Sunday, 26 January 2020

When did the Arts become fringe? An essay by my daughter

There have been a few articles shared recently around concerns of the fact the arts are dying in school.  I have to say it has made me really happy to see this finally out there as it has been something of great concern to me.  If you have read my blog to the 'system' or listened to my conversation with Kate Webber, you will know that my daughters schooling journey, since she left the shelter of primary has really given risen to this concern.

Contrast this with my highly sporty, people pleasing son, and their experiences are night and day.

You see, my daughter is a creative.  She thrives on this, it is what makes her heart sing.   Not only that, the performing arts have been a bright light helping her through a deep dark tunnel of anxiety.

Around the country, the Arts have been shelved, and if they have not be shelved, the way they are taught have become so product driven that any essence of what would or could be called creativity has been drained out of it. 

If you know my work at all, you will know the Arts from the basis of our school, largely through play and Mantle of the Expert.  This is not to the detriment of the other areas of learning, instead it has enhanced everything.  Everything is connected and should be.  By cutting out the Arts we are crudely cutting off an arm and a leg from the body that is learning.  Art (and I mean all areas of art) is a means of expressing, it brings learning to life, gives it breath.  It is in fact a huge part of our human experience.

Anyway this blog post is not really about me, if you will scroll through my posts, you will see many of these themes repeated.  This post is in fact dedicated to my daughter and her (almost over) journey through school.  She is a great speech maker, with something to say.  Her speech last year was exactly around this I thought I would share it here, so we can hear directly from a student, now entering her last year of High School, who believes deeply in the power and importance of the Arts.

---------------Please remember, this is written as a speech, not a perfect essay by any means, but the idea and theme is very clear.

We as teenagers are currently living in the time of adults trying to work out how to try and improve our wellbeing.  This is something our school tries very hard to do but sadly often falls short. While I appreciate the posters telling me to meditate the occasional visiting speakers all sharing ways to cope with our angst and the seemingly random drop out if you’re struggling messages we get in assembly, they really do fall short on what we need and are often counteractive when it comes to improving our wellbeing.   Sadly they often cause us more worry. Alarmingly NZ has the highest suicide rate amongst young people of any developed country, not something to be proud of, and not something simply meditating can change.  

If schools genuinely desire to see an improvement in our mental wellbeing, one very valuable thing they should consider caring more about is the arts.
I feel that in today’s society the arts are losing their value and recognition due to lack of funding in schools and a failure to prioritize these areas of learning. Sadly everything else seems to be prioritised above the arts.  Yet in our world of today, where mental health issues are on the rise, where people feel disconnected, where creativity and innovation are being forgotten, the arts and all the wonderful benefits they bring are becoming more important than ever before and we should be accepting, encouraging and celebrating these areas more. 

The arts is a great way to express yourself and become more connected to the world around you, whether you are creating the music or listening to it you are expressing yourself and using it as an outlet to speak your mind in a way. Everyone likes music even if you can’t perform it everyone enjoys listening to it and using it as a tool to express ourselves, the type of music you listen to can direct express your outlook on the world or how you wish to be perceived. Just think mid 2000s teen angst music, although perceived as over the top by the general public or people of older age groups it was used as a form of expression by those teenagers that they had no other way of expressing. 

Music through the years has been used as a way of starting political movements and giving others a voice, it has been a way of saying things that you couldn’t get away with normally to express your opinion and outlook on the world.  Music should play a big part in our lives. Research suggests that music can stimulate the body's natural feel good chemicals (e.g. endorphins, oxytocin). It can help energise our mood and provide an outlet for us to take control of our feelings. Music can even help us work through problems in our lives.  

In today's world we have a very high rate of depression and general stress, especially in teenagers, in my opinion, one way we could help to support this is by promoting the arts more. Although the arts could not necessarily cure anything directly I do believe it is a way to support some of these issues, as it is something that brings joy and a sense of relief. I know personally for myself and many other people that theatre can be a great stress relief and a good way to boost confidence. By doing something creative and pouring your heart and soul into it whether it is theatre or art or music it can be a great way to relieve stress, you can totally forget about all your stresses and just focus on one thing. 

Things like drama also build confidence as you get put out of your comfort zone and in the end are rewarded with the satisfaction of performing and seeing people enjoy what you have created, same thing with any of the other arts. Doing anything in a group results in feeling more connected with other people and if it is something you all enjoy you are guaranteed to feel more accepted and connected to those around you. Not only that, but drama helps us to explore situations from different perspectives and in turn increases the empathy we have for them.  The performing arts is an effective way to learn about our world and understand our place in it.

The world is changing that is something we all know, we have technology that people even 30 years ago could never even imagine having. Along with all these new amazing advancements in technology we also have a lot of new problems such as climate change, poverty, and mental health issues along with many others. We are going to need creative and innovative people to solve these issues and one of the ways to support creative people is to support the arts, by participating in anything creative you are growing your skill to think outside the box and to think of new ways to do things. 

Along with all these creative benefits we also see an improvement in maths and languages when children take part in structured music activities and an improvement in literacy when they take part in drama. If we support creativity and the arts more as a society we will see more people rising up to help these issues in new ways that may not be thought of otherwise and will see more people excelling in literacy and math which would also help support a stronger future. The arts are a window to the world, they give us a sense of perspective and belonging.  They are a way we can make sense of our world.

In conclusion I believe that we as a society as outlined above are facing many challenges that could be solved or better supported by those in power prioritising the arts. Wellbeing is negatively affected when we lack the vehicle to express ourselves and feel isolated or disconnected from those around us.  The arts allow this connectedness, they give us value and a way to be seen in a positive light. The arts light up our brains and leave us feeling more positive about ourselves, the arts give us a voice. The world faces many problems some of which are yet to be discovered, it is the ability to be creative and innovative that will solve these issues and help to create a better society. We foster this ability through the arts.  
Haylee Allen - Year 12 2019

I love this quote and it is exactly how I feel...but what if their weirdness means they have to dwell on the fringes of curriculum?

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Step Two - Mathematics Development

**Before you start reading, the great thing about agency is how you deliver the mathematics is totally up to you, the crucial part however is that it is a collaborative problem solving approach.  My only plea is that you leave worksheets where they belong, in the recycling bin and make your maths visual, oral and hands on.

**Also your villains, the names you give them and what they look like, are up to you.  When I first started they were simply still images that I acted out.

**No video needed for this one as I think it is pretty straight forward :)


So the next step after developing the narrative is thinking about what maths development will look like within agency.  Specifically what are the mathematical foundations you are aiming to develop, build on and consolidate throughout the year.

For me, this is all about number sense, no matter what level you teach.  Our aim, in my opinion should be to give children the gift of fluidity and flexibility with number, to have a deep sense of number, not a rote learning of facts that they don't even understand.  Fact learning comes long after a deep sense of number is developed.

For that reason my planning in mathematics will always centre on number sense and everything else will flow out of this even what we call 'strand maths.'  It is important to remember that within a class that is based on play, a lot of very purposeful and authentic maths understandings will be explored.

This year, I have decided to take some of the core parts of the maths out of agency, just because I feel it is just so important that it needs to be done every day if possible.  That is maths eyes.  The skill of noticing and being able to talk about what is noticed folds deeply into strategy development.  Using a range of pictures, patterns, shapes, everyday images, specific subitising images etc through a math talk approach has the biggest impact on children I have found.  It allows them to really develop that sense of pattern and number that is so crucial for mathematics development.  I have decided to give this a slot somewhere in our day, rather than in agency, allowing me to do it more frequently, with a range of different images, in different ways and allowing me to further streamline the flow of our 'in agency' time.  You will see this reflected in my initial plan.

This is the time I try to break down what I actually want to focus into into smaller chunks that I can build on throughout the year, this however is where the blank page next to my plan is so important, because as we all know, our teaching is guided by where the children are at, so next to my plan, I will scribe what we are actually covering as well and what I am noticing in terms of common or individual need.  I guess the key ideas in the mindmap are my 'musts' the specifics that I really want to be bringing through in Professors PD.  The games and activities he leads will be based around this mindmap.

This is also where 70:30 comes in so strongly for me and in my opinion should be priority in every classroom.  Each session will be 70%, or even 80% of content that we have already covered and 20-30% new understanding.  Everything we do is built on in this way, the games professor plays remain largely the same, but are simply layered and extended on throughout the year with new understandings.  Everything is connected, because everything should be connected.

Years ago I used to do a topic in maths for two-three weeks and then move onto a new topic.  This could be in strand or number.  This did nothing to show children how connected all of mathematics is and did nothing to deepen their understandings.  In fact it did nothing to build their thinking skills, which in fact is what I want.  Now learning is woven in and layered, we build on what we know, but never leave the understandings we have been developing previously.  This allows us the opportunity to see and make connections.  This also means a wide of needs are catered for because the games and activities we play can have a low floor entry point, but a high ceiling for those that need stretching.

Mathematical language is really important as well as understanding this vocab ensures consistency of understanding. 

And so in terms of mathematics within this world, I will start with a few favourite games, songs and activities and then build on them from there to meet the needs of the agents and to assist them to see connections and develop fluidity and flexibility with number, sticking within the agree rhythm of the session each day so it is familiar and safe.  The villains then will present us with problems that will allow us to use our knowledge and further develop the strategies we have been working on.

In terms of the villains, they are not all created equal within agency and Knight Adder, Subtraction Shark, Which is Mine and Gaza the Grouping Goblin and seen far more regularly than the others.  The Colour Changing Dragon challenges us with strand based challenges from time to time and the Puzzler hits us with codes to break.  The challenges these two set often take the whole session.

Using the villains In this way gives a purpose for the mathematics and for the agents it all clicks slowly into place in a happy, playful, fun learning environment where they always come out on top!

Here is my planning for this term :)

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Step One - Part 2 Building the Narrative

The important part of this approach is a strong narrative.  My narrative is based strongly on the Sci-Fi movies and shows I was forced to watch as a child, with a touch of batman and a sprinkling of any other good vs evil story I have ever read or watched.  The narrative needs to be open enough to allow children to add their own voice to it, and obviously doesn't have to make much logical sense.  It just needs to capture the imaginative play of children.

This section of the planning builds on to the blog I posted earlier today and is part of the same step in the planning.  Basically it is a little like my storyboard.  It sets the parameters of the story that are agreed to by the 'actors' working within it.  Your narrative does not have to match mine at all, and a lot of the narrative that will be built on this year, was introduced by last years agents.

The hooking in stage will be fleshed out more when I get to that stage, with specific problems to deliver.  My children are Year 1 and 2 so these problems will be based within Level 1 of the curriculum.

I hope you can read these ok, sorry for my messy scrawl, also excuse the twink, for some reason my holiday brain just couldn't get the word villain spelt right. 

I have actually decided to keep all my Number Agent planning in a scrapbook this year in handwritten form,  I find it fits my learning style much better and allows me to backward plan and reflect easily when I have to.

Building the narrative/rhythm of agency(what is agreed to)

Specific Storyline for 2020

Step two will be about building a skeleton of the mathematical understandings or number sense that will be built on or developed in 2020.  Will get to that video as soon as I can.

The skeleton - step one, my planning

So it took me a couple of days to get this done.  I like to handwrite this stage of planning, I find my creativity flows a lot better this way.  It makes it a little harder to read, but I hope you get the idea.  My intention in sharing each stage of my planning is not for you to copy, as your agency will be up to a different stage than mine, but to give you an idea and a framework to sit yours on if this is new to you, or you just want to try something different.

I start with mindmapping the world.  The characters, main, supporting and cameo roles.  I think about the setting and about the nuts and bolts of our agency.  The things that make it tick on a daily basis, the gadgets, the artefacts, how we will check in and out, our ritual etc.  I call this production management.  You will see from my planning that I think of agency very much like a tv series or chapter book.  Number Agency to me is a narrative.

In the next post I will share the backstory and plot for 2020 along with the hooking in and building belief stage, just finishing that off now, then it will be on to step two...mathematical development.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Stepping In - Post One

This video details the first step I go through in my yearly Number Agent journey.

Basically it is all about creating a skeleton of the world, your vision for the world you want to bring to life in your classroom, who will be the characters, who are the goodies, who are the baddies, who will the bit players be, how will the agents be symbolised (numbers, initials etc) how will the agents move in and out of this world?

How will children be hooked into this world, what will be the very first clues, the steps into agency.  Who will be the key players in this world?  What symbols and gadgets will be used.  How will belief be built once children are hooked in?  What rituals will be established?

I map this all out as it helps me to further develop ideas, the process of recording for me really feeds my creativity.

I really hope this video plays ok, you may need to play it full volume if it is hard to hear, but it seems all good from my end.

I will check in with you soon in a few days with my skeleton plan, in the meantime have a read of the book as it will explain a lot of the 'why' behind this stage.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

What is it?

Before I start detailing my journey in 2020 with Number Agents.  I think it is important that you know what it is so you can decide if it is a journey you want to take with me.

I have created this 13 minute video describing what agency actually is.  If you have not read the book, you can grab the PDF copy from Teachers Pay Teachers, just search my store Number Agents.

I no longer produce a hard copy.

I will post my first video in this years journey tomorrow for you so you can follow along with me.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Let's talk about bullying

Ok, so this post is going to deviate from my normal.  However it is absolutely connected to the everything that I stand for.

Bullying is rife in our society, it is absolutely everywhere, in fact, it is very sad to say that for many of us, even as adults it is part of our day to day life.

Does it have to be?  Well I don't think it does, but I think if we are to banish the bullies to the fringes of humanity, we must start with our children.

And yes, that does mean it comes back to education to step up.  Sadly if we are to continue to make it an issue of parenting, the problem will just continue to grow and our beautiful children will continue to live anxious lives where there really are monsters around every corner.

Too many schools say loudly that bullying is not a problem in their school.  This is an absolute nonsense, bullying is an issue in every school and in every fragment of society, and until we can accept that, we just won't move forward or make a difference.  In schools that would have you believe bullying isn't a problem, I would hasten a guess that the bullying is just a lot more hidden, it is more likely to be relational, it is more likely to be happening in ways that adults simply don't see, and often by the children you would least expect.  The children that adults see as absolutely outstanding young humans...these children are incredibly clever, they know which mask to put on and when.  Believe me, these can be the worst type of bullies, they hide their vicious words with a beautiful smile and fantastic manners.

Bullying can have a significant impact on a person's life, in fact, the impact of bullying can be something that an individual carries with them forever.  Bullying can lead to mental health issues and anxiety related conditions.  Individuals that are bullied for a length of time often struggle to trust, they can believe the worst about themselves, believe they can't possibly be loved, be quite paranoid and be fearful of being watched, talked about or embarrassed in social situations.  Bullying takes a huge chunk of their self-worth, that they often struggle to get back.

Our society has long been a 'harden up' society, a 'she'll be right' society, but it is time for us to be a more nurturing, empathetic and understanding society if our suicide statistics are anything to go by.

So if all schools have bullying, what can be done about it...well in my opinion, a lot!

Step one  -  Own it.  Admitting that we are dealing with children who are human and make mistakes and are still learning about how relationships work,  accepting that one of our core duties as a school is to develop character beyond anything else.

Step two -  Teach it.  Name it.  Illuminate bullying and have zero tolerance for it.   Show children what it looks like, help them understand what it feels like.    Explicitly teach children right from the start about their emotions, help them to name them, let them feel their emotions, encourage them to be able to speak up about how they are feeling.  Set up a restorative culture that enables children to own their actions and restore relationships.  Help children to be mindful and teach them how to cope with feelings of frustration and anger.

Step three -  Foster character and citizenship.  Actively teach and model kindness and empathy.  Put a great big spotlight on it and make it cool to be kind.  Make this the most important thing about your place.  Encourage connectedness.  Children that know and care about each other are far less likely to bully others.  Don't segregate the playground.  Allow all ages to play together so that developmental stages can meet.  Use strategies like tuakana teina throughout the school.

Step four -  Empower.  Empower children to be upstanders, to stand up for those being bullied.  Give them strategies to combat any type of bullying behaviour.  Make sure they have avenues of help they can access for themselves and others and empower parents to come to you sooner rather than later.

Step five-   Act on it.  If you are told about it, show you will actively assist the child to rectify the situation.  Include the bully in this process and help them to also make change.  Follow up, make sure children know that if you know about it, you will do something about it, and this won't include victim blaming or making them feel responsible for what has happened.  Set up a team around that child, make sure they know they are not alone.

Step six - Encourage Success.  Set up a school based on catering for individuals and ensuring the are seen and have success.  Bullies often bully to feel powerful, if they are gaining success and feeling seen, this is likely to stop any need for this behaviour.

Step seven -  Live it.  Model kindness, respect and empathy, make sure children see what it looks like in their everyday lives.

Step eight - Engage them.  Keep children active and outdoors, let them play.  Children that are allowed to be children, that are active and engaged in their play are far less likely to be bullies.  The outdoors is important for the soul, ensure children are spending lots of times outdoors.

Step nine - Just do it.   Make it just part of what you and every other adult in the school does each and every day.

Step ten(and probably also every other step too) - Define it.  Make sure everyone in your school community understands what constitutes bullying.  Have a nice, clear definition for it.

To truly combat our bullying culture, we have to stop accepting the behaviour in the first place, but we also have to be prepared to work hard to build a culture that is not based on competitiveness, but collaboration.  If we have a community based on collaboration and cooperation, bullying can become a thing of the past.  If we teach children to appreciate everyone's unique strengths and talents and value difference, then the very thing that ignites bullying will be extinguished.

This is where this connects up with all of my other work.  We need to slow down and work on building and growing robust, kind, empathetic individuals that experience success in their own way and make progress in their own time.  Take the stress away, stop fixating on acceleration and comparison and a lot of the work will be done.  Build resilience in children, so that any mean behaviour directed towards them bounces back off them, that it doesn't get them down, that they are able to see it for what it is, mean.

Schools need to actively teach, cultivate, and celebrate kindness.  When acts of kindness are not random, but deliberate and just a way of being, we will know that kindness now has the power that was once awarded to the bullies.  We need to build communities where bullying is not just unacceptable, but unusual.  We will know then that we are winning. 

In specific terms of bullying, it is also really worth becoming a KiVa school.  We got on board with this several years back now and it is great for giving us a framework to work within.

Are we perfect, no, no school is, even if they tell you they are.  Are we working hard to do our bit...yes absolutely!