Auckland and Northland regional story
This 'slice of action' comes from the Auckland and Northland region. These stories highlight the need to integrate the elements of The New Zealand Curriculum coherently.
Interview with Margaret Bendall and Sandra Joseph - Team Solutions
Team Solutions leadership and management facilitators Margaret Bendall and Sandra Joseph provide support for sector leaders throughout Auckland and Northland.
Each sector leader has established a Professional Learning Community (PLC) of school leaders supported by an assigned Leadership and Management facilitator. Once a term, the sector leaders attend a review and planning meeting, co-ordinated by Sandra and Margaret, to review and plan, share information and discuss ideas. Leadership and Management facilitators also attend these regular meetings.
'Review and planning meetings serve two purposes: sector leaders share experiences and learn from each other and we provide new thinking and resources they can use with their PLCs. The PLCs are customised by their sector leaders to meet the particular needs of the members. Their feedback tells us they’re finding real value in the review and planning meetings.'
At the outset of the project, sector leaders co-constructed a structured and systematic approach to working with their PLCs including developing an annual plan, structured agendas, protocols for the clusters and agreed parameters for Leadership and Management involvement.
'One of the shared understandings was that the sector leaders would be very busy leading their own schools, so the support we offer is there if they need it. They certainly don’t need to be told how to lead others. We try to keep faith with them as school leaders.'
At the review and planning meeting in term two, the groups used structured techniques to explore the challenges and successes of their work so far. These were collated and shared.
'When you get a curriculum as open as this, with as many disparate elements, unless there is a strong effort by school leaders to integrate the elements in a coherent way, teachers won’t easily manage the changes envisaged.'
Making the curriculum 'whole' is an absorbing interest for both Sandra and Margaret. To inform their work in schools Team Solutions’ facilitators have explored The New Zealand Curriculum through a number of different lenses – principles, pedagogy and assessment. For example, one exercise involved asking: ‘If you were genuinely reflecting this NZC principle in your practice in your classroom, which key competency would you be naturally foregrounding?’
'Putting the principles first has helped us make links with the section on effective pedagogy, and in our most recent iteration – with assessment,' Margaret says. 'If you assess according to the assessment principles in The New Zealand Curriculum, what naturally would you be exploring with students in terms of the values? What naturally would you be practising in terms of effective pedagogy? What naturally would flow through in terms of connections you could make with the principles and the key competencies?'
Through the sector leaders and Team Solutions facilitators, schools have been encouraged to use processes and templates they can further develop themselves to explore and link key concepts in The New Zealand Curriculum.
One of the challenges schools face is the need for clear understanding of the various ways in which teachers are exploring elements of the NZC. For example, subject specific developments may not yet be consistent with school-wide thinking.
Both Margaret and Sandra advise schools to proceed with giving effect to the NZC deliberately and strategically.
'We think the risk now is trying to go too fast. It would seem a pity if people rushed into getting a product out, such as completing their own school’s curriculum. A deep understanding of the philosophy and implications of the NZC, among teachers and in school communities, will take time to develop'.
Interview with Linda Fox - sector leader
Linda Fox, principal of Kelston Girls’ College, is a sector leader working with a group of principals from primary, intermediate and secondary schools in West Auckland. Māori and Pacific Island students make up the biggest groups in these schools, so raising the achievement of these students is a strong focus.
The school leaders meet regularly and are bound together by a genuine concern about dropping rolls at their schools, and the impact this has on staffing and the community. To this end, they are actively promoting their educational approaches and successes in the community.
Linda explains, 'If we’re going to work out how to do this then we need to make a clear statement about what our expectations are based on Te Kotahitanga.'
This unified approach means that, whatever school a parent sends their son or daughter to, they will see similarities in teaching, in teacher expectations and in values. The group has agreed to develop common documentation about effective teaching. Linda adds, 'It’s really exciting, and of course educationally challenging.'
The schools consider themselves lucky to have been a part of Achieving at Waitakere, an initiative for schools in the area, which has enabled them to do a lot of thinking and make a start on this process. They have met as a group over the past five or six years to develop an action plan together.
Linking these initiatives and their recent work on The New Zealand Curriculum is important, so teachers can understand the connections rather than seeing this as one more thing.
During the last two years Linda has noticed a change in teachers’ discussions about the NZC. “The sort of response you heard in the staffroom when the draft NZC was published was, ‘Oh well we don’t need to worry about this. There’s very little change to the content.’ Generally teachers were still focusing very much on the content of curriculum.”
She adds, 'That sort of response came before we introduced Te Kotahitanga to the school. Last year we worked with the staff as a whole on changing pedagogy, and we held a few sessions to explore the key competencies and values. We asked what do we believe and what sort of student would we want to see leaving our school?'
'Gradually I started to see a change in the way that people viewed the NZC. They started to realise that in fact this is not content driven. It’s about something quite different, really, and they were starting to take that on board. I think they came to it more quickly than perhaps they would have done and with far less resistance because we have Te Kotahitanga operating here, and also we have a very focussed programme of literacy strategies which operate separately but have many similarities to Te Kotahitanga. So we’ve had a double dose if you like: focusing on the students; using evidence to see what the students need to do to learn; and discussing this as a group of teachers. This sort of change won’t happen overnight. It will be really interesting to see where we have got to in another year.'
With in her school, Linda is discussing and addressing two additional challenges with her colleagues: how are teachers engaging and challenging students?
'My instinct is, from what I see and from talking to teachers that they aren’t challenging students enough. I attended a conference in Queensland recently where they’ve had a focus for five or six years now, on engaging students, especially in Year 10. The theory is if you can’t get them engaged then, they’re not suddenly going to get engaged when they hit the senior school. So I came back thinking about this and wondering what we could do.
We realised through our discussions with staff that the “Kelston way” is very much a statement of our values. As we have introduced Te Kotahitanga with each new group, we’ve put a strong focus on the values and key competencies. We drew key staff members together and talked about how we could use some of these values and key competencies and the “ “Kelston way” to stop focusing on bad behaviour, but more on the learning – encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning.'
Following these discussions, the school is planning a pilot project next term, and have discussed the possibility of introducing this approach across Year 9 in 2009. Traditionally, the school holds an activity day at the beginning of the year designed to explore Auckland and help students get to know teachers and other students.
'We’ve decided that it’s had its dash and what we need is guidelines around relationships and what we expect with regards to behaviour I hope that it will spark teachers to think about giving students opportunity for involvement in their learning. I think that’s one of the frustrations for students that they get a lot more buy-in in their primary schools.'
Linda believes the NZC asks teachers to make some significant shifts. 'Values don’t just apply to kids. Values are things that teachers have show that they believe as well.'
“The key competencies enable us to talk about learning with students. We’re having the types of conversations that remind students that they can manage themselves and their learning. You can’t expect students just to know about this. Teachers have to talk it with the students – and model it.”
She sees a strong link between this approach and Schools Plus. “We will be thinking of our students not only in terms of qualifications but in terms of citizenship too.”
Interview with Sue Ng and Jill Brooking - classroom teachers
Jill Brooking is the lead facilitator for Te Kotahitanga at Kelston Girls’ College. She is enthusiastic about the effective pedagogy section in The New Zealand Curriculum.
“It puts the focus more effectively onto how the students go about the process of learning, and how we use Teaching as Inquiry as the pedagogical model for teachers.”
Jill says the inclusion of the effective pedagogy section was positive for staff at Kelston Girls’ because they immediately saw the links with Te Kotahitanga.
“When we had a professional development day on the curriculum ... there was the realisation that in fact a lot of the practice – the effective pedagogy – that is being promoted by The New Zealand Curriculum is part of what we’re already doing.”
“What’s become apparent with Te Kotahitanga is the effective teaching profile is actually the model that can drive all action within the school. Building effective relationships, being discursive in your thinking, being evidence driven and so forth can really be the way that everything works. If this is what you want for your students then it needs to be consistent in all interactions and relationships.”
She adds, “Te Kotahitanga has already put us on a path where we’re seeing changes occurring in terms of student engagement, effective relationships between teachers and students and more discursive teaching practice. So it’s not that suddenly we’re going to introduce a new curriculum and “Wham! Bam!” all these things are going to happen. Already the foundations have been laid. We see ourselves as on an upward trend, and the focus for me is students as learners as opposed to a curriculum that is heavily focused on content and what we must teach. It’s actually a really exciting opportunity for schools to make massive changes and put the focus back onto students as learners and teachers as learners.”
Jill observes that the shifts teachers are being asked to make with Te Kotahitanga are challenging. “Teachers need to believe that it makes a difference. Even with reflection, observation and shadow-coaching which provides evidence that this is making a difference, when the pressure is on there is a tendency to go back to what they feel most comfortable doing.”
Another challenge for teachers emerges from evidence gathered from Te Kotahitanga students who pointed out, “It’s not just about being good at relating to people. It’s about having high expectations and good thinking and questioning strategies. I think we’ve been quite good at being nice to our kids, but we haven’t been quite so good at challenging them.”
Sue Ng is the gifted and talented co-ordinator and a member of the Kelston Intervention team. She says:
'I love the way this brings in thinking. It’s the number one thing I think students need to learn how to do. We are now integrating thinking skills, self-management, working in groups and learning the things students need for being more successful in life.'
This year Kelston Girls’ introduced a pilot project designed to encourage students to think about how they learn. They identified strengths and weaknesses and kept a learning log. They worked on tools for thinking, such as Habits of Mind, and Six Thinking Hats. Teachers have reinforced this work in their classrooms - in Sue’s case in the Science department.
Sue explains the school’s plans to connect key initiatives (such as Te Kotahitanga, the Literacy Project and Blooms taxonomy of thinking) through an inquiry learning approach. Next year they will introduce inquiry learning as a learning tool in the English curriculum. They have written units of work for Year 9 and 10. During Term 4 teachers will develop their understanding of inquiry-based or problem-based learning and write a scenario that suits the school. The aim is that students will take ownership, relate to it well and use thinking tools. If it successful, the vision is that it will become a tool that can be used in other departments.
She adds, “This inquiry model fits in really nicely with the key competencies. It’s a way of gathering evidence. Students fill out a travelogue as they go – about how they manage themselves, work with others, use thinking skills and so on. This is what we’re working towards next year. I think this is very exciting – it has allowed us to introduce thinking skills and actually make it a critical factor in everything we’re doing. “