Thursday, 13 April 2017

Personal Qualities for Collaboration

What are the vital ingredients that create a successful team in a collaborative spaces?

Beginning my third year at HPPS and once again being a member of a new team, this thought has been 'on top' for a while. I began 2017 pondering about the Art of a team but I've often reflected back to earlier posts, Swing Thoughts and Asking the question. I've posted several times about collaboration, mainly because I'm continuously learning, but as teachers we all seem to be striving for better collaborations as more of our schools adopt this style of education. My new team, which feels successful, has extended my thinking further but this was given a real power shot when I had the opportunity to answer a few questions for an upcoming presentation to be delivered by our DP. Her question, "What advice would you give someone entering a collaborative space?"

Teaching in a collaborative space is not that different to being in your own small classroom. Good practise is centred on knowing your learners, choosing the right pedagogy and material that recognises students' learning needs and delivering it effectively. However, teaching and collaborating are two quite different things and I'm in no doubt a teacher can have some success without being a strong collaborator.

Successful collaboration as discussed in the Art of a team requires many things, vision, communication and a raft of unspoken permissions. Moreover, ultimately I'm finding, it relies on a few select personal qualities, particularly empathy, pragmatism, honesty, drive and selflessness. These traits are over and above what might be evident in tools such as Hermann Brain Analysis, where your learn about your thinking preferences.

Clearly, as teachers we are different, but to succeed in a collaborative space and ensure that the team is more than the sum of its parts, each individual component needs to demonstrate empathy towards the other teachers (please note I'm talking empathy, not manners). We each have our families, commitments, beliefs and interests. These directly impact upon each member in the space and can determine the outcomes and productivity of the team, I've never felt this as keenly as this year where even just family commitments alone are enough to have you showing your empathy. Furthermore, empathy and consideration are required to help you design a learning programme and space that fulfils the needs of each staff member with varying standards and expectations to be encompassed. The teaching itself, also deserves a healthy dose of empathy (similarly with being selfless). Make sure you keep to some sort of timeline as your colleague might need the same child next, perhaps there is testing to complete. Being empathetic to their needs allows you to tread more lightly, as the moment you don't, teaching and collaboration become infinitely more difficult.

Our differences as teachers also demand pragmatism. We all have favourite techniques, quirks and idiosyncrasies, which can you leave behind as baggage? Which ones do you need to hold onto? When discussing pedagogy, judgements and ideas often it is a matter of establishing which battles need to be fought, and which really aren't that important. Give and take or compromising requires a lot of pragmatism, successful collaboration will see teachers being warm but demanding, a yes-person isn't needed as some ideas deserve to be challenged but a colleague challenging each idea just to be vexatious isn't creating a positive collaborative environment either.

Balancing both of these qualities is honesty, in two ways also, towards your colleagues, but also to yourself. As we prepared our team agreement at the start of this year, our team spoke of our needs, weaknesses and symptoms we might display as we became stressed or entered a learning pit. In a collaborative space, this type of honesty is vital. Your colleagues rely on you to test children they're teaching and vice versa. As we enter stressful periods of various commitments, reporting/testing, EOTC, sporting events or any bottleneck that occur in our school, it is vital that you are honest towards your colleagues. I find there is need to outline where people are up to with testing, reporting, my role as a sports coordinator or their various roles. If one was less than honest there is a flow on that impacts your colleagues.

Drive appears quite important also. Working in collaborative spaces where everything is deprivatised and you rely on your colleagues is no place for someone who isn't prepared to work hard. Yes, we all have different work habits and tendencies, but the reliance on each other necessitates teachers who can dig in and get things done. I remember being asked in my first year at HPPS about the cognitive load of teachers in these spaces, I didn't feel that it was over the top until I listed all the things that your doing at any one time. The times that I've procrastinated have resulted in some terrible pits, but when any members of the team then takes on more than their share of the load then even more can be achieved.

The last quality that I've come to find advantageous is selflessness. When working in these spaces it is often necessary to consider the needs of others, that's showing your empathetic, but then putting their needs ahead of yours becomes necessary. As we approached our recent round of reporting, I had to consider the various needs of my colleagues. In a single cell context, managing judgements and reports is relatively straightforward, you control your own destiny as it were. In a collaborative space, much can be out your control, you are reliant on colleagues to share full information in a timely manner. As a colleague recently said, "I need you to have my back, so I'm not left looking stupid".

I feel that these are rather lofty things to ask of someone. I see each of these character traits in my colleagues and I trust that I display them also. Others may disagree with my assessment or believe that other personal qualities are more important, I'd love to discuss this with you if that's the case. I am working damn hard to contribute to successful collaboration on many levels but especially in LC2 with 2 others teachers and our learners. Honestly, it can feel like the old graphic equaliser displays on stereo systems, continuously up and down in various aspects but as long the result is superior I'll remain satisfied.

Monday, 20 February 2017

The art of a team

Collaborative teaching, team teaching and team work is no new thing. My own schooling was full of team-taught environments, as those big open plan double classes of the 1980s were experimented with. Nor is the understanding of what it takes to build, make or break a team in many environments, theorists have been investigating and studying teams for many years, consider the premise of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing proposed in the 1960s and still finds it way into many organisations and management courses today. Other in-house management courses I've been to have featured or relied on different theories and has resulted in participating in any number of team building tasks, discussions, personality tests or role plays. A succinct outline of several teamwork theories can be found here or Ultimately, the success of teams is never guaranteed but for the end consumer, be they a student, a customer or a tourist, the team's success can make a vast difference in the product or experience that they receive.

In my time at HPPS I've been involved in 2 different teams and am entering a year where the team will be different again. For the first time, I feel I know the team members I'll be working with but this has given me time to reflect on what this means for the team and team building.

Entering both 2015 and 2016, management had suggested plenty of talking and this is vital. While the true test of your team will come later in the year, the foundations are in the forming of a vision or goals for the time ahead. Even this can look different. For some teachers the need to form systems, outline roles and prepare plans may dominate thinking, for others the relational aspect of getting to know each other might be uppermost. The key in the last two years has been the initial discussions that focussed on what we wanted our learning common to look like (vision not aesthetically) and what we wanted our students to be like. In 2015 the vision setting was more informal, in 2016 our management team proposed that we form team building agreements that included some notional arrangements for how we would work together also.

Why is setting your vision so vital? Could collaborative teaching be successful without it?

Answering the second question helps to understand the first.

Successful teaching looks like a safe and happy environment, with engaged children and learning taking place that leads to achievement progress. This is possible without a shared vision. Your goal as a teacher is to achieve these things, our personal reasons for teaching demands it and the Education Council expect it through the Practicing Teacher Criteria. In a single teacher environment this is easier. You have a vision for your classroom and you set up your classroom, planning and resources to achieve it, working within the values and systems of your individual school. However, in a collaborative space you have teachers with different values, boundaries, experiences, passions and styles, working alongside each other. Without a shared vision, the team may seperate out the students, decide on plans and timetables and then engage in more cooperative approach to teaching where you merely share the space. Successful teaching may still be taking place, but possibly not successful in the context of collaborative teaching.

With a shared vision comes understanding and purpose, it allows each member to drive their own teaching experiences steadily forward in pursuit of the teams objective. It provides freedom, but with an understanding of permissions, expectations and responsibilities that help the team to achieve the overall goal. It is in this zone that collaboration is happening, each member adding value for the benefit of the team and a greater outcome is possible than each just doing their own thing.

That is to say, that a shared vision is absolutely essential for the success of both the children and the students in a collaborative space.

I look forward to the team I'm going to be working with in 2017. It's going to be exciting, demanding, educational and beneficial for my career development.

The above was typed as I approached the end of 2016, with my excited puppy phase clearly on. As we begin week 4 at Hobsonville Point Primary I must share that I'm loving everyday with my new team, they are bringing out the best in me and helping me build the areas I need to improve.

We have a shared vision, a shared passion for the children in our common and a desire to make sure that our children get the best of us. That's a team I want to be part of.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Ideas overflowing?

How do you feel after amazing professional development? Is your brain churning with ideas, enthusiasm and passion? Are you eager to get back to your class or school and get to work on something new, maybe even share it with others...

Do ideas, innovation and creativity come easily?

I remember feeling like that after the first #Edchatnz conference in 2014, Steve Mouldey had described it as being like an excited puppy. #Edchatnz 2014 resonated with me. (see posts on the Education Revolution challenge, Continuing the PD or even the Blogging Meme challenge I initiated).

Professionally and personally, working in a collaborative environment is challenging but it also brings a new level to interpreting professional development. This other set of eyes can see things differently and may not always agree, whilst this may seem unhelpful it actually provides a filter that is absolutely necessary to reach flow in a collaborative space.

I've recently returned from visiting four schools where we (I went with three colleagues) investigated the use of space, learning design, collaborative teaching and any other gems that we could find. It was as much about reflecting on our own practice as it was about what these other schools and teachers do. When I'd been told about the trip my I'd got all excited puppy but started to realise I can't just come back wanting to change the world one learning common at a time. How was I going to filter this zest and not just appear like a magpie collecting shiny new things?

  • Filter 1 was a little visual we keep in LC4. This allows me to really consider the worth of some things that I see/hear about on PD. Some ideas are great for moment, and best left there.

  • Filter 2 is simply thinking about the Why? How is secondary and often there is many ways of achieving the same result.

  • Filter 3 is priorities. What is worth implementing straight away and what ought to be parked for another day, term or even year?

My aim for this post isn't sharing all the shiny new things this magpie collected, or even reminding you of some old school ideas that are still solid. The takeaway I hope you'll get is in considering what your own filters or processes are for evaluating what ideas you take back to your own school and thinking about the impact of these ideas on others around you. As I'd headed off to see these schools the buzz of the second #Edchatnz conference was entering day two. Twitter was awash with lots of excited puppies, I felt a pang of jealousy and then wondered how many of these passionate souls would go back to colleagues that wouldn't share the enthusiasm or couldn't understand your excitement. It's not about having ideas, its about what we do with them.

On my journey I began reading Originals by Adam Grant, a book all about ideas, innovation and the investigates what enables or prohibits creativity.

Early on Grant discusses how some people readily accept their role in an organisation as a fixed predetermined entity, whilst others consider these as merely the default settings and that these can be adapted, fine tuned, personalised and ultimately add value to the role. "Starting point is curiosity: pondering why the default exists in the first place..." and goes on that if we consider some of what we face with a new lens then we may find alternative solutions to regular problems in our workplace. For some of our children this is necessary, some pedagogy we know brings results, yet others require different approaches. This is why we need to explore, innovate and consider the Why when we contemplate a new approach.

New ideas are threats to old practices and this can be a barrier to sharing too, Grant shares and I'm reminded of how teachers bemoan others who don't/won't change and how this can lead to a reluctance to collaborate and share. As I became engrossed with his book, I found myself staring at straight at my filters "in reality, the biggest barrier to originality is not idea generation - it's idea selection". 

Having visited these schools and constantly having my thinking face on, I need to run all these ideas through my own filters as well as those of my colleagues, their opinions are a necessary new perspective. I've been prompted to record all my ideas, questions and reflections as there is no telling when I'll want to access these again - good point. We've already shared some of our wonderings with our staff, informal discussions during a staff meeting that enabled many to offer thoughts and insights in a 'warm but demanding' manner. As I've been talking with my co-teacher, I've shared things I'd seen with a view to how it could add value to our learning common. Rather than pouring ideas, thinking they're all gold, I'm deliberately letting them be part of a slow release.  My principal has even suggested that I use a Hermann Brain resource to consider some of these ideas, it prompts the use of whole brain thinking (Theoretical/Analytical, Organisational, Interpersonal and Creative). His offering is just further proof that it is not generation but selection of ideas that is crucial.

Our students deserve to have this idea reinforced also, idea selection is crucial. We can emphasise this during creative processes such as planning writing, design and technology processes or other creative endeavours. I hear about teachers, principals and educators advocating for the growth mindset or the emphasis on the journey, especially in regard to some of the geniuses throughout history. Grant summarises the work of Beethoven, Shakespeare, Picasso, Mozart and Edison. All are known for a select group of outputs, yet each have a large assortment of products that weren't as renowned or successful as others. Both the cinema and publishing industries are full of cases where the commercial success significantly outstripped forecasts, consider this list of titles that weren't meant to reach an audience: Star Wars, ET and Pulp Fiction films; The Chronicles of Narnia, The Diary of Anne Frank, Lord of the Flies and Harry Potter! Is it any wonder that choosing ideas is difficult!

What do these list of geniuses and film/book forecast failures have to do with teaching?

I'm surrounded by some very innovative and creative people at HPPS and within NZ education circles in general. Regardless of the audience you're pitching to, your classroom, school, community or maybe even wider still, it is not about throwing all your ideas up and trying everything all of the time. The impact this might have on your learners could be damaging, yes it is important to role model risk taking and failure, but it is also important that we use approaches that evidence tells us will work and many students require an element of consistency to get the practise that they need to achieve mastery. It is important that we allow ourselves the opportunity to analyse ideas but must be mindful that we don't destroy some ideas by overthinking. As teachers, we need to be strategic about which ideas we choose to integrate into our learning spaces, idea selection is more important than idea generation.

Enabling the space for creativity and conversation is also integral. Recent experiences with my colleagues away from the classroom and staffroom has allowed me to see the importance of meaningful conversation. Topics, ideas, questions and each other as people can be delved into, parked and referred back to later without the constraints of morning tea, lunchtime or meetings finishing.

I love my creative, holistic, big picture style of thinking. I also know that it can be frustrating for myself and others. Self-knowledge here is key. It allows me space and license to park things or consider multiple perspectives before sharing. So...

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Student voice - Maori learners and learning

One of my favourite experiences as a staff member at Hobsonville Point was the Waitangi Celebrations at the start of 2015 as this introduced me to new activities, colleagues, students and whanau (blog post). It also provoked many thoughts as to how the HPPS model could effectively and authentically integrate Te Reo and Tikanga into the learning at school. Throughout my time at this school I've had many conversations with different staff and parents about this also.

Initially, I wondered whether Te Reo could be included as an independent learning activity, similar to independent reading or maths. Discussions made me doubt the quality of such learning, although adopting a tuakana teina approach may alleviate this, the real concern surrounds how setting a range of resources/tasks would provide students with an engaging, authentic task. This was reinforced when I watched a colleague set about a filming activity using myths and legends, our students recognised the importance of correct pronunctiation and so asked for some workshops to assist them. The learning was more powerful due to the student voice, authentic learning and timeliness of the task. However, students don't know what they don't know and this is where teacher voice is necessary.

As a school we provide a Kapa Haka group, teachers include Te Reo in their instructions, signage and in learning activities. The Practicing Teacher Criteria are explicit in the expectations to actively teach our children relevant content, respect culture and values and adhere to the principals of the partnership in the Treaty of Waitangi. I have often felt that I could do more but have felt empowered by some experiences (Waitangi Day Celebrations at HPPS and HNS visit to Awataha Marae) and embarrassed by others (blog post HIS). Recently, I met with a friend who is currently undertaking pre-service training to be a primary teacher, he asked about Te Reo in the classroom. On his placements across 2 years thus far, he had observed that Te Reo was very hit and miss and wondered if it was something that was true of all schools. I can't speak for all schools but can appreciate his question, my student teacher placements also reflect his thoughts but I am aware of many schools and teachers who provide have significant resources promoting Te Reo, Tikanga and the principals of the treaty.

Currently, as a school we are pursuing Culture and Identity through our immersion experiences, these are being taught through Visual Arts, Music and Technology with a clear nod to the Social Sciences curriculum. In LC4 students have completed artworks, biopoems and on Friday visited the Auckland Art Gallery. Completing the biopoems, we challenged students to include more than just their passions, interests and worries, but to acknowledge their ancestry and their culture. For some this has meant deciding to write their pepeha's and one boy even decided to translate his biopoem into Te Reo. I had created one of the biopoem templates myself, several lines were directly influenced by a pepeha and explained this during class. I didn't tell them to write a pepeha but acknowledged that some may want to and this was an appropriate learning pathway. Some students had clearly felt empowered to pursue their learning and I felt better for creating an environment which enabled this.

On Friday 3rd we visited the Auckland Art Gallery, students took a studio workshop called Portraiture and Identity and had a guided session that investigated some Maori portraits. The dynamics between the group of students I was with underwent a noticeable shift when we begun work with the portraits. Amongst the group were several children who identify as Maori or Pasifika, without any teacher/guide direction these children all stepped forward and took on the role of leaders as they presented their art piece to the group and shared their knowledge, interest and wondering of the portrait of each Maori chief. As we left this part of the gallery, one young girl sidled up beside me and told me that she really likes learning about Maori art and language. It was a shared comment that provided a deeper insight into how I (and the LC4 team) could better meet her needs as a learner.

The findings on each portrait had included references to the Treaty of Waitangi, some portrait subjects had signed whilst others did not. In our group of 12, the knowledge of the Treaty was minimal. I parked this and explained it to my colleague on the bus afterwards, had she noticed this in her group? Nicole hadn't noticed this but it gave me pause to reflect on my friend's comment and the nature of learning at HPPS. Could we be doing better? Could I do better? It had to be more than simply pouring knowledge. As our students reflected on their visit they provided the answer, they identified potential projects including carving, weaving, making Maori-inspired jewellery and creating Maori art.

Student voice suggesting these authentic projects switched my brain into 'excitable puppy' mode as I considered how this could be bound together for a powerful project. Nicole and I have been reimagining the way projects are created and instead of a free for all, we're wanting to deliver six authentic options where the integrated learning is more powerful. I uploaded my thinking into our potential project document and was satisfied with the result, the learning possibilities and the potential outcomes. This learning could provide literacy options that investigated myths and legends, create pepeha, learn about the culture behind each of the art forms, karakia, and allow the students to tell a story about the history of Hobsonville Point and their own identity. This project could involve visits to/from experts in each of these art forms, possibly even Awataha Marae where they could take part in a powhiri. Dreaming even bigger, it might lead to a beautiful carving or artwork that welcomes people to Hobsonville Point or the students might reignite the Waitangi Celebrations Day for in 2017.

All this would finally make me feel like I was living out the intentions of the Practicing Teacher Criteria.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Embracing my green brain

I'm embracing my green/red/blue/yellow brain this year, I tend to be very yellow as a preference, present as almost square-like in profile but green collapses when stressed and yellow becomes dominant.

This is the type of conversation that you'll often hear amongst the staff at HPPS. It's indicative of understanding our Hermann's Whole Brain Thinking profile and acknowledging that we are all different, that we need to be considerate of our differences and utilise all preferences in our collaborative teams. Even during the interview process for new staff, a mini profile is created and I remember how this altered the way I dealt with many people. Nicole, my new teaching buddy arrived back from a PD session about her profile and it has brought a new understanding of each other as well as a added a layer of humour to what we do.

2016 has become a year to embrace my green brain.

In the middle of term 1 I took up the challenge of the Sports Coordinator role, it was presented to me as something that would provide some opportunities to extend my organisational skills. I'd already taken on a Mentor Teacher role for one of our new staff, was forming a new team with Nicole in LC4 and wasn't sure how I would cope. As I drove home that night, I considered the extra work load, the time available to do this work and a lingering doubt about my ability to do the job to the level I'd expect of myself.

I believe I have a growth mindset, however, I have a continuous fear of not looking capable in front of my colleagues or wider school community, no doubt its tied to my ego. It's a nagging doubt and does inspire me to work harder so that I get things to the level I want. I also need to ensure that I face problems with a solution-oriented mindset, together these approaches to create some significant expectations and pressures that are all of my own making.

Work life balance clearly was going to become an issue, so I explained the offer to my wife, including what I saw as the positives and negatives. Her response was deserved, "You keep going on about a growth mindset, this is your opportunity to take something on and learn new skills, how can you say no?" Decision made then!

Its not that I'm not organised, but I tend to get distracted easily, am a champion procrastinator and am not excited by lists. My first few weeks of the sports role felt like was I constantly chasing my tail, my email box exploded, morning tea and lunchtime was filled with meetings with students, sorting newsletters and dealing with team registrations. Often my response in these situations is work harder, not necessarily smarter. Worklife balance clearly goes astray when I respond in this way. We had our athletics day on a Friday late in Term 1, so the Thursday was stressful. I did try using a list, Nicole thought this was great but we both had a giggle when I'd lost it by morning tea! I did have a run sheet and had been using it more as a reference point than a tick list. As a teacher, I am organised, planned and generally have things in a modicum of balance but with the various layers of sports there has been a need to refocus my attention. It's not organising the one event that stresses me, the last 2 weeks have involved Athletics, Netball, Rugby, Soccer, Gymnastics and Diving - altogether now, breath! Its required operating across many different organisations, various calendars, multiple approaches and many different dates.

Our Athletics Day being run successfully on Friday was positive, it was reaching that first completion and knowing that this is all achievable. I just have to keep moving forward and eventually many of the organisational challenges that face will become second nature. Realistically, I'm moving through my own novice to expert cycle and having to apply all I know about event management to get me through.

I recently presented a session on Reading to the PRTs at the Learning Network. In the 30 minutes before the session they met with a Continuity Leader, one of the PRTs was sharing that her Mentor Teacher has many roles at her school and she was finding it hard to get meetings. It struck a chord as I too undertake many of these same roles so I checked in with my BT as to my accessibility but decided that it needs to be something that I raised during school coaching

During coaching, we've been discussing my roles and how I can organise myself better, not in some micromanaging way though. More from the perspective of getting systems in place, becoming better at asking for support or delegating tasks to others. We have been concentrating on "How might I manage the sports role so that others can support me?" Its  about knowing what resources to tap into at the right time, there is an array of parents, teachers and management with useful expertise, not to mention the multitude of sports organisations.

Run sheets and checklists are slowly going to become my norm, they're supplemented by calendars, due dates and complemented by gear lists, budgets, wish lists and overviews. There's a healthy dose of blue and yellow, mixed with a super-sized portion of green and some red so that you don't forget you're dealing with people. It has been an incredible challenge and to be perfectly honest has had its fair share of learning pits.

What does this all mean for me and for sport at HPPS?

The holidays were shaping as a time to get some newsletters and registrations organised in advance, prepare for several events and get the budgets/wishlists updated to reflect 2016. All so that Term 2 would look proactive, rather than reactive. We've now participated in the first North Harbour Rippa Rugby tournament, have a sports section on the school website and begun forming a sports team.

My main focus is that LC4, its parent community and Nicole all get the best of me. I was employed to be a teacher first and foremost, therefore  I have to manage everything else so they all get the Reid they deserve. Sport is a secondary, albeit significant, focus.