Gilberthorpe school

Gilberthorpe school

Sunday, 24 September 2017

New Zealand Principals' conference 2017

The recent conference in Queenstown, which was attended by over 600 principals throughout the country was fantastic, on a number of levels.
There was great mix of quality speakers, time with colleagues and an opportunity to refresh and learn in order to grow!  I had several lightbulb moments at this conference and I intend to put much of my thinking into action immediately.

I will briefly outline some of the key messages and their impact on my own thinking below.  I will also include some quotes that resonated with me.

Dr John Edwards
The learning pit was discussed again with Dr John Edwards, he stressed the importance of teaching students about why the pit is so important and that everyone goes into it when learning new things.  We need to make students feel comfortable in the "pit".  This develops resilience and confidence, core skills for being a successful learner. This made me reflect on how often we actually , explicitly teach students about meta-cognition and how they learn and the thinking process.  My feeling is we need to do this more often, showing them strategies and allowing them to gain the understanding that this is normal behaviour and what to do when this happens.  We need to remember that above all else, we are wanting to equip our students with skills for life, not just skills to get a task done.

Staff discussion-  What evidence to we have that we are teaching students how to learn?  What do we need to put in place?

"Work out what a student already knows and teach accordingly"  Do we do this authentically enough?

"Get close to them, ask great questions and listen" John Piaget.

Judge Andrew Becroft - NZ children's commissioner.
  • 23% of all New Zealanders are under 18
  • There is NOTHING more important than having children actively engaged at school
  • Talk to students more, get their voice, at all levels.
There were some alarming statistics around ethnic groupings and various ages but we must be focused on the students in front of us, create passion and excitement.  The children we are teaching are the future, don't underestimate the enormity of that statement.

Mike King
I was completely captivated by Mike's speech.  I am sure most are aware of the work he is doing to work with our youth around suicide prevention.  Having lost friends to suicide when younger, and also students, I could relate to what he was saying.  Far too much of what we do is ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, waiting for something to happen then reacting. We must be pro active about this, fencing off the top of the cliff so that no one falls.  How can it be that in a country as beautiful as ours, we have the worst youth suicide rate in the world? We need a complete attitudinal shift here.  We need to be more and more positive, finding the good in every child.  Help them discover what they are good at and allow them to develop this.   As parents and adults, we need to let children, adults and friends know that we are there for them, that we love them and that if they need to talk they can, unashamedly and without judgement.
According to his findings, talks etc... 95% of people have had a suicidal thought at some time in their life.  It may have been once and fleeting or recurring.  Clearly the recurring thought is a major concern.  How often do we hear at a funeral "He was such a fantastic boy" "She had everything in front of her"  This effects everyone! We need to do better.
I also believe NZ's tall poppy syndrome has a role to play in this.  Too often when someone tells you their success, be it a colleague or a friend, people shoot them down or choose not to celebrate this.  We shouldn't show our envy and begrudge others, let's celebrate with them and build a new culture for the next generation!

Mike also spoke about the teacher that he loved and cherished.  He never skipped her class, he wanted to succeed because she believed in him, versus the teacher who he hated, he repeatedly skipped his class, failed tests and would avoid him at all costs because he made him feel stupid.  No one wants to be that type of teacher.

Self esteem is the solution to this problem, let them have a voice, listen, we need to create a society where it is ok to ask for help. Kids want permission to talk and express their feelings but they are following what US the adults do... we need to role model more positively.  Students learn by what they see, not by what they say or are told.  An unbiased view is important, what you would say to your best friends child is quite different to what you would say to your own...

Mike speaks with  thousands of students and there are two things they want :
1) They want to be loved
2) They want to know that their thoughts and opinions are valued by adults.

Staff discussion- Are any children without a friend?  Do we know what each child is good at?  How to we capitalise on this knowledge? Children in our community are dying, this is real,  enough is enough, we must do more to be pro active in being part of the solution.

I personally am going to reach out to more people and as a father I intend to do my best to role model for my boys... I will also be more deliberate in my discussions with others, especially students.

Dr Melinda Webber, researcher involved in MACS- Maori Achievement Collaborative's
MACS have been established throughout the country to lift the achievement of our Maori students. Schools are working in clusters, together to drive this.
The research is showing that increasing whanau engagement is the key to success, empowering them to support the learning process, vital.  Give them the skills that they need.  Lots of positive communication helps develop that bond between whanau and school.  Typically we contact whanau when a student is in trouble or we want something.  Let's turn that around and ask whanau - What can we do for you? How can we support your family?  Positive communication and dialogue increases the chances of them engaging with us much more often.

It also made me reflect on the type of student we want to leave our school, let's brainstorm what that would like like and ensure we are giving authentic opportunities for this to develop.

The final speaker was Sir Graham Henry.  A man who has developed arguably the most successful "team" in the world and there are huge amount of similarities between the two professions.
It is also worth noting that he, along with Mike King and Judge Andrew Becroft described principalship as the most important job in the world.  Food for thought.

I really enjoyed the blunt, matter of fact way that Sir Graham spoke, "be solution focussed" "no excuses" "get it done" "do the business" if there are issues with staff or performance , ask the question- "How can I help?, what's holding you back?"

"What do you need to do to be the best that you can be?"   He made a strong connection between the physical and the mental, we need to be on our toes, have a spring in our step.  His leadership team exercised daily in order to be physically fit as well as mentally fit.  This hit home with me and I have made my own goals here. For me personally, too many excuses, for too long.  I need to "do the business" I need to "get it done"

"We need to be careful that the little things don't hold us back, what are the things that are going to make us go faster?"

The All Blacks use a simple system to reflect on performance - Keep doing, stop doing, start doing.  I am going to use this with our staff, a great chance to be able to stop and reflect under a simple but effective framework.

The more that our staff are empowered, the better they perform.  The All Blacks look out for each other, they want to support each player to improve their performance, they are held accountable when this doesn't happen, within a supportive environment. Sounds pretty to similar to school if you ask me!

All in all, a great few days of professional development.  Several goals and targets set for myself and I look forward to getting stuck into them.


  1. Wow! that sounds like it was very worthwhile. I totally agree with the parts about listening to each child and finding out what is important to them. I also like the idea of what we can do to make life easier for them.
    Thank you Andrew, this really makes you think about taking a fresh look at things.

  2. Kia ora Andrew
    It sounds like a beneficial and thought provoking few days at the conference. I love when you attend things like this and are made to reflect on what you do and how you want to be. I like how this was an opportunity to refresh and learn in order to grow.

    I do think there are things that we take for granted that children know and expect certain skills that actually do need specific and explicit teaching and nurturing. Building resilience in learning can change and have a positive impact on self esteem and learning.

    Suicide and in particular suicide in Christchurch seems like and epidemic at the moment. I have heard of so many in recent months that span age groups. It is a major concern and I agree with the fact that we all need to be actively doing something to ensure our children and those around us know they are valued and cared about. We also need to foster resilience.

    Your post has given us a lot to think about and use to create a positive and inclusive environment for our whānau and all who we are in contact with.

  3. Well summed up Andrew!
    The points you raise parallel a number of discussions of late.
    The Learning Pit is an accessible reference when teaching kids to accept failure... in fact, not only accept it but embrace it. This was a recurring discussion that was had while discussing learning goals in partnership with parents in our recent Student Led Conferences. Students who opt out rather than risking getting it wrong. I have seen it work really well in changing the mindset of åkonga.
    The discussion around åkonga wanting to be heard links beautifully with the empowerment that comes with student agency. Manaiakalani and Wolf Fischer have shown us the research where agency improves learning. It links to trends in kids disengaging from learning if they can't relate to the task/topic. The Play aspect of our Fish Philosophy links to this where åkonga need to be provided with the freedom to look for ways to make learning fun. Our Digital age provides us with immense opportunities to captivate these kids ad capture learning opportunities that they would otherwise opt out of.
    Lastly, Our recent Student Led Conferences. These were a fabulous experience where whånau were able to engage with their children's education. They entered the learning space displaying the usual uncomfortable awkwardness, however left appearing comfortable, welcome and engaged... "On the same page". I wonder how we can find ways to continue to foster these home school partnerships as well as widening the net to encompass those who weren't snared in it this time around?

  4. Hey Andrew

    I love when you are away at courses, workshops and conferences and when you have light bulb moments.

    I look forward to the conference I am going to in the holidays as there are lots of speakers and I too think I will have some valuable light bulbs moments during that week.

    It was most interesting to me how you enjoyed the Mike King discussion...It seems he has mixed reactions from talks he delivers. Suicide is a huge issue ( at least six from my year at high school in the first year post that ended their lives). It is scary the amount of suicide that is happening within Christchurch recently. I know the sort of teacher that I want to be and I take pride in knowing that I take the time to build a relationship with all of my students and I also often think of their well being and how I can help enhance them. I think I have been more aware of this, this year with part of the focus of my inquiry being on student wellbeing. I believe that we need to be checking in all the time, offering a ear to anyone in need. We need to work together and stop bullying at a younger age so it does not affect people as they get older. I know what it is like to be bullied as I was bullied at school and it is really horrible, still effects me to this day when I see those boys. Speaking out and Acting helps!

    I also enjoyed reading and finding out about other key note speakers that you went to...I could ramble along for ages so I will stop now.

    Thanks for sharing

  5. Such important messages to think about. Thanks for summarising it all so well. I know several people affected by suicide and the more that we can do to help spread awareness and help others, the better!

  6. Sounds like a great conference full of great things to take away. It always shocks me to think about how high our suicide rate is in New Zealand, and especially for young people. People are becoming better at being open about their mental illness but it is just as important that once they have been brave enough to take this step that they are supported with the help they deserve. I think it is so important right from their first day that we are aware of the friendships that our students have. I have had a few in my class this year that have found it difficult to make friends and I have done my best to spend time with them trying to develop friendships. Relationships are the most important thing, they really affect your life in every way. A child who is not happy and doesn’t have strong positive relationships with family, friends and teachers is not going to learn and it only gets harder to make friends and learn those important friendship skills as they get older. So this is why it is so important to develop these from a young age.

    I feel like so much of this matches with all the great skills that I have learnt this year through the IYT programme. It really has made a difference to me as a teacher, to develop the relationships I have with my students over this year.