It’s like electricity…

This week we have been looking at our passions, why passions are important in education and what it means to be ‘in the zone’.

Wednesday morning started with a session from Maurie about educational change based on the Te Kotahitanga model of GPILSEO (Goals, Pedagogy, Institutions, Leadership, Spread, Evidence, Ownership). I found this really inspiring, especially how we as a staff are going to make sure that what happens at school reflects the vision of the school. I liked this model of leadership change as it addresses all parts of school – physical, institutional, leadership, staff and of course, students.


A snippet from ‘Billy Elliot’ was our starter for Thursday morning – looking at Billy’s audition where he explains how it feels to dance –

“what does it feel like when you’re dancing?
Billy: Don’t know. Sorta feels good. Sorta stiff and that, but once I get going… then I like, forget everything. And… sorta disappear. Sorta disappear. Like I feel a change in my whole body. And I’ve got this fire in my body. I’m just there. Flyin’ like a bird. Like electricity.”


… which got us onto talking about how we feel when we are in the zone. Lea’s task for us was to make a sculpture to explain how we feel when we are in the zone. Mine was a very small, coloured box – to reflect how insular I get when I am focused; I lose track of time, I don’t stop for anything, I can be easily startled… Interestingly while my sculpture was very small in scale and therefore quite different from many other peoples, the similarities about losing track of the outside world, not wanting to be interrupted or being so focused on what we were doing were clear.

I kept going with my professional reading of Ken Robinson’s The Element (see my thoughts here) and found this to be one of the most engaging texts I have stumbled upon for quite a while.  Our bookclub on Friday delved into this reading, with some brilliant insights, into the power of finding one’s passions as well as the need to ensure that we as teachers/ mentors allow students to discover and extend their passions. I loved Robinson’s description of the Element as a “meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion”  where people have “lives with purpose and meaning in and beyond what work we do” (p. 16). In so many ways, this sums up the front end of the NZC where the ultimate aim of education in New Zealand is stated in the vision as “young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners” (NZC, p. 7).

I took one thing in particular from reading The Element, that mentors (whoever they are) need to:

  • recognise
  • encourage
  • facilitate
  • stretch

As we are about to embark on our roles as LOLs this week, I thought that this was timely considering the role that I am going to play in developing the learning hubs at HPSS.

I engaged in my very first edchatnz session on Twitter on Thursday night. The topic was on personalised learning, which is to the forefront of my thinking at the moment, and I felt that I had something to say. I am sceptical by nature, especially of bandwaggoning online, and have been known to be scathing of twits on twitter. Having said this, I actually enjoyed the sense of community on the #edchatnz discussion. The more sceptical part of my brain was whispering in my ear the whole time “walk the talk, walk the talk” but overwhelmingly I was saddened by the number of people yet to jump wholeheartedly into the twittersphere who would be active, critical voices in this forum. Then my internet connection died, thanks for getting that fault sorted Vodafone, so I was forced to revert to being a normal person at home with my family on a Thursday night. I think I will try this #edchatnz thingee again though.  ****shamless plug, follow me on twitter @mrsmeganpete ***

On Friday, Di lead us through a brilliant session on pulling together all of our work using the ‘Julia Circles’ to try to refine our vision, principles and practice for HPSS. My brain was sore after this session, but pleasantly so.  Friday afternoon was personal time, unless we wanted to join in Claire’s ‘thinky tanky’ on digital citizenship (which I normally would except I wasn’t feeling that well), and I spent the time in a quiet spot in the school reading Changing the Odds by Bryan Goodwin (here). I am still working my way through this but have enjoyed the challenging tone of this reading – e.g. are we doing what matters?

Key understandings from this week:

  • Personal passions shape who we are, how we relate to ideas and what we value in life
  • It is easy to get suckered into the vacuum of educational ideas – an echo chamber of sorts. What is more difficult is thinking critically about the ideas, relating them to my interpretation of good pedagogy and having the guts to challenge not only myself but also other educators

Visitations, urban racing and d.sign

Visiting two schools in a modern learning environment (MLE) was a real eye-opener last week.  We were fortunate enough to spend a morning at Albany Senior High School and an afternoon at Ormiston Senior College. Each school had their own approach to how they were utilising a MLE to work for their students. I really appreciated being able to see a normal school day – especially the tutorial time at Albany Senior.  After working in a bubble, away from senior school students, it was a dose of reality to see both schools at work. The staff took time to answer our questions, which ranged from far-reaching vision statements to mundane, pedantic matters, and the sense of collegiality and networking beyond their school hubs was apparent.

Friday morning was spent with Mark Osborne, HPSS’s critical friend, who challenged us on the work we had done so far. Poor Mark couldn’t get a word in edge ways, the LOLs are quite loud, but he did challenge us to make sure that we were living the vision we all feel so passionately about.  He had a few pearls of wisdom to share, my fave was ‘vision without implementation is hallucination‘. I am determined to do my bit to get the vision working in practice and to be brave enough to say that if we are ever just hallucinating, we need to get real (again).

We spent Monday moseying around the city on an urban team building adventure. The course that Lea (and whanau) laid out for us opened my eyes to parts of my city I overlook. I really love getting to know all of the SLT and LOLs in more detail and in greater depth. We explored the Auckland city sculpture trail and had the mission of taking ‘creative’ photos of our team at each sculpture. There were two clear highlights for me – one was when I managed to wangle our way onto a super yacht by asking (you’ve got to be in it to win it) and the other was Sally expertly calling over some Japanese youths with impeccable – to my ears – Japanese. Our team is full of surprises!

After a delicious Mexican lunch, we were whisked away by Di to a design thinking workshop. Even though my tummy was full and my brain feeling sluggish, I really enjoyed this.  Once we started on our design thinking course at NZ Trade and Enterprise (based on the Stanford model) I was in like Flynn!  I worked with Maurie on finding a more innovative way of solving our very specific ‘gift-giving’ issues. What I enjoyed most, aside from Maurie’s brilliant solution to my problem, was that we are going to embed this approach at Hobsonville Point Secondary. How exciting for all learners, students and teachers, to move beyond the obvious, staid means of problem solving into something which is a more creative process and where the skills can be applied to so many situations.

Today was back to business as usual at HPSS.  We spent time as a team (ukuleles, shared stories and shared pictures from yesterday) and also had time to complete our own work. I was pleased to complete one of my my professional readings – on supporting future focused learning and teaching . I have documented my thoughts in another page on my blog which I am hoping to update frequently. I really enjoyed this reading and came back to it on more than one occasion.  I found the executive summary the most useful but was repeatedly reminded when reading how the ‘future-focused’ part is really just common sense.  I took great stead in the fact that I thought this too. However, upon completion of my notes on the reading I realised that while it is common sense, I can imagine that it would be much easier to implement these recommendations when starting a school from scratch.

Currently I am reading Ken Robinson’s ‘The Element’ which is proving to be too hard to put down. I knew that I was in my element when I woke up this morning, after a fairly terrible sleep, and immediately picked up where I left off.  I feel so inspired to be working somewhere where we will encourage students to find, develop and extend their passions – to work in their element.

My thoughts this week:

  • Having time to read and think is so important – what a luxury!
  • there are so many exciting people / ideas to tap into to help shape what is going to be a brilliant school
  • Mark’s quote rings true – vision without implementation is hallucination

Brainy brains and emotional experiences

The third week of my journey covers reflection, brain exploration and taking values into practice.

At the end of last week I shared my story with the staff about my learning journey and values which have shaped my life.  I spent a lot of time thinking about my life, the learning experiences, challenges I faced and how I overcame them. This level of reflection wasn’t part of my usual daily routine and I found the process to be very emotional. So many aspects of the vision of Hobsonville Point resonate with me as my life would have turned out quite differently had I not been in a school were there was sufficient flexibility to allow me to take a slightly different route and personalise my learning. I found sharing my story to be very difficult – there were lots of tears (from me and others) but I kept coming back to why I believe that learning needs to be personalised – if Kavanagh hadn’t been so open, I would have left school with my highest qualification as 4 subjects School C. Now, I have just finished my masters and am in line for first class honours. I love hearing the stories of everyone at Hobsonville. There are moments of connectedness, shared experiences (especially when looking at old photos) and the sense that we are coming together as a team. I look forward to more stories today and tomorrow.

So, after that cathartic experience, we spent the beginning of the week with Julia Atken looking at learning preferences and the brain. We had all completed a Herrmann’s Brain diagnostic test earlier in the term and Julia took us through our results and the implications of our results.  This was a really interesting process. As a team we had to select dispositions or qualities from a set of cards which most reflected ourselves. Julia put limitations on these so that we had to make a choice of three cards, with the option of one which did not reflect us at all. I felt that I wanted to pick a card which reflected  an emotional way of thinking but instead chose my three descriptors as ‘flexible’, ‘challenging’ and ‘planner’ – my non-me card was ‘quantitative’. I was quite pleased with my choices but not at all surprised to see that my Herrmann’s brain diagnosis placed me as mainly holistic/ emotional in my thinking/learning preferences, followed by a practical approach with rational thinking as my least preferred mode.  This correlates to my Myers-Briggs personality profile – ENFP.  I think big picture with an emotional slant – innovation, imagining, risk-taking balanced out with structured, logical and conservative approaches – kind of like my three words.  It was great to compare and contrast our diagrams with the team – as a group we have common traits but there is diversity. I really loved the openness with which everyone shared their diagrams, their interpretations of them and the acknowledgement of our shared differences.

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I see real potential in how we use this information about our thinking preferences – both in terms of leading learning (for students and staff) but also in how we work closely alongside students to personalise learning. Personalisation does not have to be about making student’s passions the focus of their learning but instead could be about knowing preferences and challenging learners to develop their least preferred option. I also love that it doesn’t label someone as ‘being’ blue or yellow or red… or whatever. Instead, it acknowledges preferences. The diagnosis also covers how you are likely to think when under pressure – no surprises for me that my rational and practical ways of thinking take a backseat to a more emotional response. However, the only thing which proved to be a surprise was that I was more likely to be an experimental thinker under pressure – future focused. This would come as no surprise to my poor husband who sees me as the eternal optimist, particularly when under duress.

Tuesday and Wednesday has had the Leaders of Learning working on developing the ‘Hobsonville Habits’. These are the practices and principles which will underpin everything that we do. This has been a great academic exercise where we developed ‘I’ statements about what those habits may look like – e.g. ‘I stay firm to my resolve’ as a habit which underpins resilience. I have really enjoyed the robust discussion around these – not only as I love discussion and dialogue – but we are hopefully more mindful of the thinking preferences approaches we as a LOL team possess.  I love that we have time to debate and discuss the semantics of these (I am passionate about language and the power of words) but that this is balanced by the fact that we have time, a luxurious resource which most educators are not afforded. I love that we can say ‘throw all of those ideas down, we can look at them again later’ instead of having the pressure to produce something, something quite profound, and do so quickly.

My learnings from this week:

  • Good things take time
  • It takes all kinds of people to achieve, I did know this but the brain diagnosis confirmed the importance of diversity (especially in thinking!)
  • Honesty and openness allow for individual’s values, beliefs and ways of doing things to be explored

Values, vision and visits

Reflecting on my journey so far I must admit that I didn’t realise how completed exhausted I would be in this new role.

We have spent the week looking at the values and vision of the school, visiting the new site and the school zone, getting to know each other – which is really, really, really important – and trying to begin to make sense of the reality of starting a school from scratch.

After our work on the values of the school on Wednesday, I couldn’t stop thinking about values in general. Schools are very upfront about what values shape their philosophy, pedagogy and everyday life. I have been so impressed so far is the fact that the values and vision of Hobsonville Point Secondary are going to be to the fore in the school.  I was thinking about what a society would be like where all institutions were held accountable against their purported values. Throughout history there are numerous examples of leaders/ societies stating their values, their vision and how they are going to be achieved. Yet, often this is not the case.

The session we had on values reinforced why I made the decision to leave my old school and apply for a job here.  I truly believe in students/ teachers/ whanau/ community working collaboratively to foster and develop opportunities for authentic learning. I love the idea of student centred learning and everything that it encompasses.

Having being reassured on Wednesday, we went over to the building site on Thursday.  After donning hard hats and high-vis vests, we were led through the site to really imagine all parts of the school. While I really loved the architecture of the specialised learning areas, it was the learning commons which really excited me. Structurally, the building reinforces the values of the school – personalised learning, powerful partnerships and empowered learners. Looking straight through the site was brilliant – the light, use of glass and openness will demystify the teaching and learning – something I am really looking forward to having been in ‘Nelson Block’ for the last 9 years. I am really looking forward to moving from being restricted by the four walls of the classroom and teaching within my curriculum area to working alongside others who are doing a range of different types of learning.

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It is impossible to work at a level of continued excitement. By Friday, I was absolutely drained.  Thankfully we were given just the right task to work on.  We were sent out on a ‘zone discovery’ day to explore the four areas which make up the Hobsonville Secondary School zone. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, (and we did) was to find out about local cafes, the feeder schools, the neighbourhoods and document it all so that we could begin to build a sense of our community and present it as a video. Being teachers, we over-analysed the situation, with my only contribution being that we needed a story of some kind (I was feeling rather uninspired). Sally’s vast knowledge of iPad apps was quickly utilised and we settled on iLapse driving shots and whatever took our fancy at each location – including ‘history factoids’. The video was great fun to make and it looks quite good!

Monday back at school after a relaxing weekend was spent visiting the senior learning commons at Hobsonville Point Primary School. We had an opportunity to introduce ourselves to the students and pick their brains a little bit about the teachers (perceptions and expectations), learning (how/what they like to learn, their project-based learning, collaborative learning) and expectations (of high school, about co-curricular activities).  This was great and we gleaned a lot of information which we will now do something with.

I am still feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of what we are about to do but the feeling of ‘why did they hire me’ is beginning to fade. One of the hardest adjustments is to work with so many like-minded people. I am so used to being in the position of the blue-sky thinker who tries new/odd things by myself, it is so unusual to have those same ideas mirrored back during discussion.  I still feel the urge to pinch myself about the opportunity afforded here. After nearly 11 years of teaching, I am really enjoying learning again.

My current learning:

  • Slowing down the pace – not everything needs to be done in a few minutes
  • Taking time to read, think, reflect – my manic pace of the last few years will take some time to unlearn
  • the Ukulele while small, is not an easy instrument to play