Sunday, 29 December 2019

Challenging Conversations: A Checklist

Difficult conversations "are all about coming to a common and workable solution that helps everyone to grow and move past the situation" (Brian Gatens). In education there may be several times we need to have a difficult or challenging situation; with students, whānau,  student teachers, colleagues, leaders etc for a variety of reasons. Throughout this year, I have needed to have a few myself, particularly with student teachers and colleagues. As a result, I wanted to learn further about difficult conversations. 

After researching and reflecting on what I read, watched and discussed, below are the key points I have taken away about having challenging conversations;
  • Scheduling the chat to be at an appropriate time is important. This is to ensure there is plenty of time, so the conversation doesn't feel rushed or incomplete at the end. When scheduling, give some indication to the other person what the conversation will be about if you feel it is appropriate, so that they have time to think about it/make their own notes prior.
  • Prepare a list of things you would like to say before going into the conversation and stick to the facts throughout. These will help you to stay on track, and reduce opinions and emotions coming into the discussion.
  • At the beginning of the conversation, explain the purpose of the meeting clearly and deliberately. Disclose concerns/problems honestly and respectfully. If you aren't open and honest throughout the conversation about what you are thinking, there may be limited steps forward to resolve the issue.
  • Support your point of view with specific examples to illustrate - remain factual. Be assertive, not passive. You want to get your point across, but you also want to maintain a positive relationship afterward.
  • "Get curious, not furious" (Richard Wells) - ask questions as opposed to giving statements, inquire rather than instantly attempting to solve a problem.
  • Be prepared to have your own assumptions and beliefs challenged, to increase validity of reasoning and demonstrate you are open to a conversation. Be sure to consider the possible causes of the concern/problem (this is key!).
  • Use tentative language as opposed to definitive - opening up and inviting them into the conversation. Provide time for the other(s) involved to share their perspectives. 
  • Paraphrase what the other person or people are saying, to demonstrate you are actively listening. Ask open-ended questions to encourage them to elaborate further, to gain further understanding of their perspective.
  • Once you've heard and considered all perspectives, brainstorm possible solutions/next steps together. What do we value moving forward, not what do I value. The decision making process needs to be shared. All should understand the 'why' behind the solutions suggested, not feel as if they are being put in place because the 'person in power' has said so!
  • Summarise the meeting, write down the next steps/where to from here, and make a time/further meeting to check in on these steps and how they are progressing
  • Afterward, once all members of the conversation have had time to process and reflect, there may be further questions or comments to discuss (so be open to emails or another meeting to be scheduled).
Alongside is a sketchnote created by Richard Wells. The bullet points in this post came from a discussion we had using the sketchnote as a prompt, as well as the resources listed below.
I thought this was a great final post for the year, to feel more confident to have difficult conversations in 2020 - bring on my fifth year!

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Supporting Māori Students, As Māori

New Zealand teachers are required to maintain their full registration status every three years once fully registered (this occurs generally after the first two years of teaching). When I moved from being provisionally registered to fully registered, there were 12 criteria I needed to provide growth and evidence for - now there are 6 standards (see further information about the criteria here). 

I have often had stacks of evidence for most of the criteria, but standard 1 I have had little to support my growth (evident from the lack of labels on my blog, and from my final appraisal discussion with my appraiser this year). Standard 1 is about demonstrating partnership to Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi), and commitment to tangata whenuatanga (the history and connections of where we come from). As a result of this gap, I knew I needed to complete further readings and start to develop greater strengths in this area throughout 2020, so thought I would get the ball rolling.

Earlier in the year, Hana O'Regan presented to our cluster of local schools. Hana mostly spoke about her own experiences, and the experiences of others she knows, growing up as a Māori in New Zealand. She explored some of the common stereotypes and educational challenges that exist within our education system, that are consistently reinforced. We are surrounded by statistics about low achievement rates for Māori students (here for example), and we are constantly placing labels such as 'priority learners' onto our Māori students. Whether we like to admit it or not, we all have an unconscious bias, and this bias is often shaped by what we are surrounded by. Associate Education Minister Tracy Martin comments that this unconscious bias, and racism, plays a significant role in the gaps in Māori achievement. 

Hana encouraged me to think about my own biases, and be more actively aware of my words, expressions and mannerisms in the classroom, and how small things may come across as rude, disrespectful or racist. The kids are a product of the environment they are brought up in - and unfortunately many have preconceived ideas about what it means to be Māori, negative ones, and consequently believe it of themselves, internalise these ideas. Māori are low achieving, Māori are naughty, Māori are drop outs - stereotypes which many students believe they need to conform to. Being more aware though, we can begin to challenge and interrupt the discourses, and educate our learners as to why they are not factual and definitely not written into their futures. (Sidenote: if you would like to read more about Māori ontologies/tikanga, I would suggest reading Rachael Dixon's post).

The Education Hub have suggested seven principles to support Māori students, as Māori, as outlined/summarised in the infographic I created alongside. I would recommend reading more of their posts related to this topic, such as this post and also this post (both more specifically about culturally responsive pedagogy).

After reading these posts, creating the infographic, listening to Hana's presentation, and reflecting on my own experiences, I now need to put into action some of the alongside principles in 2020 (some I feel I already do, but implicitly). I look forward to learning more, to see how I can further support my Māori students in particular, but all learners!

Monday, 16 December 2019

Student Achievement: More Than A Grade

As blogged previously throughout the year, I have been completing comparisons of student results between 2018 and 2019 for my 2 of my Senior classes. This will be my last one until the exam results are released next year for my Health students. There are clearly many differences between classes - the kids themselves, the number of students, my own experiences, and the class dynamic, so I've needed to take the results with a grain of salt when comparing. It has however, been interesting to see the differences and start to draw some conclusions about why they may be different, and to determine what the next steps may be.

Even though there is an evident drop in the amount of students in my class who 'passed' the 1.4 societal influences paper, as below, this unit was substantially more enjoyable to teach this year. The students were more actively involved in lessons, as they appeared to be actually interested in the topic on the whole, whereas the previous cohort weren't as interested. I don't feel this is a true reflection of my own enthusiasm, as it is a topic I enjoy teaching and learning about (what impacts on our own understandings, biases and involvement in a variety of physical activities). I think the enjoyment is more a reflection of how the students took on the opportunities to be involved in different activities, and were inclusive and positive towards one another. This was evident from observing the students during lessons, as well as the individual reflections and evaluations students wrote. Reading through some of their comments, many of the students became more aware of the stereotypes that exist within physical activities and began to shift/challenge their own opinions - this was the real learning, what actually mattered to me. So even though there may be more orange on the graph this year, I feel confident more students took away greater learning experiences than the previous class. The next natural step, is to ensure more one on one time with students to support them with the jargon in the assessment, to support their ideas to form assessment answers (a common issue this year).


Our final unit this year was the anatomy, biomechanics and exercise physiology unit - the one with the most content and the most difficult for majority of students. I felt rushed last year to complete the unit and assessment by the end of Term 3. This year I made the suggestion to utilise the three weeks of Term 4, because last year this time was given towards practicals for another assessment we no longer do. This allowed flexibility to go off on more tangents, complete more activities for fun, go more in depth for the content I was teaching and more time for students to revise and review their learning (at their own pace). The results clearly show how positive this change was for student success. Not only is there a significant increase in student grades, there was a reduction in rote learning (evident from informal conversations with students), which I also consider to be a massive success. Due to the nature of the content such as muscles and bones, historically students memorise the names, but once tested forget them. I feel more confident about the retention of information moving forward for this group of students compared to last year, which I think is largely contributed to the extension of time for the unit. Next year I am going to have about 10 additional students, so regular checkpoints with individuals are going to be vital.


Overall, irrespective of the differences between cohorts, comparing the data has been useful for my own reflection. As aforementioned, I will finish the 2019 comparisons once the exam results have been released, and then for 2020 I am going to focus on my Year 13 PE class (as it will be my second year teaching in a row).