Sunday, January 21, 2018

CONTEMPLATING YEAR 40


It's hard to believe, but 2018 is my 40th year  as an educator in the New Zealand state school system. I fully intend to celebrate this milestone, by making sure every day at school is a significant day and that I achieve something fulfilling and satisfying. I began my teaching career at Lytton High School, Gisborne, at the beginning of 1979, which continued with positions at Hamilton Boys' High School, Melville High School, Aranui High School and most recently, Papakura High School. A year as Acting Principal at Melville High in Hamilton made me realise that to be a Principal was a most challenging and rewarding career pathway, and during that year was appointed to my first permanent principalship, at Aranui, which commenced in February 2006. Funnily enough, Aranui had been my final placement as a teacher traineee, and I accepted my first teaching position by sending a telegram to the Principal of Lytton High School from the now long gone Aranui Post Office.  Little did I realise that my life would go full circle and that one day I would return to the same school where I did my teacher training practice.

When I think about the 39 years behind me, I am very grateful for the opportunities which I have received. I have been able to work in both city and rural schools, single sex and co-educational. Those opportunities helped to give me a balanced view about schools and schooling, which it would be impossible to have, without moving around gaining the experiences which five vastly different schools have given me. Opportunities come our way from time to time in life, and I always urge teachers with the same thought: if the door opens, walk through it! How often in life we meet individuals who have regret and bitterness, because they did not take the opportunities offered to them. Maybe because they were too comfortable and settled in their situations, or maybe because of fearfulness of the risks of failure or fear of the unknown. In each school that I have worked in, I have learned something new, been able to make judgements about what I value, and seen ways of functioning professionally, which I would have never otherwise experienced.

So what are the most important learnings I have gained, as I embark on my 40th year in this amazing journey in education?

First and foremost, the importance of having a teaching vocation, in order to be happy in ones work and to finding meaning and enjoyment in the craft of teaching. Without an overwhelming inner compulsion to aspire to be an educator, a teacher will be at best an average individual who imparts curriculum content without the love and enthusiasm of the teaching craft, which can only come from a vocation. And while this may appear to be somewhat old fashioned or even dated in the 21st century, it remains as true as ever.  It is the constant factor which gives teachers resilience and the inner strength to survive the hard times. And which helps them to see beyond the difficult days to the better times ahead.

A love of working with young people, and taking an intense interest in their well being, is secondly, a precondition to success in teaching, and the longer I have been a teacher myself, the more important I have observed this to be. It did not take very long for me to realise, as a young teacher, that involvement in sport and other extra-curricular activities was critical to building the necessary bridge that would make the classroom a pleasure rather than an ordeal. Moreover, going "the extra mile" for students because they deserve it, and because you value them, is critically important.  I have found that young people are particularly discerning about the teachers in front of them, in terms of their recognition of a teacher's genuine interest and care for them. Those teachers who show their aroha, their care and love for their students, are creating the environment in which learning can flourish. Those teachers can see a group of individuals in front of them - not a class, not a crowd, but a group of individuals with vastly differing backgrounds and needs, all of whom need his or her individual attention and concern.

I have also learned that "the good teacher," the one who stand out from the crowd, is the one who is never satisfied with his or her teaching performance, but who aways strives to do better and to explore the boundaries of pedagogy.  As a teacher and as a principal, remaining  commited to self-improvement is an indispensible part of remaining vital and fresh professionally. This is an imperative irrespective of whether you are in your first or fortieth year of teaching.  Not only is the objective, improvement of teaching performance, and methodology,  but also an expansion of curriculum knowledge and  subject content. This commitment to professional growth becomes increasingly difficult for some teachers as they get older, and yet this is the time in ones career when it is most important of all.


Happiness, positivity, as well as personal transparency  as a teacher have often been recognised as qualities which are important for teachers. I have learned that all the technical and pedagogical expertise without emanating a sense of  personal identity  and wellbeing to students, makes learning a very clinical process. Students must be able to capture glimpses into the humanity of their teachers. Parker J. Palmer (from The Heart of a Teacher) called this "the inner landscape of a teacher's life." I've often wondered about the way some teachers seem to have this innate ability to make connections between themselves, their subject matter and their students. I have come to realise that teachers must learn how to project themselves personally into their teaching. That is when the magic occurs.

And of all the other insights which I have gleaned over the four decades behind me, there is one other, which in the context of Aotearoa New Zealand, is of greatest importance. This is the cultural awareness, openness and engagement, to successfully work in the context of an environment which is defined by Maori as tangata whenua of this country. Irrespective of whether you come from a white New Zealand/Pakeha background or where ever.  It is also defined by the multiplicity of other races that make up our classrooms, principally Pasifika, and then Asian and other migrant groups. There is a compelling mandate for those who work at the forefront of education, to actively grasp the opportunities to learn te reo Maori, to become proficient in their understanding of tikanga,  to become knowledgeable and skilled in their understanding of  Pasifika cultures and those of the other cultures they interact with, and to radiate an enthusiasm for those cultures in their every day dealings with young people. Long gone are the days when a simple "kia ora" was adequate to show this commitment. Teachers of 2018  must be modelling their learning of te reo Maori and leading the way, so that in future years the banal arguments about the use of te reo in the media and other public contexts will be long forgotten, as our country embraces its heritage. Teachers must be agents of social change that usher in a new era of being a bicultural nation in the spirit of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

I have asked myself: "Should I have included my learning about technology in this list of the most important things I have learned?" As a teacher who has witnessed the most dramatic changes occurring in education thanks to the introduction of modern information technology, I think not. The same disposition to be a committed learner is  required to keep abreast of technological change as every other form of learning I engage in.  In my Teachers' College year we were required to pass an "Audio Visual Certificate" which meant being able to demonstrate the use of the banda machine, the Gestetner and the movie projector! I am profoundly grateful for the technology which we have at our disposal for bringing learning to life in the 21st century, and for the marvellous opportunities of ubiquitous learning which it creates. Nevertheless, everything I know about this will be obsolete in five years time!

I am grateful to many inspirational teachers whom I have encountered during my career. They have helped to forge my beliefs about this great profession. They have helped me to believe that we must never compromise our personal values and they have taught me so much. But most of all, it is the students who have passed through my classroom, and more latterly, through my office and a through a multiplicity of other contexts, who have taught me the most. It is to them I owe my biggest thank you.




Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Students forging a new future identity

What's in a logo? When you think about the purpose of a school crest or logo, you realise that this image is actually a very powerful symbol which represents some key idea, notion or value related to the identity and history of a school.

Papakura High has a logo which of course was designed for the opening of the school in 1954, which portrays an image of Mount Everest. The close connection of Sir Edmund Hillary with the Papakura region has meant a number of schools and organisations have made use of this in their logos and visual features. Accompanying the logo is the Latin motto "Summa pete" meaning "Seek the Highest."  More than half a century has passed since then, and the students of Papakura High, who comprise a very different community to that of the foundation students of Papakura High School, struggle to see any connection with the logo and the Latin motto.

At the beginning of this year, as part of our whanau development, students were elected to form a body which would provide a voice for the students of our school, and which would empower them to take on a role in forging a new identity for our school. This group is known as Te Kaunihera a Akonga -  the Student Council. I see the formation of this student team  as a critical step forward in helping our students take ownership of their school. Over the past months, they have had numerous discussions and brainstormed their ideas about the kinds of images which they think would best suit the Papakura High of today, and into the future. These 30 students (ten  from each whanau) have come up with a wealth of ideas and images. They have been excited about their role in shaping the future, a responsibilty which they greatly appreciate. They understand the importance and value of traditions, but they also want to be part of a future focussed school which will serve both them and the next generation and want the logo to signal this. 

This process has now moved to the next stage - the school has engaged a graphic design firm with experience in this area, to assist a sub-committee of Te Kaunihera a Akonga. In a few weeks the designers, who have been delighted with the input and creativity of our students,  will present them with their first range of images from the concepts discussed. Our students will hugely benefit from their involvement in this iterative process - the learning about the phases of design work. Who knows where this might lead our students in their own future pathway?


The school's logo representing Mt Everest




Sunday, September 10, 2017

TE WIKI O TE REO MAORI

Kia ora tatou!
Kua timata te Wiki o te Reo Maori! Kei te mihi ahau ki te reo tuatahi o Aotearoa. He mihi hoki ki a koutou e tautoko ana te kaupapa o te wiki nei.

There are few issues as contentious as the place and role of Maori language in the wider life of Aotearoa New Zealand at this time. Calls for te reo Maori to be compulsory in schools are gathering momentum, and are equally being resisted by certain quarters in our society.

What makes this issue all the more contentious is the fact that this country, compared to most, is remarkably mono-lingual. It is the norm in most countries around the world for two, three or even more languages to be spoken on an every day basis. My observation is that resistance to bilingualism is most fierce on the part of monolingual Kiwis who come from a colonial background, who make up a very large proportion of our society and who believe that English somehow has legitimacy in replacing te reo Maori as the most important language in our country.  This is also reflected in the political views of certain parties and politicians. I've been reading comments in the social media such as "Maori is a dead language," "Learning Maori is a waste of time as it's only spoken in New Zealand," "Non-Maori should be forced to learn Maori."

The reality is otherwise. Te Reo Maori is an official language of Aotearoa New Zealand and has the rights and status to be spoken everywhere, and as such, should be learned by all Kiwis. Te Reo Maori is what distinguishes this country from Australia and other English speaking countries. It is the language of the tangata whenua of our country and should have pride of place as a unique taonga or treasure, to be nurtured and fostered by all. As a Pakeha school principal, it is my special responsibility to ensure that I do everything I can to ensure my school community is committed to this.

In our school context, we will be promoting the learning of te reo Maori in a range of different ways over the next year. We have started to introduce a new culture into the life of our school which incorporates Maori terminology at every level. We have liaised with our local iwi Ngati Tamaoho, who have very kindly provided us with names of great cultural significance to Tainui, for our three whanau.  Our Board of Trustees will be embarked on a language revitalisation programme as well. As the majority of the students in our school are of Maori descent, it is appropriate that their cultural identity is affirmed and enhanced by the school.

Our school marae is a place where te reo Maori is respected, and where powhiri occur, which are conducted entirely in this language, which reflects its importance and and status. We are very fortunate as a school to have this sacred and culturally significant place as the heart of our school.

Te Wiki o te Reo Maori is not just another week in the calendar. It provides a wake up call for our society that it is time that all members of our society acknowledge and embrace this treasure.

No reira, he mihi ano ki tenei taonga tuku iho.


Detail from Te Kahurangi, the wharenui o Papakura High School.

Monday, March 6, 2017

"Under the Bridge"

In February of this year, thanks to a team of investigative journalists from the New Zealand Herald, Papakura High School has been thrust into the forefront of the  media because of a feature film which follows a year in the life of three of our senior students plus myself as the newly appointed Principal.
The film was also preceded by four short promo films focusing on each identity in the film, and then with a 3 day follow up in the printed New Zealand Herald (front page on day 1, highlighting my message of hope for Papakura High School.)

The film can be viewed online at  NZ Herald Under the Bridge
The background to the film and the response to it also make interesting viewing.

One of the unexpected consequences of the film has been the contact which the school has had from former students from all around the world. This has been quite exceptional. In some instances we have received generous gifts from them, with most insisting on anonymity.

We have also had a number of alumni contact the school with a view to setting up an active alumni group and also to setting up a Charitable Trust, whose object is to provide for the well being of Papakura High School students and also to provide enrichment opportunities for them, which the school could never hope to provide out of its means. We are thrilled with this outcome.



The team from the New Zealand Herald and the Papakura High team of Jayden Schell, Robert Downes and Wendy Savieti and I posing after the final shoot for "Under the Bridge"


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

OUR SECRET TEACHER'S REPORT

Junior students receiving progress awards at term 1 Achievement Assembly.
Kirsty Johnston from the New Zealand Herald has been doing a series of investigative pieces on Primary Schools and the issues related to the achievement of children.

The whole series is available online at: tinyurl.com/ThePrimaryIssue


I have been following this investigation with great interest, as it has been taking a hard look at how and why children at primary school achieve or don't achieve. The spotlight is on National Standards, whose introduction was a political initiative, designed to raise achievement.

One of the most strident objections to National Standards is that the starting point for children at their enrolment point varies enormously in terms of what they are already capable of, particularly in their language development. Kirsty Johnston's feature highlights the fact that while some children can barely count to five when they start school, or have never held a pencil, they can speak another language, such as Samoan or Tongan. This lag in early school expectations, which doesn't correlate to intelligence, follows many children throughout their eight years of primary (or primary and intermediate) education, and through into secondary school.

The objection focusses on the fact that National Standards do not measure  how far a child has progressed in their learning from their starting point. These children arrive at secondary school, with the expectation that by the end of Year 10, they will be capable of commencing their first year of NCEA. The political mandate is centred around students achieving NCEA Level 2 by the time they turn 18. This is irrespective of the ability level  at which they started their secondary schooling. The philosophy behind National Standards dooms many children to failure well before they arrive at secondary school, as they are being measured according to their ability to reach an established standard of academic competence, not how far they have progressed in their learning from where they started.  NCEA follows the same pattern.

Once students reach secondary school, their academic achievement contributes to the overall profile of NCEA results, which are published nationally. In the eyes of the community, the school's reputation is determined by these published results. Naturally, every school works extremely hard to support students achieving to the highest level. Students are challenged to work to the best of their ability to achieve, irrespective of the point at which they started. Fundamentally, many students whose primary school experience was one of never reaching the standard, and being categorised as failures in the particular criteria which are being measured, will have a tough time in overcoming this stigma at secondary school. During my time as a secondary school principal, I have been inspired by many outstanding teachers who have encouraged and challenged students to be successful, and to achieve to a high level, despite this stigma. I have likewise been inspired by the students whose sucess flies in the face of the expectations of failure, which National Standards have reinforced.



Tuesday, March 29, 2016

TECHNOLOGY AND STUDENT VOICE

Over recent weeks staff have had the opportunity to participate in a range of toolkit workshops and sessions on enhancing their digital pedagogy. These have been greatly appreciated.

I am struck by the fact that the relationship between teacher and students is greatly enhanced when digital tools are being used as part of the pedagogical process.

I recently read a quote in a text that has intrigued me, entitled Technology Integration and High Possibility Classrooms, by Jane Hunter (Routledge 2015) The quote reinforces what I have been observing in the workshops I have attended: "Technology gives reluctant learners a voice, the student who is not confident or who is not engaged can suddenly be good at something - when they develop their ideas, they can produce something using technology. It doesn't always have to involve technology, but more often it does. The product can then be praised by the teacher." (p.99)

The fact that teachers and students can interact and engage in learning outside of the confines of the school day and environment using Google apps also impacts on that relationship, as both can be in their own space and collaborate at a time that suits. I am very grateful to the staff who are helping their colleagues gain the confidence to be effective in their use of this relationship enhancing technological tool.