Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Where are the desks...?

It's all about MLE's and modern furniture and flexible learning spaces and devices etc. So imagine the shock any teacher would get when the students in their super-flexible, go-where-you-like, glossy, shiny shared learning environment write persuasive letters asking for the desks back.

Where did it all go wrong?

Or DID it go wrong?

I have had a number of autistic students over the past few years who have been overwhelmed by the learning environment. Too bright, too loud, too flexible and not enough predictability have been just some of the problems they've communicated. But the biggest issue has been: where is my home base?

I think carefully as I write this.
Because the bottom line is that I am a huge believer in change and evolving practice along with the successful, tried and true. But I also know that I need a home base. I need a classroom that is MY room. I like a space that is MY space. I like to be able to say, "Put that on MY desk...in MY drawer...on MY work station..." so how on earth do I expect my students to feel any differently? Does a tote tray or googledrive really cut it?

I think about our class space: the kids designed the configuration of the tables and the spaces that we have assigned to different learning styles. We have a quiet space which is never noisy. We have a collaborative space that is never quiet. We have lots of groups and pairs who gravitate towards one another regardless of the day, time, space or subject. But I also know that within the class there are many students who yearn for a space of their own, somewhere to call home, somewhere that is just theirs. And, if I'm honest, I have never had so many lost pens, rubbers, rulers and such as I do in my classroom these days! The ability to Louie-Lightfinger something that sticks out of a tote tray has become a required skill that far too many have mastered at the ninja level.

Do I have a solution? Not really. Do I have a problem? Yes - a very, very GOOD and healthy problem and one that I have posed back to my class many times over the past few years.

We've asked: What does it look like to have a space of my own? What makes me feel secure in the classroom and how can others help me to feel that I have a home base? How, as a class, do we achieve individuality as well as collegiality and still maintain our own identities throughout?

It will continue to be a rich, invigorating challenge. And as students come and go, it will have many solution pathways and many wonderful new approaches that will just continue to grow us as learners.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Who are YOU? Life as a teacher :)

The news this week about a speech from a disillusioned, disgruntled and rather unhappy teenager about the failings of her teachers and school has motivated me. Not to become a better a teacher or anything like that, but to blog again after a long sabbatical!

Her speech can be read here.

The sad part is that much of what is highlighted as a problem in that speech is quite accurate. There ARE some awesome teachers out there. There are also some tired, broke, broken teachers too. My own 3 kids are high school students and let me say this once and for all: teachers make their class love or hate learning. Honestly, that's it. My son was passionate about hard materials but one term with a teacher who didn't like him and he was off it for life. We could talk about resilience and all of that stuff like the life skills of 'not everyone will like you...' but the reality is that in school - especially high school - we don't get a lot of second chances with integrity and relationships.

On the flip side of that coin, one of my daughters has become confident in maths because her teacher this year totally believes in her and has filled her with self-belief. My kids attend a fantastic local high school and are off to school happy every day (well, most days - they ARE teenagers...!) The school does an exemplary job of keeping them on track, motivating them, holding them accountable and preparing them for a bright future.

However, much of the investment by this age must also come from the student and here is where life at school has changed for most students. Have THEY recognised their responsibility in this? I don't hear a lot of ownership from this speech. I do wonder how much this student has invested in her relationships with the teachers and how much responsibility she is taking for her achievements and failures.

I had a really eye opening conversation with Mr. 16 yesterday on our way to an appointment. He had read the speech and had PLENTY to say about it - on both sides of the fence. But the really cool part was the fact that he acknowledged how much BIGGER high school is than assessments, exams and results. He talked about resilience - making and losing friends, winning and losing competitions, not making it into the 1st XI, breaking up with a girlfriend. He talked about self-management - having to have his equipment and books ready for each period, having to make time to complete assignments and balance each one so that they are fitting in around social life and part-time jobs. He also discussed the thinking skills involved to synthesize new information, to question why things happen, to ask 'how' when he was curious.

He was able to understand and explain how school is, in fact, life. 

Mr 16 connected the dots and talked to me about the fact that all of the things they do daily are the same skills he will need for full-time work/study. He has realised that at home AND school he is being fully equipped for a life well beyond teenagedom. Mr 16 was able to connect the skills of school with life. School is just scaffolded for them in a way that is 'life-skills by stealth', so that as a teen, he feels in some control...but isn't quite free-wheeling yet. He understands that by Year 13 his wings will be developed and he will be free to fly, ready for the bigger world outside the nest, hopefully well-prepared for life.

If this speech has motivated families to ask their kids about school in a deeper, richer way, then it was worth it. If this speech has motivated schools to look really closely at how students feel about themselves and their learning, then it was worth it. And if this speech ends up redefining school - in a truly positive way - for the young lady who wrote it, then I would suggest that it is well worth it. My sincere hope is that instead of judgment and condemnation, this young lady receives understanding and support, and that her freedom of speech quite literally, can change her world.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


What a great experience!

From the moment Sonya +Sonya Van Schaijik asked me to present I felt a sense of nervous excitement. Everything Sonya does inspires other educators so I knew that this month being the connected teacher month would be even more magic!

I met and learnt from 7 amazing and inspiring educators. Hearing others talk passionately about learning is the best way to spend any day, so having the opportunity - nay, privilege - of sharing screen time with such people is remarkable. From coding to student voice, quadblogging Aotearoa, inquiry based learning, the flick it on project, flattening classrooms and being a connected educator, this #teachmeet had everything. It was actually quite incredible how each presentation passed seamlessly into the next, with connections to each presentation without us planning it!

@mesterman managed to keep us all ticking along (even threw in a wee piano solo to make us stop talking here and there!) and Sonya kept the flow going, linking the chat. I marvelled at how she could actually make it last 1 hour exactly - rather impressive in itself!

Great to catch up (virtually!) with Marnel  again - such an inspirational and aspirational educator. Her blog reflection is fantastic too so check it out here.

Thanks Sonya for another opportunity to learn more - I think #TeachMeetNZ is amazing and will work tirelessly to connect as many colleagues to the continuous learning available through it.

Friday, August 15, 2014

It's All In The Grades

I can't quite believe that I'm admitting this.

I teach in a primary school, am passionate about student achievement and I never measure a child by a grade.

Yet, throw me into university for 5 minutes, and what is the only thing I am focused on?


The grade.

I'm checking what an 'A' looks like, what content is needed to get me a + or -. I'm measuring myself against the criteria for a top mark. As I write, read, research, all I can think about is how much I want that A. Somehow, my learning has become all about the grade.

And it makes me wonder...all of the time we spend in primary school teaching, all of the years we spend talking about personal goals and personalised learning...to what end? If our students end up in high school worrying about whether they have an achieved, merit or excellence, or onto university to be consumed by A, B, C and D grades...what did we protect them from? What did we teach them about expectations and how they measure up?

Ah yes, I have become a grade obsessed student.

(Better get back to my study or I may slip to being a B student!)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Hands-On Maths - Material Girl!

Ah yes, I confess. I am, as Madonna would say, a truly 'material girl'.

No, I am NOT interested in fast cars, flashy clothes or what money can buy me, but I AM passionate about using materials to make maths concepts concrete for kids!

So here are a few snaps from our madly materialistic maths moments this week!

Maths MAGIC! on PhotoPeach

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Moment In Time - Examples


“Hiaiaiaa...ihaaaaaa...hiaiaiaia...iaihaaaa...” I breathed heavily. I shut my eyes and held my breath as the yellow optimist healed over backwards into the midst of the ocean.  “Bang!” My hard head connected to the rock solid opti.  

I hastily opened my eyes and, “YES!” I screamed with all my voice. I was inside the tight, squishy air pocket.  It seemed pitch black at first then my eyes got used to the darkness, when I screamed, “HI!” and then slapped the boat.   

“Slap, Slap, Slap,” and in return,  “Tap, Tap, Tap”. 
They opened the opti to the light as I swam out. “I made it!” Those words came out of my mouth before I knew it.  I climbed on to the bottom of the opti (which was now on the top) and I pulled on the centre boar. The boat came speedily up right and I had to bail a truck load of water out of the opti and back into the ripply ocean.  It was finally all out so I jumped out and played the ball games.

By Peter, aged 10.


As I run down the left wing of the pitch, salty sweat runs down my face. The grass tickles my ankles. Only two huge boys stand between me and the glorious tryline.

I get nervous as I keep running. I sidestep the first boy but he holds tightly onto my shirt. The second one grabs my waist and drops me heavily onto the ground. My shoulder is the first thing that hits the hard, solid ground, then painfully my body follows it down.

Sadly, my coach takes me off for the rest of the game.

 By Taine, aged 10

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Celebrate EVERY day!

It's really easy as teachers to look for the end of the term or the year or a learning unit for the opportunity to celebrate what has worked well or what has been learnt.

Well, I have a real challenge for you teachers out there. Celebrate EVERY day.

In my class, we like to have a shout out almost EVERY day. We stop everything for that moment. We freeze and share and celebrate. And I don't mean little, twee, tokenistic, contrived stuff. I mean that we celebrate REAL learning.

This week we celebrated one of the boys who came 3rd in his racing competition last weekend. He showed us photos and we cheered, posted them to the class blog and celebrated it with him. We celebrated one of the students who has made it into a school sports team for the first time. The students who have made it into every sports team cheered the most! We celebrated one of the students in a maths group who GOT a concept (finally!) We celebrated the fact that one of the students wrote his very best piece of writing ever - his own words - and then we celebrated even more when he stated that writing is his 'new best subject'!

Celebrating the achievements and JOYS in our classrooms has a wonderful effect - it helps to create a culture of inclusiveness and it fosters relationships within the class and a culture of being a 'team'.

At a conference last year, Anne Kenneally +Anne Kenneally talked about how she jumped on a chair and shouted every time there was a 'magic' moment in her class and this really made me think about how to celebrate those moments. She talked about how the students strove to get her to jump up - they wanted to create magic for her and for themselves so that there was reason to celebrate.

What MAGIC is going on in YOUR classroom that you could celebrate?