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