Friday, 26 April 2013

The best school in New Zealand.

With the latest census completed, it won't be long before every principal in the country will get a letter which will tell them the news of their latest decile ranking. The ranking will either stay the same or it will go up which means less money but good PR because you can say "Yeah - look at us -we've gone up from a decile 5 to a 6. Or it will go down and that means more money but you will keep quiet about it just in case the community sees it as a fall from grace.
The decile ratings are determined by the census data showing the wealth of the families within the school. They have absolutely nothing to do with how well or otherwise the school is doing.
The government needs the decile ratings - absolutely but only for funding purposes - of course, decile one schools need more funding than decile 10 schools - that just makes sense. The tragedy is that the decile ratings define the school. Who needs the information that actually the poorest families send their kids to this school and the wealthiest families send their kids to that school   --- certainly not the kids at the school.
I am reminded of a great conversation I had with a young woman in Year 9 at Ngaruawahia High School. I had done my usual rant about what a great school we were in, great teachers etc etc. After the assembly she came up to me this young woman and asked _"Ms Cavanagh, is this the best school in New Zealand ?" I thought for a while and then answered "Well, you know I have been in lots of schools in New Zealand and actually yes - I think it is - I really do think it is the best school."
Her face lit up "Chaa" she said, "Chaa".
Funnily enough I didn't tell her that this was a decile one school. I was the principal, she was the student. She was at the best school!!!! And that's where the story ends.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Tips for impact projects.

Chinaya is very committed to impact projects and she is concerned that some students do not grasp the opportunity with enough seriousness. She worries that they miss out on what is such a powerful learning opportunity. For her impact project this semester she is creating a website "Tips for impact projects." She and her project partner, Jerry, are showcasing 10 projects. They are following the projects through from the proposal stage to the final presentation. They are interviewing the students at each stage and trying to find some agreement on what it is that supports a project to be successful. When they have completed the investigation they will publish parts of the interviews and give some very positive and sound advice for all students on how to engage in and complete a successful project.
I am really looking forward to the outcome of this project.

Small steps indeed !!!!!!

For his impact project, Dylan with great confidence is setting up YENGA (Young Engineers Association) for students across New Zealand. He has found inspiration from participation in ModelUnited nations. He is keen to set up a similar structure for young engineers. He envisages a day where there is a speaker to set the day off and then there is a competition in which school teams participate. He has contacted Auckland University and not surprisingly has found huge enthusiasm. They have already promised to provide the speaker. Dylan has set the date for the first symposium which is June 22. His task now is to contact the schools and get participants. He is using FACEBOOK and is confident he will get the numbers.
Dylan is working with a team of committed physics students. He says they are all going to Auckland University next year and want to develop and lead the group so that it gains momentum not just for school students but for University students as well. They see it developing as a New Zealand wide organisation.
I ask him if he is thinking of going global. He laughs and says, 'Small steps, Barbara, small steps."

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Emperor has no clothes

I love this quote (but can't remember which book I got it out of) . It kind of makes me laugh but there is a dagger in there that we need to be mindful of.

"One question that interests me is what became of the child who revealed the emperor was naked ?
Did he or she get rewarded and become a national hero?
Did his or her actions become forgotten as the empire continued to act in naked and brutal ways, and the hustlers and advisers profited from the stupidity system ?
Did the child give up, internalise the norms of stupidity and sustain blows to his or her sense of self-worth ?"

Mmmmmmmm. Let's hope for the rewards.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Moved by this response

Hi Barbara,
My name is Dearna and I am mother of two young boys. I am also a relief teacher aide and currently doing my Teacher Aide certificate through the Open Polytechnic.
My oldest son is seven years old and has Autism and ADHD and is in a mainstream school here in Hamilton. Yesterday I came to Auckland to the Bruce Mason centre to see my sister graduate. And I heard your speech. I loved what you had to say. I loved that you challenged all those going into teaching to challenge the status quo, to dig a little deeper and to make a difference. To believe that EVERY child has the ability to learn. I believe passionately in all that you said. And I wanted to tell you that your speech gave me hope. If even a small percentage of those new teachers really heard what you had to say yesterday then I have hope for children like my son, “the round pegs in the square holes”. I have hope that those teachers will dig a little deeper and see what we as parents see, the huge potential and the valuable contribution that our children have to make in the world.
Thank You,

What if your contribution is the key ingredient ?

Massey University Graduation Ceremony


by Barbara Cavanagh

Tuesday 16 April 2012 Bruce Mason Centre

Kia ora koutou
Nga mihi nui ki a koutou no te kura matua o Albany.

Congratulations – This is a major achievement for all of you today. It is the culmination of serious and hard work and we are here today to acknowledge that in this very grand ceremony.

You have walked up the streets of Takapuna and arrived at this Bruce Mason Theatre. Before I start I would like to honour the man for whom this theatre is named – Bruce Mason, a superb playwright and orator. My mother grew up in a house behind his house on Takapuna Beach so I have grown up with 'End of the Golden Weather' set right here on the beach and then later, on many occasions, taught 'The Pohutukawa Tree'. It is right that this theatre be named after such an illustrious man.

I am currently principal at Albany Senior High School and I have also been principal at Te Awamutu College and Ngaruawahia High School. Before that I did a stint at Fairfield College and a 7 year stretch at Northcote College – so I have been in the game a very long time (close to 40 years).

I'd like to start with a story, it's a story I heard recently at a principals' conference about the silver-backed gorilla.

The silver-backed gorilla is definitely the leader of the pack - he has a silver streak down his back so that he is instantly recognised as such. The greatest threat to the pack was always the leopards and the leopards relied on the pack splitting up so that they could pounce easily on one gorilla. The answer for master silver-back was to encourage all the gorillas to get behind him thus making it impossible for the leopards. The problem now is that the biggest threat is the poachers with guns so now, of course, when master silver -back gets all his pack in behind him it is oh so easy for the poachers to get a good shot. The poor old gorillas are dying out. So here's the silver-backed gorilla – totally believing he's doing the RIGHT thing in his mind, and he ends up destroying the very people he wants to protect.

My challenge to you – those of you going into schools and to those of you entering the design world - is to challenge, challenge, challenge the status quo. For those of your who are going into schools, you are going into the most wonderful job in the world. - SERIOUSLY -

Like the Army advertisement on TV – you will NEVER be short of good work stories. Go in with your new, fresh eyes. Think about the research you have engaged with in your time at this wonderful Massey University. Keep reading – go back to that research and look around what's happening in line with the research? And please don't think that you have to 'do an apprenticeship' before you offer an opinion. We have a saying at our school – 'What if your contribution is the key ingredient?' What if it's you? You are young, intelligent, why couldn't it be?? Why wouldn't it be???

You see there are myths that exists in school that need to be challenged – I worry that schools may just become irrelevant – there are schools that still ban cellphones!! Do you know that there is more technology in a cellphone than there was in the technology that took a space shuttle to the moon?? There will come the day when we say, we banned cellphones? – we did what?? Harness technology – enjoys its capacity and it's amazing potential to transform.

Watch out for solutions in schools that make life easier for the institution but not necessarily for the child. The silver-backed gorilla had ONE solution for every crisis – and he's wiping out those who love him.

If you have in your head things like;
  • Boys learn best when....
  • Girls learn best when.....
  • Maori students learn best when.....
Then know for sure that you are wrong.

If you believe that;
  • some kids can learn
  • some can't
Then know for sure that you are wrong.

When you are looking at every child with absolute belief that they have the ability to learn, they want to achieve and they want to need to contribute then I suggest you are on the right track. The easy and quick solution (think of master gorilla) is to label kids, then group them early – this is the top group, this is the bottom group. What are the unintended consequences of that?
There's so much research that shows us that our own attitudes and beliefs as teachers can seriously change the attitudes that children have about themselves.
You be the teacher who challenges – take your fresh and intelligent eyes to every situation. You will come across silver-backed gorillas – be gentle but be firm – you have good brains, use them to stay informed and to challenge.

Silver-backed gorillas are in the design world too – and to you people – be mindful of one great creative genius, Steve Jobs – Mr Apple..

Here's to the crazy one. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The one who see things differently. They are not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them, disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them. And the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that's never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see laboratory on wheel? We make tools for these kind of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Be one of the crazies.

So to all of you with your big brains and fresh eyes...

Yes – Kim Kardashian is too fat or too thin – and yes it is a worry that Roimata might leave TK and isn't it great that Tom has a new girlfriend – I mean Katie was so mean to him – Jen's doing well though, isn't she....Mmmmm, important as that is on a world scale, don't let the media addle your brains. You might just need to be the new one in the pack who says to Master Silver-back,
You know what? Let's define the actual problem here and NOW let's find a solution that fits!”

What if your contribution is the key ingredient? What if?

Have a great day. I hope that for all of you that this is not the end of your association with Massey University. Your days of learning have just begun, my friends.

My very best wishes for all of you

No reira tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Inspiration Tuesday with Alex Boulton.

On a Tuesday morning we have a presentation for the staff which we know will be inspiring. Usually it is a teacher who has had a breakthrough with their professional inquiry - an aha moment that they are keen to share. This morning, though, we had Alex Boulton, a year 12 student who for his impact project is writing a book about the influence of black music on western culture. Alex described for us how he approaches his project. His passion and confidence were inspirational. He is highly self motivated and each Wednesday he sets himself a goal which he always achieves. He enjoys the role his mentor plays and it is the support of his mentor that keeps him motivated and excited. (Next project day I will video Alex and add it to this blog because I cannot do him justice).
After his presentation I was talking with him about himself and where he is heading. It was so exciting to hear him talk about what the impact project meant for him. He said that in his first project he wrote music for Waterbabies and how he had felt so inspired by that. But he had always seen himself as being a movie maker and so in his next project he did film-making. Although he worked hard and enjoyed the project he did not have the same enthusiasm. In the current project he is working again with music and his realisation is that his career needs to involve music. He LOVES working with any aspect of music. It motivates him and he loses himself in it. So he is very grateful for the impact projects that have given him the space to come to that realisation.
I am delighted that Alex has come to that realisation. This is exactly what the intention of the impact projects always was - to help students find their place in the world.
Our vision is that at ASHS we will nurture each, inspire each other and empower each other. Alex certainly inspired us this morning.
I am also more convinced than ever that this is exactly what 21st century learning is all about, It is giving students space, space which is not limited to the teacher, the curriculum or the assessment. It is giving them space to be who they really are in the world.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Let the child flower

This is a quote from Herb Kohl which puts in a nutshell what we all know about having preconceived ideas, deficit theorising etc. It comes from the book 'Awakening the Heart of Teaching'.

"Looking at a child, understanding who he, she is or might become, is not a simple neutral act or a matter of finding the right objective test or experimental situation. Central to what you see in someone is what you are looking for. If you want to find a child's weaknesses, failures, personal problems or inadequacies you'll discover them. If you look at a child through the filter of her or his environment or economic status and make judgements through the filters of your own culture, gender and racial biases, you'll find the characteristics you expect. You'll also find yourself well placed to reproduce failure and to develop resistance in some children, a false sense of superiority in others. On the other hand if you look for strengths and filter the world through the prism of hope, you will see and encourage the unexpected flowering of a child's life in the most unlikely places"

Saturday, 13 April 2013

World Cafe - Belief in everybody

I really like this explanation of the world cafe. It makes so much sense and pares away all the judgements and limitations that are easy to impose on each other.

"The World Cafe is a good, simple process for bringing people together around questions that matter. It is founded on the assumption that people have the capacity to work together, NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE. For me this is a very important assumption. It frees us from our current focus on personality types, learning styles, emotional IQ - all the popular methods we currently use to pre-identify and pre-judge people. Each of these typologies ends up separating and stereotyping people. This was not intended by their creators but it is what has happened.
The Cafe process has been used in many different cultures, among many different age groups, for many different purposes, and in many different types of communities and organisations. IT DOESN'T MATTER WHO THE PEOPLE ARE, THE PROCESS WORKS.It works because people CAN work well together, CAN be creative and caring and insightful when they're actively engaged in meaningful conversations around questions that count." (pIX)

I have often wondered about personality type theories and although there is bound to be some truth in them they are just not helpful. I like the World Cafe positive belief in the ability of every person to participate on equal footing.

Wiremu's Shoes

She sits patiently with an air of quiet resignation outside the principal's office. Her body is still and she is gazing at some point in the distance. Beside her on the floor is a pair of shoes, school shoes.
The door opens suddenly. "Come in, come in". It is the principal. He is a shortish man in a grey suit. He hesitates for a moment when there is no response but then regains himself."Kia ora, kia ora,come in, come in."
She picks up the shoes and follows the principal into the office. She sits in the chair in front of the big wooden desk and puts the shoes beside her again on the floor.
The principal sits in a larger chair with a high back.
"I know you'll be upset about Wiremu. He's a good boy - a good boy. But you know we had to make an example of him. Rules are rules. If we let Wiremu get away with wearing whatever he likes then it's a slippery slope - a slippery slope. Wiremu just has to learn. The other students look up to Wiremu - they follow his example. He has had plenty of warning. In the end we had no choice. I am sorry but we had no choice."
She sits in silence for a few moments and then she sighs. She picks up the shoes then and puts them on the principal's desk. Very quietly but with some determination in her voice, she says "Mr. Principal you are obviously very keen to educate my son's shoes. Well, Mr. Principal here they are, Wiremu's shoes."

Monday, 8 April 2013

Myth busting

I have been asked to address Massey University School of Education graduates (so they are going into teaching ) at a graduation ceremony. I have been wondering what is the best message for young people starting out in schools and I keep coming back to - CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO !!!!!!!!
The myths to challenge
1) Some kids can learn, some kids can't.
2) Boys learn better when  ...........
3) Girls learn better when   ..........
4) Maori students learn better when  .........
5) Asian kids learn better when   ........
6) Some kids are gifted, some aren't
7) Kids need to be streamed into classes - the top classes get all the so called bright kids and the low classes get all the dumb kids.
Let's stop the madness and ask some questions about how best to organise our schools so that each child is seen as a person of value with a unique way of learning and a need to contribute.

Students learning Dialogues.

I was talking with the teachers this morning about why we run the dialogues in the way that we do.
 In the past my experience has been that all the teachers are in the hall with name tags on the front of their desks. The parents book in for 5 - 10 minutes. If you are an English teacher you can have up to 100 parents coming on one night ( if everybody comes). The parents are supposed to book, most do but the ones who don't often jump the queue and that makes the others cranky and sometimes difficult to deal with.You have 5-10 minutes to talk about son or daughter (who mostly is not with the parents). After an hour or so things get a bit jumbled and it is easy to confuse one Stephen with another (I say Stephen because that's a true story. I remember going cold at the horror of it). When the ordeal is over the comments start, " Of course we only see the parents we don't need to see. All the parents we should see just don't bother to turn up"etc etc I WONDER whether the outcome is that the students whose parents have turned up are now more advantaged than before because of the relationship that the teacher has now experienced with the parents and at the same time the students whose parents have not turned up are more disadvantaged because the teacher has more justification for assuming that the students are not achieving because of lack of parental support.
SO the learning dialogues are a genuine attempt to remove all that craziness.The parents make an appointment with the tutorial teacher only and the dialogue which lasts between 20 and 30 minutes is an opportunity for the students to present their learning to both parents and the tutor and then for all parties to agree to the goals required for the student to achieve success for the year. This year we have made the dialogues compulsory. If the parents are unable to come then the students are able to choose another teacher to step in as parent and then the outcomes are sent home. The high stakes dialogue cannot be sidestepped by any student.
It will be interesting to get feedback from all parties on the effect.

Friday, 5 April 2013

New Problems, Old Solutions

I loved the story that Paul Porteous told about the silver backed gorilla. ( Paul was speaking at the SPANZ conference in Queenstown).
The silver backed gorilla is definitely the leader of the pack - he has a silver streak down his back so that he is instantly recognised as such. The greatest threat to the pack was always the leopards and the leopards relied on the pack splitting up so that they could pounce easily on one gorilla. The answer for master silver back was to encourage all the gorillas to get behind him thus making it impossible for the leopards. The problem now is that the biggest threat is the poachers with guns so now, of course, when master silver back gets all his pack in behind him it is oh so easy for the poachers to get a good shot. The poor old gorillas are dying out.
MMMM food for thought - Schools are requiring new solutions - our contexts are so different yet we continue to come up with the same old solutions. There are new solutions and when we have the time and space we are very capable of coming up with them. It is exactly when the environment is changing that we are called upon to exercise leadership. Our leadership HAS to be about how we learn not just about protecting the group,providing direction,and maintaining order. We need to be getting together to start thinking.
I am confident that ChallengeED will be the forum for that.

The power of learning conversations

I am really intrigued at the power of the conversations that teachers have with students. It seems to me that what happens when a teacher has a genuine conversation about learning with a student it is not just that the student appreciates the immediate issue being discussed but something much larger happens - the student is being recognised and is being drawn in as a learner who really matters in this institution. I am fortunate to be in an open plan office and time and time again I overhear the conversations our DPs are having with students about the students' personalised learning plans. The students are so keen to engage in the conversations which are very often geared towards finding personal success for themselves in a non traditional way. I sense their relief at being acknowledged as successful learners rather than as students who are failing and need to be fixed up. I love hearing them talk eagerly about where they see themselves heading. I have the sense that a lot of these students have not felt the sense of entitlement that many other students have always felt. Just imagine if these conversations were happening every day for students. It really highlights for me the need for teachers to stick to conversations that matter with their students.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Impact Project Wednesday

I am always impressed with the projects our students are doing and I am inspired by the deep learning they are prepared to engage in. Today I had the pleasure of meeting the two Hannahs. The two Hannahs are designing a mural for the wall outside the art room . They have used Banksey as their artist's model and they have done a huge amount of preliminary work around the design. One of the Hannahs is keen to be an architect and she is most concerned to be innovative and thoughtful about the placement of the mural. It was exciting to see how they have incorporated the two windows into the design and how they take the mural around a corner. The mural is full of surprises and I really love the way they have incorporated the word "inspire" from our vision. They use the expression - Dare to inspire  -which I think is really great because it was very clear to me that that is exactly what they were doing - daring to inspire. Sally, the art teacher talked about the intense difficulty that the students would face because of the intricate nature of the work and the surface being somewhat uneven. The girls only response was that they were up to the challenge and were looking forward to it. I am looking forward to seeing the end result.