Make Club – a debut

I am looking forward to the opening of our Make Club on Thursday 12 February for a number of reasons. I have long been a proponent of schools and communities using facilities outside of the regular 9am – 3pm day.

analogue and digital meet
analogue and digital meet

Make club is a mid-term event in the bigger journey of turning our technology centre into a community maker facility that is open 24/7. Make Club will be open to students, parents, teachers and any adult who likes to tinker, build, create, make and more importantly share knowledge.

We have had an amazing response after informing our community, with numerous people wanting more information and asking if children can come along. This is fantastic, not just for the fact that we will have lots of minds to set free but because of one of our founding principles for Make Club. All kids who attend must bring a parent/caregiver. You see Make Club isn’t a glorified after school care programme where you pay your money and leave. We believe that parents and kids creating and learning together can’t be a bad thing.

This club is also open to teachers. Teachers who want to learn about new technologies. Teachers can join in and learn alongside others and it is an extension of our experiment with ‘Staffies’ last year. Teachers have an amazing capacity to see an idea and then just run with it. We have all experienced a time when we have sparked of each other and come up with some amazing experiences for kids.

More importantly make club is open to makers. Adults who want to turn up and share. Experts who want to pass on their knowledge. We have been very lucky to have range of people visit our school over the past few years giving their time and energy. This is because we value collaboration and encourage people to join in.

Make club is the result of Kimberly Baars (Design Tech Teacher) Paula Hogg (BoT Chairperson) and I saying “wouldn’t it be great to…” Kim and Paula have done all the work though and without their input and urgency it would still be an idea. We don’t yet have a website for Make Club… but maybe the kids will fix that up for us, as we really want authentic contexts to be the backdrop for making.

Our hope for make club… to build community, to build capacity, and to build stuff!

MoM_header brand

Short Term Wins

In any change initiative that is designed to alter our fundamental values, beliefs and assumption we need to make sure there are short term wins. We must celebrate them to ensure that the energy and drive moves us closer to the vision. Essentially short term wins maintain vision focus.

With the end of our onsite server lease we were ready to make full use of our N4L Connection and head to the cloud. We were finally ready to sip at the Google Kool-Aid.

A main part of our staff only day was exploring Google Apps for Education. We could have had sessions from experts but we decided that we would follow a key mental model for professional learning – The Knowledge is in the Room! So we un-conferenced it up and teachers opted into workshops across the day run by colleagues. We worked on need to know skills but the sessions soon delved into what we could do. Exclamations of “hey we could…” or “how could I” were common.

Now we have a range of technological competency in our place and yes there were some very apprehensive people. Can I still use word? What do you mean my documents aren’t stored on the Teacher Drive? Normal first order change and in some cases reactive tension hit.

This week was full of wins…Greg the ‘caretaker’ Caretaker set up his Caretaker’s notebook in a google form and activated a notification add on so that he knows when people have requests. Shannon shared folders with her PRT Ashley and then promptly shared her meeting notes and received comments from both Mary the AP and myself. A transition to school meeting was captured in a shared doc with teachers contributing to notes and thoughts. Whilst one was note taking another was adding links and resources. Amanda and Carole are now emailing me phone messages that go straight to my todoist messages project – Amanda is even experimenting with priority settings and time based alerts. All within a short time frame and yes albeit with people who are not afraid to take a chance and try something new. But short term wins nonetheless.

Change, however small can be a challenge. I am fortunate to work with people who embrace challenge and who possess a growth mindset. Can’t wait to see what else eventuates.

Who are you selling as role models?

We are firmly in the age of the “I”. It is a time of the individual, with rhetoric that anyone can be the next leader of their country, make millions of dollars and have the house, nice car and a boat thrown in for good measure. The secret is that you just have to work hard.

Where did this myth eventuate? I am surrounded by lots of hard working people who are not the Prime Minister, CEO of a major corporation or get away on their launch for a jaunt around the harbour.

Yet we hear stories of people who have risen from challenging backgrounds and situations, overcome huge obstacles and achieved at the highest levels. But aren’t these the exceptions to the rule? Isn’t the norm absolute mediocrity or are we missing the point on what constitutes success?

I have no doubt that the ‘success stories’ have worked hard for their achievements, but when we use these figures as role models for our kids are we leaving out a crucial part of the story, that of blind luck or chance? Are we omitting the impact of significant others in an individual’s success? Do we underplay the idea of right time right place?

Schools are very good at determining and teaching the skills for success but do we oversell the ‘the world will be your oyster’ tag line? I was at conference where the speaker said that one of us in the audience could be teaching a future Prime Minister. That sort of rhetoric at that time in my career did give me a boost. But looking back would it have been more inspiring if the speaker had said “You are teaching the mothers and fathers of our future.”

Our kids have a lot to learn from the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. How are we including these role models in our efforts to instil key competencies, values and civics in today’s classrooms?

My Modern Learning Environment

I had a cup of tea left on my desk about 10am this morning. Amanda, one of our admin stars, left it there for me…

Taupaki School was established in 1899. A single room that doubled as a community meeting space outside of school hours. There have been many changes over the years and we have just finished having our administration block ‘remediated’ due to New Zealand’s infamous leaky building era.

Remediation effectively means ripping down the affected areas and replacing like with like – nothing new. So we have just finished 10 months of construction to move back into the same building with the same space.

During the construction the entire admin team were housed in a tiny Portable office. We lived in each others pockets. Our Office Manager and Administrative Assistant were no more than a couple of metres from my desk and our Associate Principal a few more metres removed. There was no privacy – the walls and doors were paper thin.

It was the best ten months. We had fun, we laughed and joked, we shared and we worked together. I asked for advice, “Carole,” I would call out, “I am about to send this email to a parent, how do you think it will land?” Great conversations ensued.

When one of us made tea, we made tea for everyone…

We moved back in to the ‘New’ old Admin block before Christmas. I didn’t unpack as it was a busy time with end of year school and all. So in January I had the chance to set up my office. A chance to do it differently. To turn my traditional Principal Office into an MLE. The first step was to ditch the L-shaped desk and the swivel chair.

My makeshift standup desk... cant wait for @refoldNZ
My makeshift standup desk… can’t wait for @refoldNZ

A temporary standup desk (until my ReFold desk arrives) in the corner is working a treat! The couches in the middle give me some reading or thinking space as well as a relaxed place to chat with people. The round table and chairs provide a collaborative workspace. All I need now is a maker corner! The legs are tired (I need new work shoes!) but am definitely feeling the benefits of standing to work.

There is one thing missing… the bustle of people and the feeling of connection as one of the ‘port-a-com crew’. I would have loved to have reinvented the space, but we weren’t given that option. An open environment with some private meeting rooms for privacy when needed would have been perfect.

That cup of tea on my desk this morning reminded me that an MLE is not a building or room, but a state of mind – a mental model centred in connectivity! Thanks Amanda!

Showing you care

I received an email today from a parent of a student who left our school at the end of last year. When I say received I should say I was cc’ed in on the reply. When I scrolled down I saw that one of our teachers had written an email asking how this child was going and wishing him well for the start of the year at his new school.

The parent was delighted to receive the email and her response was full of thanks and praise for the work we did in creating a foundation for success.

I was glad I was copied in because this showed me that one of our teachers had picked up on something that I value… proactive communication that builds relationships by showing that you care. It was solid evidence that our core value of nurture is lived – not just talked about but lived in action.

I make every effort to touch base with each new child that starts in our place. I want them to see that the principal is a friendly, helpful person. The person who you can go to if you ever need help. This is often at odds with what parents and some teachers perpetuate with the age old line ‘be good or you’ll get sent to the principal’s office’.

After I have seen each new child and talked with their teacher about how they are settling in on day one, I make sure that I send a text message to that child’s Mum and Dad to say that I had just checked on their child and that they were happy and settling into their new class. The response is often one of surprise and then gratitude that the principal would take time to do this. This in turn surprises me as showing care for your students is an important aspect of any principal’s job description.

Too often the first time a parent hears from a principal it is often bad news. As educators we have all made those calls and the usual response from a parent is “What’s gone wrong?” But imagine if the first time a parent hears from you it is from a position of praise or care. Proactive communication in a nurturing manner is an investment in emotional capital. If things ever go awry and some difficult conversations are needed then you will need to make a withdrawal from that investment.

A phone call to each parent across a few weeks just to comment on something good you have noticed about their child goes a long way to building the foundations of a good relationship.

How do you ensure that the parents of the children in your place know that you care?

From Urgent to Important

The possibilities, new directions and different ways of thinking and being in schools deserves time. But time is a killer for thinking about what could be. The everyday life of teachers and school leaders is full. We have children who are there in the now and we are constantly dealing with the unexpected, the unplanned and the magic of the teachable moment.

Being able to suspend the now, the urgent, is a challenge. At a recent staff only day I shared one of my favourite quotes…

maintaining an eye to the future
maintaining an eye to the future

I wanted to surface the idea that as teachers (indeed substitute teaching for leadership in the quote) we need to take a breathe and try to look beyond the waves and see the horizon whilst we are treading water furiously – because if we don’t we may be swimming in the wrong direction.

I try to do this. I try to focus on the vision and allow myself time to think about possibilities. But it is tough and does take a discipline that I lack, as I had started this blog with the express intent to write regularly. The initial inspiration to blog came from a number of colleagues who were writing as a reflection tool. I was also amazed at the quantity and quality of Steve Wheeler’s Blog – sometimes two or three significant posts a day. When Steve was in NZ last year I asked him how he does it, all of those posts! He talked about making time to cement an important reflective habit.

Hence my commitment to the #28daysofwriting challenge.  I need to get back into (OK in all honesty – start) a writing habit. To perhaps think about the important, the big picture for 28 minutes in each of the very busy and urgent days that exist over the next month. But this term at school is one of the busiest I have seen. Our Associate Principal takes study leave, we have several presentations and workshops to prepare for schools and teachers around the country. I also need to work on a TEDx talk that will hopefully make it to the stage mid year. Combine this with committing to the Programming in Scratch EdX MOOC, oh and leading a school and things are going to be tight.

So getting back to the Hamal and Prahalad quote… Hopefully the action of daily writing in this forum (ok and the gamification of the writing tasks I set in todoist that increase my karma rating) will enhance the capacity to think and imagine the unexplored.

Innovation – fresh initiatives through creative means

If we are really honest with ourselves our schools haven’t really changed a great deal since the idea of compulsory schooling began. We are all aware of the numerous ‘21st Century Learning’ presenters who talk about 19th Century production line education turning our standardised products for the industrial age. Trying to break free from the constraint of established buildings, systemic structures and engrained mental models of how things should be done can be a challenge.

Having fresh ideas and new ways of doing things can be challenging to established norms but necessary if we are going to progress learning to the ideals espoused by many proponents of 21st Century Education. One of the stumbling blocks to innovation is the notion of Best Practice. This very idea that there is one state or way to do things is from a stance of a Fixed Mindset (Dweck, 2012). Sometimes the pursuit of ‘Best Practice’ can be to the detriment of ‘Better Practice’. An iterative, growth mindset approach leads to better practice.

Innovation for us is all about deepening our pursuit of effective learning. Over the years we have implemented many innovative ideas including Student Led Conferencing, Bring Your Own Browser, Robotics, Coding, 3D printing, e-textiles, student driven timetables and maker culture. All these ideas have come from being connected to others, professional reading, and conference attendance. These initiatives have (or currently) started small in a trial environment before slowly scaling them up. Enabling teachers to connect and share via social media (especially Twitter) and face to face encounters provides a rich source of ideas, energy and enthusiasm from a variety of places and industries. As leaders we need to model the use of these vehicles for sharing ideas.

It is vitally important that innovation is a not linked to one individual, it needs to be part of the culture. This year we established an innovation team who are charged with finding new practices that will align with our school vision and deepen our understanding of effective learning. This team is lead by two teachers and has a voluntary component to the team composition. The team is not limited to teachers – board members, parents, scientists, IT brains, business people are welcome. The leaders of the team are given one management unit each ($4000) to coordinate the ideas, generate feedback loops and plan next iterations. The innovation team leaders report to the Leadership Team about their progress and thinking. As principal it is my job to coach these leaders in how we package and implement these new ideas in a way that will get maximum buy in and engagement from the school community.

Staffie coding session

A very recent outcome from the Innovation team is the ‘Staffie’ – a regular voluntary gathering of staff in an ‘unconference’ approach where we learn from each other. This was the result of our innovation leaders attending numerous educampsunconferences and non-edu events that highlight our belief that the knowledge is in the room. Innovation, and therefore better practice, starts with an inquiring teacher given permission to think, act, reflect, re-design and share.


Image Source Author: geralt


Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential. [eBook version]. Retrieved from

Staying true to the Vision

If there is one thing that teachers can all agree on it is that daily life in our schools is incredibly busy! We have demands from a wide range of sources. There are initiatives a plenty out there tempting us. There are the flyers that come across our desks advertising a programme or a one off course. There are mandated changes at a department or system wide level that have an impact upon the way we live and learn in all our schools. In previous posts I have addressed the need for a strong vision, this takes care of these temptations. We ask do these opportunities align with where we are going? If they do we jump on them if not we stay true to the direction we have set.

There needs to be a  discipline of assessing, monitoring and managing potential threats to the realisation of our educational vision. We need to manage this risk and as leaders are the gatekeepers who can deflect a lot of the distraction from the classrooms. As leaders we need to be wary of the temptations of Ministry or Department level offers and how these will play out in our schools. What we as leaders do in the face of these external temptations acts as a cue for our teachers. If our staff see that we are true to the vision, goals and plans we have set for the school then teachers will be more steadfast in their resolve to fulfil the vision at an operational level. Regular ongoing review with an iterative, action oriented approach enables us as leaders to look at our capacity to fulfil our goals.

But how do we check that our vision is being realised each and everyday. Are we agile enough to make changes if our plans and methods are not meeting the outcomes we hope for? These are the threats that can sneak up on us and stop us from making the progress that we desire. As our schools are about student achievement (I mean this in the broadest sense) it is really important to have the finger on the pulse. This relies on good systems for gathering data.

In our place we track our priority learners (students we have identified as needing to make shifts in achievement as a matter of urgency) on a regular basis. Teachers meet in their teams to dialogue where the children are at and their plans for how to take these students to the next level. Teachers identify barriers, additional strategies or support that may be required. These plans are shared in their online ‘teaching as inquiry’ reflective journals. The leadership team look at data trends and identify areas of effective practice so that we can learn from success and spread the knowledge to other areas of the school. Th Board of Trustees have also adopted a Governance as Inquiry approach in order to stay true to the intent of our vision (Read more in Paula Hogg’s posts Gov as Inq 1, Gov as Inq 2 and Gov as Inq 3).

Whilst this approach is aimed at priority learners it has an impact on all students in the school as our teachers are becoming more reflective about their impact in student learning. Our leadership challenge is to create more time and opportunity for teachers to reflect on what they do to meet the goals of the school each and every day.



Image Source Author: 8thStar

Sustainable Practice

Teaching is a profession where we can collectively agree to a vision and a set of practices that we will live by. It is also a profession where we can ‘do our own thing’ within the walls of our classrooms. As a profession we are great at giving the appearance of change whilst maintaining the status quo of established routines and norms. This is frustrating for leaders who are implementing change initiatives centred upon solid evidence of effective practice.

So how do we open our practice so that we attain a sustainable reality that meets the needs of the students we teach? By now it should be no surprise that we have a deep belief in Assessment for Learning practices. These practices are firmly entrenched in the use of quality data and analysis of this data for next learning steps. In my last post I addressed the idea of Teaching as Inquiry as a means investigating evidence based strategies in the pursuit of student achievement. For us, the answer to sustainable practice can be found in peer coaching and reflective journals.

We have a mental model that if it is good enough for students then it is good enough for teachers. If we believe that students need time to reflect and gather evidence of their learning (development) then adults need to do the same. Teachers identify their priority learners and then foreground them in their online professional journals. Next teaching steps are planned and then information gathered about how these steps have helped move the priority learners closer to their goals. This then results in an iterative inquiry based upon data.

Peer coaching and observation is a crucial component in sustaining any innovation or shift in teaching practice. Once teachers have identified next teaching or learning steps they need feedback. This comes in the form of a coach, a trusted colleague, coming in to observe the teaching. The key difference here is that the teacher seeking feedback is asking for feedback in a particular area of our assessment for learning teacher matrices. They want information so that they can reflect about what they need to next.

After the observation the coach and teacher dialogue about the data collected. It is important to note that the coach is not there to fix the teacher being observed. The coach uses facilitative questioning techniques to help the teacher come to their own insights about where next learning steps may be. These insights are recorded in professional journals and the process begins again. The data from the observations forms part of the picture and is collated in the online journal along with reflections, ideas and thoughts about next steps. These journals can be shared with colleagues so they can contribute.

This expectation that we all give and receive feedback about our teaching and learning practices ensures that there is a collective responsibility towards sustaining and improving our assessment for learning pedagogy. This shared responsibility for priority learners and their achievement ensures that we all hold ourselves to account and are always pushing ourselves to learn and teach more effectively.

The Road to Self-Regulation

The ultimate goal of any school should be to develop self-regulating, self-monitoring and self-motivated learners. Children who develop a capacity to ‘know what to do when they don’t know what to do.’ These broad dispositions or key competencies can be hard to measure, and in political circles can be seen as ‘soft’ data. Yet these very capabilities are what determine a child’s capacity to learn.

Data is an important aspect of the learning and teaching cycle. Professor John Hattie argues that quality data about what a child can or cannot do is extremely important in planning learning – this is common sense but too often in schools we have a preconceived notion of teaching to a standard rather than starting where children are at. An assessment for learning approach is very important for teachers and students.

New Zealand Schools are very familiar with the notion of ‘teaching as inquiry’,

New Zealand Curriculum Framework page 35
New Zealand Curriculum Framework page 35

it is an important part of our Curriculum document. In a nutshell it is an iterative cycle. The key aspect of our inquiry into practice is centred on student capability. We ask questions like…
• What is the data telling me about progress of students?
• What is the data telling me about the teaching strategies I am using?
• What does current research tell me about effective practice in this area?
• What am I going to try as a result?

At our place we gather data that gives us detailed information about what students can do, we use a rage of tools and understand that each assessment tool gives us different information. In Years 4 – 8 the use of e-asTTle assessments helps the learner to become more aware of their strengths and areas for development. Teachers and students use this data to plan their next step learning.

Teaching clinics are becoming the norm. We are encouraging students to look at their data and make choices about what teaching clinics they need in order to progress their learning. It is important to note that teachers are acutely aware of the needs of these students and if they notice that a student hasn’t self-selected a teaching clinic then they get alongside that student and have a conversation about their learning needs, suggesting they may need to attend a particular clinic. This ensures that the student is getting what they need in order to progress but also serves as a coaching conversation based upon data, thus developing their learning capacity.

This approach is grounded in valid and reliable ‘hard’ data. Yet the way we use the data develops the broader goal of self-regulation. In shifting the locus of control to the student were are developing the more important key competencies that they need in order to become life long learners. We capture this journey via our Learning Management System in our student learning journals thus giving us a window into student metacognition.

Assessment for Learning mental models drive our professional lives and our teachers are focussed upon the importance of data in everyday learning. This approach takes some time to embed yet the rewards for student and teachers are invaluable in the quest to develop self-motivated, self-monitoring, self-regulating learners.

Leading Learning in a Digital Age