Sunday, April 19, 2015

2015 Focus: Relationships

Already a term has flown by in 2015 and I am finally publishing a post I have had sitting in my drafts for some time... Just before we head into Term 2!

A key focus for us this year has been to build an inclusive learning environment, focusing on team work and positive relationships.  We wanted to make sure we spent more time and energy on providing a space and creating a learning culture where students could feel like they are valued and part of our team.  We wanted all Marama learners to realise that we can all find success, no matter how big or small, and in many ways.

Now that we have been down the track a few years of learning in our open, flexible learning space  we wanted to ensure that success was not just measured by reaching a standard in reading, writing and maths.  We can be successful in many more ways and learning is not just about national standards...   We had found  that national standards were having too much of an influence on everything we do.  We felt that we needed to ensure that our learning environment, (with 80+ students and 3-4 teachers), was not just providing a positive learning experience that catered for the learners that were already engaged and motivated.  What are we doing differently or what have we changed to ensure that the 'disengaged' students are engaged and part of the team?  We wanted to celebrate and cater for all students to succeed at their own level and pace, while knowing their strengths and weaknesses and knowing how to be the best learner they can be.

So, what have we done?  Firstly we have tried to slow down... For term one this year our main focus has been building positive relationships.

Seeing parents for the first time to inform them that their child is not meeting a national standard really isn't the most positive experience!  So, we have ensured that we have or are making contact in different ways. We have invited parents into join us during contact time and developed a shared activity where students shared their learning smarts and then along with their parent they had to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and set some goals together.  This worked really well as students put pressure on their parents to come in!  Some feedback was that parents found this really useful coming into school and actually have that discussion as this wasn't something they would usually do at home.  So after completing the, "It's good to be me' we have shared these on our student blogs and this was the first step in developing learning pathways for our students this year.  As part of the "It's Good to be ME', we have also investigated and identified 'what helps me learn' and what I can do when I am stuck (Still more focus needed on this).

Simply emailing a parent to let them know how awesome their child was on camp.  Simply sending a photo of their child after they have achieved something. Making a phone call and ensuring that we have met all new parents to our school.  Every student has a learning blog - these blogs have a setting on them which allows us to email all their posts to a child's parent.  So every post that their child has written comes through to their inbox. Parents are kept up to date with their child's learning, in a very simple way.

Here a some of our student's blogs:

Each teacher has a 'homeroom' within our whole team.  We meet for 'tiaki tima' twice a week just to catch up and see how we are all going.  We also have these teams so that each teacher has a core base of students/parents that they ensure that they keep in contact with.  (Pastoral care)

We have also spent a considerable amount of time on leadership and what is takes to be a great leader.  We invited parents along to take part in a team building day and ended the day by making pizzas using the school pizza oven.

I think that ability group based learning groups on a much larger scale - 80 students rather than 20 to 30 in a single cell) can create a 'hierarchal learning culture'.  Students in the 'top' literacy groups tend to always be in the top literacy groups and vice versa for lower ability students.  (In saying that,  there are also huge positives as well - there are more students to work with at your own level and more variety of groups).  We decided to ensure that this doesn't happen,  and to experiment with working with socially grouped learning teams.   10 groups of 8 students (mixed gender).   What we have found is that all of us Vicki, Bianca and I have really enjoyed learning with these teams.  All teams learnt from one another, every student contributed positively and were active members of their team.  They learnt from one another and supported one another.  It has been a lot of fun, we have had many interesting discussions!

We quite often ask ourselves -  if I was student would I want to be in our team? Would I want my own child in our learning team?     To build positive and strong learning relationships means that we value all of our students voice or opinion.  We value an environment where all students are comfortable to take a risk, have their say, make a mistake, are fully engaged in their learning and one of the most important things - they are enjoying it.  Learning can be fun!  Student growth depends on building these positive relationships between teachers, students and parents.  For both the student that is the 'high achieving' student meeting all the standards and the less academically driven student.  By building positive learning relationships led by us teachers- it can only  maximise learning potential!

I also think a lot of what I have just written is a bit of yeah - no kidding, that's what we do... Teachers are always aware of the importance of this but we often get tied up with other things - such as meeting national standards and there is not enough time spent really focusing on this.  We have made a conscious decision to do this.  We just need to make sure we slow down, do less and focus on building these positive relationships first and foremost.

I am lucky to be able to be part of a team of passionate teachers who are willing to take risks, and who really care about our learners.  Thanks Vicki, Bianca & Hamish!