Seeing is believing

Part of my job involves being an observer in other teachers’ classrooms. At Evaluation Associates Ltd, we have clear beliefs (underpinned by relevant evidence, of course) that ongoing feedback, evaluation and support of teachers in the classroom supports them to grow and improve. Cycles of inquiry are used to build teacher and student capacity where purposeful classroom based observations are key evidence to see shifts.

Sounds great, right? And it is. Having someone else in the room, noticing what a teacher is doing, how they are interacting with the students and how the students work with each other is a great thing.

During or just after the observation, we interview the students to get their perspective on whatever the teacher is working on in their practice, and the impact of this for them as learners. Still great. Student voice and facilitator notes are used to inform a professional discussion. Still great, right?

On reflection, I felt as if I didn’t fully commit to the power of observations. Ideally, teachers would also make a video recording of their practice that they could analyse prior to meeting with the observer. When some of the teachers I was working with last year expressed reluctance, I pulled back and allowed them to opt out. But I’m not happy with that and want to change this practice within my own facilitation this year.

Why? Without the recording acting as another set of eyes that the teacher can use to monitor and reflect on their practice. Without the impartial eyes of the video, the facilitators’ observation notes could become the perspective on the teaching and learning – which is too limited.

Assessment for Learning (which I avidly believe in) has the ultimate aim of enabling learners to become self-regulating. Part of this is generating their own feedback and connecting this cognitively, conatively and affectively. My concern is that if teachers are not filming their own practice, and using this recording as an artefact for reflection, then they could be relying on the observer as “outsider” to bring in some points about quality or how closely they have  met their goals. In short, they are not really self-regulating as learners. The role of the observer and the observation is still essential but could be improved if coupled with the video as another point of evidence to use for triangulation.

Seeing how you go about things, or things that you may not have noticed about how the students are learning, or moments where you’ve shown progress as you shift your practice are all positive outcomes of filming. Getting over the surface features- the sound of your voice, the wee foibles and eccentricities we all possess, how ugly that jumper really is (it was always borderline in your head anyway) –  and using the video as an extra set of objective eyes in the room means that it can be really powerful.

So, where to from here? For me, I need to be more upfront with the teachers and leaders I work with about the power of observation and the usefulness of the video for active reflection. I raised filming at a staff meeting last night (nervously) and the overwhelming response was positive. The teachers were keen. If I come across objections to filming in my work, I need to use my OTL skills to unpack the beliefs which have led to this reaction and build on it from there. I don’t want to push anyone into the learning pit but understanding the “why” rather than just doing the “what” is key.

When thinking about my own practice, as well as the shifting practice of the marvelous teachers, leaders and learners that I am privileged to work with, I think I need to keep the mantra up – whatever we do, it has to be better than before.

 

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This post broke my blogging drought!

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!

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.

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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.

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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.

Being a professionally “connected” educator

For me, being connected is one of the most important parts of being a teacher. And in this case, I do mean connected to more that just my colleagues in my school. Connections enforce or challenge us, provide means of learning more, trialling more and improving our own learning journey.

When an aspiration of the New Zealand Curriculum is to foster young people who are “confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners” (NZC, 2007) it seems like a natural assumption to have that as the vision for all New Zealanders. Likewise, educators feel the need to develop this capacity in our students and therefore we must know what this looks like in an ever changing world.

Being a connected educator is more than just attending a PD course for which a flyer turned up in your pigeonhole. It is more that just reading emails that have been sent to you by professional associations. Being connected involves something more active. It is through participation in a range of learning. The range is the key.

My longest connection has probably been through my subject association, the New Zealand Association of Classical Teachers. When I first started teaching the support is received through the association was phenomenal. Not only I was encouraged to attend term by term meetings where I could listen to some of auckland’s most experienced and innovative Classics teachers, gleaning as much as I could about content, pedagogical content knowledge, and assessment practices, I could also attend a well-organised, professional and slick conference to improve my content knowledge and meet some more people. Initially, I was passive – and in awe of the ‘big names’ in classics – but over time I grew in confidence. I realised that I had some ideas to share and that some of what I was up to in my classroom was useful to others. So I began to share and I haven’t stopped since. Initially this was through presenting workshops at conferences (locally, nationally, and internationally), then I was part of the NZACT Exec as the Vice-President of the association, then I was part of planning and running two conferences in Auckland, now… I have been the president of the association and am involved in leading (with the exec.) us through some big changes ahead as we drag ourselves more firmly into the 21st century. The connections aren’t just about being on planning committees and steering a council, instead they are about sharing. I share widely within my association. I post links, ideas, comments and concerns using social media, I have put some of my teaching units on google drive (a work in progress) and openly share those with another who wants them, I use my blog as an ongoing place to share my thoughts on teaching classical studies and any resources that may be useful. Also, I try to help people. I know that I am not always so fast to respond to emails. But some of this is through helping others to network, to make connections. Sometimes, this is through providing resources or finding a means to an end. And sometimes, it is just about being someone to bounce ideas off. I don’t think that I have all of the answers, I never could profess to such a lofty ambition, but to connect deeply to the pedagogy of classics teaching is massive for me.

Another connection that is invaluable to me is in national assessment through working for NZQA as a contractor. Not only am I connected to other professionals but I am up-to-date with changes and developments in pedagogy and practices of assessment. A part of my contract work that I really love is leading Best Practice Workshops for Classical Studies teachers around the country. The workshops provide the opportunities to facilitate conversations, to challenge teachers’ assumptions about what NCEA does and does not allow them to do, to support others to make professional connections and to share in a love of our subject.

Connections and networks are key and social media provides more and more support around those. I have been using Twitter for just over a year now and I love to interact with various people in various networks. Some of these connections are education based. I follow and interact with New Zealand and international educators. Because I am passionate about classical studies, drama and social science as learning areas and subjects, I love that social media allows me to interact with people involved in a range of areas. From tweeting with internationally renown classicist Mary Beard, to keeping abreast of the educational shifts in The Arts in the uncertain educational setting in the United Kingdom at the moment and how this is affecting drama teaching, to reading blogs by leading educationalists such as Grant Wiggins and Dylan Wiliam, to sharing my own resources, thoughts and ideas through international networks using various hashtags (#soloTaxonomy, #Aug2K and #edchatnz are some of my faves at the moment) means that I have up-to-date and relevant PD coming to me via my phone, iPad or computer all the time.

Facebook, Pinterest and blogs provide other ways to connect to ideas. Not only do I use these sites for my personal life but I have also use them to connect with others using Facebook groups or collaborative Pinterest boards, to follow interesting and engaging people (I use my Pinterest to organise links and ideas – education and non-education alike – and have just started reblogging as well). I attended by first google hangout about using badges in google (I may be a slow starter on the opportunities google presents) and was so impressed by the experience that I am going to host my first hangout in the next two weeks. I have been working my way through the courses that google offers for teachers to up skill as well. I am connecting with ideas, technologies and pedagogy to improve my practice. I love being involved and learning and the ease with which the internet allows for this means that there is no excuse to not be in the know.

This month looks like it is going to be connections month! I kicked things off yesterday with the annual meeting of the NZACT exec. Next weekend is the inaugural #edchatNZ conference held at Hobsonville Point Secondary School where I am presenting some thinking that I have been doing based around making NCEA more manageable. My little contribution is a drop in the bucket compared to what is on offer but I am super keen to learn from others there on a variety of things. The following weekend, I am fortunate enough to be flying out to the United Kingdom to attend the Commemorating Augustus conference held at the University of Leeds to enhance my own professional expertise and learning. Then, in the following weekend, I am off to Christchurch to run the last Classical Studies Best Practice Workshop for the year. Phewww! What a month. There is another conference I would love to attend in early September but a month of jetting around will have taken its toll on me by then.

For me, connections are not just about the things we attend and the things we do. It is the events we give time to and the thinking that we do. For me, this is about attending the theatre, movies and reading widely. As a drama teacher I see this as a massive part of my professional learning. I am off to a play on Tuesday night and then, hopefully, several when I am away in the UK. As a teacher, I cannot count the number of times I have left a play or film and turned to my husband and said “I am going to teach that/ use part of that for teaching” because I can’t turn my teaching brain off. I am going to watch Hercules at the movies. Not because I think it will be any good, but because Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was so passionate about bringing the story of the Greek hero to the big screen that it became a 10 year passion project for him. There is a classics connection in this but also as a Learning Team Leader at HPSS, one of the jobs my team has is leading in ways to explore passion based learning in secondary schools. What an exemplar to use!

I read. Voraciously. I have a personal reading challenge for the year (Whitcoulls Top 100 as well as at least 52 books) I read books on education, leadership, teaching content and novels for enjoyment. I do try to read “what the kids are reading” so this year I have also read “Divergent” and The Fault of Our Stars”. I read articles and blogs – my focus at the moment is on exploring SOLO taxonomy and assessment in greater depth to think more critically about how it can be used in different and more innovative ways.

A criticism that I often get is that I work too hard. To be honest, sometimes I do and like everyone else, I get run down, despondent and (in a recent development) a little teary. However, the reality of being a “confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learner” is that a lot of the connections am involved in I don’t see as part of my “work”. It is hard to try to live up to the aspiration of the NZC without it eating into the time away from the school building. A balance for me is always travel and holidays. Yet even then, I feel that I am still “connected” to the world around me.

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.

 

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Term 2 saw us move to more community based events. We had the inaugural Taheretikitiki student led Unconference – see the action on http://taheretikitiki.blogspot.co.nz – 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.

HPSS: My one year summary

This time last year I was anxiously awaiting the first week of term three (read my post from day one here). Why? I was starting my new job at Hobsonville Point Secondary School, a brand new high school in Auckland, New Zealand. I felt uncertain about what was ahead, I worried about working with new colleagues, learning new (as in brand new) systems and procedures and trying to figure out if I was really good enough to be one of the chosen few Leaders of Learning (ever are eight of us).

What a ride it has been! Never in my life I had experienced such a bumpy ride of professional learning which made me evaluate my personal and professional beliefs (in a good way). I cannot even begin to categorise what I have learnt , but the leadership of Maurie, Claire, Di and Lea, as well as the continual leadership and support from my fellow teachers, has opened my eyes up to so much in education. Not to mention the critical friends who pop in – Mark, Julia, Marg and Pam to name a few. Oh, and the places we’ve been – design thinking workshops, conferences, ignite sessions, mind lab…. I often leave work, even now, with my head full of possibilities, questions and ponderings.

Before going on holiday at the end of term two, I happened to have my now very tatty notebook with me that I brought in on my first day. It is full of notes, diagrams, questions, post its, brochures, scribbles and thoughts. In some ways it captures where my head has been, where it is now and where it may be going.

I cannot say that it has been an easy ride. It has been bumpy, sometimes more like a roller coaster than a cruise down a long stretch of smooth, pristine road. But that is what I was looking for – a challenge, the chance to try some new things, to innovate education for the better. Have we nailed it? Not yet, but we are on the way.