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Monday, 8 August 2016

Back to Reality - But A New One

Gunfire and explosions in the distance, looking out the classroom window to see a tank going past.  No, I have not moved to a war zone - just Waiouru School.  And, as McDonalds catch phrase says, I'm loving it!

I am back to reality from my time facilitating, but it is a reality with a twist.  I have already caught myself slipping back to the old and familiar, given myself a swift kick and moved forward again.

This reality has a device per student, GAFE, and the encouragement to experiment.  This reality has school as my focus for the majority of the week.  Nothing new in that say those that know me.  The difference is I am still managing to maintain some balance between work and relaxation - one thing I was determined to have after the balance returned to my life through CORE Education.

Relationship building has been the order of the day for the last two weeks.  Letting my kids adjust to the changes that have come with having a new teacher as well as laying down the expectations I have of them in relation to learning and behaviour.  I have done duty in the snow, duty while it is snowing and begun to meet the community thanks to parent interviews.  I have even managed the two teams that ventured to Taihape last week to participate in the Ruapehu Sevens competition - gumboots and all!

We have started with a focus that is probably almost universal in schools at the moment - a focus on the Olympics complete with Thinkers Keys and learning being presented in a variety of ways.  That said, it is only a part of a wider unit looking into feeling the fear and doing it anyway - speeches, dance, cross country and inter-school sport challenges all come under this umbrella also.

My new second home has been set up and an equally new routine of phone calls to the family takes a good chunk of my evenings.  Mother Nature and her glistening robes of snow have made visits home to visit my whānau either short and sweet  or non-existent over the last two weeks.  A good chance to set up the rooms that got left in the two day rush to get moved into both the house and the classroom.  Now both house and class look like someone cares about them.  The cold has been ferocious after the luxury of living in Whanganui and thermals are my new best friend - including the nana nighties.

Am I glad I moved - yes!  It is great to face a set of new challenges.  There is still a way to go but the groundwork of getting to know my learners as people that happen to have their assessment results is ticked off and continuing to be developed.  Now to the real work of looking at what the modern learning curriculum looks like for my kids, developing student agency (this is beginning already) and ensuring innovative teaching practice becomes the new normal. This too will bring a different form of gunfire and explosions - ones that indicate change.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Brain Fizz

In seven short weeks I will return to the classroom to teach a class of 27 Year 7 and 8's.  Nothing too amazing in that, but it gets slightly more adventurous when I add that I am 'leaving home' at the same time to set up what I have told our kids is our rented summer house.  Our daughter suggested that Waiouru was not the best location for a summer house. 

Yes, I am looking forward to it. It is an amazing wee school hiding on the Central Plateau not far from where I grew up in Ohakune.  Yes, I am going to miss my husband while I am living in the 'summer house' but we have agreed that quantity time will be replaced with quality time.  The ideas to make this a reality are well settled in my mind. Yes, I am still working hard to facilitate well in my current role. At the same time I am offering to my schools I am gaining just as much from the teachers I work with.  Yes, my brain is fizzing.

I have had the privilege of 18 months 'working' for CORE Education - which has felt more like paid professional development than work.  I have learned so much. The origin of my brain fizz - so many ideas, so much to put into practice, so much to make work. 

Where to begin? 

Removing furniture and making space. Developing a collaborative learning community - particularly in Math. Working toward the students having agency over their learning. Genius Hour. Discovering there is an app to help me issue and manage my books that will make up the class library. Online collaboration projects to get involved in. Tweeting as part of #Kidschatnz.  Blogging to record their learning journey. Wicked problem solving. Universal Design for Learning. Including the things I love best - LEARNZ, blending the learning into something meaningful to my classes rather than aiming for coverage, cultural awareness woven into everything we do.  

Now it is my turn to be in the hot seat trying to make it all work - and reminding myself that fail is my first attempt in learning.  

Will I be building the plane as I fly it - most definitely. Will I be on my own doing it - no way.  I have a range of learning communities to support me, advise me, encourage me out of my comfort zone. I am also lucky enough to join a collaborative, supportive and future focused team.  

My biggest challenge is deciding where to begin.  The brain fizz is building - waking me in the night just like processing the learning as an efellow did two years ago. So many ideas to sort into their place and organise how they will all look in reality.  Which can I manage? Which can the students manage?  How fast to make changes?

Watch this space as I blog about my newest adventure - building and flying a plane. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Agency - What is Good for Students is Good for their Teachers.

A recent challenge given by Derek Wenmoth and Mary Ann Mills through the CORE Education Modern Learning Curriculum course set me on a slightly different path to others learning alongside me.  While they were challenged to either explore student agency or the environments in which their students work, my focus turned to the learners I work with most regularly at the moment - teachers.

I discovered that while we advocate for students to have agency over their learning this is not what happens for their teachers.  It makes sense for all staff to be involved in school-wide professional learning development (PLD) - particularly if it is funded by the Ministry as is current practice for a lot of schools.  However, it does not make sense for teachers to have their prior learning go unrecognised or for there not to be some link between the PLD and their Teaching as Inquiry.

I understand the frustration felt by the teachers who responded to the survey I shared with a small group.

I understand the feeling of not having power over your learning as a teacher, unless you choose to take on more over and above that learning which is completed with the school.

I understand the need to self-manage learning to meet the actions decided on in order to achieve success in my teaching as inquiry because the school provided PLD has not even considered what those needs might be.

I understand the frustration of sitting for two hours in a staff meeting after school to be told about methods of practice that are well and truly in place within my classroom - time I could have put to better use learning something new and relevant to extend said practice.

I understand.

In fact I understand it well enough to be determined that, wherever possible, it will not be the case as I facilitate PLD with teachers in my current role.  I try to work with individuals, or groups that have similar needs.  I do not insist teachers stay if they are ill - all the work we do is shared and available to them, as am I if they have questions.  Discussion occurs ahead of upcoming meetings and workshop times to ensure I am being responsive to the needs of the staff involved.

I wonder how many teachers would be feeling less pressure if the adage 'working smarter, not harder' was extended to their teaching as inquiry.  Would the idea of allowing time out from school-wide PLDs when the content is already displayed in their practice, or having one major focus per year, lift the never-ending feeling that the learning involved in keeping up with the changes coming at them thick and fast is never done. The feeling that they are snowed under. In turn, this should assist teachers to improve their mental health, while work-life balance could well be more realistic. It does require those who are no longer in classrooms but administration roles to take the time to talk to their staff about where the pressure is coming from and how they can work together to make it manageable. Give staff agency to manage their learning instead of expectations that run them ragged.

Teachers themselves need to ensure that smarter not harder is a part of their values.  Looking at the students in front of them, the professional learning groups, locally and online, they have at their disposal to assist in their learning, tying in as much as they can the PLD focus of their school to create an inquiry into their practice that is streamlined and robust.  Using their passion to do the best for their students by taking agency over their learning will ensure that those students get the best teacher possible working and learning alongside them. 

Lets bravely step away from the one size fits all model of PLD we hold on to and launch our teachers into the learning world we expect them to create for their students.

Friday, 29 January 2016


I have just returned home from the second movie I have seen in the space of a month. Suffragette is a must view to have a better comprehension of the conditions women were living and working in - the same conditions that led to Emily Davison throwing herself under the King's horse on Derby Day in 1912.

We have a lot to thank those women for - in New Zealand Kate Shepherd and her suffragette's. Without them women would still be the property of their father, brother or husband depending on what their marital and/or familial status was. They would be subject to laws that did not favour any of their rights - in the story this is protrayed through a lack of parental rights, the right to be safe in the workplace and the right to keep the money they earned.  Even the mere right to have a voice heard in their own home was not open to a woman. 

While some have said it is sanitised I did not find it to be the case. There were many points that had me uncomfortable or squirming or wanting to hug Maud as Cary Mulligan's portrayal of the main character had me right there in the moment. It is true the cast was white - but that was the reality of East London at the time and does not diminish or demean the fight so many others have had over time to ensure their voice is heard. It was with pride that the list of countries where women gained the vote was led by New Zealand in 1893 thanks to our own suffragettes.  The film is set in England in 1912, a country where it took another 6 years for certain women over 30 to get the vote and 1928 for all women. 

If you have not had the opportunity to see it - you should make the time. You should also take your daughters so they too have a comprehension of the fight to gain the rights they will have as women, your children so they have some understanding of why Labour Day is a holiday as well as why they should appreciate their right to have an education and the right to vote. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

#EdBlogNZ #CENZ15 - MVP - Resource Category

Write about a classroom/teaching resource or online tool that your learners find really valuable. Explain how you use it, why you use it, and try to include some student voice (remember to think about privacy/anonymity).

This blog post should have been completed some time ago - before #CENZ15 ended.  I figured I am now in a state of better late than never!

What I will share is a resource that we are all seriously lacking in throughout the teaching profession anywhere in the world - TIME.  It does not quite meet the idea in the brief but I will argue it is important.

You need time to stop long enough and question your practice.  What are the things you do repeatedly?  Why do you do them? Where did they come from?  I have had a principal in the past ask me how I managed to lift the Literacy levels, particularly Reading, in my students so much in the short space of time that is a school year.  I had never stopped to consider the deliberate acts of teaching that led me there because I was too busy doing the job.  I had to take time to unpack the things I did, the reasoning behind it, what told me things were working and why I had moved away from the practices that did not.  Time - not easy to find that valuable resource.

You need to take the time to research current pedagogical theories.  What is behind the Modern/Innovative Learning Environments? Where did these ideas come from?  Is there research to say it works or is it a passing fad?  Isn't it just like the open plan classrooms we used to be in and moved away from in the past?  Time to locate the research, time to visit classrooms/schools using these practices and environments, time to trial some of the pedagogy even if you are still in a single cell classroom. Time.

You need time to play.  New technologies, apps, extensions, add-ons and tools are coming at teachers faster than they can hope to keep up with it.  In my experience it is best to start small and add to your toolkit as your confidence grows.  Feeling the fear and doing it anyway does not happen without a chance to take the fear from the level where they are petrified of everything that could (and in their minds will) go wrong down to a mild anxiety. That only happens when you have played enough to know you have got this.  Playing requires time.

You were initially encouraged and now told you need to make time to create a portfolio based on your teaching as inquiry. I was resistant to the need to do this at first - why spend time writing about what I was doing instead of just letting me reflect in my head and get on with the job?  The reality is that the more I stop and write my reflections, the deeper the questions arising from these and the more I find it important to make time to undertake the things I have listed above.

Has that improved my practice? Yes.  Is it worth finding and using the precious resource called time? Yes.

I would challenge those with the ability to create time to undertake the task of reflecting on practice in team meetings, CRT or other school based release times to make it happen.  Teachers are too tired if they are expected to leave this until other administratively more essential tasks are completed and will often give the questioning of practice only cursory consideration.  The PCTs would indicate that this is insufficient to meet the requirements to retain certification.  Deeper knowledge of practice and the opportunity to explore changing it can only come about when teachers feel it is valued as a practice within itself.  How do they know it is?  They are given this wonderful resource called time.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

#EdBlogNZ - Inspiration during #CENZ15

Blog about your top three sources of inspiration during the three weeks of Connected Educators New Zealand.

The first of my three sources of inspiration during CENZ15 has to be Ulearn15.  This amazing event allows us to connect face to face with many educators we often only see once a year but whom we encounter regularly in the Twittersphere, on Facebook, in the VLN or VPLD and any other number of online communities for educators.  This year for me was no different in this respect.

It was the first time that six sevenths of our 'odd-fellows' group had been in the same place at the same time since Ulearn14.  It was great to reconnect, catch up with all the changes we have been through personally and, for all of us there, professionally.  We were able to connect with our facilitators and other efellows at the dinner on Tuesday night.  Wednesday night was a chance for the team that I work in to meet together and share a meal - again we are spread far and wide across the lower North Island only coming face to face once a month.  Thursday had me realising how many educators I knew at the gala dinner for a range of reasons.  Daily I would be making my way around and come across people I either knew well or just in passing.  What a great chance to be face to face and talking for real!

Always when I leave Ulearn I have a burst of 'Ulearn Resolutions' but, unlike the ones I make at New Year, these are usually followed up by actions.  Already I find myself lurking in Twitter more regularly (I think I actually understand how it works better now), have been determined that my blogs will come alive and been inspired into new readings and reflections.  My practice with regard to teaching has been reflected on and I find myself considering possibilities for the future I had not in prior to Ulearn.

The second source of inspiration was the webinar only a few days ago with Michael Fullan.  It was the first time I had heard him speak in any form.  I have read bits and pieces and heard plenty about his ideas but never actually listened to him.  The enthusiasm with which he presents his ideas for the development of skills we talk about life long learners having being used to create deeper learning really struck a chord with me.  The examples he shared, the fact it is successfully being trialled here in Christchurch and the wish to take it to other centres within NZ had me hooked.  It is the kind of learning at the teacher level I would love to become part of or assist in facilitating.  I was left wondering how to be part of it all and, again, inspired to watch his videos, explore the website further and read more widely - I have a book he has authored coming from Book Depository as a result of the webinar.

The third source of inspiration is right here.  The blogs I have read as part of the challenge, some of which I commented on and others just lurked and read, have been nothing short of inspiring.  Congratulations to those of you who have taken up the challenge and shared.  Keep it up once these challenges are complete. Therein lies my next challenge!

I have struggled with the idea of blogging for some time now - the deepest rooted doubt being the wondering about what I have to share that others would wish to read.  I am just like everyone else out there - trying to make sense of the innovations that are hitting education thick and fast, while I trial as many as I can manage and that feel right with mixed levels of success.  Not doing anything special, just doing it.  I wish to thank the magical Anne Kenneally who pointed out to me that I needed to think about who the blog was for.  So excuse what still feels very much like self-indulgence but once these tasks for #EdBlogNZ are done you will find me reflecting on the professional development, readings and time spent in schools facilitating as this blog grows.  It will include the failures and the successes as there will be things for me to learn from both.  It will probably be the basis for the action research and inquiry I undertake from now on as well.  Some of it may assist you if you choose to follow me, some of it may not.  But it will assist who I finally understand is the audience - me!  Anything over and above that with regard to audience is a bonus.

My Inspiration - #CENZ15 EdBlogNZ Challenge

#CENZ15 EdBlogNZ Challenge, Week 1, #2. Write about some legendary bloggers, educators, inspiring leaders that help you to dream bigger?

This one had me thinking for some time until I reflected on what I share with people about Ulearn10 and the practice changing influences I found there. Not to mention the legends that make up the amazing group I was privileged to be part of last year as a member of #efellows14.

Lee Watanabe Crockett has set up the Global Digital Citizenship Foundation which is a non-profit organisation with their mission statement reading that the Foundation "helps teachers instil values in their students that guide them towards a vision of creating a better world for themselves and for others.Compassionate, innovative, inspirational, and fun—that pretty much sums us up!".

There were things in Lee's keynote at Ulearn10 that resonated deeply with me after watching my own children who were in the tween/early teen phases of their lives and what I was seeing with my students. They were multi-tasking, scanned for information differently, socially connected online and working in a way I had never dreamed possible as a tween/teen.

At the time he presented the keynote Lee was encouraging us to become Committed Sardines. This meant we were sent a weekly overview of the Committed Sardine blog posts which continued to influence my thinking beyond Ulearn10. These blog overviews still arrive but not from Committed Sardine - now they come from Global Digital Citizen. They still challenge my thinking and practice. Lee has also authored and co-authored a range of books which have influenced my practice including 'Understanding the Digital Citizen'. Much of the content is still very relevant to currently labelled innovative practice.

Another keynote during Ulearn10 was Lane Clark. I had already completed the training for Infolink developed by Gwen Gawith and born from action research. The work I had completed with my students in this way had me sold on this concept already. Lane shared her system for encouraging this in classrooms. Again there was resonation as she spoke about just in time learning that was real and authentic for the learner, not because the curriculum or long term plan said so. Over the last few years I have purchased and read Lane's books then used ideas with students in a mash up of the two methods as my classes worked through their inquiries.

The final inspiration for change at Ulearn10 was saved until the final keynote. Stephen Heppell shared his experiences of designing new spaces for learning that suited the learner rather than an outdated, siloed curriculum delivery method. I had seen my own students wanting to work outside on the verandahs with the digital technology we had, sit on the floor in collaborative groups, and challenge each other's thinking with discussion. The spaces he was talking about were a perfect match to what the students I was teaching were in need of. He also spoke about the mobilisation of learning and the need to figuratively blow the walls off the classroom as widely as possible. I still follow Stephen and his ideas through his website. It has continued to prod my thinking, poke at my practice and provoke me into further change as time has passed.

I felt sorry for my poor principal when I returned from Ulearn10. I was coming at him with risky ideas that he in turn took a risk and chose to support. New innovative furniture in a single cell led to a change in teaching style and a letting go of control on my part. New ways of learning were trialled and my class were regularly off course from the long term plan that the rest of the cluster followed. Increased technology saw us arrive at a situation where we had 15 netbooks or laptops for a class of 32 students. I cannot thank him enough for supporting my practice changes and action research. Without the support I received then I would not be where I am now in a number of ways.

Last year I was privileged to find myself part of an amazing team of people as one of the #efellows14. From the first face to face we had together we clicked as a group and shared a lot of laughter, angst, worry, ideas, wondering, and work throughout the year. This also includes our wonderful and extremely supportive facilitators, Dr John Fenaughty and Dr Louise Taylor. These guys poked and prodded at our thinking and views about education to expand them, encouraging us to step outside our comfort zones and take risks as we looked into what part of our research was going to be transformative. We were also fortunate to visit some stunning schools and be stretched still further by the talent that is housed within CORE Education. Each of us had to find a coping mechanism for the brain bursts that would happen in the night - either not letting us sleep when we went to bed or waking us in the early hours. It was professional development on steroids. Collaboration led to ideas we would never have thought possible at the beginning of the year. And such an awesome year it was!

I treasure any time I get with these #efellows14 legends who continue to challenge me to expand the edges of my practice and step outside the box with my thinking. I know that our 'oddfellows' year, the teams of past efellows, along with the newer models from 2015, 2016 and on into the future will continue to provoke reflection and change in my practice for years to come. Bring it on!