Archive | October, 2014

Mentoring Students / GEMS

26 Oct

“As Māori [means] being able to have access to te ao Māori, the Māori world – access to language, culture, marae… tikanga… and resources… If after twelve or so years of formal education, a Māori youth were totally unprepared to interact within te ao Māori, then, no matter what else had been learned, education would have been incomplete.”

Professor Mason Durie, (2003). Ngā Kahui Pou: Launching Māori Futures. Huia Publication

As you may remember my NAPP inquiry was based around mentoring Maori students. Last week I read over these notes as a review and I got to thinking about the above quote. While was in Sydney I used to work with some challenging Year 9 and 10 Māori and Pasifika students. These kids fell through the cracks. No teacher, school wanted them. To be honest they were pretty hard work. I also coached the Year 9 and 10 rugby league team. We never won a game. I eventually found from that experience, I needed to make connection with their background. The biggest learning curve for me was to throw the curriculum out and connect with their families. I went beyond the classroom walls and visited their families, made connections and create a safe environment for their children. I walked the fields and I sat in their community halls. I went to their Churches and prayed with them. This has always been central to my teaching philosophy. For me, it was building that relationship. Parents and their kids will be honest with you, no matter, with all their stories.  It is here where you find it.

Learning as Inquiry

23 Oct

Just a quick thought on my departmental PLG this year. The best aspect about working collaboratively with the team was that by the time we presented we knew each other’s thoughts and ideas so well that it meant that if there was something that one of us overlooked then the other could simply jump in and elaborate. Instead of delivering a summary of what we had already done we could be flexible and it became an authentic PLN. Focusing on the Year 9 and 10 curriculum, we bounced ideas off each. After growing our presentation together, the challenge we set for others was to continue these conversations outside of PLG time.

Leaders stop being great when…

22 Oct

What causes senior leaders to stop being great and quit being inquisitive? I have written here about how I love to surround myself with those who are better than me. Be it experts on National Standards, Ministry Policy or curriculum design. Leaders stop asking questions, and stunt their growth, due to insecurity, low self-esteem, arrogance, contentment, and distractedness. Let’s take a moment to examine each reason. I remind myself often to avoid these. I am a great believer that sport has kept me on top of these over the year.


As leaders, we know others are looking to us for guidance, and thus we’re reluctant to reveal a lack of competence. After all, we want others to have confidence in our ability to lead. However, without inviting others to give you input, you not only won’t go as far in leadership, but the journey won’t be as fun since you’ll be traveling alone.

Low Self-Esteem

Many leaders, particularly those who are young, feel undeserving of the attention that a mentor could provide. They don’t feel wise enough, strong enough, mature enough, competent enough, confident enough, or qualified enough to take up the time of an experienced coach. Their sense of unworthiness holds them back from boldly seeking counsel from experts and veteran leaders in their field.

To succeed, leaders need to be humble before God and authentic with people. I go back to my educational vision and the prophet Micah. Practically, this means being willing to acknowledge our mistakes and to admit our weakness so that we can grow and change. If you insist on being right, you’re likely to go wrong and to cause your most talented people to search for a job someplace else where they’ll be heard.


The danger of becoming overly contented is difficult to avoid because we naturally grow accustomed to our surroundings. Dysfunction, when seen and experienced long enough, becomes normal. We have particular difficulty recognizing it as long as the organization is enjoying profitability. However, as John F. Kennedy advised, “the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”


If you’ve enjoyed success in leadership, then you possess a primary skill set, or sweet spot, which helped you gain influence. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted from using it. When your focus shifts away from considering to best leverage your strengths, then you begin asking the wrong questions and neglecting the most important ones.

Under Pressure

19 Oct

There can be no doubt that this is a high pressure time of year for students and staff alike. As a leader in school it is up to keep things calm. One of my favourite sayings is “Let’s just get them home safely”

I have reflected often in this blog about the way I keep things calm. Today I do so again as we are in the midst of it all. Following are 5 things smart leaders do that transform pressure from a liability to an asset:

  • Who am I : Leaders must know themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and where they will and won’t compromise. Good back to your philosophy or educational vision. You wrote it when things were clear and let it guide you.
  • Team: A leader’s job is to acquire and develop talent. Use the team that is around you. I think of Sir Alex Ferguson and those great leaders he developed at Manchester United. The better the talent, and the better you utilize talent, the less pressure you’ll feel
  • Keep It Simple: Complexity creates pressure. The best leaders look to simplify everything they can.
  • Focus: Focused leaders rarely feel external pressure. When I concentrate on the strategic plan and annual goals based on data it all becomes clear.
  • Did I train today: If the answer is no then that is probably why I am so tight. Leaders who don’t create time for quality thought and planning end-up taking unnecessary short cuts and risks. They let pressure force them into making bad decisions that a little whitespace could have prevented.

Physical Space

16 Oct

“Today’s schools must create spaces that students want to go to, similar to the way cafes attract people, rather than the space being purely functional.” Andrew Bunting

As I read my Saturday paper and drink my morning coffee I really liked this quote that got me thinking. This week as we undertake a building project I have been thinking a great deal about the learning environment.

I have walked around my school and I have watched my pay much attention to the creation, design and use of physical space. I think we should encourage all staff to rethink the way that space can be used in order to engage student learners. There were three main things that came to mind as I considered physical learning spaces:

  1. People like the atmosphere and vibe of a cafe – it’s an interesting, comfortable and enjoyable place to spend time. What can we borrow from this environment for the learning spaces of school?
  2. If collaboration is a skill that we want students to develop then does the layout of the learning space allow for this?
  3. Will students be more likely to develop a love of learning if they see the real world reflected in the learning contexts of their school?

Student Motivation

12 Oct

What makes us tick has always been something that has fascinated me. How to motivate students, staff and creating positive team culture is something which I am always revisiting. Tapola, A., & Niemivirta, M. (2008) says  that while (mental and/or emotional) learning environment affects students’ motivational  beliefs, their own motivational characteristics should be taken into account  while planning the instruction. Teaching intrinsically motivated students is very different from teaching students with strong extrinsic motivation.

This is not black and white.  We all employ both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation during our learning.  The balance is what matters. Well balanced motivation helps students to be successful in their studies.

Defining success is not easy, and sometimes we get scrambled in details and want to define students’ success as mastery of a single subject or unit, or course. In contemporary education converting meaning is more important than ever before, just to be sure that we are talking about the same concept/word/idea – and the word “success” certainly has several different connotations. We must be very careful, though, not to kill the intrinsic learning motivation by applying unnecessary power over students, and forcing them into performing according to expectations that don’t contribute to their learning (i.e. practices that benefit school more than students). Often the use of power is disguised as success – but do students really need to perform according to minor details, or should we emphasize understanding the concepts and entities, so that the learned skill is transferable and students are motivated to learn and not just pass?

To me student success means simply making myself unnecessary as a teacher by empowering my students become autonomous learners, who can work independently and who know where to find the information and guidance they need. This requires handing over the tools for learning to students, and trusting in their motivation and drive to get their learning done, but having open and honest interactions with students to be able to help when needed. This is a challenge for staff but it is not new.

Tapola, A., & Niemivirta, M. (2008). The role of achievement goal orientations in students’ perceptions of and preferences for classroom environment. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 78(2), 291-312

Iwi Partnerships

5 Oct

This term we celebrate our Maori and Pasifika students with their own special Year 13 graduation. It is something I am most proud of at our school. For all this success though I do wonder how many iwi has been asked whether they want to be partners in education? Or if we doing it right? I just presumed they want to, or should do, and therefore created a “partnership” thrust through school, by which teachers must adhere?   Ko te kai a te rangatira he kōrero?

The New Zealand Curriculum openly encourages schools to engage with families, whānau and communities. Parents are engaged at our place and we are consistently asking “Is there a better way?” We are encouraged to engage between te kura, te whānau, te hapū, te iwi me te hapori of the student. Where’s the bit that emphasises what iwi want? Are they happy by saying nothing? What do iwi stand to gain by working alongside schools? Is there a partnership? Koha mai, koha atu?

I must note an annual goal for next year again. Why do schools find it difficult to engage with iwi? Some institutes don’t know where to start looking. I know that I feel this way often. I have increased my understanding, interviewed and surveyed but still I feel we could enhance our engagement.

There’s presently a big focus on lifting achievement for priority learners in all sectors. And a strong suggestion that schools should “engage” with iwi and communities of Māori learners. After my NAPP study in 2013 I still am asking but how do we do this? What is the big secret? The answer I believe is that there is none. Like with any of our learners. All we can do is maintain relationships.

Something to reflect on with staff this week:


Flipped Classrooms

2 Oct

My peers (especially the Maths Department) have got me thinking about the concept of “flipped classrooms” now for a while and the great thing about holidays is that it frees up time to do just that – think and in this case write, share and hopefully promote further discussion. My class website has taken off in recent year to the point I am considering a podcast in 2015.

I found this summary of flipped classrooms for the uninitiated.

The flipped classroom describes a reversal of traditional teaching where students gain first exposure to new material outside of class, usually via reading or lecture videos, and then class time is used to do the harder work of assimilating that knowledge through strategies such as problem-solving, discussion or debates. (Vanderbilt University, Center for Teaching. University of Queensland.)

Thanks to a writer in my PLN I came across an article by Shelley Wright who was talking about flipping Blooms Taxonomy of learning, it’s worth sharing:

I begin with having my students write a paragraph, either in response to a prompt or their own free writing. Next, students, working in small groups or pairs, evaluate several master texts for the criteria we’re working on. How does the writer use punctuation or voice in a particular text? What similarities are there between texts? Students then compare their own writing with each text. What did they do correctly or well? How does their writing differ and to what effect?

As a class, or in their groups, we analyse the pieces for similarities and differences and group them accordingly. Only then do I introduce the concept of run-on sentences, comma splices, and fragments. Essentially, through this process, my students identify the criteria for good writing. From this, we’re able to co-construct criteria and rubrics for summative assessments.

Students then apply what they’ve learned by returning to their own writing. They change elements based on the ideas they’ve encountered.

Students further their understanding by either listening to a podcast, or engaging in their own research of grammar rules. Finally, as the knowledge piece, students create a graphic organizer/infographic or a screencast that identifies the language rules they’ve learned.

I think the best flipped classrooms work because they spend most of their time creating, evaluating and analysing. In a sense we’re creating the churn, the friction for the brain, rather than solely focusing on acquiring rote knowledge. The flipped classroom approach is not about watching videos. It’s about students being actively involved in their own learning and creating content in the structure that is most meaningful for them.

It got me thinking. The flipped classroom provides opportunities for all students. Fundamentally the student should be doing the work of learning which a dynamic process is and the activity and or use of technology will influence this process. Again the technology is but a tool.

Video Clip:

Teachers need to be educators—guides, mentors, encouragers, and providers of deeper learning and understanding, while allowing students to access basic knowledge in a variety of other ways.

Eddie Obeng makes some powerful observations in his excellent TED Talk, “Smart failure for a fast-changing world”:




Fitted Storytelling from Edward Roads

Danielle Anne Lynch

Music, Theology, Religion, Education

Learn To Love Food

Food Fun For Feeding Therapy and Picky Eaters


This site is the cat’s pajamas


Meaningful learning and effective teaching with a Finnish twist

where the mountain meets the surf, anything is possible

karen spencer

Let's talk about learning and leading

Education in the Age of Globalization

where the mountain meets the surf, anything is possible

Teaching & E-Learning

Learning in Today's World

A View from the Middle

where the mountain meets the surf, anything is possible

Powerful Learning: It's a Digital Thing

where the mountain meets the surf, anything is possible

Search Msdn

where the mountain meets the surf, anything is possible

where the mountain meets the surf, anything is possible


where the mountain meets the surf, anything is possible

Mike's Blog

where the mountain meets the surf, anything is possible


Technology lessons from the classroom...

Welcome to the Frontpage

where the mountain meets the surf, anything is possible

Mark's Learning Log

Director of Learning Inquiries Pty Ltd an experienced educator

Mal Lee

where the mountain meets the surf, anything is possible

where the mountain meets the surf, anything is possible