Teaching is who we are, not just what we do

I was privileged enough to attend the funeral of a dear colleague of mine today. It was hard. Tony was an exceptional human being who had an impact on so many lives. His life was celebrated to his family, friends, colleagues, and former students – with his love of mathematics, learning, compassionately serving his community, seeing students succeed and being an all-round good bloke to boot was evident through every tear shed, every laugh shared, and every quiet moment of contemplation. Tony was the epitome of a life-long learner, a leader, and a kaiako.

Everyone spoke about Tony as a teacher. I’ve always wanted to be more than just a “teacher”. I’m many other things: a mum, a friend, a wife, a shoe collector, a wannabe snowboarder, a part-time tap dancer. I have always believed that we are the sum of our parts. Yet for many of us, teaching takes up so much of our time, our energy. Our families listen as we talk teaching, think teaching, talk about our students etc. It keeps us awake at night on occasion. We worry about students and staff – their well-being, their learning, about whether we are doing enough to make a difference. We want a life outside of teaching. Bring on the holidays so I can be my real me.

Yet, I wonder if we sometimes fight too much. We entered this profession knowing what it was all about. Teachers who are passionate about others, about learning, about the subjects they teach which get their blood pumping, therefore they should be proud to be teachers all of the time. I was simply overwhelmed at points today reflecting on this gem of a human being who is no longer with us. I loved how he shared his love of new things (he was prone to sharing new learnings with others all the time – he taught me about the power of crtl T, among other things), instilled a love of problem solving in thousands of students over a 48 year career, tried to teach this classics and drama teacher about the importance of problem solving when timetabling (my non-logical thinking struggled at times!), and treated ever person he encountered as a friend.

Today was testament to a true teacher – it was amazing seeing how many people were there to acknowledge a life spent in the classroom. I have reflected deeply on both this wonderful man and my perceptions of myself. What is wrong with being a “teacher” as part of our definitions of ourselves? I am a teacher. I love teaching. I am a learner too. Teaching is about connecting with other souls and working together to learn more. Tony’s journey as a teacher was also a journey as a learner.

I’m not really sure what the point of this blog post is. To reflect. To ponder. To share my pride in being a teacher and to challenge others to consider the impact of what they do every day without getting bogged down in the nitty-gritty of the industry.

I am proud to have taught with this man. I hope that I can live up to the example he lived, breathed, and taught to others.



What strategies are needed for effective AfL?

There are numerous resources online to support AfL in the classroom. Some of these are engaging and easy to implement strategies to support students in their learning – from peer and self-assessment strategies to ways to give ownership of learning to students. I find inspiration from Pinterest – check out my AfL board here –  as well as other professional connections, such as the VLN and Twitter – #A4Learn and #Assessment are worth following as many interesting ideas come up there.  These are some strategies have I been using at Hobsonville Point Secondary to give the students a ‘check up’ on their learning as they are learning.

1. Co-constructed success criteria – this is key for me and I love that I can ask the students “how will we know if we are successful?” in reference to the learning objective of the lesson / unit. We then co-construct it on the whiteboard, a little old skool I know, and use this as a reference throughout the lesson / sequence of lessons. This is really empowering as this is what we assess or measure progress against. Not a grade, not a level (I think that there is a place for these but not early on in learning). What is really important about this is that the students and I set what is expected. Obviously as a teacher I bring my pedagogical content knowledge but the act of co-construction empowers the students to own their learning.

2. Finding the gaps and checking for understanding.

Checking for understanding or ponderings as the learning is occurring is key – how else do you know if they are getting it? Andrea and I tried using a Google form to check for understanding of rights and responsibilities of citizenship with reference to political rights and responsibilities and socio-scientific issues in our recent “Stand up for your rights” module (covering the English, Science and Social Science learning areas). We also wanted to allow the students to direct what they wanted the learning to cover over the module – making sure that we were not delivering information but instead building on their prior learning and allowing their interests to come through in co-constructing the lessons. Completing a Google form mid-lesson gave us an idea of how the students were going in their learning and whether the key concepts of the lesson were making sense. By checking mid-lesson, we were able to adjust our lesson plan to find ways to close the gaps in understanding, differentiate based on needs or move on.

Checking for understanding

Use of a Google form mid-lesson to check for understanding


There are so many ways to provide information to students about gaps in their learning and I really like the idea of immediate feedback on misconceptions that can be provided electronically. I was introduced to a game called Kahoot by a fellow Classical Studies teacher, Lauren. This is an interactive quiz where students answer set questions (set by the teacher / another person) using their mobile devices / laptops.


Kahoot quiz questions


The students love this format as it lets them know immediately if they are correct or incorrect. I find that it is a great way for me to check for understanding on facts or concepts. As the students are completing the game, they get points if they are correct. There is immediate feedback if they are not. As a teacher, I get data about each question that the students are answering – and am able to see gaps. These gaps could be all from one question, or from a few students. This information comes conveniently in the form of a table and I can deal with the data at any point as it is easily downloaded from the Kahoot dashboard. I would love a tool which could be as interactive as this one is and also provide each student with immediate feedback on why their answer was correct or incorrect.

Kahoot data

Kahoot data


Tracking data is always useful. I like to keep an overview of what the students are completing and check for trends and patterns. This is an example from one of my drama modules earlier in the year where there was a focus on reflecting on their learning as they were learning. These reflections happened in a Moodle forum and each student had to respond to at least one other student each week, and I was able to provide feedback on their understanding based on their own reflection and the feedback they gave others. Keeping track of the quantity and quality is really important. This information provides a clear snapshot of who needs additional support in this part of their learning.

Tracking learning 1

Tracking student reflections

3. Putting students in the driver’s seat: A strategy that I used in the module I was teaching with Kylee, “Keep your ideas to yourself” – an Art  /English module-  was traffic lights. We had a class who were reluctant to speak and share their thinking – asking for help was a struggle for some of the students so the traffic lights were a great idea! I made my own cards, using the language I had used over the course of the term: “All good” for green,, “I think I’m okay but may need some help” for orange”, and “I’m stuck” for red. I didn’t have a photo of my cards but found this one on Pinterest from Teacherspayteachers website. While I had heard of this strategy before, using the traffic lights came from a conversation I was having with one of my students in my learning hub to find a way to get him to ask for help, rather than be passive in his learning. As he was taking the learning module that Kylee and I were trying, it made sense to trial them there. What was brilliant was how these cards worked for all learners. Daniel, another student in the module, has his light on green for the duration of the lesson – he was focused and didn’t want to be interrupted. Amy, another student, fluctuated between using all three cards in the lesson. It was a great way for her to self-regulate and know when to seek feedback. I loved to see students reminding each other to adjust their lights as needed.  They went down well and I’m going to keep using them in my classes in the future.

Traffic lights

Traffic light cards

4. Peer and self-assessment

I love how many ways there are to do this… here are some examples I’ve used at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. My fave is always the “Two stars and a wish” method. Students peer and self-assess using a simple structure which links to the co-constructed success criteria. The stars represent two positives which the students can see in the work and the wish represents an area for improvement. What is really effective about this basic structure is it moves away from “this was good” and “well done” – which is not effective or useful feedback – and instead focuses the students on being descriptive and specific in their feedback. The limitation of one wish means that the feedback does not become a litany of negatives but is instead is the most important piece of information needed to improve the quality of the work.

Another format that Andrea and I used (which was inspired by Peter Radonich, the SCT at my previous school, Northcote College) was the stop, start, keep structure to peer feedback. This was something that we used as a means to capture student voice about our teaching at Northcote College but the simplicity of these three scaffolding questions means that it can be used in multiple ways. It seemed a logical fit to use this scaffold with students as it meant, again, that the chances of feedback being meaningless for students are reduced.

Stop, start, keep

I have been so impressed by how seriously the students at Hobsonville Point Secondary have been taking giving and receiving peer feedback. I think that careful scaffolds are needed and, like anything, we as teachers need to model how to give effective feedback.

The power of peer and self-assessment is what the students do with the information. The image below shows the feedback provided to students on each other’s oral presentations in class. Each student provided feedback to each other and some suggested next steps to improve (based on our co-constructed success criteria). The students gave their feedback to each other and then had to process the feedback provided to write their final reflection on their learning.

Peer feedback 1

The picture below on the right is a snapshot of the feedback narratives that all students used at HPSS this term to co-construct their learning journeys with their teachers.

Learning journey

There is real power in getting the students to reflect on their learning as they are learning. Dialogic feedback, as the learning journey document shows, gives equal weighting to the voice of the student and the teacher. The student reflects and self-assesses their learning and sets clear “next steps” to act as mini goals in the learning. The teacher can support the students by suggesting appropriate strategies to meet these mini-goals, correct misunderstandings and assumptions made, and provide ongoing feedback about self-regulating strategies. The power here is that students are in the driving seat of their learning. They have a voice, they can evaluate strategies which are successful or unsuccessful, they can direct where their learning needs to go. The teacher’s voice is still important but their job is to provide ongoing responsive feedback which supports students to close the gaps between their current and desired levels of performance.

#edchatnz Conference – my reflection blog

I love that there is a blogging meme going around – it is awesome. Here are my brief, yet well considered responses…

1. How did you attend the #edchatnz conference (face 2 face, followed online or didn’t)?

I was lucky enough to have the inaugural #edchatNZ conference at my lovely school, Hobsonville Point Secondary School. I was teaching, and therefore part of the conference on Friday, and totally F2F on Saturday.

2.  How many others attended from your school or organisation?

All! And several from my other organisation, NZQA – Steve and Alan as my former NZQA ‘bosses’!

3. How many #edchatnz challenges did you complete?

Hardly any! Maybe two. I helped @michaelcentrino with some Twitter stuff and was in the Taheretikitiki Learning Community Selfie

4. Who are 3 people that you connected with and what did you learn from them?

  • @pamhook – I have had the pleasure of working with Pam before but we had a lovely, critical discussion about the perils of a new school and SOLO taxonomy – these are unconnected ideas! – and I continued to be awed by her.
  • @Melmoore – I felt that I met Mel properly at the end of the conference and it was awesome to connect with someone who has similar ideas about assessment and how it can empower students. I know that we can connect online, which is just as good.
  • @marywoomble – great to be sitting in the same workshop and realise that we are retweeting each other – great minds think alike! Again, more time together could have been awesome and I’m looking forward to the possibilities presented through our #socscichatNZ

5. What session are you gutted that you missed?

– I would have loved to have been able to attend the political debate that @claireamos chaired. I was teaching, which was really cool as well (don’t get me wrong), but it would have been great to have been able to take students along to this as well. Luckily we are having our own political debate next week (student led) with local politicans but I won’t be there.

6. Who is one person that you would like to have taken to Edchatnz and what thing would they have learnt?

I would have loved to have my old principal and friend Vicki Barrie there as she is so keen on being innovative in education. Unfortunately she is currently working towards her masters so (rightly so) was busy over the weekend. I would have also loved for some of my fellow Classics teachers to be there – notably Paul Artus!

7. Is there a person you didn’t get to meet/chat with (F2F/online) that you wished you had? Why?

As I teaching on Friday, I felt that I didn’t meet heaps of people I wanted to meet/chat with. While we met, I wanted to hear more from Sonya (@vanschaijik) as I love a lot of what she is doing online. I really enjoyed by brief conversation with Red (@rednz) – want to connect more with him online, wickedly funny guy!

8. What’s the next book you are going to read and why?

I purchased The Falconer by Grant Licthman when I realised that everyone else in my office has already read it/ only have an electronic copy. I’ve got a long haul flight on Friday so it may be my reading there. I am also about to read “Lead with Wisdom: How Wisdom Transforms Good Leaders into Great Leaders” by Mark Strom. I purchased this in a bookdepository shopping spree and love that it seems to be a mix of leadership and philosophy.

9. What is one thing you plan to do to continue the Education Revolution you learnt about at #EdchatNZ?

Get more teachers on Twitter! As president of my subject association I feel that my role is to provide links for people and Twitter is a connection to the wider educational sphere. Watch this space!

10. Will you take a risk and hand your students a blank canvas?

Yes! Absolutely!!! I do this all the time and while it is not a nice feeling at time, a smidge uncomfortable, it is what we need to do. However, we need to be there to support them.

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 – http://petefoodtech.wordpress.com/

Danielle – http://missdtheteacher.blogspot.co.nz/

Georgi – http://georgids.wordpress.com/

Also, follow them on twitter:

Ros – @rosmaceachern

Bryce – @44trees4me

Cindy – @CbwynnWynn

Pete – @McGhiePete

Danielle – @MissDSciTeacher

Georgi – @gingamusings

Lessons learnt

We’ve been really fortunate in setting up our new school to be able to visit so many amazing schools. I think for me, the biggest revelation educationally has been the visits to our contributing primary schools. Not only are we fortunate to be based in a primary school at the moment, but we are also connecting with students and teachers in the other primary schools which will feed into Hobsonville Point Secondary School.

I feel embarrassed to say that I continue to be blown away by primary schools.

The students are so engaged, the learning is visible and celebrated. I am more and more convinced that all secondary school teachers should connect with primary, and probably tertiary as well. The more we know about each stage of education in New Zealand, the more we can share pedagogy, innovation and best practice.

I have been known in the past to fall into the secondary school teacher mindset thinking that the ‘real’ learning happened at secondary school. My thinking was turned around when I embarked on my Masters in Education a few years ago where I was the only secondary teacher in one of my papers. The ease with which these amazing teachers were able to draw on a range of research and practitioner based evidence to support their ideas humbled and inspired me, I have never made so many notes of things to go and look up in any other academic setting.

I guess that this started me thinking about my own preparation for education in New Zealand. Like most New Zealand trained secondary teachers, I completed my Diploma in Education over a year, straight after finishing my degree. It was intense. I really enjoyed it and I can say I learnt a lot. However, a few terms into my first year I was convinced that I had learnt nothing, I was ill prepared and the job as a shoe salesperson was still an option.  Further into my teaching career, this abated but I still feel that I have only scratched the surface in terms of what I should know or could know.

Therefore, another lesson I have learned in the last few weeks at Hobsonville Point Secondary School is the importance of reading. This was not new to me; I came from a school where big decisions were always based on sound research and as a professional learning leader, HOD and recently completed Masters student, I did my fair share. I think for me the lesson is that all teachers need time to read. I have really enjoyed the academic and professional reading that we are currently doing. I like to approach things in a robust manner and make notes to collect my thoughts as I go. These are here in case anyone ever wants to look at them.

The biggest difference over the last few weeks has been time. I harp on about it all the time. Time is my nemesis. I like to be busy and have occasionally struggled with the lack of frenzy (which is a usual lament of teachers in term 3).  The time to read, to think, to ponder, to plot and to plan has been invaluable and for me, has made this the most enjoyable term three of my teaching career. The difference is that what I am reading is so relevant to the here and now, it has immediate practical ramifications and sings to my soul in terms of the vision of the school. However, the luxury is that there is no need to processed and pondered by a set deadline. We have the must-do readings, the should dos and the could dos. If something sparks an interest, that is where you should mosey academically.

If I have learned anything in the last few weeks, it is this:

1. all teachers should have the option to do what we are doing. A sabbatical term to reinvigorate your practice would have so many potential spin-offs for students in New Zealand. I know that these are options for long-serving teachers but a school based sabbatical could be the way to go.

2. Secondary teachers should engage with their primary counterparts. Be humble. Observe and listen – there is a lot of learning to do here.

3. Read. Read widely and often. Read a variety of texts, from very academic tomes to Ministry of Education publications (these are actually really good)

4. Use teacher PD time effectively – talk about education, link to research where possible, talk and talk some more. When you’re sick of talking, listen.

Dali’s Persistence of Memory