Thursday 22 September 2016

2 of 5 Mindlab posts - A reflection on the socio-economic status of my school

The school I work at is a single-sex, decile 5  school (based on an outdated set of criteria defined by the Ministry of Education). We have students classed nationally as "in the middle". The reality is actually not quite so simple; we have students who come from socio-economic backgrounds that can only be described as bordering on poverty and students at the other end of the scale. The reason for the disparity (as well as the very middling decile rating) is coming from a small city with big agricultural catchment, there is a diverse range of students attending the school.

Māori students account for 35% of our roll, with the majority being Pākehā. We have been working to become more culturally responsive, with initiatives such as inclusive professional development and the creation by students of a new karakia - Te Timitanga. Stoll (1998) discusses how "pupils who attend the school flavour it in their own particular way, through their own pupil culture", and this is ably demonstrated by the drive from the students to be more culturally responsive.

Our school motto is "Whakamana ngā wāhine o apōpō - Empowering tomorrow's women" and this encompasses our philosophy, which is about "preparing girls to be outstanding young who leave us ready for the next step in their lives" (taken from the school mission statement).
We are working to raise Māori achievement across all levels of the school with a move towards more student - centred learning. There is already a better connection between students, teachers and whānau with more communication, encouraged through conferencing during the year. Students are all in vertical whānau classes, allowing older students to be 'big sisters' to the younger girls.

We are striving to incorporate more 21st Century learning, collaboration and the use of digital technologies across the school. Stoll also talks about the difficulties of trying to make changes in schools, and while our school is receptive to change, there is still a contingent of staff that might resist change. This will undoubtedly become apparent in 2017 when we bring in a BYOD policy. Some teachers still believe in a teacher - centred approach will and this kind of programme will shift the focus from a teacher - led to student - centred learning and teaching style.

Another issue arising with BYOD is that students who are at the lower end of our socio-economic scale may be disadvantaged as they are less likely to be able to afford devices, and there will also be a chance that they do not have access to the internet at home, thus widening the gap between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. The school has some plans to assist with these issues, but we acknowledge that the issue exists. No implementation can ever go without "selling the idea to get people on board" (Thirkell and Ashman, 2014), something that probably needs to be done more with the staff than the students, but as someone once said, "I never once had a student tell me they couldn't use technology because she didn't receive PD for it".

Overall, the school wants to see all students cared for and learning in a modern and vibrant environment, and I love being part of the team that are trying to push things forward. The traditional top-down leadership approach has started changing so that staff who are on the 'bleeding edge' of changing to encompass 21st Century learning skills are being encouraged to take some of the leadership roles. The school is moving forward, and the students are an integral part of this; they are the reason we are there, after all.

Thirkell, E., & Ashman, I. (2014). Lean towards learning: connecting Lean Thinking and human resource management in UK higher education. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25(21), 2957–2977.

Sunday 4 September 2016

Reflections on (one of) my Communities of Practice

My personal learning journey sees me involved in a lot of CoPs; each one determined by the shared goals of that community. The community that I feel I interact with mostly, is the Science department I as a part of. We meet approximately fortnightly, with a shared interest in the promotion of scientific thinking within our students to encourage a level of Citizen Scientific Literacy, as described by Gluckman (2011).

A Community of Practice (CoP) has been defined by Wenger (2000) as "communities that share cultural practices reflecting their collective learning". He also points out that participation in these communities is essential to learning.

The focus of the Science department is to raise critical thinking within our students; making them question the world around them and hopefully, learn to understand information presented as scientific to them on a daily basis. We are attempting to focus more on the inclusion of the Science Capabilities as well as the Nature of Science strands of the NZ Curriculum, making the students' learning more about the act of 'doing Science' rather than just completing practicals and writing notes because it is necessary for an exam or test (Haigh, France and Forret, 2005).

Image result for science nzThe department has spent a lot of time in critical reflection so far this year, as it was realised we are too assessment-heavy across all sections of the Science department, and our students are not getting the benefits of the accumulated knowledge and experience that the teaching staff have to offer. Our reflections have led us to understand that to really move forward and encourage scientific thinking is to make some big changes to the way we assess. This has not been easy, as all Communities of Practice can get bogged down over time, and sometimes need a real boost to get them moving in the right direction once again. From a personal point of view, this has been something of a revelation, but I am conscious of the stress this causes colleagues as sometimes making big changes is not easy, but as Wenger points out, gaps in the learning must be recognised and addressed.

I am part of the leadership team for the department, and am helping to drive some of the new ideas, making sure my colleagues are feeling supported, and also letting them know that it is acceptable to make mistakes and that by streamlining our processes, we will be clawing back precious time and seeing less stress among each other and our students. We are all learners on the journey with our students, and if we are afraid to make mistakes how can we encourage them to learn through making their own mistakes?

It is all a work in progress. Clearly, practices that we want to change have been long ingrained, but things must change. Otherwise, we can't enjoy our teaching of science, and there is no way we can get our students to develop the love of learning in science either. Thankfully, as a community, we have identified the issues and are working to move forward together, for ourselves and primarily for our students.

A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step - Lao Tzu


Gluckman, P. (2011). Looking Ahead: Science Education for the Twenty-First Century A report from the Prime Minister ’ s Chief Science Advisor.

Haigh, M., France, B., & Forret, M. (2005). Is “doing science” in New Zealand classrooms an expression of scientific inquiry? International Journal of Science Education, 27(2), 215–226. 

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246.