Monday, February 23, 2015

Learning to lead and leading as inquiry

Aa many of you will know I have a thing for teaching as inquiry, in particular I have a thing for teaching as inquiry as a means of developing future-focused adaptive expertise. In 2013 I was lucky enough to facilitate a number of Core Breakfasts on this topic - it was during this time that I found myself talking (and the audience...although I do talk to myself quite often) more and more about the concepts of leadership as inquiry and even governance as inquiry as a means of developing system wide adaptive expertise. Since that time I have tried to make this a central part of my personal leadership reflection cycle.

Last year was my first year as Deputy Principal (of an actual open and operational school) and was my first opportunity to lead my team, the Professional Learning Team. We got together and came up with a strategic plan for 2014 and it looked great. It was based on the school vision and values and it was focused on the meeting the needs of the students. They did an awesome at professionally supporting our staff and we all did the best we could to deliver the goods, even if some elements were squeezed simply as a result of the sheer fact that we were all (at times) fighting to simply keep our head above water in what was a massive first year as an operating school.

My team were (and are) fabulous, we delivered a great programme. However I did think aspects of my leadership was found wanting. Don't get me wrong, I am not seeking reassurance and trying to elicit compliments. I know I am a good leader, in fact I feel like I have proven my ability to lead in a positive, persuasive and passionate way in a range of contexts and communities, however I also believe I can always improve and am patently aware of my weaknesses. My main area of weakness as a leader is probably my same weakness as a teacher (and more than likely a quality many of us share....even if we may not want to 'fess up) - under pressure I default to leading how I like to be led, just like when I'm a bit tired, I default to teaching how I like to be taught.

I have a really clear understanding of how I like to be led:

  • Give me a really clear vision and destination you want me to get to. 
  • Make sure we have a shared understanding of what success looks like. 
  • Once you've done that, please get out of the way and give me a whole lot of autonomy. 
  • Let me get on with it. 
  • Give me feedback on progress, be honest as to how I am going. 
  • Have really high expectations. 
  • Don't micro-manage fact don't manage me at all. 

This strategy of leading the way I like might just be an awesome strategy....if I was leading a team made up of Claires (terrifying thought), but not necessarily the best way to lead an awesome but diverse and incredibly busy kick arse educators. Which leads me to my leadership inquiry for 2015 - How might I lead in a way that meets the diverse needs of each team member (modelled on servant-leadership) whilst maintaining a focus on student-centred leadership as a team.

I also might need to ask - How might I phrase a less convoluted How might I question... ;).

So where to next?

Once I have actually honed the topic of inquiry, my next step is to gather data from the team. I mean if I going to stop just leading in a way that suits me I need to understand what it is they actually need from me.

In terms of the big picture planning we have already co-constructed a strategic plan for Professional Learning in 2015. Like last year it is based around our vision, values, principles and the explicit needs of our learners. One thing I am going to try this year is a more one-to-one approach with the team meeting once a term to go over the strategy and plans for the term, but replacing fortnightly team meetings with fortnightly one-to-ones with each team member to help them develop more personalised strategic plans to support them in developing a sense of autonomy and ownership of their role - how this rolls out over the year will be dependent on the team member with support, guidance more tailored to their needs and meeting the way THEY like to be led.

Will this make a difference?

Only time will tell. One way I am going to try and capture this journey/inquiry is by using it as the basis for Leadership Inquiry as part of completing NAPP. Below is the Leadership Inquiry cycle as they frame it. Personally I'd argue for a simplified approach similar to the Teaching as Inquiry cycle...but the again maybe thats me and my default again - wanting to default my leadership inquiry to how I like doing my teaching inquiry.

I shall do my best to suck it up and toe the line like a good NAPP student...


Leadership Inquiry Cycle/Questions

(1)  Common understanding

  • What is the area of focus?
  • What do you know about this focus area?
  • Explore what is known- what is addressed well- what needs greater focus?
  • Clarify expectations for developing this focus

(2) Gathering data

  • What is going well and how can we build on this?
  • What do students, staff parents say?
  • What data do we collect? Analyse and interpret

(3)  Focus for improvement

  • Have you got a broad question?

(4) Refining

  • What could make a big difference?
  • Ho will changes be sustained?
  • Narrow the question 

(5) Question

  • What is your new strategic, relevant, inquiry question?

(6) Demonstrating difference

  • Do you need more information? How will you collect it?

(7) Action

  • What strategies will you implement?

(8) Reflect, Celebrate

  • What future direction will you take?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Why the hell can't we just have more character schools - An open letter to David Seymour

Source: Ministry of Education Website

Dear Mr Seymour,

I am writing to you today because this article makes me really really angry. I am passionate about leading educational change and I would love to see New Zealand education develop in such a way that we may be able to offer New Zealanders a richly diverse range of schooling models. I absolutely love the idea of schools being available to meet the diverse needs, interests and passions of our young New Zealanders. I would love to see STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Maths) and STEAM (Science, Technology, Education, Arts and Maths) schools become  a larger part of the educational landscape and would even love to see how these might be supported, sponsored and invested in by the very innovators who might benefit from the skills of the graduates such schools might produce.

As you may (or may not) know Designated Special Character schools were created under the New Zealand Education Act of 1989 (see section 156). This allowed for character schools to be established such as Kura Kaupapa Māori (Māori-language immersion schools), schools with a distinct values based on a religion and the establishment of other schools that "differs significantly from the education they would get at an ordinary State school" such as Discovery and Unlimited. And here's a novel idea - the children even get to be taught by fully registered teachers! And guess what, it also already allows for a whole range of highly specialised industry experts to teach in that school. I have read that section of the act closely and I reckon they could even partner with school financially (see Unlimited's IT Hothouse for an awesome example).

Here's a novel idea. Why done't we simply pop the 'AC' back into charter and get on and innovate with a whole range of charACter schools. You might even find that the teachers and unions would have a new found respect for you, simply because you show respect for them - the fully registered teachers of New Zealand. Then we could become besties and lead an educational revolution hand in hand that saw the government supporting our existing schools and character schools leading an educational revolution. I would love to be a Principal of a revolutionary character school if it were a STEM school, or a STEAM school or in fact any of our fabulous school schools because I believe they are capable of revolutionary change as well (come visit us at HPSS - we're giving it a bloody good go). I absolutely agree we need change, in fact I think you and I probably want many of the same things, I just wholeheartedly believe charter schools are undermining rather than helping to lead the charge. Let's you and me lead a new revolution where we get the government to recognise the potential in our long-term existing structures. I might even shout you lunch (serious offer even).

Kind regards,

Claire Amos

Monday, February 9, 2015

How might we deliver a NCEA qualification pathway that reflects our vision and values?

NB. All of this in draft. The following reflects our thinking at this stage only.

Too often in schools assessment is the the tail that wags the curriculum design dog. At HPSS is is our aim to challenge and instead design an approach to NCEA that is determined by our vision for teaching and learning...and not the other way around.

So what is our vision, principles and values at HPSS?

Our Vision
What we want for our young people:
To create a stimulating, inclusive learning environment which empowers learners to contribute confidently and responsibly in our changing world.

Our Principles
The foundations of our curriculum decision-making are:

  • Innovate through personalised learning
  • Engage through powerful partnerships
  • Inspire through deep challenge and inquiry to develop  empowered learners

Our Values

  • Excellence
  • Inquiry
  • Connectedness
  • Collaboration
  • Innovation

So how might this translate into a vision for NCEA that is stimulating and inclusive, that innovates, engages and inspires? How might we genuinely personalise the NCEA experience? The beginning of that thinking is below:

HPSS Graduate Profile
The importance placed on NCEA Level 2 by government and tertiary training (and by default, employers), we should expect that all HPSS graduates have Level 2 NCEA (hopefully with some kind of endorsement) and most have Level 3 NCEA with UE. Students would also be expected to be able to evidence development and mastery of Hobsonville Habits (possibly through a learning passport or portfolio).

NCEA at HPSS will be responsive to our learners’ needs, learners will be able to gain credits and recognition of their learning as appropriate to their readiness.

HPSS Foundation Programme and NCEA Level One 
NCEA Level One will be available to students and could be worked towards during the first three years of HPSS as part of a Foundation Programme where the focus is on multiple varied learning opportunities, a balance of breadth and depth and learning a wide range of skills. NCEA Level One would be attained through a mixture of a portfolio approach and explicit NCEA tasks to gain internal achievement standards over time. External achievement standards (exams) would be available to allow for students who wish to gain Merit and Excellence endorsement at the end of their third year (Year 11) at secondary school. 

The first year of the Foundation Programme (Year 9) at HPSS will focus on learning skills and learning how to learn. However, where a student produces an exemplary piece of evidence of learning that meets the criteria and conditions of assessment for an internal Achievement Standard the student and learning area teacher may choose to share the assessed and internally moderated piece of work with the Learning Area Leader and. A process for this might be Learning Area Leader would store a copy of the work in a secure set of NCEA folders that have set for each student. This would ensure the work is kept secure so it can be submitted as a Level One NCEA task in their second or third year at HPSS (with careful checking that standard versions have not changed in the meantime). Readiness to be assessed against Level One NCEA prior to a student's third year (Year 11) at HPSS will be negotiated with learning area teachers on a student by student basis.

During the second and third year of the Foundation Programme (Year 10 and 11), teachers within modules (and projects) would offer approximately 16 credits in each learning area at Level One (instead of the traditional 24 credits) which would also include the required 10 + 10 numeracy and literacy credits. In all NZC Level Five and Six modules, opportunities to submit work that could contribute towards NCEA will be signalled to students along with learning objectives and curriculum level rubrics at the beginning of each module or semester. Students would only be expected to submit evidence that suggested they were working at Level Six or above, meaning that students may begin building their portfolios at any point during their Foundation Programme. Throughout this period the focus of the modules would be building skills and learning with exposure to a wide range of learning opportunities. Explicit NCEA tasks will most likely be delivered as part of Level 6 modules. The Level 6 modules in the latter part of year will prepare learners for external examination as appropriate.

By offering NCEA as part of the Foundation Programme it means teaching and learning and assessment supporting this, is:

  • Scaffolded
  • Transparent
  • Fair and valid and reliable (conditions, expectations set from the outset and equity of  access ensured)
  • Progressive
  • Allows for learners to gauge clearly where they are at and negotiate next steps
  • Aligned from an early stage to the pathways required/enjoyed/that engage them and will support personalised quality pathways into, through and beyond school.
  • No surprises
  • Builds capability 

A more long term vision of what NCEA and learning pathways could look like are outlined here. 

Please note the colours equate to curriculum levels (Red = 3, Orange = 4, Yellow = 5, Green = 6, Blue = 7, Indigo = 8, Violet/Pink = 8+). Each block represents collections of modules offered to students in their 1st to 5th year at HPSS. Students might choose modules from any of the blocks in any given year according to where they are at in particular areas. 

HPSS Future Transition / Graduate Programme - NCEA Level Two/Three and beyond
All Level 6, 7 and 8 modules will be designed with opportunities for students to be assessed against Level One, Two or Three Achievement Standards which are clearly signalled alongside learning outcomes and rubrics. Where appropriate,modules will assess learners at Level One and Two or Level Two and Three so that learners can be assessed at the level appropriate for to them. Modules offered will be a mixture of single or integrated (when integration will facilitate deeper more connected learning). Semester B modules will be designed to ensure learners are being prepared for required external standards to provide opportunities for gaining Merit and Excellent endorsement. 

In the fifth year at HPSS students will be continuing to work towards Level Two or Three NCEA whilst also pursuing learning beyond the school. This may include taking scholarship modules, tertiary level papers and/or gaining wider experience through internships or entrepreneurial projects.

The aim is that ALL learners will leave HPSS with a minimum of Level Two NCEA, hopefully with Merit or Excellence endorsement. Learners will also leave with a portfolio of work that demonstrates the development of Hobsonville Habits and key competencies to support ongoing success as life-long learners.

Individual Achievement Plans (IAPs) - Creating a genuinely personalised NCEA pathway 
One strategy we would like to explore further (again this is merely a kernel of an idea!) is the idea of an Individual Achievement Plan (IAP). This would involve Learning Area Leaders (LALs) to look at modules (which may be integrated or single subject) and look at the learning objectives (learning areas deliver common LOs each term based on a termly concept to ensure that whatever mixture of modules students take, they are assured of achieving curriculum coverage) and identify the opportunities for Achievement Standard attainment, this would then be used to collate a 'NCEA buffet menu'. This information would mean when a student (particularly those prior to Year 11) who were demonstrating an ability to work at Level 6 or higher in any one Learning Area, the teacher, Learning Area Leader, Learning Coach and student could discuss if it was appropriate to access. Beyond Year 11, this approach may also mean that students may have the opportunity to negotiate being measured against specific standards, could seek opportunities for work in one area to be evidenced for an Achievement Standard in another area (of course careful consideration of assessment conditions would be a must) rather than  being forced to digest the same old "degustation menu" that departments serve up year after year.

We are the first to admit that we we are not make easy for ourselves, but then again that has never been our intention. What has been our intention is the desire to live our vision principles and values and genuinely walk the talk as well. There is much outlined here that presents a logistical challenge rather than an insurmountable challenge. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

Source: NCEA Pal
One thing I am hoping is that the software evolves to support us. NCEA Pal looks like it actually has the potential to be able to track their achievement. What I would love next is the ability to use the app to plan for their assessment, to support learners to to take the reigns and co-construct (with a knowledgeable educator) the Individual Education Plan. Couple this with a teacher dashboard view and we'll be good to go...hint hint NCEA Pal. Maybe N4L could help ;)

Finally if anyone out there is genuinely personalising NCEA we would love to hear from you! Feel free to comment here or email me at

Sunday, February 1, 2015

So what are you doing differently this year in your classroom (and/or school)?

Whether you did a formal inquiry into your teaching practice last year or simply taught some kids and did some some stuff, one truth will remain - there are a number of things you need to change about your teaching and/or learning environment this year.

As my ancient buddy Heraclitus once stated (admittedly didn't hear him first hand, but am choosing to trust my sources), "the only constant is change". Now this is most certainly true of our world, society and most work places, but unfortunately bar a change of names on your class roll this often not the case in the classroom. I acknowledge change is challenging and many of you work in environments where change feels glacial at best, however that needn't bother any of us as change starts with you! Whether you are in a dynamic environment where everyone is striving for "adaptive expertise" or feel like you are a lone nut in a school where the status quo (which may well produce excellent academic results) is protected, there is nothing stopping you leading the charge, even if it is only in the safety of your most likely four walls of a classroom.

The chances are if you are the sort that reads this blog, you are already thinking about change, if so, I would love to hear your plans, if not, here are some scenarios and ideas of areas you might like to address and change up this year:

Scenario One: My kids results results were disappointing last year.

I start with this as this is often the data your HOD and SLT look at, and if you are teacher senior secondary it is the sort of thing that might have bummed you out when NCEA exam results were published in the holidays. The obvious thing to do is when you have your new cohort is to ensure that you know their learning needs in specific areas and ensure you address these through careful differentiation and UDL strategies (that we will discus more thoroughly later), however I suggest you do something different - address the personal elephant in the room. One thing I did a few years back when I was briefly HOD at AGGS was to get all of us to actually look more closely at ourselves. As teachers we be can very quick to look at student data and identify their potential strengths and areas that need greater support, but how often do we really do that to ourselves.

Here's the process: hunt out as many years class results of your own that you can get your hands on (even if you don't have the hard evidence I am sure you can work this out with some brutally honest reflection), now look at it closely and as objectively as possibly - which areas do your students tend to do well in and which do they do 'comparatively' suck at. At this point you need to quiet your internal defence mechanism that tries to blame the kid's weaknesses, socio-economic status and exam/assessment writer's flaws and be  really honest - are there some parts of the curriculum or subject that you teach that you don't like? Are there areas that you are weaker at, so gloss over, in comparison to the areas you LOVE and indulge in like a pig in mud. I bet, if you are REALLY honest, there is one or two areas where it's actually you who is a but sucky (for me it was on always Unfamiliar texts in English....big yawn...and I sucked). Next step, declare it, either in a quiet chat to someone you see as a support person or even better (if you have the team culture that makes this safe) share it as a group. Be sure to call the bullsh#tters who say their only flaw is caring too much or working too hard. If you are doing this as a group, once you have declared your area that needs addressing, get everyone to declare an area or two of success and choiceness - you can then use this as a way to find in-school mentors, and people you can bribe with coffee until they spill their secrets and resources. If you don't have team approach you can still sniff out those that love the stuff you love less and connect with them - coffee dates work well, classroom observations even better.

Scenario Two: My kids did okay/great/awesome, but if I'm honest, they were a bored and/or stressed (or maybe you were bored and/or stressed too) 


I am in a school where I have little autonomy and don't feel like I have much freedom to plan what I want.

First up, kids doing okay or even excellently academically is not an excuse to rest on your laurels and say "I nailed it!". High five yourself for sure, but this should simply free you up to focus on what other areas you need to change, iterate and evolve in your practice. Whether you are in a school where autonomy is limited or somewhere where you can do as you wish, the following are a range of innovations you might like try on for size. As with anything I suggest you wrap a teaching as inquiry approach around your personal change, ask yourself "What is important (and therefore worth spending time on), given where my students are at?" This will ensure you are not you are not just innovating for innovation's sake, that you are trialling these strategies because they meet your students needs in some way. And don't just limit yourself to strategies where there is lofty research and evidence base to prove their worth. Hattie is only talking about the sh#t that's been happening for years anyway, if we have any hope of NZ being the world leaders in education we need to stop looking solely in the rear-vision mirrors, instead put those headlights on full beam and look forward. I mean, Edmund Hillary didn't sit around waiting for the evidence that scaling Mt Everest would be choice for his career, he just cracked on and did it.

So what are some new strategies/approaches you could try?
  • Teach your kids about 'growth mindset' and 'grit' - we talk about this a lot as teachers and how we need have a growth mindset, but do you actually teach this to your students?? In a post I did last year as part of the #hackyrclass series I provided this definition - 
Mindset is a simple idea discovered by world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck in decades of research on achievement and success—a simple idea that makes all the difference.
      In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.
          In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.
              Teaching a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity in the worlds of business, education, and sports. It enhances relationships. When you read Mindset, you’ll see how.

                You might also like to teach your students about the idea of 'grit' or as TED Talker Angela Lee Duckworth puts it: grit (according to her) not ability is the key to success.
                • Introduce design thinking - Whilst it might be easy to write off design thinking as just another passing fancy of us educators that reckon we are all super cutting edge, it is important to recognise that design thinking has been around for ages and is not going anywhere, what feels flash in the pan for us is actually a well proven approach that we can use as teachers to iterate our planning and more importantly a skill we can share with our learners to ensure they really do become life long learners (and innovators). I have a full explanation of design thinking in a post from last year, where I included this definition:

                What is Design Thinking?

                “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” —Tim Brown, president and CEO

                Thinking like a designer can transform the way organizations develop products, services, processes, and strategy. This approach, which IDEO calls design thinking, brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.

                Design thinking is a deeply human process that taps into abilities we all have but get overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. It relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional, and to express ourselves through means beyond words or symbols. Nobody wants to run an organization on feeling, intuition, and inspiration, but an over-reliance on the rational and the analytical can be just as risky. Design thinking provides an integrated third way".

                • Turn your classroom into a maker space - So why do we need to thinking about makerspaces? Because making things is choice, is fun and makes learning memorable. I bet if you reflect on your favourite experience as a learner, it most likely involved actually making something. Personally I think all teachers and all classes should be looking to develop one. The reason I think this is simply - they develop 21st Century Skills (particularly critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and problem solving) and provide students with opportunities to engage in constructivist/deep learning. Look at our New Zealand Curriculum and I also see many opportunities within a makerspace environment to engage in effective pedagogy and for students develop a wide range of competencies. In a post I did last year, I provided the following definition (and a whole lot of ideas and resources):
                What is a Makerspace?
                Makerspace describe a makerspace as community centres with tools. Makerspaces combine manufacturing equipment, community, and education for the purposes of enabling community members to design, prototype and create manufactured works that wouldn’t be possible to create with the resources available to individuals working alone. These spaces can take the form of loosely-organized individuals sharing space and tools, for-profit companies, non-profit corporations, organizations affiliated with or hosted within schools, universities or libraries, and more. All are united in the purpose of providing access to equipment, community, and education, and all are unique in exactly how they are arranged to fit the purposes of the community they serve.

                Makerspaces represent the democratization of design, engineering, fabrication and education. They are a fairly new phenomenon, but are beginning to produce projects with significant national impacts.
                • Let your kids go free range - I believe self-direction and developing student agency and efficacy is the fundamental shift all educators need to make to become more future-focused in their practice. In a sense we want step away from our 'caged' classrooms to develop increasingly 'free range learners'. Even if your school is not embracing of free-range approaches, there is a lot you can do in your classroom. In a post I wrote last year (yep, last year was very good year ;) I shared the following definition and a whole lot more thinking about this topic. 
                Free range learners who are:
                • Free to choose how they learn
                • Free to choose where they learn
                • Free to choose how they process their learning
                • Free to choose how they evidence their learning
                • Free to experience learning that is relevant and responsive to their needs not our limitations

                This does not mean the teacher becomes redundant, quite the opposite as they are challenged to provide authentic relevant contexts for learners, with just enough 'enabling constraints' to ensure that our little chickens don't accidentally cross the heavy traffic. Our roles need to change from teacher, to facilitator and ultimately to learning activator. Providing triggers and opportunities to learners to develop the relevant skills needed for their world (whilst somehow pleasing those pesky bloody UE requirements....universities of have a lot to answer for in relation to slowing progress).

                • Practice and teach the concept of 'mindfulness' - mindfulness, like design thinking might be easily written off as the next edu-fad, but personally, in a world where the pace of life and the amount of time we spend online, I believe mindfulness is simply a means to maintain balance. In terms of what mindfulness is, I like the infographic below. And this is not just for students, I have shared my journey towards increased mindfulness here (very much a work in progress).

                Scenario Three: We have just introduced BYOD and I am sh#tting myself.

                Fear not. BYOD is choice. It is not a destination, marker of modernity or an effective pedagogy (in and of it's self), it is simply access to a whole lot of approaches that can vastly improve student outcomes, engagement and autonomy (if used well). My main suggestion is that you actually make it about the students making the most of BYOD, not the teacher. You will achieve this by simply letting go a bit and letting students choose how they record their learning and share their learning and by ramping up your level of vigilance - don't be sitting at your teacher desk wondering why kids are distracted by the technology and access to cat videos. You need to be present (if you have to sit, sit behind them) or even better - amongst them! And you need to ensure their learning is interesting and relevant to them! Because if it isn't, a more interesting distraction is just a URL address away. Many moons ago, I made this wee EdTalk and this wrote this blogpost to provide a few simple ways STUDENTS can be the ones making the most of BYOD.