Vertical Curriculum Development – Powerful PLD

There is nothing more satisfying than teachers saying at the end of a PLD session, “I absolutely enjoyed that, it was fantastic – hard work, but loved it”. This was the type of feedback I have just received from staff who have spent the past three days released to design, build and shape our curriculum.

As I mentioned in my previous post Curriculum Development – it’s a journey I spoke of our school development formulating our own curriculum. Part of our curriculum plan was to design and build Progressions of Learning and Rich Concepts for Learning.

All teachers were placed into Vertical Curriculum Groups in Reading, Writing and Maths. The reasoning for vertical grouping, where teachers were grouped from Year 1 – Year 8, was so that teachers could build the Progressions of Learning (matrices) and understand the progression and next steps from Year 1 to Year 8. Therefore, each teacher had their own strength, knowledge and experience to bring to the design. No teacher could work mutually exclusive of the other – they needed to know what learning comes before a stage and and what learning comes after the stage.

Teams were released during school time, from 8.00am – 4.00pm over three days, such is the value I placed on this development. It was too much work for an after school staff meeting and too important to leave for a call back day in the term break. Yes it will be costly (reliever cost) but this is outstanding PLD where staff are working collaboratively to shape our curriculum.

The outcome of this development has been the creation of very clear and informative Progressions of Learning, which teachers AND students can use to understand their learning and next steps. It will be a formative tool, where students can understand what they have achieved and where to next and a tool they can use to support their peers with their learning. The Progressions of Learning will also become a reporting tool, where staff and children can talk to the parents about what the child has achieved and what next.

Along with this, the Vertical Teams also devised concepts for our Conceptual Curriculum and identified  big ideas and rich questions to guide inquiry and learning. The teams also mapped these ideas and concepts to the  curriculum learning areas (ie: science, technology, health and PE, the arts), where we can monitor the learning areas we are teaching.

The Teams worked incredibly hard and the outcome of these days has been phenomenal. They have developed an invaluable learning and teaching tool and visionary conceptual curriculum. Thanks Team.

Curriculum Development….it’s a journey

Journey……can be an incredibly overused word when describing the process of learning and development. However, in our current school climate it is an incredibly apt word and suits where we are at.

I began as the new Principal of our school at the beginning of this year and I quickly learned that we had a HUGE road ahead of us with regards to curriculum and pedagogical development. My greatest insight was on our first Teacher Only Day together when I asked staff to recall the four words from the New Zealand Curriculum Vision and to then further unpack these words. I was met with hesitation as many staff replied, “we’re not sure what those words are”……….and this was the start of our journey.

While the challenge was enormous in terms of staff professional learning and development and what understanding and vision they required, it was also incredibly exciting as I could see we could build a collective curriculum, vision and pedagogical understanding together – a very collaborative and cohesive process.

Over the past two terms we have spent extensive time and energy unpacking the New Zealand Curriculum and our shared text The Hidden Lives of Learners  (Graham Nuthall). Alongside this, we have also discussed Supporting future orientated learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective (Bolstad and Gilbert) and The Elephant in the Classroom (Boaler) which has really challenged peoples assumptions and engaged staff in deep pedagogical learning.

We have had the most amazing discussion which have led to redefined ideas for staff about learning and teaching and how best to meet the learning needs of our children.  Staff have inquired deeply into their practice through the Teaching as Inquiry process and have delved into their own research and development to critique and adapt their teaching.

Staff have openly embraced the opportunity to trial and adapt new programmes, ideas and initiatives and more often now, I am hearing staff say, “how can we better meet the needs of the kids? how can we use their ideas better? how can I better personalise the learning for them.” Staff are beginning to engage in rigorous conversations centred on learning and teaching and their own next steps.

In six months, there has been a substantive pedagogical change with many of the staff and many of them are saying, “I am teaching SO differently to how I was last year…….my programme has really changed……the children are so much more motivated.

By no means are we are at the end of our journey, we’ve only just started. But what we have started, is a paradigm shift within our own school of learning and teaching and the vision we have for children.

Scary Numbers

Wow, it’s almost been 12 months since my last blog post! It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything, quite the contrary. Over the past 9 months, I have been engaged in a number of professional readings, professional learning and development and curriculum innovation, which has been very exciting and certainly shaping my current pedagogical thinking.

I’ve titled this post Scary Numbers, as through my readings, there are some numbers I can’t get out of my head, and have a bearing on my curriculum thinking.


88% of children placed into Ability Grouping at age 4, remain in the same groupings until they leave school (Boaler, Jo The Elephant in the Classroom)

I find this to be an alarming statistic and how detrimental it must be to all those children who are in a low ability group and remain so for their schooling life. As a staff, we are currently reading the above named text, which has certainly challenged us with the notion of removing ability grouping in maths and looking at mixed ability grouping. I have also read other articles that reference mixed ability grouping, where it argues for greater collaborative learning among children. Too often ability grouping prohibits children from learning or being exposed to concepts that they may be able to learn or investigate, as they have been pigeon holed into a set category. For example, Johnny is at Stage 4 in maths, therefore, in an ability group he is only learning the content relevant to Stage 4 and maybe Stage 5. However, whose to say, that there is content at Stage 6, 7, or 8, that he wants to learn? Mixed Ability allows for greater student choice and pathway of learning. A key feature of mixed ability grouping too (from what I have read), is that the problem posed cannot have an easily solved answer (especially by one person). This then allows for true collaboration and learning between the peers involved.


Up to 40%-50% of what children are taught, they already know (Nuthall, G The Hidden Lives of Learners)

While I read this text a while ago, the number still ‘haunts’ me. Nuthall has written extensively about the need for greater personalisation of student learning and that the teacher is only one source of information from which the child can learn from. Nuthall also shares with us the need in schools for learning to happen over multiple contexts, so that they skill that is being learned, can be explored and connected in different ways. This links beautifully to formative practice and the learning of skills over multiple domains. Nuthall also advocates how it takes at least three opportunities for a skill to be embedded, therefore, ‘one-off’s don’t work. Children (and adults) need to experience the skills more than once.


Teachers talk between 70%-80% of class time (on average) (Hattie, J Visible Learning for Teachers)

This is an alarming, but not surprising statistic! Typically, from what we know of the Industrial Age model of teaching, the teacher was the font of all knowledge. The teacher disseminated information, and talked a lot. In today’s world, children are co-creators of their own learning and are engaging with real life problems to advance their learning and development. In this model, the teacher plays a supporting role and therefore, the requirement to talk, decreases. What teachers need to do, is listen more, so that they can assist the children with their pathways of learning.

These numbers form a part of the wider reading and curriculum considerations I have been thinking about. The above leads us to thinking of a new approach to education, to teaching and learning. As both Andy Hargreaves, Dennis, Shirley and Ken Robinson have said, what we need now in education is an innovation to teaching and learning, not just a mere reformation, but a transformation.


Disruptive Innovation

I am currently reading The Global Fourth Way by Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley, which talks of the changes to education over the years and how schools now, should be looking towards the ‘Fourth Way’ to embrace change.

One concept that the authors speak of in this book is of Disruptive Innovation – a phrase that has particularly resonated with me.

Disruptive Innovation is (in a nutshell) a new, seemingly small innovation that looks to unsettle and challenge an existing concept/idea/tool. Over time, the innovation grows, and out performs the current tool/technology to the point of making the existing tool/technology virtually obsolete. The authors provide examples of this from history, such as the renovation of the disk drive, eventually led to a sleeker version of it, which then prompted a change in computers, from desktops to laptops and now to tablets and handheld devices. Thus, the disk drive has become obsolete and what of the desk top….?

Disruptive Innovation in education seeks to fundamentally ‘disrupt’ what has been before BUT for it to be sustained and built on. “…disruptive innovation predicts that a vast wave of innovation will start sweeping our schools and that public education will be transformed and perhaps even terminated as a result. Internet-driven innovations and alternative providers will move in from the margins and become the overwhelming mainstream instead. Unless public education can adapt and embrace some of these innovations, then, like its sector leaders in business, it may fail.” (Pg 24)

This is a quantum  shift in thinking. We talk of a new paradigm of education and the rapid movements we have seen, but this is foreseeing even greater change – disruption.

Hargreaves and Shirley mention how many schools show and have innovative practice but this sometimes loses traction as some of the key stakeholders of education – parents and government, bring the education system back to how it was – when they were at school.

The authors also speak of Charter Schools and why the potentially ‘fail’. They begin with the new innovation, the new ideas, new leadership, but in time, this is not sustained and therefore, become nothing more than remnants of the ‘old model’, “The Charter schools that were meant to revolutionize public schools have often become schools that reinforce and recycle practices that are caricatures of the old-style factory school.” (Pg 31)

I am finding this book incredibly interesting and challenging (a good challenging) as a continue to shape my own thinking of this Future Focused education.


Future Focus and SOLES

I am currently excited by and avidly reading and researching about the future of learning and how best to engage our children to ensure learning is better personalised for them. I am inspired by Prof. Sugata Mitra from England and his pedagogy – it just aligns with my own thinking.

We recently had a staff meeting on Future Focus and SOLES, which was tremendous. Here are my reflections from that meeting:

Future Focus and SOLES

Recently we had our Staff Meeting, which I led, based on the future direction of learning and teaching.

I used the resource from R.Bolstad and J.Gilbert Supporting Future-orientated learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective as my primary source and I also used Sugata Mitra’s TED Talk Building a School in the Clouds to guide my professional learning with the staff.

As this is one of my goals for the year – I wanted to get this staff meeting ‘right’. I spent a good 5 days (on and off) reading, preparing, watching, critiquing, writing and organising the staff meeting.

My basic premise was to share with staff the Future Focus of education. That today’s children are growing up in world different from the Industrial Revolution, that today’s teaching and learning needs to change in order to prepare our children for their future.

I wanted to create a discourse of topical conversation, where people’s thinking was challenged, assumptions were shaken, some affirmation was provided, new challenges laid and pedagogical thinking and knowledge was enhanced.

At the conclusion of the staff meeting, I was delighted with the meeting – it was incredibly successful. Staff were debating throughout the meeting, challenging their own assumptions, intrigued by the ‘new ideas’, willing to change and motivated to trial. On reflection, I believe the meeting was as successful as it was because of preparation and sound research. I loved the robust conversations we had and the willingness of some to trial new ideas and to challenge ‘the powers that be’ (MOE).

The overview of staff meeting was:

  • 10 Quotes and Questions were displayed around the room to prompt thinking as staff arrived.
  • Staff were asked to reflect on the ‘Something to Consider’ quote which was based on future focused pedagogy.
  • Comparative Exercise of a ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ photo of two classrooms, one from the 1900’s and one from today. Feedback to group.
  • Discussing with a partner one of the prompts or questions on display around the room that either struck a nerve or that you agreed with and to explain why to your partner. Feedback to group.
  • Groups read set readings from Bolstad and Gilbert. Discuss in groups and feedback to group.
  • Watch Sugata Mitra’s TED Talk ‘Building a School in the Cloud’. Discuss.

We had such great discussion throughout each phase of the staff meeting. While people’s own thinking was challenged, there was still an inquiring mind. The video at the end seemed to ‘confirm’ everything we had discussed and it brought the whole meeting together.

As a results, two classes have trialled and continue to implement SOLES.

An important aspect of Future Focus is informing our communities. Today I updated our website with two facets of information to inform our community of our professional learning and development – to share with them the ‘why’.


Kia Ora koutou. It’s been a while since my last post, but rest assured, I have been working! Since my last post, there has been much to keep me busy: commenting on End of Year Reports for all our kids, writing achievement reports for the Board, drafting budgets, Novopay, writing targets and annual plans, updating the Charter, employing staff, working with staff, leading professional development, interacting with the kids…..the list goes on! Anyway…

The longer I have been in this job, the more I ask, question and ponder. There are a few things that I have been musing lately. While I have no ‘answers’ I’m keen to investigate some more.

1. Spelling. After all these years in education I fundamentally believe that you are either an inherent (natural) speller or you’re not. A richness and absorption in literacy builds spelling and develops an awareness of spelling. I am starting to question some of these spelling programmes where spelling patterns are taught in isolation and out of context. Too much time is spent on learning spelling rules, where some children have little knowledge and/or application of when and how to use them – the rules are out of context. Through observation of my own son developing – he was immersed in literacy from an early age (birth) and he is a naturally good speller. He can spell unknown words either accurately or with near accuracy – not one spelling rule/pattern has helped with this.

2. Maths. This has been an area of intense thinking and musing! Since watching the education video by Mitra Cut I have been really pondering maths and the huge amount of time we give to teaching it, or more to the point, teaching it out of context. Mitra, I believe, has a valid point. In our daily lives, we almost always use some form of computational device to solve our mathematical problems – I certainly don’t use a pen and paper algorithm to work out my school budget!  A good example is the Checkout operator in a supermarket. Having scanned the groceries, it is the computer that works out what the price is, and if cash is given, the computer works out what change is given. Don’t get me wrong, children will still need a foundational base of basic facts and appropriate strategies to use for different problems, but it’s the HOW we’re teaching maths that may need to change. I was once a very strong NUMP fan – taught it well. But now my thinking is moving to more of a problem based/authentic context where the strategies taught are used in CONTEXT – problem based learning. So…..strategies are still important, but not in isolation. Children need to see when and how to use them.

3. Integrated/Connected Learning. This is a no-brainer. More of the day should be inquiry based, where learning is integrated and connected, as opposed to being taught in isolation. Again, meaningful, relevant learning. I attended an Inquiry Learning Conference two weeks ago and the facilitator made a good point, which mirrored my own thinking – Inquiry should not just be happening from 1.00pm – 3.00pm in the afternoon – true inquiry is everyday, throughout the day. Literacy and Numeracy are built into the Inquiry Learning, rather than segregated reading and maths programmes. As with above, maths in this forum provides a problem based approach, where strategies are taught in relation to the concept. With junior children, the Discovery Programme provides a rich inquiry base, which supports literacy, numeracy and the key competencies. Through an Inquiry approach, the skills and strategies are taught alongside the programme, which adds to the authenticity of what is being taught.

4. Fluid Learning Environments. Learning environments/classes should (I believe) be more fluid, where children are not restricted by seat, table, mat spot…….whatever. Along with this, class groupings should be fluid and mixed ability, rather than ability grouped. As mentioned above, if learning is inquiry based (and student centered), where the learning is authentic and meaningful, then skills and strategies are taught as and when required by those who need to learn that particular skill or strategy – thus opening up the learning to anyone. The child who needs to learn vertical addition can, irrespective of what Nump stage they are. We often hear of Finland’s educational success and interestingly, Finland abolished ability grouping! Fluid, integrated learning environments also support peer/collaborative learning, which strongly supports and aids students learning.

So, I’ve been musing and pondering much and I am keen to investigate more. What are your thoughts?

Is General Knowledge dying…?

Something I have been pondering for a while and then a similar topic was debated today at my Principal Group………a demise in general knowledge, basic, fundamental skills and a common sensical approach.

With todays rapidly advancing technological age and the rapid update and transformation of knowledge – what knowledge do we require? Is having a sense, or application of General Knowledge needed?

We have all heard the rhetoric, research and literature that tells us ‘knowing stuff’ is no longer enough, that we have moved on from a Knowledge Based society. Sir Ken Robinson and Mark Treadwell both reference this.

I for one, love pouring through Wikipedia and getting lost with the myriad of links that I can digress off onto. While I watch TV and various snippets of information crop up or things that interest me, I can instantly Google them and find out more – thus satisfying my curiosity and learning.

So… we actually need to  know any General Knowledge or basic information? Do we need to know what the capital city of Mongolia is and to store that information? Nowadays with the over abundance of smartphones, you could almost Google the answer quicker than memory recall (well, my memory anyway!) Is it becoming meaningless to have “learnt” and “stored” that I know it will take me approximately 2 hours 30 minutes to get from Palmerston North to Stratford and that it’s about 200km – when it can be Google Mapped for quick reference and recall?

I also wonder if some basic, fundamental skills are in demise. Is it still important to know how to use scissors effectively? That when you use scissors, you go in further to the handles of the blade (not to cut with the tips of the blades) and that you can turn the paper with your other hand? Are children still encouraged to be creative with making or only with digital learning?

Our children are living in times of exponential change where information is rapidly evolving and that it would be impossible to keep abreast of this advancing knowledge. But is there still a place for knowing some stuff?

We all follow and adhere to various Inquiry Learning models and approaches, teaching and learning the skills of inquiry. Can our children affectively problem solve and find the answers to some of their (these) questions? Do they have a common sensical approach to inquire? Do they have a sound base of prior knowledge to build on?

Are our very minds changing? Less focus on memory retention but a greater focus on being able to find, source and secure the answer…….knowing how to.

I have posed many questions and don’t have any answers……..just a lot of pondering!

What do you think??


Tumblr – gotta try it!

Tumblr – a phenomenal app that can be used for Teacher Appraisal. From talking to a principal colleague who also uses Tumblr for a similar purpose, I decided to give it a go – and now I’d be lost without it.

Tumblr is an app for the iPad or iPhone but for our schools purposes, we are using the iPad (it can be accessed through your computer too). At our school we conduct Learning Walks (adapted from the model by Dr Cheryl Doig). Learning Walks enable me and the Leadership Team to conduct walk-throughs in classes to observe teacher practice against agreed criteria, engagement of children, teacher effectiveness and the implementation of our school wide goals and professional learning.

As a staff we co-create the criteria that will form the basis of our Learning Walks. This then allows staff to have an input into what is to be observed and fed back on and also to provide staff with a ‘no surprise’ approach. Much like we co-create success criteria with children to allow them greater success with their learning, this similar process enables staff to be active participants in the process.

Either myself or the Leadership Teams then conduct the Learning Walks. These can occur at any time of the day to enable us to build an overview of the teachers teaching and the classroom environment. We are aiming for a holistic picture of the classroom and also to see the teacher teaching various curriculum areas and how they engage children in a variety of different learning experiences and activities.

This is where Tumblr comes in to play. The beauty of Tumblr is that you can host multiple blogs under the one account. So, I have our school account, with all staff’s Learning Blogs contained within the one account. For example, Mary teaches in Room 3 and I have created her own blog within Tumblr to host and share her Learning Walk information.

Tumblr has the ease and ability to insert text, photo, video, audio, link and others. When conducting a Learning Walk, we simply open up the Teachers blog and begin our observations. We can take photos of the classroom environment, of children engaged in learning, evidence of formative practice and e-learning integration. Video is used to video teacher practice and direct instruction. Video is also used to chat with the kids about their learning. Text is obviously used to type in how the teacher is meeting the Learning Walk criteria.

Once the Learning Walk is complete – it’s all done! No need to upload separate photos or to link across a video, Tumblr makes it easy to contain it all within one. Often after the Learning Walk I go back to the Tumblr blog via my Mac and make some amendments. When all is done, simply send the blog link to the teacher – and they have instant feedback of the Learning Walk. The Tumblr blogs for each staff member are also password protected, which ensures confidentiality.

Using Tumblr for these Learning Walks also feeds directly into our Appraisal system and provides all the relevant evidence for Teacher Registration, Tataiako or, for Induction and Mentoring.

Honestly, Tumblr has made the process so easy for me, it’s unbelievable. I love IT but never profess to being an ‘expert’ but if you are looking for a tool to support teacher appraisal, this is the one.


Review of Appraisal Goal – April 2012

Today I met with my PAPLC Group to share, discuss and review the progress we are collectively making towards our individual appraisal goals. The gem of this forum is that by sharing and reflecting with others, allows us to metacognitively process what we have done, how we have gone and what we will do next. Sharing with a forum and receiving their feedback gives greater depth and insight into our goal and what we are working towards.

My main leadership goal is to coach, mentor and build the leadership capacity of my two DPs. Following is a first review of how this is going:

What actions have I taken? I have deliberately shared my Appraisal Goal with my DPs so that they are aware of my intended actions and how they will be involved. They were excited by this and eager to be a part of their and my development. As a Leadership Team we have focused at least one aspect of our weekly meetings on mentoring, developing leadership and pedagogical practice. We have also established a professional reading programme, critically looking at the text Weaving Evidence, Inquiry and Standards to Build Better Schools. Working through this text is affording us the opportunity to examine and discuss current literature and research and it also enhances our Leadership vision and practice. An area I am exploring more is for shared leadership of staff meetings. The first step towards this was tonights staff meeting. As I was absent, I look forward to the feedback of how this went.

What impact am I seeing on those involved? I guess the impact, and this is an assumption, is that there is greater collegiality and strength in the leadership team. I think our level of professional discussions has deepened and increased, especially with the focus and context of a shared professional text/reading. Also, I think the DPs are keen and motivated to step up and share areas of responsibility, which is growing their own practice.

How do I know, what evidence do I have? Evidence is minimal, but there is ‘evidence’ through our Leadership Agendas and the reflections we make.

What is working well? What is not? What is working well is the collective responsibility and vision of where we are going with curriculum and learning and teaching development. With this, as it is disseminated through Teams, comes the school wide ownership and collegiality of the school vision. What is not……..? There are areas that we are currently reviewing and I need to do further thinking and consolidating of these to ensure the absolute value of WHY we are doing it.

Next Steps: My first step is to gather feedback and debrief about todays staff meeting that the DPs ran – how was it? What worked? What didn’t? I also want to make greater time to work with the DPs on the ‘nuts and bolts’ of school management, such as staffing, budgets etc, as these are those admin roles that are not taught at teachers college!

How are you Managing Self?

At tonights staff meeting, as part of our regular reflection I posed the  question, ‘How are you Managing Self?

Through my own reflection, how am I Managing Self? Principalship and leadership is an incredibly rewarding job but also very demanding. Demanding in the sense that there are numerous jobs, expectations and items that require your attention and thinking. So, how am I Managing this for myself?

During school hours, there is time spent on ‘school administration’ which requires ongoing diligence. However, also during school hours I enjoy visiting the classes and making time for the children. It’s vital to see the learning occurring and how the children are working through their learning. One aspect I particularly enjoy is the children visiting me, with faces beaming with huge smiles of something they have just achieved. This is such a rewarding part of the job and I love it. School hours are also spent on leadership – professional reading, self review of school plans, monitroing the Charter and plans etc etc…

After school hours, there is time spent at Staff Meeting, Leadership Meetings and general work.

When I arrive home, its family time. This is precious time spent with my wife and family and time that is required. It is here that I can Manage Myself through unwinding from the day. Nothing like a game of backyard cricket or a doll’s tea party to  relax after the day!

Then after the children are asleep, the work begins again. Usually for an hour or two, but normally while watching tv, so semi-relaxing.

Admittedly, the work/life balance is probably not ‘right’ or ‘balanced’ but it is how, at the moment, I am Managing Self – managing leadership, admin, learning and teaching and my family. It is also important, as I did last weekend, to have the entire weekend off – no work. These occurrences are really few and far between but are essential to completely refresh and prepare for the coming week. It’s great to come back to work with a clear head and ready for the excitement of school.

Managing Self relates to the Key Competencies and it’s critical we are aware of how we Manage Self if we are to model this with our children.