Saturday, December 31, 2016

Don't give up until you drink from the silver cup (America)

Happy new year everybody!

In the Queen's 2016 Christmas message she focused on the idea of inspiration coming from ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

It's true. I certainly gain a lot of inspiration from people around me and it's a good time to look back on 2016 and thank some Joe and Jo Normals who have inspired me.

In my farewell speech to Woodford House I paid tribute to the girls because, everyday, I could easily find a large number of students who were pushing and stretching themselves in a variety of ways - in sport or the arts or the classroom or in leadership. They definitely inspired me on a daily basis.

Some of the teaching staff at Woodford inspired me considerably, to be better and to think about things on a deeper level. In particular, take a bow: Toni Dunstan; Jane Perry; Dionne Thomas; Amy Reid; Greg Semmens - all of whom made me want to push and stretch myself to new challenges.

It's a messy process this challenge business - two steps forward, one back sometimes, and I may have got a tad frustrated and even (shock horror) grumpy at times but it was always out of a sense of wanting more for the school, the English department, Wallingford, or, myself.

So, ma'am, may I add my ordinary voice to your regal one - a huge thanks to all these ordinary people doing extraordinary things to inspire me. Go you good things!

Love and peace for 2017 - Wozza

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

I read the news today oh boy - four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire (The Beatles)

My very first purchase upon reaching London for our latest trip to the country with a meaningful cultural context (hello Arsenal, Carry On..films, Stratford Westfield Mall) was what, do you suppose?

Of course! The Guardian.

Boy oh boy, do I miss a proper paper when I'm outside the U.K.

Our San Francisco stop over meant I could read the New York Times a couple of, erm, times. I was underwhelmed. Okay, if pushed, it may have whelmed me slightly in the American sport coverage. But it's no Guardian!

The Guardian is, undoubtedly, the finest collection of daily writing to be found on the planet. And I love my daily dose. 

To continue the literary theme of this post - I'm nearly finished Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle (currently being advertised as a TV show that is based on this novel).

The brilliant premise is what hooked me enough to buy a copy - what if the Germans and Japanese had won WW2? Yikes!

It took a while for it to grab hold (and sort out who was who) but now I'm reading it every chance I can get. I'm up to page 220 (out of 249) and so far, no sign of actually meeting the man in that high castle (who, in a great twist, wrote a controversial novel about how America/ Britain/ Russia won WW2).

I can't actually see how they could make two seasons of TV out of this material but that's American TV for you. Apparently it's a really good show.

Anyway - off to finish those remaining pages...

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Don't look back, you can never look back (Don Henley)

Recently, my wife and I found ourselves lost in San Francisco. 

First though - some key facts:

1 At present, I can only access my iphone info if I can hook into some wifi - means cafes and large malls.

2 We had heard stories about the Tenderloin district.

3 We had decided to take the tram.

4 We are the straightest looking people on the planet.

5 I don't like to ask for directions.

We set off on our mini adventure - to find Amoeba Records on Haight Street, then on to the city centre for a look around before meeting up with our daughter (a SF resident).

We did the first part okay (and I spent a wonderful hour in Amoeba Records), but then we got back on MUNI to Van Ness and started walking.

Our decision making was 'what feels right' rather than head into a Starbucks on Market Street and check via the wifi. Oops.

Quickly, we started noticing a lot of cops interviewing homeless dudes, a lot of cops!, and fire engines, and ambulances, and then, as we walked through Golden Gate, we noticed a bad juju in the air. A palpable kind of threatening vibe.

We were in the heart of the Tenderloin. Wikipedia succinctly describes the area as 'nestled near the downtown area, the Tenderloin has historically resisted gentrification, maintaining a seedy character and reputation for crime. Squalid conditions, homelessness, crime, illegal drug trade, prostitution, liquor stores, and strip clubs give the neighborhood a seedy reputation.'


This is one time when beating a hasty retreat while not establishing eye contact is deemed appropriate. 

We looked back! Retraced our steps to the safety of Starbucks. Regrouped. Headed out again for a Westfield mall and then a tram home.

Why am I telling you all this?

In education, sometimes a look back IS appropriate. Sometimes, forward progress can only be made by establishing some solid ground. 

Sometimes a reconsideration is a good place to start.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

When the lights go down in the city (Journey)

In celebration of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and Wardini Books in Havelock North: 

My first connection to this celebrated independent book seller/publisher came when I was at Auckland University doing English, way back in 1977. The university's second hand book sale was a great place to collect weird and wonderful text books and hard to find publications like Ginsberg, Corso, Kerouac, and other beat poets and writers - stuff that I was somehow drawn to at this stage in my life.

Stage 1 English's 20th century American poetry course (omg - YES!!!) also had a Lawrence Ferlinghetti text as required reading - A Coney Island of the Mind. I was on board!

It's taken a while, close on forty years, but I've finally visited the store, in North Beach - still in it's original location. My second visit to San Francisco (first one was more for Samantha and Jesse's wedding so we were a tad distracted), and we cruised past the store.

Luckily, Jacky, Samantha and Jesse were waiting so I had a limited time to browse - otherwise I would have come out with loads of books! 

Instead I bought two volumes of Ferlinghetti's poetry to join Coney Island when I get back home and set up Abbey Road Four (ARF) in Maungaturoto!

In the forward to one, written by Lawrence in 1998, he bemoans the trend away from independent booksellers. Luckily, they are not dead yet!

Wardini Books in Havelock North has been a real find in the last four years. I love Unity Books in Wellington and Auckland. Hopefully, I can find another great little independent book store in Northland!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Emergent (Jakob)

According to Kate Bratskeir - One of the habits of supremely happy people is our love of music.

She's right! Music is a powerful mood shaper.

She reports that 'over a three month period, researchers from the Group Health Research Institute found that patients who simply listened to music had the same decreased anxiety symptoms as those who got 10 hour-long massages'. [Click here for a few of Kate's favorite mood-boosting jams].

For some reason heavy instrumental drone music like Isis, Pelican and, (thanks to colleague Jo McDowell), Nu Zild's own Jakob always put me in a positive mood.

I was recently in New Plymouth for a family celebration and, of course, I stopped off at Vinyl Countdown. Lo and behold, they had a vinyl copy of Jakob's rare Sine album. Score!

I'm listening to it now and, although it's doomy drone metal, I find it incredibly uplifting!!

It's a great day outside - the sun is shining, birds are singing, there's a gentle breeze. I have a Coke Life in my hand, a new Jack Reacher on the go.

I am on holiday, packing up my vinyl and music collection in preparation for the trip up north in January. 

I'm a shiny happy person!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

In celebration of life (Nosound)

School end of year ceremonies are endlessly fascinating rituals, are they not?

The pre prizegiving brekkie was a highlight!
This last week has been chock full of them with truckloads of emotion along the way.  

On Tuesday, I went to the senior Christmas dinner and enjoyed the company of staff and students (special shout out to GG). Then it was on to the senior carol service and some jaw dropping singing from the chapel choir. At one point I just closed my eyes and gave in to the sound.

Wednesday was my last day at Woodford House, my school of the last four years. BTW, I went back in today (Thursday) to get some forms signed and it was a little like when you leave home and then return - you can't just go to the fridge and help yerself, can you.

The day started with a pre-prize giving breakfast in my honour at Bay Espresso in the village. Great pancakes (thanks to Toni Dunstan) and great company with my Woodie buddies!

The year's official prize giving ceremony was the last official occasion of the year and I really enjoyed it, although it ran long.

The guest speaker - prestigious alumni, Judge Jill Moss, was a treat. A tad lengthy (the speech, not her) and softly spoken, she held her audience with some personal and universal truths. Although she did retread some familiar 'shift happens' territory at times (that stuff's in danger of becoming a tad overused).

Toni, Dionne and my thumb!
Again the outstanding highlight was the Head Girl speech but there were other terrific moments. 

For me: watching Montana lead the Kapa Haka, the great controlled singing of Christmas Santus from the chapel choir, and the School Hymn (a personal favourite) - all firmly lodged themselves in my memory banks.

It will be interesting to compare it to my new school's annual prize giving, this time next year. With Westmount being co-ed and ranging from new entrant to Year 13, it will be a different kind of experience, I'm sure.

And so to the other end of year tradition - the school magazine (Woodford House's version is called The Chronicle).

Jo, Greg, Amy and Janey
The editorial promised a new look - away from it being, erm, a chronicle, but more towards story telling.

And, except for it straying close to a glossy public relations brochure at times, it largely does what it says on the tin. It certainly shows off the girls in their best light. Although it was a little light on staff presence, overall, the colourful pages and clean modern design contribute to a bright product.

So, that's it.  The last blog post on Woodford House (unless something comes to mind on a random Tuesday afternoon down the track). 

It's a great school with some real characters. I wish her well, and all who sail in her!

For me, though, it's farewell to my safe harbour of the last few years as my little boat, with a small crew, heads away, with a mind for further adventure out on the ocean.

Love and peace - Purdzilla 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

If I were you, I'd make it better (Al Green)

Painful leadership vs inspirational leadership.

The Leadership Freak blog by the wonderful Dan Rockwell recently highlighted this distinction.

His painful list included:  

  • Nit-pickers  
  • Ball-droppers  
  • Drama-makers  
  • Down-in-the-mouthers  
  • Hand-wringers

These unattractive characteristics don't require any further explanation. 

According to Dan, on the other side of the leadership coin (yes, I know, it's not a binary situation but this is still cool and relevant) are leaders who:

  • Care deeply about relationships - (it’s not just results) 
  • Invite and act on feedback 
  • Advance the agenda of others, without sacrificing your own 
  • Understand the difference between advising and advocating 
  • Say what others fear saying

I'll be aiming to keep these two models in mind as I move back into a senior leadership role for 2017.

Monday, November 28, 2016

When it comes to leaving, I hope you understand (The Allman Brothers Band)

Recently, like yesterday, I resigned from my job and took a new position at a school in northland, NZ, as Principal.

I was simultaneously offered another position at a school in the UK.

It was a dilly of a pickle. Which one of these great opportunities to go for? 

Both of them offered a Hobson's choice - take what was offered, or walk away. My head and heart went to battle.

As you know, I'm a huge believer in Occam's Razor - the simplest solution is often the best one. And in the end the most sensible and simplest solution won out.

Having made that decision (finally), my wife and I  found two properties we really liked in the area. Again - we faced something that all humans are famously bad at - deciding among multiple options.

Occam's Razor again came in handy. When I applied it, only one property was really fit for purpose in terms of being horse sport friendly for my wife. So we bought it.

Seth Godin recently added a third concept to my decision making armory - Wheeler's which.

As he points out -Wheeler's which* teaches us that the answer to "one egg or two?" is usually 'one', while the answer to, "do you want an egg?" is usually zero.

In my case, it wasn't a case of, "Do I want a fresh challenge?", rather it was, "Which challenge do I want?".

*[Elmer Wheeler was a sales trainer nearly a century ago. He got hired by a chain of drugstores to increase sales at the soda fountain. In those days, a meal might consist of just an ice cream soda for a nickel. But for an extra penny or two, you could add a raw egg (protein!). Obviously, if more people added an egg, profits would go up. Wheeler taught the jerks (isn't that a great job title?) to ask anyone who ordered a soda, "One egg or two?" Sales of the egg add-on skyrocketed.]

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

This tune is home grown (The Guess Who)

'Here’s the thing: people actually want to do a good job. They want to be proud of their work, they appreciate being engaged, they thrive when they have some measure of control over their day.'

Seth Godin.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

I been hangin' around libraries, I been learnin' 'bout books (The Guess Who)

New learning is calling me.

I'm a lifelong learner and that's important.

It's been a while since I did some study, or attended a conference...or even had some meaningful Professional Development come to think of it. 

My last conference was a goody, Ulearn in October 2014. Last course I completed was the Certificate in Aviation run by English Airways NZ 2012. The last university based learning was the National Certificate for First-Time Principals via Auckland University from 2007-2008.

So, it's getting time to become a student again in some capacity or other.

These days I can sit in my Abbey Road Three, or wherever, and tune into distance learning.

There are also a huge number of online places to access that exist for the love of learning.

There is even an open university with no fees!! Amazing.

Apart from that, there is the wonderful Twitterverse, my Walrus Gumboot newspaper, Daily Pnut, Vox Sentences,, and so on.

What a world we live in!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I believe in a promised land (Bruce Springsteen)

It's a dilly of a pickle.

The Unfamiliar Texts standard is proving to be more trouble than it's worth for many New Zealand teachers and students.

It's certainly given us in the English department at Woodford House some gyp!

The standard is externally assessed (an examination which is timed for an hour but I'd struggle to answer it in that time and be confident of top marks).

It contains three essays which are aggregated to give a grade. Aggregation is tough at the best of times.It pushes marks into the middle - it is very hard to fail this standard, but it's also very hard to excel as well.

To get an excellence a student needs to be firing on all cylinders constantly over the three essays.

Level 3 students need to analyse two previously unseen passages quickly and expertly. Then apply their knowledge of literary techniques to ANSWER A SPECIFIC QUESTION. The third aspect at Level 3 is to compare and contrast - another tough skill.

  • Failure to understand the poem or prose piece is disastrous.
  • Failure to know literary devices and techniques is disastrous.
  • Failure to apply knowledge to answer the specific question is disastrous.
  • Failure to deal with time pressures get my drift.

No wonder many of our students are struggling, no wonder our top students are failing to get the excellence grades in this standard and, therefore, no wonder schools are pulling out of offering/teaching to this standard.

I like the skills the standard is developing - critical responses to what we read is an important skill in my opinion, but I have questions 67, 68, 69 and 70 to ponder on.

  • Why does it have to be an examined standard?
  • What are some better ways to teach these skills?
  • Where can I get a decent cheeseburger?
  • Will we get any Excellencies in Level 3 Unfamiliar Texts this year?

Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

I want the real life (John Mellancamp)

During the week, I was asked about what factors would keep me in a school.

Given my record for staying in a school is five years, this was a fair enough question.

My answer was simple - challenge!

I don't want to live a boring life - 'I want to live the real life, I want to life my life close to the bone' (to quote John Mellancamp).

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sitting on a cornflake waiting for the van to come (The Beatles)

One of my missions during the Review and Reflect process (or is it Reflect and Review?) this year is to investigate my skills more thoroughly. Clearly, one of which isn't remembering stuff like which comes first - review or reflect, but I digress.

We have a function on Kamar, our school's student management system, that profiles potential pathways for students based on their results, so I thought it might be worthwhile for me to do this too.

Larry Kim's Four Dimensions of Personality Type is a potential reference for this investigation. So I thought I'd give it a whirl.

Basically these four dimensions are:
  • Energy Style: introverts and extraverts 
  • Thinking Style: sensors and intuitives 
  • Values Style: feelers and thinkers 
  • Life Style: judgers and perceivers  
Although I'm wary of the science here, sometimes these rubrics can be useful. 

Calculating a personality type begins with identifying which of the two types in each of the four personality dimensions best describe you. For example, maybe you are an ESTJ (extravert, sensor, thinker, judger). 

Once your selections are made, you are led to one of four career categories:
  • Pragmatists: enjoy using logical systems to generate results;
  • Caretakers: enjoy work when they can do things that help others;
  • Theorists: interested in careers that allow them to think outside the box; or
  • Empaths: enjoy careers that make the world a better place.
So, what about me? Well, at various times I'm across all four categories, but generally, I fit more into Caretaker and Empath categories.

What does that mean?

Well, apart from my teaching career, it seems I could have also explored one of the following professions: child care director; recreation director; social worker; non-profit director; PR specialist; writer; school counsellor; interior designer; travel writer; librarian.

My LinkedIn profile also gives some apposite information.

Clearly, my colleagues think my top skills, via my career in education to date, lend themselves to educational leadership and management! Nice!

It's a start.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

We could be lifted from the shadows, lifted (Lighthouse Family)

I bookmark alotta stuff! 

Generally, from to time I dip into my bookmarks to get some inspiration for posts. Invariably, I go to the end and think about the last thing I bookmarked.

In this case it was a list of '20 signs you're actually making a difference as a teacher'.

So how many will I get? And you?

1. Your students are asking questions, not just giving answers. TICK! My students ask me a billion questions, every day!

2. You have used your authoritative role for inspiration, not intimidation. TICK! My intimidation days are long gone.

3. You have listened as often as you have lectured. Another lesson in authority. Hey - this is going well...TICK! I'm a good listener.

4. Your shy students start participating more often without being prompted. TICK again. The climate in my school helps here as well. Credit where it's due!

5. A student you’ve encouraged creates something new with her talents. This is getting slightly embarrassing...TICK.

6. You’ve been told by a student that, because of something you showed them, they enjoy learning outside of class. Okay - back to Planet Earth now - no, I can't think of an instance of this.

7. You’ve made your students laugh. Hahahaha - all the time! TICK!

8. You’ve tried new things. Yes, TICK!

9. You’ve improvised. See 7! TICK!

10. Your student asks you for a letter of reference. Yes - too many of them! TICK!

11. You have taken a personal interest in your students. Inevitable that you warm to some students more than others. Some students make this easy, others don't care. A few don't want it (that's fleek). TICK!

12. You’ve let your passions show through in your lessons. Ha - see 7 again, TICK!

13. You’ve made students understand the personal relevance of what they’re learning. Yes - every lesson has this as an aim. TICK!

14. You have cared–and shown that you cared. Big TICK!

15. You have helped a student choose a career. Much more so when I taught media studies. Hasn't happened at my current school. So...a small half tick.

16. One of your students becomes an educator. Same answer as 15. Another small half tick.

17. A parent approaches you with kind words. Phew, Yes - big TICK! Back on track.

18. Your students visit you when they don’t have to. Yes - in person this year (first time while I've been at Woodford House) and on Facebook (students from other schools). TICK!

19. You can be a mentor when you need to be. TICK!

20. You practice strength and patience. Every day! Huge TICK! 

Hey - that's pretty good! 18 ticks out of 20. Nice!!

How did you do?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Our hopes and expectations black holes and revelations (Muse)

Don't you love it when you happen upon a piece of research that dovetails EXACTLY with your own thoughts!

In this instance, I'm talking about success factors. Specifically, the argument that says success is mainly about intelligence rather than emotional intelligence.

Research points to the factors around emotional intelligence being more of a contributor to success. 

And I say, a hearty hear hear to that!!

In fact, research suggests that intellect may not define success nearly as much as we’ve thought. Being smart can take you far, but emotional intelligence may be even more important than an exceptional intellect.

Dr. Arthur Poropat, senior lecturer at Griffith University, conducted reviews on the “Big 5” personality factors: conscientiousness, openness, emotional stability, extraversion, and agreeableness.

The results suggest people with high levels of these traits were more likely to achieve high grades than people with high IQs.

This is interesting! 

When I was at school, I would have ranked reasonably well in four of the five (conscientiousness, openness, emotional stability and agreeableness).

The one I bombed in was extraversion. This one's about how outgoing and social a person is. A person who scores high in extraversion on a personality test is the life of the party. That's not the way I see myself. 

Even so, I failed a load of stuff until university - where I matured and became more outgoing. Successful.

It's interesting considering my students and their emotional intelligence.

This is another area I don't think schools tackle enough. We kind of just assume we can't do much in this area so we don't. Instead we load up on content. In siloed subjects.

We need to look at the pursuit of success in a different way!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Freedom, paint me a picture, show it to me right now! (The Guess Who)

What's the most important skill a school can pass on to its students?

That seems like a pretty good question to my less is more brain. The most important skill. Single. Just one. 

What do you think?

I'm sure we could all come up with various answers to create a list. It might include one of these skills  from Mr Kemp: creative thinker; problem solver; collaborator; effective communicator; being ethical and empathetic.

The Evangelical School Berlin Centre (ESBC) is a German school that has become very successful by working from that point (deciding on one skill) and making the school fit around that one skill. 

Interestingly, it's not one of Craig Kemp's.

So, what is it?

Well, the school’s headteacher, Margret Rasfeld, argues, the most important skill a school can pass down to its students is the ability to motivate themselves. 

I like this!

She goes on to say, “The mission of a progressive school should be to prepare young people to cope with change, or better still, to make them look forward to change. In the 21st century, schools should see it as their job to develop strong personalities.”

I like this too!

Recently, I wrote a post about the lack of motivation/ urgency from students asked to study during a recent break between terms. Not for the first time, I was laughed at for suggesting we change our semantic stance from 'holiday' to 'study break'. 

The intrinsic motivation within the great majority of my students seemed to be completely lacking during the study break. To clarify further: I'm hopeful that some students in other classes did study - it's just that none of mine did anything for me to mark or to provide valuable feedback.

As for change - my current school is like many others, I guess. Many of the students do not like change and that's, if anything, an understatement. Of course, many of the staff do not like change either. 

Two years after changing the organisational culture of the school from a horizontal system to a vertical one, and still the students can not adapt to that change. More than that, they want a return to the previous system of horizontal form classes.

To my way of thinking, this is a great pity. As Don Henley knows, "Don't look back, you can never look back!"

I've not come across this unwillingness to change to this degree at any of my previous schools.

We should be better at making our students look forward to change.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I been workin' on words, phrases (The Guess Who)

Words. Language. Communication.

As an English teacher, those three words actually mean something to me! As in, that's my life's work - to explore words and language; to improve communication. 

When I tuned in for a few minutes to the YouTube live stream of the second US Presidential debate, I heard Mr Trump say, "It's just words".

This in response to a question about his misogynistic 'locker room banter' (his words, that don't really matter, according to him).

I then turned it off. Luckily I had to go and teach an English class. Year ten. I kept thinking about that glib phrase of Mr Trump's. And shuddered!

What? So all my life has been a waste? Words and language mean nothing? Communication means nothing?

Then I realised. The giant con. Hiding in plain sight - he was talking about himself. HIS words mean nothing. His marriage vows clearly, mean nothing. HIS promises - nothing.

HIS words...are just words and they mean - nothing.

He's not shallow. He's empty.

Today, I read this and it made even more sense.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Oh, do it. Oh, do it. Do it. Do the hustle, do the hustle (Van McCoy)

Uh oh. The holidays, the fun and games, the beer and skittles, are coming, quickly, to an end.

Seth Godin is a wise man. Recently, I bookmarked a post of his about signals. It's worth a read.

You know signals, right? let George enlighten you:

So, this post is about signals.

Here's a rough list of the current signals I'm picking up right now, as we speak:

  • Spring is here - I've broken out the jandals (flip flops or thongs if you're an alien) and put the shade sails up
  • I've had one (single) message from a parent (about a student) needing her (the student) to get stuck in next term
  • I've NOT had any Schoology messages from any of my students about any stuff they've been working on during the study break

Okay - according to Seth - What we choose to do (and what we choose not to do) turns into a signal to the people around us.

What do I take from my three signals? Worrying signs. That's what. Apart from the jandals and the shade sails. Those are good signals. Apart from them. The other ones. Well, not the parent one either, actually. That's another good one. He cares. No it's not them. It's the students and their lack of connectiveness and sense of urgency to their situation. That's the worrying sign.

The external examinations are coming people!!!

Let's hustle!