Friday, 31 July 2015

He Kaitiaki

He Kaitiaki

Blogpost 5 for Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori

Today I went for a walk around our school at our learning break time (morning tea). 

I took the following photos in just one ten minute block of time.

In the staffroom I found a Year 11 boy proud of baking his first pavlova lats night, having brought it in for teachers to sample.... unfortunately by the time I ran back to the office and got my phone to take a photo the teachers had devoured it!
In the gym were a group of Early Years students having a game of netball against some teachers, teacher aides and administrative staff, being refereed by a couple of Year 10 girls

Coming out of the gym I encountered  teacher carrying a box of bananas and oranges outside for students to eat
(thanks to the Fruit in Schools programme)
Walking past the whānau room I said hello to the public health practitioner setting up ready to start hearing and vision testing after morning tea.
In the sick bay I found a young Year 3 student who was sick, waiting for her father to pick her up. her older Year 13 sister had come in to check up on her.

Walking outside I found a group of students ranging from Year 4 to Year 9 all playing a kicking version of four square
Further along the verandah were a couple of teachers working on laptops out in the sun, rather than inside in the cold.

And at the other end of the verandah were some super heroes hard at work.

Out on the field a group of boys were playing some kind of hybrid game- again students ranged from Year 2 through to Year 8.

And others are playing in the sandpit (bad photo!)

A teacher is talking to one of the pre school teachers over the fence that some senior students built for the pre school last year.
A teacher aide wanders out for a chat in the sunshine about what she needs to do next period.

What a wonderful display of aroha, manaakitanga and whānaungatanga I saw in just 10 minutes of a learning break.

Students and staff of TKAS- you rock!

Thursday, 16 July 2015


This year we have had a ‘One word’ challenge amongst staff.  One word which centers on your character and creates a vision of your future. 

My word is      Limit

For me this centers on, Family, School, Study and Me.  I am one of those people who have experienced severe burn out.  Burn Out is a very scary experience and one with consequences in many areas of life.  Limit was my way of focusing myself on what counts most.  That is finding the limits and living in them contentedly.

That is where my thinking remained until recently when my thoughts were directed towards the classroom.

I am inquiring into play as pedagogy for teaching Year 1 and 2 (5 and 6 year olds).  It includes holistic and meaningful ways for young children to learn.   At the beginning of teaching with this new focus, I had a broad goal, a direction to follow.  I liken it to being on a large farm, where you can’t physically see the boundaries but you know where they.  For nearly three terms, my team and I have been wondering around the farm.  It is only recently that I have seen some of the boundaries.  I like to think of them as limits.  Bumping into the fence line felt great, as I could look back and see how far we had travelled.

One of the limits I wanted to find was the tension between allowing students to self-direct learning through play and the teacher goals of teaching specific academic skills.   Are these two mutually opposed?  In New Zealand children start school at 5 years old.  They have National Standards they need to reach by the age of 6.   These standards are specifically academic in reading, writing and maths.  We believe that some children take longer than a year to reach these standards.  Some children are not well served if their social and emotional skills are neglected in order that they reach these specific academic skills. 

Two questions – Can you teach academic skills through play alone?
If not, then how do you include both in a learning environment?

This quote from “Play: The pathway from theory to practice” by S. Heidemann and D. Hewitt, really helped me word my thinking.

“Separating play and academics:  Early childhood practitioners sometimes set up a false dichotomy between early literacy/math and socio-emotional development (development in the area of understanding and expressing feelings while learning to relate to others).  If asked to choose sides, practitioners may align play with socio-emotional development.  The academic subjects are more likely to be seen as drills.  This false dichotomy plays out at the detriment of children, no matter which side you take.  If you choose socio-emotional development as the most important task of the early childhood years, you will design a class with rich play experiences but perhaps very little explicit instruction.  If you choose the academic content areas, you may create a setting that is more structured and less spontaneous with play as an adjunct activity. In either case, children lose much.  Integration of academics into play brings the best for children and their learning” (Heidemann & Hewitt, 2010).

One of my colleagues often quotes “It is not one way or the other, it is both.”  As a team we seek to work between the ends of academics and socio-emotional development.  By knowing the ends it gives us freedom to work between.  It helps us to know what skills we need to learn to become better at observing students learning and identifying where they are and how best to help them transition to the next step.  Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximity is helpful here.  “In play children seem to perform ahead of themselves, stretching themselves to gain more advanced skills such as self-control, language use, memory, attention, cognitive skills, and cooperation with others.”   In play children naturally challenge limits. 

The further we have moved from a traditional teaching role to one of facilitator of play, the more we can see the differences and the benefits.  Moving toward the edge does that.  There are always choices to be made, things to leave behind and new ways to learn. 


Dear Teacher Aide

Dear Teacher Aide,

I want to congratulate you for listening and applying the techniques around social and emotional coaching we discussed today.  I am impressed with your ability to listen and then apply new ideas.  This ability is critical and will see you go far in any profession.  It is really helpful to work alongside someone with this skill.

It was exciting to see your success with the boys in particular.   The boys think very highly of you so when you do apply these techniques it has an awesome affect.  They want your friendship, they want you to notice them.  The principle of ignoring unwanted behaviour and praising  wanted behaviour seems simple enough.  However, it is very difficult in practice and many teachers struggle with it.  I think that as teachers we often let our hearts dictate our actions.   “I feel so mad right now, that child is so naughty…  I have told that child 1000 times not to do that.  We end up wanting to punish that child. We end up saying and doing things leading the child to be noticed negatively.  Children crave any attention and if negative is all they can get, they will take that.

However, punishment never wins.  What does punishment teach a child?  Does it teach them skills about how to calm down?  Does it teach them how to forgive or how to make the situation right again? That is why we are a restorative school.  Using restorative practice enables students to learn from difficult situations.  They might learn 1.  What they did that the other person didn’t like.  2.  How to put things right.  3.  That situations often involve two people  4. Teachers can say sorry as well   5.  Learn skills so that the problem doesn’t happen again.  

Restorative practice provides the student another opportunity to try again, to practice that social skill in context without being disgraced.  In our learning community, Year 1 and 2, the students need multiple opportunities to practice.  Older students benefit from learning safer and more respectful ways of living and learning together to restore calm and rebuild relationships.

We need to always remember to love and believe in the child as a baseline expectation.  Don’t take words or actions personally.  An angry and upset child doesn’t hate you.  They are simply expressing deep emotion of frustration and hurt. They are yet to learn how to self manage. 

You have done so well not to take things personally.  That shows a lot of maturity.  Remember that the moment after a child has done something that offends you is the most powerful moment of all.  Ignore the behaivour, make sure the child and everyone else is safe and then quickly praise the child when they choose to do the right thing. Choose to praise them with tagged praise even if you don't feel like it.  “Well done for taking a deep breath Zuri."

Praise lets the child know what they are doing that is so helpful in making amends. Randomly using a tangible reward like a stamp or a juicy helps the young child or a child who has difficulty self managing, see the result of an abstract behavior concretely. The reward helps them notice the steps they take along the way to successfully manage situations. They might not notice a ‘good boy or a good girl or a thank you’ for the time they paused and took a deep breath when they were frustrated. They may not connect those words to what it was they did so well.  But they will notice if they receive a tangible reward for a specific social skill.  “Wow, I loved the way you used the chill out chair today, you were self managing your frustration by calming down.”  Praise with a tangible reward is on the same continuum as praise with words, it is just as valid when used in the right situation.  And for some of our learners, who are very concrete thinkers, they need this material object and/or tagged praise to help them notice the abstract nature of some feeling or social skill.
You may have heard people say that kids who get a lot of praise, come to rely on it.  However, I have experienced and read articles saying that when kids are full of praise they start to give it away to others.  Think about the times you have been given a compliment by someone you respect.  It has put you on cloud nine, and the next person you see, often gets a smile and some kind words.  This praise effect can have a dynamic influence in a learning community.  Think of the effect of many emotionally full learners giving away compliments and meaningful friendship words to fellow students.   

Today, you had success by spending time, purposeful time, building relationship with one student.  You focused on him for 5 minutes.  You used Descriptive Commenting to notice him;  “You are building a digger.  You are putting the wheel here, no there.  You are keeping your body calm even though the wheel doesn’t fit”.  You also used his name, and you looked him in the eye and smiled.  These things are so powerful.  He needs to know in lots of small ways that you respect him.  Every time you notice him, you fill up his emotional bank. 

So well done again.  Keep up the good learning.  It is wonderful to have you in the team and to see you being so successful.  

Your colleague,

Tara O’Neill