Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Col, Staffing and the Auckland Housing Market

Contemporary issues impacting on my practice:

There are two contemporary issues in education that are currently having an impact on my practice. 

1. Communities of Learning

This issue is at the forefront of my current practice.  It would be fair to say that I have had concerns about this policy from the offset, however, I am now at a place where I have decided the time for angst about it is over and it is time for getting on with the job at hand, and finding work around options for the concerns that still linger.   The best way to do that is to get stuck into it and work with my colleagues collaboratively to set a direction. 

At its best, it is an opportunity for our cluster of schools to collaborate, share our human resources and work on solutions to some of the challenges we face as a wider network and community of learning.  In that respect, it is an opportunity.   Cross collaboration of ideas, best practice and a real dig into our collective data to see the commonalities and shared challenges we face, and then working together to over come them, has to be something powerful for all of our students: students we all need to have a collective responsibility for.   Core Education (2016) has CoLs (as part of networked communities) as one of the top ten trends of 2016. 

I have sat in two meetings for CoLs in the last two weeks, run by the Ministry, with discourse on effective evaluation from the Education Review Office (ERO).   Politics aside, the message around collaboration, shared expertise, and distinct pathways for our students that ensure success, cohesion and strengthened educational outcomes for our students, is hard to argue against. 

At the moment, my own cluster is exploring the options.  We have collective concerns around staffing (explored further in the following section) and philosophical issues still around the apparent restrictive (and uninspired)  nature of the achievement challenges.   As I see it, setting the achievement challenges is the compliance and accountability aspect.  The real ‘rubber hitting the road’ comes from the HOW we work to achieving the challenges.  The solution is to see this as an opportunity to be creative, with staffing and professional opportunities, and collectively utilize innovative pedagogies and leadership approaches.  This excites me.  It will take vision, commitment and quite a bit of imagination to be able to work around the perceived rigidity, but I think it is possible.   Of course, I still believe the money could be better spent, but the reality is that that particular horse has well and truly bolted, and now we need to just get on with it and make it work.   A growth mindset is most definitely important!

2. Staffing and the Auckland Housing Crisis

Who would think that the Auckland housing crisis would have a significant impact on schools.  Unless you live under a rock in the middle of a far off planet that is not connected to the wider universe and is completely off the technological radar, you would have heard about the Auckland housing crisis.   Right now, it is a hot potato topic and not a day goes by without some reference to it in the media. 

There are many impacts that schools are dealing with in relation to housing (health, transience, poverty and sleeping rough) but those are not the issues I want to deal with in this post.   They are important, and are ‘wicked’ challenges to address, but instead, I want to point out a new ‘difficult’ challenge that dominates conversations when I meet with other leaders, and that is the one of staffing. 

Wicked challenges are ones that are tricky to define and even trickier to solve, difficult challenges however, are ones that are easier understood but illusive to solve (Johnson,L, et al. 2015).  In this case, the difficult challenge is the impact the rising cost of the Auckland housing market is having on being able to staff experienced teachers in our schools.  I can count on two hands now, how many staff from my school, in the last 18 months, have left for greener (and cheaper) housing pastures in other areas of our beautiful country.   My school is not an isolated case – not by a very long shot.  Irrespective of which part of Auckland we talk about, losing and subsequently replacing, experienced teachers, is a major issue.   It is a very relevant issue for my practice as a leader currently, and will most certainly have a long-term impact on the shape of education in NZ, especially for Auckland.

Solution?  Given the answer from some quarters who do not think there is an issue because of a large amount of beginning teachers seeking work, is to staff our schools with new graduates, I would like to post a cautionary ‘but wait a moment’ sign post.   I mentioned the issue is the loss and subsequent replacement of experienced teachers.  If our schools are being decimated by the lack of experience, simply replacing them with new graduates is not a long-term solution.  I would hasten to add, what that does, is actually cause a host of more challenges and headaches resulting from a lack of support for these new graduates and that will result in long term and significant disruption.   It could work under certain circumstances but that would require some out of the box thinking and could be addressed through a CoL, where mentors could be from within the cluster.  Another solution is to have a Working Action Group made up of sector representatives take a good hard look at the issue and come up with a series of different scenarios. 

As you will have no doubt noticed, both contemporary issues are related.  The CoL presents itself as an opportunity, but one of the concerns is that it has the potential to put even more strain on the staffing issues Auckland is currently facing.   A possible solution is to employ more graduates, but the flip side is not having enough experienced teachers to mentor them.  A  possible solution to support new graduates in our schools could actually come from the CoL model.   What is certain, is that we will need to look at the contemporary issues our schools are facing and employ some innovative thinking around the solutions as we navigate the future.


Core Education. (2016 ) Core Education’s Ten Top Trends.  Retrieved from

Education Review Office. (2012). Evaluation at a Glance: Priority Learners in New Zealand Schools. Retrieved 18 May 2016, from
KPMG International. (2014). Future state 2030: the global megatrends shaping governments”. KPMG International Cooperative: USA. Retrieved from

National intelligence council.(2012). Global trends: Alternative Worlds. National Intelligence Council: US. Retrieved from

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Professional Communities and School Culture

School culture is a little like the proverbial iceberg (Stoll, 1998) - what you see on the surface is not necessarily representative of the whole story.  Often what lies beneath is a complicated network of emotions, traditions, rituals, values and relationships that can be as tricky to navigate as the London underground system!  It is both influential (Hongboontri, C., & Keawkhong, N, 2014) on and influenced (Stoll, 1998) by, the members of the community it pertains to.  The iceberg model is by no means an original thought on my part (much to my disappointment) but it is a useful metaphor to think of in regards to school culture.

Firstly lets look at what culture is.  In Mark Wilsons TedX talk, he defines culture as 'beliefs and priorities that drive the thoughts and actions of the school' - and that the principal is the keeper of those thoughts and beliefs.    He then went on to outline how culture was developed and fostered at his school.  It gave me pause to reflect on what that might look like at our place, in particular the things that are under the iceberg of culture, and how pivital my role as principal is as 'keeper of thoughts and beliefs"

What is our Culture?

I have been reflecting on this, and thinking about how school climate and culture interrelate.  The school climate is defined as what is currently happening, and it is something that is more immediate.  It can be described as the schools 'attitude' Gruenert, 2008).  For example, our teachers are busy working on formulating mid year reporting, so there is a feel of urgency in the air.  We also have a school trip to the Stardome observatory coming up which is linked to the terms learning, which has a positive impact on student engagement levels and there is a 'buzz' about the place.  The weather has also been a little miserable earlier in the week, and that has had an impact on our students as they have been stuck inside during break times.   These things are the current conditions and for the most part, can change on any given day or week.  How we manage them is more about our school culture.  

School culture is about the deeper, underlying things that we do as a school community.  It has been described as a schools 'personality' (Gruenert, 2008).  For us, it is our shared vision, what we value and believe and how we bring these things to life.  Most visitors to our place comment on our schools personality - how warm, inviting and family like it is.  Obviously climate may shape that some days!  

At our place, we have 3 Bold Steps that we formulated together some time ago as a community to take us from what was our then current reality to a desired reality of what we wanted for our school and our community.  What sits at the heart of these steps is an emphasis on improving teaching and learning for our students in order for them to be successful now and in the future.  How we bring them to life is our culture. 

Our 3 Bold Steps are:

1. Empower students, so that students can make decisions, design their learning and unlock and follow their passions.

2. Engage the community, so that parents and Whanau are actively involved in our school, in partnership with staff students and the community.  

3. Grow our staff, so that teachers and support staff are supported to develop and grow as professionals.  

To unpack each of those steps in any detail would entail a small thesis, suffice to say that each of these steps has a huge impact on how we operate as a school.  It forms the basis of our self review and when we look at initiatives we ask 'In what ways will this improve things for our students, our staff or our community?'.   One of the vehicles we use to facilitate ongoing improvement is educational coaching.  Coaching at our place has been a powerful tool that helps to unlock the potential of our staff, and because it is a personalised pathway for improvement, it assists in developing a culture of reflection, solution finding and ownership.  

How do I contribute to it?

As the leader, sometimes I am the driver and sometimes I am the passenger.  At our place, we talk about the 'F' word a lot.  The 'F' word I refer to is FUN.  For students, schools should be a place they want to come each day, a place that encourages, inspires, grows and engages them.  This should be no different for the staff.  One of the best ways I can contribute to the climate and culture at our place is to help the team create the school that brings them here each day.   Sometimes I need to get out of the way to let others do just that.  We may not always get it right, but part of our culture here is to ask 'what happened, how can we learn from it, and how might we improve it?' and 'what next?'.   

A key contribution I make is to the Professional capital of our school.  Professional capital arises from the three components of Human, Social and Decisional capital and how they interact with each other (Fullan, 2014).  How I build up, develop and grow our human resources, support and facilitate our social interactions and provide opportunities for people to have ownership and agency through increased decision making is the most effective way for me to contribute to our school culture.  You can read about more about this in my blog post "Building Capital to Build Capacity" which also provides questions for the reader to reflect on and use, in relation to improving these aspects within their own school.

What are the current issues? How will we respond to them?

Right now there are numerous issues that impact on a school, and our school is no different.  Internally, we have had a number of new staff recently, which impacts on our climate - fortunately it has had a very positive impact and for us now, it is important that we ensure all the 'wonderfulness' that comes from new ideas is captured and used to help shape the next part of our journey.  To do that it is good to understand how we got to where we are, and that we welcome the influence of our new people to help us shape the next steps.  Sometimes this takes time, as they uncover parts of our hidden iceberg, however a good induction process can speed that up!  

Externally, Government policy will always have a part to play in influencing school culture, if you allow it to.  As self governed schools, we choose how we respond.  If your school has an open, solutions focussed culture then you will find a work around and a way to implement something that is contrary to your beliefs.  If, however, the culture is one of distrust and suspicion, then traction forward in a positive way will be difficult.  

The iceberg that is school culture is not always immediately obvious.  Understanding what influences our school culture and how we contribute to it is a powerful way to ensure our communities of learning continue to work toward improving outcomes for teaching and learning.  Is that not, after all, why we are here? 


Gruenert, S. (2008). School Culture: They Are Not The Same Thing. Principal, 87(4), 56–59.

Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2013). The Power of Professional Capital. JSD, 34(3), 36–39. Retrieved from

TEdEd (2013, Jun 21). Building a culture of success- Mark Wilson. Retrieved from

Thompson (2014).  Why schools need to employ the 'F' word more. Retrieved from

Stoll (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Defining Practice

Thinking about my practice as an educator, and defining it, is an interesting thing to reflect upon.   I thought it would be easy, after all, I should know what it is, because I ‘do it’ everyday, sometimes 24/7 according to those close to me!   

On the surface, I am a leader, a teacher, and an educator.  

Scratch that surface and it is a little more complex.   

Communities of Practice 

To understand my practice, it is helpful to place it within the context of a community of practice  (Wenger & Trayner-Wenger, 2015).  In my case, I belong to a number of communities of practice, both within my school and through my professional networks.  The focus of this post, is my practice as it relates to what I do within my school.  

Within my own school, teaching and learning is our key area of focus.  It is what brings our community together and it is what drives us forward as we 'engage in a process of collective learning'.  There are three key characteristics a community of practice must have (a domain, the actual community and the practice) and these characteristics are helpful in defining and understanding what my own practice is within my school.  

The Domain 

The domain is the collegial network in our school - our teachers and our support staff.  As the leader, my practice involves navigating the collective commitment we have to our school community, supporting and growing staff, developing leaders and ensuring our capabilities and capacities are focussed on ongoing improvement in teaching and learning.  It is not something I do on my own, but as part of a team, and together we have a shared interest and vision in ensuring the best outcomes for our students.  The domain is what we are about as a community.

The Community 

In our pursuit to work towards our shared vision, we create our community.  Our commitment to improve outcomes for our students brings us together.  My practice within our community is about ensuring our team has the tools, time, resources, support, professional development and opportunities that allow them to grow and improve.  Within our bigger community we have smaller communities of practice, where our teachers and support staff come together to collaborate and improve their own practice.  In essence, it is a collective efficacy that brings our community together.  The community is the way we function as a group. 

The Practice

This is our actual practice as educators.  It is not merely our shared vision but our actual abilities to bring about the improvement in student outcomes through our skills, techniques and professional practice.  In this aspect, my practice is to enhance the professional capabilities and capacity across our school by supporting and developing its practitioners.  It is a process that is strategic, and when collaborative, grows us all to be a stronger professional group.  Our practice is the capabilities that we hone and refine over time.  

Wenger & Trayner-Wenger (who define themselves as pioneers in social learning) point out that what makes a community, a community of practice, is the cultivation and development of the characteristics above.  As a school leader, my practice is crucial in ensuring our community of practice continues to grow and thrive.  A key aspect of this is my role as coach.  Introducing educational coaching into our school has been a process that has been able to tie in all the three aspects outlined above in an authentic, solutions focused way that is owned by the staff.  Another critical role that coaching plays in bringing together the three elements of our community, is how effective it is at fostering a reflective culture of self improvement.  Educational coaching is a powerful tool that assists our community to engage in reflective practice, and that includes me.

Why Reflect on Practice?  

I like to think I am a fairly reflective practitioner with a number of reflective outlets I access on a regular basis – some formal (such as my critical friend, coaching, and my appraisal process) and some not so formal (such as my blog, and my collegial catch ups). 

I am a regular blogger (well usually when not preoccupied with important postgraduate study tasks!), and I use this format to consolidate my thinking.  In many respects, it serves to keep my brain from keeping me awake all night with the ‘what ifs’, ‘if onlys’, ‘I wonder what would have happened ifs’  and 'did I really do thats'.  All scenarios from a busy day in the life of a leader, scenarios that like to be rehashed at 2am in the morning when I should be asleep!   In terms of blogging as a reflective practice, I am reluctant to say that it follows any particular model.  Perhaps, if I was to align it to fit a process, it would be part iterative model (Rolfe) with touches of the vertical model (Mezirow).  

However, sometimes my blog is not the best place to articulate my wonderings, given its open nature.   For the more private reflections that require a trusted, and impartial collegial sounding board, I meet up with another leader or educator within my professional network outside the school, and together we look at what the current reality of the situation is, what influences are impacting on the situation, what possible responses might be applicable, pathways forward, and any areas that may be problematic.  For this, it is more closely aligned to a coaching model.  It is not coaching as such, but it does have elements of coaching (in particular looking at the current reality vs desired new reality).   

It is in this respect that you can see how using coaching to reflect on practice within our community is a powerful tool that can be both formal and informal.  

It has been an interesting exercise to look at my practice from the lens of the communities of practice model.  It has helped to consolidate my thinking about the value of coaching as a tool to navigate the domain, community and practice, and helped me look at the many roles I 'pratice' in a new light.  

For me, leadership is very much like holding many balloons.  It is colourful, uplifting, and if you are not careful you could easily be carried away by the sheer overwhelmingness (it is a word - I checked) of it all.  Here perhaps, is where reflective practice really comes into its own because being reflective helps you put things into perspective, review what you do, and find pathways forward when the path seems blocked.  

Finally, to reflect or not to reflect - that is your question! 


Wenger, E., & Trayner-Wenger, B. (2015). Communities of practice: a brief introduction. April 2015, 1–8.

Dawson, P. Reflective Practice. Retrieved from