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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Intuitive Assessment, Teacher Agency and Being a Disobedient Educator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Idea 

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

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

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

The Options 

Option One:  Go off reservation!

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

Option Two: Status Quo 

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


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

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


The Must Haves

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


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

The Caveat 

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


Going Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


I have been a little quiet of late.  

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

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

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

Hence the cross roads.  

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

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

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

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

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

6 Reasons to Place Your Blog into Time Out:   


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

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

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

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

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

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