Tag Archives: Ako

Religions of the World

25 Feb

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While my ako inquiry will deal with leadership again this year I am making a big effort tin the area of my own specialist subject- Religious Studies. A reminder this is an academic subject not one of faith development. Well, that how I see it.

On describing his conversion to Christianity, C. S. Lewis remarked, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else’ (Lewis, 1945, p. 21). To paraphrase, for Lewis, not only is Christianity something credible to believe in, but it also provides a coherent and credible framework within which to make sense of everything else.

Theologians working within other religious traditions would mostly concur with this: while no one can have a “God’s eye” view of the world (other than God) – religion provides the most meaningful and satisfactory way to see the universe. Furthermore, in addition to perceiving, religions also provide a way of being in the world. They impact and form the habits, philosophies, theologies, aspirations, ethical positions and education (among other things), of those who identify with them.

RE teaching aspires to place religions into a historical context. This is important because it prevents students from the quintessential: just because a Scripture says x, or members of a tradition have done x, it does not follow that all members of a tradition will do the same. A historical context for the development of religion also encourages adherents of a given tradition to view their own tradition more critically.

However, research in the field of the Study of Religions has stressed an additional sense in which cultural context is important. W.C. Smith emphasized that ‘religion’ itself is an unstable category, which has been shaped through political processes and is defined in different ways in different contexts. Concepts of ‘religion’ may be related to one another genealogically, but what they share, according to these theorists, is that they are determined by the assumptions and political expediency of the powerful over the less powerful.

Religion has, of course, been defined in many ways by scholars. Ninian Smart argued that religion was characterised by doctrine and philosophy; myth; a tradition of law and ethics; rituals; an emotional connection to the sacred and the presence of distinct hierarchies. Smart stressed that none of these characteristics were necessary for a tradition to be a religion, but that most religions included most of these features.

Nevertheless, the study of religion has been plagued by its difficulty in pinning down its subject matter precisely: it has been accused of becoming a discipline that has failed to find anything to study. But such accusations miss the point: instead of focusing on individual religious traditions (Islam; Christianity; Judaism etc.), the study of religions has found a new focus in the problematical the term ‘religion’ itself. ‘Religion’, J.Z. Smith would argue, cannot be used as a term of analysis because its definition is too contested to be useful and we cannot be sure that we are comparing like with like.

 

On the other hand, the study of religion has re-focussed its efforts around tracking the ways that ‘the powerful’ have used the definition of the word to re-forge the world in their own image. Nongbri’s work in particular has rebelled against the idea that traditions have a true religious belief, which is embedded in Scripture and which, like Protestant Christianity, can be privatised without intruding on the state. He emphasises that the notion of a true core belief (‘Christianity is the religion of love’; ‘Islam is the religion of peace’) is indebted to Romantic-era notions of the ‘true spirit’ of different national cultures. We might find it appealing to imagine ‘good’ versions of Islam and Christianity, with things we dislike as later accretions, this does not do justice to the formation of religious traditions as fluid entities that change and transform as they are passed between generations. Lots to reflect on but plenty of discussion for my Religious Studies class this week.

 

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Learning for the Week:

6 Apr

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The more distractions you have during competing that big project, the less chance you’ll have to discover that mind-blowing, problem-solving, genius idea. While it’s good to get up and move (think walking meetings “walk with me”; getting outside on duty for lunch; periodic stretching at my stand up desk) make sure that you’re not constantly stopping and starting your work–especially when you’re onto something.

I have learnt this so far this year. Gather up everything you need ahead of time. Minimize distractions by finding a quiet place and letting others know that you’re not available for talking about last night’s game (we’re not above popping in a pair of silent earbuds if that’s what it takes). Take five minutes to prep your space and materials so that nothing takes you out of the zone once you find your zen. It has also minimized mty mistakes. I hope.

Mindful Communication

2 Apr

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Have you ever said or wrote something you later regretted? Me too. Even though I read and practice mindfulness it all sometimes get the best of me.

Mindful communication helps us use the space between our thoughts and words to “undo” potentially troublesome language before we put it out into the world. Here is something I am trying to perfect.

How do I do it? Ask yourself these questions before turning a thought into words:

First, ask whether the thought is true.

Second, ask if it’s kind.

Third, is it necessary.

Fourth, is the thought beneficial?

If the thought does not meet all of these four criteria, avoid communicating it.

Wish me luck with this and feel free to take it up yourself.

Whiria te tangata

1 Mar

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Lots to think about this week as I continue my Te Reo journey on a Wednesday morning with staff. Below is a beautiful karakia, which I am learning this year. Richness of the language always humbles me. It has made me reflect on my Māori learners this week.

Māori students’ educational needs are not homogeneous as Māori identity is diverse (Durie, 1995). It is no secret NZ school students are high performing on a world scale however, the achievement gap between its highest and lowest performers (predominantly Māori) is one of the biggest from all of the countries surveyed (ERO, 2010b). Such research although alarming is not new as ERO (2010a) states: “Although many Māori students have been successful in education, research and national and international testing data continue to show significant disparity in the achievement of Māori and non-Māori students. Improved Māori student achievement has been a key government priority in education over the decade” (p.1). Despite national reports continuing to indicate disparity between Māori and non-Māori students, of the programmes, initiatives, and resources that have been implemented over the last twenty years there have been several successful initiatives such as Te Kotahitanga (Bishop, 2008) and He Kakano (University of Waikato & Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi, 2010).

The question I continually ask is how relevant is my schools curriculum for Māori and students? That is cultural identity – every day, everywhere, from policy, the processes, assemblies, hui, through to practice. It must be more than having a Kapa Haka competition.

Culture cannot be left to all students doing Te Reo for 6 weeks in Year 9. It is about critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy is not a sense of critical thinking, it is a movement. You need to be in it…culturally sustaining pedagogy. It is NOT about leaving our identity at the gate, which we pick up after school. Rather, collaboration throughout the day, where students can be Māori first, Indian first, Australian first, Pasifika first, and work in ways which are successful. We want our learners to be able to think universally, AND culturally strong.

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This is reflected in Tātaiako – Cultural competencies for Teachers. The Tātaiako – Cultural Competencies for Teachers of Māori Learners supports both Ka Hikitia strategies and aligns with the Graduating Teacher Standards and Registered Teacher Criteria developed by the New Zealand Teachers Council (NZTC, 2010). The main objective of the document is to improve teacher pedagogy and capacity to effectively teach students, particularly Māori learners. For school leaders the focus is on leading and engaging educators in a way that affirms Māori culture while providing the resources to enable this to happen. The document provides five competencies that include a set of indicators and outcomes that differentiate between a graduating teacher and a registered teacher. The five competencies Tataiako (MOE, 2011 p. 4) identifies are:

  • Wānanga: Describes participating with learners and communities in robust dialogue for the benefit of Mäori learners’ achievement.
  • Whānaungatanga: Expresses actively engaging in respectful working relationships with Māori learners, parents and whānau, hapu, iwi and the Mäori community.
  • Manaakitanga: Refers to showing integrity, sincerity, and respect towards Mäori beliefs, language, and culture.
  • Tangata Whenuatanga: Explains affirming Mäori learners as Mäori. Providing contexts for learning where the language, identity and culture of Mäori learners and their whānau is affirmed.
  • Ako: portrays taking responsibility for their own learning and that of Mäori learners.

How relevant is your schools curriculum for Māori and students? Whirea te tangata. Weave the people together

He+tìmatanga_+Whakataka+te+hau

 

Professional Reading Weekend

28 Oct

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A have had a big weekend dedicated to professional reading. This is all part of my annual goal and to continually improve. Common themes that emerge from my reading were:

  • the importance of connecting
  • a leadership paradigm of coaching
  • collaboration and learning spaces for thinking and working in teams
  • approaching curriculum design as an innovator.

In Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson writes about generating breakthroughs and the patterns behind innovation. The keys are: developing slow hunches over time (as opposed to sudden Eureka moments), connected minds are smarter than lone thinkers, where you think is crucial, and the best ideas come from building on the ideas of others.

In Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner contends that the disruptive nature of innovation creates challenges to traditional authority.

“Can those of us who have positional authority develop this kind of earned and enabling authority? Can our institutions of learning and work recognize and promote a new kind of authority? Can we move from top-down, compliance-based systems of accountability in our schools to forms of accountability that are more face-to-face – reciprocal and relational? And, finally, are we prepared to not merely tolerate but to welcome and celebrate the kinds of questioning, disruption, and even disobedience that come with innovation?” (Tony Wagner)

In Bringing Innovation to School, Suzie Boss makes the case for design thinking, the use of physical space, gaming for learning, and using networks for innovation.

“When teachers are fine-tuning project plans, they can use rapid prototyping to invite feedback (from colleagues, outside experts, and students), make adjustments, and then see what happens during implementation. Projects will get better with each iteration if teachers make a habit of reflecting on what worked, what didn’t, and how they can improve on the plan next time around. When they approach curriculum design this way, they’re modelling what it means to think and work like an innovator.” (Suzie Boss)

Leadership Reflection for September

27 Sep

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This week I have been away with my Year 12 students considering leadership. Too often people associate leadership with a status to be earned, or a title that bestows power. Certainly, under some circumstances, those definitions are accurate. But I like to think of leadership differently. I think a great deal about St Paul’s thoughts on servant leadership.

There is a belief that I hold dear—we all can be leaders, and each of us has our own unique brand of leadership to contribute to the world. The question is if, when, and how we actually ever step into that leadership.

Finding our leadership is about finding our best selves, and then figuring out how and where to contribute our best selves to the world. Stepping into our leadership is about having the courage to do just that. Sometimes having courage to not step up when the time is not right.

This week I have been thinking about this quote around leadership:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord, there are different workings by the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

I am self-aware that my leadership philosophy is continually growing and developing. I am truly a life-long learner. I believe a leader must be vulnerable and admit to not have all the answers. This is something that I have learnt over the past twenty years.

Leadership development calls forth the diverse gifts of people in our faith communities, and affirms their talents and abilities. So much depends on leadership in our ministry and as leaders we need to be called, trained and encouraged. As I am called to be leader I call others to walk with me acknowledging who they are. The idea that we see the whole person, the three ‘identities’ he tangata, he tangata, he tangata – acknowledging our past, present and future.

Middle Leader Development

21 Feb

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Last week I attended an online webinar led by an Australian principal.  She began: “The effectiveness of the leader will be tied to the respect that the leader can command and that will be generated by the character of the leader and the virtues she can display consistently and truthfully.” She spoke about how the work of teachers and leaders in a school is a moral task, the importance of developing practices shared by the group through meetings and interpersonal actions, and not just having good ideas but also enacting those ideas.

This got me thinking about a number of issues:

Cultures of thinking – How do we move the Cultures of Thinking approach from faculty to whole school? Various approaches were discussed in the webinar including: show and tell (read, trial, share), suggest don’t mandate, ask for feedback, use noticeboards (in class, around the school, and electronic). There was also discussion of specific routines, like See…Think…Wonder.

The evolving role of the Head of Faculty – The presenter produced a mindmap which that covered this topic. It got me thinking. How do HoFs find time for all these things? What is suffering because of the role/workload increasing? How does the SLT help or hinder our role? To what extent are all stakeholders aware of each other’s demands and how time-consuming these demands are? New roles are appearing and roles are expanding. Expectations in fulfilling the role are both personal and school-based. Who can support us? How?

Documentation and sharing – The benefits of documentation are: deeper thinking, starting conversations, sharing between faculty’s and building on each other’s efforts, sharing/reflecting on the process/progression/learning and where that might lead to next, valuing more than the finished product, encouraging team collaboration to inform and improve. ‘Share-worthy’ material does not have to be perfect and packaged, it can be a work-in-progress rather than ready to use.

Reflection and improvement, and growth mindset are needed to keep it moving forward, to not just avoid failure, but avoid plateauing or sticking to the status quo. It should be seen as a comment/feedback space, not show and tell. We need to learn from mistakes and share what didn’t work so others can learn from it, and celebrate our mistakes. I have been thinking could we introduce the concept of a rotating presenter, where a different team member documents a snapshot of a team’s learning or mahi to share? Should each faculty have a dedicated documentation space that both staff and students can see?

Getting the best out of people – Relationships are important. Focus on the positives. Specific praise/ positive feedback, flexibility, celebrate small steps, respect/interest outside the classroom, depersonalize risk by using conditional statements.

Cross-faculty collaboration – Having librarians and academic support staff involved in the planning of coursework, resources, skills, helping decode questions, cross-faculty collaboration provides equitable skills/resource assistance to all students and everyone benefits, awareness of the importance of information skills/academic support is available throughout the learning spectrum, team-teaching across faculty’s where the opportunity presents, look at each faculty’s schedules for the opportunities.

I know lots to think about here. What are your thoughts?

Creating a student centered environment

8 Jan

Contemporary business people working in team in the office

Creating a truly student educational environment requires quite a few thoughts even before the learning-teaching interaction begins. We must make a choice of the frame of reference to be used. Sometimes this choice is an unintentional one – especially if we have not reflected upon our own learning philosophy.

To promote effective learning, we should think about the learning environment (both emotional and physical) to ensure there are no obstacles for learning. Students prior knowledge plays a major part in their learning, and if we start teaching where the curriculum tells we to start, we may be passing by their actual horizon of understanding.

Some students arrive to the class ready to learn – others do not. Finding gentle ways to increase the readiness, and decreasing the fears, anxieties and misconceptions of students ensures a less bumpy ride towards the mutual goal: effective learning. Also, an aptitude for learning is highly individual among students in any given group. We as their teacher can either help students to become more interested in what they are learning – or simply communicate about passing the test as a measurement of education and learning itself not being important. Imagine how huge difference there is in between those two approaches.

Lots to think about for this time year.

My Ako Goal

11 Dec

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My Ako Goal this year was to lead student-centred, innovative and collaborative pedagogical practices. Things I had in mind at the start of the year were to reject the deficit thinking. Caring for the learner – building a relationship with our students. Having high expectations which must be voiced and demonstrated through the dispositions of Manawa Mission. Manage a classroom for learning not behavior and creating a culture for learning. I wanted to deepen my own content knowledge.

Did I do this in 2017? To a degree. It was my mahi. I developed a new strategy or rediscovered one. Student voice is always a powerful tool – it allows the teachers to check in with what is happening in the class with 3 simple questions: What are you learning? How can you show me your successful at learning? What happens next?

I tried to keep things fresh. As students have access to any information possible, there certainly is no need to “spoon-feed” the knowledge or teach “one-size fits all” content. I recognized through my learning plans as students have different personalities, goals, and needs, offering personalized instructions is not just possible but also desirable. When students are allowed to make their own choices, they own their learning, increase intrinsic motivation, and put in more effort — an ideal recipe for better learning outcomes.

I deepened my knowledge by reading some wonderful pieces of literature and attending some great courses. Perhaps I need to work on the fact the students must be aware the environment is student centred not teacher centred. My students were often passive.

My Next Steps

  1. Keep getting teachers to share their learning.
  2. Continue to have disruptive conversations.
  3. Work on creating a collaborative teaching environment.

Leading v Managing

8 Dec

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My wahine toa goal this year was to nurture relational trust in the HOF group. I wanted to communicate the idea that the middle leaders of the school had to lead not manage. Just so we’re clear about this, I have nothing but respect for great managers. They are the essential clue that hold organizations together. They keep things running smoothly, they execute strategies and tactics. Without sound management no organization can survive. A great deal of my job is to manage as Deputy Principal.

But… yes you knew there had to be a but… but, simply putting a great manager into a leadership position does not make them a leader. A manager can be a leader and a leader can be a manager but very often a manager is not a leader and sometimes a great leader is not a good manager.

Managing and leading are two entirely different things. To be a leader you have to do so in my opinion in an environment of relational trust. I found this year when I led Staff rather than trying to manage them charmed things happen.

Staff who are managed are far more likely to display attitude issues than staff who are led. Staff who are managed do what they are told while the staff who are led have already done it.

I found staff who are managed seldom grow beyond their job description but staff who are led burst the seams of their job descriptions with regularity.

Thank you to my fellow DP who provided the clip below which illustrates how these middle leaders joined me on this waka.

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