Posted in Bicultural context, Mindlab Reflections, Reflections, TAI

Teaching as Inquiry: Plan for 2017

This video reflects my TaI plan. Mindlab has been so worthwhile as the assignments we have had to complete have been relevant to our practice and topical. This year I will continue to look at how blended learning and student agency affects, not only grades, but also enjoyment and engagement in my class.



As a secondary school English teacher, I based my literature review on the impact of blended learning on secondary school students. However, while this review uncovered a wealth of research and investigation into tertiary students’ responses to blended environments, little was undertaken in secondary schools, (Sparks, 2015) and even less into the impact this teaching approach has on Kaupapa Maori students. I have some anecdotal evidence based on my own students and that of my colleagues, evidence to be found on our professional blogs. However, there is still a substantial gap in relevant New Zealand-based data which looks at the benefits and challenges of implementing blended learning. This includes whether giving students more control over their learning improves their learning outcomes.

To gather qualitative data, I will conduct an on-line interview with the English Head of Department. In addition, I will do a video recorded interview of the senior management team. It is important to ascertain the level of interest this teaching approach has with colleagues in order to determine their level of support. It is also important to get buy in from the senior leaders in order to drive the initiative through, particularly if it is going to benefit the student body. In addition, student voice is vital. Therefore, I will survey my two control classes to find out what they feel works best for them. It is important to remember that students have diverse talents and learning styles that should be respected and individualised by teachers (Kruger, n.d.). Probability surveys should give estimates from which findings can be concluded.

I am focusing on my year 10 and 11 classes because they have moved up through middle school where there is a lot more freedom and choice in how they approach their work, based on observations at the college I teach at. However, teachers tend to become more autocratic as students head into NCEA years, as the pressure to get credits tends to take precedence. My aim is to see whether giving higher levels of individualisation and independence with more senior students can lead to potentially higher levels of engagement. The potential impact of my findings could result in successfully attaining those highly sought-after credits.

The blended approach promises more one-on-one teacher contact, as well as peer-to-peer instruction. This seems to be in keeping with Kaupapa or collective philosophy and Mahi Ko tahi tanga or co-operation between students.


The topic area of this teaching as inquiry plan is blended learning, with particular emphasis on secondary students in a one-to-one device school. If blended learning is said to combine the best of online learning with face-to-face contact, how does this impact on outcomes or results for secondary school students? I will examine how the experience differs from upper middle school, to their first year in NCEA. In particular, I will investigate the impact blended learning environments has on my Maori students.

In addition, I would like to weigh up the benefits and challenges of implementing blended learning in the classroom, given that these students have largely been part of a BYOD school for the past 4-5 years. How have their expectations in the classroom changed over the years? I would also look at what the contributing factors are that lead to effective uptake of the blended learning approach.

A branch of blended learning is the flipped approach which I have been adopting in my classroom for the past three years, to varying levels of success. Through the Mindlab course I have discovered that, not only are there a variety of methods of flipping course work, but also that blended learning is potentially more effective than flipped coursework. So what I would like to ascertain is if the blended approach is more readily adopted by students rather than the purely flipped approach.

Project plan: Justification in context 

I have created an electronic book for each year level, which includes videos, presentations, tasks and reflective questions. I will put a link to this onto Google Classroom for each student to access and download. It will then be resident on their device and is not internet- dependent. This should facilitate access anywhere, anytime.

I will then share evidence, largely gained from my literature review, with my students of the benefits of blended learning in an attempt to show them an alternative to the traditional ‘chalk-and-talk’ method of teaching. This could be a new concept for them and it deserves a measure of justification and explanation. I have found one of the hurdles to new approaches in teaching is assuming students will simply adapt and accept. Students will be encouraged to take ownership of their learning and, through increased one-on-one contact, we should be able to adapt the projects and assessments according to their preferred method of working, as well as their varying ability levels.

Data in the form of surveys, interviews and grades will be analysed and shared with the relevant community. Data will be gathered at the start and end of term one, and then again at the start and end of term two. This should give a good reflection of what is working well, and what needs adjusting and improving. This data will be reflected on my professional teaching blog and shared with the relevant colleagues, Community of Learning teachers and the senior management team. Their input will also help with the reflective process.

Critical to my findings is the shift from student as consumer of knowledge and technology to student as producer of knowledge (Vickers & Field, 2015). So this focus, along with the impact on outcomes for secondary school students, will form the basis for the dual spirals of inquiry. Reflection and refinement will inform teaching practice.


The communities I will focus on are:

Qualitative: Year 10 and 11 students:

Student voice is vital as they are the target group. So they would need to answer two surveys, one initially to ascertain their preferred way of working and gauge their understanding of blended learning. And then another near the end of term to ascertain how they feel they have progressed with their learning and enjoyment of this teaching approach.

I have taught both of these year levels for a number of years so I feel that I have data to compare to previous years. But more importantly, I will compare their responses both initially and then after each internal assessment or project. (See appendix 1 and 2)


A comparison of grades between last year’s classes and this year’s classes at the same stage of the term. While this is not fully credible data, it can give some generalised findings.

A comparison of the student’s grades from last year to this year. Again there are a number of variables but it could give an indication of the student’s progress, or lack thereof.

A comparison between my year 10 and 11 classes with that of other classes taught in a more conventional or traditional way will also give some insight. Estimates can be based on this sample of data.

The data will be analysed and put onto a simple, colour co-ordinated pie chart. I will post my findings onto my blog, being careful to exclude student names, classes and colleagues’ identities as the research must be ethical and responsible.

English department colleagues: It will be interesting to note the different approaches to similar topics. I will interview a range of teaching styles, going from traditional face-to-face approaches through to those at the start of their blended approach to teaching.

Community of Learning: Although my target group is years 10 and 11, I am also part of the Community of Learning (CoL) leadership team. Thus I would have small group discussions with the relevant teachers to get their insight and input on blended learning for their areas of expertise. This will further inform my own approach as it gives insight into how students are taught in the junior levels.

Senior leadership team and English Head of Department: It is important to discuss new approaches with the leadership team, particularly when it might have an impact on NCEA classes. Questions for interviews, as well as their responses, can be found in appendix 3 and 4.

Whanau: Instead of a survey, I will initially send an explanatory email home to parents, inviting discussion, questions and interviews if necessary. This is possibly the hardest group to engage and inform as generally I have found parents to be conservative in their approach to teaching, basing their views on their own experiences of school.


As an on-going reflection, I will record students’ collaboration and participation on a regular basis on my teaching blog. However more immediately I have reflected on the feedback given to me by Richard Wells, Deputy Principal at the college and Meryl Howell, Head of English department.

Reflection on how feedback informed plan

Having considered their responses, I feel that my plan might have too many strands. So upon reflection, I will spend the first term focusing on the changing pedagogical approach with both classes, making sure that all class members understand the blended approach. I will, with consultation with students, drill down to find the impact this has on Māori students. I will only address the merits of blended versus flipped learning at the end of term 2. Given that I will have more one-on-one time with my students, I should have a clear understanding of their preferred learning styles by the end of term 1 so that I can make any necessary adjustments to my course.

In terms of student outcomes, it is vital to go beyond grades to look at how empowered and confident students feel about their learning. While this is harder to measure, it can be reflected on in an anecdotal way.

Another aspect I feel I might have glossed over is that some teachers have a fixed mindset. So change like this blended learning approach might make them feel challenged and even have an emotional response against it. I need to be empathetic in my approach to colleagues.

Lastly, the point that Richard made about whanau is vital and should not be overlooked: blended learning has an impact on home life; learning should be seen as a social experience; perhaps whanau should be upskilled in order to fully understand this new approach to teaching and learning. These points will be addressed in my email home.

What I was encouraged by was that the respondents in my community did feel that blended learning was a pedagogical approach worth pursuing and that my spirals of inquiry were applicable to our students.


The outcomes of this project might benefit my community by creating greater understanding and communication between colleagues, not only at the college but also across the CoL. Through discussions, interviews and shared resources, the idea is to improve not only collegiality but also awareness of how students prefer to work. Initially it can be quite taxing to create the online resources in the form of video content and digital artefacts. However, once they are created and shared, it minimises the time needed to create resources in the future, particularly if there is buy-in from a few colleagues and a team effort is established.

This brings in the most important stakeholders, the students themselves. According to much of the research undertaken in the literature review, researchers indicated that teachers are freed up to support students individually and that blended learning removes classroom walls (Vickers and Field, 2015). When teachers make the work available online and allow students to communicate via social media, rather than being anchored to the front of the class, one-on-one time is more feasible. And with this, relationships improve.

John Hattie (2013) said that the biggest source of variance in schools is teachers. Surely it follows then that students experience daily, hourly and lesson-to-lesson variance. If this Teaching as Inquiry plan works, and not only outcomes but enjoyment, collaboration and engagement improves, surely this will have a flow-on effect into the school community as a whole? This should encourage colleagues to embrace blended learning over the tried-and-tested traditional approach many still cling onto.


Hattie, John. (2013). Why are so many of our teachers and schools so successful? [Video].      Norrkopping TedX. Retrieved from

Kruger, M. (n.d.). Students’ Changing Perceptions on the Impact of the Online Learning Environment:   What about Good Teaching Practice? In Proceedings of the European Conference on e-Learning. 188-196.

Sparks, S. (2015). Research Uneven, Tough to Interpret. Retrieved from

Staker, H., & Horn, M. (2012). Classifying K-12 Blended Learning. Retrieved from

Vickers, R., & Field, J. (2015). Media Culture 2020: Collaborative Teaching and Blended Learning Using Social Media and Cloud-Based Technologies. Contemporary Educational Technology, 6(1), 62-73.

Posted in 05. Design for learning, Applied Practice in Context

Refining my teaching practice

“Reflective practice is challenging, demanding and a trying process.” (Osterman and Kottkamp, 1993) If they had added enjoyable, informative and rewarding, it could have been a definition for the Mind Lab programme. For 32 weeks, you are constantly looking at what you do and reflecting on how you could do it better, with students at the heart of it all. And you come out the other side with, not only greater self-awareness, but also an awareness of the research that underpins our teaching practice. (Criterion 4)

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 3.18.37 PM

Source: Image taken from this website

My literature review focused on blended learning and the impact this has on student outcomes. I have long been a strong advocate for the flipped approach to teaching and learning. But week 7 was a game changer. A revelation. An epiphany. I discovered that the classical model of flipping was not the only one. Add in-class flipping and the rotational model of flipping to the mix, and you take away so many hurdles that staff and students put up. I felt free to send students off to view the video, while others surged ahead because they had already done the preliminary work. This led to investigating blended learning more fully. What I found was that much of the research suggests that the online environment and the blended approach enhanced students’ self-efficacy and self-regulation. (Criterion 6) The research component of Mind Lab has enabled me to develop the blended approach more fully.

Working in tandem with the blended approach was Carol Dweck’s concept of Growth Mindset, discussed in week 5. Dweck reasons that, how we feel about things like learning, intelligence and failure, can ultimately impact our performance and success. I hooked into this immediately and discussed it with my classes the next day. I have since incorporated the Growth Mindset into my teaching practice and have Dweck’s posters around my class as a visual reminder. It is incredibly empowering to tell a child that they have the potential to succeed at something they are struggling with. “Not yet” is a simple, yet powerful phrase. Teenagers know that they are not all destined to get excellence for everything all of the time. But if they feel they have some control over the skills they are mastering, it becomes a great enabler. After I complete this stage of my Mind Lab journey, I will continue to foster and nurture the idea of “not yet.” (Criterion 7)

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 4.04.38 PM

Source: Image from this website

Then there is the leadership strand. I have discovered that we all have a spectrum of leadership styles to draw on, depending on the situation. But I think one that resonates with me is transformational leadership. The idea of “walk the talk” I particularly like, or leading by doing. As a Community of Learning: Kāhui Ako leader, I have got the opportunity to work with both lower middle school and primary school teachers. Together we have started to look at the possibility of introducing basic coding into their classrooms. My dream future professional development (PD) involves taking this idea beyond the two schools that we have already targeted, to the rest of the community. As an English teacher, I was quite intimidated by the idea of coding which was introduced to us in week 5. But as I dug deeper, I found that there are programmes and apps that are quite user-friendly and can ‘hook’ students pretty quickly. Our students are avid consumers of technology. But it is important for them to become producers too. (Criterion 1)


Technology has a language. It’s called code. Learning to code teaches you how to solve problems and work together in creative ways.”

Even with basic coding, there is no “googling the answer.” To go to the next step, you have to problem solve, and doing it collaboratively helps. With Swift Playgrounds, you have to read and decipher the problem before going on to the logic of solving it. That is why I believe that this PD could potentially tackle the problem of literacy and numeracy, in a fun and interactive way (Criterion 12).

What this journey of reflection has at its core is that the student’s development remains central to all that we do.img_0362


Osterman, K. & Kottkamp, R.(1993). Reflective Practice for Educators.California.Cornwin Press, Inc. Retrieved from

Zhonggen, Y., & Guifang, W. (2016). Academic Achievements and Satisfaction of the Clicker-aided Flipped Business English Writing Class. Educational Technology & Society, 19(2), 298-312.

Posted in 03. Professional relationships, Applied Practice in Context

Crossing boundaries and making connections


If the interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning has been around for decades, why have we not embraced it? And what’s the goal? Mathison and Freeman (1997) said that the goal is to help students synthesise discrete information and connect knowledge to everyday needs, applying learning methods to real life situations. To do this, connected curriculums have strong global interests and are organised around global issues. Fast forward to the 21stcentury and that is exactly what is demanded by our workplace. We want people who can think critically and problem solve, can communicate and are independent, and that are creative innovators.

I have two near-future goals. In collaboration with two teachers on the South Island of New Zealand, I set up a website called Breaking Silos. It’s simple really. A website where teachers from all disciplines can post resources, with the aim of finding links between disciplines. In a discussion with a maths colleague, we found a strong link between Year 12 maths and Year 12 carpentry. There is also a strong correlation between statistics and essay writing which needs developing. Unfortunately, a resource like this only really gains impetus when teachers are talking to each other about it, even if it’s only on Twitter. So, it’s still in its infancy. My near-future goal is to really push this idea of a shared resource-bank forward. I think it would be beneficial to both staff and students if we were aware of how connected our curriculum actually is.

To help facilitate these sorts of discussions we have set up Professional Learning Groups (PLGs) which are interdisciplinary. We spent some quality time together on call-back days and regularly meet. We have also set up Google Classrooms where teachers can post resources, pose questions and flip meetings. Interestingly, I have found that the staff that are quiet in the meetings are the most vocal on-line. Reminiscent of students? We do not have interdisciplinary studies at the school. But we have started to combine pedagogical approaches and, through Ako Orewa, we have a shared language of learning.

The challenges we face are that there can be “integration confusion.” In addition to an increasingly challenging workload, to effectively combine curriculums will take time and effort. It will also take a huge change in mind set to get college specialist teachers to “transcend disciplines towards a more interconnected vision of the universe” (Mathison and Freeman, 1997). But we have started the conversation. We are also in the process of introducing spirals of inquiry into our PLGs which will help facilitate these ideas. The more we combine pedagogical approaches with the goal of helping students synthesise discrete information, the more effective we will be.

My other near-future goal revolves around the Community of Learning: Kāhui Ako (CoL) we have established between the college and schools in the district. Fogarty’s 1991 model which looks at “Fragmented” to “Networked” springs to mind. For so long we have taught in our individual silos in colleges. But even greater than that, we have these whole ecosystems of schools that are in close proximity to each other, but never the twain shall meet. With our Communities of Learning we have an exciting network of avenues to find out what strategies work. To ask why it is that some teachers are having more success than others. We can finally tap into and develop expertise, not only in our own sphere of influence. But in our case across six primary, middle and high schools.

I have no doubt that the task is a complex one. But if the only thing we get right at the outset of this CoL is to see beyond our own expertise to the “empathetic horizon” and we start to cross pollinate our ideas, we would have started the move from “fragmented” to “networked.”

And if the students develop interdisciplinary pathways which leads to “independent confident individuals who learn how to learn” we would’ve made a start at crossing boundaries and making connections (Duerr,2008).



Jones, C.(2009). Interdisciplinary approach – Advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies. ESSAI7 (26), 76-81. Retrieved from

Mathison,S.. & Freeman, M.(1997). The logic of interdisciplinary studies. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, 1997. Retrieved from

Ross Institute. (2015, July 5). Ross Spiral Curriculum: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Science.  Retrieved from

Thomas McDonaghGroup. ( 2011, May 13). Interdisciplinarity and Innovation Education. Retrieved from



Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, Applied Practice in Context

How social media helps teachers grow

The key aspect to social media is that little catch phrase: User Generated Content or UGC. This gives us, the users, immense power. But we know what some people will do with power.


(Source: Image from this website)

So while social media is an incredible tool for teaching and professional development (PD), there are certain drawbacks and challenges.

I feel the biggest attraction social media has is the agency it affords both students and staff. The ability it gives us to set up learning goals, and then manage our learning route. For so many years both teaching and PD have been ‘one size fits all.’ In addition, the learning has been solely driven by the teacher. PD, much the same, has been driven by school leaders and in recent years, budget constraints.

Not so with the introduction of tools like Twitter, WordPress, YouTube and Facebook. Now, we can follow leaders in their fields, and get information directly from the source. Sir Ken Robinson, John Hattie, Jon Bergmann. They all either have Twitter accounts or blog sites and YouTube channels. So whether you’re interested in Creative Schools, Visible Learning or Flipped Classrooms, you can read about, watch content, or even contact experts directly.

I passionately believe in the blended approach because, as Sir Ken Robinson’s Twitter coverphoto suggests:

Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 1.06.55 PM

So, one method will not work for all. I do like the flipped approach, be it in the classic sense of prep before class, or in-class and rotational flipping. YouTube is ideal for this and I have used my YouTube channel extensively in my teaching practice. I encourage students to hit the pause or fast forward button, whichever suits their needs. The funniest is that in every class, every year, someone always points out:

“Hey miss, this is you! Not some random lady on the internet.” As if it would be a revelation to me.

I also use blogs, in particular WordPress. In developing so-called 21st century skills, being able to co-create a Google Doc or Google Slide is not enough. Even creating slick videos is not enough. When students are able to set up and manage a website, I believe I have set them up with some handy skills. Not only that, our students are very good at posting on Facebook and Instagram. But do we ever have conversations about good digital citizenship before mistakes are made?


(Source:  Image from this website)

We’re really good at telling teenagers what they should have done.  But what about introducing them to active and constructive learning where they actively explore a topic, and then critique each other’s work. Blogging is ideal for this and discussions take place before anything is posted online.

There are of course challenges to both YouTube and WordPress. The most basic being that not everyone has the skills to set up and manage sites in an ordered and controlled way. Or should I say, not yet. Melhuish cited the other problem, which is fleeting engagement without deep learning. This brings Twitter into the picture. I follow a number of global teaching icons and they readily share their ideas. I see this as the most invaluable PD. But it could go one of two ways. You could become swamped by the myriad of ideas and, instead of following one or two pathways, get bogged down by trying to grasp it all. Or, you could lightly touch on a few ideas, and not dive deeply into anything. I think the best method of using Twitter for PD is to choose a few key interests, and follow those until you feel you have a greater level of understanding. Add it to your Teaching as Inquiry model and trial it with your students. In this way you’ll master a few skills, before moving on to the next one.

Social media makes it possible to draw on the expertise and experience of a global audience. It’s reciprocal in that you can post questions, observations and ideas. You will invariably get a response from a like-minded educator. Which spurs you on to the next inquiry. And that’s how you grow professionally.


Office of Ed Tech. (2013). Connected Educators. Retrieved from

Melhuish, K.(2013). Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’professional learning. Master Thesis. The University of Waikato. Retrieved from

Tvoparents. (2013). Using Social Media in the Classroom. Retrieved from

Education Council.(2012). Establishing safeguards. Retrieved from

Sharples, M., de Roock , R., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., Herodotou, C., Koh, E., Kukulska-Hulme, A., Looi,C-K, McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, M., Wong, L. H. (2016). Innovating Pedagogy 2016: Open University Innovation Report 5. Milton Keynes: The Open University. Retrieved from

Obar, J.& Wildman, S. (2015). Social media definition and the governance challenge: An introduction to the special issue. Telecommunications Policy, 39 (9), 745–750.














Posted in 06. Teaching, Applied Practice in Context, Mindlab

Ethics of a teacher

The teaching profession has for decades been seen as a moral activity, with teachers being publicly accountable. An individual teacher’s actions reflect directly on the profession and we have a moral obligation to have high ethical standards. This is because we are dealing with young, often vulnerable people.

But unlike years ago, the hierarchical structure of schools is flattening out. I come from a teaching background where, even as a staff member, I unquestioningly called my colleagues Mr and Mrs. It was only in New Zealand where I ever had the wild temerity to call my principal by her first name. The norm now is more shared authority and collaboration. The other thing that has changed is the nuclear family. Where sensitive subjects like relationships, health and sexual education were discussed at home, these topics are now up to teachers to deal with as part of the curriculum. This can potentially make teachers more vulnerable than ever before.

In addition, we have social media networks as an integral part of our lives. Opening these networks up in schools can obscure the natural boundaries which exist between teachers and students. Robin Thicke’s unfortunate and hugely controversial song  Blurred Lines kept coming to mind as I contemplated this thought. Social media messages, even innocuous and innocent ones, are devoid of facial expressions, body language and tone. So, they can be blurred or misinterpreted. However, social media does have a place in education as it can facilitate effective communication.


The New Zealand Education Council’s Code Of Ethics for Certificated Teachers is simple and unambiguous. “Act the same way when using social media as you would face-to-face.”


You would think so. Not so for an ex-colleague. Some people seem to like the drama, and teacher X was one such person. Now it’s one thing to get involved in verbal banter, and perhaps even gossip. But when this spills over to social media the boundaries between professional and personal life can become blurred. In this scenario, the teacher found that a vulnerable student was reaching out with personal issues of an increasingly sensitive nature.

The correct thing to do would be to redirect the student to the appropriate support structures. For us that means alerting the dean, senior manager, nurse or councillors. We even have a team of youth workers who work alongside the councillors. Unfortunately, this teacher thought she would deal with the problem herself. Facebook was the medium and the messages were private, sent to the teacher’s inbox. What should be paramount in all our minds is that we are dealing with impressionable youngsters. And, that texts are never private. They can be forwarded, screenshotted and shared over and over.

Before long the situation spiralled out of the teacher’s control. She did not have the tools or strategies to deal with this situation. It came to the attention of her head of department and ultimately the principal. Teachers sign a Code of Conduct which includes cyber safety and responsible IT usage. It was deemed that this teacher had overstepped this code. A disciplinary hearing was held and a warning issued.

The incident was hugely unpleasant and totally avoidable. Our Code of Ethics is straightforward and simply worded to avoid misinterpretation:

  • Teachers should be approachable, but they are the professionals. Maintain a professional distance.
  • It is our professional responsibility to create an emotionally and physically safe and healthy learning environment.
  • If it is inappropriate to say, it is inappropriate to text.
  • Keep communication transparent and professional.
  • Use common sense.

I advocate the use of social media. We extensively use Google Classroom and online communication is largely shared through this medium. But at the back of our minds we should always remember to sift our contact with students through an ethical filter.

The Code of Ethics isn’t “a set of rules that must be followed.” Rather it’s a “set of principles that should be applied to situations with careful reflection to make ethical decisions.”

When it comes to ethical dilemmas, if you hear alarm bells going off in your head, listen to them.


Connecticut’s Teacher Education and Mentoring Program.(2012) Ethical and Professional Dilemmas for Educator: Facilitator’s Guide. Retrieved from

Education Council New Zealand. Retrieved from

Hall, A. (2001) What ought I to do, all things considered? An approach to the exploration of ethical problems by teachers.





Posted in 01. Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership, Applied Practice in Context, Mindlab, Uncategorized

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

Indigenous knowledge and cultural responsiveness

I have long been a firm believer that teaching, at its core, rests on building positive relationships with our students. Bishop said that culturally responsive pedagogy can be equated to “Caring and Learning Relationships.” He also defined the culturally responsive teacher as being agentic. One who builds relationships with his or her students based on respect. Respect for a culture which potentially is different from your own. What really resonated with me was the idea of “relationship centred education.” It’s really quite simple. Build positive relationships, where you encourage Māori students to perform at high levels, as Māori.

An agentic teacher would typically have a growth mind set and reject, and challenge, deficit definitions. This system would allow all students, and in particular Māori students, to strive for success. But it must be remembered that it is authentic caring that is required.

It was also Bishop who said that education was key to bringing improvements in Māori engagement. This means that these students need to feel successful in their education. One crucial way is to make them a dominant player in their learning context. Draw on what they know, the filters through which they view the world, in order for them to make sense of the world offered to them in the classroom. With increased engagement comes increased attendance and improved achievement.

So, what does this mean for us? It means showing respect for students’ abilities while valuing their identity. It means contextualising instruction in familiar ways by using Māori language and opportunities in class. One study showed that relationships improved by the simple act of teachers attending community events and sporting activities. What is needed is targeted professional development to enable teachers to respond to the complex diversity of their students.

Our vision, mission, and core values

At our school, our vision is to graduate students who are responsible, independent, confident, proud, well-balanced and motivated. What links these adjectives is aroha, in the form of Manaaki Orewa. This underpins our goals, planning and decision making. Our mission is to provide a supportive and challenging centre of learning, the heart of Ako Orewa. And our on-going goals remain the success for Māori and Pasifika students, and those with special education needs. The vehicle for this is the links we are forging with both our cluster schools as well as our Māori community. To open communication and to facilitate face-to-face contact, we hold a hui and fono early in term 1. Contact with whanau is a vital key that is sometimes lacking for students in a secondary school. Parents are telephonically invited as email invitations were largely unsuccessful in previous years. I would say we are in the Mauri Oho state of being proactive and are making progress in both our contact and communication with whanau.


School-wide activities

Where we could do with some consistency is school-wide activities. At the middle school, there is the expectation that the day will start, as it does for our staff briefing, with a karakiha. This is also said at assembly. Middle school students all know their mihimihi and its meaning. Teachers and students have a chance to formally introduce themselves at assembly and in class. Te Reo Māori is integrated into lessons, both visually and verbally. This is optional on the college side. Some teachers feel more confident than others at including Te Reo Māori into their everyday lessons. As with anything, the more we use language, symbols and traditions, the more comfortable we become with them. I think we have emerged from the inactive Mauri Moe stage, but not quite reached the proactive potential of  Mauri Oho.



Edtalks.(2012, September 23). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations. .Retrieved from

Potahu, T. W. (2011). Mauri – Rethinking Human Wellbeing. MAI Review, 3, 1-12. Retrieved from

Savage,C, Hindleb, R., Meyerc,L., Hyndsa,A., Penetitob, W. & Sleeterd, C.(2011) Culturally responsive pedagogies in the classroom: indigenous student experiences across the curriculum .Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 39(3), 183–198

Teaching Tolerance.( 2010, Jun 17).Introduction to Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.. Retrieved from



Posted in 01. Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership, Applied Practice in Context, Mindlab, Uncategorized

Migration Impacting Culture


10,700. That’s the number of people that permanently settled in New Zealand in December 2016. Migration is a global trend which has a personal note for me. I, like so many others, am a migrant. My whakapapa will forever be linked to New Zealand. But what does this mean for my teaching practice? After all, my main distinguishing factor is my accent. But beyond that, I have learnt and assimilated the Kiwi way and I consider myself bi-cultural. The transition to becoming an All Blacks supporter was easy for me.

But this is not always the case. What about the students in my class? How many of them are part of this global trend? And what is their cultural identity? Do we cater for students’ cultural identity which comes with migration? According to Sir Ken Robinson, children should be encouraged to pass on their cultural genes, while still being part of globalisation. Globalisation is the process of international integration between the world’s cultures.

One definition of culture is: a community’s way of life, held together by shared values, beliefs and attitudes. Culture gives you a sense of identity. A defining factor is shared language, dialect, accent and vocabulary. But that’s the first thing to change for many students. Those I spoke to said that they adjust their accents so that they can fit in. So, it’s only when you scratch the surface that you discover that they come from a different background, or that for some of them, English is actually their second language. In reality, our classes are made up of a complex mix of ethnicities, religions, ideologies and cultures which must overlap and affect each other. Students straddle cultural commitments and end up with multiple identities. I feel that we overlook this aspect in our quest for credits and course completion. Add to that the idea that we are living in the most stimulating period in history, bombarded by information vying for attention. And then we wonder why students are losing interest in worksheets.


Impact on education

Diversity is central to our population and with it comes benefits. And problems. We need to actively teach respect of cultural perspectives. In this way, we can ready them for the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural world in which they live. Robinson cited four central roles that cultural education should fulfil:

  1. Teachers should enable students to recognise, explore and understand their cultural assumptions and values. We can’t expect schools to bring an end to prejudice and discrimination. But we must combat ignorance and oppose discrimination.
  2. Enable students to understand cultural diversity by bringing them into contact with other cultures. Talking about different values and practices can lead to understanding.
  3. Encourage students to look at the history behind contemporary values and practices which helped shape them. I was amazed to discover that some of my students didn’t know who Anne Frank was. One girl triumphantly said: “Of course I know who Anne Frank is. I’m Jewish.”
  4. Help students to understand that culture is evolutionary and has the potential to change. If they feel as if they have two or even three cultural identities, they are not alone.

Sir Alan Bullock said:

“Any society that turns its back on the past and falls into a cultural and historical amnesia, weakens its sense of identity.”

It is up to us: teachers, parents, grandparents, whanau, to pass on knowledge of the past so that the next generation can have a greater understanding of the present.  “It’s a small world after all.”


Education Review Office. (2012). Evaluation at a glance: Priority Learners in New Zealand School.

KPMG Australia. (2014, May 22). Future State 2030 – Global Megatrends.. Retrieved from

OECD. (2016). Trends Shaping Education. Retrieved from

The RSA. (2010, Oct 14). RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms.. Retrieved from

Robinson, K. (2014). Cultural Education. Retrieved from






Posted in 04. Learning-focused culture, Applied Practice in Context, Mindlab, Uncategorized

Climate, culture and context


According to Elizabeth Warner  the culture of a school is different to the climate. The climate indicates how a school feels, while culture indicates how the school does things, its values and traditions. Orewa College is set in the relaxed beachside town of Orewa, 30 minutes north of Auckland. We are a stone’s throw from the most beautiful scenery: beaches, bays, islands, countryside and forests. This is reflected in our school climate which is largely warm, friendly and laid-back, although we have had to guard against the overly laidback attitude.

We are made up of approximately 2000 students, including international students. We provide additional opportunities through HarbourNet Virtual Learning.   ERO 2016 Report felt that we “provide a broad and balanced selection of learning opportunities that cater very well to students’ varied interests and strengths.” To that end, our vision is to be the pride of the district, promoting high student achievement and high participation.


School culture runs deeper and should be created with intent. As Ed Dunkelblau said, schools are a “centre for instruction.” But it is also where you interact with people not like you and your family, where you learn what’s important to you. And, what others value. To help students to figure all this out, we have three programmes which form the foundation upon which the culture of the school rests:

  1. Ako Orewa entails learning strategies. We have recently modified this 10 years old programme to focus more carefully on  learner agency as well as effective pedagogy. This has involved shifting the focus of attention from the teacher to the student, giving students more freedom and responsibility to drive their own learning pathways.


  1. Manaaki Orewa underpins all that we do. It translates to respect: Respect for oneself – be the best you can be. Respect for others – manners matter. Respect for the environment – keep it clean. I feel that Manaaki Orewa has resonated with our students to a far greater degree than Ako Orewa, because it is so simple yet such a powerful ethos to live by. The word manaaki has made its way firmly into the lingo used by our students, be it as an admonishing verb: “Be more manaaki!” Or a praising adjective: “Very manaaki of you.” Or even as a commanding imperative: “Manaaki people!”
  1. The House System was created to provide a sense of belonging for all students to participate, compete and celebrate in diverse house activities within the college environment. The aims of the house system are to increasingly develop and promote:
  • Growth of school and student spirit and identity
  • Positive, supportive, social and emotional environments for all students
  • Interaction and positive role models between year levels
  • Leadership opportunities for senior students and aspiring middle school students

Students identify with the house system and its very healthy competition. Tabloid sports is perhaps the highlight because, rather than testing sporting prowess, full participation is the objective. Activities are designed for fun, like the gumboot biff. International students always marvel at these activities because many of them have only ever experienced academic programmes at their schools.


The most invasive change we have embraced is the bring your own device (BYOD) policy. This has forced us to have ongoing and regular professional development (PD). We are challenged to look at emerging research and adaptive practice. PD is carried out in departments on a fortnightly basis, as well as in cross curricular groups. It is no coincidence that there is such a great number of staff doing the Mindlab course.

I think that our biggest challenge is to break down the silo-mentality of both the teachers and the students. Links across subjects is one we have overlooked for far too long. Ako Orewa, in conjunction with Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, is just one approach that will start to challenge this tunnel-vision approach. In addition, we are in the process of getting our Community of Learning (CoL) established. I think that these conversations across not only subjects but also year levels and schools in the district, will start to remove the cloak of secrecy which seems to hang over individual subject areas.


CORE Education: Learner Agency. Retrieved from:

Dweck, C. Teaching a growth mindset. Retrieved from:

What is school culture and climate? Retrieved from:

ERO Report (2016). Retrieved from:

Thank you to Richard Wells  @EduWells for designing the Ako Orewa poster.

Posted in 02. Professional learning, Applied Practice in Context, Mindlab

Defining my Practice


Wenger suggests that Communities of Practice (CoP) have been around since the beginning of history, and he’s right. We are bound together by “joint enterprise” and tend to want to make our contribution. We interact and build trusting relationships with the members of our community. And we develop a “shared repertoire” or set of communal resources.

This holds true of many professions, not least of which is the teaching profession. As many others, I find I have a few overlapping CoPs. But I would like to focus on the two most pertinent, and influential in my domain. The English Department of which I am a senior teacher. And the Apple Distinguished Educators (ADE) group, of which I am a member. The purpose of both communities is to deliver the best possible teaching to enhance the greatest level of learning, with students at the core of our enterprise.



As a department, we tend to focus our attention on the tools that best fit the task. This is largely, but not exclusively, the effective use of technology. As members of the ADE community, I have found a similar theme. And this is awesome considering the fact that the only common denominator is that we are teachers, but that’s where it ends. The ADE community is made up of different cultures, languages and teaching domains. But the core values remain the same. As with the English department, we have a shared repertoire of resources. We are expected to produce resources and share these with the community. The goal being to improve our practice. On a practical level, the department members share resources through Google Drive. In keeping with Wenger’s definition, we have a shared purpose called Ako Orewa. The major focus is student agency. To enhance student agency we actively teach the concept of “growth mindset” as defined by  Carol Dweck.


As a department, we interact with each other in an informal way on a daily basis. We also have regular departmental meetings, and the more formal appraisal meetings. But the CoP is not exclusive as we involve the most important stakeholders, namely the students and their whanau. Examples of activities we are involved in include regular fortnightly professional development, run by staff from the department. We have an open-door policy and pop in and observe each-others’ lessons.

ADE also has a shared purpose, namely “developing active leaders from around the world,” to “make learning deeply personal for each student.”

ADE members share resources on a dedicated website, as well as publically through iTunes.  I have attended two ADE institutes. One held in Singapore and the other held in Berlin. The best way to describe these events is professional development on steroids. From software developers through to primary school teachers, they all have their time to take to the stage and share best practice. After a week, you leave bursting with ideas to implement in your classroom. There is the expectation that you produce and share resources at the end of the institute: Link to resources on iTunes



I feel a true sense of belonging to both these overlapping CoPs. Having taught English for 27 years, I am one of the senior English teachers and am given responsibilities within the department. My area of interest is blended learning and I regularly share ideas and resources. I would define my role as a leader. I have recently been appointed as an across school Community of Learning (CoL) lead teacher, which reinforces this leadership role. I also feel a sense of belonging to the ADE community. There is the global community, but there is also a smaller New Zealand community. We regularly connect on Facebook and meet up a few times a year. And of course, the institutes are where you really connect, collaborate and create. I see myself as an active member of this community.



Apple Distinguished Educators Program. Retrieved from:

Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset. Retrieved from:

Wenger, E.(200). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organisation, 7(2), 225-240.

Posted in 05. Design for learning, Mindlab, Reflections

Blogs to improve writing

This is the next video I created to reflect my findings on the digital and collaborative strand in Mindlab, where we had to implement, document and critique a learning innovation applied to a specific area of practice. I looked at the research that suggests that having a personal blog can improve writing. I looked at the work done by David Mitchell (@DeputyMitchell) and his ideas on @QuadBlogging. I also looked at the merits of ‘blogging’ on Facebook as opposed to a dedicated blog site like WordPress.


Mark Twain said that “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” He may have been a novelist, a journalist and even an adventurer. But never a teacher. As a teacher he would know that even getting words on the page for many teenagers is a struggle. Ask students and they would likely tell you that “writing sucks.” So the problem I would like to address is literacy in the form of creative and formal writing for the average teenager. The innovation is weblogs, or more commonly known as blogs. 15 years ago the word blog did not exist and now an estimated 150 million blogs exist.


In our cluster of schools, 16% of students are below or well below the expected writing standard. 19% of our Maori students are below or well below the standard. And 23% of our boys are below or well below the standard. Our schools have identified trends that indicate that there is less success for Maori boys in writing. The aim is that the secondary schools will raise the overall core writing skills for year 9 and 10 in preparation for success at NCEA level 1, 2 and 3. But how? My solution is through social media, in particular a personal blog.


So what makes a blog different and therefore a tool for improving writing? Most of my hesitant writers are not hesitant talkers. And if writing is communicating, as is talking, nothing stops them recording their thoughts in a podcast and popping that onto their blogs. This is the first step to getting students to capture their quality thoughts and convey them to an audience. Obviously we don’t stop there, but you often do need to build trust and confidence initially before you start to make progress. The beauty of a blog is that you can easily add text, photos, video and audio to a post. So if we get our students thinking and reflecting in the form of a video to start off with, then build on that, we are going to make progress with the goal of improving the standard of writing. The next step to building confidence is to comment on their unique ideas and the way they structured their thoughts. Then start talking about how these ideas could form a paragraph of writing.


John Hattie said that “feedback is one of the top 10 influences on student achievement.” In addition, he said that “interventions that aim to foster correct peer feedback are needed.”

So feedback, in the ‘comments’ section of their blog, is vital. This includes peer reviews. But first we have conversations about the importance of good digital citizenship and give “comment guidelines.” Peer feedback needs to be both constructive and relevant. Students need to understand the marking criteria in order to give informed feedback. This in itself will raise awareness of good writing practice. What a powerful tool when we get students giving their peers, people of the same age group, feedforward and feedback.


So in theory, maintaining a good blog site should raise the level of writing. Again I ask, how? If this was the case, and given that the majority of students have Facebook which is, after all, a form of a blog, why hasn’t this raised writing skills?


The reason is simple. Facebook pages are owned, run and edited by teenagers. And so they should be. But when blogging is brought into the classroom, the teacher, and later peers, can fill the role of the critic. It means that we can have conversations about content and style. A good blog post has a magnetic headline, like all good media. The post opens with a bang in order to hook the reader in. Persuasive words and good sentences abound. And finally, no one wants to read a post that is simply made up of text. So engaging and authentic images and videos should be encouraged. We don’t have these conversations about Facebook, but maybe we should. And just because we’ve brought blogging into the classroom, it doesn’t mean that fun goes out the window. Part of the beauty of blogging is the audience. There are interactive widgets like “Revolvermap” which tracks your audience. When someone reads your blog, a little flag pops up on the revolving globe and tells you which city they are from. Students get quite excited when they recognise the fact that people, other than their teacher, is reading their work. This is also key to understanding the global audience.


So not only are we raising awareness of good writing, we are discussing what good digital citizenship looks like. In addition, it reminds students that “the internet is a big place. Everyone can see it.”  Kate Friedwald from Wairakei School made a good point: “Writing is no longer just on the classroom wall, it’s not just in their books. It’s out there for the world to see.” Students say that, once they start receiving comments, they feel like people are waiting for them to post more of their writing. This encourages them to write regularly. The global audience can include parents and family, even those that are half way across the world. Instead of the stereotypically mono-syllabic conversations parents have with their teenagers, they could actually be reading about what their children did at school that day.


Audience is key to the success of the writing. It’s one thing to hand a half-baked piece of writing in when only your teacher will see it. But quite different when you realise that you could potentially have a global following. So with all this in mind, the skill of commenting and posting increases the awareness of good writing. Correct punctuation becomes more meaningful. Teenagers become empowered to write. For my generation, you studied journalism, you worked for an editor, you begged a publisher to look at your work. For this generation, they are journalist, editor and publisher rolled into one. My generation knows the silence of censorship. Letters to the editor that contained controversial ideas got ‘lost in the mail.’ Talk back radio hosts simply put the phone down on troublesome callers. But for this generation, their voice can be heard. They are shaping what we read. With social media, we own the printing press. Besides which, it’s free and therefore accessible to all.


So why not allow them to post their writing onto Facebook as opposed to a blog site like WordPress? The reason, just because I deal with teenagers all day doesn’t mean I want to hang out with them at the skate park. Which is what I’d feel like if I was commenting on their Facebook posts. Their personal Facebook page is their domain and I simply don’t belong there. But their WordPress blog is a place where we can hang out together, where we can encourage good writing, which will no doubt have an impact on their other social media activity. At the very least it means that we can have meaningful discussions about what they post on social media.


A prolific blogger, danah boyd (she spells her name in lower case) said that blogging is “a place where my voice sat.” So we need to harness our students’ writing and give them a platform “to think, to process, to understand” and in the process improve their writing. And if they come to a better understanding of the online world in which they are growing up, then they would have received an effective 21st century education.


Writing online makes copyright authentic. At the back of their mind, the blogger is always asking the question: Who will read this post? If we encourage good reflective practice, the teenage voice establishes itself. And that authentic voice is what sets excellent writing apart from mediocre writing.


The impact goes beyond improving writing. The skills my students have acquired is that they can set up a website with categories for a variety of subjects. They can embed videos and understand the rudiments of HTML coding. They are developing the skill of critiquing each other’s work through feedforward and feedback. And we are constantly discussing what a good digital citizen looks like. UK teacher David Mitchell founded QuadBlogging which has now seen over 500,000 students from 55 countries take part. As a group of four schools, each week a different class will be the ‘focus class’ allowing the other three classes to visit and comment on the focus class blog. That’s got to have a positive spin off for writing. In his school he saw that blogging had a dramatic impact on writing standards. Writing scores “rose from 9% to 60% in just 12 months with each child in year 6 making on average double the expected progress for the last three years.” Why would our kiwi kids be any different?


Data suggests that they’re no different. Take my year 10 English class. Looking at a comparison between their English GPA from last year to this year, there has been a general increase for most students, particularly the boys. One boy went from an English GPA of 45% to a whopping 75%. Another went from 37% to 50%, a third climbed from 21% to 50%. That’s overall for English, not just writing. But if we are looking at the impact of tools like blogging, ideas like collaboration and put them together in a positive learning environment, the outcome for the student can be very pleasing indeed. In addition, this GPA is based on a creative writing project which consisted of a number of tasks and culminated in a story written for a teenage audience. So writing made up a huge component of the marks.


Anecdotally I can add that I don’t have the problem from years back when students simply did not submit work. In part I think, because I encourage collaboration and sharing of ideas, it means all get involved. But I do believe that writing on-line beats handwriting for most students. Having poor handwriting or being weak at spelling is no longer a hurdle for students, and is no longer a block for generating a writing piece. It has even been a while since I heard a student say that they didn’t know what to write about. Sites like “Instagrok” are there to counteract writer’s block.


I looked at student feedback where they suggested that posting onto blogs can be challenging if the network slows down. And we all know that if you get a class full of students hitting the same website, it does slow things down. So as a school we have decided to self-host WordPress. At $30 a month, it’s a bargain, given that speed is remarkably improved.


As with most websites, rather than a finished product, the blog can be constantly updated and refined. Meaningful feedforward results in improved writing, which is the intended goal.

“I reflect and share publicly to engage others and build understanding. This is my blogging practice. What is yours?”