Tag Archives: Learning Environment

A Changing Classroom

18 Dec


With a number of reviews taking place there is no doubt we are working in an exciting but also a scary time for education. These reviews are challenging a great deal of what we know to be true. There was a time I had very specific ideas about learning and teaching. Some of these preconceived notions were based on my own experience as a student. There was a time until very recently I believed students should sit in rows, quiet classroom is an effective demonstration of classroom management. Students in the same class should do the same assignments and this is best demonstrated in test or essay format best exhibited with a pen and paper. Don’t smile until for six weeks or you will lose them. Most of all as teacher I possesses the information. I would impart my knowledge. The truth is things have changed and I need to relearn how to be effective. The professional standards provide me a guide to do this.

Students create their own learning environment. You don’t need seating charts and students can be moving around to ensure their space enhances their work, whether it is individual or collaborative. In fact some days students in my class never enter the room and the learning is just as effective. My classroom is operative but it is not quiet. Indeed at times it is chaotic.

The idea that every student in a classroom should be required to complete the exact same assignment strikes me as a little silly. Of course their assessment is well with NCEA rules but it learning that our tamariki find is linked to their learning journey or inquiry. Students are at wildly different places in their learning. Their assignments should be customized to appeal to their interests and meet them where they are at in terms of skill level. This can be demonstrated in many ways not only a pen.

Don’t smile for six weeks? Our tamariki indeed just find this strange. By not smiling I think you lose the students. I had a student come up to me the other day and ask ‘what was up with Mrs X’ as she appeared unhappy. Our world has changed. We are more relational and restorative. The relationship is as important as the content.

I am not the only “expert” in the room. Indeed with Google in the room and more informed students I am no longer the source of all that is true and correct. I try to have students investigate and inquire, research, dialogue about what they created, and korero with each other.

These changes have made me think. They have made my staff think. What changes have you observed recently and more importantly how have you adapted?


Inclusive Learning Environments

19 Aug


This week while attending the Careers Expo I had a rich conversation with staff around what it means to support struggling students by creating inclusive learning environments. I started with the whakataukī: He waka eke noa. A canoe which we are all in with no exception.My first reaction upon in the discussion was to focus on the word inclusive, and I thought of LGBT students and inclusive environments. Our Catholic schools are all about being inclusive. As Pope Francis has recently written we as a church need to greet all with empathy and comfort rather than with unbending rules and rigid codes of conduct. Our national curriculum, NEGs and NAGs all demand it. Creating inclusive environments are essential not only for learning but also for growth and development.

As a restorative and PB4L school we acknowledge schools that allow parts of the student body to feel unsafe, unwanted, or unknown do a disservice not only to each child’s development but also to the learning process and culture throughout the entire school. You cannot have a school where everyone is included in learning or develop a culture that is inclusive of learning unless you are also inclusive of all tamariki.

The word inclusive can and does mean more than creating environments that are supportive of all. It means evolving environments that are inclusive of all and inclusive of learning. Our school should be creating a culture of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga.

We can develop environments that are safe and connected, but we must also establish environments that promote, expect, and enhance learning. That is acceleration for all students. Schools and their classrooms must be environments in which the aim of learning is clear. They must be spaces where students understand that getting something wrong is part of the learning process. Its ok to fail is an important message. Where it’s OK to speak out and suggest answers. Where a culture of inquiry is the norm. I read recently that learning is a culture. It starts as a culture with the students as human beings needing to understand their environment. And it ends as a culture with students taking what we give them and using it in those physical and digital environments they call home. . culture of learning is a collection of thinking habits, beliefs about self, and collaborative workflows that result in sustained critical learning.

The term inclusive can also mean that students are included in the learning. Not merely inclusive of learning but included in what gets taught and how it gets taught. Inclusivity brings people together and places us all inside the process. Whether we are discussing personalization, differentiation, student at the centre learning, we are talking about learning that is inclusive of learning styles and interests.

Granting students more agency over their learning may seem like a leap in faith, but  it will become infectious. Teachers will begin to realize the full potential of their students and how much they had previously underestimated them. Furthermore, once students are empowered teachers will truly understand who their students are and what they really need.

What do you think? Is your school an inclusive school? What are you doing to promote this in your classroom?


The Language of Leadership

11 Sep


As I evaluate my own role as a leader I have been noticing the way I speak. So much is portrayed in body language but even more in the way we say things which may be innocent. I am not ashamed to say I have used these phrases in the past. My challenge is to use these phrases more in the future. I read this article (noted below) during the week. Here is some of the main points.

Some key phrases I must change:

  1. Because I said so.

Great leadership means building a culture of collaboration and connection, creativity and communication. Relying on authority shuts all those things down.

Instead: “How do we want to tackle this?”

  1. Who do you think you are?

Great leaders foster feelings of empowerment and engagement in their team, so everyone can reap the benefits of shared ideas and thoughts. There’s no room for ridicule or belittlement.

Instead: “What do you think?”

  1. It’s not my fault.

To be a great leader means you accept the consequences for your own actions as well as the actions of others. There’s an up side: Your leadership gains credibility.

Instead: “The buck stops here.”

  1. I don’t need any help.

Leadership is all about teamwork, collaboration, making everyone feel included and inspired. The best use of your time is mentoring, guiding, and leading others to succeed.

Instead: “We’ll do it together.”

  1. I don’t care.

Great leaders always care. When you express apathy, even about a small point, those around you have very little reason to stay invested.

Instead: “Let’s think this through.”

  1. I’m too busy.

We all make time for things that matter to us. When you set a priority for yourself, you set it for your team as well.

Instead: “I’ll find the time.”

  1. Failure is not an option.

Sure, success is important, but failure is not the enemy of success. Failure can teach valuable lessons–and those who are afraid to fail will build a culture that rewards bland, safe choices.

Instead: “Be bold. Take risks. Always learn.”

For further reading on this please read the full article by Lolly Daskal.

Faculty Review

18 Mar

This week I have been conducting a faculty review. It was an opportunity to review paperwork and look at classroom teaching. I came up with a list of things I’d like to see in every classroom beyond a bi-cultural learning environment that illustrated special character. Perhaps this will get you thinking.

  • Deeper learning through relationships between all learning parties.
  • Students employed collaboratively and working together in small teams/groups. Lots of key competencies being displayed here.
  • Physical movement by both the students and the educator in the classroom.
  • Frequent and specific feedback to students as they work toward their learning goals. Feedback from students and teachers is most improved and increased when students are getting descriptive feedback on their learning.
  • Great questions being asked and a focus more on questions than answers.
  • Differentiation evident. This means kids working at their level at their pace and unless you’re really lucky, that can’t be happening too often.
  • Learning targets and learning objectives clearly posted. I really enjoy the task of asking students what they learned and what the lesson sequence was.

You’re the Voice

28 Sep

At my school we use student voice a great deal and very effectively I must say. At the end of every topic I send a survey out to my students. On one level it’s fantastic to get feedback from your learners about what is going well in class and what needs tweaking but on the other there’s the realization that my students are grading me.  Was I too grumpy yesterday when student A hadn’t finished work? Could I have done a better job of talking to Student B about their draft? Did I let an administration problem affect my teaching?

The evaluation is done in class but I am considering doing it via Google forms or 365 and the results then get shared with my HOF. Most of the questions are agree/disagree questions like ‘my teacher treats students and their ideas with respect. There is also the room for comment. It is something our students love.

I tend to prefer qualitative feedback that quantitative. A number of my students have talked about wanting more challenging work so I will work with them to look for projects that they can sink their teeth into for the rest of the year but more importantly for the 2015 cohort. They love my eLearning format and some students have requested to go fully online in 2015 without being in my class. This will be something I will have to put a great deal of thought into. As I have written here before the I have had great success with.

Cooper (2001) noted that a blended learning environment, one in which the traditional classroom and the online classroom complement each other, gives the best outcome. “Online instruction can offer new challenges and opportunities to both students and instructors. Most students do not view online instruction as a replacement for traditional classroom instruction. However, with the right subject matter, with the right instructor or facilitator, and for the right student, Internet or online classes can provide an effective educational environment and offer a viable alternative to traditional classroom instruction” (Cooper, 2001, p57).

Singh recommended that the blended learning environment was the next wave for E-Learning and that it would feature rich media content. “Blended learning combines multiple delivery media that are designed to complement each other and promote learning and application-learned behaviour” (Singh, 2003, p52). Investigating the idea that has serious results for teaching online, Singh goes onto mention that the online learning component within a blended learning environment, should be self-paced. This raises the apparition of the teacher being at best just a facilitator and at worst, a spectator (Singh, 2003, p58).

Another thing want to get better at before the end of the year is getting my students to work on managing self. This something my learners are not good at. Perhaps this could be a PLG study in 2015?

Professional Readings:

Cooper, L. W. (2001) A Comparison of Online and Traditional Computer Applications Classes. T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education) 28 (8) 52-58

Singh H. (2003) Building Effective Blended Learning Programs in November – December 2003Issue of Educational Technology, Volume 43, Number 6, Pages 51-54 Retrieved 9 August 2009 from http://asianvu.com/bookstoread/framework/blended-learning.pdf

Student Speeches

13 Apr



The NCEA speech format has changed so little from the time I went to school when we did it under the guise of School Cert or UE. Most schools have each child get up in front of their class and then the best speakers then are selected to stand in front of the school on speech night .
And the marking schedule. Teachers crouch around a video camera and moderate these speeches. Has the student used repetition, rhetorical questions, quotes and statistics? Check, cross, check, check. There are strict rules about time. Did you know it’s a NA if you don’t make time? Don’t overuse your cards. Hand gestures and the odd dramatic pause thrown in for good measure. Our girls are something else at this.
What makes a good speech?
Instead of having of going the usual route of having students sit through Martin Luther King Jr talking about having a dream, Kennedy going to the moon and Churchill fighting on the beaches then analyse each one for rhetorical devices I always look for something different.
I have an appreciation of oratory and these speeches are quite rightly iconic. However these men were leaders of nations and movements over 50 years ago their lives and their language is far removed from the young women sitting in classrooms in Taranaki.
What made these speeches good?
My students decided that speeches were good because the speaker was sharing a passion, an interest or telling a story. As a teacher the most memorable speeches were the ones when students shared something about themselves that we might not hear. My students agree.
I like to get students to do some peer marking. They are more insightful than you might think.
On speech night I was overwhelmed by the topics chosen: Death, Girls and Boys, Marketing, Alzheimer’s, being different, social media and Boys.
The speeches I wanted to hear were those that didn’t make the final. Those students who achieved by just doing it. Those students might not have been good enough to make Speech Night but there were so many kids who bought their best selves to speeches this year.
And that’s what any teacher should be aiming for.

Professional Reading:

I found this resource this week. An outstanding resource for on Pasika peoples:

10 things you need to know about Pasifika peoples in Aotearoa (dispelling some common myths about the Pacific)

Here are excellent resources to think about when referring to students feedback:

The Best Resources For Learning How To Best Give Feedback To Students
The Difference Between Praise and Feedback is from MindShift.
Tips for Giving Feedback is from Elena Aguilar.
How to Turn Praise into Acknowledgment is by Marvin Marshall.


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