Plant trees, under whose shade you don’t expect to sit…..

Author Nelson Henderson said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” What does that mean? Think about it for a moment, what do you do in your life that is for the greater good for future generations? Often two days at a conference is an opportunity for teachers to reflect on their practice and why we do what we do. But also to question where things are at personally, professionally and in the bigger picture, how things are tracking in our school.

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Two days at #PENZ18 was definitely that and more. A conference focussed purely on Wellbeing and where it can’t fit in our schools. I reminisced as to why I got into teaching, and what that now looks like in my fourteenth year in the field, I went around in circles with what my Professional Inquiry should be based on this year, I had it sorted before Friday, but it’s been five different things at least, in the last two days. But most of all I thought of our staff. And more importantly their Wellbeing. As I listened to each speaker it became more and more apparent that for us to move forward and foster the Wellbeing of our students, we first had to value our own and each others Wellbeing as a staff.

I’ve talked a little about my own Wellbeing previously and the need I have had over the last year to take a look at how I approach my work/life balance. Now, as I come out the other side (fingers crossed) of a year of being unwell, I find myself thinking about the bigger picture. I make the assumption that my own Wellbeing being brought to my attention and that forcing action, leads me to see the worth in whole staff Wellbeing a lot more clearly.  Lucy Hone summed it up nicely in her closing address when she said “It starts with the staff, they need to know and live Wellbeing before it can be embedded in the classroom.”

Out of the team of five staff that attended the conference, at least three of us are engaged in conversations and posing questions around the state of Staff Wellbeing in our school. What do we do well? Where do we fail? And how can we begin to take the first steps in that journey? What trees can I plant, that I never intend to sit under?

Spreading the love and the art of saying no.

VIA Institute currently has a focus on the Character Strength of Love.

In my personal strength profile Love comes in at Number 18, so more the middle of the road/ tail end of the spectrum. Kindness, Teamwork and Fairness, interestingly though all rank higher. But I think all blend well with my thoughts around this topic. Character strengths should be looked at holistically, reflecting on how one informs the other is important in my books. We all have all of the strengths, some just shine a little brighter than others.

How do we spread the love at school? With our colleagues and with our students?

As human beings we’re quick to focus on the negative, black hat thinking is always lurking around the corner ready to dominate meetings, thoughts and our day to day work life. And as leaders it’s our job to build our team up, create a vibe and a culture that supports and promotes wellbeing within that team. A happy team equals a productive and collaborative team, right?

At work this might be as simple as tapping into what makes your team members tick. What are they into? What happens in their world at the weekend? What’s going on outside of work life for them at the moment? Show a little love and dig a little deeper, ask a few questions every now and then. Or it could be showing you care through listening with Understanding and Empathy. The Habits of Mind tells us that this shows people we care. Do you listen to your team members well, do they ‘feel’ you listening to their concerns and needs? Same goes for your students, if we boil down what adolescents really need, one of the main things they will place as a strongest need is to have the knowledge that there is an adult in their life that cares. Not someone to be their mate, or take on the role of parent, but rather someone they know takes a minute to listen when they need an ear. What if you’re one of their few people? Build the rapport, the trust and listen with empathy.

I used to spread the love at work by being the ‘yes’ lady. But recently my own health has led me on a journey to learning how to say no. I’m no good to anyone if I’m run down, stressed, ragged and ill because I’m busy saying yes to everything that comes across my desk. Life is about balance; –  work, fun, relaxation and family time all have to factor for you to be your best too. You owe it to yourself, your team and your students. Find your balance, spread the love, but look after yourself in the process too.

Complete your character strength profile by taking the survey here.

Connecting the dots….

Reflections based on the reading Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century By Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan

“teenagers—sometimes referred to as the E-Generation—possesses digital competencies to effectively navigate the multidimensional and fast-paced digital environment. For generations of adults who grew up in a world of books, traveling through cyberspace seems as treacherous and intimidating as speaking a new language.”

Teenagers……? From birth more like it! I think of my three year old niece, grabbing an iPad then swiping and using gestures as though they are inbuilt and come naturally. Or my one year old nephew, grabbing at my Apple Watch and tapping to make it wake and do something, then looking at me with big wide eyes and saying “wow!”

Are literacy skills, or lack there of, a barrier or a blessing for our students when it comes to their device? The five and three year old nieces seem to navigate from cartoon to cartoon with the odd toy unboxing thrown in for good measure like a seasoned You-Tuber. They’re learning to read, but their digitally literacy is being absorbed naturally, and at a fast pace. I wonder whether one informs, or impacts the other?

“research suggests that the lack of education related to literacy is problematic, and the situation is exacerbated in the field of education. Although funds may be plentiful to purchase new equipment, wire classrooms, and order current software, few educational organizations have developed comprehensive technology plans that specify technical learning objectives or ensure successful integration of technology to enhance students’ digital and visual literacy.”

This makes me ponder the old adage about good teachers, it doesn’t matter where or what tools students have access to, if the teacher standing in front of them is much cop, the other things don’t matter. Having worked in both low decile, where devices were often a thing of dreams, or in minimal supply. To now working in an environment with four year levels using 1:1 and 300 odd iPads at the disposal for the rest of the school these thoughts become solidified. Good teachers will do something with nothing, but good teachers will also do something when they want for nothing too.

This year our eLearning Curriculum area is under review, and it seems timely to ask, where does Literacy fit in our school when it comes to eLearning, and how well are we navigating the imparting of Digital Literacy into our students? Are our teachers confident to deliver the skills required to create digitally literate students? Are the students who require extra support in reading and numeracy, the same students that require support using a device, or does the device extend their ability?

I’m looking forward to digging a little deeper……..

Leading Change – Empowering Change

Research shows that when administrators use tactics to increase teacher empowerment, teacher morale also increases. Bolin (1989) states that “teacher empowerment is defined as investing teachers with the right to participate in the determination of school goals and policies and to exercise professional judgment about what and how to teach” (p. 82).

Leading change and empowering change in a resistant colleague can be a challenge, but when we reflect as a leader, and we ask ourselves the why? It would be easy to rest blame placed squarely with a colleague unwilling to jump on board with your ideas or thoughts. But to be a truly successful leader should we not reflect on our own practice and ask how we have supported that colleague through that change and managed to empower them through that journey? Where and why is there resistance? How or where could we have supported or helped better in any way? And if there is a failing what needs to happen to fill that gap? For in a collaborative environment if one of the crew is failing are we all not failing? Does it not reflect badly on all of us? After all Kaua e rangiruatia te hāpai o te hoe; e kore tō tātou waka e ū ki uta ‘Do not lift the paddle out of unison or our canoe will never reach the shore.’

Of course in a perfect world everyone would walk through the staffroom door on an even equilibrium, an even playing field, then Bolin’s theory would happily come into play, right? But we too must remember teachers are human beings, we have personalities, we have emotions and when we throw these into collaborative teams, more now than ever before, school leaders have so many more facets to consider when placing teachers into roles within schools. It’ s not just about getting the mix of one teacher to 25-30 students right.

If there’s one thing I have learnt this year it’s remembering that we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are. Perception is everything, and if you manage to step outside yourself and see things from your teams point of view for a minute, you might just see things a little differently.

Bolin, F. S. (1989). Empowering Leadership. Teachers College Record, 19(1), 81-96.

What a way to spend a day.

When John Parsons is in a room you listen, children listen. There is a charisma about this man that captures you. As I sat with our Year Seven and Eight cohort to listen to his workshop on protecting and valuing their identity whilst online I found myself conducting several ‘self checks’ of my own social media use and how I might value my own identity in an online environment. Hmm………pretty good, but a few tweaks to go back and make. We are role models after all, and that doesn’t stop at 3pm does it! This left me wondering, to what extent does High School prepare students for the workforce in relation to Social Media, who tells them it’s not ok to post either pictures that could have a harmful impact on employment opportunities or that once you have a job, posting something slagging off the boss because you’ve had a bad day isn’t really the best way to approach things? Or Teachers College, do they even enter that murky water with with new graduates? Is Digital Citizenship for Beginning Teachers even a thing? Or is it up to us as school’s to ensure we pick up the tab when they arrive with us? Is it too late, have those morals and values already been formed? Is that digital footprint already too deep to be undone? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but maybe I’ve just found a basis or at least a little wee starting point for forming some Masters research next year……….

John has a particular talent with the way he teaches in that he’s not really just talking to you about Digital Citizenship, he’s talking to you about values too. How to be a good person in the playground, and for us adults, in life. Be the person that throws a smile as you walk past someone that looks like they need one. Be the person that says “Good morning” to another. You never know the impact it might have. And ask permission for those photos you’re taking, mention where and what you’re doing with them, remember, you’re role modelling.

With a PhD centred around resilience and wellbeing it’s a sobering thought that Lucy Hone ever had to deal with losing her daughter in such a tragic way. Interestingly though in the three hours we spent with Lucy this horrible event is only mentioned once (albeit very emotionally) and if you read about Lucy you might see headlines like ‘Don’t waste your time on weakness’ or “Life is better with bounce!’ from her column’s she writes for The Herald. Lucy is a positive energy whose focus is to “find effective methods of disseminating the academic research in ways that truly help people get the most from their lives.”

During her presentation Lucy introduced us to the VIA Institute 24 Character strengths, you can take the survey here to find out your character map here. According to Lucy, the better we know our strengths and the more we use them, the happier we will be! Sign me up! Although she does go on to mention our happiness is determined by 50% genetics 10% external influences and 40% internal thoughts, so I guess that’s where the knowing about our strengths comes in, helping our internal thoughts fall into that positive mindset.

After taking the survey my top five character strengths come out as the below.

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 Honesty – Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions.

Perseverance – Finishing what one starts; persevering in a course of action in spite of obstacles; “getting it out the door”; taking pleasure in completing tasks.

Kindness – Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them.

Creativity – Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it.

Hope – Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about.

I’m looking forward to sitting down with my collaborative partner and having a look at her profile and discussing about how we can understand each other a little deeper and add a new dimension to our teaching. And then doing the same with our Syndicate. I find knowing about ones self and the way team members tick such a valuable part of the reflective process. Thursday was one of those days where you are reminded how lucky you are to work in education and have the opportunity to listen to such highly regarded, experienced, well educated professionals that make you excited about the work we do all over again.

Two heads are better than one.

A reflective look at Miriam Clifford’s 20 Collaborative Learning Tips And Strategies For Teachers

Do we meet or consider each of these criteria in the way we operate our space and engage our students?

1. Establish group goals

The goal of our class is clearly defined, work through the design process to design and develop a product that meets the needs of a stakeholder and/or solves a need in society. Although the journey and the end point is very open, the path is defined by a set of parameters everyone learns and follow. Structured creative thinking leads to success at this level.

2. Keep groups mid-sized

We break the rules on this one slightly, but it’s through experience. We have a limit of three to a group. Experience tells us, that in a practical setting and at this age group (Year 7-8), any more equals a ‘free-loader’.

3. Establish flexible group norms

Do we need more structure in place about working in a group. Key stages plan? task assigned  for the day?

 

4. Build trust and promote open communication

Trust is built through the process of learning the design process. A design thinking exercise allows students to work with and discuss the needs of a stakeholder and build a trusting relationship based on their needs. The difference we have found in students who complete this step vs. those who do not is vast. Adding emotion to product design, gives students a sense of importance as a designer, that they are designing for a purpose, for a need. Not just because we have to complete a project at school. Moving from this exercise into open-ended group or individual design leads to more trusted, in-depth conversations between students.

5. For larger tasks, create group roles

Students as experts. Student led workshops, rewarded through a learning passport ‘super stamp’. Which is extra kudos and entry into an end of semester prize draw.

6. Create a pre-test and post-test

We currently don’t do so much in the way of pre-testing in terms of a formative assessment. But do our post testing through a google form. This serves as data for our end of semester grading for report writing. This learning happens through videos and questioning time at the beginning of each class, in some way a summative assessment as over time we observe a shift in thew groups ability to participate in questioning and debate around the Technology related topics covered. Perhaps asking the same survey questions of the students at the beginning of the semester with no prior knowledge would be an interesting task.

 

7. Consider the learning process itself as part of assessment

I guess we do this through our grades of the Key Competencies or ‘Heroes’ on our Technology Reports, but don’t explicitly make that link with the students when they are discussed. This could be an area of improvement when we unpack the Heroes in relation to each of client school values/key competencies.

 

8. Consider using different strategies, like the Jigsaw technique.

We trialled this earlier in the year by diversifying the way we taught the Design Process. Our collaborative classes happens through two classes coming together at certain points in a Technology rotation, so at any one point we could have one or both groups who have been with us before. We had students work in groups to become experts on a stage in the design process, make a movie about that stage and then put them together to ‘teach’ the entire class.

 

9. Allow groups to reduce anxiety

Student led projects, needs/ability based, music in the classroom.

10. Establish group interactions

I think the best way we create this own our space is through role-modeling. We have a shared leadership model. We bounce off each others strengths and keep each other on track. The use of timers to manage the classroom helps everyone work through vital stages of the design tasks.

 

11. Use a real world problems

Every single thing designed and made in our rooms can be hinged to an idea or a problem that has been created or imagined by one of our students! You won’t find a classroom full of thirty pencil cases being churned out round here!

12. Focus on enhancing problem-solving and critical thinking skills

The Design Process and Technology itself naturally leads to this structure.

13. Keep in mind the diversity of groups

This semester my collaborative partner has been focussing on asking our students where they are from and the backgrounds of their family. It has been interesting to listen to and watch students engage in conversation after she has walked away about how different each of them are and how that might impact the way they think or what they assume about each others background. I think it’ our role as educators even when students self-select their own group members to work with as they do in our space, that we give them opportunities to realise the diversity within their group. And how this can help how they might go about solving their design problem or working as a team.

14. Groups with an equal number of boys and girls are best

This would be something for us to look into. As students self select whom they work with. What sort of gender mixtures are they choosing and why?

15. Use scaffolding or diminished responsibility as students begin to understand concepts.

Our Design Process scaffolds students through the steps of creation. We slightly release the strict adhesion to this process when/if they complete a second design task.

What would happen if we let students show us how they wanted to plan?

16. Include different types of learning scenarios

Do we need to differentiate our video chats each morning to have a mix of quizzes, group debates? Are we covering enough ground for the different modes of learning?

17. Technology makes collaborative learning easier

I liked the idea of using Technology to help students get to know each other better, perhaps this could be something we do at the beginning of the pentad. Especially since we have multiple schools come on some days.

 

18. Keep in mind the critics

How could we include individual think time?…………..

19. Be wary of “group think”

Do we need to track group movements more between the semesters, should there be a rule of not working with the same person as last time?

20. Value diversity

 

How do we get participation from those students who don’t interact during our video chats. Back to the thoughts about how we could diversify these. What needs to change?

Taking the Doors Off when you can’t.

During staff meeting this week we looked at a reading by Jason Perez – ‘Taking the Doors Off the Classroom Through Collaboration.’

Perez looks at four stages of collaboration.

1. Forming

This is the easiest stage where a team comes together with a sense of excitement and anticipation. People begin to learn about each other and develop processes for how their group will function. It is not unusual for a few dominant personalities to try to lead the discussions.

2. Storming

Teaching styles and practices can be a very sensitive and personal area for many educators. Those who are used to working in isolation can find it difficult to share ideas or have their practices questioned. This can sometimes lead to conflict within the collaborative team. It’s not unusual for members to feel defensive or overloaded in this stage. There has to be a realistic expectation that not all groups will function at the highest level from the very start. Working together can lead to conflicting views of educational practices and team goals. Keep in mind that through conflict, growth will occur.

3. Norming

As educators continue to collaborate, they begin to see the positive side to collaboration. Teams begin to see an increase in productivity, interpersonal relationships improve, and meetings begin to focus on achieving consensus through shared input.

4. Performing

When a team reaches a high level of functioning, the academic and professional growth goes through the roof. When teammates disagree about a topic, they can discuss it with a sense of collegiality and an understanding that the ultimate goal is an improvement of the learning environment for everyone. Regardless of the stage of development, progress is easy to identify as long as collaboration exists.”

After reading we got together with a colleague we don’t normally work with and discussed a plus, minus and an interesting aspect we found in the article. I firmly believe these conversations are had in a very different way between colleagues who work in a collaborative environment verses those who work in a school where staff work in their own silo independently. We are more reflective, more willing to share and open to being real about where we are at. I imagine being in that position four years ago, and would have felt an uneasy tension amongst a group towards opening up about where they were at in their practice, I guess out of fear or judgement. In presenting the article to us our Principal mentioned we could liken each stage to each term of the school year and that we may progress through those stages each term.

I work collaboratively with one other and by all accounts the way we work together is successful, we get along well, we recognise each others strengths and weaknesses and play to those in our practice. But I think it took us five and a half terms to genuinely get to the ‘performing’ stage. It’s only now I feel we are really comfortable to have those open conversations that need to happen in order for us to move forward. And it’s not just about our practice, it’s about how we interact with each other, how we understand the way each other ticks. Prezez states that ‘an effective teacher is someone who want’s grow. An effective teacher wants collaboration.’ What if my partner didn’t it? What happens then? Progress through those stages would be greatly stalled.

We can’t operate in a perfect environment due to the nature of the two classrooms we have to use, but we can ‘take the doors off’ through the way we blur the lines between those two rooms and lead our students through their learning journey.

So here’s to my collaborative partner, because she also keeps that initial excitement and anticipation talked about in the ‘forming’ stage alive for me everyday. I don’t know about you, but I never want  my ‘doors’ back.

 

Uncomfortable conversations…

TED 2017 kicked off last week with a theme of “The Future You”, I attended this evening through #tedcinema in Christchurch, New Zealand.

TED2017 begins with a manifesto: “We will not sleepwalk into a future of dread. Instead we will pursue: courage, deep human connection, imagination, thrilling possibility, understanding. The Future You is yet to be written. Let’s write it together.”

Anab Jain took us on a journey through her career that happens in the future. Creating future experiences and worlds to immerse people within is her daily job. Bringing them air from the future they can breathe, living in a house of the future where they feed their plants on nothing but hydroponic fog. She reminds me of the D-School’s #designthinking process when she mentions that “it is not until we allow people to touch, see and feel something, that people are forced to ask genuine questions.” It is then that we think about the human element of design. How we interact with something, how it makes us feel. And as she mentions, what we want to ask about it. I too find myself lingering on the thought of Ian Taylor talking at Energise last week about technology being nothing without the humane component, machines can’t take over, they’re nothing without us. It is our input that creates them, it is us that gives them life.

Uncomfortable conversations, collaboration……relationships. I find myself constantly making links to these themes. And as Titus Kaphar paints over the white faces in a 17th-century Frans Hals painting and draws our attention to the small black child no one paid much attention to, I find myself challenging the mere thought of being a pakeha, and somewhat embarrassed that the things he talks about are allowed to happen in our society. An uncomfortable conversation, uncomfortable thoughts, but having these face to face “conversations with people not like us.” as stated by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “allow us to grow.” I once heard the role of teachers and education is about creating a safe place to have dangerous conversations. If we don’t challenge our students to ask those uncomfortable questions, to explore their beliefs then are we doing them a disservice?

Ok Go’s Damian Kulash describes the creative process behind their amazing music videos and says that having a great idea is about bringing disparate ideas together — and being in the right place at the right time. Get in the sandbox, allow the play to happen and see where that play takes you. But how do we do this in our classroom? I find myself considering the way we run our design class, and the expectation we place on our students around ideation. Are we on the right track? Or do we need to turn it on it’s head? And where does differentiation come into it?

So tell me, what is your idea worth spreading? And where are those idea’s born? How does your mind ideate?

TED Opening – List of Speakers

Check out the TED re-cap here.

Huang Yi
Dancer and choreographer
Joshua Roman
Cellist
Anab Jain
Futurist, designer
Laura Galante
Cyberspace analyst
Garry Kasparov
Grandmaster, analyst
Tim Ferriss
Productivity guru, author
OK Go
Band
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Religious leader

Cortisol and the classroom….

Check out this animation from Kathryn Berkett at Engage. I was lucky along with our CoL today to hear her speak at our teacher only day!

Before today I knew a little about cortisol, but only in relation to weight loss/gain. And how lack of sleep and/or stress can lead to increased cortisol and in turn weight gain due to imbalanced hormones. I hadn’t really thought about it in relation to my teaching practice or how it might impact my students.

Kathryn opened her keynote with a statement about deep resilience – our ability to deal with the ‘hard knocks’. And that deep resilience is built through experiencing failure. There seems to be a theme developing in my last week of learning. A theme of Resilience, reflection and relationships.

As Kathryn talked about stressors and how these things trigger our bodies to go into survival mode; that heightened level of stress. Fight or flight, or as Kathryn put it “I have an increased risk that I may die!” I thought back to aproximately 12:30pm last Tuesday, eight out of nine session’s deep into my intense hockey training, my body saying no, my head fighting a constant battle to push through the last training before I got to head for the airport and become acquainted with my bath and rest my battered and bruised body. It was at that moment I felt like I was going to die! But it’s also at that point I made a choice, a choice to pick myself up, bounce back and show up for my last session 100% committed. What is it about us that makes us push through those low points and come out the other side?

We never really understand our true capabilities until we are pushed to the brink of our ability, mentally or physically. It’s at that lowest point we are really exposed to our inadequacies. For me personally, I think that’s where I build my deep resilience and do my best reflecting. And as Feu Seinafo said during his opening, “get uncomfortable.” That space, that uncomfortable space is where we learn, where we grow.

Of course when it comes to our classroom, it’s not ok to push students to the absolute low, and perhaps cross our fingers they can bring themselves back and ‘survive’. It’s about creating an atmosphere of ‘safe uncomfortableness’ where students can explore their boundaries and practice how to stay calm. Kathryn refers to this as “taking our students to the safe zone” a place where they can learn to calm down, and stay calm.

She mentioned the child you can’t say no to, my ‘no child’ is also my Frank, you know the child we discussed earlier. He would come to my classroom when in his flight mode, I was his safe place. I didn’t need to say anything to him, but if I did, I could say anything, as long as it didn’t include a ‘no’. He’d had a lifetime of ‘no’ and was done with it. Building a relationship with him was hard work, and took a long time. But it’s all worth it when he then becomes the young man who visits to say “thank you”. Thank you because you got me.

Tomorrow I will be thinking about how I manage the stressors in my classroom. And what I can do to keep my students in their ‘safe zone’. How do you build resilience in your students? What tips do you have for creating a ‘safe uncomfortable’ zone?