Sunday, 25 March 2018

Learning from the front of the room- a reflection from IMPACT, the PSA Convention 2018

I am a full time teacher and last weekend I attended the Professional Speakers Association Convention in Brisbane, Australia. I went as I was invited by my friend (thanks Karen!) and was offered the opportunity to present a small piece in a workshop during the weekend (thanks Glenn!).

As I was heading into the convention I was feeling like a fish in the desert (that's how far out of the water I was feeling), I was thinking "I am a teacher at a professional speakers convention... what on earth am I doing here???" However to say that the weekend was inspirational feels like an understatement really. It was huge and I am still trying to get my head around it all to be honest but for now I hope to convey some of what I learned as a teacher in this post.

We started with a session for newbies to the convention, what a relief to be around others who were feeling a bit out of their comfort zone. As it turned out there were people from all walks of life and the more people I spoke to over the weekend the more I realised just how diverse the attendees were... we all have a journey and what we bring right now is the sum of our experience to date. Regardless of background there was a sense of camaraderie and genuine interest in each other, even a newbie like me. It became clear to me that as teachers we stand to learn so much by stepping out of education and listening to people in different industries, over the weekend I learned from hair dressers, teachers, performers, hotel managers, scientists, engineers, lawyers, health experts, trainers, sportspeople to name a few. And it wasn't only those on the stage, it was also talking to the people standing around the kiwi ice cream freezer at the opening supper, the cleaner in the bathrooms where I was having a last run through of my presentation, the folk on the dance floor at the formal dinner, people who were sitting around the tables at various sessions and workshops, as well as the fabulous shop attendant at a nature's discovery type store where I grabbed a couple of items for school (as you do!). Everyone has a story to tell, everyone has wisdom... we just have to listen.

And so here are a lot of snapshot ideas that I picked up over the weekend that I think are relevant to us in the classroom (and much of it in life really)... I may end up elaborating more at some stage but for now I will run with sound bytes as there is just so much information that I am still digesting.

My IMPACT PSA Convention sound bytes for teachers (and other people too):

  • Fall in love with language 
  • Learn new languages (there are 6000 languages in the world and 90% are endangered) 
  • We were welcomed by Robert Henderson, a Wiradjuri elder. Where we come from is important and honouring the people of a place is important. Using the language of a people and a place is powerful. 
  • The Eyes of Wonder=The Look of Learning 
  • Be more awesome 
  • Use sign language- use our bodies to conduct our classroom like a conductor brings the egos of an orchestra together to create beautiful harmonious music 
  • Be BRAVE 
  • When creating a presentation be clear on what you want the people you are working with to feel, to act on after and to remember  
  • Consider what is your most disabling thought and then identify what the most empowering statement is about yourself (I am now working on the second bit... it's a challenge) 
  • Strive less, allow more 
  • Be your best self 
  • Fear is a reaction- Courage is a choice 
  • Look for opportunities rather than getting hung up on difficulties 
  • Design laughter into your presentations... think about how you connect and motivate and be brave
  • Take the stage you've got and start from there 
  • How we feel about ourselves is what we project of ourselves to the world 
  • It's your life- would you like to take responsibility for that? 
  • Trust yourself, don't be afraid to be you- be real
  • Are you managing classes or leading learning? Managing= work, leading=learning. 
  • Be interested in just about anything 
  • Beautiful questions are powerful 
  • There are more choices in front of you than you think 
  • Change the picture, change the results 
  • What are your beliefs? These are the thoughts we hold to be true and they drive our behaviour 
  • Write and read obsessively around those things that you are inspired by 
  • Gratitude helps to balance out 'constructive discontent', the feeling that there's always more to do 
  • Ask yourself "does this excite me?" 
  • Love is a commitment- it isn't a feeling 
  • Rather than working from a beat myself up mode when it doesn't work, go into a how can I build it better mode 
  • Pursue everything that tickles your fancy 
  • What makes you beautiful? What makes what you do beautiful? Find the beauty in yourself... be YOU! 
  • Make a decision about how you show up in the world. 
  • How often do we overlook the simple to make complex stuff? 
  • What is the feedback you are getting from your audience (or class)? 
  • Focus on what you love... don't complain, celebrate the opportunity instead 
  • Less is more! Give people time to explore, feel and contemplate. Less content, more elaboration. 
  • Start to stop- let go- simplify 
  • Influence and manipulation are the same in process but intent and outcome are different... be an influencer! 
  • With structure (process) I can be flexible with my focus 
  • The brain learns by suggestion... prime and nudge 
  • Where there's judgement let there be empathy 
  • Use language carefully- create modifiers e.g. 'what you might do...?' or ' I invite you to...' Invite instead of commanding. 
  • Use we/us instead of I/me 
  • Remember it is the group's group not your group- watch them and respect what they are telling you about how far you can push someone in the group 
  • How do you turn up? Ask 'what can I do for this group of people?', have a sense of humanity, visualise energy, know that you are here to serve. 
  • Use the light of day test- would you make this decision if it were to be held up for all the world to see? 
  • Give ourselves permission to dare to be different 
  • Do the inner work first- find your inner super hero
  • Consider how you manage your energy to work with others as your best 
  • Come burning into the present moment- have a strong centre, open heart and clear mind 
  • Use props to enhance your message 
  • Throw energy to the back of the group and everyone will sense it 
  • Story is powerful- be creative in telling, use words powerfully 
  • Don't be afraid to be vulnerable 
  • Your brand is your identity and your message- telling the world what you do and how you do it... to get people on board sympathise with their pain (challenges) and sell the problem, pain and solution you offer 
  • Ways to engage... simplicity, close ups, metaphors and surprise 
  • Questions are more important than answers, visuals are more important than verbal 
  • Catchphrase "I am glad you asked" 
  • Perfectionism will keep you in the slow lane
  • Make sure your head is where your feet are 
  • Reflection on learning: what is loud (epic) for you? what is soft (intimate) for you?  
Goodness that is a long list! As you can see from these snapshots it really was an epic weekend. I left feeling like I was floating on air... so inspired, profoundly moved and challenged to do more of what I love, and to do what I do better. IT IS TIME... 

If there is anything here that resonated for you I would love to know... sharing is caring :) As I work through this list myself I may even write more about some of these concepts and ideas to share my learning journey with you. 

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Starting the year off with the brain in mind

I am planning for the coming year and as I am doing so the impact of my learning about the brain is evident in the choices I am making…

The brain grows and develops from the bottom up, the brain stem first, followed by the limbic system and then the cerebral cortex, with the prefrontal cortex doing it’s major work during puberty. It occurred to me today that my planning reflects this process using Glenn Capelli's Magic Brain model, along with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  

(For more about the Magic Brain model check out this link

I start with addressing the basic needs first.


It is said that belonging is an innate human need and so it is the first thing that we work on together.

Learning chant:
Room 5 has a name, it is called The Place to Stretch and Grow. We start with a class learning chant which encapsulates how we will work as a class together and our school values. This is now a tradition in Room 5, so the poem is passed to each new group of students that join us.

Room 5’s Learning Chant:

Welcome to Room 5, the place to stretch and grow
Working together we STRETCH and learning flows
Self belief, self belief - we know we can improve
Talking to learn, talking to learn - and listening to learn too
Resilience, resilience - we try and try again
Excellence, excellence - aim high - we do our best
Talented, talented – there’s so much that we can do
Care and respect - showing kindness to me and you
Honesty, honesty - every single day
Together we stretch and grow in so many ways!

We will discuss this, unpack each of the seven qualities listed and establish what they look like in action so we can demonstrate this in the classroom. I have found that with this being done it makes having class rules redundant.

This year we will also have a space in the classroom where each child has a wooden photo frame, in this frame will be a self portrait and a QR Code linking to their mihi which they will record on Seesaw. This image will be updated over the year as they see fit and other QR codes will be added.  

Rituals, or routines, give a familiar structure to the day that provides security to learners whilst at the same time reinforcing a sense of belongingness. We start and end our day in familiar patterns, I don’t necessarily lead them all, in fact often the students lead and I participate along with everyone. The rituals we have are as follows, please note that this is just what works for us in our classroom so far, it may shift and change depending on student needs and what is happening around the school.  

At the start of the day:
  •  I keep a fruit bowl in the classroom so students can get a piece of fruit before school starts
  • We do a Go Noodle activity as the bell rings and students are coming in
  • Our class leaders for the day start with our morning book where they record the day, date, weather etc.
  • We do a karakia (a prayer) and the class leaders share their pepeha (introducing themselves in Maori) 
  • We sing a waiata (a song- supporting literacy)
  • Students go into partners for a given oral language task then come as a class to share
  • The whole class runs a couple of laps around the netball court outside our classroom then returns and we do five stretches with associated statements supporting qualities we value as above the line learners  
  • We go through our plan for the day and then get on with selecting tasks to support our learning

At the end of the day:
  • We say a karakia to end the day
  •  If we have time, we reflect on the day (this is something I want to make sure I commit time to every day) sharing discoveries, telling about the great things we have seen others doing etc.
  • As the bell rings I stand at the door and we do hug, handshake, high five where the class lines up and each child gets to choose how they would like to be farewelled for the day

I try to make sure I connect with every child each day, that is what our farewell is about. I also schedule at least two free time slots after lunch during the week. This 15-20 minute slot in the timetable gives students a chance to continue a learning task from the morning programme, follow something that interests them, play games, read, paint, draw etc. It is a valuable time for me as a teacher as it allows me the opportunity to catch up with students who might be a little isolated, who are having a tough time for some reason or who I might need to connect a little better with in some way. I may play alongside them or offer for them an opportunity to learn a new game or listen to a story. At times I use the time to just observe particular students. Other times I will offer to teach a new game that will then be an option in our morning programme and those students who join in to play become our experts and teach others.

Once we have spent time building up our class culture and laying the foundation for belongingness then we will move into exploring our brain, in particular, our emotions. 

The magic brain:
I teach the class about the magic brain first and then we focus on the Glitter Room of Emotions.

Name them, read about them, talk about them and how we can manage ourselves if the emotions we are experiencing are making it hard to learn or connect with others. We also explore the concept that others may experience different emotions to ourselves.  

Managing our emotions- calming down:
I love the meme that says ‘never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down’, because it is funny and, in my experience, true. This is why I believe we need to teach strategies to help manage emotions along with supporting learners to recognise the feelings they are having. Here are some of the tools I use:
  • I have a calm down space in the room with a little basket where I have a range of fiddle-tools (these are tools not toys, that is a discussion I have with the class very early on), students can go and select an item to help them calm down and take it with them or stay in that spot if they want
  • We watch a clip called Just Breathe (see below for the clip) 
  •  I teach them star breathing using their hands- we stretch out the fingers on one hand and slowly trace around them, breathing in slowly as we go and up and out slowly as we go down each finger
  • We will be creating a calm down scrapbook of images from magazines that help us calm down
  • With permission children can go for an extra run outside if needed, or bounce a ball
  •  I have mindful colouring books available
  • We also use Play is the Way games to explore our emotions and relationships with others

From here we delve further into the Magic Brain.

We learn about our neurons, how we learn and what helps us to learn.  

We create a learning environment together that meets the needs of our unique brains as much as possible.

We learn about people, places, our world… we work our inquiries… we play, communicate, make connections, create, read, write, play with numbers and patterns, make discoveries, ask questions, and, well you get the picture.

This is the plan of action that I have in place, of course there is a lot more going on but the basis is being aware of the Magic Brain. I think often we do this intuitively, it's always a good feeling when what we do naturally fits with what we are learning from science. :) 

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Pruning to let the light in- an analogy

Now I am no great gardener, but as I was pruning back my grapes earlier this afternoon (I can now feel some of you are nodding ‘yes, you are no great gardener, way too late!’) I was struck with a small epiphany that I needed to put into words. And now I am sharing this with you… but first I need to give a little more context…

You see I didn’t just wantonly run out to the glasshouse with my clippers and start hacking willy-nilly, not at all. I know enough to check (and already had an inkling that the best time to give the vine a good hacking was in the middle of winter dormancy) so I did what I often do in these circumstances, search the net until I find someone else who has done things not quite at the right time and got away with it. Invariably, I always find some obscure chatroom that provides me with the green light, and often a little sage advice to go with it. Today, I found my green light (obviously, although I was fairly committed to the course of action anyway) and also a possible answer to a problem that had vexed me with my grapes last season.
Last season I had a bumper crop of grapes on the vine, there were bunches upon bunches upon bunches, a sea of little greenish-purple orbs dripping along the roof of the glasshouse and I eagerly awaited the time they would reach full, juicy, delicious ripeness. 

Oh, the anticipation. 

Oh, the disappointment. 

Yes, some ripened and were delicious as anticipated but most just didn’t get there. I thought it was the dodgy weather we’d had, and I know I hadn’t been very attentive to the needs of my garden as I was toiling in the fertile soil of masters research writing instead. But in my search for a green light to prune back I happened upon a little statement that suggested if the vine was overladen with bunches that selective pruning of some bunches could help as it allowed the light to reach the others so they would ripen better. As I said earlier, and some of you will possibly be nodding vigorously in agreement now, I am not a great gardener and I don’t know if this is true or not but it sounded feasible and herein lies the reason why I am writing.

As I was hacking away, and trying to, not altogether successfully, avoid the cobwebs and dead leaves falling into my hair or worse still down my top, it occurred to me that letting the light in to help things reach their juicy, delicious, full potential is what I have started to appreciate in my classroom teaching. We are advised to accelerate our learners, to choose target students and provide specific interventions to ensure they meet a required standard. (I do wonder at the turn of phrase ‘target students’- is that like putting some kid in a firing line and then shooting additional resources and interventions at them until they reach some arbitrary standard so we can move them along and bring in another target for our attention? I digress.) Please know, I am committed to all my learners achieving their potential and reaching for greatness in their own way, I want the best for my kids. But I wonder if sometimes we crowd them so they struggle to reach the light and therefore miss the opportunity to fully reach their potential.

Now I am not suggesting we prune out learners, heavens no! Although a class size and adequate support to be able to engage meaningfully with the learners in our care would seem sensible to me. I do think however we need to prune back some of what is happening in classrooms to allow our learners to ripen and bloom when the time is right for them and our job as teachers is to provide the conditions to do so. Since returning to classroom teaching three years ago, I have noticed that cutting back some of what I was doing is leading to positive outcomes for my learners. I used to try to see all my reading and maths groups at least every second day and have set activities for them to follow up independently from the learning session we had had. I also tried to make sure I conferenced with every child for writing at least once a week. I ensured my special needs and target students were getting time with teacher aides for revision/over learning whilst I saw them more often for guided sessions on top of all this. Poor wee guys were probably exhausted with all this extra support! What I was doing in actual fact was setting myself and my learners up for failure. My group sessions were often rushed if they happened at all as more often than not I couldn’t actually see everyone I had planned to and so I was rewriting planning or then planning day by day to cater for my lack of ability to push everyone through. If I did see everyone as initially planned then I didn’t engage in thoughtful or meaningful conversations because I was distracted by time and also monitoring what others were doing around the classroom in the various ‘meaningful’ follow up activities I had assigned for them. Now it wasn’t a complete disaster and there was progress made but it was stressful and I posit that much of the stress was unnecessary.

As with my gardening, I am no expert teacher but I am a committed learner and this is what I have learned. I have shifted my focus, I now do less but I feel I do it better. I see some groups more often and some groups less often depending on what they need and what we are doing. Some groups of learners are undertaking set assignments within our classroom programme where it makes sense. My students have a lot of choice about how they respond to a text or a maths lesson, sometimes there will be little follow up, other times a lot may happen. Recently I had two learners who made a frozen confectionary after they created a recipe, were given the ingredients and told that the most important thing about baking is cleaning up then left to it… this came in response to a novel we had been reading. I spend time talking with, and most importantly listening to and observing my learners and I feel like I know them better. I see my writers at varying times, sometimes with self selected teacher groupings after a specific inspiration for writing but other times because they are at a stage they want feedback from the teacher or when I am roving around the classroom between group sessions. I trust my learners to get on with what they need to and we are building a culture where this is creating success. Yes, just in case you were wondering, I still have interventions for my target students (I don’t make them wear a shirt with a bullseye on it or anything though and they don’t get paranoid that I am going to leap out and teach at them when they are look like they might be relaxing).

The systems in my classroom are far from perfect and I feel like I have a long way to go but I can appreciate that what I am aiming for is creating space so that the light can come in and great, juicy, delicious, flourishing can occur naturally. We don't have standardised brains, we don't learn in standardised ways (oh, how easy, and how dreadfully dull teaching would be if this were true) so teaching our students with an expectation that they will achieve, or flourish, in a standardised time frame seems somewhat counter-intuitive really. By letting the light in, and noticing when I am not, I feel like I am giving my learners a better deal than I was and am seeing the growth in confidence, self management and personal drive to learn. It's a start and it all came from pruning back a little, even if I was a little late! 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Teacher Wellbeing- some research highlights

As I write this we are in the last days of the end of the second term of the year, in the middle of winter where it is cold and miserable and the flu/bug season seems to be incessant. Many schools have mid-year reporting happening, so there is the added stress and it shows for many of us.

Let’s be honest though, teaching as a profession is inherently stressful. We are working with people all day and human beings are complex, sometimes tricky even. And relating to people is only the start of what a teacher is doing as you all know, but I am not going to spend time talking about what stresses us for two reasons; 1. There is plenty of research and anecdotal data to confirm that teaching is stressful and 2. Spending energy on talking about what stresses us often feeds the problem and doesn’t necessarily provide any solution to it.

In the last year I have conducted a small study as part of my masters in education qualification exploring positive wellbeing for primary teachers in their mid-career. I propose that the findings are likely to be relatively generic although to confirm that I would obviously need to conduct a much larger study. I do think however it is worth sharing some of the findings here as food for thought and a possible contribution to the important conversation about teacher wellbeing. Don’t think for a second that teacher wellbeing isn’t important either, there is plenty of research to support the notion that happy healthy teachers have happier healthier classrooms with happier healthier learners who appear to achieve better- simply put, your wellbeing is important to the learners in your care.

So here’s some of what I found out about what may contribute to positive teacher wellbeing in our current educational climate: 

1. People-centred leadership practices.
How the school leaders work with their staff in the school can make an appreciable difference to teacher wellbeing. In my research it was noted that it was the small acts of kindness and appreciation that really mattered such as a sincere thank you, a surprise coffee or chocolate treat (or appropriate healthier option), noticing when workload increased and doing what they could to alleviate the stress in small ways. It really centred around relationships and ethical behaviour.
Consider: How do you enhance your relationships with your staff if you are in a leadership position? What are the small acts of kindness that you know will be appreciated by members of your team? How can you build relationships with the leaders in your school? 

2.      Supportive relationships.
It is said that teaching is about the three R’s, relationships, relationships, relationships. The relationships teachers have are numerous; students, colleagues, parents/caregivers, leadership, school management/parent committees, community members, PLD staff etc. The reciprocal nature of student teacher relationships is really interesting, when teachers are doing well their students tend to follow suit, and when students are succeeding that tends to support teacher wellbeing as well. Our relationships with our colleagues can be protective too, it appears that where teachers work in a collaborative, supportive environment that still allows for autonomy and individuality they thrive.
Consider: How do you build and maintain relationships with your students? What is it about your classroom environment that enhances wellbeing for all? How do you acknowledge your colleagues positively? What do you do to create a positive working environment at your school? 

3.      Strong sense of purpose.
For the people in my research making a difference to the learners in their care was clearly a motivating factor and something they returned to time and time again when speaking about what ‘filled them up”. Having clear beliefs about teaching and learning, then following them as well as sharing school values can be empowering for teachers.
Consider: Why did you become a teacher? What do you believe about teaching and learning? Do you share your school values? 

4.      Self Efficacy
Adopting an “I choose…” mindset appeared to have a positive impact for the teachers in my research. They acknowledged they didn’t achieve true balance much of the time, if at all, but they all stated that the way they worked/lived was a choice they had made. This seemed to be empowering, they were in control of what they could control and owned it. They were also clear about what was out of their control and found ways to shift their focus. Think about a time that was challenging for you, what lessons can you draw from it? This is one way to reframe negative experiences that appears to help stop these events eating away at your self esteem. Another way to build self efficacy is to be self aware, knowing your strengths and weaknesses as well as addressing your health and wellbeing needs. The teachers I talked to weren’t afraid to ask for help and could track how they steadily shifted and changed their teaching practice to meet learner needs and improve management of their own personal resources.
Happy healthy teachers have
happier healthier classrooms with
happier healthier learners who
appear to achieve better. 
Consider: What choices do you make around how you work and why? Are these choices working for you or do you want to change anything? If so what? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What can you share with others to help them improve their practice? Who can you ask for help when you need it?

Basically teachers, like most people I would suggest, need belongingness, connection, a sense of identity. This, for me, is like our essence that we can come back to when we are decision making, when we are under stress, when something doesn’t go right. The people around us can have a huge impact on how we feel, as can the stories we tell ourselves.

As I stated earlier, your wellbeing is important to the learners in your care so I hope that you will do what you can to help yourself to be the happy healthy teacher you know your learners deserve.  

If you would like to read more from my research I am happy to forward a PDF copy to you, please just let me know in the comments and I will make arrangements with you personally. 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Why I don't believe in work-life balance

I remember sitting opposite my boss in a little coffee shop having my quarterly appraisal review and we got to the final KPI (Key Performance Indicator), the same KPI that I had had on my appraisal for a couple of years. I remember the conversation starting, as it always did, "So, how are you getting on with your work-life balance?" It was almost a script that we ran at the end of each appraisal meeting where I'd sigh, my shoulders would slump and guiltily I'd respond with "not quite there yet" and then a conversation would be had around my inadequacy in this area. This particular day however, for some reason, I changed the script. Instead of sighing I looked at my boss and said "I'd like to remove that KPI from my appraisal" and when asked why I responded that I was sick of feeling bad for working the way I did which was passionate and outside of the hours others worked, but it gave me joy to do a good job, it fitted with my optimal thinking times and worked around my family needs. After a brief conversation it was removed. 

Please don't get me wrong. I am not advocating workaholism and I am not even suggesting that people need to work more. In fact I would suggest that many of us need to perhaps work less and take more time to smell the roses. What I am suggesting, however, is that perhaps we are creating more stress in our lives by striving for this balance. 

Imagine this: we work eight hours in a day and, because we know it is good for us, we sleep for eight hours, that leaves eight more hours in the day for us to; eat well, spend time with our family, connect with our friends, exercise, take care of our hygiene, treat ourselves, spend time learning, engage in a hobby, tidy our homes... you get the picture. We are so often told about the things we should do and if we try to do them in equal measure we fail every time. That feels pretty darned stressful. 

I propose we shift our perspective. What if we saw work as another part of our life rather than something that interferes with our life? 

When I shifted my perspective I found I didn't resent my work when I had a late meeting or an early start, I felt more in control of managing my time, I enjoyed my work more and, most importantly, the guilt was greatly reduced. It also meant that I was kinder to myself with other things too. I was no longer judging myself against the ideal work-life balance I had thought I should be achieving. I accepted that some days the balance is more heavily weighted towards my work and other days my family, some days I would walk the dog for an hour and play at the park and other days it would be a fifteen minute dash, some days would be all about my friends and other days I might be lucky if I messaged one of my mates on Facebook. And it's OK. Balance in my life (work inclusive) is a marathon, not a sprint. 

The big thing this change in focus has given me is permission to not have everything 'right' all the time. I have days where it is full on, I have times where I feel overwhelmed and lack energy for my work, I have times where I'd really like to take a day off and just sleep, or read, or read and sleep. And on those days I dig deep and turn up knowing there are swings and round-a-bouts and it's OK to have an off day. 

What if you hate your job? I know that this is a reality for some people and appreciate that sometimes choices are limited. Even in that situation though, I suggest that work is still part of your life, maybe it is a less pleasant part but it is not an add on or an interference. Acknowledging this can help create a different perspective.  So instead of focusing on the interference this horrible job is having on your life and adding to your angst and resentment, perhaps you can acknowledge that the job is horrible then give more focus and energy to the parts of your life that bring you joy. Again shift the balance. 

So what I am proposing is that we move towards a sense of balance in our lives with kindness and acceptance that what this looks like will differ from person to person and day to day. 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Mighty falling

In Aotearoa/New Zealand there is much wisdom carried in Maori whakatauki or sayings. One that is in mind at the moment is:

Kua hinga te totara i te wao nui a Tane
The totara has fallen in the forest of Tane

The totara is a tall and mighty tree and when it falls it leaves a great gap in a forest. This whakatauki acknowledges when someone of importance has passed away. In the last two months two mighty 'trees' have fallen and I write to acknowledge them, honour them and in some way take heart from the gifts they have left behind.

Both my friend, Liz Bowen-Clewley, and my uncle, Ted (Neil Edward) Gallagher, were champions of those who did not have a voice. They were tenacious and unyielding in their pursuit of justice for others. They did not go around trying to please and placate, they got out there and did stuff and made a difference in this world. They worked between employers and employees, bridging what is sometimes a treacherous divide to reach solutions that met the needs of both parties. They worked in service of others, always. They cared. They cared deeply. They both loved animals. Liz loved the arts, Ted loved his sport. They had enormous respect from others in the fields they worked in, respect earned because of who they were and how they worked. They forged new ground in these fields, they were bold and if they saw a problem they found solutions. They didn't seek glory or status, having made a difference appeared to be recognition enough.

I feel that the world is poorer for the loss of these pretty amazing people. We need more people who are willing to stand and be counted, more people who will go against the tide if it is the right thing to do, more people willing to do the hard yards rather than take the easy path, more people who are committed to pursuing justice for those whose voice too often go unheard. We need more people like Liz and Ted... many, many more.

I am blessed to have had both these remarkable people in my life and they have shaped me and will continue to as I look up to them and aspire to be more like them. Perhaps in my desire for more people to be like Liz and Ted I should start with me.

Go well everyone. Love big, care deep and get out there and do stuff that matters.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Being bold and brave and honouring the New Zealand Curriculum- as we begin a conversation

This weekend I have been involved in a lively twitter chat about the New Zealand Curriculum and how we can use it to re-engage our teaching community with the front end of the document in particular. The front end is where the principles, values and key competencies are explained. I believe that they were put at the front because we put the first things first, meaning that these are the foundation blocks of all that we do within our curriculum. I believe they are aspirational, broad and challenging, they give us scope to be bold and brave (thanks Wendy for those words) in establishing learning cultures in our schools that support our learners to aim high, think deep, connect and contribute. We are required by law to teach to this curriculum (the whole curriculum not just the AOs), we are required to report against national standards in literacy and numeracy but here's the key thing we are NOT required to teach to the national standards despite what we might be led to believe in some circles. 

I remember fondly when the New Zealand Curriculum came out in 2007, I was so excited by the wonderful opportunities it opened up. (Yes I am a bit of a nerd to be fair) It made me want to return to the regular classroom but I soon realised that in education we had gotten into a comfortable habit of putting children into 'boxes' and this broad, open curriculum challenged that. We didn't have long before the talk of standardisation started, and then after a while we were given the National Standards. I remember hearing the minister of education at the time telling principals at a NZPF conference that no civil servants had the right to choose what pieces of legislation they adopted and that National Standards were happening and that was that. 

Moving on. 

I returned to the classroom a couple of years ago, Unfortunately I made a dreadful mistake, and to my shame it took me a while to work out why the wheels were coming off for me. You see I felt that as I had been out of the regular classroom (whilst still in education and using the New Zealand Curriculum) I was terribly out of date and needed to focus on what I hadn't been trained with which was, among other things, National Standards. I then felt driven by what was newer to me, due to my sense of inadequacy, but that impacted on my teaching and my engagement with my class. I forgot about the front end of the curriculum in my haste to 'catch up' with and embed things like the National Standards in my practice. In short I lost the educational plot... and the sad thing is that I don't think I am unique in that. 

I am lucky that I reflected on this and began to reconnect with what teaching and learning is really about and what we are required to deliver in schools in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Oh the relief, the joy returned. 

And so I ask these questions for myself and others to consider when thinking about how we honour the intent of the New Zealand Curriculum (2007) 

  • How do we ensure that we are reflecting the vision, values, key competencies and principles of our curriculum? 
  • How often do we refer to  vision, values, key competencies and principles when we are planning? 
  • How often do we talk about the front end of the curriculum with our colleagues? 
  • How often do we refer to the front end of the curriculum when we are talking about our learners and their achievements, strengths and  needs? 

I don't have all the answers by any respect but I do have lots of questions and I know there are many more questions I need to be asking.  I look forward to continuing the discussion we have begun. 

I also invite you to join in with the dialogue. We are exploring the option of creating a regular twitter chat to help us stay connected and reignite the enthusiasm and passion there was in 2007 when we were first introduced to our curriculum, we have a very short google survey about this possibility and welcome your input.