Bruce Mason Theatre. Before I start I would like to honour the man for whom this theatre is named – Bruce Mason, a superb playwright and orator. My mother grew up in a house behind his house on Takapuna Beach so I have grown up with 'End of the Golden Weather' set right here on the beach and then later, on many occasions, taught 'The Pohutukawa Tree'. It is right that this theatre be named after such an illustrious man.

I am currently principal at Albany Senior High School and I have also been principal at Te Awamutu College and Ngaruawahia High School. Before that I did a stint at Fairfield College and a 7 year stretch at Northcote College – so I have been in the game a very long time (close to 40 years).

I'd like to start with a story, it's a story I heard recently at a principals' conference about the silver-backed gorilla.

The silver-backed gorilla is definitely the leader of the pack - he has a silver streak down his back so that he is instantly recognised as such. The greatest threat to the pack was always the leopards and the leopards relied on the pack splitting up so that they could pounce easily on one gorilla. The answer for master silver-back was to encourage all the gorillas to get behind him thus making it impossible for the leopards. The problem now is that the biggest threat is the poachers with guns so now, of course, when master silver -back gets all his pack in behind him it is oh so easy for the poachers to get a good shot. The poor old gorillas are dying out. So here's the silver-backed gorilla – totally believing he's doing the RIGHT thing in his mind, and he ends up destroying the very people he wants to protect.

My challenge to you – those of you going into schools and to those of you entering the design world - is to challenge, challenge, challenge the status quo. For those of your who are going into schools, you are going into the most wonderful job in the world. - SERIOUSLY -

Like the Army advertisement on TV – you will NEVER be short of good work stories. Go in with your new, fresh eyes. Think about the research you have engaged with in your time at this wonderful Massey University. Keep reading – go back to that research and look around what's happening in line with the research? And please don't think that you have to 'do an apprenticeship' before you offer an opinion. We have a saying at our school – 'What if your contribution is the key ingredient?' What if it's you? You are young, intelligent, why couldn't it be?? Why wouldn't it be???

You see there are myths that exists in school that need to be challenged – I worry that schools may just become irrelevant – there are schools that still ban cellphones!! Do you know that there is more technology in a cellphone than there was in the technology that took a space shuttle to the moon?? There will come the day when we say, we banned cellphones? – we did what?? Harness technology – enjoys its capacity and it's amazing potential to transform.

Watch out for solutions in schools that make life easier for the institution but not necessarily for the child. The silver-backed gorilla had ONE solution for every crisis – and he's wiping out those who love him.

If you have in your head things like;
  • Boys learn best when....
  • Girls learn best when.....
  • Maori students learn best when.....
Then know for sure that you are wrong.

If you believe that;
  • some kids can learn
  • some can't
Then know for sure that you are wrong.

When you are looking at every child with absolute belief that they have the ability to learn, they want to achieve and they want to need to contribute then I suggest you are on the right track. The easy and quick solution (think of master gorilla) is to label kids, then group them early – this is the top group, this is the bottom group. What are the unintended consequences of that?
There's so much research that shows us that our own attitudes and beliefs as teachers can seriously change the attitudes that children have about themselves.
You be the teacher who challenges – take your fresh and intelligent eyes to every situation. You will come across silver-backed gorillas – be gentle but be firm – you have good brains, use them to stay informed and to challenge.

Silver-backed gorillas are in the design world too – and to you people – be mindful of one great creative genius, Steve Jobs – Mr Apple..

Here's to the crazy one. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The one who see things differently. They are not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. And the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that's never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see laboratory on wheel? We make tools for these kind of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Be one of the crazies.

So to all of you with your big brains and fresh eyes...

Yes – Kim Kardashian is too fat or too thin – and yes it is a worry that Roimata might leave TK and isn't it great that Tom has a new girlfriend – I mean Katie was so mean to him – Jen's doing well though, isn't she....Mmmmm, important as that is on a world scale, don't let the media addle your brains. You might just need to be the new one in the pack who says to Master Silver-back,
You know what? Let's define the actual problem here and NOW let's find a solution that fits!”

What if your contribution is the key ingredient? What if?

Have a great day. I hope that for all of you that this is not the end of your association with Massey University. Your days of learning have just begun, my friends.

My very best wishes for all of you

No reira tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Inspiration Tuesday with Alex Boulton.

On a Tuesday morning we have a presentation for the staff which we know will be inspiring. Usually it is a teacher who has had a breakthrough with their professional inquiry - an aha moment that they are keen to share. This morning, though, we had Alex Boulton, a year 12 student who for his impact project is writing a book about the influence of black music on western culture. Alex described for us how he approaches his project. His passion and confidence were inspirational. He is highly self motivated and each Wednesday he sets himself a goal which he always achieves. He enjoys the role his mentor plays and it is the support of his mentor that keeps him motivated and excited. (Next project day I will video Alex and add it to this blog because I cannot do him justice).
After his presentation I was talking with him about himself and where he is heading. It was so exciting to hear him talk about what the impact project meant for him. He said that in his first project he wrote music for Waterbabies and how he had felt so inspired by that. But he had always seen himself as being a movie maker and so in his next project he did film-making. Although he worked hard and enjoyed the project he did not have the same enthusiasm. In the current project he is working again with music and his realisation is that his career needs to involve music. He LOVES working with any aspect of music. It motivates him and he loses himself in it. So he is very grateful for the impact projects that have given him the space to come to that realisation.
I am delighted that Alex has come to that realisation. This is exactly what the intention of the impact projects always was - to help students find their place in the world.
Our vision is that at ASHS we will nurture each, inspire each other and empower each other. Alex certainly inspired us this morning.
I am also more convinced than ever that this is exactly what 21st century learning is all about, It is giving students space, space which is not limited to the teacher, the curriculum or the assessment. It is giving them space to be who they really are in the world.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Let the child flower

This is a quote from Herb Kohl which puts in a nutshell what we all know about having preconceived ideas, deficit theorising etc. It comes from the book 'Awakening the Heart of Teaching'.

"Looking at a child, understanding who he, she is or might become, is not a simple neutral act or a matter of finding the right objective test or experimental situation. Central to what you see in someone is what you are looking for. If you want to find a child's weaknesses, failures, personal problems or inadequacies you'll discover them. If you look at a child through the filter of her or his environment or economic status and make judgements through the filters of your own culture, gender and racial biases, you'll find the characteristics you expect. You'll also find yourself well placed to reproduce failure and to develop resistance in some children, a false sense of superiority in others. On the other hand if you look for strengths and filter the world through the prism of hope, you will see and encourage the unexpected flowering of a child's life in the most unlikely places"

Saturday, 13 April 2013

World Cafe - Belief in everybody

I really like this explanation of the world cafe. It makes so much sense and pares away all the judgements and limitations that are easy to impose on each other.

"The World Cafe is a good, simple process for bringing people together around questions that matter. It is founded on the assumption that people have the capacity to work together, NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE. For me this is a very important assumption. It frees us from our current focus on personality types, learning styles, emotional IQ - all the popular methods we currently use to pre-identify and pre-judge people. Each of these typologies ends up separating and stereotyping people. This was not intended by their creators but it is what has happened.
The Cafe process has been used in many different cultures, among many different age groups, for many different purposes, and in many different types of communities and organisations. IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO THE PEOPLE ARE, THE PROCESS WORKS.It works because people CAN work well together, CAN be creative and caring and insightful when they're actively engaged in meaningful conversations around questions that count." (pIX)

I have often wondered about personality type theories and although there is bound to be some truth in them they are just not helpful. I like the World Cafe positive belief in the ability of every person to participate on equal footing.

Wiremu's Shoes

She sits patiently with an air of quiet resignation outside the principal's office. Her body is still and she is gazing at some point in the distance. Beside her on the floor is a pair of shoes, school shoes.
The door opens suddenly. "Come in, come in". It is the principal. He is a shortish man in a grey suit. He hesitates for a moment when there is no response but then regains himself."Kia ora, kia ora,come in, come in."
She picks up the shoes and follows the principal into the office. She sits in the chair in front of the big wooden desk and puts the shoes beside her again on the floor.
The principal sits in a larger chair with a high back.
"I know you'll be upset about Wiremu. He's a good boy - a good boy. But you know we had to make an example of him. Rules are rules. If we let Wiremu get away with wearing whatever he likes then it's a slippery slope - a slippery slope. Wiremu just has to learn. The other students look up to Wiremu - they follow his example. He has had plenty of warning. In the end we had no choice. I am sorry but we had no choice."
She sits in silence for a few moments and then she sighs. She picks up the shoes then and puts them on the principal's desk. Very quietly but with some determination in her voice, she says "Mr. Principal you are obviously very keen to educate my son's shoes. Well, Mr. Principal here they are, Wiremu's shoes."

Monday, 8 April 2013

Myth busting

I have been asked to address Massey University School of Education graduates (so they are going into teaching ) at a graduation ceremony. I have been wondering what is the best message for young people starting out in schools and I keep coming back to - CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO !!!!!!!!
The myths to challenge
1) Some kids can learn, some kids can't.
2) Boys learn better when  ...........
3) Girls learn better when   ..........
4) Maori students learn better when  .........
5) Asian kids learn better when   ........
6) Some kids are gifted, some aren't
7) Kids need to be streamed into classes - the top classes get all the so called bright kids and the low classes get all the dumb kids.
Let's stop the madness and ask some questions about how best to organise our schools so that each child is seen as a person of value with a unique way of learning and a need to contribute.

Students learning Dialogues.

I was talking with the teachers this morning about why we run the dialogues in the way that we do.
 In the past my experience has been that all the teachers are in the hall with name tags on the front of their desks. The parents book in for 5 - 10 minutes. If you are an English teacher you can have up to 100 parents coming on one night ( if everybody comes). The parents are supposed to book, most do but the ones who don't often jump the queue and that makes the others cranky and sometimes difficult to deal with.You have 5-10 minutes to talk about son or daughter (who mostly is not with the parents). After an hour or so things get a bit jumbled and it is easy to confuse one Stephen with another (I say Stephen because that's a true story. I remember going cold at the horror of it). When the ordeal is over the comments start, " Of course we only see the parents we don't need to see. All the parents we should see just don't bother to turn up"etc etc I WONDER whether the outcome is that the students whose parents have turned up are now more advantaged than before because of the relationship that the teacher has now experienced with the parents and at the same time the students whose parents have not turned up are more disadvantaged because the teacher has more justification for assuming that the students are not achieving because of lack of parental support.
SO the learning dialogues are a genuine attempt to remove all that craziness.The parents make an appointment with the tutorial teacher only and the dialogue which lasts between 20 and 30 minutes is an opportunity for the students to present their learning to both parents and the tutor and then for all parties to agree to the goals required for the student to achieve success for the year. This year we have made the dialogues compulsory. If the parents are unable to come then the students are able to choose another teacher to step in as parent and then the outcomes are sent home. The high stakes dialogue cannot be sidestepped by any student.
It will be interesting to get feedback from all parties on the effect.

Friday, 5 April 2013

New Problems, Old Solutions

I loved the story that Paul Porteous told about the silver backed gorilla. ( Paul was speaking at the SPANZ conference in Queenstown).
The silver backed gorilla is definitely the leader of the pack - he has a silver streak down his back so that he is instantly recognised as such. The greatest threat to the pack was always the leopards and the leopards relied on the pack splitting up so that they could pounce easily on one gorilla. The answer for master silver back was to encourage all the gorillas to get behind him thus making it impossible for the leopards. The problem now is that the biggest threat is the poachers with guns so now, of course, when master silver back gets all his pack in behind him it is oh so easy for the poachers to get a good shot. The poor old gorillas are dying out.
MMMM food for thought - Schools are requiring new solutions - our contexts are so different yet we continue to come up with the same old solutions. There are new solutions and when we have the time and space we are very capable of coming up with them. It is exactly when the environment is changing that we are called upon to exercise leadership. Our leadership HAS to be about how we learn not just about protecting the group,providing direction,and maintaining order. We need to be getting together to start thinking.
I am confident that ChallengeED will be the forum for that.

The power of learning conversations

I am really intrigued at the power of the conversations that teachers have with students. It seems to me that what happens when a teacher has a genuine conversation about learning with a student it is not just that the student appreciates the immediate issue being discussed but something much larger happens - the student is being recognised and is being drawn in as a learner who really matters in this institution. I am fortunate to be in an open plan office and time and time again I overhear the conversations our DPs are having with students about the students' personalised learning plans. The students are so keen to engage in the conversations which are very often geared towards finding personal success for themselves in a non traditional way. I sense their relief at being acknowledged as successful learners rather than as students who are failing and need to be fixed up. I love hearing them talk eagerly about where they see themselves heading. I have the sense that a lot of these students have not felt the sense of entitlement that many other students have always felt. Just imagine if these conversations were happening every day for students. It really highlights for me the need for teachers to stick to conversations that matter with their students.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Impact Project Wednesday

I am always impressed with the projects our students are doing and I am inspired by the deep learning they are prepared to engage in. Today I had the pleasure of meeting the two Hannahs. The two Hannahs are designing a mural for the wall outside the art room . They have used Banksey as their artist's model and they have done a huge amount of preliminary work around the design. One of the Hannahs is keen to be an architect and she is most concerned to be innovative and thoughtful about the placement of the mural. It was exciting to see how they have incorporated the two windows into the design and how they take the mural around a corner. The mural is full of surprises and I really love the way they have incorporated the word "inspire" from our vision. They use the expression - Dare to inspire  -which I think is really great because it was very clear to me that that is exactly what they were doing - daring to inspire. Sally, the art teacher talked about the intense difficulty that the students would face because of the intricate nature of the work and the surface being somewhat uneven. The girls only response was that they were up to the challenge and were looking forward to it. I am looking forward to seeing the end result.