Friday, February 27, 2015

Lessons from 28 days of writing

27 days have passed. What have I learned from the +Tom Barrett challenge of writing each day for 28 days?

1. I do not stick with things. 15 posts. Not 28. It has however doubled my number of posts in total.
2. I like to post.
3. I don't have to worry about being an expert to blog. I am entitled to talk my work and my thoughts.
4. It helps me clarify my thinking when I blog.
5. There are a number of like minded people writing about similar things.
6. It doesn't matter what school you are at. There are incredible things happening almost everywhere it seems.
7. I like the connections I make through blogging. I have made some new contacts via Twitter, such as @GarethGilmour and +BridgeeNZ  thanks to this 28 day challenge and through posting.
8. I still have so much to learn.
9. I will continue to post.

So that's it. I'm not likely to post tomorrow for the final day due to a family gathering. I'm about to visit some schools as part of my sabbatical so there'll be plenty of ideas to post about.
If, like me, you're not a frequent writer, I hope you keep going to. It's a great record for yourself and you never know who might gain inspiration from you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Preparing for my school visits

As frequent readers of my blog and those who follow me on Twitter know, I am on sabbatical. I mention it frequently. I'm not showing off. I'm using it as an excuse. My day is vastly different to the usual routine. My  mind is still whirring away but it's not worrying about the day to day stuff of running our school. Instead it has been replaced with painting windows!

In the background, I've been organising visits to some schools. I'm wanting to visit schools that are making learning personal at all levels of the school. I'd hoped to get to Myross Bush School - but flights into Invercargill or sporadic and expensive and it just didn't happen - a real shame becaise I know Tim and team are doing some awesome things. I was particularly interested in visiting smaller schools like my own - not necessarily doing the MLE thing, but still MLP in a single cell class.

I've been overwhelmed by people's offers to host me and every school I approached was more than happy to host me. Aren't we lucky in education-people are so happy to share their work. There's nothing in it for them. This is all about me learning. Maybe I'll be able to offer something back - it'll be great to talk with like minded people who are personalising learning.

I'm visiting lots of local schools.Wellington.  Hopefully some in Hawkes Bay and a quick trip to Christchurch too. 10-12 schools and I'll be profiling their approach and then synthesising what I've seen and heard about. Hopefully my report will be a useful doc for those starting out their journey and looking for ideas etc.

I'm really fortunate to have this time. My work is almost ready to start. I'm about to develop guiding questions to ask at each school. I need a wet day soon to get this done so I don't want to paint.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Does a school need a Principal?

Last night I started to write this - there was no way I could articulate what I wanted to express in just 28 minutes, so here's version two.

Initially I'd convinced myself that I might be superfluous - a scary reality. Am I necessary?
I'd managed to reroute admin jobs and saw the BOT taking a larger role in the development of the charter and that type of thing. I even had in independent appraiser working across schools to carry out staff appraisal. Yes it would be a major system change, but it was possible. That's  what I thought.

I looked across the room to the voice of reason, my wife, and told her I'd created a little ripple on Twitter by putting my post idea out there. Her reaction was to ask me who would synthesise everything and provide the direction of the school. That was her immediate reaction. Not - who would parents complain to, not who would run staff meetings or do the bus roster or any of those routine jobs. Synthesising and leading.

And of course, she's right. That's what Principal's do. Through listening to others they're able to bring all the ideas of the students, staff and community together and provide the direction that the school needs.  

So, while there's always a mountain of other tasks to do to keep the school ticking over, there are higher order tasks required. Creating a place that everyone loves being part of is a challenging and rewarding occupation. 

I've convinced myself again. Schools do need Principals. 

Now, what type of Principal does a school need?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Meat and 3 veg in week 4 of the term.

I was raised on meat and three veg. It's what I know. When the daily question arises, "What shall we have tonight?" my mind automatically goes to meat and three veg. I can cook other meals. I prefer to cook other meals. Especially one pot meals. Sometimes I go to cookbooks for inspiration. We have lots of cookbooks. We like the way they look. Some of the recipes are really good and work well. Others have been attempted and failed and not tried again.
I go through phases. I look through the books. Get inspired. Buy fresh new ingredients and go for it. Then it's back to meat and three veg again. Hurumph. What's happened here? I was going well with the new dishes. They were well received and were relatively easy to make. But before I know it, I'm back in the old routine, peeling spuds and carrots. I like spuds. I like carrots. Peas. Meat. No problem, it's just the tediousness of it all. Plus, there's not enough variety. Not to mention you don't have to have meat everyday anyway. But change is hard right. This is what my Dad likes so Mum cooks it. I learned by watching Mum. I cook similarly.  It's engrained in us. What we see we become. How we ate is how we eat. How we were trained to cook is how we cook. And when I run out of ideas, or just can't be bothered, this is what I revert to.

Ooops, just realised that I'm meant to be writing about teaching. Have a great week 4. Avoid the meat and 3 veg ok.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A salute, or a nod, to those who blog

So, we've had 13 days of this 28 days of writing. I've missed some days along the way. I'm sorry that I'm not sorry. Like everything in my life, I do it all in moderation. I've had interruptions, like my parents staying and I've placed that ahead of posting. Are my priorities straight? Yes.
So, fellow bloggers, if you are taking part in the 28 day challenge and you feel like a night off after a rough day at school, or you've prioritised something else, cut yourself some slack. Just be. The sun will come up tomorrow.
I admire so much those of you who have managed to generate worthwhile posts each day. I've loved connecting with new people and being challenged by their thoughts. I've enjoyed reading some beautifully crafted and clever writing. I've even enjoyed writing myself and having others comment or respond to me.
It's the weekend. Enjoy your time off. Enjoy your families and friends. Take a few deep breaths and smile. Do something just for you. You'll be better for it.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Remembering the person in the people.

I attended a funeral today of a lady who I met while teaching at College Street Normal School here in Palmerston North. She had been teaching longer than I'd been alive. She was already partly retired back in 2000. Today we paid tribute and remembered someone who was truly remarkable. My current school library is named after her - a fitting tribute for someone who taught so many the love of reading.
Today made me remember the person in the people.
I've been so fortunate in my career to meet some incredibly inspiring teachers who moulded me into what I am today.
As a beginning teacher I was fortunate to work in an open plan space with my tutor teacher. Every day after school I'd make her a cup of tea and we'd sit and go over that day, the next day and how we would work together each afternoon. This wasn't an MLE. We did our own thing through until lunch and then brought our classes together after lunch for theme work. But being in that open space, I was able to see and hear what was going on and quickly learned a lot about effective literacy teaching and classroom management. Margaret made a lasting impression on me. She taught me about resiliency, fun and collegiality.
When I joined College Street Normal School in 2000 I was in the senior team and my Team Leader was also the DP. A teaching DP in a school of 500. Peter was a workaholic. He knew everything! I was in awe of him. My teaching transformed while working with him. I knew exactly what to do, when to do it and usually how thanks to the meticulous long term plan and unit plans handed to me.
A third person to make an impact on me was a colleague from Riverdale School. We shared an office space. We had the best chats most days and usually solved, not only all the education problems, but pretty much any problem in the world. We talked widely. I would rate Terri as one of the best teachers I've ever worked with. Her relationships with students were like nothing I'd ever seen before. She ran her class in such a different way. Together we trialled our take on self-directed learning. This was in 2007 - my last year teaching in my own class. The first year I did something non-traditional.

What is it about these 3 people that has made me single them out from other colleagues who have impacted on me? They were interested in the person in me. Yes, we were great colleagues and we learned together, but these people were also interested in me and my life.

What lesson can I learn when I think back? In the crazy busy that is school, it's about people. People and relationships. This isn't about becoming besties with everyone. It's about remembering to be human and caring on a personal level.

At the funeral today, Margaret's sister stood to speak about her. That's right! She was a sister, a wife, a Mum, a Nana. And a daughter. She was a child once too.
Let's look at each other and remember in the crazy busy that there are people all about us and in each of them a person.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What's in a name?

Some schools have made the change. It's radical. It's cutting edge. It's hip. Students calling teachers by their first name. How can a relationship based on respect be expected when a student, not only knows your name, but is actually allowed to call you by it? Surely anarchy must follow?
I just don't know. I really don't.
With a name like Bede, which most people assume is a nickname, there could be problems. I for one am big on names. I've had years of people mishearing, mispronouncing and replacing my name. I'm Steve, Pete or Bedee to some over the phone. Because of that I'm big on names. I'm good with names too. I make it a point to know parents by first name. I call colleagues by their name, "Hi Peter, " I would say. I find it interesting that some reply to me without using my name. I'm not asking for a Mr Gilmore, just some recognition that it's me you're talking to you. The power of the name. It can be a weapon, silence someone in one word, or bring personal praise when used in different ways.
I'm Mr Gilmore at the moment. We are all on that formal name basis. There's a big part of me that would like to change. After all, I'm Bede. Mr Gilmore is my father. I like being Bede. My name suits me. Mr Gilmore has a whole other layer to it in my opinion. It's formal. It carries mystique - you may not know my real name. What's the big secret?
I'm not sure what your school does and does it really matter? Would it make a difference to a student's learning if they could call me Bede?
I understand it's a culture thing. It's about breaking down barriers. Respect can and perhaps should be earned other ways. I dunno. I grew up calling my friends' parents Mr and Mrs. Not by their first name. Have times changed? Have they changed enough?

I'd be interested to hear from you about this. What have I missed? Are you going by first name at your school?
If you do reply, please call me Mr Gilmore though. Show some respect, please.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The power of the school trip.

Since becoming a Principal I haven't been on too many trips - something I really miss. I always found it a liberating experience getting out and about. When I worked at a school in town, we were able to walk places - I always found that so exciting and I'd often charge off at the front of the line (I never had patience for the dawdlers at the back) keen to get to where we were going, and explore with my class. I think I had just as much fun looking around at "real people" doing "real stuff" in the "real world" as being on the trip itself.
Sure, they're a tonne of work - paper work, RAMs, parent permission, organising transport groups - the list goes on. Plus it can be stressful. Being responsible for all those children and then making sure the objectives of the trip were met, making sure they got maximum learning opportunities - it was exhausting. Funny how those days were double tiring. But it was always worth it. We know that these days are highlights for our students - why wouldn't they be - they get to learn in a real context. I remember the chatter of excited kids in the car on the way to the place, and again on the way back. It was real. It meant something. It stuck. It was learning.

I was reminded of this when I visited Te Manawa today (our local version of Te Papa) and going through the various sections of local history, NZ history and science part. It was quiet - no school trips today - but it wasn't difficult to imagine excited kids roaming this place, exploring and learning.
I hope that you and your class get "out there" soon. Make it real. The power of the school trip is that it is another place where learning can occur. It may very well present itself as an opportunity to observe your students in regards to key competencies in a real/different context.
Is school just practice for the real world?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Doing a lot of stuff - but is it change?

I've missed a day of writing due to having a friend over for dinner and painting all day. (who thought it was time to change colour of all the windows this summer anyway?)
Our friend is another teacher, of course, and we got talking  education, between the sevens. Along the way she said, "some schools can be doing a lot of stuff, but nothing much changes," and isn't she right on the money there!
I laughed because it's so true. You can be taking part in all manner of pd sessions at school and return to your room and pretty much just carry on in some instances. Of course, effective schools have good appraisal systems to ensure that teachers are implementing school wide approaches etc. But isn't that the problem - sometimes a teacher might only be implementing stuff to be complient. Of course, that's better than the teacher who just carries on regardless, but not a whole lot better. I can think of schools I have worked in previously where we were caught up in a number of different pd programmes and we were all very busy. Did it bring about change or is there an assumption that change will just happen as a result?
I am pretty sure that your school has some schoolwide pd happening right? Who selected this? How was the decision made? Is it something that you personally need? Will it be tailored to your needs? Are you onboard or are you going to be busy doing stuff without bringing change?

If you could choose your own pd, what would it be this year? How would you run it? What would you read, who would you see and what would you do and why? Exciting to think about?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Keep it moving people, please!

I hear a lot of people say, "It was good enough for me" or "we turned out alright" when referring to their school experience. I'm not so sure.
I think back to my time at school, and yes, I will admit it, my aquarian nature did see me day dream my way through at times,but essentially I didn't get it. I had no idea what I was doing or why I was doing it. Don't get me wrong though, I could do it. I enjoyed the SRA box especially at primary school and ruling up my maths book and filling in two or three pages of perfectly layed out equations gave me some sense of satisfaction. Apart from 'process writing' (I was at primary school late 70s and early 80s) I had no choice about my writing. Process writing didn't really work for either by the way. I just wrote rubbish. I've had to teach myself as an adult about such things as verbs and still don't know about pronouns.
I got through secondary school largely unscathed. Missed an A bursary by two or three marks and went straight off to teachers college. All the way through not really thinking about my learning, just doing the work in front of me because it was a means to an end. Becoming a teacher. Getting a job.
My son who is now 21 sailed through school. He was made for the system. Perfect memory. Diligent. He is now in his fouth year at med school. He works hard. It's not difficult though. Things make sense to him. Lucky.
Miss 17 has taken a different course. Equally capable as her older brother, but no interest in academia. She dances. School was boring. The most she enjoyed her learning was doing level two ncea via correspondence last year. She liked working at her own pace. She liked the autonomy. She enjoyed not being at school.
The experience that my older kids got was not too dissimilar to my own. How can that be? We're a generation apart.

I think about little miss 13 months. What will her experience be? I hope things make sense to her. I'm sure school would have to be different for her, to the experience her older siblings got. Wouldn't it? Twenty years down the track, things would have to be different. It would have to be different to my own experience wouldn't it? 40 years later? Surely.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


I first came across the term 'unbundling' when reading Supporting future oriented learning and teaching - a New Zealand perspective. For some reason that one term has stuck in my mind more than others from this publication. I wonder if it's because it seems to have so many layers and migt explain why change in some cases is so difficult.
I'll start with myself. To 'unbundle' myself as Principal. Here's my thinking. First of all, I have ideas of what I think a Principal should be and how they should act, what they should do etc. Then there are the ideas and expectations of others - students, parents and colleagues. Where do these expectations ckme from? Usually from our previous experiences right? I've watched and been around several Principals in my time. I guess along the way I've decided that that is what you do and how you behave. I'm not entirely sure that I fit the typical mould, if there is such a thing, but I attempt to be the type of Principal that I believe others would want me to be like. I sometimes ask myself if I'm the type of Principal I would want to work for. Sadly, sometimes the answer is no!
So, unbundling. Where would or should I start? After all, I am the only thing I can change. I can only control myself. What one thing could I attempt to change about myself that might have a positive effect on all those around me? I have no answer, yet. But being aware that to bring about change at all levels of school, to unbundle some of the existing practices that might be holding us/me back, I might need to reflect on what it is I do as Principal, and what I don't do and begin with one idea or behaviour to focus on.
I'm thinking that in order to bring in something new, I will have to let something go. That's the whole idea of unbundling. I want to go back from my sabbatical time, changed slightly, for the better.

What would you wish to unbundle?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The impact of 28 days of writing

This is challenging. 28 days worth of content? I'm not sure. I've normally not written much - largely out of fear - after all - what could I possibly write that could compete with all those who have such an easy way with words and are expert in their field?
It's been an interesting experience already. For me to see myself as a writer again, but also making new connections and gaining insight into other schools and topical issues that each person has.
I've been "forced" into thinking about dress code, uniforms, effective literacy practice, gender balance on staff and transforming my principal's office somehow. What a variety.
I'm trying also to comment on others' blogs. (Annoying when you've typed a comment in and then realised I wasn't logged in, and then the comment is lost when I did log in. Sigh)
I've had a comment or two on my own blog - which has been surprising and is rewarding and will keep me going too. (I wonder if that's how learners at school feel when their teacher responds to content rather than surface features?)
This is what has surprised me. Isn't there always a lot going on and isn't it interesting what's going on in others' minds - what's topical, annoyed them or is a current issue. I've been blown away. 
So keep writing dear colleagues - keep the flow of words coming. Who knows what impact it may have. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What is learning?

I love this question! I don't have the perfect answer YET. What I do know is that I used to believe that learning occured because of me as the teacher and during times with me. What I'm thinking more about now is that learning isn't linear, despite our long term plans, carefully sequenced unit plans and weekly planning. Learning doesn't just occur near the teacher.
I've been watching our little girl, who is now 13 months, learn. Babies seem quite random at times, but watching closer as she has learned to pull herself up to stand has been quite a testimony to her resilience, ability to self assess and act on feedback. She has systematically tested just about every object in the house to see if it will be stable enough for her to use. Thinking about this for the classroom, we need to allow learners free range on their environment, time to test and freedom to explore.
Next she has self assessed and acted on feedback received. She has given up on going to some objects and favourited others. This was achievable through her willingness to repeat her actions hundreds of times to make sure she was making the correct evaluation. For our classrooms we might need to allow many many opportunities for our learners. Sometimes I was too quick to move on and didn't allow the time that some learners would have wanted. I controlled the pace. Silly mistake.

So, lessons from a baby. Learning occurs when and where she is involved. Sure, we've modelled standing, not deliberately, but she has been watching. She has worked out things on her own. We praise her and clap our hands and tell her how clever she is. Because she is. It's genuine.
I'm thinking what other lessons we can learn from babies.

Day three of 28. I won't bore you with more baby stories. Promise.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Key Competencies for the future

#28daysofwriting entry 2:

This book has been sitting on my desk at work for a while. It's common for me to have 3 or 4 different texts on the go. I prefer to read a bit, put it away, muse and then maybe read some more - as opposed to reading something cover to cover. A colleague borrowed the book when they realised I wasn't actually reading it and now I have it back. The title alone captivates me. Key Competencies are something I truly believe in from our curriculum.
Ideally, I'd like a school curriculum based on the KCs. A teacher identifies a KC that might be lacking in their class and designs an inquiry around it that focuses on learners practising that particular KC. Alternatively
At our school we have 5 values that are linked to the KCs - Respect, Communication, Life Long Learning, Contribution and Self Worth. These brought together make up our "Bridge to Life". (Read more about this here)
I think that the KCs can sometime be a little ignored with our assessment practices focusing on National Standards a lot of the time.
What I'm starting to think and talk about is the link between being competent at the KCs and achieving well in regards to National Standards.
At our school we had awards for students who had achieve well in each of the 5 values on the Bridge to Life. We put their photo on a wall of fame in our library/hall area. When we looked at those photos we realised that every one of them (about 20 students) were all either "above" or "at" standard for their year group. It dawned on us then that perhaps there's a link. Seems obvious now I know.
What it takes though is a "mental flip" from viewing the KCs as something that sits beside or even as an extra element to that of viewing the KCs as something pervasive, central and pivotal for a learner.

I'm wondering now how my views shape up against those of the authors of the book. Time to begin reading.

Also - wanted to mention how much I've enjoyed reading other posts from those who have shared #28daysofwriting via Twitter. I can see already that it's freeing not worrying too much about what I'm saying, and just getting ideas on here.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Guide vs the Farmer

I read a recent post claiming that "the guide on the side" position currently put forward as good practice needs to be reconsidered as the teacher should be at the centre of things and a new idea was put forward to consider - the teacher as farmer.
I've thought about it. Here's why I think a guide is going to work better than a farmer as an analogy in education.
A farmer controls just about everything that happens on their farm - apart from weather. They buy stock they want, sell stock they don't want, put fences in place to stop stock movement and drench everything. Hmm. I'm not convinced I want to be in their room as a learner. Drench, drench, drench. Weigh, weigh, weigh.
For me, I want a guide. Someone who has expertise and will offer it to me when asked and when they see I might need it.
Here's my analogy. I'm a novice tourist - never been out of NZ. I wish to go somewhere exotic and different to home. My travel guide should inform me of unsafe places that I would want to avoid. They should listen to what I'm telling them and then ask more questions to find out more about a suitable destination. They may make suggestions and offer me brochures. I get to make the final decision though - not them.
A local guide can be handy when in a new and unfamiliar place. This local expert knows people, hidden gems and the language. This local guide may have been suggested by my travel guide. Ideal!
While visiting my destination I might take a guided tour  - headphones on - where I'm able to pause while I ponder, fast forward past the boring part or rewind to hear it again. It suits my pace and my interests.
Now - here's where my guide is useful again. After my travels they find out about my experience  - what worked, what didn't, what I enjoyed etc, so that the next novice tourist is given this information too.
I'm now no longer a novice. I've travelled a bit. I still need a guide, but less so. I've learned from my first experience and want to make some changes- longer here, less time there, learn more local language etc etc/ I need to be guided, but I'm not entirely dependent.
Eventually, I'm able to self-guide my own travels.

I'm excited about the concept of  learners as explorers and teachers as guides.

(I'd be willing to talk to a teacher/farmer who is willing to go free range perhaps)

Will I be able to write something everyday for 28 days?

Is school just preparation for life?