Tuesday, 28 August 2012

What is the residue?

After the last post about impending league tables I thought that I would post an article I wrote for the Teachers Matter magazine produced by the talented Karen Boyes @karenboyes from Spectrum Education.

The article, written in 2008, tried to capture the opportunity of a New National Curriculum in New Zealand. It talks a little about change and a lot about the role of the teacher. How does this article sit in 2012? Interested in your thoughts.

What is the residue?
It never ceases to amaze me the range of responses we have to change. In fact the one certainty in our lives is just that, change. But how do we handle it? Where do we pick up the skills to deal with change? Is it largely to do with your outlook on life; the age-old adage of the glass being half empty or half full? Consider the following stereotypical responses to the Revised New Zealand Curriculum that I am sure you have all heard to varying degrees.

“We live in exciting times, we are at the cutting edge of education change. We have a revised curriculum that focuses on Vision, Values and Key Competencies. We are jumping for joy that the word ‘Thinking’ appears in our guiding document at the top of a list of capabilities for living and lifelong learning. We are pioneers, constructing a framework that will allow our children to thrive in a rapidly changing world.”

“We have seen it before, change for change sake. What, a revised curriculum? We never paid attention to the last one! Can’t we just do what we have always done? We really haven’t got time for this in our busy lives. Thinking you say, we have always taught our kids to think, we give our bright kids all those thinking skill things when they have finished their real work.”

The New Zealand Curriculum Vision talks about our young people being confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners. Words like creative, energetic and enterprising sit side by side with resilient, resourceful and motivated. Our challenge is to model these very attributes in front of our students. Energetic, enthusiastic educators who model the NZC vision, values and key competencies is what our children need in their lives.

Whenever I think about the role of enthusiasm and passion for learning in schools I reflect upon a conference I attended a few years ago where the keynote speaker crystallised my thoughts in a very public way. In his opening address he asked how many principals in the room were tired. A number of principals put up their hands. Then came the killer line… “Well then perhaps it is time to retire and let the energetic, enthusiastic people take over.” Whilst harsh and hard hitting it is true, schools are not the right place for those who have lost their spark. But rather than weeding out the unenthusiastic and tired people we have to find new ways to reignite the passion, perhaps one way to do this is the notion of legacy. What is your legacy?

Someone once said to me that it is not what you teach it is how you teach it that will be remembered. Perhaps I am lucky that I had teachers as I was growing up who, whether they knew this or not, demonstrated this very point. What I value today is a result of how my teachers taught. Mr Kay taught me about persistence through Sport. Mrs Nicholls taught me about the joy of Music. Mr Thornewell taught me about curiosity, about questioning, he left with me a love of learning and most importantly he taught me about enthusiasm. At Intermediate Mrs Gribble taught me that looking at things from a different perspective opens up a range of new ideas and possibilities. At High School Mr Staniland, Mr White and Mr Druitt showed an enthusiasm and a passion for their given subject areas that was infectious. I must have learned all the other stuff, the ‘what’ of their teaching.  But it is definitely the how that is their legacy and it remains with me.

Currently we are grappling with curriculum change and the notion of explicitly teaching thinking and learning dispositions. We have schools adopting wonderful programmes like Costa’s Habits of Mind and Claxton’s Building Learning Power that build a child’s capacity to be successful in a rapidly changing world. How many of us model these dispositions? If we really think they are important for children to have, how are we using them successfully in our personal and professional lives? Dr John Edwards uses the example of de Bono’s six thinking hats tool. Lots of people use it in classes but how many of us use it in making decisions about the future direction of our schools, our lives? If not why teach it?

So how do you stack up? What will the children of today say about how you taught them when they think back on their schooling… will how you taught be remembered at all? What will the residue be in 5, 10 or 20 years? Will they be reflective thinkers because you have explicitly modelled this in your classroom? Will they have an enthusiastic outlook on life because you were energetic about all that you did with them. Will they be creative because you allowed them the freedom to step outside the square more often than not? Will they love life and all it has to offer because you showed them something about your life outside of school. Will they treat others with dignity and respect because you walked the talk?

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your glass, you can’t hide from the children you teach… they watch you, they pick up on your values, on your beliefs. You know from your own life experience that teachers leave a legacy, so why not leave a powerful one for your students.

At the time we were looking at a new curriculum - I was excited. A lot has changed for us since then - but let us all remember the New Zealand Curriculum Document is still our guiding document it should drive our decision making, it should give us direction. Or are we doomed to only deliver and measure what is assessed as, after all, what you assess is what you deem to be important.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Impending League Tables

I complied with the Official Information Act this week and forwarded our Annual Report to the reporter who requested it. Not a big deal really as it is a public document that anyone can access. Our data is there for all to see.

At a Principlas' Cluster meeting earlier this week Louis Guy from the NZEI really hit the nail on the head with a scenario he painted...

Imagine what the first principals' cluster meeting will be like after the league tables are out. One person in the room will be the top ranked school in the cluster. Imagine what that principal may feel walking into the room? Perhaps they feel that their colleagues will not trust the data they have provided. They may feel a little sheepish at being labelled the best. They may feel that as a school they have worked hard for that student achievement but cannot crow about their success for fear of being labelled as touting for children. That being said - depending on the ego of the principal concerned they may be feeling a little superior to the rest.

Imagine the school principal walking in who is second in the cluster. Having just come from a discussion with a parent who asked why their school's data is not where the top ranked school's data is.

What about the colleague who walks into that meeting being ranked at the bottom. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? What discussions have they had with their BoT, their community, the media?

Everyone else in the room will have looked at the league table and jumped up ladders (Ladders of Inference - Argyris) They are making assumptions, value judgements, creating stories of data that are rooted firmly in their own interpretations.

Is this competitive collaboration? Will having this information in the public domain raise achievement?

As a cluster we can have an agreed approach, a code of conduct if you like. Northland Schools have already committed to the following statements.

  • The data will not be used to promote their school through websites, newsletters, media releases or any other public information source because it would be unethical to do so 
  • They will not draw comparisons between schools using the data
  • They will avoid any activities that could legitimise national standards data as good public information
  • They will share other positive achievement information about their schools
  • They will issue a collective media release on their agreed position
  • They will explain to their boards and communities the reasons for their concerns
  • They will continue to deliver a broad rich curriculum
I agree with these statements - in fact, as principals in our cluster we all agree. But the first bullet point needs some dialogue.
Schools promote themselves all the time. Some of us do not promote ourselves enough. There is great work happening in a large number of schools that never sees the light of day. This statement is loaded with assumption and judgements. I suppose the intent of this statement is that we will not promote the place on the league table or use National Standards data as a selling point. An interesting point as schools often celebrate data with their communities. Information about how well the school is progressing toward their goals is essential in building confidence and having a happy community.

What do you think about this shared approach to the threat of league tables?
Can we trust all our colleagues to walk the talk?
Will we be looking sideways at each other in cluster meetings?
What Ladders will we be climbing?

Monday, 7 May 2012

My Growing Connections

I am needing to think more about competitive collaboration and the BYOB post is still evolving in the head as well as in practice. With our school having an Education Review Office Visit my mind was elsewhere post Ignition 2012.

My first post ERO (Education Review Office) post finds me not reflecting on the external review but in the reactions of people to my increasing use of 'I read this great tweet...' now I am not a dinosaur but being in my early 40s I do get some looks from people when they hear I use twitter.

For me a twitter started as a bit of 'I'll give that a go' I never thought it would have such an impact in my thinking and learning. I was not interested in Facebook or LinkedIn and have never pursued those avenues of connectivity. I was at an ACEL conference in Sydney and fell into downloading twitter for my iPhone after having a couple of beers with like minded leaders. Simon Breakspear's Keynote further convinced me to pursue this technology as a means of connection with like minded people. As a leader approaching my middle age years I had started to shake the tag of being a young up and coming leader. The connections I made as a deputy principal were drying out. The dialogue sessions with other young leaders in our informal PLG the Praxis group were no longer happening. Perhaps my emerging use of twitter came from a drive to be connected again.

No matter how I arrived I am fortunate I did. In my brief time in the twitter sphere I have made some amazing connections with people I would not have even met. Stunning teachers and leaders from around New Zealand as well other parts of the world. I have seen inspirational links to blogs, been amazed at the talent of our new generation of teachers coming into the profession as well as the ongoing laughs I get from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Fry!

One teacher who has impressed me with her insight and thinking is Tarryn Kennedy - yes she is Australian but seems to be more kiwi in her approach to learning! Now I don't know her and she doesn't know me but having read about what she is doing her mental models of learning resonate with mine. She is leading a staff PD session around twitter and this prompted this post... So why does twitter resonate with me?

It hits at the heart of my mental models of learning and leadership that I have developed over my career. My work with John Edwards and Bill Martin from the OUREducation Network has taught me the importance of Personal Practical Knowledge, PPK. Twitter connects me to people dripping with PPK. They are living learning and teaching in their everyday lives and the thoughts and ideas that are out there enable me to reflect upon my PPK and make the jumps to where I want to be as a leader and learner. Effectively PPK is the stuff that you can do, not just flap your lips about. It is the walk in your talk, the lived and actionable espoused theory. This combination of theory and practice - Praxis is what we seek in education. I had a great praxis group of about 5 people as I was emerging as a leader... with twitter that group is unlimited. I can learn from anyone, anywhere, anytime! Twitter dialogue and connections brings me dissonance and synergy.

So Tarryn - introducing it to staff. Hmmm once shown the possibilities effective teachers will pick this up and use it. I sense that your session isn't just about student learning but about learning in a connected world whether you are a student or teacher. The lines are of student and teacher are blurred. We are all learners at different stages on a continuum and the sooner us teachers remember that the more effective we will all become. I look forward to following the dialogue and hope I can contribute to your session in some way.

A rushed early morning post that had a couple of restarts as the iPad blog app decided to spit the dummy. An early morning due to two sick children and not being able to get back to sleep. Flicked through twitter, read about what Tarryn was going to do today and thought I could throw my two cents in, take from it what you will - got to love the power and connectivity of twitter.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Finally a starting point for this blog
Sometimes I procrastinate - some people would say that sometimes is a little generous. This is the case with this blog. Then you have an event that energises the mind and prompts you to write, to share an experience. So here goes a first attempt...

Ignition2012 an unconference for emerging leaders has spun my wheels. So many ideas that resonate with my mental models. The chance to see the future leaders of New Zealand education co-constructing a format for open dialogue was priceless. These people were not having professional learning done to them. They were forging new paths, sparking from each other and building upon ideas in an atmosphere dripping with collaboration.

I considered myself a lucky participant. Firstly because I am a principal and obviously have 'emerged' as a leader in education. Secondly because I got to see the emerging leaders I took from Taupaki School see that their thoughts and ideas are valued by a wider audience. I was lucky because I got to listen to educators who were not concerned about which sector they were from. Tertiary, Secondary, Primary were all there as equals.

I spoke with amazing people @timoslimo @chrisbradbeer @taratj @claireamosnz @mosborne01 @teachernz @chrisclaynz @traintheteacher @bridgetcasse @homaians. I missed 1:1 face to face connections with @rachelboyd @billy_merchant but their tweets were on the money! All brave people making a difference in our New Zealand schools.

As schools we have a responsibility to incubate stunning people. As leaders in school we must allow innovation to flourish. We cannot allow these bright hopes for the future to be snuffed out or picked off in our schools due to lack of opportunity or professional freedom.

A sign of leadership is to step back and let others shine. The attendees at Ignition2012 definitely shone. I have no doubt that given enough time and resource these people would solve a number of issues (both perceived and real) in education. I hope they continue to experiment at the fringe, inspire those around them and ignite connections.

[Posting interrupted by a 30 minute dialogue with a teacher I took to Ignition2012 who was buzzing about the event]

To the Team at Albany Senior High School e mihi atu ki to mana ki to wairua. You provided the structure and framework for great things to happen. To Mark Osborne thank you for letting an oldish Principal attend this event and providing a forum for me to increase my connections with stunning people.

Taylor Mali would be proud of the many voices who spoke with conviction at Ignition2012

Now... to think about the next post... BYOD or as I want to name it BYOB or the tweet by @johnllock from the First Time Principals' Residential Course where @hekiaparata talked about competitive collaboration... Hmmmmm.