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




Support students to develop processes to work towards their goals.

I’ve been working on making our learning goals more visible with my learners at HPSS. This is a document that I found on pinterest that we used to make our goals, steps towards our goals more visible. We completed these individually, then sought peer feedback from the learning hub around the quality of these, and have now pinned them on the wall of the hub so that we can be accountable for our goals.

Here are some of the students’ documents:



And peer feedback from another student:


A huge focus at HPSS is the concept of ‘ako‘ where teachers and students learn from each other, I always participate in the learning. I shared my professional goals with my learning hub, sought feedback, and refined my processes based on the feedback. Here is mine…

My goals

No grades classrooms: a TEDx presentation

Browsing through my Pinterest page this morning, I stumbled upon this video (pinned by Starr Sackstein) from Mark Barnes. I am a big fan of not “marking” kids work or prescribing grades to them. Four simple words rally do summarise how we could rethink assessing – focusing on learning rather than performance.

Video here

S.E.2R = simplicity. However, the challenge here is still to ensure that there is quality feedback going on. Dialogic feedback is key but it needs to push to the self-regulating level (as described by Hattie and Timperley) rather than more surface feedback about a task or process.

I’m looking froward to exploring this more in the 2015 school year.

Mark Barnes page on SE2R as narrative feedback
Hattie and Timperley’s seminal work on The Power of Feedback

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.