Friday, October 28, 2011

An Idiot's Guide To Writing...REPORTS

Okay, so perhaps I am not exactly an 'idiot' but here is my list of ten essential things to know or remember when it comes to dreaded report writing...

1. Report writing takes time - no matter how experienced you are, no matter how many years you have written reports for, no amount of practice or preparation makes it any better - reports take a long time to write. And so they should! It took the kids a whole year to provide the data and information for you to write about!

2. Report writing is as much for the teacher as the student - if one of your professional goals (I hope) is to reflect upon the teaching and learning, then here is the best evaluative tool you could ever have.

3. Reports are easy if you know your students well - you have shared a learning journey with these little peeps for a whole year! Reports are a reflection of how well you know them, how they learn, their strengths and weaknesses. As a parent, I want to read a report and be assured, more than anything else, that the teacher has really 'got' my children!

4. Reports need to be readable - parents, in most cases, did NOT go to teachers' college. They don't get all of the teacher-speak jargon. They really have no idea about asTTle and they usually can't work out what AfL is either. So keep it simple - they know you have a Degree and they often don't, so they just want it - in plain, simple language.

5. Report writing is a product - the work we do during the year is the process and the reports at the end of the year are essentially the product of what has been learnt. You have been painting the portrait all year, and now you can present the final, completed canvas to their parents for viewing.

6. Be proud of what you write - this is as much a reflection of who you are as teacher as it is a reflection of who the learner is. Wrapped in the report should be a piece of you - your professional persona - and your ability to represent a learner and their learning on paper. Be proud of the content - would YOU want to read this if YOU were the parent? How would you feel if your own child presented this report to YOU?

7. What about the 'tricky reports'? Sometimes there are very difficult children and it is hard to find a positive spin on them. Start with all of the other children's reports first - this will put you in the right space to write about the more difficult learners.

8. No surprises - there should NEVER be any surprises for parents. The reports should simply confirm what you have communicated about their child all year. If there are surprises, then you may want to take a SERIOUS look at your communication skills. A report is NOT the place to 'break the bad news' to a parent!

9. Be accountable - make sure you have a buddy teacher on staff, whose opinion and professional advice you value, who can support you with any 'tricky' report comments, and someone who can proof read your reports for you before they are sent for checking.

10. Be honest - this is the most important advice of all - be brave. Sometimes there are hard things to say. Say them. Sometimes there are tricky comments that you worry about. Seek advice. You are not doing anyone any favours if you dress it up as something that it isn't. At all times, be perfectly honest.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reporting In

So it's that time of the year again, reports.

Collective groans, weekend plans for many weeks canceled. Life on hold, all balance's that time of the year...

Christmas becomes a distant vein of hope...FAR in the distance...

Endless pages of data stretch ahead of us...numbers...comments...observations...assessments...details...

But there is hope. A light dawns in the darkness of the world of report writing. A dim glow at the end of the loooooooong tunnel.

Why are we doing this?
Who are we doing this for?

I talk to my classes all year about it - PURPOSE and AUDIENCE. Why are we learning about something? What is our 'takeaway'? What authentic life context does it fit?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that's the hope! The true reason behind reports is not to make us have a mad, crazy, no-life 4-6 weeks while we plough through writing reports! The reality is that we owe it to these students, and their parents, who have placed their faith in us all year, to report on what they have learnt and what their next learning steps are. We must report honestly and with great integrity. Those parents have loaned us their precious children for a whole year, trusting that we will nurture and grow them and guide them through this year of their life. One day, one child may talk of you like a special memory and tell their own child about the tremendous impact you had on their learning journey. Imagine if no-one ever did though - are you okay with that?

Reports may seem like a grind to some teachers, honestly, no-one claps their hands with glee at the hours of work involved. But if I do my reporting well, then I am able to paint a portrait of text that describes a journey of one child, their special qualities, strengths and areas for development, their impact on others, their ability to enter my classroom as a stranger and to leave OUR classroom with a small piece of my heart.

I challenge myself every year with just that - to honour the learning that has taken place in our classroom over a year and most importantly, to honour each of the learners who journeyed together.

Report well my fellow teachers, we owe them that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Global Connections

On the news tonight, some children in schools badly affected by the Christchurch quakes and Brisbane floods had decided to Skype a school in Fukushima, Japan who had also suffered terrible loss through the Japan tsunami and the nuclear plant disaster.

It was amazing to see these children connecting with one another. They had many basic things in common and yet the power of social networking had connected them in the most powerful way - we know historically that it is a great healing process when we can share our experiences with someone who empathises, someone who really understands, someone who has walked in our shoes.

"A chance to compare notes...a chance to make friends...time to unite in a song..." says the reporter.

How wonderful that these children are able to connect with others around the globe to share their experiences and talk through their feelings and fears as well as make some new friends. Who knows how this will affect them as they continue to heal, but we can only hope that it will be a part of that process. And now they have decided to become penpals!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


In many ways, the Christchurch of my childhood is seen here, many Christmas holidays with my grandparents, 2 years living there in Bishopdale and many, many visits as an adult. What an amazing piece of cinematography - spectacular and tragic all at once.

Flat Stanley Arrives!

Flat Stanley came to visit our school today! We had read the book, made our own Flat Stanleys and posted them to Pennsylvania, USA. We had even created a wiki for our buddy class and us to use as a shared space. We had joined Edmodo, creating groups for us to communicate through.
But when those gorgeous little Flat Stanleys arrived in a huge envelope with letters full of curiosity about our lives, suddenly, the world became a lot smaller and the term ‘going global’ had come to our classroom.
The children shared their Stanleys, showed them around the room, compared letters and questions and then dived onto Edmodo, full of more questions and lots of things to comment on and say. We have watched videos from each other, we have recorded voicethreads and vocaroos which were very funny for us all to listen to – comparing accents and colloquialisms as well as contrasting differences in school uniforms and other things they observed in the background.
There can be no value placed on these experiences. Who knows how far into the future it will impact? My class talk of nothing else and look forward to each message and comment, racing into the classroom each morning to check on the websites. Many of them are spending time at home going onto Edmodo and showing their parents what they are doing. There are photos everywhere and intentional learning about online spaces, communication, collaboration, curiosity, friendship and much, much more.
In our school, we talk about the importance of ‘a class without walls’, and this certainly illustrates how true that is in the digital age. The passion my class have shown through just a little Flat Stanley from Pennsylvania, really shows how much our global context impacts on children. They have become interested in the history of our area – a subject formally ‘boring’ to them. But now, because it has an authentic learning context, the children realise that the history of where they live and come from is a part of who they are and of immense interest to others.
The American Stanleys are off having adventures with my class at the moment and the NZ Stanleys are in Pennsylvania having fun with their ePals there. Their journeys will come full circle when they return to us in a month or so, but the learning from this experience will continue for far longer than that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The NEW Look!

Don't panic - this is not an interior design blogpost! My class had all new furniture delivered today. Out with the old desks and in with the new tables and tote trays. Now, having lived among both, I have no preference really, but the tables allow us the fluidity of change - we can move and change the classroom as our needs change. The children have no 'fixed abode' - no 'one place' to call their own. Some of the children were a bit in awe of this. "Do you mean I can sit where I want?" said one of them. They were very keen to sit at every table for a wee spell! We did a PMI of which we think is better and why, what are the 'interesting' things about having tables instead of desks and so on.

I was really impressed by how they responded to the changes today. This is not a class who like change really and I was ready for them to be completely thrown. Although they were a bit loud to begin with (we had no furniture until after 11.30am) they were really onto the tasks and have achieved a lot. Our first task of the day involved using edmodo to reply to our ePals (Flat Stanley Project) and they were really pleased to do this as they returned from holidays and received their very own snail-mail letters and Flat Stanleys!

Also, we are having a '3 day challenge' as we look at the challenges of being a superhero. Today we unpacked the qualities of a superhero and then created a wordle of which qualities they thought were the most important. Apparently a costume and a cape are pretty important for some while others thought that being brave or heroic was paramount. We started by looking at the controversy of whether a sportsperson can be called a hero, which was very topical since the All Blacks had just won the World Cup! There was a lot of discussion and I am pleased to say that the children decided that if you are brave, do good things for others, rescue people and have enemies (as well as a great uniform!) then you are DEFINITELY a hero. They thought though that there is certainly a difference between a sporting hero and a hero in the comic books or a real life hero, like someone who rescues you from a fire.

Of course, the silly person in me HAD to ask the children, "But how can the All Blacks be heroes if they haven't rescued anyone?" One child decided that they had rescued New Zealand from being sad after all of the stuff that has happened with the earthquakes and the Pike Mine Disaster. One of little cherubs chirped back, "Oh they definitely rescue people! If they had lost the rugby I think my dad would've needed rescuing!" Kind of sweet, really!

This Made Me Happy All Over Again!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Very Proud To Be A Kiwi

I am proud to be a Kiwi. I was proud before last night, well before the bells tolled for the victory in the Rugby World Cup. Well before the America's Cup was won. Well before the 1987 victory. Well before I understood rowing or the Olympics, well before I knew the difference between netball and kiwifruit, well before I truly understood much, I was proud to be a Kiwi.

My parents are made of stern stuff. They raised us to suck it up, roll with the punches and laugh your way through a disaster. When I traveled all over the world over a ten-year period I was extremely proud to be a Kiwi when people asked. I smiled when American tourists asked, "Where's that in London?" when I mentioned I was from New Zealand. I giggled when Turkish girls asked me whether Kiwi was a language or just a fruit. I rolled my eyes when asked at rugby league matches why I was cheering for Australia instead of England! I was proud to be an Antipodean, proud of our strong heritage of patriotism and laid-back attitudes.

This past year, I have been brought to tears with pride at how our small nation in the South Pacific united under the banner of triple catastrophes and dreadful tragedies. As the earth groaned last September, we wondered in awe at how lucky we were that Canterbury still stood with no fatalities after a magnitude 7.1 rocked the area, creating a brand new fault line. I stood proudly, with tears streaming down my cheeks, at school for 2 minutes' silence as our nation reeled from the devastating collapse of the Pike Mine in November, near Greymouth. As our country united in prayer and hope for the safe rescue of those 29 men, I was proud of the strength and determination of the small town as it finally realised that all hope was gone. But the incredible stories of community and resilience stand out, a town resolute that its loved-ones' deaths will not be forgotten. I wept with those families and I was proud to be a Kiwi whose heart broke with theirs.

Then, in February when the unthinkable happened and another 6.3 magnitude quake devastated Christchurch, almost completely demolishing the main centre, and affecting most of the outlying areas, I stood proudly as my husband flew to Christchurch to serve with the Salvation Army to assist with the disaster relief team. I worried as I watched the aftershocks live on TV - I worried for Kiwis trapped there, I worried for my husband's safety, I worried for the children and families whose lives could never be the same again. But I stood proudly as a Kiwi, as the nation again united in hope and stood alongside the people of Canterbury, helping in every way that we could, from school mufti days to church fundraisers.

So last night, when the Rugby World Cup was held aloft by a very deserving Richie McCaw and his team of mighty All Blacks, you would be wondering if I was proud that we won. Yes, in part I was. But you are mistaken if you think that's all that I was proud of. I was proud of how we played host to tens of thousands of visitors from around the world. I was proud of how New Zealand has gotten in behind even the least likely of the teams, dressing in their colours and cheering in the stands, filling the smaller stadiums and making it a rich feast of Kiwi hospitality for those visiting players. I am proud of the hundreds of thousands who lined the streets over the past 7 weeks, enjoying the celebrations and cheering on their teams in (mostly) great spirit and support.

And I am immensely proud, that as a nation, we have risen above the adversity of the past year - we have not forgotten, nor even healed - but we have found opportunities to focus on a silly little game with an oval ball, to band together as a proud nation and pull together to show the world that we are a mighty nation of people.

And yes, I am VERY proud that the All Blacks won the World Cup!

World Cup Winners

Gotta dedicate this post to the mighty All Blacks and a nation united beneath the banner of the New Zealand flag. A fantastic world cup extravaganza, an amazing 6 weeks of rugby and luckily for us, a wonderful result. Great leadership, dedication and guts have been shown. Bruises, broken bones, torn ligaments and aching muscles are all that many have to show for it but for Richie McCaw and his team of All Blacks tonight, this is what it was all about.

Kia Kaha, standing strong for Christchurch, the Pike River families and the nation. True champions.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Impact Of Social Networking in Education

DK was the presenter for this breakout @justadandak
He started of by discussing the human element to the web and our communication through it. We looked at a clip from 'Winky dink' which was the first interactive broadcast over 50 years ago. Children held an acetate up to their TV screen and saw the features and layovers in colour. This was an incredibly innovative idea - that an audience was able to participate from a lounge!
DK then showed us the future of this interaction by viewing the youtube clip of motion control gaming. He claimed that it would freak us out and he was right! It was pretty real and I could imagine there being a lot of terrified and excited kids playing this!
@fwong @brandonjla for more information
DK talked about the fabulous Spike Milligan quote - 'chopsticks are one of the reasons why the Chinese never invented custard'. It is about the need we have within our own society and the tools we have to serve that need.
Tools - are we enabling our schools to 'play' with stuff, invent things?
Ever heard of 'Angry Birds'? Well, a young teenager invented 'Bubble ball' - made for his physics class - and totally disrupted the mainstream by knocking Angry Birds off its perch as number 1 app!
Technology is becoming devisive. Amazon are now selling more eBooks than real books. Social media has to disrupt and divide education (in a positive way).
We then took a look at - iPhone, iPad - free app - which is totally multimodal. One idea is that kids create background music (compose on iPad) and provide background to their own writing. This is like having your own backing track as you read, like a movie experience but the movie plays in your head while the music plays in your ears.
So, some questions and things to ponder from DK:
  • How do we separate the professional from the personal? A single track, a blurring or totally separate tracks.
  • Who does social media within our schools? It's not 100% one person's job it's 1% all persons jobs.
I learnt a few new words for my technical vocab...neotony - retaining juvenile traits in adulthood. This is also known as hiding learning in play. It's a barrier of entry if you are not into the gaming ideas, playing. Clicktivism - activism thru a click! Emberrorist - like a terrorist who embarrasses people online. Foodoir - food critic online!
  • Where's the fun in the context of social media?
Sour - advert for water - playing around with webcams! Use that model with your students to re-create their own.
technology changes, humans don't
We looked then at what is called the internet of things - where things are connected to the internet - iPads for example. But the future of internet things are ideas such as fridges that order milk for you when you run out, Rambler shoes that tweet when you walk.
Transitional - join a FB group when you join a new school, extend it further to the wider world
Spaces - social spaces - 6 spaces of social media - Matt Locke
Education is a very badly designed game, you level up, get grades, do really well and get more stuff, but it has been badly designed for the user!
Creators, critics, joiners - this is what our kids online are.
My big takeaway from this session is that LEARNING IS LIKE ROWING UPSTREAM - not to advance is to drop back - Chinese proverb - that's where the learning happens! We need to meet our learners where they are, not where we want them to be or think they should be. We have to use the tools of the time to teach the skills of the time and then hope this is enough for their future building.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Blogging Masterclass

We had a fantastic session with DK aka @justadandak, which was about blogging for experts.

Here are the takeaways from that session: (notes care of Rachel Boyd @rachelboyd and myself)

The golden rule is that blogging is being in a real room with real people - treat it that way!
Remember - people don’t want you to just talk about yourself all the time! Blogging is a conversation between you and the world.
Feature other people - it's always about connections.
Try to constantly come back to “what is the purpose of this blog/post?”

Forget the numbers - don’t worry about how many people are reading your blog.
Find your voice first in blogging.
Your blog is an intersection not a destination - get people to come through your blog and off. They will always come back! eg Google, Mashable

4 Tips that Drive Quality, Content, Conversation
  • Commenting - you have to be part of the conversation. Leave comments, start conversing. You do this in real life - don’t always lurk!
  • Content: Not just talk about yourself, tell other people’s story. Create unique content for your site that no one else has. Feature people on your blog and enjoy the links back through their reputation. Talking to people and videoing or podcasting their info forges deeper connection - create content around their story. How could you also make use of this at school level?
  • Control: “Re Work” - Reimaging work, By Seth Godin Book. Some bloggers try to create viral amazing content all the time - “the hit”, don’t focus on this. Try and be a ‘good community’ agent and focus on sharing.
  • Question: Always leave the reader with a question. This pulls in the reader & opens up a potential conversation.
Barriers to blogging
  • Time
  • Content Originality
  • New Ideas
The bottom line is - just get writing! Everyone has something of value to share about their journey. And remember, it is just that - a journey, not a destination.

What I Heard and Learnt At uLearn

Ramblings and thoughts from two of the sessions I attended:

Dr Jack Bacon: Keynote
There has been a creative explosion - knowledge acquisition - changes from generation to generation.
'My Grandfathers' Clock' has been written by Dr Jack Bacon to show his patriarchal lineage and how they were affected by a single day in their life. He chose one defining day such as the Lunar Landing and wrote about that day in the life of his grandfather. He has traced back 1,000 years of his family and has written this book to show (in part) how they contributed to him being who he is.
We pass on good ideas and they continue to be built onto.
We try to linearize everything!
Futurists - physical limits of chemistry/physics - but creativity is exponential!
Teaching 'on the shoulders of giants' quote from Isaac Newton.
Unity of thought.
Future skills for our kids of today mean that they will have to be able to reinvent themselves.
The accumulation of knowledge has happened over the (approx) 13.7bn yrs that the universe has existed.
ePortfolios with Nick Rate: breakout
You need to define the PURPOSE first - why do we need them?
Then DEFINE them - clarify the vision and beliefs of the school and the audience - what are the benefits? Who is this for? - learning to learn portfolio model - development of independent learner
Decide - is this part of a process? Or is it for showcasing good work? Or accountability? Or a combination of these things?
The benefits - reflecting, student voice - should not be underestimated. Social networking - connections, people as resources, feedback. Lifelong learning!
Consult - students, parents, BoT, teachers, HODs, leadership teams, providers
Framework - collect, select, reflect, project. PLF - inquiry process
Criteria; Jamin Lietz; Mahara, Spike@school, edublogs, googlesites, blogger, wordpress, hapara (join with googlesites) myportfolio - free til the end of Jan 2014, twitter, evernote
Educate - setting goals, technical how to's, giving feedback, pedagogy, reflecting and self-assessing.
I had lots of questions and thoughts about ePortfolios and found this session really informative. It clarified for me that it is firstly ab0ut purpose and then about audience. We need to decide the why and who for before we can clearly decide on the how.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


What a conference! It has just been one high after another for me really. From inspiring keynotes, inspiring colleagues, inspiring teachers, inspiring tweachers, inspiring speakers, inspiring learning to just plain inspiring people, it has been an unbelievable 3 days of learning.

I came with expectations. My plan was thus: network, connect, share, challenge.

First, network with those who I have discovered and hooked in with on my PLN. And they are outstanding educators and now I discover, outstanding people too! WOW!

Then, connect with like-minded teachers and educators. Well there were a lot of new connections made and it has my brain spinning. This world is full of incredible educators and we grow lots of them in good old God-Zone, New Zealand!

Share...ideas, thoughts, questions, knowledge. I presented at a session (40mins) and it was so cool to be able to do that - overcoming the fear of public speaking and all that! It was cool to share ideas through twitter throughout the conference and the googledocs ripping around for each session meant true collaboration on a grand scale was always going off!

Lastly, challenge. Well, I have definitely been challenged by the concepts and innovative thinking, theoretical boundaries that are pushing back and challenged by the thoughts of 'how do we apply this new learning to OUR teachers, to OUR community of learners?'

I feel all abuzz with new schools of thought. It is inspiring to be able to go away and focus solely on personal learning, change and growth but also have your own peeps and tweeps to then chuck those ideas around with. So much of the learning has come from the discussions with the people who were there, the people who impact on my journey the most (other than my class, of course!)

So now the big challenge is to find a way to apply all of this to my life. Oh! Lightbulb moment! I think that might be what it's all thinking, new knowledge (theory) put into real life contexts (practical) = learning!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


It's all about getting connected. Sharing. Talking and thinking with like-minded people. Some are ahead of the game, some are barely on board the bus. But we are all at uLearn as agents of change. We are here for one reason, and one reason alone - to learn, to broaden our knowledge so that we can bring the best, most innovative ideas and teaching to our schools.

I heard a lot of talk about 'innovation' yesterday. Personally, I am not at uLearn because of any desire to get ideas or talk about innovations. I am here to connect, both with people and with ideas. I have some dots lurking around in my head and they need to be connected. I have some people in my PLN and I want to connect with them.

It's about the rich learning conversations for me. It's about the deep thinking and processing. The computers, iPads, iPods, devices - they are just the tools for delivery. I know how to use them (not as an expert) but they could be turned off, discharged or removed from my room and I would still be an eLearning teacher. It is about creating change in the way we teach and the we learn. It's about bringing about change in thinking and questioning, it's about connecting those dots in real and deep ways that I can relate to my life. That's what it's like for me and that's what my children are searching for.

We were reminded yesterday by Dr. Jack Baker that we have always, throughout history, been part of fast-moving change. But he also demonstrated for us how rapidly changing our world is now - the rate of thinking and the way that we think, problem-solve and process, has changed exponentially, but it will never stop changing. That's why we can't possibly keep up with it because it becomes the past within a moment. We cannot equip our children to simply read, write and compute any more and hope that the rest will come through osmosis. It might for some, but they will be ill-equipped to cope in the future, especially compared to others. The idea is to level the playing field and that's what we are charged with as our task as teachers.

I look forward to the rich conversations continuing and there have been many already.
I look forward to the new connections being made, and they have been many too.
But I also look back and see how far we have come, how fast we have developed change and how much we have learned and I know, with absolute certainty, that these conferences make changes real and tangible, develop incredible passion in teachers and administrators and transfer into real and measurable changes in our schools, which directly impacts on the learners. Let's be honest - that's what it's all about.

Monday, October 17, 2011

uLearn 2011 - Getting Connected

Well, today is the day! I am charging the laptop and readying the mind, packing the bag and sorting out the kids so that I can get off to Roto-Vegas for uLearn, 2011.

So much to organise! So much has been prepared! So many tweets about it from all over the world! The anticipation is building and some people are already there enjoying the choice tasters to whet their appetites for what is to come!

So, what am I personally expecting to get from this conference?

I want new learning. New ideas. Confirmation of things that I already know. Expanded knowledge with ideas that have been percolating around in me for a long time or some for a short time.

But more than anything, this is the chance to CONNECT.

I want to connect on a personal level with people in my PLN on twitter who exist as an @ and already operate as a # group but have yet to be known in the flesh. I want to make NEW people connections and re-connect old connections. I want to connect the learning that I have in the classroom or through crowd-sourcing, blogs, #edchats with the learning that others are speaking about, developing or showing. I need to connect with like-minded people who are working in schools like mine and different to mine. I need to connect the dots from A to Z and then reconnect them in new and wonderful ways.

This conference is all about connecting for me. I am doing a short 40min presentation tomorrow about eBites and the whole gist of it is for people to make new connections. My goal is to help my small group of 18 see that eLearning is ME learning and that we can all learn new things every day and teach new things in a variety of ways, but in small, bite-sized chunks so that people feel connected to their own learning pathway.

I can't wait! uLearn - here I come!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

True Grit

Tenacity and determination.
Community and collaboration.

Sometimes the worst of times bring out the best in people.
And sometimes, though not often, people can really surprise others by their grit and determination as a community.

When the ship, Rena, hit a reef and began to spill oil, fuel and toxic waste into the ocean on the coast of New Zealand, in a region known for its immense stretches of beautiful white, sandy beaches, the locals were told firmly to stay off the beach. Signs were erected and the army swarmed in to assess the situation.

But the small local community could not bear to sit by and watch their coastline ruined. They could not simply lie down and let fate have its way. So they donned their gumboots, rolled up their sleeves and trudged along that beach to help clean up. Tonnes of oil mixed with oil-sodden penguins, seals and birds, were lying stretched as far as the eye could see. Their picturesque beaches and idyllic views were now blackened with sludge and slime. Their stunning shoreline which was home to their kaimoana (seafood) and was once rich with fish and sealife, is now replaced with a clean-up job that seems impossible.

But this little community is not to be deterred. They have gone there, day after day, carrying their plastic bags (reduce, reuse, recycle!) to cart, sweep, sift and shift as much as they can. And every afternoon they leave a clean beach behind, only to arrive the next morning greeted by the same task again. More sludge washes up on that beach every day, and more bags depart every afternoon.

If we look at that community, we have a wonderful portrait of a united people. We can witness collaboration at work daily as the army and the locals work shoulder to shoulder. We have seen it during other tragedies such as Katrina, Japan's tsunami and the earthquakes in Christchurch. We have only to turn the pages of the newspapers to witness a true testimony of grit, determination, co-operation and collaboration. And we are awed - so we should be. These communities are the ones we would seek to build in our schools and in our lives. We can only hope that these traits would be apparent to all if we were faced with adversity too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Most Inspiring School Leader I Have Ever Met

This is actually an incredibly easy post to write. I have worked in close to 100 schools over the years, through classroom teaching, Literacy Consulting in the U.K, relieving (supply teaching/substitute teaching), teaching English as a second language, as well as teaching adults at Teachers' College in the UK. This means that I have worked with a LOT of school leaders - the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

The very best have risen to the top of my memories and this is exactly where they should be. Inspiring leaders have a unique way of pushing everyone else to the very back of your mind and setting themselves at the front. This is where most of them lead from so it is rather apt!

The second school principal that I worked with here in New Zealand, was incredibly inspiring. Blunt, forthright, a 'from the front' leader, she was one of those amazing people who you either killed or died for, or spent your weekends trying to work out how you could dispose of her body and not get caught. She didn't suffer fools lightly, was quick to tell you if you were not pulling your weight and shook up the school with a lot of scary ideas. BUT - she was the one who bought the first round at the pub every Friday night if your planning was complete for the next week, she was the one who worked more hours than her staff, she was the one who had a big vision that every child had excellence inside them and her philosophy was that we are building a child NOT a school. I loved working for her - her character was refreshing and she was a great person at recognising that all teachers were learners too, quite a revolutionary thought at that time. I ended up working for her 3 times in 2 different schools and when she retired, I knew that education in New Zealand had seen one of its finest leave the building.

The boss I really loved working for in the UK was a great leader. He believed that relationships build a school and that in turn builds a platform for learning. He was in our rooms doing a cruise around EVERY morning - in fact, in the four years that I was there, he only missed one day. He was great with the parents but also a very approachable boss. He amassed a fantastic team of leaders around him and they drove the school with him. He was fun and funny, relevant and relational and he was just a joy to work with, as he had an incredibly positive spin on life and teaching. The biggest thing that he did for the school was to revolutionise the behaviour in a very tough school. Over 6 years, he took on every child and got them on board with a school-wide behaviour programme based on rewards and consequences. It totally changed the classrooms and allowed us maximum teaching time in a school where the kids were pretty difficult. He passed away just before I left the UK and his funeral was packed with ex-pupils, ex-colleagues, other school leaders, ex-parents and hundreds who jammed in to pay tribute to an incredible leader.

The two principals that I have worked with since being back in New Zealand have both been incredibly strong leaders, but totally different to one another, in fact, poles apart. The first one was a visionary man who took a patch of dirt and in 10 years, he turned it into a truly great school to work in. He believed in the importance of the Arts in children's learning so he built a Performing Arts studio. He also built a Learning Centre so that the gifted and talented programmes had a base as well as the special needs programmes. He was constantly thinking of ways to improve the school and he was ALWAYS ahead of other schools of thought. I believe he was rather a 'thought leader' because of the way he worked.

The principal I work for now took over from that type of leader, and fortunately, she never tried to fill his boots. Instead, she brought her own shoes! She is the type of leader who is totally people-driven, relationship based and she is incredibly approachable (teachers, students and parents) as well as incredibly realistic. She is hugely supportive of teachers undertaking further study and attending professional development conferences and seminars. She is best described as the 'wind beneath your wings' type of leader - someone who gets excited by new ideas and is constantly backing a new idea or initiative. She is the leader that you go to and say, "I have a crazy idea..." and you leave her office with her full support and lots of strategies for trying the crazy idea! She leads from the front and is always quick to recognise teachers who are leaders too, and she nurtures and supports them in growing into leadership.

Every school leader is different but I believe that these and other great ones have some things in common:
1. They serve their staff, teachers, students, leaders, parents and community wholeheartedly
2. They have a vision for their learners, teachers and the future of the school
3. They believe in the power of education
4. They believe that every learner deserves the best opportunities to become the best that they can be
5. They build strong relationships and depend upon other leaders to hold them accountable
6. The recognise leadership in others and work to nurture growing leaders in their schools
7. They understand that it takes a community to grow a child and they work with the community to support families and learners, developing a knowledge of their community along the way
8. They are positive about change and understand the future is fluid and unknown in education
9. They think BIG
10. They are learners too, never afraid to grow their own knowledge

Although all of these principals that I loved working with were all different, they had all of these qualities in common.

And THAT I believe, is why they are etched in my mind as the most inspiring school leaders that I have ever met.

The Most Inspiring Teacher I Have Ever Met

I was quite disillusioned with school, particularly as a teenager. I was not your 'meat and three veggies' kind of learner, I didn't WANT to learn about sine and cosine, tangents and logarithms. I didn't enjoy learning imperative verbs in French and as for science, well, if I couldn't dissect it or blow it up, frankly, it was boring.

But I had strategies and they were outstanding. If work avoidance could have a grade, well I scored an A+. The debating team (I am gifted at arguing), drama club including all of the school productions, choir (you got out of two maths sessions per week!) every sports team the planet has known, gym monitor, prefect, and much, much, more. By sixth form I had scraped my way past the first set of exams by the skin of my teeth (I am definitely an assignment person and there were no points for assignments in those days!) and I was heading into the REAL stuff, the exams that meant University or a career at McDonalds.

Enter, Miss Law.

A rather mouse-y looking young woman, totally dedicated to her life as an English teacher. She was sassy and slightly edgy as teachers go at that time. She had scored the 'hell-class' - all the reluctant learners who were actually quite gifted, but disruptive, disconnected and downright difficult. We were the kids who had potential but somehow we hadn't decided to use it. We had been told that we couldn't do it. We were yet to prove anyone wrong.

Her first session with us included her telling us that if we didn't want to learn, then we needed to get the heck out of her class. Show up for roll-call, she advised us, and then disappear to the common-room and begone from her hallowed temple of learning. When we all sat frozen, contemplating the catch to this wonderful lifeline we had all been given, she proceeded to unravel what the year would look like in her class.

Her catch-phrase was, "Nothing but 100%." And boy, she meant it. She was all about choices and us being responsible for our own learning, which was a rather refreshing pedagogy at that time! She had no textbooks in our English classroom - her theory was to allow us to choose the genre and texts for study based on our real interests. When the lads suggested rather impishly, that we do our film study on "Horror Movies", she booked the film room for six sessions and hired 'Halloween' and 'Friday the 13th' movies which she sat through smiling at us.

Her teaching style was all about questioning - endless ORAL questions which we loved. She created scenarios for us and we had to duck and dive and weave our words through them like an obstacle course. Everything we did was noisy and engaging, creative and challenging. But she BELIEVED in us and it was etched on her face. We were hooked.

We LOVED her classes. We loved her teaching style. Every week we completed every task, assignment, study component gladly and with vigor, and I HUNG on every word she said. We waited anxiously for the feedback that she gave both written and oral, as if our life depended on it. We used her feedback to improve our writing and to influence HOW we read a text.

When the time came for final exams, I went to see her on the last day of study leave. I was getting my old school dress signed by friends and I really wanted one last piece of her to take away. She wrote, "No less than 98%" on my dress.

I looked at that comment, slightly crest-fallen. She smiled her gentle, warm smile at me and said,"Kimberley, you have already given more than 100% all year. In this exam, I expect you to SCORE no less than 98% because I believe you can achieve that."

Well, I got 88% (and passed all of my other exams without a problem) and you have to be pretty happy with that. For a kid who hated school, loathed exams and avoided learning at all costs, Miss Law inspired me (and who knows how many others) to believe that they were excellent learners. Her teaching impacted on HOW I learnt and how I approached learning. It influenced every aspect of my character as a learner. She taught me that no two learners are the same, that a curriculum that works for learners is one that accepts and embraces ALL learning styles. She inspired me to believe in myself as a lifelong learner.

Miss Law was truly the most inspirational teacher that I ever had.

The Most Inspiring Pupil I Have Ever Taught

Years ago, when teaching in the UK, I had the privilege of teaching a boy called Justin who had brittle bone syndrome (Osteogenesis Imperfecta). He had the most optimistic view of life that I have ever come across. He was determined and independent, unwilling to be defined by his disease, and for the four years that I was at the school he endured cast after cast, surgeries, wheelchairs, crutches, hospital visits galore - yet wore a permanent smile.

The school had only 105 students and I ended up teaching him for 2 years because I changed year levels. During the second year of teaching him, it became obvious that he was going to have to lose both of his legs as he kept breaking the lower leg bones almost monthly. He would come out of cast and be straight back into it again. So, our athletics day fast approaching, he set himself one, last goal 'with legs' - to run the 100m race.

Every person in our school, every parent, teacher and child, cheered him down that field that day. As he loped in last, the class joined him to run the last 20m with him, cheering him the whole way. You would truly have believed that he had won an Olympic Gold Medal such was the joy, celebration and tears.

A week later, we did a class visit to see him in hospital after both of his legs had been amputated. Still smiling, still larger than life, and still positive to his very core, he entertained the class, cracked jokes about 'being leg-less at 11!' and regaled us with stories of how he planned to 'pimp his wheelchair'!

He single-handedly taught the class and the whole school community about being happy with who you are. He inspired us all to want to be better people, and to be grateful for what we have. My class raised money for him and bought him a Sony Discman (VERY trendy at the time) and lots of CDs. They sold seeds and plants that they had grown, held cake sales and even hosted a community fair to help him purchase the best wheelchair that he could. He taught those children the value of caring for others and fighting to be the best that you can be. He taught me to look at every child for who they are and not what they do, and he taught me that a class is a community who can genuinely bond together to bring about change.

Absolutely the most inspiring pupil I have ever taught.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My First 2 Years As A Teacher

They were the darkest of times.

Some days I went home crying. Some days I just went home and wondered what on earth I was doing. Most days I didn't know what I was doing let alone WHY I was doing it.

I had kids who swore at me daily. Some hit me or spat at me. Others arrived without breakfast, ate no lunch and didn't show up after lunchbreak most days.

I had kids who came with bruises, black eyes and cuts that I know didn't happen from the door slamming. I saw abuse, violence, our school had an attempted arson most weeks and sometimes even when we were in the buildings. Kids urinated in the tote trays, ripped seats off their own toilets, graffiti was everywhere, no-one wanted to help, no-one wanted to know. We had a bomb threat the first term I was there and the bomb squad was too busy to come so the unmarried teachers with no children were sent through the school to search the bags. That was me.

The school leaders were broken. My deputy head, who was my tutor teacher, had a nervous breakdown week 3 and I waited for a new guide and support person to arrive. That took 6 months.

I had a child in my class who was psychotic. He had experienced a hideous personal trauma aged 6 and had never had counseling or support after it. No-one had the resources to help or the time to care. He came to school and barked like a dog, urinated in the corner, hit me, threw chairs at me and generally swore at every opportunity. I would read the class story with him pinned between my legs and his arms held by me as another child turned the page for me. He was violent, angry and a mess. I was a beginning teacher who didn't have a clue of how to help him.

Our principal didn't want to know. She rolled up at 9am and rolled out at 3pm. She had the audacity to tell me that I wasn't cut out for teaching because I asked for help. She suggested I go and re-train as some other profession. She wouldn't support us as a staff, wouldn't even call in the parents of a child who broke my colleague's jaw in a fit of rage. The school was limping by without a single professional person screaming 'STOP! I want to get out of here!' until I did.

It broke me.
I did my time, like a prison sentence and I resigned from teaching forever.
I had never wanted to be a teacher. I went to teachers' college by default so I could kill off a year until I was old enough to take my place in the Journalism course I had always dreamed of.
But then the kids got hold of me while I was at teachers' college and they wove their way into my heart. I had grandiose dreams of traveling to Africa and making a difference to kids who had nothing.

Then I got posted to my first school, with kids who had nothing, in my own backyard, and it was NOT the romantic fantasy of a beginning teacher with stars in her eyes. It was hell and I had to drive there every day, count out 6 hours of hell, and drive home crying.

So I left.
I gave up.
It beat me.
They won.

I was never going back to a classroom again. And that, as they would say, was that.
Until my mother got into the act.
One firm lecture from her about being a waste of tax-payers' money and all that and guilt got the better of me. I made a deal with the devil - I would apply for ONE job, and one job only. And if it was 'meant to be' then I would get it and return to teaching to have another go. If not, then journalism beckoned...

I applied. Wearing jandals, board-shorts and a shabby t-shirt I sauntered into the interview (oh I was determined to sabotage ANY chance of getting this job!!!) but I was in for a shock. The principal recognised a very broken, very disillusioned young teacher and she hired me. She knew I had had the worst of times, she knew I was busted up and cynical about my career choice, and she hired me anyway.

Over 2 more years I healed. I experienced the joys of actually TEACHING - not just managing - a class. I experienced laughter and fun, daring to try new and wonderful things. I was nurtured and supported, finding a collegiality that I had previously not known. I was respected by students and their parents, I was part of a thriving learning community and I fell in love all over again. The romance was back. The dream was alive.

If I had my time over again and I could change anything, I simply wouldn't change a thing.
Every experience that I had, every tough time, every bad day, contributed to me being who I am today. I have never been complacent BECAUSE of what I learnt. I have never been content BECAUSE of what I experienced. I have been passionate and driven to make a difference to myself first so that I can be the best teacher and learner that I can be BECAUSE I went to hell and back and I never want to sit back and accept my circumstances ever again.

I am a teacher and every day I get up and LOVE what I do BECAUSE of what I learnt in those first two years.

I am the master of my fate.
I am the captain of my destiny.

Qualities of a Learner

I have been thinking about what the most powerful quality of a learner could be. I have been examining my own children, both the ones at home and the ones at school. If I could pick the one most essential quality that I would want them to have, what would it be? Resilience? Flexibility? A team player? Leadership?

After a lot of consideration, I have decided that it has to be DARING. Yep, you read it right - DARING.

I have learnt that it takes a lot to be a risk-taker, especially a sane one. If you are daring then you are resilient usually anyway, since risk-takers tend to fail a lot! You are generally flexible since there is a lot to contend with along the way. And you are likely to be a team player and a great leader since you need buy in with people with all of the daring ideas!

To dare is to be a risk-taker but to be a person who possesses the sound judgement that goes with it. A daring person is one who is able to look failure in the eye and do it anyway. It does not mean that you must be foolish or foolhardy, more that you must be willing to try new things as well as to create new things.

I believe that there are two choices in life often - to step outside the box and dare, or to sit back and take the easier, more comfortable, safe choice.

Daring people go in rockets to the moon. They discover how lightbulbs work. They crash planes and sink ships. They invent cars and find stars. Daring people create visual effects and build theme parks. They risk everything in the hope of discovering that one elusive thing.

If they dare to be different, then they may just inspire others to try things that are new, explore other options and become more daring themselves. In possessing this quality, they may not be afraid to break from conformity and discover the essence of who they really are and what they can do with their lives. It may prevent them from being swept up by the crowd, caring about the opinions of others, following poor leadership or peer pressure or even allowing a bully to affect them.

I would rather my own children, both at home and at school, were willing to dare in life and make mistakes, fail, err and more, just to possess that quality of being able to courageously dare to challenge the norm and get the most out of life that they can.

Go on.
I DARE you.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Conference Time (again!)

I find it hilarious how much I hated classrooms and listening to teachers or lecturers when I was busy resisting learning as a child/teenager. When I went to university I spent more time trying to suss out the relevance of what the lecturers were going on about than actually listening to the lecture! I found them, frankly, boring. The only interesting thing about school was sport, morning tea, lunchtime and anything to do with music. Outside of that? Boring.

One or two teachers were the exception and I often wonder if I was the hardest kid to sell education to in those years, or was education just downright boring then?

I am presenting about eLearning and eBites (small, bite sized learning that will engage teachers who need to experience success with eLearning and using digital tools) at a conference next week, and I find myself constantly seeking new ways to keep my audience interested. It is a small group of only 18 and me, so it is easier in one way and harder in another. If someone is bored, it will be very obvious. If someone starts texting or searching the internet for something more interesting than me, then it will be highly visible.

So I ask myself, why didn't any of my teachers try to find new and inventive ways or tools to inspire me? What was wrong with education and teachers when I was at school, that they didn't desire engagement? Was it a terrible curriculum? Was it pressure from parents? Was it a need to tick boxes for summative tests and grades that drove us to boredom and probably them too?

Teaching is one of the most exciting and interesting vocations that you can have! You kind of don't pick it, it really picks you. Personality is essential, ridiculous humour is helpful, a drive and passion for kids' learning and a heart for their development is a must. Something I have discovered over many of hit and miss is that learners are all looking for one thing - interest. Can I interest them in the ideas? Are they interested in the learning? Does the learning style cater for their interest? How can I make a lesson interesting to all of my students?

Oh don't be fooled, just because I have the diagnosis doesn't mean that I have the cure! But I have also discovered that anyone can learn new things if they have them in 'bite-sized' amounts. That's why I am presenting about bite-sized learning. If we approach the big picture by trying to paint the whole thing at once, then we are all bound to feel we will fail right from the beginning. But if we paint the background and then the other parts one small step at a time, very soon we will have a portrait of the big picture that looked impossible. Bite-sized learning is like that. A classic example being cyber-safety. If I tried to teach my class everything they need to be cyber-safe, then I would just bore them very early on and I would also be likely to have total buy-out. Instead, if I integrate cyber-safety into every session that we have online, with small and bite-sized lessons, then I am guaranteeing a more gradual building of skills and a greater level of interest.

(I hate public speaking so I guess I will just have to 'suck it up', picture them all in woolly knickers and hope for the best!)

And maybe, just maybe, one more teacher might 'get on the bus' and join the eLearning wave from one bite-sized thing that I suggest.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

And Another Term Bites The Dust!

We have had a VERY busy last day of term! My poor class will have gone home today glad that school is over! It was exciting and frantic, fun and interesting, but it was a very, very tiring day!

We started off by having our Level 2 maths test to finish...oh dear! How about THAT for the last day of term! To make up for it, I shared two great pieces of news with them...we had our new laptops arrive today - YAY! - and our new furniture is coming in just over a week. In fact, they will arrive back at school with it all in the room ready for them and I to create our new learning environment around it! So, with this in mind, we had quite a few things to do to prepare!

It became a great time for co-operation, teamwork and self-management all rolled into one as the class cleared out their old desks, tidied out what needed to go home, sorted books to go into other boxes, organised tote tray bits and pieces and so on. It took about half an hour, and then my industrious little bundle of helpers decided to appoint a few of themselves to stay behind with me while they went to specialist music and help to clean the last bits up. We stacked chairs, stowed the old desks and generally finalised the stuff that needed to be finished for the holidays.

The next part of the day was awesome fun! We had a Skype session with one of our classmates who has just arrived in China with her parents where she will be living for the next 3 months. She will be back at our school at the beginning of the next school year, so she is attending school there while away. The class loved it when she took her laptop around her apartment and gave us a fantastic tour of the home she is living in, 11 stories up in a 25 storey highrise building. Some of the boys loved being able to talk afterwards about the apartments they lived in while in China or Hong Kong when they were young. There were some great moments of sharing their memories.

The class spoke so naturally with her that it really made me realise how easily they interact using such a range of media and tools to communicate. There was a natural flow of conversation including lots of probing, thoughtful questions back and forth. I love how Skype allows the children to feel truly connected with one another. I know that there are plenty of tools that do similar things, but Skype just allows that real interpersonal connection through seeing and hearing one another.

We ended the day with smiles and laughter, reflecting on a term of looking at sporting challenges, the challenge of hosting the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, but also the challenges that we have had of competing in cross country, athletics, games, learning sports' skills with our college buddies from the local secondary school and much, much more. What a great term it has been!