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Creating a Team

2 Dec

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Relational trust is so important in a team. Simply this does not occur straight away. People need time to find their role. This means that when there’s the inevitable conflict, it’s managed. People know each other. They listen to each other. There are agreements about how they treat each other and engage with each other, and member monitor these agreements. There’s also someone such as a facilitator who ensures that this is a safe space. Furthermore, in order for there to be trust, within a strong team there is equitable participation among members and shared decision-making.

While there is trust in a good team, there’s healthy conflict. This is inevitable and essential if groups are learning together and embark on some kind of project together. The team needs to disagree about ideas, there’s constructive dialogue and dissent, courageous conversations and thinking is pushed.

A good team creates a space for learning. In schools there are many reasons why those of us working in schools might gather in a team — but I believe that all of those reasons should contain opportunities for learning with and from each other. We talk about our students being lifelong learners and being collaborative. We ask our students to expose the key competencies. Do we in teams? So in an effective team, learning happens within a safe context. We can make mistakes, take risks, and ask every single question we want just like our students.

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My Team

1 Dec

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This week I wanted to reflect on our senior leadership team. They have played an important role in my development and these are some of the key ways that I have benefitted from their service.

1. Confidence – Each mentor has helped me to make sense of difficult and complex situations and offered advice that has provided me with confidence going into new situations. They have provided frameworks for decision making, routines for organisation and procedures for continually developing in leadership skills.

2. Humility – We all make mistakes and it was interesting to hear about how each mentor learnt from their failures. It spoke volumes of their character and convictions and has reminded me of the great importance that humility plays in leadership.

3. Courage – They have all encouraged me to reach for the stars, and this has made a huge difference to my outlook. They have encouraged me to have the difficult decisions, to get alongside team members and to not give up.

They have made me a better person. A better educator. A better man.

Parenting and Leadership

26 Nov

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I have been reading and tweeting this week a great deal about teaching, being a Dad and our community. As I reflect on my last term as a leader I can see lots of similarities between being a good Dad and a good leader.

It’s not all about you: your role as a Dad is to raise an independent adult. Sometimes your child won’t like you. That’s ok. You are not their friend, you are their Dad. A good Dad knows it isn’t about your child liking you, and sometimes you won’t like them; but it is about you loving them regardless.

Great Dads listen: they respect their children, valuing them as individuals, people who have a voice, ideas, passions and interests. Good Dading isn’t about creating a clone of you, but empowering them to live their own dreams.

Loving Dads are willing to say sorry: It takes humility, but you must be open to the possibility that on occasions your child may be right, and you’re the one in the wrong. Apologizing isn’t a sign of weakness.

It’s about modelling: As a member of the SLT we need to be the best we can be every day and if not apologize for it.

Be the guide on the side: Good Dads are there not to judge, but to catch a child when they fall, helping them to bounce back and have another go.

And the most obvious, Dads love each of their children: they are a gift from God and they are at the centre of our schools.

I hope I am a god Dad. I pray and know that the experience has made me a better leader.

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).

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.

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.

Future Learning: Have a Voice

3 Oct

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Ehara taku toa, he takitahi, he toa takitini

My success should not be bestowed onto me alone, as it was not individual success but success of a collective

With the end the term comes Pathways discussions with students as we reflect on their successes. This something that so many contribute to as the students move to their next step. We as teachers know this better than anyone.

My wife tells me this is important as we are in a changing economy with different worker skills. She was emphasising the same things the front end of our NZ Curriculum and the Tomorrows Schools review are articulating.

  • Broad knowledge base. Understanding of key knowledge and ideas in many fields.
  • Flexibility – Can adapt to new situations
  • Prepared for continuous learning
  • Pro-active engagement. Learners are active and engaged in the learning process. They are curious, develop interests and passions, take learning initiatives, conduct research, check information, become pro-active learners.
  • Learners are adaptable, flexible
  • Problem Solving. Good at using what they know to figure out how to solve a variety of complex problems that are new to them.
  • Work well with others.
  • Literacy and good communication skills. Good readers of both fiction and non-fiction material. Good writers and communicate well with others.
  • Thoughtfulness, both qualitatively and quantitatively.  “Habits of Mind” Skills and Attitudes – Have “grit”, perseverance, curiosity. Learn from failure. Disciplined, “hard-working”, collaborative.
  • Leadership. Demonstrate the ability to take charge, be proactive, plan with others, take initiative, form a positive climate and culture.

How do we build an educational system around developing this deep learning knowledge base and promoting this deep learning level of skill development?  How do we prepare our students for the future of work and citizenship? Many are already on the path towards the type of education that will prepare the next generation for both the economy and civics of the future. We must all do this together. Everybody must have their say or at the very least feel heard.

Authentic Learning

14 Sep

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Authentic learning is a measure of connectedness based on pertinence, interest, and immediacy of a given context. Relevance is critical. Teachers will have a difficult time increasing rigor for learners who do not find the tasks at hand very relevant.

There are degrees of relevance. Something is less relevant if it is an isolated experience and far more relevant if it offers knowledge and skills to support life-long endeavours. Relevance is also contextual. Studying the setting of a story will seem less relevant to a student who hates reading literature than it will to a student who aspires to be a novelist. Fortunately, teachers can increase the relevance for everyone by helping learners find personal value in the studied content or skills. For example, disinterested readers can understand that their entire lives are defined by their personal settings. They can then begin to explore the variables within their own control to alter their settings for the better, making setting a relevant concept to explore beyond literary options. When content (e.g. literature) is used as a medium (not the end goal) to explore critical, real world skills, then relevance is maximized.

When considering if learning is relevant, as a teacher I explore the following questions:

  • Are the questions, prompts, or tasks interesting for the learners? Consider age, region, and modern trends as variables.
  • Might the questions, prompts, or tasks unintentionally exclude some learners (e.g. those who aren’t interested in sports, those who don’t have access to gardens, those who don’t wish to become historians, etc.)?
  • Do the questions, prompts, or tasks replicate processes that are authentic to ‘real world’ applications?
  • Will the questions, prompts, or tasks be fun or engaging? Will they be explained in the context of life-long application?

Few learners will accept robust challenges if they 1) don’t believe someone is there to support their efforts, and 2) can’t find a worthy reason to engage in something that will not be easy.

Whakawhanaunga

13 Sep

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Last week a note I wrote about expectations. As we raise the bar on our expectations that all learners can be successful, we must also raise the bar on rigor for all learners.

When trying to meet the demands of supporting all learners, it is impossible to increase rigor without also attending to whakawhanaunga (relationships). My daughter recently met Helen Clark ONZ. Nobody could fined a better role model as wahine toa.

Personally I have an interest in the tuakanateina relationship, an integral part of traditional Māori society, provides a model for buddy systems. An older or more expert tuakana (brother, sister or cousin) helps and guides a younger or less expert teina (originally a younger sibling or cousin of the same gender). In a learning environment that recognises the value of ako, the tuakana–teina roles may be reversed at any time. For example, the student who yesterday was the expert on te wā and explained the lunar calendar may need to learn from her classmate today about how manaakitanga is practised by the local hapū.Relationships matter greatly. The concept of the tuakanateina relationship, is one that interests me. An older or more expert tuakana (brother, sister or cousin) helps and guides a younger or less expert teina (originally a younger sibling or cousin of the same gender). In a learning environment that recognises the value of ako, the tuakana–teina roles may be reversed at any time. For example, the student who yesterday was the expert on te wā and explained the lunar calendar may need to learn from her classmate today about how manaakitanga is practised by the local people.’

Marzano (2011) notes: “Positive relationships between teachers and students are among the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction” (p.82). Simply having positive relationships with tamariki and colleagues will not increase achievement. Quality teacher to student relationships impact student achievement in 4 significant ways:

When teachers build trust and rapport with tamariki, tamariki are more likely to take the necessary risks required to learn at deep levels. As mistake making is an inherent part of the learning journey, tamariki need to feel safe along the way.

When tamariki feel safe, they are more likely to offer teachers the necessary insights and feedback that can support the teacher’s ability to respond appropriately.

When teachers strive to understand each learner’s desires, needs, and assets, they have the necessary ability to connect the learning in targeted and specific way that ensures the learner can be successful.

When teachers know their tamariki well, they can better interpret the meaning behind a student’s unconscious nonverbal responses to the learning at hand. Raised eye-brows, tapped pencils, and deep sighs represent different emotional responses based on the learner exhibiting the behavior.

Unless a teacher knows the tamariki well, it is challenging to make learning relevant or rigorous.

Our Collaborative Trial

6 Sep

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And if the students develop interdisciplinary pathways which leads to “independent confident individuals who learn how to learn” we would’ve made a start at crossing boundaries and making connections (Duerr 2008)

This week I have done some work towards our collaboration project in Term 4. I got to thinking if the interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning has been around for decades, why have we not embraced it? And what’s the goal? Mathison and Freeman (1997) said that the goal is to help students synthesise discrete information and connect knowledge to everyday needs, applying learning methods to real life situations. To help facilitate these sorts of discussions we have set up Professional Learning Groups (PLGs) which are interdisciplinary in the past but the beauty of our Term 4 project is that the work is authentic.

Mathison,S.. & Freeman, M.(1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, 1997. Retrieved from http://www.albany.edu/cela/reports/mathisonlogic12004.pdf

I really enjoyed this clip which got me thinking.

 

 

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