Thursday, July 28, 2016

I went down to the crossroads (Robert Johnson)

Engage, enable, expect, empower.

No, not the new scrum instructions from the referee. No indeed, these are what Ken Robinson says in Creative Schools are the roles teachers need to fulfil.

Engage needs little commentary.

Enable, though, does. 

Sir Ken explains it (brilliantly) thus: Expert teachers constantly adapt their strategies to the needs and opportunities of the moment. effective teaching is a constant process of adjustment, judgment, and responding to the energy and engagement of the students. teachers enable engagement and learning to happen.

Expect - Sir Ken: The key to raising achievement is to recognise that teaching and learning is a relationship.

We are lucky if we have teachers who believe in us. I've told you before about my teachers at MAGS who never stopped believing in me. It's REALLY important!

Empower - having mentors and guides who believe in us and give us confidence is a valuable commodity for students (junior learners) and teachers (senior learners).

Sunday, July 24, 2016

You're just a human, a victim of the insane.(John Lennon)


It's a pretty cool word. It comes from the middle of the 19th century: from Spanish, via Latin from Greek siros ('corn pit'). It's been around a bit!

Morphing along the way into a verb, it means to isolate something from other things. Like, frinstance, 'single subject disciplines at school have become siloed'

Recently, a colleague blogged her concerns about teaching subjects in isolation. Was that the best way to impart necessary skills, she wondered.

I thought it was a pretty cool thought. My short answer was, No!

Here's my slightly longer answer, Nope!

Necessary 21st century skills as listed in her post were:
  • Resilience 
  • Problem solving  
  • Relevant/appropriate communication   
  • Entrepreneurialism  
  • Collaboration 
  • Work ethic 
  • Passion  
I'd argue that some of these aren't actually skills but desired qualities or attributes but what the hey. Let's keep 'em.

Does my subject (English) aim to impart those skills? You betcha (we would probably add creativity and fostering curiosity to the list). Does mathematics? I'd guess - yep, they do.

So, it's a dilly of a pickle. Or is it?

The solution seems simple to me (simple guy with a complex life remember):
  • Let's make the desired skills drive how we create the organisational culture at our school and work to (long term) ditch silos (and the timetable as we know it). 
  • Let's create more personalised cross subject common times without subject teachers.
  • Let's use occam's razor to 'cut away' all the unnecessary material (less is more).
  • Let's focus on what students REALLY need.
  • Let's introduce Project Based Learning. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet (William Shakespeare)

Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher?

He couldn't control his pupils!

Lately, I've heard students being referred to as customers and it got me thinking.

What's in a name? Well, a label is kinda important.



  • (Education) a student who is taught by a teacher, esp a young student
  • A person who is studying at a university or other place of higher education. 
  • A school pupil.
  • Denoting someone who is studying in order to enter a particular profession.

  • A person or organization using the services of a lawyer or other professional person or company.
  • A person who buys goods or services from a shop or business
  • a person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business

Wozza, back in the Jurassic blackboard and chalk era,
teaching pupils at New Plymouth Boys'.

When I started teaching, I taught pupils. No one uses that term any more. Somewhere along the way, it changed to students, who, previously, were those who studied at university.

Reflecting schools growing status as businesses, a student has been stakeholder for a while, but, increasingly, they are now becoming client or worse still customer

I do feel slightly uncomfortable with the business speak that is creeping into education.

Most teachers, myself included, never went into teaching to make money. 

This next bit may sound a tad pompous but...for me and many others, teaching was more of a calling, a vocation that we were drawn to, not a career move but a career. This means that for many of us, equating a school as a business is alien territory. I am aware that this is probably now seen as thinking from the Jurassic period. 

I can see Principal's becoming more CEO style leaders in schools. In the UK Executive Headteachers (in charge of mutiple schools) are becoming more of a necessity. I worry about the repercussions of that move. 

For me, the movement away from being an instructional or transformative leader into a business leader is an unfortunate trend. As Ken Robinson says, "sustaining a vibrant culture of learning is the essential role of the principal.

Hospitals now have guests rather than patients, so at least we haven't gone that way (yet).

Curiously, teachers have always been teachers.

More curious still - teachers and students have never been referred to as learners which is what we all are fundamentally!

Increasingly, with BYOD/ Schoology/ digital technologies - there is blurring between teacher/student roles. We are both learning all the time.

If you're not happy with that and think they need to be differentiated, how about junior/senior

See, a label IS kinda important!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly and the spiders from Mars.(David Bowie)

Creative Schools is a book by Ken Robinson - yes - the TED talks guy and yes - he loses the 'sir' for the book cover.

Currently, I'm re-reading it. Slowing it down a tad this time. I confess: I skimmed it first up. I'm appreciating his voice as well as his message much more this time out.

He makes a great point about the move towards personalisation of everything these days: Facebook; Twitter; apps on our phones; our clothes; Spotify playlists and so on.

And yet we maintain the rigid industrialised school classroom!! Hugely ironic given what education is supposed to be all about!

In his view, personalised means:

  • Recognising that intelligence is diverse and multifaceted
  • Enabling students to pursue their particular interests and strengths
  • Adapting the schedule to the different rates at which students learn
  • Assessing students in ways that support their personal progress and achievement

I really like this.

The movement towards 'personalised learning' in America has been exciting to read about online. Though, there it is hampered by standardised assessment and educations' long established industrial models.

Same in NZ to a large extent.

We also have mandated national curriculums and industrial models for schools. Though, NCEA does allow for some flexibility of assessment.

In my current English classroom I think the first two and last bullet points are being firmly acknowledged.

Via having a huge range to choose from, my students personalise their learning by deciding what they will study, and in what form they will present their learning for assessment.

So that's good.

The fourth bullet point though? 
  • Adapting the schedule to the different rates at which students learn ?
Not happening. Not even close. 

Why not? Well, it's not something I can control: period times are fixed, the six day timetable is set, and so the scheduling remains in an industrial model. 

Monday, period 1, is English. At the end of the hour my students have to stop work. Move to another subject. I then teach a different class for the next hour and then they stop. 

Crazy. Nothing personalised about that. 

So it's bad for students and it's bad for teachers. Yes, teachers.

I don't operate well on Mondays, never have. Particularly after school on a Monday. I'm cream crackered by that stage.

In most schools that I've worked in, this is 'meeting time'. I don't function well at 4pm Monday afternoon (others may do). I'm supposed to be present in mind and body but I cannae do it! 

Crazy. Nothing personalised about that.

However, I can control when my English department meets. 

We don't meet on Monday afternoons.  

Luckily the four of us have work desks in the staff room in close proximity so we engage in a lot of banter. Oh, and we also share ideas, moderate, discuss stuff. 

We have our classrooms next to each other so we do the 'pop ins' frequently (Amy is slowly becoming a 'pop in' fan). 

If we ever need a formal time together, we meet during assembly or chapel time.

This personalised English department time works for me. It would be ludicrous for us to wait for our turn in the Monday after school cycle.

Like so many things - if that's good for us...why wouldn't it be good for the students too?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Silence is golden (The Tremeloes)

As indicated in my previous post, silence is a valuable tool in difficult conversations. 

As it turns out, this wasn't an original thought. The Tremeloes got there way before me in 1967.

When The Tremeloes adeptly invented the concept in their philosophical hit song, they took the musical and educational world by storm. Yes boys, you were right on - silence is golden!

Coincidentally, Dan Rockwell in his Leadership Freak blog has picked up on The Tremeloes paradigm and contributed to it, in his own inimitable fashion. 
Here's Dan...

  • Silence says this matters. Blabbing suggests frivolity. Silence indicates that this topic is worthy of careful consideration.
  • Silence says we aren’t moving to the next item.
  • Silence is space to reflect, rethink, and face reality.
  • Silence shifts responsibility. As long as you’re speaking, they don’t have to. Don’t rescue someone who knows how to swim.
  • Silence waits for their solutions. You aren’t the solution fairy.

Used well, silence is like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator - a perfect weapon.

So, like I said in the previous post: Shut Up! 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

In the dangling conversation, and the superficial sighs, the borders of our lives (Paul Simon)

  1. a hostile or argumentative situation or meeting between opposing parties. 
    synonyms:conflict, clash, head-to-head, face-off.

Many people hate confrontation, many don't mind, some actively seek it (see Lauren in the YouTube clip for an example).

In my experience, most teachers don't like those moments of confrontation in the classroom or in the staffroom. Conflicts and clashes often lead to difficult conversations. And teachers hate those with a passion.

I'm a bit weird (newsflash!), I aim to avoid confrontations because I don't like them, but I don't mind difficult conversations.

From (at times, bitter) experience, these are Purdzilla's words of wisdom for your next difficult conversation with a staff member or a student:

  • As soon as the emotional heat has waned, treat it like a band aid and rip it straight off (get to it as soon as poss. Don't let it fester. Molehills become mountains).
  • Listen. There are AWAYS two sides to the story. ALWAYS!
  • Turn it around and see things from the other point of view. Empathy and perspective have their places. 
  • You can always agree to disagree. Don't think of it as a win-lose situation.
  • Avoid solving the problem, or making suggestions (micro managers and control freaks can't help themselves). 
  • Silence can be a great ally (so shut up!).
  • Stay neutral (Being WYSIWYG, I struggle with this one - my default setting is to smile and that has sometimes gone down badly!).
  • Confront incompetence (it's not going to do you, the students, or the teacher involved any good to pretend it's something that it's not)
  • Finally, Smile (yeah I know - WYSIWYG - but as well as getting me into trouble it's also defused many a bomb) 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

I'm the greatest, and you better believe it baby! (Ringo Starr)

Will Richardson is a parent.

He's also a writer; he blogs on educational things. And while his photos indicate he is still shamelessly rocking a ponytail in 2016, I'm prepared to look the other way, because he recently wrote this:  
Many kids don’t seem to have the dispositions, the self-determination, initiative, and networks to problem solve their way out of their dilemmas. They’re waiting for the answer.
He doesn't live in NZ, or teach at Woodford House, nevertheless, I think he's right.

I've written about the lack of failure before, to that I now need to add the 'driven to excessive desire for Excellence on everything' category.

I may be wrong (shock horror) but I'm pretty sure there wouldn't be any staff member at my school who got Excellence grades on every University paper they ever did, nor did they get straight A++/100%/Excellence on everything they did at school.

I know I didn't!

But that's what many of our girls increasingly demand. Yes...demand.

Please, don't get me wrong - it's cool to aspire to an Excellence, but, Miss Student, it isn't always possible.

Or, it is, but Miss Student doesn't want to experiment and redraft to get it. They want the excellence grade from draft 1 and they want draft 1 to be perfect.

I'd much rather see a student build some resilience from a failure in early drafts to be perfect and then have the dispositions, the self-determination, the initiative to improve next time!

William Wordsworth began working on an extended poem (later known as The Prelude) when he was 28. He was STILL working on it when he checked out some 50 years later!!