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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Tomorrow's School Review - A Quiet Optimism - Part One


‘Why are you in such a bad mood?'
'Experience!’  

Lord Berric to the Hound, in Game of Thrones. 

 Todays post outlines some of my reflections on the TSR, and to be clear, they are wonderings that I have personally.  I wear a number of hats in the educational world, which include sitting on a number of Principal Executives, but these wonderings and reflections are from the perspective of over 18 years as a principal, in a range of contexts, and they are my own.  

I have had the privilege, due to some of the educational 'hats' I wear, of having the time to unpack and digest each of the recommendations, and I have read and re read the document (in hard copy and digital formats) so many times that I feel I may have given myself writers (and readers) cramp!   In addition, I have attended many meetings, conducted numerous conversations and pondered the pros and cons of the TSR recommendations with trusted colleagues and members of the public.  Whilst I am not an authority on the TSR report by any means, I do feel I have conducted due diligence and I have dived deeper than most. 

This is the first post in a series, and seeks to look at some of the things that concern me with the TSR.  

The things that give me cause for concern:

1. My biggest concern is the behaviour of some of our colleagues
2.  Do we have the money, the capacity and capability within the system?
3. Timing and Review Overload
4.  The unintended consequences
5. The lack of trust in the system 

Since the release of the report in early December, I have quite a few concerns, however it is important to emphasise that most of my concerns can be mitigated by careful implementation, and with the profession ensuring they are fully engaged in the architecture and development of the changes as we go forward.  I also believe that further mitigation of my concerns will occur if there is a bipartisan agreement and both of our major political players agree to ‘play nicely in the educational sandpit’. 

1. The behaviour of some of our colleagues

At a number of meetings I have attended, I have mostly only heard the voices of a certain demographic.  Words such as ‘protectionism’ and ‘middle class privilege’ have been used by others to describe the behaviour of some of my colleagues at these meetings, and considering I have heard with my own ears, comments such as those below, I have a tendency to agree.  These comments have included:

‘My Board works well, so why should I change?’ 

 ‘If 87% of schools are doing well, then why do we not just plough the money into those ‘bad’ schools?’

‘There is nothing wrong with growing big schools – it’s a sign of my success  - I have worked hard and now I can offer lots of things to my community -  besides, parents have the right to choose!’ 

‘My school does a good job for ‘those kids’, so I don’t see why I should have to change’ 

and my personal favourite

‘My school is doing ok, it's not my problem’.  

I have heard my colleagues lamenting various versions of these statements in most of the meetings I have been to. 

Here is why it is one of my biggest concerns.  I am not sure if you noticed, but there is a distinct focus on ‘my school’ or ‘my Board’ or ‘my parents’.  What I do not hear is the collective efficacy of OUR schools, OUR communities and OUR students.  The TSR has a distinct emphasis on the system belonging to all of us and the pathway to success is not alone but together.  What I hear in the above statements smacks to me as being myopic and insular. Worse still, I have rarely heard anyone talk about what the best thing is for kids, and that is what is at the heart of the TSR. 

This is not acceptable to me.  Our Nations children belong to us all.  They are our collective responsibility and they should expect to get an equitable bite out of the educational apple, irrespective of their postal code, what culture they come from and how much money their parents bring home.  Last time I looked, education was about children! 

2.  Do we have the money, the capacity and capability within the system?

My second biggest concern is I feel we do not have the money, the capability and the capacity in our country to make this happen.  Not without pulling effective leaders and teachers out of schools and classrooms, and by brining in more tax funds. 

What the TSR taskforce asks for is for our profession to be courageous, visionary and to be prepared to no longer accept the status quo.  It will take a big commitment from those of us charged with making this happen.  I have heard a number of my colleagues express that by the time this comes to pass, they will be retired, or they will step out.  This concerns me because we will need their wise council and experience to help iron out the kinks as we traverse the unknown.

With so many inexperienced new principals in our profession,  all of whom are busy getting their head around what it is to run a school and suddenly be the ring master of the ‘swively chair’, it is very important that they are given the time to digest and reflect on the TSR.  Best case scenario, the recommendations should they come to pass, have the potential to make their job so much easier.

3. Timing and Review Overload

Again, unless you are hiding under a rock, you will have noticed that Education is currently bogged down under a tsunami of reviews.  We are reviewing everything from Early Childhood provision, Curriculum and Assessment, Compliance and Workloads, to Tertiary provision.  There is a danger that during these reviews, and their associated overlaps, someone could drop the ball or, worse still, it could just be too big an overload for those of us in the profession running our schools, to have the time to digest, reflect and respond.


Take the TSR as our key example.  The review is made up of 8 key areas – all of which are important and critical to how we operate our schools.  Within the 8 core areas, there are 32 main recommendations.  Within the 32 key recommendations there are 157 – that is correct, 157, sub recommendations.  Some are fairly small and innocuous, others are much more controversial and potentially fraught with fishhooks.    This makes the report very complex.  So complex in fact, that I worry my colleagues will not be able to respond in a very informed way, and will be swayed by the ‘smoke screens’ that the media whip up.  

Two examples of smoke screens; the five year contracts and the size of hubs. Both of these recommendations are relatively small in the context of the whole report, but the media has fixated on them and whipped them up something fierce. 

Ironically, attend any meeting with any of the taskforce and they quickly dispel the myths that seem to grow up around them, quite quickly.  There are many ways to respond to the report, but the danger is that because it is term one and everyone is flat out, our colleagues may not get the opportunity to dive into the report or ask questions of the taskforce.  That leaves them formulating opinions and understandings that are shaped by what the media or our vocal, negative colleagues spell out. In particular that of the Community Schools Alliance.  


4.  The unintended consequences

I have a little devil that lives on my shoulder and sometimes it’s a vocal and disruptive little blighter – not always for the good I might add.  This concern relates to the quote above from Game of Thrones.  My experience in the last ten to twelve years as a principal has not been without it's challenges (as I am sure many of my colleagues would agree, due to choppy educational waters that required careful navigation!).  As a result I am aware that sometimes I can be a little cynical and distrustful of the motivations that sit behind policy or Government directives.  Sadly I am not alone.  National Standards, Charter Schools and a few personal scrapes and bruises as a leader are the experiences that have given my little shoulder mate a cynical voice. 


With this in mind, I can not help but ask myself if the TSR taskforce has thought about what the implementation of their recommendations might look like in ten or thirty years from now.  Have they considered what the unintended consequences might look like and how they might mitigate them?  Ironically, I did ask this of Bali Haque, the chair of the taskforce, at a recent meeting.  I am not convinced, by his response that they have but I am hopeful that by asking the question it will now be something worth being aware of.  You see, Bali talks about 'schooling up' the system, so it is as equally important that the taskforce do the same prior to the next iteration of the report.  

The original Tomorrows School implementation was meant to fix equity concerns but the unintended consequences resulted in ‘winner and loser’ schools, fierce competition and appalling inequity. 

An unintended consequence that pops into my mind is that without bipartisan political agreement, the hubs have the potential to be abused by less scrupulous political parties who will use the diminished powers of the Board of Trustees (who currently can be a buffer between principals who stand up for the rights of our students against the bureaucratic machinations of the Ministry) to push through neoliberal agendas such as National Standards and Charter Schools. 


5. The lack of trust in the system 

As mentioned above, it has been a bit of a rough educational ride over the last decade or so, and this has eroded trust and confidence in our system.  It is not helped by the educational elephant in the room - the current contract negotiations.  It is exceptionally facile to come out of opposition (where you have been talking a big game about restoring faith in the sector) into the big leagues and then fail to deliver to a profession desperate for the recognition and value needed to keep people in the system.  It is super hard to engage in all of these reviews where on one hand, you are told that you are valued and respected, but where on the other hand the actions show the opposite.  


The best and the fastest way, in my humble opinion, to build trust and ensure the profession is behind the changes - and actually, leading the charge, is to suck it up and settle the contracts.  Not shuffle more deck chairs on a sinking ship, but actually repair the ship and get it going again.  If you truely believe what you say about engaging with the profession and wanting the profession to be valued, then words are simply not enough.  If we hemorrhage any more teachers and principals from our wonderful profession - it will not matter how many reviews you do, there will simply be not a dash of goodwill left.  There is barely a smidgeon of it left now - do not waste it anymore by presenting insulting offers that are merely a reshuffle.  And, while I am on my high horse (I shall name him Sir Rantalot) may I just say that offering our secondary colleagues a bigger bribe than their primary counterparts in an effort to cause dissension and in a very lousy attempt at staving off a mega strike - well - that’s a real  (insert appropriate inappropriate word) move! My hunch is we will be about to take to the streets in what will only be described as one of the biggest industrial action moves this country has ever seen.  It is not too late,  for those who count beans, to count out a few more and fix this!  

                     >>>>>>>>>>+++<<<<<<<<<<<

Going forward, I am cautiously optimistic.  Whilst I have concerns, I am heartened by the Minister who informed leaders at the NZPF Moot that he was genuine in wanting to work in collaboration with the sector.  There is an opportunity here to be innovative and futures focused, and most importantly, better equipped to resource schools and ensure there is equity in the system! 

I think there is potential here.  If the sector is fully engaged, and collaborative co constructors in the architecture of this re imagined new educational landscape, then we have the opportunity to create something quite amazing. 

To do this, we need to leave our mistrust, our cynicisms and our hurts from the dark days of educational persecution, behind us.  We cannot let the bad experiences of our yesterday colour us into a foul mood for today and the educational future of tomorrow. 

In part two I will outline the little nuggets of hope and the things I feel have potential in the TSR.  

Post Script:  About the image above.  
The image above is from my high school year book.  At the time I was on the magazine committee and we decided to be controversial about our cover.  Our inspiration was the original Tomorrow's School reform and the Picot Report. We matched the colours and we used an article from a local paper as the metaphor of 'ripping into education'.   By the time it went to print it was too late to change the cover - suffice to say we may have been a little growled at.  Oh how ironic life is.  

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
or 
2. Go off reservation - as in, do what you want, how you want and when you want
or 
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.)