Being on the edge…

It has been an interesting week. I started this week with a great sense of trepidation at the enormity of the task ahead of us. Thankfully, the lovely Claire and lovely Lea managed to talk me back down and calm my sense of impending doom (it wasn’t that bad, except in my head). I think that the reality of establishing a new school got too much for me but it was Lea’s challenge – what’s the rush – which made me take a deep breath, re-evaluate my mania and stop to enjoy the challenge once more.

Stepping back from the edge – or jumping over it – allowed me to approach our LTL planning day on Thursday with a clearer head, more keen focus and more fun. I think in my haste to get things done, I had forgotten to enjoy the time I have with colleagues. Chilling out in Muriwai helped as well of course.

Defying Gravity – Wicked

I had the joy of spending Friday afternoon with the Classical Studies Pre-service teachers (PSTs) at the University of Auckland. They were on an edge too – a different edge from mine though – they were at the cusp of finishing being baby teachers and launching off into the big, wide world beyond.  Some of them were looking over the edge with an awareness of the safety net below of a job already lined up, awareness of the support to be provided by colleagues and in some cases, a buddy from Uni going with you. Others were standing there, wanting to jump, waiting for their turn, eyes closed, listening for the right signal to leap. The frustration borne by a few of these teachers was a timely reminder for me – teaching and education can be frustrating. There are hurdles, for me – calming my sense of being busy all the time – for them, the reality of being so passionate about teaching and your subject area but being unable to secure a teaching position.

Our session on Friday was actually really good –  we looked at what was important for effective course design in Classical Studies, particularly in light of the alignment and the underused teaching and learning guides. I was surprised at the frankness expressed by some of these great PSTs – they were honest about their frustrations on practicum and, mentally, I kept going back to Dweck’s work on mindset. The students who were most frustrated seemed to possess a growth mindset – they were not willing to accept limits (of students, themselves or their Associate Teachers), they could see the potential in everyone and were willing to take risks to affect change.  I drove home inspired by many of these PSTs and look forward to working with them as colleagues in the future.

I cannot claim to be a proper drama teacher without making the obvious connection to a stunning piece of musical theatre – Wicked. Of course, it helps that this is the show which is currently touring in New Zealand. The crux of this story is that when the times get tough, those who are willing to change make the change. Elpheba, the ‘wicked’ witch of the west, defies gravity in order to stand up for her beliefs, despite the risks, to not accept what is staid and comfortable.  She ‘defies gravity’ – literally and figuratively – in order to push her boundaries. What a role model!


“Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes and leap!
It’s time to try
Defying gravity
I think I’ll try
Defying gravity
And you can’t pull me down!”

Of course, the weekend here was filled with my lovely son preparing for his first NCEA examination tomorrow morning. It has been an interesting experience watching him on the edge as well. Unlike earlier in the week, I am going to be the person holding onto the safety cord as he is decides which way to jump over the edge. Around 9.30 p.m., the night before the morning exam, he was still going through practice essays, trying to learn his quotes. We made a breakthrough earlier in the weekend where he drew the quotes as a means of learning them. He thought I was crazy at first but a nudge closer to the edge from me has given him the sense of control over what could have veered another direction. It was an example of student-centred learning in my living room and he was in control of the situation as a result.  He is standing on the edge, looking down, and I can only hope that he has the courage to also defy gravity.


Enabling constraints?


Sally often reminds us of the importance of ‘enabling constraints’ for all learners at HPSS. I agree with her wholeheartedly; we need to provide structures for all learners to allow for them to develop and work towards meeting the vision of the school.  I am having a little moment of crisis; I am overwhelmed with the sheer enormity of what want to achieve for our learners (students and staff) and the constraining constraints of 6 1/2 weeks left this term. I feel that we need to devise sufficiently sturdy constraints to enable learners to personalise their learning, empower them to become autonomous yet still support them in doing so.

So it is very early in the morning, and I am trying to nut out some constraints which will enable learning in the hubs. I am excited about what the LTL team (Lea, Sally, Yasmin and I) have created around the learner profile and the tools which will allow for co-construction, learner self-regulation and academic rigour in this process. However, I am still aware of the many structures and enabling constraints yet to be developed over the next week weeks. Personally, I feel that there is a tension between supporting learners and telling learners – some exemplification is key yet too much is limiting. This is what is constantly knocking around in my head as I try to imagine a way forward.

So I currently carry my planning book like a crazed person clinging to the one thing that could bring sanity. This morning the AfL model and structures to support it have been my challenge. Today I am leading two sessions with the staff which draws on the principles and practices of AfL – specifically focusing on self-regulation, learning goals and feedback (my passion!)  With that in mind, and Hattie and Timpeley’s three questions around feedback (where am I going? how am I going? where to next?), I have been devising enabling constraints around learner self-reflection.  Or trying to. I am trying to align supported reflection prompts on learning to the SOLO taxonomy by providing clear scaffolding to delve into deeper thinking. And then our quadrants loosely based on Hermann’s Brain and Claxton’s Learning Power (metacognitive, strategic, relational, innovative) are also jumping around in my head – should these be used as an enabling constraint? Another approach could be to use the SLL (specialist learning leaders) devised/expanded inquiry model based on the NZC to support students when reflecting on their own learning? Whatever structures are devised, I do think that there needs to be sufficient flexibility around allowing for choice in what is there. Yet I cannot help but draw on my practice when encouraging learning journals and reflection on learning with junior secondary students especially and be consistently reminded (often at 4.30 a.m.) of the importance of supporting them to become empowered.

Part of this learning journey at HPSS for me is also about reflecting on my practice, my approach to challenge and how I muddle through. I think that I have always been, and will always be, a muck on through the mire and get stuff done kind of person. I am not sure how congruent this is with all of the LTL team at all times. The fact that I am sitting here, well before the sun is up with a pen in my hand, 6 tabs open on chrome and three textbooks on my bed, should be a reminder to myself of how I choose to cope with pressured situations. I need to plan out different approaches, to consider at least one or two right (or close enough) courses of action, then methodically approach the process until it is done – or close enough.  My approach is reflects one of my favourite mantras from Dory, the erratic fish in the highly acclaimed film Finding Nemo, ‘just keep swimming’.   Right now I am a little miffed whether I am swimming forwards or simply circumnavigating the fishbowl with a vague sense of deja vu.