2017: In Review

Last year I wrote a 2016 in review to reflect on a year of professional learning and the blogposts that I had written. It was an interesting exercise, reaffirming the reason for writing this blog, which is more for personal assimilation than for any potential audience out there (the potential audience pressures me to assimilate). Three trends from reflecting on the blogposts I wrote in 2017:

Technology in the Back Seat

I’ve felt the ubiquity of technology (the second year teaching in a full BYOD environment) has made it less of driver around professional learning conversations. This came through my own refocusing on inquiry through the work of Kath Murdoch as well as the action research of my eFellowship.  The keynotes at uLearn also reinforced this shift. Eric Mazur’s focus on shifting from transferring information to assimilating information and Abdul Chohan’s articulation of the role of belief in change initiatives both moved away from the tool to the pedagogy.

The place of technology in education was really nailed for me by Richard Watson in his book ‘Digital Vs Human‘. He was very clear that technology needs to be purposeful and not driven by capitalism. Derek Wenmoth contextualised this when presenting the 10 trends, suggesting that any technology, any new trend in education, needs to be explored through lenses of ethics, citizenship, safety and equity. Using technology just to grab a student’s attention isn’t good enough in 2017. What is the point of presenting a new technology tool to a staffroom if you aren’t going to discuss how it impacts on student learning? Pedagogy is the driver.

The Politics of Diversity

In 2017 I continued to present the Safer Schools for all workshop also got to share this work at the CTU Pride Union Conference. I discovered the work of Peter DeWitt, which was inspirational to read. I was also very proud to peer review the vital ‘Supporting LGBTIQA+ Students’ inclusive guide on TKI. But it was Welby Ings and his book ‘Disobedient Teaching’ that really gave a political context for this work. He stated “waiting for permission means very little ever gets changed” and this work with promoting diversity is so often dependent on permission from straight white cis-males in leadership positions. My eFellowship research took aim at this in a way by working with teachers in the middle and making ripples to impact change. Going forward I want to hold this work with strong values while remembering being inclusive isn’t something that teachers need permission for.

He Tāngaga, He Tāngata, He Tānagata

The overwhelming trend in my thinking this year has been the importance of putting everybody (not just students) at the centre. From professional reading on this to a class EduCamp, there has been a clear theme of stories that has connected a lot of my journey in 2017. The eFellowship brought together seven stories to work alongside one another and the intersections between those journeys was often the most rewarding. One of those eFellows, Heemi, was exploring specifically indigenous narrative frameworks and story as data. Another moment this year that bought stories together was the ‘Learning with Our Community’ day. Having so many people from the community in the school inspiring the students with their personalised stories was a real special opportunity to be involved in.

Last year I drove away from Newlands College for the last time. After eight years I needed a change and shortly I’m going to be making my way to London to teach in a new system in a new country. I’m disappointed this comes at a time just as I’ve been woken up by Ann Milne who has helped me find my internal bias and my need for action to truly become a culturally responsive teacher. I’ve found through the process of reflecting on leaving along with Milne’s book and uLearn presentation this year that ‘people’ is the key to my educational philosophy. Something I tried to capture that in some of the last words I spoke at Newlands College:

Celebrate our differences, our uniqueness, our diversity. Champion our people, because it is the people that make this place so special. It is the people here that have made the difference to me. It is the people I will always remember. He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.

 

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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. 

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.

ASG National Excellence in Teaching Award

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I hesitated about writing publicly about this as the award still sits uncomfortably with me. However, I felt it was important to convey these ideas in writing as that discomfort has actually enabled some deep reflection about my teaching philosophy. I also believe that this type of discussion has a stigma of being transgressive; this needs to be changed.

This article from the Independent Herald (22 June) captured a moment in a long journey with the ASG scholarship. It doesn’t capture that I’m a Media Studies teacher, but that is forgivable. What isn’t forgivable is that there is an editorial decision to no mention my work with the LGBT students and promotion of diversity as a core value to the school. Grant spoke about this in the presentation and a quick google would arrive at the Seven Sharp story from earlier in the year.

I found that this editorial omission took place earlier in the process, not by the Independent Herald, but this time by ASG themselves. Before the press release of the regional winners came out I had a chance to proof the biography that they had constructed for me. Despite over half of my award submission covering my diversity based work, my 200 word bio contained not a single acknowledgement of this defining aspect of my practice. After a small bit of negotiation my biography was agreed to contain:

As an openly gay teacher he has led a culture change in the school, promoting acceptance and diversity through a range of initiatives.

But the larger omission was when this was left from the press release which described my practice, and from which I presume the Independent Article was written. It was like trying to get the colourblind to see a rainbow. It appears that people want to recognise this work, but when it comes to actually articulating it, clouds of euphemism plague the message. I truly hope the next wave of LGBT leaders find it easier for their work to be recognised with transparent and honest language in the mainstream media.

Overall, the ASG process allowed a significant opportunity to deeply reflect about my practice. Like the video above, the essays I wrote contained a wealth of reflective thinking about what I do that makes a difference. It is a shift from the standard way I reflect whereby I am reframing what didn’t work. But I found it enormously empowering to focus on the positives of my practice and explore this in some detail.

Finally, in the article above, I’m quoted as referring to Newlands as a “fabulous culture of teaching.” I said that when it became clear I had to give a acceptance speech which was quite unexpected and uncomfortable. I survived by trying to revision the award as not being individual recognition, but a symbol of effective collaboration. Of course, I was going a bit post-truth there. The reality is that the ASG scholarship despite it’s best intentions is perpetuating the idea of teaching being an individualistic profession. Michael Fullen and Andy Hargreaves talk about the ostracizing that occurs after presenting teacher of the year awards. I haven’t felt that directly, but I have no doubt that resistance to performance based recognition is operating on some level. I know this because it is definitely operating within me.

Leadership and Diversity

An interesting reading by Marianne Coleman. She applies a definition of diversity as “categories of difference in individuals to which value judgement stereotypes are consciously and unconsciously applied, bringing advantage to dominant groups” (173). This has strong connections and implications for work with LGBT staff and students that I’ve previously discussed. The chaKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERApter asks two reflective questions at its conclusion:

  1. As a leader in education what do you consider to be the key values relating to leadership and diversity in education?
  2. In what ways might your institution ensure that diversity is fully considered in policies and practice?

The ideas in the chapter helped clarify some thinking around these provocative questions through examining leadership theory. In particular the idea of value-led leadership: “If valuing the diversity of individual students and staff is a key part of the ethos, this should feed through to every aspect of their leadership” (178). Important to this is examining bias so that an authentically inclusive environment can be created and sustained.

Another layer of the chapter I found persuasive was the notion that “the behaviours of school leaders have a greater impact on pupil performance than school structures or leadership models” (173). This speaks of the importance of interweaving diversity based values into the fabric of the school so that these values are naturally occurring. The natural presence of these values need to be balanced with the interrogation of assumptions to ensure that awareness remains high and our “value judgement stereotypes” are regulated (173).


Coleman, M. (2011) ‘Leadership and Diversity’ in Robertson, J & Timperley, H. (eds) Leadership and Learning. London: SAGE Publications. Pp. 172-185.

The Challenges and Opportunities in Creating Queer-Friendly School Cultures

Earlier this year, Angela King and I presented at ILGA Oceania on behalf of the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce. This was to share what we have learned about changing school cultures to enable queer young people to be safe and welcome, something I wrote about for the PPTA News. PPTA, as the union for high school teachers in New Zealand, has been providing materials to schools on affirming diversity of sexualities and gender diversities since 2001. Over the last five years the Taskforce has delivered whole-staff professional development at about sixty schools, ranging from large urban secondary schools to small rural area schools. The workshop will consider how successful this work has been, and what more is required to ensure that all schools in New Zealand are queer-friendly.

PPTA Rainbow Taskforce Feedback

Our presentation (accessible here) gave and overview of the work that the Taskforce does, but opened up the dialogue around what the needs are for our presentation to tackle. This padlet captures the responses that the group made to the question: what’s missing? What does the presentation lack? How can we bring it into current thinking? Their responses represent the enormous amount of work that is yet to happen on a large scale in this area.

Safer Schools Workshop at ILGA Oceania

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This article was first published in the PPTA News – Feb/Mar 2016

The inaugural ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association) Oceania Human Rights and Health Conference was hosted in Wellington earlier in the year. It attracted scholars, community leaders and friends from the Oceania region as well as ILGA representatives from across the globe.

Organising committee member Rawa Karetai opened the conference by saying “this is a great opportunity for our communities to add our voices by identifying the issues affecting us here in Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific as well as share our stories on the international stage”.

Angela King and I represented the PPTA Rainbow Taskforce at the conference and also ran a workshop to share the success of the ‘Safer Schools for All’ programme.

The ‘Safer Schools for All’ workshop has been delivered in more than 60 Secondary Schools across New Zealand in the last few years. It addresses the issue of 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.

It was an exciting opportunity to share this work and feedback from the presentation reinforced that this targeted professional development was leading the way for changing heteronormative school cultures.

Another notable presentation at the conference was a report from a nation wide youth survey. The feedback emphasised again how the reality is concerning for students of diverse sexualities and genders.

Most youth reported negative experiences in their schools. However, positive experiences like peer acceptance and support groups were overwhelmingly shared by pakeha gay males. This shows the marginalisation of many other identities by schools and their environments. It is becoming increasingly important to be aware of this diversity beyond just gay and lesbian because our young generation are identifying with more fluid identities.

These findings were raised in a panel discussion with representatives from parliament. They were asked what they were doing to change the situation for LGBTI+ youth and what they experiencing in schools?

Louisa Wall noted that we are dealing with “a reactive system. At the moment, schools are reliant on an active group or students or teachers to initiate change to address the need for more support for these students”. One action point suggested was to increase the visibility of LGBTI+ issues, which means more than just a poster on the wall, but policies and practices in all school spaces that respect diverse youth and treat them with dignity.

The conference was attended by the head of ILGA, Renalto Sabbadini. In his opening address he challenged the sense of binaries that some parts of society are still holding onto and the prejudices that this reveals. He called for the community to continue to challenge and ask questions of society’s assumption “because it is only by questioning ourselves and by having others question themselves that we can grow, as individuals and as a society”.