Thursday, 31 August 2017

On the pathway to creative excellence

Learn Create Share, the critical pedagogy of the Manaiakalani programme, develops students' key skills as they work towards creative excellence.

In the workshop today we found students of 9Mn learning new skills, creating a specific product (a balance toy) and sharing their work as they progress on their individualised learning pathways.

Students were learning critical skills such as self management and planning (the use of GANT charts to plan their work), the use of tools and machinery (drill press, and welding torch for example), and their imagination, as they worked towards the completion of their individualised product, and the sharing of their progress on their blogs.

The class was technology rich in both a digital sense, and the more traditional hand tools and machinery sense, as students had their hands on a wide range of tools and equipment. The engagement amongst the students was high as they focussed on their individual tasks.

Of special note was what educationists, in their jargon, call 'agency'. That is, the obvious management and control that students were exhibiting over their own learning.

These are all essential ingredients of any pathway towards creative excellence.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Learning to take risks

Last Christmas I saw the movie Moana. Maybe you did too. I loved it. It reminded me of this fabulous whakatauki:

Tēnā te ngaru whati,
Tēnā te ngaru puku

There is a wave that breaks,
There is a wave that swells

It got me thinking and reading about our Polynesian navigators.  These voyagers navigated across thousands of miles of ocean, able to move from one island to the next with no maps, no compasses, no sextants, none of those 'European' inventions that we might think are essential to long distance navigation. We would be insulting to label their techniques as primitive in some way. That implies superiority of the European tradition over the Polynesian, when these peoples were successfully travelling across those thousands of miles of empty oceans while Europeans were often still unwilling to sail beyond visible land masses along the coasts of the Mediterranean, or the Atlantic.

I was fascinated by how they did this. They used a whole range of techniques including use of the stars, the movement of ocean currents and wave patterns, the air and sea interference patterns caused by islands and atolls, the flight of birds, the winds and the weather. From this knowledge they were able to set out on their own journeys of discovery, journeys that involved great risk, journeys that created their own futures. And none of this knowledge was written down as we would know it today. No iPhones, no Apps, no text of any kind, this was maintained by oral tradition.

This got me thinking about our own journey, our journey towards our lofty goal as ‘A centre of creative excellence’. There are lots of similarities. We don’t have a map. While we have clever modern technologies they don’t tell us how to get there. That's down to us, the people. He tangata he tangata he tangata. We have a lofty aspiration, a hope, a dream, that this is somewhere out there, and we have to go find it.

Like the Polynesian navigators, we have to learn stuff. We are creating our own pathways, our own futures. The things we learn we have to share because working together makes us much stronger than we are as individuals. We have to believe we can do this. It’s called a growth mindset.

And like those Polynesian navigators we have to take risks. At this stage in our kids' lives they have to develop the ability to take risks, and to know which risks are worth taking. That’s a part of their school journey.

What does that look like? We had one fantastic example of what it could look like to learn to take risks. Two weeks ago we held our 2017 talent quest. The school prefects organised the event. The highest number of students that anyone can remember for many years came forward and auditioned. Of those, five acts went through to the finals. They now know what it is like to put yourself out there in front of a packed auditorium and perform. The prefects similarly know what it is like to put yourself out there for others to look at. For every one of us, putting ourselves in front of others, setting ourselves up for possible criticism, is a huge risk. We all tend to think that people will hate us, that people will be overly critical about us. That creates anxiety - the pulse quickens, the mouth goes dry, we start sweating. But that’s what we all need to do a little more often.

Our vision includes the word ‘excellence’. For those Polynesian voyagers nothing less than excellence would do. Anything else meant death, For us, for different reasons, nothing less than excellence will do. It is our future. For our students ‘excellence’ means success. It means success NOW. It means access to the sort of life they want. It means giving everything their best shot, because they are WORTH it. It means making sure that every assessment they tackle gets their greatest effort, every time. It means going into the exam room at the end of the year determined to give themselves their best shot, because what they do is for them, not for anyone else.

Who amongst our students will be the next millionaire? The next developer of a world changing app? The next national league or basketball star? The next great advocate for human rights? For the future of Te Reo?

'Learn Create Share' is all about just that. It's about learning to take risks, to create stuff, to learn while doing it, to share that creation with others. The 'creation' might be something physical like a 3D printed object or a sculpture. It could equally be a poem or an opinion written in a blog. The world needs more wealth creators not wealth consumers. It needs people willing to take a risk, to stand up and stand out, people willing to 'Learn Create Share'.

Like those Polynesian navigators, we are steering by our own stars, making our own way towards our destination as ‘A centre of creative excellence’.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A defining question in focussing on creativity

Recently I was listening to a Radio New Zealand interview with a guest discussing leadership. In the interview was a discussion about what created successful organisations. One specific example really caught my attention, and it was the strategy used by Sir Peter Blake in engineering back to back America's Cup wins for Team New Zealand.


Here is a lovely description I found on the web:
But Peter Blake was a practical New Zealander and a veteran of ocean sailing and racing so instead of fancy spread sheets and performance metrics, he focused the team on one single strategy:  Will it make the boat go faster?
Every decision was evaluated against that one simple, yet holistic and powerful statement.  The team began to rethink everything they knew about sailing and racing with this one strategy in mind.  Training and team composition changed, equipment size and weight changed, sails changed.  Even the crew comforts were looked at through the eyes of “will it make the boat go faster?”
The results, real team spirit, alignment and focus, and back to back wins in 1995 and 2000.

My question is what our Hornby High School equivalent might be.

I think it is "Will it foster creative excellence?" Perhaps this is a question we should ask of every single thing we do. If aspiring to be 'a centre of creative excellence' is the vision, then why would we do anything that didn't ultimately support the achievement of that vision?

R Sutton

Friday, 5 May 2017

Creativity and risk taking

Our vision for Hornby High School ('A centre of creative excellence') is pretty big. Trying to get there could be likened to trying to eat an elephant (not that I am suggesting really eating these beautiful creatures.....)

How do you do that?" Well - one bite at a time, of course. So we broke the vision down into three strategic goals, one of which is "To foster inspirational, risk taking and enterprising leadership in all members of our learning community".

This goal generated a lot of questions when it was first revealed, and in our own minds early justification lay with the idea that successful people are prepared to give things a try, to take a risk, and be resilient enough to accept failure. This left unsaid the idea that there is a basic relationship between risk taking and creativity, something I made reference to in an earlier blog.

This notion of risk taking can be thought of at two levels. The first is the need to take risks to generate new ideas. In a delightful article about Albert Einstein and risk taking, author Steven Kotler suggested:

When the brain encounters unfamiliar stimuli under uncertain conditions—especially when those are dangerous uncertain conditions—baser instincts take over. As a result, brain’s the rational extrinsic system is shunted aside in favor of the intuitive creative system.  Simply put, in an effort to save our own butts, the brain’s pattern recognition system starts hunting through every possible database to hunt up a solution.
He also suggested:
Risk, therefore, causes the mind to stretch its muscles. It creates mandatory conditions for innovation. It trains the brain to think in unusual ways. It trains the brain to be more creative.
So risk is essential to the creative process.

Risk can, I think, be seen in another way too, one very relevant to most us, and especially to teenagers and education. The simple act of sharing something we have created feels very much like taking a risk. The risk comes from the fear of criticism, the fear that others will 'bag you' because what you have produced isn't good enough.

Here is a personal example. In my recent ANZAC Day address at the local Hornby service, I read a poem (a villanelle, to be precise - see if you can spot the pattern that gives it this form). People in the audience commented afterwards that they enjoyed it. What I didn't say at the time is that I wrote this in 2010.

For reference, here is the poem:

What are we remembering?

Oh Glorious acts beheld in history's gaze
In written tomes of acts performed when brave men fought,
Tales abound of men gone past before their days.

Such chronicles of deeds are writ in bloody ways,
From writers who with backward glance their stories wrought
Oh Glorious acts beheld in history's gaze.

Speakers voice with rapture acts that daze
In ways that prompt imagining and thought,
Tales abound of men gone past before their days.

These tales become more mawkish with time's haze
As fewer marchers march with mem’ries fraught,
Oh Glorious acts beheld in history's gaze.

Ghosts of men long gone absorb the praise
Although 'twas not the act their actions sought,
Tales abound of men gone past before their days.

Sunrise welcomes new remembrance days
Do we march each year because we ought?
Oh Glorious acts beheld in history's gaze
Tales abound of men gone past before their days

On reflection it's interesting that, despite my age, I was slightly fearful of revealing that I was responsible for this act of creativity. How then do we expect teenagers to feel? As school Principal, as the one privileged to lead and be a part of such a wonderful team and such a wonderful community, surely I should be prepared to do what I expect others to do?

All of this I write to support yet again the 'Learn, Create, Share' pedagogy, the pedagogy that is the foundation of the Manaiakalani programme that underlies our approach to learning at Hornby High School. This is why we identified promoting responsible risk taking as a fundamental part of the plan to become 'A centre of creative excellence'.

The act of sharing is by its very nature an example of risk taking (think about how I might feel having just published  a poem I wrote seven years ago). This is what we are asking of our young people. And so the act of sharing should stimulate even more creativity. It's not a one way relationship.

Having written all of this, maybe we need to challenge the suggestion I have made about responsible risk taking too. Maybe creativity is stimulated even more in the brains of those teens who are prone to hurtle downhill on their mountain bikes, or throw themselves into a tackle on the league field with everything they've got. If we believe what Kotler said in the article I referenced above, maybe the bigger the risk the more we unleash the creative power that lies within all of our minds.

Maybe bullrush should be mandatory in the school playground? Maybe climbing apparatus in school adventure playgrounds should be higher still?

But I never said that.

Robin Sutton

Monday, 1 May 2017

Aligning pedagogy and buildings for creativity and excellence

It was Sir Winston Churchill who said 'We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us". We have completed detailed design, the contracts have been let, and the contractors are on site for our (almost) complete school rebuild.

We have taken our time to think carefully about the pedagogy that we think should drive learning at Hornby High School. Remember that 'pedagogy' is just a piece of jargon meaning 'how we cause learning to happen'. Our pedagogy is best described by these three words 'Learn Create Share'. - the pedagogy of Manaiakalani. From that we chose to make our mission to be 'A centre of creative excellence'. How have we tried to make the built environment reflect that vision, and that pedagogy?

Our first desire was to try to make the school (well the school entrance) as little like a school as we could. That was the second thing I ever said to the architects, and this is the result - the Waterloo Road entrance to the school as it will appear later in 2018.

Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 10.34.52 AM.png

Why did I want that? If we are to succeed in engaging whanau and community, we have to break down the barriers that many may feel based upon their own often less than inspiring experiences of schools in decades past. I wanted to make sure that the architecture would present the least barrier possible.

The next question was - how can we create buildings that support creativity?

In it's most obvious form, in our specialist teaching spaces we have placed the creative arts at the centre of those spaces, with sciences, foods, and technologies placed physically around them.

It seemed obvious to us (and the architects) that creating 'functional adjacencies' (don't you just love that jargon? It means making use of the cross-overs or common elements between different departments) would more likely support teacher and student collaboration. So we placed these subject areas together. We want staff AND students to share their ideas around the creative process.

In the more general teaching spaces we have created a mix of small and large spaces that support student collaboration (working together). We have also made sure that there are plenty of spaces that will support student activities creating .. well, creating 'stuff'. So our 'learning hubs' as we currently refer to them will all have areas suitable for lower end sciences, arts and technologies. By 'lower end' I mean those that require less in the way of specialist equipment rather than meaning less demanding. It's all demanding. Our aim is to support the process and the act of creation, whether it be in drama or foods, electronics or painting, chemistry or physics.

All of these spaces surround a whare and a central courtyard. We are a community, a community that values and respects its cultural origins, and its need to work, live and play together.

Our current challenge is to reshape our pedagogy, those approaches that we use to cause learning. We see this as a step by step process. While schools elsewhere in the world have done this, we cannot expect to simply copy their journey and their solutions. No-one has done this before in our Hornby secondary school community, we have to develop our own solutions, our 'Hornby Way' if you like.

The basis for excellent achievement right throughout the school is the development of high level skills in the junior school. One of the strategies we are using to improve those skills at the junior level is to extend our 'connected curriculum' from Years 7 and 8 into Years 9 and 10.  The highly successful business kete, and arts kete, developed and run in Years 7 and 8 are being pushed out to Years 9 (2017) and 10 (2018).

A very successful trial in project based learning in 2016 is being further developed in 2017.

We are trying to take more learning risks; progress never occurs unless we are prepared to take risks. Our third strategic goal is "To foster inspirational, risk taking and enterprising leadership in all members of our learning community". This goes for staff as well as students. And just as for students so it has to be said for staff that 'it's okay to fail'.

We are pushing hard to develop the use of digital tools in our students' learning. Digital tools are acknowledged as an accelerator of learning, as long as they are used with new pedagogies. Using new technology to do what we have always done is, as Alan November would say, simply creating a $1000 pencil. The evidence being accumulated by the Woolf Fisher Research Centre out of Auckland University supports the belief that the technology, combined with the Learn Create Share pedagogy, is an accelerator. Actually it's more than that, it's a game changer for our learners.

So we have shaped our buildings, and we are shifting our pedagogy. When the first of our new buildings is opened in later 2018 we'll enter that phase where our buildings will shape us. We will make yet another step along the path of our journey to become 'A centre of creative excellence'.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Our growing understanding of what creativity looks like

What will it look like once we are that centre of creative excellence that we aspire to be? None of us knows yet. I have given examples of what creativity could look like in the daily life of a school, and each of these still holds true.

However even after only 6 months on the journey we are coming to other ways of thinking about creative excellence too. Here's one.

Creative excellence could involved all members of our community being prepared to take more risks with our learning. Let me give a couple of examples for our teaching staff.

Our music and drama teachers came to us and said, let us work together in common or shared spaces. Let's both work in what until now we have called the auditorium and music rooms. Let's redevelop our ways of working so that we are more collaborative, so that we integrate what we do for the benefit of students. I had already asked the Board to use some funds to support what the Ministry of Education terms 'pedagogical prototyping', which when translated means playing around with different ways of causing learning. The money was tagged specifically to altering the physical structures of our built environment, and the furniture with which we work.

Now if you have never worked in a school you may wonder how hard that can be but trust me, as a teacher that's one heck of a scary thing to suggest. Its one heck of a risk to take because it means working in ways that you haven't done before. It's like asking an engineer to re-imagine the motorcar.

After one term these staff has done amazing things. They have had great moments, and dreadful moments. But they have been risk takers, and they have learned. They are in the process of re-imagining performing arts education within our Hornby High School context within the new space that we have called 'Whare toi whakaari'.

Another example: I have also been pushing for the extension of our Business and Arts kete from just years 7 and 8, to include Year 9 this year, and year 10 next year.  As stand alone units for Years 7 and 8 these have been very successful, building incredibly high levels of student engagement and achievement. But they are not the way classes traditionally work in Years 9 and 10. Staff have been resourced with the time to work collaboratively to think through how this could work. In the last few weeks of the term Heads of Department had a series of those 'aha' moments that can only be described as in the best traditions of 'creative excellence'. We have a definite way forward, an exciting way forward. It may not be our final answer, but we have to take risks to improve, and it's worth remembering (as I say to our staff) that by definition sometimes risks don't pay off. But it's okay to fail!!!! We just have to learn from each failure, to not repeat the same failure.

A final example: Our mathematicians came to us and said "can we knock holes in walls, can we open up the spaces between clasrooms? That would allow us more flexibility to group and regroup students to better support their learning." We said yes.

These examples represent an evolution of practice, the willingness to take risks, that will I think be a defining part of our culture of 'creative excellence'.

It would be odd for us to expect our students to use our Manaiakalani pedagogy 'Learn Create Share' if we weren't also willing to use it ourselves to support our own professional learning and development.

As a footnote, the development of a growth mindset and a willingness to take enterprising risks is one of our three strategic goals. We have seen the beginnings of a return to the willingness of years ago for students to try new things, to perform in public, to put themselves out there and take risks whether on the stage or the league field. There is a long way to go, but such risk taking for our students is also an essential part of their 'Learn Create Share' journey.

And you know what? At the risk of jinxing things, achievement in the school as measured with internal NCEA standards is tracking ahead of last year at the end of term 1. It's early days, but this is an aspirational thing. We need to dream big dreams, to believe.

We are building a broader understanding of what creative excellence may look like at Hornby High School.

Nga mihi nui
R Sutton

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Learn Create Share .. the pathway to creative excellence

Our vision to be 'a centre of creative excellence' is pretty clear, and awareness of this is increasing in our community. Of course as I have now noted many times a vision is a statement of aspiration, of a desired future. It is meaningless unless we have clearly defined and measurable steps to take us along the path towards that vision.

Our strategic and annual goals shape that pathway, and the first of our strategic goals is "To provide future focussed individualised learning", and the first annual goal to direct our action is to "Embed the culturally responsive pedagogy ‘Learn Create Share’ to develop future focussed individualised learners".

As I am out and about in the school my 'personal radar' is finely tuned looking for signs that these goals are driving the learning that takes place in classrooms.

Today was a day marked with a couple of spontaneous and notable signs that we are moving along the right track.

The first occurred when one of our Year 8 teachers came in to my study proudly showing me this amazing brochure.

She handed it to me saying 'There you are, that's learn create share' right there". A group of Year 8 boys had designed and created this information brochure about the school. Their target audience was parents, and the sample was notable because it contained some very creative design elements, and it was thoughtfully executed with both the writing and the quality production.

I stumbled across the second example when popping into a classroom for quite a different purpose. I snuck in to avoid interrupting the teacher's flow, and there she was talking about 'Learn Create Share', with the words clearly displayed on the whiteboard.

 'Mighty oaks from little acorns grow'. (Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, 1374)

Learn Create Share is a vital part of our quest for creative excellence, a vital part of our strategy to accelerate learning for all learners.

Robin Sutton