Saturday, 28 October 2017

For the good of our children...

This post was triggered by a conversation I had with a parent coming in to enrol her children.  Lovely family, three beautiful children, full of potential, as all children are.  Towards the end of the conversation mum felt the need to tell me that her seven year old is not very good with his reading or writing.  His face turned down, he looked at the floor and you could just see any of that self-belief drain out of him.  It is obviously a message that in his short time at school so far he has received either directly or indirectly.  Mum felt this was something I needed to know, it was almost as if she was apologising for enrolling a child that was not reading or writing into our school.  In that one statement you could hear that this is the message that she has been given by our current system that this was what success looks like at school, that you can read and write in the first two years and if not, we then you are failing.

Thanks to all the work we have been doing with growth mindset over this year I was able to leap in and change the mood by adding the word yet.  I simply said, "you are not great at reading or writing , yet...but you will be if you keep trying." As I said this you could see his demeanor change, I had given back his mana, it was not that he could not read or write at all, it was just that he couldn't do it yet.  Mum also leapt in and said "sorry son" and reinforced the importance of 'yet.'

Adding this word 'yet' seemed so simple, but you could see the weight drop off mums shoulders as well, she quickly apologised to her son and said of course, just not yet.

I then went on to ask what he does feel he is really good at, he smiled broadly at me and exclaimed 'maths.'  It was lovely to see this open and positive mindset to maths, but what I was really after was something else that he was good at, unfortunately the message our system has been giving to children is that school is about reading, writing and maths and nothing else.

It is hard to put into words how much it hurts my teacher heart to see how narrow the picture of school has become for many of our children and families.  I use the word 'our' to encompass all schools, because it is my belief that our education system should be seen as one quality beast, not a bunch of individual parts, whilst there will always be many points of difference between schools there should be some common messages we are sending children and their families.

I was ecstatic the other morning to finally hear out of Chris Hipkins mouth that National Standards will be gone.  I have no problem with setting expectations for our learners, monitoring their progress and ensuring they leave our schools reading, writing and being confident mathematicians.  The real problem with National Standards has been the overwhelming message they have sent to parents and children, that learning is about reading, writing and maths and nothing else.  The constant use of standardized testing to marginalise learning and put it into boxes has bothered me no end.  The anxiety it has caused for our children is immeasurable and something we need to rectify now!

For the good of our children we need to widen the gaze of success.  We need to enable children to experience success in a range of areas.  I bet this little guy that I spoke to has many talents, but he felt what I wanted to hear was that he was good at was within one of the 'big three.'  I would have been more happy to hear that he was good at climbing trees, hopping, skipping, running, imagining, digging, anything really.

For the good of our children I want us to strip away the damaging messages of National Standards, to focus in on a much broader picture and help children to understand that they are much more than how well they can read and write and much more than a mathematician.  I want them to see themselves as a learner with endless potential to do whatever it is they set their hearts to.

For the good of our children I want us to help them to see how our wonderful curriculum fits together, reading and writing are simply tools to unlock the world, no more, no less.  They are powerful tools that allow us to access the world and all of the wonderful and amazingness around us.  Maths, well maths is all around us, it is not just something done for an hour a day, seeing maths as a stand alone subject is not positive at all for our children.  Learning can not be fitted into boxes, when was the last time you timetabled your day according to the curriculum you were working in?

For the good of our children we need to think about the messages we are giving them about themselves as a learner.  They do hear what is said, they see the tick boxes on reports, they understand and that is who they believe they are.  They feel the failure when the test is too hard.  They feel the pressure to perform.  The messages we give them create a fixed learning mindset that does not contribute to growth.

For the good of our children we need to open up learning, allow them to explore and understand their uniqueness, allow them time to just be, to imagine, to create, to explore, to begin to understand themselves.

For the good of our children, we need to allow them to be children.  We need to be prepared to let them explore their limits and to stand out from the crowd.

We need to be like this little brave, because the view at the top is incredible!

Friday, 20 October 2017

The Importance of Intrigue

It was at a mantle cluster meeting this week that I heard Viv Aitken talk about intrigue and the role it plays in preparing the brain to learn.  Obviously curiosity/intrigue plays a big role in the Mantle approach and it absolutely makes sense that it could be one of the dominant reasons for the great success teachers have when they feel confident enough to use Mantle of the Expert in their own class.

We started our mantle journey as a result of an inquiry that had engagement and motivation at its heart.  We found Mantle to be incredibly engaging, in fact the engagement and motivation noticed in students resulted in us using the process school wide and implementing many strategies used in a Mantle throughout everyday teaching, including a lot of process drama and imaginative play.

While we understood that the process was incredibly engaging and soon found that results were equally as pleasing, we never really pinpointed the essence of what was going on for our children.  We did however know that they deeply loved learning this way and seemed to remember every aspect of the imagined world and everything they had learned out of it, as if they were actually living it day to day.

After our short discussion this week I can now clearly see how it is the clear aspect of intrigue in a Mantle that plays a huge role in its success.

It seems to be absolute common sense, and completely obvious....why do you want to learn something...usually it would be because it intrigues you, hooks you in, makes you curious.  What has not been so obvious to me is the brain science behind intrigue, it has not been something I have read about before.  I found a lovely easy read article on it which is linked below.

Findings of research:
(Full article here)

1. Curiosity prepares the brain for learning.

While it might be no big surprise that we're more likely to remember what we've learned when the subject matter intrigues us, it turns out that curiosity also helps us learn information we don't consider all that interesting or important.
The researchers found that, once the subjects' curiosity had been piqued by the right question, they were better at learning and remembering completely unrelated information. One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Matthias Gruber, explains that this is because curiosity puts the brain in a state that allows it to learn and retain any kind of information, like a vortex that sucks in what you are motivated to learn, and also everything around it.
So if a teacher is able to arouse students' curiosity about something they're naturally motivated to learn, they'll be better prepared to learn things that they would normally consider boring or difficult. For instance, if a student struggles with math, personalizing math problems to match their specific interests rather than using generic textbook questions could help them better remember how to go about solving similar math problems in the future.

2. Curiosity makes subsequent learning more rewarding.

Aside from preparing the brain for learning, curiosity can also make learning a more rewarding experience for students.
The researchers found that when the participants' curiosity had been sparked, there was not only increased activity in the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain involved in the creation of memories, but also in the brain circuit that is related to reward and pleasure. This circuit is the same one that lights up when we get something we really like, such as candy or money, and it relies on dopamine, a "feel-good" chemical that relays messages between neurons and gives us a sort of high.
So not only will arousing students' curiosity help them remember lessons that might otherwise go in one ear and out the other, but it can also make the learning experience as pleasurable as ice cream or pocket money. Of course, most teachers already instinctively know the importance of fostering inquisitive minds, but to have science back it up is undeniably satisfying.

The very nature of Mantle has intrigue at its heart.  A hook begins every mantle and by nature primes children for further learning, it puts them in a state of curiousity which seems to make the learning and understanding far deeper.  
When I reflect on Number Agents I often puzzle over just why children seem to develop a depth of mathematical understanding so different from the understandings they used to develop in my 'normal' mathematics programme.  In essence Number Agents has most of the same components of my 'old' maths teaching.  After reading this research and thinking further along these lines, I believe it is the intrigue that does make the absolute difference.  The world of Number Agents is intriguing, agents enter agency each day curious about who they will encounter, who will be the client, what the professor will say....who might turn up via video conference.  The problems are delivered in an intriguing way.  Therefore their brains are prepared for learning through their curiousity, but also their learning is more rewarding and of a greater depth because of the experience of being curious.  I can just see all their brains lighting up with pleasure and in this form the pleasure is related to maths, wow no wonder I have so many parents talk to me about how much their children love maths.
Aside from Number Agents and my Mantle, I guess this also speaks volumes for play-based learning.  By the very nature of play, children will naturally be in a curious and inquisitive wonder their learning shows such depth and growth in a play-based class.  It is also no wonder that the use of invitations is such a great strategy to use.

I find this research incredibly intriguing, and I guess in essence this is why I find Number Agents so rewarding...I am naturally curious about why it works so well and therefore this process is pleasurable for me.
Does that have use to us in our professional inquiries then?  If we are inquiring into something that makes us curious our inquiry will be a lot deeper, if it is something prescribed, it will be much more shallow..would you agree?

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Our Term 4 Adventure!

If you have been following along with my specific posts related to Number Agents, you will already know I like to have some sort of big adventure each term.  These adventures usually involve all of the villains and some sort of kidnap scenario.  Lots of drama comes into play and we love it!  In fact the children constantly reflect on these scenarios and they form a strong emotional connection...good news for maths as it is the hero of the story! Not to forget as well that I love it...the teaching of maths is so exciting this way!

With any normal Mantle there would be a wrapping up, it is important to have closure to the process.  I have been giving a lot of thought to this and how I can make it more exciting for the agents this year.  Last year I think the storyline was just that the villains had gone on holiday.  Many agents return to our class, so it is important that it isn’t so tightly closed that I cannot restart it again.  

As I am also very aware (as you probably are too) Term 4 is hectic, I plan to wrap agency up by week 7 so that we have time for all the other bits and pieces end of term has to offer.  Obviously another consideration for me is that I do not teach in the last couple of weeks as Principal duties firmly take over at that time of year.

This is the part of Agency I absolutely love, the opportunity to link in with my inner child and create fantastic scenarios for my agents to be part of.  I lead the play in this obviously, but they quickly start to take the lead and eagerly go off in their own direction during their self-directed play.

Right, so I have seven weeks (for me that is three days teaching a week) to bring agency to a wonderful, creative, imaginative conclusion.

I have been mulling over what I will do over this last couple of weeks and think I finally have a brilliant storyline that will work.  I came with this one while driving in the car today :)

So here goes, my thoughts on the storyline so far (of course it may change a little.)

1) Agency will run as normal, this adventure will run alongside normal day to day agency.

2) Head agent will contact us, initially to say that the villains have moved their hiding place and then to ask for our help in finding it.  We are to be the intelligence.  We will also receive a message from Head Villain, threatening some major villain action on December 1st (that gives us a deadline….we will use a map to track the days from this point.)

3) Head agent has a team of agents out on reconnaissance.  They are monitoring air waves and have heard head villains voice speaking in what appears to be code.

4) These codes will be given to us to solve, they will come in once or twice a week and will be separate from our main problem.  They will be a range of different problems.  We need to work out the answer, this will then link to a coordinate on a map that our agents on recon have currently been searching.  We will have the map, will use the number to work out coordinate and feed this info back to the recon team.  They will then check this area.

5) Many of the clues/coordinates will come up short, but as we get closer to the end the coordinates will uncover a new villain, the recon team will take this villain out of play. We will then turn the photo of this villain over on our map as they will no longer be in play.

6) The last villain to be found will be head villain. We will of course find him just before his deadline of 1st of December.

7) Head agent will imprison the villains with the hope that they will not bother our clients again….of course, head villain will promise escape.

8) We will close agency by reflecting on how far we have come, looking through the 'book' of our achievements, looking at the photos of us and remembering our favourite moments and then taking a 'key' from our pocket, closing the agency door and locking it...for some that return the door will open again next year, for others moving on, they will move onto new teams in 2018 and will fall into a new mantle easily.

Can't wait to get started on our adventure!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

How do we truly cultivate innovation?

I see Innovation and the ability to innovate as the absolute key to improving our current education system, and as educators one of our key roles.  To use what we know about children (the learners in our classrooms now, not five or ten years ago) and to develop approaches that benefit them as learners and human beings.

I believe one of the most soul destroying comments you can hear from an educator is "we have always done it this way, it works, why change it?" Or, "we bought the book, tried it and it doesnt work."

It is my belief that this fixed mindset pervades our current system and one of the main reasons for it is the constraints created by the constant pressures and requirements placed on us by the powers above.

Let's face it, educators are time poor and the last thing you want to do when under huge pressure is re-think how you do things...I mean re-thinking, reflecting, completely changing how we do things is a huge amount of work in itself.

I get it.  When we started using a more reflective professional inquiry system as the main part of our appraisal, it felt like I was ticking boxes.  I was being compliant and doing it because I had to.  I didn't see the value and because I was time poor actually resented this process.  I see many people in the same place as I was with professional inquiry...I mean we are constantly reflecting in our head and acting on these reflections, why oh why do we need to spend a good hour writing them down?

However I have come full circle on this one, and now absolutely love blogging, reflecting and sharing.  I am constantly making connections, reading back over my old thoughts, looking closely at the approaches I am inquiring into most (Learning through play and maths) and seeing and understanding links that are being made.  In fact I would hypothesise that my approach to learning through play would never be as far on as it is if I was not constantly reflecting on and sharing my journey.  The questions I am asked by those sharing in my journey inspire me to find out more, to explore further, to trial new ideas, just so I can share some more. 

Number Agents is more successful than it has ever been because I am constantly sharing, discussing, being observed and questioned.  I use this sharing as a way of challenging myself to innovate even further on this amazing way of teaching.

And so what do I believe would be a culture that would encourage this level of innovation and sharing in every educator?  Because believe me, I am no different from you, I am an educator.   I choose to be brave and share my journey...and it is brave, because my ideas and approaches are like my babies, I put them out there, always weary of the judgement from others that may ensue.  The amazing thing is that all I have felt is support, yes there has been professional questioning and probing, but when we innovate we should also be open to this challenge.  It is this challenge in fact that grows our innovations even further.

I believe the culture that is needed is the one that I have been lucky to be part of and to have helped create.  For innovation to happen freely, educators need other pressures taken away from them. 

Professional inquiries (even though they may morph and change) will not happen between February and December in a year and be neatly tied with a bow and ticked off.  Truly reflective, constructive and ultimately innovative inquiry that leads to transformational change has no time constraint, but as a rule of thumb I have always given it roughly three years.  I will use Number Agents as an example here...

1. Year One - Exploration of Mantle of the Expert and development of my own abilities and understandings.  Lots of research.
2. Year Two - Inquiry into Mantle, how it works in a junior room.  Lots of practical experience.
3. Year Three - My innovation - Development of Number Agents in its beginning form as a result of my inquiry.
4. Year Four - Consolidation of Number Agents with an extra focus on oral language.
5. Year Five - Oral language inquiry spins off into further work on play-based learning
6 Year Six (present) - Play-based learning with deep reflection on brain development and special interest in growth mindset.

As you can see each of my inquiries have led to another related inquiry, out of this it took me three/four years to come up with the innovative approach to teaching maths that I now call Number Agents.  It is my belief (from my ten years as principal) that real innovation, change and consolidation takes at least three years and educators should be given freedom to explore one idea, or several connected ideas over this time span at least.

Currently I liken many in our education system to fad jumpers. They establish they have a weakness in their school and see a fad to cure it, something they think will work for them, they put in little of their own groundwork but are expecting it to be perfected and consolidated in a year.  They put pressure on the teachers in their schools to be up to play and are then puzzled when they face resistance??  If there is one thing I have learned over the last ten years of principalship, it is that if anything is to truly be embedded and make a difference for our children, the whole team needs to be along for the ride, in order for this to happen, there needs to be belief, trust, time and understanding.

I have found the spiral of inquiry to be useful in my inquiry process and to guide more schoolwide inquiry.  The concept of it being a spiral really suits my way of thinking.


It is my belief that if we truly want to be innovative educators and to have a school full of these we need to give the gift of time.  A year to find out about it and work out what may be going on, a year to try it and a year to consolidate it...then in the fourth year, don't be surprised if true innovation happens!  To put it simply, if we are to truly innovate, we must truly understand.  And yes, I believe each and every one of you is capable of great innovation, and perhaps you are doing it day to day without even knowing it. 

Educators will not be in the right mindset to innovate if we are constantly pushing them to learn and implement new ideas. If we want true innovation we must create an environment that gives freedom, trust and time.  Without these things, schools will continue to fad jump, continue to be time poor and ultimately continue to do things as they have always done them, because they never have enough time to truly trial new ideas, to experience the beautiful journey of deep reflection and the innovation that happens as a result.


My challenge to you is time you have an idea, a hunch, a thought, take the time to share it with others :)

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Bring back the 3 R's to education

Our education system is at a real crisis point, but I have real faith and hope that with the growing volume of our voices we can create change.

I have blogged a little around this and in particular I have expressed my concerns around the testing  culture that is narrowing our curriculum and undermining the real talents and passions of our learners.

On a wider scale, I think the answer to most of our issues lies in bringing back the 3 R's.

These three R's being 'Respect, Regard and Relationships.'


One of the main contributors to low morale in our system is lack of respect.  Teachers are working in one of the most important professions, yet they garner the least respect.  I steer clear from social media or comments on education related news articles.  The comments people make on these articles, despair and anger me.  It seems so absolutely heartbreaking to read these comments when we work so hard and give up so much of ourselves to our job. Educators enjoy little respect from government and often even less respect from many parents and sections of community.    Our every move is questioned, everyone is an expert, we often over analyse every decision we make for fear of the range of opinions that will be expressed about it and the complaints that will come flying in via email.  To add to this, we can not truthfully share how we feel in these situations, so are often left feeling quite maligned and unheard.

Many teachers suffer from bullying from within our school communities and outside of our school communities, sadly even in staff rooms themselves, having experienced this bullying firsthand I know how devastating it can be.  I nearly gave up teaching after my first year, I hated it!
The sad thing with education is that everyone has had one, every parent and caregiver has an experience of being in a classroom, many of them bring that experience into their relationships with us.

 So what is the answer?  Well firstly I would like it to start with our Government.  I would like them to listen to us, listen to what we are saying in terms of what is not working in education and in any way shape or form show that they respect us.  Is that not what we tell our children, that we should stand up for others when we have the occasion to do so?  Our Ministry, our Government needs to be standing up for us, showing they value and respect us by putting in policy that is supported by research and our combined voices.  We talk about student voice, but where is ours?

I would also like more avenues in place for dealing with bullying that happens towards us.  Any bullying that may occur towards us, that our BOT are unable to deal with needs someone to be able to leap in and support us, an agency with teeth, not just advice, an agency that actually has some power to do something about it, to make it stop!

Bringing respect back to all situations is absolute key, we do not have to agree with each other, but we do need to respect each others emotions and needs.  In every situation both parties need to leave with their mana and value intact.

Basically it comes down to everyone being able to display respect for the other party, us for our colleagues, the children we teach and the parents and caregivers that love them.  Respect from parents and caregivers who we know love their children, but do need to understand that we are human.  Kindness goes a long way.

 We all have memories of a teacher that probably was not the best, that maybe didn't respect us as we deserved, but we should not take that experience into our relationships with other teachers and school staff.  As parents now, we should not carry these experiences into our interactions with our children's teachers.   I mean we have all had bad experiences with many professions, do we carry this experience into our future interactions with someone in the same profession, or do we judge it on a case by case basis?

"Always treat others how you wish to be treated."

I would like us to start having more regard for everyone that forms a part of our education system.   Our profession needs to be given more media around the awesome things that are happening, and much less reporting on the negative.  That is where we come in, we need to be putting that positive out there more often, sharing what we do.  Not only does there need to be need more regard publically for education, it actually goes further than that.  We need to start holding children in higher regard, giving them more credit and trusting them more. 

 I know at our school we have not had rules for a while now, rather than this creating absolute mayhem it has had the opposite effect.  We barely have any issues, children have great relationships with each other and the playground is generally a picture of busy happiness.  Trusting children first and having regard for their decision making skills is huge.  We allow certain things, like tree climbing, bike riding, scootering, use of real spades, sawing, hammering, nerf guns, etc....if they do anything that contradicts our trust in them, then we put restrictions in place, but trust and regard always comes first.  Children learn so much by taking responsible risks and being able to manage risk and learn their limitations,  by over managing them, we take away these learning opportunities.  
We need to hold parents and caregivers in higher regard.  We need to understand that they have absolute love for their child, and will engage with us with raw emotions from time to time.  We need to hold them in high enough regard just to listen to ensure they have have been heard and feel valued.  We also need to give them more credit in terms of knowing their child.  Just like parents, we can not hold past interactions against those we may have in the future (I know, much easier said than done.)  In this respect, we need to be offered more training, allowing others to speak without reacting emotionally ourselves is a skill in itself and something I think needs to be added into teacher training.  I am still developing this skill and believe me, it is hard.

We also need to start holding each other in higher regard.  Our system should be one fluid body, working together as children grow and develop.  ECE, Primary, Intermediate and Secondary need to be listening to each other, sharing more often and learning from each other.  Growing an understanding of the developmental stages of our learners and how we cater to these at each part of their journey would be an excellent start.  Our system has become too top down.  We have a culture intent on getting children ready for the next stage, as if it was more important than where they were currently at.  In my opinion our system needs to work from the ground up, building on foundations rather than pushing children without regard for their developmental needs.
It is hard for others to hold us in regard if each part of our system is seen as quite separate.  In these terms I hold out great hope that this will be a positive effect of COL's. Principals and teachers need to be holding each other in higher regard.  Too often do I hear teachers and principals talked about as quite separate entities.  When we go out to courses and I hear a principal saying "they won't do that" when talking about their team I cringe.  When I hear teacher aides or office staff referring to teachers as 'they' as if they are some separate being, I cringe.  When I hear teachers referring to their principals as some mystical 'they'  I cringe.  This reference to each other as if we were very separate in the system or in any way would believe or act differently from each other, really annoys me.  We need to be a team, we are there for one purpose, to work with children.  By seeing ourselves as separate entities with contradicting ideals it is not assisting us to be seen as a positive whole.  
Yes we may disagree from time to time, but putting up walls or assuming we will go unheard even if we speak up really saddens me. No one learned anything by always assuming they were right.   The key here is that we need to be holding another in high enough regard that we take the time to listen and reflect, to absorb and then to discuss in a reasonable and professional way.



And perhaps the most important R for our children.  Establishing positive relationships is absolutely crucial.  The connection with the teacher is the be all and end all.
basically it is as simple as that :)
Relationships with our colleagues are also absolutely crucial, we need to be sharing more.  Our current system has bred a climate of unhealthy competition.  We need to be sharing more often for the good of our children!  We all have so much to offer each other, but often for fear of being seen as a show off we don't share, we don't value our own ideas enough to offer them up to others.  We are also fearful of the responses of others to our ideas.  Wow, teachers can be mean to one another, I have seen it first hand on social media....respect, regard and relationships, that is what it comes down to.  If you do not have anything nice to say, do not say it.

Relationships with parents and caregivers are also we interact with them will determine how they feel about us and in turn this will be reflected in how they talk about us to their children.  Obviously we do not need to be besties, but the relationship does need to be a reciprocal one based on kindness, trust and respect.
And then it comes back to our relationships with ourselves, I am not encouraging arrogance here, but I am encouraging you to know your worth.  We need to be more aware of how important we are, how much we matter and how much effect, positive and negative our actions can have.  Acknowledging our worth and impact should govern our interactions with others, we need to understand the impact we can have with one single interaction.

And that is that, the three R' my opinion, absolutely crucial to moving our education system down the positive path it deserves!

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The curse of being average

This little verse really resonates with me.  I think that being average in our system is somewhat of a curse.  This has been something I have given a lot of my thinking time lately.  The comparative nature of our current system, leads many to use the core areas of Literacy and Numeracy to establish that children that are below, at or above.  Those children that are 'at' would be those children we may refer to as average.  They are usually your quiet, biddable learners.  They have learned how the classroom works quickly and avoid too much attention by just getting on and doing what needs to be done.  They get good reports and are generally doing everything 'just right.'  In fact they are so good at dancing within our system that we probably can go a whole day without noticing if they are present or not.  In fact on some days their name has only probably been uttered twice, once in the morning and once after lunch when we do the roll.  

This sounds depressing, but very sadly true.  Don't get me wrong, we often hold these children in high regard, we adore them (but often forget to show them) and will speak highly of them to their parents, mainly because they don't challenge the status quo, they do what they are told and they often thrive on teacher direction.   In the hustle and bustle that are our classrooms and our lives today, they are just not the squeaky wheel.  They may have passions or talents, but these are certainly not being made obvious in the classroom situation.

Not only this, our current climate sees us identifying priority learners in what are deemed to be the all important areas of literacy and numeracy, will our average learners be a part of this group, not likely?

To be brutally honest, because this blog is about my own professional honesty...I have been just as guilty of missing these children, not taking time to truly get to know them, being hurried in a system that does not deem them to be priority learners...and something I am even more ashamed of...referring to them as 2D learners because there just wasn't anything outstanding about them.

The harsh reality for me in admitting this is that I was one of these average learners, I did not shine academically for any reason, however when I went to school P.E was a huge component of the curriculum, we were constantly outside playing and competing against one another, and my talent was in the sporting realm, so I was known because  my talents were made apparent.  Everyone knew me because I was outstanding and had many opportunities to display my talents.  The same was true for other children, in an environment where the arts still had a huge role to play, children had opportunities to develop and share their talents.  Having an area to shine in, made being average in other areas bearable, we still had confidence in ourselves because we had success and were seen.

With the narrowing of our curriculum these children with talents and passions have less opportunities to shine.  Add to this the pressure cooker we teach in, the opportunity to shine and be seen are more limited.  It becomes more up to us to ensure we are taking time to see everyone.

If we don't make an effort to change how our 'system' sees those children who we would often term average we will see children leaving school believing they have no talents, passions or gifts to share with the world..what a loss that would be.

Over the past two years I have deliberately concentrated on this.  Ensuring I am taking the time to see everyone, to allow them to explore talents and passions, to show them I care, and that is what this little excerpt is about, my what if?

Play-based learning has allowed me the opportunity to get to know each child.  To establish their individual needs and be able to work from here.  I am endeavoring not to compare them to 'averages,' but to simply appreciate the progress that they make, at their own pace.  Mantle of the expert allows us an opportunity to deliver a broad and fabulous curriculum with many opportunities for passions and talents to become apparent.

Have I got it completely right?  No not yet and I doubt I will ever be at the point where I don't have things I want to improve on, but I am becoming much better at making sure every child is seen and feels important and valued.  This continues to be my learning journey.

The undeniable reality is that children remember those that cared for them and knew them.  They want to learn for a teacher that sees them.  To be quite frank, what we teach them is far less important than how we teach them.  I can't remember a thing about what my favourite teachers taught me, but I can remember how they made me feel.  I can remember the confidence they gave me.  That is my wish, that I can be that person for every little person that passes through my class and then continue to be that person as the principal of my school.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Habits of Successful Learners and People

This sheet, sourced from here has given me a bit of inspiration and food for thought.

I am unsure who created this, so can not tell you that, but it is not mine and was shared on twitter.

This little sheet got me thinking though.  We have been a key competency based school since the creation of the wonderful 'new' curriculum.  We call ours local curriculum a 'thinking' curriculum.  We have used the Habits of Mind as our main driver for the key competencies.  Our curriculum is also framed around the pillars of learning (Learning to do, Learning to be, Learning to live together, Learning to learn.)  These pillars are great umbrellas for each of the Habits of Mind to fall under.

Our wonderful national curriculum based on Key Competencies is fabulous and I believe it is an absolute travesty that it is being lost amongst the burden of comparative testing and reporting on National Standards.

Just while I am on this soap box again, have a listen to Welby Ings in this latest recording.  He makes so much sense.   He hits right on the point I was trying to make in my assessment based post.  We can assess, but it needs to be diagnostic and useful to us, not comparative.  Assessment should build a picture of the child as a learner and directly assist us to work with them on their individual needs.  It should not be used to compare them against a completely irrelevant norm...i.e National Standards.

Through our play-based journey we have continued to focus on the HOM, but have also be working on dispositions that we believe learners need to have to be successful, not only as learners, but more importantly as people.  We have looked at these dispositions more from a Key Competency perspective.

These dispositions in my opinion are far more important than any National Standard and are what we need to be basing our programmes on. Play-based learning has led me nicely to this, because we are constantly reflecting on ways we can record the learning we are seeing and be able to talk about goals for children that are dispositions, rather than focusing on knowledge based academic goals.  These are what I really want to talk to parents about, they are the valuable things for us to be sharing.  They also fit beautifully with our Mantle of the Expert approach.

Through our journalling of children's diagnostic assessments and anecdotal notes etc, we have tried many ways of recording what we are seeing and the document above got me thinking that this could be a nice succinct way to show it.

What I have come up with below is just a first go.  It will probably be something I work on for a period of time and trial in my classroom.  They are intended to be something children work on during their whole time at our school, not just in their first year at school.  The main thing I did want to say about it is we can focus on these dispositions and encourage them, but many children will not be developmentally ready to take these dispositions on, they can begin to work towards them, we can model them and praise them, but I believe it is vital that we are aware all children develop at different speeds and dispositions are no different to cognitive learning.

Children also come from very different home situations, some will have had many of these dispositions modelled brilliantly, others not at all.  It is our job to work from where children are up to, not to judge the lack of what we think should have been taught at home.

And yes, I often despair over what children are coming in at 'these days' but I truly believe we need to work with what we've got, we can not change where they have come from.

And so below is the link for what I have come up with so far.  This will be a starting point, but thought I would share what I have so far.  The pictures used are all marked for re-use and are not mine (other than the power of yet.)
The link to the google doc is here.

Monday, 2 October 2017

New Entrant Assessment - What does it look like for us?

In my last blog post I shared with you my opinion on New Entrant testing.  If you have read my blog you will know I have some very specific opinions on testing, largely revolving around the idea that they create anxiety and give us information that we already knew.  This blog post  talks a little about the effect I think that a testing culture has on our children's learning esteem and this one is informed by the system of Finland.  Scattered throughout most of my posts in fact are my opinion on testing and the disastrous effects a testing culture has on an education system.

Obviously in our school we still use assessment, but have drastically reduced the amount of this and will continue to work on formative, non-threatening ways that we can continue to use to establish where children are at and ensure we are meeting their needs.  I am completely against timed testing in any shape or form and thank the work of Jo Boaler for informing my opinion around such testing.  We still have a few assessments that I feel we could stop doing altogether and start just using diagnostically if and when needed with individual children.  Basically I would love it if we could get to a place in our school where the children did not even realise they were being assessed.

Very sadly I, like everyone else am constrained by the requirement to form a National Standard Judgement and report this judgement to parents.  I hate having to do this and feel this requirement ruins our otherwise rich end of year report.  However I manage to be compliant as painlessly as possible and if and when these non-standard standards are abolished, my staff and I will do a little dance :)

But back to the point of my post.  New-entrant assessment.  What I really want to think about for a moment is this, what does this assessment tell us that observing a child at play, talking to them, watching them interact with their peers would not?  Is any value it gives us really worth the amount of teacher time it takes?  Would it not be more valuable to spend that time one to one getting to know that child?

What is it we are using for?  To prove growth?  Why?  How does that benefit the child?

Assessment in the first year is something I have dedicated a lot of my inquiry to this year.  There is certainly nothing earth shattering in what we do and it is all common sense really.    Being the principal I am lucky enough to have a degree of freedom in doing this.  For those that say ERO would not approve, I don't think that is true, they were more than happy with our procedures.  This is my journey and my opinions only :)

1) We do not do any SEA at all.  There is no test, nothing we are required to do.  What we do is allow a child at least a month to settle to school, we get to know them, watch them at play, learn about their interests and urges, observe the type of play they are engaging in and how they are playing with their peers (are they on their own, playing around or playing with?)  In my opinion when a child starts playing with others.  When a child is able to engage in social play they are displaying a readiness for more learning, they are developing their emotional brain and engaging in this type of play will only further assist to develop their skills and dispositions in this area.

2) After a month or even two depending on the child we will sit with them and check in with them on thier gross motor skills.  If we see them struggle with any of these activities.  Shown on the goal sheet below.  We will give them a developmental goal to practice at home and school.  Children love practicing these goals and with our teaching around growth mindset they understand that practicing this skill is challenging and growing their brain.  If they are competent at these first few goals that is fabulous, we just check in, date it and move on.

This goal sheet is kept in each child's journal.  We check in with them each week and see how they are going, if they have got it, they were obviously developmentally ready for that goal and we therefore set a new one.  If they are really struggling we may issue a challenge goal or fold back.  We often push pause on a goal that a child is not developmentally ready for.

3) Basically we work our way through these,  these goals give us an individual focus for each child and a great picture of where they are at.  They are based on this diagram that shows the sequential development of the brain.

4) Following on from the working memory goal children will then be given a number goal as well as we should be seeing them ready for this cognitive based goal.  Once again we will see if they are ready gauging how they take these new goals on board.  If they struggle, we will once again push pause and just issue a fun challenge.  This goal is just something knowledge based that parents can help with at home.

5) Reading will start following on from the early phonemic awareness and rhyme.  By this stage children may have had six months or more at school.  At home we will have been encouraging parents to read to their children, to talk about books and just cultivate an absolute joy in reading.

Number Goal Example:

6) We do a writing sample once a term and use this to assess it.

We do not use asttle until a child is at stage 11.  This little sheet is fabulous for showing progress.

7) We do use JAM after about 6 months or as we think it may provide us with insight into a child,  children are generally quite happy to go out in a one to one situation and we try to make it as relaxed as possible.  We are largely just using this to inform us on what strategies children are using.  The knowledge parts of JAM can be seen day to day through out other goals.  JAM is a useful tool, but that is all it is, a tool.  It is one narrow snapshot of what a child could do on that day.  We do not use the strand part of JAM as this assessment is done through observation and reflection through play.

8) Most of our assessment for maths is done through reflection and observation of what the children are doing during agency.  How are they explaining their strategy, how are they representing that problem visually, what are they doing in a group situation, how are they helping others or explaining what they are doing to others....we take photos, short videos and note things down during agency and during play-based time.  We end up with a very rich picture of where children are at.

I also do a quick six month check in with the children around literacy and numeracy to see where they are at and send a short letter to parents giving them some insight into where their child is up to and what they might help with at home.  This really just uses the information we have so far to form a picture of where they are at developmentally.

8) We also use Seesaw to communicate with parents and capture learning with this that we can then print if we want and stick into their journal.  Seesaw is fantastic because we can use it to capture learning and to feedback to parents.

Each child has a journal (scrapbook.)  This is something we are constantly refining, in this journal is our number goals, writing stages, learning goals that we have devised, any other checkpoint sheets along the way that go with the goals and any running records that we do once they get started with reading.  We have found this journal really useful and are able to pick each child's journal up and know where they are at individually.  

And that is that, not new entrant entry assessment, but lots of rich checking in along their journey that informs us greatly, is well used and benefits the child.  So it is not that we don't assess, it is just that we try to do it in a way that is useful and non-threatening to all.  It is also something we can do every day during our play-based check ins, so we are not making more work for ourselves.  

I trust in the richness of our programme, in the instincts of my colleagues and the absolute love of learning and challenge in the children I work with.  I also trust that children will develop at their own pace and this is what is best for them.