Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Learning Journey So Far and What's Next...

The last nine blog posts have been about my learning through The MindLab over the past 32 weeks or so (a little bit longer for me as some health issues interrupted my usual full steam ahead approach!) This last post in the series requires us to reflect on our learning journeys and to set some goals for future development in relation to the 12 Practising Teacher Criteria as set out by the Education Council New Zealand.

A lot has changed during this time.  My students and I created the most amazing Makerspace - The Creator Ops STEAM.  It's not just about the environment thought, it's about the thinking and pedagogy behind it and we've all worked really hard to learn about this.  (You can see this for yourself on the students' blog they curate).

In August last year I graduated from the University of Otago with a Master of Teaching (Credit - the former second class honours), and spent a large part of Term 1 as Acting Principal at my wonderful school.  Unfortunately a serious recurring health issue has meant that I've resigned as Deputy Principal and am now thinking about what's next if I am not able to return to the classroom.  So, in light of this, I have applied and been accepted into the University of Otago Doctor of Education programme.  Nothing like a further learning challenge!  I've always had the philosophy of being a lifelong learner and I am not about to stop now.  I am sad about not being able to continue the learning journey around STEAM and Makerspaces with my students but I know they've made a strong start and they, and the other teachers, will carry the passion forward.

3 of the PTCs I've Met Well

The three I've chosen to focus on are Criteria 4, 7, and 11.

Criteria 4

Demonstrate commitment to ongoing professional learning and development of personal professional practice 

Key Indicators
i. identify professional learning goals in consultation with colleagues 
ii. participate responsively in professional learning opportunities within the learning community 
iii. initiate learning opportunities to advance personal professional knowledge and skills

My learning goals for the past year have been part of my appraisal and ongoing learning particularly in my areas of passion - STEAM, Literacy and eLearning.   As the lead teacher for our professional learning it was important for me to put my money where my mouth is and continue my own learning journey.

Growth Mindset Crowd Sourced Resource

I have now completed The MindLab postgraduate certificate along with my Master of Teaching and have loved contributing to discussions both online and in face-to-face conversations during the face-to-face sessions at The MindLab.  I've also been part of our learning community at school and in several online and face-to-face learning opportunities such as Educampnz and the Global Education Conference.  We also create many crowd sourced resources on Google Slides to collaborate on our learning and share resources and ideas.  A recent one on Growth Mindset has 37 slides to date.

The next stage of my own learning journey began years ago with the goal of completing my EdD 'at some stage'.  It wasn't set in concrete when I would begin it but the opportunity has now risen so I will grab it with both hands.

Criteria 7

Promote a collaborative, inclusive and supportive learning environment

Key Indicators
i. demonstrate effective management of the learning setting that incorporates successful strategies to engage and motivate ākonga 
ii. foster trust, respect and cooperation with and among ākonga 

My students and I are always teachers and learners in our learning environment and we take our roles very seriously.  The students run workshops on what they've learned so that they can teach and learn from others.  All students have individual blogs on which they can share their learning both inside and outside the classroom - both equally as important.  The students are also authors on the class blog which holds a great deal of responsibility and they are the curators of The Creator Ops STEAM - the blog about their learning journey they've been in charge of in creating the Makerspace.

The students are in charge of the Literature Circles programme in the classroom and are motivated and engaged in reading - some for the first time in a long while.  The teacher never choses the books for them or leads the discussion.

Students are able to choose how they learn best and with whom they learn best.  They have a right to do this and it is part of the beliefs behind ako but they also have a responsibility to be focused on their learning.  It's all about trust and high expectations, both me of them and vice versa.

Students collaborate via Google Apps for Education (GAFE), both during school time and outside of school time. They write and communicate collaboratively through Storybird, Edmodo, ePals, etc both locally and globally.

Criteria 11

Analyse and appropriately use assessment information that has been gathered formally and informally

Key Indicators
i. analyse assessment information to identify progress and ongoing learning needs of ākonga 
ii. use assessment information to give regular and ongoing feedback to guide and support further learning 
iii. analyse assessment information to reflect on and evaluate the effectiveness of the teaching 
iv. communicate assessment and achievement information to relevant members of the learning community 
v. foster involvement of whānau in the collection and use of information about the learning of ākonga

Assessment information is always shared with the students and together we create the next learning steps and goals.  Students are also able to choose how they show what they have learned or are learning most of the time.  They are confident in sharing this information on their individual blogs. 

Feedback is provided via the blogs and face-to-face.  It is specific and follows the criteria for effective feedback which was part of my research in 2011.

Effective Feedback from Justine Hughes / Deputy Principal/ Teacher

Assessment information guides my teaching practice.  If a student isn't learning as expected, the first area I look at is my teaching and what I can change to meet that learner's needs.  Clarity in the Classroom (Absolum, 2006) guides a lot of what I do in this area.

Assessment information and learning progress is shared with whanau through the blogs, individual learning conversations and Parent-Teacher interviews and reports.  We also share learning progress with the Board of Trustees through curriculum area reports and specific reports on Maori achievement.

2 Main Goals for Future Development

The two goals set out below relate directly to the research I hope to begin as part of my Doctor of Education studies this year which begin in July.  My research is around improving engagement, motivation and achievement in writing using a communities of practice approach with a strong digital component.

Criteria 8

Demonstrate in practice their knowledge and understanding of how ākonga learn 

Key Indicators
i. enable ākonga to make connections between their prior experiences and learning and their current learning activities 
ii. provide opportunities and support for ākonga to engage with, practise and apply new learning to different contexts 
iii. encourage ākonga to take responsibility for their own learning and behaviour 
iv. assist ākonga to think critically about information and ideas and to reflect on their learning

Criteria 12

Use critical inquiry and problem solving effectively in their professional practice 

Key Indicators
i. systematically and critically engage with evidence and professional literature to reflect on and refine practice 
ii. respond professionally to feedback from members of their learning community 
iii. critically examine their own beliefs, including cultural beliefs, and how they impact on their professional practice and the achievement of ākonga

Both of these criteria will have a strong impact on my research which is still in the process of being developed and refined.  The goal from the research is to find answers to the following questions:

  • Why don't our students like writing?
  • What can we change to create a motivation for writing and engage our students so that they want to write?
  • Why are our students not achieving as well as they could in this area?
The research will involve a great deal of peer feedback and review which comes under Criteria 12.  I am hoping to conduct my research in a range of learning environments - both culturally and socially and am working towards refining this part of the research during the July Residential week in Dunedin.


Education Council New Zealand. (2015). Practising teacher criteria.  Retrieved from

Hughes, J. (2011). The impact of feedback on writing motivation and achievement.  Retrieved from

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cultural Responsiveness in Practice

Throughout my teaching career I have always worked hard to create individualised programmes that centre around student interests.  In my second year of teaching in 2000 my Year 3 class and I used the old curriculum documents to plan an integrated inquiry with Food Technology as the leading curriculum area.  The culmination of this was the students running an evening for parents in which they shared their learning and talked about what they wanted to learn next.  There was also a strong focus on the use of ICT to show the learning.

In 2003 my Year 8 students went to the next stage where their inquiries were incredibly diverse and they planned their own learning timetables over a week and invited guests in to run a workshop / presentation for the rest of the class around their inquiries.  The students chose their groups, their inquiries and how they were going to present their knowledge.  My role was to teach specific skills as they were needed, to check in with the groups during the different stages of the inquiry and to learn alongside them.  This is what is now popular as Tuakana teina - learning from and with each other.  It is also ako - a concept which is both teaching and learning.

My Year 5/6 students created a motto which has always stuck by me:

"We are all teachers and we are all learners in our learning environment."  

This motto sums up, in many ways, my whole philosophy around learning and teaching - we learn from and with each other - and I think that is why I became so completely hooked on Communities of Practice  (CoP) as a true form of ako in many ways.  It is all about shared / reciprocal learning and valuing each others backgrounds, identities, histories and cultures.  I am really interested in ways in which CoPs could be utilised to create powerful learning environments, particularly for our Maori and Pasifika students.

Being culturally responsive requires that we not only value and respect individual students' backgrounds, cultures and identities but also that we actively do something about it to make it visible. This includes in the learning and teaching and also in the way we assess learning.  This is one of my concerns with the National Standards as I don't think they go far enough to value the different ways different cultures learn.

By our very nature of being human beings we have our own biases and prejudices that we bring into the classroom, into learning environments that for most of the past 100 years or so have been very ethnocentric and geared towards the Pakeha way of learning and that has valued Pakeha knowledge and understanding.  I wonder if we are doing enough across the board to allow for different world views.

Culturally responsive pedagogy starts with culturally responsive leadership.  The video below is from the Education Counts website and centres around Pasifika students' learning in maths.

The next section of this post looks at cultural responsiveness in practice in two areas of a previous school - the first one, 'decision making' is one which is well on the way to being embedded practice within the school and the second, 'planning and assessment' is an area where learning needs to happen.


The school had a growing number of students who identified as Maori and a few who identified as Pasifika.  The school worked hard to consult with the Maori whanau on a regular basis regarding learning for their children and certain events within the school.  Further progress on this would see a great deal more consultation around curriculum and a greater presence in the school in terms of signage.  Even in the area of consultation improvements could be made as the terms are largely those of the school rather than the Maori community.  They, like many other schools, are often the ones who decide the what, where, how and when of the consultation process.  In many ways, the 'power' remains with the school and you begin to question what you can do to make the partnership more of a genuine one.  The power needs to be shared (Cowie, Otrel-Cass, Glynn, Kara, Anderson, Doyle, Parkinson & Te Kiri, 2011).

Planning and Assessment

There are two key documents that support our learning in this area. These are Ka Hikitia and the Pasifika Education Plan.  Both of these documents come with a great deal of online support through Te Kete Ipurangi or TKI.  If we're really being honest and want to improve outcomes and be culturally responsive practitioners, how many of us have seen these documents or pulled them apart to create a deeper shared understanding in our schools?  Not many I would guess, including myself.  I have explored Ka Hikitia to a certain extent but, much to my shame, did not even know there was a Pasifika document to support Pasifika learners.  The embarrassment of the last one is that I at one stage taught and learned in a school where the Pasifika population made up more than 85% of the students.  

Being culturally responsive in our practice means a lot more than using a few phrases in Te Reo or having signs up in our classrooms or using an online programme to teach Te Reo.  Both Te Reo me Tikanga Maori need to be embedded in all that we do, particularly in our planning and assessment.  It can't be just a token gesture if we want to really accelerate the progress of our Maori and Pasifika students.  As the tangata whenua of Aotearoa/New Zealand we need to make sure that first and foremost we work to change planning and assessment to meet the needs of our Maori learners.

Evidence of this needs to be clearly shown in the way we plan our learning.  Who owns or decides on the learning that is to happen?  Do we offer the students opportunities to decide on and plan their own learning with guidance from the teachers?  For some teachers co-constructing the knowledge and the learning and teaching, ako, can be quite confronting as they feel they are not 'in charge'.

Our planning needs to show that we take opportunities to involve the community and sometimes let them lead the learning.  For example, during Matariki (the Maori New Year), we could be utilising the skills within the community to share what Matariki means to them.  Science is also a perfect opportunity to involve the community more in what we do and include a Maori perspective in the learning.  Ka Hikitia has many more ideas and ways to include Maori in the learning partnership.

Ka hikitia! Ka hikitia! 

Hiki, hikitia! 
Whakarewa ki runga rawa 
Herea kia kore e hoki whakamuri mai Poua atu 
Te Pūmanawa Māori 
He Mana Tikanga 
Me Te Uri o Māia 
Poipoia ngā mokopuna 
Ngā rangatira mo āpōpō 
Ka tihei! Tihei mauriora! 

Ka hikitia! Ka hikitia! 

Encourage and support! 
And raise it to its highest level! 
Ensure that high achievement is maintained 
Hold fast to our Māori potential Our cultural advantage 
And our inherent capability 
Nurture our young generation 
The leaders of the future 
Behold, we move onwards and upwards!
                                                                         Ka Hikitia, 2013


Cowie, B., Otrel-Cass, K., Glynn, T., & Kara, H., et al.(2011).Culturally responsive pedagogy and assessment in primary science classrooms: Whakamana tamariki. Wellington: Teaching Learning Research Initiative. Retrieved from

Education Counts. (nd). 14 culturally responsive pedagogy: Developing mathematical inquiry communities.  Retrieved from

Ministry of Education. (nd). Educational leaders: culturally responsive leadership.  Retrieved from

Ministry of Education. (2013) Ka Hikitia - Accelerating success - 2013 - 2017. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Ministry of Education, (2013). Pasifika education plan - 2013-2017. Retrieved from

Ministry of Education. (nd). Te reo Maori in English-medium schools. Retrieved from

Monday, June 13, 2016

Social Media as a Learning Tool


Challenging views
Local and global connections
Real time and real world learning and connections
Removing the classroom walls
Powerful opportunities for feedback
Asynchronous learning - anytime, anywhere learning which helps address some of the issues of 'time' in teachers' professional learning.

The following infographic sums up my thinking around the power of social media as a learning and teaching tool and was also shared in a blog post from 2013 - Exploring Digital Citizenship.

The Use of Social Media in Schools
by obizmedia.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.


Assumptions Around 'Digital Natives' and the place of Technology in General in Learning and Teaching

Although our students have grown up in a digital age we can't assume that they have they can apply what they know in a learning context.  These skills need to be taught and half the fun of it is the expectation that teachers learn alongside the students.  If you'd like to read more about this you can go to The Digital Natives Debate: A literature review.

In 2014 I wrote a blog post on technology in education which looked at some of the challenges around relevant use of technology in learning and teaching.

Digital Citizenship
There are arguments around the need for learning about citizenship in general but being a digital citizen requires specific skills and, again, these need to be taught and reinforced.  There are so many resources around this.  The example below has been created in Google Slides and was part of a crowd-sourced planning resource.  It is helpful to share with students and the wider community and has a lot of resources which connect home and school to create strong partnerships.

In 2013 I wrote a post around Digital Citizenship - Exploring Digital Citizenship - it has a really interesting infographic around the uses and benefits of social media in the classroom.

Building Knowledge and Understanding of the Benefits of Online Tools - Parent Concerns
Our learning communities, particularly our parents and caregivers, do not always see the benefits or purpose of using Social Media to improve their child's learning.  It's up to us to share what we are doing and to be very clear about our 'why'. our purpose for using particular tools and platforms. Parent meetings and information evenings go a long way to communicating what we do and why.  It is generally a fear of the unknown and the fact that this form of learning and teaching is so different to our own experiences of school that makes parents and caregivers uneasy.  Quick snippets about the benefits and sharing learning through blogs are other ways of lessening the fear and of breaking down the barriers too.

Parents and caregivers just want to know that their children are safe online - that is often their biggest fear, along with thinking that being online is just wasting time.  We read so many horror stories about what can go wrong but very few on what can go right.  Using the tools and sharing information with parents / caregivers is a way of dealing with this responsibly.  They need to see what is happening in the classroom and beyond in terms of the learning experiences and that they are a valuable and necessary part of that.  


While I use a range of social media platforms for learning, the following are the main ones.  Before engaging with any platform, I always consider what my purpose for using it is - my 'why'.

Twitter helps me keep up to date with current issues and trends in education.  My Professional Learning Network (PLN) acts as a sounding board for ideas and I can ask a question and get answers and opinions from all over the world.  My connections are local and global.  The links below are great starting points for using Twitter for professional learning and also in the classroom.

I now use Facebook mostly for professional learning and am in several groups.  I also have my own page - Justine Hughes - Learner and Teacher which acts as a resource-sharing page and is also where I connect with other educators for a range of purposes including mentoring beginning teachers, two of whom I taught at one stage!  (I am very proud of them for becoming teachers).

Google+ is not a platform I use often although I've been using it since it was in the invited beta trial stage.  Its advantage is having Google Hangouts attached where I can connect quickly and easily with people in my PLN both locally and globally.  It tends to be a little more on the academic side for me with groups from The MindLab and earlier on, groups from university.

In the early days LinkedIn was a powerful way of keeping up with the latest in education.  It was more of a professional forum whereas Facebook was quite casual.  In the last two years or so, however, I've felt that LinkedIn has changed and become more advertising-based and less 'serious'.

Virtual Learning Network (VLN)
The VLN is a powerful source of professional learning and has an excellent blend of discussion, access to academic resources and a range of groups in your areas of interest that you can join.  It's a fantastic platform in which to ask for help on any area of learning and teaching.

POND N4L (Network for Learning)
So far, this seems to be a platform which hasn't gained as much traction as I thought it would and I am just as guilty at not using it.  It's an excellent curation tool where you are able to store and share resources.  Some have said that it's a bit 'clunky' to navigate but, from what I've seen, a lot of these early issues have been resolved.
POND is New Zealand based and resourced and designed to be a community of practitioners sharing knowledge and resources.  Like the VLN, it has discussion groups, resources, and it is up to the individual as to how they want to use it.  I'm looking forward to exploring it more this year and finding out more about what the value is for teachers and learners.  One thing I want to do is to explore the difference between the VLN and POND N4L.


Teaching with Blogs - from Read, Write, Think.

Digital Citizenship - a crowd sourced collection of resources on Google Slides.  Created by New Zealand teachers.

Skype in the Classroom - an excellent resource for connecting learners, teachers and classrooms from all over the world.  Mystery Skype is a fantastic part of Skype in the Classroom and will challenge students questioning and thinking skills.   You can also use it for Virtual Field Trips and connect with a Guest Speaker.  Real world and time connections.

ePals - I've been using this for many years as a way to connect students.  ePals has evolved over time and you and your class have the potential to be able to be involved in a range of global projects.  It's all about connection, communication and collaboration.

Edmodo - A safe environment which is seen as similar to Facebook but for students.  Teachers can control the security of the settings.   An excellent tool for creating a blended learning environment for your students.  Also an excellent tool for creating deeper communication with parents and the community. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Getting Carried Away on Social Media

Code of Ethics for Certificated Teachers - It's Our Responsibility

During our careers we will be faced with many ethical dilemmas.  As social media begins to play an even more important and powerful role in many of our lives - usually in a positive way for most of us - there are times when we will need to make a call and take action.  

For many of us, social media is an important part of our Professional Learning Networks (PLN) or our community of practice where we can reflect on our own learning and improve our practice to meet the needs of our students.  So what happens then, when we come across something in a discussion that makes us feel uncomfortable and which we know is against the Code of Ethics for Certified Teachers that are part of our legal responsibility as Certificated Teachers, part of our Practising Teacher Criteria?

A few months ago in an online group, a discussion began with a post made by a well-known educator about their child's report.  An error had been made where the child's gender had been swapped.  The assumption was made straight away that the report must have been copied and pasted.  The 'discussion' rapidly declined into one that was abusive and judgmental of the teacher concerned.  I must admit that I was concerned about the tone of the discussion and the attitudes towards the unnamed teacher - a fellow colleague and professional.  My concerns were:

  • The teacher concerned was being judged based on the comment from one person who, because they are a well-known educator, had enormous credibility and power;
  • The teacher concerned did not have a voice in this discussion and could not defend him/herself;
  • There was every chance that this teacher was also a part of this group and easily identifiable based on the school the child attended;
  • The teacher concerned possibly had to sit and read the comments from colleagues who were prepared to make snap judgments based on the words of one person.

Our Code of Ethics consists of four 'fundamental principles'

  • Autonomy to treat people with rights that are to be honoured and defended
  • Justice to share power and prevent the abuse of power
  • Responsible care to do good and minimise harm to others
  • Truth to be honest with others and self

Under the Commitment to the Profession we are expected to "treat colleagues and associates with respect, working with them co-operatively and collegially to promote students' learning."  I think this statement should include the need to promote colleagues' learning as well as students.  

From this online discussion it was so easy to see how discussions can get out of hand very quickly and cyberbullying can take over.  But was this cyberbullying?  Was I overreacting to what I was reading? I discussed this with another colleague and we don't think we overreacted and several comments, including our own, made it clear that we didn't agree with what was happening.  We can only imagine how the teacher who was being discussed felt as he/she was being berated for being 'less than perfect'.  I'm the least perfect person I know and have made mistakes on social media and hopefully learned from them, but I would not judge anyone based on one person's comments in an online forum.  As professionals we owed that teacher to shut the discussion down.  

Ultimately, the person who posted the initial comments should not have done so, particularly given their status in the profession.

This was a learning curve for many of us.  Most of us are very aware of helping our students learn about being good digital citizens but we also need to make sure that we are good digital citizens as well. We have an ethical responsibility.

Simple advice for all of us... It's so easy to get caught up in the 'discussion.'


Education Council New Zealand. (2015). Practising teacher criteria.  Retrieved from

Friday, June 10, 2016

Are We Failing Our Gifted and Talented Learners...and Teachers

Gifted and Talented education has long been a passion of mine but over the past few years I've become more and more concerned about how we are catering - or not as the case may be - to their diverse individual needs due to a range of factors.

Since the implementation of National Standards, there has been a focus on 'lifting the tail' of achievement in New Zealand.  I absolutely agree with this - we need to make sure that ALL our learners are achieving and working towards becoming successful, productive members of society. However, my concern is that, in the focus placed on our underachievers we are neglecting the other end of the spectrum, our Gifted and Talented students.  It is a very complex issue and I worry that students who are perceived as having 'behaviour problems' or those who drift along achieving where they should be in terms of National Standards and then leave school the minute they can when in fact they are sometimes the unidentified Gifted and Talented, are missing out.

We are lucky in New Zealand that we have organisations who support our Gifted and Talented students and their families and the Ministry of Education has a resource site on TKI, but what about the students who miss our on being identified and become very negative towards learning?  Organisations such as the One-Day schools can only do so much. If students are going back into an environment where their needs are not catered for due to the enormous pressure on teachers to 'lift the tail' of underachievement, then what can be done to support the learning community and to make sure that the needs of ALL our students are met?

New Zealand Association for Gifted Children

New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education

So What Do We Do?  Are Our Gifted and Talented Students Missing Out?

I came across this article last week and the issues raised in it really hit home. (Click on the caption to read the full article).  I loved that it also addresses the Gifted and Talented colleagues with whom we work which was a really interesting aspect as we don't always value the differences in our workplaces.  While it is an American article, it raises questions about how we meet the needs of all of our amazing students.

The article tells the story of 'Aiden' a twice-exceptional student for whom the regular system did not work.  We've all had an 'Aiden' or two in our rooms.  We know how to cater for their academic needs to various extents but it's often the social side which poses the problems because they don't 'fit in' to the social norms and expectations.  I often why we would expect them to though.  Isn't part of being a human being celebrating the quirks and differences of who we are?  I often wonder why we can't just do that instead of expecting everyone to conform to the norm.  As my students often say - "What is normal?  Who decided what normal is?"  Kids are often wiser than adults.  This was a fantastic discussion amongst all of us and I guess it's why our classroom environment was such a crazy and relaxed one where everyone was valued and accepted for who they are.

Jenn Choi - How Gifted and Talented Programs are Failing our Kids

So, what are you currently doing to meet the needs of your gifted and talented students?  What are your struggles?  What support do you get from within your school?  What improvements would you like to see?

Let's get the discussion going...

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What's Happening in Education? A look at some of the issues and trends locally and globally

There are many issues and trends in education today and many are not unique to New Zealand.  This post looks at two of the local and global issues that stand out for me at the moment and that have an impact on my practice.

Globally, education is facing some challenges particularly in the areas of the way we teach and how we assess, what we value in the assessment.  With a greater focus on high stakes testing to the detriment of creating a passion for learning, some very prominent educators including Sir Ken Robinson are sounding a warning which we fail to heed at our peril.  His books are highly recommended and valuable reading for everyone.  Sharing his ideas, videos with our school communities is also recommended.

Sir Ken Robinson - How to escape education's death valley

Sir Ken Robinson - Changing Education Paradigms


TV3 - World Class? Inside New Zealand Education: Bryan Bruce
Recently Bryan Bruce presented a documentary on the issues in the New Zealand Education system. He presents some interesting points to ponder:

  • Since the advent of Tomorrow's Schools, trust between schools and the Ministry has decreased
  • Closures and mergers of schools (restructuring) came about due to a Treasure recommendation based on financial gains rather than educational ones
  • Education became a commodity rather than a right
  • Unhealthy competition between schools and greater bureaucracy to 'control' the self-managing schools
  • Test results are what parents are judging the 'best' schools on so our children aren't going to the local school - the decile system hasn't helped this.  Equity and fairness cannot be achieved through competition
  • Our system has become competitive rather than collaborative
  • Latest research is showing that small schools can cater better for student learning needs, particularly in low socio-economic areas.  Treasury continues to ignore these facts as does the Minister
  • Equity and fairness are huge issues
  • Lack of consultation with the profession raises issues of trust
  • The system is geared towards compliance rather than creativity
  • There are huge dangers in relying on world rankings and the PISA testing
  • Standardised tests don't foster critical, creative and innovative thinking
  • Inquiry learning is powerful and a fantastic way of shifting the focus to student-centred learning
  • National Standards aren't  (They're not national and they're not standard which we've been saying since their inception)
  • Social skills must be emphasised from an early age.  We need to support Early Childhood Education, Parents As First Teachers, Paid Parental Leave, etc  Sadly, many of these initiatives are being restructured or their funding cut
  • Social skills are key (Sir Peter Gluckman, our Chief Scientist) speaks on this in the report).
  • Good things are happening in New Zealand schools in spite of the administration not because of it
  • The system needs to be more cooperative and should have a high level of trust and less testing if we want a 'vibrant and creative economy'.
Bryan Bruce, 2016

For me, one of the main issues in education in this country is one of equality for ALL students.  I worry that, in our need to quite rightly raise the achievement of the so-called tail of underachievers, we are watering down our rich education structure that is supported by the New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007).  I'm concerned that our Gifted and Talented students and those who have the potential to achieve so much more but are disengaged from the current system, and who are often seen as 'behaviour problems' are missing out.  I blogged on this recently - Are we failing our gifted and talented learners - and teachers?

On reading the 2012 Education Review Office (ERO) Report regarding the three most important issues for education in this country, it should seem 'simple' to be able to address the needs of ALL learners.  The three priorities or issues are:

  • One: shifting the focus to student-centred learning;
  • Two: the implementation of a 'responsive and rich' curriculum and;
  • Three: Using assessment information to effectively plan learning and teaching.
ERO Report, 2012

The report was written in 2012 and we are now in 2016.  How much has changed and how far are we along the continuum towards best and most effective practice to meet ALL students' learning needs? I'm wondering if, in the need to meet the government's focus on 'the tail of underachievement' and meeting the National Standards, that some of our learners are now missing out.  In my own practice I've always tried to personalise the learning for each individual student and to emphasise learner agency in everything I do.  It's meant incredibly long hours which works some of the time as I don't have young children to consider.  I often wonder how teachers with young families manage to meet the needs of their students as well as they do.  Surely something has to give.  That is another post for another time.


The one I've chosen to focus on for this post is STEAM learning and teaching.  Both locally and globally we are seeing a greater emphasis on the need for in-depth learning in the sciences and mathematics.  The term STEM, or the one I prefer - STEAM, as it includes and values the Arts, is becoming a catch-cry for improvement.  Like anything in education, however, there are issues and concerns.

In my own practice and through discussion with my students, we knew we wanted more of an emphasis on STEAM in our learning so we worked together to learn what the best way of creating this environment would be.  We had an unused classroom in our school so a plan began to hatch.  We focused on the Nature of Science, a current emphasis for our professional learning within the school, and researched a great deal as part of an inquiry which began in 2015.   Our journey and what has been achieved to date is documented in a blog that the students curate.  The writing is largely their own thoughts and ideas and record of what we created together.  Unfortunately, I am not at the school anymore but the knowledge base of the students is strong and they will lead the future development of the space and the thinking behind it.  (Please click the link below to the students' blog - The Creator Ops STEAM).

The Creator Ops STEAM

Nature of Science on TKI



STEM to STEAM: Art in K12 is key to building a strong economy

Schools shift from STEM to STEAM


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Education Review Office (2012).The three most pressing issues for New Zealand’s education system, revealed in latest ERO report - Education Review Office. Retrieved 14 June 2016, from

Maeda, J. (2012, October 2). STEM to STEAM: Art in K-12 is key to building a strong ecomomy. Retrieved from

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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Connecting to Your PLN for Powerful Reflective Practice


I have been interested for many years in the power of connecting with others to improve your practice and this was a strong theme that ran through many of our blog challenges during various Reflective Teacher @TeachThought blog challenges. Reflecting on our connections and the insight they can provide was part of a Thoughtful Thursdays challenge in 2014.  Connecting with others enables you to explore your practice from many different angles and viewpoints.

The following acrostic poem was written in 2011 as we pulled apart what it meant for us to be connected educators.

On Being A Connected Educator and Why I'm Grateful for the Connections

Day 16 of the Attitude of Gratitude Reflective Teacher @TeachThought Blog Challenge...

Why I'm So Very Grateful To Be A...

Connected locally and globally to inspirational teachers and learners
One way to challenge and push your own learning through different viewpoints
New ideas and learning are created through connection and collaboration
Never alone in this fabulous and challenging profession
Energised by conversation, support, humour and collaboration
Constantly supported to be the best you can be
There to support and encourage others
Energising personalities abound!
Developing new understandings about learning and teaching

Experimenting with new thinking and ideas to improve practice
Depending on your connected educators PLN for insight and discussion
Unending learning
Challenged to be reflective about your practice and clear in your thinking
Articulating practice through additional viewpoints and questions
Thankful and grateful for opportunities and connections
Original thinkers and learners inspire and challenge me
Reflective practice is at our core for the sake of our students

I reviewed what I had created as my connections in 2014 and added new ones.

 2014  What Does Connected Education Mean to Me?

2016  My Current Connected Education Connections

The Power of Professional Connections

Choosing only two professional connections to discuss is not easy as they are all so powerful.  The two I've chosen are discussed here because they have been a constant throughout most of my teaching career.

Twitter - PLN and EdChats

I first blogged about Twitter and the power it has a learning platform in 2011 and, on re-reading it, I felt the same excitement I had then.  I'd had an account for a year but never saw the purpose in using it as a learning tool until I was challenged by a colleague to give it a go.  It is honestly the best thing I've ever done.  I had started my Masters and it was a platform in which I could challenge my thinking, share my ideas and be challenged by others' thinking on the questions I was investigating in my research.

From the end of 2013 until the end of 2014 I was not in the classroom as I was recovering from an illness so I had a lot of time I could invest in developing my PLN on Twitter.  Upon returning to the classroom at the beginning of 2015, which was a huge challenge in itself, I found that I didn't seem to have the time I wanted in order to be able to participate in the weekly / monthly Edchats so I had to let that slide and I've really missed the discussions and debates.  Now that I am at home again and beginning my Doctor of Education, I will be fully utilising this platform to test my thinking and gain insight from others.  Twitter is a powerful tool to have as part of a community of practice as you learn from and with others, both locally and globally with a very wide range of experience.

University of Otago - EdD PLN

The majority of my university study has been completed through the University of Otago by distance. In my final year of undergraduate study I completed a paper "Computers in Education" and was completely hooked by the potential of online learning to change how we learn and teach.  Since that time I have been able to see the evolution of a communities of practice style of learning and teaching.

In 2011 I began my Masters where one of the assignments required us to collaborate on a communities of practice project where all the collaboration was online with some face-to-face for those who were in Dunedin.  Three of our group were in Dunedin and I was in Invercargill.  The project environment required us to be clear in our communications and to work in ways we hadn't before.  We weren't always successful and had to work hard on our communication, particularly as one of our group did not have English as his first language.    Our project can be viewed here. 

This year I will once again be learning in a community of practice.  What this will look like is yet to be determined and that is the beauty of a genuine CoP.  It evolves and develops as the community members evolve and develop.  It is about shared practice where all ideas and experiences are valued and help to develop our practice.  We will meet face-to-face for the first time in July so it will be exciting to see who else is in the community and how it will develop from there.


Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W.M., (2002).  Cultivating communities of practice.  Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.