As a school with the vision 'Immersed in Learning', we continually challenge ourselves to take every opportunity to tweak, change, and adapt our practice to better meet the needs of our learners. We now know more than we ever have about how the brain develops and what key elements support children to learn the appropriate skills and concepts to be successful in this fast-changing modern world. This, alongside seven weeks of unforeseen distance learning work thanks to COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to consider the structures we have in place and question whether they are reflective of current research and best practice.
Research shows that children need the opportunity to develop their own agency around their learning. Learning should be designed in ways that allow students to develop their ability to make choices, access a range of environments, and be active participants in their learning (Elmore, 2016). When learners have the power to be active in making decisions about their learning, intrinsic motivation, creativity, higher-order thinking, and overall achievement tend to increase (Toshalis & Nakkula, 2012).
We are excited to introduce a slight tweak to our timetable across the school. Our intention is to extend the learning and play opportunities beyond the classroom walls and better utilise not only our physical environment but the skillset of our wider staff team to support learning. This will mean for an extended period of the day there will be a number of teachers in the role of a Learning Coach outside.
We are providing children with a flexible timetable that better supports their natural learning rhythm. We want to provide children with multiple learning opportunities daily and some choice and control over how and where they learn while being firm in the knowledge that ‘opting out’ is not an option. We have systems and structures in place to ensure that all children's needs are being catered for and met. Core curriculum subjects and skills are highly valued and taught as part of every learning programme across the school. Where and when necessary, or appropriate, additional support with a slightly more structured approach may be developed alongside whanau, i.e. visual timetables.
In trying to understand how your child’s learning may be structured you sometimes have to dig a little deeper into their classic answer of “I did nothing today” or “I just played all day”
Ask your child how their day is structured?; What do they like about it? How does it help them learn?; What thinking did they do as they played?
Below is a short 16-minute video from world-renowned educationalist Sir Ken Robinson that will help you frame up an understanding of why we think these questions and considerations around learning are important. Please take the time to watch it.
To embed any change requires time, it requires staying focussed on the overall goal. This comes back to having a real living vision for our school and its learners and then strategically working towards it. Real culture change takes at least five years. Without the awareness of what time is needed a strong coherent, connected vision will never be realised. From the interview opportunity I was given at Waipahihi to today I have talked about four key elements that our shared vision had to work towards. They were:
A lack of inclusiveness - in the context of this diagram equals people operating in silos. Over the past few years our school has worked at developing an inclusive, or in our case, collaborative, work environment. The leadership team has put significant time and effort into building a workplace that reflects a high degree of professional relational trust and effective school-wide collaboration. Our leadership structure, in partnership with our team of teachers and support staff, have fostered a transparent team culture that values accountability and professional reflection. Our collaborative leadership approach reflects a clear commitment to growing leadership capacity across the school which in turn works together to develop, implement and improve our systems and processes for coherent and sustainable practice.
The inclusiveness within our staff team develops consistency of understanding and clarity of direction across the school.
A living vision is one that is both aspirational and measureable. The key to making this happen is creating a visual alongside that a catchphrase that sets the foundation from which key elements of the school, its connection to place, and an indication of what culture its working is apparent.
Our logo image draws on a number of elements. The three shapes represent our people, our land, and our place. ‘Our people’ is represented by the swoosh entering the reversed out koru (cooler blue – not yet warmed/changed by the warmer water – the school). The reversed out koru is composed of ‘our land’ (symbolized by Mt Tauhara in green) and ‘our place’ (symbolized by the scorching waters). Together they form the koru shape – acknowledging the importance of both. The swoosh entering the koru also symbolizes the pathway.
Our catchphrase "Immersed in Learning" strongly links to the imagery around both the meaning of our school name, the 'place of scorching waters', and, the learning that takes place at Waipāhīhī. “Immersed in Learning” is a broad statement to represent involving oneself deeply in a particular activity. In this case, the activity is learning and it’s deep learning. Surface retention of facts and figures that are rote learned in formal transitional learning environments are not enough anymore. To be successful in this century we need to know how to take some knowledge, connect it to new ideas and to take it deeper.
'Immersed in Learning' ties in nicely with our core learning beliefs (Courage, Ownership, Respect and Empathy) that are then exampled through our key principles and practices that underpin our everyday teaching and learning philosophy.
One of the first key elements of ensuring successful innovation is developing a strong culture of collaborative leadership. Over the past three years our school has been relentless in building capacity in this area. We have concentrated on developing:
Bringing all those elements together over the past four years has been a huge focus. Further detail about the Vision that then gives the foundation for further development is a post in itself so look out for this next week!
We have received confirmation that the mega teacher strike is confirmed for May 29th. This means both primary and secondary teachers and primary principals across the country will be on strike.
I continue to be frustrated and saddened by the spin in the media - and from Chris Hipkins (Education Minister) around this issue. The minister just announced $95 million to attract new teachers. This is such a common marketing strategy. Offer a deal to get people to sign up - but don’t look after your existing customers! This $95 million to train new teachers does not stop the flood of teachers quitting. It does not solve the massive percentage of teachers who resign within the first 5 years. It does nothing to value our experienced, hard working teachers. It also does nothing to attract our top students to teaching - we want the best and brightest school leavers to be considering teaching!
Some of the issues that remain for us are:
Primary teachers get 10 hours a term release time. Secondary teachers get 5 hours a week. The lack of release time for primary teachers impacts on the teaching in the classroom - and our students deserve better!
Our collective agreement expired on the 8th of June 2018. The govt is refusing to back pay us if/when an agreement is reached. The govt offered primary teachers a $500 bonus to sign the agreement. They offered secondary teachers $1000.
Teachers should be paid the same for equal qualifications - regardless of the age of the students. The government is refusing to commit to pay parity.
The minister likes to talk about this being a ten thousand dollar payrise. Currently our beginning teachers spend a minimum of 3 years at university and then start on $47980. This offer gives them 3% straight away. So about $1400 before tax - or about $19 a week. This is one of the reasons we have a 40% reduction in people choosing teaching as a career.
Experienced teachers stand to get about $27 a week from this offer. Our agreement expired in June last year, but the Minister is refusing to offer backpay. Therefore - even if they accepted the $27 a week today - they have already lost somewhere in the vicinity of $2000 over the last year through this negotiation - both through strike days and no back pay. So in fact - if we signed today, it would take over a year for us to even make up what we’ve lost.
The support for learners with special needs - both learning and behaviour - is nothing short of pathetic. Limited release for primary teachers means they have no extra time to plan for these learners, or attend meetings, or support whanau.
When Hipkins was in opposition - he talked about how low teacher salaries are, and the need for drastic action in education. Now he is in power - he is facing the largest strike action in memory. All this on the eve of the announcement of their 'Wellbeing Budget"! National’s Nikki Kay is talking about how bad the situation is, and how teachers deserve a pay jolt - but it seems easy to say things in opposition and she forgets that nine years of Nationals neglect fro the public schooling sector has helped put us in this situation.
A decade ago we used to get a 100 applicants for a teaching job. Principals could choose the best candidates to meet the needs of their school. Now - we see vacancies having no applicants at all. We have classes being split because we can’t find a reliever. We see jobs being readvertised over and over again.
We have already battled this process for a year. It has cost teachers thousands - and we seem to have made little headway. We know it’s frustrating for parents - and we hear the messages from the Minister that try to turn the public against us. Please believe me that we are fighting for the education for your children. We have come too far to give up now.
I am forever hopeful that the government will finally be courageous enough to invest properly in education. Step outside the standard and really rattle the cage! Fund us so that we can be world class. Fund us so every student can get the best education possible.
So I understand that May 29th will be inconvenient. I expect it won’t be the last. Please continue to support us by going online and messaging anyone you can think of - Hipkins, Ardern - the Labour govt Facebook page - local MPs - anyone and everyone. Together let us be heard!
Earlier this term Kristin Mason - one of our Deputy Principals - submitted her resignation effective from the end of this year. Kristin has been on maternity leave this year and has recently made the choice to fully commit the immediate future to her children and family. Kristin has worked at Waipahihi School over the past 12 years and she has been a key part of the teaching and leadership team. I first met Kristin three years ago when she flew down to Invercargill with the then Board Chairperson, Kevin Insley, and Board member, Jackie Later as part of the Principal appointment process at that time. At that time, like today, I knew that if this school had the calibre of people at it like Kristin then it was a place that I wanted to be Principal at. Her passion for this school, its children, its community and the vision that she shared with me were a testament to her commitment to this school. I highly valued her support as a leader in where our school was moving and the way that she enabled those around her to be the best they could be.
Thank you Kristin for your personal and professional support over the last three years. We look forward to celebrating with you and the community next term to acknowledge your care and commitment to the Waipahihi learning community. We love that you have committed these all so important years to your beautiful young children. When you want to come back - let me know!
We want to ensure schooling at Waipāhīhī is relevant, effective, and powerful, for the children of today. The shift in the use of our physical space and in the educational understandings of how children learn best underpins this. It is evident in the way our teachers are teaching and our classroom spaces are being used. Improving the learning of our learners is the primary goal and there are a number of initiatives that are working towards this. In visiting our classrooms you will see less closed doors, children moving fluidly across traditional classroom boundaries, teachers collaborating in their teaching, and students begining to self regulate and manage their learning, with expectations and support appropriate for their 'age and stage'.
Our focus at Waipāhīhī is to adaptively change our teaching and learning practices (pedagogy) to ensure we are best meeting the needs of children in the 21st century. Most parents today were in school when the teacher directed the learning and the students did as they were told. Chalk and talk was the medium, there was little technology. Today classrooms look, feel and function quite differently :
"During the 20th century, the concept of learning underwent important developments. This shift is reflected in the vision of the New Zealand Curriculum which is to develop students with lifelong learning competencies namely, relating to others, using language symbols and text, participating and contributing, managing self and thinking (Ministry of Education, 2007).”
Today learning is socially constructed and the environment plays a crucial role in what is learned and how the learning is experienced (Nuthall, 2007). Significant bodies of research on what improves learning, and landmark studies such as John Hattie’s Visible Learning (Hattie, 2008) mean that we now have a much better idea of how learning occurs. As a result of these developments and others, we know that quality learning is a combination of the following elements:
The role of technology is vital in each of the above as it puts the learner in control, and enables personalisation of the learning. In the 21st Century the impact of the internet, online collaboration and the access to knowledge have fundamentally changed learning by shifting accessibility. Students now want to control where they learn, what they learn about and how they learn. The traditional classroom is no longer the only place students go to learn as the ubiquity of technology has reinvented and accelerated the learning process (Care, Griffin & McGaw, 2012).
What does Collaboration look like?
The traditional view of teaching is one teacher with the sole responsibility for a classroom of children. Teachers often feel that their classroom is their own private island and each classroom is different to the next (Little 1990). There are few jobs in society that require an individual to work entirely on their own. Most jobs require communication with other individuals to ensure best practice. Cooperation amongst educators is essential to ensure there is continuity and cohesiveness within schools. Collaboration involves a greater partnership between educators.
Watkins (2009) distinguishes between cooperation and collaboration with the idea that cooperation implies individuals working together to achieve individual goals, while collaboration involves working together to achieve a group goal. As a school we are examining and exploring the ways in which collaborating with each other improves our learning and the learning of others. It’s not just about having open rooms, large spaces, and access to digital devices. Collaboration is about working with others to use strengths to accomplish goals. It’s about being part of a team, doing your part, and demonstrating commitment and perseverance. This way of working together allows children and adults to build a stronger and deeper understanding of concepts, as they are challenged, supported, and affirmed in collaborative environments. Learners can more ably identify their strengths, express their ideas, and build empathy towards others.
Our challenge as teachers in our school is to develop our abilities to set tasks and learning opportunities which teach and foster these skills. We are learning alongside the children in partnership with them.
Our staff are committed to working with each other as partners in learning. We need to ensure we have shared goals to improve the learning experiences of our children in what is a fundamentally different time where change is the only constant! This is not about changing things for change’s sake, but about finding better ways to engage with today’s students. Children are now part of a world which is increasingly technologically advanced. Communication and interaction is becoming shaped and dictated by our digital skills. Our digital initiatives and professional learning opportunities for staff are helping us to think about the ways in which we capture children’s engagement by using technology as a tool to deepen learning. They also help us to think creatively about the ways we use technology to be effective in helping children make connections in their own learning, and most importantly, make connections with others.
Changing practice within a building paradigm from the past!
Most of our school buildings were built in a time when direct instruction was considered the only pedagogy that resulted in effective learning. “Factory-style’ learning (where all students learn the same things, at the same time, in lock-step fashion) has largely disappeared from our classes. However the actual classroom layout largely remain as they were originally designed, and still retain the suggestion of factory-style learning. The collaborative practice inside our learning spaces is working to change that perception. We want our practice to define the space we have and not to let the space define our practice!
Our schools property plan focus for today and into the future requires us to be strategic with the intent of how we take our space development to a new level. As a school that is situated at one of the ‘growth ends’ of Taupo it is our responsibility to advocate and develop a plan that will see our whole school environment and site develop proactively to ensure we best meet the learning needs of the 21st century learners that are with us now, and, of those that are yet to come.
Through being innovative and creative in our thinking and design we will further support and strengthen the connection between our learning environment provocation and our pedagogical initiatives.
At the heart of it all is the desire to challenge our own practice so that each one of us innovates and changes what we do to meet the need of each and every learner that we work with. We want to give our Waipāhīhī kids every chance to enjoy, challenge and extend their thinking at every level. Strong collaboration amongst us all is a key part of ‘how’ we can make that happen.
After months of negotiations with the Ministry of Education, and more talks since the strike on August 15, we still have no new offer. Our union, NZEI Te Riu Roa, continues to negotiate in good faith, but the Government says it will take time to fix the issues. However, time is the one thing we don’t have. Around the country we’re seeing:
- 40% reduction in teacher trainees
- Zero applicants for some teaching jobs
- More children entering school
- More children with additional learning and behavioural needs
- Teachers are burning out and leaving the profession, often within the first five years of graduating
More tellingly, Education Council statistics showed the number of teaching graduates gaining their practicing certificate had decreased 32.5%, from 6249 in 2007 to 4217 in 2017. Over the same time, the number of teachers who did not renew their practising certificate within six years has increased 151.4%, from 2456 in 2007 to 6174 in 2017.
The staff at our school want your children to have the very best education we can provide. We’re standing firm in that commitment and believe the time is now to ensure that schools can offer every child the education and support they need, and that we have a sustainable teaching profession into the future.
We appreciate your support. We are hoping that continued negotiations next week will show some progress as there is growing anger among NZEI members that the Ministry's game plan appears to be about dragging out the negotiation process for as long as possible. Please talk to your child’s teacher if you have any questions, and consider signing this petition to the Minister of Education in support of teachers. https://campaigns.nzei.org.nz/time/petition-teachers-and-principals/
Our town is well served by a range of primary schools, our intermediate, two secondary's and recently (having just achieved full registration with the Ministry of Education, a private school. You may have read the article in last Thursday (August 23) Weekender titled "Special school achieves registration" that detailed some of the facts around how they operate. Our school has always supported the work that Gaye Vartiainen and her team have strived to provide for a range of learners needs. Both Gaye and I, alongside our respective staff teams, have a passion for doing everything we can to make learning relevant and appropriate for the children in our care on any given day. There's an old saying that "it takes a village to raise a child" and it is in that spirit that we openly sign the agreement to support the parental choice of a child attending one day or more as part of the programme that ADDI offer.
However, both places of learning operate under different conditions. To compare one against the other is not what this is about. ADDI charge fees and provide small, specialist learning groups. Waipahihi is an exceptional, mainstream, public primary school that provides an enriching and connected curriculum with a dedicated team of teachers. One cannot be compared to the other, however, both can be seen as a compliment to each other. It is in this spirit that we as a school are committed to continuing to build our working relationship with ADDI in the future. It is in this spirit that, if you as a parent are making a choice to include ADDI as part of the way you want to meet the learning needs of your child, we invite you to make sure that this is done in communication with your child's teachers. Together, we want the best for all our learners. Together, we can work together to compliment what each environment can provide.