Saturday, February 18, 2017

Learner Agency at Silverdale Normal School

http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Curriculum-resources/NZC-Online-blog/Learner-agency

The link (above) highlights the importance of learner agency for our learners futures.  Learner agency, simply defined as learners having 'control' of their learning.

At Silverdale Normal School there are many threads that, when woven together empower students to take charge of their learning (and lives).

Our SNS Learner Dimensions
The four categories and 16 dimensions of the SNS Learner were created by our community based on what we believe our students will need for success in their futures.  An example of this is inherent in our 'Taking Charge' category.  We believe that:
-Learners need opportunities to discover their talents, passions, interests and strengths.  We believe this can be a life changing event.
-Learners need to know how to turn dreams into realities.  Learning how to set SMART goals and being given support to reach them creates positive lifelong habits.  We provide many opportunities for guests from a range of fields to come and spend time with our learners to share their stories.



Our Key Concepts and Learning Model
Our conceptual curriculum has been designed thoughtfully to give our learners the opportunity to be exposed to key concepts that our community believe will be essential to understand.  This conceptual framework includes globalisation, citizenship, sustainability, hauora and enterprise.  Our learners are exposed to these concepts in spirals that increase in complexity as students grow.  Our learning model of Explore, Understand and Apply recognises that learning needs to be authentic and relevant to the lives of our learners. There should be no need to ask 'Why are we doing this?!'






Our Pathways
At Silverdale Normal School we have developed Academic, Sporting, Cultural and Service pathways for our learners.  This gives our students the opportunity to find their strengths, talents and interests.  An example of this is the opportunities that our Mandarin Language Assistant provides our learners teaching them Chinese culture and language.  Whilst we don't believe our children will become fluent in the language, it may light a spark for future years in their schooling at Berkley and Hillcrest High.

NZer that have made a positive difference
Each of our rooms is named after a NZer that our community has identified as 'Making a Positive Difference'.  We regularly talk about these people and the dispositions that they have displayed in their lives.  These provide some amazing models for our learners.

Our Values
Watch this space!  Community consultation is underway about how Silverdale Normal School can be the 'dream school' for it's learners.

I believe that learner agency is more than a statement or a sign that promotes lifelong learning at the school.  These threads, when woven together empower our learners to 'take charge' of their learning and therefore an element of 'agency' with their learning.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Learning in New Zealand- being kiwi.

Education in New Zealand

In the 1970’s / 80’s New Zealand was seen as a leading light in education.  Visiting educationalists from around the world visited our shores to investigate the work of Marie Clay and the Reading Recovery Programme or the innovative work of Gwen Gawith in information literacy.  Now, despite New Zealand teachers and leaders still being in demand around the world politicians and decision makers in the New Zealand system are looking overseas for answers to challenges.  

This short reflection is going to consider whether initiatives from overseas are relevant in a New Zealand context and what implications this has for leaders.  

Masters Level Teachers
The Finnish education system has been under the spotlight in recent years for it’s stunning PISA results. How did a country with an undistinguished education system in the 1980s surge to the head of the global class in just few decades?  As a result countries have been dissecting their programme in a bid to replicate these results.  

An example of this is in Finland the entry requirement for permanent employment as a teacher in all Finnish basic and high schools today is a master’s degree.  This has resulted in New Zealand experimenting with one-year qualifications for post-grad students.  It is too early to say whether this attempt to replicate the Finnish System is going to be a success or not- however it is important to note that in Finnish culture teaching is a highly valued occupation.    Normally it’s not enough to complete high school and pass a rigorous matriculation examination, successful candidates must have the highest scores and excellent interpersonal skills. Annually only about 1 in every 10 applicants will be accepted to study to become a teacher in Finnish primary schools.  As a result the decision New Zealand initial teacher education providers have made to ‘fast track’ masters level students may not address the major reason why Finnish teachers are so successful (the Finnish Masters students study educational theory and practice over five years).  

Standards
National Standards have have been in existence in New Zealand since 2010.  The introduction of standards follows the ‘No child left behind’ model in the United States, key stages and league tables in Great Britain and Naplan in Australia.  This model of educational reform concentrates on a narrow view of the curriculum, usually focused on reading, writing and mathematics and in forming stages that children should be achieving within at a particular age.  

There is no evidence across all nations mentioned above that this initiative (and hundreds and millions of dollars) has made a difference.  An example of this is analysis completed by Lester Flockton of three years of standards in New Zealand (below).  

Community of Learning
I look forward to providing a detailed commentary of this after my trip to Toronto, where their community of schools model has been in operation for a number of years.  New Zealand’s Community of learning ideas is in a formative stage with many leaders questioning whether a collaborative model can fit on a competitive framework.  

What we can learn from Sport!
When things go well-  Kiwi’s as Kiwi’s

Late in 2014, Australian cricketer Phil Hughes was hit on the side of the head by a bouncer and killed sending world cricket into mourning.  At that time Brendon McCullum’s Black Caps were preparing for a test match versus Pakistan in Dubai.  The New Zealand debated for a period of time as to whether they should pull out of the game, with many of the team losing a friend.  It was decided that the game should proceed, with McCullum encouraging the team to relax and play ‘as kiwis’....  This became a watershed moment with the team playing excited, unrestrained cricket sending the team on a trajectory that finished in the final of the one day World Cup.  Up until that point the Black Caps had always modelled their game on the Australian model of competitiveness, intensity and sledging….. Phil Hughes taught them to play cricket as kiwis.  

The All Blacks are recognised as being one of the most successful sporting organisations in the world with a winning ratio of approaching 80%.  

This success has been based on the premise that the All Blacks play for the pride in the black jersey, developed over one hundred years of tradition, blood, sweat and tears.  The national team takes the strength of individuals, the weaving of Maori, Pasifika and Pakeha into a truly formidable team.  Kiwi’s playing as kiwis…..

Can New Zealand Education learn from these sporting examples?  Do we truly consider the New Zealand context, our learners and community before introducing ideas?  I look forward to debating this issue in the coming months.  

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Why am I?

Over the past few weeks I have been using some of my spare time to few the fasinating four part documentary of the Dunedin Study, 'Why am I?' This was a landmark study that has closely studied the lives of 1042 pepole born in Dunedin in 1972 onwards.  http://dunedinstudy.otago.ac.nz/

The major quesiton of this study-  'what really makes us who we are'?

The findings of the study that were shared ask some real questions for education and learning in New Zealand school.  A topic that my blog has centred on regularly has been the essential nature of the Silverdale Learner assets (represented by our puzzle pieces).  Whilst this thinking is highlighted in the study, an area that grabbed my attention was the importance of our children's first years.

The study (highlighted in episode three) really considers the essential nature of wrapping support around our children.  A direct statement from one of the researchers was that nuturing for children is the water and sunshine.... what is in the environment when our children are growing up?

The Dunedin Study is directly challenging the life long argument of nature versus nuture....  by stating that our environment can influence how our genes operate.  A finding from the study is that a positive upbringing will benefit everyone- it is the best foundation for a happy life.

What implications does this have for education?

We want (need) to have our school to be about learning and fun!  A place where children are exposed to a wide range of experiences relevant and meaningful to their lives.  For example, two of our junior teachers are currently investigating what a 'mindful' classroom can look like....

The Minstry of Education's recent policy direction has been strongly influenced by neoliberal forces, and an attempt to 'cherry pick' the best ideas from countries around the world seen as being world leaders.  An obvious example is the Finnish education system (Masters level teachers and Pisa results), Singapore (use of technology and initial teacher education) and Canada (communities of learning).

What we seem to be missing is the level of thought to consider how this would translate to a New Zealand context and the philosophy, systems and structures that underpin the successful education systems in these countries.  

Let's take one example.....  in Finland students train for up to seven years to become teachers after rigorous entry screening.  This is a result of a culture in which teachers are trusted and in which becoming a teacher is seen to be a prestigous profession.  However it is in the start to Finnish children's lives that most fascinates me.  The Finnish government provides parental pay for the first seven years of a child's life and trains parents in the skill of being 'the first teacher'.  I would like to suggest that this is a huge part of what leads to success for Finnish children later in their lives (as would the Dunedin Study).

https://www.tvnz.co.nz/ondemand/why-am-i

I look forward to considering the findings of the Dunedin Report and how they can influence decisions at Silverdale Normal School and national forums I am involved in regarding teaching standards and initial teacher education.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

A published article

Today I was a very proud learner......  Everyday our team at Silverdale Normal School encourage our students to embrace learning opportunities and to understand that the main purpose of school is not the acquisition of facts, but the ability to learn how to learn!

Since completing my dissertation which was a requirement of our MEd (Educational Leadership) I had been encouraged by Kerry Earl at the University of Waikato to take some of my learnings and consider how they could be applied to school settings in New Zealand.

Today I am the author of my first published article 'Digital Technologies- From Vision to Action'.  The timing of this article is very opportune considering that this week the Ministry of Education has stated that it is making the first formal change to it's curriculum of 2007 by adding a computing framework.  http://www.cio.co.nz/article/602864/nz-curriculum-include-digital-technology/

My article considers how the integration of digital technologies can be effectively managed in schools with learners very much at the centre of the process.  I look forward to sharing some of my findings via this blog in the next few weeks.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Learning in New Zealand

This week has seen a sustained attack on education and teachers in New Zealand.  After twenty years involved in a range of teaching and leadership roles in New Zealand education I thought that it was important to form some response.

Firstly, bringing education to the forefront of New Zealander's consciousness is positive.  Everyone has been through the system themselves and has an opinion about what worked (or didn't) for them. Opening up debate about what a quality education system is (and all the components that make it) is worthwhile, as without sounding to corny-  our children are our future!....

Recently education in New Zealand has been focussed on 'so called' National Standards in which success for our children is based upon reaching NCEA Level Two by being presented by milestones to reach from entry to school at five.  This idea is flawed for three simple reasons:
-Children of different backgrounds, cultures, interests, genders and maturity don't come to school at the same stage.
-Children don't learn at the same rate and in easy bite sized chunks.
-Reading, Writing and Mathematics provide an essential base, but are by no means representative of what learners need to be successful in their lives.  See Gavin Clark's blog post on this http://gavsedchat.blogspot.co.nz/
















Above are two excerpts from Mark Treadwell's book Learning (2014).  Both graphs display real data from both the United States of America and Australia.  These countries, despite hundreds of millions of dollars invested in education and a sole focus on reading, writing and mathematics have done nothing other than speed up the rate in which students learn, with the end literacy and mathematics levels being almost identical.

What am I suggesting?
-The way we teach, how we teach and what we gauge as success needs to change.
-The way we connect with our parents and whanau needs to improve..... from engaging with the community to involving them in the learning life of their children.  I will cover this in my next blog post.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Language Pathways

During my trip to Beijing and Shanghai last year I was astounded and humbled visiting a range of schools.  A lasting impression I have of these visits is in being shown around schools by students (ranging in age from 8-10) who were bilingual in Mandarin and English.  This experience encouraged me to investigate how we could provide a language programme for our learners that would work alongside our Te Reo programme as current Ministry of Education guidelines only encourages the learning of another language at Year Seven.

One of the exciting actions from my trip was in managing to secure a Mandarin Language Assistant for our school.  This amazing opportunity is provided by the Confucius Institute.  Though we are only in term one of having our assistant we are already seeing the amazing benefits of our students being exposed to another language and culture.

I believe the role of our language pathways at Silverdale Normal School is to provide another opportunity for our learners to find their talents, passions or interest-  this programme may 'light the spark' for our learners now or later in their lives to pursue learning another language.  It also fits with the vision of our learner:








A major consideration at Silverdale Normal School is in preparing our learners for their future.  The Mandarin language is the most widely spoken language in the world.  Having an understanding of the language and the Chinese culture is going to be essential as we look toward the future.  The video clip below sums up the significant opportunity we are providing our learners.


https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/learning-mandarin-set-to-be-the-job-ticket-of-future-avid-060a2b340101010501010f1013-000000-6ecb593be1df0094-d1880060dd44-a8b1.html?autoPlay=4564287876001

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Our Learning Environments

A recent initiative at Silverdale Normal has been creating new signage to reflect what we stand for as a learning community. This has been on the back of over a year of considerable change as a school. It is a special time as our learning environments now begin to reflect the vision that has been created by our community, staff and students. This blog post is an attempt to outline the process we have followed to meet our goals of re engaging our community and providing the most effective learning environment for our learners.

The process began with the creation of a shared vision for what we wanted for our learners.  However engagement with our stakeholders wasn't going to happen without the creation of an environment of trust and improving relationships.  

A decision was made to concentrate on being highly visible at school and in the school community and to engage in conversations to show we listened, we cared and we wanted the best for our learners.  This helped create trust and assurance that our team was on the right track.  It also gave us valuable information about what were the big issues that our community were wanting action on.  

The research of Atkin and Simek encourage organisations to first consider the 'why'- the beliefs and values of the school.  We completed this activity over many staff, parent and community meetings in which we considered what it really meant to be a learner and what success meant for our learners in their lives.  The catchphrase that stuck was 'Make a Positive Difference'.  

Over the course of consultation it was highly apparent that whilst Literacy and Mathematics were absolute essentials of foundational learning our students would need far more than this to be successful in an environment in which knowledge was changing and growing at such an exponential rate.  The vision of the Silverdale Normal School Learner developed over the course of many meetings, discussions and debate.  An aspect we are particularly proud of is the way it merges beautifully with the intent of the Te Whariki (early childhood curriculum) and the IB student profile and curriculum (with 95% of our students attending Berkley Normal Middle School).  


Each individual puzzle piece is important, however the aim is over the course of six years at Silverdale Normal School our learners will be made aware of the dispositions, recognise the dispositions in others and will predict when to use these habits in their lives.  It is our belief that these dispositions represent what it means to be a powerful learner.  

This vision, and the collection of student and teacher voice, along with support from lecturers at the University of Waikato encouraged leadership to consider what this meant for our learning environments.  There are currently so many acronyms floating around MLE's (Modern Learning Environments), ILE's (Innovative Learning Environments), and Flexible Learning Spaces.....  From viewing many of these spaces all I have seen is large spaces filled with new furniture.  A decision was made to carefully consider what a 'Fit for Purpose' space would look like for our learners. One reading in particular by Thornburg (2007), convinced us that a 'fit for purpose' learning environment was a combination of a shared vision, pedagogy, space, collaboration and technology.  

IMG_6065.jpg

A recent addition to the schools environment is the continuation of reflecting the schools vision and learner.  A wonderful group of New Zealanders have been selected to rename our learning spaces.  These NZers who have made 'A Positive Difference' were chosen by the staff, students and community and will provide excellent models and reflection points for what SNS Learner attributes they used in their lives.  




Whilst each of these initiatives in themselves are not large, it is the coherence that relates back to the beliefs and values of our organisation that have helped create a real sense of engagement and involvement in our school community.