Monday, December 29, 2014

How might we... build a nest?

During the final #edchatNZ chat of the year, one of the questions were "What has been the best/most critical question you encountered this year?" Some of the responses included "Why does the education system need to change?" or "Why do I need to change my practice if my students are getting good NCEA results?". It seemed that many of the questions that the crowd shared, were why questions. Yet in my office (possibly thanks to Steve and his question quest), and thanks to Maurie our principal at HPSS, it seems that the best and most critical questions I battled with this year were how might we questions. "How might we organise a conference that is more accessible than the existing conferences?" or "How might I teach in a timetable where I see a group of students only once a week?".  

So, if one uses the types of question being asked as an indicator of sorts, what might the questions we struggle with say about us? Within education, but also in other industries, a common question is "I went to school, got a degree, picked up a skill, gained expertise in my field, I established myself over the years. Why should  I have to change what I do?". (Question modified from A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger). What does such a question say about a person's attitude to learning? Or the obstacles they are currently facing? Or the tensions within their work and personal environment We can get more education specific too, "How do we measure innovation?" or "My students are engaged, but are they truly empowered" (thanks to Stephen Eames and Kimberly Baars for these questions during the last #edchatNZ of 2014). What do these questions say about their professional journeys, what they value or what they think is worth spending time on?

Perhaps the questions we wrestle with at any given time are also indicative of the phases or processes of life that we are going through. Two and a bit years ago I was struggling with how I might go about starting a Twitter chat. Now, I am wrestling with how I might empower a professional community of educators across the country. Of course, I have also wondered why this Twitter chat and community, #edchatNZ, has been so successful? Each of these questions reflect a different stage in my journey. The why questions have helped me to make sense of events or problems, whilst the how questions have helped to remove obstacles and focus my actions.

This all brings us to the next big question I am wrestling with. A question most definitely indicative of what I value, what I consider worth spending time one. A question that is near and dear to my heart, because I feel that the possible answers to this question will move #edchatNZ beyond the limits of my own capacity. How might we build a nest? The nest, being the team that will run the organisation that is #edchatNZ, the little hashtag that could. 

My nest question reflects so much about what I am wrestling with as a I do my summer reading. How do I ensure that all those generous and passionate people that have agreed to be part of the #edchatNZ nest feel valued? How do we go about things in such a way that we don't waste busy educator's time? What value can I add for those teachers who have contributed their time? How do we build a team that is spread across a country and might never actually all meet in person? How do we structure or organise this team so that we set no limits about what we can achieve? How do we empower these volunteers to take on challenges that matter to them and will contribute to the overall vision of #edchatNZ?

My nest question also reflects my hopes and dreams. I hope, that by building a nest, that there will be leadership and learning opportunities for those people who are willing to step up. I hope that by including more people behind the scenes, that we will be able to expand the reach and capacity of #edchatNZ to empower even more educators in 2015. I hope that by building a nest, that #edchatNZ will challenge and grow the education community in new and innovative ways. Over the two years of #edchatNZ, we have grown immensely. From a small fortnightly chat hosted by an overly eager provisionally registered teacher (yes, I was a PRT when I started #edchatNZ), we have now had a sold out conference with over 300 people. We have hosted an international author, we have combined chats creating a first international combo chat, we have spawned subject specific chats, we have hosted national education heroes as moderators and participated in connected educator events. We have trended again and again on Twitter New Zealand and we have made it into multiple publications including a mention in the New Zealand Herald. Quite the two years that we have had! I hope that by building a nest, that we might continue to defy what people believe is possible in education.

I have spent the last week reading Creativity Inc. a great book by Ed Catmull, the director of Pixar and Disney Animation. The book talks about leading in an organisation whose success is directly related to creativity. Every fortnight I see the creativity from great educators shared on #edchatNZ. If I hope to continue growing #edchatNZ, then I too need to find a way to channel this immense creativity. So if the creativity is there, how do we channel this? Of particular importance to me is an idea from the book that "in a fear based, failure averse culture, people will avoid risk. They will seek instead to repeat something safe that's been good enough in the past." How do we take risks with #edchatNZ that will allow us to move forward and innovate? How do we go about finding solutions rather than focussing on problems, that there are no barriers, only obstacles. And that we outwit obstacles together. (You can see more of my notes from the book here)

As 2014 really wraps up, I am immensely grateful to all those who have contributed, supported, questioned, mentored and gotten involved with the #edchatNZ vision already. There are phenomenal educators in New Zealand who made my dreams a reality. Thank you for being as excited about education as I am. Thank you to the #edchatNZ conference organisation team, Matt, Alyx, Heather, Sonya, Mel and Philippa. Thank you to Maurie the HPSS principal who didn't even hesitate for a second when I asked him whether our school could host a conference. Thank you to the teachers at HPSS who let visiting teachers join their classes, teachers who agreed to expose their teaching to 300+ visiting teachers. Thank you to the #edchatNZ community who turn up every fortnight to discuss education, who turn up to be challenged and to set new goals. Thank you to Mark Osbourne, Karen Melhuish Spencer, Chris Sullivan and Rachel Bolstad for being the edu-celebrity friends of #edchatNZ and giving their time and support. Thank you to the 60+ presenters at #edchatNZ. Thank you to the people in my office, who sung Iggy Azalea's  Fancy with me when I was excited about all the conference swag turning up, but who were excited and supportive every step along the way.

Building a community might happen organically in some scenarios, but I for one, do not feel like leaving this one to chance. I am sure that I will keep wrestling with my nest question for some time. However, armed with gratitude, my next holiday read (A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger), and my big question, I think I just might be ready for 2015. Bring it on.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Academics and Achievement > Well being?

Many of us are familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. We know that many things precede achievement, problem solving and creativity. Yet, with schools having such a big focus on the latter, it seems curious that we spend so little time on helping students build and develop their well being. You might argue that this is covered in the Health and Physical Education curriculum, but I would really question whether this is sufficient considering the home environments that some our students come from. 

I also wonder, what type of students our schools and the systems therein will be turning out? If we only teach and emphasise achievement, NCEA and national standards, then what are we teaching kids to value? I would argue that the same is true for teachers and other professionals, to what extent are we sending the message that results and achievement are more valuable than well being, happiness and quality relationships?
Image Source

This year, I have really enjoyed that working at Hobsonville Point means we are working at developing all of the students, not just their minds in class or the muscles in their sports teams. A large component of my role here is acting as a hub coach (for more information about hub coaches see Claire Amos's post). As this role evolved throughout the year, I found increasingly that it has dealt with friendships and family, with values, morals and respect. As most schools and teachers do, we have also dealt with safety of some of our students. But what really stands out for me about this year was the focus on student well being. The focus of developing student self-esteem and confidence and explicitly learning about respect and managing relationships. By working together in our hubs, we have given students a safe place within the school where they are able to explore some of the more personal things that we all go through as we learn to make sense of an adult world. Together our students have unpacked and reflected regularly using the hauora tools from the health curriculum. Together we identified strategies and unpacked scenarios where our well being might be out of sync, and what we might do about it. We talked about how we might support someone else who might be struggling spiritually, emotionally, physically or socially. 

In our hubs, we also unpacked the Hobsonville Habits. A set of ten dispositions that we aim to help our students develop. By calling them habits, we send the message that they are things we can develop until they become second nature. As a result, I am able to talk to the students in my hub, but also any student in the school, about how they might show more compassion. This might be in the context of looking after the school, our buildings, or their peers. 

Here are some of the activities that I did with my hub over the year in effort to build dispositional excellence:
The Love Wall
  • Unpacking the Hobsonville Habit of Purposeful, we read some exerts from Sean Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens (Sean Covey is the son of Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). The students really loved the book. In particular we focussed on the chapter about being proactive. Over a series of lessons, we then unpacked acting in a proactive and reactive way in more depth. This involved listing some of the proactive and reactive ways that we act in different scenarios. I prompted students by giving them different scenarios and by looking at some movie clips. Mean Girls is great for this one. We also looked at the compass of shame, a great tool that allowed us to explore different types of reactive behaviour in more depth. Finally, we also did some role plays, where we acted out a challenging scenario where the student had to respond using only proactive responses. The rest of the group then gave the student feedback about their responses. And finally, no series of lessons at Hobsonville Point would be complete without some alone time to reflect.
  • Some of the simpler activities included the love wall, where every week for a term, students were asked to write something that they liked about themselves, but also something the liked about another student in the hub. These are displayed on the wall of our hub.
  • Steve Mouldey also introduced the students to Caine's Arcade. A powerful video of a young boy who created an arcade from cardboard boxes. Students then unpacked lessons from the Caine's arcade video.
  • Of course, no dispositional curriculum would be complete without a good selection of TED talks. Our favourite this year was probably the thirteen year old Logan LaPlante's TEDx talk, Hackschooling makes me happy. 

Other things that we explore in our hub is Hermann's brain, a tool which has allowed us to explore thinking preferences. This allowed us to help students explore how we learn, think and act in more depth. 

Most mornings in hubs also involved a quick check in with students. This might involve each person sharing what they most need to focus on for the week, how they are going, how they are feeling about particular events, etc. This often acts as a measure of where students are at, what support they need, whether they might need additional support in terms of strategies to cope or manage a situation, stress management or even referrals to the school councillor. 

Finally, there is also the ever important parent communication. By checking in with students, following their academic and dispositional progression and getting to know them very well through all the team building and discussion, we are able to bring parents and family on board to a much greater extent. Our conversations are often more meaningful and we are able to work together towards supporting our students.

All of the above, is only the first year of learning hubs. So as I sit and reflect about the where to next, I am as excited today as I was a year ago about the potential of the learning hubs at Hobsonville Point. Knowing that I have time and tools allocated to helping my students build their emotional and academic resilience, and their well being, that I can coach them through when they get stuck, and that that I am not alone in this, makes me excited for our students. It also gives me hope for the many under achieving students in our country. In fact, a 2014 Ministry of Education report about low decile schools that are performing well, actually talks about the success of schools who have adopted a similar model. 

Who would have thought that working with students around their whole well being, not just their academic achievement would have such great effects? Perhaps we all know. Or perhaps the real question is who is willing to rattle enough cages to make sure that every child has someone looking out for their well being? 

Quotes from my students: "Throughout the past year, my being has definitely grown and developed into something much better than what I started out like. One of my best highlights about my being is being able to learn more about my Hauora and getting to know more about how each of our quadrants in our Hauora needs to be equal and cared for." "Hub activities were new and different to me, it was interesting to get to know and understand different peoples opinions, to think about what others say and then take into account, how different we are but how we can still interact with each other." "My highlight for my being was that I have a better meaning and understanding of the word “respect” even though I have not fully changed, I am on a road to being a more respectful person to myself and others. I enjoyed learning about the difference between being reactive and proactive with my hub. This was useful because I now can have a look at different situations and understand how I can make the best of every situation." "I have learnt how to manage my emotions.  I have learnt different strategies to deal with conflict."