Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Power of YES!

Last week I participated in the inaugural #edchatNZ conference at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. 2 days, 300 teachers, inspiring conversation and challenges to keep me thinking.

 It was AWESOME!! 

After a week to reflect, the following are the thoughts which resonate with me most strongly;

I've found a place in the NZ Professional Learning Network. 
A few years ago I really started investing in my professional development by seeking out and attending all different types of professional learning on offer. But the truth is, I had to force myself to attend these events. I felt uncomfortable. I didn't know anyone. I loathed the small talk and the effort it took to try and engage people. But the #edchatnz conference was a time to reflect on just how much I've grown and how far I've come. No longer do I feel like an outsider, the conference felt like the meeting of friends, with time of reconnect, catch-up and meet a few new people. I'm so glad I persisted through the beginning discomfort of engaging in the NZ PLN because I'm reaping the benefits now - exponentially - and giving back too! 

The Power of YES 
I was lucky to be on the steering committee for this conference (a great experience in itself), which gave me some great insight into just all the things that came together to make this conference a success. And, in my opinion, by far what oiled the wheels was the answer "YES". Maurie Abraham said 'yes' you may host the conference at Hobsonville Point. Pam Hook and Mark Osbourne and Karen Melhuish-Spencer said 'yes' they would present - along with dozens of others. NEAL said 'yes' they would handle the banking side of things. Yes, yes, yes, yes ... people just kept saying yes and, as a result, the entire conference came together in 16 weeks. I have to tell you hearing 'yes' is so refreshing when many of us are so used to trying to circumvent the frequent answer of 'no' (frustration from which reduced more than a few teachers to tears during the conference). Its made me reflect on the conditions required for YES, of which there are a few. Firstly, Vision - Danielle had a vision she could articulate - the 'why should we hold a conference' was an easy selling point and the desire to chat, share and collaborate already demonstrated. Secondly, community voice - an organically created #edchatnz community was ready for a conference and in many ways Danielle was responding to #edchatnz voice! And finally, well, NZ educators are just awesome. My heart swells with pride when I see all the good will amongst teachers - plus their passion, willingness to collaborate and commitment to the best learning opportunities for our students. All in all it keeps me motivated to keep pushing for YES and believing that it doesn't need to be as hard as we often make it out to be. 

So many more great things occurred during this conference - things which will have a lasting impact on my teaching practice .... but for now I think i'll just leave it there ....

#edchatNZ steering committee

Friday, 24 January 2014

The Chief, the Tribe and the Medicine Man

Most organisations, and societies for that matter, are organised around a Chief-Tribe hierarchy. The Chief, as we know, is the leader - he may be inspiring, he may be a bully but nonetheless he is in charge of making decisions for the Tribe. Successful relationships between the Chief and the Tribe rely on mutual respect, loyalty and accountability. However, sometimes, things go wrong - and that's when you call in the Medicine Man. The Medicine Man brings his medicine - his knowledge - to provide guidance and heal relationships between the Chief and the Tribe. Sometimes he brings new information, sometimes he reminds them of ideas and values they have forgotten. Nonetheless for a Tribe to be healthy the Chief, the Tribe and the Medicine man must all function in harmony.

The Medicine Man sits outside the organisation  He offers his knowledge/medicine to the Chief and the Tribe.
He is loyal only to his knowledge.
Thinking about this model has made me reflect on the many groups I am and have been involved in. Be it family, work or social groups I can see this Chief-Tribe-Medicine Man dynamic playing out. It has also led me to conclude that I am and want to be a Medicine Man. I am most comfortable living on the fringe of the Tribe, I enjoy the solitude and I feel that it's from this vantage point that I can 'see' and offer medicine most readily. This model also resolves the tension I have felt over the past few years about my professional role. Increasingly over the past few years colleagues have said to me, "it would be good to see you in a leadership role." I think they have sensed my growing restlessness as part of the Tribe. However, the problem is, while I'm bored being part of the Tribe I don't really want to be a Chief. Now I see that there is actually a third option - the path of the Medicine Man - someone who works alongside people helping them develop and 'see' new paths. This, I think, is the role I really want to move towards, using my knowledge as my strength and most powerful tool.

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Quick and Easy read!

Monday, 20 January 2014

You Need No Title To Be A Leader

Last year, while on my efellowship journey, one of the things I discussed with my peers was that I sometimes felt stuck not having a title or position to allow me to lead and activate my ideas. I didn't see myself as a leader - but someone aspiring towards leadership. It was Claire Buist who said to me, "but Heather, whether you realise it or not, you are already a leader." Claire inspired me with her consistent support and professional reflections to explore and think more about my ideas about what it means to be a leader - which it turns out have nothing to do with a title or status and everything to do with sharing my knowledge and developing others. This is quite empowering as it means wherever I am in the workplace hierarchy I have the ability to lead in my role - to do my very best, lean into change and support and inspire others. Some of these ideas are shared in Robin Sharma's book The Leader Who Had No Title. In the book Robin talks about four keys to being a successful leader:

1. You Need No Title To Be A Leader
2. Turbulent Times Build Great Leaders
3. The Deeper Your Relationships, The Stronger Your Leadership
4. To Be A Great Leader, First Become a Great Person

So as 2014 begins I have a fresh outlook on leadership and my ability to affect change!!

Being a leader isn't about having a title - it's an attitude and an intention to always do your best for yourself and others. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Tag ... pass it on

A great way to start the New Year - connecting with peers, reflecting on ourselves and planning for the year head. Happy 2014!!

I got "tagged" (nominated) by  - check out his awesome blog here

The blogging task includes:

  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers.
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

11 Random Facts about me!!

  1. If I didn't become a teacher I would have studied to become a carpenter
  2. I'm quite good at line dancing
  3. When I was in university I facilitated a programme where each Sunday morning we closed the swimming pool to men so Muslim women could come and swim - I've never met a group of women so strong or fun!
  4. I'm an introvert. I enjoy my own company and need alone time to recharge. 
  5. I came to New Zealand for only one year  - 10 years ago ...
  6. Watching Shortland Street is my guilty pleasure. 
  7. My best travel experience is when I hired a man named Hien to drive me on the back on his motorbike through the highlands of Vietnam. 
  8. I love grocery shopping!
  9. Last year I won my first indoor bowls club title. 
  10. I love the satisfaction I get from crossing things off a to-do list. 
  11. I really miss Canadian winters!

Answers to @mattnicoll's Questions 

  1. What inspired you to become a teacher? I guess the fact that I really like learning. I actually started university studying business but quickly decided that it wasn't for me so I started looking at what else I might do and realised that all my part-time jobs - swim instructor, babysitter, day-camp programmer all involved kids and teaching and that's what I really loved!
  2. What is/are the biggest change/s you made to your teaching in 2013? Personalising learning for each student. 
  3. What is the best thing about being a teacher? When students get excited about learning something new or feel confident and rewarded with their learning achievements. 
  4. Which country do you most want to visit/revisit next? Spain 
  5. What does Christmas mean to you? Christmas means family ... and pavlova with strawberries!
  6. What are your favourite films? Hmmm, many to choose from but since its just been Christmas I'm going to say Elf - I watch it every year at this time. 
  7. What type of music do you listen to? Country music ... I love Canadian country music radio.
  8. Film or theatre? Why? Theatre - each performance has something new to offer and there is engagement between a cast and the audience. 
  9. What pet/s do you have? None, but I have some plants I'm pretty partial to. 
  10. What are you looking forward to most in 2014? Watching my new baby grow
  11. If you had a million dollars but had to give it all away, what would you do with the money? I would give it to micro-finance companies. I like the idea of empowering communities of people to help themselves and build businesses based on an individuals own skills and ideas. 

My 11 Questions:

  1. What is one of your goals for 2014?
  2. What is your favourite place in New Zealand?
  3. How do you recharge after a long day?
  4. What advice would you give to a beginning teacher?
  5. Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
  6. Who is the most influential person in your life?
  7. What is your mantra?
  8. What inspires you?
  9. Sweet or savoury?
  10. What was your best moment of 2013?
  11. What is your favourite app?


  • @sterling_amanda
  • @sukhpabial
  • @JamiePowerNZ
  • @EmmaWinder25
  • @MsBeenz
  • @carltonwinter
  • @arrow12345
  • @emmerw
  • @paulinehendog

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Individual vs the Collective

In talking with my Pasifika students this week I've been reflecting about the cultural divide and the barriers they face in learning at school.

We have a very ethnocentric education system the very much values individuality and independence. Pasifika students coming from a culture that values community, the collective struggle to find a place within our education system. How do we adapt our education system to value the collective as much as the individual? How do we create communities at school and develop academic role models? How to we create greater links to the community - supporting parents and showing students pathways to their future?

All things I'm thinking about .....

Collecting Maori Student Voice

Recently I have been collecting the student voice of Maori students. The purpose of this has was to inform a series of PD sessions for the school staff about how we may provide better meet the needs of our Maori students.

The following is a summary of some of the students responses.

Students want the freedom to put learning into a context that is relevant them

  • As teachers we talk about making choices that make learning relevant to students but students what more power  to tell YOU how the learning is relevant o them
  • Students self-identified themselves as being social learners. We like learning by discussing and collaboration.
  • Difficult to adapt to quiet, individual learning environment
  • Feel most comfortable when talking or there is noise in the background
  • They are aware that other ethnic groups learn differently to them and ‘fit the expected mould’ better – identified Asian and Pakeha students
  • Students are keenly aware of negative stereotyping of Maori but want to be seen as individuals.
  • When asked if it is important to them that their teachers know they are Maori students responded that ‘it depends’ – they feel it is important in their teachers knowing them but fear their teacher may make unfair generalisations about them according to negative Maori stereotyping.
  • Students feel within the Maori community they are allowed to make mistakes but that they don’t define them as they sometimes do outside the classroom. Whare as safe place where they can be themselves, receive support and are more understood
  • Students want to learn WITH their teachers and diffuse the strict teacher-student hierarchy.
  • We want to understand the learning process more. Why do we have to be quiet? Want to use technology in the classroom, “why do I have to write it down when I can just take a picture of it”

My next step was to run a series of PD sessions for staff. Each session was linked to our appraisal document, Principles of the NZC (particularly Treaty of Waitangi and unpacking what it looks like in the curriculum) and Ka Hikitia. Three sessions were developed under the following themes:

#1. Language and Relationships
  • I played a series of video clips of students discussing their feelings that it makes a huge difference when teachers pronounce Maori words correctly. Students highlighted that it’s OK if teachers  get it wrong as long as they are seen to be making an effort to get it right. Students said they were willing to work with teachers to help them get it right and that showing respect for their language indicated to them respect for their culture.
  • One teacher highlighted a strategy he was using to improve Maori language use in his classroom. He labelled Science lab equipment in English and Maori on the student instruction sheets but only in Maori where the equipment was stored thus supporting students in using Maori words when gathering their equipment.
  • We then ran a mini pronunciation session focusing on four commonly used  words. We laminated them and put them up in the staff room for future reference and practiced four or five new words in each of the subsequent PD sessions.
  • In addition to this PD session we offered ‘Help with Te Reo’ sessions at lunchtime led by Maori students in the Whare.

#2 Connecting in the Classroom
  • When collecting student voice students identified they don’t always want to be identified as Maori for fear of negative stereotyping or that they will not meet cultural expectations of students and teachers. Some students expressed that when a teacher calls on them as an expert when viewing Maori content, they feel shame if they don’t know the answer. Strategies for making Maori students feel safe in the classroom were discussed and solutions such as checking with students before you call on them in front of the class identified.
  • One teacher discussed how she had worked alongside a student when helping him write an essay, spending some extra time out of class and scaffolding the learning. This resulted in a change in his behaviour and attitude in the classroom.
  • I also presented some snapshots of visual displays of Maori cultural inclusiveness in the classroom and challenged teachers to reflect on their own classrooms and what material they have/or is absent from the classroom walls, which Maori students could connect with and how students may make assumptions about a teachers’ perception of Maori based on such visual cues.

#3: Connecting to our Community
  • Some very brave parents discussed with the staff their feelings that it is important to them the Maori values they are teaching their children at home are supported in the classroom – and that actions such as not sitting on tables make a big difference. They also expressed that they want their children to value other cultures and want classrooms to be a place where cultural diversity is supported and fostered.

Some notes about collecting student voice: 
  • Students are apprehensive if you single them out or invite them to contribute. 
  • The best responses I got were when students discussed in groups - they felt safer and conversations unfolded naturally 
  • It helps if you have a resource/video or set of questions to start the discussion, get students talking in groups and then scaffold them to more targeted answers - sentence starters are helpful. 
  • Jing has a really useful video editing software

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Student Choice

Just a quick thought .....

Recently I was struggling to meet the formative assessment demands of students who were completing a piece of work for summative assessment. Despite scaffolding and providing exemplars for students a bottleneck was occurring as students waited for feedback from me resulting in some off-task behavior. To remedy this, I began the next unit of work and ran both units of learning at the same time. In this way, while they were waiting for feedback from me about one piece of work they had other learning they could be doing. The result of this is the highest engagement in learning I've seen from these students all year. Students liked the fact that they could make choices about their learning - particularly what learning they were going to focus on for the lesson and how to manage their time effectively. I think perhaps one key to improving student engagement is improving the choices they have in their learning. Schools and departments can do this in many ways such as giving students choice in the topics they learn about, books they read, or even just choice in the type of activity they do in a lesson. These are easy changes to make if a teacher is committed and flexible enough to move away from traditional modes of teaching where they make almost all of the decisions about learning. However, at the same time I feel it's important to strike a balance between not giving students too much choice so that they feel indecisive and insecure but just enough so that they don't feel limited and become passive learners.