Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Area School Magic

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” 
― Brené Brown 

Ive just spent three full days with one of my networks.
I’m all for networks, and Ive spent a lot of time building my personal learning network online over the last couple of years. 

But this was networking on a  different level.

Five years ago this week I took up my role as a Principal of an area school. 
And this week I spent three days at our national  conference with other Principals, DP’s/AP’s teachers and BOT members of area schools all over New Zealand. 

I don’t know if I can ever remember feeling as at home and as comfortable in a room of 100 people as I have felt over the last three days. Ive only seen most of these people once a year over the last four years. Some I was meeting for the first time. But there is just something different about this group of people.

I love connecting with different people online, and I certainly did a bit of promoting of various electronic forms of collaborating and connecting with these delegates. We all teach, and usually live, in isolated places and we need to ensure we continue to build those connections, so that our learners benefit from our connections with the wider world.

But three days together with people kanohi-te-kanohi who have such a commonality was just amazing.  These people all get how different teaching in an area school is. They get the special challenges, but more importantly get the special magic. 

We had a great range of keynotes and workshops. We had busy leaders in education such as Minister Parata, Louise Green (President NZEI), Angela Roberts (President PPTA) and Lorraine Kerr (President NZSTA) all take time to come and speak about both understanding the challenges, but also celebrating the rewards of, area schooling.

Student achievement awards delivered during the dinner demonstrated just what high quality the learners in these remote and isolated part of our country are. They are certainly not deprived “country bumpkins.”

I don’t know if its the shared commonality or the mixture of leaders, teachers and BOT members that make this conference one of the most enjoyable of all I attend. Probably its a bit of both.

The area schools network is certainly a real family. I heard this repeated over and over by so many different people. We are family. I can find a thread of commonality with a farmer from the deep South and then find that same thread with a lawyer from the North. And there is something really special about learning, teaching and leading in an area school. Again I think its that family thing. You become a real family within each area school and then your extended family is that connection of other area schools up and down the country.

So thank you to all those people Ive re-connected with over the last few days, and welcome to those new connections to my network. Ive got renewed energy, sustenance and strength from each of you.

Mauria mai te taki (Rising above the Challenges) was the theme of this years area schools conference.


Maybe next year it should be Celebrate the Magic.

Sharing a Meal- Sol Blake

So My daughter Amorangi Blake  and Freedym Paiti  just told me she wrote a post and took a pic about me sharing a bite to eat with a Homeless guy tonight. Here's my side of the story.

So tonight after watching our Champion Gold Medal Winning Koka Huia with her little T rex arms playing for YMP Hockey, My girls asked if they could get something to eat from Domino's pizza. As we pulled up there was a man standing outside the restaurant with a cap near his feet and it looked like he was busking for cash, but really he was just asking for change. I didn't think much of it at the time as I got out of van until my little girl Kararaina Blake goes to me "Dad that man, you should buy him a pizza he looks really cold and hungry, but you give it to him Dad" so I said yes which in turn made my girl smile.

After we placed our order Kara and I headed back outside and as she jumped into the van the man goes to me do you have any spare change? I turned to him and replied "arohamai Matua, I don't have any loose change on me but if you don't mind waiting a few minutes my lil girl has bought you a pizza it shouldn't be too long." He was really thankful shook my hand and I hopped back into my warm van. I noticed a lot of people walking past trying not to make eye contact with him which was sad. This quickly reminded me of one of my year 10 students from TKAS who has just finished an Inquiry on Global Citizenship and one of her most significant learning moments was around poverty in particular the homeless. This week she had been working on a free flow poem and her first line, like an explosion flashed in front of me.."You notice me.. But you don't see me."

Like her poem, you could see people knew the man was there, but they did not want to make eye contact for whatever reason. Whether or not they were too shy or out of fear, shame or even disgust, they noticed him, but they didn't see him.

Once the order was ready I grabbed the pizzas walked outside gave the man the pizza Kara had bought him and a drink, he shook my hand and said thank you and bless you brotha, I wished him all the best told him to take care, keep warm and enjoy the kai then jumped into van.

As I started putting on my seatbelt i saw the man sit down on the cold pavement, open up the pizza box and start devouring one of the slices of pizza sitting alone. I looked at my girls and I asked them if it was okay if Dad did something, of which they said yes. I grabbed one of the pizzas from Karas box jumped out of the van walked towards the man and I asked him if it was okay to sit down beside him and share a meal together.

For 20-30 minutes Anthony and I shared stories of where we were from, to our children, high schools we went to, rugby teams we played for even had a laugh about how I went to the Bledisloe Cup and sat next to the Ozzy touring party and was passionately nice when we would score a try😜 we also spoke about life on the streets of Gisborne. That was an interesting conversation from his perspective. A man who had just come out of Dominoes carrying a large number of Pizzas into his truck even returned gave Ants $10 and said keep warm tonight. Which was pretty cool.

I could see my girls in the Van and I told Ants that I better get my girls home so I thanked him for the company and the meal asked him if he needed anything blankets clothing etc a ride but he thanked me and declined. I gave him a Hug and told him to keep safe, jumped in the Van waved out to him and came home.

Last night I had some of my students over for dinner and a movie and during dinner Koka Huia and I posed this question.

What are you grateful for?

After tonight and listening to what my students shared as well which was very heartfelt.

It's people and our relationships we have with them
the people we love
the people who inspire us
from he people that have made a difference in our lives to the people like Anthony who remind us to not take things for granted, be grateful for what you have for their are many others that are less fortunate.

Wish you all the best Ants I'll be sure to look out for ya and anybody else in need and less fortunate as I.

Matua Sol




Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Stand Up and Lead- Karyn

Knowing I was going to be away from school a fair bit in the next two weeks I wasn't going to go to *BOPPA/CNISPA 2 day conference in Taupo this year.
However the agenda arrived and the opportunity to hear David Hood and Bali Haque speak and then spend two days discussing the changes needed in the senior secondary school curriculum with secondary principals and curriculum leaders was just too important not to come to.
Getting there and finding the school story session was being led by Maurie Abraham was the icing on the cake.

My Takeaway-

Lots of people want to be the early adopters but want someone else to take the risks, to do the leading from the front. 

We know the rhetoric about the pace of change. We know serious changes are needed in our system. We know that the wellbeing of young people is being compromised and that that is becoming worse. We know that there is a culture of assessment driven learning programmes in most of our schools.

If we are truly teaching a dispositional curriculum how are we modelling this for our staff and our learners? Are we showing true value in this by making it as important as anything else we teach? Or do we show what we really value by what we choose to put our emphasis and time on assessing?

We like to blame the system. But maybe, just maybe, schools have done some of this assessment driven stuff themselves in their interpretation of requirements and even in their drive to keep up with if not complete with other schools.

We need to have courage and lead a change. We need to know what our  moral purpose is and we need to show leadership. We are the sector leaders. We ask our students, our whānau, our staff, our communities to trust in us. Maybe in turn we should trust in the system to support us, as we take big bold steps. 
Let's stop talking about being on sides. Let's stop taking sides. We all want the best for young people. Let's put our energy into that.

Let's talk about positive and constructive learning and make that the central part of every conversation rather than the assessment.
Many things in our system are world standard.We have some amazing documents. Especially NZC. Let's use them as they were designed to be. Let's use national standards and NCEA as the were designed to be used not as the driver of our learning programmes. Lets stop saying "but if we didn't have to ..."  and start saying "we could try it this way..."

To truly and absolutely focus on learning rather than assessment we have to change what we do.  Sure we will have to put ourselves out there. And we will need to work and strategise how to take learners, staff and the wider community with us. 

We are all worried about workload level of our staff, and as leaders we should absolutely be monitoring this. To make significant and big changes will require time and effort for our staff and we can't ask them to do that if we don't take away some of what they currently do. 

  • How much of what they currently do is necessary vs something someone somewhere thought was a good interpretation of something we don't actually have to do. 
  • How much of what they currently do do they do because we expect it just because we always have?


If we want better for our young people, then we need to stand up ethically and morally as the leaders and we need to seriously think about what the balance is on learning and wellbeing of the young people in our schools. 
We need to take leadership, and stop waiting for the system tell us what to do, or to resource us differently. 
If we listen to people like Maurie Abraham, and I do with absolute conviction, then we need to act now. 
If we stand up as leaders and all act, system support will follow. And if we can't all stand up then at least some of us need to with some sense of urgency, and then gather those early adopters quickly so we get to a tipping point in our system wide practices.

Start by articulating what real success for the learners in your school looks like. What is the purpose of your school? Critically review NZC. Critically review the requirements of National standards and NCEA.  Make sure every practice- including and especially every assessment procedures matches your purpose and that everyone in your system can attest to that.

Be brave. Be prepared to stand up and stand out. 
Challenge doing things the way everyone else does them. Ask where it says we have to do things the way we are. And if you think you know, go back and read it again- critically.

Know NZC intimately. Especially the first half. And Follow it. 


*(Bay of Plenty Prinicpals Association/Central North Island Secondary Principals Association)