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.