Focusing on the ‘why’ we do

It has been yet another super busy week and strangely enough, a fairly busy long weekend. As we plod on with planning our fantastic new school, I am continually reminded that we need to focus on the ‘why’. Whether it is a decision about resourcing the new learning areas in our school, a task which I have not yet finished for the budget I am leading, or deeply considering the ways in which we will communicate learning with whanau, the why needs to be at the centre.

For us at Hobsonville Point Secondary, the why is our vision – personalised learning, deep challenge and inquiry, engage through powerful partnerships. I talked about these before. It has been a privilege to observe our new staff as they are grappling with the why as well. The snippets of overheard conversations remind me that the vision is truly in very safe hands. This week involved most of the new people sharing their stories, their learning, who they are and what sparks their interests. I love all of this stuff – partly because I am a people person (read: nosy) but more importantly, this allows us to really get to know each other. I had a conversation with Ros on Friday where she said, catching up on recordings of the shared stories, that she felt like she knew more about the HPSS people than people she worked with previously for nine years. I feel exactly the same. I know that some of my full-time teaching friends have mocked the pace which I am currently working but I do believe that the vision we have for our learners is exactly the same for our staff. We need to personalise learning, therefore we need to personalise the individual. Therefore, the time taken to bond as a team, to create a sense of trust in the work place and to model the powerful partnerships we will be striving for is time well spent.

Towards the end of the week, the LTL team and Lea had the chance to present what we have devised for our dispositional curriculum so far to the HPPS staff. Presenting work as we were working on it, rather than at the end, and getting feedback is key. Within the HPSS staff, the habits based curriculum is beginning to be understood and imbedded so it was timely to get a critical perspective from outside our bubble. I loved the challenging questions laid out by Daniel, Lisa and the others, posing questions which we had to defend or expand on our process. Lea, Sally, Yasmin and I dealt with these challenges and the feedback about the model of learning as generally positive. By the end of the meeting, I was stewing over our where to next – I think that some work is needed to clarify the model, it definitely needs a better name and I think we have a way to go with the goal setting and planning of learning. I have given myself/been given the ‘portfolio’ of feedback and goal setting – which makes sense as I have been up to my eyeballs in it for so long – and I know that we need to come back to how to use these tools for deep challenge, personalisation and partnerships.

In the weekend, I donned a different hat and spent Sunday as the President of the New Zealand association of classical Teachers. What this actually meant in practice was working with the lovely Claire to plan out a national professional development workshop for teachers around course design and assessment. Again, even though we were both feeling quite under the weather, we came back to the why. Why? You have to be clear when dealing with any kind of big picture thinking that your thinking is based on what is at the core. For us in this context, it was why we need robust course design, why concepts need to be linked for clarity, why (and how) courses allow for increasing complexity of skills, why teachers need to be supported by their association. Lots of why questions! Thankfully we plodded through and six or so hours later had the makings of some powerful professional development.

When my son was little and was going to through the ‘why’ phase, I must admit I never found it exasperating. His constant need to know more, to be curious, was such a good thing. Thankfully now, as a teenager, he is still curious but tends to rely on Wikipedia more than me for answers. I think setting up a new school involves thinking a little like a four year old. We must constantly ask ‘why’. If we don’t, then we don’t challenge our old practice to ensure that any choices are based on our vision and could run the risk of being a teacher-centred institution. If the response to the ‘why’ is not linked to student outcomes, then we must dig deeper, take another course or simply stop what we are doing to regather our thoughts and plan an alternative way.

Sounds easy, right?



Leading learning – lessons I’m already learning

This week we had our long-anticipated 9 new staff members start at Hobsonville Point Secondary School – Bryce, Cindy, Danielle, Georgi, Liz, Maliiana, Martin, Pete and Ros – and it was so exciting to have a full staff (bar the few part-time positions we need to 2014).

I was reminded again this week why I came to HPSS.  Toward the end of last term, with the sheer amount of work yet to do, it was a smidge overwhelming. I really enjoyed the sleek presentation of the vision and values given to our new people by Maurie, Claire, Di and Lea – for me it was affirming and a reminder about why the careful and thoughtful planning and prep we are doing at the moment is so necessary to truly personalise learning to empower, engage and innovate students. While this could be considered a daunting task, the joy we have at school is a fantastic balance – we play together (with a much fuller ukulele orchestra) and we laugh. A lot. I think that the leaders of learning were aptly called the LOLs – I don’t know if I have ever laughed so much at work before.

Who are you?

The LOLs are going to be heavily involving in inducting the ‘newbies’ (although I think that we need to come up with a better term for our amazing people). We had the opportunity to share professional readings which had shaped our thinking at Hobby and Yasmin and I led the team through a ‘learning hub’ activity of sculpture making on Thursday (Sally was with us in spirit, if not in person). The LTL team are leading a lot of the PD for the new staff, utilising the structures and processes we are going to embed in learning hubs. This week, we led the team through a sculpture making activity where they made a sculpture about themselves (after listening to Yasmin’s dulcet tones reading a section from “The Whale Rider”). I think that on the whole, this was a really successful activity.  My sculpture (of which I have no photo) was quickly made – a glass half full of water to represent that I am an internal optimist – and this allowed me to mosey around and see and document the process.

Steve searching through the box of goodies

Steve searching through the box of goodies

Danielle and Martin hard at work

Danielle and Martin hard at work

Cindy and Georgi - listening to Cindy and the sea...

Cindy and Georgi – listening to Cindy and the sea…

Bryce of the meadow

Bryce of the meadow

Pete and his cairn and his sheep

Pete and his cairn and his sheep

I think I learnt a few things from this activity:

1. Presenting people with materials was not the best of ideas – tipping the box of goodies on the floor was a good feeling but that was actually a constraint for many. I think that it was only Sarah and I (and Maurie with his portable, compact sculpture) who ventured outside of these materials

2. We actually do need to align our thinking to a more sustainable school – the LTL team did go a little crazy in the craft section of the Warehouse. We have already presented a different approach for 2014 – aiming to use more reused and recycled materials

Trust at work

Hobsonville Point Secondary School is proving to be a school which operates at a high level of trust. I cannot believe that the LOLs and SLT have only been together for one term and already I feel so confident in our ability to support, accept and challenge ideas.  We spend Friday afternoon, when the newbies were experiencing the school zone, debating the timetable model for 2014. Compared to a traditional school, HPSS’s timetable is very innovative and will reflect personalised learning. We are not quite there yet but I am consistently reminded of the power of the high-trust model our leadership is based on. Maurie needed to solidify the timetable in order to move with budgeting, resourcing etc but was not only open to new ideas but was keen on having the input of the LOLs. We will get there in the next few days I am sure.

The newbies:

I have really enjoyed reading the blogs of our new team members (these are the ones i have read so far):

Pete –

Danielle –

Georgi –

Also, follow them on twitter:

Ros – @rosmaceachern

Bryce – @44trees4me

Cindy – @CbwynnWynn

Pete – @McGhiePete

Danielle – @MissDSciTeacher

Georgi – @gingamusings

A new man in my life…

Last night I did something that I hadn’t done for age. It reminded me of my youth, my hey-day, back before I had to actually get up for work and function as an adult. I gave in to my guilty pleasure… I stayed up half the night and read a book. Cover to cover. To be honest, I didn’t want it to end.

I was reading Dennis Littky’s Big Picture book – The Big Picture: Education is Everything. I was enthralled. All of the professional reading I have done over the last few years, months and weeks have shaped my thinking about learning, education and teaching. Yet Littky’s recount of his journey to set up The Met School and the other Big Picture schools was the funnel which pulled all of my thinking together. I felt like I was listening to an old friend explain why our goals for Hobsonville Point Secondary are not only valid but should be the goals of all educators worldwide.

I know that this sounds evangelical. I think for me it was. I finished reading around 3.30am and fought the urge to jump on a plane and head to Rhode Island. I normally have such a disciplined approach to academic reading (taking notes, writing questions for myself to consider, linking and cross-referencing ideas etc.) but I did none of that.

LicenseAttributionShare Alike by Kris Krug

License Attribution Share Alike by Kris Krug

I think for me it is the idea of education working for each kid, allowing them to be masters of their own learning and to really find their passions and work on them is the key. For me, as a student, I was totally into academic subjects (Classics is still my fave) but I consider so many others I know – friends who struggled at school and have now found their niche as hairdressers, artists, mechanics, data analysts, IT people who do jobs I don’t really understand, to my son who has extreme successes in the subjects he loves at school and simply goes through the motions for the rest of the day – those of whom would have thrived in an environment such as The Met School.

So this time, I have no notes to share. I don’t even feel inclined to make any.  Buy this book. Read this book. It should be a must for all teachers and those involved in education.

Here is link to Littky and Grabelle’s text on Amazon

This is a link to the school itself –