Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Pursuing a mathematical mindset ... 3 schools on a journey.

"One of the most damaging mathematics myths propagated in classrooms and homes is that math is a gift, that some people are naturally good at math and some are not."
                                                                                                       Jo Boaler

It's the' holidays'- and the ISL's from Cornwall Park, Victoria Avenue and Maungawhau schools are meeting together. What we are trying to create are shared documents that can be used at each school to stimulate rich discussion about new pedagogical approaches to teaching mathematics.  Using the research of Jo Boaler, Carol Dweck (and others) we are all involved in exploring how the ideas below can change the way we approach learning & teaching of mathematics.

  • Everyone can learn maths to a high levels
  • Working in mixed ability groups has value for everyone
  • Mistakes are valuable and help your brain to grow.
  • Questions and discussion deepen your mathematical understanding
  • Maths is about learning not performing. 

As we start term 2 together we will be navigating the challenges that these ideas can generate.  Although we bring diverse views to our discussions, working together we have found common ground, in particular looking at how shifting mathematical mindsets can bring about change in teacher practice and increase student achievement. We are excited to bring this discussion back to our schools. 

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Flourishing. Relationships. Slow Food.

Positive education and all its many facets have been explored throughout this past week, at a conference sharing the same name. Hearing from a host of ‘experts’ and ‘experiencers’ on their journey of wellbeing has been incredibly insightful and beneficial. Though there’s a temptation to share the breadth of knowledge and wisdom shared this week, three things stood out among the rest: flourishing, relationships, and slow food. These ideas seemed to be woven throughout all that was discussed throughout our two days in Garden City. To truly understand the importance and value of these ideas, let me use the Golden Circle, a framework designed by author and professor, Simon Sinek.

His circle is built with ‘why’ in the centre. This is intentional. Sinek explains that the skills necessary to create and educate exist in all organisations. Everyone does something (what), and everyone has a way of doing this (how). Furthermore, most organisations not only know what they do and how they do it, they’re more than qualified to do so. However, this qualification to do doesn’t guarantee success. Sinek suggests that true success is found when you have a reason for what you do and how you do it. Sharing this ‘why’, with those you serve helps them to connect and invest in your ‘what’ and ‘how’ which is why these encircle the ‘why’. Flourishing is the why of wellbeing so let’s start there.
Flourishing. The dictionary defines this word as ‘developing successfully - thriving’ and this definition was easily seen and heard in the various presentations this week. It forms both the foundation of wellbeing while simultaneously being the desired outcome of it too. Though this alludes to its beauty and its benefit, to best capture the essence of this wonderfully nuanced idea and to view it through an educational lens, is through a question: How can we all, both staff and students, flourish? How can we feel good and do good? This question suggests two things. Firstly, ‘how can we all flourish’, calls attention the ‘village-raising’ nature of wellbeing, namely that it takes us all. Secondly, flourishing happens when we ‘feel good’ and ‘do good’. It requires managing the tension between giving and taking. Knowing these things is highly important as educators as it unites us and articulates our ever-evolving responsibility (and the pressure that comes in tow) in a simple yet profound way.
Why wellbeing? So we all can flourish.

Relationships. Sinek’s circle builds upon its why by exploring how, then what. Given his expertise, I believe in his process, however, in the case of wellbeing, I believe it’s important to explore these together. For me, the what and how of wellbeing are inextricably linked, and in this instance, it’s difficult to determine which idea fits in which circle. Regardless, let’s unpack what they mean. For most of us, the importance of relationships is not something that we need to be convinced of. Relationships exist in every sphere of our life and their impact on our wellbeing can be of both benefit and hindrance. They help us feel like we belong in a community and can greatly influence our desire to invest and stay in the said community. Though the exact nature of relationships wasn’t explored in great depth, their presence and power were acknowledged. Essentially, wellbeing rises and falls on the connections that we establish and maintain. Relationships could be considered both ‘what’ we want to happen and ‘how’ we want it to happen. The latter, how, is best captured in our last idea: slow food.

Slow Food. This term was created with another in mind: fast food. The very nature of fast food is one of convenience, particularly in a world where time is of the essence and the pressures upon us seem aplenty. Problems require quick fixes and attention requires constant keeping. However, given the complex nature of humans, the impacts this has on our profession as educators and the importance of wellbeing in a world of fast-paced-high-demands, slow food is all the more pertinent. Whatever we attempt to do in addressing wellbeing, in helping all of us to flourish, it needs to be purposeful, meaningful and sustainable. Time needs to be taken to ensure that what we do and how we do it is impactful and long-lasting. To truly allow all of us to flourish, accuracy and effectiveness far outweigh every other part of the equation.

Moving forward, there is a lot to consider - all of it, worthy of our time. As you ponder these ideas, I encourage you to consider what flourishing looks like for you and how you can contribute to the flourishing of your school. Consider the relationships you have and the connections you have made, and lastly, as we all strive to make purposeful, meaningful and sustainable change, what expertise can you offer and what grace can you give? This is no easy task but together, this village can ensure that we all flourish. Kia kaha!

Thursday, 28 March 2019

The Currency of Wellbeing

Since the conception of Auckland Central’s ‘Community of School’, we’ve worked towards several initiatives with the intent of developing our community and improving outcomes for our learners. Given the progressive nature of education, the principals and leadership involved have fought to ensure our initiative focuses are not only relevant but innovative and at the fore of education. Halfway through twenty-eighteen, the principals of our twelve schools met and heard about some of the work Remuera Intermediate had been doing with the Resilience Institute, an organisation who provides high-quality training around resilience. The discussion which followed was a catalyst in forming the newest addition to our initiative’s roster; wellbeing.

Though wellbeing is as wide as it is deep and a single definition could not capture its entirety, it can be thought of as the state of being comfortable, healthy and happy; three states which influence an individuals capacity to thrive. The influence wellbeing holds directly for an individual and indirectly for an organisation, makes it a high priority for those who contribute to it which is certainly true for me. As one of the Wellbeing Agency initiative leaders, my role this year is to work alongside in-school leaders and staff members to support the various facets of staff and student wellbeing by investing in practices and ensuring that the experiences, voices, and visions of those involved are realised. In order to do this effectively, I am developing my understanding of what ‘wellbeing’ means and wished to share some thoughts around this.

As relevant as ‘understanding wellbeing’ is, it’s worth noting that most of us are aware of its importance. Why? Looking within ourselves and at those close to us, it’s easy to see that when we feel healthy and happy, this naturally influences our ability to work effectively and positively impact those around us, including our students. Wellbeing is perhaps the fastest growing, most pertinent factor to consider when improving our workplace. With this in mind, let us delve into what wellbeing is.

New Zealand’s Teaching Council conducted an interview with Professor Meihana Durie and psychologist, Jacqui Maguire, to “discuss and give advice on the importance of teachers taking care of themselves and each other, and keeping emotional intelligence in check”. Offering a Māori perspective on the matter, Durie suggests we view it through the lens of mana and mauri, a form of ‘vitality’. Placing this frame over the picture of wellbeing, Durie states that your vitality can be in a place of flourishing or languishing. This frame resonated within me. It moved from a balancing beam to a continuum and with it, offered a greater opportunity for teachers to fight for their wellbeing.

This fit within another conversation that I had recently with a doctorate student who is investigating the role of physical education in today’s society. Though we primarily discussed the physical aspect of wellness, his ideas translate into every area of wellbeing. Identifying the main difference between exercise and nutrition, he says is the accumulation or the lack thereof. Essentially, there are certain facets of both which accumulate and there are some that don’t. Wellbeing in its entirety is not a stagnant and lifeless form; it’s consistently being given to and taken from. Balancing this giving and taking could be likened to a bank account in the sense that certain activities or practices build our wellbeing, they accumulate. However, there are moments or interactions which withdraw from the same account, that impact our accumulation of health and happiness. For me, this thought surmises the role we play in contributing to our wellbeing, to ensure we’re flourishing.

Assessing your ‘wellbeing balance’ or your position on Durie’s continuum of vitality, how are things in this moment? Are you making regular deposits to your ‘wellbeing account’? Are you flourishing? Whether this reading finds you in a moment of lack or profit, I hope it has prompted you to think. Though only questions, not answers, have been given today; throughout this year, we aim to help provide a range of ‘currencies’ for you to explore and we can’t wait to enrich your life.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Why 'Community of Learning'?

Our team of in-school leaders met in preparation for a staff meeting they were running around the community of learning and professional learning groups. We wanted to ensure the meeting was purposeful so we asked staff members to share any questions or wonderings they had. As we sat to look at some of these questions, we noticed the majority centred around organisational aspects and potential outcomes but one, in particular, prompted us to delve deeper into the conversation: is it worth the money? Why?

Though our answer was a simple yes, we knew it was important to explain how we drew this conclusion. Before we explore this, I think it is important to explain some of the histories behind the Community of Learning model. It arose from a successful bid for additional funds from our government’s budget. With only a few weeks to put together a proposal, several of our nation’s governmental departments attempted to secure these funds. In order to be successful in this, each department was asked to suggest an initiative which was innovative, different and had the potential to make a large impact.

Based off of similar models from around the globe, including Finland and Hong Kong, ‘Communities of Learning’ took the best aspects from these models which centred around developing collective teacher efficacy (the collective belief of staff in their ability to positively affect students) in order improve outcomes for students. The idea of developing efficacy in teachers is proven to be the most significant thing an educational organisation can do in impacting students (Visible Learning, 2018).

In New Zealand, the focus of this model is ‘leading from the middle’; an idea which suggests leaders will “develop the organisation rather than sustain and manage compliance”, “focus(ing) more on the building of capacity across the schools more intentionally”, while empowering others in a more consistent manner (Dale, 2016). In order for this to happen effectively, it relies on the collaborative nature of teachers to explore both best and next practice. While the development of knowledge and practices is common among teachers, this model ensures that adequate time is provided for them to inquire into various possibilities and ideas.

Though this explains what and how the community of learning endeavours to achieve its goals, we’re still left to answer whether this is worth the investment and why. As our team continued to converse, we started to explore our own ‘why’, namely, what drew us to this profession. For me, becoming a teacher was less about the knowledge students gather and more about the beliefs they develop; primarily the belief they have in themselves as learners and as people. My goal is to help these young people discover both who they are and the worth they hold; I just happen to teach. Though my ‘why’ may not be universally held, I am sure there are a plethora of grand ambitions that motivates each of us to educate the next generation.

For those in the profession, we understand the complexities and challenges that exist in a classroom as well as the wider contexts in which we work. Leaning on the adage of leading horses to water, educators consistently attempt to lead ‘students’ to ‘learning’ without forcing them to ‘drink’ (if we could, our jobs would be significantly easier). Instead, we explore different approaches and different tools, with the same goal in mind. Transforming practise is nothing new. However, a model in which space is given to inquire; “to make new knowledge, make mistakes, take risks and enjoy what (we) are learning”, is.

This community of learning model is not designed to impose upon the agency and autonomy of teachers. It is designed to offer a collaborative tool shed in which each educational craftsmen can deepen their toolbox and talk shop. It is designed for teachers to continue achieving their own ‘why’ in a way which simultaneously helps to sharpen those around them for the sole purpose of improving outcomes of each student in our nation; starting with our community.

Given this history and motivation behind ACCoS, the question “is it worth the money?” becomes “are they worth the money?” For our community of learning team, it’s a resounding yes.