Saturday, February 28, 2015

Day 28: Made It!! #28daysofwriting

I made it. 

I confess on several occasions I thought it would be touch and go, especially on the night of my board meeting when I didn't get home until the middle of the night, and the last few posts have been like pulling teeth without tools or painkiller.  Not because I am unable to pull the proverbial rabbit out of a hat (which teachers and principals are pretty good at, I think), but because the tiredness I felt several days ago turned into a 'thing' which pretty much wrote me off yesterday,  leaving me laid out flat in bed.  

So, what have I learnt?

In order to answer this, we need to go back to post two, which was about using the GROWTH coaching model to set the goal for this challenge. 

The goal was "By the end of 28 days, I have completed 28 days of writing for 28 minutes at a time, so that I can improve my writing skills, find my inspiration and become ingrained in the habit of regular writing."

I feel I have completed the goal, and as a result of regularly writing I have indeed sharpened my skills. particularly around being less wishy washy regarding just getting on with it.  I am unsure if this is a habit yet, but I do feel like my passion for writing has been reignited. 

I have found the following however: 

  • It has been hard, but rewarding.  
  • 28 minutes is ridiculous for someone like me, and I confess (again) that sometimes it took me longer than the paltry 28 minutes allocated, to finish a post. 
  • I found that sometimes it wasn't practical to just sit and write for 28 minutes.  In theory it sounded great, but the reality is that as a busy person, finding a quiet and uninterrupted place to write was nigh on impossible.  My office very early in the morning or conversely very late at night would be ideal but I have to say, I would rather use that precious quiet time to complete the things I can not complete during 'staff and student' hours.  So, sometimes, I had to leave a post mid formation, and come back to it later. 
  • Inspiration comes from many places and takes many different forms.  For me, twitter has been marvellous in that the various educational chats I have either sat in as a passive participant or where I have been an active participant, have been real inspirations.  When I see what people are contributing, teachers and leaders alike, I feel heartened.  
  • Signing up and making the commitment kept me on track, even on those days where I felt inclined to not participate, because I had told people I was doing it, I had a self imposed pressure on myself to follow through.  
  • I do wonder if what I am writing is of any use to anyone, including myself - after all, what I think is interesting in my head, does not mean that others will see it that way.  I hope I have not bored anyone. 
  • Sometimes you need a bit of a thick skin.  Someone misunderstanding your intent can be quite hard.  Conversely, writing is meant to provoke and make a statement, so positive or negative, I guess it is all relative. 
  • I am quietly proud of myself for completing the challenge.  I know how busy my world is right now and to have done this for myself is one of those personal achievements that makes me feel like I did something for me.  
  • I have met some pretty neat people on this journey and read some really good writing from others, which in turn, has been inspiring in its own way. Thank you, it has made it easier. 

Where to next?

Great question.  I don't know.  I would like to say that I will continue to post every day, and ideally, that would be marvellous but I suspect that the pressure I have placed on myself to post every day has not been helpful considering what I know is on my plate this particular term.  I may however sign up in April.  If there is one is April.  I do know this, writing allows the muse in my head to get out and stop hounding me at night when I should be sleeping.   Watch this space. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Day 27: Why Don't We Just Ask #28daysofwriting

Excuse the poor lighting :( 

Several days ago I had an e-learning meeting with other leaders in at the Cognition headquarters.  Painted on their wall was the following quote by Marie Clay.  For the uninitiated, Marie Clay was the mother of Reading Recovery, a highly acclaimed international literacy intervention for 6 year olds.  

Seeing her quote got me to wondering about teaching and learning.  Our country is no different to other countries.  We have our student achievement achilles heel, and in our case it's around the 'tail of underachievement' particularly for Maori and Pacifika students.  I'm not going to rehash the whys or wherefores in this post - I don't have time and I'm not sure my words will make any decernible difference (some of which will no doubt be a little controversial and brass a few people off) so instead I'm going to pose this. 

In terms of student underachievement, either at the failing to meet standard level or the failing to achieve at their above standard potential (cue the students who are smart but wasting away time in classes bored to tears) we make a lot of assumptions.  Here's my question, have you asked the students?  Some of you reading this will simply be thinking 'stupid woman, of course we do' where others will be thinking 'what, why would we do that?'.  

It is true though, that we make assumptions.  The more assumptions we make the more likely we will teach to those assumptions, and the less likely we will inquire into what's really happening.  Asking the students themselves about how learnings going for them, whilst not the only thing to think about, is an important piece in the puzzle. 

It is a way to use student voice and to really inquire into why a student is struggling.  When you ask students what is happening for them in their learning, you learn yourself. You find out if they are finding it too hard, or too easy, if they are bored, or if there is a mental block stopping them from progressing.  The power for teachers is that they can find out how effective their teaching is and work with the students to make some changes.  Furthermore, don't just stop at asking them what they find challenging, but go that next step and ask them what are THEY doing about it.  As educators, we can not step into their brains and do it for them.  They need to take ownership of where they are and about what they need to do to make it better.

At the end of the day, teachers, students and parents are in a partnership.  The best way to find out how a partnership is working, is to ask.  

Day 26: The future of learning #28daysofwriting

Sugata Mitra - Building a School in the Cloud

In this video Sugata talks about what he thinks the future of learning is, and he shares his experiment in New Delhi with the computer in the wall.  What he finds is fascinating.

To begin with he talks about where the current system comes from, outlining how it came from Britain where 300 years ago, Britain invented a global computer made up of people.   This global computer was an administrative bureaucratic machine - and in order to run that machine they needed a bigger machine (hence the birth of the school) to create this.  Furthermore it needed to produce identical people, all within this machine.  And here we are, still doing it.

300 years ago, you needed :

  • good handwriting 
  • Ability to read
  • Able to do maths in your head 

But what is needed now?

Schools as we know them are obsolete - not broken - just obsolete, and we don't need them because they are outdated.

But what about learning in the future?

Sugata poses the question, do we actually need to go to school, when the information is actually out there already.  He asks, are we heading into a future that we know is already obsolete?

One of the keys to learning in the future is Encouragement - simply saying 'wow, look at what you are doing', where children can explore, currently, our system is built on 'punishments and examinations', and to a child's brain, these are seen as 'threats'.   Learning should be the product of self organisation - not the teacher making it happen, but rather letting it happen.  A place where the teacher steps back and lets learning happen, watching in awe and providing encouragement.

There are three things we need to make this a reality, broadband, encouragement and collaboration.

Imagine a curriculum of big questions, because this is where our education system needs to head.

He finishes with his wish for the future.  He asks that we design the future of learning, not to be spare parts to a global computer but to design it to tap into a students wonder and ability to collaborate and that if we helped him build this school, it would be the school in the cloud.  Finally, he sets you a challenge and that challenge is for all 5 continents to create self organised environments, in our homes, schools, clubs and for us all to send him the data, where he will put it together and create the school in the cloud.

It has left me thinking, and wondering.

What more can I do as the leader of a machine (school that is), which is, in this context, obsolete (which we all are)?
What more can we all do?
Are we obsolete but just too blind to see it?  (are we being chooks with our heads in the sand?)
What does it mean for policy makers and politicians?
If collaboration is a critical skill, how do we model that everyday? 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Day 25: I Confess #28daysofwriting

Today I am struggling to fit in the #28daysofwriting challenge.  It is Thursday and I am tired.  Not just a little bit tired but a huge amount of tired.  It is coming up to the end of week four of term one, and I have already lost count of how many 12 plus hour days I have done.  Not to mention how many are planned for next week.  So today, I confess, I don't want to fabricate something to write.  I just want to find a cool (it is very hot and muggy tonight which is not helping) and quiet hole under a rock and pretend I am invisible. 

It does get me wondering.

This must be what it feels like when students don't want to write.  Every day many of our students all around the world come to school and are faced with that age old dilemma of 'what shall I write today'.  Many more come tired after who knows what happened the night before, struggling to fire up their imaginations and rise from the stupor that lack of sleep induces.  And, many more come to school hungry, not having had breakfast or dinner the night before, unable to concentrate or focus on the task at hand because the claws of hunger are scraping away at their little empty tummies.

It certainly puts my tiredness into perspective.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Day 24: Student Focus Groups #28daysofwriting

In yesterdays post "Student Voice - From Back in the Day", I promised I would post about student focus groups today and how they are a vehicle to not only check on a students engagement, but also a barometer of how things are going in classrooms in terms of a students learning, and of teaching effectiveness.

This is from a leaders perspective, but for teachers, they are as equally applicable and a very useful tool to monitor your own teaching effectiveness and, most importantly,  provide students with an authentic 'agency' context.  

What are Student Focus Groups?

At our place, over the last two years we have been collecting voice from three focus groups.   We have had a focus group for Math, Reading and Writing, and they are taken by myself, my Deputy and our Math Support Teacher (also our AP).  For the last two years, we have selected several students from each class.  We chose to work with students who were identified as achieving well in those areas.  No students were in more than one group, which gave us a cross section of students across the school.  We looked for a balance of culture and gender.  This year, it is different again, and we are working with students identified as our priority learners (those who are not yet where they need to be academically) and the focus groups are in class.  I collect voice in writing.

How do they operate?

We ask our students a series of questions (that we predetermine from our priorities which are based on what we know from our data and what we want to find out).  These questions tend to change each year.

Why do we collect voice?  What are the benefits?

  • It helps teachers find out about the impact of their teaching on student engagement, achievement and learning, and fits into their Teacher as Inquiry foci. 
  • It helps teachers co-construct next learning steps and directions, especially if they involve students in what and how they learn.  Knowing what their students are saying helps them improve things in the classroom for their students. 
  • It helps the leadership in the school review programmes and understand what is happening in the school.  
  • It provides students an opportunity to make suggestions for improvements, and articulate what they are learning, the benefit of what they are learning, their goals and their next steps. 
  • It helps our students understand that Math, Reading and Writing are intertwined across the curriculum and it helps us find out how students interconnect these skills across different curriculum areas.
  • It helps us find out if a new approach to teaching is working and making a difference.
  • It provides teachers with feedback, and it gives them evidence from student voice about what is happening in their classrooms, from a students perspective. 
  • It provides a different vehicle for reflection in order to improve practice, by reflecting on the feedback, looking at what is effective and what needs strengthened, and this in turn feeds into their digital portfolios.  

Why it is a positive opportunity and not a negative

We understood that for some teachers, this could be a bit of a daunting prospect.  It was important to us that our teachers understood that this process was not about 'checking up' but more about evolving from the ATOL voice collection to a process that allowed us to provide support if required, and to celebrate the amazing things happening.  It is a very powerful way to manage assumptions and as a leader, understand what is happening for students regarding learning and engagement, in classrooms. In addition;

  • Teachers can look at what their students are saying, particularly around any improvements they might want to make, and co-construct those modifications with them, providing students with an authentic process to see change in action.
  • They can use the questions and responses to help them tailor make their programmes.
  • They can use it as a springboard to involving students more in decision making processes, especially around providing them with choices.
  • They can use the information to see if what they are doing is making a difference, if their students can understand what is being taught and how well their students can articulate what they are learning.

Examples of the Questions:

This years questions:

Who is responsible for your learning?
How has writing started for you this year?
What are your goals?
How do you know what you need to learn (work on) next?
If you were in charge of writing in your class, what would you do?  (how can we improve writing in our school)

Sample from previous years:

What does Reading/Writing/Math look like in your class?  (if I lifted the roof off, what would I see happening?)
Whats better? (than last time we spoke)
What opportunities do you get to talk about your Reading/Writing/Math?
What are your suggestions for next year?  (a great end of year wrap up question - one of the suggestions from one of my groups last year was that each teacher have their own focus group within the class, a fabulous idea, juries out as to how many teachers have implemented something like that)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Day 23: Student Voice - From Back in the Day #28daysofwriting

How do you collect student voice? 
I am fascinated by student voice and student agency, I always have been.  Back in the 'day', my classroom was all about co constructing learning and behaviour, with the students.  Very little happened without student input, design and consensus.  At the time it didn't have the modern label of 'voice' or 'agency' - it was a developmental, constructivist classroom (we are talking Kelvin Smythe constructivist!)  and I taught that way because otherwise I would have been bored.  I figured, if I was bored, then sure as eggs, my students would have been bored too!  I did not go into teaching to be bored and I was pretty certain my students did not want to go school and be bored either.  

If we had an issue in the classroom (or playground), we talked about it, and I assisted my students to find their own solutions.  Once they had that process modelled a few times, they led the classroom problem solving sessions themselves.  In terms of learning, I shared students assessments with them, and if they had some work to do to get up to 'speed', we talked together about who was responsible for their learning, and I helped them work out a plan to improve.  With them.    

A lot of our learning was designed by the students, based on the things that they were interested in, and we wondered, questioned and used creative ways to explore learning in every curriculum area.  We didn't run a traditional timetable, instead we ran a programme that allowed for students to direct their own learning, at a pace and style that suited them.  It wasn't easy (in fact, it was a heck of a lot of work), but it was effective and it was fun. 

At the heart of this type of learning and teaching, was student voice.  As a teacher, I sought student feedback all the time - on how they were learning and on how I was teaching.  I believe in that old adage, that you can not fix that which you do not know is broken.  How do you know your teaching is effective?  Sure, you can look at hard data like test scores, but at the end of the day, they don't tell you anything.  If, however you have a culture of feedback, feedforward and feedaroundthecorner, and this culture is a two way road - where you are getting feedback and forward as well, then you can have your students tell you what is working for them, what they didn't understand, and how things can be better in their class.  It is, after all, their class!

Sometimes, as a leader, I confess, I struggle.  

I struggle to understand why some (I emphasise some) teachers find it hard to ask students for feedback on how well they are teaching and what can improve things in their classroom.  It is almost an achilles heel of mine, in that, because it was a such an engrained practice within my own teaching, I struggle to see why it is not second nature to all teachers.  (I also struggle with formal timetables in classrooms as well, but that old chestnut is a long story which we won't go into today).  

It leaves me wondering, why do some teachers not use student voice?  Is it because they feel they must be in full control at all times?  Are they worried or scared to find out that the students might not find their teaching methods effective?  Do they think they need to be the 'sage on the stage', and lack trust in their students to make good decisions on classroom and curriculum?   Do they need more support on how to collect and use authentic student voice?  Is there confusion about the difference between agency and voice, how its used and why it is so powerful? 

All interesting things to wonder.  And wonder I do.  

It is of note that as a leader, I still use student voice.  My fascination has simply shifted from my effectiveness as a teacher, and my classes student achievement and wellbeing, to that of our effectiveness as a school.  Now, I use student voice and feedback in different ways, not just to check in on a students engagement in our school, but as a barometer of how things are going for their learning, about how their learning in their class is shaping and how well they understand what they are doing and where they need to go next.  

My 28 minutes escaped some time ago, so next time, I will talk about this further, but from a leaders perspective, and I will outline how we use student focus groups as our barometer of learning in our school.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Day 22: The Buzz of Learning #28daysofwriting

Something strange on the playground....I wonder...
At our place, we are working on strengthening our collaborative opportunities and providing our students with learning experiences that ignite their sense of wonder, curiosity and inquiry.  So today, to kick off our whole school inquiry, something strange happened.  

Watching the Video of the 'incident' in the hall

Initially, all the students met in the hall, where they watched a video one of the staff had made during the summer break, of the school from above (one of our teacher's has access to a Drone, which made filming from above a breeze).  Cue eery music, and shots of the school from what can only be from a Unidentified Flying Object, with a final scene of the ground (implying a crash landing).   At this point, students are curious (some a bit worried) and teachers are asking students what they think might have happened.  

More music, this time from the schools PA system, and then class by class, students made their way outside to 'investigate' - nb: But not until the all clear that everything was safe and secure! 

The following pictures tell the story.  What will be interesting is how this pans out in the classrooms as teachers and students explore the various clues.

An old suitcase, and various bags with poppies and scrolls....

Students observe the 'investigators' at the scene of the 'landing'

The 'investigators' explore the scene for clues 

Where did the suitcase come from?
One observant student notices where the branch came from!! NB NO branch was harmed in the making of the 'incident' as it was broken off the tree several days ago during a storm.  Promise!
What clues can we see?  Why are there poppies? What is the colour on the ground from?  

Each class had a bag with a scroll and a poppy?  Why?  All these questions...

It is interesting that this morning I was participating in a #BFC630NZ 15 minute spark chat on twitter, and the topic was about taking risks.  I have to say, that to do something like this across the whole of the school is a bit of a risk.  It is not the kind of learning activity that will appeal to everyone in our community, and I expect some will be a little bit unhappy.  It is the possibility of the things that can go pear shape in an activity like this that makes teachers and principals/administrators reluctant to do things out of the box.  

In situations where the risk taking could lead to some angst, I guess the important things to remember is why you are doing what you are doing and to mitigate any potential fall out in the best way you can.  In our case, the pay off to have our students buzzing about learning and jumping with joy to come to school tomorrow to explore 'what next' is the pay off.  

As the head leader, I do believe it is my responsibility, with the team, to weigh up the pros and cons and shoulder the potential risks, because at the end of the day I am the one that sits in the big swively chair, and I need to be a role model for us all.  It is my job to create the conditions for which risk taking is fostered and to encourage a GROWTH mindset in our teachers and our students.  

Today, if you could see the faces of our students, even the ones who were a bit anxious, then you would see that they were excited about learning and that is the most precious of things and a risk worth taking.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Day 21: Isn't Teaching a Full Time Job? #28daysofwriting


Sometimes I read things that make me mad. Not a little cross or partial fuming, but eye narrowing, brow furrowing and blood boiling mad!

What would make me mad you ask (no, it is NOT a trick question those of you who know me well)?

I was couch surfing through my educational feeds, seeing what was new, especially around the world.  It is wise to keep up with what is happening educationally in other countries because you never know when someone elses madness (or conversely innovations) will find their way to our shores of paradise.  I saw a this post 'Why Do Teachers Need Snow Days?' and I was curious.

Admittedly New Zealand doesn't get all that many snow days, but those areas down South that are impacted by them have things in place (called snow folders, with work students do independently) and when I taught down South and we had a snow day, our schools were closed (we were not allowed in - safety reasons) so I worked from home.  So, I really wasn't sure what this article would be about, but I had professional curiosity.

The last thing I expected was a non educator using something as innocuous as a snow day to take pot shots at educators.  It annoyed me, but it wasn't what made me cross.  You see, non teachers who have an axe to grind (maybe they had a growly teacher who yelled at them once when they were 6 and have hated teachers since - who knows) or a political point to score so they can spend their 'hard earned tax revenue' on corporate welfare instead of children,  use teachers as punching bags all the time.  'They are always on holiday', 'they only work 9-3', 'they are just glorified babysitters' and other such old chestnuts have been in play since forever.  I generally pay them little attention these days, and chalk it down to plain old ignorance.

No, it wasn't the original article that made me cross.  You see, I did a bit more reading and I checked out the author via twitter.  Interestingly, my quick browse found nothing to make me dislike the author, in fact, I was impressed he posted a rebuttal to his article, and my estimation of him overall rose somewhat.

It was the rebuttal, "Heres What Gene Marks Gets Wrong About Teachers and Snow Days".  The rebuttal itself was good, and it had relevant points that quietly shed light on some of the ignorance about the subject that was used in the first article.  One thing really stood out for me however.  And by stand out, I mean it really jumped out off the page and it struck me right where my social equity and fairness gene lives.

In the rebuttal, Steve Clark the author writes the following:

"Teachers don’t get paid for 365 days. They get paid for the 10 months they are in front of students."

Why not?  Teaching is a full time job, and even in the 'holidays' teachers are working hard preparing for the following year.  My friends and family who have 'real jobs' have 'real' holidays when they go on holiday.  In New Zealand people are entitled (yes, by law and paid) to annual holidays (4 weeks), sick leave, bereavement leave and statutory holidays ( like Easter and Christmas).  In each case, the people who are not teachers take these days off and they are real days off.  They don't have to worry about their classes, the paperwork, the planning, and they get to have a real holiday.  They simply enjoy.  So I ask again, why is it in the US that teachers are not getting paid for each day of the year?

Teachers don’t get the summer off. Not really. Some take full-time seasonal jobs. Others go to school. If they do take time off, they don’t get paid for it.

OMG - see above. I am gobsmacked that teachers need to take seasonal work and I am gobsmacked that teachers don't get paid for time off, like above.  What do they do if their child is sick or there is a bereavement?  I hope that this time is at least paid for.  What kind of system would not cover such contingencies?

Then I read the two 'case studies' and I felt my crossness getting crossness on top of the first level of crossness.

Gina Trice rises at 5 a.m. every day. She works a second job, and “off” nights she uses for grading and planning.

Seriously, she works a second job!! Why does she need to?  Is she not paid enough to live on?  How does she fit the time in to work another job?

"Dan Kiers, Gina’s grade partner, works 25 hours a week at Bed Bath and Beyond, arriving back home 3 days a week at 11:30 p.m., and arrives at school every day at 6:45 a.m. He has an infant son."

25 hours at Bed Bath and Beyond!!  See my wonderings above about why and how.

I just don't understand, so perhaps some of my colleagues from the US can enlighten me.

You see, if I compare what I do, and what my teachers have to do every single day, and if it was even only 2/3rds of that, then there is NO WAY that a teacher would have the time, energy or physical endurance to be able to fit in another 25 hours a week working retail.  The average teacher works a long and full week, including nights, extra curricular events, weekends and holidays.  This older article from 2010 (but it hasn't got better!) states that NZ teachers work longer hours for less pay than most countries, but it states that teachers in the US and Mexico work longer hours.   Given this, I repeat my wonderings.

1. Where do US teachers find the time to work these other jobs

and most importantly

2. Why do they need to?

I can only surmise that they work these extra jobs because teachers are not paid enough to live on, and they do not make enough money to feed their families.  If I am right, then that is disgraceful and all those who are responsible for this need to take a cold hard look at themselves in the mirror.

Teachers work is important work.  They are shaping the face of society and they are at the chalk face of our future.  Given how critical it is that they get it right, why would you not invest in this?  It is not rocket science.  The message it sends is that teachers are not valued and teachers are not worthy.  So I ask this;

If what you pay them (and the conditions in which they work where they need to get secondary jobs to feed their own families) is such that the message they get, can only be that they are worth less than others and not critical to your countries future, why do you trust them with your children?  This is a serious question.  Everyday you send that which is most precious to you, to them, and yet you don't feel they are worthy?


With my parent hat on, I wouldn't send Squirt to a place that I had disrespect and a scathing disdain for.  That would be like sending her to a charter school thinking that unqualified teachers that are paid less would be better.  What rubbish.  That would seem counterintuitive to what I need her to experience.  Nothing is more life changing than that of an amazing educator.  I know, because I have had that experience as a student myself.

Furthermore, I would also worry if my staff had to work 25 hours at a second job.  I would worry because teaching is a 24/7, all encompassing career that takes every ounce of commitment and passion to make it hum.   I would worry about their self esteem, their energy levels, their families ever seeing them, and how that ultimately would impact on their class.  Nothing should take a teacher away from what it is they are meant to do - and that is teach.  Why politicians, business 'gurus' and policy brats can't see this is beyond me.  I am sure they are not that stupid.

I hope I am wrong.  I hope that there is a logical reason why teachers have to work second jobs and I hope I am enlightened.  Alas, I suspect it is for all the reasons I fear, and that my dear reader, is why I am cross!  

Friday, February 20, 2015

Day 20: Finding Inspiration #28daysofwriting

A friend posted this on her FB wall and I had to 'borrow'.  It is ironic really, because I had just been sitting here, on a Saturday night,  pondering tonights #28daysofwriting and my inspiration cup was sitting low.  

Don't get me wrong, ideas and random snippets of prose flow in and out of my mind constantly.  However, this barrage of thought has usually vanished by the time I find something to record it, and it is usually at a moment where recording my random wonderings is either tricky (I am in the spa), problematic (its dark, I'm comfortable and frankly too lazy to record my thoughts and god forbid I use my notes on my phone and wake up Technoman) or inappropriate (I am in a  meeting and my minds drifted off into the world that finds wonderings more interesting than real life meetings).

This fabulous meme (I can't really tell where its from - the fine print is actually past 'fine' and more like downright indecipherable to me even blown up - which I did - so hopefully it doesn't say 'sharing this meme will result in all kinds of copyright pain will descend upon you' - perhaps I need glasses?) popped up at just the right time for tonights writing.  

So tonight, I am going to share with you my initial thoughts and wonderings that came from spying the above meme. 

1. Writing inspiration is all around us, we just need to open our eyes.  

2. I am going send this to my staff, because I wonder how many of them might find this interesting, and I am super curious about what a class of students would say if they looked at each of these 12 ideas (the half is more tongue in cheek).  Furthermore, when I send it out, I might just add how I would use it with a class.  For example, what would we learn about our kids if they measured their own writing against each of the points, what would they say?  Do they write every day?  Have they considered that if they find writing boring so will their reader? How often do they read?  How is that applicable?  Finally, I wonder, could they add any other rules?  Do they think there are some missing? Is it something we need to do better in our class?  The list of questions I have about how this could be used makes me want to go and grab some children right now and explore what they might come up with!! (Incidentally, I have said this before but I will reiterate it now - you can take the teacher out f the class to be an administrator, but you can never take the teacher out of the principal, not ever)

3. What lessons are in this for me?  More an exercise in self reflection and navel gazing about my own writing really.  I think I need to read for fun more - in the techie world we live in it is so easy to get lost scrolling through twitter and reading screeds of research online (which I do every day) but thats a little sad really.  I was the preverbal bookworm, and I was always being told to get my nose out of 'that damn book' - I once crashed my Dads landrover into a fence because I was too busy reading and not steering, as he fed out to the sheep (thats a farm thing!!).  I do love a good story.  The question is - can I put down the tech long enough to read a real book.  Hmmm.  

4. I wonder if #28daysofwriting will actually mean I will stick with the routine...guess I will know on day 29!

Finally, it really does come back to wondering number one.  Inspiration is everywhere, and it comes from the most unlikely places sometimes.  

What has inspired you of late?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Day 19: Reinvigorating a Mojo Meltdown #28daysofwriting

Ever had a mojo meltdown?  

By mojo meltdown I refer to those times in your career when you feel like you have lost your passion, that the bounce in your step is more of a dull thudding drag, and the enthusiasm for jumping out of bed each morning has become something akin to a sloth reluctantly shifting from one branch to another! 

Well, you are not alone.  

Being a school principal/headteacher is an all consuming, sometimes soul sapping and oftentimes emotionally draining job, that involves navigating the intricacies of humanity.  It is also very rewarding, but the challenges that you juggle can suck all the energy out of your mojo tank, leaving your tank close to empty, and about to conk out.  When your mojo tank gets low, your resiliency to every day challenges drops.   

However, there are ways to reinvigorate your mojo.  

1. Reframe your thinking:

They say you are what you think, so have a go at refraining from talking yourself in the negative (that is, telling yourself that you are useless, no one likes you, listens to you or cares what you think etc) and reframe it to something positive.  Try some positive affirmations and tell yourself you can do it, you are good at it and you are successful.  Try some of these for additional inspiration.  5 Affirmations for a rough day, or affirmations for change and new beginnings

2. Switch up your routine:

If you go to the gym in the morning, try going after work (if you have just been taking your gym gear for a drive each day, try wearing it and actually going to the gym!), if you normally check emails after lunch, do it first thing in the morning.  Try something new for lunch.  Sometimes, breaking up the pattern of your day allows your brain to recreate some new realities and they do say (who is this mysterious 'they') that change is as good as a holiday!!

3. Diarise your goals:

What are your priorities?  Do you diarise them?  If you say family is important, or the sport you play or the interest you have, are super important to you, how would one know?  Do you actually block time in your diary so that they are prominent and important?  The things you emphasis and prioritise are the things you make time for.  So check what is important in your life and give it prominence - who knows what part of your mojo will be invigorated by this! 

4. Have an adventure:

By adventure, obviously I mean something realistic and actually manageable by you.  By all means, go and climb a mountain, or traverse a ravine, or run a marathon if this is what spins your top, but what I really refer to is going out and doing something interesting, or different or exciting for you - in whatever form that is.  As a family we are debating if we will go and visit the Zoo tomorrow - on the scale of adventures it is pretty small and it won't make any headlines or set the world on light, but for us, it will be a mini adventure and a spot of fun.  We haven't been for ages so who knows what we will see (I personally like the hippos and the meerkats).  Whatever your adventure looks like, try something different and shake up your life a bit.  

5. Try the 5% challenge:

Give your working life a bit of a switch up.  For 5% of your working week - which on a paltry 40 hour week (yes I know, thats unrealistic, and somewhat wishful thinking - I wonder what a 40 hour week looks like and I wonder how would you get anything done in such a short time...I digress...) is only 2 hours.  For that 5% go and work somewhere different.  Take your laptop into the classrooms and use the classrooms as a portable office.  This is different from an observation or a walkthrough.  This is you sitting in a spot, out of the way, getting on with your paperwork, its just that the view is different.  Not only do the kids love it, but you get a different perspective.  Note to self, I need to do this more, its been a habit that has slipped in recent times!!   What about having your meetings somewhere different?  I often have my critical friend meeting at the local cafe - believe it or not but we are more productive, there are no interruptions and the coffee is an added bonus.  Switching it up is not that hard - you just need to think a bit out of the box. 

6.  Look after yourself: 

When our mojo goes walkabout, it is very easy to slip into self destructive behaviours.  Make sure you avoid the bad food, too much 'adult lemonade', cigarettes and couch surfing.  If you love your body and treat it with respect, not only does it respond positively, but your whole self esteem and mental wellbeing has a massive boost.  This in turn gives your mojo tank a natural refill.

7. Be inspired by others:

Who are your mentors?  Who do you admire and are inspired by?  Who challenges you?  Find them, read about them, talk to them, and share your successes with them.  If you can, get yourself a critical professional friend.  Mine is a person with whom I have a great deal of respect for, but more importantly, is someone who will challenge my thinking, and help me capitalise on my successes. 

8. Find the fun:

Life is short.  All of us have a limited time with which to make the most of our lives and none of us know when that time will run out.  Do what gives you joy, and go and have some fun.  Laugh, smile, do something silly.  I find when the demands of the day are weighing heavily on my shoulders, I go and find some kids.  Children are my sanity savers, and they know how to find the pleasure out of the mundane.  

Finally, don't despair if your mojo had gone on a holiday without you.  You can get it back.  It may be hard, but it is doable!  If it takes too long, go and see your doctor.  But remember, mojo meltdowns are normal, not forever, and sometimes the process of rejuvenating you mojo is just as rewarding as having your mojo tank full!! 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Day 18: A Mighty Totora Has Fallen #28daysofwriting


"Kua hinga te Totara i te wao nui a Tane

The Totora has fallen in the forest of Tane"

The above Maori Whakatauki (proverb) epitomises the perfect metaphor to express the deepest sadness in my heart on hearing of the passing of Celia Lashlie.   A Totara is a large tree that lives for hundreds of years, and when one of them falls in the forest, it is a great tragedy.  

Celia Lashlie was one of New Zealand's great Totara's and her loss will leave a gap in our Nations psyche.  Celia was the first woman to work in a male prison in NZ, had an extensive background in social work and education, and she was the manager of Christchurch's Women's prison.  She was internationally known for her work on growing boys into men, and an authority on all things to do with social justice, equity and standing strong for those who are most vulnerable.  

An outspoken and forthright individual, Celia was one of those strong female heroes that our world needs more of.  Her ability to cut through to the chase, and her advocacy for others made her someone I looked up to and felt deep admiration for.  

I recall sitting in a workshop she was running where she was retelling stories of her experiences and the lessons she had learnt, thinking how inspirational she was and how her stories and lessons were applicable to the communities many of us work in.  Speaking with her afterwards about a common understanding we shared about our most vulnerable children, I knew I was in the presence of a great person who not just talked the talk, but lived, breathed and walked the talk.  

Such individuals with a deep ethical commitment to the collective, are rare.

Celia's contribution to our society is one that will shape our society for years to come.  Devastating (and this word is too soft to describe our worlds loss) as her passing is, we must remember her contribution, her sage words of wisdom and continue to carry the torch for her.

To do this we must;

Fight for our communities.
Advocate for our communities. 
Grow our gorgeous boys into good men.

Finally, Celia, knowing her time was near after being diagnosed with untreatable pancreatic cancer, stated,

"Its time to leave the work to others now."

Celia, Thank you, thank you.   

We will not let you down. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Day 17: Speed Dating for Beginning Teachers #28dayofwriting

I've not long returned from a speed dating for student and beginning teachers workshop called 'advice at first sit'.  Run by our local teachers union, it was designed to assist those teachers new to the job market with some advice on their CV, Cover Letter and the job interview.  I had been asked to be one of the 'experts' at the event.

Sometime ago I wrote a post about what teacher trainees need to know before embarking on their career as a teacher.  In that post I outlined 15 key things I think new teachers should be aware of.   Not a definitive list of things by any means, but certainly a few gems of advice - some that the average graduate won't be told.  In that post I promised a part two at some stage on CVs, the Covering Letter and the interview.  Today seemed a timely reminder of that promise, so some eight odd months later, here it is!  Good things take time you know.

Here are my top tips for snaffling up that dream teaching job, starting with your Cover Letter and your CV.   Once again, not a definitive list but certainly my key tips.

Cover Letter:

  • Your cover letter is the most important thing you write and often the first thing that ‘sells’ you to the selection committee and the principal.
  • Make sure you address it to the right school and the right person.  That might sound obvious but actually, when you are sending out a lot of generic applications, mistakes can be made.  Check, check and double check.
  • Answer the job advert.  If they outline what they are looking for the answer to that.  If they ask you to explain why you want to work at their school then explain why.  It is surprising how many don’t do that.   I always state something along the lines of ‘send CV and a covering letter explaining why you want to work at our school’, and I can never understand why people would send a generic cover letter that doesn’t even mention our schools name.  That automatically gets you into the ‘not likely’ pile. 
  • If it is a school you really want to work in, do some research and show them that you are passionate and keen to work for them by selling yourself in your cover letter.
  • If you do something interesting or a bit quirky, tell me in your letter.  If you climb mountains in your spare time, or are the countries stamp licking champion, let me know.  It shows me that you are an interesting person with a story to tell and gives me something to ask you about yourself at an interview.


  • Include the Cover letter (see above) and where possible keep it loose but attached (like with a paperclip).
  • Make sure it has a cover, use colour, include your name, a photo (may be of you in a classroom), and a short contact details summary.
  • Include in your CV your personal strengths that are relevant to the position.
  • Include your Teaching philosophy, today I saw a page labelled ‘What I know for Sure’ where the Graduate had outlined a series of points about education that were important to her, and I liked the concept.   (However, remember that as a beginning teacher your philosophy is an emerging one, and it is not until you are teaching in front of a real class and you are fully in charge, that the theory and practice combine, make sense and shape what you really believe )
  • Include your personal details and interests so we can see who you are as a person.
  • Make sure you have your Academic/Personal Qualifications and include Work History/Teaching experiences. 
  • Include the References and referees at the back and make sure it is well laid out so it is easily read – three is a good number.
  • Ensure your spelling and grammar is accurate throughout!  Make the font clear and professional, avoid coloured pages – white or cream is best.  Many selection committees photocopy your CV so be aware of how easy it is to do this.  Think carefully about colour, size, shape, how its bound.
  • Do not put glitter in your CV – and yes, some people have done that, it brassed me off and made a mess on the floor.  Worst of all, it was not a one off experience!!
Some things to consider:

When I advertise for a teacher, I can get up to 150 applications for one job so standing out from everyone else can be difficult. This is where the Cover Letter is so important, because I read every single one of the CVs' and Cover Letters that come in, and I sort them into piles of YES, NO, Maybe. I can tell if you are serious about our school, and I look for this when I read your information. 

Next time, some of my top tips for the interview.

What is important to remember here is that this relates to how we do things in New Zealand. I am not sure what the process is in other parts of the world but I am hopeful some of these suggestions are helpful. Good luck and happy job snaffling!