Why?

11 Nov

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At this time of year as a teacher, in any occupation, you may ask yourself why you do what you do. Why do you work where you work? Why do you make sure tamariki are treated well, encouraged, noticed, and cared for? In my akomanga or kura am I a preserving human dignity of all?

We all play a role in creating, bolstering, reinforcing, and strengthening the school environment. Every interaction with a child matters and influences how that child feels, acts, and responds. With every interaction we help create and form the climate and culture of the school. We all help determine whether or not it’s a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment for learning.

Whether we are principals, physics teachers, netball coaches, or caretakers, very few of us can be fully defined by our official titles. What we do every day and why we do it expands outside our job descriptions because we care about kids and we see ourselves as part of the bigger picture.

Education is a vast profession and we all play a part in its success, whatever our official roles may be. So, the next time someone asks you what you do, don’t just answer with your title. Think about what you dowho you serve, and how you support them.

Are you a teacher or mentor? Are you the one responsible adult for a child, a connection to the broader society, an adviser, or a caregiver? 

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Supporting Middle Leaders

5 Nov

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To talk about teaching without considering what is being learned, is just strange. Curriculum leaders provide a system that supports teaching and learning. In the absence of a system, students will enter class each day, participate in lessons, and at the end of the year, each student will be promoted to the next grade level. Instructional leaders must strive to identify the focus for each grade level or course and then work collaboratively to ensure that each student is challenged and provided with scaffolding as needed. Hattie suggests that principals are engaged in instructional leadership when they “have their major focus on creating a learning climate free of disruption, a system of clear teaching objectives, and high teacher expectations for teachers and students” (2012, p. 83).

The word ‘curriculum’ derives from the Latin ‘currere’ meaning a race or a course on which a race is run.  The Latin verb ‘currere’ means to ‘run’ or ‘proceed’.

I like this idea of running for many reasons. First, it underlines the importance of the journey: to take a short-cut would be to miss the point. The specified ground must be conquered or the race can be neither run nor won. All the running matters. If we tell the runners to practise only the final sprint, we not only miss the point of the whole race. In schools we seem to miss this point. We are always rushing to the assessment. Second, it reminds us that curriculum is not a mere aggregate of things. Its character is a key. Curriculum is content structured over time. Third, it points to the curriculum as continuous. Not just a sequence it’s much more like a narrative.  Curriculum is content structured over time with all the parts talking to each other.

So often our curriculum is not coherent and lacks a smoothness. How does this absence of curricular focus happen? And what can we do about it?

It happens because at the level of a whole school, the pull of the generic is strong and understandably so. Schools must be led and managed as coherent enterprises. Parity must be found across a school’s spheres. To ascend the ladders of school leadership, subject specialism must, to some degree, be transcended.  Whole-school leaders contribute in vital ways that transcend subject. They must communicate strategy, distribute resource, facilitate collaboration, align systems, review pupils’ progress across differing spheres, build policies for behaviour… In short, they must create the best environment possible for all teachers to make things happen.

Therefore, built into the culture of staff development is a sense of subject specialism as transient.  Each subject area empire building. Built into the structure of a school is an imperative for common proxies – from assessment to resourcing – removed from the actual substance what is being taught and learned.

How easy, then, to slide into the assumption of equivalence, especially with generic terms such as ‘learning’, ‘progress’ or ‘skills’. Senior Leadership Teams need to provide leadership talking about teaching and attainment, a language which, because of its curricular character.  Such a language cannot be empty of substance. It must be rooted in a shared knowledge base, one that makes curricular communication possible.

I have learnt this year to support and grow our middle leaders. When curriculum leadership becomes the priority for our kura student understanding will grow. A kura without clearly defined pathways for these people is like a ship without a rudder; it lacks direction and a slight wind could easily blow it off course (Wiles, 2009).

Leading Change at Manawa Tapu

5 Nov

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Pope Francis said recently we are not in an era of change, but in a change of era.

Have we done the following in leading change?

Start by building a collaborative culture.  Collaborative and shared leadership that is transparent to all staff, students and the community provides a powerful conduit for change.

Strategic planning is a team sport.  Leading change requires a collaborative effort.  We (leaders, teachers, students and community) need to be a committed to a common purpose.

Manawa Tapu is a complex environment so it is important to fully engage all the stakeholders especially teachers and students, but also parents, whanau, community and business interests.  It is important to hear a range of perspectives around change.

A cohesive plan.  Strategic planning is the systematic process of envisioning a desired future, translating this vision into broadly defined goals and determining a sequence of steps to achieve these.  Without a plan there will be confusion and false starts – attachment

There is no easy answer and no short cuts. Others cannot do this planning for us.  We have to walk the path to own the resulting plan. This needs to be a structured and thorough process, allocated the time and resources to ensure it will be successful.

That said, we do not have to do this on our own.  Have we tapped into the knowledge and experiences of our group? It is always useful to bounce ideas off others. Connect and converse to tap into the “wisdom of the crowd”.

It is important to incorporate expert mentoring and support.  Have you engaged with your “critical friend” – someone to look over your shoulder, to challenge your assumptions and to provide both expert knowledge and different perspectives to enrich conversations and decisions.

Only add something more useful – and always try to take something away! Teachers are already overloaded so we need to plan to add value by introducing interventions that not only improve their effectiveness in the classroom but add efficiencies and reduce workload.

Have we monitored our progress and evaluate the impact of our interventions and broader plan! We need to know how these strategies are bedding in and if these will improve student learning.

Have we ticked all of these?

Our Curriculum Leaders

3 Nov

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Curriculum is fundamental to schools. It is complex. Necessarily directional and dependent on recognizable channels, it must be vibrant and changing for such is the character of knowledge and our relationship to it. For too long though it has remained unchanged.

The term ‘curriculum leadership’ is associated with middle leaders – the ‘geography coordinator’, the ‘head of science’. It is, quite rightly, linked to subjects.  Our task this year has been to change the conversation though coaching and tasks. These middle leaders are now recognised as “Leaders of Learning.”

Where SLT have tried to reach into pedagogy with generic strategies that fail to attend to subject distinctiveness, all manner of distortions has occurred. In tackling the ‘how’ (teaching and learning) and in attempting to judge its efficacy (progress, assessment, data, outcomes), if we ignore ‘what?

What can curriculum leadership mean? And why on earth does this matter so much? Haven’t we gotten along perfectly well without such senior staff changing things?

Leaders of Learning see small data more clearly. Things SLT might not see in their role. Pasi Sahlberg of Finland spoke at ULEARN 18 about small versus bigdata. “If you don’t lead with small data, you’ll be led by big data. Small data is processed by humans, and reveals causation, collective wisdom and understanding the present. As opposed to big data which looks at big trends, processed by computers, reveals correlations and predicts the future. Big data spews out impersonal trends, where small data gives a more personal view. You can strengthen small data by using professional wisdom as evidence.”

The absence of an adequate model of curriculum leadership seems to me to deepen fundamental and longstanding problems in schools with which we have all wrestled, from weak assessment systems to problems with generation and interpretation of data, from problematical judgements about teaching and learning, to attraction and retention of fine teachers, from teacher development to blaming everything on “management.”

My concern is not just about what a person in SLT called ‘curriculum deputy’ needs to know, but what everyone in a senior leadership team needs to know about curriculum to lead on everything else. Curriculum leadership is everybody’s mahi.

Learning from Coaching

22 Oct

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Football coaching for the season finished in September. With my team there were lots and of ups and downs. There were days when we didn’t play so well, while there were days when everything was clicking perfectly. As a coach it was my job to find the areas that needed improvement. Putting players in the best place for them to be successful was crucial, and in the end these decisions decided whether we won or lost. It is a real challenge taking a group of 10 year olds but I do love it.

When we win, it’s real easy to celebrate, but when we lose, it can become a challenge. Players feel defeated. There were lots of days like this in 2018. In short it is difficult to find a victory in a loss, but if the team is going to make any progress, the coach must always find victories in every loss. The best way to do that is to capitalize on the strengths of every player on the team.

So translate that into the school setting. When the scores don’t come back as you expected, how did you react as the leader or the coach? Do you see only loss, or do you see victory? We must rise above the failure of policy and move toward discovering the victory in our tamariki.

Here’s three ways to find victory when you lose

1. Growth in Student Performance.
Looking at individual students or groups of students and how much they have grown is very helpful to find victory.

2. Growth in Skill Performance
Results by skill must be analyzed to determine how much growth occurred from last year.

3. Growth in Individual Teacher Performance
Teacher performance can be analyzed to find the growth that their students experienced from the previous year as well as the skills that grew in achievement. Finding these victories are critical for leaders as this is where coaches can find experts to help other teachers who didn’t experience growth areas.

Vision and Relationships

21 Oct

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Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi

Without foresight or vision the people will be lost

This week it was important to “join the dots” and bring staff back to the vision. While these are exciting time it is important not to lose the vision.

As we embark on our collaborative experiment with curriculum our focus in our team this week was lesson one and two as we get to know our students. Here are some observations.

Get to know students from day one. Educators must understand how students prefer to learn. Interest surveys work very well in providing this information. Educators need to find multiple ways to measure knowledge because education is not one size fits all. We will only learn how to reach our students by getting to know them on a personal level.

Set high expectations for all students. I let my students know that they can do ANYTHING if they set their minds to it. At the same time, I let them know that their education is an “us” priority as opposed to a “them”, meaning we have to take ownership for our students or lack thereof. We must bring their parents in early and ensure that we communicate with them along the way.

Celebrate success. Teachers must begin to embrace the idea that any growth is growth that should be celebrated. We need to unplug from the idea that students are numbers when clearly every child is unique and different. A gift from God. We must celebrate those differences and adapt our pedagogy to respond to their diversity. Growth is growth, and it is our job to celebrate our students’ accomplishments.

Listen. We have to take students’ feelings into consideration when we make decisions that impact them. By listening to them, we show them that we respect and value their opinion. Even when we plan lessons, we should give them a voice and a choice as to what their learning should look like. When we respect our students, our students will respect us, and they will open their minds for us.

Relationships matter because good teacher-student relationships breed success. By getting to know students, setting high expectations. Vision matters because without going back to the why we can get a little lost.

Communicating to tamariki

17 Oct

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The best way to find out what type of communicator you are is to record yourself on audio or video. I prefer video because you can see the response of your students to your communication. Yes I know that we all hate to listen to ourselves speak, but this topic is too big not to investigate. If you have a kid that is struggling in your class, don’t you want to know if the student is even listening to you?  That might be the first step in intervening for the student. If you have students that are being loud and disruptive, don’t you want to know if your loud communication style is setting a poor example for how students should speak in your class or if your quiet tone is being ignored each time your correct?  If students are zones out in your class, don’t you want to know if some of your students perceive you as that teacher from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”?

If you want to improve your instruction, one of the first steps to start with is evaluating your own communication style toward students. Delivery of content is completely dependent on the manner in which you verbally communicate to your students.  How you speak sets the foundation for learning, and it is critical to know if you have a solid foundation for learning.  By evaluating the tone, cadence, and passion within your communication, you can ensure that every student, especially Charlie Brown, learns in your classroom.

Learning Environments

10 Oct

 

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Ma whero ma pango ka oti ai te mahi

With red and black the work will be complete

Being innovative with curriculum is more than just moving desks. Or is it?

Like many other schools we are looking at learning spaces and how to use them. At the same time, we are doing some work on integrated or collaborative learning projects. It has got me thinking about What if teachers from different learning areas worked in the same office space?

Schools houses staff from the same learning areas in faculty or department offices. Within these areas each has head who has their own office. There is no doubt these spaces are a buzz of activity in which much is accomplished within a specific learning area. These are how schools have always been. These remind me of cells in religious houses of centuries past. Crude but effective

In our innovative curriculum experiment I have observed by teachers working in cross curricula teams something special has occurred. I wonder if they worked in an open plan together all the time something similar would occur. Teachers in a community represent a cross-section of learning areas from across the curriculum. When you put a group of people into an enclosed space they are going to interact. Reality television flourishes on this fact.

I have observed this term that when you place several staff from different learning areas in the same space, conversation and collegiality is created. Conversations quickly turn from uniform, bell times and the length of time the principal speaks at assembly to pedagogical views, our own learning and use of inquiry. OK there were still some conversations around lateness to class by students but there has been a shift.

I have observed this also:

  • more meaningful meetings however some meaningful meetings have gone by the wayside
  • we are no longer working in silos
  • that students benefit because teachers are exposed to different views and perspectives
  • the sharing and conversations about teaching and learning
  • the conversations around the challenging of the traditional way
  • everybody is exploring different approaches to teaching and learning rather than just the early adaptors. As a results colleagues really sharing best practice

If we are wanting our tamariki to be confident, connected and life-long learners we need to model it ourselves. How better than in this environment?

He waka eke noa

9 Oct

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He waka eke noa

A canoe which we are all in with no exception

The term 3 holidays have looked a little different for me in 2019. I have just has surgery reattaching my hamstring to the top of my leg. This was an enforced rest for one week. Even now over a week later I am not that mobile, nor can I work to the degree I am used to. I have found the whole process awesome. It has given me time to think. Reflect. Revise. Evaluate. One thing I have been thinking about is workload and burnout of staff. By looking after yourself you are indeed looking after everyone.

Here are some things I am things that have come to mind:

Building positive relationships with your colleagues

We have all heard it before, relationships are the most important thing when it comes to teaching but this also is true when it comes to your relationships with colleagues.  If you surround yourself with negative people that continuously vent and never celebrate the positive, you will find yourself starting to think the same way.  We have to train our brains to see the positive.

Be willing to be flexible

This is a tough one.

 Finding mentors

Having a mentor can help as they can provide you with a heads up and support as you work through understanding building norms, expectations, and traditions of the school. I am so lucky to have many.

Creating balance

Finding balance in your life between personal and professional is extremely hard but it is vital for your well-being.   How are you managing your daily stress and workload?  How are you taking care of yourself emotionally and physically?

One thing at a time

We all have things we want to improve on but it is near impossible to do it all at once. Need help?  Check in with a teaching partner or mentor for guidance as we are all stronger as a team.

Take advantage of the breaks

Some of the best advice I received a few years back was to make sure to take full advantage of the time we had off from school.  I have often not been a good role model for staff here. I will continue to make this change.

Are you looking after yourself in order to be the best you can be?

Having a great coach

8 Oct

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We’ve all had the good ones, the bad ones and the great ones. The good ones that helped us get the job done, the bad ones that made us swear we’d never work with them again and the great ones that emboldened us to believe that we were that much stronger than we thought we were.

  • Be in the game, with you, for the long haul and not the short term wins.
  • Push you when you need it.
  • Their goal is to see you achieve your goals, but not benefit from them.
  • Ask the tough questions that you don’t have the answers to, causing you to pause and think through your next steps.
  • Demand your best and demand you to keep improving on it every day, never letting you rest on your laurels longer then needed.
  • Not be afraid of the emotional upheaval and change that will come from working with you, not because they enjoy it, but because they recognize it is necessary for you to grow.

This talk proves my point. Actually loved this.

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