"It is a good divine that follows his own instructions; I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than to be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching."
Portia, The Merchant of Venice, Act I, Scene II.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Secret Santa

Last week was essentially the final week of the school year for us, since in week 7 we have Activities Week rather than the normal timetable.

It was somewhat frenetic. My Y10s were finishing NCEA Level 1 static images. Note to self: do this earlier next year! I do not want to be assessing anything for the Y10s in term four except for possibly wide reading. Actually I don't want to be doing any internal assessments at all for anyone, but I'm allowed to dream.

Senior signout day on Wednesday was disappointing. It had not been well advertised and the turn out was extremely low. This leaves me a big headache in terms of worrying about how many of the English texts will eventually come back and how many will be lost forever as Y12s and Y13s leave without signing out. The deans will now have to phone the Y12s and Y13s who didn't turn up, and inevitably I will end up phoning parents of non-returners at the start of next year, sigh.

Enough complaining! The highlight of the week for me was getting my last two Y12s through their final Level 1 assessment to get their literacy. There was a sense of urgency about this (for me, not them!) given their existing credits were all old standards and they needed to complete within the transition year. I felt a huge sense of relief when they both finally passed what they needed to pass :-)

Junior Prizegiving on Thursday afternoon went really well and students and parents seemed to enjoy it. There were some great music performances to enliven the proceedings, including Maddy from my form class, who won the local talent quest earlier this year. Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling well later on Thursday afternoon and did not make it to the Y13 Leavers' Dinner. Apparently it was a really great evening.

My Year 10s insisted on having a Christmas tree in our form room, and we did secret Santa on Friday for our last form class meeting, which was lots of fun. Santa gave me a new mug, which is very cool. Thank you, Santa!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not waving but drowning

I just edited last week's post to embed the video in it, which I didn't have the patience to figure out how to do at the time. Now last week's post has today's date on it, rats. This week's post is 24 hours late but it's been that kind of a week.

Year 10 marking done; English and form class reports gone. I would have liked to get students to write their own suggested report comments, as one of my colleagues did, but there just wasn't time. This wasn't only because my reports were up against the deadline, but also because the Year 10s were finishing their NCEA static images assessment last week, and I really needed them to concentrate on that. Well - that was what should have been happening - as it was they seemed to be more focussed on the lunchtime touch tournament, could we have secret Santa, could we have a Christmas tree in the classroom and could they make decorations please? (yes, yes, and only if the assessment was finished).

I've had a few senior assessments handed in over the last few days, and am frenetically trying to mark these before the 1 December data export. Very few of the Year 10 extension class look like finishing their wide reading in time (they've had 3 terms to do it....).

On the personal front I went down to Wellington at the weekend. Amongst other things I collected some boxes of books I bought from another school, shopped, had a haircut, and stayed overnight with my mum. We watched the election coverage on TV on Saturday night - extremely depressing. Even the fact that the referendum supported retaining MMP didn't cheer me up given how low the support was compared to when MMP was first voted in, and the hugh informal vote on the second question, which seemed to indicate widespread apathy and ignorance, guaranteed to make any political animal depressed.

On the positive side, I have next year's Year 11 programme all typed up and finalised, and the Year 12 programmed finalised - I only need to finish typing it up. Yeeha! We had some great discussions in the department last week about possible themes and texts for the year 11 and 12 classes next year. We are all reading various books at the moment so that we can discuss possible purchases further, although with the Y12 classes so dependent on option lines and option changes after the results come out in January, it is hard to plan ahead - things may change when we see the actual make up of the individual classes, so I probably won't be ordering new books until early next year.

This week: finishing off final marking and getting results tidy for export; senior sign out on Wednesday (pray for optimal text book return), Y9/10 Prizegiving on Thursday afternoon, Y13 Leavers' Dinner on Thursday night, marking AsTTle writing on Friday. Not to mention the M word - magazine proofing. Thank goodness I am not marking NCEA this year. Breathe... 10 days to go. :-)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chasing my tail: occupational hazard

It's been one of those weeks where I felt like I was running to catch up the entire time. I was only off sick for 2 and a half days last week (four and a half if you count the fact that I did no work in the weekend), but it has meant that so many things were slipping.

The highlight of the week was definitely the film making day I ran with a colleague for our international students who are not sitting external exams.  We gave them the challenge of creating a short video to go on the school website giving a student point of view about coming from overseas to study at our college. They divided into three groups: all managed to complete filming and download their footage to Macbooks kindly loaned by other staff (thank you!), but only one of the groups succeeding in editing their video and completing it in time for us to copy it to flashdrives or burn it to disks for them to take home.  The completed video is up on Youtube and you can see it by clicking on this YouTube link or click below:

Year 10 reports are nearing completion; my class is still working on a static image task that will be assessed against the NCEA Level 1 criteria. Their progress is glacially slow compared to the time it usually takes the Year 11s, but there is some good work coming.  It hasn't helped that those in the extension group have been on exam leave for part of the week. I was hoping this would mean that the others would be more focussed but sadly, not!

There have been a few seniors in every day, seeking revision advice and copies of past unfamiliar text papers, or completing assessments or re-submissions. I have chased a few whom I know are close to passing Level 1 Literacy and just needed some encouragement to come in and do it.  I even 'friended' a student on Facebook out of desperation for a method of contacting her when the phone numbers we had were not getting results (this broke my usual policy of not sending friend requests to students - I will confirm requests from students but don't initiate them as a rule). As an experiment it was successful: the student eventually responded to my direct Facebook message and came in to school several times, completing six credits.

Exam feedback from the Year 11s and 13s was largely positive: those who had done the preparation thought the papers fair and had found questions they could attempt with some confidence. It was disappointing again to find that many of the Y13s, in particular, only attempted some of the standards; some are very strategic about it, only having prepared for one or two, others fail to manage their time effectively and decide to do two standards thoroughly rather than three superficially.  I still find this hard to understand, having successfully faced a lot of university exams where I had to write four essays in the three hours.  I do think today's students have a lot less practice at exams than we did, and they actually are less habituated to writing by hand.  Many of them complain of sore hands after a three hour exam. I have a feeling not many take my advice to do timed practice essays.

Looking forward to this week: tomorrow is our Ministry-funded teacher only day for preparation for the realigned NCEA Level 2 standards.  We have a full day planned in the department: reviewing how the Year 11 implementation went this year, deciding if we want to make any changes for next year in the Level 1 programme, and then moving on into reviewing our plans for Level 2 next year and seeing if we want to revise the plan we came up with earlier this year. I hope to come out of the day with confirmed course outlines for all the senior programmes for 2012.  We also need to consider our external moderation report which came back this week.

I still have a pile of Year 10 marking that must be done urgently for their reports and haven't revised the stationery list for next year let alone finished proofing the magazine. AsTTle writing tests need to be photocopied and the testing and marking dates confirmed.  And a lot of this was on the to do list a week ago when I wrote...

Wait, I see a tail...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Writer's Blo(g)ck

There has been a long hiatus on this blog.  I think I have been suffering from the "I have nothing valuable to say" syndrome.  While I'm sure this prevents many a boring blog from seeing the light of day, it has also had its paralysing effect on what is supposed to be a personal reflection on professional practice. So I am resolved to make a fresh start at my teaching blog, remembering that its main audience is me, first and foremost, then hoping that my personal reflections may be helpful to others.

This week has been mainly noteworthy as the farewell of the seniors off onto exam leave.  We had them at school on Monday and Tuesday, and the level of engagement was varied.  A number didn't bother to show up to classes: clearly they had given up already.  My non-exam class was split between those frantically finishing the internal assessment and those who had, again, given up hope. Of those in the exam classes who attended, most were attentive and on task, a few seemed to be oblivious of any sense of time pressure or need to focus. Like most of my colleagues, I focussed my help and advice on the former, and tried to minimise the disruption caused by the latter.  This included those who felt their last days of high school might be best spent running around out of class involved in "egging" and waterfights.  In these moments I feel a deep nostalgia for the days of 100% external examinations, where students actually took the externals seriously, rather than wandering around muttering: "I don't need to pass this, Miss, I've already got my Level 1 [or 2, 3, or UE as the case may be]."

The rigours of Monday and Tuesday were followed by senior prizegiving on Tuesday night. Just before 7pm while the staff were lining up to process in, I got a text from one of my Year 11s, one who had been doing his best for the two weeks and two days of this term to do no work, talk through everything I said, and stare out the window and giggle a lot... His text: "Hey ms wot r same key points i should foces on to study" [sic]  I laughed, because this had to be better than crying.  I also turned off my phone without answering as I thought this was one of those situations where a response in the heat of the moment could be... unwise.

Prizegiving proved to be a wonderful evening of celebrating the successes of those who had actually made the best of their time at school. (Probably those same students who were aware that I had spent the last two weeks and two days giving them advice on what they should focus on to study for exams!) There were great speakers, great entertainers, and I felt a real sense of pride in those I have seen grow from Year 7s through to confident young men and women about to leave after a successful Year 13.  The speech from the outgoing heads of school made me choke up, and the haka to tautoko the new Head Boy sent shivers down my spine. By the end of the evening I went home with a real sense of affirmation that I love my job, and that I do something worthwhile.

By midday Wednesday I had succumbed to the sinus and throat infection I'd been fighting and went home to bed for the rest of the week.  While work followed me, in the form of texts and calls from students and parents, I have mostly spent the last few days asleep or reading trashy novels.  By Saturday I had enough voice back to go to the dress rehearsal for my choir concert, and today I was able to sing in the performance.  Throat still a bit sore, but the antibiotics are kicking in and I'm feeling a lot better.

The week ahead: exams for my Year 11s and 13s, finishing off the last of marking internal NCEA assessments, organising AsTTle writing tests for the Year 9 and 10s, proof-reading the magazine, junior reports... olay!


Go wayward students, hopeful sent
to your exams, with best intent;
May commonsense serve
Where memory wavers,
And learning preserve
Whom the question favours. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Time out to reflect on school leadership

Today I've been at a middle managers' professional development day, focussing on building a supportive learning culture. 

The highlight today was definitely Bruce Murray, a consultant and retired principal, who spoke about his experience as a school leader and shared his educational philosophy. It's so refreshing to hear an education professional openly sharing that his educational philosophy is grounded in his Christian faith. It all begins with believing that every individual has value.

Teaching and learning has to be paramount in our management and leadership within the school.  Murray says schools which do this will advance and see improvements. This means that professional development of teachers has to be a priority.

Encouragement of teachers pays huge dividends and costs zero dollars. We all want to be loved, whether we are snotty-nosed third formers or gnarled old HODs.

As leaders we have to walk the talk - we have to show moral leadership. Moral authority can be lost or withdrawn. Maintain high standards of fairness and honesty, in small things as well as big. Allocate classes fairly. Make decisions openly.  Be circumspect about who you confide in, and be the best teacher you can be. Maintaining your moral authority comes at a cost to you, you have to curtail your freedoms. As an HOD you are not free to do what you want. You have to maintain trust from the community.

In summary, Bruce's advice:

- develop your own educational philosophy;
- teaching and learning are the key issues;
- leadership involves a strong moral dimension which you ignore at your peril.

To finish, Bruce talked about how our ancestors mostly emigrated to NZ because they were at the bottom of the economic heap back in Scotland or wherever (I'm summarising freely here). We have different lives from them because we have benefitted from state early childhood, primary, intermediate and secondary schools, and state universities. As teachers and educational managers, we are privileged to help our students break the cycle through education.

Great stuff! Thanks, Bruce - a truly inspirational session.

Other things for me to reflect on from the day:

- using a personal ePortfolio to store evidence for registration attestation - maybe we can model to our students how we are reflecting on our learning/practice
- delegate more: stop worrying that I should have to do everything myself and be prepared to ask for help to get jobs done. I worry that if I ask other staff to do things they are going to be thinking, "Why isn't she doing this? She's the HOD!" I guess this is the curse of a small department - there aren't so many people to delegate to!
- my leadership enquiry project has been in stasis and I really need to dust it off and get it back up and running, since I have to report on it at the beginning of September.

In one of the afternoon sessions I spent some time looking at the report: "What ERO knows about effective schools." You can find this on the NZ Education Review Office website here: http://www.ero.govt.nz/National-Reports/Evaluation-at-a-Glance-What-ERO-Knows-About-Effective-Schools   The report is a meta-analysis of characteristics of effective schools based on over 30 ERO reports on schools and school-related issues, published between 2007 and 2010.

"The five characteristics that crossed the boundaries of school type, location, decile rating and philosophy were:

– a focus on the learner 
– inclusive leadership 
– effective teaching 
– engaged communities 
– coherent policies and practice as part of continuous self review.

Of course these five characteristics do not exist in isolation from each other but play out in an interconnected web that is the complexity of everyday activity in a school setting."

An interconnected web, that's us... and now, back to school to finish my reports!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Technology is wonderful...

What can I say: two months since the last post.  I have endured life without a laptop. I can truthfully report that it barely exists.  If not for the iPhone4 I got for Christmas, life would have been unbearable. And while one can websearch, email and tweet with an iPhone, blogging is really not possible. Not with two thumb typing, when I am a loquacious ten finger touch typist.

15 reasons why technology is wonderful:

  1. It is wonderful when your school has an updated internet use agreement which all students must sign and return before their accounts will be activated for the new school year.
  2. It is wonderful when you give it a couple of weeks and take your class to the computer room and find that a handful of them still haven't brought it back.
  3. It is wonderful when you find that half your class can't remember their gmail password and have to wait for the IT department to reset it (and considering that here 'IT department' means a long-suffering colleague who is trying to teach his own classes at the same time, it is a miracle that this is sorted out as quickly as it is).
  4. It is wonderful when the half of the class that have got into their gmail are able to access the blogs you have set up for them.
  5. It is wonderful when large numbers of these students promptly change their blog password to something they can't remember five minutes later.
  6. It is wonderful when after three hours in the computer room only a handful of students have been able to access their blog, personalise it, post something on it, and create a link to the class blog.
  7. It is wonderful when you hire a laptop through the TELA (NZ teachers' laptop scheme) and you suddenly find that your lease has expired and you have to give your laptop back.
  8. It is wonderful when it takes a while to get information about the options available for a replacement laptop.
  9. It is wonderful when the information is stalled because suppliers are releasing new, and better models of laptop.
  10. It is wonderful when you chose your laptop and order it and wait for it to arrive. 
  11. It is wunderbar when, due to other priorities, it takes the IT people three weeks to profile your laptop.
  12. It is truly wonderful when, in profiling your laptop somehow your normal profile on the network gets gliched so that you have no applications if you log in on any computer other than your laptop.
  13. It is wonderful when you log into your google account and find that your blogs have disappeared because you set them up with your school email, which is now associated with a school google apps account...
  14. It is wonderful when it takes you 3 days to figure out how to access your old blogs, which involves creating yet another (third) google account which you don't actually want.
  15.  It is wonderful when you can finally get into your blog and engage in some narcissistic and cathartic blogging.
However, it truly is wonderful playing with my new MacBook Pro 13" - I have not used a Mac regularly since 1990 or so, and at all since about 1994.  If it hadn't been for the iPhone I have been playing with since Christmas, I think I would be struggling - but I think it will be worth it.  Time to go watch some more training videos.

Thanks, dear Blog, for listening to my ravings.  I feel so much better now.  My next post might even be about my teaching!!!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thinking about Christchurch, not about pedagogy...

Towards the end of period four on Tuesday my colleague from the next classroom came in to tell me that there had been a big earthquake in Christchurch.  I put the overhead projector on and logged on to www.stuff.co.nz so we could check out the news. Throughout period five, my Year 13s attempted to work on analysing the first chapters of novels from their chosen genre, interspersed with exclamations at the newest photo showing up on the whiteboard or the latest news update.  I made desultory attempts at assisting them with their work while, in some kind of weird role-reversal, I gave most of my attention to the Twitter and Facebook feeds on my iphone!

I stayed on line checking the news while I worked until I headed off to my piano lesson at five o'clock. My piano teacher and I watched the news on TV after my lesson. After dinner I went to my church choir practice where we opened our rehearsal by praying for those in Christchurch and their families and friends. I spent a lot of time with my iphone behind my music, secretly checking earthquake news on Twitter and Facebook and texting friends in Christchurch.  I have cousins in Christchurch, and I went to bed on Tuesday still not knowing if they were safe.

Yesterday we had a school assembly in the morning where we talked about what had happened in Christchurch and said karakia for those affected.  Our principal spoke about the impact on us here in Otaki as we wait for news of friends and whanau, and also the need for us to think about our own earthquake preparedness, family plans, etc.  Many of our students here at college have parents who commute to Wellington to work.  My own partner works in the city.  What would we all do if there was a big earthquake in Wellington and they were unable to get home for days?

Travelling to my chamber choir practice last night the woman I car pool with told me of a local family whose daughter has died in the Christchurch CBD. I arrived home to my partner's announcement that his employer has him on standby to go down to Christchurch.  He works in IT and may be needed to go down and get computer systems back up and running.  He had to pack a bag and take it to work today in case.

By the time I went to sleep last night, I had heard news of my cousins and most of my friends: all safe.  But I had been shocked at seeing more photos, interviews and coverage.  I was desperately worried about my friend Jill who I had boarded with in Lyttelton some years ago when I was doing my teacher training.  Her house was only a few hundred metres from the timeball station, which had been badly damaged, and I couldn't contact her.  I had no news of my friends and tutors at the NZ Graduate School of Education, which has its base in an office building on Kilmore St, right by Cranmer Square.  I wept at the photos of the shattered Catholic Basilica, where I sang in the choir for six months; and Oxford Tce Baptist Church and the Cathedral, where I have sung at RSCM services in the past.

Today my temper has been short and it has been hard to stay positive - I found myself over-reacting to student behaviour.  I know I was tired and worried.  A phone call in the afternoon showed again what a small and closely-connected country we are: my dental appointment had to be rescheduled because one of the dentists in the practice has gone down to Christchurch where his partner is still missing.

I am relieved to say that I am now 99% sure that my friend Jill is okay and I have spoken to one of the NZGSE directors and heard that they are all safe.  I have been in touch with friends from the choir at the Catholic Basilica, and they are safe too.  My partner was not required to go to Christchurch today and probably won't be  going tomorrow.

I sat down this afternoon to blog about my teaching, but the earthquake is all I can think about.

I have written all this to show how huge the impact of this tragedy is on all of us here in New Zealand. It really is a 'national' disaster. Since Tuesday afternoon I, like many others outside Christchurch, have carried on with my job and my daily life.  I may not be in Christchurch, I am not aware at this stage of anyone I personally know having died or having lost someone close to them - but I am not 'unaffected'.   I am still prepared for the possibility that someone I know may be on those lists when they are released. I have lived in Christchurch; I know people there, I know the city.

Like all of my colleagues and most of the students here, the suffering of those most closely impacted is never far from my mind. The people I am feeling desperately sorry for at the moment are those whose friends and family have died and, most particularly, those whose loved ones are still missing.  My thoughts and prayers are with them.

Ki o koutou tini mate, haere, haere, haere atu ki te po.  He mihi nui ki nga whanau pani - arohanui ki a koutou mo tenei aitua o matou katoa.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Year 13 - Unit: Chapter One

My Year 13s are working on analysing genre and style in the first chapters of novels.  The unit is based on the assessment task "Chapter One" for AS 90720, which you can find on Te Kete Ipurangi at http://www.tki.org.nz/r/ncea/eng3_1Bv2_25jan06.doc  We have read and analysed Chapter One of The Last Ride by Thomas Eidson (Western), Unnatural Exposure by Patricia Cornwell (Crime/Thriller), The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan (Fantasy) and Tongue in Chic by Christina Dodd (Romance) using the templates in the tki resource.

My students are now choosing the genre they want to write in and they have to find three novels from that genre and analyse their first chapters using the same template.  The aim of this is to get them 'in the zone' for their genre - familiar with the vocabulary and style so that they are ready to write their own piece in the style of their chosen genre.

Each year I have some students who have trouble choosing their genre.  I tell them to go with what they like reading, as they will be more familiar with the style.  There is usually some bright spark (yes, even in the 'top' English class!) who says they don't like reading; I ask them what kind of movies they like and tell them to choose novels in that genre.

Most of the Year 13 class are heading off to camp for three days this week with the Year 9 students they are mentoring this year, so progress on the unit will be slow.

HoD life: I spent a frustrating couple of hours this morning trying to work out how to catalogue departmental resources and print barcodes for them - moving to automating our textbook management, which has been all manual card systems up until now.  Hopefully once I have my head around it this process will speed up!

Teacher life: PPTA meeting in Palmerston North this afternoon.

Life, the big L: eleven of us (staff, significant others and a couple of parents) had a team in the Great Lake Relay over the weekend - 155 km around Lake Taupo.  An awesome weekend!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The self-reflective me!

Hi all, welcome to Teach Twenty, which will be where I reflect on my teaching day in the English classroom. 

Today I am happy that I have set up my new blog, and I am about to post the link to Claire Amos so I can join in the 101 English Blogs project.  My blog title and banner indicate that perfect practice in the classroom is easier said than done!  The NZ Curriculum challenges us to model the key competencies for our students.  I strive to avoid too much, "Do as I say and not as I do," but I have chosen the quotation from Portia to remind myself that this is not always possible!