Tuesday, 20 September 2016

7 shots of awe

7 shots of awe
A principal’s eye

After being totally inspired by Jason Silva’s awe-inducing videos (http://thisisjasonsilva.com/),

I decided to capture shots of awe over a week long period and write a sentence to describe each one.
Day one - Sunday, heading off to principal’s conference at the beautiful Hanmer Springs.
Shot of awe – sitting outside surrounded by the awesome beauty of Hanmer Springs catching up with awesome collegial friends.

Day two – Monday, day one of our well-being conference.
Shot of Awe - listening, learning and having rich conversations with my colleagues as we take time to understand and reflect on our practice and our well being using the Durie model below.

Day three – Tuesday, a confronting dose of reality regarding our personal well being and feeling the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of my colleagues towards improving their health and well being in practical but life changing ways.
Shot of awe – one speaker taught us the importance of breathing deeply and we watched in awe as Mingyur Rinpoche, Tibetan Buddhist Master, beautifully and succinctly explained how a breath is actually meditation (see below  - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOJTbWC-ULc).

Day four – Wednesday, back at school and the year 6 Exhibition dinner.
Shot of awe – watching 10 year old girls plan, prepare and run a formal dinner for their parents including entertainment and a silent auction – awe inspiring!

Day five – interviewing teachers for positions in our school.
Shot of awe – being inspired by beginning teachers who are passionate, caring and highly enthusiastic - education is in good hands.

Day six – Grand parents day.
Shot of awe – the look of absolute delight on our grand parent’s faces as they were entertained while sharing the learning journey of their grand daughters – oh so lucky to have the privilege.

Day seven – Saturday, home time.
Shot of awe – time to walk in the park and be grateful for the wonderful shots of awe we encounter every day!

I challenge you all to open your eyes and note down your own shots of awe over the next seven days.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Rich transdisciplinary learning - how two teachers are future proofing our students

Rich transdisciplinary learning – how two teachers are future proofing our students

Authentic and relevant learning, new perspectives, current issues within the context of multiple disciplines are all features of transdisciplinary learning

greenwich.wikispaces.net defines it concisely as:

Transdisciplinary learning is the exploration of a relevant issue or problem that integrates the perspectives of multiple disciplines in order to connect new knowledge and deeper understanding to real life experiences.


We all know that the skills our students will need in their future lives are problem solving, creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and the ability to think like a polymath (see my previous blog “We should be developing our students as polymaths, tinkers and dabblers”). A polymath utilizes their skills and knowledge across a significant number of different subject areas to solve problems.

I am proud to present a real example of how teachers can effectively achieve transdisciplinary learning. What follows is their letter to parents informing them of their approach to teaching mathematics at year 7.

Dear Parents,

As teachers, we have been delighted to see the increasing levels of engagement our students are expressing in Maths this year. No doubt your daughter has been telling you what has been happening in class, so we now would like to provide you with some of the context behind our current maths programme.

Year 7 has had a strong focus on authentic learning using rich learning tasks this year. Research from around the world, and particularly from Stanford University, has shown that the best learning happens when students are engaged in these types of activities. As a vehicle for this learning, our Year 7 students have entered the Class Project section of the 2016 Cantamaths exhibition. The theme of Cantamaths this year is ‘Why Maths?’ This theme is highly relevant to our goal of authentic learning, so the girls were asked to undertake a design project that would showcase how prevalent maths is in their lives.

They were asked to build a new set of book shelves for the library that are dynamic, interesting to look at, reflected other subject areas and captured the imaginations of library users. They have designed and built seven book boxes, arranged as a tangram that can be moved around the floor to create pictures and shapes. To do this they have had to understand and apply a large number of interrelated maths concepts, as shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Concepts and skills used when making the library book boxes

As shown in Figure 1, these skills almost always involved decimal fractions and were completed using mental and written strategies only - no calculators.

 Teaching peers a strategy

This is an Inquiry-based approach, which is a cornerstone of learning at our school and the Primary Years Programme. All of the rich tasks that the girls have been exposed to this year (e.g. their helicopters, the dinosaur theme park, Cantamaths) have allowed for multiple levels of the curriculum to be taught simultaneously, so that each student’s needs can be met at the appropriate level. Students are often pushed to understand harder maths concepts at an earlier stage.

Research shows us that the benefits of this strategy are manifold, and include:
  • Students are encouraged to think more deeply about the maths they are undertaking, rather than rush through more and more work. The emphasis is on quality over quantity.
  • It requires the students to think abstractly and practically, rather than simply reproducing methods.
  • The mathematics involved is more interpretive, there is more than one answer, leading to a deeper understanding of the problems faced. There is also more than one way to reach the answer. Students are given time to share their strategies with the class.
  • It has been found that a high number of students being taught in this way continue on to take advanced maths, because of their improved attitude and understanding.
 Working through the problem

In addition, the Cantamaths project dovetails nicely with our school-wide focus of improving the mindset of girls towards maths and maths-related subjects.

Interestingly, in our staff school-wide professional development this year, a year 8 teacher has been interviewing secondary school HODs at our local secondary schools and has been made aware that students are finding difficulty when they get to level 2 NCEA because they are unable to problem solve and relate maths to real-life problems. In some cases this has even prompted the schools to move towards a more inquiry-based learning approach.

The finished tangram bookshelf!

Next Steps
It is important to acknowledge that many secondary schools still use a different model of learning to the PYP programme, and that our students need to be equipped to work in this environment where rich learning tasks are less common. So that our students are practiced in the more traditional teaching methods, we will be interspersing them into the Maths programme once CantaMaths is complete. However, as rich and authentic learning tasks are demonstrably beneficial to the students we will continue to make this a part of the programme.

As Artificial Intelligence becomes more advanced and machines continue their steady rise up the skills ladder, the future workplace will require more creative, and less routine, thinkers. This project has added another layer of rich experience for the students to learn in.

If you have any queries regarding any of the above, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Yours sincerely…

Instead of viewing mathematics as a set of methods that students need to observe, learn, practice and remember, the two teachers regard mathematics as a way of working with many different dimensions. Opportunities for students to work collaboratively in groups are integral to rich tasks and allow opportunities for students to develop deep understanding through substantive conversations. The bookshelves look fantastic but more importantly the mathematical learning was deep, rich, meaningful and transdisciplinary.
The teachers are future proofing our students ensuring they have the necessary skills to work successfully in an, as yet, unknown workplace.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Instructional, transformational – what is effective school leadership?

Last week during an informal discussion a teacher told me he had the typical end of school holiday blues as the holidays were coming to an end. However, after volunteering to take part in a teacher future focused think tank session he felt invigorated and excited at coming back to school.

Facilitating the session I too noticed the buzz of the group as they discussed and developed futuristic next steps for our school. We got swept away on a futuristic wave but feel confident that it won’t be a dream but a reality of our own making. Helping your staff to share an inspirational future focused vision is, I believe, a key feature of effective school leadership (see table below).

This invigorating session with staff made me ponder AGAIN, how this connects to my leadership practice and was this type of activity a key feature of effective leadership?

Recently I read an extract from Stephen Dinham’s new text (to be released in August) titled Leading Learning and Teaching. The text has been recommended as a “must read” by Professor John Hattie and Professor Alma Harris, two highly respected educationalists.

 After reading the extract I reflected on the following points:

·      School leaders can play major roles in creating the conditions in which teachers can teach effectively and students can learn (extract)

My reflection – “creating conditions” are the operative words here. As leaders we are constantly creating situations or environments to ensure our schools are operating to the highest standard possible for the betterment of all. Creating optimum conditions for learning and teaching is paramount to catering for the demands and diversity of our stakeholder groups and also the disruptive nature of our working day.

·      A meta-analysis of 35 years of research indicates that school leadership has a substantial effect on student achievement (extract)

My reflection – Professor John Hattie rated school leadership 0.39 effect size. The operative words are “substantial effect”  - this can be positive or negative effect!

·      Despite great enthusiasm for structural arrangements such as middle schools, mixed ability groupings and open classrooms, it is the quality of teaching that occurs within such structures, and the leadership that guides and supports it, that is most important in improving student achievement (extract)

My reflection – Developing, guiding and supporting shared effective pedagogy underpinning all teaching, consistent across the whole school, is the most important leadership practice after culture building.

·      A highly effective teacher can work within almost any structural arrangement, while a poor teacher will not suddenly become a good one due to some change in how their class or school is organised (extract)

My reflection – we know that developing effective modern practice should always precede the development of modern learning environments. Support for teachers to develop and change practice in line with future focused trends is worth the investment.

·      Instructional leadership has three to four times more positive impact on student outcomes (extract)

My reflection – Today’s trend to focus on instructional leadership qualities is context driven but I know my own leadership style has grown and adapted to the different contexts and experiences over the years evolving into a mix of transformational, relational and instructional.

·      Today, leadership is seen as central and essential to delivering the changes, improvement and performance society increasingly expects of all organisations, including schools (extract)

My reflection – I agree. Unfortunately as the world tries to adapt to fast paced technological change, the rapid growth of social media, extreme weather patterns and violent disruptive forces, almost daily, the burden on schools is heavier than ever before. Therefore, as leaders we must know and utilise effective leadership practice in order to survive these challenging times.

So, what human centred leadership features and practice should we focus on?

Put simply, in my opinion, school leadership involves the following key features and practice:

The key ingredient is TIME! Take time to do all of the above in a planned, open, systematic manner to ensure relational trust forms the basis of all school development & growth.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

The era of the selfie
Why empathy is the key attribute of the future

Empathy can be defined as:

The ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Basically an empathetic person can understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.

In his book The Road to Character (2016) David Brooks states that people have become less empathetic with students scoring 40 percent lower than their predecessors in the 1970s. The biggest drop came in the years after 2000.

Alongside this he notes that google word usage has seen a sharp rise in individualist words and phrases like “self” and “personalised”, “I come first” and “I can do it myself”. “Community”, “share”, “united” and “common good” have had a sharp decline.

Brooks offers the following word research:

Character, conscience & virtue
declined over the course of the 20th century
declined by 49%
declined by 52%
declined by 56%

Almost 75 percent of American students today rate themselves as less empathic than the average student 30 years ago.

However, Konrath and Twenge (2010) state:

 “The fact that empathy is declining means that there’s more fluidity to it than previously thought,” she says. “It means that empathy can change. It can go up.”

have had the privilege of attending a variety of professional learning opportunities over the past few weeks ranging from a conference with a focus on creativity and technology, a two-day workshop on learning talk in the workplace and a two day seminar on design thinking. Quite diverse topics and speakers but a defining feature of all the presentations was how important empathetic understanding was and will be for citizens of the future.

After two days of professional learning with Joan Dalton (Australian educational guru) and colleagues, studying learning talk and important conversations at work, I believe the main messages were:
  • ·      be open to sharing your own understandings and thinking
  • ·      be open to feedback and critique about your understandings and thinking
  • ·      use valid evidence to make assumptions and judgements (perspective taking)
  • ·      be open to and know how to probe and challenge respectfully
  • ·      develop shared protocols and model them

and, ultimately

  • ·      use invitational language to build and strengthen relationships

On reflection, all of the above behaviours build empathy and relational trust.

I then attended the ISNZ Conference and listened to a variety of speakers including Dr Swee Tan and Dr Clemency Montelle. These inspirational researchers and teachers have utilised their passions, knowledge and deep seated empathy to help and inspire others.

Finally, I spent two days at a Design Thinking seminar listening to a variety of speakers across education and business as they presented their key messages and strategies to engage in the design process. The main messages were:
  • ·      begin any design process from a human centred perspective
  • ·      lead the process from a values based perspective
  • ·      plan using a variety of stakeholder lens
  • ·      use specific tools develop a participatory culture

Again, on reflection the main messages emphasised a human centred approach and creating and sharing together aimed to build collective productivity based on empathy.

So, collectively the intense period of professional learning and reading all supposedly unrelated, emphasized to me the importance empathy and empathetic understanding will be in the future life of our students.

Below is my planning checklist to ensure we continue to help our students develop empathy:

A checklist for developing empathy & empathetic understanding – ensure your activities allow learners the opportunity (overtime) to:

develop shared protocols of behaviour and model/practice them

be open to feedback and critique about their understandings and thinking

gather valid evidence to make assumptions and judgements (perspective taking)

be open to and know how to probe and challenge respectfully

be open to sharing their own understandings and thinking

identify and use invitational language to build and strengthen relationships

utilise their passions and knowledge to help others

begin any design process from a human centred perspective taking inspiration from real people

approach the design process from a values based perspective

plan using a variety of stakeholder lens

use specific tools to develop a participatory culture

Still not convinced?
Watch the following you tube video

“ Empathy can change the world” made by year 8 students:


Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The worry of social media

As a principal I feel the burden of student use of social media and portable devices weighing heavier by the day! As open-minded, future focused educationalists we have embraced social media and portable devices engaging and up skilling in order to keep abreast of the fast pace of technological advances being mindful of how it enhances teaching and learning.

We began our journey from a protectionist viewpoint employing “nannying” software, firewalls, and maintaining a policy of locking and blocking. There is now a movement towards helping students to be well informed and developing a responsible digital citizen mindset.

Schools have developed common sense, professionally informed, effective policy and procedure guidelines for using social media and portable devices safely, with effect.

So, why am I worried? Because every day I see evidence that young students are online in various ways posting photos, comments and video to the world without a real understanding of the possible long lasting ramifications of their actions. No matter how many digital lessons and confronting examples we provide them with they still continue to post with abandon and have a blind sense of trust in their audience.

I believe some parents are unaware of their responsibilities to keep their child/children safe online out of school hours and they lack knowledge of how to go about it. It is a huge job as a parent to effectively monitor and control their children’s online activity as well as up skill, engage and embrace the many forms of social media growing by the day.

Dr Wallace Bain, who helped develop the Harmful Digital Communications Act introduced into New Zealand in 2015 stated recently:

The devotion kids have to social media these days is astounding. Increasingly we are seeing people say, do and write things they would never do to another person’s face.

Importantly research points out that cyber bullying is more common in young people because the frontal cortex of their brains has not fully developed. The frontal cortex assesses risk and when it is not fully developed, people are less likely to consider the consequences of their words or actions.

So, we can continue to employ various programmes, experts and tools to help educate and inform our young students when in reality their understanding and ability to act accordingly is compromised.

We do need to continue to be engaged, up skilled and aware of the latest trends in social media in order to keep abreast at least of this exponential growth in on line communication.

We do need also to continue to provide education opportunities for parents and encourage them to engage and monitor their children’s on line behaviour.

What else can we possibly do, you ask?

A possible solution:

I am keen to use student voice to get the message across. We know the power of student voice and engagement.

So, how?

By facilitating a senior student led unit of inquiry designed to ultimately produce an interactive educational module on social media for their younger peers.

This would lead them to curate their own research, data gathering, expert informed body of information that could then be packaged in a highly engaging interactive manner suitable for younger students.

The process of developing this module would certainly impact on student understanding, as we know students constructing their own knowledge have a far greater effect on their learning than simply assimilating the information from a teacher.

Author unknown

However, I believe the most powerful effect would be through
student empowerment.

The senior students would in effect act on their own information and have a conscious reason to think before interacting on social media.

The module could also become a parent education tool allowing families to learn together and have a shared understanding and awareness of social media issues.

I intend to trial this idea and will gladly share the outcome.