Archive | June, 2016

Student Voice

30 Jun


For many years I have developed and warmed to the idea of student voice. I must admit I have not always been sold on it. My sister went to a job interview where students not only sat on the appointments committee but asked real questions. At the same school students go to every faculty meeting.This is very innovative.

We all evaluate our teaching and have student voice. Last year a student wrote this to me in her evaluation: Hey Mr Murray I like your class and you entertain us and we learn stuff but you know when you give us those surveys about your teaching I notice nothing in your teaching really changes #justsaying.”

This was definitely a reality check.  As a school we are now regularly seeking avenues for student voice and increasing teachers’ capacity to learn from students. The aim is to grow students’ responsibility for their learning and for teachers to gain new insights that help refine teaching programmes, pedagogy, and assessments, and inform future learning. This is part of our goal to be collaborative and innovative.

How do you use student voice? And once you have the data do you use it?

PLG: Gifted and Talented

30 Jun


For the past two weeks in our PLG time I examined Gifted and Talented students in class or more specifically the concept of Acceleration. This article by Tolan got me thinking a great deal. I have many friends and many relatives that are gifted and so this is an interest of mine.

Gifted children themselves are highly diverse.  I can tell you, knowing what one gifted child looks and behaves like is not going to give you insight into recognizing all gifted children. Personality and level of giftedness plays into how an individual child expresses his or her giftedness in public and in private.

So, how can we recognize a gifted child who isn’t performing highly and how can we avoid labeling all high achieving children “gifted and talented?” The ability to create new knowledge and ways to put things together rather than just skilfully master the prescribed curriculum is a sign that should not be overlooked.

Gifted students are artists: capable of synthesizing seemingly unrelated information and creating new ways to approach the material. This flair for the novel approach may not show all of the time especially in an underachieving gifted child, but it is there if we know what we are looking for.

Using Stephanie Tolan’s cheetah analogy, if we are aware that we are looking for non-retractable claws and unusually long legs not just top speed, it becomes easier to correctly identify the cheetahs as the gifted children as opposed to inaccurately calling the fastest lions gifted when they are simply fast lions not cheetahs



26 Jun


I am currently doing a great deal of mentoring in my role as Leader of the Curriculum group.The word ‘mentor’ comes from a Hungarian word, ‘bus’, which means helping people move. Mentoring is a way of leading and learning, and a mentor is someone who takes the time to have focused conversations with others to help them maximise their capabilities. Mentoring is about creating the conditions for learning and growing. It is the process of Ako.

Teachers are used to being the authorities and possessing the answers. The role has now changed for them now to be facilitators as students can Google the answers a great deal quicker. However, if we want teachers to take ownership for their learning, the mentor cannot be the expert, as this creates learned helplessness on the part of the mentored teachers. The primary responsibility for learning must rest on the shoulders of those doing the learning, and it is the mentor’s role to facilitate the learning and to build capacity.

The danger with mentoring lies in the perceived need for the mentor to appear brilliant, to be seen to have all the answers. When mentors are focused on looking wonderfully clever, they do not listen long enough. They summarize and interpret and direct far too early in the session. Mentors need to realize that the brilliant person is the client. The mentor’s job is to help the client discover that.

Try the WIN technique this week if you are involved in mentoring. Establish and prioritize: What’s Important Now. Thank you for your feedback. Let me know if this works as well for you as it has for me.


Active Listening

20 Jun


A key coaching skill is listening actively. Princess Diana was incredibly skilful at this:

“On many occasions, I watched her give unfailingly the highest-calibre attention to people. I watched her look into their eyes, bend one knee slightly, rest her arms easily in front of her, relax and listen as if they were the only person in the world at that moment. Often she had literally only a moment, but in a split second, because of the quality of her attention, she disarmed feelings of nervousness and assumptions of inferiority and allowed people to remember that they matter.” (Kline, 1999, p.250).

Kline, N. (1999). Time to Think: Listening to ignite the human mind. Cassell Illustrated: London.

The Peace Table

17 Jun


This week our staff took part in an amazing PD Day around restorative practices. It made me understand Restorative was about relationships and about having the entire community on board. This is an effective alternative to punitive responses to wrong doing. Inspired by indigenous traditions, it brings together persons harmed with persons responsible for harm in a safe and respectful space, promoting dialogue, accountability, and a stronger sense of community. Restorative justice is a philosophical framework that can be applied in a variety of contexts — the justice system, schools, families, communities, and others. As a teacher, I have used restorative questions with my students and find them to be a powerful tool.

However, I frequently catch myself putting more focus on the person who created the conflict, and having them use the restorative questions to reflect on the situation. With those who have been impacted, I tend to talk with them about the event, rather than give them the restorative questions to answer. While my reasoning was mainly about time management (and a bit of laziness), not allowing my students the time to reflect on those questions robs them of an opportunity to develop self-identification of their emotions and needs. Due to a recent situation, I have experienced first-hand the benefits of reflection using restorative questions, and truly recognize their importance to all parties involved in an act of harm.

I realize now how valuable restorative questions are, not only those who have committed an act of wrongdoing but also those who were affected by the act. The time spent processing what had happened to me was time well spent. It was a strong reminder for me that short-changing the process for my students can affect some of what restorative practices attempts to achieve: involvement of all parties; self-awareness; and the potential connections that can occur through recognition and acknowledgment of others’ feelings and needs.

Professional Reading

14 Jun



Pedro A. Noguera writes , “…ways to include students, on a regular basis, in discussions about their school experiences. Such discussions can occur in formal settings, such as on established committees or decision-making bodies, and they can occur informally at classroom level. The main thing is that they occur regularly and that adults respond respectfully to what they hear. Students can tell if adults are genuinely interested in their opinions, and if they discern that no one is listening when they share their perspectives they will quickly lose interest in a meaningless exercise.”

Writing Assessment Tasks

12 Jun

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Using the right questions creates powerful, sometimes multiple answers and discussions. Aristotle said that he asked questions in response to other people’s views, while Socrates focused on disciplined questioning to get to the truth of the matters.

Ultimately questions spark imagination, conjure emotions, and create more questions. The questions asked by a teacher or professor are sometimes more glaringly valuable than the information transferred to the students. Those questions spark a thought, which leads to a fiercely independent search for information.

If students are the ones gathering that information then they’re the ones learning it and student-driven learning cements lessons into the students’ mind making any lesson more powerful with this strategy. As I teach and write the next assessment task this week I have been thinking about the following questions. Note they need to be linked to our New Zealand Curriculum.

  • How might you show the differences and similarities?
  • What patterns might lead you to an alternative answer?
  • How many possibilities can you think of and why?
  • How does this relate daily occurrences?

Observation in the Classroom

10 Jun


To me the key component to effective teacher observation is that it be student-focused. The emphasis needs to be on how things can be done differently in the classroom to ensure that students succeed academically. It must also be authentic. Conversations need to take place before and after the visit.

I think my teaching environment is a setting where a teachers-observing-teachers strategy thrives. A culture exists where people report with pride that they push’ one another professionally. I notice all teachers’ value collegial relationships as a means to professional development. This has been a journey and because of this that is why it is so successful.

Research tells me that the whole school community benefit from this being a success. What tools are you using in your environment?

More Cultural Competencies

7 Jun


Every Wednesday morning at whakakaha we begin by say the following karakia. At first I were very timid but I am finally sounding confident and in sync with others. This is followed by waiata. It is a lovely ritual and start to the day.


6 Jun


I have been reading Becoming Steve Jobs this week and it got me thinking a great deal about excellence. As you may have picked up I love reading about those who excel. I really enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s works.

Excellence is not a gift, nor is it a talent. Learning to strive for excellence is a skill and this skill is undeniably necessary in the 21st Century classroom. Excellence requires increased student engagement and motivation.

Over the years I learned this: If students can master one thing, they have a greater likelihood of developing mastery in other areas of their lives. So, as a result, I spend a great deal of time scaffolding meta-cognition self-regulatory skills.


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