Thursday, 9 July 2020

The Importance of Making Connections through telling our own stories

Making connections with Pacific ideas in health education - an invitation to tell my own story.

Our TIC of Health, Whaea Kata told me about how she collaborated with Gloria, a year 13 student, class of 2019 and Jenny Robertson, a Health educator, to put together a relevant piece of work for the health curriculum that could be used in a high school classroom.  Gloria Tu’itupou was the top Health and P.E Scholarship student in N.Z last year and wrote a report called ‘Navigating vā in search of Connection:  The Kahoa (Lole)’.  The report has become part of new resource for the Health curriculum called “Making connections with Pacific ideas in health education”.  When Whaea described Gloria’s understanding of the vā and how she explored the use of the Kahoa as symbol of the connections between her two worlds, I was hooked.  I was amazed at the insights that I’d heard and felt proud, not because Gloria was a student of ours but because I could connect with what she was saying- I could see myself in her words.  

The story of my two worlds
My own battle to work in two worlds, the Samoan world and the Palagi/Kiwi world came to the front and centre of my mind when reading Gloria’s report.  I had limited understanding of the concept of the vā, which I thought meant that unspoken place in relation to how you act and feel in the Samoan world.  I didn’t really want to go there to be honest because of my I felt I wouldn’t do it justice but that’s okay, these are simply my musings.

“Vā is the space between, the betweeness, not empty space, not space that separates, but space that relates, that holds separate entities and things together in the Unity-that-is-All, the space that is context, giving meaning to things” (Wendt,pg 402, 1999). 

I hadn’t really tried to understand my existence in my two worlds much until now.   I’ve always thought you were either one or the other and trying to be in the middle was a really a confusing place.  I’ve come to realise that everyone’s story has a place in that ‘space’ and as an educator, I’ve got the chance to help my kids know who they are and how to navigate their ‘space’.  To do this, I needed to really understand and appreciate my own journey. 

Growing up, I didn’t have much to do with my ‘Samoan’ side (even though I am full Samoan).  My mum always used to say, the key to success is education and that success starts with speaking proper English.  At home, my parents spoke to us kids in Samoan but we were encouraged to reply and speak in English.  We attended a palagi Catholic church.  I watched many of my school friends grow up in the ‘autalavou’ (church youth group) and I yearned to be part of the White Sunday celebrations.  I felt like a bit of an outsider.  

During my school years, were only allowed to go to school and come straight home, no friends, no extra-curricular, just school and home.  It was my cousins that lived the ‘real’ Samoan life and I enjoyed the few times that we got together.  They could speak Samoan freely and I got good at nodding my head and saying ‘iiii’ (meaning ‘yes’, pronounced ‘eee’ - supposed to be ‘ioe’ but I didn’t know).  Watching them answer their parents commands in the Samoan language made me envious of them.  When we were alone,  I would purposefully try to sound smarter then them by telling them to say words like ‘discussion’ and ‘decision’ because I knew they would struggle and sound like ‘fobs’ (a term coined ‘fresh off the boat’ which meant P.I immigrants who came to N.Z unable to speak English).  We would laugh and it would make me feel better.

Someone said to me once ‘Dorothy, as a Pacific Islander, if you want to prove yourself in this world, you have to work twice as hard’.  This became my mantra.  In my early college years, I excelled at school and had mainly palagi friends.  I had to work extra hard in class and I remember coming 13th out of 120 students in the end of year maths test in year 9.  I thought I was really brainy.  This made me fit in with the palagi kids even more, except when they wanted to hang out after school.  I wasn’t allowed and I felt left out.  I didn’t really have any Samoan friends because I didn’t feel comfortable around them.  They acted different, they sounded different and they looked at me like I was different.  Looking back now, I could see that their Samoan way of life (fa’a Samoa) was what kept them together.

In years 9 and 10, I enjoyed writing poetry and stories, as a way to disguise my feelings.  Through poetry, I could control my world, and my language was my power.  My teachers were really caring and in year 10, we had a reliever for our English class who was really an Art teacher.  So all we did was draw what we wrote.  In our drawings, we could visually share our stories without judgement.  I can clearly recall looking around the classroom, at all the static images that we’d drawn and thought ‘wow, I can see how others feel, I can feel what others feel and that's okay’.  I remember seeing lots of bright colours and feeling free and connected to something for the first time.  I found my happy place.  I appreciated the chance that that teacher gave me to see my place in the world.  It had a profound affect on me. It was then in year 10, I decided I wanted to be an English teacher and to use my skills of knowing English pretty well (I thought), to be somebody and to help somebody. 

Looking back, I guess it was only in a classroom that I was allowed to find my space.  I can appreciate that those feelings of being lost in 'space', were building my resilience and I've come to navigate my space better.  Now that I’ve unpacked my journey, I feel ready to help my learners unpack their space or ‘va’.  The vā or space between my two worlds is where I now sit safely and comfortably.  There is a famous Samoan proverb that says ‘Teuteu le vā’ and translated it means 'nurture/take care of the vā'.  With this in my mind, I feel it is my purpose to help my learners to navigate and find themselves in their 'vā'.  

Allowing the conversations to start by being deeply connected

Gloria’s report put into words the struggle that many of our Pasifica kids go through all at this time. I felt a deep sense of gratitude and it's given me purpose to work through the recommendations she's suggested in her report (pg 22).  To ensure success, we need to adhere to the voices of students who share the same journey as Gloria.  We have to start somewhere and this 'space' in time, is the right time.  Our principal Soana proudly shared the Health resource with our staff last week via email.  One of our senior staff members Mele Suipi-Latu articulated a response which I want to share:

‘It's moments like this that deeply connect us all to a collective joy and pride 'i he'etau fanau tama' - 'he'etau' means our, 'fanau' means birth, 'tama' means a daughter or son. It means that we can all identify and equally share the joy of Gloria's success - our daughter - because part of her making or 'birth' was done here in the community and family of Tamaki College.  So although it was your deliberation, Whaea Kata, and your own daughter and commitment, Seini Tu'itupou', Gloria is a Tamaki College daughter and we are all proud!”.  

Thank you Whaea Kata, Seini and Gloria for allowing us to share in your moment and to begin to tell our stories.  Malo lava soifua.

Tu’itupou, G., O’Donnell, K., & Robertson J. (2020). Making connections with Pacific ideas in health education: A resource to support teaching and learning in The New Zealand Curriculum. New Zealand: NZHEA.

Wendt, Albert The Space Between [34] 1999 Tatauing the Post-Colonial Body. In Inside Out: Literature, Cultural Politics, and Identity in the New Pacific, edited by Vilsoni Hereniko and Rob Wilson, 399–412. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Online Teaching and Learning #7: Teaching year 9's from my classroom

This week I returned to school and I've felt a familiar sense of safety and comfortable within the 4 walls of my classroom.  We were fortunate enough to have a rolling start, so on Monday we just had the year 12's and 13's physically in class and the rest of our classes online (please check my previous blog about this experience). 
Monday's class with the year 9's
On Wednesday, I had my year 9 Project class and I excitedly greeted them at the door.  They walked into my sanitised classroom and had to sit separately.  I noticed an apprehensive feeling in the air.  We only had a short time together, so I gathered feedback as to how they wanted to approach the rest of the time left for their projects.  They seemed keen to complete what they'd started and this helped us put together a tentative timeline.  Karl Bailey, our classes' project leader met us via hangout as people other then staff and students weren't allowed at school.  We also had a few students online whose parents had chosen to keep them at home until level 1 and were later joined by a few stakeholders who were assigned to specific groups.

Here's what the hangout looked like in real time.  I had my laptop facing the class and the projector showing the hangout.  Today was a basic meet and greet with the supporters as we spend much of the time just getting used to the classroom and each other again.

It was great to be able to have all of the supporters with us on this journey.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Online teaching and learning #6: Day 1: Reconnecting with my year 13's.

Spending time reconnecting with my year 13's.
The last time I was in my classroom and saw my seniors was 7 weeks ago.  The day before we went into lockdown 3, I remember telling them that my mum had called me to print out one of her kiwisaver forms asap so she could withdraw all the funds before the lockdown because the bank was going to take all her money.  Today I told my class my mum took it all out and had nothing to spend it on because everything was closed anyway.  We laughed as we looked back.  Even coming back now, it seemed like a life time ago we were saying our last goodbyes.

There are 43 students enrolled in our level 3 course this year and thankfully we have 2 classes each running at the same time.  Before the lockdown, we were based altogether in the library and found it easier to work in a lecture type environment where me and my co-teacher would teach the whole lot together for the first part, then students worked independently on their own.  Today we returned to the classroom and 21 students came to class.  I jumped into a google hangout at the same time in case any year 13's who were at home wanted to join us online.  I set up my computer to face the board at the front of the class to capture me and my co-teacher teaching.  I used my co-teachers computer to login to the hangout and it faced the students.  The picture below shows what the hangout looked like.

My co-teacher and I talked about what we wanted to do with the class before they arrived.  We knew we needed to re-connect with them again and it meant leaving out any talk of assessments and to focus on what was on top for them right now.  My co-teacher shared a video of Barrack Obama speaking to students whose last year of school it was in the U.S and how as young adults, they were about to venture out into the world.  He spoke to students saying that 'this is your generations world to shape' and that the 'power was in your hands'.  At the end of video,  we talked about the power that they, as year 13's now half way through the year, were now holding in their hands with regards to their futures - were they going to grab hold of it or let it go?

We asked them think differently as students who were going to move into the workforce.  I was so encouraged to see my co-teacher tell the class how advanced they were with online learning which already put them at an advantage in this current environment (see 9 minutes, 58 seconds on the video above).  As a 'digital' school, most of our students have used one to one devices since they were in primary school.  Students were reminded of the fact that the digital skills that they took for granted and were normal for them, were not normal for other students their age during the lockdown.  We wanted them to see that as digitally savy guru's of Tamaki College, they had the edge.  We posed the question to them - what could your future look like now that you've seen the impact that Covid has had on your lives?  They got into groups and we spent the remainder of our time talking about this and sharing lockdown experiences.

Reality check
Listening to the stories that my year 13's shared, had me on an emotional rollercoaster.  A group of 5 students laughed and joked about their experiences and how one family travelled all the way to the city to wait for 2 hours in the KFC drive thru just to be turned away because they had cash.  Another said she'd waited for an hour for a big mac combo at McDonalds to find out they they had run out of the middle bun for the big mac.  We then debated if that was actually a cheeseburger with 2 patties or a skinny quarter pounder.  I told them that I'd missed big macs so much, I learnt how to make the big mac sauce (true story) and they just laughed.

One person shared how they'd never really talked to another student in the group before the lockdown, but then they started to google chat like they were long lost friends because they felt like they were the only two actually trying to get their assessments done whilst in lockdown (and they were right).  Another group shared similar stories of how bored and trapped they'd felt and they couldn't wait to get out.

The last two students I chatted with, really got to me.   I had only seen them once in the whole 7 weeks, which was at the start of the lockdown.  They apologised and explained why.  One was in a bubble with her parents and 7 siblings, the youngest being a 5 month old.  She was the eldest and she said when she'd tried to get online all she would hear was her mum calling her name 24/7.  There was never any time to rest.  The other student lived with her nana, aunties and cousins.  Her 21 year cousin had just given birth before the lockdown and she was sharing her bedroom with her cousin and the baby.  She shared how no one had taken the lockdown seriously and she felt she had to make the adult decisions in the household as they didn't really care.  She'd only had 2 hours sleep the night before and was struggling to find the time to get her work done.  I knew that it was hard for our kids but I didn't realise how bad it was until I heard their realities.  My heart broke.  I heard myself say 'I hear you, I understand and I'm here if you need me'.  What I really wanted to do was cry and give them both a hug.

After the class, I was excited and exhausted at the same time.  I could see that our seniors wanted to be at school.  They were at school to feel normal again, to feel like teenagers and for some of them, not have to make damn adult decisions.  School was their safe place.  They didn't mind that their teachers had expectations for them and pushed them.  Because they knew that WE knew their stories. They just wanted the chance to try and make the most of every second they were in class before they had to go back to their realities.

I guess the point I'm trying to make with my blog post is that it's easy for us to see the big picture for our kids and point them to a future that's bright.  As teachers we strive to ensure our kids are successful in this big wide unforgiving world because it says that they need these credentials to go to uni or those work skills to get a job.  What I learnt from today was that every child has a story and every story is important.  Reconnecting was about hearing and understanding and hope-ing.  I needed to hear every story even the most uncomfortable ones to make me appreciate my role as an educator.  We don't always have to have the answers for our kids but we can teach them to ask the questions.  Why is it like this? Why is it affecting me? Why, why, why?

In summing up, I guess my thinking has changed in that supporting our kids to get credits is important but wanting them to feel valued and heard first, creates those significant connections in their lives.   We want them to feel like they have a purpose and a place in this crazy world. We only have them for a short time so forgive me if for much of the time, we are just talking and learning about life.

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you" - Maya Angelou

Monday, 4 May 2020

Online Teaching and Learning #5: Week 4, Term 2: 9AK Project Based Group work online

Today I wanted to get my year 9's into their project groups.  I wanted them to try and remember some of the capabilities they'd learnt when they were fully engaged in the groups during term one.  I knew it would be a challenge as it would mean having 5 different hangouts for the 5 different groups and I could see that trying to get to each group could be hard. 

I created a google hangout for each group on my calendar.  I just put a two-hour block in it just to keep it consistent even though they would not be on for the entire time.

I then shared a 'Project Groups checklist' that had each of the hangout links on them.  

I knew it would be messy to send the kids individual calendar links and for me, it would be easy to pop into each group when the hangouts were next to each other.    

Each student had editing rights and their task was to go into their group hangouts, collaborate and discuss the questions and come up with a common answer that they'd all agreed on.  As soon as I'd sent out the document, I joined each of the hangouts but kept my mike off until I asked the group a question.  I began the lesson in the main group giving the instructions class.

Group Hangouts:
This is what my computer screen looked like with my main google hangout open plus 5 smaller group hangouts.  There was one hangout with 3 students in it and the other four hangouts had 4 students in each.  

Four of the five groups used the chat feature and one group, Island Skittles, discussed their tasks out loud.  I went into their hangout and asked them if I could record their discussions to help me understand how they collaborated. 

My Observations:
One of the things that I noticed is that if a group was involved in discussions where they're mikes were on, it would interrupt another group if I was visiting their hangout and I wanted to verbally check in on them and I needed to turn my mike on as well.  So I have figure that one out. 

Another thing I noticed is when I did pop into a hangout, students were chatting like they were talking to each face to face.  Team Poly had students with their camera's on and they seemed to be enjoying the interactions in the smaller groups.

Student voice:  
I gave the students 20 minutes in their group hangouts before asking them to return back to the main group.  I then asked them for chat feedback on whether they liked being in the smaller groups and most said yes.  I sent them a short survey with just 2 questions on it to gage whether being in the smaller groups was a good way to work and why.

80% of students said they found it was a good way to work and when asked why, some of their responses were as follows:
I definitely want to have the students work in their groups and perhaps think about presenting to each other what they’d learnt.  On our next lesson, I will explain to the students the results of their survey and have them think about how we can utilise the fact that they enjoy the smaller hangout groups better.  

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Online Teaching and Learning #4: Week 3, Term 2: Keeping up with the K.C's

This week we moved into lockdown 3.  We had a number of staff return to school and take care of the few students who went back.  Although it was an anxious time, our SLT made sure that every health and safety measure were taken to ensure that all were safe when they went in.  I continued to work from home and help take care of my grandkids.

After the long weekend we were right back into it.  A focus for my year 9’s has been looking at how they can learn and understand the key competencies.  In preparation for their learning, our A.K (Akomanga Kaihanga) team of dedicated staff have been working on ways to teach the K.C’s which could eventually be applied across curriculum areas.  On Wednesday, we took our first combined lesson with Kirsty Dowding from the M.O.E.  

The lesson: 
We started by sharing a video called ‘Student Entrepreneurs are Empowered to Change their Community’.  It was about a group of students involved in projects within their community.  It went through the planning and processing stage all the way to presenting and evaluating.  The next step was to ask the kids what capabilities they saw on the video.  Their brainstorm started slow but picked up momentum when they heard each other sharing.
We then asked them they’d to think about and share capabilities they'd seen or used whilst in their project groups during term 1. I had created a snippet video to share with them to help them remember here.  We then asked the students to define capabilities then share the kinds of capabilities they saw in the video.  Kirsty described that groups of connected capabilities were called competencies.  Students then attempted to put capabilities under the relevant competencies.

For the 15 students who attended, the lesson was a good way to introduce the language of the competencies through relating them to the skills and capabilities students had learnt.  I enjoyed the way that Kirsty was able to scaffold the learning and allowed the kids the opportunity

Monday, 27 April 2020

TAI2020 WFRC #4: Collecting evidence and data

Inquiry task #4: 

My task is to begin to collect evidence and data and come to the next session ready to share your preliminary findings about the nature and extent of the student challenge i.e. using your baseline student data and evidencexpert observations.

DATA: I have looked and attempted to analyse PAT and e-asttle writing data to see what the gaps and strengths were of the learners in the class.  This will help me identifying who the students and what strategies I need to support their learning.

VIDEO evidence of groups collaborating: Before the lockdown, I had gathered lots of video observations and made teacher observations of students as they planned and worked in their project groups.

As I get to the know the students, I am able to identify what capabilities they have and those they lack.  I am also able to link their capabilities to the data I have collected.  

Teacher discussions and observations of the students in our classroom by an expert:  I have had a number of meetings with Dr Jannie about her observations of the dynamics of the class and she has provided me with some good next steps as to where to next with my inquiry.

Still to add to this blogpost are the following pieces of evidence: 
Baseline writing data:  I will be sharing blog posts that the students' have written as an initial writing task as the first time point and will discuss with Dr Jannie how to analyse the information well.

Student voice (survey and focus groups):  I have sent out a survey recently that will provide feedback as to their thoughts of collaborative learning.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Online Teaching and Learning #3: Week 2, Term 2: Making the new 'normal'

This week has been the first full week of online teaching for our us and looking back, I've found it's been easier and easier to get used.  Going into a hangout has been a joy and when students join in, I get a buzz and feel excited to connect with them.

On Monday, I had my year 9’s.  I decided to have a break from project work until I could sort out how to do group work online properly.  We started with a Kahoot to warm the class up and it was awesome to see one of our mums jump on and give it a go!
Mum joins in and even wins a round or two!
During a double period with my year 12’s I could see that I wasn’t getting the same consistent kids as last week so I decided to record myself going through the internal assessment with the help of the kids who did come to class as a live audience.  It was helpful to have a few kids on so they could let me know if I was going to fast or if there was something they need clarification on.  I could see this being useful in the long run for those kids who weren’t able to get online at it during lockdown.  

Week 2 was a good week to get settled and into some sort of routine. I enjoyed catching up with my department both in our own meetings and in their classes.  It’s nice to know that we are sharing this new journey together.  Bring on week 3!

The Importance of Making Connections through telling our own stories

Making connections with Pacific ideas in health education - an invitation to tell my own story. Our TIC of Health, Whaea Kata told me ...