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

Goals – is there more to them than meets the eye?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading lately around goals, clarity, progressions and all things education. In my new role(s) as part-time PLD facilitator focusing on Leadership and Assessment part-time HPSS teacher + leader of assessment + leader of the performing arts area (this role is not new but the part-time part is), and part-time – who knows when I’m going to find the time – Sheilah Winn Shakespeare festival organiser, director, Stage Challenge co-ordinator, Classical Studies trip co-organiser… But I digress.


Goals are one of those things that we think that we need to do but I’m not sure how well-used they are in classrooms. Schools set goals, teachers set goals, teachers get students to set goals / co-construct goals, students set goals for themselves that they don’t share with us.

Personally I’ve been really unsatisfied with SMART goals for a long time. It took me a while to really put my finger on it. Locke and Latham’s seminal 2006 article on goals clearly define the differences between performance and learning goals. When reading this article I had an ‘aha!’ moment reading “a learning goal facilitates or enhances metacognition—namely, planning, monitoring, and evaluating progress toward goal attainment” – learning goals focus on the strategies needed for success whereas performance goals focus on the outcomes. SMART goals could be used to support learning goals but the lack of focus on the how (strategies, dispositions, skills) means than they may limit attainment of the goal.

I was re-reading Viviane Robinson’s Student-Centred Leadership on the plane yesterday and her comments about when to use SMART goals and when to use learning goals. More and more the puzzle pieces are falling into place.

“At one level, setting SMART goals makes sense because people cannot regulate their performance if they are unclear about how to assess their progress… At another level, there are occasions when the call to set SMART goals is inappropriate. In order to set a SMART goal, you have to know quite a lot about how to achieve it. When goals involve new challenges, how can you possibly know if it is achievable, if it is realistic, and how long it will take you to achieve it (Seddon, 2008)? In the absence of such knowledge, it may be better to set a learning goal or a broader performance goal that expresses your shared commitments and helps keep you focused”

Student-Centred Leadership, Kindle version, Location 1100

Surely, we are wanting to get our students to be considering new challenges – why are we encouraging them to put constraints around their goals because we think that performative goals are better / easier / they way, truth and the light? I believe that the needs must be addressed before there is goal setting. If the situation requires something that needs to be achieved (an outcome), sure go ahead, be SMART. However, if there is more at stake (and I would like to imagine that there is) a learning goal is a much better fit.

So timing is important. In preparation for playing the role of the “devil’s advocate” (yes that is an actual role one gets to play, it has a cool badge / picture thing and everything) on tonight’s #edchatNZ chat hosted by my lovely colleague and friend Danielle Myburgh (@missDtheTeacher), I was thinking about some provocative questions / statements which I could challenge teachers with. Here are some (n.b. I only used one or two as I was trying to respond to people’s statements):

  • What is the point of deciding on “measurable” goals when dealing with innovation and change? Multiple measurements should evolve, shouldn’t they?
  • Goal setting, with goal follow through, clear strategies and accountability, is meaningless. How much time do you dedicate to work with your students on follow through? What about your own goals? Your colleagues?
  • how do your students’ individual goals impact their day to day experiences in your classroom?
  • How much alignment is there between your students’, staff and school’s strategic goals?
  • What checks and balances do you have to robust critique of goals? Yours, your students, or your colleagues goals?
  • What is the point of goal setting if the goals are not enacted? Need to be coupled with frequent checking in and feedback/feedforward, what does this look like in your practice?
  • Have your students been setting goals this year? Why? What evidence or research is underpinning your practice?


I guess from the feedback, aspects of my devil’s advocate role resonated with some. Personally, I felt that I was a bit slow and (as always) struggled with 140 characters.

Twitter chat extract

I do believe in making the learning visible – using learning intentions which clearly show what we are learning, why we are learning and how we are learning is the key. The harder part of me is to relate this to each individual I’m teaching, be it in hubs, modules, my times or big projects.

On Monday, I will be starting working with my HPSS learning hub around their goals. I’ve got a couple of approaches to consider. I could just bowl in “Goal Setting” and support the students to make some learning goals through co-construction with me and each other, rather than performance ones, with clear check points for progress and keen understanding of what success of the goals may look like. This is what we did last year, however I felt that some students were occasionally complying with me because they are all decent people who trusted me enough that this was a good idea. We made the goals visible in our hub, we reflected on progress but I’m not convinced that there were enough deliberate acts to improve their learning goals. Not trying to make excuses but some things did get lost in the busyness of starting a new school last year.

However, the questions I was challenging myself to come up with to challenge others are now challenging me. What evidence will students be using to inform their goals? Is now the right time? How can I align my own goals for this year (which I have yet to formulate) to those of my hub? How can I best support my students in this highly personalised environment without resorting to following the “letter” of goal setting, rather than the “spirit”?

Over the weekend I’m going to keep pondering this and if I come up with something better, I’ll blog about it (promise).


Learning to learn: Herrmann’s Brain

I wrote this blog post late last year, left it in draft because I wanted to add something but couldn’t recall, so here it is – a little out of date but still very relevant to my thinking right now…

Understanding yourself as a learner is a key to success. Knowing when and how to apply different modes of thinking to different situations is a learned skill. At Hobsonville Point Secondary School, one of the focuses of our hub curriculum this term is around building the students’ capacity to understand themselves as learners. We are using a variation of Ned Herrmann’s Whole Brain model as a means of unpacking the students’ learning preferences. While we had introduced the students to the model earlier last year, it was definitely time to come back and delve a little deeper.  In term 4, students across the school were empowered with some understanding of the parts of the brain, what they do and how this may link to our learning preferences.  This was a bit of a stretch for me to prepare for the learning coaches to use as I had to make sure that my understanding was deep enough it so I could translate it for others to use. Using terms like ‘limbic system’, ‘cerebral cortex’ and ‘corpus callosum’ is far removed from my drama/classics teaching experience so I was thankful for one of our biology teachers looking over the presentation beforehand.

When I presented the science of the brain to the students in my learning community, Taheretikitiki,  and I was astounded by the questions that they were asking (here are a few) – many of which I didn’t have the answers for:

  • can we combine our thinking quadrants to use them together?
  • can we learn to think in each mode?
  • what part of the brain covers addition or bad behaviour?
  • What happens when one part of the brain doesn’t work anymore?
  • Can we tie autism to the parts of the brain?

We talked through the whole brain model and the brain for about 40 minutes. I love that the students in my learning community are hooked on knowing and understanding more. One of the focuses of our school is on empowering students and I think that understanding how they think and how the brain works is essential – there were so many students hanging back during their break to ask more questions. In our community we built on the thinking quadrants in our extended hub community time. The students had to refamiliarise themselves with the quadrants, but this time focus on the common attributes of each thinking mode, expectations held by people when that mode is their preference, and what each quadrant struggles with. There was a cut and paste collaborative activity to get the students used to using the language of the quadrants, their descriptors, strengths when using that mode of thinking, as well as what each quadrant struggles with. Then the learning coaches offered a different activity for each of the thinking quadrants.

The catch… we had to plan an activity which would challenge us to work with our least preferred thinking quadrant. Steve worked with  the strategic quadrant (green), Bryce worked with the innovative quadrant (yellow), Danielle with the red quadrant (relational) and I had the blue quadrant (thinking). I found this really challenging. As a learner. For me, the whole point of the preferences is that this mode of thinking is not what I would normally be drawn to. So I had to really think about what types of things I wanted the students to engage with – being analytical by dealing the specific information in a logical manner. Making connections between ideas to draw some kind of conclusion. I thought about it all weekend. And it was only on Sunday night that I decided to use some ponderous riddles for the students to analyse facts to come up with an evidence based conclusion. Upon reflection, I realised that this activity was really successful. Thankfully, the feedback from the coaches involved was also positive. Each of us had to work outside of our comfort-zones, which is always unnerving – and I was so thrilled to see the students actively engaging with some different modes of thinking. Our coaches’ debrief included us noticing how some students used different strategies to deal with the problem presented, the Hobsonville Habits that we could see visibly in their learning, and the types of questions asked.

So where to next?

The new year has arrived and my role at HPSS is slightly different this year, as I am not leading Taheretikitiki community due to my secondment. However, I still want to consider how to empower the students to understand themselves as learners, to move beyond their preferences and to make this aspect of thinking more visible in the school. I’m working my way through Ned Herrmann’s Whole Brain Business book and while the context tailored to the corporate world, as indicated by the title, I’m busy transferring to what it looks like in the classroom /school context. I’m excited about the communication and creativity sections – lots of scope there to tie into growth mindsets and Hobsonville Habits.

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.

Knowing where you are going – Setting meaningful goals

Clearly articulated learning goals are the key to maximising learning by allowing for more purposeful learning to occur. At Hobsonville Point Secondary School, learning goals allow for greater personalisation of learning across the three strands of our school curriculum – Big Projects, Learning Hubs, and Specialist Learning Modules.

Term one ended with student led individual education meetings (IEMs). During these meetings, students led their coach and their parents/whanau through their learning this term and used evidence of their learning to set new goals.

Prior to these meetings, I had led our learning community through some goal setting exercises. We started with the differences between learning goals and performance goals, based on Zimmerman’s research, and then collectively set learning goals. Setting a goal is in itself not enough – it is important to know the success criteria of the goal and the strategies needed to get there. The activity that I ran with the students is here.

Once the students were familiar with the learning goals, success criteria and strategies of goals, they worked in their hubs on a mix and match activity. Once they were happy with how they matched up the goals, they discussed the merits of each. Then it was onto business. They each set a goal based on their learning needs, established the success criteria for their goals, and devised some strategies. We used peer critiquing during this exercise – on the one hand, it gave the goal setter an extra perspective, particularly around the validity of the goals and/or strategies, and on the other hand the open discussions gave extra support for students who were struggling to set their goals. Once the goals were set, with clear success criteria and strategies, the students added them to their IEM summary document that they would be sharing during their meeting. Students in my learning hub mainly set two meaningful learning goals for term 2.

During the IEM, the student, coach and whanau all revisited the goals and looked at them in light of the learning conversation. Some goals were adjusted slightly, many had new strategies added to them in light of the assessment narratives derived by both the students and the teachers on the learning modules, some goals stayed the same. Each student’s goals are personalised and relevant. The final part of the IEM document that was shared with the student, coach and whanau was a set of agreed responsibilities in order for the goals to be met – the whanau, coach and student all stated what they needed to do to help in meeting the learning goals.

Examples of students’ goals:
To manage my learning so I am not rushed
To understand the full concept of place and space (key concept for T2)
To generate written reflections which are more detailed
To focus during the generating phase so I don’t end up being weary.
To take more risks in learning
To focus by identifying and planning to find more than one strategy or approach

Where to next?
It is one thing to set goals and another to have them as central to the student’s personalised learning path. The first step was to use these goals to help the students select appropriate modules for term 2. Module selection had to be completed the day following IEMs. As a learning coach, I was able to guide them in making module selections that would allow them to meet their goals and use the strategies that we had agreed upon as their goals were so clearly articulated and relevant to their needs.

The problem with goal setting in secondary school is how to communicate the information to all teaching staff – for HPSS that is going beyond the learning coach and sharing with big project guides, module teachers and extra-curricular leaders. My responsibility as a coach in many of the IEMs was to share the goals with all teaching staff. I am planning on using KAMAR to do this so that any teacher can see the goals of the students. I love the idea of empowering our teachers to know our learners and their learning needs, and for teachers to plan accordingly. I see KAMAR as being a tool for all teachers to provide feedback on students and how much more meaningful will that feedback be if they are aware of the learning goals.

However, that is not enough. I think that goals need to be visible so I am planning on displaying each students goals in our hub area – inspired by the wonderful teachers at HPPS – and using visual means to track progress towards the goal (watch this space!). Our student-coach conferencing in term 2 will focus around progress of learning, in light of these goals, and figuring out where to next.