Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Developing our Brand

The last twelve months have been a roller coaster of learning as our school has been coming together to reconfirm what our brand is. 

Staff have been encouraged to dream again and give life to a connected and engaging curriculum. We've worked hard at identifying the principles of our learning vision that is then examined by some key practices. 

We've soaked in this to then better reflect what our brand should be that examples this externally. We were fortunate to have a day with Craig from School Branding Matters who we immersed in our place around our classrooms and then with the leadership team before coming together with him as a whole staff. Let's just say that he left with some passion ringing in his ears!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Vision revisioned...

Back in November last year we started the process of redefining our vision - articulating why we do what we do and how that is supported by our principles of action and what that then looks like in practice. Since we started this it's been like a multi laned highway of development as we worked to begin the development of our school wide focuses alongside it. These were: 

- Does authentic teacher collaboration look like in practice for our place? 
- What is the relationship between teacher practice and professional practice in a professional team
- Developing a shared understanding of digital tool integration into our learning! 

Wow! All big, and key, parts of a morphing 'why' and have caused us to ask: "What do you believe about how kids learn most powerfully and deeply in their lives? 

And then the question that follows (for both each individual and as a whole school team) is does our practice in our classrooms with kids honour those identified beliefs? 

Challenging, exciting, huge and ongoing...

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A new beginning...

It's been four weeks since the new journey began at my new school. It's been a whirlwind few months getting to this point and it's time to pause and reflect on what I've learnt so far from this transition.

No matter what you know about the challenges of change it really only starts to make sense once you're immersed in the nuances of a particular schools context! Hence four weeks in, and after a day of reflection and learning with Mark Osborne (CORE Ed) and my wider leadership team it all begins to become clear! I hadn't realised how easily is had been to become immersed in those day to day management issues in a big school in Term 4 within four weeks! Even though I kept saying "Lets lift our eyes" it was amazing how much the immediate day to day management issues around staffing changes, system challenges, curriculum queries started pulling my eyes down and away from where the real challenge begins and end - with the vision.

I've always liked this simple graphic that details that the leverage is most strongest when you start back at the very beginning and confirm and recallibrate what the vision is. It all either connects or disconnects from there. After our day of discussion and sharing with Mark Osborne the immediate elephant in the room at a leadership level was the lack of a clear and consistent vision across our school. So simple and yet so easy to lose sight of in the day to day stuff and yet so important for the leadership to keep the eye on the ball. That is the core part of what we are there for. If the leadership lose sight of that shared common purpose then there is no way we can expect teachers to stay connected to it. 

Another great graphic which details this as well is Grant Lichtman's 'Stairway of Successful Innovation' 2014 (which he expanded from M.Lippett, 1987 and T. Knoster, 1991). It shows that without a clear vision you have confusion.

Step 1 is to bring us all back to our centre and to reconnect all our stakeholders with a shared and common purpose. Then, and only then can we build from there.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Collaboration is a time-tested practice on the path to greater results. If you create the environment for teachers to pool their experience, expertise, education and passion to tackle challenging situations (like meeting the learning needs of a diverse range of children) you can create huge competitive advantage that people left by themselves are unable to do. One of our biggest discoveries to date is that we have to invest more time together to gain the benefits we seek. Time together is the price we pay for better results in what we do (Miller, Great Leaders Serve, 2015). This can be both formal, scheduled time before and after school, and informal time, throughout the learning day. Monday’s scheduled Teacher Only Day is part of our schools investment in time together as a whole team. Its a great opportunity for our staff to hear about another schools challenges and to share with them our collaborative growth stories. Providing these opportunities for group development is part of the Principal’s role. A Principal must lead the school’s teachers in a process of learning to improve their teaching, while learning alongside them about what works and what doesn’t (Fullan, The Principal, 2015). Our school has always put an emphasis on leading learning, by encouraging collaborative practice and in taking ownership of understanding why we do what we do and how we do it!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The climate of change and its impact on our perception of school

Wednesday June 10 2015

Last week I shared some of the ‘big picture’ detail on how our world, and our education system, is shifting. Today I want to start to bring it closer to home and talk about what will continue to look like - not just for the wider education sector, but for our own school! The quote below from Michael Fullan represents the influence of how far and how deep the step change to our current system and structure goes. The impact from his, and others research, is being felt in many ‘western’ countries around the world - including by our very own Ministry of Education. He has the ear of our Minister!
Some of that shift may not be as apparent locally (yet) outside our school but the trend, both nationally and internationally, is towards a more collaborative, digitally integrated and self regulated teaching and learning environment.
No other professional organisation or structure could say that by doing what it has always done it is appropriate and sufficient for today’s (and tomorrow’s) challenges. No Doctor, Lawyer, Electrician, Builder, Accountant etc uses the exact same systems, structures or practices to achieve the result desired for their client today. They would not presume, that if they did not renew and revise their skill over the next five years, that they would be ready for tomorrow’s challenges.

It therefore stands to reason that to expect a classroom, and the practice inside the classroom, to be what we think it should be (as we remember it or have seen in other schools) is not necessarily acceptable either. There’s a saying that goes “If you mimic the herd, you’ll regress to the mean. Aim to be the only one, not just another one.”
That doesn’t mean that we are following a fad or being a localised radical school. There is a collective shift, both nationally and internationally, that is challenging the playing field that is the education sector. Over the past six years we have been continuing to develop the professional philosophy of what effective practice for teaching and learning is centred on at our school. Thats our job and what you would expect of educational professionals. We have been active in not letting the DNA of an old school infrastructure or a traditional teaching structure hold us back. This school wide inquiry is based on research and identified best practice. We have developed our school vision into a learning vision of four key points. ‘Our why’ is then supported by identifying ‘What’ we need to develop to make that happen and ‘How’ we’re going to do it. (Click on the image below to view in a larger format.)
The journey began from this point with us investigating what e-learning and inquiry learning meant and looked like in our setting. The system inquiry from that moment on kept opening new doors as our staff wide investigation unfolded. Each step helped us to develop stronger understandings and connections into what our teaching and learning programmes were trying to achieve. Part of the real transformation across these aspects began when the different teaching teams began to investigate the potential of what working in close collaborative could enable. It remains an ongoing journey, but there is no doubt that the focus on the development of effective collaborative teaching and learning is contributing to transforming the way that both teachers and students learn at our school and the potential of those desired outcomes.
The biggest challenge in transforming spaces for learning lies in transforming the industrial era concept of schools, and this represents a paradigm shift - for teachers and parents. These shifts are notoriously difficult. There are several differences between this current cycle and the open classroom attempts of the 70s. There is a more sophisticated understanding of learning, information and communication technologies that lend themselves to enhancing and enriching learning and supporting personalised learning. Also, there is increased collaboration between the various professional groups that together are the agents for educational facilities design and development, for example, part of our revised capital works programme involves us providing evidence of how we are developing our site into a modern learning environment.

If you want further reading and research around this I am continuing to upload a list of references onto our website - tagged under ‘our why’ and ‘collaborative teaching’.
Your teaching team is an integral part of our continually evolving practice in what is this school. Their drive to be the best professional they can be for our school and our children is what makes what we do authentic and meaningful. Part of sharing what we do and how we do it is an important part of our partnership with you. Consequently, at the start of next term, as part of our mid year reporting process to you we will be offering opportunities for you to hear about the wider learning programme your child is a part of and then the personalised discussion around the learning pathway for your child.

The first one, with each teaching pair, will focus on what the programme looks like at their appropriate age and stage, and give opportunity for them to share how the programme is structured and why they do what they do. These teaching pair sessions will be on different days and each pair will hold their particular workshop at different times on their day (eg before school, after school, evening) so you can pick the time that suits you best.

The second opportunity is our more traditional followup to the mid year report and will allow you to opt in to an interview slot with your child's teaching pair and discuss the specific learning progress, achievements and needs of your child.

The changing landscape for learning in our world

Wednesday June 3 2015

Last week Jenna, Evelyn and I presented a couple of workshops at the small schools (1-300 kids!) conference in Queenstown in support of the main keynote presentations that were centred around 'Future Focused Education' and 'What is powerful learning?'. Below I want to share a few of the key messages from the main speakers and a short paragraph about what we shared! (Some of the photos are taken from the presentation slides so please excuse the slightly off centre look)
Compare the list on the left (which is from an early twentieth century factory model) with the list on the right (which are elements we'll all remember) from our own schooling days. Part of the reason that those core elements are still prevalent today is that our school buildings, and the systems and structure of schooling, are mired with DNA from times gone by. The current education system is not broken. It's wonderfully constructed. It's just that we don't need it anymore. It's outdated. The world we live in today is very different to the world that we grew up in. Below, in the next set of images, are some everyday examples of this.
All four of these automated services used to be someone's job. The workforce that is employed in these four service industries (bank tellers, supermarket checkout operators, librarians, airline customer service officers) has, and will, continue to shrink over time as these types of automated services become more and more prevalent in all aspects of our lives - both personally and professionally.
The magazine 'The Economist' published an article that summarised some research around what different industry in a 21st century workplace are looking for in terms of core skills. Note that while Literacy and Numeracy - individually - are not in the top six they still bring fundamental skills to those top skills. However, the difference is that the emphasis is not just about being good at the three r's but how, as a learner, our children manage their own learning pathway (appropriate to their age and stage) and how they apply reason and connect their thinking with those core skills across a range of formal and informal learning contexts!
The evidence for schooling structure and system redesign supports the shiftfrom the left hand list to the right as our education system attempts to become more future focused.

Our presentation focused on this and how we are making it happen at our place for our learners. A simple way to example what this looks like in our school setting is that rather than being teaching and teacher centred our school curriculum is more learning and learner centred. That means that we:
  • think about how our teachers ensure learning is happening appropriately for each individual
  • we engage learners (both teachers and our children) in 'discovering' and connecting learning
  • we see knowledge as evolving
  • every learner is expected to be an active learner - authentic learning is not 'done' to us
  • every learner develops capabilities to learn for life - not just school
"Providing opportunities for choice, control, and collaboration are potent strategies for increasing academic achievement. Young people are likely to be more motivated and engaged in an activity when they have a voice in how it is conducted and can affect how it concludes" (Nakkula & Tashalis 2012).

We told our story - so far...

Monday, April 27, 2015

Melbourne CORE Modern Learning Environment followup

Coming back from the brilliant reflective week that was the CORE Melbourne Modern Learning Environment into our own school environment was a good feeling. The journey of our team is not something that is reliant on a boom and bust cycle of outside conference influence but a genuine reflection of our collaborative approach to reflect on what, and how we 'do school' connects to our learning vision!

Our team teaching teams had already had a CRT day together looking at the structure of their pathway and workshop planning, the space and furniture they had and how all those elements were combining in the learning behaviours and events they were seeing. These in turn were reflective of the structures currently in place within those elements and gave a sense of the mindset being promoted and in turn the vision that was driving it all (Daniel Kim levels of perspective). While it's easy to to think about the events and learning behaviours that you're seeing day to day the other elements require one to 'lift their eyes' (Brendan Spillane Consulting) and give a great place for authentic reflection.

Below is the short series of slides that we looked at together during the term break. It started off with a big picture point of discussion around what this thing called school is and how it relates to what education is meant to be (well worth a look) which we followed with Julia Atkins excellent video on 'What's the essence of the NZ Curriculum look like for you?' It's then followed by some of our school thinking and questions that came to mind while I was away in Melbourne, along with some of Mark Osbourne's key thinking  around modern learning environments. While some slides had a lot of words they were all used as discussion starters rather than as a presentation so please look at them as such. I was very mindful of the old adage that goes something like: if your slides are saying what you are then you're redundant and shouldn't be there! Listed at the end are some key blog sites of the other CORE team members - Janelle Riki & Jo Robson - who together with Mark and Julia made the whole Melbourne experience completely rewarding and inspiring!

Taking that day together is just part of continuing this process of keeping what we do and how we do it aligned with 'our why'. This 'lifting of the eyes' (while you're on the dance floor of everyday teaching) can only encourage reasoned and sustainable change within a teaching and learning environment if resourced well. By this I don't mean just with a teacher only or CRT shared realise (incidentally I believe that splintered CRT realise in hour or part day lots actually costs you more in the long run in terms of lost learning opportunity). We've further supported it with an interior designer who has been tasked with developing a reflective visual resource (photos) of the learning spaces in action (with notes) that helps each team of teachers see what is happening during the day and therefore give them further evidence to use when considering genuine changes that will enhance their learning vision of the learning spaces appropriate to their age and stage.

It's this differentiated development of our teaching teams that comes together to give a shared understanding of how our different learning spaces are giving life to our school wide learning vision.

An example of our current 'point in time' layout is below.