Tag Archives: Leadership

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.


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…

The standard you walk past…

I picked up rubbish today and as soon as I did there were 6 pairs of hands flocking to help me – without having to say a word.

A couple of years ago we had a visit from some Australian colleagues to look at how we used our learning management system. When people visit our place we believe that you take us as you find us. As we were walking around the school I bent down to pick up some litter. One of the visitors mentioned that he had recently seen a piece by an Australian military leader, Lieutenant General David Morrison, on Youtube that was full of amazing quotes especially this one…

The standard you walk past is the standard you accept

It is a catchy phrase that really caught my imagination as it resonated with a fundamental mental model I have around walking the talk. It is a phrase that has stuck with me and I find myself repeating it to staff and to students. It can be used on so many levels but to me hits at the heart of personal responsibility and moral courage.

Our visitor commented that it was nice to see the principal bend down to pick up litter and that this very act speaks more to others than telling children to pick up their rubbish. It is true. Children are the best double standard detectors as they are always watching and effective teachers know that. We are always on show!

Now this is a handy phrase to use with kids but what standards do we walk past in relation to our professional lives and interactions? What actions do we deem acceptable due to the lack of moral courage when we are in situations that require someone to speak up? I applaud Lieutenant General David Morrison when he spoke about people who have difficulty upholding the shared values of the organisation “if you don’t like them (the values) then leave” This took me back to a couple of conversations in my leadership career that have opened with the following statement…

“could you remind me why we are paying you a salary to undermine and subvert the work we have agreed to do as a school…”

So what standards do we walk past? I know I walk past some… I sometimes think “Is that a hill I am going to die on today?” But in doing so am I condoning and indeed reinforcing that very behaviour or action?

Moral courage… I must ponder what I can see myself walking past and better still gather data from those who see me walking past things!

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.

The Expertise Gap

Have you ever observed in another classroom and thought that there is absolutely no way I’ll ever be able to replicate that? Do you remember watching a talented mentor pick the perfect moment to  ask just the right question to student? Did you then think how on earth did they do that?

I remember watching my Tutor Teacher Mrs Jane Mackie with a sense of wonderment and awe. She seemed to be able to know exactly what each student needed by simply looking at the whites of their eyes. I knew there must have been more to it than that. She must have been so well prepared, planned to the hilt. She must have anticipated every possible situation in her head and then planned a suitable response. She was an expert teacher. When I asked her how she did I was surprised to hear that she hadn’t spent 4 hours planning that lesson. When I pushed further she really couldn’t help me step through the process or provide me with a recipe.

I was a bit slow on the uptake and I really only understood the reason for Jane saying ‘I just know, it’s hard to explain’ when John Edwards and Bill Martin of the OUREducation Network introduced me to the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition. There was a lightbulb moment. I was an absolute novice and she was an expert.

Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. Image from John Edwards, Bill Martin OUREducation Newtork
Dreyfus model of skill acquisition. Image from John Edwards, Bill Martin OUREducation Newtork

Jane had developed Personal Practical Knowledge that allowed her to make decisions based upon the context and the situation. As a new teacher I was reliant on rules to govern my decisions and actions. I needed lots of – if this then that – thinking.

We all experience being a novice when we do something new or start in a new place or position. I was a novice principal, I relied on rules and regulations to drive my work. I was always consulting what the policy says. Again I had an expert mentor principal who had left me scratching my head thinking how does she do that? Right now I would say I am pretty proficient but I know that if I got another principal’s position I would be an absolute novice in that position.

Knowing this, why do we pair novice teachers with expert mentors? Are we setting them up for the “I can’t possibly do all those things” moment that causes nagging doubts about their aptitude for the job?

The Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition is the reason we try to (within the constraints of a small school) partner teachers with 3 – 4 years of experience with those who are beginning their career. The advanced beginner or proficient people know what it is like being in the novices shoes. They make great tutor teachers as they have recent memory of things that the experts have long since forgotten.

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

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.

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.

Enabling Responsibility

In short our educative purpose must be to develop self monitoring, self motivated, self regulating learners. Regardless of test results and qualifications our moral imperative is to develop not only a love of learning but an iterative capacity to learn, unlearn and relearn in all our students. In addition to this herculean task we are also focussed on developing happy, well rounded individuals who turn out to be nice and treat others with respect and courtesy. All this in five learning hours a day!

By now it should be no surprise to you that Vision drives our practice at Taupaki School. But how does this trickle down to students? How do we empower students to take responsibility for their own learning? There a couple of levers that we use in our place to help develop student autonomy.

Core Values

Our core values are Nurture, Respect, Personal Best and Learning. These were extracted from our vision. Each is unpacked with students and revisited year upon year. Our children talk about what each core value means and how they put it into everyday practice. When we unpack the learning value it is from an assessment for learning (AfL) perspective. The ultimate goal of AfL is for students to progress their autonomy, to deepen their self-regulatory capacity within a supportive socially constructed learning environment (Black et al, 2003; Cowie, 2005; Nicol & McFarlane-Dick, 2006).

Teachers ‘iconify’ and attach stories to the core values. The Learning value has attracted the idea of the Learning Pit, an iterative journey that is fraught with frustration yet if we adopt growth mindset strategies (Dweck, 2012) we can overcome any challenge. This redefines the idea of intelligence being what you can recall to a standpoint of intelligence as an actionable disposition – knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do.

Student Led Conferences (SLCs)

Students lead the conversations
Students lead the conversations

We have a belief that students need to know where they are and what they need to do next. Students look at their data and then co-construct a way forward in their learning. Student Led Conferences are a practice field for talking about our learning journeys with our parents and caregivers. We provide a scaffold for these conferences but the children do all the talking. Our 5 years are so good at it these conferences can last over an hour.

SLCs are the product of teachers using AfL practices in their everyday work. The goal is to move the locus of control to the student. Our use of learning journals in our KnowledgeNET learning management system is a further scaffold for reflection and a gathering point for feedback from a number of sources.

Where to next?

We are starting to see classes from year 4 – 8 use individual learning plans where children plan their week based upon their data, they opt into teaching clinics and in some cases run teaching clinics for others. This is a natural extension in our AfL journey. We are starting to see the practical implementation of personalised learning unfold.


Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2003). Assessment for learning. Putting it into practice. Berkshire, England: Open University Press.

Cowie, B. (2005). Pupil commentary on assessment for learning. The Curriculum Journal, 16(2),137-151.

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

Nicol, D., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.