Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Principal as learner on an energising rollercoaster ride: why 2014 has surpassed any other

I have been inspired to record my reflections after reading this blog post by Eric @E_Sheninger entitled A Principal's reflections: 2014 was one wild ride.

My personal goal as a principal of  six years in 2013, was to achieve a 4-5 year Education review (ERO) and be recognized as a high performing school. After finishing last year on a high with the teaching and learning of our passionate and hardworking team of staff being acknowledged by an outstanding ERO report , I didn't think that anything in my career could match this. Well, I was wrong. 2013 pales into insignificance against the prolific personal and school wide learning that took place in 2014.
Image credit:http://megapapers.com/news/roller-coaster-reaching-new-heights/
Hold on tight and share the roller coaster ride - the new learning highs and the reflective lows that provided a chance to take a breath before the next invigorating high.
Here are some personal, professional reflections from 2014:
  • Taking a 10 week principal sabbatical in Term 1 (Feb-April). This gave me the chance to travel and be inspired by enthusiastic colleagues around the world. Special thanks to @MarkMoorhouseMM principal @MatthewMossHigh in the UK who introduced me to Carol Dweck's growth mindset work, project based learning and transactional analysis. My sabbatical experience led to further studies and I am now studying a Masters of Educational Leadership part time.
  • Having time away from school during my sabbatical gave me a chance to explore and embrace social media and digital learning. I joined Twitter and sent my first tweet in April. I have since shared blogposts ( I began my Principal's blog in April too) about the benefits of Twitter for educators
  • Connecting through Twitter with dynamic UK author @DavidPriceOBE and reading his book entitled Open: How we'll work, live and learn in the future. I challenged myself to write a blogpost about each chapter of the book. Applying my learning from this transformational resource into our workplace has contributed to our school becoming a much more open and transparent place for all learners and their families. Exciting and engaging learning developments during the months that followed my return to school (including a proliferation of class and student blogs), meant that I have only reviewed seven out of the nine chapters of Open. I will be completing my reviews early in 2015.
  • Teaching myself to create a 4 minute video encapsulating the messages from my sabbatical report. I had never made a video before, but followed the lead of a colleague @THE0BALD who had used @VideoScribeApp to create a video. I have since made several videos focused on deep engagement in learning.
    Screenshot from my sabbatical video
  • Leading a cluster of schools as part of a Learning and Change network (LCN) with @janine simpson26 and Rob Mill. This has provided further exposure to innovative teaching and learning research and practice as well as inspired us to challenge the ways we engage with our learners and families.  Parent meetings evolved into our signature Family Learning Huis (Maori name for gathering) that have supported our transition to Collaborative Team Teaching Learning Hubs for 2015 further inspired by a visit to Tim Lovelock @timl27 and the team at Myross Bush School.
  • Presentations to share my learning to the Otago and Southland Catholic Principal gathering in Invercargill, Future Focused Learning Workshop in Dunedin ( with @brian_annan,@NickyRyan11 @MSBeenz@annekenn & @janinejnz ) North Otago Probus in Oamaru, Whitestone Women's Dinner Club, Catholic Principal's Convention in Wellington and the LCN Southern Regional meeting in Christchurch.
  • An invitation to represent the North Otago Pasifika Cluster and give a presentation with our board chairperson to guests attending the University of Canterbury Pasifika Talanoa Success Fono (Pasifika name for gathering) in Christchurch
  • An invitation to publish an article in the Aoraki Catholic Journal
  • An invitation to be part of an LCN reference group at the University of Auckland with the vibrant @brian_annan , @mareswootts@kellylayton99@hkkh18, @michaeljfletch@JeanAnnAnnan & more and be nominated to contribute to the working party planning a National LCN Conference for 2015
  • Working with student Learning Leaders to remain firmly focused on our school wide goal To engage every student in deep learning for success @StJoesOamru
  • Nurturing staff and student leadership across the school. Both of our Deputy Principals (@siobhanp2 and @LorraineFRees) being appointed to Principal roles, promotion within our talented teaching team (@sburke7 & Paul Cartlidge) and the heart-warming graduation of our talented Year 8 students (every one of them is interviewed and appointed to a leadership role ). 
 Opening up to the engaging world beyond the school walls has reignited my passion and love for learning. Through embracing social media and digital technology, I feel confident to take our school further forward in 2015 with the support of our capable staff. If we wish to fully prepare our learners to succeed at high school and beyond, then as leaders we must be willing to be passionate activators of deliberate learning and change. A HUGE thank you to everyone who has contributed to my exciting roller-coaster ride of learning and change this year.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

What happens when the school environment that you grew up with starts to disappear ? Supporting parents through purposeful and planned learning and change.

In 2015 every teacher at St Joseph's will teach in partnership with one or more teachers in collaborative learning hubs. Teaching and learning across the school from Year 1-8 will go live and be fully accessible to everyone inside and outside the school via a teaching and learning site. Everyone will be able to access all teaching, planning and communication in one place (developed in response to feedback from parents).

Our Deputy Principal Mrs Frances-Rees has designed our new Teaching and Learning site for 2015.

Focusing closely on our school wide learning goal for the past few years; "Engage every student in deep learning for success", has meant that we have continually reflected on our teaching practices at St Joseph's. This latest development is an outcome of our ongoing hard work, inquiry into our teaching practice, research and reflections. It is a natural next step to for us, to support the planned engaging and personalised learning environments that we wish to create for our children, to fully prepare them for future success at high school and beyond. 

Our school wide goal was also the focus of my principal sabbatical in Term 1. You can learn more by watching this 4 minute video.

For parents, this significant shift in teaching practice is one that takes them far from the traditional classroom system that they grew up with. This means that some parents will naturally feel a little nervous and anxious and may have many questions.

Being part of a Learning and Change Network (see this video link to learn more) has helped us review our existing partnership with parents. Our work this year with families has been focused firmly on learning relationships. We held four "Family Learning Huis" (hui is the Maori word for gathering) and numerous parent workshops. You can go to this link to learn more about our Family Learning Huis. Our huis have enabled families to be immersed into informal, social, collaborative and engaging learning environments that mirror much of our school wide teaching and learning practices. We have already planned more of these for 2015.
Family Learning Hui in action. All staff attend and families bring their tea (fish and chips) and digital devices.
Explicitly encouraging parents to come and talk about any questions, concerns or worries and then being available to respond is the least that we can do to support our parent community. We have a fortnightly parent reference group who meet with the principal to discuss "What's on top?"  Making changes to classroom layouts and moving our Year 6 class upstairs into the Senior Learning Hub with Year 7 and 8 for 2015 resulted in much discussion.
The main themes for discussion with the Senior Learning Hub evolved around:
Siblings - The focus on personalised learning and engagement will mean that siblings are in learning spaces with three teachers who together will ensure that relationships between siblings are respectful and responsible.
Safety of devices - Year 7 and 8 have been operating a BYOD learning environment for the past 2 years. Digital Citizenship, BYOD contracts and learning licenses all contribute towards the safety of devices in digital learning spaces.
Number of hours on devices - Our Family Learning Huis have helped parents to understand that the devices are a tool to support deep engagement in learning. Children will not be sitting on devices playing computer programmes but will utilise the devices to access learning links to support their learning at different times as appropriate. Mrs Frances-Rees prepared a pie chart in response to this same question from our parent reference group.

This chart gives an indication of where digital devices fit into the big picture of  deep learning across a week in Year 7
 Challenges for able and less able learners - Children will have three expert teachers collaborating to support and engage all learners. Differentiated skill based learning workshops will ensure both extension and support for learners is managed effectively. Children will work closely with the teacher as they move to independence as part of a licensing system. A benefit of team teaching is that while one teacher is running a workshop, there will be another teacher available to give more attention to the other children working in the learning spaces. 
Social challenges- A major focus in Term One across the school will be learning relationships and expectations across learning hubs (treaties). This is something that all teachers do with a new class at the start of the year and involves collaboration and contribution from the children as well as the staff. 
Parent expectations- We will be looking at creating a parent treaty with parents early in 2015 to explicitly support parents to participate effectively and engage in deep learning with their children across the school.
Children off task- Teachers in the senior school have access to Hapara Teacher Dasboard. This enables teachers to have access to any sites that children spend time on. "Teacher Dashboard saves teachers time, helping them track engagement and improve student outcomes with a snap-shot view of student activity across Docs, Sites, Blogger, Picasa & Gmail. Teachers can push out docs in a differentiated format to their students, and view all student work organized chronologically by class and by student."

Taken from the Hapara Teacher Dashboard Information site. Go to this link

This  shift for 2015 did not happen overnight. It is the culmination of several years of focus on effective pedagogy and quality teaching and the drive within a proactive school culture to best achieve our school wide goal. I am proud of each and every member of our staff who has embraced this challenge with open arms and  their commitment to remaining resolute to this cause.
So far as staff, we have focused on how we can change our teaching practice to best meet the needs of our learners. Next, we will be asking our children and our parents to have a growth mindset and take greater responsibility in this learning process. Together we will continue to support and challenge each other to make sure that we "Engage every student in deep learning for success."