I’m Stuart Armistead and I’m principal of Stanley Avenue School in Te Aroha which is 35 minutes north east of Hamilton. As a first time principal when I joined Stanley Avenue School three years ago it was quite an exciting time in education with schools re-looking at the curriculum and reforming their mission, their vision and their values. We saw this as a really good opportunity to connect again with our community. That ranged from having parent evenings, to speaking to ex-students from Te Aroha College, talking about what we did really well, what we need to work on, what we’d do differently if we were to do it again. And speaking with our boys and girls at school. From that, we created a really interesting picture of student voice as to how students viewed themselves as learners, and we came up with a picture that really had quite a passive approach to learning which is based upon the school’s values. Students saw learning as sitting down, behaving and then basically they listened they’d be able to take on board everything. Our real job was to ensure that students began to take charge of their learning and from that we needed a really clear vision from all our learning community.
At the end of that process, we came up with quite an exciting vision of the Stanley Avenue learner and that was a mixture of skills, dispositions, knowledge, and values that everyone in our community recognised. These seven dimensions formed our vision of the Stanley Avenue learner and from there we spent a lot of time making sure that parents understood these, we played them out using Art Costa’s ‘Habits of mind’ from awareness, knowing what they are right through to internalisation which is our picture of a lifelong learner. From that, teachers really looked at what each of the dimensions would look like in real life and it became a bit of a cheat sheet for them in terms of planning lessons and from that we’ve backing documents now that look at the pedagogy in terms of what it means to be an effective teacher to prepare our students to be effective Stanley Avenue learners.
This vision has become a filter for every decision we make at Stanley Avenue School. From a board level when we strategically plan for our charter and charter goals. Right through from principal making decisions at a day to day level and into the classroom and teaching planning and implementation of our curriculum.
An example of the use of technology as a result of the shared vision is in terms of how we’ve used the school’s website which is an Ultranet based learning management system. This has become the hub of our school day to day life from kids collecting information reflecting on their learning and uploading it to their uSpace, to enhancing communication from home and school so that parents get an insight into the classroom life, breaking down those classroom walls.
I find it really good because now my Mum can see what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been writing about without me having to take her into the classroom and get her to read my books.
The Ultranet site has been a vehicle for us to buy into other technologies such as the use of netbooks and mobile phones where kids are actually actively using these devices to connect with their LMS to capture learning experiences and reflections.
Having Ultranet it really helps my learning because people can comment on my work and tell me what I can do better and what I’m doing right and what they like about my work. And also I really like the video part because I can actually see myself in action and I can see myself doing it.
I like looking at other people’s work as well, because then I can use my commenting skills and use my own opinion and other people can use theirs as well.
The results have been really exciting, from seeing our learners take more charge of their learning, from moving from that passive state to recognising that goal setting and that being persistent and asking questions and reflecting on their learning are all essential parts of the Stanley Avenue learner. It’s been really exciting too, to see the buy in from the school community, parent evenings are busy evenings where parents feel they have an opportunity to feed back and give suggestions and ideas.
Reflecting as a first time principal the creation of a shared vision was essential to success. The job of a principal is all encompassing and day to day life of a school can be so busy that sometimes you lose direction and focus on what the core purpose of a school is which is learning, progress, and achievement. The creation of the shared vision not only gave me that sole focus for my job it helped me connect with community, with staff and it has been a real basis for moving Stanley Avenue forward into the future.