Tag Archives: Trust

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…

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

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.

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.

Impending League Tables

I complied with the Official Information Act this week and forwarded our Annual Report to the reporter who requested it. Not a big deal really as it is a public document that anyone can access. Our data is there for all to see.

At a Principlas’ Cluster meeting earlier this week Louis Guy from the NZEI really hit the nail on the head with a scenario he painted…

Imagine what the first principals’ cluster meeting will be like after the league tables are out. One person in the room will be the top ranked school in the cluster. Imagine what that principal may feel walking into the room? Perhaps they feel that their colleagues will not trust the data they have provided. They may feel a little sheepish at being labelled the best. They may feel that as a school they have worked hard for that student achievement but cannot crow about their success for fear of being labelled as touting for children. That being said – depending on the ego of the principal concerned they may be feeling a little superior to the rest.

Imagine the school principal walking in who is second in the cluster. Having just come from a discussion with a parent who asked why their school’s data is not where the top ranked school’s data is.

What about the colleague who walks into that meeting being ranked at the bottom. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? What discussions have they had with their BoT, their community, the media?

Everyone else in the room will have looked at the league table and jumped up ladders (Ladders of Inference – Argyris) They are making assumptions, value judgements, creating stories of data that are rooted firmly in their own interpretations.

Is this competitive collaboration? Will having this information in the public domain raise achievement?

As a cluster we can have an agreed approach, a code of conduct if you like. Northland Schools have already committed to the following statements.

  • The data will not be used to promote their school through websites, newsletters, media releases or any other public information source because it would be unethical to do so 
  • They will not draw comparisons between schools using the data
  • They will avoid any activities that could legitimise national standards data as good public information
  • They will share other positive achievement information about their schools
  • They will issue a collective media release on their agreed position
  • They will explain to their boards and communities the reasons for their concerns
  • They will continue to deliver a broad rich curriculum
I agree with these statements – in fact, as principals in our cluster we all agree. But the first bullet point needs some dialogue.
Schools promote themselves all the time. Some of us do not promote ourselves enough. There is great work happening in a large number of schools that never sees the light of day. This statement is loaded with assumption and judgements. I suppose the intent of this statement is that we will not promote the place on the league table or use National Standards data as a selling point. An interesting point as schools often celebrate data with their communities. Information about how well the school is progressing toward their goals is essential in building confidence and having a happy community.
What do you think about this shared approach to the threat of league tables?
Can we trust all our colleagues to walk the talk?
Will we be looking sideways at each other in cluster meetings?
What Ladders will we be climbing?