What I learned from writing my PhD proposal

IMG_4673 (1)Just before Easter I handed in my PhD proposal. It was a major achievement for me, and I felt stoked. For those of you not familiar with PhD study, at my university the process is as follows: when you first enrol, you are really only a ‘provisional’ PhD student. Your first major job is to write a proposal. The proposal should outline your area of study, the key literature relevant to your field, the theoretical lens(es) through which you will view your study, and some of the specifics of your research design: research questions, methodology, ethical considerations. It’s about a 10,000 word document. (Or 10,700 if you’re me…) Your proposal is formally reviewed by a small committee, and, if it’s accepted, then, Pinocchio-like, you’re then a ‘real’ PhD student.

Now that I’ve submitted my proposal (yay!) I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned from the experience of drafting, writing, reviewing with my supervisors, editing, re-writing.

  1. Diagrams and tables are your friend. As a former English teacher, and holding an MA in English literature, I prefer to express myself in words. However, my supervisors encouraged me to incorporate tables and diagrams to help convey ideas. Woah. That helps to keep the word-count down, and really helps me to be more succinct. It also helps break up long chunks of text for the reader. It was good advice.
  2. It’s hard to read 10,000 words in one go and keep in mind the overall argument and structure. I’m thinking about this from an editing point of view, but also if I, as the author, finds this challenging, then the reader is probably too. Sub-headings are another friend for both the writer and reader. I also found it helpful to think about each section as an essay: writing an introduction, body and conclusion. I then started to think about each paragraph in these terms. A seminar I went to on editing your own writing gave a tip which I used: go through your writing, reading only the first sentence of each paragraph. Focusing on topic sentences to make sure these are in a logical sequence and capture the unfolding argument was a useful strategy.
  3. Taking on feedback. Hmm. I’m not always that good with feedback. I freely confess I can take criticism personally and get defensive. Here is where I think I’ve been gifted with two awesome supervisors who couch their feedback in ways that support me to write better. I think it also helps that I have a clear sense on the aspects of my work that I am strongly committed to, and which areas I am happy to amend. For example: I triumphantly sent off a near-complete draft to discover that my supervisors really didn’t like one of the theories I was planning to explore. I wasn’t wedded to it, so that work went. I didn’t find it painful or crushing. Select the section, hit delete. New material went in to replace it. Perhaps this is a revised perspective on ‘holding your ideas lightly’: know which ideas you want to hold tightly to, and hold to those – this is your research after all – but those other ideas? How central are they? Maybe they can go.
  4. Finished is better than perfect. This is a big learning for me. For once, knowing that this work isn’t going to be graded, it will either be fine, need some revisions, or need major re-working, has released me from the tyranny of my A-type personality. I figure that my supervisors wouldn’t let me submit a proposal that was woefully sub-standard, so if they’re okay with it, then I should be too. Reading the piece through for the nth time to change a ‘thus’ to a ‘therefore’ will not a better proposal make. Get it finished, get it in. Job done.

So what do I still need to master? Aside from everything, I want to be able to capture my PhD in a snapshot, to be able to give the ‘elevator pitch’ I guess. In my faculty, once the proposal is accepted we have to deliver a 20 minute presentation on it. I’m hoping this will help me to distil the key aspects, and then to be able to give an overview to a layperson in ways in which they might find my work interesting. Or at least not boring. High hopes.

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Ausländerfeindlichkeit

In 1992/1993 I was a German exchange student. It was my summer break between Year 12 and Year 13 (or 6th and 7th form as it was way back when). I was a fairly timid, dependent, quiet teenager (whose German was not that flash). It was a big deal to be so far from home and working away at living in a foreign language. Luckily for me my German family was phenomenal, and my German sister’s best friend rapidly became a very good friend for me too.

One afternoon, without really knowing where I was going, but happily tagging along, I found myself at a rally / demonstration “gegen [against] ausländerfeindlichkeit”. I didn’t know this second word, and when I looked it up in English (‘xenophobia’) I was none-the-wiser. But I did recognise the neo-Nazi sentiment in the streets. And I did recognise the racism against, in particular, the Turkish people living in that part of Germany.

And I felt amazed. These teenagers were so well-informed about the news events of the day. They had political opinions. They wanted to take a stand against racism, and hatred / fear of ‘the Other’. They shouted. They had placards. They knew slogans. In an interview with my German high school paper, not long before I left to return to New Zealand, I couldn’t recall the name of our Prime Minister. (It was Jim Bolger, FYI…)

This is one of the things I wish to cling to, in the aftermath of the March 15 attacks: on the same day, our school students marched in response to climate change. Young people are aware. They are informed. They have a voice. They take action and stand up for things in which they believe. And I hope they continue to do so.

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Teacher Learning

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Image source: Roman Kraft, CC0

As a facilitator, and as a PhD student of education, I spend quite a lot of time thinking about teacher professional learning and development. Wearing the first hat, I think about the content a principal or leader has asked me to convey, and I think about how best to do that – in particular what activities teachers could do to get them grappling with the content at hand themselves. Wearing the second hat, I think about conferences for teacher PLD, including how conferences are designed, and whether this matches with what we know about effective PLD and with what teachers are actually asked to do in their classrooms.

What I haven’t ever thought about, until now, is the ideas about how teachers learn that underpin my thinking, and the thinking of others who design and support teacher PLD. This is known as ‘teacher learning’, and research suggests that how leaders (facilitators, principals, administrators, etc.) believe teachers learn directly influences their leadership practices, their interpretation of policy, their allocation of resources, and their design of PLD for teachers (Coburn, 2005; Nelson, 1998; Spillane, 2000).

For example, Coburn (2005), examines the practices of two US principals who design, resource, and support teacher PLD in reading in light of reformed policy. One principal sees knowledge construction as the transfer of knowledge as ‘stuff’ from the head of an expert to the head of a teacher. Therefore she prioritises accessing external experts and expert materials and bringing these into her school for her teachers to learn from. Teachers are also given time, and are encouraged to try out the materials and techniques in their classrooms. The other principal sees knowledge construction as a social and collaborative activity: less about knowledge transference, and more about teachers thinking about their practice and what might need to shift. This leads to prioritising building professional learning communities and networks: making sure teachers have time to learn with and from one another.

This leads me to consider my own practices. What do I prioritise when designing professional learning experiences for teachers? I actively seek to talk from the front as little as possible. I prioritise activities that encourage and support teachers to explore ideas and reflect on what they currently know, and what they might need to find out next. I guess, to put a bit of a fancy label on it, I see teacher learning as being both individual and socially constructed (Borko, 2004).

And it makes me wonder. What do other facilitators, teachers, principals, policy makers, etc. base their PLD design on? What does their PLD programme suggest about how they understand teachers to learn?

References

Borko, H. (2004). Professional development and teacher learning: Mapping the terrain. Educational Researcher, 33(8), 3-15.

Coburn, C. E. (2005). Shaping teacher sensemaking: School leaders and the enactment of reading policy. Educational Policy, 19(3), 476-509. Retrieved from  doi:10.1177/0895904805276143

Nelson, B. S. (1998). Lenses on learning: Administrators’ views on reform and the professional development of teachers. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 1(2), 191-215.

Spillane, J. P. (2000). District leaders’ perceptions of teacher learning. CPRE Occasional Paper Series.

 

 

Pitch Perfect

In view of my word for the year (experience – read more here) this week I participated in CORE’s innovation experience ACCELERATOR. I had a pretty good idea of what to expect: suggest an idea, form teams around ideas, explore and evolve the idea. Test the idea and the assumptions that underpin it. Pitch the idea. And yes, this is what we did. But ACCELERATOR is so much more than this – as if what I’ve just described isn’t enough on its own!

Being pretty familiar with design thinking and the social lean canvas, I wasn’t sure ACCELERATOR would offer me too much. But I was invited to participate, and knowing that I’m going to be facilitating ACCELERATOR when it hits Wellington in July (more here), I figured the best way to learn about the process was to wholeheartedly join in.

So what did I learn?

IMG_0461Pitching is hard. It takes real skill. And the process of having to refine your idea to convince others of its worthiness is invaluable. What is the problem? Why is it a problem? Who is it a problem for? Is that really the problem? How do you know? So, what’s your idea to fix it? How will that work? Is that truly an innovation? In three minutes. Or your money back. Okay, not that last one, but in three minutes or get clapped off the stage, anyway.

I liken the process to panning for gold. You start with a tray of dirt. You slip in a little water and swirl. You may seem a glimmer straight away. You may not. But you keep bringing a little more water on board, you keep swirling and slushing away more and more dirt, and eventually, if you’re lucky, there’s a teeny speck of gold at the bottom of the pan. 

For me, this isn’t about coming up with an idea that will lead me towards world domination. It’s about the process, it’s about the experience, it’s about the learning. To take feedback. To be open to changing your idea (this one’s hard for me). And to think really really hard about the words you will use to encourage others into your waka.

And what else did I learn?

I’m a facilitator. I’m a teacher. I believe in respectful practice. And when the pressure goes on, my task-oriented brain goes into bossy mode! I unreservedly apologise to my teammates I bossed around like the big sister I am. Wowsers. It wasn’t pretty, but it was an eye-opener to me. Day one, I felt like I kept a good foot in both camps: being a contributing part of my team; keeping the focus on my other teammates and their learning. Day two, with the final pitch looming, this went out the window. “Nope!” I would say. “We need to do this.” “Oh, and don’t use this word, use this word.” All those old behaviours of directing and telling came rushing back.

Here’s why I think ACCELERATOR is an important experience: it’s no good having an idea if you can’t convince others why it’s a good idea. We can do a lot of moaning about the things that bug us. What if we focused our energies instead on not only solving those irritations, but helping others to come on board with our solution? And while you’re changing the world, you may well learn something about yourself in the process.

 

Taking my sock off

“How’s the PhD going?” is a common question I’m being asked since enrolling at university last month.

“Oh, dipping my toes in,” is the vague, non-committal response I usually give.

Where do you start a such a huge piece of work? Luckily I know a few people who have completed, just submitted, or are about to submit a PhD, so I polled them. I was given some great advice:

‘Write first, read second,’ was one I really liked. I usually do a lot of reading. I try and read as much as possible, as broadly and as deeply as possible. But I can see the pitfalls of this starting with this approach. Once you’re on this track, how do you know when to stop? When do you start to lose track of your own ideas, and have them hijacked by the ideas of others? The more you read, sometimes the more you get lost. In a fictional context, I like this. When I’m trying to contribute some original knowledge to the world (yikes, #nopressure) I can see this as rapidly becoming an extension of imposter syndrome: losing sight of the gaps, and seeing only what’s been done. Who am I to think I might have a different perspective or contribution to offer?

‘Write a research question. See if you can answer it. If you can, write another research question,’ was another I really liked. So much so, that after the person gifted me with this advice, I went home and had a questionstorming session. I generated nearly 50 research questions. For me, I found this really useful. It was a concrete and discrete task to complete. I could do it over a short space of time (I’m only studying part-time) and feel as though I had achieved something. In a way, it’s similar to the ‘write first’ idea: start with your own thoughts and ideas first. Ground yourself in your interests and branch out from there.

I’ve also inadvertently stumbled into my own useful practices. One I’m determined to keep up is my ‘What have I done today’ journal. I have a document I write in at the end of every study day where I summarise what I’ve done, and jot down any questions or key thoughts I’ve had. Not only does this help to give me a sense of accomplishment, it’s also super useful when I put down my research on a Thursday and don’t really pick it up again until the following Wednesday.

To complement this practice, I also ‘park on a hill’ – another piece of advice from a recent PhD student – I write a post-it note to myself with some tasks I will start with the next study day. This way, I begin the day with a sense of what I’m going to do, even if I change my mind  later on in response to something I’ve read or written or thought.

I’m also grateful for the other work I have done in supporting others’ research, such as the CORE Education eFellows, and the work I have done in my own thinking and research. This has prepared me well for the familiar (but still uncomfortable) feeling of not knowing what I’m doing, where I’m going, or what I should be doing. I recognise that you have to trust your brain to throw up an idea, or bring several ideas together at unexpected times. For me, this is often when I’m cleaning the bathroom. Or, as it was the other week, at the ungodly hour of 5am.

I’ve come to realise that it’s a cliche because it’s true: a mighty project like a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. I don’t have to know yet the scope and shape of the thing. At the moment, having some useful practices about how to think and work is enough. So I don’t think it’s that I’m dipping my toes in. They’re not yet wet. But I have managed to take my sock off.

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Image source, CC0

A Waitangi Day Reflection

Tēnā koutou katoa.

Ko Pirongia te maunga. Ko Waikato te awa. Ko Nicoll te iwi. Nō Kotimana me Airani ōku tūpuna.

I whānau mai ahau i Kirikirioa. Nō reira, kei te Whanganui-a-Tara tōku kainga inaianei.

Ko Philippa ahau. Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou.

When I was about fourteen I was chatting with a classmate. She was Māori and was sharing a story with me. I couldn’t even tell you what the story was about, nor the context in which it was shared. What I do remember though, was that the story included the word ‘moa’ (a large native New Zealand bird, now extinct). But I didn’t understand the word as my classmate was using it. She repeated it several times. I shook my head, my mind completely blank. What was she saying? Finally, she sighed. “Mow-er, Philippa, mow-er, the dead bird, you know, a mow-er?” I hadn’t understood her because she was pronouncing the word correctly, and it wasn’t until she said it incorrectly, the Pākehā way, that I recognised it. She wasn’t cross with me, nor did we ever speak of the moment, but it seared into my mind. This wasn’t going to happen again. I would recognise Māori words when they were spoken to me, and I would make every effort to pronounce them correctly from this time on.

And I have prided myself on doing this, and learning a pepeha (above), two karakia, a few songs, and a few whakataukī. I argue with others about unconscious bias and the way the system privileges Pākehā over Māori. And I rest on my laurels.

Every now again I get a jolt though. I have written about such moments before: here, in a blogpost entitled “Wero”, and here, in a blogpost entitled “Vanilla”.

I was jolted again at the end of last year. I am lucky enough to work for an organisation (Tātai Aho Rau | CORE Education) which is striving towards being Treaty-based. I attended an internal workshop on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which really opened my eyes to understanding history from a Māori perspective, and to knowing more about Te Ao Māori pre-colonisation. As an action following this workshop, I purchased a copy of Michael King’s The Penguin History of New Zealand and it was the first book I read in 2018.

I devoured it in a few days. It was readable, entertaining, and enlightening. I was left with three key thoughts after finishing it:

  • Māori identity is not just ancestral but is also place-based. The word ‘whenua’ means even more to me now (land / placenta). I can see why it is crucial to understand the kawa and tikanga of the iwi and hapū of the rohe. I can see why (teacher hat on) place-based curriculum is so crucial.
  • Māori are amazing adapters. Part of their genius is being able to interact with technologies and to adapt or discard these for use in ways that fit within Te Ao Māori.
  • That Aotearoa New Zealand has experienced so much history in such a short amount of time.

I know that these are not new for many people – and certainly not Māori! – but I record them for my own learning.

And I was left with this crushing question: How much of what I take for granted is Pākehā? By way of an explanatory sentence: what would the six o’clock news look like if told nightly from a Māori perspective?

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The “Me” in Mentoring

I’ve written about getting to be a mentor and critical friend in my work with CORE Education previously. In this blogpost I thought I would reflect on what I’ve learned in about 18 months of doing this interesting, engaging and challenging mahi.

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My image, “Mentor”, Dec 17

Ironically, I’m going to start with myself. This is completely contradictory in the face of a mentoring relationship which is really all about the mentee. What I love about mentoring is getting to know another person and their context. It’s been a great antidote to the almost crippling imposter syndrome I face working with giants in the Aotearoa New Zealand education system at CORE Education.

When mentoring, there’s no way on earth I could possibly know everything (or, indeed, anything) about the areas of interest and focus of the mentee. Therefore, I release myself of this burden. I don’t have to be any kind of “expert” in their field. I need to be curious and willing to learn more. Given my love of learning, that part’s a snap.

The thing I find easy to get carried away with is the fact that I genuinely like the mentees I get to work with. This means that I can slip out of ‘mentor mode’ and slip into ‘casual conversation with a colleague mode’. I can find myself wanting to share stories of my practice, to tell them what I think they should do with the issue on the table, and to make it about me and what I know and can offer. I guess it’s like slipping into teacher mode in a way.

And when this happens, I’m no longer listening intently. I’m listening for a pause. I’m holding my story, my idea in my head so I can say it. I’m making the mentoring about me. This is definitely work in progress for me, but I reckon I’m improving on the “interrupty” front. I think my next step is to be purposeful in sharing stories. Perhaps to ask if sharing a story at this point might be useful. And to keep focusing on developing my active listening skills.

I have other things I’m wanting to focus on with improving my mentoring skills too. Recently my goal has been to ensure that we ‘telescope up’. Yes, right now we’re discussing this particular issue in this particular area of your practice, but what can you learn from this that might be transferable into other areas or other contexts?

In 2018, because I’m lucky enough to continue mentoring next year, I really want to improve on checking in. By this I mean asking: “Is this working for you?”, “How might I meet your needs better?” I want to build this in to help me reflect on my mentoring practice and not to get complacent that I’ve got this mentoring malarkey done. Because I haven’t. Not by a long shot.

So, actually, this post has been all about ME. But in a way, it’s about me learning to position myself differently than in a ‘normal’ conversation. Because in mentoring, it’s so not about me.

Modern Learning Curriculum

Over the past couple of months, I have been shadowing and participating in one of CORE Education’s online programmes: Modern Learning Curriculum. It’s been really interesting and I thought I’d just reflect a little on what I’ve learned.

Firstly, I enjoyed the opportunity to bring together some prior knowledge (and I want to do a shout out here particularly to the #edchatNZ MOOC that I did last year) with some more specifically New Zealand-context research and readings. I thought it was excellent the way that the course moved between global trends in education, for example the research coming from the OECD, and our Aotearoa New Zealand context using research from NZCER, as well as firm grounding in the New Zealand Curriculum and Education Review Office materials.

In terms of my own learning, I would say that I was prompted to think more about three things:

  1. Agency. Ah yes, this popular buzzword. Specifically, student agency. In a course entitled “Modern Learning Curriculum” there is going to be strong advocacy (and rightly so) towards a learner-centred curriculum that empowers student agency. I particularly liked Tim Gander on the idea of agency. This helped me to evolve my understanding of ‘agency’ beyond just ‘the power to act in one’s life’ to ‘the power to make choices that make a difference’.
  2. The crossover between learner-centredness, emotions, wellbeing, Universal Design for Learning and modern learning environments. If we accept that we cannot learn unless we feel safe and feel a sense of belonging, then this has huge implications for the design of our classrooms / learning environments before we even begin to think about what and how we teach. I could really end up channelling Hamlet here and getting stuck by the massiveness of the issues: paralysis by analysis.
  3. Assessment. I don’t think I’ve done nearly enough thinking about assessment. The word has become a bit ‘dirty’, perhaps not dissimilar to ‘data’. But we have to know we’re making a difference. Learners have to know where they’re at, and what their next steps are. And this requires assessment, otherwise how will we know what to keep doing, stop doing, or do better? This has offered me food for thought: assessment OF learning = teachers assessing students against goals and standards; assessment FOR learning = teachers using assessment to inform their teaching, and to offer feedback to students; assessment AS learning = students self-assessing and setting learning goals.

But what have I learned about curriculum? In many respects, I am potentially more confused about what constitutes ‘curriculum’ than I was at the beginning. But I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. Where does curriculum start and end? I’m not convinced there are firm boundaries around ‘curriculum’, ‘pedagogy’, ‘assessment’. But I do wonder if many schools stumble into their curriculum without deeply considering all the aspects that frame it. I’ve tried to capture some of these things here:

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My image, curriculum, November 2018

We need to have open and robust conversations to set the parameters around our local curriculum, and we need to be deliberate in our choices.

Pinnacles

Yesterday, I listened to this recording of retiring Dean of Education and Social Work at the University of Auckland, Graeme Aitken, in conversation with RNZ’s Kim Hill. While there are many interesting points raised, I’d like to respond with a story about why teaching is an awesome profession. So, here’s the pinnacle of my teaching career…

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Ko Pironga te maunga. My photo.

Without meaning any disrespect to the schools that followed, my four years of teaching at Aquinas College in Tauranga remain the absolutely outstanding favourite of my career. It was a new school, had only been open for two years when I joined. I came in with the first cohort of Year 12s, and was their dean. I taught primarily English, but with a little bit of German on the side. Eventually I also became the Assistant Head of the Languages Faculty and the teacher trustee on the Board of Trustees. But this isn’t a story about any of that.

It’s a story of me and the next bunch of Year 12s I had the genuine privilege of being dean to. In my first year at Aquinas, I had two Year 10 English classes. The DP at the time told me that these kids were the best kids in the school. He wasn’t wrong. I felt instantly connected to these two classes – still couldn’t tell you which one was my fave for the year of the two – and, more broadly, loved the year group as a whole. So when I had the opportunity to be their dean two years later, I leapt at the chance.

Such neat young people. Kind, connected, fun, great sense of humour, interested in the world, with a real sense of community. Everything you could possibly want in a young adult. But they weren’t especially enamoured with one of their Maths teachers. There was a bit tension which I was called on at times to mediate. It can be a tricky road to hoe, sometimes, being a dean. You are an advocate for ‘your kids’, but you have a professional responsibility to support your teaching colleagues too.

So, when one of the best of the best kids of the year group came to fetch me from the middle of their Maths lessons, I knew it was serious. I had to act, and to act swiftly. Of course, none of the senior leaders was anywhere to be seen, so I was off. On my high horse. Riding to the rescue. I followed the young woman down the corridor towards… wait, this wasn’t in the direction of the Maths class…

I walked out of the front doors of the school towards the landscaped garden. In front of the large wooden cross (Catholic school, Aquinas College), the whole year group was gathered. I was thoroughly perplexed. What was going on?

The young woman I had been following, turned to me and presented me with a gift. An engraved silver cross: YR12 07.

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I almost still don’t know what to say about that moment. Except that it still moves me to tears. This is why you go teaching. To make a difference. And if, very occasionally, that gets acknowledged, then you treasure it to your dying day.

Ahakoa he iti, he pounamu. Though it be small, it is greenstone – it is precious.

Thinking Conditionally

In this blogpost I seek to bring together my key learnings from participating in Lifehack’s Flourishing Fellowship 2017. I’d like to acknowledge my employers’ support (CORE Education) in attending this programme.

I’m not really sure why I applied to go on the Flourishing Fellowship. I saw it advertised on Twitter and actually thought it would be more relevant to a friend of mine, so I sent her the link. But it kept coming across my radar, so I sent myself the details and let it hang out in my inbox for a while. When the idea wouldn’t go away, I decided to apply even though I had no idea what it really was, nor how it might fit with me. I don’t have anything to do with youth wellbeing. But they mentioned design thinking, which is my jam. And learning about Te Ao Māori, which is something I’m seeking to grow in. So, why not?

I had a grand chat during my interview, and promptly got off the video call to realise that not once had I even mentioned ‘wellbeing’ which seemed to be the main thrust of the Fellowship. Ooops. Interviewing 101 fail. Somehow or other though, I got picked. So, three residential hui later, what have I learned?

Obviously I learned a heck of a lot more about what ‘wellbeing’ is. I would totally confess to having had a very one dimensional understanding of what this is: health. Okay, mental health and physical health, but health nonetheless. You can call it hauora if you like, but it’s solely in the realms of the Heath and PE Curriculum. Right? Even being exposed to the Five Ways to Wellbeing and Te Whare Tapa Whā didn’t especially shift my thinking.

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Image source: Egmason, CC BY-SA 4.0

What is wellbeing? I came to realise that the clue was in the name of the Fellowship: flourishing. Thriving. For me, the key question of the three hui is this:

What conditions do we need to grow for young people to thrive?

And now I could see myself in this mahi.

An area of particular interest for me now is systems thinking, and it hinges on that word conditions. What are all the things that need to be in place: environmental, physical, cultural, societal (etc.) for young people in thrive, and in my context, thrive in schools?

This question has taken me to two places – and they are intertwined. The first is a question of how do we know what our system is doing?

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In the second hui Penny Hagen introduced us to a prototype of a framework which looks at mapping and mobilising conditions for youth wellbeing. The key questions are:

  • How are young people involved?
  • How do we learn and work together to offer best responses?
  • Do our environments show young people are valued and important?

I got very excited by the possibilities of this tool. For me, in the context of education, it is asking about the conditions for learner-centredness. For agency. And these must be crucial for youth wellbeing.

The second place the overarching question of the conditions we need to grow in order for young people to thrive is the knotty question of what we tend to call in schools “student voice”. What do young people tell us about their experiences of school and education? How do we ask them? What do we do in response to what they say?

One of my fellow Fellows offered this phrase: ‘Nothing about us without us’, which reminds me very strongly of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12: ‘Children have the right to have a say in matters that affect them’. And yet, do we really do this in schools? One of my colleagues pointed me to this article by Rachel Bolstad of NZCER: “From ‘student voice’ to ‘youth-adult partnership” in Set, 2011(1), pp. 31-33. In this article, she argues for a shift away from “student voice” towards “youth-adult partnership” which has the potential to be more transformative: to actively “[enlist] young people to help shift the ways schooling is done” (p. 31). For me, one way to do this is to move from designing for to designing with, which I’ve mentioned before here and here. I could go really big here and mention important things like equity and power-sharing, but I think you catch my drift.

And I can’t help but wonder if the New Zealand Curriculum (2007) doesn’t call for us to do this anyway. The same colleague who brought the Bolstad article to my attention has also left me pondering this: the vision of the NZC is a statement of wellbeing. So how might we create the conditions in which young people thrive and become confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners?