Last year we started using the phrase “warm and demanding” to describe our approach (Maurie and Lea to blame for bringing this phrase into common usage). I remembered this from Restorative Practice workshops and quickly saw how it could apply across much of what we were planning. Initially I viewed this as being a phrase for our students, now I realise it describes how things are for staff at Hobsonville Point as well.
The warmth for staff began as we were given ukuleles on our first day and went through a series of team building events that built up by trust amongst us. Some of these as groups and some of it where we were (incredibly) honest with each other about our past personal and professional journeys to this school. The honesty started the warm relationships and the trust amongst us built from that. The idea was that we would need strong relationships to build the best possible school.
It was demanding at the same time, especially on an intellectual level, as we basically went through 2 terms of being at a conference every working day. Learning new ideas, challenging each others’ thoughts – and our own – as we developed the school from scratch. Maurie has mentioned often that it would have been easy to open a school based on the traditional model and just tweaked things slightly. Instead we went about redesigning the secondary school experience and it was an incredible experience. I have been in my dream job and have often glossed over in my mind how difficult some of this has been (it was also difficult to see how we could complain about working in a school with no students!).
Fast forward to more recent times and of course the demands have changed. Now teaching students (whilst still developing some procedures as we go – such as the big one of assessment) we are facing the same day to day demands as all teachers: leadership meetings, planning, appraisal etc. On top of this we have a few extra twists added in as we negotiate how to best use our open learning spaces and operate in a collaborative team teaching environment. Anyone teaching in Big or Small Modules has to schedule in a collaborative planning meeting. To ensure these multi-disciplinary modules have disciplinary rigour we have both learning area and cross curricular team meetings when developing the modules (next week we start the process of developing the Term 2 modules with student voice and learning area meetings whilst teaching our current modules). Our PD model is incredible with teaching as inquiry being a main focus but also digital citizenship training, future focus leadership workshops with Mark Osborne and critical friends set up to challenge and support each other (mine is our Principal Maurie Abraham!).
All of this requires work and careful thought but the envisioned learning outcomes make it worth the effort. Again I reiterate, warm and demanding.
The demands are stacking up as we hit that mid-term crunch and people have started questioning some of the decisions made last year. None of us had worked under the system we have set up. None of us knew how we would respond and now is the interesting time for this. The different timetable structure, team teaching (and planning), hitting send every 2 weeks to the parents of our learning hub and setting up a new environment have all put pressure on staff.
Then with amazing timing, we had Mark Osborne run a leadership workshop with us on Friday and we were able to really reflect on hitting the struggle now. I likened it to the Learning Pit where you enter a state of confusion before emerging with a new understanding and Mark introduced us to the Implementation Dip which is very similar:
He also spoke about the 4 things that should be considered when making decisions in a school:
- student voice – I interpret this as community voice
- gut feeling – I like the word intuition here
It was a good reminder that our decisions in setting up our structures and processes incorporated all of these. When things get tough we also need to consider all 4 of these. If challenging any of our structures we better look for evidence that covers all of these aspects rather than just a gut feeling that this is hard and so we aren’t sure whether it is right.
For example, our module selection booklet for Term 2 will be adjusted to show more clearly the learning areas involved in a course based upon community voice, our gut feelings and the data we have collected through the process showing that people had some confusion first time through.
Mark finished our Friday PD session looking at four conditions required for mindset change:
- Purpose to believe in
- Reinforcement systems
- Skills required for change
- Consistent role models
This proved the point for me on why we had spent so much time and effort last year really embedding the school vision when we started. I feel we have a pile of systems that reinforce what we are trying to do but feel maybe we could focus on developing some more skills around collaborative planning and team teaching to help staff feel more confident in our approach. This will allow us to develop the role models to turn to for the various aspects of our school structure (lets not forget we are only 5 weeks into being a school.).
We are attempting to redesign the secondary school experience so that we empower our learners through personalised learning, powerful partnerships and deep challenge & enquiry. Change is hard and we accept that our first iteration may not be perfect but by having a warm and demanding approach with both staff and students we are certainly making big leaps towards that vision.