Thursday, 15 September 2016

Ideas overflowing?

How do you feel after amazing professional development? Is your brain churning with ideas, enthusiasm and passion? Are you eager to get back to your class or school and get to work on something new, maybe even share it with others...

Do ideas, innovation and creativity come easily?

I remember feeling like that after the first #Edchatnz conference in 2014, Steve Mouldey had described it as being like an excited puppy. #Edchatnz 2014 resonated with me. (see posts on the Education Revolution challenge, Continuing the PD or even the Blogging Meme challenge I initiated).

Professionally and personally, working in a collaborative environment is challenging but it also brings a new level to interpreting professional development. This other set of eyes can see things differently and may not always agree, whilst this may seem unhelpful it actually provides a filter that is absolutely necessary to reach flow in a collaborative space.

I've recently returned from visiting four schools where we (I went with three colleagues) investigated the use of space, learning design, collaborative teaching and any other gems that we could find. It was as much about reflecting on our own practice as it was about what these other schools and teachers do. When I'd been told about the trip my I'd got all excited puppy but started to realise I can't just come back wanting to change the world one learning common at a time. How was I going to filter this zest and not just appear like a magpie collecting shiny new things?

  • Filter 1 was a little visual we keep in LC4. This allows me to really consider the worth of some things that I see/hear about on PD. Some ideas are great for moment, and best left there.

  • Filter 2 is simply thinking about the Why? How is secondary and often there is many ways of achieving the same result.

  • Filter 3 is priorities. What is worth implementing straight away and what ought to be parked for another day, term or even year?

My aim for this post isn't sharing all the shiny new things this magpie collected, or even reminding you of some old school ideas that are still solid. The takeaway I hope you'll get is in considering what your own filters or processes are for evaluating what ideas you take back to your own school and thinking about the impact of these ideas on others around you. As I'd headed off to see these schools the buzz of the second #Edchatnz conference was entering day two. Twitter was awash with lots of excited puppies, I felt a pang of jealousy and then wondered how many of these passionate souls would go back to colleagues that wouldn't share the enthusiasm or couldn't understand your excitement. It's not about having ideas, its about what we do with them.

On my journey I began reading Originals by Adam Grant, a book all about ideas, innovation and the investigates what enables or prohibits creativity.

Early on Grant discusses how some people readily accept their role in an organisation as a fixed predetermined entity, whilst others consider these as merely the default settings and that these can be adapted, fine tuned, personalised and ultimately add value to the role. "Starting point is curiosity: pondering why the default exists in the first place..." and goes on that if we consider some of what we face with a new lens then we may find alternative solutions to regular problems in our workplace. For some of our children this is necessary, some pedagogy we know brings results, yet others require different approaches. This is why we need to explore, innovate and consider the Why when we contemplate a new approach.

New ideas are threats to old practices and this can be a barrier to sharing too, Grant shares and I'm reminded of how teachers bemoan others who don't/won't change and how this can lead to a reluctance to collaborate and share. As I became engrossed with his book, I found myself staring at straight at my filters "in reality, the biggest barrier to originality is not idea generation - it's idea selection". 

Having visited these schools and constantly having my thinking face on, I need to run all these ideas through my own filters as well as those of my colleagues, their opinions are a necessary new perspective. I've been prompted to record all my ideas, questions and reflections as there is no telling when I'll want to access these again - good point. We've already shared some of our wonderings with our staff, informal discussions during a staff meeting that enabled many to offer thoughts and insights in a 'warm but demanding' manner. As I've been talking with my co-teacher, I've shared things I'd seen with a view to how it could add value to our learning common. Rather than pouring ideas, thinking they're all gold, I'm deliberately letting them be part of a slow release.  My principal has even suggested that I use a Hermann Brain resource to consider some of these ideas, it prompts the use of whole brain thinking (Theoretical/Analytical, Organisational, Interpersonal and Creative). His offering is just further proof that it is not generation but selection of ideas that is crucial.

Our students deserve to have this idea reinforced also, idea selection is crucial. We can emphasise this during creative processes such as planning writing, design and technology processes or other creative endeavours. I hear about teachers, principals and educators advocating for the growth mindset or the emphasis on the journey, especially in regard to some of the geniuses throughout history. Grant summarises the work of Beethoven, Shakespeare, Picasso, Mozart and Edison. All are known for a select group of outputs, yet each have a large assortment of products that weren't as renowned or successful as others. Both the cinema and publishing industries are full of cases where the commercial success significantly outstripped forecasts, consider this list of titles that weren't meant to reach an audience: Star Wars, ET and Pulp Fiction films; The Chronicles of Narnia, The Diary of Anne Frank, Lord of the Flies and Harry Potter! Is it any wonder that choosing ideas is difficult!

What do these list of geniuses and film/book forecast failures have to do with teaching?

I'm surrounded by some very innovative and creative people at HPPS and within NZ education circles in general. Regardless of the audience you're pitching to, your classroom, school, community or maybe even wider still, it is not about throwing all your ideas up and trying everything all of the time. The impact this might have on your learners could be damaging, yes it is important to role model risk taking and failure, but it is also important that we use approaches that evidence tells us will work and many students require an element of consistency to get the practise that they need to achieve mastery. It is important that we allow ourselves the opportunity to analyse ideas but must be mindful that we don't destroy some ideas by overthinking. As teachers, we need to be strategic about which ideas we choose to integrate into our learning spaces, idea selection is more important than idea generation.

Enabling the space for creativity and conversation is also integral. Recent experiences with my colleagues away from the classroom and staffroom has allowed me to see the importance of meaningful conversation. Topics, ideas, questions and each other as people can be delved into, parked and referred back to later without the constraints of morning tea, lunchtime or meetings finishing.

I love my creative, holistic, big picture style of thinking. I also know that it can be frustrating for myself and others. Self-knowledge here is key. It allows me space and license to park things or consider multiple perspectives before sharing. So...

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Student voice - Maori learners and learning

One of my favourite experiences as a staff member at Hobsonville Point was the Waitangi Celebrations at the start of 2015 as this introduced me to new activities, colleagues, students and whanau (blog post). It also provoked many thoughts as to how the HPPS model could effectively and authentically integrate Te Reo and Tikanga into the learning at school. Throughout my time at this school I've had many conversations with different staff and parents about this also.

Initially, I wondered whether Te Reo could be included as an independent learning activity, similar to independent reading or maths. Discussions made me doubt the quality of such learning, although adopting a tuakana teina approach may alleviate this, the real concern surrounds how setting a range of resources/tasks would provide students with an engaging, authentic task. This was reinforced when I watched a colleague set about a filming activity using myths and legends, our students recognised the importance of correct pronunctiation and so asked for some workshops to assist them. The learning was more powerful due to the student voice, authentic learning and timeliness of the task. However, students don't know what they don't know and this is where teacher voice is necessary.

As a school we provide a Kapa Haka group, teachers include Te Reo in their instructions, signage and in learning activities. The Practicing Teacher Criteria are explicit in the expectations to actively teach our children relevant content, respect culture and values and adhere to the principals of the partnership in the Treaty of Waitangi. I have often felt that I could do more but have felt empowered by some experiences (Waitangi Day Celebrations at HPPS and HNS visit to Awataha Marae) and embarrassed by others (blog post HIS). Recently, I met with a friend who is currently undertaking pre-service training to be a primary teacher, he asked about Te Reo in the classroom. On his placements across 2 years thus far, he had observed that Te Reo was very hit and miss and wondered if it was something that was true of all schools. I can't speak for all schools but can appreciate his question, my student teacher placements also reflect his thoughts but I am aware of many schools and teachers who provide have significant resources promoting Te Reo, Tikanga and the principals of the treaty.

Currently, as a school we are pursuing Culture and Identity through our immersion experiences, these are being taught through Visual Arts, Music and Technology with a clear nod to the Social Sciences curriculum. In LC4 students have completed artworks, biopoems and on Friday visited the Auckland Art Gallery. Completing the biopoems, we challenged students to include more than just their passions, interests and worries, but to acknowledge their ancestry and their culture. For some this has meant deciding to write their pepeha's and one boy even decided to translate his biopoem into Te Reo. I had created one of the biopoem templates myself, several lines were directly influenced by a pepeha and explained this during class. I didn't tell them to write a pepeha but acknowledged that some may want to and this was an appropriate learning pathway. Some students had clearly felt empowered to pursue their learning and I felt better for creating an environment which enabled this.

On Friday 3rd we visited the Auckland Art Gallery, students took a studio workshop called Portraiture and Identity and had a guided session that investigated some Maori portraits. The dynamics between the group of students I was with underwent a noticeable shift when we begun work with the portraits. Amongst the group were several children who identify as Maori or Pasifika, without any teacher/guide direction these children all stepped forward and took on the role of leaders as they presented their art piece to the group and shared their knowledge, interest and wondering of the portrait of each Maori chief. As we left this part of the gallery, one young girl sidled up beside me and told me that she really likes learning about Maori art and language. It was a shared comment that provided a deeper insight into how I (and the LC4 team) could better meet her needs as a learner.

The findings on each portrait had included references to the Treaty of Waitangi, some portrait subjects had signed whilst others did not. In our group of 12, the knowledge of the Treaty was minimal. I parked this and explained it to my colleague on the bus afterwards, had she noticed this in her group? Nicole hadn't noticed this but it gave me pause to reflect on my friend's comment and the nature of learning at HPPS. Could we be doing better? Could I do better? It had to be more than simply pouring knowledge. As our students reflected on their visit they provided the answer, they identified potential projects including carving, weaving, making Maori-inspired jewellery and creating Maori art.

Student voice suggesting these authentic projects switched my brain into 'excitable puppy' mode as I considered how this could be bound together for a powerful project. Nicole and I have been reimagining the way projects are created and instead of a free for all, we're wanting to deliver six authentic options where the integrated learning is more powerful. I uploaded my thinking into our potential project document and was satisfied with the result, the learning possibilities and the potential outcomes. This learning could provide literacy options that investigated myths and legends, create pepeha, learn about the culture behind each of the art forms, karakia, and allow the students to tell a story about the history of Hobsonville Point and their own identity. This project could involve visits to/from experts in each of these art forms, possibly even Awataha Marae where they could take part in a powhiri. Dreaming even bigger, it might lead to a beautiful carving or artwork that welcomes people to Hobsonville Point or the students might reignite the Waitangi Celebrations Day for in 2017.

All this would finally make me feel like I was living out the intentions of the Practicing Teacher Criteria.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Embracing my green brain

I'm embracing my green/red/blue/yellow brain this year, I tend to be very yellow as a preference, present as almost square-like in profile but green collapses when stressed and yellow becomes dominant.

This is the type of conversation that you'll often hear amongst the staff at HPPS. It's indicative of understanding our Hermann's Whole Brain Thinking profile and acknowledging that we are all different, that we need to be considerate of our differences and utilise all preferences in our collaborative teams. Even during the interview process for new staff, a mini profile is created and I remember how this altered the way I dealt with many people. Nicole, my new teaching buddy arrived back from a PD session about her profile and it has brought a new understanding of each other as well as a added a layer of humour to what we do.

2016 has become a year to embrace my green brain.

In the middle of term 1 I took up the challenge of the Sports Coordinator role, it was presented to me as something that would provide some opportunities to extend my organisational skills. I'd already taken on a Mentor Teacher role for one of our new staff, was forming a new team with Nicole in LC4 and wasn't sure how I would cope. As I drove home that night, I considered the extra work load, the time available to do this work and a lingering doubt about my ability to do the job to the level I'd expect of myself.

I believe I have a growth mindset, however, I have a continuous fear of not looking capable in front of my colleagues or wider school community, no doubt its tied to my ego. It's a nagging doubt and does inspire me to work harder so that I get things to the level I want. I also need to ensure that I face problems with a solution-oriented mindset, together these approaches to create some significant expectations and pressures that are all of my own making.

Work life balance clearly was going to become an issue, so I explained the offer to my wife, including what I saw as the positives and negatives. Her response was deserved, "You keep going on about a growth mindset, this is your opportunity to take something on and learn new skills, how can you say no?" Decision made then!

Its not that I'm not organised, but I tend to get distracted easily, am a champion procrastinator and am not excited by lists. My first few weeks of the sports role felt like was I constantly chasing my tail, my email box exploded, morning tea and lunchtime was filled with meetings with students, sorting newsletters and dealing with team registrations. Often my response in these situations is work harder, not necessarily smarter. Worklife balance clearly goes astray when I respond in this way. We had our athletics day on a Friday late in Term 1, so the Thursday was stressful. I did try using a list, Nicole thought this was great but we both had a giggle when I'd lost it by morning tea! I did have a run sheet and had been using it more as a reference point than a tick list. As a teacher, I am organised, planned and generally have things in a modicum of balance but with the various layers of sports there has been a need to refocus my attention. It's not organising the one event that stresses me, the last 2 weeks have involved Athletics, Netball, Rugby, Soccer, Gymnastics and Diving - altogether now, breath! Its required operating across many different organisations, various calendars, multiple approaches and many different dates.

Our Athletics Day being run successfully on Friday was positive, it was reaching that first completion and knowing that this is all achievable. I just have to keep moving forward and eventually many of the organisational challenges that face will become second nature. Realistically, I'm moving through my own novice to expert cycle and having to apply all I know about event management to get me through.

I recently presented a session on Reading to the PRTs at the Learning Network. In the 30 minutes before the session they met with a Continuity Leader, one of the PRTs was sharing that her Mentor Teacher has many roles at her school and she was finding it hard to get meetings. It struck a chord as I too undertake many of these same roles so I checked in with my BT as to my accessibility but decided that it needs to be something that I raised during school coaching

During coaching, we've been discussing my roles and how I can organise myself better, not in some micromanaging way though. More from the perspective of getting systems in place, becoming better at asking for support or delegating tasks to others. We have been concentrating on "How might I manage the sports role so that others can support me?" Its  about knowing what resources to tap into at the right time, there is an array of parents, teachers and management with useful expertise, not to mention the multitude of sports organisations.

Run sheets and checklists are slowly going to become my norm, they're supplemented by calendars, due dates and complemented by gear lists, budgets, wish lists and overviews. There's a healthy dose of blue and yellow, mixed with a super-sized portion of green and some red so that you don't forget you're dealing with people. It has been an incredible challenge and to be perfectly honest has had its fair share of learning pits.

What does this all mean for me and for sport at HPPS?

The holidays were shaping as a time to get some newsletters and registrations organised in advance, prepare for several events and get the budgets/wishlists updated to reflect 2016. All so that Term 2 would look proactive, rather than reactive. We've now participated in the first North Harbour Rippa Rugby tournament, have a sports section on the school website and begun forming a sports team.

My main focus is that LC4, its parent community and Nicole all get the best of me. I was employed to be a teacher first and foremost, therefore  I have to manage everything else so they all get the Reid they deserve. Sport is a secondary, albeit significant, focus.

Friday, 25 March 2016

The B word

I'm bored!

We've all heard it whispered, blurted or maybe even frustratingly said by a student. I'll admit that for me it's a tough thing to hear, I pride myself on providing a stimulating and engaging learning environment. Yet still I've seen that stifled yawn, vacuous look or just puzzlement at the reason for being there.

There are other behavioural signs of disengagement, but by confronting the B word some of these can be dealt with or headed off at the past.

At my first school, far more traditional environment, there were still many approaches to remedy the B word. Relationships are paramount, know your student and what makes them tick. Kidsedchatnz, Minecraft, personalised reading, differentiated art, hands-on learning and passion projects all were features in my teaching toolbox. But I fought to find more ways to reach more learners and stave off any nasty B-related afflictions.

With my colleagues at HPPS we push ourselves to provide an authentic and personalised programme for all learners. Projects form an inherent part of this, co-constructed from wonderings during immersion activities, they can be responsive to tailored to each students learning needs and interests. I currently have students exploring Da Vinci's machines and their modern day equivalents, with a focus on the science behind the inventions. Others are focussed on kitchen chemistry with individual concentrated on chocolate tempering, baking and one boy who is exploring the making of plastic for Lego. Our students choose what part of the day to work on their projects, while planning for workshops that cater for their literacy and numeracy needs that can't be accommodated in these projects. It is for this reason that our immersion phase is so important, exploring worlds they didn't know existed to arouse their curiosity and wondering.

But even with these projects ongoing and teachers that are forever challenging themselves to find contexts and methods to engage each child, there are still opportunities for learners to utter the dreaded B word.

Whose problem is this?

I believe it's mine. I'm fully cognisant that my colleagues at HPPS will ask me what have I done to create or change the situation (this applies to any scenario, not just the context I refer to in this post).

We've recently suffered a number of students who are attempting to occupy a healthy portion of their day with sketching, they use YouTube as their 'inspiration' and copy the steps. It's arguable that there is less creative endeavour behind the process, chess is another time filler that is enjoyed by our learners. Both are signals of the B word. Often this means that the contexts for learning are not appropriate for the individual and we need to build our knowledge/relationship to find a context/medium for more effective teaching/learning. For some it is a sign that they struggling to recognise the priorities in their learning, deadlines, workshops, literacy and numeracy goals for example. Most importantly, all of these are signals that teacher intervention is needed so that the student can be supported to more meaningful learning experiences.

In our space these time fillers are OK brain breaks, or even planned activities at the end of the day when priorities have been met. But not planned as the priority task for the day. Yes, for some sketching is a passion, and as such, it should be integrated purposefully into their learning. Some of our students successfully include many different creative arts into their projects and we use the creative arts as a vehicle to teach many aspects of the curriculum.

No doubt there are many underlying factors contributing to this affliction - real or perceived, thats for another post though.

But the B word ultimately is my problem, not theirs.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Projects, planning and provocation

enGauge 21st Century Skills
Four weeks of school are over! I know that some teachers will be up to their necks in assessment, others will be doing their best to get to know their students and some will be doing Keeping Ourselves Safe or other such topic because that fits with building relationships. Like all teachers, we've been trying to create expectations, understanding and excitement in the class, we want our learners to be engaged, inspired and innovative.

As part of this we utilise project based learning focussed around three core themes each year and the NZ curriculum is then moulded around these themes. The themes are incredibly broad, Inventive Thinking, Digital Age Literacy and Effective Communication. In 2016 we've commenced with Digital Age Literacy first. Specifically, we've chosen to focus on Scientific Literacy, with Basic (numeracy and literacy), Media, Information and Visual Literacy.

For my colleague in LC4, Nicole, I imagine this has been an eye opening experience. Its her first term at HPPS and after being in her shoes this time last year, its quite daunting; new documents, systems, learners, colleagues and school culture. How newbies make their way in this is clearly up to the individual, I found it difficult to adjust to all the challenges and am relishing my second tilt at the wheel.

When teachers discuss passion-based learning they often fret about students concentrating on the bunnies, sports and video games. Passion-based learning can lead to learners building depth in one small area and not necessarily enjoying the true breadth of the NZ Curriculum. Prior to our students beginning projects we invest time and effort into an Immersion stage. Our aim is to introduce students to a "world they don't know". An immersion activity can look like anything, a workshop, hands on activity, workstation, video, app, event, trip, expert etc. Last year I ran immersions in Lego, cooking, infographics, science, Google Doodle Competition and many others. During an immersion it is important to observe/notice what the students are up to, their questions, wonderings and responsive workshops that may be required for their learning. Projects are co-constructed with the children at the completion of immersion.

Last year, establishing how to record their wonderings was a learning process. I'd had a couple of goes at adventure learning at my previous school, but this was on a whole new level! Our first couple of immersions this year have been interesting, a video on the way the brain makes connections certainly excited our students and some activities to make them think about their senses and memory also provoked some thoughts for possible projects. But Nicole and I were clear that we wanted some more focus, and were considering contestable/challenging ideas (vaccine debate, genetic modification, climate change etc) but were naturally worried about how all learners might access these ideas. I approached one of our DPs for warm but demanding feedback, "good theme" I'm told (Prove it) "but you might want to consider an enduring understanding to provide more focus".

With this in mind we're focussed squarely on “Scientists analyze and interpret evidence to solve problems and make decisions.” But when we utilise our original idea of the misconceptions of science, we've got a huge array of scientific immersion activities that can be considered. This American list provides a number of starting points for any science learning as we move into our second week of immersion.

But immersion activities also need to challenge students, excite them and make them wonder.

Nicole and I had been considering introducing the students to Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. I was aware that the proportions were accessible online, that the notion of symmetry and proportion key to this art piece and theory would challenge our students understanding of the human body. Previously, we'd observed students struggling with time and how the use of technology aided in the growing understanding of the human body. It might provoke many to grab rulers and investigate Da Vinci's theories. However, we had some reservations. Firstly, could we find a child-appropriate image and would they react positively, or were we barking up the wrong tree? We decided to park the idea.
At our Tuesday staff meeting, we'd been challenged as a staff to really examine our immersion activities. What modalities of learning were we catering for? While we always looked to make activities fun or provoke feelings and often had actual experiences for the student, often we weren't integrating much learning in the activity. As a staff, we were asked to ramp up the learning quotient of experiences. Challenge accepted.

Reflecting on management's challenge and trying to find a way to put an exclamation mark on the week, we reconsidered our Vitruvian Man activity. I found an appropriate image and a few extras for a laugh, a suitable video explaining Da Vinci, and sourced the proportions/measurements.

You can imagine my anxiety levels prior to the lesson - apart from 2 of our girls I'd never heard any mention of Da Vinci or the Vitruvian Man. This was definitely taking a risk as far as creating and sequencing a learning experience.

A small slideshow, the proportions listed out, making sure we have the rulers sourced, a plan of attack for observing and noticing what our learners got up to and we were ready. As they listened to the my quick introduction to Da Vinci we saw a few interested learners, then a video, a few more still, then Homer, Batman, Garfield and a Stormtrooper - lots more. Then the magic words - "we need rulers so we can measure these things!" They were intrigued, curious and we'd sparked their imagination. "Can we make a hypothesis?" says one, and gets nods of approval from some of her peers.
The questioning, curiosity, engagement and effort that went into the next 30 minutes was outstanding. Most investigated the proportions and tested (with varying degrees of accuracy) Da Vinci's theories, we spent our time recording questionings and comments from our learners or redirected them to their immersion tracking sheet as they looked to finish. All learners were introduced to something new, many were able to record quite interesting wonderings and possible projects. Not all had projects which came directly from the Da Vinci exercise, one was more interested in some of Da Vinci's other inventions and how these are compared to objects today (tanks, helicopters and catapults). Others started wondering about the human body and differences/similarities. While we had imagined that many would go straight to the rulers and the proportions, a handful went straight to devices to investigate more about Da Vinci and is an appropriate response to such a provocation, especially given our overall aim is to introduce the students to a world they didn't know.
As well as recording their noticings, wondering and questions Nicole and I were observing for teaching points for particular students. Some students were having trouble with rulers, converting measurements, working out fractions of a number or had difficulty calculating numbers. All this information was recorded to become responsive workshops for different learners. Nicole ran one such workshop today, the students with some targeted support around measurement all achieved more success using the same Vitruvian Man context. To allow student voice, we also invited students to submit requests for responsive workshops, if the students identified something they'd like to learn.
Our students finding projects isn't the only learning that comes out of these experiences. For some students, it is challenging to work with new or different people, they were actively encouraged to find someone to work with from outside their comfort zone. Others, have need support communicating their ideas, for them this was another opportunity to work with some scaffolds to find another way to share their ideas. Similarly, leading a group or being a follower is another disposition that is appropriate for some of our learners to consider during an experience such as this.
Towards the end of the experience I was buzzing, we'd achieved what we wanted when setting out but we'd done this in a way that met the criteria management had outlined in their challenge to us. I felt we'd lifted the bar for ourselves as a new team at the school and for myself personally when running immersion activities. The true test of this immersion activity, though, will come when we conference our students to co-construct their first round of projects.

Will the Vitruvian Man, or any project derived from that experience, feature amongst the children's thinking?

Perhaps, it doesn't matter as they've still been introduced to a world they didn't know existed.