Thursday, November 29, 2012

He toa taumata rau

To follow is a learning story I wrote about my moko, Taylor.  I wanted to share this as it is a Nanna's prerogative to feel a sense of pride, whakahi, when they see dispositional learning happening for their grandchildren that will have positive outcomes right throughout life.  What better way to celebrate the learning than by writing a learning story about our adventure around Mauao and the way Taylor embodied the  disposition of persevering.
As teachers when we are sending these positive messages to children about their learning the implications are far reaching.  What a wonderful privilege to be able to build into children's lives strong messages about them being capable and confident life long learners.

He toa taumata rau.
We all went for a walk around Mauao recently - you, Fletcher, Uncle Jordan and myself.  As we started our journey of adventure you were keen to try the tracks that Uncle Jordan and Fletcher were taking.  These tracks were not the main walking tracks they were narrow little tracks above the main path.  

You ventured along the first path a short distance then decided that you were not confident enough to go any further and asked me a assist you down.  Fletcher and Uncle Jordan continued to take the higher more risky road.  Every now and then you would give that road another try, traveling along it as far as you were confident, setting your own limitation you knew when it was time to get down.

The wonderful thing about going around Mauao is that there are places that can grab our imaginations. A walk around the base of The Mount can become a time of great adventure and creativity as we found out on this day.  We had taken a pathway that lead down to a beach and you, Fletcher and Uncle Jordan stopped to create a wonderful piece of art work out of drift wood.  This was truly a team effort that required everyone pitching in and doing their bit. 

Once completed we sat back and took photos.  We could here the wow’s and  the“oooh look at that” from the people 
passing by.  Our mission was complete, our structure built and now it was time to keep moving.

 Back on the track you decided once again to follow the steps of Fletcher and Uncle Jordan.  They ran along quite swiftly and managed the trickiness and the height of the path with ease.  You however, could not keep up, but.........and it is a big BUT, you were staying on that tricky path.  Even when the path grew narrow and high you stayed there and you stayed there and you stayed there.  Amazing Taylor you conquered your fear one little step at a time.  

Finally the track became quite high and even the bravest of the brave, Uncle Jordan, had trouble getting down off the dizzying  heights.  However, seeing Uncle Jordan struggle to manage on a very slippery slope did not put you off you still wanted to keep going.  It was at this point I asked that you come down which you most reluctantly did.  It was not because of the height, not because of the slipperiness, not because I was worried about you,  but what would normally take an hour to walk around the base of The Mount had already taken us two hours and were only half way there.

Taylor, bravery has many resting places, He toa taumata rau,  is my favourite - whakatauki -  proverb.  I know that you are brave because you kept going with something even when it was scary.  Brave sits well on you Taylor.

What did I learn about Taylor today?
I realised that Taylor sets his own limits as to what he can and cannot accomplish.  But I also learnt is that Taylor will continue to try at tasks that seem too hard, too scary and too tricky until he has mastered them. This ability to persevere  with difficult will see you rise to challenges in the future Taylor.
Taylor you come from a long line of brave people.  Relations that saw big mountains in front of them but still tried to climb them.

Lynn Rupe (Kaiako, Nanna, Kuia)
April 2012

Navigating the bigger narrative of planning around Learning Stories

I spoke recently at an ELP lecture series on ‘Nurturing spaces, thinking places: How do these link in practice?‘  One team wrote to me afterwards with some fabulously thoughtful reflections, asking for some ideas about how they might re-think their current ways of planning.  The most useful process I think is to channel this kind of energy into a self review inquiry. As we draw near to the ELP Learning Story Conference, thinking about this now, without identifying the team and with their permission, the process I outlined to them, might well be useful for others. So, I thought I’d blog my response.  Teaching teams will have questions they wish to pursue and sometimes this might seem daunting. However using much of what you already have on hand will lessen your workload. It is the organisation of this material that is critical. It must be accessible and having a title: like a book, with chapter headings, that break the inquiry into manageable, relevant portions so subsequently the data can be accessed logically, easily, is a format that is simple and effective. 

The team asked me first if I remembered them! This is what I wrote:

“Yes I totally remember you and yes you were loud and laughing and I took that to be a sign of a team very comfortable and happy with each other which I thought was fabulous!!!”
What a wonderful email! The question you ask is a perfect self review question:

“One question we have been reflecting on is how authentic and relevant our own programming is for the children we care for? We wondered whether we were trying to plan too far ahead for an age group that has constant changing interest”. 

My thoughts would be:
Set that as a research question (this becomes the title of the self review)
Then put in a number of chapter headings:
1: What is  our practice so far? 
Put in some examples of your current planning, any wall documentation photos of this and any reflections teachers are prepared to write. Maybe you have discussed this at a team meeting and have some minutes from those. This becomes your base line data.
In this way you are using your documentation for a range of purposes and reducing additional work as much as possible.
2. What would happen if we stopped formal planning for the next month and everyone committed to writing learning stories?
Collect examples from each teacher. At your staff meetings read these out to each other and see what happens in your discussion. On the back of these stories write the comments from your teachers. My guess is that you will all have wonderful moments of thoughtful comment to add to the analysis the teacher has already written. Add this email letter to this chapter as well, as this is evidence of professional conversation wider than your centre. Add the evaluation forms from the workshop you all came to that night we met - more evidence of reflection without adding additional work. I think these kind of reflections are easier to write as they are immediately after some experience and the thoughts often just flow. There is often a lot of collective chat and excitement that leads to change.
3.How are we tracing children's progress through our learning stories?
In this chapter put the learning stories that have links, continuity is the key to tracking children’s learning progress.. Start writing in your stories: When I read through your learning story folder I saw a story written for you from Karen and as I watched you today I can see how much you have practiced this .......
I saw you on Monday working hard to pull yourself up against the table and all that practice has paid off for look at you now!.....
4. How are we supporting children to grow their learning further?  (the third part of learning stories  - the what next, this is the individualised planning for children)
Put learning stories in this section that have thoughtful ideas about planning.  Sometimes this will be acknowledging that the children are the planners and it will include how you are setting up a vibrant environment, full of discovery opportunities. Eg: We watched how you used the planks to balance and thought we would add some tree trunk rounds to offer some more challenge. I will be really interested to see what you choose to do. (someone else might write a story about what happens from introducing this kind of provocation. We need multiple perspectives to make Learning Story narrative assessments, valid).  When you stop taking up your time with old style planning formats and put the additional time you save into learning story writing, you have more stories to share with families and use for individual planning.
5.How have our families responded to these more connected stories?
Put any comments from families into this chapter including the comments you write into your learning stories after conversations with them.
6. What changes have we seen in our children's abilities to be planners of their own learning?
7. How is our team more in tune with children's interests?

I hope you can see how this systematically builds a strong picture of committed teachers, thoughtfully responding to children's learning. My guess is that in the past when you spent time planning together, that most of what you thought you would do, never happened and so much else happened that you have no record of. I think it is a fallacy that teachers carry, from a very old way of working, that 'planning' has to be done formally. It is much more responsive when it happens in the moment. Carry this planning voice on your shoulder " how can I make this learning more complex in this next moment?'  'What resources can I add to deepen the children's experiences?' Then write Learning Stories to document the process.

Planning for individual children happens in your learning stories and most importantly in the conversations you have with each other. Essentially the framework underpinning your view of your children and your community of learners is what will drive your practice.  Start with the Principles of Te Whāriki, then move to practice, otherwise teachers become task driven and real learning becomes squeezed, fragmented between rosters and routines (nasty words by the way, switch these for rhythms and rituals. These words revolutionise practice). If you truly think children are competent and capable, make your programme more flexible, more child decision friendly, more doors open.

So when ERO asks you, management etc. “What planning do you do for individual children?” show them the children's fabulous folders and the self review folder documenting your thinking journey. The Self Review that I have described is indicative of all that individual planning. After the month you will have stories to look through with a view to thinking about any strong patterns emerging. This could be the focus for a “Story of Interest’. This becomes an exemplar of planning in your community - group planning. This is done in retrospect as you see ‘threads of inquiry’ emerging from children’s interests. It might be about a traditional curriculum area or a disposition. And once again you set up the  Group planning story folder just like you did for the Self Review question and follow the same format.    You might ask yourself: How do we support curiosity to flourish?  What do literacies look like for our babies?

Over the months ahead you keep adding your stories with handwritten reflections from the sharing you do together at your meetings or supporting each other editing your stories. These become very relevant for your Teachers Registration/staff appraisal folders. I hope you can now see that writing more reflectively and sharing these lessens your work load as these thoughtful learning stories become very useful for a range of purposes. 

Hope this helps.
Have a fabulous time talking to each other and experimenting with ways that will work for you. What I hope most of all that this makes good sense, lessening irrelevant work and focussing on the work that really makes a difference for children and families.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Learning Stories: Are these powerfully reflecting the learning culture of your setting?

Learning Stories are teachers  individualised planning for children. Teachers  write the narrative (story) followed by an analysis and then think how to grow this learning further (planning). These three parts are what Margaret Carr considers narrative assessment and individualised planning. Their intention is to make a positive difference to nurture learning opportunities for children. This is why Learning Stories, to be effective, must be current (written as close to the context of learning as possible), shared in the team (so that every teacher can support this learning) and written with the three headings visible to make certain that learning is in the front frame. Over time, it seems that in many places, these headings have been absorbed into the body of the story. I know from my conversations with ELP facilitators that we think this is a concerning trend. While teachers might see the noticing (story), the recognising (analysis) and the responding (planning), it is not so obvious for families or children. There is a tendency too for teachers to stay in the descriptive phase, without a clear analysis when the three parts to a Learning Story are combined. This is not ‘planning’ for an individual child. Learning must be in the front frame, otherwise it is simply an interesting story. The three part format essentially gives teachers an opportunity to discuss the valued learning and support families to see this too. Otherwise we have missed a clear opportunity to support families to be their child’s long term advocate. We will have potentially missed the chance too of building a partnership where conversations about the learning interests of the child freely move between setting and home.

Planning for individual children/tracking their progress

There must be equity for each child where teachers consistently write to make sure no one is missed. It seems to me that this has nothing to do with accountability but everything to do with professional responsibility. This is meaningful planning. When we think of planning like this, it is only natural to want to share this across our team. Reading these to each other at team meetings invigorates these meetings with purpose and positive energy. The thoughtful analysis that each teacher writes is the kind of reflection, when shared at team meetings and other informal moments, gets translated into practice. This means we are continuing to build shared understandings of what ‘wise practice’ looks like and improve not only our writing abilities but our sensitivity to respond in meaningful ways. Everyone grows as a result. 

Teachers often make decisions in the moment as happened when a whole lot of cherry tree branches were dropped off to the centre and everyone helped to construct a teepee. No amount of staff room planning could have predicted this opportunity arriving on a door step.

Practical ways to ensure teachers’ professional growth

The time we spend thinking and writing about our children’s learning is valuable time indeed. Non contact (teacher research time, let’s call  this time for what it is because we get what we focus on) means one teacher receives some quality time (Supportive employers schedule this time fairly and do not expect teachers to write these at home) to reflect on a child’s learning in the context of that learning. That teacher also considers how this learning might be extended. This is planning in action. A draft copy is printed and a team member edits this. It is most profitably an opportunity to have feedback, is evidence of collegial, professional conversation and so very useful for a range of purposes. These draft copies are kept for Teacher Registration criteria/staff appraisal and self review folders. Nothing is wasted and instead of, often tedious reflections on practice, away from the context of a child’s learning, the annotated Learning Stories are incredibly valuable. This is what we call working ‘smarter, not harder’. There is no need to write additional material to make teachers’ practice visible when thoughtful Learning Stories are shared and documented in this way. Try this and see the stress evaporate and the wasted time disappear! Management expectations for additional reflective work that sits in a cupboard, for the most part, are often too high. Using the Learning Stories you write every day are much more powerfully situated to change teachers’ practice and improve outcomes for children. Teams who work like this have synergy, purpose and shared understanding and it shows in the culture of learning and teaching that happens in their setting.

Group Planning/ Community Stories of Interest 

As teachers see links across children’s stories, through the interests and dispositions they write about, teachers move individual planning into community planning (planning stories/stories of interest). When we see all of these areas as a connected whole, we are truly working as a team of teachers and learners inside a community that values everyone’s efforts to stretch their abilities; children and teachers. These threads of interest may be about traditional curriculum areas like literacies and they may be about dispositions like leadership and curiosity. Most essentially these track an exemplar of the kind of learning that happens in an ongoing way in that setting. They are a ‘slice of the pie’ as it were. Margaret Carr has said there are around 900 planning moments each day. It is impossible to record each of these and why would we want to? Using teachers’ thoughtful learning stories to record learning interests, knowledge, skills and dispositions however, give real insight into the learning community. Compare this with a more traditional planning sheet where teachers ahead of time plan a series of activities. Half of this never happens and the exciting things that do occur, as responsive teachers engage with children, rarely is added to these sheets. This is time wasting for some imagined accountability expectation based in the 19th century!

The primary effort is to advance opportunities for children’s learning, draw families into teachers’ thoughtful reflections and give children a chance to revisit their learning. It tracks the continuity of learning and makes the depth and width of this learning visible. This means we are continually improving learning opportunities for children as many people inside the community of learners know where children’s interests lie and can support these in a wide range of conversations, resources and experiences. This shared understanding takes time to gel together and most of all it relies on everyone moving together so that we all keep improving.  The progress in teams who work this way is phenomenal. Overtime these teams consolidate this learning, enjoy each other’s perspectives and help each other through their feedback. The evidence is most particularly in the vibrancy of the learning culture. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Marie Bell, Visionary Educator dies at 90

I was very sad to learn of the death of Marie Bell. She was an exceptional advocate for children and their families throughout New Zealand. Her work, initially with the establishment of Matauranga School in the 60's, and then in early childhood education, particularly as a lecturer of kindergarten teachers, made an outstanding contribution to education in New Zealand at many levels. She was totally committed to a democracy that ensured that children's rights were both protected and supported.

I have many warm memories of times with Marie, and one that stands out, is when we both shared time with Urie Bronfenbremmer beside the shores of Lake Rotoiti. They were both very tall ‘totaras’ in education, each making very important contributions to early childhood education. 

Later in life, Marie was an inspiration to us all in what it means to be a life long learner by completing a PhD while in her 80's. She presents to all of us such a powerful model of what it means to lead a full life and be a life-long learner. It is one thing to talk to others about the importance of life-long learning, it is another to powerfully enact in your own life.

My eldest brother’s family are also sad to be out of the country at this time as they also had a special relationship with Marie and also felt the power of her inspiration. For them, not only was she a wonderful educator, but she was also the guiding light and strength for her wider family. They will all miss her very much and the foundation she built for her grandchildren will give them the best start in life. We will all miss her.