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: 

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.

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 (,

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  -

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 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.