Thursday, 11 May 2017

The power of using students to teach digital safety

The power of using students to 
teach digital safety

In a previous blog post, The worry of social media, I talked about my interest in using student voice to help students and parents become informed about social media and more importantly how to be safe on social media.
Consequently I engaged with a small group of Year 8 students and over a period of 6 months we set out to fulfil this mission.
We journeyed through the following stages:
·      Brainstormed what we knew, what we thought we knew and what we needed to find out
·      Researched the topic of social media in general and checked our own knowledge for clarity
·      Perused strategies and tools that others have used
·      Debated and decided on a specific tool
·      Storyboarded the video screens
·      Filmed a number of versions
·      Produced the final cut
The girls borrowed the THINK tool from the ThinkUKnow website in the United Kingdom see below:
This site has a wealth of information for parents and schools.

I particularly like their open-ended questions for students to consider:
1.    What privacy settings do you use on social media?
2.   How can you help protect your friends’ privacy online?
3.   If you see someone post something online which violates someone else’s privacy, what should you do? Is it ok to forward it if it’s really funny?
4.   What do you think about people who post private things in an attempt to get a lot of ‘likes’ or ‘up-votes’?
5.   Have you ever felt embarrassed about something you posted when you were younger?
6.   When joining a site or downloading an app, how do you decide if they are taking good care of your privacy?
7.   Where can you learn more about digital privacy?
8.   Parents sometimes buy things online. How do they know their credit card information is safe?

In New Zealand we have Netsafe, an excellent site for digital citizenship and resources for parents and schools.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Karen Spencer, Director of Education at Netsafe, at the ISNZ conference last week. A main takeaway for me was:
When a student misuses technology on social media do not ban the use of a device; focus on the behaviour not the tool; support and guide them around correct behaviour instead.
I am very proud to officially release the student video from SHS on keeping safe using social media. We plan to use the video as a teaching tool for both our students and our parents.

Please take the time to watch their amazing efforts:

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Smackdowns: Powerful professional learning

Powerful professional learning

According to blogger a punch of professional development, smackdowns are:
… Small punches of information where tips, trick, ideas and wonderings are shared. In many cases a Google Presentation is set up and people are invited to create a slide prior to the event, when the event occurs participants must be prepared to get up in front of the audience and share their slide/knowledge.

 Another source states:
A "Smackdown," during which any willing participant takes the floor for 30 seconds to share an idea, tool, or tip with the crowd. There's typically music, laughing, and cheering as folks try to condense their learning into such a small time frame.  (Scherer, 2016)
I can attest to the notion of laughing and cheering when using this ingenious professional learning activity. Let me explain. Last week our e-learning team leader initiated a smackdown as part of our professional learning day. The email invite read:

A small number of teachers obliged by adding a slide and then a few days later another invite from our e-learning team leader read:

 This email invite convinced the more “humble” teachers and many more slides were added.
In my experience teachers are not only humble but they are also nervous to share their expertise, hence the laughing as they begin their presentation with some form of nervous admission. Our time limit was 2 minutes so it didn’t seem too daunting.
The following is a sample of the GEMS that were shared:

Pocket for curating article links

 A year 6 teacher developed this well-being survey for her students:

Coding in the preschool:

 Online learning in science

 Making a lithophane

Word Art for design

Animales for language development

Using twitter for professional learning

After each teacher shared their GEM we all clapped and offered thanks and appreciation for these new insights.
This half hour of professional learning was exceptionally valuable for the following reasons:
·      It highlighted the fact that all teachers were experts
·      The tools were already considered valuable for learners therefore safe to apply
·      The tools were shared across the whole school – preschool through to year 8
·      The tools were all shared within a specific, authentic learning context
·      The presentations often triggered questions and rich conversation
·      It builds community by reinforcing our culture of relational trust and showing gratitude to each other
·      It was empowering for all teachers
·      We instantly came away with a new tool to enhance learning
·      It is low cost

For the above reasons, I am convinced smackdowns should be a valued and well-utilised form of teacher professional learning in all schools.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

How pedagogy should underpin the innovation of powerful technologies

How pedagogy should underpin the innovation of powerful technologies

We have learnt that introducing a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policy can be fraught with controversy unless it is executed through a robust consultation process, transparency at all levels and most importantly being grounded in how the device will enhance learning. The clear articulation and shared understanding of how the device will impact learning positively, what pedagogy will underpin its use and the agreed safety around use is an important first step. In fact the introduction of any new technology should be underpinned by this process.

In his article Robotics and Artificial Intelligence, Gregory Firn commented:

Cutting-edge technologies like virtual reality, 3D printing and the “Internet of Things” have reached the classroom. While these technologies already have potential to enrich STEM concepts, they often originate from the consumer world and risk standing alone in maker spaces and classroom workshops.

I agree with Firn and in the age of the introduction of modern learning environments/innovative learning environments/flexible learning spaces we are acutely aware that the effective pedagogy that underpins learning, no matter the learning space, must be clearly articulated, shared and consistently applied across the school before utilising these types of future focused spaces.

As an example, acquiring a 3D printer needs to begin with the same question:

How will this new technology enhance learning?

Introducing a 3D printer into existing mental models and practices of teaching and learning may result in usage within a particular learning environment, such as a Maker Space, but only as an end tool to produce an item.

If, however, the 3D printer is integral to carrying out an authentic inquiry based on a real world need, utilising rich task pedagogy and developing transdisciplinary knowledge and skills, then its introduction will enhance learning.

I saw a wonderful example of this last term whereby the year 7 students undertook a unit of inquiry focused on developing an innovation to aid an adult who was a tetraplegic.

The teachers utilised a powerful combination of practice:

inquiry based pedagogy

transdisciplinary learning

design thinking

student agency

authentic constructionist

The students invented and designed a variety of tools to hopefully help improve the quality of life for their subject. Their dedication, enthusiasm and level of innovation was astounding!  Students explored problem solving through trial and error by digitally designing and modifying models on-screen, and revisiting that design after testing and analysing the printed prototype.

The 3D printer making the knife designed by the students
 Key to their success were the 3D printers. These machines were an integral tool that enhanced learning by bringing the students' designs and products to life. They produced a final and tangible product! As a result of this unit we've now got a number of students who can design and print an object completely independently, which is no small thing.

The knife being tested – a great success!

The 3D printer enriches the STEM concept immensely and when introduced within a rich inquiry, a design task with real world application has huge potential to enhance learning. 

George Velez in his article:


A 3D printer will no longer be a rare classroom accessory, or a tool transported from room-to-room on a cart. They will be the center of the classroom makerspace environment. Rather than teachers assigning students a clear objective for building a working 3D model, students will turn to this technology to complete cross-curricular project-based assignments, or to conceptualize algebraic formulas or sequences.

Velez believes 3D printing as a skill recommendation, or even requirement, is expected to become a reality as soon as 2019.

In conclusion, I believe new powerful technologies are a reality of education today. However, ensuring they are not just a fad driven purchase but introduced to enhance effective future focused pedagogy is key!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Helping girls to lean in

This week I asked my lead team to offer ideas for my principal’s assembly that I host at the beginning of each term. I choose a focus in order to introduce a specific value or attitude for the girls to work on or develop throughout the term. In effect it becomes our mantra for the term and has included phrases like the power of yet and I want to see you be brave.
The teachers talked about helping girls to have the courage to stand up for what they need and want. They want girls to believe in themselves and in their talents. They want girls to be confident and to make their own good choices.
The teacher’s discussion reminded me of Sheryl Sandberg’s text Lean In:  Women, Work and the Will to Lead which describes the challenges women face in trying to get ahead. Sandberg argues that internal obstacles, such as lack of self-confidence, hold women back and consequently women lower their expectations of what they can achieve.

Helping girls to make that transition from seeking continual approval and advice from parents or teachers to making their own good choices and being confident in their own abilities is a delicate but essential developmental stage. As educators we need to provide activities and strategies that allow a great deal of practice to succeed and fail but ultimately empower our students to be confident in their own skin to make good choices.
How do we do this?
Firstly, by ensuring our school’s pastoral care programme is underpinned by the development of key social and emotional core competencies such as self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills and social awareness (

The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) Key Competencies and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Programme (PYP) Learner Profile are two examples of how a curriculum can be underpinned by key social and emotional competencies.


Secondly, by utilising programmes such as Pubertal Change, Bounce Back, Keeping Ourselves Safe, Friends for Life, OWLS etc. across the school and deliberately timetabling the yearly programmes across year groups. These deliberate acts of teaching and comprehensive programmes will ensure a dedicated approach to pastoral care and the development of confident students who have self-belief and make good choices.

 My mantra for term 2 is LEAN IN! My mantra poster that will be prominent in all classrooms to reinforce the message looks like, see below:


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Meaningfully connecting with students

As a leader of your school, are you meaningfully connecting with your students?

As leaders we know that relationships are at the core of everything we do in our schools. Building a healthy school culture based on relational trust and core values is paramount and meaningfully connecting to our students everyday should be our aim.

I received the note below from a student and it not only made my heart sing it reinforced my belief around taking the time to personally connect with my students everyday:

So, how do we best make that meaningful connection?

Simple advice from the net:
George Couros – The Principal of Change
Couros’ 6 ways to connect:

1.     Welcome the kids when they arrive. Wave goodbye when they leave.
2.     Your first interaction with a student should always be a positive one.
3.     Talk as little as possible using questioning to allow the student to share their story.
4.      Use humour to deal with situations any chance you can.
5.     Do the walk – everyday if possible.
6.     Kids will love you if they know you love them.

Jessica and John Hannigan – US Educational Consultants on Leadership
10 easy ways for school leaders to connect with students:

1.     Talk to students daily – know their name, ask questions, listen to their stories.
2.     Eat lunch with students.
3.     Be visible.
4.     Greet students.
5.     Take time to get to know students and their families.
6.     Support your students at school events.
7.     Have classroom chats or chats with groups of students regarding current and serious topics on a daily basis.
8.     Play a game with them at lunch or participate in school activities.
9.     Be there for them if they need you.
1. Positive phone calls home.

Going a little deeper:

James Alan Sturtevant – You’ve Gotta Connect!

He asks:
Do you share your own life with your students?
How do you show that you value their individual cultures?
How do you differentiate relationship building with different students?
How do you embrace challenging behaviours, difficult times, set backs?
Do you compare present students with past students?

Sturtevant’s best practice:

When you share parts of your life students will feel comfortable and share their own.
Enquire and learn about their interests, passions, leisure activities, and family life so that they get a sense that you value them.
Just accept that some relationships will form quickly and others will take time.
Respectfully resolving problems will ensure strong valuable connections are formed and maintained.
Focus on the gifts and needs of your present students rather than comparing the present cohort to the past.

The key word regarding connection is meaningful.
It is relatively easy to adhere to the simple advice offered above but forming meaningful connections requires not only planned, dedicated, sustained effort over time but also should go hand-in-hand with developing strong student voice opportunities.
 have written a blog post previously on meaningful student involvement and provided tools such as the Ladder of Participation and the Spectrum of Student Voice Oriented Activity Model to gauge your current school level of student involvement.
Personally, as a principal I have found the following practice as key to meaningful student connection:

·      Every day, purposefully aim to engage with students on a personal level through asking, listening, watching, and sharing stories
·      Play (in a broader sense) with students, no matter their age
·      Be the greeter – welcome and acknowledge with a warm smile encouraging interaction
·      Schedule frequent class walk through visits otherwise, if left to chance, they won’t happen
·      Host lunch sessions to get feedback
·      Attend extra curricular school activities organised by students to offer your support
·      Personally thank students for any service to the school no matter how small
·      Try to learn as many names as possible as well as personal passions/interests
·      Share your own personal passions/interests with students
·      Offer guidance, support and be a mentor to your students

And remember …