Saturday, 20 September 2014

Four Years On....

Just over 12 months ago we started this blog as a staff. The last 12 months has seen many exciting steps on our journey as a school.

  • We have said goodbye to some key foundation staff, but we have also welcomed other staff.
  • We have moved into our brand new buildings, after three years in temporary and less than ideal physical conditions.
  • We have continued to evolve our thinking and our practice.
  • We are in the process of reviewing our curriculum delivery programme, as we have now been operating as a school for over three years.
  • We've taken part in some exciting PLD.
  • We've had visitors from throughout New Zealand.
  • Our achievement results continue to grow, as does the understanding of and engagement with their learning from our learners.
  • We've attempted to share our evolving thinking and practice with the world with this BLOG.

Here's some key statements staff have made over the last 12 months in various blog posts.

How can an (extremely) average student, of seemingly average intelligence, see the pitfalls of our current system; where highly intelligent, highly educated people cannot? (Because of the highly political use of education?)  I have absorbed so much in the past 4 years and I know where the changes need to be made. There is no one answer and there is no sombrero that will fit every head. Education needs to be a living organism that can grow, evolve and adapt to fit the nature of its environment. 

Fundamentally it is the parents responsibility to raise their children, but it is the teachers responsibility to know their learners, and to ensure everyone feels comfortable in their own space. When I say know your learners I don't mean just know their name. I mean know them. Look at them in the morning and from that one glance tell if something's wrong. Tell if they had breakfast that morning. Tell if they've been forced to come to school sick. Tell if they feel like they haven't been treated as an individual at home, and do your best to make sure every single individual feels respected at school.

They are the kids. You are the adult. We're all humans.

Our students thrive learning in this environment.  Learning and teaching at the same time.  Teachers learning from students and vice versa.  Students sharing with parents.

Why would we continue to imitate- and poorly because of our size- a secondary system that has dismally failed some of our most vulnerable learners for years?
Why would we, when our kids live such whanau based lives, continue to segregate kids by year groups?

You require respect, but so do they. Don't treat them like they're the scum of the earth, because they're not. Respect them for who they are, respect them for what they could be, respect them as individuals, and they will do the same to you

Here I am sitting in this classroom of really engaged collaborative learners on a Monday morning and remembering how difficult Monday mornings used to be with them.
Whats the difference? They have real control over their day. As teachers we have set up those systems and we are here to facilitate the learning and help the learners link that back to learning areas but they are definitely the ones in control. And so they should be. Its their learning, and when they have control over it, true control, then maybe we really will see the life long learning that the NZ curriculum aspires to.

It's time for teachers the world over to throw off their ideas of subjects. It's time to stop trying to invent new ways to make the curriculum more engaging, and to turn everything upside down. Take ideas or themes that engage individual students and see what parts of the curriculum you can link them to. Have discussions as a staff on what the actual idea of school is in the 21st century. Is it to educate people into a job or career path? Or is it to help learners become better people?

Preparing children for the future is not only our job, but our duty as teachers. Our school is determinedly focused on what is right for students learning, not what feels most comfortable for the teacher

May we as teachers too, create our own enchanting reality, expose our studentsbeauty and intelligence and transform their lives with the gentlest of corrections.

Do we give our young people enough credit when it comes to their ability to learn?

I feel inspired everyday. The children in my class give me so much more than I could ever imagine. Love, acceptance, inspiration, drive, respect and more than anything, they like me for who I am, and I like them too.  I never really understood what being a teacher in a school like this really meant. Not only are we role models, we are Mum, Dad, a shoulder to cry on, tell secrets to and dream with. Our students really believe that they can be the best they can be and we really try to encourage them to reach far beyond what they believe they are capable of.

And take a look at it from another perspective, we can see that Education IS perturbation.
We welcome our students into our learning spaces and although they are quite happy to cruise along through life, we as teachers are the outside influence, we create all those activities and learning opportunities that force our students to challenge what they know, or think they know, and often times the learning is fun and exciting, and sometimes it is dramatic and highly pressured.

From our first notification of closure, to now, it’s been tumultuous at times and its been exhilarating at times, but whatever it is…I’m so glad I decided to go on the journey, what an adventure its been!

If we know that we learn best using multiple strategies and with different people at different times, why do we insist on putting 30 students together with one adult and creating a dependency on one person?

  • How would it look if we had learners from multiple years together?
  • How would it look if the learning was based primarily and significantly on learners inquiries and the teachers role was to facilitate the learning and help the learners focus on their next learning steps, on an individual basis?
  • How would it look if we had multiple teachers working with larger groups of students sharing responsibilities for all learners as appropriate?
  • How would it look if students had a real say in constructing their school day, week and year?
We developed our whole school- including our senior curriculum- very intentionally and unashamedly around what was best for our students and their learning. We fit the timetable and physical structure of classes around our student’s needs and best practice. The results are quite a different approach to learning in the Secondary School.

I won’t miss the individual classrooms with the teacher’s desk that was once a staple of a New Zealand education. I’m excited about continuing to team teach with other teachers; of being collaborative and cooperative in our planning and teaching; the sharing of ideas, practice, and passion for learning. It’s certainly not the ‘one size fits all’ approach I had going through school.

For us at TKAS helping our young people develop an understanding of their identity- past, present and future, the ability to be inclusive with all other people ( accept and have positive relationships with a range of people)  and doing things differently (being innovative) is the cornerstone to what we are doing (and are the three main points on our school logo).

I am trained as a Secondary teacher and the best PD I have ever done is teaching at Primary level. I can hear all you subject specialists throwing your hands up in disgust, but its true! 
Our school is not normal and for that I am eternally grateful. I have been exposed to a plethora of left field, educational tools and strategies that have challenged me in so many ways. 

Area schools have the advantage of being able to group years of students together. But in reality so does any school. It takes courage and it takes daring to buck a system! And it takes time to prove it's working to all those doubters who rely on what has been the way its done for so long.

If you are Interested in finding out more, have a read of the Blog entries or enter into a conversation with us on this blog or for an even deeper conversation register on this forum one of our staff is starting up and discuss some or all of the above with us.

Grass Roots Education Forum

Thursday, 4 September 2014

I Don't Get It- Alleyne Chater

I Don’t Get It?

“We’ve come to mistake curricula, textbooks, standards, objectives, and tests as an end to themselves, rather than a means to an end. Where are standards and objectives taking us? What is the vision they are pointing towards? What purpose do they serve? What ideals guide us? Without ideals, we have nothing to aim for. Unlike standards, ideals can’t be tested. But they can do something standards cannot: they can motivate, inspire and direct our work.”
Joseph Payne, 1862.

Throughout the ages (well, the past 150 years), brave people have dared to question the status quo of education. People that realize the actual point to education: making conscious people, capable of independent thinking.
My brain is hurting with the obviousness of how anti real education our current system is. It is so screamingly obvious, so blatant; I can’t fathom how it has remained seemingly unchanged for over a century.

I have opened myself to a plethora of vein-like brooks of thought from multiple sources, dedicated to changing the face of education (Joseph Payne, Dennis Littky, Elliot Washor, Guy Claxton, Sugata Mitra, Ian Jukes, Sir Ken Robinson and the kazillion others that are of this ilk!). These brooks have slowly merged into streams, streams into rivers and rivers into mighty torrents that flow to the open seas of possibility.

How can an (extremely) average student, of seemingly average intelligence, see the pitfalls of our current system; where highly intelligent, highly educated people cannot? (Because of the highly political use of education?)  I have absorbed so much in the past 4 years and I know where the changes need to be made. There is no one answer and there is no sombrero that will fit every head. Education needs to be a living organism that can grow, evolve and adapt to fit the nature of its environment. It cannot be cloned and expected to grow the same in the tropics as it does in a dessert.

Now, most of you are nodding and thinking, “yeah, I know all that”. So I guess the question is, how do we make change happen? What do we need to do/implement in order for education to evolve for the better?

I invite you to post a reply and share your thoughts and offer your two cents! We need to start a conversation that snowballs into a phenomenon that finally leads to change.

One day it WILL happen! Wouldn’t it be great to say that you were a part of the revolution!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Bees are dying, why should we care? Learning in a multi-aged learning community in New Zealand. Tara O'Neill

Bees are dying, why should we care?  This was the question posed in the Early Years Learning Community last term.  This community from Te Karaka Area School has 60 students ranging from Year 1 to Year 5.  We are 97% Maori.  Three teachers were involved one afternoon a week for one term.   We all learnt together as a group. No separation of ages. The topic became integrated throughout the day in reading, writing and math as the rest of our teaching team picked up on the student’s enthusiasm.  Bee Fever spread like wild fire!

Firstly we engaged with the topic – Bees.  Many of the students were interested straight away as bees fascinated them.  For others their interest took longer. 
Then we started to explore.  There were four stations.  Common known information was made available to the students.  This was done in an investigatory way.   1.  A critical honey tasting experiment.  2.  Labeling parts of a bee   3.  Watching a New Zealand Documentary called The Plight of the Bee.  Discussing ideas.
4.  Dissecting flowers to find the pollen.  

A Bee a Questioner sheet went on the wall and students could write their questions up at any time during the day.

Our investigation led us to find out why the bee was in danger.  Firstly we skyped “The Bee Lady” from Auckland, and the students had a very engaged time asking her questions.  Secondly we invited a local Bee Keeper.  He told us a lot about what was involved with bee keeping. 

One of the hooks, which got the students interested, was the thought of having our own Bee Hive.  Would it bee possible? 

We hoped so.  Maybe having a beehive will help save the bees?

The next stage of our inquiry was a team effort to investigate and learn more about bees but most importantly to engage with real life communities and activities, each student passionate about their choice of project.

There were 14 to choose from, here are some of them:

Bee a Carpenter – they ordered and made some bee frames and organized for every one in the class to have a go.
Bee an Author – they made a book about bees to share with the local pre-school.
Bee a Chemist – they found out how to make Lip Balm, including a local business lady from Manatuke Herbs coming in and showing them some of her secrets. 
Bee a Fundraiser - this group were in charge of raising enough money for some Bee Suits.  They choose to do a sausage sizzle.
Bee an Athlete – this group invented three bee games for the class to play outside.  Bee, Bee, Wasp was one of the favourites. 
Bee a Bee Feeder – this group researched what plants bees like and planted some in a bathtub.
Bee an Artist - they made paper mache beehives.
Bee a Photographer – they took the photos to record our journey.
Bee a Media Officer – they wrote the letters to do with setting up a beehive, talk to the media.
These groups were a big hit and the engagement and enthusiasm went through the roof.  It was really important to trust the learners to learn.  Not to over manage but to allow the journey to unfold.

We now have bee frames ready, yellow bee suits and wax sheets waiting for the arrival of our first beehive.   We plan to have our own label “Sticky Fingers” which we will sell honey and lip balm and other products under.  More importantly, we hope to be part of the solution to help safe bees into the future.

So, Bees are dying, do we care?   The overwhelming answer is Yes.  We realize that bees are part of our environment, a part we can’t do without.  Bees are totally amazing and it is up to us to save them. 

Here are some ideas that helped our learning.

Ako -  tuakana/teina – Younger and older learning together.  From Ka Hikitia “Ako is a dynamic form of learning where the educator and the student learn from each other and in an interactive way.  Ako is grounded in the principle of reciprocity and recognizes that the student and whanau cannot be separated”.
Click here for link .    Our students thrive learning in this environment.  Learning and teaching at the same time.  Teachers learning from students and vice versa.  Students sharing with parents. 

Some principles found in   Key Competencies for the Future, by Rosemary Hipkins, Rachel Bolstad, Sally Boyd, and Sue McDowall, describe what we did well.  This is a practical new book outlining how to bring the future into our present. It suggests the following next steps build capabilities to work with diverse others and ideas.

1.    Teachers helped students access the existing established knowledge as and when it was needed to help solve their shared problem.  The students didn’t have to spend long amounts of time finding already existing knowledge, they could spend time on thinking about the why.  Why should we care?  How will not having bees impact our future?  How does this relate to my whanau, my iwi and my community?
2.    Students were grouped for diversity.  Our learning community includes 5 year olds to 11 year olds and adults learning together.

3.    We provided opportunities for collective knowledge building.  We let our ideas emerge as a group.  They belonged to the group.

4.    We supported students to build knowledge and capabilities, through participating and contributing, relating to others, and managing themselves in a real community.  The Bee community is a vital group of people who have views on the environment and business.  Our continued involvement with this community will go into the future.

5.    There was space for a variety of viewpoints to be heard.  Most of our community are not aware of any problems bees have and many thought working with bees very dangerous.   How we discussed these views allowed students to see difference and similarity.  Our visitors also had very specific views on bees and the environment.  Some students were fortunate to hear Professor Garin Smith visiting from America who was very involved with bees and the military.  That made us think!
6.    We provided opportunities for students to work with others.  Including Bee professionals, parents, teachers and books.
7.    Provided opportunities for diverse ideas to emerge and collide.  The idea that if bees are directly involved with pollination of 70 out of 100 human food crops and they die how will we survive on 30 crops? The idea of timing, how we feel like we are okay at the moment.  The Varroa Mite, Colony Collapse Disorder.  Big problems, which collide with our everyday life.
8.    There will be opportunities to revisit ideas in the future.  In September our new bees will arrive.   The students will have turns to put on the yellow bee suits and have a go at being Bee Keepers.  We will continue to develop deeper thinking into the many issues bees bring to our daily lives.

As I watch our learners now, I see the progress they have made in being self -managing learners with an ability to learn and teach alongside others, to co-create information and to be passionate advocates for the environment.   This type of learning is dynamic, exciting and meaningful for both the teacher and the student.  I hope this provides a picture of what learning can look like in a multi-age learning community in New Zealand.