Tag Archives: Change

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!

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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Blueye.JPG 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.

Learning from Robert Fritz

Dealing with difficult times during change initiatives

We have all started the year focused upon a common goal. We have had alignment conversations that enable us to contribute to the vision of our schools. We have intent and now we are in the first part of the year where our actions reflect that collective purpose.

For many of us the strategic focus of our schools is around developing an aspect of school that we want to improve. This involves investigating our current practice, reflecting upon the results and planning actions that will lead us to a desired state that aligns to our collective vision. This sounds relatively simple yet our lived lives as school leaders tell us that it is easier said than done.

Reactive Tension drags us back to current reality
Reactive Tension drags us back to current reality

According to Robert Fritz there is a structural tension in any new venture. This is the tension between the vision and current reality. Reactive tension is those thoughts and feelings that drag us back to the current reality, the “things were ok weren’t they?” or “it is really hard this new thing – I want the old way!” thoughts. A Leader focuses upon creative tension to problem solve and negotiate around hurdles and obstacles in the drive toward the vision.

We have a desired state centred around reflection and feedback in our KnowledgeNET. Our desired state is one of student, teacher, parent feedback that evolves into a reflective dialogue about current learning and what needs to happen next. Four years ago we had paper portfolios called LiPS – Learning in Progress Samples (Our LiPS tell us about learning). These were huge folders of annotated samples that went home at the end of each term and were a massive workload for teachers. Active reflection is a key component of developing self monitoring, self regulating, self motivated learners and LiPS were partly meeting these needs.

The change to KnowledgeNET was a purposeful act designed to move us away from the current reality to a place of active reflection and feedback. It was hard. There were technical issues, there were implementation issues and there were competing mental models on the nature and purpose of assessment. These issues were at all levels of the school from staff, students, parents and board members. Learning something new is always difficult and new learning should be sustainable – after all as Pascale (1990) says “ideas acquired with ease are discarded with ease.”

The formative years of KnowledgeNET implementation were constant alignment conversations as people grappled with these issues. We focused upon collaboratively solving problems around the technical issues. We were clear about the desired end state of what we wanted to achieve and proactively communicated this to all stakeholders and asked for their input toward this end. As leaders we could have said “yes you are right it is too hard” but we focussed upon creating positive dialogue around the possibilities once we nailed implementation – imagine the conversations we will have about learning, imagine the type of student this will help develop. This focus on creative tension makes our initiatives sustainable thus imbedding them in the fabric of our classrooms, schools and communities.

Starting the Year: Alignment

Putting into practice your school vision and pedagogical goals from the first day of term

The start of the new school year brings new staff, along with numerous ideas and initiatives to try and directives and targets to meet. The challenge for leaders is to ensure that this energy, passion and wealth of new ideas align with the vision and strategic direction of the school. The key to the successful implementation of any initiative, goal or strategy is alignment. Alignment of people and resources requires deliberate acts of leadership that are centred on relationships.

Shared Development Of Mental Models

As leaders our job is to ‘keep the herd heading roughly west’ (Peters & Waterman, 1982). We must be vision focussed at all times and have a clear understanding of the ‘mental models’ that are required of ourselves and others. Mental models are defined as our values, beliefs and assumptions about the world that in turn drive our actions. Alignment is a crucial mental model in any organisation – we all know that you get further if everyone is paddling in the same direction. A leader (in the broadest sense) must focus on alignment of vision to everyday practice and this occurs well before day one of term.

Vision focus for maximum leverage

Daniel Kim’s Levels of Perspective (Senge et al, 1999), provides a useful model for leaders, helping them understand how to maximise leverage by developing key mental models that play a vital role in the realisation of the school’s vision and goals.

At Taupaki we have created a vision that we aspire to, extracted core values from this vision that we live by, and set in place a development cycle that addresses the mental models necessary to live in the school of our dreams. As leaders of learning it is our collective responsibility walk the talk in our everyday interactions. The process of changing mental models takes time.

Alignment Conversations

The value of co-construction of vision, goals, targets and actions cannot be underestimated in order to generate alignment. The more people that have a hand or say in the planning phases of the school year, the greater the cohesion.

Start of year meetings need to focus on the strategic goals not administrivia! Dialogue with teachers should be alignment conversations around how they are contributing to the vision of the school and how the school will contribute to their development. These conversations are incredibly powerful in gaining insight into teacher values and beliefs as well as opportunities to coach teachers in framing an inquiry into their professional practice. We have sought to do this at Taupaki by providing adequate time and space for these conversations to happen. We have found that including teachers in the planning phases of annual targets. Our focus (target) students are identified through data analysis and then strategies are co-constructed as a staff. This fosters a mental model of achievement being a collective responsibility.

“He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata!”

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, people, people!

Māori Whakataukī (proverb)


Peters, T. J. & Waterman, R. H. (1982) In search of excellence: lessons from America’s best-run companies New York: Harper and Row

Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Roth, G., & Smith, B. (1999). The dance of change – The challenges to sustaining momentum in learning organisations: A fifth discipline resource. New York: Doubleday.


Creative Commons and Schools

Teachers share, it is in our nature! We are always creating resources, units of learning, planning, or innovative classroom ideas. With our passion for sharing comes the flip side – our quest for ideas or resources from others so that we can tweak them for our purpose.

What most teachers do not know is that we do not own the work, resources or ideas that we produce in the course of our everyday jobs in schools. It is the intellectual property of our schools (employers). This comes as a shock, the idea that we cannot legally share our work without the express permission of our School Boards.

This really wasn’t too much of an issue in pre-internet times but in a world of hyperconnectivity we need to be very aware of intellectual property rights in our everyday actions.

In 2013 we adopted a creative commons licensing approach to intellectual property produced in our school. Our teachers were sharing more on more resources online and connecting with a great many schools who were visiting us. It would have been a nightmare to seek permission from the board, more likely the school principal, every time a teacher or student wanted to share information.

A discussion paper gave enough background and information for the Board to see the need to move to this form of attribution. Key drivers in this decision were links we made to our vision in terms of collaboration and connectivity, as well as the advent of the Network for Learning.

The next step for us is to ensure that all resources we produce have an attached license. We also need to be proactive in collaboration by posting and sharing resources via WikiEducator. This will be a slow journey as moving to something new or different requires attention to changing our mental models. In order for sustainable change we must remember that slow is better.

For schools thinking about Creative Commons licensing have a look at this presentation Creative Commons for more information. Matt McGregor from Creative Commons Aotearoa is a great contact to make. If you are connected via twitter contact Matt via @CC_Aotearoa. Connect with other NZ educators who are committed to Creative Commons Mark Osborne, Andrew Cowie, Claire Amos or Otago based guru and champion of Open Education Resources Wayne Mackintosh.

With the Network for Learning Portal just around the corner school leaders need to revisit their intellectual property documentation. Creative Commons in Schools isn’t about abdicating responsibility and a copy anything approach. It is about acknowledgement, respect and attribution where the license is determined by the creators of amazing information, resources and ideas within our schools.

What is the residue?

After the last post about impending league tables I thought that I would post an article I wrote for the Teachers Matter magazine produced by the talented Karen Boyes @karenboyes from Spectrum Education.

The article, written in 2008, tried to capture the opportunity of a New National Curriculum in New Zealand. It talks a little about change and a lot about the role of the teacher. How does this article sit in 2012? Interested in your thoughts.
What is the residue?
It never ceases to amaze me the range of responses we have to change. In fact the one certainty in our lives is just that, change. But how do we handle it? Where do we pick up the skills to deal with change? Is it largely to do with your outlook on life; the age-old adage of the glass being half empty or half full? Consider the following stereotypical responses to the Revised New Zealand Curriculum that I am sure you have all heard to varying degrees.
“We live in exciting times, we are at the cutting edge of education change. We have a revised curriculum that focuses on Vision, Values and Key Competencies. We are jumping for joy that the word ‘Thinking’ appears in our guiding document at the top of a list of capabilities for living and lifelong learning. We are pioneers, constructing a framework that will allow our children to thrive in a rapidly changing world.”
“We have seen it before, change for change sake. What, a revised curriculum? We never paid attention to the last one! Can’t we just do what we have always done? We really haven’t got time for this in our busy lives. Thinking you say, we have always taught our kids to think, we give our bright kids all those thinking skill things when they have finished their real work.”
The New Zealand Curriculum Vision talks about our young people being confident, connected, actively involved lifelong learners. Words like creative, energetic and enterprising sit side by side with resilient, resourceful and motivated. Our challenge is to model these very attributes in front of our students. Energetic, enthusiastic educators who model the NZC vision, values and key competencies is what our children need in their lives.
Whenever I think about the role of enthusiasm and passion for learning in schools I reflect upon a conference I attended a few years ago where the keynote speaker crystallised my thoughts in a very public way. In his opening address he asked how many principals in the room were tired. A number of principals put up their hands. Then came the killer line… “Well then perhaps it is time to retire and let the energetic, enthusiastic people take over.” Whilst harsh and hard hitting it is true, schools are not the right place for those who have lost their spark. But rather than weeding out the unenthusiastic and tired people we have to find new ways to reignite the passion, perhaps one way to do this is the notion of legacy. What is your legacy?
Someone once said to me that it is not what you teach it is how you teach it that will be remembered. Perhaps I am lucky that I had teachers as I was growing up who, whether they knew this or not, demonstrated this very point. What I value today is a result of how my teachers taught. Mr Kay taught me about persistence through Sport. Mrs Nicholls taught me about the joy of Music. Mr Thornewell taught me about curiosity, about questioning, he left with me a love of learning and most importantly he taught me about enthusiasm. At Intermediate Mrs Gribble taught me that looking at things from a different perspective opens up a range of new ideas and possibilities. At High School Mr Staniland, Mr White and Mr Druitt showed an enthusiasm and a passion for their given subject areas that was infectious. I must have learned all the other stuff, the ‘what’ of their teaching.  But it is definitely the how that is their legacy and it remains with me.
Currently we are grappling with curriculum change and the notion of explicitly teaching thinking and learning dispositions. We have schools adopting wonderful programmes like Costa’s Habits of Mind and Claxton’s Building Learning Power that build a child’s capacity to be successful in a rapidly changing world. How many of us model these dispositions? If we really think they are important for children to have, how are we using them successfully in our personal and professional lives? Dr John Edwards uses the example of de Bono’s six thinking hats tool. Lots of people use it in classes but how many of us use it in making decisions about the future direction of our schools, our lives? If not why teach it?
So how do you stack up? What will the children of today say about how you taught them when they think back on their schooling… will how you taught be remembered at all? What will the residue be in 5, 10 or 20 years? Will they be reflective thinkers because you have explicitly modelled this in your classroom? Will they have an enthusiastic outlook on life because you were energetic about all that you did with them. Will they be creative because you allowed them the freedom to step outside the square more often than not? Will they love life and all it has to offer because you showed them something about your life outside of school. Will they treat others with dignity and respect because you walked the talk?
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your glass, you can’t hide from the children you teach… they watch you, they pick up on your values, on your beliefs. You know from your own life experience that teachers leave a legacy, so why not leave a powerful one for your students.
At the time we were looking at a new curriculum – I was excited. A lot has changed for us since then – but let us all remember the New Zealand Curriculum Document is still our guiding document it should drive our decision making, it should give us direction. Or are we doomed to only deliver and measure what is assessed as, after all, what you assess is what you deem to be important.