Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Who knows what's good or bad

Alhamdulillah. Here is a little story I have been referring to recently when my Cognition colleagues have struck a problem.

The situation we always live in is like the wise Chinese farmer whose horse ran off.

When his neighbour came to console him the farmer said,
"Who knows what's good or bad?"

When the wise Chinese farmer's horse returned the next day with a herd of horses following him, the foolish neighbour came to congratulate him on his good fortune.

"Who knows what's good or bad?" said the farmer.

Then, when the farmer's son broke his leg trying to ride one of the new horses, the foolish neighbour came to console him again.

"Who knows what's good or bad?" said the farmer.

When the army passed through, conscripting men for war, they passed over the farmer's son because of his broken leg. When the foolish man came to congratulate the farmer that his son would be spared, again the farmer said, "Who knows what's good or bad?"...(and so on and so on).

In Star Wars - Yoda's response to Luke - You will know... when you are calm, at peace, passive - implies a zen attitude much like the wise Chinese farmer. The foolish neighbour is the active, the wise Chinese farmer is calm, at peace, passive.

The Buddha said - "Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

As salam alaykum, alaykum as salam.

Monday, December 28, 2009

National Professional Teacher Standard 12

This post is part of my presentation for Standard 12. Part of the focus of my presentation is ICT skills and how professional development opportunities for Qatari senior leaders can be found on the internet.

The link to the standards (for the people attending this workshop) is http://teachers.net.qa/

In the left hand column of my weblog is a survey for those people attending the workshop with laptops. You can access this survey at any time over the next week and add your answers. I'll report back on the results at a later date.

Happy surfing the internet - Mr Warren

هذه الصفحة هي جزء من العرض الذي سأقدمه حول المعيار الثاني عشر والذي يركز في قسم منه على مهارات تكنولوجيا المعلومات وكيف يمكن للقادة في دولة قطر الحصول على فرص للتطوير المهني من خلال الانترنت.
http://teachers.net.qa/ يمكن الحصول على معلومات إضافية حول المعايير المهنية الوطنية من خلال الموقع التالي
ستجد على الجهة اليسرى من صفحة الموقع الخاصة بي استبيان قصير يستهدف المشاركين في تدريب القادة. في حال كان لديك لاب توب يرجى المساهمة في تعبئة الاستبيان. كما يمكنك تعبئة الاستبيان خلال الأسبوع القادم. سيتم عرض النتائج في وقت لاحق.اتمنى أن يستمتع الجميع باستخدام الانترنت - مع تحيات السيد ورن / والمترجمة رفقة

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I read the news today oh boy.

I have received word from New Zealand that, apparently, I have upset one or two people with a previous post about leaving Stratford High School. So I'd like to clarify things - I am proud of the school, I am proud of having been its leader for three years and I am proud to tell people in Qatar that I am from Stratford, Taranaki. I mostly enjoyed my experiences at the school, I loved teaching the students and being their leader, and the great majority of staff supported me genuinely and whole-heartedly.

It seems some readers thought my comment about 'lame-ducksville' referred to the town of Stratford. No - it didn't.

When someone resigns from a job they enter a time when they can not/should not make decisions for the future of the organisation. They are considered to be LAME DUCKS. This is an actual term and not a term I have made up! My comment in the earlier post was about me being in this state and then 'limboland' before starting my new career in the Middle East. That meant I was in a waiting, holding pattern. I thought this was self-explanatory and not one I had to explain.

Neither Lameduckville or Limboland actually, really, literally, exist.

I hope that clarifies things (please note: Jacky proofread this post to check for ambiguities).

Merry Christmas to all of my Stratford friends!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Please take my advice...

Over the last week or so I've started delivering some professional development to a leadership group set up by the Qatari Ministry of Education. The audience is made up of about 70 principals or vice-principals who have been disenfranchised. That means their schools have closed down and they have had to reapply for their jobs in the new Independent schools structure. In the meantime they have to attend special professional development sessions that Cognition Consulting have been contracted to supply. Which is where I come in.

The group has been going for about 9 weeks and will go until February. I've only been here two weeks so I'm coming along after things have settled into clear patterns with this group. They are working through the National Professional Standards that have have been written for both teachers and leaders. As a document these standards are actually pretty impressive, as far as these things go. I'm a less-is-more kind of guy (as you know) and I like the simple and repetitious format that Qatar has used. If you're interested you can find them at http://teachers.net.qa/content/standards/detail/2289 The leadership standards follow on from these ones.

If you scroll down to standard 8 you will find the standard I presented on today.Its heading is Apply knowledge of students and how they learn to support student learning and development. Right up my alley. I love to know who I'm working with and was pleased to see this as a teacher standard in Qatar.

The venue for the sessions is at a wedding reception complex called Regency Halls.

This is the entrance to the venue with one of our Principals enjoying a pre session cuppa.

The wedding reception area where the men go for their constitutionals.

Mohammed is with one of my co-presenters - Karin. The area that we present in to the Qatari Principals.

There are four of us working with this group of 70 leaders - two kiwi blokes (John and me), one Aussie woman (Di) and one South African woman (Karin). John has led this group from the beginning. Karin has been here a little longer than me and Di arrived after me. The other four members of the leadership team (Aussie Dene, Lawrence - a South African who's lived in NZ for 12 years, Aussie Dorothy and Maureen from NZ) are working with a group called Cohort 7. This is a group of about 100 who are also aiming to be new Principals in the Independent School system. Complicated? Why yes! We are all led by Colin (another NZer).

The leaders are mainly men (about 50 of them, to 20 women) and firmly segregated - by their own social conventions. It is really interesting watching the cultural mores between the two sexes. For instance the women wait until the men have had morning tea before they venture out and they return to their tables that are decked out in bridal white, to eat and drink. The men eat and converse (and smoke) together in the main hall where the weddings clearly take place. Most of the women are in full black abaya and niqab (the veil). The men are all their customary white thobes. I haven't quite worked out the significance of the black - the purity of the white is easier to understand.

They are a really lovely bunch - funny, intelligent, thoughtful, opinionated, challenging, questionning, supportive of each other, and fantastic to work with. I'm loving the interaction and I've learned so much from them already. One of them, Mohammed, has taken on the role of teaching me some Arabic. He reminds me a lot of Jack at Stratford High School. He teaches me a new phrase each session - as he says - I am here for a while so I better learn some of their language. Mohammed is a little unusual in the 'class' because his English is pretty good. Most require a translater. We have two to help us - Hani and Refka. This in itself is something of an art - to talk and allow time for the translator is hard for me to get used to. Just one of the many challenges that needs to be overcome.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Can you hear me Major Tom?

My new career as an educational consultant began with three days on an interview panel considering applicants for principalships here in Doha. In turned into a really rewarding experience and certainly gave me new insights into arab life. I could immediately connect with the applicants - many of them Principals already - and I was really humbled by many of the stories I heard.

I've included a picture of the panel - turned out my friend Graeme McFadyen, who has also come over here from his position as a Taranaki Principal, was on the panel too. We joined Aussie Dene and Elsie our translator and had a great time meeting some exceptional people over the three days.

The leadership team was holed up in a swank hotel for the interviews but generally works out of an office in Al College (pronounced col-liege). It's a school that was closed and turned into an office complex for teacher training. It's really nice as you can see. Our office is on the mezzanine floor to the right of the window in this photo. The rest of the team is a fabulous group of people including a South African, and Aussie or two and a bunch of En Zeders.

Stay tuned for national standards and more fun in the sun.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hey hey, my my...and once you're gone you can't come back.

Well - that's that then. My last day as a school Principal was last Friday and now I'm no longer in lame duck-ville, more in limbo land before my new role as a leadership adviser kicks in. My family and I fly out to Qatar on Wednesday so this will be my last posting before I arrive and get established.

Friday was a surreal experience. It's very sobering leaving a job - handing in the keys, giving back a computer, cleaning out personal material, taking the pictures off the wall (and my Star Wars clock), waving goodbye to workmates and turning the light off on three years as Principal. It's a lot like leaving home - you can't go back and help yourself to the refrigerator like you used to.

I'll miss a few things for sure - the great people I worked closely with on a daily basis in the front office - my first visitor of the day (Di Di), early cup of tea from Ina and Suzie reminding me about Chelsea's success, will be one. The students will definitely be another - as I was loading up the car a number of them wanted to shake my hand, wish me well and yell 'good luck'. I loved teaching them and leading them to believe in themselves and dream big. I also appreciated the warm, positive comments from a lot of the staff and the Board of Trustees and the large number who attended my farewell morning tea.

What I won't miss is all of the petty small stuff that a number of staff cling to. Petty jealousies and juvenile attitudes (the 'I'll hold my breath till I get my own way' brigade) and private agendas that don't have the students' best interests at heart - all can wear down positivity. It's a real pity and something that is a feature of a staffroom that has developed an 'us and them' set of attitudes over time. That scenario becomes a sap on energy levels and rather than deal with important things, too often attention is on the nitty gritty of repairing relationships and putting out fires.

I hope the staff at Stratford High School can embrace a new leader and give them a chance. I hope they can. Anyway - I'm on to newer and exciting things and I'm looking forward to what is around the corner. I am sure it will challenge me in new ways. Should be an interesting time in 2010. Stay posted!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Here's a great message for students everywhere; it’s about believing in yourself. And for a change it doesn’t come from Star Wars. In his eulogy (speech at a funeral), Edward Kennedy Junior said this about his dad:

When I was 12 years old, I was diagnosed with bone cancer. And a few months after, I lost my leg. There was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington DC. And my father went to the garage to get the old flexible flyer and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the hill. I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg. And the hill was covered with ice and snow. It wasn’t easy for me to walk and the hill was very slick. As I struggled to walk I slipped and I fell to the ice. I started to cry and I said, “I can’t do this, I’ll never be able to climb up that hill”.

And he lifted me in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget. He said, “I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes all day”.

Sure enough, he held me around my waist and we slowly made it to the top. And you know, at age 12 losing your leg pretty much seems like the end of the world. But as I climbed onto his back and we flew down the hill that day, I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be okay.

You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and that it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons. He taught me that nothing is impossible.

It’s been an honour being your teacher for a while. My best wishes for your future. DREAM BIG! And live the life you've imagined.

Warren Purdy

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The global market and me

I have announced to the school that I will be taking up a position overseas in the next few weeks. I have therefore resigned from my position of Principal at Stratford High School.

My wife and I will be travelling to Doha in Qatar where I will be helping to train some of their new Principals. I am looking forward to this, having recent experience of this myself with the National Professional Qualification for Headship in the UK, and the First-time Principals' programme run by Auckland University. My masters degree in Educational Management will also come in handy, I'm sure.

Why am I embarking on this change of course? The opportunity and adventure involved in doing something exciting in a new environment is the overriding reason. This quote from Alan Alda sums it up, “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk, and by not quite knowing what you’re doing. But what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.” It would be hypocritical of me to preach the idea of dreaming big and taking a risk, and not follow through with that myself, wouldn't it.

I will be the fifth Taranaki Principal to resign in the space of a year and I guess questions will be asked. But we now live in a global marketplace and Principals will be looking, not only for positions in New Zealand, but in the middle east, in the UK, in Australia...and New Zealanders have always left the country to experience the world.

Being a Principal in the naughties is a stressful occupation anyway and I don't think it's reasonable to expect us to stay in these jobs for lengthy periods. Gone are the days, I think, when Principals stayed in a school for twenty plus years and then retired.

My plan at the moment is to delete this blog (and the Shakespeare Society one) in about two weeks time. It's been a really fun thing to do but I will incorporate my ideas into my other blogs from now on.

I'll leave you with my prizegiving speech from yesterday:

A very warm greeting to you all –
The extended family of Stratford High School.
It is with much pleasure that I present my annual
address to the school community at our senior prize-giving.

This has been a challenging year for the school and for me personally. Every year has its combination of good and bad times but too many times this year the balance was tilted firmly into the bad. In October a number of us attended the funeral of a fine student – Kenneth Reeve Marcos. Kenneth was in year 12. For us at SHS he was a cheerful student, a talented artist, a trusted friend, a diligent worker at the Eltham Four Square, and we didn’t see his death coming. The loss has been felt deeply by his family, his close friends and by his teachers. I was deeply saddened because the potential, the dreams, the opportunities, the abilities that were so apparent inside Kenneth have now been lost to the world.

You will remember that the Stratford Way acronym is completed by D for Dreams. At the school assembly following Kenneth’s death I asked the students to keep hold of their own dreams. The founder of Apple computers, Steve Jobs, certainly knows the importance of a dream. He says “believe in your own strength to follow your heart. Be conscious of the power that you have to make a difference in your own life and to make your dreams come true. Every single one of you has the power within to make the right choice for your future. Trust in your gut feeling and your intuition and have the courage to follow your heart. These things somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

I hope all of you can relate to this and continue to action Steve Jobs’ advice throughout your lives. I certainly intend to.

During August we also said farewell to a close friend of the school. Our Mayor, John Edwards, passed away in Stratford after a period of illness. John was a student here from 1954 to 1957. He served on the Board of Governors from 1977 until 1989. For four of those years he was the Board chairman. He was definitely a true friend to the school. His warm and gentle personality will be missed throughout the Stratford district.

On a very personal note my father, and Jade’s granddad also passed away in September from complications from the stroke he suffered in August. I would like to thank Raewyn Rooney, Diane Lithgow, and Suzie Terry who attended dad’s funeral on behalf of the board and staff. Their effort and commitment in driving up to Auckland to support me during this time was very much appreciated.

You’ll now understand why I said earlier that the school and I had had a challenging year.

This Prizegiving and the reports that you will read in the Peak for this year will indicate that we have had a huge number of successes and great occasions to celebrate as well – far too many for me to list in this speech. Some of my highlights have been watching the Y13 students grow throughout the year (I’ll swear Jade has put on a couple of inches), the victorious MacAllister chant (no one saw that coming after the practices), and my terrific under 15 boy’s football team. These guys exemplified the never give up, never surrender motto that I love. We must own the world record for 4 all drawers in a season. You were a credit to the school and I was extremely proud of you.

To this year’s leavers - Be proud of who you are and where you come from. Be proud of who you are and where you are going. This is your moment on the stage. Take what you’ve learned here and dig as deep as you have to, and rise as high as you can. Keep your passion. Make mistakes and learn from them. Honour curiosity and follow it. And, in everything you do, recognise the individual person in others. I think it’s also worth repeating a quote that Viv Milner used in her speech at the Y13 leaver’s dinner. It comes from Alan Alda – the actor who played Hawkeye in the TV series MASH. He said – “You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk, and by not quite knowing what you’re doing. But what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.”

To those who are returning next year. Take up the risks and challenges that will be placed before you while you can. As Bill Gates says – “your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades, they will let you try as many times as you want to get the right answer. That doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life”. So make the most of your opportunities next year while you can.

As with any end of year prize giving, there are people to thank and farewell. Chrystal Sheehy has elected to stay on in the UK and resigned her position during the year. Cathy Sheehy takes a temporary leave for 2010 to explore the great big world. We’ll look forward to seeing her back in 2011.

The members of the Parent Teacher Association and the Board of Trustees give up a lot of time
to attend meetings and functions throughout the year. I would like to thank each of them, on behalf of the community, for their dedication and commitment to the school. We must be the only school in NZ whose staff rep is on maternity leave and board chair resides in Australia but modern technology has largely resolved these barriers. Pete’s dedication to SHS has remained undimmed throughout the year. I value his advice and resolve to continuously improve life at SHS for staff and students. Thank you Pete.

My thanks to the senior management team - Maria, Phil and Barbara for another excellent year. They responded superbly when I suddenly had to take leave because of my dad’s death. It’s great knowing that I can leave the school in good hands at short notice.

Many generous people are behind each one of our many successes this year and the staff’s on-going commitment should never be taken for granted. Our students are fortunate indeed to come to school each day and be served by such a talented team of professionals. To the support staff and the teaching staff, on behalf of the parents and students – thanks and congratulations on an excellent year.

My work life is made easier by the terrific team of Suzie, Ina and Diane in the front offices. It’s often three against one in the banter stakes and it’s tough at the moment with Chelsea doing so well in the English Premier league but you three make it fun to come to work. Thanks for your good humour, loyalty and solid support throughout a tough year.

As 2009 draws to a close I would like to end my speech by wishing seniors good luck for the externals with a Celtic blessing and with a wish for everyone to experience peace and joy during the coming Christmas holiday:

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
May the rain fall soft upon your field.
And until we meet again
may God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Thank you

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Celebrating the short life of Kenneth Marcos.

Sadly the school has been coming to terms with the recent death of one of our Year 12 students - Kenneth Marcos. This loss is something that has affected us all in a variety of ways. Kenneth's teachers and his friends are having to deal with the fact that they won't see him again. As a school we reflected on this at a recent assembly. I asked the school to reflect on the good times and the bad times they shared with Kenneth - the times he made us laugh, cry, feel angry or sad. I will forever remember his smile, his cheerful demeanour and his huge talent in art. When I enrolled Kenneth from Inglewood High School, Angela Gattung rang me to bemoan the fact that she was losing a great student to us. Kenneth continued to impress us here and we will all miss him.

Kenneth's funeral was held recently at Stratford's St Joseph's Catholic Church. Luke Cresswell spoke eloquently on behalf of Kenneth's large circle of friends who will need a lot of support as they come to terms with Kenneth's passing. Our thoughts are with them and the Marcos-Foote family at this tragic time.

At the assembly I also reiterated our need as a school to continue to dream big. The external standards are rapidly approaching for senior students. They need to prepare well and give themselves every chance of making a giant step towards their dreams by fulfilling their potential.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The farewell season

It is now getting to be deep in October and the end of the year, for seniors at least, is nearly upon us. For staff and students this means final preparations for examinations, a leaving dinner, testimonials, final senior reports for the year, senior prize-giving, and feverish preparations for 2010. Often these preparations involve looking for accommodation away from home, entry to universities or polytechs or looking for a full time job. Sometimes our students have to grow up fast! We nurture them for five years and then it's a final push out of the nest as they graduate on to the next stage of their lives. It is quite an honour being part of that process.

Certainly this time of ending and beginning has been brought home to us in our family. My wife and I are nearing the time that we farewell our fourth, and last, child from school. After 21 continuous years of our children being at school, this is quite an occasion - the end of an era. It is also a time of new beginnings. There is university to plan for and an empty nest scenario to prepare for as the last of our children leaves home.

Looming large for students and families are the external examinations. The academic business is not done with yet. The year elevens, twelves, and thirteens should now be engaged in following their study timetables and dusting off those poutama goals from earlier in the year. "How do I measure up right now?", and "What can I still do to fulfill my promise?", should be central questions.

My cautionary words are - leave no excuses! In the immortal words of American writer Bob Moawad, "The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours - it is an amazing journey - and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Reflections of...

This weblog is subtitled 'the life and times' and mainly deals with my thoughts on education - the times - and less on my life. This post, in contrast, is mostly about my life at the moment. The last four weeks of my life have been hectic, eventful, and traumatic. My father had a stroke on August 18. I spent a lot of time last term commuting to Auckland with my wife to see him and spend time with him. Sadly I have to report that he passed away on September 21 from complications from that stroke. Since then my brother and our respective families have had to deal with the emotional aftermath. It hasn't been easy but we are all comforted by the peaceful, serene way he accepted the inevitable and helped us all to deal with his death. He was an amazing man and he gave us all so much.

Events like this in our lives tend to throw things in perspective. I have always told my staff that family comes first and for me this was also true. My study break was filled with working through dad's estate with my brother, and completely redecorating part of our house in Stratford. It was great therapy (like this blog) and now, back at school, I'm feeling drained of energy again.

I've always realised that I need 'my time'. Usually this takes place early in the morning before the rest of my family wakes and rises. These days I realise anew, how important some private, reflective time is to Principals. The hurley burley and toil and trouble of the day can quickly swamp us but having a few minutes to write this is really cathartic and necessary.

I often go back to material from a post graduate diploma I did at UNITEC in the 1990s. As one booklet pointed out, "reflecting on one's experiences can bring about changes in attitudes and actions". Boy - they weren't kidding!

R.D. Laing says, 'The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds'.

I have also often remembered Boydell's model of management competence. It has three (evolutionary and hierarchical) levels: level 1 - manager as technician, level 2 - manager as professional, level 3 - manager as artist.

I remember being quite taken by this when I read about it in 1999. According to Boydell if you reach this third level you've become the 'mature person' manager and have reached a full understanding of what it means to be a manager, how it fits with all other aspects of your life, including your personal standards and values.

Events of the last few weeks in my personal life have given me the feeling that I have attained this last level. But I've been wrong before.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Perfect Principal

One of my senior managers gave me this when he was clearing out some files. Thought the blogosphere might like it too:

The Perfect Principal

A Principal must be a democrat, an autocrat, a diplomat, a doormat and a coolcat.

They must be able to entertain Director-Generals of Education, assistant secretaries, Deputy-Directors of Education, superintendents of Education, Councillors, teachers, parents and members of the Constabulary.

They have to settle arguments and fights. They must be a qualified solicitor, psychologist, clergyman, architect, supervisor, doctor, nurse, gardener, cleaner and on some occasions have some expertise in the role of sanitary contractor both in the literal and metaphorical sense.

They must always look immaculate when imbibing at end of term celebrations. They must allow their staff to reach maximum capacity but never reach the same happy state themselves.

They must be on the student’s side, the parent’s side, the teacher’s side, the Superintendent’s side, the Teacher’s Union side, the Progressive teacher’s side and the Ministry of Education’s side but never on their backside.

To be successful they must be able to handle irate parents, insane parents, hysterical overworked teachers (and support staff), the Ministry of Education, fellow principals and ERO officers.

To sum up they must be inside, outside, offside, glorified, sanctified, crucified, stupefied, cross-eyed and if they are the strong silent type, they can be deified.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Motorvatin' over the hill

I recently read some interesting comments on student motivation to succeed at their NCEA studies. It came from the New Zealand Ministry of Education (I hope you were sitting down) in a summary report titled, snazzily, "Motivation and Achievement at Secondary School". It may have past you by.

This bit on external influences on achievement grabbed my attention -

Students who do small amounts of part-time work, sport or other extracurricular activities show higher motivation and achievement patterns than students who do not participate in these activities or who do so more than 10 hours weekly.
Okay it's not earth shattering but when it's added to the following little nugget it provides some encouragement:

Whereas achievement in Year 11 (in 2005) was a significant predictor of achievement in Year 3 (in 2007), positive motivation orientations added significantly to the accuracy of prediction of future achievement. Motivation orientations were better predictors of total credits achieved two years later than predictions made solely on credits attained in previous years.
So, students can significantly build on their success at level 1 (and improve their success at level 2 and 3) by improving their motivation. This can be done by:
  • Working towards a merit or excellent endorsement,
  • Improving their relationships with teachers,
  • Being involved in sport or other extra-curricular activities and,
  • Getting some part-time work.

This is a good message I think. It encourages students to aim higher and be more involved in wider than study activities. Seems that old saying 'all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy' has some life to it yet.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Of (brick) walls and bridges

The academic brick wall that all students have in their school diary becomes a critical aid to success at this time of the year. It's a grid that allows our students to see at a glance how many credits they have towards an NCEA qualification and just as importantly - how many they have to go to reach their target. Each brick in the wall is worth one credit. Students shade in the bricks as they gain credits towards Level 1 or 2 or 3.

If you're a parent of our students reading this - please ask to see the academic brick wall. Then discuss how many potential credits there are to be gained in external examinations or in the remaining few weeks of the academic year.

Next week, during our Options Day, students in years 10 to 12 will be selecting their probable courses for next year (students in years 9 and 13 will not have timetabled classes on this day). The focus on this day is to plan for 2010 and to remind students that they need to gain success in 2009 to create the bridge to the courses they want to do next year. You were probably wondering how I was going to fit 'bridges' in weren't you?

I am keen that students think backwards from their chosen career/job or further education. For instance if you are in Year 11 and you want to become a nurse you will need to think about subjects you need in level 3 NCEA, then level 2 NCEA and finally in level 1 NCEA.

With this in mind Options Day also doubles as a careers intensive day for our Year 11 students. A number of visitors, as well as our guidance network, will be guiding students during the day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reasons to be cheerful part 4

In my previous post I explained how the status quo industrialised version of education needs revolution. I mentioned Ivan Illich's book 'Deschooling Society'. Here is another excerpt:

The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his/her living into one of learning,sharing, and caring.

So what of these 'educational webs'? Clearly we (and by 'we' I mean
educational institutions in general) have made a tentative start - the interweb
has potential with elearning (electronic learning). So does video-conferencing.
So does distance learning. So does mlearning (mobile learning). But so far it's
been piecemeal and on a very small scale and really limited and, for various
reasons, hasn't challenged our industrial status quo at all. For instance there
is a tension in my school between appropriate use and inappropriate use of
technologies. There is also a tension between advising students on distance
learning/video-conferencing and allowing them the freedom of choice.

Anyway this doesn't feel revolutionary. And what about the good bits of
what we offer? The subject specialists, the facilities and resources? Do we junk
all of that? Well no, we don't. Illich again:

A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives;
empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public
with the opportunity to make their challenge known.

So... we need a smarter way of freeing up our tight control of timetables and classes and the other aspects of the industrial model that I wrote about last time, while providing access to available resources, empowerment to teachers and learners, and an opportunity of expression (imagination is more important than information - so said Einstein!).

Yep fine (apart from it being a really long sentence). But what?

Last year I heard an address by Patrick Duigan. He talked about the concept of “learning spaces” which is heavily influenced by technology and gave an example of a development by a company in Sydney called LandLease who are developing 10 x 30,000 home communities in Western Sydney where schools are being reconfigured into “learning communities”. The entire community is to be networked and businesses who want to be involved have to sign on to be part of that “learning community”.

Blended learning seems an exciting prospect to me. Here's a brief description of it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blended_learning

This aligns with some aspects of experimental Canadian schools that I heard about at a SPANZ conference in 2008. Students, in these schools, arrive in the morning and select their day's programme from a menu of courses placed around the school. They then attend tutorials that incorporate 'face-to-face' sessions with access to other technologies. Teachers are called 'facilitators'.

This is the inquiry model at work. No industrialised classes in rows. What it does do is place the responsibility for learning squarely on the learner. Hallelujah!!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The assembly line

I recently wrote about my hope that education can break away from our 19th/20th century industrial model via a revolution of ideas.

Okay - I'd like to expand on this during this post. But first - a revolution requires knowing which way we want to go.

This exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat sums up our situation in 2009:

Alice - Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here

Cat - That depends a good deal on where you want to get to

Alice - I don't much care where

Cat - Then it doesn't matter which way you go

I know which way I wish to go - away from the old industrial model which has so far lasted in New Zealand schools until the present day, and towards the complete delivery of an inquiry model (that actually is the basis of our new New Zealand Curriculum document).

Basically I want to get away from this picture presented in a 1947 training film but which could have been filmed today. Take a look, even if it's just for a few minutes.

What we have currently is this industrial model: desks in production rows, the teacher as oracle at the front dispensing information, conformity and obedience, a rigid timetable structure of discreet subjects, age determined class cohorts, uniform criteria for success, standardised curricula, and therefore students without focus. Look familiar?

The industrial model, which emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, aimed to improve efficiency and to prepare young people for factory jobs requiring repetitive tasks. As a consequence, intended or not, the industrial model tended to preserve the status quo. The industrial model was further characterized by strict rules and regimented behavior, identical curricula and expectations for all students, and an emphasis on basic skills of literacy and numeracy.

Clearly we no longer need to prepare young people for factory jobs exclusively, just as we no longer need to prepare them to become university professors exclusively. Why then do we preserve the status quo model of education?

Standing in contrast is the inquiry model of education, in which learning is active, social, contextual, continuous, and holistic. It requires pedagogies of engagement, learning designs that connect students to knowledge-making activities and to one another, critical thinking, adaptability, creativity, multi-age classes, authentic/diverse assessment practices, teacher as facilitator and co-learner.

Basically, I think we need to revisit a text I had to read at university in 1977 Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society. Some of his messages have stayed with me. This for instance:

Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of
unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by
being 'with it', yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth
with elaborate planning and manipulation.

I don't understand what he meant by "being 'with it' ", but I certainly agree with him about the need for a "meaningful setting".

I'll try an explore what these meaningful settings may be over some upcoming posts.

Sources: Christine H. Leland and Wendy C. Kasten, “Literacy Education for the 21st Century: It's Time to Close the Factory,” Reading and Writing Quarterly, vol. 18 (2002), p. 13.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

To a worm in horse radish the world is horse radish.

Lately, I've been watching a lot of the 'TED talks' presentations instead of watching TV (sharp intake of breath). There is some excellent stuff on http://www.ted.com/ and I've only touched the surface.

There was nothing on after Coronation Street last night so I read an article in the Guardian Weekly about Malcolm Gladwell. He's the author of one of my favourite books "The Tipping Point'. I was interested to learn that he's a hit on the speaking circuit in the UK. His presentation on spaghetti sauce was mentioned in the article, so I googled that and low and behold it was on TED. At its conclusion a list of other talks came up and my attention was drawn to Sir Ken Robinson's presentation on how education destroys creativity. It was brilliant! And got me thinking, again, about the world's wholly inappropriate industrialised style of education.

I mentioned the talk to my English class and they debated this idea for a bit. Actually they didn't debate it at all, because they were unanimous in their belief that their creativity was not acknowledged and as students they were being processed through the school system in an inappropriate way (not exactly their words, but certainly their feeling). They asked to see the talk and loved it when I showed it to them.

I think we're long overdue a change of delivery. I can sense some subtle shifts with the expanding employment of technology but we need something revolutionary. Sadly, I don't see it on the horizon.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Alumni, Stephen Hawking AND Noam Chomsky


Last week I spent a very pleasant evening attending a meeting of our 'old pupils' association'. Mr Gary Vincent is the chair of this association of former Stratford High School students (they were called pupils in the old days). The meeting was at his house and we were there planning the next reunion of former students. Every five years a committee from the association plans a reunion. It's a great idea and is very popular.

The evening made me think about a number of things:

  • All of the students who have passed through SHS in the last 100 plus years and where they've gone;

  • How our school is such a focal point in people's lives in the Stratford district;

  • How one's school years generally are so much a fabric of our individual lives - even after 30, 40 or 50 years;

  • Reunions that I've attended in the past at Mount Albert Grammar School (I was a student during the 50th in 1972 and a staff member for the 75th).

  • The old friends network that I belong to;

  • The communication spread that is possible these days;

  • and what a nice cup of tea Gary made - really nice fragrance to it...

If you haven't seen the old friends site - here are the details: http://www.oldfriends.co.nz/ . There are over 1 million members now in New Zealand and more are added every day. That's impressive.

Stephen Hawking AND Noam Chomsky

I recently had a look at a couple of interesting websites and was shocked to realise that at a click of a button I could email Stephen Hawking AND Noam Chomsky. Yipes!! My finger quivered at the thought. I'm not sure why I haven't considered this possibility before, but imagine emailing either of these giants of the academic world. What on earth would you say?? While you consider that thought here are those sites: http://www.academia.edu/#/Universities/Cambridge_University/Departments/Applied_Mathematics_and_Theoretical_Physics for Stephen Hawking (The warning on his website - please bear in mind that it may take a while for you to receive a response and that due to the severe limitations that Stephen works under and the huge amount of mail he receives, he may not have time to respond - S.W.Hawking@damtp.cam.ac.uk ) and if you feel brave enough here is Mr Chomsky's contact chomsky@mit.edu

I don't know about you but...WOW. This is amazing! All thanks to the http://www.academia.edu/ website. Please let me know how you got on if you do make contact.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Michelle Obama

This speech by Michelle Obama on her recent trip to England is worth seeing/listening to. Like the First Lady, I have also been surrounded for much of my life by extraordinary women who have taught me about quiet strength and dignity. I include the speech here with them in mind.

July newsletter

The non-seasonal Influenza A (H1N1) virus continues to attract media attention world wide. We had one confirmed mild case of the virus last term and our student has now returned to school. It is timely to remind you of some details of our response to the threat of Influenza A. The school's health and safety committee has amended our Pandemic Plan that was initiated for the bird flu threat. I am the Pandemic Manager for the school. The advice we have received states that 'school closure is not required for a suspected or confirmed case' of the virus. Our absentee rate is averaging at 20% so far. If it exceeds 30% we will instruct the Ministry of Education. It has not reached this level yet.

My plea to students and community is keep following the advice from the ministry of health and ministry of education regarding sanitary practices - wash hands carefully, use tissues for coughs and sneezes (please see advice elsewhere in the newsletter). If students are sick they should stay home until well enough for learning. Some students are coming to school with heavy colds/coughs and this compromises the health of others. The relevant website for you to consult is www.moh.govt.nz/influenza-a-h1n1 as it has comprehensive details.

The first week of this term saw the 40th anniversary of the moon landings on the 20th of July. This was a momentous occasion 40 years ago in 1969. I remember listening to the radio broadcast as Neil Armstrong moved down the steps and misquoted the script NASA had given him - "It's one small step for [a] man; one giant leap for mankind". I prefer the way Neil said it. It certainly still gets the point across, even if it doesn't make sense.

I referred to this event in my first assembly back from the study break. J F Kennedy said in 1961 that the goal was to reach the moon before the end of 1969, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills". The power of a goal that sparks the imagination is huge, is it not. I would love my students to set big goals for themselves and then set the best of their energies and skills along that pathway.

Communication methods have come a long way since those events in 1969. When Michael Jackson died recently we had every news channel reporting live 24 hours a day, for days and days. In 1969 New Zealand we had to wait months to see television images of the moon landing. Are we better off? Has mankind made a giant leap? That is a moot point, but set those goals, okay?!

We continue this term with our extensive building programme - T block is making excellent progress and should be ready for staff and students to move back into in term 4 and work has begun on the new Teen Parent Unit/Early Childhood Education Centre on the south side of the Stadium.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Social networking 2 - Facebook and my privacy

A confession first of all - I don't read local newspapers, and by local I mean New Zealand. NZ media, generally, is very petty and aimed towards the sensational. I prefer to get my news from The Guardian Weekly - an offshoot of the two U.K. newspapers - The Guardian and The Observer. It's a weekly summary and therefore gives balance and background to international events. Suffice to say, there are never any stories about NZ unless they are of the humorous persuasion. You know the type - sheep stories or...more sheep stories.

By boycotting local news media I am usually able to avoid the petty and sensational. I therefore missed the latest media witch-hunt of a school until a summary turned up in The NZ Interface magazine. It was Auckland's Diocesan School for Girls' turn for the spotlight. Apparently some girls were stood down for some derogatory comments about a teacher on Facebook. This provoked the NZ Herald into righteous indignation and much hand wringing about the school's powers and the girls' privacy and yadda yadda yadda. Not much of a story really. It won't make The Guardian Weekly!

My responses included feeling sorry for Dio, disappointment at the Herald (yet again), wondering what I would have done given that situation, and thinking about my Facebook page. Mainly I thought about my Facebook page.

How secure is it? Can the public access it? Am I, as a school principal, allowed a private life?

More and more I use social networking sites to publish my thoughts and opinions, and keep in contact with my network of friends and family. I have a number of blogs to do this - one of which you're reading now. I am aware that once I put things on the interweb they enter a kind of public domain. This weblog is aimed at my school community but if you look at the map of users, as I do from time to time, the blog is being read by people who have no real idea about me or my school. So it's not very private. So I, clearly, won't be writing derogatory comments about individual people.

While I'm also not making negative comments on my Facebook page and family/friends blogs I do not regard these as part of the public domain. This is naive, I know - my friends' blog is accessed by plenty of people who've never met me. Still...I think I deserve some kind of 'private' life. It just so happens that the media forum I use to keep in touch with my friends also makes it accessible to others. Will this stop me? Well, no, but it does make me self-censor.

A good lesson for those girls at Dio to learn!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Social networking 1 - cell phones

I've been reading recently about the use of cell phones and ipods in schools. Andrew Douch is clearly a fan as his students download his podcasts onto their ipods. As is Andrew Trotter in his article for Education Week (Jan 7, 2009). Liz Kolb in 2008 wrote an article headed Toys to Tools: Connecting student cell phones to education and has a blog at http://www.cellphonesinlearning.com/ devoted to the issue.

The basic idea they share is that students can use their cell phones in class for educational things - accessing podcasts, taking notes and photos to compile reports, organising schedules and homework with reminders about deadlines...because -
“Mobile devices are part of the fabric of children’s lives today: They are here
to stay,” Michael H. Levine, the executive director of the New York City-based
Joan Ganz Cooney Center, at Sesame Workshop, wrote in a statement accompanying the release of the report. “It is no longer a question of whether we should use
these devices to support learning, but how and when to use them.” http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2009/01/09/04mobile.h02.html

Now I like to be a positive person, I really do. I always like to think the best of people and I don't doubt that Andrew Douch is a supreme teacher whose energy will overwhelm his students and that they are all focused on doing the right thing. Mr Levine is right too - mobile devices are here to stay. But I do have reservations about cell phones in class. I also wonder if many of these advocates have actually taught a class in the brave new environment. Liz (above) is a doctoral student with three years teaching experience in the late 1990s. We're not in that world anymore. Teachers, generally, have adapted hugely to the modern world of the now. They continue to grow through continuous professional development. But they are not miracle workers with endless supplies of patience.

At the Principal conference that I attended earlier in the year Andrew Douch addressed the Principals and asked who had rules in their schools banning the use of cell phones. We all looked at each other, shame faced. Some brave souls even put their hands up! Most of us did/do have rules about the use of technology in the classroom. And for good reason.

My experience in the UK for three years (2004-2006) showed me how detrimental cell phone use was to learning. Okay - I admit it - I saw no positive use of mobile phones (they laughed at the term cell phone!) while I was there. Instead the wayward use of phones would often lead to 'discussions' and awkward moments between teacher-student which all detracted from the learning and focus and the fostering of a positive relationship. And that's important because - 'Your focus determines your reality' (Qui-Gon Jinn). Suddenly a phone would ring or a student would be sending a txt and then the 'discussion' would take place and then we're all in a world of negativity. I'd love to hear the advocates answers to these moments. Do they ignore them? Encourage them? Abraid themselves?

My problem with the thrust for encouraging students to use their phones for instructional purposes is that students don't see the distinction. It's all 'instructional' from their point of view. When the inevitable inappropriate use happens they have no clue why we have a problem. They are merely fulfilling their instant gratification gene. Chill man! Or in extreme cases it leads on to a greater disrespect.

Is all this making me sound very fuddy duddy?? Well, yes, it is. I know it could be a potentially great tool and I am a fan of technology as this weblog proves, but I'm not about to embrace a new technology just for the sake of it when I know the downside. I'd need a lot more convincing that cell phone use in my school wouldn't lead to increased txt bullying, disrupted classes, frazzled teachers, cheating, inappropriate/unsanctioned photos and videos on youtube before I'm converted.

What do you think?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jedi mind tricks!

My students know how much I love Star Wars and this scene from the movie The Empire Strikes Back: Luke fails at raising his plane from a swamp but Yoda has no problem. Luke says, "I don't believe it". Yoda says, "That is why you fail". Refresh your memory -

Wouldn't that be cool? To believe you can do something is half the battle is it not. I wish I could be able to move objects around with my mind, like a Jedi knight.

Well I no longer have to wish. The power of the brain can now be harnessed to move objects. You don't believe? Take a look at the video on the Washington Post link.

Now...where do I get one from?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Virtual learning

I've been pretty active in my virtual world of blogs and the interweb of late. I find more and more that I use the search engines of the net and the material of wikipedia and links to classroom subject matter more and more. I hope my students are also engaging in this world of virtual learning.

What does this virtual learning stuff mean (I was going to add - for us in Stratford - but then I realised it's actually for us all, no matter where we are and who we are)?

So what does it mean? It is learning 'in essence or effect although not delivered formally or actually' (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary - an essential purchase made in my first year at Auckland University 1977) . This definition would mean excluding video conferencing from the umbrella term 'virtual' as it is still a formal situation - teacher with students.

Virtual learning, then, is about the internet and web 2.0 tools. Students can pick and choose from the galaxy of help on the net. Want to know about biology? Google (as I just have) - 'biology podcast' and you'll get 4,560,000 places to visit. Obviously the first ones are the most relevant as they marry the two words to give the best bet sites. The first on the list was http://www.learnoutloud.com/Podcast-Directory/Science/Biology and the second was http://biologyoracle.podomatic.com/ - this is Andrew Douch's site. But, get this again - there are 4,559,998 other sites out there. On biology and/or podcasts!!! If you've just flicked into them for a nosey you will get a sense of the possibilities of 'virtual learning'.

So when I go into the blogs I follow, like Andrew Douch's, I learn informally and not actually. I can't actually see or talk to Andrew but I can listen to him (via his podcasts), read his thoughts (on his blog), learn about things biological and, if I want to, I can write back or ask questions. He's not actually there in the room with me. He (and I) may be in any part of the world when I read his blog. It's virtual learning. Now - I'm an English teacher who left sciences behind in the fifth form but I have actually downloaded his podcasts and listened to him discussing biological topics and learnt things (when - otherwise - I wouldn't even think to open a biology textbook).

Will virtual learning take off? Well according to Andrew it will. In fact he thinks it's inevitable that we will learn via our virtual 'teachers'.
And consider this: the most popular teachers in this scenario, may not
necessarily even be practicing teachers! They may be university students or
retired teachers. How relevant is it going to be for students to come to class
at all in this future? If the classroom teacher still sees himself as the ‘font
of knowledge’ for those students, then, it may not be very relevant at all.
There has never been a more important time for teachers to ask themselves “what value am I adding to my students?”, and even “what is my role as a teacher?” Nor
has there been a better time for schools to question the current models of
attendance and timetabling.
(Andrew Douch 2009).
Andrew would love the New Zealand Curriculum document with its accent on Key Competencies that take the focus completely away from the teacher as 'font of knowledge'. I must say I've never been that, or aspired to be that. When I trained as a teacher in Kevin Pound's tutor group at Auckland Teachers' College in 1982, he made sure to impress upon us the need to join in with our students and take risks and say we don't know something if we didn't know something. I digress.

Next time you have a hankering to learn something - try searching on the virtual learning network that is within that huge ether world of the internet. It'll knock your socks off.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Influenza update

It is probably timely to again mention our influenza plans given the increased numbers of people in Australia who have proven to have swine flu.

The facts: 1) There is no change from the Ministry of Health on the status of the pandemic alert levels for schools - we remain on yellow alert. Please check this out at http://www.moh.govt.nz/influenza-a-h1n1 .

2) Anyone visiting New Zealand who thinks they have influenza is asked to see a doctor or call Healthline 0800 611 116 for advice. Please check out http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/ for further details if you are planning an overseas trip in the near future.

3) To date there is no evidence of community spread of the virus in New Zealand.

4) As per our pandemic plan (and common sense) - if you are feeling unwell the advice is to stay at home. If you continue to feel unwell - visit a doctor!

5)The Ministry of Health suggests that the families of students who have travelled to countries with considerable spread of Influenza A (H1N1) should keep them at home for a week on their return, even if they have no symptoms.

In the meantime - continue those good hygiene practices such as washing hands thoroughly, and using a disposable tissue when sneezing or coughing.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Yes...the lucky effect

I recently watched the latest Jim Carrey movie called 'Yes Man'. Jim Carrey plays Carl - a depressed loans officer in a bank. Carl is avoiding people and is recently single. He says, "No" to everyone and everything. Then an epiphany occurs when he visits a seminar by a self help guru. As a result he enters into an agreement to say, "Yes" to everyone and everything. There are profound results.
I enjoyed the movie. It's certainly not up there with Bill Murray's 'Groundhog Day' but it's moral compass is set along the same lines. Those lines being - if you embrace life and the possibilities of life - startling things can happen. For Carl, the voyage of self-recovery ends in a kind of personal redemption. As he embraces moments by saying, "Yes" to finds that he makes his own luck. Indeed his changed state of mind helps him be lucky.

Researchers have found that lucky people are far more satisfied with all areas of their lives than unlucky people. They expect good things to happen so they focus on the positive aspects and that is what they remember, not the bits that went wrong. Unlucky people tend to focus on the negative aspects of life.

Lucky people tend to be more outgoing and friendly, less anxious, and more open to new experiences. Lucky people enjoy new opportunities and look for them. They usually find them too.
Top tips for getting lucky:

Be open to new experiences and breaking out of your normal routine.
Spend a few moments each day remembering things that went well.
Visualise yourself being lucky before an important test.
Welcome any new friend.
Expect things to go well.

Acknowledgements - http://harvardmagazine.com/2007/03/the-lucky-effect.html and http://www.principalsdigests.com/

Thursday, May 28, 2009

International students at Rotary

The Stratford Rotarians recently invited some international students to address their meeting. Both St Marys' and our school responded with students. Emelie and Tassio represented us extremely well. Emelie is from Sweden and is part of an AFS programme. She is here until the end of the year. She spoke about the differences between education in the two countries and about her plans for the future. Tassio is from Brazil and while he started off as an exchange student, he loves New Zealand so much he now has permanent residency. Tassio told the Rotarians about some of his New Zealand experiences and how he appreciates the way NZ backs up their rules and regulations with consequences (unlike what he says happens in Brazil). I was very proud of both students. They represented Stratford High School with distinction. Incidentally the photo also shows the three Japanese girls currently at St Marys'.Two are fee paying students and one is an exchange student. My thanks to Stratford Rotary for hosting this annual event.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Another May newsletter

"To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe" (Anatole France).

According to Wikipedia, Anatole was a french novelist, born 1844. He won the Nobel prize for literature in 1921 and died in 1924. I'm telling you this to fulfil a promise I made at assembly when I used the above quote. That promise was to find out who Anatole France was! I'm very fond of this quote as it incorporates each of the four elements I think are essential to success - dreaming, planning, acting and believing!

It's nearly June and a good time for us to do a bit of a stock take on progress through our goals so far. Thus we may avoid any mid-year slump in energy, enthusiasm or perseverance. Our students hear a lot about goals and targets and the danger is that they go through a process of sensory overload. As an educator the trick is to keep a balance of having the concept of goals in the students' consciousness without turning them off. All students have their three poutama goals that they should keep in mind and review about now. How are you progressing towards them? Are the targets realistic? What have you done to realise your targets? Do you need to adjust any targets?

The school, of course, has its goals and targets for the year. To refresh memories these relate to: raising Maori achievement via the Te Maunga Tuu professional development initiative; implementing the New Zealand Curriculum; an emphasis on extending each student to reach their potential (with particular emphasis on improving pass rates and the numbers of merit and excellence endorsements); and continuing the focus on differentiated learning, with an emphasis on year 9 and year 10.

The individual departments use the school goals as a springboard for their specific goals. From these come the staff's individual goals that are discussed in appraisal interviews.

Even the Senior Management Team has its targets. Every 5 weeks we develop our targets and then every three days we discuss these in our strategic planning meetings. Our current targets focus on school wide appraisal, the New Zealand Curriculum and our Te Maunga Tuu initiatives. As you can imagine we know our targets thoroughly. Students could take a lead from this. I often advocate that students write out goals in large type and pin them to the fridge or the mirror in their room. Anywhere that they can see them everyday. If they are always visible and therefore always in your mind, the chances that you will achieve them are greatly enhanced.

As parents and caregivers we also have goals and targets. They can be modest in size (washing the car regularly, seeing sons and daughters play sport for the school and so on) or a 'go for gold' type (planning an overseas holiday, changing careers, running the Boston marathon for instance). How many of us share these goals and targets with the family? If we don't, maybe we should. Let's aim to demonstrate the power of achieving goals to our students. I'd like to encourage you to share your goals, as I have aimed to do here.

"Nine tenths of education is encouragement" (Anatole France).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Professional development

I recently wrote a post on a Principal association that I belong to - the Taranaki Secondary School Principals' Association (TSSPA). I recently attended two other regular Principal meetings in my diary. The first is a professional learning group (PLG) that is made up of a select few local Principals - Liz Malone (Eltham Primary), Richard Bradley (Toko School), Kelvin Squire (Stratford Primary), Rae Sullivan-Brown (St Joseph's School), and Leo (Rawhitiroa School).

Apart from Liz being a Manchester United fan they are an all right bunch. We meet roughly once a term at Eltham Primary (geographically about 10 minutes south from Stratford) in Liz's office (apart from having to look at pictures of Man U it's a good place to meet). Our agenda items are always pretty fluid because Kelvin's brain engages far faster than the rest of us and we've usually moved from an agenda topic to 25 other non-agenda topics in the space of seconds. I find the meetings really stimulating as far as my professional development goes. Trying to keep up with Kelvin's leaps definitely keeps us all on our toes. I usually take panadol with me!

This last meeting's discussions ranged around the New`Zealand Curriculum, oral hygiene in Stratford, wet weather procedures, literacy payments, Taranaki Electricity Trust grants, learning management systems, data that the primary schools collect and data that my High School would like to receive from the contributing schools. And when I say 'range' I mean range! These are never linear discussions. But that is why they are so stimulating.

The second regular meeting is the Central Taranaki Educational Leaders' Association. This is a group chaired by Richard Bradley, comprising all of the educational leaders in central Taranaki. This includes the two secondary schools - St Mary's and us, the big Primary schools to the smallest Primary schools. Our recent meeting included an address by Ernie Buutveld from the Principals' Federation. I always learn things from this group. Apparently NZ now has a minister for 'Special Education'. Who knew? This is the Hon Heather Roy from the Act party in case you were wondering. I also found out that UNESCO has four pillars of learning - Learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be. I quite like this.

Also in the professional development field - I've attached two new blogs to my watch list. One is from the aforementioned Kelvin Squire (something of an institution in Stratford), and the other from an American Principal - Michael Smith (something of a legend to me). Michael's not afraid to be funny. Actually he couldn't NOT be funny! And you should read his blog...and Kelvin's.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

There's no success like failure...

...and failure's no success at all! So says Bob Dylan in a great song - 'Love Minus Zero/No Limit'. I used this quote in my last assembly (my deputy principal was scared I was going to sing it!). Well actually that's not strictly true. I used the first part - there's no success like failure - because Dylan rather blurs the message with the completed thought and it didn't suit my purpose at assembly. Which was to tell my students that failure is good for them!

I've certainly learnt more about myself from failing things (and boy have I failed things) than I have from my successes. I failed my drivers' licence first up and was thrilled beyond words when my smarter younger brother later failed his too. I bring that up a lot! I failed the school certificate examination and in those days (the 1970s) that meant repeating the year. During that repeat year I learnt about self-discipline and I matured a lot. I also met a guy who has been a constant friend throughout the years. I had a 'seat-of-my-pants' year in the sixth form and then I failed the university bursary examination as well two years later.

The good thing was that all of these failures were not fatal. I survived and by dogged perseverance I made my way to university with a healthy regard for my capabilities. During my assembly I related the story about Thomas Edison. When he was trying to develop the light bulb, he had over 5,000 failures. He was asked why he kept wasting his time. He said, "I have not failed 5,000 times. I have discovered 5,000 ways that won't work. If I persevere, I will come to the end of ways that won't work and discover the one that will."

Isn't that great? I'm in awe of this. Where would we be if he'd not persevered? I'm also in awe from a different perspective. That Edison could visualise where he wanted to get to and then try try try various methods to get there is beyond my own understanding. It's a bit like whoever stood on a beach and thought - "If I mix this sand with some other things I bet I could come up with glass!" This amazes me! Thank goodness we're not all the same.

Did the message to my students get through? Maybe I planted a seed for a few that failure is actually not to be feared, indeed it should be embraced. Maybe they'll think about Edison and the light bulb after the next failure. That would make me happy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Principals' meeting

I belong to a variety of Principal groups. One such group of local Principals is called very grandly the Taranaki Secondary Schools' Principals Association (TSSPA for short). This is a fun bunch. It includes my colleagues from state single sex schools New Plymouth Girls' High, New Plymouth Boys' High, co-eds (and proud) Spotswood College, Inglewood High, Hawera High, Opunake High, Waitara High, Coastal Taranaki, my school, and private schools - Francis Douglas Memorial College, St Marys, and Sacred Heart.

We meet each term for a day of professional development and collegiality. Now that might not sound riveting but for each of us it is a rare chance to get together and compare notes, ask for advice (what are you doing about...?), share a meal and check up on each other's lives. It's really only other Principals who can understand what the job entails and the stresses and strains that come along the way. I, for one, really look forward to these days as it gives me a chance to get a fresh perspective away from the immediate workplace. And I really enjoy the company of my fellow Principals.

Today we heard from the Chief Executive Officer of the Western Institute of Technology in Taranaki (WITT for short) - Richard Handley. It was a good chance to learn about what makes WITT tick and how secondary schools and polytechs like WITT can work together for students. We also had a visit from Taranaki's Children Youth and Families staff on how they now operate. Specifically they gave us information on their Strengthening Families initiative.

The meeting was hosted by Jenny Ellis, Principal at New Plymouth Girls'. The specific venue was the library at Scotlands, the boarding school at NPGHS. And lunch was lovely - many thanks to Jenny and her hostel staff for the day.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

May newsletter

Since my last newsletter column we have had some amazing assemblies where we have celebrated many different aspects of school life.

  • In academic areas we awarded scholar badges to our successful 2008 NCEA students.

  • In sport a number of our students gained cups and certificates for performances in swimming and cricket in the first term. Our netball tourists to northland reported on their adventures.

  • In cultural activities senior students have spoken of ANZAC day and the Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival that took place at school.

  • Our student council recognised staff with an appreciation award to Mr McGeoch.

  • Mrs Potter revealed the House winner for term 1 - The mighty McAllister

As the community will remember, the S in our Stratford acronym is for SAFETY. We are very conscious of the need to maintain a safe learning environment for our staff and students. In term one we practised our fire safety drills and we recently practised our lock down procedure. The Mexican swine influenza scare that is currently happening in the world is obviously a concern for schools. Our pandemic plan is not activated until we get an instruction from the Ministry of Health or the medical officer of health. At the moment the ministry is indicating that New Zealand is at 'code yellow' (a standby phase). If the code changes to red - the school will continue to operate until further instruction from our local medical officer of health or until we have insufficient staff to operate the school safely. For more information please go to the ministry website - http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/indexmh/mexican-swine-influenza-update-270409 or contact me at the school. The outlook appears to be improving but it is always best to plan for the worst case scenario.

Finally I wish to make a plea for more parents to consider joining the Parent Teacher Association. We have a small, dedicated group of parents who would love to see more parents at their meetings. Our PTA is not a fundraising group. Instead it is a useful way for parents to find out more about the school and to advise the school on parent needs. Please contact my P.A., Diane Lithgow, at the school to find out more or come to the next meeting - June 2.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Anzac Day 2009

The school was well represented at our annual ANZAC (Australia New Zealand Army Corps) day parades. The dawn parade and civic reception were moving events, as they are every year when New Zealanders and Australians pause to remember wars we've been involved in and their effects.

I have always been really moved by the song 'And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda'. It was written by Eric Bogle but many have sung it. My favourite version is by June Tabor - an English folk singer with an amazing voice. If you're unfamiliar with it here is a great clip:

When I googled the song to get it's lyrics the internet sent me to pogues.com and on the sheet of lyrics it had a note about the last survivor of Gallipoli - Mr Alec Campbell. This in turn sent me to a BBC news report on Mr Campbell's death in 2002. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1992483.stm

It was fascinating reading and thinking about him and realising that they have all gone now, all those soldiers who experienced Gallipoli - it is now an aspect of history. Something sobering about that thought.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dreams from My Father

The Easter holiday period is a good chance to catch up on some reading. My eldest daughter handed on Barack Obama's 1995 memoir 'Dreams from My Father' which her boyfriend had read and given to her. I started reading it a month or so ago when I needed something to read on a long plane journey. Since then it's been sustained silent reading periods at school (we do three 20 minute SSR slots per week - I love it - a chance to read with the students - are you kidding?). I can't say it's a spectacular book but there are some good sections and his voice is definitely in the writing. I've posted a general response on my class blog already(http://purdzilla.blogspot.com).

I was really taken by a section he wrote on meeting teen mums at the Altgeld housing project in Chicago when he was an 'organiser' (ie he helped the community present their concerns and problems to the mostly disinterested authorities). The experience he tells of reminded me of meeting the teen mums we have at Stratford High School. he writes -

They spoke without self-consciousness about preganacy at 14 or 15, the dropping out of school, the tenuous links to the fathers who slipped in and out of their lives...They had mastered the tools of survival in their tightly bound world and made no apologies for it. They weren't cynical, though, that surprised me. They still had ambitions.

I really enjoy going into our teen parent unit and meeting our teen mums or teen mums to be. They are just as Barack Obama describes with one exception - our girls have the ability to continue their education. Last year they enjoyed real NCEA success and their dreams can be whatever they choose.

In another section of the book there is a section that startled me and made me think.Barack visits a primary school and talks with the principal. He sees a group of young students, 5 and 6 year olds.

"Beautiful, aren't they?" Dr Collier (the Principal) said.
"They really are."
"The change comes later. In about 5 years, although it seems like it's coming sooner all the time."
"What change is that?"
"When their eyes stop smiling. Their throats can still make the sound, but if you look in their eyes, you can see they've shut off something inside."

Startling because I've taught a lot of teenagers over 25 years and I haven't experienced this too many times and the children Dr Collier is discussing are 10 or 11 years old. A sobering thought.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Teacher tube

If you have any doubt that teaching in the 2000s has changed you may like to visit Teacher Tube on my links list. During a break in a recent Sheilah Winn Shakespeare competition held at my school (see my other blog - http://shakespearesociety.blogspot.com for details of that event) I went to check out some of the most viewed videos. Try this one by a rapping mathematics teacher - yes you read that right!

Now I don't know about you (unless you tell me) but none of my mathematics teachers at Mt Albert Grammar School between 1971 and 1976 made mathematics fun like this (sorry bout that guys but even if you had access to the internet you would not have done this). I haven't included the comments from students and teachers who have used this video but they obviously like it/use it/learn from it. Andrew Douch in my last posting uses podcasts that his students download onto their ipods. Many students testified that they listen to his podcasts while travelling to and from school on buses/trains and even listen at night in bed. In the words of Bob Dylan - 'something is happening but you don't know what it is'.

Here's another teacher tube video:

I've been meaning to put this on my blog for ages. Apart from it being a great song, I love the way it 'explains' each of Billy Joel's references.

I need to explore teacher tube a bit more - it doesn't impress me that much but you can find one or two gems if you look hard.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Principals' conference

I recently attended the SPANZ Principals' conference (SPANZ stands for Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand). This was in Hamilton which is not far from Taranaki - maybe that's why I was the sole Taranaki Principal that went? Never-the-less I really enjoyed the conference and would like to share the highlights via my blog (you never know who could be reading...).

The first keynote speaker was truely inspirational. Dr Neil Hawkes from the UK centred his address on values education and really his plea was pretty simple - to promote good relationships and values in schools.

His definition of education - 'a conversation between generations on matters of importance' leads him to conclude that teaching and learning is about 'the flourishing of humanity'. With that in mind he mentioned a school in England called Wellington College that sets its curriculum around values (what is happiness?) and his advice to the assembled Principals was 'be authentically yourself'. I really liked these messages, especially the Polonious (in Hamlet) like advice to be true to yourself. Neil recommended this book by Richard Layard (an economist who has also got a book called 'Happiness' that I can also recommend).

Vivienne Robinson from the University of Auckland gave an address on 'Key competencies for school leadership'. She spoke of three important competencies - building relationships, knowing about learning, solving problems. Again I liked this presentation because of its less-is-more approach and it linked well with the messages from Neil Hawkes.

Andrew Douch is a biology teacher from Victoria (Australia) and by the end of his presentations we all wanted to move to Victoria and enrol in his bio class. What an inspirational teacher. I guess that's why he was chosen by Microsoft as the winner of the 2008 Worldwide Innovative Teacher of the Year Award. The thrust of his presentation was for educators to get connected with our generation Y students. His podcasts that are used as teaching tools were explained and the testimony of his students shows their value. I liked how he used desire paths(where people naturally go - see photo for details) to reach his students

He ended his presentation with a list for Principals that I'll share here and aim to keep in mind. It was called - what Principals can do to help:
Give time and freedom for teachers to experiment (professional development);
Foster a culture of risk failure (that includes the Principal);
Provide fences (to allow freedom to take risks);
Encourage staff to share resources online (and give them away);
Empower the Luke Skywalkers on our staff.

I've included some links to him and his blog and Dr Hawkes that I will certainly dip into - readers of this blog may like to as well.

All in all a terrific conference. It was great to catch up with my colleagues and share concerns and ideas. My thanks to the SPANZ executive for organising this year's speakers - and Paul Daley is a superb MC!