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!