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.


Conferencing – a new, more appropriate way to report on learning?

20140305-074218.jpgReporting is a bug bear of teachers. I have had experiences of writing reports so far in advance of them being issued that the points made are either redundant or things have changed so drastically that you want to rewrite your comment. However, the reports needed to be proofed and edited, all spelling mistakes corrected, with ‘school approved’ grammar and terminology applied. The reports went through several sets of hands  and in the end, I still question the validity of what was written. Was it honest? Was it powerful feedback? Was it useful for learners? Did we speak ‘learnish’ or did we bombard students and whanau with useless teacher talk which was long but didn’t really say anything?

As a parent of a secondary school student, I often read the reports he received and thought – so what? Why bother retelling me the course outline or mentioning his results (which were printed above) or telling him he needs to study. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why reports are like this. Part of this is quality control – I’ve been involved in checking and rechecking the reports of other teachers and I can assure anyone that a consistent school-wide approach was needed – part of this is providing information for the parents about the students. However, part of this is that this is the easiest way for the teachers to communicate information.

At Hobsonville Point Secondary School, we are focusing on personalising learning. That means that what is best for the students has to be at the fore in all decisions we are making. Powerful partnerships are key to the pedagogy of HPSS – that means partnerships between students, student and their learning coach, students, whanau and the learning coach, and students and others in the community (local and global). One way to ensure powerful partnerships is through regular conferencing between students and their learning coach.

This one-to-one meeting involves the student and the coach working closely around all aspects of learning. We are just about to embark on our third round of conferencing for 2014 at HPSS. By mid-term, coaches will have met with each student in their learning hub at least three times to look at where they are going, how they are going and where to next. This assessment is happening as they are learning, rather than at the end of their learning, or worse…several weeks or terms after it has finished. Parents and families are getting regular, meaningful and useful information about the secret life of schools and everything that they receive is targeted to their student. Our week 4 conferencing involved the students reflecting on their experiences in a new school and considering what help they needed. I was completely astounded by the depth if information we gathered in 15-20 minutes per student.

  • One student identified that he was struggling with the habit of being purposeful around his homework, so he and I set some clear goals and strategies around this.
  • Another was feeling bereft at his vague attempts to start a rugby team from the ground up, so we figured out a more aggressive course of action and he’s happily off liaising with our school sports co-ordinator.
  • Another student felt that she was really struggling to manage all of the parts of our single sign on online, so we worked together on who in our hub she would ask to help and then I caught up with her over a lunchtime to make sure that she was feeling confident and well-equiped.
  • Another student was struggling with one day of her timetable where she was physically active the whole day and she wants to work with our amazing PE staff and her mum (who is a trainer) on building her fitness so that this doesn’t become a problem for the future.

Each of these concerns and the goals and strategies we set around them was particular to each student. There is no one size fits all approach here. As a learning coach, I can reflect on each conference to look for themes and patterns so I can plan for responsive work during our learning hub times.

My favourite part was being able to email the conference summary, which had been co-constructed by the student and I, straight home to the parents/whanau. There was no delay. Parents were getting feedback about their child which was meaningful, in plain English and relevant for that day and that time.

In terms of school wide consistency of grammar and terminology, I had the best ever sets of eyes scrutinising my typing as we were figuring out what we were going to send home. I made typos and spelling mistakes, the students saw and giggled at lots of these! I failed in front of them and it was ok, failing is part of learning. I don’t think it matters whether each conference summary email is consistent. In fact, it would be detrimental to the importance that we place on personalised learning if they were.

The anatomy of a “learning hub” at Hobsonville Point Secondary

Over the last few months I have been asked to explain what my job is. People used to understand that I was the Head of the Classical Studies Department but when I tried to explain that I was one of the Learning Team Leaders at Hobsonville Point Secondary they were stumped. So I tried to break it down, I explained what Learning Hubs were about and then said that I was leading a group of these in a Learning Community. As this point I either got glazed expressions or nods (usually polite ones). So then I tried using analogies (this worked with teacher friends) – “I’m kind of like a dean, who is also a head of house, who has some responsibility for professional learning, who still has a tutor group, who provides support for other tutors but doesn’t dictate what learning needs to look like”. What a mouthful and I’m not convinced that the description is 100% accurate.

So, what is a ‘Learning Hub’?

A Learning Hub is a structural part of our school organisation. It is a small group of students (maximum 15) who work closely with each other and one significant adult, their Learning Coach. Each Learning Hub is part of a larger Learning Community – the three inaugural communities at HPSS are Taheretikitiki, Waiarohia and Tiriwa.  For the whole time the students are at school they will stay in the same Learning Hub. In doing so, they will develop positive partnerships with their coach, other members of the mixed age hub, other hubs in the community and whanau. Hub time is part of the school timetable – every morning hubs get together to co-construct learning and build relationships and there are two extended blocks of time in the week where students will engage in a variety of activities around learning to learn, goal setting, reflecting on learning etc.

HPSS Leaning Hub model

HPSS Leaning Hub model

Learning hubs are where the distinct aspects of our school curriculum come together. Learning in the hubs focuses around ‘my being’, ‘my learning’ and ‘my communities’. The student is at the centre of learning and the whole student is developed using this model.

  • My Being focuses on the student’s well being (hauroa) and their individual learning preferences (quadrants based on Hermann’s brain).
  • My Community focuses on the students manaakitanga (moral purpose), whanaungatanga (relationships) and whenua (connection with place)
  • My Learning focuses on goal setting, gathering and using evidence, phases of the HPSS Learning Design model, learning to learn, and reflecting on learning

The aspects of the Learning Hub model are surrounded by the Hobsonville Habits which underpin all that we do at Hobsonville Point Secondary School – adventurous, creative, compassionate, contributive, purposeful, reflective, resilient, resourceful, responsive.

A Learning Hub essentially becomes a family at school for students. Learning Hubs are inspired by a range of educational research and practice, including the learning advisory model used in Big Picture schools.

What is a ‘Learning Coach’?

A Learning Coach is the significant adult for up to 15 students at Hobsonville Point Secondary. They are the academic and pastoral mentor for the students in their hub. Their focus is on the individual students in their hub – working alongside the students and families to create a caring, supportive, challenging environment, acknowledging and supporting personal interests and passions, guiding the students through their personalised learn path (co-constructed path through the big projects, passion projects and specialised learning modules).

Learning Coaches work with students in their hubs to reach academic and personal goals through careful support and guidance. Coaches will conference with each student in their hub once per fortnight – the focus ranges from goal setting, to co-constructing evidence of learning, to module selection, to ….? Liaising with family is a key part of a coach’s role – they will be in regular contact with parents. After each conference, parents will be contacted by the coach to share what happened and what the next steps are. This as a form of frequent reporting will be powerful for both the learners and their families. Once a term, the students will run an individual education meeting, with the support of their coach. In doing so, the coach supports the students to become empowered and active in their learning.

What is an ‘Learning Team Leader’?

A Learning Team Leader oversees all of this for a community. In 2014 there are three LTLs at HPSS – Sally leads Waiarohia, Yasmin leads Tiriwa and I lead Taheretikitiki. So my description above comes close to describing what we do… but it doesn’t do it justice. It has been a privilege to work with such enthusiastic LTLs to really shape what the Learning Hubs will look like here. We are led by Lea, as Deputy Principal in charge of Learning Relationships.

What does it look like in practice?

That is something that is still evolving, afterall it is only our second day with students! But what I have seen so far is that the students are already forming good bonds, coaches work with small groups to really spend time with each students personalising their learning. There is a strong sense of place – the experience of being overwhelmed that many students have on the first day of school were minimised. The focus of conversation is around fun, relationships and learning. I’ve yet to overhear a conversation about incorrect uniform – nor do I want to! Coaches are empowered to modify and change plans to suit the needs of their learners. It is pretty exciting stuff.

To sum it up in the words of Orakei hub (my hub in Taheretikitiki community) – awesome, fun and exciting!


Taheretikitiki Learning Community exploring the HPSS value of ‘collaboration’