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?
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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."

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