Tag Archives: Collaboration

The Power of KiwiFoo – expanding horizons

In 2013 I was lucky enough to receive an email from a guy called Nat Torkington. It was an invitation to attend something called KiwiFoo. After a bit of investigating I accepted the offer. The general consensus from people was that if you get an invite to KiwiFoo camp you drop everything and just say yes.

What followed was a mind expanding weekend of listening and dialoguing with the most diverse and amazing brains. There were sessions about the role of media, blue sky discussions about where we wanted to be in the future, and we even built a hovercraft out of a leaf blower.

The beauty of the weekend is it is an unconference. A co-constructed gathering where the knowledge is in the room. After that weekend my mind was buzzing with ideas and more importantly connections. It made me realise that there is so much to learn from people who have absolutely nothing to do with education and those very people can learn much from us.

I was lucky enough to get invited back in 2014 and it was an even better experience. I met so many talented people and even more connections were made. Nat and Jenine run an amazing weekend and the people who attend are just amazing. A two year run is about the most you can hope for.

This weekend is KiwiFoo15 and I am not there, but what is even better is that three people from Taupaki School got an invite to attend. Kim Baars, JJ Purton Jones and Paula Hogg will be having the same mind explosions about know. The challenge for me is to harness the energy of Foo with these three upon their return.

Sometimes people question why they get an invite to something like KiwiFoo. People get the invite because they are doing awesome things. If you ever get an email from Nat inviting you to Foo don’t question why just say yes!

Modelling a Growth Mindset

We want our kids to understand that learning isn’t easy. It is a challenging activity, it causes a great deal of head scratching and it requires risk taking.

We talk as a staff about ‘The Pit’ and what we go through when we try something new. Our class windows and walls are adorned with pits and the associated resources that children have created to help them get out and experience the ecstasy of success.

This morning Meredith Bladen’s class were leading assembly and they walked us through their learning pits. Meredith works very hard to establish a growth mindset culture. It was great to see the children showing their hand drawn graphs with notes and reflections, with actions and emotions all mapped. I have asked Meredith to blog about this but she is a little shy – please tweet her and ask her to write about how she uses learning pits.

Room 7 kids presenting their reflections in the Pit
Room 7 kids presenting their reflections in the Pit

Earlier in the assembly I had talked about one of my faulty learning habits that I was trying to get over… I mentioned how impressed I was that the school always uses NZ Sign Language as they sing the National Anthem and that I feel a little embarrassed about not getting things right so I don’t give it a go. I asked the assembly what I could do … After a couple of weeks in, I was amazed at the response from children of all ages.

In response to a middle school child saying that I should just ask for help I asked for help. At lunchtime today I had a string of children waiting to help me. One 5 year old simply said just copy the You Tube clip. This was met with a year 3 response of “yeah he could do that but it is always much better when you learn with someone else.” So for the next 10 minutes I learned and practised with these kids who had given up their lunchtime to help me out. The bell went and they were gone leaving me basking in the glow of that Year 3 child’s response. It was priceless and I was left thinking how lucky that child was to have teachers who model a growth mindset and help their students articulate effective learning strategies and dispositions.

As leaders in schools (And I mean leaders in the broadest possible sense) it is our responsibility to model these behaviours to our children. It is our responsibility to think aloud, to share our thought processes so that our children know that learning is a challenge, we never stop doing it and that we can always get better with practise and support from the collective group.

We are more intelligent when we use our extended networks.


Make Club Arrives

One of my biggest fears before make club was that we would have more adults than children. You see I broke the soft launch rule! In struggling for a #28daysofwriting topic I wrote about Make Club. Now that combined with a little twittervertisement caused a bit of a flutter and I had a worry that we would have a couple of kids and lots of adults.

Was I wrong!

A full house for Make Club Debut
A full house for Make Club Debut

A jam packed room and two teachers leading parallel sessions in scratch and tinkercad. Yes pretty basic to start with but if you want to get into some MakeyMakey you need some basic Scratch. If you want to get into rapid prototyping you need some CAD. We had parents and students shoulder to shoulder learning together.

One of the best things that principals experience are the moments when staff shine. Now Make Club is the result of hard work by Kimberly Baars and Paula Hogg but today Kate Davison shone! Her attention to detail her and her preparation was superb. Guiding children  aged 8 – 13 (and their parents) to create a multi-level maze game in under an hour was absolutely masterful. There was support for those who needed it and challenge for those who were getting hang of things. I saw success, I saw laughter and I saw sharing.

a maze game in scratch
a maze game in scratch

We made sure that toward the end of the session that the two groups shared their learning with each other. We then gathered feedback from the kids about what they liked and what would make it more awesome next time.

Now we want sustainability, and the test will be who comes back next week. But judging by the feedback and excitement in the room I think there will a number of kids back. We are in this for the long haul, this club isn’t a flash event designed to ignite imagination. This make club is a long term investment in sustained imagination, creativity and making.

pondering the feedback
pondering the feedback

Well done to the team from Ministry of Make – I can’t wait for next Thursday!

Taking your community with you…

This #28daysofwriting piece is at the end of a school day just before dinner in the staffroom as we have our ‘meet the teacher evening’ tonight.

We have bombarded our parents with texts and email reminders as most of our parents know us. It is really important to get the community together so that we can talk about what school means to us. It is vitally important that we have alignment and that the parent body are with us.

One of the biggest issues schools face is that everyone is an expert about how schools run. This is due to the fact that we have all been to school and enjoyed it – hated it – endured it – regretted it – loved it – never left – never want to go back… the experiences are so different. Yet each of these experiences shape our mental models of what school should be like.

The stock standard line we often hear in our jobs is “School wasn’t like this in my day, it has all changed!” Well some of us would argue that it hasn’t changed enough and any changes that have actually happened are pretty surface level.

Tonight I am tackling this with the parents from the point of view of of course things have changed – would you expect your Doctor to treat you the same way as they did twenty years ago? The key driver for this mental model at the moment is the proliferation of 1:1 devices and schools asking kids to BYOD. So tonight I want to reaffirm our position on BYOB (yes B) and then address the age old issue of what about reading, writing and maths.

Literacy and Numeracy are still the basics yet the medium or context for them is shifting. Our children are in a digital world. The parents may prefer to curl up with a good book by the fire but the children may choose to flip electronic pages.

Tonight I have set up a padlet wall so that parents can ask questions. I want to show them the power of technology to provide voice because I guarantee you that parents, just like kids, have a fear of asking questions in public. I have emailed the link to everyone, printed off QR codes so they have access from their devices (yes so two years ago!) and embedded the wall on our caregiver page. I have primed the staff to try and answer questions on the wall while I am presenting. I have absolutely no idea how this will go. But let’s take a risk…

Framing a Leadership Inquiry

Principal Appraisal can be seen as a series of hoops to jump through. Lots of boxes to tick and indicators for which to provide evidence. The business as usual stuff with a couple of Performance Objectives and a development objective thrown in. Pretty soon you can find yourself just producing information to maintain a status quo.

The past couple of years have felt like I have been jumping through hoops. I was filling boxes because there was space to be filled. This occurred despite me leading a push to deepen our teaching as inquiry and separate attestation from appraisal that was linked to inquiry into assessment for learning practices.

After a great conversation with my BoT chairperson about the feelings we both shared about going through the motions we managed  see a way forward, a different way, opting for depth rather than shotgun coverage. Framing a leadership inquiry that hits at the heart of our school. An inquiry into collaboration.

We talk a lot about collaboration but what does that look like in our place. What does collaboration look like for and between teachers, students, parents and the wider community. How deep does collaboration go? Are we collaborative or collegial, perhaps even just congenial? More to the point how do our systemic structure with contribute to collaboration or act as barriers? I hope that the result of the inquiry will lead to what collaboration could be.

So the challenge is to find external sources who would contribute to the inquiry in a challenging and rigorous way. We had a really good meeting today with someone that may just fit the bill. Someone who will question, challenge and probe in a manner that extends my thinking and in turn my capacity to lead sustained iterative inquiry. I am looking forward to viewing the proposal later this week.

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

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?

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 http://pixabay.com/p-223322/?no_redirect Author: geralt


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

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.

Roselinde Torres – Leadership

Roselinde Torres asks key questions about ‘Great Leadership’ in the 21st Century Digital age…

  1. Where are you looking to anticipate change?
    • How are we expanding our horizons?
    • How do we share these insights to shape our future
  2. What is the diversity measure of your network?
    • Capacity to develop relationships with people who are different to you
    • Diverse networks create different ways of thinking
  3. Are you courageous enough to abandon the past
    • They dont talk risk taking they do it
    • They align with people who think a little differently

How can her findings be applied within the educational context to improve schooling outcomes? 

You cannot learn leadership practices in one day seminars, leadership in the 21st century is centred upon change and anticipating the landscape. Diversity of thought and action means that our leadership teams are distinct leadership units where strength is found in the diverse skills and abilities of those in the team. We need to question the status quo and not be tied to traditional models or ways of being based upon the notion of ‘that is the way we have always done it’

How does this TED Talk connect to our leadership experiences?

It is important to foster links and networks with those stakeholders in our community. It is crucial to reach out to further networks of people in the pursuit of diverse ideas – cultural, gender, thinking, business, different education thoughts and perspectives. We must encourage diverse thought and ideas amongst staff and value diverse thought in members of the BoT. We need to ensure that leadership teams have collective skill in areas of leadership across all fronts (Marzano’s 21 aspects of leadership). Upon reflection I am not averse to looking to change our current successful practice in the pursuit of better ways of doing things. I see the rise of Maker Culture and Design Thinking as the next phase of curriculum development we need to consider, yet these are not on the radar of the majority.

What are your thoughts? What resonated with you? More importantly what didn’t and why?