24 April 2013

Day 3 #Ignition13

I went to Ignition13 with a couple of things in mind and came back with many more... Since I have been thinking about it all day,  I called this post Day 3!

Here is what I wanted to find out about:
-  What does a two day unconference look like? I wanted to experience how the succession of time slots complement each other. My only prior experience was with attending some Educamps and with running a immersed FrenchCamp last year.
-  How are teachers accessing PLD in their schools? What if it has not been "planned for?" Some of the participants paid their own registration, others came as a school team but all came to share something with others beyond their school and all recognised that there is something to learn from one another. What are some models of "in house" PD? Thought to hang on to #1
- Is eportfolio part of the landscape, if so to what extent and how? I got asked about MyPortfolio beyond Dec. 2013 which I can't answer because I don't know and it is frustrating, but I am better off thinking happy thoughts. There was evidence of use by teachers, there was talk that it is too much for primary, there were also concerns that despite building the eportfolio in primary it was never looked at by the next teacher at Intermediate. There is a need for more eportfolio information. What is going to change the game here? Thought to hang on to #2
- I set out to feel very humbled as I expected to mix with a wide range of people "who are doing it" "who are walking the talk" and "sticking their necks out". I was right to be prepared and I hope not too many noticed my jaw drop at their awesomeness. I had not thought though that the format and above all the people would make this such an inclusive event. And such a provocative one. Phew and thought to hang on to #3

SO this is where it gets very messy!
                                       Thanks @NatashaLowNZ  for the reading me so well!
Some general observations:
Emerging Leaders at #ignition13 are self directed learners. The conversations are about Teaching and Learning. Period. We are not exchanging resources here: this is big picture stuff.
All have a network outside of their schools, some outside of the country, ideas they share willingly, warts (very few...) and all,  use social media to connect with others, read extensively, lean on research and best practice, tend to substantiate what they talk about, use ICT naturally, don't think in terms of eLearning as it is before anything Learning, want to learn and use Te Reo more and have an awareness that Culture is in Language and that Language is in Culture. Many present a side of themselves through Ignite talks and this adds to the respect and warmth and support.
The following words are used not because they sound clever simply because they are internalised, (maybe to various degrees but still no need to "unpack"!): Student centred Pedagogy, Assessment for Learning, Key competencies, Teaching as Inquiry, Student Voice, Co construction, NZC Vision and Principles, Te Tataiako.
NCEA is recognised for what it is: an opportunity to evaluate in this very context. Rapport with families and communities around their schools is built and taken into consideration in their work.

All participants' are encouraged to share Ignition13 experience beyond and across so spread ideas further and beat the echo chamber effect, to find "your way to change the world". Tall order for this isolated disinstutionalised cookie but I ll give it a shot here and there to start with.

About thought #1: 
- do Professional Learning Programmes and PLD providers (Universities?) build self direction in their programmes? What tools can they use?  Te Kotahitanga as an excellent model is caned for "costing too much?" What next? Rethink PLD all together?
- is the gathering of evidence of professional learning occurring systematically towards the key indicators of the Registered Teacher Criteria? (Could be collected from evidence gathered over Teacher as Inquiry and tagged according to the RTC?)
- do teachers actually get any "mastery" and "autonomy" to support their professional lives (one of those big "badaboom" questions that did not get answered!) Am I right to think the following happens: school principals align the school goals to the Ministry Goals, state them in their Charter, then Faculty/Departments/Learning Areas state goals in line with these goals and same for teachers who them make these Professional Goals their appraisal goals? Is this allowing for mastery and autonony? Why not?
About thought #2:
- What is the core purpose of ePortfolio? To film the learning occurring over time. A conversation I have re centers the core business of an ePortfolio: think Assessment for Learning, Co Construction, Student Voice. It makes learning visible, amplifies learning, connects learning, shares learning. That should be my pitch if I wish to continue investigating how I can make myself useful in the support of the adoption of the eportfolio approach in NZ schools. I need to bring this to the fore more prominently and convincingly: this is Why. And this is the reason why workshop PD does not work, because this needs discovery and conversations over time. I need to read and research more in this area in particular if I intend the "change the world" there!!  And ought to use an inquiry cycle too. I know that ePortfolio will support the students' learning and the teachers' professional learning. 
About thought #3:
-  A series of sessions I attended complemented each other. The first piece of the puzzle was facilitated by a secondary teacher inviting to discuss Student's Voice and Co Construction and where we where at with that.
There was mention of knowing the students before the planning and using the rigor of the Teaching as Inquiry for the Planning, of the importance of knowing the NZC backwards to frame the action, to engage deeply with the Assessment objectives and all documents, to survey to co construct not as tokenism, to find a common language between students and teachers in order to allow for that. ( I think now too about the Key Competencies as indicators and to "trust the process" as urged by Guy Claxton for positive students outcomes in formal assessment). The contributions, ideas, practice shared flowed very well. 
Then one question arose "What about co constructing between teachers?" Some practitioners in the room have experienced collaborative teaching, some are in schools where it is the practice. Some are not. Some are doing change on their own, no matter what/who gets in the way, for the good of their students and to be true to their pedagogical beliefs.

                            "Knowledge emerges when people take uncertain action"

Then boom! Another torpedo of a question: How to co construct change in schools? followed by "What decade is your school at?" to start debunking. Another session that attracted another fair few, yet did not quite flow so well: end of day 2-itis maybe? Maybe simply because those are hard out questions. While other conversations had revolved around familiar (to a certain extent) themes, this one felt left field. It stuck around appraisal (box ticking appraisal?) and a tad of management bashing. Hard questions, little time to investigate together to assess if yes or no there is the freedom to do just that: change the lot. Would be a great question to explore with Design Thinking the NoTosh way. I think that more time and a bit of structure would have lead to a more satisfactory outcome. Or maybe it would be something for a World Café event?
And I have been thinking about this all day!
If schools were stripped down naked what would be the bare essentials to create an environment where each child succeeds and is equipped for his/her life ahead?
What if collaboration forever replaced competition?
If the teacher facilitates learning for the students by empowering them to own their learning, what if  the principal applies the same principles to empower teachers to own their the professional learning? (Helen Timperley's 10 Principles of Active Leadership)
And what if the Key Indicators of the Registered Teacher Criteria and Teachers' Council really were used as they are intended?

Twitter today led me to The Essence of School Leadership for the 21st C : it looks that this Principal is co-creating a culture of change by utilising the powerful, creative, daring bare essentials NZ schools have at their disposal.

Needless to say all this thinking is contributing to change my way of being in this world ;-), through raising my awareness of some really deep issues and inviting me to further my understanding of Assessment for Learning in particular. Still at cross roads, but not stuck in the mud!


  1. "Is this allowing for mastery and autonony? Why not?"
    Because some schools and particularly their management are paying lipservice to the NZC and any acknowledgement of it is still pretty cosmetic. Consequently when a teacher who believes firmly in the NZC and wants to use it as the philosophical basis for her teaching, attempts to implement it through projects where students decide which language they need to learn for their communicative purpose, she is misunderstood by both students and the wider school and corralled into a more exam-focussed approach, even at junior level. It's so ingrained in the ethos of the school. The students are used to being told what to learn and when to learn it and this is perceived to be my role. It makes me wonder if I would be more suited to a lower decile school where league tables matter less. Then the problem is likely to be a lack of students of French! I think the prospect of an un-conference, which fills me with delight, would fill most of my colleagues with dread. I seem to remember we had some resistance to our French un-conference from various people who I would have thought would be more open to different and less prescriptive ways of doing things. I'd be much more comfortable sharing and exploring, as this is the way I learn best myself, than being the eternal sage on the stage. Trouble is if I leave the stage for the wings, they start to wonder what I'm doing. Maybe it's a problem of communication and I have yet to find effective ways of selling my style. We'll see.

  2. What if collaboration forever replaced competition?
    I think this is a key question and it's one that drives my thinking. It's perhaps why I feel so fundamentally at odds with my school at the moment. It is certainly a competitive environment where individual excellence and achievement is valued above collaborative activity. And yet I had a chance to observe just what collaboration can lead to in terms of excellence when I helped out with the groups taking part in the regional Shakespeare competition. Drama is one of those wonderful subjects where collaboration is inevitable and the results are often extraordinary and even transcendent. Such was the case last week with the Shakespeare scenes. There was certainly a sense of competition to win the categories (which they did) but they only did it through their collaborative effort and their ability to tune into each other. The teacher is quietly driven for her students to succeed but manages to keep a lowish profile, supporting them with her considerable expertise and judgement. If only French needed to be collaborative. Well it does, obviously, since communication is the core, but the message is taking a while to get through!

  3. "If the teacher facilitates learning for the students by empowering them to own their learning, what if the principal applies the same principles to empower teachers to own their the professional learning?"
    Absolutely. But for this to work the principal has to invest some professional trust in the teachers.
    It's a huge challenge for a visionary leader to change the expectations of their paying parents when all they want is for their child to do better than someone else's. It's not hard to see why a principal of a private school would feel obligated to consistently take the side of parents as it's always the tenuous question of bums on seats. Challenging the mindset of society is a very tall order, particularly when the principal shares the views of parents on what constitutes success.
    In between a rock and a hard place. Still, maybe I'm expecting to run before I can walk. MyPortfolio successfully in place in at least some departments or with some teachers should help to shift thinking about what learning might look like in 2013.
    I was thinking today as I confirmed that our textbook was written (or probably just revised) in 1999, if anyone had expected me to work with a 14 year old text when I was learning French in the 60s, I would have been very indignant. I can't believe that students would actually still want to be studying this way when the world has changed so much since then. They're a conservative bunch. They'll no doubt complain that it's boring but at least they'll feel secure and if it's me making the decisions then that leaves them the liberty to complain and be demotivated. When they own their own learning it places a lot of responsibility on them which they are perhaps loath to assume. It's still hard for me to understand, as a person who has always responded much better to the challenge of owning my own learning, and even bucking against learning imposed on me.

    1. The one thing myportfolio may support with is that it makes learning visible, yet eyes need to be opened. All good things take time! What you want to do is to open the window to a more relevant way of thinking/being for now but also for their future. I believe many at Ignition13 felt they had to do with not so supportive leaders as not all present taught in MLE and recently opened schools. There was not much talk about the students being reticent as such, one person when I asked her said: "my students now know that it is a bit different when in my class!" and this person carries on as her beliefs in what is good learning and how to impart it drive her everyday. There was talk of reluctant colleagues too and that the act of sharing, conversation and inviting to observe for constructive feedback needs to be initiated/strengthened. I understand by being new to an institution getting to know all people takes time too. What I took from Ignition13 is that difficult conversations matter. What I think now is that for them to happen, a culture of conversation must exist first and foremost.


Let's go Back to the Drawing Board!