Thursday 13 June 2024

Communication and eMails

As I wait for responses to emails that I have sent out, it occurs to me that emailing may just be the latest digital technology to become obsolete.

People get a lot of emails every day - some of them from commercial sources and some that they have subscribed to as well as from their colleagues and leadership people.  So my (presumptive) conclusion is that they are too busy to reply to my emails when I want to know some information that they do not perceive as being important.

Not replying to emails in a timely fashion seems to me to be the equivalent of walking away from someone when they have asked you a question in real life.  Now if that someone walking away says, I'll get back to you in a minute, or tomorrow, then I am quite happy to let it wait for a day or two, but not responding at all seems to say "you/your kaupapa are not important in my agenda."

But wait, I know that the younger generation prefer to communicate through text and messaging apps.  The point is, how do you make carefully constructed text as succinct as you can?  Ah, the secret is video perhaps?  I am not sure what the answer is.

Monday 6 November 2023

Recording Your Professional Journey - For Teachers

I just created a new video on blogging since Google has changed the look of the platform recently.  This video runs through how to start out from scratch, and shows you how to set up labels which is an awesome way to keep a record for your professional recertification.   You can label each post with teaching standards or codes each time and if your appraiser would like to look at some evidence that you have complied with the code or reached the professional standards, then you just click on the labels.
Once you have set up a blog, it is easy to add posts.  Teachers forget to keep records of how they have grown and continue to grow as professionals, so I find it really easy to post up every few weeks or whenever I feel something important has happened in my teaching and learning space.  I can keep a track of my inquiry (teaching standard 2) easily as well, and while your appraiser may not require you to do an inquiry, the teaching council certainly expects that you do.
Blogging is a great way to order thoughts and decode your reflections.  As you write or express in a video or audio file, you are focusing on making sense of what you have done.
Of course, if you are just wanting to keep a travel log, it works just as well, if you add place names as labels.  Happy blogging!  I'm sure you will enjoy it as much as I do.

Tuesday 2 May 2023

My education story

 When I look at my own primary schooling, I cannot think of many moments where I was truly excited by what I had learned.  It was relatively easy for me as I learned reading, writing, and arithmetic without trouble. I suppose this gives one the foundations with which to work.  I had one teacher who seemed to show a real interest in me as a person - Mr Morgan - who took the time to talk to my parents about my strengths and weaknesses.  He spent time with me after school to improve the look of my writing and also introduced me to the concept that Art was not beyond my capabilities. Hardly earth-shattering but it seemed the break-through to my idea that my capabilities were fixed.

Secondary schooling seemed to be a preparation for a lifetime of exams.  I was good at them, but how relevant was it?  

Friday 29 April 2022

Your Education in Hindsight (by Hynessight)

What was the impact of your education on you? Did it affect the person you became and, if so, how?  By education, I am thinking of the more formal contexts of primary, secondary and tertiary for some, rather than incidental learning throughout life.   As I meet and talk with people about their education, it becomes less clear to me how valuable formal education is.  Starting questions could be:-

  1. What learning can you remember being excited by?
  2. How did this influence your career choice?
  3. Did you stay in the career you had chosen?
  4. What did you learn at school/university that had the biggest impact on your life?
  5. What did you learn outside these 3 sectors that had the biggest impact on your life?
If you are prepared to share your answers, I will be more than grateful.  Just write in the comments below or email me direct With your permission, I will share any stories with comments. 

Monday 27 April 2020

All The Good Things in Education during Covid Times

Student agency, student-centred learning, learner inquiry, reflection, learning how to learn, parental interest and participation, and making sense of the real world, all the good things that education should and could be, have been enabled through the Covid 19 pandemic level 4 lockdown.

We all know that school is a societal construct to enable all children to participate in education but as the economy and social organisation has been evolving away from industrial models, through information societies and into knowledge societies, not all has changed at school. And so this lockdown should not be seen as a restriction of education, it is an opportunity to see how things could be so different if we are prepared to make changes.
Let's look at each of the "good things' listed above to start with. 

Simplified, student agency is when learners have choice and control over what they learn.  Perfect in the home situation - let learning fit in with what you are doing at home!  Student-centred learning is when learners seek out and find their own understandings, rather than being given screeds of instructions on what to do or tasks to do. Students build their own understanding rather than being told the answers.  Learner inquiry (inquiry learning) often arises with a "hook" - a video or a book or a discussion which piques the learner's interest. It is often embedded in a framework which enables the learner to focus on answering questions that they are interested in finding out the answers to in relevant and meaningful contexts.  Reflection is an important part of this process - what have I learned, how have I learned it and what else should/could I learn? Frameworks often give learners the structure through which they can learn about anything - that is, they are learning to learn. 

Parental interest and participation is something that parents often feel less confident about. Parents are the first educators, we know this well.  They help their children learn and develop through a wide variety of contexts and experiences to grow their literacy skills in oral language,  reading and numeracy.  For example, they spend time developing attention to language, symbols and texts, and they also instill social norms through their behaviours.   And then they send them off to school, and while they may support them to develop even further, they may often feel that they are really on the sideline or do not have the expertise to be the "primary educator." 

Now parents are forced into a situation that is beyond their control - they are the primary educators in lockdown.  They are the people that the learner sees every day, the person that their children (the learners) look to for advice and direction on what they should be doing to be "educated".  Here is the opportunity to make sense of the real world.  What nature stories are the children learning now?  They are having more time than ever out and about in their yards or going for walks.  What observations are they making? Now is the time to encourage children to think, by asking them open-ended questions.  Here are a few that can be applied to many different contexts.
  • What do you think about that?
  • Why do you think that?
  • What do you think Hemi thinks about that?
Image from Flickr and
So we ask our parents - have your children been managing themselves, getting themselves out of bed at a time you have agreed, helping out with household routines, being where they should be, following the routines of washing their hands, having a bath, eating healthily, getting their clothes into the wash or cleaning up after they have made that fort out of blankets and chairs? Are your children participating and contributing to the household conversations?  Are they ensuring that everyone has a part to play including them?  

Recognise a few of those phrases?  Yes, these are the key competencies that our curriculum aims to develop in every child in New Zealand.  If parents can focus on continuing to ensure that their children work on these, then their education will be in great shape.

In addressing the New Zealand Curriculum, teachers have always been urged to focus firstly on the front of the document, not on the achievement objectives of each curriculum area.

Teachers may start to focus on achievement objectives for their learners when they are teaching online.  When they do this, I can only hope that they will be clear about learning outcomes i.e. what they need to learn and why, rather than the way they learn it.     While teachers around the country are working hard for online learning to be a thing, it is also important to reassure parents that they do continue to educate their children in so many ways.  After all, education does not start at the gate of the school and stop when the learners go home.  Children learn constantly.  They will at school and they will at home.

It is also the time to learn to relate to others.  Are you showing respect for people from different cultures or circumstances to your own?  As Jacinda Ardern says - are you being kind?  How are you demonstrating that kindness?  Do you appreciate the kindnesses shown to you by others?

Are you continuing to use language, symbols and texts to make sense of the world, by reading, allowing your child to read and write about their days at home?  Can your child tell a story about a photograph that they took with your phone?  Can they make sense of digital clock faces, pedometers, visual representations of data that they see on the television or on the internet?  Keep the oral development going - try a challenge for all of your family of learning a new word every day. Model learning.  Keep repeating that phrase, well I learned something new today.

The most important thing for parents to remember is that their children will be alright and that they will continue to learn, just in different ways and in different contexts. 
So is there anything that learners are missing out on during lockdown?  Yes, a few things but that's a subject for another day.

In today's connected world, parents should not be afraid of their children missing out on education.  They are not missing out on learning and that's what it is all about.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Teachers - inquiry is essential!

What has happened?
As the result of industrial action, the Education Council of Aotearoa is looking again at the role of appraisal and removing the 10% auditing of appraisal records by ERO.  They say that they are looking to rebalance "our accountability to the public with professional trust." The link to this information is here.  Teachers felt there was too much workload associated with an emphasis on compliance.

The removal of appraisal as an accountability tool tells me several things are likely to have been happening.
1. Appraisal of teachers has had an accountability focus rather than a growth focus.
2. Principals and leaders have been overzealous in a tick box approach to appraisal and observations.
3. Appraisal has been viewed as a punitive, pass or fail process, that teachers fear.
4. Inquiry has been an onerous compulsory recording exercise rather than a natural approach to teaching, with the benefit of deep reflection allowing changes in practice that are beneficial to all.

What should have happened?
I have always been taught that appraisal comes from the root word of praise.  It is about acknowledging what is going well and looking for goals for the further improvement of teaching practice.  A teacher cannot engage positively if it is just used for accountability purposes.

Inquiry is essential!
From what I have heard, teachers are saying that they don't have to do inquiry any more and there is certainly no legal requirement to do an inquiry for appraisal.  But the thing is, inquiry is one of the six professional standards for educators, so of course teachers should be doing it if they want to be recognised as professional.

There are so many benefits of carrying out an inquiry related to your school's annual goals as well as your own goals.  You can improve your practice through finding out what works best for the learners that you have in front of you. Teachers do inquiry quite naturally in the context of their work, but following a process like the spiral of inquiry, reminds us to look for research on best practice, and allows us the "permission" to reflect deeply on the effects that our changed practice has.

Inquiry is, in my opinion,  the most pain-free approach to appraisal, where all stakeholders get benefits.

Do you "need" a portfolio?
The other aspect that has come under scrutiny is the need for portfolios.  Once again there is no legal requirement for a portfolio for appraisal purposes but it seems that teachers have been collecting screeds and screeds of "evidence" to meet appraisal requirements.  There is simply no need for that.

The benefits of a portfolio are directly dependent on the purpose of the portfolio.  There are three main types of portfolio:-

  • Showcase portfolio
  • Process portfolio
  • Accountability portfolio
The showcase portfolio is to show off your best work, and if you don't collect images, learner voice, videos, words of praise from your leader etc as you go along, it becomes a mammoth task when you want to apply for another job.  You often simply don't have records any more, if you don't collect.

The process portfolio is to record your journey through learning, or inquiry.  It is like a learning journal.  A framework like the spiral of inquiry keeps you focused on the objective and you can see the progress that you make over time.  The biggest benefit from my point of view is the opportunity to reflect through writing down or videoing your thoughts.  These small actions alone allow you to order and make sense of your thinking.  This process portfolio can also be used as a showcase because some of your best work comes out of the realisations of your goals.

The accountability portfolio is to keep records to show you have met the standards, as in an art or technology portfolio in NCEA assessment.  For teachers, the process portfolio will easily meet the purposes of professional standards and is best implemented by tagging (or labelling) sufficient evidence in your process portfolio.

So if you use one portfolio to meet all of these purposes, you will have awesome professional records to tap into at any time.  In this day and age of phones, laptops and other devices to hand, to record and organise artefacts in the cloud seems a no-brainer, so start collecting, and select the evidence that you do need according to the purpose of the portfolio.  It only takes a few seconds to take a photo.
Image -pixabay free images

So there you have it - why I think teachers must be professionally appraised through an inquiry approach and why you would be mad not to have an e-portfolio.

Monday 29 July 2019

Consistency - who needs it? Just a little rant.

One of the worst excuses for rationale, in many different contexts, that I have ever heard is "for consistency purposes."  Consistency was for industrial or military models of society.  Those days have gone. We wanted everything to be the same so that employees and products were consistent, and soldiers were compliant and knew what was expected of them. In contrast, creativity and adaptability are important skills for the future.

 In the same way, "treat everybody the same" is just as offensive to me.  We are not all the same - we are each rooted in the culture of our forebears, our genetics and our current environments.  One of the things I learned as a senior manager in a school is that every "behaviour" incident and the circumstances leading to it were different.  Listening and understanding different viewpoints and consequences are the first steps to accepting a need for reparation.

So what can we do in our schools to ensure that consistency is not a cornerstone value or justification for important decisions?  We could ensure that there are a variety of approaches to learning by using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. This would mean a variety of engagement, representation, action and expression in learning as these are the three principles of UDL.

In the digital world, we could ensure that our learners have a variety of digital tools and devices at their disposal and that they are given choice and control (agency) about how they demonstrate their learning.

In "behaviour management", for want of a better phrase, we need to start communicating more. Expediency is often practised at the expense of rationale.  Be more open to alternatives.  Reserve judgment until we have heard all sides of a story.  This is why our justice system makes use of minimum and maximum sentences rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

Start being mindful of different values, cultures and approaches to life.  The colonial systems that we work within may not always be the best ones.  Ask, include, adapt. Don't "do to" people.  Remember the treaty.  Our nation is founded on equal status of Te Ao Maori and the crown.  We are partners, not enemies.