Lessons learnt

We’ve been really fortunate in setting up our new school to be able to visit so many amazing schools. I think for me, the biggest revelation educationally has been the visits to our contributing primary schools. Not only are we fortunate to be based in a primary school at the moment, but we are also connecting with students and teachers in the other primary schools which will feed into Hobsonville Point Secondary School.

I feel embarrassed to say that I continue to be blown away by primary schools.

The students are so engaged, the learning is visible and celebrated. I am more and more convinced that all secondary school teachers should connect with primary, and probably tertiary as well. The more we know about each stage of education in New Zealand, the more we can share pedagogy, innovation and best practice.

I have been known in the past to fall into the secondary school teacher mindset thinking that the ‘real’ learning happened at secondary school. My thinking was turned around when I embarked on my Masters in Education a few years ago where I was the only secondary teacher in one of my papers. The ease with which these amazing teachers were able to draw on a range of research and practitioner based evidence to support their ideas humbled and inspired me, I have never made so many notes of things to go and look up in any other academic setting.

I guess that this started me thinking about my own preparation for education in New Zealand. Like most New Zealand trained secondary teachers, I completed my Diploma in Education over a year, straight after finishing my degree. It was intense. I really enjoyed it and I can say I learnt a lot. However, a few terms into my first year I was convinced that I had learnt nothing, I was ill prepared and the job as a shoe salesperson was still an option.  Further into my teaching career, this abated but I still feel that I have only scratched the surface in terms of what I should know or could know.

Therefore, another lesson I have learned in the last few weeks at Hobsonville Point Secondary School is the importance of reading. This was not new to me; I came from a school where big decisions were always based on sound research and as a professional learning leader, HOD and recently completed Masters student, I did my fair share. I think for me the lesson is that all teachers need time to read. I have really enjoyed the academic and professional reading that we are currently doing. I like to approach things in a robust manner and make notes to collect my thoughts as I go. These are here in case anyone ever wants to look at them.

The biggest difference over the last few weeks has been time. I harp on about it all the time. Time is my nemesis. I like to be busy and have occasionally struggled with the lack of frenzy (which is a usual lament of teachers in term 3).  The time to read, to think, to ponder, to plot and to plan has been invaluable and for me, has made this the most enjoyable term three of my teaching career. The difference is that what I am reading is so relevant to the here and now, it has immediate practical ramifications and sings to my soul in terms of the vision of the school. However, the luxury is that there is no need to processed and pondered by a set deadline. We have the must-do readings, the should dos and the could dos. If something sparks an interest, that is where you should mosey academically.

If I have learned anything in the last few weeks, it is this:

1. all teachers should have the option to do what we are doing. A sabbatical term to reinvigorate your practice would have so many potential spin-offs for students in New Zealand. I know that these are options for long-serving teachers but a school based sabbatical could be the way to go.

2. Secondary teachers should engage with their primary counterparts. Be humble. Observe and listen – there is a lot of learning to do here.

3. Read. Read widely and often. Read a variety of texts, from very academic tomes to Ministry of Education publications (these are actually really good)

4. Use teacher PD time effectively – talk about education, link to research where possible, talk and talk some more. When you’re sick of talking, listen.

Dali’s Persistence of Memory


Break on through to the other side

Thinking about thinking is one thing. Thinking about how to acknowledge and foster students when thinking about thinking is another. This is the conundrum of the LTLs this last week.

We spent this week looking at the needs of Learning Coaches at HPSS – from the structures that they need to support and guide students in their learning to the more specific aspects of the digital support that they need. I spent the week gleaning as much information from Kristyn from HPPS about how she is using the whole brain profile (Hermman’s Brain) to develop the whole student. I was really inspired when I was fortunate enough to sit in on a student conference in the senior learning commons. Hearing how Kristyn and the student discussed her learning, how they used the primary school learner profile to acknowledge the different ways that students can develop their dispositions and really engage with their learning.

We spent some time as a team discussing the potential of our online tools for our learner profile – how to use Moodle, KAMAR, My Portfolio and the Google apps to support our learners. I felt really lucky to have experience with all of these tools and know how my old school used them in the past, what the potential could be.  I was tasked with delving into KAMAR but, as we are still awaiting the access info, found myself exploring the whole brain dominance model and how this could be used for our learner profile.

The SLLs shared their unpacked, hacked, reconstituted NZ Curriculum. It is a brilliant model and provides more guidance than any inquiry/ design thinking based model I have come across. Ka pai to them!

On Friday we worked effectively as a team to really crack what the learner profile is going to be.  A dispositional curriculum should not use a similar model as a teaching and learning model. We love that our model will sit alongside, support and be supported by the model devised by the SLLs.  We are planning on using a model based around our Hobsonville Habits.  We are now moving into refining and testing the model that we have devised. Exciting stuff at HPSS.

Making a mess and muddling through

It has been a busy old time here at Hobsonville Point Secondary.  I try to convince others of the fact that this job is really challenging, we are busy a lot and that we work really hard. I guess, from the perspective of my really busy teacher friends, it may not look it compared to the usual term three busyness. But I am still loving the challenge of this new role, setting up the learning hubs at Hobsonville Point with Lea, Yasmin and Sally (and the other brilliant staff!) and when you are starting something anew it is much harder than working within the status quo.

Last week we continued in our teams and the LTLs (Learning Team Leaders) chose to take some of our essential practices and investigate them in more depth. Sally took ‘knowing the learner’ and ‘whanau contact’, Yasmin took ‘passion projects’ and I looked into ‘powerful feedback’ and ‘learning to learn’. We spent a few days pulling together resources on both the principles behind these and the practices we need to imbed in the learning hubs. I really enjoyed this, especially looking at things that I thought I already knew about. I loved looking at how to imbed ‘learning to learn’ – having taught around this concept in NZ and in the UK.  I came back to how the SOLO taxonomy can be so powerful. I had a real life authentic learning moment when trying to collate and present these resources. I created my first google site and made it work through trial and error. I love that I am absolutely a learner!

I must admit that I didn’t spend a great deal of time collating sources and resources for ‘powerful feedback’. I feel confident from my research that the most powerful feedback is from learner to learner, about their self-regulation which is dialogic in nature.  At some point shortly I will finish my second Google Site – I have a lot of ideas, tools and strategies to share and I see an opportunity for us here at HPSS to empower our students using powerful feedback.

The great Latin poet, Virgil, holding a volume on which is written the Aeneid. On either side stand the two muses: “Clio” (history) and “Melpomene” (tragedy). The mosaic, which dates from the 3rd Century A.D., was discovered in the Hadrumetum in Sousse, Tunisia and is now on display in the Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia.

On Wednesday I went to the Classical Studies Scholarship Students’ Conference at Rangitoto College. I love that I am still involved in the subject I am so passionate about and it was brilliant to work alongside such empowered, passionate students. I was particularly impressed by the Northcote College students, naturally, as they challenged assumptions and were active in their learning. This is what effective learning is about and it was great to see so many students from different high schools in Auckland exploring their higher order thinking skills. Dr. Jeremy Armstrong from the University of Auckland presented on the rewriting of history in the Augustan age in Rome. I loved that I was making links between the Augustan principate and their revision of early Rome with what we are trying to do here at HPSS.  Augustus’ poets and writers rewrote, or hacked, history to make it work to reflect the ideals that they were espousing. What they put out became the vision. Nobody questioned the interpretation of the Aeneas myth because Virgil told such a good rendition that it became ‘THE’ myth. While we are not that ruthless here at HPSS, I could not help but make links between the idea of curriculum ‘hacking’ – a term oft used at Hobby High – and that what we are planning on doing (alongside other schools) could become ‘THE’ way for 21st century education. Just like Virgil, we are taking the best bits of history, in our case pedagogy, research and practice, and using it to shape a school which will truly put students in the centre. Pretty powerful stuff.

The LTL and SLL (Specialist Learning Leaders) teams shared what we had been up during the week on Thursday. This was brilliant. I loved seeing how each team approaches the different parts of our curriculum and how they are going to bring it to life. I would love to be a learner here!

I met a bit of an obstacle on Friday. I am my worst enemy and during a discussion with the LTLs got myself in such a muddle that I was speaking in metaphors, trying to explain something that was bumping around in my head which was proving to be as elusive as Alice’s white rabbit. The more I chased it, the more it dashed just out of reach.  I ended up getting a little bossier than I would like, I didn’t react the way I usually would and I found it difficult when working in a new team. In the weekend, I managed to reflect on both the process and my elusive thoughts… I found the white rabbit and was assured today at work that I was chasing the right white rabbit after all!

Monday was a teacher only day with Hobsonville Point Primary Staff. We had an unconference style day in the morning. Low and behold, I was presenting on powerful feedback.  I really enjoyed learning from Daniel, Kristyn, Erin and Lisa S.  I look forward to learning a lot more from them as we progress in setting up our school.

Leading, Leadership and Learning

Last week at HPSS was great. Hard, but great. I realised that I forgot to blog last week and I cannot be sure if it is tiredness, laziness or that I haven’t really nailed down my thoughts yet. With all of those in mind, I feel the urge to write now, even if it is just a summary of what we did so I can keep track of my ideas over time.

Our focus last week was leadership and learning.


The highlight for me was working with Daniel Birch, the Principal of Hobsonville Point Primary School, where he ran a session about learning. He placed us firmly in the role of the learner to make us thoughtfully consider how it feels to be a learner. Some of the activities were easy for me (such as working in a pair to alternate counting aloud) , some were more difficult (alternating counting, clapping and clicking). Then we moved onto an activity to justify why learners should not be placed in their age group only where we placed ourselves on a continuum in our confidence with Te Reo. While I know some words, I still consider myself a novice in this area. As a staff we spread across the continuum, despite age, which was proof that people do not learn at the same pace. I really liked some of the strategies that Daniel used to explain learning – especially the use of photos to allow people to create their own metaphors. I chose a mosaic (not the one below but I really like the Silchester Mosaic – Classics teacher in me!) to describe the connectedness of learning; each piece by itself does not really create anything or lacks value, but when there are connections made, it is a really powerful collaboration.


Silchester Mosaic


Leadership. Management. Those two terms were discussed, dissected and debated. We were asked to divvy up some descriptors under these two headings. For some, they saw management as a bit of a ‘dirty’ word. It had really negative connotations and while I could agree that poor management justifies such extremes, good management is so powerful. I have experienced ‘good’ and ‘bad’ leaders – those who micro-managed, those who planned big but did not not follow through – but am so grateful for those experiences. I was really aware that I had great leadership at Northcote College, leaders who also managed effectively, and will continue to be grateful for the examples set for me to emulate.

We moved onto our ‘Julia Circles’ to focus on leadership using the Leading from the Middle model to link our values, beliefs, principles and practices. It felt as if we really made headway in solidifying our collective thinking, our vision and our agreed practices. I left for home on Tuesday with a sense of achievement.

Educational Leadership Model


Wednesday was an overview from the three Deputy-Principals (Claire, Lea and Di) on their areas of responsibility in the school as a lead into the LOLs breaking off into our leadership roles.  I loved this. I knew that they were amazing educators, practitioners and leaders but I feel so privileged to be working with such a strong leadership team.  Nuff said.

Claire Amos

Claire Amos

Lea Vellenoweth

Lea Vellenoweth

Di Cavallo

Di Cavallo


LOLs broke up into the teams of LTLs (Learning Team Leaders), SLLs (Specialist Learning Leaders) and LPL (Learning Partnership Leader). Sally, Yasmin (the other LTLs) and I went to work with Lea. I must admit this was the first time we had worked in a small group and it was amazing how quick we were to jump into the practices of the learning communities and learning hubs, without considering the values, beliefs and principles – sheesh, had we learnt nothing!!!


We came together in the morning for some shared PD with the HPPS staff – the secondary staff discussed an object which revealed something new about us. I love these getting to know each other activities but am so aware that Lea is running us like a learning hub – great way to experience hubs in an authentic way.  After a celebration for Tally at morning tea, we were back in our leadership teams. The LTLs what we each think we bring to the table in terms of the role, which Lea kindly documented for us and,after yesterday when things jumped to practices, we were able to articulate both the practices we bring as well as the underpinning principles.  I love learning about people. I love knowing more and more about what makes them tick and this was a great way to allow us to consider where to next.


I was lucky enough to have a meeting in the weekend with other amazing Classical Studies teachers for the annual meeting of the New Zealand Association of Classical Teachers executive council – what a mouthful! My role on the council has a leadership aspect and I felt well equipped to lead in that two day meeting – I was armed with my ‘Julia Circles’ and upon reflection, realised how imperative it is to have a mix of leadership and management.  Mark Obsorne’s words from earlier in the month bounced around in my brain a few times over the weekend, ‘vision without implementation is just hallucination‘ (I actually think that this is Thomas Edison’s quote but as Mark said it, I now attribute it to him). I am so thrilled to be working with such amazing visionaries who are also able to implement the plan and I have high hopes for Classics teaching in New Zealand.