Wednesday, 23 July 2014

My visit to Te Wharehou o Tuhoe: Te Uru Taumatua

This week I had the pleasure of visiting Te Wharehou o Tuhoe: Te Uru Taumatua, located in Taneatua. The context of the visit was unusual. Our local Rotary branch had organised to have a tour, dinner and a talk delivered by treaty negotiator and New Zealander of the Year finalist Tamati Kruger. Unfortunately Tamati was unable to attend at the last minute, but the warm and articulate Kirsty Luke, General Manager of Te Uru Taumatua, was able to take his place.

I am not a member of Rotary so it was quite strange to be in this ethereal building, with the first non-Tuhoe group of people to use the space.

Kirsty took us on a tour of the facilities and explained the decision making behind many aspects of the building. The images below, from the Tuhoe website, outline the iwi's thought process behind the building. We got to see the small library and archive space, cafe (which opens next month), office space, work areas available for use by the public and the main function space at the front of the building. The whare is striking with timber used throughout, always sourced from within a 100 kilometre radius. Te Wharehou is a 'living building' and it was apparent from our visit that this has just as much to do with the people as it does the materials used. Pride and mana radiated with every word Kirsty spoke about her surroundings.

Following dinner, Kirsty spoke about the past, present and future - no mean feat! She acknowledged the timing of our visit, given that this week is the signing of Tuhoe's treaty settlement, as well the Police Commissioner's visit to Ruatoki to apologise for the treatment of members of the public, including children, during the Ruatoki raids of 2007. (It only took 174 and 7 years...) Before visiting the whare I assumed this building was purely for Tuhoe use, but Kirsty took the opportunity to emphasise that it has been built to be used for the good of everyone in the area from knitting groups to youth groups. That's when I started to think about my students and how we could benefit from this wonderful space. The biggest impression I left with was the emphasis Kirsty placed on raising a new generation of positive and optimistic Tuhoe.

So, why am I writing about this? Firstly, many students at my school are Tuhoe and I feel I know a lot more about the history of this area after visiting Te Wharehou. Tuhoe are often assumed to be proud, stand-offish and radical. Like with any group of people, it doesn't help to buy into such assumptions. After hearing Kirsty speak, I would not describe her as proud, stand-offish and radical but passionate about Te Urewera, warm and aspirational.
The second reason I am writing about this experience here is to encourage teachers to engage in their students' wider world. We hear this kind of thing a lot, and often it is a challenge to make the time, especially when you are not involved in sport. I know feel like I have made a connection and I am thinking about how I can utilise Te Wharehou o Tuhoe for my students next year. I said 'yes' to this dinner on a whim, not really knowing what it would be all about, and it has turned into a hugely valuable experience for myself and my fellow colleagues who attended. One is a graphics teacher and will now take students to Taneatua so that they can discuss the design of the building. Another runs Gateway and has already contacted Kirsty about a work placement for one of our Y13 students. A third is a Social Studies teacher from another school who intends to re-write a unit that involves looking at Te Wharehou. He would also like to see departments from all around the area create a cross-curricular range of programs that Tuhoe could use with visiting classes. There is the maths in quantity surveying, art in the sculpture, drama to be done in the amphitheater, science in the water treatment facility...

What are some surprising ways that you have connected with your students' world?

 Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The mystery of professional goal setting

After two weeks of professional development, both formal and informal, I have a serious need to re-focus. I am going to Great Barrier Island for five weeks at the beginning of Week 4 and I need to clarify what I want to have achieved by the end of this year. When I get back to normality, Term 3 will be all but over!
Sure I have my professional development goals that we develop as part of our professional learning at my school, but I'm talking about those very personal, career focused goals that are specific to your own unique trajectory.
I talk to my students a lot about SMART goals and get them to write their own. I often demonstrate how to write these goals. But I've never truly modeled this skill by sharing my goal setting with them. That's because I don't walk the walk - I very rarely articulate my goals in a formal manner. I write to-do lists and I make progress in my professional life, but I am really starting to feel that it's all a bit helter-skelter.

There are a couple of reasons why I don't set goals in this way. The first and most obvious reason is just laziness - who can be bothered? As I said before, I get (most) stuff done anyway, so why bother? 
The second reason is a little less comfortable: who likes failure? If I articulate a goal, especially a SMART one, what happens if I don't achieve it? Time to do away with that kind of thinking, conscious or otherwise. 
The last reason I've been pondering on is one that I suspect many of us share, so I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. I have a theory that not setting goals in a committed fashion is a very Kiwi thing to do. To commit to goals and 'declare' them, if you will, is to communicate the assumption that you will achieve these goals. It's a bit tall-poppy-ish. I mean, I don't want people to think I'm precocious or an upstart! (Oh wait, too late...) So it's time to do away with that kind of thinking, too. Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei - there's a reason I include this at the end of every blog post.

And this is why I used the word 'mystery' in the title of this post. Professional goal setting is a bit mysterious because (if we do formally set goals) we often write them on our own or in consultation with one mentor and we aren't in the habit of announcing these goals for all to see. It's time that we did. It's time that we shared our goals, both realistic and lofty. Think of the conversations that could be sparked, the professional development that colleagues might be prompted to engage in. Imagine if everyone at your school had a series of goals that were public and celebrated, from the beginning teacher through to your principal. Don't you want to know your principal's goals? Your head of department's? It's time to do away with the mystery!

On that note, below are the four goals that I have clarified today. I have just started using a to-do list app which will see each goal broken down into tasks and mile-stones. The process of my first and most time-consuming goal, to apply for an eFellowship, will enable me to determine my overall professional development goal, my current 'mission statement' if you will, which is what this goal setting is all about. What's important for me to remember is that I have not chiseled this in stone. I might read the application for the eFellowship and decide that next year is a better time for me to apply. I might add more goals or tweak the ones I currently have, and that's not cheating. It's ensuring that goals remain achievable and relevant.

1.   By September 8th I will have applied for the 2015 eFellowship through CORE Ed in order to ‘inspire transformational educational practice through inquiry’

·   Apply for eFellowship
·   Application can be found at CORE Ed's website
·   Specific milestones created and tracked through Todoist
·   Six weeks until due date, 3 of which will be spent on GBI
·   Support will be sought from HL, GU, HS, NO, RFO, AP
·   Will encourage me to focus my professional development
·   Due 8th September
2.   Write a blog entry minimum of once a week (excluding summer break) in support of Registered Teacher Criteria

·      Weekly blog post
·      Review at end of year by looking at frequency of posts
·      Set as weekly task on Todoist
·      Posts take an average of 1 hour to create
·      Accumulating evidence for registration
·      Encourages reflection
·      Raise professional profile
·      Informs my practice
·      Due end of Term 4
3.    Spend minimum of 1 hour a week reading blog posts/articles/Twitter feed & reflect in writing submitted to blog (excluding summer break)

·      Professional reading
·      Weekly blog review
·      Review at end of year by looking at frequency of posts
·      Set as weekly task on Todoist
·      Contain time spent on professional reading so that it is focused and purposeful
·      Accumulating evidence for registration
·      Encourages reflection
·      Raise professional profile
·      Informs my practice
·      Due end of Term 4
4.    Participate in live Twitter chats

·      #edchatNZ
·      Storify live chats & review own participation
·      Scheduled weekly/bi-weekly at specific times
·      Unable to do while on GBI
·      Accumulating evidence for registration
·      Encourages reflection
·      Raise professional profile
·      Informs my practice
·      Scheduled weekly/bi-weekly at specific times

What are your reactions to my thoughts on goal setting? Are you having a similar experience? Or perhaps this is a strength of yours, your department or your school? If you have held back from sharing your goals, what is it that has stopped you?

Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Myth & Magic - Conference Reflections Part 2

We had two further keynote speakers: fantasy author Michael Pryor and New Zealand Children's Book of the Year winner Ted Dawe. These two speakers were as diverse as Joe Bennett and Dame Fiona Kidman, but of course in entirely different ways. Michael spoke of five kinds of magic and Ted of the round about way he discovered writing.

Michael Pryor

Michael spent the whole week with us in Rotorua as he had traveled all the way from Melbourne. He arrived two nights before the conference began and joined us for dinner after 12 hours of travel. It was immediately apparent that he is charming, kind and sincere - his popularity was instant!
Michael spoke of discovering magic in C.S. Lewis' The Magician's Nephew and I was immediately hooked. When I first read the novel, Polly was the first character with my name who didn't do silly things like sitting in cinders or eating crackers.
What engaged me the most was when Michael spoke of world building in fantasy writing. I had never considered the investment needed to fully flesh out a new world before delving in. Michael mentioned one writer friend who had spent years creating a huge map of his fictional world before he even began to write about it - this of course put me in mind of George R. R. Martin who is clearly adept at world building. Listening to Michael speak about world building - climate, currency, units of measurement, fashion, diet - put me in mind of Philip Pullman, C.S. Lewis and Sheryl Jordan. It made me appreciate their adroit world-building even more deeply as I can still picture Mr Tumnus' burrow down to the rocking chair by the fire, the detailing of Iorek Byrnison's sky-iron armour and Elsha's firestones all these years later - and that is truly magical.

Ted Dawe

Ted was much more a man of mystery. He arrived in time for our conference dinner and after delivering a workshop and his keynote swooped out of the auditorium like Bond himself.
As I said above, Ted came to writing unexpectedly. While living in the UK he wrote regularly to his grandmother. At first his letters were stilted and dull, but soon he found himself writing screes back home to New Zealand. When he returned home and visited his grandmother he discovered she had bound all his letters into a book proudly placed on the coffee table. Once again, not a dry eye on the building.
What I really appreciated about Ted was his no-nonsense approach to writing. After frustration with boys in his classroom who did not want to read, Ted took it upon himself to write something for them, even coercing them into reading chapters in order to gain valuable feedback about swear-words, among other things. This resulted in the very successful Thunder Road. And who buys it most? Teachers and librarians. He writes to fill a niche, address a lack, and it works.
Ted is perhaps infamous more than famous as a result of his last novel, Into the River, which has been controversially classified as R14. While you might think 'that won't stop students from reading it' do bear it mind that it definitely discourages librarians and teachers from buying class-sets. I am yet to read the novel myself but have just bought it and will write about it here when I have finished it. And would you believe the classification office also reviewed Fifty Shades of Grey and did not place it under any restrictions?

All four speakers were edifying, thought-provoking and gracious. Joe Bennett even wrote about his conference experience in his latest column. Capital Letters 2015 have already confirmed three of their keynotes: Glenn Colquhoun, Bernard Beckett and Karen Melhuish Spencer - who I've never heard about but her blog is entitled Disrupt and Transform, sounds promising!

Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Myth & Magic - Conference Reflections Part 1

Last week my English department, alongside the English department at John Paul College, Rotorua, hosted the national New Zealand Association for the Teaching of English conference. Phew. I thought I would arrive home and launch into writing about the speakers I listed to and workshops I attended, but I definitely needed some vaguely non-English time!

It was a busy week to say the least, and not what many people want out of their holidays, but I love our annual conference. Next year's is in Wellington and I've already registered! Yes, I think there is something wrong with me.

This year our theme was Myth & Magic and we asked our four keynote speakers to address this theme in their presentations. These speeches were inspiring, eloquent and diverse.

Joe Bennett

On the first morning we heard from Joe Bennett and it was so appropriate that this rousing, rambunctious man spoke first. Joe was unapologetic-ally funny and woke us all from our mid-morning lethargy. Joe spoke about being from two tribes - writers and teachers. Don't all teachers secretly wish to be writers? (Case in point...) Mr Bennett, you had us at hello.
After regaling us with many a tale - all sans notes and bouncing around the stage - Joe brought us all back to a very serious note. He recalled the teacher who had the greatest impact on his world view and told of visiting the elderly, ailing man. As Joe told us that this teacher ignited a torch in him that he hoped he had passed on to just some of his students I doubt there was a truly dry eye in the auditorium.

Dame Fiona Kidman

That afternoon Fiona Kidman graced our stage, and I do mean 'grace'. She spoke of her early childhood stuck in a hospital and learning to write. Fiona promptly learned about the power of the written word when her first letter home, demanding collection from the hospital, was heeded by her parents. Fiona's delivery was the polar opposite of Joe's: calm, typed, measured. 
And yet, intriguingly, both Joe and Fiona wound up at the same conclusion. Fiona spoke of an attractive young Irish teacher who would float around the school playground arm in arm with an equally attractive colleague. Fiona and her class-mates hoped that the two were an item and would one day marry. The same Irish teacher introduced her to many an Irish poet and Fiona referred to one of her most cherished:

Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;       
    And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:  
                  Praise him.

Those words! Dappled, brinded, stipple, plotted, fallow, fickle, freckled, adazzle, dim.

Years later Fiona was being interviewed and recalled this teacher who kindled her love of poetry. She mentioned that she still wondered if the two teachers had ever married and had children. Somehow, the teacher herself heard Fiona's recollections and reached out to her - the young couple had indeed married and 'lived happily ever after' - and Fiona was able to communicate her gratitude.

Joe and Fiona both tugged at our heartstrings and reminded us why we do what we do. The effect of our work may not be known for months or years, but we can rest assured that the effect is great, meaningful and formative.

 Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Teacher-only day reflections

Teacher-only day: Friday the 4th of July, 2014

Managing social media
Tatiako: where to from here?
Registered teacher criteria
Special interest groups: cross-curricular learning, authentic learning contexts, BYOD, literacy diagnostic assessment
Department meeting: to stream or not to stream?
Deans with form-teachers

Registered teacher criteria

Having only recently renewed my registration I feel fairly confident about the registered teacher criteria. However, my colleague did introduce us to this infographic which explores our the RTCs connect to teaching as inquiry. This will be very useful for refining my portfolio for future submissions.
A visual guide to the registered teacher criteria as 'teaching as inquiry'

Cross-curricular learning

This 20 minute session was what excited me the most during the day. Three staff members (an art and design teacher, graphics teacher and hard technology teacher) spoke to us about their plans to create a generic plan for teaching students in a cross curricular method. This is something I am really interested in as I do believe the future of education is 'subjectless' - just as real life is. The teachers leading this session spoke about their desire to support students across many curriculum areas, then opened the floor to our thoughts and concerns. Some of the interesting points raised were:

  • does this kind of teaching require a modern learning environment, or just a different approach?
  • who would be ultimately responsible for managing an individual student's progress: the student? Their form-teacher?
  • how might a platform like Edmodo, Hapara or Schoology play a part in this process?
The reason I came away buzzing was the overwhelming enthusiasm demonstrated by those who participated in the discussion. From what I can see, this is what most teachers want to happen. I think we are lucky that there is so much enthusiasm about the future of education.
The next step for me is to read more about cross-curricular learning. Just a quick scan of this blogpost highlights that flipped learning and BYOD connect closely with this style of learning as both flipping and BYOD lend themselves to mastery learning.

Department meeting: to stream or not to stream?

A big chunk of our department meeting was dedicated to a review of our current streaming practices. Our discussion focused on the junior school which is especially pertinent as we are re-designing our junior program in preparation for 2015.
In both 2012 and 2013 I taught a Year 9 Advanced class and I cannot deny this was an absolute pleasure. On the whole these students were engaged, enthusiastic and eager to please.
They were also easy to teach. 
During those two years I also taught low ability Year 10 classes. Compared to my Year 9s I thought they were hell. 
But I had it all wrong. There was no comparison. And I did the students and myself a disservice by seeing them that way.
This year I have my BYOD class at Year 9 which is not streamed. There are two students in this form-class who spend their English line in the Whare Akonga (learning centre) as they learning needs are very specific. Across the remaining students there is a broad range of ability. And although it is challenging, this is what feels right to me. I have students who need extension and students who need extra guidance, and the iPads enable me to do this more effectively.
Meanwhile, in my Year 10 class of around 15, the students who despise that they are in a class together. Sadly, they look around at each other and have strong opinions about why they are all there: they are 'cabbage'. While they are there because they performed poorly across all assessments in English last year, for some of these students this has no connection to their ability and every connection to their attendance or work habits or behaviour.
There are many arguments for mixed ability classes, but this is the one that I believe is the most important: although they may require more work from us in order to differentiate effectively, they remove the socioeconomic segregation that is so glaringly obvious to the students themselves.

 Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

Monday, 23 June 2014

How to teach creative writing

Ha ha! I fooled you! I know nothing, John Snow. But after hearing about the Radio New Zealand National Creative Writers Panel this idea has been cogitating in my mind.
Interviewer Wallace Chapman invited questions from the public to be put to Eleanor Catton, Robert Sullivan and Daren Kamali, and I emailed in the following:

I am a secondary school English teacher at Trident High School in Whakatane, Eastern Bay of Plenty. As a teenager I wrote a lot of fiction and attended classes at The School for Young Writers in Christchurch. I have only one friend from my teenage years who wrote as a teen and has become a professional writer. I know so many people who loved to write but lost their zest for literature and language arts, possibly as a result of their experiences of English in the classroom.
Nurturing creative writing in the secondary school setting is a challenge, especially when trying to work within the bounds of the NZ Curriculum and NCEA. I would like to ask Eleanor, Robert and Daren how they feel secondary English teachers can nurture our young writers in a constructive way that will not stifle their creativity.

I was obviously thrilled that they answered my question because my name was said on air (!!!) but I also found their thoughts to be incredibly helpful.

'The Manukau Institute of Technology has just opened its new campus which will see students learning in a fully cloud based environment.'

If you don't have time to listen to the interview (although my question is in the first 15 minutes so...) then I will gladly paraphrase what these authors have wisely suggested:

When teaching creative writing, remember that...

  1. There are no rules
  2. There are no right answers
  3. Work should not be assessed

Let's assume we can handle numbers one and two. If you read and engage with a broad range of texts you will know that the 'rules' of the English language can be bent and broken. And if you encourage creativity in your class then you will know that (while what is deemed to be creative by one may not be by another) a dichotomy of right and wrong does not fit in the English classroom.
It is number three, Catton's suggestion, that English teachers could struggle with, and for obvious reasons, but I think it is a worthwhile suggestion. 
At this point I think it is important to bear in mind the difference between work being 'assessed' and receiving feedback. Assessment for Learning encourages the use of feedback as opposed to grading work, and there is a vast repository of research that shows providing formative grades such as B+ or Merit can hinder students' growth. Sylvia Plath knew what she was talking about when she wrote "The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."
So here is my compromise. Not only should we continue to provide constructive feedback on students' work, we should also provide the option of having the finished work assessed. If we stop talking about students' creative writing in terms of assessments and credits, they may actually embrace the creativity more readily. Given that AS91101 is now a portfolio assessment that students work on throughout the year, I think this approach is not only beneficial for the students but for us as markers. Steering away from NAME grades at every draft will enable us to forget about the marking schedule for a while and focus on guiding students to learn and grow as creative beings. Some students may fear that a piece of work they have poured their heart and soul into will only earn an Achieved or Merit due to their ability to spell or correctly place a comma. If we allow them to 'withdraw' a particular piece from summative assessment we are protecting their very fragile self esteem, and for good reason.
And yes, I can already hear you say "what about the student who never bloody hands in anything? Surely they can't be allowed to opt out of having work assessed!" Well, I have two responses. Firstly, perhaps this new approach might encourage more submissions from our reluctant writers. And secondly, I'm the first to admit that some students just need a good kick up the bum and commonsense would dictate that kids who submit the bare minimum aren't going to have much say in what does and doesn't get summatively assessed.

I would love to hear from those of you who write creatively (whether you share it with anyone or not!). What could your secondary teachers have done to encourage your creative spark? Did they ever do anything that stifled your voice?

Here is a kitten so you don't have to look at my giant face on your Facebook feed.

Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

Monday, 16 June 2014

Survival of the fittest

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” 
― Leon C. Megginson, Professor of Management and Marketing at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge

With such a broad horizon and seemingly limitless possibilities it is important to establish your non-negotiables in the classroom. For me, this means making my expectations around organisation of work and also my availability very clear from the out-set.

Naming work and taking responsibility for backing work up

I have never named students work. If a student hands me a piece of paper with an amazing essay on it and no name, it will not get marked. I also place the responsibility for naming work squarely on the students' shoulders. The same goes for 'backing up' your work. Students in my classes are frequently reminded not to hand me a piece of hand-written work if they don't want it to get lost. I am organised and I have my systems but there are days when my desk will end up looking like a pigsty and, shock horror, I have lost work.
And this philosophy is still in practice in my classroom. If students share their work with me through Google Drive I expect them to do the following:

  1. Select the correct folder so I actually see it when I'm marking work
  2. Name it as follows: Hamilton, Polly: The Hunger Games Essay or Hamilton, Polly: Research notes
  3. Take responsibility for creating a back up at regular intervals

With Year 9s you should probably back up work to your laptop every so often (just don’t tell them about it!) until they are used to this process.

Establishing boundaries and how to maintain them

Student-student interaction
I am fairly ruthless about maintaining a professional environment on our Edmodo page: if the comment or question isn't about our learning in English, I press delete. It doesn't matter where you draw the line, as long as you maintain it. You may not think this matters very much, but I have found that deleting the 'lols' and 'rude!' comments mean there is no slippery slope into disrespectful or inappropriate comments.

Parent-student-teacher interaction
Because I established clear expectations with my students, I was able to deal with the one occasion I have had a student over-step the mark (and then parent...) quite painlessly. The parent 'element' is an important one to consider. When interacting with your students on Edmodo their parents are able to see all of the comments you write. This is further incentive to keep the conversation focused and appropriate. You are modelling positive digital citizenry to students and parents.

Student-teacher interaction
Further to this, it is important to remember that you can just ignore messages from students that are inappropriate or inconvenient. Creating an online learning environment does lend itself to students blurring the lines and suddenly they will message you with inane questions through whatever mode of communication is most handy. I have a 'teacher' Facebook profile that I use very occasionally and students do use it to try and ask me about school work. I just don't respond. Edmodo, email and Google Drive/Docs are the way that I will interact with my students online and they do not get to dictate the terms of our interactions. Prepare yourselves for the following 'questions':

  1. i dont get it
  2. can u tel me wat to do next?
  3. I'm stuck!

When they sit down and type to you, they are forgetting that what they are typing has no context and makes no sense. They are used to sitting with you one-on-one and often having the question teased out of them. What might take one minute of concentrated 'teasing' time in the classroom could be an exchange that takes place over 48 hours online - who has the patience for that! So you may want to consider teaching your students how to formulate effective questions.

Well, what is the point of all of this? As the title suggests, you need to avoid spreading yourself too thin. It can be tempting to just take five minutes and re-name their documents so they're organised, or just reply to that student's question on Facebook, or just check to see if Johnny has uploaded his document before you go to bed. Just because you can be available 24/7 doesn't mean you should.
Our role is not to baby students through this process at the expense of our own sanity, but to manage the change in order to maximise its benefit for all involved.

 Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain