Tuesday, 21 February 2017

7 ways to ensure meaningful student involvement leading to school improvement

Definition of meaningful student involvement:

It is the process of engaging students as partners in every facet of the education system for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community and democracy.

Is it simply student voice?
That is, any expression by any student about any aspect of school life.
Is it student engagement?
That is, when a student feels excited and motivated to learn.
Is it student consultation?
That is, listening to student’s opinions about school.
Is it student participation?
That is, students committed to taking part in all aspects of learning
Or, is it a combination of all of the above?

No, it isn’t!
It is a deeper more committed active process that
leads to school improvement!

 So, what can meaningful student involvement look like?

1. Students as researchers!
Firstly, I have blogged about this before but I passionately believe training older students undertake learning walks to gather and analyse data about learning results in a meaningful research partnership leading to improved student outcomes.

2. Students as curriculum planners!
Again, I believe passionately that students should have the opportunity to plan units of inquiry, with teachers, to ensure prior knowledge and student interest is acknowledged and build into any rich inquiry tasks.

3. Students as advocates for change!
Empowering students to take meaningful action locally and globally is a necessary future focused practice. Offering students rich, complex, real world problems to solve and supporting them to take action will lead to meaningful commitment to service, as opposed to, low level giving through muffin stalls and mufti days to donate to causes.

4. Students as co-researchers with the teacher!
I believe all teacher inquiries should be informed by student voice and opinion. We consult widely to gather research and ideas in answer to our wonderings and inquiries but how often do we share our research with our students and seek their advice, ideas and opinions?

5. Students as culture builders!
In New Zealand we are great advocates of peer mediation and a variety of buddy systems in our schools designed to help students support each other and grow respectful, caring relationships. Tick this one off ü

6. Students as eco-warriors!
Again, in New Zealand, we have a strong philosophy and practice developing our students as respectful environmental citizens who are informed and have developed a consciousness and awareness of the world’s rapidly changing physical challenges and sustainable practice. 
Tick this one off ü

7. Students as teachers!
We know peer teaching has an effect size of .55 (Hattie, 2011). So why do we not utilise this valuable practice more?

I challenge all teachers to answer the following:
·      How often in a school day are your students teaching each other?

·      What opportunities do you provide for students to lead the learning, instead of yourself, throughout the day?

·      Have you consciously timed the teacher talk time/mat time in your class over a school day?

·      Do you start a lesson/activity with “We are going to investigate/learn about ……. Who would like to share their knowledge/skills about this topic/concept/strategy?

·      How often in a school day do you bring closure to a lesson by asking your students to reflect and share/question/explain their learning to other peers?

Together, the 7 ways to ensure meaning student involvement will result in some form of school improvement and definitely bring real teacher/student partnership in learning to life!

Rate your level of student involvement against the ladder of participation below:

Friday, 10 February 2017

Leading through our inner critic voice and self doubt

Leading through our inner critic voice and self doubt

Over the Christmas break I read a book, highly recommended by my Board Chair, called Playing Big by Tara Mohr.

 Reading this book has had a profound effect on my well being and confidence as a leader. Why? Because for the first time in my life it introduced me to my inner critic and helped me to develop an awareness and acceptance of its power and destructiveness!
I believe, like many women, I have developed over many years, a voice in my head that constantly criticises and undermines my confidence and abilities. Why have I allowed this to develop? Why is it so loud and dominating? Why can’t I ignore this inner critic voice? Why have I lived most of my life with self-doubt?
I could blame it on my up bringing (a dominant father), or as a result of my generation, or as a result of gender inequality. However, I learnt that the source of the inner critic is not important; how you manage it is the key.
Tara tells the goal isn’t to get rid of the inner critic. The goal is to learn how to hear those crazy thoughts and self-doubts, know them for what they are, and not let them determine what you do!

 Working through Playing Big enabled me to develop a new voice in my head called my inner mentor! My inner mentor is a combination of all the attributes of the people in my life whom I respect and admire - teachers, principals, colleagues, family, friends, heroes … I visualise how they might handle the situation and what they would advise me to do. Combined, they help me to banish my self-doubt!
Tara Mohr, advises the reader, when faced with a challenge or stressful situation to acknowledge the inner critic voice and then to replace it with the inner mentor’s positive, calm and confident voice.
Just becoming fully aware of my inner critic voice and having a strategy to combat it is personally, very powerful. I check in with my inner mentor regularly and know, over time, my inner critic voice will fade and lose its power over me.
Finally, I have an inner voice of wisdom, calm and guidance. I can truly be a self-confident leader, positively aware of my abilities and empowered to spread the message!

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The inspiration of one word goals

The inspiration of one word goals

 Over the Christmas New Year holiday break I spent a relaxing time catching up on a large number of texts, blogs and online articles that had literally been piling up over the latter part of 2016.

In one article, sorry I didn’t note the source, I read about the value of one word goals. Like their students, teachers are asked to set goals for the year often based on their teacher inquiries and/or professional learning next steps. They can become wordy, onerous and sometimes, if they are disparate, become meaningless over time.

The beauty of a one word goal is when you choose a single word you have a single focus. The one word should sum up your essence and focus as a teacher or leader for 2017. It will be your mantra, your defining intention to guide you and shape you all year long.

Why? Because you will remember it! It will stick with you! It will gain meaning, especially if you stylise it into a poster and keep it prominent.

I thought I would try out this idea with my teachers at teacher only day this week.
I did refine the idea, as is my way, by allowing one or two words followed by a sentence explaining what the goal’s intention was. I shared my own 2017 two word goal:

Give globally

I want to give in the global sense of wide reaching ways, e.g. through my blog I hope to inspire, inform and challenge educators across the world and I also want to volunteer (give) in my local community.

I asked each teacher to define their one/two word goal and we displayed them on a large chart. See below:

Our next step is to make posters of our one word/two word goals in order to stay focused and to grow its value through the actions we take throughout 2017.

I am very proud to publish their goals, with their consent, see below:

Inspire: I want to be inspired by my learners and in turn inspire them to love learning.

 Challenge Thinking: Challenge my own thinking as well as push myself to further my knowledge and teaching.

Learning Journey: To expand my education personally and professionally, by learning from others, my environment and university.

Reggio Approach: To delve deeper into my understanding of Reggio, and look at the ways SHPS can incorporate this more into curriculum - so we are balanced with Te Whariki, IB and Reggio.

Present & Effective: To be present in moments and listen more towards effective practice.

 Balance: Effective balance between work rest and play through compartmentalisation, time management and honouring self.

New experiences: It's time to try some new things in my teaching and how I think abut teaching.

Lighten Up: Build relationships, get to really know my girls and focus on their well-being, happiness and sense of pride in themselves. Fun!

Healthier & Interested: learn more about e-learning to enhance my learning with the children.

Connections: Inspire To build connections in class, across team and further afield.  Inspire girls to learn and push their learning beyond what they thought they were capable of achieving.

Simplify: I want to focus on the things I know are important and make them wonderful!

Prioritise: So much to do, so little time … What will make the biggest difference? What is important?  What can we let go?  What can be delegated?

Alongside & Caring: Learn alongside students, caring for their needs.

Order: To create order and structure/routines to enable creativity and space for brilliance.

Balance: Small steps moving through the year making sure I have a good balance with family/friends, work and health.

Altruism & Empathy: Fostering the love and care within the group and capturing moments digitally for sharing within our family and community.

Challenge & Practical: To ensure the learners in my care have practical and relevant experiences.

Sharing& Joy: Finding joy and excitement in the small learning experiences and successes.  Celebrating and sharing these moments with our school, local and extended community.

Opportunity: I'm excited to embrace all the new of this year - team teaching; 1:1 devices; UNESCO; a second year with my girls; hopefully a new home.

Serious Creativity: This is the title of a de Bono book, which maps to the fact that I would like to use creative strategies to teach, and have creative projects happening both in and out of school.

Relationships: Taking time to spend more time tuning in to people.  Valuing each interaction.

Challenges:  Myself in terms of involvement in school and community. Students - inspiring and motivating with new ideas.

Positive:  Positive outlook; positive results; positive difference.

Independence/SRL Drive: Children who are goal focussed, driven, know what they can/should be doing at each moment.  Good class systems in place to ensure they can be inspired and excited.

Grow: I want to continue growing and learning as a teacher and create more opportunities for students to grow and be self regulated.

Documentation/Paper work: Reflecting on how I/we document the children’s learning in a Reggio Emilia sense through ICT.

Growth: Grow the 'gifted programmes' and our girls’ awareness of strengths.  Grow my own professional knowledge.

Friday, 9 December 2016


Take ownership of your own virtual space and become a COOL school

Please note:  COOL = community of online learning 

Our new strategic plan is the culmination of a comprehensive school wide consultation over an 18-month period. Strategic collaborative processes and meetings in various formats with parents, teachers and students were held in order to ensure co-authorship across the wide range of stakeholders (see my previous blog post). Consultation groups varied in size and structure in order to build a plan without the imposition of a pre-developed model and content.

Our aim was to respect the past, celebrate the present and embrace the future. In order to embrace the future we based our consultation around the latest trends and predictions not only from the world of education but also from the multiple viewpoints of the worlds of business, finance, and IT.

The provocations certainly challenged our thinking and allowed us to envisage a future radically different to today. Watch the video below which describes what a 2023 year 8 student may look like. 

Utilising foresight strategy has allowed us to consider potential future events, technological advancements and envisage the skills, knowledge and social competencies our students will need in their future lives. This has culminated in the development of a dynamic visionary strategic plan that will future proof our students ensuring they are equipped with the skills and knowledge to be globally minded learners and leaders of the future. 

A small selection of our strategic plan’s main aspirational goals include:

Learning is in multiple places 24/7

Teachers are cutting edge e-learning designers & implementers

Students are regarded as leaders in the community and globally, as they work alongside mentors & experts using their transdisciplinary skills to take action for the betterment of others & the planet

In order to achieve these goals we have mapped out a 3 year plan with specific actions and evaluation markers to keep our journey on track and dynamic. We are mindful that:

Future approaches to learning need to educate the whole person, considering not just what learners need to succeed in school, but what they need to be a successful person. We must also find ways to personalize learning in community, creating opportunities for students to connect and contribute locally and globally – and to show how their activities demonstrate learning. Our approaches to learning and coordination must be flexible and adaptable, putting what’s best for the student and the community, rather than what’s traditional, at the center.
(KnowledgeWorks, 2016)

In order to achieve our strategic goals we will in effect need to take ownership of our own virtual space as we develop a COOL, our own community of online learning.

Exciting times!!


Wednesday, 16 November 2016

5 ideas to broaden, challenge and inform teacher practice

 In November of each year I enjoy facilitating a professional learning day for my teachers designed to celebrate, challenge and inspire good practice.
Idea 1 – Celebrating change in practice
We began the day celebrating how we were reflective, open minded, risk taking, thinkers and inquirers and grew our practice in 2016. Recently, I met with each teacher and asked them the following:
Tell me about your growth as a teacher this year through your teacher inquiry focus

What has been the most valuable change to your practice this year?

What still challenges you?
I was humbled and amazed at their honesty and professionalism as they shared their inquiry journey, new learning’s and challenges. I later collated all their teacher comments into one document, ensuring anonymity and their approval, and presented it to them to read as a celebration of our professionalism and growth as teachers over this past year. We noted the synergies and connections of their individual teacher inquiries that together represented a whole school inquiry, school wide change in practice and positive student impact.

 Idea 2 – using our own strengths and talents to harness our students’ strengths
Next, in line with our focus on a strengths based education, we intentionally set out to discover our own talents and strengths in order to help our students do the same in learning and achieve optimal levels of personal excellence. I gave teachers the Myers-Briggs Sixteen Personality Types as a handout to help them define their own personality traits.

The teachers used a proforma, see below, to formulate their individual signature strengths and pedagogical gifts narrative that they then shared with each other.

 After recognising and articulating their own signature strengths the teachers were asked to brainstorm ideas on how to find out, harness and teach through the lens of their students’ strengths. They brainstormed:
We will ensure we know each student’s talents and strengths through ….
To ensure we approach learning from a strengths lens we will …
To stimulate their thinking I gave them an example from whatedsaid blog post full of reflective questions that would give a teacher great insight into their students strengths and passions, see below.

 Idea 3 – looking at my classroom through a socio-cultural lens
Next I took my teachers on another tangent but still related to learner-centered practice. I provided an article by Mark Osborne (CORE Education) who discusses the socio-cultural and pedagogical environment of our innovative learning environments. He includes a number of reflective questions teachers could ask themselves about their learning environments set out under the cultural competency headings. For example:
AKO - Are there enough writeable surfaces for all learners to be teachers and vice-versa?
Whanaungatanga – How does the environment foster the deepening of relationships and a sense of belonging and connection?
Teachers read, highlighted, reflected, connected to their own practice and discussed the article with their peers.

Idea 4 – a different perspective on student collaboration
I then challenged their thinking around COLLABORATION! I recently came across the Tedx talk Why collaboration is an individual effort (Emily Eldridge) that offers another viewpoint on student collaboration that resonated with many of us.
Watch it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmGn2X9SETk 

Idea 5 – clarifying our shared understanding of key terminology
Finally we grew our common understanding around key pedagogical terms. I used the World Café tablecloth model to facilitate our thinking. Individually teachers defined 4 terms:
Learner centered education, Learner agency, Learning anytime, anywhere and Personalised learning.
After they had formulated their definitions and shared with their group I then gave them a copy of the Practitioner’s Lexicon – What is meant by key terminology (Education Reimagined, October 2016). I asked them to review particular pages and check the definition offered and then edit/add to their own definition and re-share.

This is a technical document that clarifies key terms based on a vision for learner-centered education crafted by a group of ideologically diverse educationalists across multiple models, disciplines and perspectives. It can be found at:

How do you broaden, challenge and inform teacher practice at your school?

Thursday, 27 October 2016

As a leader, how do you build trust within your school?

Trust in schools comes down to one thing: psychological safety By this I mean safety to speak one’s mind, to discuss with openness and honesty what is and isn’t working, to make collective decisions, to take risks, to fail—all things researchers tell us are required for deep organizational change and transformation.
(Zakrzewski, 2015)

We are all very aware of the fact that trust and collegiality form the basis of a healthy school culture. Research tells us that teachers who report high levels of trust with their colleagues also express a greater openness to innovations. As leaders, whether a principal, DP, AP, Team Leader, curriculum leader, any type of leader in fact, one of your roles is to build trust so that respectful relationships, rich conversations, collaboration and new practices thrive.

Good schools depend heavily on cooperative endeavors. Relational trust is the connective tissue that binds individuals together to advance the education and welfare of students. Improving schools requires us to think harder about how best to organize the work of adults and students so that this connective tissue remains healthy and strong.
(Bryk & Shneider, 2003)

Your colleagues have every right to feel safe and supported as you lead them to examine their practice, consider new practice and bring about change to improve outcomes for your students. Research also points that the growth of trust is correlated to gains in school productivity or increased student achievement.

How do you build trust over time and ensure it is embedded in the “way of being” at your school?

We can all start by looking at our own leadership practice.
Hallam et al. 2015, define the five facets of trust as benevolence, honesty, openness, reliability, and competence. They define each facet based on the experiences of teachers in their study. Together the facets offer insight into the leadership behaviours that engender trust.

Be brave and use the tool below to rate your ability, as a leader, to build trust!

Hopefully the rating exercise will make you more aware of trust building behaviours and highlight areas that you can improve.

One more point to consider:

Do you as a leader ensure all new leaders, no matter how small the initiative, understand organisational change before they begin leading?
Do you as a leader ensure all new leaders have the tools and strategies for driving change before they begin leading?

If your answer is no, why not?

Allowing new leaders study time to read an Andy Hargreaves or Michael Fullan text on organisational change is the least we should be doing.


The bottom line is:

Investing in professional learning for new leaders is invaluable and will ensure successful change and growth of your school.