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?



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