The weeks before a school show

I’m a drama teacher. But this year I am a part time drama teacher. One of the joys of splitting my time between my two jobs is that I get two really rich experiences – teaching in a student-centred, MLP, MLE/ILE, brand spanking new school and working as a professional learning facilitator who supports schools around leadership and assessment.

But sometimes those two worlds collide. Today feels like a massive impact. We are thirteen days away from opening night. Our band is not quite ready, we are missing some of our key set pieces, a huge chunk of time was spent getting the programme organised, costumes are still being made, some actors had moments where they lost their nerve, we waste a lot of time in transitions etc.

I know from experience that all of these are normal but today feels particularly trying. Balancing and juggling two jobs has been difficult at times but this week is feeling quite rough – three days working out of time as a facilitator, full day rehearsals during the week and weekend, and a mix of meetings and lessons as well.

So why am I blogging? I’m fearful that we may not quite make it to a polished show as there are too many variables at play. Last year’s inaugural show came together at the last minute but this was not a scripted performance. By devising our own work (which did have challenges of its own) we were able to modify and adapt. Also, I was available 7 days per week if needed. And I’m not this year. I know that I am not indispensible and am only one person. And that is what is getting me through – the performing arts team at HPSS is simply wonderful, the bulk of the students are committed and on to it, we have other supports in the school – like our delightful Sarah Wakeford, Learning Partnership Leader extraordinaire!

Alice in Wonderland will open on the 1st of December at HPSS. I would imagine that the days and hours leading up to opening night will be very chaotic – as all shows often are – but the curtains will open with an excited group of students ready to go!


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.


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 –

Leading, Leadership and Learning

Last week at HPSS was great. Hard, but great. I realised that I forgot to blog last week and I cannot be sure if it is tiredness, laziness or that I haven’t really nailed down my thoughts yet. With all of those in mind, I feel the urge to write now, even if it is just a summary of what we did so I can keep track of my ideas over time.

Our focus last week was leadership and learning.


The highlight for me was working with Daniel Birch, the Principal of Hobsonville Point Primary School, where he ran a session about learning. He placed us firmly in the role of the learner to make us thoughtfully consider how it feels to be a learner. Some of the activities were easy for me (such as working in a pair to alternate counting aloud) , some were more difficult (alternating counting, clapping and clicking). Then we moved onto an activity to justify why learners should not be placed in their age group only where we placed ourselves on a continuum in our confidence with Te Reo. While I know some words, I still consider myself a novice in this area. As a staff we spread across the continuum, despite age, which was proof that people do not learn at the same pace. I really liked some of the strategies that Daniel used to explain learning – especially the use of photos to allow people to create their own metaphors. I chose a mosaic (not the one below but I really like the Silchester Mosaic – Classics teacher in me!) to describe the connectedness of learning; each piece by itself does not really create anything or lacks value, but when there are connections made, it is a really powerful collaboration.


Silchester Mosaic


Leadership. Management. Those two terms were discussed, dissected and debated. We were asked to divvy up some descriptors under these two headings. For some, they saw management as a bit of a ‘dirty’ word. It had really negative connotations and while I could agree that poor management justifies such extremes, good management is so powerful. I have experienced ‘good’ and ‘bad’ leaders – those who micro-managed, those who planned big but did not not follow through – but am so grateful for those experiences. I was really aware that I had great leadership at Northcote College, leaders who also managed effectively, and will continue to be grateful for the examples set for me to emulate.

We moved onto our ‘Julia Circles’ to focus on leadership using the Leading from the Middle model to link our values, beliefs, principles and practices. It felt as if we really made headway in solidifying our collective thinking, our vision and our agreed practices. I left for home on Tuesday with a sense of achievement.

Educational Leadership Model


Wednesday was an overview from the three Deputy-Principals (Claire, Lea and Di) on their areas of responsibility in the school as a lead into the LOLs breaking off into our leadership roles.  I loved this. I knew that they were amazing educators, practitioners and leaders but I feel so privileged to be working with such a strong leadership team.  Nuff said.

Claire Amos

Claire Amos

Lea Vellenoweth

Lea Vellenoweth

Di Cavallo

Di Cavallo


LOLs broke up into the teams of LTLs (Learning Team Leaders), SLLs (Specialist Learning Leaders) and LPL (Learning Partnership Leader). Sally, Yasmin (the other LTLs) and I went to work with Lea. I must admit this was the first time we had worked in a small group and it was amazing how quick we were to jump into the practices of the learning communities and learning hubs, without considering the values, beliefs and principles – sheesh, had we learnt nothing!!!


We came together in the morning for some shared PD with the HPPS staff – the secondary staff discussed an object which revealed something new about us. I love these getting to know each other activities but am so aware that Lea is running us like a learning hub – great way to experience hubs in an authentic way.  After a celebration for Tally at morning tea, we were back in our leadership teams. The LTLs what we each think we bring to the table in terms of the role, which Lea kindly documented for us and,after yesterday when things jumped to practices, we were able to articulate both the practices we bring as well as the underpinning principles.  I love learning about people. I love knowing more and more about what makes them tick and this was a great way to allow us to consider where to next.


I was lucky enough to have a meeting in the weekend with other amazing Classical Studies teachers for the annual meeting of the New Zealand Association of Classical Teachers executive council – what a mouthful! My role on the council has a leadership aspect and I felt well equipped to lead in that two day meeting – I was armed with my ‘Julia Circles’ and upon reflection, realised how imperative it is to have a mix of leadership and management.  Mark Obsorne’s words from earlier in the month bounced around in my brain a few times over the weekend, ‘vision without implementation is just hallucination‘ (I actually think that this is Thomas Edison’s quote but as Mark said it, I now attribute it to him). I am so thrilled to be working with such amazing visionaries who are also able to implement the plan and I have high hopes for Classics teaching in New Zealand.

Day one of my learning journey…


Today was a significant day. I joined a really exciting team of Leaders of Learning at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. To say that I was felt trepidation would be an understatement. The exciting position we find ourselves in comes along so seldom it almost seems like a dream position – to be able to start a school from scratch and to really embed the values which so many of us hold dear but are often unable to see to their full potential.

For me, the value which is paramount is that learning needs to be student centred. This may sound like common sense but the reality of many schools is that students fit around the structures and traditions of the school. I am a lover of tradition, as a teacher of Classical Studies and ancient History, how can I deny that? However, I do feel that if we, as a profession, are really going to live up to the ideals of the New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) then there needs to be a paradigm shift.

The principles of the Assessment for Learning movement fit so snugly into the NZC and, I hope, into Hobsonville Point Secondary as well.  Image


I was so impressed by the warmth of the staff. The highlight for me had to be the inaugural rehearsal of the Hobsonville Point Secondary School Ukulele Orchestra – my nail polish is chipped, I can play three chords but cannot transition (early days for this learning journey!) Our conversations in our new joint (office/workroom) were really exciting.  It is exciting to consider the possible, instead of accepting why ideas won’t or can’t work.