Saturday, 17 October 2015


Much like Sally Hart (see her blog post here), I could not spend the rest of today revelling in the All Black's glorious defeat of France, having read this article.  The danger these days is that scare-mongering fluff articles like this, that previously were consigned to the back pages or local rags, are now available free of charge online, to a potentially world-wide audience.  @Doctor_Harves has correctly pointed out that the journalist made no claims, that all claims were from interviewees. My response is that surely the author has some culpability by bringing the views from one side together, in one place and publishing them.

My first, and strongest, response to this article is that it once again focused on the physical spaces in which learning occurs, as if that is the defining factor for the pedagogy that occurs inside.  How many tweets, blog posts and hashtags do we need to be able to be heard as a profession - it's about the pedagogy, #notaboutthebeanbags.  The article segueways straight from the amount of money being spent by the government to imagery of the positioning of teachers and students in the space.  Let's be clear, the Ministry of Education has spent $517 million in the last 5 years on desperately needed new classrooms for new and expanding schools, and their design has been based on rigorous research here and overseas, on the conditions under which all students can learn at their best. "The teacher in front of the chalkboard..." as described in this article is only one of many ways in which learning can occur, and certainly does still happen in Innovative Learning Environments when that is what is most appropriate for the learners and learning. I challenge anyone reading this to argue that a teacher standing at a chalkboard for an hour, day in-day out, is the best way for students to learn.

That allows me to segueway into my next issue with this article. The MLE/ILE/MLP vision has never been synonymous with independent, free-range learning, where students do what they want, when they want.  MLP is about student agency, knowing our learners, and exploring ways in which the passions and interests of all students can be harnessed to provide the best learning outcomes for them - described articulately here by Steve Mouldey in a summary of his recent uLearn presentation.  We are all bound by the same national curriculum document and strive to achieve the same vision of confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners.  Those of us embracing innovative learning practices are focusing intensely on this vision, especially the actively involved and lifelong learner parts.  The New Zealand Curriculum document gives us the enabling constraints to work within, as @totallywired77 said "handing over ownership to your students is not not the same as just letting them do whatever they want! This is hardcore punk learning, not f+++ing free form jazz!

My next issue is the focus of the article on what constitutes success.  What good is a 77.5% UE attainment rate if only 1 in 3 students go on to tertiary education? How is the school meeting the needs of the other 67%? At our first community meeting as a school, we asked our parents what their hopes, dreams and aspirations were for their children.  The resounding response was confident, resilient, happy, fun and kind... here's the wordcloud:
So we have a responsibility, as the school of our community, to make good on this mandate.  Again... will we achieve this only one traditional pedagogical style? No, we won't.

Other points I struggled with in this article were "sterile open spaces with absent teachers and loud noises." I can't say I've ever been into an ILE where the teachers are absent, the student:teacher ratios are the same, and purpose built environments are engineered to minimise noise pollution - there are strict noise tests they need to pass when in operation. "...some students use their laptops instead of pen and paper..." what does that have to do with anything else in this article? This has been happening for years, and simple device substitution will not have an impact on improving learner outcomes. "... their newly fitted-out classrooms have glass doors and moveable walls, but the students and teachers also prefer a traditional learning environment" it's not an ILE without the ILP, again it's all about the pedagogy, and what teacher is going to want to deprivatize their practice when it is obviously not a school-wide supported movement, with everyone, including the leadership team on board, and high quality professional learning to take them on the journey? "People feel like they're being watched so they're more focussed on their behaviour, teachers stay on topic more" and "there could be distractions with people walking past of with [other classes] working opposite...." surely if the learning is student centred and engaging, they shouldn't need this as a threat to remain focussed on their learning, or be so easily distracted.  In all the schools we have visited this year, there have been many, the one common factor across all ILE schools is the absolute student engagement in learning. 

This article really did hit a nerve with me today, because I think it was a poorly constructed piece of journalism that skirted around the real issues and the gains being made by those of us trying to evolve education.  It is especially topical for me, as we try to bring our community on board before we open next year.  We have an incredibly supportive community, who have waited a long time for this school, and who are trusting us to do what's best for their children.  They have come to our meetings, read our blogs and newsletters, and approach us with their worries and concerns, but (so far) never in a narrow-minded and negative way.  They genuinely want to know how it's going to work, and seem excited when we share our ideas.  I worry that articles like this will undo some of our hard work to date, and have parents doubting us before we even get off the ground.  All I ask is for balanced and fair representation of our sector.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Collaboration - what do we want it to look like?

In our recent round of interviews for our teaching staff, we asked only a few, but quite in-depth, questions.  One of them was on how applicants viewed successful collaboration between teachers in an ILE and how it enhanced student learning - because it needs to, otherwise there is little point in doing it.

Most of the responses spoke about collaboration in the way it was currently done in traditional schools settings - what Farjana Ferdous (Jazan University, K.S.A.) describes as Grade Level Collaboration "Teachers working with other teachers to develop and implement instruction" We think that in our environment where 3 teachers will be working together on a curriculum module that covers 2 learning areas of the curriculum, collaboration must be much deeper than this.  Their responses were understandably a product of their environment, as most are coming from traditional schools. Ferdous goes on to describe Co-Teaching/Collaboration Teaching and Cross-Curricular Collaboration - a blend of these is our aim.  "Co-teaching/Collaborative Teaching is when 2 or more professionals jointly deliver substantive instruction to a diverse and blended group of students in a single physical space". She goes on to separate Co-teaching into 5 scenarios:

  • Lead and support - one teacher plans and instructs, while the other assists students with work, monitors behaviour, and corrects assignments
  • Station teaching - curricular content is divided into two parts. One teacher teaches the first part to half the students and the other professional presents the second part to the other half.  The two student groups then switch.
  • Parallel Teaching - students are divided into heterogenous groups in which each student has more opportunity to participate in discussions. Different types of presentations are structure to the various student learning styles.
  • Alternative Teaching - students are divided into two groups, and one teacher instructs one group while the other person pre-teaches the other group for the lesson to follow or re-teaches material using alternative methods
I think there will be times when the 4 types of teaching will be appropriate to groups within the learning commons, but my hope is that we aim for team teaching as the norm:
  • Team Teaching - both professionals share leadership and are equally engaged in instructional activities.  They might use role play, stage debates or model note-taking strategies.
Blended with team teaching will also be Cross-Curricular Collaboration. "Cross-curricular learning helps develop meta-cognitive learners able to adapt their learning to new situations. Interdisciplinary teaching provides a meaningful way in which students can use knowledge they have learned in one context as a knowledge base in other contexts in and out of school"

So how do we encourage, expect and enable this to happen?
Every applicant commented on the time teachers will need to collaborate, but they will also need the skills and support to do it effectively, in most of us, these skills are not innate. With that thought in mind we embark on our journey of fostering a collaborative culture.

Cheryl Doig's July 15, 2014 blog post "Collaboration Matters" she talks about 5 things that stand out for effective collaboration in an education setting.
  • Relationships matter every step of the way - time must be spent at the beginning to develop shared norms, values and vision.
  • Technology enhances - collaboration can exist without technology but the ripples will be smaller
  • Conflict - no conflict = no collaboration.  Allow for it, deal with it openly and respectfully.  Diverse groups bring a richness of perspectives and naturally create tensions.
  • Know when to collaborate - if there are few gains or a hostile environment, or no relationships, collaboration will waste times.  Grow relationships first.
  • Leadership - collaboration still requires leadership, but from a position of influence rather than position.  Leaders must navigate complexity, explore multiple perspectives and be okay with not having all the answers.
Having open and honest conversations about these points - how to make them happen, which parts we are comfortable and which we will find challenging and need help to overcome, will be the first step. Designing professional learning workshops, and having visible reminders of how and why we collaborate will be vital.

In a 2015 post "Collaboration in Schools" Cheryl describes the Russian dolls of collaboration.  From the individual "me" to day to day collaboration, organisational collaboration, associate industry collaboration and outer collaboration.  The organisational collaboration quote resonated with us the most as we think about how we can enable the type of collaboration we want to see happen.  "Organisational collaboration connects to the overall vision and values of the school. Everyone needs to understand their role in supporting and challenging every learner.  This learning connectedness intentionally supports teams to develop flow in learning, with specialist teachers still having a deep understanding of their subjects, but also connecting to different lenses of other specialists and generalist teachers and growing transversal skills in themselves and their students."

She also describes 3 mindsets requires for good collaboration
  • Growth mindset - deeply believe that everyone can learn.  Talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. Start with self. "Made not born"
  • Inquiring mindset - ask questions about your own practice rather than looking for answers.  Deeply engage with your own context. Explore collective wisdom. "Continuous, collaborative curiosity for better"
  • Outwards mindset - seek new networks and connections beyond your comfort zone. Explore trends, signals & multiple possibilities. 
I believe our CLOAK will be the place we start to develop this culture, with both staff and students.
  • Challenge our mindset
  • Learning is connected
  • Ourselves as learners
  • Ako, always
  • Kindness and respect
We need to be always developing our growth, inquiring and outward mindsets.  Be okay with a culture of open communication where ideas are valued.  One of our applicants used the analogy of hui - when someone offers an idea, it is a gift to the collective, that idea then belongs to the group, not the person anymore, and in that mindset any responses to the idea are about the idea and not the person who offered them.  I see real value for this thinking and mindset in our team.  We want our teachers working as a team, connecting their own learning as professionals with others on their team, and appreciating the value of collaboration in students' learning.  We also want them valuing interdisciplinary collaboration as a way to enhance student learning.  Our physical learning spaces and timetable will also support and encourage this. And continually, we are learners, and can learning from everyone around us.  Finally we need to realise we will always be on a journey to our edutopia with those around us, and to keep enjoying and reflecting on the ride there.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Road Trippin'

One of the most privileged parts of our job right now is having the time to visit other schools during instruction time, to see them in action.  While we have learnt different things from, and focused on different things within each school, a common thread throughout each visit is the warmth with which we are welcomed, and the generosity of people's time when there is already so little of it.

We spent 2 days visiting Hobsonville Point Secondary School.  The welcome and (again) the generosity of time, resources (and food and coffee) was amazing.

Maurie, Lea and Di each spent time with us sharing their journey, their ideas and their vision (Claire was in Wellington - but I'm sure would have been just as generous). The most value, though, came from Maurie standing at the whiteboard wall asking us "So what are you about? What do you want to be?"

It made us articulate how much we valued a dispositional curriculum and wanted to give it as much essence in our daily timetable and curriculum structure as an academic curriculum. We questioned our emerging leadership structure, and looked at how we each might fit into the vision and direction of our school, and where we might best incorporate the skills of our newly appointed Learning Leaders. Maurie spoke about their unique appointments process in their establishing year, and how to clearly advertise what we are about to ensure teachers applying for jobs knew what would be required of them in their roles.  We also got to see the school in action, the learners we always so engaged, could articulate their learning, and noise was never an issue.

The next stop was Papamoa College, which open in 2011, was designed by the same architect company as us, and also has Year 7 and 8s.  From Papamoa we learnt the importance of having a moral purpose and courage, to know what we are about and to take our whole staff on a journey to collectively get there.  This is something we think about often as a leadership team.  How do we start travelling the road and developing a vision, without going so far we are not bringing the people who will be joining our team with us?  We are going to have some amazing teachers in our team, some we have already met, and some who are still in the process of applying for jobs with us. They will bring their collective talents and ideas, and we want them to help us create the school, to have ownership of what we do and what we're about.  So it's 3 steps forward, 2 steps back... not in the negative sense, but us purposefully taking 2 steps back to wait for the rest of our team to arrive.

Then we started visiting our major contributing schools so have a sense of where our students would be coming from and the values they would be bringing with them, so that we can acknowledge, harness and build on that work already done, rather than try to impose over it. Puketaha, Te Totara, Rototuna Primary, Horsham Downs and Fairfield Intermediate were so welcoming and I can see us having long and mutually beneficial partnerships.

Last week we visited Hobsonville Point Primary School and Mission Heights Junior College.  Daniel and the team at HPPS shared with us, along with some excellent coffee and great professional readings, the importance of creating great teams, maintaining functional teams and growing a vision and culture as a collective.  Again we witness real purposeful learning, targeted teaching and student ownership of learning.  The MHJC visit was most exciting for us, as this would be the first Junior High School school we visited  - same year levels, and the have grown to have the same roll number the MOE predict we will be opening with - so what does 800 students look like in an ILE? MHJC have decided to go down a more traditional education timetable route, with students timetabled in to classes specific to Curriculum Learning Areas with specialist teachers i.e. Maths with a Maths teacher in a maths room, Science with a Science teacher in another.  There were shared learning spaces in the middle of each block that allowed students to migrate out and work independently, which we did see a lot of.

We have been blessed to be so welcomed in to these schools. We are in a unique position - on such a tight time frame and opening with unprecedented numbers, that we really can't build everything from scratch and re-invent the wheel with everything that we do.  So for the hints, tips, deep and meaningful conversations and lasting connections we truly are thankful for all of you.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A new journey

How do you start a school in the way that you mean to go on?  You'd have to argue that creating a learning culture that values a dispositional curriculum as much as an academic one is easier than changing a existing and embedded culture, but where to start?

Last week was the first 'official' one of my new job.  Over the past few weeks we have been working with the EBOT on the emerging vision of the school.  We refined their ideas using a hierarchy chart and post-it notes.  We valued the most, ideas such as, a sense of belonging, recognising the uniqueness of all learners, being connected, having motivation and confidence, being part of a community, resilience, creativity and curiosity.  From here we started developing our Vision: Connect, Inspire, Soar: Empower our people to be connected, collaborative, community-minded learners inspired to soar to their potential.  We have taken inspiration from the kāhu - a bird frequently seen in our area and that our hapu see as chief-like and leaders.  Te kāhu i runga whakaaorangi ana e rā, te pērā koia tōku rite, inawa ē! The hawk up above moves like the clouds in the sky, let me do the same!

As a leadership team we had also begun sharing readings that resonated with us strongly as a way of getting to know each other in a professional capacity while we were still living at opposite ends of the country.  The Nature of Learning - Using Research to Inspire Practice, Edited by Dumont, Istance and Benavides on behalf of OECD's Centre for Education Research and Innovation; Understanding John Hattie’s Visible Learning Research in the Context of Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset, by Gerry Miller; and Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching - a New Zealand perspective by Bolstad and Gilbert with McDowall, Bull, Boyd and Hipkins.  These readings have started shaping our initial guiding Values and Principles - which will act as a framework for further developing our vision, values and principles as we move towards creating an inspiring, connected and inclusive curriculum.  

Our emerging Values are:
Growth Mindset:  We will value a Growth Mindset, that through self-belief, self-awareness, a willingness to take risks, commitment and resilience, we can achieve personal excellence.
Innovation:  We will value innovation through being curious, inquisitive, and questioning.  Through collaboration, creative ideas and solutions can be found.
Respect:  We will value ourselves, others, and our environment.  We take care of each other and value diversity.  
Community-Minded:  We will value community-minded citizens who contribute to, and are valued members of, our school, whanau, community and beyond.

Our emerging principles are:
Learners at the Centre - having our young people actively involved in, and drivers of their learning, and raising their awareness of how they are as learners. New Kinds of Partnerships - recognising that our school forms only one component of a wider learning ecosystem, and the value of community partnerships and relationships in a range of settings.  Emotions are integral - our year 7-10 learners are emerging adolescents, a period of rapid change.  They are developing an awareness of self, and they have an increasing need for independence and responsibility.  The Social Nature of Learning - learning is socio-constructivist. It should be shaped by the context in which it is situated and is actively constructed through social negotiation. Learning should be organised in a way that fosters interactions between people.  New Views of Equity, Diversity and Inclusiveness - that when similarities and differences are celebrated, they become powerful contributors to the fabric of the school and the wider community.  An inclusive learning community fosters compassion, respect and the skill of relating positively with a variety of people. Knowledge to Develop Learning Capacity - we need to equip our young people to use knowledge, create knowledge, solve problems and find solutions. Culture of Continuous Learning - teachers need to be able to access the learning that they need, and leaders need to support a culture in which teachers are encouraged to grow and take risks as part of shared inquiry.

All of this groundwork is leading us on a pretty new and exciting journey.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Blurring the lines - my exciting term with Year 9 Science

You may have seen from a previous post that we have been working towards aligning our junior curriculum across the 'core subjects' to offer more opportunity for cross-curricular learning.  At the whole school level, we assigned themes to terms.  This gentle approach allowed for buy in, and buy out.

An English teacher and I, who teach the same class, decided to buy in.  It started with conversations over morning tea (it helps that we tend to gravitate towards each other in the staff room). Innocuous conversations around "What are you doing with 9xx at the moment?" On one fortuitous day, we could see a link, she was doing poetry, I was doing planets, and she suggested they do poems about planets. She had a cool example of a Magic Box poem lesson, and wanted students to be imaginative about what it might be like to be on the planet.  They got to work on their poems in both English and Science, and thought that was pretty cool, as they got to ask us both questions.  We even managed to pop in each other's classes.

We were on a roll, and I was next moving on to whether or not humans should see the colonisation of Mars as a solution to Earth's over-population issues.  That topic in itself excited me, as it is the first time we have contextualised our science teaching at such depth.  The science learning outcomes within this context were the usual Year 9 science culprits - what is a terrestrial planet, conditions on other planets, what we'd need survive there....  We were analysing the Mars One mission, which was timely given the release of articles reporting the selection of the final 100 candidates. This time, we even created a shared Google Doc for the lessons that flowed from the activities in Science, to those that would be continued in English, where students wrote a formal piece of writing in response to a text, which they had critically analysed in Science.  When asked how they found the cross-curricular experience, 72% of the class responded positively, saying that they found it helpful, natural and enjoyable.  The other 28% were indifferent, but not negative towards the experience.

I has been a long time since I've been this excited about learning, which is saying a lot, because I'm usually quite excited!

You can find an overview of our whole unit here.  Feel free to share and use.

Next term is looking just as, if not more, exciting.  I am in the process of re-writing our extended abstract learning outcomes to suit the film study (Remember the Titans) being done in English, and our social studies comrade is thinking about coming on board with cultural diversity.  As a Year 9 Science teaching group, we are also looking at whether we ourselves will be more diverse, and change the extended abstract learning outcomes to suit each class.  This would result in us not having 'common assessments' (but surely they're common if the bottom line we are assessing Material World at Level 5 etc etc - but that's a whole different blog post!)

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

I am humbled....

I am once again humbled by my students.  This year has seem some significant change in my classroom.  I have new furniture, we have become a compulsory BYOD, I am using SOLO taxonomy and Google classroom like a manic, and have changed assessment practices to be more intuitive with learning.

My students haven't skipped a beat.

They have taken everything new in their stride, getting on with it as they always have.

The furniture has been a wonderful addition to my room.  I had the "cowards castle" front teacher's bench removed, making the room more open and accessible.  There is no more barrier between myself and the students, and no laptop to be distracted by while my students are working independently.  Now I am forced to wonder around the room bugging and distracting them (as they would say) - it's been one of the best thing I've done in here.  I am lucky to have a large room, there are more seating spaces than students. This gives them the opportunity to move around the room during the lesson to suit the learning the are doing at the time.  Groups are fluid and students can choose to join or move into their own quiet space.

The move to compulsory BYOD has been (I think) seamless.  We have spent the last 3 years building up to this point with optional BYOD and good communication with our community.  We focused on the improvements to student outcomes that access to the world of information and increased ways to communicate understanding to others bring.  No to mention the opportunities to teach our students to be good digital citizens.

I am still going strong with SOLO, and my students are using the language and rubrics so naturally.  They like the control and sense of agency that choosing their pathway, start points and end points give them.  I have also made the move to student readiness practicals in Level 2 Biology.  All the equipment for all the practical activities and experiment they can do is in the room at all times, and students can complete them when they are ready.  I has allowed me to have such rich conversations with small groups completing pracs, on their observations, and the relevant scientific explanations.  It feels more powerful than a whole class doing the same prac, in a pre-designated session, followed by a 'whole class discussion' in which probably half of them were disengaged.

Later in the term, in Level 1 Biology we are completing a project that will cover 2 internal achievement standards.  This is the first time I have tried this approach - setting up a learning opportunity, in which the students product of work will be used as evidence for standards, rather than a separate stand alone assessment event. Wish me luck!

Feeling pumped about what has so far been a great start to the year.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Exciting times for Year 9 Science

Further from a previous post detailing a new framework for our Year 9 programme, a colleague and I have started mapping out how a new, more futures focused, Year 9 Science programme might look.  We are trying to find a balance between background disciplinary knowledge and allowing for the development student's capacity to create new knowledge and investigate the world's wicked problems and possible solutions.

Key Competencies for the Future (Hipkins, Bolstad, Boyd and McDowell; NZCER 2014) has been an immense help for me as I work my way through the tension that exists between traditional science education which focuses on the acquisition of knowledge and future-oriented science learning, where we should use the Nature of Science learning outcomes to develop science thinking and literacy in an effort to have informed citizens.  A part of the book that has resonated with me the most in this aspect is Chapter 3 p45-46 which describes assumptions about the mind, knowledge and learning that underpin the current education system (hopefully not for much longer).  This is an articulated description of the fixed vs growth mindsets in education programmes.

So, the programme, based on school-wide themes:

Term One - Globalisation
  • Astronomy - Earth as a globe or planet, day, month, year, seasons, the ethics of space travel and colonisation of Mars as solution to the overpopulation of Earth.  
  • Hydrology - Water and water cycle. Water rich/poor countries - will water become the next currency? States of matter - how and where water exists, can it be moved around the globe + how.
Term Two - Diversity
  • Diversity of Matter - elements, mixtures, separating mixtures - salt to fresh water (link to water issue in Term 1)
  • Diversity of Life - ecosystems, food webs, biodiversity - NZ's unique biodiversity and the need to protect it. Introduced pests and controversial pest controls e.g. biological control agents vs 1080
  • Diversity of Energy - what is energy, waves - light vs sound (A work in progress. Still need some big picture thinking ideas in here - help anyone?)
Term Three - Enterprise/Innovation
  • Human digestive system/nutrition, inquiry into food security - what innovations exist or are being developed to address food security - link to digestive system - what is quality/nutritious food? Finding lots of inspiration in Chapter 4 of Key Competencies for the Future
  • Thermodynamics (context of cooking food + why we cook food link to digestive system)
Term Four - Citizenship
  • Sustainability - this will be the cross-curricular unit we have done for the last 5 years. It is an independent inquiry unit titled "What can you do?" Students choose a sustainability issue and complete an inquiry with a bias towards action, and evaluate the consequences of that action. In science we support their exploration of the scientific aspects of their issues. Very Nature of Science focused.

Our next step was to start designing SOLO taxonomy rubrics of learning outcomes. In an ideal world, these would be co-constructed with students, but not all of our junior Science teachers are this far on board yet.

Here is the first section of Term 1

The beauty of this rubric is that reluctant teachers can work from unistructural up to extended abstract in a traditional teaching model, however it gives the rest of us the freedom to work from the top down, encouraging creative and innovative thinking in context - and students can access a guide to what foundational knowledge they might need. A non-threatening framework for those who feel challenged by the moves in education, but enabling for those of us that are ready to fly.
My hope is that in time, with support and seeing it in action, they will join us.

Credit to Mr Angus Jones for the co-development of this Science programme