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





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.


A confession

This is my confession. Hi, my name is Megan and I am a hypocrite.
Why? I have been pushing with students at HPSS the importance of self-assessing and reflecting on learning, I stood in front of my learning community at Hobsonville Point Secondary and extolled the virtues of “looking back to look forward”, of the power of their voice as an assessment agent. Yet, I haven’t written a blog for well over a month and have instead attacked my “to-do” list like a marathon runner who can see the finish line in sight.
FYI – for me that is only a metaphor, having never been involved in anything that could resemble a marathon.


Where has my reluctance to reflect come from? I woke up early this morning and couldn’t get that question out of my head. I think that there are several factors. One has been the dreaded to-do list, and the reality that some of that stuff was very important and actually did need to get done, as a result I lost sight of why reflecting was important. That it is a valuable use of my time and an important part of my learning. Yesterday, I cracked a KAMAR related problem, with online help, which had been plaguing me and several other staff members for weeks. I was elated, that had been a good use of my time. I’m not going to apologise for all of the hours of planning, making mistakes, working with the KAMAR people that led us to this point. Instead, I am going to reflect on the fact that shorter, less exciting summaries of my learning journey – even at that point – would have helped me to process my thinking.

Another reason has been that I haven’t been able to trust my voice over the last term. I’ve really struggled with one of my modules, and have felt completely incompetent and useless, I wasn’t ready to write about that and share how I was (and to be honest am) feeling about teaching well outside of my learning areas, to have the realisation that all those academics were right, there is a fundamental difference between content knowledge (which I have) and pedagogical content knowledge (which I don’t). A lesson two weeks ago brought me to a puddle of tears as I stood there thinking “I don’t know how to help you” as students floundered and struggled to figure out the problem/challenge I had set for them (the tears came the next morning, did manage to keep it together until there were no students around). I have never been in a situation where I felt so incompetent.

Another reason is end-of-term-itis. For me, this has been impacted by my usual trick of leaving for the northern hemisphere a few days early (adding to the rush), of solving problems by reverting to my default position of “I can fix it so I know it gets done on time”, and of trading hours in the school term (weekends, late nights, early mornings) for the promised land of two weeks exploring, not working, and relaxing on my overseas holiday. I kept thinking, I’m going to reflect on this in the holidays, I’ll take my draft reflections which I have been storing up and turn them into something good that people want to read.

But I know that if I don’t reflect on my feelings around my teaching, or give reflecting the kudos and gravitas it needs, I will wallow in a pit. What brought me out of the pit? My wonderful critical friend at HPSS, the realisation that the awful module was nearly over (it is the end of the term), the fact that our students so honestly and thoughtfully reflect on their learning and, if they have bought into my vision around empowering students through assessment, why can’t I?

They are learning in a new way, in a new school environment. I promise that reflecting will help them. Yet I am no different, I am nearly one year in on my journey as a learner at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. I’m learning in a new way, in a new environment, teaching like I have never done before, using my time in completely new ways. Of course, I need to reflect.

Right now, I feel like less of a fraud. Over and out.