Tuesday, 28 August 2018

A complex messy business

Education is a complex messy business.

(Source: Creative commons https://pxhere.com/en/photo/968503)

It has always been so. We all have that desire to think back to former days with the belief that those were simpler times, easier times, happier times. And in education speak, there is a tendency to believe that we had it better in those earlier times.

Frankly we did not. We had a system that taught to those with specific academic talents. It left a large proportion of the population disenfranchised. The old school certificate system until its final days consigned 50% of the population to failure. Where is the justice in that? Where is the economic sanity in consigning half of our pool of human talent to a sense of failure because they don't hurdle a specific and narrowly defined academic barrier?

So it is that we push to evolve education. The evolution is driven by a number of things:

  • There are the economic drivers whereby business wants more productive units of human capital, or where the economy rewards innovation, new ideas
  • There are the social drivers as we see unemployment delivering a range of social evils
  • The moral imperative whereby we seek to create greater human happiness through education which, we hope, will create human beings who simply reach for that sense of fulfilment (perhaps Maslow was right)
  • The political imperative whereby successive generations of politicians would have us believe that our system is failing to perform, and so needs constant reform. Strangely, that reform pattern seems to be tied to our three year political cycle. Who knew?

Regardless of the drivers, education is a complex and messy business, much like creativity. For Hornby High School our driver is that moral imperative, that desire to see that our students and our whānau are as well served as they can be to lead fulfilling lives.

Our search for that continual improvement means that we have multiple 'work streams' on the go at any one point in time. In fact, if you wanted a visual image, you might think of our educational journey as being much like one of Canterbury's braided rivers, making education that complex messy business.

(Sources: https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/89196579/environment-canterbury-licences-11000-hectares-of-public-land-to-farmers)

The most obvious is our work shifting into the new spaces that we have. The planning has taken long hours, and the shift in itself has been a complex business. Staff have worked hard, and been pushed well outside their personal and professional comfort zones. That we are where we are today is testament to their professionalism and their resilience.

Then there is the work to reform the curriculum, to make the curriculum fit for purpose. This seems likely to see a curriculum that is more contextual, a curriculum in which learning takes place against real world problems and issues, learning that is driven by student passion, and goodness knows we see plenty of that.

Alongside that we are working on continuous improvement in our student reporting. Early efforts so far this year have been driven by two initial desires: to get us through a period of significant staff stress as we relocate the entire school, and the desire to report more often, and more effectively. Professor John Hattie's ground breaking work tells us that feedback is one of the most significant impacts on student learning and achievement.

This work on reporting is connected with our ongoing staff professional learning on how to more effectively engage in inquiry into how to improve student learning, and on how to make better use of data to do just that.

Student reading and writing skills have been a big focus for our work. We continue to accelerate writing at twice the national rates of improvement. Reading proves a little more problematic, and so we are trialling reading interventions that are already proving to have positive impact on reading levels. When a reluctant reader improves reading speed by 40% while holding 80% comprehension in just two months, you know something important is going on.

And then there is the issue of our graduate profiles, those specifications of what we think our learners should look like at Year 8 and at Year 10. It is our intention to develop a Year 13 graduate profile too.

Finally all of this is underpinned by our work to grow our understanding of our 'Learn Create Share' pedagogy. We want creativity to be our most critical driver, and we want the 'Learn Create Share' pedagogy to drive everything that we do.

There is a lot of work going on to make sure that 'Learn Create Share' is at the forefront of our minds and our work. And that is why our vision, our aspiration, is the be 'A centre of creative excellence He puna auaha".

Some might think that this work, under the Manaiakalani umbrella is a digital devices programme. But it is not. As the literature on digital learning often seems to suggest, place digital devices in the hands of learners without changing the way teachers teach and learners learn, and you achieve nothing. Change that pedagogy and the sky is the limit.

And in this regard student blogging continues to be the most important thing. The evidence that we have from the Woolf Fisher Research Centre (Auckland University) tells us that the 'Manaiakalani medicine' must be taken three times per week. That is, if a student writes three blog posts a week, then we will have this huge effect on writing, and on engagement and learning.

Excellence is what we seek. Last week's news that our senior girls basketball team won their division one final spoke volumes for the levels of student commitment to excellence in what they do, and to their search for creative excellence.

But for all that, I come back to my original comment: Education is a complex messy business.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Learn Create Share, blogging, and engagement

As educators, we know the power of authentic learning. We know it's impact on student engagement and motivation. We know that engaged learners can learn so much more. And as a Manaiakalani school we know that our 'Learn Create Share' pedagogy offers us so much opportunity to support learners to learn in authentic contexts. That authenticity comes in part from the capacity to engage with an authentic audience, an audience far greater than the teacher.

One of our Year 9 students, Nathan, is a passionate young man who is engaging with his world and forming his views of that world and how it should be. I encourage all students to think for themselves, to challenge the status quo, to reimagine a better world, and here is Nathan doing just that, testing ideas.

I assume that he was prompted by the topical debate around free speech that centred around Don Brash, and then the two controversial Canadian speakers, recently in New Zealand. Nathan wrote a blog post which began like this:

Being an enterprising young, Nathan approached Don Brash over social media to comment, and to his credit Don Brash did indeed comment. I am not aware than Nathan has any other personal connection with Dr Brash. Here is Dr Brash's comment.

Nathan also received comments from three teachers (myself included). These were good natured posts as you would expect, each of us in our own way testing argument, putting forward alternative views etc.

My post isn't about the content of the argument. It is about the authenticity of the learning. Nathan engaged with a significant person currently engaged in this very debate in the real world. He had an exchange of views with an 'expert', someone well informed on the topic (remember that you don't have to agree with their points of view).

This is an example of the 'affordance' of the digital technology. This is an example of a connection that would not have been possible without the digital technology (the Chromebook).

Good writing develops when it is purposeful, when it has a real audience, an authentic audience. Writing structures can be taught, but writing volume that reflects deeper thinking develops when real people are reading and responding to it. True learning occurs in authentic contexts.

This is why "Learn Create Share", explored in digital contexts, is accelerating writing at twice the national averages.

Blogging can be a powerful tool for learning. Student blogging incorporates all three components of the 'Learn Create Share' pedagogy. It needs scaffolding, it needs application and effort, it needs support and comment. Blog comments are the ultimate differentiated feedback for all of us, a great way to support individualised learning pathways for learners.

You can read Nathan's blog post, and the comments, here.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

"We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us"

At the beginning of Term 3 I gave the following address (in a slightly modified form) to all students and staff of Te kura Te Huruhuru Ao o Horomaka Hornby High School at our student assemblies.

Mā te huruhuru, ka rere te manu
Adorn the bird with feathers so it can fly

Some wit once said “There are only two constants in life: death and taxes”. Another wit subsequently modified it to say that the three constants in life are “Death, taxes, and change”. The speed of change is certainly getting faster and faster. At Hornby High School we are in the middle of a period of change like no other in the 43 year life of our kura so far. Our new buildings give us the physical facilities you always deserved, and they have been designed to present opportunities for learning that may better equip you for the life ahead of you rather than the life behind us all, and it might start to look like this.

What do I mean by ‘this’?

Let me tell you some stories. Some years ago I had the privilege of attending a conference at which one of the keynote speakers was Professor Eric Mazur. Mazur is a professor of Physics at Harvard University, possibly one of the top three universities in the world. Now they don’t give Physics PhDs away in the breakfast cereal packets, and you don’t get to be a professor of anything at Harvard without good cause.

Mazur was talking about the changes that he felt needed to happen in education, changes that he has promoted in his own undergraduate course teaching at Harvard. He pushed two things (amongst many).

The first is what we call ‘flipped learning. At the risk of over-simplifying, this is where students learn the content in their own time (using resources provided by the teacher, of course), and do the practice exercises in class with the teacher, not a huge leap from our use of Google sites to flipped learning. So classwork becomes 'homework', and 'homework' becomes classwork. In our Manaiakalani pedagogy we add the phrase ‘rewindable learning’ where you can go back over things in your own time to improve your learning.

The second is the need for collaboration, working together with others. He believes that this is a skill that every student needs to develop. He gave this example. He said that at that time, as a researcher, he had been involved in writing more than 80 academic papers, and not a single one had he written alone. EVERY single one of them, he said, had been a collaboration with others. That is, he and others had combined their knowledge, skills, and thinking, to create and develop the ideas and write the academic papers.

In a non academic context, think about this. No one single person builds a house, or designs a car, sells a washing machine or runs a bus service. In every case there is some sort of collaboration involved. You have to work with others.

Here’s another part of the puzzle. This comes from an Education Review Office paper "What drives learning in the senior secondary school" which was published in 2015. In case you don't know, the Education Review Office inspects all schools in NZ and determines whether or not they are doing a good job. At its last inspection in 2015 Hornby High School was given a 5 year review. That is the BEST any school can get. It means that they are so confident in what is going on in our kura that they didn’t feel they needed to come back and inspect again until 2020.

In this research paper published in 2015, they were looking at what tends to happen in good schools. Put another way, what do they think good education can look like? This is worth quoting in full:

“What this study shows is that NZC and schools approaches to teaching and learning in secondary schools is often overshadowed by the requirements of NCEA and our current unit standards approach to assessment. This approach works against students adopting project based or collaborative styles of learning and minimises the emphasis on the NZC’s key competencies or values. Equally, the senior school generally limited opportunities for student directed learning. Yet these are the skills and strategies that will be required of most once they enter the workforce. What was of most concern was the way teaching in the senior schools tended to hold students back from pursuing their passions.” (my emphasis).

And what’s more they also said this:

“In several of the schools that ERO looked into, the key challenge was how to continue approaches that were working successfully in the first two years of secondary school into the senior school years.”

That is, the approaches that we are using more often in our junior college, such as the Business and Enterprise kete, or Project Based Learning, need to be pushed more into the senior school too. Why? Because they better represent the world of work that many of you will live in during your working lives.

WHY are we doing this? Why change?

Here is the third piece of our puzzle. This is the Employability Skills matrix, developed by the New Zealand Employers Association and others. This is what they want you to be like when you have finished school.

1. Positive attitude
a)    Is positive and has a “can do” attitude.
b)    Is optimistic, honest and shows respect.
c)    Is happy, friendly and enthusiastic.
d)    Is motivated to work hard towards goals.

2. Communication
a)    Understands, and reflects on, the way they communicate and how it affects others.
b)    Asks questions when unsure or unclear.
c)    Understands how employees, employers and customers communicate.
d)    Speaks, listens and shares ideas appropriately.

3. Team work
a)    Works well with others to complete tasks and meet goals.
b)    Contributes to developing new ideas or approaches.
c)    Works well with others of different genders, cultures or beliefs.
d)    Recognises the authority of supervisors and managers, and follows directions.

4. Self-management
a)    Arrives at work on time, with appropriate clothing and equipment to complete a work day.
b)    Understands, and reflects on, their own words, actions and behaviour, and how these affect others.
c)    Shows commitment and responsibility.
d)    Is dependable, follows instructions and completes assigned tasks.
e)    Is responsible for their own health and wellbeing, and follows health and safety guidelines in the workplace.

5. Willingness to learn
a)    Willing to learn new tasks, skills and information.
b)    Curious and enthusiastic about the job, organisation and industry.
c)    Looks for opportunities to work more effectively to make the business better.
d)    Accepts advice and learns from feedback.

6. Thinking skills (problem solving and decision making)
a)    Identifies and assesses options before making a decision.
b)    Recognises problems and uses initiative to find solutions.
c)    Thinks about consequences before they act.
d)    Recognises when they need to seek advice.

7. Resilience
a)    Adaptable and flexible in new and changing situations.
b)    Handles challenges and setbacks and does not give up.
c)    Able to seek support and help when needed.
d)    Recognises and accepts mistakes made and learns from them.

And finally the world of work and commerce is changing. Here is a headline from January this year:

A piece of NZ Institute of Economic Research published in 2015 suggested that 46% of jobs as we know them today might have disappeared by 2030. So doing what we have always done is no longer an option. If technology is replacing traditional jobs, what have we got to fall back on?

I’ll tell you what we have: our humanity. We need to develop and strengthen those things that make us human - our ability to collaborate, to work with others, our ability to empathise with our fellow human beings, to think critically and creatively, and our ability to communicate.

This is why our vision as a school is to be ‘A centre of creative excellence’ ‘He puna auaha’. In our new building we want no-one to be in any doubt that this is the main game we are playing.

That is why the learning of the future is more likely to look like this ...


.... than this ....


This is also why the pedagogy 'Learn Create Share' will continue to be central to everything we do at Hornby High School. And so similarly we also want no-one coming into our new building to be in any doubt about the importance of 'Learn Create Share' to our kura and the learning of our rangatahi.

We are creating new learning  .. our students too are creating new learning. Learning not only about content, and about more traditional academic, cultural and sporting skills, but now just as importantly about collaboration and connection, about creativity, about our humanity, about our cultural identity. Our individual and collective success is dependent upon the ability of each and every one of us to place ourselves in our own cultural worlds. We must value our own identities, we must value diversity. Our differences are our greatest strength.

Our new spaces have been designed with these ends in mind. It is Sir Winston Churchill who said "We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us". We have shaped our built environment to provide flexibility. It allows traditional direct instruction from the front, and it allows collaboration, it allows students to direct their own learning (we call this student agency, while also offering plenty of opportunities for support. It is designed to allow cross curriculum connections to be made between staff, and between learners. Now we need to allow time for these things to evolve.

Every student of Hornby High School is a part of this journey. I have challenged every student to be more than just a passenger in this journey. I have challenged every student to be an architect of this journey too. I challenge every student, and every whānau, to work with us to create this new future.

Hornby High School is one of a number of schools that are breaking new ground in New Zealand, and across the world. We are at the forefront of change and improvement in education, education for the brave new world. If you have never read Aldous Huxley’s 1930s Novel ‘Brave New World’, I challenge you to read it. It predicts a world that is increasingly looking to be frighteningly like the world you are inheriting. Be prepared to take control. Be prepared to challenge what you see, to think critically and creatively. Be prepared to live our aspiration, our hope, to be “a centre of creative excellence He puna auaha.” Help us to create this future.

YOU can do this. WE can do this.

Mā te huruhuru, ka rere te manu
Adorn the bird with feathers so it can fly

Robin Sutton