Sunday, 14 June 2015

Not everyone loves participating in a cross-country event

Not everyone loves participating in a cross-country event but; all of the kids had been practising for the Phoenix zone event - since at least the start of this term. For this event, ‘practising’ can be regarded as being different to ‘training’. While training involves targeting and lifting fitness performance levels - practising does not.
Some kids have trained quite earnestly with an expectation that they’re going to be there at the business end of their event; some of those expectations are realistic; others are not.

Some are out there, having a go and even having fun. Minor races develop between individuals; quick bursts of speed that occur - usually when going past a teacher or track marshall - followed by a bit of recovery walking and a quick yarn. And then that cycle starts again. (Many years ago, a couple of lads who were mates from different parts of the province and could really run; met up again on the start-line at the Southland Champs. Oblivious to everything else around them, when the race started - so did their conversation...and they kept it up - all the way to the finish line. And beyond - despite not  sprinting for a strong finish or even noticing the finish: they still came in 10th and 11th in a field of 60+).

And there are other kids out there practising - going through the motions mainly because they have to. We know that some of them are not ‘having fun’ at all: they’d rather be back inside doing something less personally confronting.

In many ways, these are the kids who can benefit most from these experiences. These are often the individuals who don’t struggle with literacy; maths makes sense to then straight off the bat. Unlike the ‘in-class strugglers’ they don’t have to really apply themselves to make progress and gain success.

Because the cross-country stuff is challenging for them; it is often one of their first opportunities to develop persistence. And persistence is one of the major elements in succeeding in life. Thomas Edison succeeded in inventing the lightbulb - just one of many successes. Tellingly though, his lifetime ratio for inventions was one success for every four hundred failures.

Persistence is what success looks like. You don’t have to win; you just have to finish what you start.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Published with the permission of all concerned...

The concerned parents wrote (slightly edited:

"M (daughter) participated in the Numeracy Support Programme in term 1 2015.

I am writing to you to express our appreciation to J (specialist teacher concerned) and yourself for this opportunity as it proved to be a fantastic programme and has helped M greatly; not only in regards to improving her maths skills but also for her finding a love of numbers and "how they work".

As  stated in her letters home it is definitely a partnership between school and home, and for a little effort at home you get to see some great results.  According to the report sent home at the end of the programme and after speaking with J, M started at a Year 1 level (beginning) and finished at almost "where she should be".  It is a shame the she is not able to continue the programme until she is fully up to speed even if this means it would have to be "self funded".  We were however disappointed that we were never informed that she was so far behind, this was only mentioned in the last week of term 4, 2014 that she may need a "little help".

I hope this programme may continue into the future for other children who have not yet had the opportunity to participate as we have found it to b extremely worthwhile."

My response (also slightly edited):

"Thanks for taking the time to write - I always suspected that I'd get one of these queries one day.

Yes the programme is very powerful. It is a local initiative...and we commit a serious amount of resourcing to have this programme in the school; one only the trained specialists can take. Participating schools 'buy' a percentage of the experts' time - which results in one of them being in our school every day for the number of weeks we can afford over a year. In that time, they work with the sorts of 'target' kids the programme is designed for: students below (but not well-below) the National Standard (maths) applicable to their age. 

As to the timing of you being informed about Monique's being below (the National Standard for maths): let me explain why and how that would have happened. 

National Standards (NS) were formulated on the basis that all kids could progress at a similar rate: "by the time a kid is six they will be able to do this, this, and this; and by the time they are seven it will be this, this and this!" (It is a very rare parent with two or more kids who has found that their kids hit all the same development milestones at exactly the same ages - it doesn't happen in a family and it certainly doesn't in a classroom either).

According to the Minister of Education at the time of their introduction, the NS were created  by "mapping backwards from NCEA level 2" - the concept being that if every kid makes exactly "this much" progress in twelve even steps from age five to the end of year 12; then every kid will pass NCEA level 2. That concept never took into account much in the way of how child development and learning actually happens. 

Hand in hand with the introduction came a legal requirement for progress to be reported to parents (against the NS) in terms of being above / at / below / well-below any given standard - which mark out only where a child is; 'expected' to be at the end of a year (for years 4 and up). For the troops in their first three years at school, the NS specify where they should be after 40 / 80 / 120 weeks of tuition; but still an assumption that everyone progresses at exactly the same rate to be able to achieve the relevant prescribed standard. Such progress is then required to be reported to parents using "clear language" and maybe even graphs; "like the graphs in the Plunket books." 

Plunket graphs recognise kids' development as being "within" ranges - rather than specifically "at" a required level. Nobody ever told a mum that their otherwise normal baby was 1.1Kg underweight or exactly 5 millimetres too short for their age. So it should be with NS. Kids whose progress is indicated as being "below" NS are simply just off making the standard - a bit like being 5mm too short for their age. 

The "below NS" kids will still make progress often reaching "at" with a bit of an extra support (eg: the numeracy programme provides); and sometimes with just being allowed a little more time and time to develop. In M's case, our records show her to be "at" the NS at the end of 2013; and "below" at the end of 2014. Because final NS judgements are only made at the end of the school year, for you to be told "below" any sooner would not necessarily have been valid. Further to that; you would have been told that she needed only "a little bit of help" because that indeed was all that was required to give her the boost required. 

I can assure you that should for any reason a child needs a second or third boost further down the track - we have no hesitation in putting them back in the experts' hands again.

Thanks again for your well-considered letter guys; I have appreciated the opportunity to try and clarify things for you and, potentially, others too."

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Managing the chemicals...

“Settling down” is just one of the challenges kids can face when they head to school each morning. If the alarm has failed to go off, everyone has overslept, so you end up bolting out of bed at twenty to nine; hollering at the kids to get up and get going too: chances are their stress levels are as high as yours - particularly if they have been slow to get going and you have had to do some extra-specially-hollering and encouraging: “If you kids don’t get a moving we’re never ever going to Gran’s again!” (or whatever the weekend promised weekend action was).

It’s peculiar wee beastie, the human brain. When the brown stuff hits the whirly thing, all brains react the same way. All brains - yours and your kids’ too. That elevated anxiety, stressed feeling is generated by the hormone cortisol - the chemical that comes flooding into your brain every single time you get a fright (eg: waking late on a work / school day). It’s purpose is to put your body on high alert - ready to to fight, flee or just freak out - whatever the circumstances may warrant.

Brains have been that way since the days when our early ancestors had to consider running from the chasing packs of dangerous animals; it’s a key part of our ‘survival’ mechanism.

If the situation gets worse, adrenalin - the hormone that powers your freak/fight/flight reaction - also floods your system. Result: you’re hyper-alert and your heart rate is anything but calm. Furthermore, your ability to process information not relevant to your immediate survival is nil (the brain focusses on the aforesaid freak/fight/flight; so thoughts like  “did I turn off the iron / make the lunches / change my undies?” just won’t feature. A kid coming to school (or you going to work) needs a settled brain before any real ability to focus, recall, or really think will be possible.

The cure? Having fun will cause the brain to release serotonin and dopamine - the “feel good” hormones  Exercise and/or  laughter are the two simplest remedies. A run, a game, a funny video clip; teachers use all of these activities at the start of the day to help kids’ brains to settle. Try it - it’ll work (for you and your kids).

Monday, 30 March 2015

And so, nine weeks later.....

End of March already - how did that happen?! My grandmother - known to all and sundry as Neena - used to say, "Sometimes, the faster I go, the behinder I get." I fear she was dead right. As Alice in Wonderland's Rabbit said, it's all too easy to be "Late - I'm late" - whether or not the date is important.

Term one is always pretty busy for any school - we are no exception: getting the year started / sports teams involved in  touch and flippa ball / three-way conversations / Phoenix (and for many, Southland athletics) days / Hiwi the Kiwi / assemblies / ukelele / choir / Tuinga Tahi (auditions) / mufti day / Easter raffle... and that's just the out of the classroom stuff!

In general, the kids have done well. Many are getting used to new experiences; be they a new room, teacher, or school; new friends, new interests; new systems and methods. One of the huge challenges for schools is engaging kids; in short: keeping them interested in what they are doing. 

The challenge for schools is that we live in increasingly hi-tech, hi-speed, sound-byte world. Kids are immersed in that culture for the 88% of their time: the percentage of the year they are not in a classroom. While you maybe able to learn all you need to know about fast food / energy drink / the latest i-gizmo in a 30-second TV ad; the same cannot be said of the NZ Curriculum. 

If we could reduce the curriculum to  a series of 30-second 'lessons'....the universities would be full of nine-year-olds. However, it is highly likely that those nine-year olds would have learnt very little at all about persistence, resilience, personal excellence, resourcefulness. And quite likely their social, skills would be those of a Muppet - with no hand inside it - rather limited... 

Kids need to be rounded individuals. They need to have the chance to develop persistence, resilience, that other stuff and...creativity. In an education system being increasingly driven by the political agendas hell-bent on measuring things, creativity - the food that feeds the soul - has been increasingly being sidelined. Why? Because it can't readily be measured. 

No Minister of Education has ever stood in Parliament and claimed, "Due to this government's education policies, New Zealand children's creativity has improved 3.7% in the last financial year." No Minister of Education has ever stood and claimed that kids relationship skills have improved by whatever percent either. But you will hear those claims about reading, writing and mathematics - almost always in relation to the National Standards policy.

For the past couple of years, we have been part of a cluster of four city schools taking part in a nationwide initiative known as the Learning Change Network (LCN). While the vast majority of schools (representing almost 4000 students) focussed on improving students' reading, maths or writing (the most common choice): none of the strategies employed focussed on the National Standards - or anything else that could be readily measured in terms of quantities and percentages. 

Commonly LCN schools focussed on future-focussed learning; engagement with whanau; and/or teacher effectiveness. (We focussed on the last two because relationships between school, whanau, and the kid; are the biggest keys to success - all of us paddling the same boat in the same direction). 

While participant schools fund their own involvement in the LCN; the Ministry of Education does fund a small team of largely part time facilitators to work with clusters. Not surprisingly; one of the requirements was that they report back to the Ministry in a format that included the LCN schools' National Standards data - garnered from each schools end of year reporting.

The chart below shows the dramatic gains against the National Standards made by LCN schools cohorts: 
Total learners
% of learners
Percentage Point change 2013-2014
Total (all learners, all subjects)

In comparison; below is the nationwide picture (for all schools); a story of very small gains for 2011 - 2013. 
The 2014 data isn't publicly  available yet, but the trend of very small gains will undoubtedly remain.

So: we'll keep doing what we're doing in partnership with the families and nga whanau of our targeted students (see - you do make a difference!); and we'll keep on doing what we're doing with all our Waverley Park kids - hopefully continuing to help develop well-rounded individuals as a result.

Finally: if you haven't already; check out Sir Ken Robinson's take on whether or not schools kill creativity.



Thursday, 19 February 2015

"Education" Amendment Bill - yeah right...

Colleague Denise Torrey is the new and very well respected president of the New Zealand Principals Federation. In her weekly editorial to members this week, she highlights the very disconcerting Education Amendment Bill passed last week in parliament; describing the bill as making "for a black week in Education". She went on to write:

"Initially, NZPF welcomed the promise of a shift towards independence and ownership of the Teachers’ Council by the profession and applauded its focus on raising the status of the profession. These were ideas the Minister publicised when talking about the changes early on. As it turned out, the amendments are anything but confidence boosting and certainly won’t raise any optimism for the profession.

In our own submission on the Bill, we addressed a number of issues including the name ‘EDUCANZ’. Our alternative suggestion was TCANZ – Teachers’ Council of Aotearoa NZ. In our view teachers are unlikely to feel ownership of a professional body intended for and funded by them which doesn’t have the word ‘teacher’ in it.

We also drew attention to the language used in the bill pointing out the way in which the word ‘educator’ and ‘teacher’ were used to mean the same thing when they are patently not.

Finally we drew attention to the process for appointing the members of the governing board which involved the Minister choosing them all. This is hardly a process to make teachers feel they have autonomy in relation to their own professional body.

We also opposed the changes to accommodate charter schools because ‘charter school [workers] will work in exactly the same contexts as trained teachers, but will have no legislated requirement to be registered, and the list of critical functions from which they are exempt must be seen first as a concern, and then as a contradiction of the stated goals of the new body’.

There were in excess of 1000 submissions. Most, like NZPF, opposed aspects of the Bill. We placed our trust in the select committee process and believed that if enough people opposed certain bits of the Bill, they would be changed.  But not so. The Select Committee vote was an even split, so status quo rules and all of the objectionable parts of the Bill remain.

Cynics had myriad Tui billboards in mind long ago. Given last week’s outcome, perhaps we all should have. Rather than empowering the profession, this legislation has done the opposite. It is about controlling us. That’s what is so disappointing.

NZPF believed that there were areas for improvement and looked forward to seeing the Teachers’ Council strengthened, as was already happening. We envisaged ERO as the natural auditor for appraisal and looked forward to better pre-service selection, co-ordinated, suitably funded, quality PLD and professional development programmes for principals.

Your national executive will meet this weekend and consider how we might respond to this new legislation. We have had discussions with both NZEI and PPTA and will continue with those discussions.   We will keep you updated on any progress.

Denise is right. It is about disempowering and controlling the teaching profession. The only step left to take is to totally silence the profession; "Und zey haff vays of doing zat too, mein liddle Liebchen..."

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Resolution re-vision...

How do you spell intelligence?
I've never been one for New Year's resolutions but it was obvious that this year required that rule to be broken....just this once: "I resolve to keep my blog up to date; make at least two entries per term." 

So: "Dear Diary..." yeah, nah...that's just not gonna cut it!

Having had a decent "stay-cation" (never went anywhere but got a decent Southland tan anyway - albeit singlet shaped): work beckoned. So, today we kicked off two days of professional development with the teaching staff.

The troops followed up their compulsory professional reading programme by comparing the facets of a "fixed mind set" with those of a "growth mindset"

The flow-on activity involved the staff being divided into teams to sort and sift their discoveries before going head to head in a little problem-solving action.  

A good team looking sharp: with Justine, Pauline, Cynthia, Carolyn (praying for victory - at this stage, the rest of us didn't even know there was a contest!);
and Dale (wondering whether or not she's had breakfast).

The growth mindset is one we want to cultivate in our kids (and in our staff too); we'll provide more links and information on this a the year progresses.

Mean time: how much does 'effort' count? Way more than you might think. A very good example of the growth impact of an 'effort' mindset, makes this five-minute clip well worth watching. 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

No point rewriting something I completely agree with (source NZEI):

Important information about teachers’ vote this week rejecting the “Investing in Educational Success” policy

Dear Parents and Caregivers

You may have heard in the media this week that New Zealand’s teachers and principals have
voted to reject the government’s Investing in Educational Success policy.
I wanted to write to you to explain the reasons behind the decision and what this may mean
for our school.
What is Investing in Educational Success?
In January the government announced this new policy, aimed at raising the quality of
teaching to improve student achievement, backed by $359 million of new funding over four
The policy proposed that all primary and secondary schools would be grouped into clusters
of about 10 schools, with each cluster led by an Executive Principal from one of the schools,
who would be paid an extra $40,000 a year and work two days a week across the cluster.
About 1000 Expert Teachers would receive an extra $20,000 a year and spend two days a
week out of their own classroom while they mentored other teachers across the cluster.
About 5000 Lead Teachers would be role models to teachers within their cluster.
Why are teachers and principals opposed to it?
Like their colleagues around the country, teachers at our school could see no direct benefit
for our students from this policy. Teachers have a number of concerns, but the key issues

1) Teachers want the money to go to much-needed frontline resources for students,
not into another tier of management.
2) The relationship and continuity of learning between primary students and their
teachers is very important for effective learning. Taking an Expert Teacher out of
their classroom for 40 per cent of the time, to be replaced by relievers, could have a
negative effect on students’ learning.