Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Associate & Student Teachers - Partners in Growth

Last term I was an Associate Teacher for a student teacher for 4 weeks. Because of being involved with the MDTA, I was observed and given feedback regularly. As a result I feel I grew quite quickly and gained confidence in my practice and my appreciation and ability to use criticism/feedback to grow. I was excited to have a student teacher because this was a great opportunity to continue to grow, as well as reflect on how far I have come in 3 and a bit years. 

I feel, like a student teacher, I was completely thrown in the deep end as I was given no 'how-to' guide or suggestions of how to actually be an AT. Of course this has disadvantages, but I tried to embrace it. Using the information from the university handbook and discussions with my student teacher, I feel I did pretty well to support him in his first placement, even though he was only with me for one Senior class. He had already identified goals for himself, and had actually already taught a couple of years overseas, so we decided straight away he would join me in the deep end quite quickly - this is something upon reflection he said he was grateful for, to just get in there as soon as possible and actually teach. This was something I also appreciated when I was a student teacher - AT's who essentially handed their classes over but were supportive in the process.

He also said he appreciated the honest feedback and feedforward I gave him. After each of his lessons I took time to comment on his strengths and identified possible work ons. I felt proud when he took the feedback on board and strengthened both his strengths and weaknesses in future lessons. If I were to have a student teacher again, I would like to have these post lesson discussions as more of a conversation. I feel I could have facilitated a conversation, by asking probing questions to encourage further reflection, rather than the student teacher listing their strengths/work ons and then me doing the same. Next time, I would like to guide the student teacher to consider additional work ons than they initially identified and then we could discuss how and why that area could be adapted (as opposed to me describing how and why). 

I think only being with him for one class was quite difficult, as this meant we didn't have many opportunities for conversations unless they were planned. Having more time with a student teacher would have supported me to give feedback on their growth, see them teach in different lights, as well as further possible impromptu conversations. I also think it would have supported the student teacher to develop a closer relationship with their AT, which may have encouraged more open/honest questions and discussion.

Observing his teaching really made me notice everything I have learnt along my journey so far. Things I take for granted that I consider naturally, and have forgotten that I do (albeit how well!). Transition times between activities, the use of open ended questions, and the use of student names for instance. The biggest thing I realised, was the understanding about and of NCEA I have - I should have spent more time explaining what NCEA actually is, and the importance of assessments and hand in protocols for example (I certainly did not understand any of this information as a first year teacher!). I certainly still have a long way to go as a teacher myself, but having a student teacher increased my confidence in my own growth and was a great reminder of some of the basics. I can't wait to have another in the future to support this growth further, and not to mention learn further activity ideas and resources!

Friday, 19 April 2019

Student Data - More Than A Summative Grade

In addition to my goal of wanting to increase connections with whānau, another goal this year (and my inquiry), is to reflect more regularly on student achievement and data within my practice. This is something that was discussed in my end of 2018 appraisal, as well as my first term appraisal this year.

A couple of simple things I have already implemented are checkpoints for my Year 12 Health class and offering lunchtime tutorials. The checkpoints have definitely helped so far to hold students accountable, but to also start discussions with them about how they are going and where they are heading next. I have been able to make time for each student individually to support them, but also to contact home if I am concerned they are falling behind (although not positive connections with home, still more connections than last year). I have offered 2 lunchtime tutorials for my Year 11s and 2 for my Year 12s, but only one student has shown up so far. At the end of the day though, I am trying to encourage students to take more responsibility for their learning and be self managed, and many seek help from me outside of school hours through emails and Google Doc comments for instance. I will continue to offer these tutorials, so I know I have offered the time if students need additional help.

To support my inquiry, I have attended a webinar on data to support teaching as inquiry (hosted by Darcy Fawcett and The Education Hub), watched this seminar about data to improve teacher practice (Dr Aaron Wilson and The Education Hub) and read this blogpost by My Study Series about how to best utilise the flipped learning platform (have used with 11PE so far and will use with 13PE next term). I have some thoughts after reading/watching these sources of information.

Using data to inform teacher practice is useful, is important, is pertinent. BUT, we must ask ourselves whether the learning is relevant and authentic. Are the children actually learning? Their test results may be high, but are there valuable learning experiences? Finally, are you judging your teacher effectiveness (or other teachers' effectiveness) based off their academic results? 

Throughout my dissertation, and Aaron reminded me in the seminar, that data does not just have to be related to academic results, does not have to be quantitative (we can use other sources of data, not just academic results). I am guilty though, as are many others, of feeling disappointed that we haven't given our best, and responsible when our results aren't as high as we had hoped. I had a discussion with another teacher last week about grades, and they said they were embarrassed when they had lots of students with the grade 'Not Achieved'. Though it may be difficult to see low academic results, the important thing to ask ourselves is 'did we do everything we could to help this student achieve?' 

Aaron discussed the importance of not just comparing the mean result though, because it may not be an accurate comparison. The bar graphs below show two sets of classes and student results. When the means of the two sets were compared, they were near identical, but it is clear in these graphs there is a considerable difference in individual  student results. Therefore I will need to reflect on students' results like this when comparing 2018 and 2019 results, not just the overall mean.

In addition to the quantitative achievement levels of students, when seeking/collecting/analysing data, we should be considering student progress. Students may be making significant progress but achieving poorly, or may be making little progress but achieving highly. Hence the importance of checkpoints, feedback opportunities, one to one conversations, and other forms of qualitative data. Moving forward I need to be completing more of the aforementioned, as well as providing opportunities for students to apply their knowledge, to relate their learning to other contexts, to utilise learning most relevant to them and to discuss their learning and ideas with others. These will provide opportunities for me to 'collect' informal data, and formatively assess student progress.

As previously blogged about, at Orewa registered teachers do not complete teacher observations, but instead complete Ako observations (which are essentially conversations with students about their learning journey in that class). Aaron identified, as can be seen alongside, some of the problems with completing teacher observations. These are some of the reasons why I value the Ako observations, as I feel they are more authentic and we don't go in with any preconceived ideas or judgements. I did not have anyone come into any of my classes to complete an Ako observation last year, which was disappointing, so hopefully I have some this year as I believe it would be invaluable qualitative data to have the student voice to reflect on.

I have a lot to continue to reflect on and look out for as identified throughout this post. If you are interested to learn further about data in teacher practice, I do recommend watching Aaron's seminar.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Staff & Student Wellbeing - Super Important!

Last Monday and Tuesday I was lucky enough to spend two days at Christ's College in Christchurch at The Positive Education Conference, along with about 600 other people (Twitter feed: #positiveeducation2019 ). The conference was focused around student and teacher wellbeing, and gosh it was amazing. I left feeling slightly overwhelmed as there were so many amazing presentations, a lots of information to take in, but also so happy that wellbeing is at the forefront of so many educators minds.

I was, and am continuing to learn what Positive Education actually is. Essentially, it aims to teach students specific skills to enhance their wellbeing and lifestyle. Geelong Grammar School is leading Pos Ed, starting to teach Pos Ed courses/lessons about 10 years ago. Charlie Scudamore, the DP, was the opening keynote for conference, and was very insightful as to what Pos Ed actually is - this video also helps to explain. Geelong believe for Pos Ed to be successful, we must Learn, Live, Teach and Embed - and all steps are important as you can see below.


As we move into an integrated curriculum next year, our timetable is also changing. There is going to be an option line for students to complete their own inquiries/passion projects, as well as time for academic and pastoral mentoring. I can see how Positive Education could be included into these lines, because some of the initiatives and activities in Pos Ed are extensions of Health, and some are basic life skills like how to save money (here are Geelong's key concepts). I need to reflect a little further around this, but would love to put something together for our kids during this mentoring line (especially as one of the key messages from conference was that Positive Education cannot just be put into form classes once a week, but must be embedded within the teaching and learning curriculum/timetable).

Some of the things which left me thinking further about were:
  • Sometimes what we see as misbehaviour, may actually be an imbalance in emotions which students don't know how to cope with, such as high stress. In this case, it is important we respond to the emotions, rather than the behaviours.
  • Students (and staff) need to learn about emotional regulation - the ability to recognise when any given emotion is inappropriate at a given time and to respond accordingly.
  • Our 'thinking brain' can be taken over by our 'emotional brain', therefore we may not be responsive if our emotions are out of control - this relates to a lot I've learnt about arousal levels and the importance of teaching students strategies to calm their 'emotional brain', so that their 'thinking brain' can be effective. Three steps to attempt to make this happen: recognise, rebalance and rewire.
  • "Don't work from the rakau, work from the ngākau" - move away from a tickbox to get things done or meeting standards, towards working from and for the heart.
  • Our mental health system currently only has the capacity to help/support 3% of our population, so it's incredibly important we are looking out for one another and ask 'How are you, really?'
  • We need to encourage and allow children to be the boss of their feelings, rather than their feelings bossing them around.
  • If you were a fly on the wall, how would you feel, and what do you think the environment would be like?
  • Mindfulness can be considered as mental fitness; thinking about the way we think, regulating our attention and being more aware of our surroundings.


Teacher wellbeing was a large focus of the conference. We are all aware how hard teachers work, and how we often put everyone before ourselves. I have definitely found that I have been quite stressed recently and that my to do list just gets longer and longer. The two key messages I took away were to recognise and nurture the things that support our wellbeing, and to only control what we can control. There is only so much we can do in a day, and only so much we can change, so there is no point obsessing over things out of our control. Darfield High School shared some of the ways they are embedding the 5 ways to wellbeing from Mental Health Foundation within their practice, to increase teacher wellbeing. I was really amazed how high a priority in their PD and use of time teacher wellbeing was - see some of the ideas alongside.


Moving forward, I need to consider how I could include some of the things I have learnt within my practice. I can be more aware of students and their emotions, I can look out for my peers/colleagues, and I can consider my classroom environment even moreso than usual. As mentioned there is great scope for Positive Education to be included in our 2020 curriculum, I just need to think how... And I would LOVE if teacher wellbeing became more of a focus for us too...

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Don't Forget Our Angel Students

At the end of last year I felt very worn out. But I also felt I had overcome some new challenges and learnt a lot. Reflecting on my end of year appraisal and why I felt so worn out, one of the reasons was because a lack of positive reinforcement and sharing positives with whanau.

Unfortunately, majority of my discussions with students families were negative, discussing what their child was not doing or were doing that was unacceptable. Obviously I have dozens and dozens of students who are highly respectful, organised, engaged, but these angels are often forgotten about because they are self managed and seek my help only when they need it. This needed to change. I couldn't forget about the angels and only focus on those who were off task.

At my old school, we sent home school postcards every few weeks to a student or two who had displayed the school values. I felt so great sending those home to whanau, and the students came to school buzzing. So, this year I have created my own certificate to send home to students who are these angels that may feel that they are being forgotten about or not recognised. My aim for the year is to send 2 each week, and to spread the love around my classes. 

I think this will help to address my own feelings of being worn out and increase the positive connections I have with students' homes. I have already seen the impact on some students, when they come smiling and thank me for being recognised. One student even said her parents put the certificate on the fridge, and nothing has been on the fridge in years!

So a reminder to us all, we have angels, and we need to recognise them!

Friday, 25 January 2019

Integration: The Latest Buzzword

We are back at it for another year! The past two days have been full on, discussing integration, what that is and how on Earth we are possibly going to create integrated units! Next year, 2020, Orewa College will be breaking down the silos and saying farewell to subjects for Years 9 and 10. In their place, 16 3-subject integrated units based off the core values of the New Zealand curriculum. For a more detailed description of the journey the school is currently undertaking, follow Richard's blog series as he details the steps the school is taking.

For our two callback days to begin 2019, our focus has been to gain more of an understanding of the logistics and the structure of the integrated units, as well as begin to work our magic so to speak. We have shared across departments what we have trailed so far, the fears we have currently and the steps we need to take moving forward. This shift in education is incredibly exciting, for us and more importantly the kids, but obviously requires a lot of PD. 

I really enjoyed yesterday, as we were given options in the morning on how we would further like to learn more about integration. Many opted into the movie option, Most Likely To Succeed. I didn't attend this session, as I had previously seen the film - see my post here. Instead, I chose to complete readings, to give myself some time to learn about others thoughts, and give myself some time to reflect on my own. All of the readings we were suggested to read can be accessed here.

Below (and above) are quotes which left me thinking, and may leave you thinking too...

"Rather than forcing students to fit the environment, we need to have the environment fit each student." (Lory Hough)

"We are influenced by our surroundings and what we experience, which can limit our understanding of the world and especially the possibilities that exist." (Katie Martin)

"Teachers were happier through working with students who were intrinsically motivated to learn on projects designed by themselves." (Richard Wells).

"In the highly competitive, hyper assessed version of high school education, there are winners and losers. The losers are often those who dare to question, refuse to accept the status quo, strive to be themselves. And it's these students - the ones who probably have the most real potential in the wider sense - who are falling through the cracks." (Joanna Mathers)

I have been placed into the 'Respect' unit, alongside another HPE teacher, two Tech teachers and two English teachers. We were buzzing with ideas in our initial meeting and planning session yesterday, and our next step is to work out how to shape these ideas into an engaging project for the students. I believe this is an incredible opportunity for us to learn, and for the students to be exposed to/involved in more authentic learning opportunities. I am really looking forward to the change next year, but nervous as to the workload on top of a standard crazy school year! Watch this space...