Friday, 29 June 2018

Moments of magic!

My daughter is five and three quarters. Not five! One of her dreams is to be a tooth fairy, not a made up fairy like a doll, but a real one with a job who gives money to children for their teeth. It's quite a convincing job and is a stark reminder that a little magic is a beautiful thing. As adults we often lose the magic as the mundane and routine takes over, as teachers routine is equally undesirable and yet is also a key to success. Finding the moments of magic can be why many teach, but creating them is just as challenging as spotting that damn tooth fairy.

Teachers are harsh self-critics! We're always looking for something better, a more effective or efficient way, a new teaching point or maybe even just a more interesting way of doing things. In doing so, are we creating the right conditions for magic or is it happening in spite of us?

As a new school we're still developing systems, styles and knowledge with how we approach various aspects of teaching and learning. One area we have been developing our capacity is in the HPPS approach to topic/inquiry learning. We call it Immersion, you can read more about this in an earlier post from 2016  after Daniel and Lisa had challenged us all to engage more with the head (brain), than just the hands (hands-on, authentic learning) and heart (memorable experiences). In my time at HPPS the systems we use for planning this have changed considerably, the changes have been the foundation of several teacher-only days. With some of my colleagues we've reflected on whether or not we were getting the planning and teaching right for immersion. More recently, Daniel's challenge has been on how each team measures success. Unquestionably, getting the planning and teaching for immersion right is largely down to teacher input, our reflections weren't questioning management more whether we were getting the process and therefore the planning right. Was Immersion leading to powerful learning? Was Immersion leading to powerful projects? How do we know?

As we entered another TOD, I felt uneasy about our most recent round of Immersion/Projects. For the most part the project phase had left me flat, with very little curiosity or wonder amongst the students, and generally a bit of confusion around what they'd learnt. Where had we gone wrong? It's easy to blame the documentation or the process for planning, in fact it's too easy (fixed mindset where capability and adversity is shifted away from the owner). We knew the planning process had been been undergoing slight changes every rotation for a couple of years and this does create cognitive dissonance, as there is very little room for developing expertise within the system (see the Dreyfus Model, ie we were still in the novice/beginner phases).  I also know that the self-critic was being unfair if I recall the success with which we'd finished 2017 (see Return of the Moa post). I feel fortunate that I had several powerful discussions preceding this TOD, with a colleague we'd reflected and been self-critical but then discussed the additional expertise we could take into the next planning rotation and help to create more powerful learning and a conversation with Lisa where she'd shared some of her thinking as she considered a whole-brain approach to the planning (see photo on Hermann's Brain)

This was challenging but positive, I can become a bit silly with ideas (one ideas breeds another and then I'm excited),  rather than a risk-taking, creative and  imaginative focus, I wondered whether a holistic, synthesising, and big-picture approach was required? To help myself and my team, we'd gathered some student voice on what they wanted to learn about (see photo) and I'd had a brainstorming session knowing the general theme (Systems and Science - easy to think Solar System or Body Systems) but this wasn't the desired outcome as this was choosing based on an idea rather than the holistic thinking Lisa was seeking regarding Systems. Where would we take our students through immersion if we thought about a more encompassing idea of systems? We were provoked with this video:

This still isn't enough to guarantee success though! Lisa's leadership on the TOD compared immersion to a geographic location. As teachers we have the power to differentiate the learning experience so that different children may experience a variety of activities, whether by this is a result of interest, learning need, curiosity or because of their dispositions. This in turn means that some may stay in the immersion phase throughout projects, while others transition earlier to the project phase. 

Source: Lisa Squire.

Our team planned, reflected, challenged, wondered, sought feedback, took some risks and produced a rather shot-gun style planning document. But I feel it's been integral to our success this round. We've had a very clear idea of what we want to achieve and teach but have allowed enough room to be responsive to the needs and interests of the class as they develop. Ultimately, we've collaborated! Any of us could have planned and taught the immersion topic individually. However, I doubt it would have been as effective, as the collaboration has contributed additional value compared to the individual expertise.

Relationships have been important too, knowing the children, their needs, interests, recording their student voice before entering. Developing our own systems for their success throughout the day and personalising their learning so that each could navigate the immersion island in their own powerful way. One of the activities we'd forward planned was for some work on assumptions, did we have those children who literally thought that milk came from the supermarket? Salt was the amongst the first assumptions to arise, someone had wondered if it was made from flour, but this had been preceded with the observation that "all foods have ingredients, but where do the ingredients come from?"

The magic that has happened is born of these ingredients: relationships, collaboration, planning systems, reflection, teacher intellectual capital and a fair dose of teacher passion. Having the ingredients and creating the right spell/recipe can be quite separate however, this time we've just got it right as a teaching team and I hope that we can repeat it in the future.

While we've taught, provoked and immersed our children into this world of food, they've responded with enthusiasm and curiosity. They've shared their wonderings about the intricacies of their digestive systems, or their taste buds, they've been designing the most amazing cakes and talked about "synthetic" cheeses and questioned if milk is the liquid and cream is the solid. For projects, they want to run Master Chef and bake Extreme Cakes, they want to learn more about their taste buds and learn about stomach acid. A non-writer is wanting to write a recipe book, another is sharing his cake designs and using actual measurements. Teachers are happy, proud and feeling like something positive is happening.

Magic is happening!

Planning is easy, most teachers can complete a topic planning outline to a reasonable degree. Turning that recipe into something magical is more than just the right ingredients and resources with a healthy seasoning of teacher passion. It might just be timing or having students who are receptive to this topic. I suspect that if I reflect enough I can unpack a myriad of rationale for the contributing factors, but like my daughter I choose magic! There is a synergy at work this immersion that is greater than the ingredients, it has raised the bar in LC5 and I await the project phase with excitement. What will this magic create?

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Collaboration - The collaborative journey through a performance

Collaboration is...

Two teachers bouncing ideas about how to merge technology, drama and dance in a performance
Three teachers questioning if they could make it work in the timeframe,
A principal challenging his staff to add value and learning for the students,
Students raising excitement levels as they share their wondering, "Could we do a play?!"
Student teachers offering to do choreography and script writing, taking responsibility,
Children brainstorming ideas, "I can add to his idea by..."
12 learners writing a script, that their peers and teachers contribute ideas to afterwards
5 writers sharing a play, getting feedback "Are we going to do this?"
Associate Teachers and Student teachers performing the play, modelling failure, high stakes,
A learning common listing the jobs and thinking of teams, "We'll have to do more than one job"
Timelines that challenge students to work together,
Acting group creating more speaking roles and adding to scripts,
Parents offering support, materials, time and expertise,
Students choreographing dance numbers, supporting their team mates
Children analysing scripts, props identified, backdrops considered, costumes imagined,
Cast members helping each other learn lines and cues, new friendships made
One team member offering an idea, others adding to it "We could build on that by doing this"
Giving constructive feedback, "If use that idea, this might happen.."
Learners coming to school with props, costumes, materials to contribute to the performance,
Students staying after to school to talk through ideas with teachers
A marketing team creating posters, generating an audience, selling tickets,
ESOL teachers using prop making as oral language lessons
Problems identified, other staff or non-LC2 children solving them,
Children sharing how they're in the pit, peers helping them get out
A learning common making sure all the jobs get done, deadlines met, "Will this come together?"
Dress rehearsals, everyone has a role, more jobs still being found,
Technology team setting the stage, parents helping
Stage managers helping the cast get their props
Dressers helping actors change costumes
Ticketing team welcoming people to the show
Parents and staff children preparing the refreshments
Ushers showing an audience to their seats
Sound team reading scripts to ensure cues are hit
Actors, dancers, stage managers, singers, directors, leaders and learners all,
An audience clapping, collaboration shared and appreciated, successful.
Students beaming, celebrating their effort and the rewards. Together.
A stage cleared, costumes put away. Venue empty.
4 teachers, 3 teacher aides and relievers all working on the same goal
77 children all working on the same goal.
"It's all come together"
"This looks awesome, we've done all this and we're just 7 & 8 year olds and we've done it all in 9 weeks! I can't believe it has all come together".
Return of the Moa. LC2 Collaboration. Lifelong learning.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

PINs - Student Led Learning

Fridays at Hobsonville Point Primary School have traditionally become PINs day. Most of the school chooses part of the day to focus on Passions, Interests and Needs (PINs). Students plan, resource, lead and reflect on workshops that they deliver to their peers. It has been led by the junior learning commons and filtered up through our school and although my initial experiences with PINs weren't convincing I'm quite satisfied with the impact it has on learning these days. The impact of PINs on teaching HPPS students our dispositional curriculum is complemented by extending the reach of the more academic learning, reaching into areas like the English Language Learning needs of our ESOL students, displaying aspects of Tataiako and fosters relationships with our children's Whanau.

Student-led learning is not new. It has always been valued at HPPS through the use of student-led workshops and responsive teaching. Similarly, at other schools projects, passion based learning, public speaking and the notion that there are many experts in the room have allowed teachers to allow for a more facilitative approach to teaching. We are definitely not the only expert in the room! Tataiako, formalises that for NZ teachers and promotes the valuing of the intellectual and cultural capital that Maori students in particular bring to the classroom, but is extrapolated to all students as a model for effective teaching.

HPPS has promoted student-led learning from its beginnings, through the promotion of student-led workshops. My first powerful experience was when a student came to me and asked if she could run a lesson to help some peers with their keyboard skills, that afternoon she ran a great workshop using Dance-Mat Typing. Projects also would see students helping others with things they needed, for instance iMovie skills, Google Draw, writing an information report or drawing a graph.

PINs is different, it plays on the hearts and minds of our learners. Asking students to share their passions and interests allows them to share their hobbies, habits, activities with their peers. Students submit their workshop plans during the week, we select the plans to be used, students opt into the workshops and we then supervise them. The next week it all happens again. Our 5 year olds are running workshops, teaching their friends about things they value. All manner of topics get selected, art, dance, sport, language, drama, computers to name just a few.

What might you see at HPPS on Fridays? You might see children playing in the playground, working in our learning commons or you might think it looks like organised chaos. Probe a little deeper, ask a few questions, reflect on what you know about learning and a very effective part of HPPS is taking place.

Students are eager to get their plans selected, throughout the year this encourages an up-skilling in their instructional writing and may even be their first introduction to this type of writing. In choosing to run a workshop many have negotiated with friends to decide on a topic. Once their plan has been selected, students opt in, head off to workshops and come back eager to share their learning. For the students running workshops they've needed to prepare their teaching resources/equipment, negotiate with others for teaching space, deliver content, manage the behaviours of their peers, manage time, solve conflicts, it is an absolute treasure trove for our dispositional curriculum. Do workshops go wrong, absolutely. But this just facilitates discussion on communication, resilience, perseverance, reflection and what the student might do differently next time.

If you were to see an art, language, science based PINs workshop, it is clear that learning is taking place, in others the learning is a little less evident but present nonetheless. Consider some of the drama or play based activities (Duck Duck Goose anyone?) a student might choose, to have ESOL students running these workshops and practising their oral language is a great reason for such an activity to go ahead. In talking to one of my peers in a junior class (Year 0-2) she said "they'd had enough colouring workshops, it was time for students to up their game". Her students needed to be doing a bit more, it had been acceptable for some first-time workshops but the expectations had clearly been elevated.

Parents come in to help run PINs also, this year we've had Mums and Dads helping their children run workshops cooking, doing science, sewing, sport and sharing their culture. Allowing this encourages stronger relationships with families as we open our doors, they share their values and also get to see a little part of what makes their child and his /her peers tick. A colleague reflected today that she believes the difference in engagement with PINs between our commons may even be due to parent engagement, opining that they only run PINs fortnightly and she wonders if it is a reflection on the lack of parent involvement.

I've recently become another teacher with children at school, which has resulted in a philosophical and emotional shift from the role of teacher. PINs has been part of this also. PINs was top-of-mind as we considered an educational choices, how would our darling daughter be able to celebrate her passions and interests? I imagined yoga, gymnastics and cooking workshops appearing in our future. It was to my surprise that in her first week she was running a session on some app, to my knowledge she had never seen this app.  As I considered the possibilities I wondered about the use of these workshops to build mana amongst a student's peers. I suspect this may have what the learning advisors were thinking, as a Dad this would be a suitable motivation. Abby's excitement about her first workshop was Christmas-like, with the visit of her teacher-aunty to HPPS she quickly roped her in to help with another workshop.

Occasionally, we as teachers run workshops during this time too. We will opt students into a workshop because of a need, e.g., handwriting or tying shoe laces but our most effective one this year was when my colleague suggested a meeting with our Maori/Pasifika students. She begun the meeting explaining that she was sad that a recent cultural project in the learning common had focussed on many other cultures but that Maori and Pasifika wasn't getting the mana it deserved, what could they all do about this. This group have now introduced several waiata to the common and have created a class culture of singing after lunchtime.

The role of teachers in these sessions alters based on the needs of the individuals running the workshops, our ESOL support have chosen to run workshops alongside students or just be a member of the workshop. Some students require assistance with managing the set-up, others during the actual workshop. Occasionally, there are reports of someone not doing what they're supposed, again this just becomes a chance to lead a conversation with all parties. More often than not, its directing students how best to manage their time or their peers. We've taken the opportunity of PINs workshops to provide disposition-based feedback/forward to students, at one stage we tried to make this written feedback but like most feedback it needs to be passed on in the moment to have any impact. As another means to generate reflection fodder, we've provided the opportunity for students to complete a Google Form (as shown).

There are many ways that students get to leverage their intellectual capital in the classroom and this is only one. But in classrooms where student voice, engagement or agency are not being fully explored or utilised then PINs presents as a possible mechanism for opening up student-led learning. Our children love PINs, it's powerful and is a fantastic opportunity to allow students to lead their learning.   "I like how we get to learn lots of different things  and we don't have to do just reading, writing and maths everyday" (Janneke, year 2).

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.