Setting Goals

These are difficult times we are living in. I buy a drink for my friend, I, turn around, and my bag has gone. By the time I come to cancel my credit card $3000 has been removed from the account. The thieves were mostly shopping at Warehouse- I hope they got something for the kids.

Petty crime is on the rise. It’s not surprising. Job losses are increasing daily. Mortgagee sales are reaching record proportions. There’s a feeling of desperation in the air.

No more so than for young people. My heart goes out to the school leavers of the year 2008, particularly those who have not quite made it to Level 3.  There are no jobs. There are few places on courses.  Disillusioned and disengaged from the education system, demotivated by their fruitless search for work, they are playing computer games till 3am, getting up at mid day, wondering what the past 13 years was all about.

These youngsters are not life long learners.  They are products of a corrosive system of learning that has failed them.  They are representative of the average student who sits in class and dutifully copies down the writing on the board, who finds it hard to remember all the “stuff” to be regurgitated in the next exam, whose main solace is in friendship networks and drinking in the weekends. These young people have few resources of self-management, and little motivation other than hanging out with mates and maybe finding somewhere to buy cheap beer.

As teachers, we cannot take all the blame. These are the children of the biggest generation in history -the baby boomers who have given their sons and daughters unconditional love no matter what they do, who have brought their children up in security and safety, and who have provided for their children’s every material want, from street sharks to neopets to nintendos.

Yet there it is. A generation of feckless children who are now entering a world that is gradually grinding to a halt. And this at a time when the world is desperate for creative minds.

Which is why we must, must, have a new way of learning. Why we must have a new way of teaching. Why we must bring in a new curriculum and start again.

And so I am thinking about about setting goals.  My goals for 2009.

We are almost at the end of our first decade of the 21st century. The world is a vastly different place than it was in the Year 2000 in terms of international security, regional power shifts, technological change, climate change and economic strength. The excitement and hope that ushered in the millennium has all but gone in a world now drowning in deficits .

And how has education changed to recognise this new world vew?  My answer would be – very little. Bored, disaffected students still sit in rows, through hour periods of lectures, writing up textbook questions and copying notes off the board. Yes we have NCEA, but the potential of NCEA to create a more dynamic, interactive model of teaching and learning has not been realised.

30,000 children still truant every day. 30,000!

It is nice to think that Minister of Education Anne Tolley is going to send them all back to the classroom but surely as teachers we must ask, what is going wrong. What is happening in our classes to drive so many young people away – these same young people who entered secondary school at Year 9 in their shiny new uniform, excited, a little scared, with a hunger for learning.

Which is why I only have one goal this year, and that is to support the introduction of the new curriculum and to ensure that, at least for those teachers I work with  this once in a generation opportunity to change the system is not overlooked.  Because it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that a school’s old curriculum cannot be tweaked in order to bring about systemic change- it must be thrown out.  And we do need systemic change.

We need to think about the hours of teaching, the content of what we teach, the manner in which we engage our young people, the place of art and music in all subjects, the place of Web 2.0 in all subjects, the dominant teaching methodology of our school, the need for reflection, cross curricular, any curricular, the place of core subjects, teacher passion and deep learning.

It would be a tragedy to have finally found a curriculum that shows real understanding of the essence of our profession– only for it to end up being misunderstood.

It is too late for the current generation of school leavers and we may well pay the price socially for our failure to engage so many in their learning- especially at such a time of economic stress.  But it is not too late for future generations if we are willing to take a risk and engage with the messiness, the muddiness,  of curriculum change. We have a window of opportunity – a unique and timely opportunity to shape a new way of learning in a holistic and systemic manner.

So what will your goals be for 2009?  You  are but one person in your school and you cannot change the world.  But perhaps in some small way you can turn ideas around and begin a process of liberation of even one teacher, by supporting them to be free to be experimental.

Think on – and if you happen to see a gold Visa card lying around amongst Warehouse wrappers, leave me a message.


Word of the Year?

It’s a magnificent day in Auckland. And tomorrow I go camping.  But will I be hypermiling?  Sorry?
Hypermiling? You haven’t heard of our word of the year either?  OUP could you say that again?  ? Never heard of it! Never seen it!

Is this because I live in the Antipodes where we live according to metric measurement?

OUP, couldn’t you have thought of something a little more, um, global?  Like “credit crunch” (YES I KNOW that’s a phrase) “market meltdown” “subprime” “de-leveraging” or even the gorgeous “microdermalabrasion”?? Or , and how the mind flows here, “Obamamania”??

Or, thinking along educational lines, what would be wrong with “drilling down”, “unpacking”, “co-construction”, “dissonance” or (wait for it…) “metadissonance”.?
What would be your word of the year?

view from my apartment 01 Jan 09

View from my apartment this fine new year’s day!

Practical Applications around the new New Zealand Curriculum

This is how I envisage the new curriculum being embodied into schools.  Simply put, it is the framework of the NZC writ small.  It involves careful planning, deep thinking and collaboration and conversation with all stakeholders. It increases in its complexity, and “messiness”, the nearer one gets to actually relating the planning to classroom practice.  But this is OK- great learning and quality teaching is often messy, organic and iterative.  You will need a sheet (or several) of A3 paper, coloured pens, post it stickers and, more than likely, your colleagues.

1.    Whether planning a whole school curriculum, a departmental scheme of work,  a unit of work or a lesson you must start with a VISION.  What do you want from your learners in relation to this curriculum OR this scheme OR this unit OR this lesson.
2.    Now consider the PRINCIPLES of the scheme of work, the unit of work, or the lesson.  The NZC defines principles as those “beliefs about what is important and desirable” e.g. biculturalism, learning to learn.  Go here to view the principles of the NZC then personalize them for your planning.
3.    Now think about the VALUES– those principles that you want to ACTIVELY model and explore in the classroom itself.  The NZC defines VALUES as “deeply held beliefs about what is important or desirable. They are expressed through the ways in which people think and act.”  Go here to look at a list which is by no means exhaustive.
4.    Now explore the KEY COMPETENCIES, or, if you like, HABITS OF MIND, which can be found here. Every curriculum, scheme, unit (but not necessarily lesson) should incorporate all competencies not as add-ons but as a natural outcome of quality teaching.  But consider HOW you intend to develop these competencies in the work that you are planning.  How will you (or will you?) explore these competencies with the students. Will you make the competencies EXPLICIT or IMPLICIT?
5.    At this point, look at the PEDAGOGIES here.  The pedagogies will promote the key competencies. Thus if you are, in this part of the scheme, unit or lesson, “enhancing the relevance of new learning” you are at the same time drawing on the competency of thinking.  If you are “creating a supportive learning environment” through your engagement with the students in all their cultural and linguistic diversity then you are also fostering the competency of relating to others and managing self.
6.    Now comes the fun part.  This is where you consider the content that will be the vehicle to promote the values and principles and competencies. But what should be the principles behind the choice of content?  Well…it is my opinion that the content that you select for your scheme (or unit or lesson) should NOT be selected simply because it has important information but because it promotes THINKING.  I have been reading Thomas Armstrong’s book “The Best Schools: How human development should inform Educational Practice”.  You can read a review of this book here.

What Armstrong says makes perfect sense to me.  He writes that a curriculum should be planned around the developmental states and changes of the young people before us.  Extrapolating, I see a curriculum (drilling down to a unit of work, or a lesson) like this:

Years 9-10
We need a Values based curriculum that draws heavily on creativity. These are the years of early adolescence, where students can be impulsive, energetic, aggressive and depressive. It is a time where the pre-frontal cortex is still developing- the area of the brain that controls impulsiveness and promotes careful reasoning (and, I think, can be trained) where students are developmentally ready to explore such values as honesty, tolerance, fairness.  It is a time of great creativity for young people and through such creativity, as Armstrong states, a student can find his or her personal voice.  Indeed, allowing students to develop their “authentic voice” may be the most important thing that teachers can do for junior students in high school.  Project based learning is a great way for students to explore their voice.

Years 11-13
We need a curriculum based around the needs of these young adults who are on the threshold of independence.  Once they have left school, these young people will be entering careers, developing close relationships, perhaps finding long term partners and having children. As well as this, I would like to add, they will be confronted  by the BIG questions of society and world living- globalisation, environmental issues, citizenship, bio-medical technology. Students in the 16-19 age group are developmentally very ready to explore these issues as well the issues in deeper contexts of morality, ethics and religion.  Armstrong writes:

“All too often, many of the features of traditional schools fail to engage students in genuine dialogue that challenges them to create their own questions, ideas and solutions to life’s problems. As a result too many students fail to engage in their learning, leave with negative attitudes, to add to a growing range of personal and societal disorders that, all too often, we blame on the students themselves.”

It is an exciting time to be involved in education. The new curriculum offers challenges for us all and a new way of thinking about learning. We must take up the challenge.  There is no justification in just “carrying on” with our current curriculum, with a few values and competencies thrown in. All the research points to the need for a major shift in the nature of education, and particularly for changes in our secondary schools. We MUST engage our students, we MUST nurture those habits of mind that will produce thinking, empathetic, global citizens for the 21st century. It is a confusing, ambiguous and complex task before us. Society will not thank us if we fail.

Autobiography- learning to change

Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
There is a large hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost.
I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2
I walk down the same street.
There is a large hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place,
but it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
There is a large hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in.
It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
There is a large hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down another street.

author: Portia Nelson

Closing the Teacher Quality Gap

I paraphrase this from Kati Haycock and Candace Crawford in Education Weekly.   A study (Gordon, Kane, & Staiger, 2006) in the US shows that teachers who are rated in the top 25% of effectiveness,  can advance students , on average, approximately five percentile points each year relative to their peers. However, students taught by teachers who are rated in the bottom 25% of effectiveness lose, on average, five percentile points relative to their peers. Moreover, these effects are cumulative. The same study suggests that if all black American students were assigned to four highly effective teachers in a row, this would be sufficient to close the average “black-white” achievement gap.        This study should be shouted from the roof tops. Quality teaching – four years in a row- will  eliminate the gaps in achievement that are evidenced along ethnic lines (But this also could be on socio-economic lines, surely) .  Four years- say from year 8 to Year 11- crucial years-Just provide these students with excellent teachers consecutively -Is it really that simple?  What a world of difference  if all students could reach their potential. Four years of great teachers is all it takes. This is what the research is telling us.   Therefore, why do so many schools give inexperienced and poorly performing teachers their lowest achieving classes? 

And this from Chris Lehmann

We must take risks in education. We must challenge the tried-and-true way of educating students, but we must do it thoughtfully and carefully and transparently, because we don’t have the luxury of just “going out of business.” Every school that makes those choices poorly affects the lives of the students who honoured that school with their choice to go there. This is — as much as any other reason — why we must always, always, always humble ourselves before the enormity of the task in front of us.


Fight clubs, allegations of bullying by students AND staff. This is my school. And a beautiful boy is dead. I have a son the same age who attends the same school. What is the long-term plan for TGS? Our students need something that we aren’t giving them. What is it? How do we find it and give it to them?

Chris Lehmann has written some great posts this year with humour and humanity. His recent Letter To A New Teacher speaks to all teachers, but particularly to those teachers who,  around year three or four,  are thinking of leaving the profession. His letter is below:

Thursday, February 28. 2008
Letter To A Young Teacher

I don’t remember where I read it, but I was reading another article that mentioned the oft-quoted stat about how many teachers leave the profession within the first five years, and I was thinking about how many really amazing young men and women I’ve known in my career who fell into that category, and I was thinking about a conversation I had with an old colleague at Beacon and how she said, “Yeah… that year three or four mark, that’s a dangerous time, because that’s when you think you know so much more than you actually do.” And I was thinking about my own progression as a teacher and how true that was… And I was thinking about some of the things people who stayed with the profession seemed to embody that the ones who left didn’t. I was thinking about what I want to say to all those teachers who, right around year three or four, start to leave the profession…

Dear Young Teacher Thinking of Leaving,

You’ve stuck with this job for a few years now. You have made it past the hardest few years, but it’s still a really hard job. And you’re at a point where you know a lot about the job, but there’s still a lot to learn. And the things you haven’t learned yet are the some of the things you need to stay with this job. I don’t know for sure that you should stay; after all, people switch professions these days. But here are some of the things it takes longer than three or four years to really, really learn. Some of these are things I’ve had to learn the hard way, some of these are things I’ve seen others learn the hard way, and a lot of these ideas are things that I keep having to relearn all the time.

This job is a marathon, not a sprint. As much as we don’t like to admit it, we have to acknowledge our need to pace ourselves.

However, you learn something in time that makes that easier. You aren’t their only teacher. You aren’t the only adult in their life. And even if you were, you can’t be everything to every kid.

You learn that perfection is a lousy goal because it is unattainable.

You learn that excellence is a better goal, but even that is a moving target.

In other words, you learn that the perfect really is the enemy of the good.

You learn that it’s just not about you. And it’s just not about the kids either. It’s about the space between where the meaning happens.

You learn that you can’t reach every kid. And you never really learn to be o.k. with that.

You learn that you know a lot less than you think you do.

You learn that your colleagues know a lot more than you think they do.

You learn to find the teachers who can prove to you that you can do this job for thirty years, and you learn to go sit in their classroom when you need to.

You learn that you don’t have to be young to relate to the kids.

You learn that teaching is both an art and craft, and that it is something you get better at.

You learn that the more you document what you do, the happier you are the next year.

You learn that retooling a unit takes less time than creating one….

You learn that the more you get good at the basics, the more you can experiment with new ideas.

You learn that you can’t grade everything.

You learn where you can compromise and where you can’t.

You learn that not every kid is going to major in your subject and you accept that that’s o.k.

You learn that you aren’t perfect… and neither are the kids, and sometimes the best thing you can do is forgive… yourself and the kids.

You learn that taking care of yourself is important… and that the kids know when you do… and want you to.

You learn that you shouldn’t idealize other jobs.

You learn that the worst thing you can do is think of yourself as “just a teacher.”

You learn that the second worst thing you can do is think that being a teacher is the hardest job in the world.

You learn that the best things that happen in your class weren’t wholly because of you.

But you learn that the worst thing things weren’t wholly because of you either.

And you learn that, in both cases, your presence did matter.

You learn that every time you are feeling like really know what you are doing, it’s important to find the thing about the job that humbles you.

You learn that every time you feel like you have no idea what you are doing, it’s important to find the thing that reminds you how much you have learned.

You learn how to ask yourself, “Did I give what I had to give today?”

You learn how to look at that question over time.

You learn that life is hard… that the teaching life is hard… that the movies rarely get it right… and that being a young teacher means being the adult in the room, and that’s o.k.

You learn to find that teacher’s voice inside you that is real, authentic and effective.

You learn how much good you can do… and how important it is to find ways to do that much good over a whole career, not as a martyr to the job, but as a healthy, clear-eyed teacher.

You learn patience.

You learn how much you have to keep learning.

Most of all, you learn that once you stop trying so hard, you can listen better, and then you can hear what the kids are saying back to you. And then you can learn that they change you as much as you change them.

It’s a hard job, it’s a frustrating job, and the vast majority of our schools are underfunded, understaffed and swimming upstream to teach the adult values of hard work, sustained effort and sustained focus when there is very little else in teenage life that reinforces those values. And you realize that the kids are hearing your message, even when you think they aren’t.

Our schools need so many more of those early-career teachers to stay in the profession so that they can become the master teachers of the next generation. We need you to stay and figure it out. It’s never easy, but it does keep getting better as long as you are willing to continue to learn.

And you do learn that, in the end, so many of us love our jobs more than the rest of the world does.

Teacher Observation

Part of a workshop that I facilitated yesterday raised the vexed question of how best to observe a teacher. Do we pre-warn the teacher (and therefore, perhaps, gain a false impression of the lesson or raise the anxiety levels of the teacher being observed?) or do we simply pop in at random? Do we watch just part of a lesson (the “four minute walk through” concept) or a whole lesson? Are lesson “snapshots” valid or useful? And, if we are observing, where do we sit? – at the back and observe or do we sit with the class and help out? And what should an observation sheet look like?- a blank piece of paper with notes Or a particular, agreed template?

If this is just a general observation what should we look for?- “is there learning happening here” “are the sudents engaged?”

Afterwards, how do we broach the follow up conversation? Who speaks first? Do we begin with the “So, Mary, how do you feel about that lesson?” and let Mary verbally reflect, or is this opener perceived as a loaded question? Should we reflect on the positives first? How should we couch our suggestions for further development?

It was with these issues in mind that I annotated a video from Teachers TV , using Imovie, and showed it to a group of new SCTs, all of whom will be involved in some form of teacher observation this year. The video promoted some great discussion and a sensible, nay humane, view that all of the above questions will depend on the personality, power dynamic and world view of the observee and observer- that there is no one perfect model for observation. The key is to know your teacher/colleague first and engender trust. Then build the model of observation together.