Saturday, 21 December 2019

Necessary but not sufficient ...

What's the secret to school improvement? If I knew the definitive answer to that, I'd probably be on the global speaking circuit earning significant dollops of cash, I suspect. Mind you, I think we all know that there ISN'T one single answer to that, and there never has been.

I have come to believe however that there are a series of factors, some necessary but not sufficient, and then others from which we leverage the significant learning gains for our rangatahi.

I think we begin with the Viviane Robinson framework for student centred leadership. This has been my 'bible' for thinking and for action around leadership since I took up Principalship in 2016, and continues to be my guiding framework. It looks like this:

Image result for viviane robinson leadership dimensions"

What do I think this has looked like in our Hornby High School context?

The "necessary' factors I mentioned in my opening paragraph have been, I think, a relentless focus on:

  • Relationship building
  • Valuing all students' cultures in our school community
  • Strong vision, consistently articulated and applied
  • Quality physical infrastructure with our whole school rebuild
  • Strategic resourcing of key initiatives with suitable staffing
  • Effective use of digital technology that is founded on a consistent  and overt/completely visible pedagogy
  • Consistency and coherence in everything that we do. That is, there has been NO jumping from one fad to the next. We call this 'staying on the bus'. This metaphor comes from the 'Helsinki bus theory'.
  • The demand that we have clarity in our values, and that all of us (staff and students alike) live and apply those values in all that we do, as a basis for strong positive relationships. In our case, we apply PB4L, restorative practices, and restorative circles, to conflict resolution and relationship building. I have consistently talked up the need for kindness.

These things are essential to school improvement, and there are more that we do that I have just not mentioned. Our new school buildings have had a significant impact on the mindsets of our students. I would like to think that more of our students now generally feel valued by our kura, and our country, because they have been given the chance to live and learn in the school facilities that they always deserved. The design we chose for our spaces, a mix of collaborative and single cell spaces, has allowed staff the opportunity to review their pedagogy, and to put into effect things they learned when we encouraged them to 'play in the sandpit' between 2016 and 2019, to try out ideas that ranged from project based learning to passion projects, from knocking out walls in classrooms due for demolition to cross curriculum learning opportunities.

We have seen the dramatic impact of digital technology, and our Learn Create Share pedagogy, on student outcomes, with writing progress accelerated at twice national averages, and reading and maths accelerating at 1.5x national averages.

My current opinion is that these are all things that have been necessary to improvement in our kura. However I suspect that on their own they would have relatively limited impact unless combined with what I think are THE game changers in schools:

  • Embedded inquiry
  • Curriculum shift
  • The Manaiakalani Porgramme

Our curriculum shift is already significant. If anything, this is where e are disrupting education. I often say that I am a believer in evolution not revolution when it comes to organisational change. Why? When we have revolution we are, far too often, left with bodies in the streets. I'd rather we embark on a change journey that sees everyone who wants to 'stay on the bus' still standing at the end (if there is ever an end, that is). So our curriculum is evolving, perhaps more quickly than some would like, perhaps less quickly than others would like, but nevertheless it is evolving. Our junior 'connected curriculum' is more adaptive, more engaging, more relevant. It connects more clearly with the front end of the national curriculum, supporting as it does the development of the five key competencies that we still think are essential to success. In one of this year's junior prize giving speeches, I said this:
I have chosen to talk about this today because your ability to be successful at school is in part determined by your ability to manage your emotions. The fancy phrase we use is your ability to self regulate. Work hard to get better at that. We all struggle with the challenge, regardless of age.
The Manaiakalani Programme has provided Hornby High School with a visible and clearly articulated pedagogy that is proven to make a difference. Without this, the application of digital devices is unlikely to have made much of a difference. My opinion on this mater is strong: placing digital technology into the hands of students and teachers without changing the way teachers work, without changing the way learning is caused (the pedagogy), is doomed to failure. TMP gives us the pedagogy and the visibility that is necessary to make a difference.

And then there is the professional game changer: inquiry. For the non educators amongst readers, this is the principle that teachers inquiring into what they do, investigating hunches about what will improve learning for their students, are far more likely to adapt and improve their practice. The process looks something like this:

Image result for teaching as inquiry"

Let's face it, NONE of us begins our lives in this profession knowing everything that we need to be successful. In fact, on a side note, I suggest that it is even worse than that, that much of what passes for initial teacher education in New Zealand is not fit for purpose, but that's a different issue. So, as teachers we all need to be curious learners. we need to ask ourselves how we can do this better.

At Hornby High School I believe that what I am seeing is the progressive adoption of inquiry as the driver behind improving what we do. As my colleagues have inquired, made changes, reflected, and then written of what they have done, I have seen reflection that I would describe as transformative. What's more, this has taken place with the support of Professional Learning Groups, many of which have involved collaboration across our Kāhui Ako. This means that we have had primary and secondary trained colleagues collaborating on their inquiries. This is a rich source of knowledge sharing and transfer, and the potential for impact on our learners is huge.

Amongst the benefits of being a Manaiakalani school are that we have a clearly articulated pedagogy (Learn Create Share) around which to focus all inquiry, with hunches often formed based around the mass of great data with which we are blessed. We are able to inquire into what we call 'high shift practices'. In short we are beginning to build a true inquiry culture that focusses on improving outcomes for learners.

That in itself is the high shift practice. I would suggest that while new buildings and digital devices are necessary for transformative school improvement, in and of themselves they are not sufficient. To create those big shifts we seek, we need inquiry, and a future focussed curriculum, and....

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Why school competition isn't optimal

History is filled with what we might call 'defining moments'. For New Zealand, I think we would have to count as one of those that moment when a reportedly drunk Prime Minister Robert Muldoon called the snap election in 1984.

That election brought to an end one era in New Zealand political and economic history and heralded in another, the age of neo liberalism, as it saw Muldoon's government defeated, and the Fourth Labour Government lead by David Lange come to power. Here is a definition of neoliberalism that I found randomly on the web, and it seems as good as any:
"Neoliberalism is a term for different social and economic ideas. ... Neoliberalism is characterized by free market trade, deregulation of financial markets, individualisation, and the shift away from state welfare provision."
The newly elected Labour Government (remember that these were 'first past the post' election days) began our journey down this path with what came to be dubbed 'Rogernomics' after the Minister of Finance Roger Douglas. It heralded in decades of competition like we had perhaps never seen before, and in areas of life in which we had never seen the likes before. And so began the cult of the individual.

The jury was out on its impact for quite some time, but as the data, the evidence, accumulated we came to see amongst other things a significant increase in inequality. The data on the increase in inequality is indisputable. This HAS happened. It is my speculation that the former is the cause of the latter, although I have no proof that this is so. It is interesting however that the increase in inequality begins in that period of the mid 80s when these policies were introduced. I just can't prove cause and effect. This data on the Gini coefficient graphs the change nicely.


So we entered this period of competition, Friedmanites we all, (well most of us), believing that this was the best pathway, the best medicine, for what many might have described as a moribund economy. However we allowed competition to enter those other walks of life too, in particular education.

What we didn't know at the time was that this free market ideology and the corresponding increase in inequality would actually harm us all, and in a way that we hadn't predicted. It actually reduced economic growth. That is, our material wealth increased at a slower rate when inequality increased. We had thought that the opposite would be true. This comes from an OECD report (pretty reliable stuff I'd have said):

"To explore the question further, our study estimated a relationship for GDP per capita in which a change in income inequality was added to standard growth drivers such as physical and human capital. The idea was to test whether the change in income inequality over time has had a significant impact on GDP per capita on average across OECD countries, and if this influence differs according to whether inequality is measured in the lower or upper part of the distribution. The results show that the impact is invariably negative and statistically significant: a 1% increase in inequality lowers GDP by 0.6% to 1.1%. So, in OECD countries at least, higher levels of inequality can reduce GDP per capita. Moreover, the magnitude of the effect is similar, regardless of whether the rise in inequality takes place mainly in the upper or lower half of the distribution."

We have had competitive schools since 1989 and 'Tomorrow's Schools'. The school choice model had its strong advocates, some going as far as suggesting a 'voucher system' that allowed complete freedom of choice. We have retained a modicum of control, despite the offical policy of the ACT party and David Seymour, both of whom support the school choice model.

How have we gone? Well it's been good for some. It has created winner and loser schools, but I would suggest not for the reasons we might have thought. One of the foundations of free markets, the idea of full and complete information and rational decision making, simply does not hold true in education, nor in any market for that matter. We do not have complete information, and we do not make rational logical choices. We make emotional choices based on incomplete information. So those schools 'perceived ' as being better were the winner schools, while those 'perceived' as being worse, were the losers.

This all misses a fundamental truth. Education is most effective when it is a collaborative activity. It is most effective when students collaborate, and when teachers collaborate, and when schools collaborate. You see, education is NOT a zero sum game. We don't educate one person or group at the expense of another. What's more society couldn't afford that even if it were true. To write off one section of society so that another can benefit has to be the biggest waste of human capital ever. We don't want winners and losers in education. We want winners and winners.

Over this past term I've seen two truly outstanding examples of the benefits of collaboration in education.

The first was within our own Uru Mānuka cluster. All teachers are expected to undertake 'inquiry'. This is intended to support teachers to use an evidence base to improve their practice and therefore the learning of students. This year we have run a number of Professional Learning Groups not only within Hornby High school, but across the cluster. Teachers from multiple schools have joined together to inquire into their practice, looking for better ways to cause learning.

Several weeks ago we had a celebration of that work, with teachers making presentations to staff from across the cluster in which they presented the 'gold nuggets', those pearls of wisdom that they had gleaned about how we can imporve learning.

Some photos of the 70+ staff from across our cluster celebrating their own learning:

One of the things that was patently clear in all of this is that teachers often don't need professional learning 'done to them'. They most often have the solutions to improving learning 'in the room', that is amongst their peers, their colleagues, often within the same school, and most definitely in our case within our cluster.

Then earlier this week I was able to join educators from most secondary schools in Christchurch at a hui organised by Grow Waitaha. Its purpose was to develop a secondary school community of practice designed to share experience in the work that individual schools have been doing to improve learning, whether it be with curriculum innovation, the use of spaces, or pedagogy.

The outcomes of all of this work are better learning outcomes for our tamariki. Empowered teachers, teachers who are happy to try new things, to take risks, means that our tamariki are better off.
Why do we need this innovation? We have a tail of underachievement in New Zealand. That tail is significantly longer and larger than in most equivalent OECD countries. This tells us that our system is not working for a significant number of our rangatahi. We need to change, otherwise that human potential, that human happiness, is lost to us as a society.

These things don't happen when you are in competition. Competition disincentives sharing and collaboration.

These examples are schools and educators saying we will NOT compete, we will collaborate. This is educators saying "media, your b***y league tables are a nonsense', they are counter-productive, they are reducing chances for too many of our children. This has to stop."

I titled this blog post 'Why school competition isn't optima''. Perhaps I might have been stronger and said 'Why school competition fails far too many of our children, especially Māori and Pasifika children'.

We've had enough. We are making the changes. We are innovating. Get out of our way if you oppose this, because we are coming through. The moral imperative is strong in us all, that's why we do what we do.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Senior Prize Giving 2019

Mā te huruhuru, ka rere te manu
‘Feathers enable the bird to fly’

Board Chair, Mrs Kaye Banks, fellow Board of Trustees members, Te Taumutu runanga, honoured guests, colleagues, parents and friends, ladies and gentlemen, students of Hornby High School  - welcome to this 45th senior prize giving of Hornby High School.

During the year Kaye Banks, Penny Devine, Donna Sullivan, and  Rochelle Jackson, were re-elected to the Board, and Simon Evans joined them on election. Crystal Edminstin was re-elected as our student representative on the Board. Thankyou to you all for your time, your work, your wisdom and your support.

The year has seen a small number of staff changes.
Mr Jack Goodlfellow joined us as our newest Deputy Principal replacing Mr Jon Rogers and quickly showed his worth to our kura. Mr Alan Tenberth continued his work relieving for Mr Jonathan Handley-Packham who has subsequently announced his retirement. Mr Russell Cairns joined us in a part time position teaching English for the year, and Ms Gina Cuttance joined the counselling team part time for the year. Ms Cuttance’ position was funded entirely by the Board and reflects their focus on supporting improved wellbeing for students by increasing the availability of counselling support for students across the school.  Mr Corey Kamariera left us to join the team at Te Whānau Tahi, and subsequently Mr Connor Matthews joined us teaching Te Reo Māori. We welcomed Ms Melissa Oliver part time to the staff team working lart time in our Learning Commons Re Pae Rewa. Teacher Aides Emma Grennell and Sarah Nothcote left us to take up full time employment elsewhere.

We are grateful for the contributions that they have all made to our wonderful kura.

The year 2019 marked the completion of the whole school rebuild, with only landscaping and ‘make good’ work to be completed. Our contractors Leighs Construction expect to be clear of our site by March 2020. The company and its team have been exemplary citizens sharing the campus with us as they have undertaken their construction work. We moved into the last of our new buildings, we have called them kahui, late in term 3. Unsurprisingly we immediately saw students focussing on their learning in these new spaces. We were careful in our planning and design to allow for a variety of learning needs amongst students, with a combination of larger collaborative spaces and smaller break out and traditional class spaces. I have already observed increased staff collaboration, and the exchange of ideas and thinking, exactly the sort of start we would have hoped for in these spaces. Our preparation for the occupation of these new spaces has included a great deal of thinking and trialling of different ways of planning our curriculum, we have called it ‘playing in the sandpit’, and we believe that we continue to see improved engagement and achievement amongst students. The new buildings were also explicitly designed to allow a shift to a vertical pastoral system, a whānau grouping in which students from all year levels will be grouped in those whānau groups. Each of our kahui is a pastoral grouping. This change will be phased in over the next few years.

Of particular note has been what we believe is a significant improvement in internal NCEA results at the Merit and Excellence levels (and in fact overall pass rates). One year level has nearly doubled the proportion of internal standards credits achieved at the Excellence level before the inclusion of external results in January, and we have seen a record number of students gaining their NCEA endorsed with Excellence before they even enter the examination room. This reflects deeper learning and higher levels of engagement and aspiration amongst students. This broader aspiration is vital to our student success. Every student needs to aspire to be their best.

To every adult in the room, I beg you, I implore you, to support our rangatahi in raising their aspirations. Perhaps my biggest frustration in my professional life is the amount of almost unbounded human potential I see going unrealised. Talented students settling for nothing near their best means they miss out on fuller richer lives, and it also means that as a society we miss out on those talents.  We are the poorer economically, culturally, and socially. Settle for nothing less than their best.

To our wonderful staff, thank you. You are amazing colleagues, you show yourselves to be the risk takers that our rangatahi need in education. We know that risk taking is essential for creativity to thrive, and I want to make some comment at this point about the media in regards to education and its future, and the notion of risk taking.

We know that in New Zealand we have what has been dubbed a ‘tail of underachievement’. We know that our Māori and Pasifika children are overly represented in that group. This tells us that much about our traditional systems of education has not worked for those children, that this is the fault of our systems and structures, not the fault of those tamariki. We must change and adapt to better meet the needs of these children who are our future. However, most often when a school tries new ways of meeting the needs of these children, it is pilloried, it is attacked, by our media. The result of this is that schools become risk averse. Change is disincentivized. Frankly this is little more than institutional racism, it is the protection of the privilege of the few for whom the system does work, as the media is slowing the change that we need in New Zealand to better meet the educational needs of our tamariki. To steal and adapt the famous quote from the epic movie ‘Gone with the Wind’, “Frankly, we don’t give a damn about those media attitudes”. My colleagues are embracing change.They show great courage in our endeavours. We have not lost our moral compass. We are driven by the moral imperative to do right by every child, not simply the privileged few.

I’d like to once again make mention of The Manaiakalani Programme. In my entire career I have never seen anything as transformational in education. The Manaiakalani Programme is a pedagogy (a way of causing learning summarised with the three words Learn Create Share) that is consistent across our cluster, and increasingly throughout our kura, and it is magnified with the use of digital technology, specifically Chromebooks. With these tools, we are accelerating student progress in writing by twice national averages. That is, our students are improving in their writing twice as quickly as students of their age generally across the country. In reading and mathematics it is currently less spectacular. The rate of progress is only one and a half times that of students generally across the country. But we still have our junior students improving faster than students nationally. Can I say definitively that these improvements are solely the result of Manaiakalani? No. However, consider this. These same improvements are happening for the thousands of students across the country in the nearly 100 Manaiakalani schools. Those same improvements are not happening consistently anywhere else. It would be a funny old coincidence if it weren’t Learn Create Share and the affordances of the digital technology that were creating these transformational improvements. The Ministry of Education has finally accepted the worth of what is going on, and work is afoot to have funding for the scaling of Manaiakalani across the country built into budget 2020/21

We are doing our bit, as staff learn how to best employ the pedagogy to accelerate the learning of your children. Please help us. Please make what we know for many is a significant investment: provide your child with a Chromebook. It is possibly the best money investment you can make in your child.

In this regard I’d like to make special mention of and offer our warmest thanks to the members of the Uru Mānuka Education Trust who have done amazing work to support our work across the cluster, and to the Wayne Francis Charitable Trust who have made the investment into our cluster Uruy Mānuka. They have secured five years worth of funding to support our education leader Ms Kelsey Morgan who works with teachers to continue their upskilling in how to cause learning with our driving pedagogy, and therefore how better to help students to make informed use of the digital technology. This teacher development is essential, because we know that simply putting devices into the hands of learners and doing nothing else will fail completely. The devices impact learning for your children when we also change the way teachers teach. Thank you.

Of note too over this past year is that we have engaged with the other schools across our cluster (Uru Mānuka) to formalise our Kāhui Ako, our community of learning. This releases additional resources that will be put to use to support and benefit our learners, your children, not just at Hornby High School but across the whole community. Thank you to my colleagues and fellow Principals, and to the wonderful staff who make these kura such wonderful places tro be. We are doing amazing things for our community.

I have to say thank you to a growing number of supporters of our kura. This growing list is a symbol of the support, the love and kindness, the faith, that our community has in you our students, our whānau, our staff.

CERT Trust
Mainland Foundation
Westpac  - Hornby Branch
GCSN - the Greater Christchurch Schools Network
Orica Chemicals
Hornby Residents Association
OCS   ( $200)
Wycola Medical Centre
Westpac Hornby Branch
Craig Frampton
David Browne Contractors
Kitchen Surplus 
Hornby Working Men's Club
Hornby Rotary 
Gators Basketball -   ran fundraiser for senior basketball to attend tournament

Finally, to our prize winners, well done. Tonight we acknowledge and celebrate your attitude, your persistence, and your achievement. The prizes we award acknowledge only one part of the wonderful achievement represented here tonight, and throughout the school, but that achievement represents much about our purpose as a kura..

To our 2019 Prefects, thank you for your leadership and your commitment to the school. You have modelled the very kindness that I think is essential to healthy caring inclusive communities. Your daily actions are an example and an inspiration to us all, you are all a wonderful example of the values based leadership that the world desperately needs. Kia tau te mauri.

To all of our leavers - please know that you take with you our best wishes, and the knowledge that at Hornby High School you have your turangawaewae, your place to stand. You are an outstanding group of young men and women. Thank you for everything you have contributed to our kura. Well done on all that you have achieved. Thank you for the people that you have become.

Kia mau ki te tūmanako, te whakapono me te aroha

Hold fast to hope, faith, and love.

Noreira tena koutou tena koutou tena koutou katoa

Wednesday, 23 October 2019


The annual Manaiakalani 'Wānanga' was held today. This year over 100 educators from Manaiakalani clusters from around the country got together to review data and progress and to share ideas on next steps. The day is always energising and inspirational, highlighting the incredible impact of what we do.

As is so often the case when groups of like-minded people come together (regardless of the interest or purpose) really useful conversations take place over the tea breaks, and today was no exception.

I had a fascinating conversation with Mark Maddren (the original Manaiakalani facilitator for Uru Mānuka), and Aaron Wilson (researcher with the Woolf Fisher Research Centre, Auckland University) and Mark put forward an idea that I hadn't considered before. He pitched it like this.

We are mostly familiar with the concept of 'helicopter parents', those who (with the best of intentions and motivations) hover far too closely over their children (always wanting the best for their children, as we are hardwired to do as parents) but as a consequence denying their children to the opportunity to stand on their own two feet, to make mistakes from which thy can learn, and develop their own coping strategies which will be essential in their adult lives.

Image result for helicopter

Mark proposed the idea of 'helicopter teachers'. If I understood Mark correctly, these are the teachers who try to make things as simple as possible for students but as a result of which they take away the challenge.

Now this is, it seems to me, a fine line. On the one hand a part of our core job is to make core skills and knowledge accessible for our rangatahi. On the other hand we must make sure that those rangatahi still develop and grow the necessary skills for their learning.

We do this by:

  • Scaffolding content to such an extent that challenge is removed from the task, or
  • Bullet-pointing text so much that there is very little actual reading required, 
We attempt to make success so certain that there is little risk of failure, the result of which is :

  • Students don't develop the resilience necessary to face future failure, 
  • They fail to learn the critical lesson that success in life rarely comes from those first attempts, but requires persistence in the face of failure, and
  • We need to take risks in order to learn, develop and grow

We all do this for the best of reasons. If you believe in the idea of personality types (not sure that I do, but that's a different story), then you'd mostly classify teachers as 'rescuers'. If you don't follow that approach, then maybe it's because we generally understand the moral imperative behind what we do. We have to make sure that every human being that crosses our professional path is able to achieve outcomes that match their potential.

The discussion arose as we were talking about progress in reading. The Manaiakalani data shows that while we are accelerating writing achievement for our tamariki by twice national averages, we are only accelerating reading by 1.5x the national averages. When we present content we will bullet point it, taking out a lot of the words necessary to fully convey meaning. As a consequence students do less reading. We make a judgement call that real authentic texts are too difficult for our students, and so we don't present them with these reading tasks.

All of this means that as teachers we do all the work, not the students. As a consequence we undermine critical learning opportunities.

I fear that this reflects a lack of aspiration for our learners, and possibly even some deficit theorising about our learners. Possibly a better approach is to develop the skills necessary to teach students how to deal with, to read, authentic texts, how to approach and read difficult stuff. I believe that this is more of a problem with those of use who have been trained as secondary teachers (myself included). Yet we are ALL teachers of literacy (reading and writing). So the challenge in our Uru Mānuka cluster oi to create a sharper focus on reading by improving teacher skills around how to support our learners to read more effectively, rather than simplifying the reading tasks in the first place

All of this came from a discussion of the incredible data that is being accumulated on the success of The Manaiakalani Programme in accelerating student success. This is one of the powers of good data, and one of the huge benefits of collaboration. It is an incredible testimony to the professionalism of our teachers.

Robin Sutton

Monday, 16 September 2019

'Learn Create Share' the old fashioned way, with a modern twist

The Manaiakalani Programme is extraordinary. It is accelerating student achievement wherever it is used, regardless of the context. It uses a common pedagogy regardless of age, stage, or subject matter: 'Learn Create Share'. Pedagogy is just a fancy way for saying 'the way that we cause learning'. The biggest challenge is to help everyone to understand what that means. Teachers may get that idea more easily than non teachers, and the best way to help is to show what it looks like.

You might argue that teachers have used 'Learn Create Share' throughout the development of education, but the differences now are :

  1.  We are consciously employing it, consistently employing it, and making it clear to learners that we are using it, and
  2. We are amplifying the benefits of the pedagogy using digital devices, and digital tools.

In doing so we have to be careful not to through the baby out with the bathwater. That is, we have to be careful that we don't throw away other tools that still work.

Over the past few weeks two classes of Year 10 social studies students under the guidance of Catherine, a teaching intern from NZGSE, and their class teacher Alby Wilson, have combined the best of the old and the new. They have been studying technological change through human history, and today it was my pleasure to open an 'exhibition' of their learning. They were looking at technologies from those early neolithic civilisations, alongside those of ancient Rome, and ancient Egypt.

Because the room they have been working in is due for demolition very soon (yay) they sought my permission to do some 'cave drawings' on some of the walls. The walls were first textured using glue and sand, and they students then created their 'cave art'. The created cardboard models, cooked food according to what historians believe were accurate recipes of the time, made life sized replicas of some equipment, and created costume that they thought was appropriate to the times. They looked at mummification as a process, both scientifically, and culturally.

The researched and they wrote (all digitally), and alongside that they created. Finally today they shared as we opened their exhibition, inviting whānau to come along and enjoy their work too.

'Learn, Create Share', the old fashioned way, but again 'amplified' through the use of digital technologies.

Now let the blogging begin as students reflect on their learning, and share those reflections with the real world, making their learning visible.

Here are some photos of their exhibition. Ka mau te wehi!!

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Democratisation of education: The Manaiakalani Project, and more ...

Nothing could capture the moral imperative of education better than this image:

Image result for equality equity liberation image

It captures the challenge that faces us better than anything else that I can think of, and I've used it repeatedly.

How can we reduce inequality, how can we improve equity? I believe that ONE strategy is the democratisation of education,  making education 'fit for purpose' for everyone, not just those from the European middle class, not just those who have traditionally benefited from our past educational systems. Education offers the opportunity for liberation.

That is the background to my thinking after another great meeting with Cheryl Doig. We discussed a really interesting piece of work that she is involved with called 'Learning City Christchurch'. The name speaks for itself. What does it involve? What would a 'learning city' look like? That's the million dollar question.

Here's my take on it: we want Christchurch to be a city in which learning is ''what we do', the 'we' being all citizens, regardless of age, race, religion, and regardless of the purpose or context of the learning. Such a 'construct' is a very complex thing with lots of inter-related parts.

In Christchurch we have a formal education system that is evolving in ways possibly unique in the country. Secondary schools are increasingly collaborating, working together, sharing practise in order to improve outcomes for learners. Much of this began post earthquakes through the work of the Ministry funded 'Grow Waitaha' organisation, and continues on to this day. This in itself is important work that the Ministry of Education needs to continue to fund.

I recently discovered another exciting piece of collaboration in the making when I had a delightful meeting with Cheryl de la Rey, the (new) current Vice Chancellor of University of Canterbury. She spoke of moves to improve collaboration between the four key tertiary providers in Christchurch. To get more learners into formal tertiary education, regardless of the institution, is winning for the city, for learners, and for the country. Her views were refreshing.

Back to the meeting with Cheryl Doig; we talked of a concept of 'supernodes'.. something that blew my mind, but if I understand correctly it involves systematic development of areas of advantage that the city already has - agri-technology for example with Lincoln University.

So, how does this connect with Hornby High School?

We are already doing great work in the democratisation of education with The Manaiakalani Programme. The outcomes for our learners, regardless of gender or ethnicity, are transformational. Students are encouraged to find their voice, to connect their learning to their own cultural world, to make their learning visible, to coach each other. We are also working to transform curriculum so that it is more relevant, engaging, and effective. These things support development of student agency and efficacy (that is, control and effectiveness). These two things improve achievement for learners.

In this journey we are not alone. Many secondary schools in Christchurch are working to improve the ways in which they cause learning so that they improve outcomes. Whether it is Haeata and their new learning paradigm, or Christ's College and their 'Inspire' programme for their year 10 boys, it is all a part of the innovative educational landscape that we have in Christchurch. I am aware of many other initiatives across the city (and across the country) that are seeing extraordinary transformation in learning. Beyond Christchurch, try Hobsonville Point Secondary School, or Rototuna High School.

What is holding us back? In my opinion one barrier is the media, ever ready to 'bag' any attempts at doing things differently. After all, growing a sense of outrage is the best way to sell advertisements and generate revenue. To hell with the truth. To hell with improvements in society. The net result is that schools and Principals tend to keep their heads down in their attempts to avoid that public media gaze, that pseudo-scorn that the media is so keen to heap on educational innovation. Thank goodness many schools and Principals have the moral courage to try new things.

Well, Dear Media, let me offer that famous Einstein wisdom "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

In schools we are trying to do things differently. Whenever you see change and you 'bag it', you disincentivise that change and improvement. In doing so you create a push factor that resists change and maintains the status quo, that keeps those who have traditionally been poorly served by education down at the bottom on the economic heap. Perhaps most specifically you keep Māori at the bottom of the heap, because they are the people who have been least well served by our traditional euro-centric system. That sounds and looks a lot like institutional racism to me. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's certainly my perspective. And here's the fascinating thing in this regard: things that improve educational outcomes for Māori improve educational outcomes for all (He Kakano)

These are things that help to make a learning city, or to use a Christchurch City Council phrase, a city of opportunity. So too are moves to micro credentialing, to creating a system that 'badges' or recognises small pieces of learning that are important to the learner at a specific point in time, and that may well accumulate towards qualifications but which more importantly focus learning on what matters, not on gaining qualifications that may be largely irrelevant to the learner, and to society.

This looks a lot like democratisation of learning, and equity for learners. For Hornby High School, the democratisation of education comes in the form of The Manaiakalani Programme, in the shape of new connected curriculum, in the shape of a shift in pastoral practices and structures. Other schools have their own journey, as they should. This happens to be our journey. Many schools have the courage to change. Let's not be brow beaten by others into avoiding what is right.

Iti te matakahi, pangāia ke te tōtara pakaru ai (The wedge may be small but it will split the greatest tōtara).

At the very least we all bask in the economic benefits of this democratisation. By crikey, even the OECD agrees. And some of us even bask in the knowledge that what we are doing is morally right.

Ma te hururu, ka rere te manu

Robin Sutton

Sunday, 18 August 2019

A wonderful mix of 'Learn Create Share' and good old fashioned kindness and gratitude

Our Year 7 & 8 curriculum this year includes the opportunity for tamariki to take part in 'Community Impact Projects', and passion projects. One of these projects engages the tamariki in enhancing wellbeing in their community. Last term they devised and designed a mindfulness colouring in project/competition that they then promoted amongst cluster schools. They went out to businesses asking for prizes and were, on their own admissions, overwhelmed with the support they received, and were able to support improved wellbeing.

Their teacher Miss Birtch wanted to share some great learning and community interactions. Last week she had some of the Year 7/8's writing letters of appreciation to someone special in their lives. They were expressing their gratitude to help improve someone else's wellbeing and to show kindness.

Miss Birtch writes:

"Students wrote to a variety of people including Mums, Dads, other whānau members, teachers, friends, coaches etc. Students got to choose to share their actual letter on their blog, print them off to take home or email straight to their person, and then post a reflection about the task.

"It was great to see friends lighting up receiving kind messages and students running up to us to say that "Mum responded!!" or "Mum commented back!" within the time frame of the lesson."

This is a link to Saia's blog. He posted his letter on his blog, and guess what? Mum responded. I suspect you can imagine Saia's delight.

Engagement was high and these students brightened the day for a lot of people showing once more, and in a very different context, the power of 'Learn Create Share'. Students were writing, they were thinking critically, they were reflecting on gratitude which we know is strongly connected to wellbeing. For some this was via blogs, for others it was via email, or paper copies. The sharing of their thinking and their feelings was the important thing, and for some the technology enabled this in ways that might not have been easily accessible otherwise.

This is a condition of the human heart, and powerful determinant of our wellbeing. Of course that said, technology was never required to say thank you.