Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students

51ewlzrbrtl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Peter DeWitt’s 2012 book, ‘Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students’ is a call to action that is just as relevant now as it was five years ago. Written is a highly accessible way it focuses on the building the understanding of the needs of LGBT and the practical steps that can be taken to ensure safer schools.

Importantly, DeWitt makes it clear that this isn’t just about a minority group of students, this is about having a positive impact on the whole education ecology and everyone within it. “Without addressing the needs of LGBT students, educators are not addressing the needs of all students” (32).

Some of the key ideas he puts forward as action points include:

  • Educate staff about LGBT issues.
  • Participate in GLSEN’s ‘no name calling week’ which could reinforce NZ’s Bully Free Week, Day of Silence and Pink Shirt Day.
  • Read literature and use content that contains LGBT subject matter.
  • Do not be afraid to use LGBT language, like the word “gay”. Whispering the words or avoiding them suggests there is something that is wrong.
  • Encourage diverse thinking and for students to step outside their comfort zone by introducing the perspectives of minorities.
  • Ensure your school offers a GSA (commonly referred to as a QSA in NZ)

The best quotation I have heard was from a Rochester, New York, LGBT student who said, “You don’t have to do everything. You just have to do something” (11).

DeWitt, Peter (2012) Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students. Corwin Press: California.

eFellows17 – Hui #1

wp-1485562570118.jpgThe CORE Education Dr Vince Ham eFellowship programme kicked off last week with the first 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.

My intent with my eFellow17 hui blogposts is to briefly capture the discussion and learning with three ideas and three questions. I blog in order to reflect; by thinking back through the hui and synthesizing the discussion I hope to think more deeply about my learning. My aim is to share ideas that fit with the purpose of the fellowship: “to inspire transformational practice“.

Three Ideas

  1. Derek Wenmoth introduced the inquiry mindset and the key questions challenging education at the moment.
    • What do we see the role of technology in learning?
    • If education is all about interpreting knowledge – knowledge based system – who owns the knowledge?

The impact of these key questions was captured by the slide below, where he argued that realising the potential of 21st Century learning  can only occur when technology is used to transform learning and knowledge is owned by the collective.


2.  Alex Hotere-Barnes introduced ideas regarding Kaupapa Māori Research, and what he’s learnt being Pākehā and engaging in this area result. He referenced the work of critical Māori scholars Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Graham Smith and Ani Mikaere who all foreground the cultural and political dimensions of kaupapa Māori thinking and action.  A key point was the importance of challenging “deficit theories” in research that position Māori as “objects” of research; as opposed to being the designers and doers of Māori research. I took from this that there are a lot of cultural considerations to think about when approaching research from a Māori perspective; but fundamentally one needs to be open to communication and collaboration – it’s all about relationships.

3.  Keryn Davis introduced Cowie and Carr’s concept of the consequences of assessment – that all assessment makes a difference to competence (how does the assessment impact the abilities and skills of the learner?), continuity (what does this assessment connect to?) and community (how does assessment build community?)

Three Questions

  1. Derek’s question of “What do we see the role of technology in learning?” has been answered in a way by one of the leading players in NZ education, NZQA. The commitment to using digital formats for assessment has shaped a lot of the conversation in the last two years on this matter. However, as Derek pointed out, at this stage they substituting: taking a paper exam and putting it online. If we were to transform external assessment, what might that look like?
  2. In Alex’s presentation, he gifted us an expression: “Pākehā paralysis”, which is based on the work sociologist Martin Tolich. It occurs when pakeha become immobilised by the challenge of interacting in culturally appropriate ways.  This is a barrier that gets in the way of Maori success in the NZ school system. A question going forward is how best to overcome this feeling? What strategies do we need to employ? This EDtalk expands on that brief definition and has several ideas.

3. And finally, a question that is launching my inquiry this year: how might teachers collaborate to create safer spaces for students of minority sexualities and genders?


What Connected Educators Do Differently

b437fc27f47f9f13c721d09109968686This book really spoke to me, validating my work in recent years to develop a professional learning network, and my desire to expand this and become more connected. Written by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas, it acts as a call to arms for using social media (particularly Twitter) to connect and the importance of relationships (the 3 R’s: relationships, relationship, relationship) in education. This blogpost is just a bunch of ideas I extracted while reading the book and things I felt were worth revisiting.

Definition of a connected educator: “[educators] who are actively and constantly seeking new opportunities and resources to grow as professionals” (xxiii)

Principle of the 3 C’s: focus on Communication, Collaboration and Community. Invest in these principles!

“Who is helping you get better, or – more importantly – who is inspiring you to want to be great?” (30).

The challenge facing schools today is the ability to cultivate a culture wherein all members of the school community feel comfortable in disrupting routines long established by the status quo and embrace a connected world which is ready to support their desire to learn without limits (30)

Guide to setting up Twitter:

Strive to be tomorrow…today. Make a bigger impact by following these suggestions, which can be used as something like a checklist:

  1. Speed meet and greet – icebreakers to connect staff and create a family culture.
  2. Make it personal – give teachers time during professional learning to call 5 parents they would not otherwise and share with the parent something awesome about their child.
  3. The welcome wagon – have a select group of staff meet every new student in the school and ask them about their new experience being welcomed into the community.
  4. Making invisible students visible – during meetings, put up a list up of every student in the school and ask staff to write one thing about each one beside the name, those who have nothing are invisible and you can then think of a way to cultivate a relationship with that student.
  5. This week on twitter – share inspiring tweets with the school.
  6. Thank a parent or  a staff member – call the parents of the new teachers and let them know how great it is to have them working at the school.
  7. Two a day – two personal notes a day to staff from the SMT/PL
  8. Invite them back – call those who have dropped out of school and personally invite them back.
  9. Accentuate the positive – at SMT/HOFS/DEANS/PL talk about a teacher who has made a difference and then follow up with a note to that teacher.
  10. Celebrate good times – each faculty should start meetings with a successful learning story.
  11. Front and centre – Have the Principal greet people for a day – sit in reception.
  12. Student Leadership Teams – Host them for a monthly lunch.
  13. Exchange dates – host exchanges with other schools to swap teachers and students – model connections with others.
  14. Local educamp – partner with neighbouring schools and host a camp re professional learning development together.
  15. Televise the tweets – on a public TV at your school.
  16. #oneperson – have staff members name one person who has made a difference in their lives and write their address and a message on a postcard. Store these and send them in December.

These ideas and the overall purpose of the book speaks to the importance of relationships. Professional relationships beyond the school through social media can foster collaboration and widen your community and the impact of your teaching and learning.

In the concluding chapter, the authors surmised that connected educators:

  • establish their professional learning network
  • begin to learn what they want, when they want, and how they want (greater knowledge of themselves as a learner)
  • focus on communication, collaboration and community
  • have a ‘giving mindset’
  • strive to be tomorrow, today
  • always focus on relationships, relationships, relationships.
  • model the way
  • and know when to unplug (126).

I’ll be taking many of these ideas forward with me now. Cannot speak more highly of this book and the passion with which it is clearly written.

Whitaker, Todd, Zoul, Jeffrey & Casas, Jimmy (2015) What Connected Educators Do Differently. New York: Routledge.

The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp

visionI was drawn to reading this text due to personal interest in the creative process through teaching creative arts subjects, but also wanting a deeper understanding of the word ‘creative’ which is prominent in the Newlands College vision. Twyla Tharp is someone I didn’t know by name, but I was already familiar with some of her work.

My general position on creativity in the classroom was that explicitly teaching creativity is a myth. I’ve joked about this with colleagues as we’ve laughed about the idea of framing up a lesson with:

  • C: Creativity
  • R: To learn how to be creative
  • O: You will have been creative
  • P: 1. Creative starter; 2. What is creativity? 3. Creative exercise; 4. Creative reflection

I have argued that creativity comes through student voice, agency and opportunities. Some of these opportunities to go outside the box are explicit, but if the classroom is designed in such a way that students have the opportunity of using their voice, then there is the opportunity for them to think for them to express creativity. But now, Tharp has cartainly challenged my perception on what it means to learn creativity.

254799Her thesis is that “In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative” (9). The book is essentially about how to prepare and create opportunities for creation from the perspective of an artist who has mastered their craft. She argues their is a process that generates creativity and anyone can learn it. In order to have this perspective one must therefore view creativity are the result of hard work, not some “transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration” (7). Therefore learning creativity is about adopting habits and a creative mindset (there are certainly growth mindset overlaps here).

A few points of interest:

  • “Get busy copying” (66). A challenge to my perception of creativity. Something I could think about reframing when giving opportunities for media students to come up with film ideas for their productions. “Traveling the paths of greatness, even in someone else’s footprints, is a vital means to acquiring skill” (66).
  • Generating ideas required four steps. Tharp argues some people are good at some of these but never all four. Holding awareness of your strengths and adopting strategies to address limitations is key to ensuring your ideas matter.
    • Generate – create, from memory or experience
    • Retain – hold on to it, don’t wake up without the idea
    • Inspect – study it, examine, infer
    • Transform – alter it in some way to suit your higher purposes
  • “Practice makes perfect – Not true. Perfect practice makes perfect” (165). Practice to maintain and protect your skills as you do to develop them. “Art is a vast democracy of habit” (166). 0968aa60b060f4d0da0400d390d0cb18

I believe overall that my views on creativity and education have shifted from this book. I have certainly begun to see the creative process as a habit, as something that can be taught. Explicit teaching appears to be the key and talking about each aspect of the process, making it clear how to scratch for ideas, deal with ruts and stay in grooves will enhance creativity in my classroom.

What about where creativity sits as a core value for the school? I’m left thinking about how these ideas sit within other subjects outside the arts. Is creativity viewed as a habit that can be learnt in science? How do we make ‘creative’ a word that doesn’t just appear in the vision, but a essential part of the fabric of the school?

Tharp, Twyla (2003) The Creative Habit. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks.

Personalised Learning – The Continuum of Choice


In reading this article on personalised learning trends, this graphic stood out. Originally introduced by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey, it presents the opportunity to reflect on where we are at on this continuum of choice. It got me thinking about my classroom design, and how we can evaluate not just individual lessons/classes, but also different parts of our practice:

  • Drama class: students are participants and occasionally designers
  • Media classes: students are co-designers at first, but upgrade to designers once the expectations are set up
  • Active Learning: they have the opportunity to be advocates and entrepreneurs
  • Deaning: provides students the opportunity to be an advocate, but historically would say I’ve treated the students as participants.
  • Leading Professional Learning: my colleagues are participants.

This graphic offers a really accessible visualisation of the role of the teacher in learning, and a way of creating meaningful goals and next steps. For instance, I think I can do a better job at leading professional leading whereby my colleagues become co-designers in my focus group. By giving the teachers a greater role in the group they will need to examine their purpose for learning more which will make the sessions more valuable. They can learn from experiencing this approach and potentially take it into their classrooms.

I would add that what I plan to do with this illustration is share it not just with colleagues, but also with students. It will help to communicate what I want from them and their learning and part of the ‘why‘ of what we are doing in the class. I feel transparency around the intentions of student-centred learning is essential to making it successful.

Sage on the Screen – Education and Media Technology

sage-screen_webThis interested book written by Bill Ferster organises itself through chronological developments in technology. Ferster captures each development as a history of progress and relates it to the growth of modern pedagogy. The contents pages looks like this:

  1. Traditional Media
  2. Interactive Media
  3. Hypermedia
  4. Cloud Media
  5. Immersive Media
  6. Making Sense of Media for Learning

The temptation here is to see such a structure as a rubric that we are moving through. One could argue that traditional media for instance could be prestructural on the SOLO Taxonomy, and immersive media is the extended abstract. This notion led me to reflect on my own practice, which I would argue fits in the cloud media space – streaming media, MOOC’s, flipping, are all embedded in some way into what I do. From the rubric perspective, this book gave me an insight into what education is moving towards.

The historical approach to this book led to some interesting evaluative comments about the introduction of media technology into education. In the formative years, as cinema, radio and television all emerged, application of these mediums into education settings appears to be ineffective coming from the perspective of transformational pedagogy. The case study put forward here of American Samoa where congressional funding was used in the early 1960s to create instructional televised lessons which were used for up to 30% of the learning time. “The top down, autocratic nature of the American Samoa experiments is typical of how many educational technology projects are implemented” (36). Professional capital was absent from this approach, and therefore the technology – at best – only substituted the teacher’s practice rather than enhanced the learning.


The book then documented the attempts of technology to create learning experiences that were not passive, or linear in their implementation (42). Learner agency developed with the introduction of more interactive media, but needed to move in alignment with developments in pedagogy. Where traditional media, like films, offered teachers a break, the shift to interactive forms of media required a different set of teaching skills (70). The disconnect between the technology and the implementation had begun – something which is visible now in a BYOD environment where students might still be experiencing no fundamental change in the instruction because pedagogy has not moved alongside the technology. (Represented by the first level of the SAMR model).

When exploring hypermedia, Ferster argued that “using multiple (but appropriate) forms of media together can often be more effective than any single media form alone” (88). This was supported by Richard Mayer’s research into the principles of multiple-channel learning:


This research presents  a compelling argument for blended learning, but what technology to blend? The media technology that could potentially feature in classrooms has never been more diverse. This is evident in the immersive media chapter, where virtual reality and augmented reality are explored. The challenge in laid down in the final sentence: “if instructors can come up with compelling uses for the new capabilities these tools afford, immersive media may indeed join the pantheon of instructional media forms” (158).

My major takeaway is that the human element is fixed element in any pedagogy. Many media products “assume that all students come to instruction with the same amount of preexisting knowledge and learn at the same pace;” however, a good teacher can optimise this tool and create learning opportunities for the right students, at the right time and the right place (171). The human element is the most important factor in learning, and no modern media or medium can replace it… yet.

Ferster, Bill. Sage on the Screen: Education, Media, and How We Learn. John Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, Maryland. 2016.

2016: In Review

At the start of the year I set myself a goal to blog more regularly in order to hit the lofty target of 52 posts across the year. This post is the 52nd and I’m very proud to have made it. To wrap this up, I thought I would use this post to reflect on what I’ve written about. Scroling through, three main areas became clear to me…

Diversity – from Tolerance to Acceptance

This has been a massive year for equality movements globally and for me personally around this issue; however, I remain cynical about whether or not schools are moving quick enough to support sex, gender and sexual minority youth who are significantly at risk.

The biggest moment for me was the Seven Sharp story I was featured in back in April. The response was global with responses coming from far and wide, culminating in being published on Out Teacher – a UK website. The opportunities this produced for connections and networking can only be topped by the ripples the story has made – most of which I will never find out about – but the odd facebook message or private email from strangers suggests that this has made a real difference to a lot of people.

I am now thinking more and more about how to make change in this area, by exploring more about leadership and diversity, and looking forward to exploring this as part of a Core Education Dr Vince Ham e-Fellowship.

Sharing Knowledge

Closely related to diversity, a big shift for me this year has been the increasing opportunities to share through presenting. This has come in many forms, such as delivering the Safer Schools for All workshop in March and in July. More significant were the opportunities to present at three conferences:

These have been really special highlights for me. In particular uLearn16 where the feedback was so receptive and warm – with many following up for more information afterwards. The other area I’ve been able to share is through writing regularly for the PPTA News. Some of those articles I’ve blogged as well:

My next step this year is sharing more of what I’m doing in my classroom: reframing assessment in a curriculum driven multi level environment. I’ve evaluated how this have progressed this year, but I would like to share this work further so more voices can contribute to the development of this approach.

The Echo Chamber

Possibly the most significant challenge that I took away from uLearn16 was from Karen Spencer’s keynote. This was a conference where Larry Rosenstock and Michael Fullen presented, so I was fairly surprised that the keynote that stuck with me the most was homegrown. Titled ‘Beyond the Echo Chamber’ the challenge was to look for people that disagree with you, to go slowly into innovation, and to find the urgency based on what the students really need. This stuck such a chord with me because I tend to experiment the next day when it comes to reading about a new idea. But the challenge here is in order for change to be deep and significant, it needs to have a robust process in behind it.

So how can I look outside the echo chamber? I’ve been very lucky this year to have read some powerful books which are helping me to understand different perspectives and challenging my assumptions:

Furthermore, I’ve attended several presentations that have helped challenge my thinking as well:

Collating this information makes me enormously proud of my professional journey this year and increasingly excited for 2017. I really value this process of blogging. The idea of publishing my thinking and reflection so that it could be read by anyone can feel silly sometimes. However, the process of reflecting, writing, more reflecting, more writing – knowing that at the end of the day anyone could read this work – helps to make my thinking clearer, my connections deeper, and I think it helps to make me a more effective teacher.