Saturday, 30 May 2009

Our School's Journey for Implementing the NZC

In 2010 all New Zealand schools are to required to implement the revised New Zealand Curriculum (NZC). I believe my school is well on its way in the implementation process. As a leadership team we have only been working together since July 2008 and I believe that we are working well together to implement changes with the staff.

In 2008, after the arrival of a new Principal (Mr Vaughan van Rensburg) who has a passion for ICT and the inquiry process we reviewed the use of the inquiry process at our school. Since 2003/4 an inquiry model has been used, however we observed that the inquiry process knowledge amongst staff members was a bit stale, inquiry units seems to roll over more than one term (10weeks), there was not a lot of authentic sharing of the process/knowledge and findings to come out of inquiry and there was not a lot of student lead inquiry. The Principal ran several staff meetings to re-address what the inquiry process is and how it can look at several stages in the inquiry. Teachers were then given a new template for planning inquiry (which didn't overload teachers with integrating cross-curricular objectives) the focus was on the inquiry process and skills to access and acquire knowledge. This year the inquiry process is being used in terms 2 and 3 for the first 7 weeks only, followed by a 3 week intensive "hands-on" science unit. by limiting the time the inquiry unit is done, we are requiring teachers to really focus and teach the skills that are needed, with the intention that all students will be able to present their findings/knowledge in the 7th week. We intend to trial a rubric of skills in the areas of questioning, collecting information, processing and communication, so that students can see where they are at on a continuum and where they need to go next with their learning of inquiry skills.

In term 1, 2009 we had a teacher only day combined with 6 other local schools. This day was facilitated by Hooked on Thinking consultants Pam Hook and Julie Mills. The focus for this day was a broad understanding of the NZC, the principles and the importance of developing a local curriculum, specific to the needs of learners in your community. This planted new ideas for many staff that linked nicely into the work that we were to implement at school.

At the beginning of term 2, 2009 we surveyed our learning community on their priorities for learning and their current understandings of life at our school. The parents and caregivers of our students were asked about the things they liked and for suggestions on how things could be improved. We were really pleased with the 40% response rate of feedback of our surveys and the overwhelming positivity towards the changes the new leadership team has implemented and for the current direction of the school. These findings have been collated and will be shared with our community in the next few weeks.

Our second teacher only day was held on 29 May. To make this day a success, we began at our staff meeting on 26 May some preliminary work to get teachers into the mindset. First we discussed the exciting opportunity available to us in developing a local curriculum with the flexibility that the NZC allows. That we needed to be open-minded and really think about what was important to us, and our learners. We shared several videos about 21 Century Learners/learning and Pedagogy and sourced these onto a wiki so that teachers could then view them again and to view the ones we didn't show. Staff at our school have not had any professional development in recent years in ICT pedagogy and this was a first preview for many about the seemless integration of using technology as a tool, and not as an extra to the curriculum. It is the curriculum that drives the use of ICTs; they are a tool for learning not an isolated skill. Staff were asked then to think about our students as the future adults and what they may need to be successful in the future? Staff were asked to think what they would need in their MIND (attitudes/dispositions), in their TOOLBOX (skills), and in their BRAIN (knowledge). Staff were only able to make 5 statements in each category, I then took these away to prepare them as WORDLES for our work on the teacher only day. After this exercise we discussed how several schools have created a visual metaphor for what a learner looks like, how these schools used these symbols and that we were interested in working towards creating a visual symbol on the Friday teacher only day. We looked at Selwyn Ridge School's "Kid on the Ridge", Coley Street's "Coley Kid Heart Model", Te Akau Ki Papamoa's "Seven Waves", Cockle Bay's "4C's." For home learning teachers had to think of a new visionary slogan for our school. Currently it is "enjoyment through achievement", which staff do not like and it is not used in any way (except for on letterhead)... we want to have a statement that is living and breathing; not just on paper.

On the teacher only day teachers were seated in small groups (4-5)that included teachers from each team (junior Y1/2, middle Y3/4, senior Y5/6) and other non-class based staff members. The first activity was for each group to share and decide upon a vision slogan that they liked, then looking at their slogan unpack what it meant by looking at the the Vision Statement of the NZC (pg 8) for students to be confident, connected, actively involved, life-long learners. Each group produced a statement for the 4 aspects of the NZC vision that were personalised for our PHS Learners. These will be reviewed at a later date, and a vision statement will be made in consultation with our Board of Trustees, and our parents too will have the opportunity to contribute ideas.

The second activity was to look closely at the Rototuna Learner model. We watched their video about their teaching and learning philosophy and looked closely at how they used their learner model in the action. As a staff we discussed what we liked about the model. In particular we liked:
  1. Philosophy of Formative Practice
  2. Consistent Language used across the school
  3. Simple graphic model based on a child
  4. A model that has 6 dispositions, some models we looked at had more/less. They chose 6 relevant dispositions that were consistently used across the school.
  5. Students, teachers, parents knew what each disposition looked and sounded like. Obviously there must be some kind of rubric to identify what each looks like at each year level/development stage.

We then broke for a delicious morning tea (always important when you are doing a lot of hard thinking!). After morning tea we looked at the WORDLES produced from our Heart, Toolbox, Brain activity at the staff meeting from earlier in the week. As small groups we looked at the trends of each WORDLE and what was the key attributes, skills and knowledge that was common amongst the ideas of teachers at our school. We then looked at one portion of our parent survey, what the parents/caregivers viewed as priorities in the curriculum. From here each small team had to come up with some dispositions that they though were important for a PHS Learner. As a leadership team we did not say how many, we were open to the ideas that came from each team. Each team then displayed their dispositions and we collectively discussed and debated what we liked. We ended up with 6 dispositions that were consensus amongst the staff: Communicator, Thinker, Investigator, Self-manager, Challenge-taker and Team player. It was great to see that everyone got to have a voice and be included (even teachers that are usually quiet contributed).

After lunch in our small groups we each had to work on a visual metaphor representation for the PHS Learner. This had to be based upon the 6 dispositions that we had all agreed on, and based around a vision slogan that as a group we liked the most. Each group got to share the symbols they used for each disposition and their visual metaphor. It was surprising how many teams had similar ideas. We then voted and came to consensus about what we liked for our visual metaphor. It was agreed that there was going to be a mountain (our school has "Heights" in the name so this was appropriate) and a child with a backpack of some kind with the dispositions on the child. One group had flags that had each disposition on it. We quickly realised that this would be great to use in the classroom also with the children. As a group we voted and came to consensus on the symbols to be used: Cellphone for communicator, magnifying glass for investigator, light bulb for thinker, back-pack for self-manager, a jig-saw puzzle piece for challenge-taker and hands united for team-player. We already have a strong values programme at school that is firmly embedded and reflected in the wonderful behaviour of our students (this would come into self-manager disposition) however, in the metaphor will be depicted as a heart on the student. We also discussed that we didn't want the child to be in school uniform, as we want them to be a learner in all contexts at school and beyond. (I hope to include some images of the day, and our preliminary drawings when I get back to school after the weekend here to share - so what this space!).

We asked the teachers to then complete a personal PMI of the day to give the leadership team feedback on how they liked the day and their feelings towards creating a shared vision and direction for learning at PHS. The teachers also voted on a new vision slogan for the school. Our new vision slogan will be: "Reaching for new heights together".

After this we had 45mins to start to plan and prepare for our community curriculum evening that will take place on 17 May. On this night we will share with the community our new vision slogan and work we have done towards creating a PHS Learner. We will seek feedback and trial our learner model over the next two terms ready for full implementation in 2010.

I will post a future blog about how we did our community consultation/curriculum evening.

At the end of this Teacher Only Day and reading the positive feedback from staff I can truly say that we have created a shared vision and model of a learner for our community. We had true collaboration and consensus. We had teachers speak up and not be afraid to share their ideas. We had teachers comment how their ideas were challenged and they learned new ideas from these challenges. We had true ownership!

Our next steps will be to unpack each of our learner dispositions and work out a shared vocabulary of what these dispositions look, and sound like. How these dispositions include the key competencies and further develop our interim curriculum delivery plan. Not forgetting to employ a graphic artist to draw up our vision and symbols (lucky we have a parent who is likely to do this for us!), however Vaughan has put a first draft together that currently looks like this.