Friday, March 27, 2015

The Privilege of Money

The case of the two naughty school boys who broke the law when they rode the baggage carousel at Auckland Airport and breached airport security has irked me no end.

I have been thinking and wondering about it all week - as a parent, as an educator and as a citizen of NZ.  The whole situation smacks of privilege and inequity.  I appreciate there has been a bit written about it - here is my list of my top 5 wonderings and thoughts.

  1. Initially, I thought they were lucky to have only been 'told off' by police and airport security - if this was in the US, they would have been arrested and spent time in jail, which is what happened to Rod Stewarts son when he rode the baggage carousel into a restricted part of the airport at Miami.  
  2. They signed a Code of Conduct (on account of naughty St Bede's school boys the previous year - but that is another story altogether, suffice to say, insert ungracious thoughts of spoilt, undisciplined and entitled privileged school boys without adequate supervision and you get the picture) and that Code of Conduct should have been upheld by the boys and their parents. 
  3. When the school banned the boys from participating in the rowing regatta, the school followed through with their rules and their code of conduct.  This was GOOD role modelling and sent a strong message that inappropriate behaviour was just that - inappropriate and not to be tolerated.  Good for the school.  
  4. However, when the parents of the two boys sought a HIGH court injunction to allow the boys to race and decided that their boys were above the law of the land and the law of the school, that sent a clear message to the school.  That the school rules were 'negotiable' and that the Code of Conduct meant nothing.  They also sent their boys a message that basically they could do what they want and because their parents have money, they would be protected from any inappropriate behaviour.  By doing this, they learnt nothing.  One point for privilege and money, and zilch for role modelling and teaching kids to be good members of society.  What kind of men will they grow into? Ones that 'buy' their way through life?
  5. Then there is the judge.  She heard the case under urgency and over the phone.  She overruled the school and from what I can tell, all because one of the boys had the 'potential' to compete at a higher level and if he was sent home might miss his 'chance'.  I appreciate this is quite simplified, but it is the essence of the argument.  What disturbs me is the precedent it sets.  It suggests that if you have a bit of 'talent' in a sport, you can be forgiven for any unlawful act, and it also implies that schools Codes of Conducts are not worth the ink they are penned in.  Both implications are serious.  I wonder if the Judge considered the ramifications of her actions - and I suspect that to be unlikely because her decision barely had time to be 'informed'.  
I could go on.  

I have read many many comments about this particular situation on social media, some for but most against.  Some people think that the parents did the right thing because 'it was not like it was life or death or anything' and 'it is hardly a big deal, why should a potential career as a rower be ruined'.  I get that, but where does it end?  Breaking the law is breaking the law.  These boys were old enough to know better, and they had agreed to act in accordance to the Code of Conduct.  For me, that is the end of the story.  As a parent, I would have stood by the school and followed through at home.  Talent or not.  What makes it worse, is that the young man that was going and knew it was his last opportunity to get into a world rowing regatta, should have been acting like it mattered.  He would have learnt a very valuable lesson about acting with integrity and responsibility and this in turn, might have been the turning point for his career as a rower at a later date.  He has lost the value of that lesson.  

I guess, at the end of the day, it just worries me that as an Educator, our school Codes are worthless, and that teaching students about values and doing the right thing is pointless if parents use a fancy lawyer to override them.   Top sports people are seen as role models by our young people, they need discipline and they need to act with integrity.  This must apply to our aspiring young top sports people as well.  If they are able to 'bend' the rules to suit themselves then they are not the kind of sports people I want my daughter to aspire to be. 

On a lighter note, if the above has meant nothing and you ever find your own child in a similar situation, then the following infographic might just be what you need.....


Further Reading:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Define 'Creativity'

The table our senior students painted and donated to a local Kindy

What is creativity?  

It is a serious question, and today I have had reason to pause and reflect on what creativity is, could be, or might be.  

Let us start at the beginning and let me give you a bit of a background. 

Back in late October last year I received an email from two young newly qualified teachers from the UK, unsolicited and completely out of the blue.  Both young women had been in a placement during their training where they had been inspired by the way the school they were in promoted creativity and the holistic child.  They were seeking schools to visit around the world where they could continue to observe and document creativity (and how practitioners facilitated this) in Primary and Early Years settings.  They wrapped up their email by stating they had found our website and would appreciate an opportunity to come and visit.  At the time it sounded like a fun opportunity and so we said yes, and then we promptly carried on with all that happens as you wrap up a school year.

That was at the end of last year.  

To be honest, I had forgotten about it, so when their email arrived saying they were here and looking forward to visiting us shortly, I had a bit of a conniption.  A lot can happen in a term, and at the end of term teachers are busy, and the day they had chosen to come coincided with our House morning (a crazy whole school collaborative process where students were cross grouped into their school house, participating in a wide range of different activities aka organised chaos and manufactured mayhem). 

Worst of all, I had a moment of educational school doubt and second guessing.  At the time of their original email I was really intrigued about the research they were undertaking.  I confess I was a little sceptical about why they might want to visit us.   Our website is standard at best, our facilities not that 'flash' but quite ordinary, and whilst I think we have been on an interesting journey,  I wouldn't say it is all that much different to most of the other schools in our country.  I worried that coming to us would be a bit of a wasted day for them.  Sure, we are quite nice people, and reasonably friendly, but not that inspiring in the big scheme of things.  

That is not to say we are not worth talking to.  Our student inquiry group is quite unique, and our student voice focus groups a little interesting.  Our cultural ambassadors are a good way to bolster students cultural capital,  and I think our educational coaching journey is an inspired development to support teachers.  More recently, our student led Whanau group (which I will blog about eventually) has been a neat development.  BUT, and its a big BUT, I started to worry and question if any of this was creative, and, more importantly, given the timing of their arrival, I knew they wouldn't see any of that when they visited.  

However, a promise is a promise, and despite my little panicky moments that we were wasting their time (not at all helped when you see some of the places they have visited prior to coming to us), I have to say it was a delight to have them on site and to meet with them.  

Haley and Victoria (firstly let me publicly say to the both of them how terribly sorry I was to have kept on getting them mixed up - lets blame that on the my little moments of panic) arrived nice and early and started with a chat with myself and my DP.  They were fascinating to talk to.  It is always interesting to discuss differences in educational systems.  Two of our students then showed them around and after that they were left to their own devices.  

Whilst I am not convinced we had all that much that they could take from us, I on the other hand, have had three key reflective takeaways from this opportunity to meet with them.  

Takeaway One:  Amazing Opportunity!

What a fabulous opportunity these two young woman have given themselves.  To travel the world and research how schools foster creativity and the holistic child will be one of the most amazing professional development experiences that can be imagined.  I just wish that I had had more time to talk to them both this morning, and find out a little more about their journey and how it all came about.  It is, quite simply, inspiring.  It is my dream to travel the world and write about best practice, and I am a little cross at myself for being needed in about 7 different places, and missing a further opportunity to pick their brains about what they have seen and experienced.  Sigh.  

Takeaway Two: How Often Do We Underplay What We Do?

I stated earlier that I was worried that we were going to be wasting Haley and Victorias' precious time by coming to see us, and that in the big scheme of things, we were a reasonably typical New Zealand school.  On refection, all schools have things worth sharing and all schools have a story to tell.  This is particularly true for New Zealand schools in that we are self managing and we decide how we do things and in what way.  We may have similarities but in truth, each of our communities are different and as a result we focus on different priorities.  At the very least, as Hayley and Victoria travel New Zealand they will see   our similarities but I am hopefully they will see the many flavours that are our differences - a real strength in our system.  Often, when I am talking with my colleagues, colleagues that I know are doing innovative and interesting things, I catch them having the same self doubt, commenting that they are doing nothing out of the ordinary.  So today, I wondered, do we underplay what we do?  Do we undersell our journey and why do we do it?

Takeaway Three: Do We Know What Creativity Is?

I have been thinking all day about creativity and what is it, is not and could be.  I don't think that thinking about it all day has helped if I was to be honest.  You see, I think the issue of creativity is in the defining of it, or to be more exact, the perception of what we think it is when we define it.  What would have helped me today is if I had actually had Hayley and Victoria define what THEY see as creativity.  You see, in my head, creativity and innovation are not necessarily the same thing.  For some reason, I have a preconceived notion that creativity is about being arty and creating art things - paintings, constructions, and all other manner of 'artsy' things.  

I know.  You are right.  It is narrow and I can not tell you where that actually comes from.  

It is bizarre really.  The moment I look at the definition of creative, I am able to straight away make logical sense of it and 'artsy' things are only a small part of what comes to mind.   

the state or quality of being creative
the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns,relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms,methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, orimagination:
the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.
the process by which one utilizes creative ability:
Extensive reading stimulated his creativity.

When I look at the above definition from, in particular part 2, I am then able to think more critically about what we do at our place, that meets the definition of creative.  I wonder if it is this definition that Haley and Victoria are more interested in, or more 3, whereby schools are bringing out the creativity in students as opposed to being the creative unit.  Perhaps it is both.  The list I wrote earlier about what we do, especially around fostering student leadership, voice and agency are, I think creative in terms of methodology but not 'artsy' creative. 

Whilst I am still not that convinced we were able to give these two inspiring young women all that much to inspire in return, it has been interesting to think in terms of how we facilitate creativity and the holistic child.  Our place is all about the whole child, providing opportunities for our students to be successful socially, emotionally, physically and academically.  Today provided us with an opportunity to discuss education in a wider context and to reflect on teaching, learning and what we do.  

Finally, if your school gets the chance to share with Hayley and Victoria then I highly recommend it.  These two young women were most interesting to talk to, and our kids loved meeting teachers from another country.  The opportunity to think outside your own context is always a powerful reflective tool and having met them both, I am quite sure they will be an asset to education.  

Happy journeying Ladies!!!  You are doing something amazing and I can't wait to read your insights after you have conducted your research! 

You can find Haley and Victoria here
Follow them on twitter @KindlingC 

Friday, March 20, 2015

NZ Race Relations Day - Something to Digest

Things that make you go Hmmmm.

Today is New Zealand Race Relations day and today I came across something on my Facebook feed (thanks Richard) that gave me pause for thought.

Watch the video and let it be something to digest and reflect on, given that today is NZ Race Relations Day.  If you are not from NZ, consider your own context and think about what kind of racism lives in your own communities.  Is it soft and covert or something much harder and overt.  If you are a teacher, what impact does something like this have on the students in your own class and more importantly, what will you and your colleagues need to do about it?

As an educator there is nothing more damaging than ignorance to the potential of our young people.

None of us - not me, not you and not your neighbour, can afford one single child or young person to be marginalised.

All our young people hold the key to our future and it is they that will be running the world when we are old and unwanted.

Enough from me, let the voices in the video paint the picture.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bugger the Embuggerance

I was disappointed to hear on the Breakfast News this morning of the passing of Sir Terry Prachett.  He was one of the best Fantasy writers this side of Ankh-Morpork, and in my estimation, will remain one of the best until the end of time.  Clever, articulate and a true wordsmith, his stories have been capturing my imagination since they were first introduced to me as a university student.  

The first book I read of his, lent to me by a fellow student with a penchant for this genre, was Mort and remains my favourite to this day.  It is funny, engaging and it is where I fell in literary love with the Disc World and all its quirky characters.  

I confess I have a little book crush on the character DEATH.  His dry wit, sage quips and commanding presence are, for a fictional character, quite attractive.  His booming voice (I know this to be so because his 'voice' is always portrayed in capitals, so my imagination conjures up a voice that is part Vin Diesel and part James Earl Jones) is quite captivating.   And of course, the fact he rides a white steed called 'Binky' and loves cats simply makes his character all the more endearing.   

To think that there will be no more stories where DEATH and all the other characters that fans like myself have come to love, will be appearing, is quite unsettling.  I had heard last year that Sir Terry had a form of Alzheimer's, which had manifested itself 7 years earlier, but I had secretly hoped that he would be able to keep it at bay a little longer.  Sir Terry had nicknamed his Alzheimer's 'The Embuggerance', and an 'embuggerance' it has been, for it has taken this exceptional story teller away from us before we were prepared to let him go.  For me it feels like a cruel twist of fate that such a talented and clever writer, be struck down in this way.  

I wish I had met him, and although I had not, I feel as though I knew a part of him through his writing.   His stories, his characters and his witty and insightful reflections on our world will live on, and I am grateful for his contribution to my own world view.  

Thank you, Sir Terry, for stretching my own imagination, making me laugh out loud (often in a snort of amusement), and for providing me with a creative way to reflect on my own assumptions and ignorances of humanity.

May the afterlife be one where your boots are always clean, your wit forever quick, your clever repartee always on hand, and most importantly, that inconvenient embuggerance forbidden eternal entry!  

And, if Death was real, I know what He would say. 


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Does Education Kill Student Self-Management?

pic courtesy of @kerriattamatea 

This morning I participated in a breakfast chat (#BFC630NZ) on twitter where the topic was about self-directed learning and encouraging students to self-manage.  It is an interesting topic and one which has spun my educational wheels since I started out as a fledgling but enthusiastic teacher, back in the 'day'.  All these years later and I still see it as a cornerstone of effective teaching and authentic student agency.  

It is a huge topic, and narrowing it down to something as short, sharp and succinct as a 15 minute breakfast twitter 'chat' where being constrained by 140 characters is like driving around with a massive handbrake, makes it a big challenge.   As a teacher, it took me years of honing, reviewing, reflecting and modifying to get 'good' at running a programme that revolved around authentic student agency.  As a principal, I still continue to refine what this looks like, but now it is on a bigger, whole school scale, where the students I work alongside with take ownership of whole school directions.  

That is not what I want to write about today.   Instead, I want to write about something else.  
Something that happened during the twitter chat. 

This morning I had an epiphany.  

Perhaps not an earth shattering, the world will benefit from my magnificence kind of epiphany, but an awareness all the same.  

As I typed my 'succinct' comments, the element of choice kept coming up to the forefront.  The more I saw the word 'choice' the more I thought about my trip around all the preschools and early childhood centres last week (we visit them once a term to touch base with the little people coming to our school).    I thought of them all happily engaged in their own explorations of the world.   Some students within a more directed activity with their early childhood teachers and some exploring their own interests.  Without exception, in all of the places we visited (around 10), little people were engaged, active, and learning with abandon and joy.  All of them were making choices, self-directing their learning (some more scaffolded than others) and they were all self-managing (again, some had a little bit of scaffolding).  

It was as I reflected on the little people learning, that I had the sudden enlightenment. 

Do we, as teachers, starting in Primary (elementary), kill the ability for students to make choices and self-manage?  

I appreciate this is a little controversial for some.  Please suspend your outrage and disregard if you are a teacher who does not do this, if however you are the kind of teacher who controls all aspects of learning and teaching, and is unsure of how to encourage choice and ownership in your classroom (or finds that concerning), feel free to read on.    

Let me justify my wondering.  You see, I have been thinking about this quite a bit today.  It has been bugging me like a pesky mosquito.  

Do students, once they leave the freedom of the Te Whariki curriculum and start primary school, encounter so many rules, restrictions and educational control freaks, that they not only lose their ability to make choices about learning, but also the opportunity to self-direct and manage their learning?

If we analyse it, and we think about how different a preschool environment is in comparison to a  more formalised classroom, then it is not too much of a leap to think this.  Teachers are often well organised individuals who are used to being in control.  In some respects, they are Kings and Queens of their own domains (classrooms) and they are used to running the show.  There is not much 'free play' or 'choice' in the average classroom (yes there are exceptions - see above if you are one of those) and of course there are classrooms where there are shades of choice, self-determination and management. The real shame is that we seem to lose the innate and natural skill set of our little people as we force them to be 'big school' kids.  Add in the obsessive testing regimes in some countries and the need to control our students more and more with ill thought out policy, and you have to wonder, what will all this create in the end? 

Can you imagine how horrifying it must be for a little person to leave the creative space of Early Childhood and enter the constrictive bounds of primary?  I know at our place we run a reception programme that marries the Early Childhood Te Whariki curriculum with our National Curriculum for the compulsory sector (primary to secondary).  It gives little people an opportunity to transition at a pace that meets their social, emotional and academic needs.  I also know many junior teachers who work hard to scaffold the transition between the two sectors, whilst juggling the demands of policy expectations to be literate and numerate.  But, if you were to critically look at it, in general, the older the child gets, the less freedom of choice they have.  

It seems counter intuitive.  Surely, it is in our collective countries best interests to build upon the foundations of Early Childhood learning.  Imagine if we further strengthened and scaffolded self-directed learning and management, and grew students abilities to make choices about their learning that tapped into their curiosities, interests and creative wonderment?  I understand Inquiry learning (project based learning, research based learning - take your pick - just new names for thinking that has been around since I can remember) should be doing this but I am doubtful that true self-directed and self-managed learning that is based on authentic student agency is actually happening at a depth that could be considered building on what we see in Early Childhood.  There are those that dabble at the fringes and there are an even smaller group who are skilled at it, but it is not common place.  Imagine if it was.  

So, I wonder, does our system, once children leave Early Childhood, kill our children's abilities to self-manage and direct learning?  And if so, what will the consequences be when they are as old as we are?

I wonder. 

Further Reading:

Monday, March 9, 2015

Please Sir, Can the Remuneration Authority Set My Pay?

Dear Reader

Firstly, I do apologise for not writing sooner, I realise it has been a few days and you may have missed me.  Seriously, I have been busy, and taking a bit of a break from writing, after injuring my typing fingers in the #28daysofwriting challenge.  (alright, I confess, I am telling a bit of a porky, I was just taking a break and being 'busy')

However, I have been thinking.  

In the last few weeks or so there has been much said about MPs getting a pay rise.  The Remuneration Authority is an independent authority that decides how much money key office holders like Judges and MPs should get paid.  In the last few weeks they decided that MPs deserve a 5.4% increase.  Apparently this is based on what is happening in other professions similar to an MPs.  Skip forward past all the various public outcries and the latest upshot is that the Government has decided to change the rules and set the pay increase at 1.5%.  Apparently this change is based on the following comments:

Key has expressed his disappointment in the pay rises for MPs for the past five years. 
He said today that MPs needed to be in line with pay rises gained by teachers and nurses and other workers. 


That's nice.  

Our esteemed leader would like to have pay rises in line with teachers, nurses and other workers.  (note he didn't say he wanted to be paid the same!)

I suspect that the reason the MPs pay rise has been changed to be more in line with my profession is not about the MPs pay at all, but about the pay rises and collective bargaining that will be either underway or about to take place.  Easy to turn down a pay increase for the public sector if you have the moral high ground. 

I feel I need to clarify something.  I don't mind the MPs getting a pay rise.  They work all the hours sent their way, hardly ever see their families (they are always out and about in the weekends and have to live in Wellington during the week, so that must be hard on families), and they are always copping it from the public.  By all means pay them well - I would rather my representative was paid well, because really, who else wants to do it?  So I have no beef with a pay increase. 

I do however, have an issue with using pay rises in line with 'teaches and nurses and other workers' as the so called reason behind it.   Sounds like a cop out to me. 

So, I have a solution.  

Let the Remuneration Authority set my pay.  Let them set the pay for Nurses and other workers in the public sector while we are at it. I like the way they think.  They seem to be based on fairness and equity.  

If the Remuneration Authority set our pay rises, I would feel it was fair.  They are, after all, independent.  I love the idea of a 5.4% pay increase, backdated.  

You know why this won't happen?

It would cost the Government too much.  

I still think its a great idea.  Can't see it getting any traction, but if you don't put your ideas out there, you will never know.  

What do you think?  Would you like them to decide how much of a pay rise we should have?

I wonder.  

Further Reading:

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Future of Review...

I had a meeting tonight at the Review office.  We have an ERO review at the end of term (much like an OFSTED review) and this was the preliminary discussion with schools on what to expect and how the Review office has adapted and changed over the last few years.  Nothing innocuous about that.  But, then one little line was uttered that raised a collective eyebrow, and automatically the audience went from passive listeners to engaged and interested.

"This may be the last time ERO will review individual schools, so make the most of it" (or words to that effect)

At the time it was said, I confess I was away in my own little world, crossing off the many lists that live in my head, and wondering what boxes I still had to tick.  However, that statement got my instant attention.  I had questions - a lot of questions.  I applied some self control (hard to believe I know), and I only asked two.

My first question:

Was this change in how schools might be reviewed related to IES, EDUCANZ, and the Governance review (check out the preferred option on this link to find out more)?

EROs response was 'it appeared so'.  (or words to that effect

My second question: 

What was the likely timeframe, 18 months? Two Years?

EROs response, 'I believe sooner than that' (again, words to that effect) 

As a result of this little bombshell, I am full of curious wondering.

  • Why has ERO been reinventing itself in terms of mission statements and 'whats important' if they are about to be phased out from reviewing individual schools?
  • If not individual schools, what does it look like?
  • Given the EDUCANZ link, does that mean it is less about school capability and capacity and more about teacher competency?  I wonder what that would look like and who would be responsible? 
  • Who else knows?  Does NZPF, NZEI, PPTA, STA etc (name your acronym really) know and if so, when were they going to let the membership know?
  • When were we, the stakeholders, going to be consulted?  This is a fundamental change to how things operate and I would have thought schools, parents, BOTs and anyone with any interest in school capacity and capability would want to know and have a say.
  • What might it look like, this new accountability structure (because really, thats what it is) if an individual school is no longer reviewed?  Does it mean a cluster is reviewed, and does the 'super principal' do the reviewing?  (can't see any problem with that said the sceptic) 
  • If it is linked to the Governance review and that results in a super board, how might this look if it is cluster based, and the cluster is run by a 'super principal' and a 'super board' (perhaps this is a step too far in my imagination, perhaps not)
  • Finally I wonder when the powers that be will let us know officially?  

Questions and wonderings, questions and wonderings.  The little hamster on my wheel is running flat tack. 

I do need to clarify where I stand.  I think ERO has a place to play as the independent body that keeps the checks and balances on our schools in place.  Sometimes, ERO has the capacity to scare me half to death, but for the most part,  I am usually excited to share our journey and get some insight into how we are going and where we are heading.  It is the ultimate school review process.  Tonights news seems, on the face of it, like a fundamental shake up of how we do things and as such, leaves me a little uneasy about the unknown. 

Here is hoping we get some clarification on this soon.  (Or that little hamsters going to have a conniption)  

NB I have said 'words to that effect' not because I have a terrible memory (which is probably partially true in reality) but because I don't want to misquote someone - by 'words to that effect' I do mean either exactly that or pretty darn close.