Wednesday, January 9, 2019

School Choice - You Are Not Everyone's Cup of Tea

You are not everyone's cup of tea - and this is ok! 

Today when I was scrolling my social media feeds, I came across a meme called ‘you’re not everyone’s cup of tea’ and I started to think about how this applied to school choice and that it is ok if your school is not everyone’s cup of tea! 

For the purposes of this post I am not talking about those families that were always going to come to your school, or those who are looking at schools because they are new to the area – instead I am referring to the families that have preconceived notions about schooling, your school and those schools around you. Many make these decisions based on outdated information, hearsay and oftentimes, will rule out a school without even venturing across the threshold.

Sometimes they have had a fall out with their current school and they are looking for a new place. We all get them - those families that rock up to your office wanting to ‘have a quick look around’ in the search for that indefinable something that only they are privy too, in a school. They are usually already enrolled at a school locally but have decided, for one reason or another, that their current school no longer fits their brief, or meets their needs. So they go on a shopping expedition with a long list of questions and quite often, a longer list of wrongs they want their new school to fix. 

 Much like the process of buying a car, they want to come and ‘kick your tyres’. 

 I understand, I’m a parent as well and I too have done my due diligence and ‘kicked the tyres’ of any potential school. I know what kind of driving and passenger experience I am looking for my child. 

Earlier in my career as a principal I used to feel a bit disappointed if a family came to ‘kick my schools tyres’ and left without enrolling. I’m a little more pragmatic about it now, because I am a firm believer that it is ok if your school does not fit the family or if you are not their ‘cup of tea’. 

Here’s what I’ve learnt/noticed from many years of parent visits:  

Finding the right school will look different for each family:

Context matters. For some families they want their child to go to school with their friends, or they want them to be able to walk, for some they want a particular cultural or socio mix, and for others, it is all about how it feels when they visit. At my current school, many of our schools community have had a long association with the school, and for others it is about the sense of community the school fosters. The reasons people have chosen our school, or not as the case may be, are varied. Asking ‘what are you looking for in a school’ can help both sides find common ground. 

It is ok if we do not offer what a family is searching for: 

Trying to be everything for everyone is a recipe for disaster. I have learnt to embrace what it is that makes our school unique, and if a family is after a different socio or cultural mix to what our school embodies, then that is ok. It is likely that the school down the road will have what they are searching for. I can usually tell if our school is not going to meet expectations when I am asked questions like ‘What decile are you?’ promptly followed up with ‘ohhh’, or from comments like ‘ I notice a lot of (insert culture/stereotype) at your school..hmmm’. 

 A bad experience is two sided: 

I am a bit more wary of those tyre kickers who have already been to many schools, or who are so negative about their current school, but have never spoken to their current principal about their concerns. When I have a family wanting to enrol because of the ‘other school is so bad’ I usually contact the principal to find out what the other side of the story is. Sometimes if a family has been unhappy at a number of schools, they are likely to be as unhappy at yours! 

It is ok if a family ‘tried on’ the school but the school didn’t fit:

Our school culture, and yours, is what it is. It’s often a reflection of your current community, your staff and who is at the helm (both from a Governance and a Leadership perspective). It is shaped from what has happened in the past, what the focus is for the present and what the dreams for the future are. Sometimes this resonates with a family and they add to your particular flavour, and sometimes it’s never going to be a smooth mix. Oil and water comes to mind! 

It is far better they find their best fit rather than stay at your school and cause issues within the community because their discontentment will only end up making things difficult. If this happens I now see it for what it is – an opportunity for the family to find their ‘tribe’ and an experience worthy of reflection should it occur again. 

 Obviously I am writing about the odd family, not a mass walk out – in that situation there are much deeper forces at play and a different strategy would need to be enacted. 

Remember that this goes both ways: 

 Sometimes a family comes to you and you become their ‘tribe’, because they did not fit at their last school. 

Be honest, transparent and true to your community. 

If you present your school as it is, highlighting the things that make your school unique, and speak from your heart, families will either resonate with this or they will not. And this is ok. We had a family some months back come and visit – in fact they came back twice. They had looked at three other schools prior to visiting ours, and when talking with me, proceeded to tell me what was wrong with all of them, including the one they were with currently. They were looking for a utopia and a promise that as a school, we would not embark on a particular educational journey. I was unable to promise this, reiterated what our school was about and noticing that this was not enough, thanked them for their time and wished them well on their journey. You see, I knew we were not ever going to measure up enough, and I will not promise what is not in my power to promise. And this is ok. We may not have been the right fit for them, but I knew in my heart that they were not the right fit for us either. 

If they are not the right fit for you then it will not matter what you do, you will never be their cup of tea:

 There are many stories of schools that have bent over backwards trying to be everything for someone, but alas, it will never be good enough. No matter what you do, how you do it or no matter what you try it will be in vain. If you are a leader, you know what I am talking about. These people will never be your people. Instead, focus your energy on those who appreciate and love you because they are your people. Don’t neglect or alienate them in the pursuit of trying to be something for someone who does not want it. 


I think every school has something to offer most families but there will always be the outliers who may not fit one place, but might be the perfect fit for another. This is ok. 

 For those families that do not have the ability to ‘choose’ then it is important that all of us offer a high quality education because, for them, you are it. 

 For those that can choose, my message is to not be disheartened by that – it is ok. You cannot be everything to everyone, because then you are not being true to your context. 

 Remember that it is ok if you are not everyone’s cup of tea!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

There is Trouble Brewing on the Horizon

Please note - this is a longer post than I anticipated so feel free to skim the bolded bits

I began writing this as we drove through (stress not, I was a passenger) the leafy green suburbs of Vancouver.

Vancouver you ask?  Long story - I will fill you in another time as there is indeed a story to tell.  Prior to the leafy suburbs we traversed the concrete and steel industrial jungle between the leafy suburbs, and that is where the inspiration for this post came from.  We passed a group of casino workers braving the elements to strike in protest to, I am assuming, pay and conditions. I wondered about their effectiveness for awhile, and that wondering lead me to the Primary Principals and Teachers Collective bargaining being currently undertaken back in New Zealand.  And I sensed that there was going to be 'trouble in them thar hills' any moment now.  I am back in Auckland, and I was right. 

If you are new to my blog - welcome - if you are an old hat, apologies for the 'dry spell'.  In the madness that is the juggle of leadership, new responsibilities in the profession, a heavy study load (because when you are not busy enough in your life, you get convinced that doing a Diploma in Coaching in one year whilst working full time is a great idea - hmmm) and family commitments, something had to give.  My blog and vegetating out in front of a Netflix binge are the balls that I dropped.  However, I am back!  

Back to Education:

There is a crisis occurring in Education, and folks, this is serious - really serious!  We have teachers leaving in droves, a large percentage of our workforce about to retire (with others postponing retirement), lessening numbers of people entering training and graduates dropping out of the job faster than I can type this post! I call it the 40% problem! 

  • 40% of teachers are leaving in the first 5 years of teaching 
  • 40% of teachers are due to retire in the next 10 years
  • 40% less are being trained!

Math may not be the thing that spins my wheels, but even my Math skills say those statistics above add up to one big headache!

The crisis is past crisis point already in Auckland, and other parts of the country are finding themselves in the same position Auckland was in only a short few years ago.  The issue in Auckland is confounded by the huge number of teachers who are leaving the city to seek refuge in other parts of the country where their wage will go further!  

When we take this aspect in to account along with the 40% Problem, Auckland is haemorrhaging teachers. 

What exactly is this ‘crisis’ the profession is concerned about?

1.    There are less and less people applying for jobs.  In many cases in Auckland, schools are getting NO applicants.  Yes, you read that correctly, NO applicants.  Gone are the heady days where I could get 140 – 200 applications for a single job, these days I am happy if I get 1-4.  First, the applications dropped to around 20 (which is what principals anecdotally tell me is happening in other areas), then it dropped to few or nil.  Sometimes the applicants are unable to be considered because they are not even trained teachers, just wishful thinkers!  It is bad any time of the year but try getting a teacher to open a New Entrant class for later in the year and you are more likely to have luck finding a Unicorn in your garden!

2.    If you think finding a classroom teacher is bad, try finding a reliever (those wonderful and essential beings that come into your school to teach a class when the day to day teacher is sick or attending professional development).  These magical beings are even more rare – especially now, as by this time of the year most of them have been snapped up by schools needing someone in front of their classes. 

3.    The problem is not just a Primary school issue – our secondary schools are struggling, and for them they have the additional headache of finding specialists, especially in areas where people can make more money in the corporate world as opposed to being a ‘teacher’.  Our Early Childhood sector is also struggling to find staff. 

SO, why is this 'crisis’ such a big deal?

There are a number of reasons and unintended consequences that arise because of the teacher shortage, and people should be worried.  

I call it the INTERUPTUS Issue.  Let me draw a written picture of the situation using Auckland as the example.  I use Auckland because it is my context, and we are confident that these same impacts are either in or near your part of the country already or they are not far away! I know other parts of our fabulous country say ‘oh its just Auckland, who cares about them’ but it is unwise to be complacent! There but by the good grace of the Universe go any of you! 

1.    EDUCATION INTERUPTUS - There is a whole generation and cohort of students who are getting shortchanged in their education.  They are facing an inconsistent education because in some cases they are having a series of part time teachers.  My own daughter is about to have her 5th teacher for one of her subjects this year – and we are only half way through!  

    Ask yourself this – if a student has spent a significant amount of their education with a series of inexperienced teachers, year after year, or a new teacher each week/term because they cannot replace the teacher, what happens to their education?  What happens to the relationships they need? What happens if the only teacher they have is one that would not perhaps make it under ideal circumstances, but because a school is desperate to have a live, breathing human in front of students that is what they get? 

2.    CLASSROOM INTRUPTUS – how many times have parents gone to drop their child off in the morning only to see the sign ‘Room X is split between the following classrooms today due to not being able to find someone to teach the class’.

     Ask yourself this:  What does this do to the students, being split up and routines disrupted?  What does this do the class that has to cater for the additional students, and what does it do to the teachers that have to add another 5 or 10 students into their class? How conducive to teaching and learning is that?

3.    LEADERSHIP INTERUPTUS – Where schools can, they use senior leaders to take classes or be the ‘reliever’.  As a leader, I love the opportunity to work with the students in my school, but it is not the answer to use me as the ‘reliever of choice’.  The first few days are great reminders of why we became teachers, and I get an immense amount of satisfaction teaching.  But it is not sustainable.  I then have to add another working day to the end of that day in order to do the things I would have been doing instead. Teaching principals understand this well (and as an ex Teaching Principal I know how difficult that juggle is).  Last year I needed to put one of my senior leaders into a class fulltime because I was unable to replace a teacher who left mid year.  To do this meant loading up the rest of the senior leaders who were already juggling big work loads.  At best it is a temporary solution and an ineffective one at that! I am grateful I was able to do that because I have colleagues who were not so fortunate and they have had to permanently split classes (loading up teachers) to solve the issue.  

     Ask yourself this: What does this do to workloads? How does this help retain staff? Why would anyone enter leadership in these conditions? 

The flow on effects from this crisis are huge.

I heard talk by one group of leaders looking at ways to solve this lack of teachers that one option to explore might be to go to ‘studentless days’. 

Some of you may be old enough to remember the oil crisis of the late 70’s where the notion of ‘carless days’ were introduced. People had a sticker on their windscreen nominating a day where they were not to drive their vehicle.  It was not popular.  Imagine if schools started saying – ‘no year 1 or 2’s on a Monday’,or ‘Yr3/4s on Wednesdays’ in order to maximize the teachers they do have on site.  

That would be ‘FAMILY INTERUPTUS’!.  I can sense your collective roll of eyes from here – but desperate times could require desperate measures!

·      Teachers are coming into work when they are sick because they are trying to save their colleagues the stress of a split class or their students not having a teacher.

·      Some schools are having to double classes – from experience, let me tell you that teaching 60 plus kids is hard work. 

·      Teachers, who live in Auckland and other expensive places like Queenstown, are leaving the city/town in droves looking for a chance to buy a house and make their wage go further.  When they leave, they are not being replaced by the ‘next wave of teachers’.  There is no ‘next wave’.

·      Most importantly – it is our students, the next generation, that are being impacted on right now buy this crisis.  It is only because schools are being creative that things are ‘sort of’ ticking along.  It is a Band-Aid at best and that Band-Aid has run out of stickiness!

The last time we went on strike as a profession was in the 90s.  It was early on in my career and I recall marching down George Street in Dunedin, seeking pay parity.   We do not like causing disruption to our students and their families – I do not know how many times I have sat in meetings and accepted ‘crappy’ offers (at one meeting we even discussed forgoing a pay increase in order for schools to get more operational funding, so it is never about pay) because we want change for our students.  So strike is not ever a first option.  But, I sense a similar groundswell of frustration to the pay parity movement. 

Teachers and leaders have had enough. Every time one of our profession leaves the rest of the teachers have to pick up the slack and let me be clear, there is no slack left and most of the goodwill that respective Governments have capitalized on and abused over the last decade of underfunding and disrespect to the profession has gone.  It is a shame that the current Government is left carrying the can for the previous mistreatment but the teachers in our country are hurting, they are struggling to make ends meet and they are over it.  Trouble is about to boil over!

Please understand this is not just about Pay and it is not just about Auckland – pay will help, but it’s much deeper than that.  And when I say this teacher shortage is serious – please understand that if we do not do something about making it affordable to teach in our cities, attractive to want to be a teacher, and do something about ensuring our teachers and leaders have the time to manage the workload –then your child, your neighbours child, the child you see walking into your local school or the child about to leave school that you employ to work in your business or alongside you – they are the ones that are going to be shortchanged.

That trouble that is brewing on the horizon – I think it is already here!  

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Intuitive Assessment, Teacher Agency and Being a Disobedient Educator - Part 2

At the beginning of term three, my SLT (Senior Leadership Team) and I provided our teaching team with the opportunity to be a little 'disobedient' and to try something a little different and unconventional in relation to assessment.  You can read the blog post that outlines the process and background as to why and how, in part one of this series Intuitive Assessment, Teacher Agency and Being a Disobedient Educator - Part One.  

In a nutshell, teachers were given 3 options for the term. 

1. Status Quo - as in, stay working within the bounds of our current assessment outline
2. Go off reservation - as in, do what you want, how you want and when you want
3. Work in collaboration with someone else and do a mix of 1 and 2. 

There were some caveats, the main one being that teachers would share back in week 10 what they had done, to their colleagues, and that our learnings would help us shape where to next for 2018.  You can read more on the process by clicking the link above.  

So what happened?

It was interesting to be a bystander.  

Sometimes I saw assessment practices that I thought were a little old school and not particularly best practice but, because I (and SLT) said we would step aside and trust our team to go forth and experiment, I bit my tongue.  Sometimes, I bit it hard, and I know my Deputy Principal bit hers hard too.  

At times, our coaches used coaching to ask pertinent questions of our teachers about what was happening and why - not to pass judgement but to assist them to reflect deeply on their own WHY.  (Before you ask, knowing that your coach might ask you about which option you chose was one of the caveats, and was to be utilised to support teachers)

Sometimes we were surprised.  

Not as many teachers as I thought went off reservation.  Some tinkered around the edges, and despite thinking they might go fully off reservation, found that when the time came to do so, what they already had in place was best practice and so the need to go outside the box wasn't required.  

One teacher remarked that despite her initial excitement to do something innovative and different, once she had researched effective formative assessment practices, that actually, what we already do at our school was good practice.  So instead, she focussed on how she shared assessment with her students, and the language of assessment.  Of note, when I collected student voice out of her class for writing (something I do each term which you can read more about in this post about student voice and focus groups) her class of seven year olds were informed, and very sophisticated in their ability to talk about their learning, their goals and what they need to do to get better in their learning.  This class has consistently been good across the year, but I noticed that they are were much more sophisticated and more articulate than in previous terms! This teacher also talked about how she breaks the lessons and assessments down so that there is less anxiety - or as she phrased it - the 'freeze moment', especially in Math.  She did this by assessing all the time in an ongoing way (instead of one off tests) and by making students feel comfortable by working in a 1-1 conferencing style.

Creative and in-depth systems were developed in one class, where the use of conditional formatting and clever excel wizardry allowed one teacher to see at a glance where students are, where they need to be and where they had come from, in a range of assessments.  
This teacher also explained how he used the ARBs and NEMP tools to gather a wider picture of achievement in his class.  

One other teacher wanted to go off reservation but found instead she made some smaller changes for her target students by boosting confidence and working more 1-1.  What she noticed over the term was incremental improvements, and as she made assessment more transparent in her class with her students, students were motivated and parents engaged in helping their children.  

In another class, wandering off reservation was in small steps, with regular forays back to status quo.  Not because they were unable to go off reservation but noticing that each time they did, they discovered that what they had been doing was actually working.  This particular teacher upped the 1-1 conferencing in writing and found that more formative conferencing had a positive impact on achievement.  

The use of Seesaw played a predominate role for quite a few teachers, as they experimented with how Seesaw might enhance what they do.  In particular, noting how its power came from how the students were driving it, using video to record learning and making the learning process transparent as students took ownership over their  learning.  This collaborative accountability for learning and teaching makes for a powerful tool for students, teachers and parents.   

In one class, the teacher introduced elements of our coaching process to assist students to set goals, whereby the students look at the current reality, what they want to achieve and ways they might go about it.  This was very effective - helping her class of 6ry olds become more confident in talking about their learning.  

Integration also played a starring role for some (handy given the need for our teachers to come back to this as the profession ditches National Standards and comes back to the New Zealand Curriculum).  During the term all teachers were working with students to produce a film for our production which was a film premiere.  One of our teachers took this concept and turned it into a big integration project that spanned the length and width of the NZC!  His class created go carts (from designs on paper to actual go carts which involved lots of parent help, power tools and a whole pile of kiwi ingenuity!) and they filmed the process.  It was integration magic.  High engagement and high learning.  What this class was doing was making learning stick - a process they will forever remember!  

Reggio inspired learning and assessment has been an interest in our school for sometime, and one of our teachers shared with us her version of what can only be described as Seesaw in a big book!  It was a stunning visual hardcopy (she also does a digital version) that parents and students pour over and share.  The power of it being in a book meant that the sharing of learning in a physical way - child to child, child to parent, child to teacher, teacher to parent, made learning a shared. interactive, sincere and visceral process, something not so easily achieved in the digital form.  Most importantly, you can see real progress.  It really was a beautiful way of displaying a little persons journey through photos, voice and drawings - on display for all to share as they enter the classroom.  Combined with the digital format, a very powerful tool.  

One teacher talked about the power of lifting the glass ceiling and letting students fly!  This teacher used a beautiful painting metaphor, in that whilst they would have liked to have gone off reservation, they were recently back into teaching after a break away.  They were like Van Gogh, not quite ready to paint Starry Night yet, so they stayed status quo and practiced welding the brush, starting off by painting 'Potato Eaters' - still good, but knowing that in time they would be great!  So, she focussed on more 1-1 conferencing, improving student confidence and working alongside RTLB to accelerate at risk students.  

For another teacher, an emphasis on play based learning and student voice where hands on tasks like using a basket ball to count forwards and backwards, helped keep students, especially boys, engaged and active participants in their learning.  

A real stand out for our leadership team was the presentation that two of our beginning teachers (second years) shared.  They went off reservation, collaborated together and took the tent and set up one of the most effective assessment camp sites I have seen, in proportion to their experience.   Together they produced a powerpoint of what they did, what they achieved and how they did it.  They linked back the work they did to the PLD they had been involved in, the coaching and mentoring they have undertaken as beginning teachers (and how this supported them) and how they used OTJs (overall teacher judgements) and moderation to substantiate their findings.  They started with a baseline, created google forms based on the needs of students (initially filled out by them but then owned by students), worked within fluid groups giving students ownership, introduced an independent group (with a 3 strikes you are out policy) and they had a trial group.  Feedback from parents was both positive and supportive.  They noted that what made the difference and accelerated learning was their high expectations, conferencing and the use of high standards. They both talked about how reflective practice and ongoing dialogue around summative vs formative practice, helped keep them on track and overcome barriers.  Perhaps what was most impressive from my perspective was how they let their professional curiosity guide the inquiry and how open they were to trying new things, researching best practice and seeking guidance as they experimented.  

Every teacher shared their story, whether it was going off reservation, staying status quo or doing something in between.  Some teachers felt validated about what they already did, others took it as an opportunity to do something new, and all teachers were able to share highlights about how what they did, accelerated learning.  What I noticed was that irrespective of story or pathway, a foundation for good outcomes was the power of reflective practice.  The above is a snapshot of stories! 

What I noticed: The commonalities overall:

  • Seesaw featured as part of the trial in a variety of shapes and as a result will be a foundation of reporting going forward
  • Teachers remarked on increased Whānau engagement as learning was made more transparent 
  • Students took more ownership over their learning and were more able to talk about where they were, where they had been and where they needed to go next 
  • Formative assessment practice was more timely and ongoing, making assessment more relevant and contextual 
  • An emphasis on Oral Language and conferencing was prevalent 
  • Engagement and lifting student confidence is foundational in accelerating learning 
  • Teachers, when given the space, are creative and do awesome things! (actually I knew this already but during the term I saw more examples of this which was inspiring)
  • Teachers focussed on what things they could do to make a difference 

Perhaps most importantly, there was a bit of a buzz around the place as people talked about what they were doing and shared resources and ideas.  It wasn't forced or contrived but instead came from a place of genuine collaboration and professional curiosity.  Going forward, our term three of 'disobedient' inquiry will stand us in good steed as we tackle the task of unravelling the tangled web of National Standards.  We will be able to take our learnings into assessment and use it to help us pave our new road into the future.  The timing (given the change in Government) couldn't be better! 

Finally, I take my hat off to my staff.  It was one of the best professional development sharing sessions I have had the privilege to attend.  I will confess that their creativity, openness and willingness to try, really blew me away!  My staff are pretty amazing and I felt like a proud mama bear.  

I challenge other leaders to hand the control over to their teachers - let them take ownership and exercise agency - sit back and watch the magic.  In short - exercise some disobedient teaching and leadership! 

(UPDATE:  I have had some great feedback around the use of the word 'Disobedient' and why it is not just a matter of course that leaders just trust teachers with the autonomy/agency described above and I just wanted to clarify that; firstly, the context for the WHY of things is outlined in the first blog post - and that secondly, an understanding of the New Zealand context for the past 9 years in relation to assessment policy driven from a neo-liberal (you can read my post on what exactly the fuss about neoliberalism here in my post 'Dangerous Ideology - the Neoliberalization of Education') perspective, is a foundation for the questioning of pedagogy.  Thank you @Moronicinferno for your reflective questions and wondering, can I say, that whilst you may be new to the profession, it is your questioning and wondering about the WHY of education that is to to be commended, and I appreciate your thoughts.  It would be fair to say you have inspired me to write a post on how teachers self impose restrictions on their own autonomy - most certainly food for thought.)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Intuitive Assessment, Teacher Agency and Being a Disobedient Educator - Part 1

I have been thinking, wondering and considering various innovations around assessment. It has been sparked in part by a request that was made in a closed leadership environment on social media by another principal, and by the timely words in the latest hit book about education, which is currently going viral in New Zealand, Disobedient Teaching, by Welby Ings.  (More about that another time). 

I am inspired by many things, people and situations, and often I act on this inspiration.  I am, however, not that often encouraged to be disobedient (well, not openly), to step aside from the fear that constrains me as a leader, to be a little radical, and then to ask my staff to be disobedient with me!  

I won't lie, or sugar coat things to you - I was a little anxious, and a little excited too! 

I have been thinking about assessment for sometime, mostly because I don't feel what we currently do is 'cutting the mustard'.  It is my hunch that what we do with our current assessment overview is not very encouraging of intuitive, formative assessment practices.   When another principal asked the wider network for ideas on whole school assessment practices that aligned with the notions inherent within the book 'Disobedient Teaching', and others indicated in that post they wanted to find out what schools were doing as well, I offered to ask the #BFC630NZ crew.  This group of educators are some of the most innovative and cutting edge educators I know, they span the length of the country and teach in a varied set of schools, settings, and across different age groups.  I figured this would be a good platform to seek ideas and advice from and to aid in my own thinking around this.  (You can read the storify on Disobedient Teaching here). 

I hosted that chat Tuesday am, at 6:30.  I got to school a little after 7, and started going through the mid year data we were going to be discussing later that day at our staff meeting.  I was feeling a little disappointed with some of the trends in our data and I had some hunches about this that were adding to my wonderings about assessment practice.  I shared a conversation around these wondering with a member of the SLT (senior leadership team) and that is when I had an idea! 

A fairly, smack you in the face, a little radical and a little risky, kind of idea.  

I ran it past the SLT member (who has stepped back in class full time this term due to staffing shortages, so if we were to do what I was thinking, it would impact on her) and she got excited about the potiential.  We ironed out some kinks, and by 9am I had run it past the other leadership members, who were also excited to see where it might go. 

I did a bit more reading and research, placed some 'Disobedient Teaching' quotes on the white board in the staff room for teachers to ponder during the day, and ran the concept past a trusted colleague up the road over coffee at lunchtime.  (Just to ensure I had my ducks in a row and wasn't being irresponsible as well as disobedient!) 

The Idea 

At our staff meeting, after we had poured over the data and pondered the 'what nexts', I annouched that I had an idea I wanted to run past them.  I read the two quotes above, then I asked them to try something a bit different, and to join me in being a little disobedient in relation to assessment. 

 I have a great bunch of teachers in my school, and I wanted them to know that I trusted their professional judgement, their experience and that if doing something a bit different means that myself and the SLT have to step aside to let them do their job, then so be it!   I wanted them to know I had their back, and that I believe in them.  

I then presented 3 options to consider and asked if they were prepared to give it a trail during term three.  Alongside the options I presented some 'must do's' for the term (because we are in contracts and have a professional obligation to hold up our end of the bargain) and one caveat. 

The Options 

Option One:  Go off reservation!

In other words, I gave the staff that wish to, the equivalent of a blank cheque to go and do whatever they wanted to in regards to assessment, however they wanted to and that I trusted them to do what they know is right for our students learning.  You see, to be an intuitive teacher and implement intuitive formative assessment practices, you have to know your students, know your curriculum and not assess to a timetable, but to the needs of your students.  I know I have teachers that can do this.  I wanted to give them the option to show me what they can achieve when all the shackles (even the imagined ones) are removed. 

Option Two: Status Quo 

Just like in the classroom, I knew I had some teachers who would be be a little wary of removing the safety barriers.  And, here is the thing, wanting to operate within boundaries is ok!  I wouldn't take away the safety net for any student in a classroom that I knew might need some support or scaffolding.  Option two is about carrying on with our current assessment timetable and format.  One staff member who has chosen this option, and is recently back into teaching after having taken a break for a number of years remarked that for now, this was a good thing for them to do, and 'that's the reason we have it anyway, right? Perhaps next year I will be ready to try something new!'.  I will confess that I was impressed with the level of reflection behind the statement, and I really respect the reasoning behind the decision.  

Option Three: Collaborate with others of your choosing/like minds with a mix of option one and two! 

Option three is a bit of a mixture of both options one and two.  It gives people some form of scaffolding but allows for the creativity that comes from collaboration with others.  I am really looking forward to what the self selected teams come up with.  Collective risk taking, creativity and innovation - could be quite a journey! 

The Must Haves

After consultation with my SLT, we included a small set of requirements that would still need to be met in order to meet our professional obligations to several contracts we are a part of, and in order to minimise what could end up being an onerous workload come term 4.  

  1. 6 yr Net/weeks at school RR/Cluster writing task 
  2. Any ALL/ALiM (Accelerated Learning in Literacy and Accelerated Learning in Math)  
  3. Evidence for LTF (Learning Talk Framework) meetings (like PLGs) 
  4. A process to ensure students continue to progress 
  5. A basis in good practice and link it into coaching 

The Caveat 

That everyone will share their journey to their colleagues in week ten of the term at staff meeting, outlining what they did (even if that was Status Quo) and what difference it made.  

Going Forward

I am unsure what the outcome for the term will be but I am certain that by stepping aside and giving my teachers agency, we are going to have some interesting outcomes.  Across our staff there is a wide variance in terms of what people are going to do, from those going off reservation, staying status quo, and going for option three.  I was not surprised to see a fairly even mix of what people would do, but I think this is a good thing.  I do not want a cookie cutter approach to teaching in our school, and I want teachers that are about being the best teacher they are meant to be - not a clone of someone else's ideal, all doing the same thing in the same way, every day.  Our children are not all little clones and they deserve a range of teachers who see them as little human beings deserving of an education that fits them, not the other way around.  We have to stop making our students fit the system and instead bespoke it for the students and the teachers.  

As the principal it is a little risky, but in some respects by doing this I am modelling risk taking so that they can risk take.  Someone asked me the question that I am sure some of you reading this is no doubt thinking 'but what if someone doesn't do any assessments?'.  I guess this is a risk, but I am confident in two things - the first that my staff are professional and capable, and the second, that we have the systems and support structures in place should we have a concern.  For example, our LTF meetings are about discussions on best practice around students we are targeting, and these require teachers to bring evidence of learning and progress to the meetings.  I did tell staff that (when outlining the must haves) turning up to one of these sessions without any evidence would be a bit of a red flag for SLT, not as a warning, but as a way to be transparent.  For our beginning teachers who might need more support, I have all the confidence in my mentor teachers.  They will provide support and guidance.  In addition, all our teachers are either coached or mentored so support is simply a conversation away.  

I have been quietly researching the ins and outs of teacher agency (I have a draft post on this for later) and what excites me the most about this trial is that what we are doing this term is an example of teacher agency at its most potent.   I am looking forward to what we find out, and what impact this will have on us going forward.  I will be documenting our journey and I am hopeful that what we learn about data, assessment and our students will be a powerful form of self review.  

Perhaps one of my favourite responses when I asked one of the team what her plan was, was 'Oh, I am definitely going off reservation, but the most important thing you said was about this being about professionalism and making a difference for our kids' (or words pretty close to this).  

There does feel like there is a bit of a buzz going on, and I am looking forward to the conversations we will be having.  

Here is to being a little disobedient!  Watch this space! 
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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When Your Blog Goes On Sabbatical! (6 Reasons to do it)

I have been a little quiet of late.  

To clarify (before those of you who know me personally start piping up to argue the 'quiet' bit) I mean quiet on the blog writing front.  I am not going to jump into a whole pile of excuses and blame it on being busy, because I am ALWAYS busy, but I did take my blog and place it on a type of digital 'time out'.  Not the naughty step type of time out, but the sabbatical type of time out.  

For sometime I have been wondering about my blog, and if I was going to carry on in the direction my blog has taken (which seems to be somewhat preoccupied with all things leadership and education), start a new one or try juggle two.  In someways it is a bit like being at a cross roads (some kind of blogette mid life crisis - I know blogette is not a real word but, oh well).  

You see, when I started my blog, it was to release my creative genie, which had been locked away for far too long.  Initially, I thought I would blog more around the lifestyle genre - you know, topics like 'My 13 year old is driving me nuts', or 'Is our world run by mad men?" with the odd post about some of my favourite things such as 'Why Mink boots are the best thing in your closet' or 'Why this lipstick will change your life'.  Initially I figured Four Seasons In One Kiwi would drift off into my professional life (it is a large all consuming part of my day so it makes sense) at times, but I had not realised it would morph into mostly being about my professional life.  

Hence the cross roads.  

As a result of said cross roads, I have temporary placed my blog into a time out type of sabbatical.  It is not like I have not been writing - on the contrary,  I have more half written and unpublished posts to rival any mainstream media outlet, and I have been dabbing in a variety of other creative outlets (such as Bullet Journalling, website fiddling with Wix, slideshow creations with My SimpleShow, digital badge creation with Credly and when we went away to New York at Easter, notating the trip by using Trip Cast).   I have to confess to binge watching a few things on Netflix as well, but this is about recharging by being a blobby  McBlobster than being creative! 

I decided during the recent term break to make a decision - keep it or replace it.  I want my blog to be successful and my writing to be useful, and that is why I placed it into time out. Contradictory I know.   

I needed to make some decisions.  Would I decide to stay with Blogger or transfer to Wordpress, or start fresh, or run two.  It is having to make these decision which have in some ways  held me back, and been a bit of a heavy weight on my mind, which in turn, led to a bit of procrastination.   But then I had an epiphany. 

One night as I was writing another blog post on leadership in my head instead of trying to sleep, I realised that I need to keep this blog because it serves a couple of very good purposes.  It keeps my brain for keeping me awake because I have written my words here, and it helps me reflect on what is happening in my professional world.  I still want to write the lifestyle things (just for fun) so I am still a little stuck in the traffic isle of my cross roads, but at least I have made the step back into continuing Four Seasons in One Kiwi.  At some point I will decide if there is room on here to write about professional things and the other areas that interest me or start a different blog, but for now, time to get back onto the writing wagon.  

In case you are interested, there has been some upsides to placing my blog into time out, if you are feeling a little betwixt and between yourself.

6 Reasons to Place Your Blog into Time Out:   

1. Placing my blog into  time out has allowed me to try my hand at something new which has given me a new perspective about creativity and this is energising.  I have done some great things with my new iPad Pro and apple pencil (a blog post for another day!).  I am not short on inspiration.

2.  Placing my blog into time out has allowed me to decide if blogging is important enough to carry on with.  Bonus for me is that I realised that writing makes me happy, shuts my thinking up and helps me reflect on the world around me. 

3. Placing my blog into time out has allowed me to tap into a new side of creativity and this in turn, means I have explored other ways to increase productivity and write in other genres, including fiction.  

4. Placing my blog into time out has allowed me to catch up on some reading - the irony here is that that in turn has inspired me to write!  Oh the wonderings I have had!  

5. Placing my blog into time out allowed me to enjoy our holiday in New York without being tied into having to blog.  A caveat here however, is that I wrote in a journal (which allowed me to connect in a real hands on, physical way) and I recorded our daily adventures via Trip Cast.  This was harder than I thought, because I found New York to be a bloggers paradise....I could start a whole new blog just writing about the crazy beauty that is NY! 

6. Placing my blog into time out gave me a chance to do a digital detox of a sort.  In addition to taking a break, I have also tried to not open my laptop as much in weekends, or reply to emails on a Sunday.   It has not been easy, but not opening my laptop to blog is actually what is needed to take time out from the digital world of always being available.  This 'detox' has been good for me. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Case of Professional Curiosity

Dear reader, let me begin with a small apology.  I have just noticed that I have not actually published anything since what appears to be the middle of the last ice age!  Ok, that might be the smallest of exaggerations, but I have had a bit of a sabbatical from publishing and now I realise that half of the new school years first term has flown by!  You could be forgiven for thinking that I had been hit by the proverbial bus, or kidnapped by crazy policy makers to create the next best, biggest educational disruption to hit our schools.  But no, nothing as exciting,  just your bog standard quotidian leadership tasks that plague educators when school starts for the year.  

The irony here is that my fingers have not been still - in fact, quite the contrary.  I have a plethora of drafts sitting in blogger (23 to be exact) and another pile on my phone in Notes.  Not only have my fingers been busy jotting down ideas, thoughts and wonderings, but my mind has been awash with posts to explore.  Perhaps the thing that has been niggling away at the back of my mind like some kind of bone obsessed puppy, is that of todays post.  (cue drum roll...) 

Professional Curiosity, PC for short.  

It all started in January after a routine blood test threw up a worrying anomaly.  When I say worrying,  to clarify, it was me that was fixated on it more than the health professionals I was dealing with.  And it is that clarification that started my wonderings about professional curiosity - or lack there of.  You see, what I could not reconcile in my head is why no one was curious about this anomaly.  Without going into the ins and outs (and boring you all silly) the crux of the matter is that on one hand I had either cured the incurable or on the other hand, I had a big issue.  The fact that only I was curious about the conflict in data baffled me.  

It made me think of other incidents where professional curiosity was key to being successful in a chosen field.  For example, Techno Man is a techie (as his nickname suggests) - and I know that if he gets an IT issue that seems insolvable or has conflicting data or behaviour in a strange way, that he will leave no stone unturned until he figures out what is going on.  I know of mechanics that also think the same way - if they are presented with an engine issue that does not add up, they will go through a process to uncover why and seek a pathway forward.  Teachers and educators are the same - many of you will know this as 'teaching as inquiry', where you look at the data and try and figure out where to next.  Perhaps your high achieving students have slipped in their learning from Above to At.  Your professional curiosity is what drives you to dig deeper into why something is happening in order to find the most effective way to overcome it.  

The more I thought about my own health anomaly (I am fine by the way - I think - in case you were worried about me) the more I applied that wondering about professional curiosity to the teachers I work with.  So much so, I discussed it at our Teacher Only Day, asking staff to think carefully about what was going on in their classrooms, did they notice any anomalies or things that just do not add up - what were they curious about.  I asked them to tap into their professional curiosity and use this as the basis of their Teacher as Inquiry.  

You see, inquiring into your practice - tapping into your professional curiosity - irrespective of what field you work in, is what I believe is at the heart of what you do.  I will take another large leap and say that being professionally curious and following that curiosity is what differentiates you from your colleagues that don't.  In a busy classroom, it can be all to easy to fall back into default (I am going to publish a post about that topic soon - hopefully before the next ice age!) and I imagine in a busy doctors practice the same applies.  The high achieving, successful teacher, doctor, mechanic, techie (insert profession here) who gets results does not fall back into default 'she will be right' mode.  They tap into their professional curiosity and ask themselves the hard questions about why something is the way it is, and they look for the anomalies and the outliers so that they can rule them in or out as required.  They inquire into their practice and they ask themselves - 'what do I need to do differently'. They use a system to work through (many teachers will be familiar with the Spirals of Inquiry) and they do not stop at the first stone they uncover.  They use their professional curiosity to wonder, examine, explore hunches and test out theories until they get their desired outcome.   Imagine how much more success you would have as a teacher if your students were PC about their learning!  (I feel another post brewing) 

The more I think about PC, the more fascinated I am.  I have never really warmed to the term Teaching as Inquiry as I have always found it a bit 'fad' like.  I am a strong supporter of inquiring into my practice, but I think I like the term Professional Curiosity more.  To me it differentiates teaching inquiry with students vs the Teacher Inquiry.  In my humble opinion I think some teachers get a bit confused about it, but if we were to say 'what are you curious about' I have a professional hunch that teachers would embrace this as something a little more user friendly.  Heck, I expect that applies in all fields!   I know, and I hear you (I can see you rolling your eyes) - it is the same thing.  Perhaps, but professional curiosity is not just a teacher thing, it is a 'doing your job to the best of your ability' thing, and it is applicable to all avenues. 

I don't know about you, but as a parent I want the teachers working with my daughter to be PC about my daughters learning pathway.  I want the teachers in my school to be PC about what is happening in their classrooms and to inquire into that curiosity, and I want my doctor to look at the anomalies in my blood work, be PC and ask themselves 'what is going on here - what stones do I need to look under to find out why'!  I don't think that is a big ask.  

Finally, what are you professionally curious about?  I appreciate most of you will be in education, but some of you will be reading this (perhaps you fell here by accident, but welcome) with as equally exciting jobs as an educator.  What, in your chosen field, makes you curious, and what are you going to do about it!  

It is all very well to be curious, but do not leave it there -explore and inquire into it.  Who knows what you might discover - your discovery could be the next best thing since sliced bread, or solve how to accelerate students who are struggling, or it might be the solution to fix that annoying thingywhatsit on your cell phone!  So go forth and explore you professional curiosity and let me know how you get on - after all, I'm curious about it!  Follow my blog with Bloglovin