Wednesday, December 31, 2014


There is a hashtag doing the rounds on Twitter right now in relation to Education asking #whatif.

Its origins stem from the US Secretary for Eduction Arne Duncan, who asked teachers via his Twitter account...

What if every district committed both to identifying what made their 5 best schools successful & providing those opps to all their students?

On the face of it, a simple enough question and worthy of thought, and one I am sure his office originally thought would be a profound opportunity to look knowledgeable and open to suggestion.  However, dig a little deeper and you are left with some serious questions about how you identify 'the best schools', what equitable sliders you put through that identification and, once you start digging, you quickly realise the hole you are digging will be deeper than the earths 'common core' - pun intentional.

What then transpired was the opportunity to use that 'What if' statement to fire some educational wonderings, frustrations, home truths and genuine concerns back.  I am under no doubt that Arne Duncan and his office were not expecting the way #Whatif has become such an important vehicle for parents and educators to challenge ill thought out policy and to reiterate that which is really important about education.  I doubt they realise it would be global - here I sit on New Years day on the other side of the world, wondering about my own educational 'What ifs'.

Since I noticed the #Whatif tweets filling up my 'tweetmosphere' feeds, I have not stopped wondering about what my own #Whatifs are for education.  I have many, and nary the time to write them all, but the following are some of my top wonderings.

What if...

- Education and Educational policy was left to Educators to design, implement, and to measure for accountablity.  Imagine the way our children's lives would be transformed.  Imagine how our society would benefit.

- Politicians' and Policy makers who know nothing about Education, trusted Educationalists' to do what is best for the children of our Nations'.  What do they think would happen?  Do they not realise that we are a parent, aunt, uncle and neighbour too!  Why do they not understand that we also want the very best for our own, and your, children?

- Globally, we all ensured our Education System stood for equitable outcomes where all students' could access resources in order to be successful.  That globally, we wanted our Nations' children to love learning, to be happy and to be safe.   That their social, emotional and physical wellbeing was just as important as their academic.  What kind of world would this create?

- All of this preoccupation with standardised testing leads to Nations' of people who are unable to problem solve and create, have no creative capacity and no desire for being entrepreneurial?  Even worse, who are solely competitive with self esteem that is linked to test scores, and who are unable to interact on the basic social levels that our society needs to survive.  Then what?  Not a pretty picture and not a future I want for my country.

- Lobbyists, rich Billionaires and Corporations were not allowed to have any say in educational reform, and making money from children in the form of Charters and Testing was recognised as what it is - morally corrupt and counter intuitive to what is best for children and our society.

I have many wonderings and #Whatif moments for Education.  There are just my top 5 globally speaking.

For now, I am luckier than many of my colleagues across the world.  As a Kiwi (New Zealand) Educational Leader,  I get to collaborate with other Principals', Teachers' and Educationalists' who are doing amazing things in their schools.   I am able to create a climate in my own school where teachers are able to innovate, co construct and use teaching as inquiry to facilitate change and growth.  Where educational coaching and self and collective efficacy drive educational accountability.  

For now, we do not have Standardised National Testing regimes - we have National Standards (which are a different post in themselves, not necessarily agreed with or without significant flaws) but schools are still, for the most part, able to implement these with some creative freedom.  Please note that I use the term 'for now'.  With the current trend for countries to reform education with a neo liberal drive that has nothing to do with quality educational outcomes, it is harder and harder to predict what my own Countries educational reforms will stop at.   It seems nothing is off the political table.  In the meantime, I watch with growing disquiet some of the counter intuitive reforms that are spreading across the globe, and today, I join my colleagues across the world in the important wondering of #Whatif.

With all this in mind, what is your #Whatif for education?  Check out the #Whatif hashtag in the search field of Twitter and tweet your ideas.

This is not just an American concern, but a global education concern and as Educators' it is our voices that need to be the ones of reason.  Not one of us went into the profession without the belief that we could make a difference for the children in our Nations.   Together we can make this new year one that is about equity and success for all our children.

It is only by asking 'What if' that we can start to explore 'Why not'  and 'How do we'.  

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Eight Songs of Inspiration

2014 has been an interesting journey, with a road that has been full of ups and downs, tight corners and long straights.  At times the road has been smooth and a 'chilled' ride and at other times it has been a potholed, dusty,  gravelled track that has been a challenge to navigate.

That is the beauty of life, in that a varied journey shapes us into the people we are.  It is the difficulties in our journey that teach us how to be resilient, tolerant, patient and how to empathise with our fellow journey takers.  We choose how we respond to each of these difficulties, and how to use our journey to either make us stronger and better, or if we will allow it to strike us down in bitterness.

Whilst the journey, when it is taxing, may add a few more grey hairs and wrinkles, each of these 'road makers'  are like sign posts that tell a story.  When you look at it from that perspective, it is easy to find solace in the knowledge that no one wants to read a boring book, so we might as well embrace the tricky parts our our life journey, and see them as the parts of our 'book' that keep the reader engrossed and on the edge of their seats!

Over the year I have been privy to the trials and tribulations of a number of  challenging journeys that others have faced, or are currently facing.  Irrespective of situation, I have been constantly inspired by the strength, courage and mental fortitude others have to overcome their difficulties.  It is both humbling and motivating.

When I am faced with road blocks and pot holes, it is music that helps me find solace and face my demons.  The following tracks have been sources of inspiration for me, and I share them in this post for all the people who are going through a tough time, or have overcome the difficult parts of their journey.  I want you to know that you are amazing, that you are capable of great things, and that you should not ever, ever give up, because the journey you are on means that your book is a best seller!!

You know who you are!  xx

1. On My Way - By Charlie Brown 

I LOVE the lyrics in this piece of music.  It is an uplifting message of hope and resilience, and when you are singing it in your car, as loud as you can, it feels like you are telling the world that actually, while you may not be there yet, you will be.

You been down and feel so fed up
When they tell you, you might not get up
Might not be on top of the world but hey
Here's what you say
You might work but I work harder
You might fight but I fight smarter
Might not be on the top of the world but hey
I'm on my way

2. Its Not Right For You - Script 

When I first heard this song, its lyrics made me feel quite emotional.  At the time things were very busy, and when you are in leadership, it can feel very lonely. (I have blogged about this before here) Sometimes you can leave at the end of the day with the impression that you have not made a difference, and that what you do is unappreciated.  Listening to this song helped put things into perspective.  We do only have one life 'to love what we do'.  I took stock and reexamined the importance of that old adage, live to work or work to live.  Sometimes a piece of music makes us think, and for that reason this is one of my top songs for inspiration!   All the words tell a story.

She said, "Is this the life you've been dreaming of
Spending half the day away from the things you love?
It's not too late to do something new."

She said, "It's hard enough trying to live your life.
But not following your dreams made you dead inside.
If you don't love what you do."

3. Freedom by Anthony Hamilton and Feat Elyana Boynton 

This song is from the movie Django Unchained (which, if you have not seen is simply amazing and I give 5 out of 5 stars) soundtrack.  Not only is it a powerful soul track, it has at its heart a message about hope and fighting for what you believe in.  I lOVE this song and I play it loud.  Listening to it makes me feel inspired and uplifts my soul!

Not giving up has always been hard, 
So hard...
But if I do the things the easy way I won’t get far.
Hmm, life hasn't been very kind to me lately, 
But I suppose it’s a push for moving on, 
Oh yeah;
In time the sun’s gonna shine on me nicely, 
One day yeah,
Something tells me good things are coming and I ain't gonna not believe.

4. When the Night Falls Quiet by Birds of Tokyo 

I love how this song speaks of collaboration and solidarity with your fellow humans, for a common cause.

We are cast out
We are facing cold connections
When the ash clouded our vision
In a war between many
So few had won their placement
And I knew that it mattered
When lines formed and ties were broken

5. Let It Be by Labyrinth 

Firstly its a cool piece of music and its arrangement is an eclectic and chilled sound, but most importantly for me its a message about letting things go and not hanging onto the baggage that threatens to weigh us down.

Put my money where my mouth is
And I laid my cards
I'm a go out fightin' and leave my scars
I don't know about tomorrow
But I know I got heart

Put my feet right on the margin
And I just might hit the bottom
Throw my hands out on the breeze
And let it be

6. SFM by Ginny Blackmore

Whats not to like about this piece of music.  For me its about finding our own release to let go of the emotions and demons that plague us.  Find you 'sing' and let it out.

y stage is the greatest in the world
At the bottom of my bedroom, not much headroom,
But I can hear my three million melodies
Make the place go home.[?]

And I'mma I'mma I'mma I'mma
Sing 'em out,
Sing 'em out just for myself,
'Cause I don't even care what the world thinks
'Bout how I sound.

7. The Same Man by Dan Sultan 

Who can walk away from a good beat and a banjo!!  More importantly, this toe tapper is about adaptation and compromise.   Sometimes being the same and expecting the same results is madness, and it is never too late to change because if you stay the same you can only expect what you have always had.

Cause I keep on doing the same damn things
I'm loving the same, expecting different endings
But it's like you never learned until it starts to burn

8. Life of the Party by Shawn Mendes 

I love how this song encourages you to be the best you can be, to forget about what others say, and that making mistakes is ok.  Don't be ordinary, be who you are destined to be!!  Sing it loud, turn it up and don't care what the people say' - you live once so take that chance and GO FOR IT.

We don’t have to be ordinary
Make your best mistakes
‘Cause we don’t have the time to be sorry
So baby be the life of the party
I’m telling you, take your shot it might be scary
Hearts are gonna break
‘Cause we don’t have the time to be sorry
So baby be the life of the party

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Twelve Tips To Unwind

This holiday season, find a way to unwind, if not for you, then for your loved ones!

1.Do something new - make, explore, do - learning something new boosts our brain and makes us feel great ...

2. Do something that makes you laugh - not laugh a little - but laugh a lot...

3. Nap - in the middle of the day - how indulgent is that ...

4. Listen to music - branch out - try something new...

5. Unwind with your pets - (I wouldn't recommend bathing the cat - thats more stress than anyone needs) - animals bring out the best in humanity ...

6. Unplug - turn off all th
e technology - if you dare...

7. Explore nature - so many fabulous places to play in - getting back to the basics is soothing for your soul ...

8. Do something altruistic - there is nothing more rewarding than doing something for someone else - try it and see how wonderful you feel ...

9. Leave work where work should be - as in - not in your head...

10. Pamper yourself - nails, hair, massage, buy some new perfume/cologne - there is only one of you so you deserve to be pampered ...

11. Buy yourself something frivolous - you only live once - but only buy within your means... 

12. Take a bath - and don't forget to add in something that smells nice - its not until you are soaking in the tub that you realise how wonderful it is and you wonder why you don't do it more ...


Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Gifts for Leaders

Leadership is a rewarding job, and at times, somewhat problematic.  Seems like some of these 'gifts' could help - I like the Neuralyzer, bunker and 'instant calm'.  I wonder if its too late for Santa to work some miracles?



Thursday, December 18, 2014

Children are NOT Collateral Damage - Part Two!

It is six sleeps until Christmas (seven in other parts of the world), and this year there will be 148 teachers and students who will not be with their families, after Terrorists murdered them as they attended their school in Peshawar.   This has not been an isolated case of children, women and teachers who have lost their lives this year.

In May I wrote a post about the Lost Girls Of Nigeria and outlined my wonderings about how something like that could happen while the world idly watched and only jumped to action weeks after the fact.  At the end of July I posted "Children Are Not Collateral Damage' and I discussed how bombs were hitting UN schools, hospitals, and playgrounds.  These are all horrible situations and appalling acts of violence.

However, the abuse and neglect of the children of our world is not isolated to war torn countries, or those where stories of terrorists abound.  Our own countries' are not exempt and I highlighted this in an earlier post in February where I wrote about the safeguards for Vulnerable Children, wondering about professional neglect and who needs to step up and take responsibility.

It saddens and frustrates me that here I am writing a part two.  The fact that there is a part two is simply not acceptable.  What is happening to our world?  Have we become so callous and uncaring that news stories of children being abused, murdered, kidnapped and slaughtered is now common place?  Does it take a mass killing with constant media attention for us to notice?  Are we blind to the abuses that are perpetrated on a daily basis and right under our own noses?

In recent months I was disappointed and a little concerned after a person in my acquaintance made a comment that they believed that the claims of a quarter of a million children in poverty in New Zealand were fabrications.  Unfortunately that was not an isolated case, when a recent poll showed that a half of New Zealanders (that took the poll) felt the same way.  I wonder if this 'deniability' culture exists in other countries like mine.  Given some of the things I read on social media, I suspect so.

I am left wondering, what can our world do about inequality, abuse and injustice.  It is easy to get outraged when the media shows mass kidnapping, murders and terrorist slaughters, but actually we need to be outraged about what is happening in our own backyards.

Perhaps, this Christmas, we should be wishing the gifts of empathy, equality, humanity and tolerance on the world.  They say charity should begin at home, and I can only but wonder that if every country, and every politician in every country, stepped up and made the four gifts above a priority, what a difference that would make.  In the meantime, what will you do?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The 12 Descriptors of Christmas - An End of Term Story

Across the world educators are getting ready for Christmas.  Here in New Zealand and Australia, schools are not only getting ready for Christmas, but they are shutting up for Summer.  The last term before school breaks up for Summer is a busy one.  I have been thinking about the words that describe this time of year.  
The following Twelve are a mix of perspective - mine (the educator) and Techno Man (the long suffering spouse of an educator).   What would you add?

The 12 Descriptors of Christmas

1. Relief! 

One of the first emotions a teacher often has when the final bell rings, and the students' and parents' have left the school grounds, is relief.  Relief they survived and relief they can finally drop down in an exhausted heap and take some time to relax.  


2. Celebration 

The end of term, and the end of year is one big celebration.  At our place celebration is also code for fabulous end of year/term morning teas and more food than you can shake a stick at.  Teachers' are celebrating prize giving evenings and assemblies, student achievement and farewelling colleagues' and senior students' as they head off to explore new horizons. 

3. Tethered!

Teachers' remain tethered to their jobs, according to Techno Man.  This was the first word he used to describe an end of term teacher.  He remarked that whilst we may well be on 'holiday', we would still be thinking about school and the upcoming year.  He is right.  We are not the best at 'shutting off'.  I have been known to cut out resources for my new class on Christmas Day, and hunting for resources on my first overseas holiday - much to the consternation of Techno Man at the time!  


4. Apprehension!

There is a certain level of apprehension as the end of year approaches.  Will we make it to the end of the year without any 'surprises'?  What will the new school year bring and do I have the resources I need to ensure any challenges I meet will be overcome?  These and other universal wonderings jostle alongside all the other self talk that the end of term brings.  


5. Courageous! 

Another Techno Man descriptor.  Courageous for surviving for so long without crumbling and often times when under immense pressure from demanding parents, challenging students and ludicrous policy demands from policy makers with limited understanding of the impact of their decisions.


6.  Calm

This is something that descends upon a teacher as the craziness of end of term and Christmas ease themselves into Summer break.  For some of us it takes longer to let the stresses ease off our weary limbs.  Another accurate Techno Man descriptor.  The more I thought about it, the more I realised he is right.  It takes time to relax and it takes time to become 'normal' again.  (I think he is looking forward to the 'normalcy' arriving in our house).

8. Excitement!

There is a certain level of excitement that comes with the end of term and Summer break.  For some it is the excitement of spending time with friends and family, exploring their interests and hobbies and having a holiday.  For others, it is the excitement of what the new year will bring, the changes that a school will be introducing and exploring and what the journey with a new group of students will be like.  At our place, despite the fact 'schools out', teachers have been back to collaborate and plan an exciting Inquiry for 2015, although it wasn't a requirement, they were all there.  It can be difficult to describe to a non educator that tingle of excitement teachers get planning for the coming year.  Perhaps it is the freshness of a clean start. 


9.  Farewells!

The end of year/term is one where we farewell leaving students', teachers'/staff and families' that may have had a long standing relationship with our school.  It is a time of sadness and transition. Sadness because farewells are always a signal of an end of an era, and transition because the people you farewell are always off to begin a new journey.

10. Change!

They say 'change is inevitable except from a vending machine' and this is apt when discussing the lead up to Summer Holidays.  End of term is closure and getting ready for the changes that the coming year brings.  Schools are busy places, they are never static and change is constant.  For some teachers, they will be changing classrooms or changing schools.  Some will be leaving the profession and some will be about to embark on new challenges.  All teachers tidy up one year and get ready for the changes that will be coming their way in the new year.  Packing up classrooms, clearing off displays and putting away resources - change is a big part of the end of year.  


11. Exhaustion!

I left this one for second last.  End of year/term is madness incarnate.  The only people who can really relate to this and understand how bone tired a teacher/educator is are those in the profession and those poor creatures who share a home with them.  Each of us has our own barometers and each of us know which particular straw is the defining straw that will break us.  Reports, meetings, end of year planning, data, students who are 'over it' and 'tired', and a myriad of other things that make up the end of year 'crazy' all add to an educator dropping with exhaustion.  

12. Family 

Left for last is the most important, and one I nearly overlooked but was reminded about by Techno Man.  The is the time of year when our families get to have us back.  For the most part, they have been ignored, taken for granted and snapped at while we grapple with end of year hustle and bustle.  Now we get to be wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, daughters, brothers, sisters, uncles and aunties, friends and human beings.  

Finally, whether you are on the other side of the world contemplating a white Christmas and a short break, or here in the Southern hemisphere contemplating a hot Christmas, sun, beaches, pavlova and a longer holiday - happy holidays.  May the new year bring you all you desire!  To the educators and support workers in our schools, thank you for your hard work.  To the people who live in your house - thank you for supporting us, and for understanding - you deserve a medal!! 

Merry Christmas to you all. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

School Reports - Keepsakes of Learning

The end of year is a busy time for teachers.

All around the country, teachers’ are putting the final touches on their end of year school reports as senior leadership teams and principals’ are reading, proofing and running a metaphorical fine tooth comb over them.  Chances are your principal is just as pedantic and particular about the quality of the school reports that go home, as I am.

Whenever I catch up with my colleagues’ at this time of year, we often share our collective wonderings, concerns and general grumbles about how many we read, how many we have to send back to be fixed and how time consuming the process of sending reports back to be modified is.  In a recent round of 'sharing' our collective thoughts on the subject, it occurred to me that perhaps teachers’ don't realise why we are so meticulous, and that perhaps our collective thinking on the matter might shed some light on why, if you have ever wondered, principals’/headteachers’ are so particular about it, and why we read every single word you write.

Firstly, some quick hints (garnered from a range of senior leaders’):

1. Spell the child’s name correctly, and because it is a formal record of learning, use their correct name, not a nickname, on the front page.

2. Try and start your comments and finish them with something positive.  Remember that parents’ and students’ will be reading these, now and in the future, and whilst you may well have some not so 'soft' comments to make, wrapping them up in a sandwich of positive has to be healthy for a child (and their parents’) self esteem.   Even the most frustrating child has something golden within them, and that’s the thing that both parent and child will remember and thank you for.

3. There shouldn't be anything in a school report that is a surprise.  If your lines of communication have been open and transparent though-out the year then any issues you raise won't be a surprise.  This goes for achievement levels as well.  It a students’ learning is not where it should be, I would expect that as the teacher, you would have had this conversation with the parents’/child well before report writing time.

4. I expect this might cause a bit of controversy, but I am no fan of cut and paste.  I appreciate time is of the essence but you have taught this child for a year.  It would be my expectation that you can tell a story about that child that is pertinent to them - not one that is the same for all students.  With my parent hat on, I don't want my child to come home with a pro forma school report - that tells me nothing about who she is as a person, what I need to do to help her and what her next learning steps are.  Cut and paste/pro forma reporting makes me wonder if you actually know my child at all, or if they were just a bystander in your class all year.

5. When you write comments about curriculum, make it pertinent to what students’ have actually studied and what level or stage a child is actually working on.

6. Be consistent with the language of things, and the spelling of phrases or words.  When you are reading a large pile of reports from a classroom and the same word is spelt differently or has an inconsistent use of capitalisation in the same report, it becomes quite frustrating and I return these.

7. Don't be afraid of punctuation.  Long winded sentences lose parents’.  Sometimes, short and succinct is better.

8. Avoid jargon and complex technical words.  Education is full of jargon and acronyms and most parents don't care about that, they just want to know what is happening, what they can do to help and what you are doing about any issues.

9.  If your report includes attendance or punctuality, and you mark either as not being satisfactory, explain that in your comments section.  The same should apply for when students’ are not at cohort or conversely if they are exceeding expectations.

10. Don't be stingy with your comments.  Let parents’ know how well you know their child.

Setting high standards for the quality of school reports is not about trying to make a teachers’ job harder or because we don't have anything less time consuming to do.   School reports are a record of the time a child has spent in your class.  For parents’, it is deeper than just providing a picture of their childs’ learning, it also shows them what you know of their child, and it provides them with a keepsake of their little (or not so little) persons learning.

Reading school reports about the students in my school is one of the highlights of the year.  I get an opportunity to see our students’ through the eyes of the teacher, and it never fails to impress me just how well teachers do know their children.   I know how many hours they take to write, and that at times, it can seem a thankless task.   Part of our role in report writing is quality control.

As leaders’, we need to be assured that what leaves our school is a good reflection of both your abilities as a professional, and of the quality of our school.   It is not a good look to send out substandard reports to parents and caregivers’.

When I read school reports, not only do I look at it from a leaders’ perspective, but I wear my parents hat, and I look at it from the perspective of a parent.  I ask myself, how well do you know this child and can I see that in the report.  It is what I would expect for my child and it is what I would want you to expect for all parents’ and their children.  I ask myself, would I be happy to get this report in my house?   My colleagues tell me they do the same.

Finally, remember that school reports are a celebration of a students’ learning and that these are going home to parents’ who love and care for their children.  Every day they drop off that which is most precious to them, and it is a privilege to be entrusted with such a responsibility.  This is your chance to show them how well you know their child.   For children and their families’ these are keepsakes.

ps  On behalf of parents’, students’ and your leadership team, thank you for how hard you work.