Saturday, 22 July 2017

Learning Esteem

I have been giving a lot of thought to this concept lately. Throughout our professional inquiries one thing comes through clearly, our learners that struggle in those core areas of literacy and numeracy all lack confidence in their own abilities.  Because of this they are unwilling to take risks and often believe they 'can't' before they even try.  They are inclined to sit back and let others do the work and take the risks, they are the children we struggle to help to make the progress that we know they are capable of.

Obviously there are other things going on, but this self-confidence comes through clearly as a barrier.
After thinking about these children and this lack of confidence I realised that for some, this lack of confidence only comes through in these areas of learning.   These children may appear to have quite good self-esteem otherwise and this lack of belief is only related to specific areas of learning.  Hence the term 'learning esteem.'

This makes me think of myself.  I was not the most confident child, but would have said that I had quite good self-esteem.  Put me in a challenging learning situation however (usually maths) my lack of learning esteem would come through clearly.  I believed I couldn't do it, it was too hard, I didn't want to offer any ideas in a group situation and would be more likely to apply a fixed mindset in this situation.  This was not the case in all situations.  Put me in an English class and you would not have ever thought I was anything other than a confident learner.  This could be viewed as maths anxiety I guess, but this lack of 'learning esteem' often spilled over into other situations, particularly those that were challenging for me.  I simply believed I could not do it.

So why is this, and why is it happening...what can we do about it?

I think there are a range of reasons for this 'lack of learning esteem' but quite ironically I think that one of the main reasons is that for some children early learning is easy, they sail through, nothing really challenges them and they are rewarded for being quick, or 'bright.'  Often the way learning is seen in classrooms is that there is one answer...that you are either right or wrong, speed is often rewarded in certain situations and perhaps learning is not viewed by children as the most open are either right or you are wrong.

The way our current system is set up, particularly due to National Standards is that these areas of our curriculum seem to be valued much more than any other, children pick up on this 'value' or importance pretty quickly and come to think of themselves as either good or bad at learning based on how well they achieve in these areas.  We have lost the balance in our fabulous curriculum and I believe that by placing far too much value on these areas we have created pressure and unintentionally reframed how children see themselves as learners.

So what can we do about it?  I believe there are some things we can do that will send different messages to children, that will allow them to develop strong learning esteem but still allow us to know where they are at and how to help them.

1) First and foremost I think we need to slow down.  Step back from academic learning till children are developmentally ready.  It is no surprise that children would have poor learning esteem in relation to literacy or numeracy if they are pushed into doing things that they are nowhere near ready for cognitively.  The message this sends them is that they are not good enough. Surely if this teacher sitting beside them that they respect and care for expects them to be able to do it, and they can't then it is them that is deficit right?  There is something wrong with them? We have this new alarm bell going off in our country around struggling writers in year 3+4, all around the country I hear of schools setting targets in is not rocket science that if we push children into something they are not ready for when they are five that they are going to believe they are lacking in some way, have poor learning esteem and therefore become our 'struggling writers.'  Children need time to grow, they all develop at different stages, our current system does not appreciate this and instead puts further hurdles in their way.

2)This goes along with one, I think that at least every new entrant/Year 1 room should be play-based.  True self-directed play.  Based on allowing children to grow as learners at their own pace.  My absolute dream would be to see play-based learning having a strong part to play in every classroom, even secondary.

3)We need to stop comparing and stop measuring so often.  Children do not need testing on entry and they do not then need testing again in a few months and they do not then need testing again in another few months.  It is entirely possible to establish systems that allow you to monitor children on an individual level, without them feeling 'measured' or believing that they are right or wrong, below or above.

4) Base classrooms on learning competencies.  These are what children are going to need in their future.  Make learning authentic, show children how it relates to the real world.  Make it something they can relate to.

5)Try an approach like Mantle of the Expert.  The process of elevating children to 'experts' and the way this approach allows the arts to shine is incredibly beneficial for children.  Mantle has been transformative for some of our learners that would have been flagged as 'target' children.  They shine in this environment simply because they are reframed as experts.  This reframing seems to help them overcome any low learning esteem they may have and allows them to attack learning in a whole different way.  It is authentic, integrated, valuable, and in a completely imagined world 'real.'  Children work in a responsible team as they will eventually in the real world...what could be more authentic then that!

6)Allow children to see learning in different ways.  Where possible make it open ended.  Ask questions in different ways where there are many different answers.  Allow time for children to think, plan and process.  Try in any way possible to eliminate pressure.

7)Where possible integrate learning.  This is also where Mantle of the Expert works so well.  Show children how everything links together, don't narrow the curriculum, but open it up so they can see the possibilities.

8)Build in loads of time to talk about learning.  Use growth mindset activities and allow children to see how important mistakes are.  Use the learning pit (or dip) and show children how important the struggle is.

9)Make time to dance, sing, run, jump...take learning outdoors, allow children follow their urges, let them find joy in the learning process.

10)Last but not least remember the power you have.  Relationships are key.  You are important.  One teacher can change the way a child sees themselves as a learner, be it positively or negatively.  You have the power to help children see the value in the risks, to help them find their passions and talents and to help them see that learning is a journey not a destination.

Love this quote 💗💗

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Heading into Term 3

I have settled into a planning habit of simply mind mapping my term goals for learning.  I use the simplemind app for this, loved it so much I purchased the full version.  I love planning this way and it forms the bones of my term beautifully, it also fits with the way I think.

A PDF of this can be found here, that may be able to be enlarged more easily.  

From this I obviously set some more specific intentions in my weekly Number Agent Planning and a weekly plan.  These again are pretty basic and I don't like to go over the top and overthink as often the sessions go where the children take them.  My main overarching aim with Number Agents is number sense.  I believe that this needs to be developed deeply and in rich ways and simple is best :)

What I love about play-based is that children are being monitored on an individual level, so although they work within the whole class group we have many opportunities to interact with them individually and in small groups.  The scrapbook system is working really well recording all our basic assessments in there along with any notes and where they are each up to with their goals or learning foundations we have put in place (pictured above.)  I also love the way that children have time to just settle into school, no pressure.  We don't do anything now until we feel they are ready for it.

My weekly plan is just very very basic:

I do reflect on where we actually go and this is often built into what the following weeks planning looks like.  
Number Agent Planning is also basic, week one can be found here.

I also want to start a Mantle this term.  We will stay in our Number Agent company so we do not have to build a new team.  I have not run a Mantle (other than agency) in my fully play-based class before, so it will be really interesting.  I am hoping that there will be lots of playful spinoffs and will find my moments to leap in and out :)  My planning is just bones, but this is what it looks like a the moment.

Here and Here  this is likely to change and morph as we move through it and it is guided by the children.

We have ten more children starting this term, that will give us 40, so we will be going back over concepts developed in Term 1 and 2, such as growth mindset, bucket filling, understanding emotions and our daily six.  Any repetition will benefit all of them and I am a big believer in layering knowledge and understanding.
We are lucky enough to be developing another area of play for our children which now includes a mud kitchen, I am looking forward to seeing where that takes us.

This is the first year we have stayed together as a group.  We usually form a second class in Term 3 or 4 and this is something parents are used to so it is important we can show them why this is the best thing for children.  We are lucky to have a third person join us this term, so that will make it more appealing I am sure.

The way play-based has enhanced our class I see no reason to split into two smaller groups.  The older children have a huge amount to offer our new entrants, and vice versa.  Some of our children have been with us for over a year and I find this so rewarding!

Parent information about play-based is something we continue to work on and will again have our information evening in September, this is a great opportunity to sell what we are doing and explain why we are doing it.

Something not unique to our school I am sure, is the fact that many of our parents place a huge value on quick academic progress, wanting their children to be 'above' or 'well above.'  This is one of the horrible effects of National Standards.  We are working to find a balance, allowing parents ways they can help at home....but trying to help them see what help is useful to their children and what is not.  Homework is now called home support and is not given at all until the child has settled.  We have made some simple goals for our children to work on in number that parents can help with if they want and literacy goals, but try to make it clear that we prefer them to play and to only help if the child  requests it (which many do.)  This is a work in progress :)  We are working on our literacy goals though, which have always been based on alphabet, words and spelling.  We also use these in class to support children, so have come up with a list we are working on at the moment.  It is here.  We have also shared our foundations sheet with parents to assist them to see what is important and how laying strong foundations through play is absolute key.

I'm sure you will all agree it can be a balancing act, but we are endeavouring to create a system that works for us, the parents, but most importantly the children.

I do not propose to be an expert on any of this, I am muddling my way through like everyone else.  I have not attended a course and would not ever hold up what I am doing as the 'right' way.  However I share with the thought that my learning and direction may be of use to some.

My intention this term is simple,  I want to ensure that joy is at the centre of everything that we do.  I think if we can nail this, we can't go wrong.

Have a great Term Three everyone!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

You Matter - Quiet Disobedience

Holidays give me a lot of time to think.  After my last post about disobedient thinking I have been reflecting further.  I am lucky enough to have an amazing best friend...she is an incredible teacher, and traveled the play-based path far earlier than I.  Unfortunately for her, she is not in the privileged position I am in, she is not lucky enough to be a teaching principal like I am, so has to make change in different ways than I am able to.
I am incredibly aware that some of you work in situations where enacting change is difficult.  Very sadly you make not have any say in how things go at your school.  I have been thinking about what disobedience may look like for you.  
I have experienced being in this position.  I found my first year teaching to be the hardest year of my life, I considered leaving I was constricted and confined to teaching a way that was not necessarily me and often felt bullied  It wasn't that I didn't have amazing colleagues around me, it was that management was heavy handed and very narrow minded.  I was lucky enough to fall on my feet in a lovely school where I felt at home and then even luckier to later get a job at a 2-3 teacher school where I was allowed to be the master of my own room.  I grew so much in this situation.  I had time to develop my own thinking and trial new ideas.  I bloomed and could not be more thankful for this experience.  I simply had permission to learn who I am as a teacher.  We should never underestimate the absolute power of honest professional reflection.
This experience not only allowed me to see how powerful reflection was, but it also allowed me to understand the importance of having colleagues, working in a small school is different, and without good working relationships with your colleagues, almost impossible without going completely mad. 😀

Reflection on my experience and what applying disobedient thinking could look like in a situation where you may not have power to make change school wide, has led me back to finding the one most important part in learning, and that is you, the teacher!   The quote below  by Dorothy Delay is vital to my reflection, but I simply want you for  a moment to change the word Children, to Teachers.  I believe this is true, so let me tell you what you are.

You are the singularly most important thing for a child in the learning process.  You are the difference.  How you choose to interact with a child on that day, in that moment makes the difference.  You have the power.  
Children will not remember the expensive resources brought by a school to deliver maths or other curriculum areas, they will not remember that learning intention they had to write down, they will not remember a lot of what they did day to day.  But they will remember you.  The relationship they have with you makes the difference to how engaged they will be in learning, very simply the relationship they have with you will change how they see themselves as a learner and will transform how they see learning.  This is true across all levels.
Believe me, I am not perfect, I have days where I go home and reflect on how I could have handled things differently, but that is ok.  Sometimes my class of little lovelies drive me barmy. But we should never underplay our importance, ever.  As a parent I know how much difference a teacher makes.  My children would do absolutely anything for a teacher who obviously likes them, that sees them, that takes time to understand them.  The relationship they have with their teacher defines how they see themselves and absolutely affects how 'good' at certain subjects they believe themselves to be.
This works both ways and as my children have travelled through the levels they have encountered teachers they believe do not like children.  Teachers who berate them.  Teachers who according to my children don't even know who they are, or their name.  Now admittedly one of my children is quite hard to get to know...but this shouldn't mean that a teacher wouldn't bother, because this child has a lot to offer and ultimately just wants to be seen.
My advice to these teachers, who no longer want to be there, who think it is ok to berate a child, to yell at them, to set work way out of their ability level, to provide no support, to not really care...leave, go and do something else, teachers matter too much for you to be given this responsibility!
And now for the rest of us.  For those that are thinking, I cannot apply disobedient thinking because I do not have the position of power to make change.  You can!
For me disobedient thinking in your classroom means building in time to make and build relationships, allowing time for children to be children, to get to know them, to discard anything that is taking up time, but serving no value for you.  If modelling books, learning intentions etc work for you and are valuable for the children, keep them.  If not, why are you doing it?  Apply this thinking to everything.  Where is the child in this, where is the relationship, how is this helping me to see them, to truly know them?
I just want you to understand how important you are.  We have huge power.  We have huge power to make a difference for those children in our classroom, no matter the age.  For those children you may be the most positive relationship they have.  Yes we need to spend time building and growing positive dispositions in our children, but it will be you they remember, you they mimic.
You are doing the most important job in the world, I want you to go back into your classroom in Term 3 believing you can make change.
Number Agents was born out of this awareness.  It is not about maths, it is about engaging children, creating self-belief and learning esteem (the belief I can learn, the belief in my personal learning power.)  You don't need to buy expensive resources to make a difference, you don't need to write strict 'lesson plans' or follow guidelines to teach, you just need to know your stuff and go with your gut.  Put the children at the center of everything you do and you cannot go wrong.
And a lesson from Finland.  In Finland they have frequent short breaks throughout the day.  It is expected that teachers will go to the staffroom and chat during these times.  To chat to your colleagues is viewed as an important tool for reflection in Finland.  Don't forget this, you are not an island, you need your team. Bounce ideas off each other, work together where possible. 
I love this ted talk....a must watch for us all.  Every kid needs a champion!

And a little montage of quotes that I absolutely love and I hope can inspire us all as we move into Term 3.

Dedicated to my lovely best friend - you can be the change you want to be :)

Friday, 14 July 2017

How can we start to implement disobedience now?

By now, many of you that read my blog will be familiar with this book.  I have to say that reading this book was a lightbulb turning on for me.  I could relate completely.

Number Agents was born out of this type of thinking.  I hated the way maths was being taught...I found it to be such a stand alone subject, which shouldn't really be the case if it is delivered well.  I was a numeracy project robot, blindly believing that this was the way I should teach math to my little people.  But I also had my own background of hating math, feeling stupid, hating pressure, suffering math anxiety (to this day) to draw upon.  I just couldn't marry up what I knew about math anxiety and the way I was teaching math.  I was lucky enough to attend a fabulous course based on Mantle of the Expert, and following this Number Agents was born.  It was my way of apply my own disobedient thinking to turn something I wasn't entirely happy with into something I am incredibly proud of.  Since this development we have had major reshuffles in the way we teach maths across our school, through reading the work of Jo Boaler and applying honest reflection to what we are doing, we have stripped away what we were doing and reshaped our approach.  Maths is not the only thing we have reshaped, but one you start to apply this type of thinking it is amazing how quickly it is possible to make change.  I see this as something we will continue to work on, as in my opinion we are constantly growing and changing based on the needs of the learners that enter our school...and this should be so.  Being disobedient to me, means being allowed to follow your hunches :)

Over the past week I have had time to blog, time to think, time to reflect on our system that I believe needs a major reshuffle.  I have had loads of positive feedback on my posts, with many nodding madly in agreement and sending me positive messages.  Apparently what I have been saying reflects many staff room discussions all around the country...that is so heartening.  I also know that I do and will continue to say things that confront some, that challenge their practice...I am not saying I am right and they are wrong, this blog is a reflection of my journey so far, a collection of my thoughts and generally a fair reflection of what we do in my school that works incredibly well for us.  It is also a reflection of who I am as a person, I like to challenge assumptions, I like to follow hunches, I like us to be able to qualify why it is we believe certain things to be the right thing to do, I like to research and develop my own professional understandings.  We have a settled, stable staff, and if measuring performance by academic success, we would be called high performing (I personally think this term is ridiculous.) From my point of view a high performing school is one that prioritises happiness and kindness, kindness to others and self.  One that allows learners to grow their talents and understand themselves as a learner.  It is one that fosters dispositions for the future that will be useful to children.  I could go on, but if you have read any of my other blog posts you will have a fair idea of what I define as success for our learners, these images will give you an idea if not.

And so what is our next step, how do we use this groundswell of feeling amongst teachers to our advantage.  How do we stop the movement of good teachers out of our profession due to stress, despondency and frustration?
I realise that in some schools management is not 'flexible' however I do believe we can apply disobedient thinking in a range of ways without needing management's help initially.
I do think we need to be brave though, we need to be prepared to have difficult conversations and most importantly take time to listen to each other.  To take the time that we are not all the same, but we should all share a common goal for our children.  Eventually we will need to all be on the same page if a school is to be successful, but if we do not start somewhere, then we fail to change anything.

So here are some ways I think everyone can begin to make change by applying disobedient thinking practices...there are probably many more :)

1) Stop and think about your daily practice.  How does your practice take into consideration the voice of the children.  Very honestly, would you want to be a child in your class?  Would you want to be part of the sessions being delivered, or would you be behaving badly?  Why are you doing what you are doing, have you been told to do it, are you working from someone else's ideas and planning...if so, why?

2)Start thinking about poor behaviour as stress.  I am unsure where I read this, but it was golden advice for me.  Children behave badlly often because of stress, finding the reason for this and coming at the behaviour from this point of view will probably really help you to reframe discussions with them and their parents.  It may also allow you to approach the behaviour in a more understanding way.  Think about ways children are managed, are there other ways to do it?

3)Encourage others to think about their practice.  Challenge each other, honestly look at what is happening and why is it being done, what is the value for the children?  If it is not valuable, why are we doing it?  Just because we always have is not a good enough answer.

4)Prioritise joy.  I took this advice from the book Teach Like Finland.  Close your classroom door and prioritise happiness.  Your happiness and the children's happiness.  An emotional connection is vitally important for children to develop deep connections and understandings.

5)I ask you to reflect openly about any tests you are using in your school.  What value are they adding, what are they possibly telling you that you did not already know.  Ask management to explain why that particular test is important.  Write down all of the ways you are assessing and try to slash as many tests as possible, particularly the timed tests.  If they are not informing your practice and helping children, then get rid of them.  I can not understand the value of testing a five year old within the first six months at school and in my opinion any school entry tests do not tell you anything you could have worked out by simply interacting with the child.  These tests are time consuming and take away from crucial time that could be spent building relationships.

6)Stop over planning.  If it is not valuable to you, why are you doing it.  Planning should be valuable and usable.  What is the point of the planning, is it genuinely helping you, or is it evidence for someone?  Spending hours planning writing sessions for a week is not valuable use of your time.   Look at the way you plan, is it useful?  Look at the inquiry or topic being taught.  Is it based on what children want to learn, are they guiding it in any way, or is it still on an odd and even year cycle?  I encourage you to look at the approach of Mantle of the Expert, it has transformed inquiry at our school.

7)Free up time in your timetable.  Try not to cram everything in.  Try to build slots in where you can just go with your gut, where children can follow urges.  Gosh darn it....just wing it sometimes....or even a little more often than sometimes, trust you professional instincts and allow the children to guide you.  Actively reflect on this afterwards and you will see how powerful this was.

8)Something useful I do is I create a mindmap (a very simple mindmap) with my main aims for the term in different areas.  This forms the skeleton of my planning and my teaching goes from there.

9)Prioritise the arts, don't let them slip out of your day because of other priorities, these are often the areas most loved by the children and joy is where it is at.  Allow children time to be creative,  and use their imagination.

10)If you have not watched this short video please do, it is a wonderful analogy for learning and helping all learners.

11)Rules, what rules have you got and why have you got them, are they about controlling children, and if so why do you need these rules?  In my experience the more engaging a classroom is, the more the learner can see themselves in the class, the more they feel heard, the less we need rules.  We don't have rules and the classroom has not fallen down on top of us :)

Once again these are my thoughts and my ideas.  I believe we are gathering momentum, many of us are feeling restricted and maligned in a system that often borders on malpractice when it comes to the emotional and social needs of children.

If you want to gain traction with those perhaps not on the same page these two books would be a good place to start:

Or simply watch this...the most amazingly powerful video about why our system needs to change (and yes I know it is not NZ, but it translates beautifully.)

I know we can create change together, let's turn our facebook page into wonderful posts about how we have managed to make changes for the benefit of our learners and ultimately, ourselves.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Exploring greater depth in writing through storytelling and pictures

I recently found this fabulous little video... my children loved it and we talked about the sparkle being our imagination, which they could relate to.

I love how they add a drawing each time and use it to tell the story, it is a fantastic little video to teach children about the storytelling process.

It got me thinking about how to extend on picture use, and combine this with storytelling to help children to see how they can start giving their stories a beginning, middle and end.  I always focus in on using the picture, and tell a lot of stories out loud, but have never connected these two together explicitly for children.  We usually focus on just drawing the one picture to help us to tell our story.

We watched the video together a couple of times.

I then modelled how this could be done, by drawing one picture at a time and telling the story as I went.  First I drew a princess "once upon a time there lived a beautiful princess."  I then drew a volcano.  "This beautiful princess lived underneath a sleepy volcano."  I then added some lava to the volcano "One day the sleepy volcano erupted" get the idea.  Each time I added a picture, I added a new piece to my story.  All out loud, so no need to write it down.

I then modelled how this could be done with a factual story.  Focusing in on beginning, middle and end and using the opportunity to add interesting vocab in.

Having spent about 10 minutes together on the mat (about the length of time that wriggles start to happen and probably four minutes more than their optimum concentration time 😁) I gave them each a piece of paper to draw their story onto, asking them to focus on on one picture at a time and quickly showing them how I would number the pictures.

They spent a while doing this and it was brilliant to hear them telling their stories out loud to themselves, most focused in on an imaginary story, but some chose to write about something completely different.

We had a short play time and then came back together to share our story with a partner, using our piece of paper.  This was the end of what they were required to do.  I then said that if they felt they would like a challenge they could turn their paper over and have a go at turning that fabulous story into words.  I was surprised to see most of the class go away to do this in some shape or form.

This little girl has almost had six months at school.  The freedom to write, to challenge herself as she sees fit, to not feel pressure has enabled her to flourish.  I love this photo because she is showing me she has established the good habit of reading her story back so it makes sense and she knows what to write next.  If you look below at her sample you will see she has inserted a word after reading her story through again, this is not something she has been directly 'taught' but something she has picked up in her own time.

Hard to see, but this is her finished story.  It is about a princess going to market who forgot to be quiet when she arrived back home, and awoke the dragon.

This was her planning, her story in pictures :)

I was so impressed by the persistence they showed.  They are not afraid to simply have a go and get their ideas down on paper, and I think that as a teacher when teaching children to write this is the greatest gift I can give to them.

Very different levels of work, one an inventor, while one is still exploring the writing process and recording letters...both happy to write and pleased with their efforts.  No teacher pen mark in sight!

These three sat and wrote for an extended time, at least 20 minutes.  Not because they were required to, but because they wanted to.  They knew they could return to their play at any time they wanted to.

I was so pleased with this session.  Simply by linking the storytelling to drawing the pictures, one by one to add to the story I was able to show children how they can extend on their ideas and start to develop the concept of a beginning, middle and end...all without modelling any writing at all.  For those children that were more than ready for this step it saw an immediate lengthening of their stories and an increase in the detail used.  I was able to talk to them afterwards about sentences and using full stops, and perhaps other punctuation if needed.    While they were writing I was able to 'formally' write out the story I had just told them through pictures at the beginning so that they could see what it would look like written down.

The true joy of a play-based classroom is this flexibility.  I have time to sit individually with children that need it, I have time to chat with a group that is ready to extend on ideas, I have time because I know that while I am working with a few children, the rest are gainfully employed in the best learning that they can possibly be 

 I am not obsessed with assessing this, these are not writing samples, this is a process and that is where the real learning is the journey, not the end that is important.  

There are always more steps to take, but if we concentrate on where they need to be, we miss where they are right now, we miss the joy that is the journey and we take value away from the power of learning that has happened in that moment.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Ten Reasons Why...

This post follows on from my last one and put very simply is a list of ten reasons I think National Standards need to go.

As I said in my last blog post I believe our education system, across all sectors is under stress and in major need of an honest reshuffle.  One of the reasons for this stress is our testing culture, one that has crept up on us over time, but one now that pervades every crevice of our classrooms.  This testing culture has been amplified with the introduction of National Standards and I believe doing away with these unstandard standards would see a major reduction in stress almost straight away.

So here they are, the ten reasons I think National Standards need to go...

1)They are not standard.  There is no way, without copious levels of moderation and time spent using tools like PACT that they could possibly be standard.  Time spent moderating to prove what we already know about children, is in my opinion, wasted time.  The simple reality is you don't change the quality of the teaching by creating a new way to measure it.

2)There was little to no consultation around these standards.  I don't remember being asked, I don't remember the sector crying out desperately in the night with "we need unstandard standards, please impose them on us."  The 'consultation' I did go to did not resemble a two way conversation in any shape or form, more a 'telling.'

3)They are confusing.  No school is using them in exactly the same way.

4)The first three years is an absolute nightmare.  Trying to time judgements, and ensure children are reported on after their anniversaires is just ludicrous.  So much extra work , for negative value added...doesn't really add up does it?

5)It forces us to label children as 'below' or 'well below' and no matter how hard we try to talk to parents about progress, or to make our comments lovely and personalised, nothing will prevent them from being concerned about these labels, nothing!

6)They cause teachers to rush.  From the moment five year olds enter school they are rushed into academics because for some reason, teachers and principals don't want to look like failures when a high rate of children are recorded as below.  This rush means children miss critical steps in their learning process, they may learn certain parts, enough to 'meet' standard, but crucial building blocks being missed will mean they struggle later on.

7)Schools are compared against each other.  How ridiculous are those tables online?  They mean nothing without the conversation behind it, the back story.  We do not like to look like we are failing children, so in order to meet standard, we force children into acceleration programmes they are not ready for, this learning is never given time to just embed.   This culture of competitiveness has led to a generation of parents preoccupied with how quickly their child advances through the levels and how far ahead they are.

8)For some they have narrowed the curriculum.  Gone are the beautiful areas of the arts, gone the incidental nature of our job, the time for the teachable moments.  The sad reality are these are the areas of learning that children remember, I can't imagine that they will be remembering the guided reading lesson that they took part in, and the learning intentions that really made no sense to them.

9)The standards give us nothing.  We already know where children are at.  We are trained professionals and know best how to guide children to their next learning steps and to talk to parents about how they are going.  We don't need a glossy pamphlet to do this.  Standards have taken away the time we did have to see and embrace childrens talents, that may not have involved reading, writing or maths.  They have taken away those crucial times that can be spent developing the skills and dispositions that children will need to be innovators in the future.

10) They have caused us to feel we have to prove ourselves.  Every judgment must be backed up with copious amounts of data and all the time spent gathering data takes away from the time we should be teaching.  Standards have allowed us to lose sight of the power of the process of learning and to focus on a product that needs to be marked and scored.  The very sad reality is that children are no longer centre of our wonderful curriculum and continuing to work within a system that holds these unstandard standards at the heart of everything it does, will continue to place the real needs of children on the periphery of what we do.  The standards are slowly killing our education system.

There are probably many more reasons I could list, but these are my top ten.
What is my answer?  Well it is simple, go back to what we had before.  We knew where our children were at, we were trained to know this, we just need to be trusted to do our job.  Allow teachers time to teach and not test, appreciate the process and embrace the developmental needs of children, and always remember that what they hold onto when they leave school will be the things that were fun, the learning the emotionally connected to.  The dispositions that we allow them to develop will be those that take them into the future and allow them to be successful human beings.

We have tried with all our might at our school to let the Standards have the least effect possible, we have held onto the arts, the creativity of Mantle of the Expert, play-based learning, outdoor learning etc.

 But the sad reality is that even we have been impacted, it has changed the culture we work in and as professionals we all need to work together to take it back because there is nothing standard about our schools and nothing standard about our children!

Saturday, 1 July 2017

A Stressed System - We Need To Act Now

The announcement of the changes to or addition to the technology curriculum in terms of enhancing digital technology got me has had me blogging in my head all weekend and so, here I sit, about to try to get that blog post out of my head, onto the screen.  Ironic in the fact that I am using digital technology in an attempt to challenge and transform thinking...very ironic indeed because I was not of the generation that grew up being taught through this digital technology...but miraculously can use it to suit my needs because I was engaged in a curriculum that taught me to develop other skills that in turn allowed me to apply this across all areas of my life, that allow me to see myself as a learner...and I didn't need to be taught through digital technologies to do that, I needed to talk to and interact with human beings in challenging situations that engaged and interested me.  But, i'm getting distracted from my point and the title of my let me get back on track.

Firstly my post is not really about the changes to digital technology in the curriculum, I have given very little thought to that other than to say that I think the government is once again grandstanding on something that very quietly, and without funding has been happening in our schools for a while now...children transforming their learning through the use of digital technologies.   The key word here is transforming...not replicating what they could do with a pen or pencil, not simply enhancing the learning, or amplifying it so that it is bigger or better, but transforming, making something new, communicating with and challenging the thinking of  others, innovating, designing....failing and getting up and trying again.  Schools around the country do this on a daily basis, with no funds to do so, because our teachers operate via number 8 wire mentality, always have and always will.

So the government can grandstand all they like, the reality is that it will change very little as I think that all with due respect most teachers around NZ understand that digital technologies will be part of the future of the the children that they teach today and if they didn't already know that then they have their heads buried in the sand.  The last point I wish to make on this is that I hope that this announcement by the government does not give rise to a plethora of devices and one to one situations in classrooms, because in my opinion on a social and emotional level that is the last thing our children need.

Back to the original reason for my post.  We are existing in a stressed system.  Children are stressed and show this through behaviour, reluctance to try, opting out.  Teachers are stressed and find it difficult to keep up with what is going on and all of the expectations placed on them and Principals are stressed, spending more and more time on compliance and less time supporting the children, parents and teachers in their school.  I know that a system under stress while it can continue to function, gradually shows signs of this stress, and we are seeing these signs throughout our schools on a daily basis.

There are many things that have created this stress, but for the most part a testing culture, a crammed timetable, the overwhelming burden of evidence, evidence, evidence, a general lack of trust, and the dreaded unstandard, national standards which have become an absolute burden and have done nothing but increase anxiety and distrust.

I ask you how you feel when you are stressed, are you able to function to your full capacity, are you even able to think clearly?  I would hazard a guess and say that your answer would be no.  I then ask how we can expect our children can possibly function when some are coming to school already stressed and school itself is no longer a refuge from this stress, but only adds to it?

Where am I going with this...once again I am rambling...but I do have a point, so bear with me.

Our system has become top down...or perhaps it always was.  Rather than looking at where children have come from, our system has become obsessed with where they need to be to pass NCEA.  This top down flows from government, through to high schools, intermediates, primary and then to ECE.  At each stage we are supposed to be 'preparing' them...but preparing them for what and why the pressure, why do we not acknowledge that working from the ground up, understanding what our children and families are coming in with and building from there would be far more beneficial for our children and ultimately our country.

I think this top down approach has bred a lack of respect and understanding of each level of development, it has led to a blame culture and instead of us understanding each other at each different level of schooling we have begun to blame each other...this distrust is unhealthy and destructive for education, but not only that it gives us a good excuse when it comes to why our children are not experiencing success.  We use this excuse to blinker us and prevent us from coming up with innovative solutions that will transform our schools.  These excuses get in the way of us being open and honest.

Humor me for a moment and let's envision what it may be like if we did it the other way.

If I spoke to the ECE's and listened to the challenges they face, the areas of need children are coming in with, listened to the progress they had made and then built my new entrant programme around these specific needs as identified by my colleagues...both acknowledging where they had come from, how far they had progressed and then in turn what I wanted next, wouldn't I be better off?  If I did this regularly, each year and changed and transformed my programme based on need, wouldn't this be better for the individual cohort of children each year? We need to be honest, what worked for the children last year, may not for this years children...we need to change!

In turn if at the beginning of each level the next steps were first guided by the level before, then we would be giving our children a real pathway.  If we acknowledged the challenges and valued the progress made it would then leave us better able to advise each other and give ideas.  If we were able to share with each other what worked and what didn't work without feeling like we were being blamed by our colleagues who teach the levels above us, wouldn't that be amazing.
What if we job swapped for a day, now how brilliant would that be.  Another novel idea would be government members sitting down with teachers at the grass level and actually listening to us rather than imposing new initiatives and then claiming to have consulted via think tanks or online.

This top down approach has really led to a culture of distrust and blame that needs to go.  If we truly appreciated, understood and acknowledged where our children had come from this blaming would stop and true teaching would happen.

There are some keys to this success.  Firstly standards need to go, they need to be abolished.  We taught well before the standards, without the fear and stress of having to label children below, without the pressure cooker of trying desperately to push so much learning into our children's heads so that they could achieve a stupid standard that means very little.

Secondly we need to go back to our amazing curriculum and shape a set of dispositions that we want our children to have based on the key competencies.  This can be done across levels.  Things like empathy, kindness , resilience, perseverance....these dispositions would be common to all levels and give us something to talk about, a common ground.  These dispositions are going to be what children need moving out of school into the world.

Thirdly we need time to build relationships, to explore learning, to not feel like we are ticking boxes constantly, to allow children to explore their learning urges.

Quite sadly I feel for the most part like I survived school, I got my character from my family, my reflective ability from the deep discussions I would have with my genius of a father, my empathy and kindness from my generous mother.  Sadly I think my children are headed the same way, just trying to survive school...luckily they have me and a father that can model to them what being truly successful in life looks like..and believe me this has nothing to do with money, belongings or intellect.  What happens to those children who do not have a family like this?  This is where those dispositions come into play so strongly.

My son and daughter are in high school now, year 9 and year 10.  The school itself is a good one, doing its best in a system that plain and simply just stinks.  They cope with things in different ways, my son reluctantly speaks of disliking school, but he has incredibly interpersonal skills with adults and gets his sense of belonging from being liked.  He gets on and does things because he wants to be liked.  He achieves well because he wants to please his teachers, he is a lot like his father.  He speaks of feeling sorry for his teachers, for the stress that poorly behaved children put them under every day, the stress of trying to fit everything in.  He is doing well, but he would like to go back to primary school where in his words learning was fun.  He will be ok, but I am not sure if we should accept ok.

My daughter is a different kettle of fish.  She flourished in primary school and loved the relationships she had with the teachers, the mutual respect and most of all Mantle of the Expert.  She loved the authenticity that this gave learning, the hands on nature, the imagined and everything that goes with it.  Once out of primary she quickly became aware of the 'standards' she developed anxiety to maths and writing and quickly developed a dislike for these subjects.  She hates high school, but has a lot to offer if she was just asked.  She is incredibly reflective with an amazing ability to problem solve and come up with real solutions, unfortunately our testing culture does not acknowledge this ability.  She hates the inequality of the teacher time she gets as opposed to those behaving badly, she hates the fact that teachers are too busy to make lessons fun, she wishes they used Mantle and speaks of not feeling respected.  She is not a people pleaser, in fact, quite like me she is the opposite and teachers without the time to get to know her would see her as quite 'reluctant.'  She has an incredible amount of untapped potential if only teachers had time to get to know her.

I sound depressing and probably quite harsh, but there is light at the end of the tunnel and if we want to really be honest and speak openly there are ways to help children, just like mine,  like school again.  In fact the difference in my daughter when she has a teacher that just takes the time to get to know her and appears to care for her is incredible.  It is like that love of learning gets switched back on and it is amazing!

What do we need to do?  We need to give teachers time to get to know children, to develop lessons that are engaging and interesting, to stop the endless testing and need for evidence, and where behaviour is detracting from the learning of others, we need to be funding schools to put more intervention in place to allow teachers to teach, not police.  I don't know about you, but I don't know how my high school colleagues survive with the kind of behaviour they have to manage on a day to day basis, I wouldn't want to do it.  In no way is this post supposed to beat down high school teachers, I have the utmost respect for what they try to do each and every day,  I don't think it is any wonder that their energy to create engaging experiences and ability and time to build relationships is lacking.  I simply don't know how they work within this system.

The plain and simple reality is that as children travel through school, testing and pressure increases, while a bond with the teacher and positive adult relationships decrease,  these things are not conducive to a love of learning.
Teachers are stressed, children are stressed...our system is stressed.  Learning and teaching is impossible when under stress.  Wherever possible we need to find ways to bring calm to our cluttered curriculum and we need to do it quickly!

I urge us all to find one or two ways we can make positive changes for our children starting everything else we have the power to make a change without a government grandstanding over us...let's get our number 8 wire out tomorrow and start to think of solutions and make these a reality for our children now!