Building student learning focused relationships – critical friendships

Working in a learning hub is a great way to get to know students individually – to know their strengths, passions, aspirations, their learning, their whanau.

However, the challenge is how to get them to build learning focused relationships with each other. Teenagers tend to have some difficulty in providing peer feedback which is deep, honest and useful. In order to keep social relationships strong, they may not be truthful or as truthful as necessary when supporting each other in learning.

In Orakei hub, I tried (unsuccessfully) to set up the concept of tuakana-teina within my hub. Some struggled to articulate where they could support others; interestingly, they were all able to state where others in the hub could help them.

So back into a new term, I have a new plan. Rather than pushing some students towards a tuakana-teina model (this may be on the cards for the future), we are using a critical friendship model.

I introduced the concept on Monday and asked them to select (via google form) some students that they would like to work with and a justification why, as well as any student that they would prefer not to work with. Not surprisingly, many of the students picked their close friends. I looked at their selections and paired them up with their second or third choices.

Today we started off our extended hub class with:

  1. listing characteristics that they wanted to see in their (yet unnamed) critical friend
  2. listing characteristics that they individually would bring to the critical friendship – strengths. Then they followed up with areas where they felt that they may struggle being a critical friend
  3. Then they found out who their critical friends were
  4. Next step was to compare their lists to establish their agreed ‘rules of engagement’

    Students sharing their expectations of the critical friendship

    Students sharing their expectations of the critical friendship

  5. Then review their critical friend’s “learner story” and give feedback on the quality of their reflections (we had already co-constructed the success criteria for this).
Working with critical friends

Orakei hub students: Working with critical friends

Collaboration is important not just because it’s a better way to learn. The spirit of collaboration is penetrating every institution and all of our lives. So learning to collaborate is part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy.” – Don Tapscott





Learning everywhere, right up until the end: term 4 in a secondary school without seniors

Normally, term 4 goes something like this for secondary school teachers: workshops and tutorials in holidays between terms 3 and 4, two weeks of solid revision in class (with lots and lots of mock external questions to mark), a week of trying to get the reluctant students to keep revising and practising exam papers while trying to get the super-keen/anxious students to take a break, breathe and trust that their work throughout the year has been enough, another half a week avoiding water bombs, watching “prank days” unfold, tears from year 13 students, prizegivings, final farewells… then more tutorials leading up to their NCEA exams. After the exams, a chance to breathe, to plan, to spend time with colleagues building on ideas and professional relationships. Long leisurely appraisal meetings over long leisurely lunches.

However, term 4 in a secondary school which does not have seniors yet is a different thing. For a start, there was not a moment to catch your breath!

Our term was filled with wonderful events and celebrations. And considering that the school was only going to be closing its doors on the inaugural year, there was a lot to celebrate.

The celebrations started with the Big Project exhibition / showcase in Week 5 of the term where both of the second Big Projects for the year were shared with the public. The two projects were Bring Back Biodiversity and Future 2025, the school show. I was thrilled to be the Project and show director for the very first school production. The students worked closely with Auckland Council as their authentic partner to create pieces of performance (from acting, dancing, music, performance poetry, set design, costume, make-up, lighting and audio) which captured the vision of the city from a youth’s perspective. It was a great success. The students were so committed to telling their story and were such a neat bunch of kids to work alongside.

Weekend rehearsals

Weekend rehearsals

Everything was student led - from performance to promotions

Everything was student led – from performance to promotions

Some shots from the performance (taken by our DP Claire Amos)

Some shots from the performance (taken by our DP Claire Amos)

Some shots from the performance (taken by our DP Claire Amos)

Some shots from the performance (taken by our DP Claire Amos)

Week 6 saw us moving into celebrating our students’ sporting achievements. Not only were students acknowledged for their sporting involvement and successes in school but their extra-curricular achievements were also acknowledged. I presented the awards for the students who had excelled in their individual sports outside of the school – all of these students were from Taheretikitiki community and I loved being able to acknowledge something which may go unnoticed in other schools.

Our evening started with a catered dinner - this was a real community feel.

Our evening started with a catered dinner – this was a real community feel.

Team 1 Netball being acknowledged by coach Sharyn, or was it the other way around?

Team 1 Netball being acknowledged by coach Sharyn, or was it the other way around?

Of course, sporting success isn’t just about the students – the coaches, managers, parents and staff who supported them were also acknowledged in that evening. I loved how this added to the community feel of the evening. Lea and Rochelle did an amazing job pulling this evening together.

Bennet acknowledging Flynn's dad for his support of sport at HPSS.

Bennet acknowledging Flynn’s dad for his support of sport at HPSS.

Bryce recognising Danielle for her ongoing support of students at HPSS

Bryce recognising Danielle for her ongoing support of students at HPSS

Week 7 saw us embark on our first school camp to Camp Adair in the Hunua Ranges. Three days together as a whole school saw us bond even more and the students draw on all of their Hobsonville Habits to work more effectively as teams or to reflect on themselves, the worlds they operate in, and their learning. It was an amazing few days with the students and Bryce, Lea and Sally pulled together a different kind of camp. The students were enthusiastic yet exhausted after three days. A real highlight for me was seeing the presence of the Taheretikitiki coaches throughout the whole camp -from getting lost in the bush (thanks Steve) to playing “spoons” with students – I continue to be blown away by the amazing professionalism and commitment of these student-centred teachers.


Cadence and Nikita on the climbing wall

Listening intently for instructions!

Listening intently for instructions!

My group on the confidence course.

My group on the confidence course.

Complete joy at the water slide.

Complete joy at the water slide.

Week 8 saw our student-led social occur – which was a joy to supervise. The teachers got into the weird and wacky theme and the students danced for hours, finishing with a rap from Jack. It was an amazing night.

James and Bill dancing away

James and Bill dancing away

As Danielle put it: HPSS school social. When the kids behaved so well that there was nothing to do but dance.

As Danielle put it: HPSS school social. When the kids behaved so well that there was nothing to do but dance.

Week 9, the last week of the term, saw two big celebrations. The first was “Shine”, our performing arts showcase. The performing arts teachers, Kellie, Pete, Sophie and myself, announced that we were keen to offer a performance opportunity for our students and they jumped to the occasion. 18 acts performed on the night to an audience of around 100 parents, friends, teachers and supporters showcasing a variety of skills and talents – contemporary dance, drama, ballet, singing, orchestral works, spoken word performances, hip hop dancing, mime. It was an outstanding success.

Melissa singing Colbie Calliat's "Try"

Melissa singing Colbie Calliat’s “Try”

A full house

A full house

Jayan performing Shakespeare's Henry V's "Once more into the breach" monologue.

Jayan performing Shakespeare’s Henry V’s “Once more into the breach” monologue.

Perform it with props piece

Perform it with props piece

Of course while all of this was going on, classes were continuing as normal. I experienced the oddest thing with my last class of the year, in the last block of the year, finishing at 3.30 p.m. on the last day of the year. My “From page to stage” module students had just finished their performance pieces, it was 3.20 p.m. I was feeling end of yearish and sad to say it was me wanting to play some drama games. However, one student informed me that it was more important that they finish their peer and self-assessments of their final pieces first. Talk about a role reversal! So they worked, right up until the end of the final day of the year. But it wasn’t really, as we finished our year off with a prizegiving that night. It was a different kind of prizegiving compared to others I had attended; I think that this was to do with the fact that there was a balance between academic and dispositional success. Sally has blogged about it here in much more depth but if this is the way we are heading, I am already looking forward to term 4 2015.

Becoming a learning sleuth: processing information on learning

Reflecting on information about learning is a key part of metacognition. Getting any information (written or oral comments, or grades of any kind) is not in itself that useful – learners have to do something with it.

Our students at HPSS reflect, a lot. And the problem with doing anything, a lot, is that it can be seen as something repetitive or burdensome if it is always done in the same way. Our students have just finished a term’s learning. In their modules. Teachers and students have constructed feedback through ongoing narratives documents which show where the are going, how going, and where to next in their learning. For each of their learning modules. And they have 6. As learning coaches, part of our job is to bring the learning together with our students, to have a holistic view of them as learners. When we were at this same point last term, we got the students to compare their commentary with their teachers in each module and then reflect on it. This did not bode well for a holistic overview but instead gave disjointed snapshots.

I wanted to get away from comparing their voice and their teachers to one thing that is a bit more robust, and to definitely move away from the groans when the students were asked to write yet another reflection. So I needed to rebrand the approach, and for the rebranding to be effective as this approach was going to be offered to all learning coaches to use with their learning hub students.

Watching CSI was my inspiration. Instead of reflecting, what if thy were detecting? Searching for clues that would lead them somewhere. From that random thought came the activity below. If I had more time to develop it, I would have pushed the “detective” angle further – instead of questions there could be clues, suspects and evidence.

Learning detective instructionsInstructions

The students pulled this information into a tool based on the Hermann’s Brain whole brain model – as we are looking toward developing our learner profiles using the whole brain model.

Hermann's Brain self-assessment


All students (or at least all I could see when walking around) completed this activity on Friday morning at HPSS. In the 90 minute learning hub time, students were engaged for the whole time. There we no groans and they took the activity really seriously. Students in my learning community (Taheretikitiki) asked if they could keep working on it in our next extended hub time. Many coaches, from all of the learning communities, commented on how gripping a task it was for students. Our next move is for the students to meet with their  learning coaches to use this self-assessment and ‘detective’ reflection to readjust or re-evaluate their goals and strategies to meet them.

I would be keen to find out more about why this approach of reflecting (looking back on learning to look forward) was received by both students and staff so much more positively than written reflections in the past.

Building a learning community – my experiences at Hobsonville Point Secondary (so far)

I’m working really hard to build an awesome sense of community in Taheretikitiki. As a Learning Team Leader I see this as an integral part of my job. I am thrilled with how this is going. The learning coaches have an awesome bond, we work hard, support each other and cover each other as needed. Term 2 saw us support each other through overseas conference, illnesses, birth of a baby, various contractual obligations, minor meltdowns and everything in between. Our students are used to us popping in and out of each other’s hubs.

I really like the informality in our community. We meet out in the open, and always have, and laugh, cry, reflect, plan, and get off task within earshot of our students. We (hardly ever) complain and we love to try innovative ideas. The hub workload seems manageable and I am confident in each coaches ability to do the job. Not everyone does things in the same way but we share best practice and work smarter, not harder.

With our students, we have had a mix of hub and community events. The hub is the nucleus and the community surrounds it. In term one, we started with building great community spirit during when participating (and winning) in inaugural HPSS athletics day. We also had a celebration of world book day as a community where each member, including coaches, shared their favourite books and had to write post-it reviews as to why the books were worth reading.



Term 2 saw us move to more community based events. We had the inaugural Taheretikitiki student led Unconference – see the action on – and we mixed our hubs up to plan for their learning across the community. Danielle led more than one hub through exploring Caine’s arcade and focusing on some deep learning there. Bryce was instrumental in organising the inter community sports challenges with Josh, our sports rep. Our three student reps on the student council led the community through various things, including the consultation for the council about the local area (led by Bill, a student in my hub). Steve led several hubs, including mine, through deconstructing the New Zealand Curriculum so that they could track their own learning. I’m sure that Lea and I did things too…

So where to next? We are going to keep working on our community blog. We feel that this is an important way to get our kids voices out there and connect with our parent community. At this stage, the blog posts have been written by me, which is a start but not good enough. We’ve developed a roster to have each hub updating it once a week. Watch this space! We are also about to embark on a community challenge around our Hobsonville habits for the term. I have had this idea stewing since term one and I hope that it flies.

Individual education meetings

Teachers being crammed into a school for parent interviews whilst trying to explain a students’ learning and progress in the term over the cacophony of every other conversation are not part of the way that we do things to Hobsonville Point Secondary School.

Instead, our recently held student-led Individual Education Meetings reinforce the vision and values of our school “learners enjoy innovative personalised learning, engage through powerful partnerships and are inspired through deep challenge and inquiry to achieve academic and personal excellence.” (From

By JohnE777The IEMs were loosely structured around Hattie and Timperley (2007) questions about powerful feedback – “where am I going?”, “how am I going?”, “where to next?”

We held the meetings in the final week of the term. Students led their parents/whanau and their learning coach through their celebrations and progressions towards their goals for term one, with the coach their to support and challenge them along the way. The meetings we held in our learning commons, so parents/whanau could experience what it was like to be a learner at HPSS. Students discussed their learning progress with evidence from a range of sources: from their work in their modules, big projects, learning hubs, from their regular reflections on their learning and self-assessments of their learning modules, from assessment narratives generated by their module teachers.

Students at HPSS are being empowered to take a more active role in their learning. When discussing IEMs with students in my learning hub, many were nervous, scared or feeling out of their depth. One student asked me why he had to lead the conference, when in reality it was my job as a teacher. Moments like these are too good to miss! The throw away comment led to a great discussion, including a role play, around what it is like to have no voice, no say, to be spoken about -sometimes spoken to – but not to be the speaker. My role as a learning coach is to support and challenge the students. For some, running their first IEM was daunting but a realistic challenge. Most of the preparation work was done with the learning coach and hub in the weeks leading up to the IEM. For other students, my job as coach was to support them by taking the lead in some aspects of the IEM – which was negotiated in advance. The coach acts as the third participant in the conference, an advocate for students, the conduit and filter for the evidence generated by different module teachers and the big project guides.

IEMs work for our students because of the learning relationships already established between the student and the learning coach, and the learning coach and the parents/whanau. Our regular one-to-one conferences which I wrote about earlier in the year build those strong relationships. Read that post here.

During the meetings, the students, coach and parents/whanau finalised the learning goals for the next term, the success criteria of the goals, the strategies needed to meet them, and the roles that each participant would play in enabling these goals. More on goal setting at HPSS here. It was imperative that all three partners in learning – the student, their family, their coach – take some responsibility as each plays a vital part in empowering the student. The personalised learning goals are going to form the basis for discussions during the student-coach conferences next term as well as students explaining “where they are going” and “how they are going” during next terms IEMs and use the information gathered to figure out “where to next?”

At the end of the IEMs, students, coaches and parents/whanau all have a take away – each gets a copy of the IEM summary document (which was co-constructed and finalised during the meeting) and each gets a copy of the assessment narratives on modules (student self-assessment and teacher generated feedback). Essentially these documents become the school report. What I like about these though is that there are no surprises – the student has shared, and documented, both the celebrations of their learning and acknowledged where there is some progression but the student is not quite there yet. The students and teacher evaluations of learning use the same format for module assessment – each has commented on where they are going, how going and where to next – and both voices have an equal weighting.

This was the first student-led IEM at HPSS. I imagine that things will change as we grow into our new school, as we grow in size, as our practice changes and evolves. However, I also imagine that IEMs will be a stayer. They must, as they empower our students in their learning and build strong, positive connections with our families.

Links to other resources:
Information on student-led conferences in the New Zealand Curriculum –
When students lead parent conferences –

The anatomy of a “learning hub” at Hobsonville Point Secondary

Over the last few months I have been asked to explain what my job is. People used to understand that I was the Head of the Classical Studies Department but when I tried to explain that I was one of the Learning Team Leaders at Hobsonville Point Secondary they were stumped. So I tried to break it down, I explained what Learning Hubs were about and then said that I was leading a group of these in a Learning Community. As this point I either got glazed expressions or nods (usually polite ones). So then I tried using analogies (this worked with teacher friends) – “I’m kind of like a dean, who is also a head of house, who has some responsibility for professional learning, who still has a tutor group, who provides support for other tutors but doesn’t dictate what learning needs to look like”. What a mouthful and I’m not convinced that the description is 100% accurate.

So, what is a ‘Learning Hub’?

A Learning Hub is a structural part of our school organisation. It is a small group of students (maximum 15) who work closely with each other and one significant adult, their Learning Coach. Each Learning Hub is part of a larger Learning Community – the three inaugural communities at HPSS are Taheretikitiki, Waiarohia and Tiriwa.  For the whole time the students are at school they will stay in the same Learning Hub. In doing so, they will develop positive partnerships with their coach, other members of the mixed age hub, other hubs in the community and whanau. Hub time is part of the school timetable – every morning hubs get together to co-construct learning and build relationships and there are two extended blocks of time in the week where students will engage in a variety of activities around learning to learn, goal setting, reflecting on learning etc.

HPSS Leaning Hub model

HPSS Leaning Hub model

Learning hubs are where the distinct aspects of our school curriculum come together. Learning in the hubs focuses around ‘my being’, ‘my learning’ and ‘my communities’. The student is at the centre of learning and the whole student is developed using this model.

  • My Being focuses on the student’s well being (hauroa) and their individual learning preferences (quadrants based on Hermann’s brain).
  • My Community focuses on the students manaakitanga (moral purpose), whanaungatanga (relationships) and whenua (connection with place)
  • My Learning focuses on goal setting, gathering and using evidence, phases of the HPSS Learning Design model, learning to learn, and reflecting on learning

The aspects of the Learning Hub model are surrounded by the Hobsonville Habits which underpin all that we do at Hobsonville Point Secondary School – adventurous, creative, compassionate, contributive, purposeful, reflective, resilient, resourceful, responsive.

A Learning Hub essentially becomes a family at school for students. Learning Hubs are inspired by a range of educational research and practice, including the learning advisory model used in Big Picture schools.

What is a ‘Learning Coach’?

A Learning Coach is the significant adult for up to 15 students at Hobsonville Point Secondary. They are the academic and pastoral mentor for the students in their hub. Their focus is on the individual students in their hub – working alongside the students and families to create a caring, supportive, challenging environment, acknowledging and supporting personal interests and passions, guiding the students through their personalised learn path (co-constructed path through the big projects, passion projects and specialised learning modules).

Learning Coaches work with students in their hubs to reach academic and personal goals through careful support and guidance. Coaches will conference with each student in their hub once per fortnight – the focus ranges from goal setting, to co-constructing evidence of learning, to module selection, to ….? Liaising with family is a key part of a coach’s role – they will be in regular contact with parents. After each conference, parents will be contacted by the coach to share what happened and what the next steps are. This as a form of frequent reporting will be powerful for both the learners and their families. Once a term, the students will run an individual education meeting, with the support of their coach. In doing so, the coach supports the students to become empowered and active in their learning.

What is an ‘Learning Team Leader’?

A Learning Team Leader oversees all of this for a community. In 2014 there are three LTLs at HPSS – Sally leads Waiarohia, Yasmin leads Tiriwa and I lead Taheretikitiki. So my description above comes close to describing what we do… but it doesn’t do it justice. It has been a privilege to work with such enthusiastic LTLs to really shape what the Learning Hubs will look like here. We are led by Lea, as Deputy Principal in charge of Learning Relationships.

What does it look like in practice?

That is something that is still evolving, afterall it is only our second day with students! But what I have seen so far is that the students are already forming good bonds, coaches work with small groups to really spend time with each students personalising their learning. There is a strong sense of place – the experience of being overwhelmed that many students have on the first day of school were minimised. The focus of conversation is around fun, relationships and learning. I’ve yet to overhear a conversation about incorrect uniform – nor do I want to! Coaches are empowered to modify and change plans to suit the needs of their learners. It is pretty exciting stuff.

To sum it up in the words of Orakei hub (my hub in Taheretikitiki community) – awesome, fun and exciting!


Taheretikitiki Learning Community exploring the HPSS value of ‘collaboration’