Sunday, November 26, 2023

Life as a Learning Coach

October of this year marked my 10 year anniversary at Hobsonville Point Secondary School (HPSS) where I started as a foundation staff member. Much has changed since those early days before we had any students and we dreamed up a school that would be better at meeting student needs. A lot will keep changing, particularly with an all-new senior leadership now at the helm in 2024.  With so much change on the horizon, I have found myself thinking a lot about the areas of our school where I am reluctant to see major change, as well as the areas in our school where I would like to see more change. 

One area that I hope will stay strong in our school as we go forward is Learning Hubs. Learning Hubs are our pastoral care system at HPSS, replacing the role of form teacher. While we do all the admin things a form teacher might do, we also have extra time with our learning hub students so that we have time to develop life skills such as self-reflection, leadership, emotional intelligence, etc. 

Daniells' Donkeys - My Learning Hub

Without a doubt, being a hub coach is one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. Students keep the same hub and hub coach for their entire time at our school. This means that I see these students at the start of every day. Over time, this allows us to build really strong relationships where students and their parents trust us to discuss challenges in their education. Over the years this has involved supporting students and their families with everything from academic goals, behaviour expectations, bullies, gender transitions, parents with terminal illness, disabilities, etc. When families trust us, they are able to be much more transparent with us about the support that young people need. And as a result, we can meet their needs much more effectively. 

One of the aspects of my practice that I am really proud of is how I am able to help my hublings develop as a hub family. We know that when students experience a sense of belonging, they are more likely to succeed at school. Hence, I work very hard to create a sense of belonging for my students. This is done through lots of things but in particular:

  • CHECK-INS: For a check-in, we sit in a circle. Each student answers a question about themselves. For example, what was the best part of your weekend, in what class are you having a lot of success right now, etc. There are a few reasons why I have embraced this practice so thoroughly including:
    • Ensuring that every student has had an adult and their peers listen to them, everyday. How can any student feel like they belong if they can go through an entire day without anyone actually talking to them? 
    • Ensures that the hub group members hear what is going on for their peers. This allows them to make connections with each other and build their relationship with each other.
    • Doing this regularly means that I can stay connected to my students and what is going on for them in an effective way. 

  • THANKFUL THURSDAYS: If you are not familiar with the neuroscience of gratitude, I suggest it is time you get caught up. Every Thursday morning during hub time, we each get a chance to share some of the things we are grateful for that week. This helps students start their day in a better frame of mind, while also giving me a little insight about what is on top for the students. 

  • TRADITIONS: Few things make a person feel like they belong as much as being part of a tradition. For our hub, we have had a long tradition of playing werewolf. Our older students enjoy teaching the new ones and the young students enjoy having fun with the older kids. Other traditions in my hub include silly photos, and can collections for the annual can drive. We are working on some more traditions however these are best when co-created with students.

  • LEARNING GAMES: There are lots of learning benefits to games, and this becomes particularly evident in hub. Over the years I have created many games for my hublings. Sometimes it is something like Whanaungtanga eels and ladders that help students learn and make connections with each other. Other times it might be role-playing games that help them learn about career pathways. I've made games to help them develop critical thinking and games to help them with their communication skills. The great thing about using games for learning in a hub context is that as well as students learning and practising new skills, the games also help create shared memories that contribute to the students' sense of belonging and engagement. 

Another aspect of Learning Hubs that I feel is really successful is the academic coaching. Sometimes in school students who just get on and do the work rarely ever get one-on-one attention. We also have students who with the right encouragement could do much better. We have students who struggle to make sense of their work and those who need more challenge. The benefit of hubs and keeping them relatively small is that we can have fairly regular conversations with every student individually about how they are going in their learning, what the challenges the are encountering, and what needs to be done about this. I believe that learning hubs are a key aspect of what allows us to have high expectations of our students at HPSS. 

While academic coaching conversations can be helpful in communicating high expectations, it can also be helpful in helping identify where students need additional support. One area where this is often the case is advocating for students, particularly those with disabilities. As a learning coach, I have spent a great amount of time ensuring that students are getting the support that they need. More often than not, the areas where students needed support or someone to champion them were identified through a one-on-one coaching conversation. 

In summary, hub is one of the areas in my practice where I feel that I get the balance of warm and demanding right. There are systems and structures in place that allow an inclusive approach where every student has their own pathway, yet enable us to have high expectations of every student. 

Where to next?

As our hubs have students from year 9 to year 13, every year we have new students who join our hubs. As a result, every year we need to bring new students on board into our hub and help them feel just as included. Hence, every year my 'where to next' is focussed on how I might continue to develop the warm and demanding in hub to extend to new students. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Professional Relationships Toolbox

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata he tangata he tangata!
Image source: Alexander Turnbull Library

Research has shown us that relationships are at the heart of learning. Yet, human relationships are infinitely complex. How then might teachers become experts in managing the relationships that are critical for student learning and effective school leadership? 

In my own practice, there have been two keys; restorative justice and open to learning conversations. Each of these practices is evidence-based with a solid body of research to show that it makes an impact when implemented with fidelity. These two strategies has a few things in common that I believe make them particularly powerful:

  1. Preserving mana - In resolving any conflict or problem, it is important that each person can walk away feeling that they were respected, even if they were in the wrong.

  2. Co-design the solution - Solutions designed by one person tend to only work for one person. It is only when we combine the collective problem-solving of all stakeholders that we can create a solution that meets everyone's needs. This becomes even more important in situations where there is a high degree of complexity and where one human can never understand all the variables.

  3. Learning is at the heart - When we allow people the opportunity to learn from their mistakes by exploring the impact in a respectful, meaningful way, it allows them the opportunity to step up and do better. What's more, it can give people access to the perspectives of others in a way that they might not otherwise consider, hence, we can build empathy and compassion for our peers. 

  4. Don't make assumptions -  In each of these practices, we try to move away from making assumptions, about people, about events, about why or how things happened. Instead, we enter these conversations with curiosity. 

    Image source: Medium

There is no question that education is influenced by an endless number of variables, and as a result, so are the relationships in schools. The relationships that we navigate within a school are often influenced by these variables. That conflict with a student about why they did not turn in their work might be a result of personal and family values, systemic bias, lack of resources, or disengagement as a result of disempowerment. What makes open-to-learning and restorative conversations so valuable for managing relationships is that they allow us to learn about the variables, and as a result, respond more effectively because that learning allows us to understand the cause of the problem, not just the symptoms.

Education as Nested Systems of Complexity - image produced by me

I distinctly remember conversations during my teacher training about how schools have a tendency to dismiss the 'theory' of teacher training colleges for the practicalities of actually being in the classroom. In other words, all that academic theory is nice, but when you are standing in front of a room of chatty year ten students, it doesn't seem all that relevant. Similarly, when you attend a PLD workshop from a facilitator who hasn't been in the classroom for years and years, it can be hard to take their suggestions seriously. However, in my now ten-plus years of experience, I have found that this couldn't be further from the truth. It is learning to apply robust educational research that has allowed me to become a more effective teacher. So what does applying this educational research look like on a day-to-day level for a practicing teacher?

Restorative practice

Like everything, to get better at something you have to practice it. In the case of restorative practice, this has meant years and years of learning about it through PLD workshops, my own reading, etc. I practised restorative conversations on a daily basis. I would read over the restorative script before having a conversation with students. I would have the script in front of me as facilitated conversations. Eventually, the restorative script became second nature to me, and as a result, this powerful practice that allows students the space to make mistakes, learn from them, repair harm, and move on, is now part of my core practice. It means that I can have better relationships with students. In a restorative practice setting it means my expectations of learning and behaviour can be clear, but these are not communicated and enforced at the expense of the relationship. After all, we know that people, adults and students, don't learn particularly well when they do not feel psychologically safe enough to make mistakes. 

Open-to-Learning conversations

When working with people, conflict and disagreement is inevitable. Open-to-Learning Conversations give us a way to navigate these difficult conversations, particularly with colleagues. 

"An open-to-learning conversation, therefore, is one in which this value is evident in how people think and talk. Do they assume the validity of their views and try to impose them, however nicely, on others, or are they searching for ways to check and improve the quality of their thinking and decision-making?"  - Viviane M J Robinson

Again, making this technique second nature and ready to go at a moment's notice in my leadership toolbox has been essential in helping me do my job effectively. This is the strategy I draw on when I need to have a conversation with a colleague about an assessment policy that hasn't been followed, or a deadline that hasn't been met. It is the strategy I draw on in challenging parent-teacher conferences and one I draw on when coaching students. Eg.

  1. Describe your concern as your point of view. - I notice that you are not on track with your goal to get a Merit endorsement.

  2. Describe what your concern is based on. - This concerns me because I know you are working towards a limited entry pathway at university for the forensics programme you are interested in. 

  3. Invite the other’s point of view. - How do you explain this?

  4. Paraphrase their point of view and check. - It sounds like you are really busy right now but that you feel like you can manage all your commitments?

  5. Detect and check important assumptions - What would be a sign that you are over-committed? How will you know when you are no longer successfully juggling your commitments?

  6. Establish common ground. - It sounds like we agree that you need to carve out some time to catch up on your work?

  7. Make a plan to get what you both want. - What do you think we should do about this? 

Where to next?
There is no substitute for a one-on-one coaching conversation because it is tailor-made to check and challenge your own assumptions. It is for this reason that my goal moving forward will be to have even more coaching conversations. I am particularly interested in whether more coaching conversations might allow us to identify, challenge, and change some of the systemic biases that mean Māori and Pasifika students in my school are so underrepresented in STEM UE subjects. 

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Same old PLD, just a different slideshow format?

Where does your best professional learning happen these days? 

One of the ongoing challenges with professional learning can sometimes be that the more you know, the harder it is to find professional learning that challenges you at the right level. As a PLD junkie in my early years of teaching, I have found on more than one occasion that many of the PLD opportunities out there have become a lot of the same ideas, just recycled into a new PowerPoint. Maybe I sound cynical, but it is hard to ignore that our refreshed curriculum's essential pedagogies are based on the professional learning workshops I have been attending and running for years - power sharing, design for inclusion, connecting learning to each learner, being urgent about progress... If you are ahead of the curve, where does your learning come from? Where do the new ideas, and new inspiration come from? Where can you go to ask and answer harder questions and debate more challenging problems? I would love to hear your ideas about this. Here are mine...

There is no substitute for a good book.
The benefit of a book over other PLD tools is that it is a super cheap way to get direct access to the author's arguments, evidence and explanations. You can go back to them, read them over and over, and check the fidelity with which you have remembered and implemented their ideas. You can also check their facts and follow up on their references. A book also tends to be way more in-depth than any workshop you can attend or conference you can see them speak. Books also mean that your access to experts increases exponentially. John Hattie, Russel Bishop, Jane Gilbert, Carol Dweck, Howard Gardner, Ann Milne, Ivan Illich and Keri Facer are all hanging out in my handbag right now, ready to go on my Kindle at a moment's notice. 

One of the most impactful types of professional learning I have experienced over the last few years is having an effective impact coach. This has meant that I have had a safe place on a regular basis to help me unpick my assumptions and theories. It has meant having someone to help me sift through the noise to identify where my focus should be to really make a difference for students. (In case you are wondering, I am talking about Laurayne Tafa - an incredible coach). This has also meant that I have had a chance to develop my own coaching skills. This explicit focus on how I might become a better coach has also been invaluable as it has allowed me to build my skills in having conversations that challenge deficit thinking. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Te Tiriti o Waitangi parntnership

Since beginning my journey at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, I have come a long way in my personal journey with te reo Māori, mātauranga Māori, and Tikanga. I was recently asked about how I have incorporated culturally sustaining pedagogy in my leadership. After some more reflection, I identified a key overarching idea in the way that I have come to work in this space. Just like relationship counsellors might advise you to choose your partner every day, I believe we must do the same for our Tiriti o Waitangi partnership. We must choose our partners every day. Here are a few of the things that I have chosen to do as I continue to find ways to invest in this partnership:

1. I start every single course I teach with my pēpepha. The first time I did this a few years ago I was super uncomfortable. I prefaced to my students that I was learning to do this still. After I completed saying my pēpepha, the students clapped and were incredibly supportive of my visible vulnerability in my new learning. A few years down the track and this is now such a comfortable practice, that I have supported others through this journey too.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Practice makes perfect. This is not a surprise to anyone. However, as teachers, we are often cast as the 'knowers' of knowledge. Admitting we don't know and publically working on improving can be uncomfortable and confronting. Yet we must do this if we wish to make progress in our learning. 

2. This year our whole school learnt a haka to farewell our foundation principal. I embraced this opportunity to learn alongside my students and colleagues with enthusiasm and determination. The moment we finally did this haka for our departing principal will forever live in my heart. A few weeks later we also welcomed our new principal. Again, our whole school joined in the haka and our school waiata. This too made me incredibly proud to be part of our school. Too often at formal events the "hire a kapa haka" approach is taken, aka. kapa haka students do all the waiata and haka while the senior leadership and teachers watch, not knowing the words confidently enough to be able to join in.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Our commitment to learning tikanga needs to include everyone in our organisations. When we devote time and resources to this, we can grow as a community. We can change a culture. Being a leader in this space means that sometimes we have to role model not knowing but doing the work to learn. 

3. One of the challenges I have encountered in my own practice as I work to incorporate more mātautanga Māori has been around ensuring that I do not exclusively focus on historical knowledge. It is important that we do not inadvertently cast Māori as a culture from the past. Māori is a thriving, evolving modern culture. One of the ways that I have sought to do this is through showcasing and championing the work of Māori scientists, artists, and other thought leaders working today. My students particularly enjoyed looking at the stunning work from the Mana Moana project that showcased the work of Māori and Pasifika artists in response to climate change. They also really enjoyed learning about how waka are still made today and the physics that applies when these are built. There is a great series on YouTube that my students particularly enjoyed. This even led to some of them designing their own waka - a task that was particularly well received by a student with a renowned carver in the family. In each of these contexts, I had to initiate the conversation with my colleague to include a more culturally located context in our learning. However, in each case, they could see the benefit once they saw the way students were able to engage with this task. 

KEY TAKEAWAY: Once you start looking, there are so many Māori thought leaders, scientists, artists, historians, etc. who we can draw on as role models and inspiration for our students and oureslves. In my experience, Māori and non-Māori students find living breathing role models much easier to relate to than when we only look at historical figures.

4. As an Across School Leader for our kāhui ako, one of the key areas that I have focused on this year is how we know if we are making a difference for our Māori students. Too often schools create interventions that are done to the students rather than with students. Too often schools don't have any data about how students experienced the interventions a school put in place. As a result, when working with our kāhui ako Within School Leaders this year I have developed resources to prompt them to disaggregate their data. I have also continued to focus on developing my impact coaching skills. However, this year I have made sure to ask; "how do you know if this is making a difference for Māori students?". This has led to teams making a much greater effort to learn what is happening for their Māori students, and in some cases, it has led to teachers beginning to champion the voices of their students

KEY TAKEAWAY: Most teachers really do care about their students. Once they really get to 'see' what our Māori students are experiencing in school, their journey with culturally responsive pedagogy tends to accelerate, simply because they don't find the systemic bias in our education systems and schools acceptable. Hence, a key part of leadership in this space needs to be around how we help our teachers and middle leaders see the bias in the system more effectively. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Google Classroom grade book

Today's post is a screenshot from one of my Google Classroom's grade books (student names removed). This year I have really focused on using this function to help students track their progress in my courses more effectively. There are a number of ways I have done this:
  • Using the grade book effectively makes it easier to see if a student is not turning in work on a consistent basis. Eg. at a glance you can see that student 5 has some major concerns below. 

  • Any tasks that I use to make my overall judgment for their grade at the end of the term are signposted. This way students know which tasks to invest extra effort in, rather than just getting them done.  (I have found that it is important to teach students when to focus on 'good enough' and when to focus on 'perfect'). 

  • By using a consistent grade allocation for tasks related to their report, I can use the overall grade function to track the 'level' they are working at more consistently and with less bias. 

  • During class time students are regularly asked to look at their overall grade, and then take action to improve them. This looks like students finishing incomplete tasks, catching up with work from when they were absent, and most frequently, going back to past work and improving the quality of work that they produced. 
The major benefits of using this system this year have meant that reports have been SUPER FAST to complete. Students are much clearer about where their report grades come from and have devoted significantly more energy to 'improve'. 

 ("It's been a little while since I've blogged regularly so to get back in the habit, I thought I would share one photo every day for the remainder of the school year to capture some of my learning, reflections, and creations for 2022. Each photo is accompanied by a short caption. The idea is to keep it short, simple, and reflective. I would love for people to join me - if you do, make sure you include #edphoto22 on whatever platform you share it (Twitter, Mastodon, Facebook, Instagram, wherever...)."

Monday, November 28, 2022

NITS action plan

Today's photo is a screenshot from one of the documents we used in our kāhui ako this year. We encouraged all our schools to use the NITS framework that we created to help guide their inquiry practice this year.


N - What NEED are you addressing?
I - What IMPACT are you intending to have?
T - What actions will you take in which TIMEFRAME?
S - SO WHAT? What did you learn through your action? 

Getting everyone to use the same framework means that we could more easily help the twelve schools we work with communicate with each other about where they were at in their inquiries, and as a result support each other more effectively. Each school completed an action plan like the one below. All action plans were combined into one presentation so that each school could then follow up, learn from or even collaborate with schools working on similar goals. 

PS: You can learn more about the rubric referred to in the document here

("It's been a little while since I've blogged regularly so to get back in the habit, I thought I would share one photo every day for the remainder of the school year to capture some of my learning, reflections, and creations for 2022. Each photo is accompanied by a short caption. The idea is to keep it short, simple, and reflective. I would love for people to join me - if you do, make sure you include #edphoto22 on whatever platform you share it (Twitter, Mastodon, Facebook, Instagram, wherever...)." 

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Whakatauki cards

I am always looking for ways to bring more te reo Māori into my classes. However, doing this in a really meaningful way when my own understanding of the reo is limited can be a challenge. One resource that I created this year to help are the cards pictured in these photos. I collected a range of whakatauki from this book with their translations and a brief explanation of their meaning. I then created a number of activities to use with students. This worked even better than I expected as students really enjoyed the discussions of how these important generational lessons applied to them. 

("It's been a little while since I've blogged regularly so to get back in the habit, I thought I would share one photo every day for the remainder of the school year to capture some of my learning, reflections, and creations for 2022. Each photo is accompanied by a short caption. The idea is to keep it short, simple, and reflective. I would love for people to join me - if you do, make sure you include #edphoto22 on whatever platform you share it (Twitter, Mastodon, Facebook, Instagram, wherever...)." 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Growth mindset ludo


A resource I have been working on this year is 'growth mindset ludo'. As students move around the board, they land on various reflection questions about fixed and growth mindsets to help them identify the patterns in their own thinking. After all, it is reflection that helps us learn from our mistakes and improve. I'll make sure to share more about this game when it is done. 

("It's been a little while since I've blogged regularly so to get back in the habit, I thought I would share one photo every day for the remainder of the school year to capture some of my learning, reflections, and creations for 2022. Each photo is accompanied by a short caption. The idea is to keep it short, simple, and reflective. I would love for people to join me - if you do, make sure you include #edphoto22 on whatever platform you share it (Twitter, Mastodon, Facebook, Instagram, wherever...)." 

Guerrilla warfare

Wikipedia describes Guerilla warfare as "a form of irregular warfare in which small groups of combatants ... fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military". Due to their size, they tend to avoid head-on confrontations, focusing instead on very targeted attacks including sabotage, ambushes, and hit-and-run tactics. 

I often wonder about guerilla warfare as a metaphor in education... 

When education attempts to make large-scale shifts, such as by introducing more Mātauranga Māori in the curriculum, there are those people who hide in the shadows and staunchly defend their existing territory. You might even be able to think of examples where someone deliberately sabotaged a project, or planned an ambush to derail an initiative.

Of course, we can use Guerrilla techniques for the positive too. Just think of the Guerilla Girls and how they have done this in the art world. The photo I have selected to share today reminds me of the guerilla girls a little. It is a simple action I have taken that did not require permission, lots of infrastructure or resources, and was a one-person action that impacted a larger group. What did I do? I just made a small sticker for each staff members' computer so that it is easier for staff to identify various priority learner groups when they take the roll. It is a simple action, but it really helps people know who the students in front of them are. What other small things can we do as leaders that to reduce the cognitive load for our colleagues to make it easier for them to do their jobs effectively? 

("It's been a little while since I've blogged regularly so to get back in the habit, I thought I would share one photo every day for the remainder of the school year to capture some of my learning, reflections, and creations for 2022. Each photo is accompanied by a short caption. The idea is to keep it short, simple, and reflective. I would love for people to join me - if you do, make sure you include #edphoto22 on whatever platform you share it (Twitter, Mastodon, Facebook, Instagram, wherever...)." 

Monday, November 21, 2022

Learner agency rubric

Our community of learning has been focussing on increasing learner agency across our schools. We have developed rubrics to help us track our progress in doing so. The photo above shows a staff activity where teachers were asked to think of examples of existing practices in our school that promote learner agency. We then collected some data about where teachers felt we were on this rubric to help us set professional learning school goals for next year. 

("It's been a little while since I've blogged regularly so to get back in the habit, I thought I would share one photo every day for the remainder of the school year to capture some of my learning, reflections, and creations for 2022. Each photo is accompanied by a short caption. The idea is to keep it short, simple, and reflective. I would love for people to join me - if you do, make sure you include #edphoto22 on whatever platform you share it (Twitter, Mastodon, Facebook, Instagram, wherever...)."