Thursday, 20 April 2017

Our growing understanding of what creativity looks like

What will it look like once we are that centre of creative excellence that we aspire to be? None of us knows yet. I have given examples of what creativity could look like in the daily life of a school, and each of these still holds true.

However even after only 6 months on the journey we are coming to other ways of thinking about creative excellence too. Here's one.

Creative excellence could involved all members of our community being prepared to take more risks with our learning. Let me give a couple of examples for our teaching staff.

Our music and drama teachers came to us and said, let us work together in common or shared spaces. Let's both work in what until now we have called the auditorium and music rooms. Let's redevelop our ways of working so that we are more collaborative, so that we integrate what we do for the benefit of students. I had already asked the Board to use some funds to support what the Ministry of Education terms 'pedagogical prototyping', which when translated means playing around with different ways of causing learning. The money was tagged specifically to altering the physical structures of our built environment, and the furniture with which we work.

Now if you have never worked in a school you may wonder how hard that can be but trust me, as a teacher that's one heck of a scary thing to suggest. Its one heck of a risk to take because it means working in ways that you haven't done before. It's like asking an engineer to re-imagine the motorcar.

After one term these staff has done amazing things. They have had great moments, and dreadful moments. But they have been risk takers, and they have learned. They are in the process of re-imagining performing arts education within our Hornby High School context within the new space that we have called 'Whare toi whakaari'.

Another example: I have also been pushing for the extension of our Business and Arts kete from just years 7 and 8, to include Year 9 this year, and year 10 next year.  As stand alone units for Years 7 and 8 these have been very successful, building incredibly high levels of student engagement and achievement. But they are not the way classes traditionally work in Years 9 and 10. Staff have been resourced with the time to work collaboratively to think through how this could work. In the last few weeks of the term Heads of Department had a series of those 'aha' moments that can only be described as in the best traditions of 'creative excellence'. We have a definite way forward, an exciting way forward. It may not be our final answer, but we have to take risks to improve, and it's worth remembering (as I say to our staff) that by definition sometimes risks don't pay off. But it's okay to fail!!!! We just have to learn from each failure, to not repeat the same failure.

A final example: Our mathematicians came to us and said "can we knock holes in walls, can we open up the spaces between clasrooms? That would allow us more flexibility to group and regroup students to better support their learning." We said yes.

These examples represent an evolution of practice, the willingness to take risks, that will I think be a defining part of our culture of 'creative excellence'.

It would be odd for us to expect our students to use our Manaiakalani pedagogy 'Learn Create Share' if we weren't also willing to use it ourselves to support our own professional learning and development.

As a footnote, the development of a growth mindset and a willingness to take enterprising risks is one of our three strategic goals. We have seen the beginnings of a return to the willingness of years ago for students to try new things, to perform in public, to put themselves out there and take risks whether on the stage or the league field. There is a long way to go, but such risk taking for our students is also an essential part of their 'Learn Create Share' journey.

And you know what? At the risk of jinxing things, achievement in the school as measured with internal NCEA standards is tracking ahead of last year at the end of term 1. It's early days, but this is an aspirational thing. We need to dream big dreams, to believe.

We are building a broader understanding of what creative excellence may look like at Hornby High School.

Nga mihi nui
R Sutton

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Learn Create Share .. the pathway to creative excellence

Our vision to be 'a centre of creative excellence' is pretty clear, and awareness of this is increasing in our community. Of course as I have now noted many times a vision is a statement of aspiration, of a desired future. It is meaningless unless we have clearly defined and measurable steps to take us along the path towards that vision.

Our strategic and annual goals shape that pathway, and the first of our strategic goals is "To provide future focussed individualised learning", and the first annual goal to direct our action is to "Embed the culturally responsive pedagogy ‘Learn Create Share’ to develop future focussed individualised learners".

As I am out and about in the school my 'personal radar' is finely tuned looking for signs that these goals are driving the learning that takes place in classrooms.

Today was a day marked with a couple of spontaneous and notable signs that we are moving along the right track.

The first occurred when one of our Year 8 teachers came in to my study proudly showing me this amazing brochure.

She handed it to me saying 'There you are, that's learn create share' right there". A group of Year 8 boys had designed and created this information brochure about the school. Their target audience was parents, and the sample was notable because it contained some very creative design elements, and it was thoughtfully executed with both the writing and the quality production.

I stumbled across the second example when popping into a classroom for quite a different purpose. I snuck in to avoid interrupting the teacher's flow, and there she was talking about 'Learn Create Share', with the words clearly displayed on the whiteboard.

 'Mighty oaks from little acorns grow'. (Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, 1374)

Learn Create Share is a vital part of our quest for creative excellence, a vital part of our strategy to accelerate learning for all learners.

Robin Sutton

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Creative excellence: getting involved

Our vision for Hornby High School is 'A centre of creative excellence'.

A vision is an aspiration, a statement of an ideal future state. But it should also be an inspiration, a motivation do something different, a call to action to change the way things are at the moment.

If you don't know what those actions should be, the aspiration is likely to fail. We can't change things if no-one knows what they are expected to do to change them in the first place.

For the next three plus years our Board has set three strategic goals, three big things that it wants to achieve, and these are:

  • To provide future focussed individualised learning
  • To create and sustain an inclusive learning community
  • To foster inspirational, risk taking and enterprising leadership in all members of our learning community

The first of these is the one that explicitly refers to the academic learning that we want for our tamariki, and to drive that we have this annual goal:

  • Embed the culturally responsive pedagogy ‘Learn Create Share’ to develop future focussed individualised learners

'Learn Create Share' is the pedagogy of the Manaiakalani programme on which we are hanging so much of our academic development.

Let's think about what that means.

Students have to learn 'stuff'. This 'stuff 'will be a combination of content knowledge and skills, and personal skills (we call these 'key competencies' like being able to work with others, think critically and creatively, or manage themselves effectively). So don't let others convince you that schools don't teach knowledge anymore. That's still the cornerstone of what we do. After all, you can't think in a vacuum, you can't think if you have nothing to think about.

How is this different from the past? In the past knowing 'stuff' was enough. Now it isn't. Now, students need to be able to do something with that 'stuff', that knowledge. They need to be able to 'create' new 'stuff.'

This creation could take many different forms. In an English class it might mean writing a poem, or an essay, or creating a movie clip. In a visual arts class it might mean creating a sculpture. In a technology class it might mean 3D printing a dragon. In a music class it might mean creating a performance. In a business class it might mean creating a small business entity to produce and sell a good or a service. It could mean creating and performing a social action in a way that changes our world for the better. For example, promoting more effective litter control or recycling, promoting the planting of flowers to attract and sustain bees, or undertaking a food collection to donate food to a food bank (these are actual examples that some of our Year 10 students tackled in their project based learning in 2016).

These are the more obvious examples. But what about a maths class? Or a language class?

Well, it could just as easily mean creating a short video that explains how to solve a multiplication problem (any problem, for that matter). In a language class it might mean creating a short video clip that explains a point of grammar, or offers up new vocabulary and how to use it. In the jargon of education, these are called 'digital learning objects'.

It's hard to motivate learners to learn and create unless there is a purpose for that creation. As human beings we mostly prefer being with others, so a really powerful way to give any creation a purpose is to share our creations with others.

And at Hornby High School (in fact, across Manaiakalani schools generally) a really important sharing tool is the personal blog. Every student has a blog, and on that every student is being asked to share their learning and their creation.

These blogs are open to the world, so anyone can see them, anyone can make comment. We talk about having an authentic audience, and about making learning visible. That is the main purpose of the blogs (although they also leave us with a lovely record of learning and achievement).

This is where you as whanau come in. One of the most powerful things that you can do is to get involved with your child's learning. Ask to read their blogs, make comments, give your children feedback, ask questions, offer praise, get involved. This is one of the actions that you can take to improve the learning and the lives of your tamariki.

The evidence supporting the impact of this technology and this approach is growing all the time. The data collected by the Woolf Fisher Research Centre (Auckland University) from across our cluster of schools (we are called the Uru Manuka cluster) shows clear acceleration in our students' writing, reading and maths. By acceleration we mean that they are improving faster than the national averages for children of their age.

That makes sense. Students are more in control of their learning, they are writing more, and they are creating for a real audience. If we want our kids to become better writers, they have to write more. This is powerful stuff.

If you are not sure how to do that, ask your tamariki. We are hoping to run some whanau evenings in which we can help you to understand how to use your child's Chromebook to do just this. Keep an eye open for more information.

Oh, and in the meantime, our heartiest congratulations to every one of you who has made that investment in your child's future by buying that Chromebook. We do understand the sacrifice that this rerquires. Be assured that it really does make a positive difference.

Nga mihi nui
Robin Sutton

Thursday, 2 February 2017

When everyone knows the destination ..... take the first step.

Knowing your destination gives any journey a purpose. What's more, when you know your destination, then it becomes far easier to select a route, a pathway. So with Hornby High School's destination decided - 'A centre of creative excellence' - it becomes possible to plan and begin the journey.

Our journey began late last year when we announced to the world that our destination was our collective aspiration to be that centre of creative excellence, and I take every opportunity I can to lay the same challenge at the feet of every person connected with our kura: what will you be doing that will move us closer to that destination, to that aspirational state?

I lay the challenge at the feet of staff, I lay that challenge at the feet of students, and I lay that challenge at the feet of whanau. At our Mihi Whakatau for our new students, I told them exactly what our vision is, and asked them to think about what creative excellence might look like for each and every one of them. That's a hard question to answer when you are a Year 7 student, maybe 11 years old. However it's a hard question to answer regardless of how old you are, for it's not a challenge that many of us have faced before, it's a question that pushes all of us a long way outside our comfort zones.

Staff began their year asking themselves exactly that question. I challenged them to try to imagine what creative excellence might look like across these five areas of our kura:

  • the classroom
  • day to day school organisation
  • pastoral systems
  • co-curricular activities, and
  • community and whanau engagement

There was a lot of discussion, and many suggestions came from our brainstorming.  Here are just a very few of the wide ranging suggestions that came from staff.

  • Students have a say in what they learn how they are assessed and how they present it
  • Students are not afraid to share ideas, trial, experiment and learn from mistakes or errors
  • Creativity will be students learn concepts in their own way, presenting in their own way, and sharing on a medium of their choosing.
  • Connected curriculum
  • Creativity is based on 3  components , knowledge , critical thinking processes and most importantly motivation(intrinsic or extrinsic ). To establish a truly creative centre of excellence students would need to find their own individual drivers and their "why"
  • Once a student gains interest there is nothing worse than saying - time's up - pack up and move on to your next class.  Why not allow a student to spend 3-4 continuous hours on a project - which ideally will then include all aspects - maths, science, technology etc
  • Classes are based around rewindable learning. Students are set problems/activities/tasks to achieve in an expected time and physical space with the teacher providing support and ideas to solve problems. Classes are designed to reflect this space.
  • Vertical whanau groups. Opportunities for whanau, students and staff to gather informally to get a greater sense of belonging.
  • Give option of whanau evenings at home or traditional 'at school' parent/teacher interviews

When we plan a journey, we also need to know how we will travel, we need a vehicle to take us there. That question has already been answered: our vehicle will be our pedagogy of 'Learn Create Share', the underlying pedagogy of the Manaiakalani programme. It is no coincidence that the middle word of the pedagogy is 'create'.

In an early walk around classes today I developed a sense of satisfaction at the calm settled nature of the students and their classes. I was encouraged when, on entering one class, the teacher asked the students 'what are we trying to develop in this class?' The answer came back reasonably quickly 'creative excellence sir'.

It will be a long journey, but as the Chinese philosopher Lao is supposed to have said 'a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'.

And as with any journey:

E huri to aroaro ki te ra,
tukuna to ataarangi
ki muri i a koe

Turn your face to the sun
and let your shadow fall behind you

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Starting our journey towards creative excellence

I've been thinking a lot about this creativity thing. We have embarked on an exciting new phase of our growth and development as a school with this new vision as 'a centre of creative excellence'. It connects perfectly with the manaiakalani pedagogy 'Learn Create Share' to which we have 'nailed our colours', and the nationwide data being gathered by Auckland University's Woolf Fisher Centre supports the effectiveness or impact of the pedagogy, and the corresponding use of digital tools, to improve learning.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, we now need to get stuck into a whanau/community wide discussion that helps us to understand what we mean by creativity.

When the vision was first unveiled for staff, a number asked if the word 'innovative' wouldn't be better than the word 'creative'. I was enormously grateful for this response for two reasons.

It told me that we weren't suffering from 'group think', that situation where people think they should just shut up and agree with everyone else. At the heart of our future must lie the growth of our individual and collective willingness and ability to question, to critically evaluate, everything we do.

It also made our Board Chair and I do a double check: is this really what we mean?

We decided that it is what we mean, but it is always worth that double check, everything should be questioned. What does the data say? Is this what we mean?

So now, we need to ask ourselves what we mean with the word creativity. I have been at pains to make the point that the word should NOT be tied only to the visual arts. It applies to everything we do. It applies across the curriculum (arts for sure, but also sciences, phys-ed, languages, English, mathematics, technology and social sciences).

It also applies to our school management and scheduling, to our course structures and organisation, to school governance, and to how whanau engage with the school and how they are supported to take part in the education of their tamariki.

I did a simple Google search on the word, and produced five pages of 'definitions' of what creativity means. Perhaps the most powerful was this:
If you have ideas but don't act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.
So if we are to embed creativity in the curriculum for example, students actually have to produce something. In the visual arts and technologies that has always gone without saying.

What about the social sciences? As our project based learning trial showed last year, getting students to take a social action to improve the lives of others in their community is an act of production. Students had to learn about the problem, and also learn whatever skills they need to help generate a solution.

In Te Reo, could it not be the creation of an app that supports the learning of the language, or promotes its wider use? In science, why not have students create a weekly podcast that highlights science issues that affect our local environment? In physical education, why not the design of a sports programme for younger children in the area? In mathematics, what about the creation of geometric shapes that can be translated into sculpture? The number of options is limited by our own creativity, and nothing else.

Notice that all of these things require 'learning', and once the act of creation is complete, they also involve 'sharing'.

On the question of course design, why do we assume that everything we do must be 'silo'd', that is why should learning be split out into separate 'subjects' (English, maths etc). That's not the way the real world operates. The real world needs people to solve its problems. Why isn't learning structured around the formulation and solution of those problems. Only then should we attach assessment to the student output/production. One sure outcome of this is likely to be increased student engagement. How much human potential do we lose in New Zealand because students are switched off school? Whether you measure that in traditional economic terms, or in human terms, it represents a massive loss for the nation as a whole, and for the Hornby community too.

What would happen if we abandoned courses as we know them today, and caused learning based around projects and problem solving?

The only significant obstacles to that are resourcing for teacher time to initially set these things up, and ensuring that students meet external success criteria for such things as university entrance. None of these is insuperable, forewarned is forearmed.

Is our current year group pastoral system the best way to provide pastoral support for students? What would happen if we shifted to a whanau based system? Society needs us all to look after each other, we are stronger when we work together.

E hara taku toa
i te toa takitahi
he toa takitini

("My strength is not as an individual, but as a collective")

A whanau or 'vertical house' system makes much more sense as a means of providing the pastoral support that our tamariki need if they are to grow into complete adults who are the foundations stones of the caring society that we all yearn for.

It is time to 'get creative', to rethink our solutions to the issues that confront us, and in doing that everyone's vice needs to be heard.

I'm very keen to hear from whanau and stude nts as well. Let's talk!!!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

A centre of creative excellence

So here we are at the start of a new year, that time for new academic and personal goals, aspirations and expectations. This year Hornby High School begins its first year with its own exciting new vision 'A centre of creative excellence'. When the Board of Trustees set this new vision, it did so with two specific thoughts in mind:
  1. A vision is an aspiration, a statement of what we want to be not what we are now
  2. Every one of us now needs to determine exactly what this means for us. What will creative excellence look like around the Board table? In Social Studies or Te Reo? In science or on the sports field?
At the start of their year staff will begin their own dialogue in which they try to determine what creative excellence will look like for them as professionals, and for their specific subject areas. A first look in a dictionary may give you something like this (depending on which dictionary you choose to use):

the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness

Sir Ken Robinson, English commentator on creativity in schools, maintains that schools around the globe kill creativity, and has this to say:

Why creativity? The pace at which technology is replacing repetitive human activity means that we need to more clearly understand and develop those things that make us human. Amongst those is the ability to think critically and creatively, things that technology (so far) has not been shown to be able to do.

Now the underlying pedagogy (the way in which we create learning) at Hornby High school comes from the Manaiakalani programme: 'Learn Create Share'. It is no coincidence that creativity sits right in the middle of that sentence. Our underlying approach to causing learning is to help students learn stuff, create something new with that stuff, and then share that creation with the world.

Every junior student at Hornby High School now has their own personal blog on which they will be writing about what they have learned, and share what they have created. Perhaps one of the ways in which as whanau you can be creative from now on is to look at what your tamariki have created, and to comment on it. Even a simple 'Well done' speaks volumes for young learners.

The Woolf Fisher Centre, the research arm of Auckland University, has been gathering data on the effectiveness of the Manaiakalani pedagogy, and the associated use of Chromebooks and devices, to improve learning. You can read more about their findings after three years here:

Click this link to read more 
The data so far is much more positive than we had dared hope: gains in reading and maths at 1.5 x the national level and gains in writing at 2 x the national average. 

So our mission starting right now is to find our creativity, to develop the ability in every student, every teacher, every whanau to come up with original ideas, to create something.

Whatever your perspective, whatever your place in the learning journey of every one of our extraordinary tamariki, dare to challenge yourself, dare to be creative in seeking out new ways of supporting their learning (and our own), dare to be creative in meeting the many challenges that every one of us faces daily.

Ko te pae tawhiti,
Whaia kia tata; ko te pae
tata, whakamaua kia tina

Seek out distant horizons
and cherish those you attain

Robin Sutton