Monday, 19 March 2018

Finding better ways to connect with our Whānau

There are very few times that I may actually meet the parents of the children I teach - on the rugby field, at a fiafia night or at parent teacher interviews twice a year. I know that there needs to be more of a connection between school and home and I have been wondering how to do this better with the time constraints we have at school. My hypothesise is that if we bridge the gap between school and home better, our kids could achieve better.

A good friend of mine is an intermediate school teacher at a decile one school. She texted me to ask me if I knew the translation of the question 'What are the aspirations for your child?' in Samoan. I called my mother who translated the saying over the phone. Because Samoan is not my first language, it took me awhile to get the intonations right and I had to repeat it back to my mum until she was happy with my pronunciations. I called my friend back and carefully shared the saying. I asked her why she wanted to know and she shared that her school was having a 'Connections' night where they meet with the parents of their students and in their native languages, would ask parents 'What were the aspirations for your child? And why do you have these aspirations?". Our discussion led to me thinking about the value in understanding the thoughts of our parents and if we knew what their hopes and dreams were for their children, we could all be on the same waka rowing towards success.

A recent report by the Education Review Office (2014) looked at how well 256 schools worked with parents and whänau to respond to students at risk of underachievement. The report shared examples of where parents and whänau accelerated and supported progress and improved achievement. In their findings, they identified two ways that schools had responded to the 'risk of underachievement' - by supporting future underachievement and by supporting those not achieving as well as their peers to accelerate progress (pg 16, ERO, 2014). It was interesting to note where schools focused on 'preventing future underachievement', examples focussed on whole cohorts, such as all of Years 1 to 3 students or a large group, whereas the examples of accelerations involved smaller groups of up to 10 students and in many secondary schools, the example involved only one or two students. As a COL teacher I can relate to using examples of the smaller groups because our inquiries have allowed us to focus on our own practices and shared these inquiries across our cluster.

The report goes on to outline a number of relevant and interesting examples of ways to connect with families and one of the key words that stood out to me was persistence. Part of the reason why we as teachers and educators may not involve our families as much as we should, could be a lack of persistence and not understanding the value in making these connections. I believe we need to be persistent in our approach to getting our parents and families involved in their child's learning.

One of my next steps is to create opportunities for our families to engage in learning and understanding ways to help their child learn. On Tuesday 27th March, our students and their families are invited to attend PowerUp, an initiative that is run to support students from the community with their learning. I met with DJ, the co-ordinator and expressed my interest in running workshops with our parents around reading and writing alongside PowerUp. We have been developing a plan that will include parents brainstorming their hopes for their children, identifying their strengths and engaging in meaningful discussions in the hope that they will feel confident and empowered enough to engage in learning discussions with their children. So when our families are asked "Po'o lea ni ou fa'amoemoenga mo lou alo?" (What are the aspirations for your child) we can work together, with purpose and persistently to make those hopes and dreams a reality.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Our Manaiakalani Staff Meeting for Term 1: Reflections

During our Manaiakalani staff meeting, our COL team presented to our staff how to tackle the big 'I' - INQUIRY!  We each presented different areas and I volunteered to present a section on 'Collaborative Inquiry'. I was interested in sharing Dr Graeme Aitkins presentation on what collaborative inquiry is and isn't.  He shared two visuals and described examples linked to them.

"We come into schools, we travel through schools, we jump out the other side and nobodies changed at all, us by being there, or you by our prescence…". When I shared this visual with staff, I used a little analogy of walking through the staff room, saying hi to someone and asking how the inquiry was going, then walking off none the better. Dr Aitken calls this 'superficial' collaboration. The idea that we know about each other and what the other is doing, but no one has benefited from it - this has been the reality of inquiries in the past.

With our shared achievement challenges, we can see that collaboration needs to be more then an individual thing that we just do and know about.  With 'sharing' our challenges, the need to 'share' our inquiry looks something like this - all the pieces fitting and integrating around our challenges so that we can have a sense of connection and collaboration that allows us purpose.  Although we are geographically far apart, we as a cluster are linked with our Manaiakalani 'Learn, Create, Share' model.

After the meeting, one of the teachers in my department said the idea of integration resonated with her and she shared an example of what integration meant to her. A student who has recently joined her year 11 class was returning after missing much of last year due to huge family disruptions. The teacher could see this student was disengaged and after class talked to him about what was going on for him and why he was disengaged. He told her that it was hard for him to get back into school and he hadn't made many friends. The teacher encouraged the student to share his interests and found out that he had been in the rugby team and really wanted to play. The teacher said that she would have a chat to the rugby coach and encouraged the student to keep coming to school as he could catch up with a little help from his teachers.

After the meeting, she looked up the students' timetable and emailed his teachers about the students' situation and invited staff to share ideas and strategies on how to support him in his learning. She found out that they too were having issues with him and were thankful that they could discuss next steps. She also tracked down the rugby coach and let him know about the returning student. The next time she had the student, she noticed a change in his behaviour and found that he was calm and engaged in his learning. He told her that his teachers were supporting him by giving him time to get work down and he said he'd felt valued in his lessons. By sharing information about a learner across to other areas of his life, both inside and outside the classroom, this teacher felt that real valued 'integration' had taken place. As a teacher, the idea of integrating lay with everyone being on the same page and supporting each other.

I was really encouraged by this teacher sharing her journey with me and as a COL leader, my next steps are to support and encourage more purposeful sharing and working collaboratively on our inquiries. From our meeting, we met in COL groups and I will discuss how these meetings went in my next blog!

Friday, 9 March 2018

Our Summer Blogging winners

Over the Christmas and New Year holidays, our year 9's (who are now year 10's) had the opportunity to take part in the Summer Blogging Journey programme.    This programme encouraged students to continue learning over the holiday break through reflecting and constructing blog posts, as evidence in the past has shown that "the summer slump impacts children's learning ability as they are out of the classroom and school lessons during the holidays".   Over the holidays our school library and marae were open for students who wanted a place to write and read.

There were 5 students who were awarded certificates and prizes for their efforts.  Leopote Aholelei had a particular role as a 'blog commentator' who read and supported students on their blogs.  There were 3 prizewinners from each school and they were acknowledged in a recent assembly for their efforts - well done to all who'd participated in the summer blogging journey.

1st Place:   Seniola Tupou
2nd Place:  Rowana Tui
3rd Place:   Sam Liu

Our Summer Bloggers:  Leopote Aholelei, Heilala Makasini, Ashley Munu, Sam Liu, Rowana Tui and Seniola Tupou.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Year 9 and 10 E-asttle testing for Term 1

This week, our year 9 and 10 students have been completing their easttle tests in reading, writing and maths.  We have found that in the past, our students have not taken their tests seriously which has seriously affected many of their results.  To try and address this, we have identified ways to manage the process better.

One of them is to ensure that students know the importance of these tests.  In year level assemblies, Mr Dunn, our Deputy Principal of Curriculum, has reminded them on the purpose of the tests and how they should try their hardest so that we can support them in their learning.  Their Deans reinforce this through encouraging students to use our schools R.I.S.E values when sitting the tests.  The purpose of doing this is so that students can see these tests are not separate from their teaching and learning in classroom, which in past has created a barrier for students.

The staff have also been reminded about the importance of preparing our students mentally, for the tests.  In our staff briefing, Mr Dunn has talked about making sure our teachers encourage our students to bring the right equipment to the test and have the right attitude.  The thinking was that the more our kids hear about the tests in the classroom, the more they can connect the fact that these tests influence how teachers the teach to their learning. 

On testing day, the environment for which our students have been sitting the tests is mirrored on external examination conditions.  This has worked in our favour to ensure that students know the seriousness of these tests and can prepare themselves better for when they are in year 11 and doing NCEA exams.  Subject teachers are active monitors of students in the exam environment and have supported Marc, our easttle adminstrator, in ensuring that the students are settled and working to their best.

Once the tests have been marked and moderated, the next step in the process is, as a teacher, to understand what the results say and develop a plan collectively to support students in their learning.  As an across school COL teacher,  I want to support teachers in this process, because I see the need in valuing these tests, which on a whole, will speak to where our learners and at.  And it is up to us, to get them to where they need to be.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Language in Abundance - Take 2.

Today we have had the privilege of listening to Dr Jannie van Hees.  This is the second time in the last fortnight that I have heard Dr van Hees speak about 'Language in Abundance' and each time, I have heard something new that has resonated with me and challenge my thinking.

The issue that is facing many of our kids is that if they haven't got language, they can't carry concepts.

We want kids to 'Flourish' and part of it lies in understanding the brain (cognition) and concepts knowledge.  But a key component lies in the attitudes towards the learning.  When the learner loves language, this is difference making.  Self-esteem matters greatly.

Another key idea Dr Jannie shared was that if we as teachers are not paying attention to the learners paying attention, we can not recognise purposeful engagement.  Unless this is happening (photo) and we are optimising learning conditions, there is no learning happening.

Keep triggering the known to the new - all the times, different contexts (at least 3 times over to let it sit with the learners).  It has to all come together.

So what can we do help?  Help kids to scaffold themselves and the learner and amongst themselves and their peers - help them to be co-contributors to learning opportunities.  I have asked Dr Jannie if she could come to the college and help us build and implement strategies that can ensure our kids are getting 'language in abundance'.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Informing teachers across our cluster about NCEA

Every year, the Woolf Fisher research team presents to teachers and leaders across our cluster reading, writing and maths asttle results from the previous year.  From these statistics, we saw results that presented a number of challenges, particularly in year 9.  Because these statistics only share results from years 1- 10, I collaborated with Russell Dunn to share with schools our senior results.

Here is the presentation:


  It was important to explain NCEA as some of our primary school colleagues may not know much about it.  The SOLO framework was also important to emphasis because it helped us to share the key language of learning we use to prepare our students for NCEA and to allow our colleagues to think about what language they could use in the primary schools as linked to SOLO.

At the end of the presentation, a number of staff approached me about coming to talk to their school staff meetings about NCEA, which I am looking forward to.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Learning 'Language' at our first COL meeting

The kaupapa of our Manaiakalani COL team focuses on “Recognising and spreading sophisticated pedagogical practice across our community so that students learn in better and more powerful ways...”.

As an Across Schools COL teacher this year,  I have the opportunity to 'recognise' and 'spread' pedagogical practice not just within my own school, but across the cluster.  I am looking forward to the challenge and acknowledge that it is a big role to undertake.

At our first COL meeting, we discussed our big idea for the year 'Language in Abundance' and we were fortunate enough to hear from Dr Jannie van Hees.  Dr van Hees is an expert in 'Language' and has studied why talking matters related to 5 - 6 year olds at school.  We were given an example of how a child would feel, if they were told instructions on how to make a kite.  Through each of the stages, I thought a lot about assumptions and when I am teaching students, do they really understand the language and the words that I am using?  And how do I know this?

An example of this was earlier in the day with my year 12 class, and we were talking about different perspectives on Waitangi Day.  I found a short Mike Hosking clip and when I played it, it became clear to me that students didn't understand what he was saying.  When it was finished,  I asked the class 'do you think he is for or against Waitangi day', and straight away a student said 'Ms, he used some big flash words aye?  I feel dumb'.  I felt so disheartened and sad when I heard this because I assumed that our kids could gage his perspective from what he was saying.  This was not my kids fault, but definitely my lack of knowing the learner and assuming that in year 12, they would have 'language' to make meaning from what they'd heard.

Next time I use a clip by Mike, I need to lots of time to teach and expose kids to the 'flash words.'

One of the phrases that resonated with me, was Dr van Hees saying we needed to have 'an abundance of language that was drippingly available'.  She went on to describe significant ways to share language with our kids.  I remembered my visit to Panmure Bridge and seeing on every inch of their walls, language that flowed from every ebb - it definitely inspired me to want share this way of exposing our kids to language across our school - to be honest, at the moment my walls are bare. 

What 'Language in Abundance' could look like - Panmure Bridge

Dr van Hees went on to describe that the contexts for sharing this language was right here on our doorstep, in our community and all around our kids.  I understand the value of this and saw it in action when our year 9's took on the integrated unit around 'Sustainability' in our community - our kids were so engaged and motivated because they could connect in some way to the theme.

Contexts are all around us.

I left the COL meeting feeling like I had learnt much about the value  of understanding how important language is for our kids to making meaning of their world.  It is clear that 'knowing language' is the key to whether our kids are able to achieve or not. One of my challenges as an across schools COL teacher is recognise how we currently use 'language' across our cluster, why we use it this way, and to develop collaborative and successful strategies to use the 'language in abundance' values so as to complement and support our teacher's practices and pedagogies.

Finding better ways to connect with our Whānau

There are very few times that I may actually meet the parents of the children I teach - on the rugby field, at a fiafia night or at parent ...