Curriculum Inquiry: Lets Do It

17 Jul


For the past three years our community has been looking at curriculum change. Adopting a new curriculum takes commitment and patience from everyone. It can be stressful. I have learnt a great deal about change so this week I thought I might share some of the things I have learnt with you. Transitioning to new curriculum can cause stress and (sometimes) friction for everyone. Teachers who’ve been in the profession for a while know when changes are authentic and best for students.

Here are six things that I have learnt to ensure that major curriculum shifts go smoothly for teachers, students, and themselves. Note I often come back to these.

  1. Be open and transparent about change.

This has been frustrating for some as many think there is some hidden agenda. Staff and students need to know why major changes are occurring. We are all part of change. Whether it’s adding something major, like project-based learning, or something more minor. While people may not be receptive to the shifts at first, being clear about why they are happening is a great place to start.

  1. Embrace mistakes as room for growth.

Real and meaningful change takes time and almost always comes with challenges. Build in space for setbacks. Anticipate obstacles and meet them with a cool head. Various models have helped but when they do not it is ok to say we did not get that right. I found this useful.

  1. Celebrate every success in making changes.

Start staff meetings with success stories. Ask teachers to share them. Send out emails about encouraging breakthroughs and stories of staff and students making strides. Change can be hard work, and everyone needs to be aware of where that hard work is paying off.

  1. Provide professional development for new curriculum.

Give people time to implement this.  This is effective at giving an overview and maybe even drumming up excitement about the new curriculum, but this is often all the training teachers receive. This leads to the new and exciting practices being quickly abandoned or ineffective implementation. What the staff really needs is ongoing professional development, resources, and training to make sure that new ideas and practices are not just introduced but used regularly.

  1. Trust your staff’s professional opinion and listen to them about the changes.

Innovative programs and curricula can be wonderful assets to a school committed to meeting the needs of their students.

  1. Don’t change what isn’t broken, if you can help it.

This was a key learning for me. Sometimes in our rush to adapt and evolve, we lose sight of what already works. Use data, stories, and wisdom to discern when something needs to be replaced and when it should be kept. For instance, literacy can be taught in new and innovative ways that have merit and are worth exploring. But sometimes the most effective way of teaching this skill is to drill-and-kill or have students practice over and over. This practice should not be abandoned because you are trying something else as well. If a method is working and resulting in success, change is not needed.

Enjoy your journey in this watershed time of change. Please note exhibit 3 below. It was a useful tool.



Leadership Reflection Term 2

16 Jul


Leadership is hard but it’s also important. Vitally important. And it begins with how leaders treat people. Ineffective leaders are those who have all of the attributes from the above list. Have you worked for one? What would you do differently?

Understand however, that we can have situations where we may show one of those attributes in the ineffective list. For example, maybe we spend too much time being reactive. Is it possible to survey, interview and create focus groups of stakeholders to help us understand our current reality to help change from ineffective to effective? Can we work with a leadership coach to help us create a goal and achieve it?

Leadership isn’t about getting what we want and feeding our egos. Leadership is about raising the self-efficacy of others and collectively working to improve our school community together. That happens in creative communities more than it happens in compliant communities.

In Jim Knight’s work he talks a lot about status. Leaders have it because of their position. However, great leaders have status, but they lower theirs and raise the status of those around them, which is often referred to self-efficacy. Unfortunately, there are leaders who let their ego rule and that’s what they lead with every time.

Leadership Reading

11 Jul


The Balcony View is not a new concept in leadership. It is well documented that the balcony allows leaders to observe and take a strategic overview of what is going on.

I have been reading the work of Heifetz and Linksy in their book Leadership on the Line encourage leaders to get on the balcony and adopt adaptive leadership.

The analogy of being on a dance floor, being part of the action makes it difficult for leaders to see who isn’t technically dancing or who is moving in the wrong direction. By getting on the balcony leaders afford them-self with time to reflect on the bigger picture.

Leadership in schools is always active, it is busy and it is tiring. At times we don’t afford ourselves time to be fully reflective. I think that my office is a bit of a laundry room. I am the washing machine. Staff call in to often offload their problems and concerns. I work with them listen to the problem – add a bit of comfort but never fix them. That is so important.

By sitting on the balcony, we have oversight of the situation, we can mobilize the right people in the right way to effect school improvement.

Sometimes I’m too busy dancing and juggling during action to the appreciate it. I probably don’t withdraw enough.

Perhaps our team needs to take a proper time out.


Being a Courageous School Leader

9 Jul


As Brené Brown says, “You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability.” This means having the courage to show up fully when you can’t control the outcome. It’s about being vulnerable in your relationships inside and outside the workplace.

Vulnerability feels like being excited and afraid all at the same time. You feel you must do or say something, yet the inner voice you have tells you it might not be safe to do so. It takes vulnerability to delay action and step into a coaching conversation to help a team member find their own answers.

As a school leader I constantly need to work on stepping into tough conversations and providing honest and productive feedback, which requires this mindset. When it comes to providing feedback, I reflect on the following:

  • When you focus on clarity, you increase trust and decrease negative attitudes. Being clear creates more connection and empathy. Clarity also creates a boundary that allows the other person to decide what to do with the feedback.
  • Understand who you are and what makes you tick. When you’re triggered, do you try to control the situation, protect yourself or start people pleasing?

Being prepared and getting clear on what you believe and check that your intentions, words, thoughts and behaviors align with your beliefs. I name your values by writing them down and then identify core behaviors that represent how you might live those values. If they do not meet, then I am off course?

I observe courageous leaders who live their values instead of just talking about them are never silent about hard things. As a leader, I must be aware of what is going on around me. You must realize when to act and know that sometimes you need to act in difficult situations. It takes courage to recognize these opportunities for leadership and to set an example for your team. Making decisions that honor your values will be tough because doing the right thing is rarely easy.

Being a trusting and trustworthy leader means being someone people can count on to do what you say you will do, including acting within your competencies and limitations. Own your mistakes and make amends. Accountability means that when there is an error, you’re willing to ask yourself, “What part did I play in this?”

Enjoy Term 3.


NCEA Review Package

4 Jul


NCEA Review Package

It’s worth reviewing the key goals of the NCEA Review.  They were to seek improvements in:

  • Wellbeing of students and teachers
  • Inclusion and equity
  • Curriculum coherence
  • Pathways through and beyond school
  • Credibility of the qualification.

The changes announced by the Minister don’t go as far as some wanted, e.g. abolishing Level 1 NCEA as recommended by PPTA however, the package of NCEA changes announced on Monday 13 May are going to make a good contribution to improving equity for students nationwide. The elimination of fees that will do this.  This will ensure that students get proper recognition for what they have achieved and are not deprived of that recognition by their families’ inability to pay fees.

The shift to fewer and larger standards and a return to about half the standards being externally assessed will mean that all students will access the key knowledge and skills of the subjects they take. Currently, the excess of standards available in many subjects, most of these internally assessed, means that teachers can design courses to maximise credits earned rather than to ensure that all their students access the important knowledge of the subject. This tends to impact most negatively on students in lower decile schools and Maori and Pasifika students. With less choice of standards, and standards that cover a broader scope, all students should access the core elements of the curriculum in future.

There are important improvements for Māori-medium education. New suites of standards for both English and Māori Medium will be created as part of the same process. This constitutes a big improvement on previous processes where Māori Medium have followed along behind the work on English Medium instead of being equal partners.

This change tackles workload issues. There will also be significant reductions in both teacher and student assessment workload, once the new standards have bedded in. The excessive workload attached to the current form of NCEA has been well-documented (e.g. see herehere, and here). Half the credits will be externally assessed, but in most cases only one of the two external standards will be assessed in an exam.  The other external standard will be a different type of assessment, e.g. an investigation, a portfolio, a performance, etc.

It was announced that re-submissions will only be allowed if they would get a student from Not Achieved to Achieved.  Re-submissions are not the same as we currently call Further Opportunities, which is where there is another assessment event or task that assesses the same standard, giving a student another shot at showing what they can do.  These Further Opportunities will still be allowed for all grades, but, given the size of the new internal standards, it is likely that achievement of these will come from a series of learning opportunities from which the teacher will be able to judge the student’s best level of achievement, rather than a specific assessment event that is a further opportunity.  So, for example, in Science there might be a standard that is about scientific investigation, and students would do a few investigations across the year in different contexts.  The grade would come from an overall judgement of what they had achieved in that area across the year.

Developing a Skill Set: Listening

24 Jun


What is Appreciative Listening?

It is listening with the sole purpose of identifying qualities, strengths and values of the speaker that you respect. Your commitment to do this only needs to be 3 to 5 minutes of focused time. The payoff is high in terms of increased understanding, improved rapport and in building a more positive work relationship.

Appreciative listening is something I am working on this year. It plays an important part in the role of coach. Everyone who experiences being listened to and people feel that it feels good to feel so deeply heard, seen and respected.

Why don’t we do more of it?

There are a lot of reasons. For most school leaders, talking is what characterizes their days. Answering questions. Setting direction. Speaking with people about what needs to be done.   It’s not unusual for a leader to want to find the “speed up” button when people are speaking or to be multi-tasking.   Consequently, it’s not uncommon for schoool leaders to feel impatient with speakers and to view listening only as too passive a form of influence in their busy schedule.

Appreciative Listening Opens Doors to Changed Relationships

  1. It increases the common ground in all your work relationships– even the ones which feel least susceptible to any positive change.
  2. It changes YOU, the listener. Training yourself to focus on the strengths, the values, the capabilities, the qualities of the person in front of you.

I am noticing:

  • “what works” about a person and “working with” rather than “fixing” staff.
  • when someone is talking about a difficult situation or a problem they’re experiencing.
  • the speaker is someone you typically find it difficult to listen to, or that you don’t hold in high regard.
  • the situation is one where there is little action that can be taken at this time.
  • someone is complaining or is seen to be a chronic complainer. Sometime that staff member may need to just vent,
  • a work relationship or partnership is being built on a great foundation. Deeper discussion are occurring that is built on relational trust.


Managing Change

20 Jun


I have been dealing with a great deal of change management in the last couple of weeks. This has tested my skill set. I know at one meeting it also tested my patience. This book really helped me through. Here are some of my musings then:

Reflect and evaluate.  By thinking through the meaning and implication of the feedback, you can learn from it and consider what parts to work on, what parts to disregard, and what parts require deeper understanding. To do this, it helps to think about your development areas, the value you place on this individual’s perspective, and possibly, what you have heard from others as well. This is also the time to come back to what you may disagree with. Given that your objective was to learn others’ perspectives on you, ask yourself if it’s worth the potential damage to go back and “correct” the information. Typically, it’s not.

Plan and act. All the steps before this set you up to plan and put it into practice. Pick one or two capabilities you want to improve, get really clear about what “improved” looks like, and then consider the steps necessary for you to learn and adopt that new behaviour. Planning and acting are not only important for your learning and development, they’re also a signal to those who shared the feedback — you are serious about improving and you value their perspectives.

Sustain progress and share updates. You need to repeat new behaviours for them to become new habits. If you go back to your feedback providers and tell them what you are doing differently, you’ll give them a catalyst to change their perspectives, validation that you heard and appreciated what they had to say, and the opportunity to see you as a person who is committed to your professional development.

Great leaders are great learners. Their never-ending pursuit of information pushes them to constantly improve and sets them apart from the rest. Getting and learning from feedback isn’t always easy, but it is necessary, if we want to become better. It’s rare that our colleagues will offer us the kind of feedback we need to develop, and rare that we respond in a way that rewards their efforts and helps us improve. It’s worth building the skills to do this well if we want to reach our full potential.

Grit Again

13 Jun


GRIT and resilience are a key focus now with students and something which is used in conversation a great deal. I have been re reading  Angela Duckworth  on how to develop GRIT with students in mind.  I have discovered this is also an important trait which we need to nurture within us, as teachers.

To deliver effective teaching and learning, teachers need to develop resilience and patience. Some or any of these doubts or worries about your teaching will not only affect us but also negatively impact on the outcomes of our students. The ability to develop resilience, over the course of a year and during a career, is an important ability.

Resilience is developed through the interactions between people within schools. At different times of the year, and at different times of our careers, teachers will need to be more resilient than during previous times. I have even found a study by Patterson, Collins and Abbott (2004) which has shown that resilient teachers have the following characteristics:

  • Have personal views that guide their decision making.
  • Place a high value on professional development.
  • Mentor others.
  • Take charge and solve problems.
  • Stay focussed on students and their learning.
  • Do what it takes to help students be successful.
  • Know when to get involved and when to let go.
  • Are not wedded to one best way of teaching and are interested in exploring new ideas.

I wonder if it is possible to share best practice of resilience or mentor other teachers to be more resilient?

Mentoring others is an important aspect as this allows resilient teachers to support and guide their peers, without being judgmental. In addition, the ability of resilient teachers to stay focused on their tamariki and their learning allows those teachers to strive for the very best outcomes for their students.

Devices and Other Tools

11 Jun


Much emphasis has been put on STEM education of late, otherwise known as a combination of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The biggest obstacle to these subjects is the fact that not all adults understand them, and even fewer can describe how to use electronic devices to effectively teach them. Computational thinking is a great example of this. Teachers have placed a decent amount of value on teaching children how to “code.”

I have been thinking how can students use screens productively if they provide no educational value?

Electronic books were invented decades ago but were recently perfected within the last 10-15 years. How many educational institutions are taking advantage of this technology? If students were looking at a screen with quality reading material on it, would that be preferable to random videos and distractions? How might carrying hundreds of books around all day change the life of the average student?

Screens are becoming an increasingly important aspect of education. Given how much smartphones and tablets are being used throughout the world daily, it’s only fitting that they become integral parts of the classroom. It is then up to us and parents to ensure that what is being displayed on those screens is beneficial for the growth and development of our tamariki using them.

Digital Curriculum:An Annual Goal

5 Jun


I am involved in launch of the Digital Curriculum in our environment. It is an interesting process that I have blogged about here before. I would be really interested to find out about your journey?


Parents and teachers alike are sometimes worried that kids and students are spending far too much time looking at screens, and far too little time learning and reading. Parents do find it hard to make a connection around the change. Naturally, the value of a screen depends on what is being displayed, but parents and teachers have a point. Our tamariki almost always expect to see smartphones and devices as sources of entertainment and will interpret screens used as educational tools as no more than entertainment with poorer quality.


The solution to this problem requires some creative thinking working with adults willing to give tamariki some room to experiment. Everyone is headed for the same destination. We just have different ways of getting there.


Our students are naturally creative. This is one of the reasons why they are drawn to screens in the first place. Games, animation, and the freedom of choice are the three things screens give them. What adults should do to channel those interests productively is show kids how to be creative without a screen.

What if students could learn to make games and animation themselves? What if they could discover new things without looking them up first? Such experiences could inspire them to try newer, potentially greater things.


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