Disobedient Teaching – Welby Ings

‘Disobedient Teaching: surviving and creating change in education’ by Welby Ings really struck a massive chord with me.  The book is filled with inspiring ideas, relatable anecdotes and valuable points that helped to affirm some of my personal challenges and successes as well as point to next steps in my journey. I absolutely recommend this book to all teachers, or at least check out some of the media Ings did around it’s release including this superb interview on RNZ.

I was really moved by his discussion around change; declaring that “waiting for permission means very little ever gets changed” (20). It spoke to the conservative walls I’ve encountered and the issues I’ve faced in trying to evolve ideas that don’t come out of something being ‘broken’. Ings calls for bravery and disobedience in order to achieve reform.

In particular Ings takes aim at assessment. The arguments for why there needs to be change are familiar. But his solutions (framed up as self-evaluation, reducing the impact of marking, and quality reporting) gave me more hope for reform than I think I’ve held before. In terms of self-evaluation, he suggested three ground rules (72):

Only the person who has made the work can criticise the work

Others can offer positive comments, but, more importantly, they should ask analytical questions.

Deadlines are absolute.

The challenge therefore is to grow learners who have the reflective and critical skills in order to effectively self-evaluate. Ings suggested the questions “What is effective about the solution and why?…If I had time again what would I change and why?” (72).

Another powerful takeaway was his writing about passion and personality. A regular theme throughout the book was the power of teachers to create connections and moments that can effect a unforgetable positive change for a student. At the heart of this was the need for teachers to be authentic and real. “Showing feelings doesn’t make us vulnerable as teachers; it makes us complete…It’s by being ourselves that we become accessible” (112). I think this connects to a lot of the work that I’ve done around diversity. I’d go further to suggest that there is no way we can expect students to be authentic and real with us if we haven’t created an environment where we can be ourselves.

The final chapter was structured with a list of qualities to take forward:

  • Don’t criticise
  • Question bravely
  • Show an enduring interest in others
  • Think from the other person’s perspective
  • Humanise what opposes

I plan to keep this book nearby at all times and return regularly to its ideas. It was heartwarming to read such a real and moving account.

The Attention Industry Vs Today’s Classroom

A few weeks ago on National Radio, I caught Columbia University professor Tim Wu discussing the “Attention Industry” which he unpacks in his new book The Attention Merchants. He spoke about how our attention is a business – media companies, the
the-attention-merchantsentertainment industry, politics and just about everyone in the public sphere all want our attention. What is new for today’s society is the volume of competition and the ubiquity. There has never been so much competition for people’s attention with hundreds of things trying to grab our attention all day. As Wu point it: “It’s like we’re in a carnival non-stop all day”.

The implications of these ideas impact education. Educators too are in the attention business. We are competing for the attention of our students. When we consider the global competition for attention, can a teacher really be angry about a student who succumbs to click bait and ends up off task for a few minutes? What is the appropriate response when a student is taken away from the class discussion by a notification coming from their pocket?

I feel educators need to embrace being part of the attention business. The ubiquity of technology and the competition for attention that comes with it is part of the modern world and our students need support to navigate it. Wu says “the presence of all those technologies in our lives is driven by this business model and its appetite for more and more of our time.” Students need to be conscious consumers in this market and make autonomous decisions to contribute effectively. We have to be realistic about the world our students are navigating and make it transparent that we are also navigating it alongside them.

There’s deeper thinking to be done around the biological impact that the attention industry is having; but in the meantime, I think our focus should be nurturing agency and self-directed skillsets and focusing on the front half of the NZ curriculum.

The Power of Inquiry – Kath Murdoch

poibookI spent some time thinking about why ‘The Power of Inquiry‘ had made such a difference for my thinking above all the other literature I’ve engaged with dealing with inquiry. From about halfway through the book it became really clear that the point of difference was how holistic Kath Murdoch‘s ideas were around inquiry. Teaching through inquiry wasn’t about just about a process – it’s about a inquiry mindset that drives everything that we do; it’s a “way of being” (180). While this book appears to be more targeted at primary education, it was the idea of the inquiry mindset that I really latched onto and strongly feel is worth engaging with regardless of your sector.

The ideas in the book are really captured by the chapter headings, as titled below. For the purposes of this blogpost I’ve recorded something that each chapter triggered for me as a way of taking these ideas further in my practice.

Creating the Space: How can we design learning environments for inquiry?

I was struck by how this chapter didn’t just consider the physical environment, but also the emotional environment. I would argue these exist concurrently; design physical spaces for positive relationships. To me this means inclusive classroom spaces designed for diverse learners. The ideas of Universal Design for Learning sit nicely alongside this chapter.

Beyond Topics: What is Worth Inquiring Into?

Murdoch consider catalysts and contexts for inquiry, but also emphasises the big picture. The Newlands College vision contains the destination for our students. Any inquiry question posed can be evaluated by asking “how does this fit into the big picture?” (50). So for our Newlands College akonga we should be asking “how does your inquiry fit into our vision?”

Inviting Uncertainty: How can we grow a culture of questioning and curiosity?

The power of the question “what is this making you wonder?” really struck me (58). It’s a question that promote metacognition and allows thinking to be externalised. The process of learning becomes uncovered and questioning may indeed begin to flow. Other parts of the chapter recalled John Loughran’s ideas around questioning in What Expert Teachers Do (2010).

Finding our Way: What role can frameworks and models play in scaffolding inquiry learning?

The balance between formula and freedom was embraced here: “The challenge then is to acknowledge the way we can scaffold our planning and teaching by referring to a process without becoming overly prescriptive” (77). Essentially, I feel one needs to just get over yourself and let go. But also the notion of one lesson inquiries – deepening our understanding of the inquiry process through modeling it in one off lessons.

Assets for Life: How can inquiry nurture skills and dispositions for lifelong learning?

Drawing on Claxton’s learning power, Dweck’s work on growth mindset and Costa’s habits of mind, Murdoch makes a compelling case in this chapter for the way inquiry can prepare a student with toolkit for learning. The takeaway here is the importance of identifying the links to the skills and underlying dispositions that add value to the learning. In the Newlands College context, I believe this sounds like using the words of the vision actively to describe the learning taking place.

To each their own: why make it personal?

The idea that shone in this chapter was the power of letting go balanced with the challenge of letting go. Murdoch spoke about “holding the space” – giving the learning environment enough structure so that students can still find their way even if they find self-management difficult (124).

Staying Accountable: What does assessment look like in the inquiry classroom?

I felt like this quote summed up the entire book really:

Teacher who use inquiry-based methodologies have a firm belief in the transformative power of ownership. When students feel they are the ones ‘doing the learning’ rather than the teacher ‘doing the learning to them’ they are undoubtedly more engaged, and with engagement comes increase potential for learning (147).

Together is Better: How Can We Grow an Inquiry School?

Underlined the importance to me of not just having a vision, but having a deep and shared understanding of what that vision is. The shared aspect of that statement speaks to Murdoch’s section in this chapter on collaborative cultures which have been shown to increase student achievement (171).


Murdoch, K (2016) The Power of Inquiry. Seastar Education, Australia.

eFellow – Hui #2

The CORE Education Dr Vince Ham eFellowship programme continued last week with the second hui of 2017. I’m privileged to be one of seven teachers on this year long journey that will see us challenged and inspired as we all take on individual inquiries that will be presented at uLearn17. Continuing the trend from my blogpost on the first hui, I’ll capture the journey with three ideas and three questions.

New Ideas

1. Te Pā o Rākaihautū

Te Pā o Rākaihautū is the school that fellow eFellow Heemi dubbed “the school that whānau built”. It was a magical visit from which I am still buzzing. EFellow15 Steve Mouldey wrote about the school in his blog as “truly living their vision”Te Pā‘s vision uses the verb imagine – a really provocative way of framing a vision: “imagine a world where learning is exciting, challenging and meaningful; where our marae, our whenua, our moana are the classrooms; where our kaupapa, stories and knowledge are central to the curriculum; and where our tamariki, mātua, toua and poua can learn side by side.” This vision was in action in every classroom we visited. It was a privilege to walk through the classrooms, observing learning in action and observe an authenticity that I am still reflecting on many weeks later.

2. Hagley College20170405_131737

Our visit to Hagley College captured some similar themes. A completely different environment, but it too was incredibly connected to its community. The authenticity here was striking. When entering classrooms, it wasn’t immediately obvious who the teacher was. This wasn’t just because adult students are part of Hagley, it was also because of the design of the classrooms and the way that learning was being approached. In every context, from the animation room, cooking spaces and the fashion hub, the feeling of a traditional school simply wasn’t there. It didn’t feel that students were compromised in order to fit into the environment – students were at the centre. This is made all the more impressive by how the special culture of the school means that the roll picks up a lot of students that don’t succeed in other schools – drop outs, exclusions, or students that fall short of a qualification. This was another magical school to see in action.

3. Universal Design for Learning

Chrissie Butler was our guest on the second day, who was charged with the task of disrupting our thinking through introducing us to UDL. This was my second introduction to the framework – but it may as well have been my first, such was the way that Chrissie disrupted my assumptions. I need to do a lot more gathering of my thoughts around this, but a quick easy takeaway was the need to “plan for predictable variability”. More on UDL via Chrissie on EdTalks.

Questions

1.Letting them Try

Te Pā o Rākaihautū told us about their trying policy. If someone has an idea and it’s not against the law or the lore – then they can try it. If it works, try and make it better, if it doesn’t try something else. This reminds me of Welby Ings who in his recent book Disobedient Teaching claimed “waiting for permission means very little ever gets changed” (20, 2017). What needs to happen in the spaces I work to empower every teacher feel like they can make significant change?

2. Christchurch20170404_125827

With the hui being in Christchurch, we were right in the heart of a city that was in the process of transforming; I vow never again complain about the volume of Wellington’s roadworks. In travelling around the city we saw the remarkable way that disruptive thinking was challenging the way the think about space and community. The pop up, gap filling culture focused on creating temporary initiatives that invested in connecting people to the space. The TED talk below makes it clear that the movement is about people – how people understand space in the city and how they use it. What can education settings learn from this approach? How can we gap fill our schools to improve our learning spaces?

3. Inclusive Pedagogy

Questions I am taking forward with my project. Asking teachers to consider:

  • How do sexuality/gender minority students know they are safe in your classroom?
  • How does your practice support the disruption of heteronormativity or binary views of gender?

Pride in Union

CTu Out at Work Conference

This article was originally published in the PPTA News, Feb-Mar 2017

At the end of last year the Out@Work Biennial Conference/Hui was held in Wellington. The theme of the conference was pride, power and politics as relating to issues faced by workers of minority genders and sexualities. A diverse range of unions across the country were present including the PPTA.

The PPTA was represented at the conference by Kirsty Farrant (Advisory Officer) and Jerome Cargill (Rainbow Taskforce), who ran a workshop titled ‘Changing a Work Culture’.

This presentation used the ‘Safer School for All’ workshop, which the Rainbow Taskforce has delivered in more than 60 Secondary Schools across New Zealand in the last few years, as an example of the direction that other unions could take. The workshop addresses the bullying of students and other members of the wider school community who are perceived to be different because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The argument made was that the issues faced by workers of minority genders and sexualities could be challenged by more education for our young people who will be our next generation of workers. By creating safer and more accepting spaces in schools, we will create the expectation that workplaces follow the same principles.

It was an exciting opportunity to share this work. Feedback from the workshop reinforced that professional development and education is the best way forward for changing heteronormative and cisnormative cultures (the presumption that almost all people are assigned a gender at birth they feel comfortable with). Environments where hetereosexuality is expected and binary views of gender dominate are likely to contain discrimination on some level.

The conference reinforced that the PPTA are leading other unions in the way that formal structures exist in order to deal with the issues faced by the diverse workforce. We are fortunate to have the active voices of the Rainbow Taskforce which enables education of these important issues to be delivered across the union.

The conference featured a dinner as part of the programme attended by guest speakers Grant Robertson, Jan Logie and Kevin Hague. Each delivered a passionate speech about their experience fighting for equal rights for this community.

Kevin Hague made the point that despite our positive steps forward legislating equality through means such as the Marriage Amendment Act 2013, coming out for a young person today is just as scary as it was for someone 30 years ago. This speaks to the need for educators to continue to work towards providing inclusive environments for all students, as there is still a long way to go. 

Learning with the Community

wp-1489208646077.jpg

poibookThe photo above was taken on the school’s first ever Community Hour where members of the community were invited in to tell their stories and respond to student questions. It was organised by our Deputy Principal, Deb King, as part of launching our 2017 programme of Active Learning – weekly inquiry based learning time free from the constraints of curriculum and assessment.

The community was incredible at taking up this opportunity. Politicians, City Council, our feeders schools, police, fire department, the SPCA, InsideOUT, Newlands Community Centre, lawyers and a funeral director all came to speak to various groups of students un-conference style. The concept for the day came from the principles of curiosity found in Kath Murdoch’s book (pictured) which emphasises the power of inquiry and student questioning. The structure was supported by Sugata Mitra’s mantra of “learning at the edge of chaos” with the hour appearing unstructured and the school being alive with uncontrolled opportunities.

The group I sat with was talking to John Robinson from Challenge 2000. What struck me was the level of questioning that the students delved into – really interrogating John in terms of social justice. They really challenged the ideas being presented and the depth of their inquiries impressed me. Is this the result of giving the students free reign to respond authentically? What was also interesting was how little they listened to each other. It’s a small sample size, but the room’s questioning was erratic. Instead of building on from each other and asking questions along a consistent line, it really was pot luck as to where the next question would target. It’s a new part of teaching questioning I hadn’t thought about. The subject is important, but the room is equally so.

Presenting: ‘Safer Schools for All’ – Part III

Previously I’ve reflected on presented the Safer Schools for All workshop here and here, commenting on the need to minimise the ‘tell’ and to challenge prejudice or ‘weak’ suggestions. In this third reflection I am going to try and process both my most successful presentation and my most challenging.safer schools

There was a strong challenge in terms of the cultural location of the conversation. There was a suggestion on one of the feedback forms to “include more NZ/Maori/Pasifika references”. But a discussion during the session, which continued after went much deeper than that. It asked me to have a more cultural perspective across the entire presentation as a Maori lens responds differently to the issues raised. As this participant pointed out, the language exercise at the beginning of the session was something they couldn’t relate to. In Maori there are only respectful terms for those in the LGBTI+ group. They compared this to a Maori student swearing in English and asking them to speak reo as a way of addressing this language. Homophobic terms simple don’t exist in Maori, so the colonial framework of addressing them isn’t necessarily the most appropriate.

I have since revisited the original data from which we extract the statistics in the presentation. It backs up that the data is accurate for a range of ethnic backgrounds, with similar number for Pakeha and Maori identifying as same-sex or both sex attracted. However, the report does not break down the health, well-being, substance, sexual health statistics by ethnicity. I think it is important to clarify this data before the next presentation.

The slide mentioning cultural terminology for some of the aspects we talk about on the Sex, Sexuality and Gender spectrums does -on reflection – feel like tokenism. I feel there is a much deeper way of framing this presentation in a culturally inclusive way that goes beyond just adding more examples of takatapui and using more reo in the presentation. This is something I look forward to addressing as a taskforce!

That being said the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Some of the feedback below suggests some significant shifts have been triggered:

[In] PE and Health I often feel we as a subject area are always left to teach these types of issues in isolation and with time constraints we struggle to give as much as needed.

I was really impressed with the presentation and the presenter. I wasn’t expecting it to be this good and helpful. I can totally see the relevancy and how I could begin to implement this into my curriculum.

Thank you! I came into this not knowing what to expect & if I’m honest, wanting to be doing my work – not because of not seeing this as important but just time constraints. BUT this was so worthwhile! Thank you!

Excellent presentation. Moving and thought provoking. Nice balance of videos and talk and discussion. Staff were engaged and wanting to do more to support their students and each other. Thank you.

Good session! The school has a very subtle issue of homophobic behaviour and the use of slurs. The staff (including myself) could benefit from some more thinking and action in this area.

I’m very proud to be delivering the session, and hope those seeds continue to grow for a long time.