Nothing about us without us: Student wellbeing

This post was first published on CORE Education’s blog. Click here to see the original.

Schools cannot simply rely on their positive culture and respectful relationships to promote wellbeing but need to provide opportunities for students to make decisions about their wellbeing and to be active in leading their learning, Education Review Office, 2016, p. 18.

The wellbeing of young people is increasingly an area for focus for schools both here in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as overseas. In the past we have possibly relied too heavily on an implicit approach to the wellbeing of our staff, students, and school community: that teachers and students have a good rapport; that leaders have an ‘open door’ policy whereby any issue can be raised at any time; that the school environment has a positive feeling. While these are indeed all strengths schools can build upon, this isn’t an approach to wellbeing in and of itself. If we see wellbeing as important, then it must be reflected in all areas and aspects of a school. Wellbeing requires an explicit approach, as the Education Review Office (ERO) calls for in the quote above.

Firstly, what is wellbeing? When I asked participants this very question at a recent CORE Breakfast, this is what people said:

wellbeingA synonym I like to use is flourishing (as did one or two others!). That our young people are nurtured to do more than exist; they thrive. They have the right to be who they are without having to leave any aspect of their identity (such as their ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation) at the school gate.

This is all very laudable, but how do schools go about explicitly planning for our young people to flourish and thrive?

Both ERO and the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) have produced useful work for schools focusing on the wellbeing of students. When we bring this material together, we can see that both organisations call for:

  • A whole-school approach to wellbeing;
  • Taking a youth development perspective in wellbeing work;
  • Seeing young people as active agents in their lives.

Whole-school really means whole-school: that wellbeing goals are reflected in school policy, curriculum, the physical environment, pastoral care practices, in the staffroom, in the boardroom, and in the classroom. That we monitor the wellbeing of all students and staff, and that we iteratively design and evaluate wellbeing strategies and initiatives.

Taking a youth development perspective requires moving beyond our previous practices of focusing on responding to specific issues as they present themselves (bullying, teen pregnancy, smoking, for example) to promoting wellbeing. It also means that students are actively involved in developing and leading wellbeing programmes. This goes hand-in-hand with treating young people as agents in their lives. Young people are experts in their own lives: they have knowledge that deserves respect and offers learning opportunities for adults.

Last year I had the privilege of being selected for the Lifehack Flourishing Fellowship. Lifehack was a systems-level intervention in youth mental health and wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand. One of the amazing resources I was introduced to was the ‘Mapping and Mobilising Conditions for Youth Wellbeing and Hauora’. This is a tool primarily designed for youth work teams and organisations to “identify and strengthen their practices and ways of working across areas that are known to promote youth wellbeing, hauora and positive and youth development.” As soon as I saw it, I got excited. I could see its potential to be used in schools as a reflection tool. I tested it with a group of teachers, and we had a think about both its format and its language. Based on their feedback and thoughts, I had a play to create this version for use in schools and Kāhui Ako: Pathways towards student wellbeing.

In it, I pose three key questions:

  1. Agency and Engagement: How are young people involved?
  2. Cohesion and Collaboration: How do we learn and work together to nurture wellbeing systemically?
  3. Environment and Community: Do our environments show that young people are valued and important?

Much of the literature about youth wellbeing places emphasis on what in education we call ‘agency’. That young people are involved in the planning, leading, and implementation of wellbeing programmes and initiatives. We should work towards the consistent involvement of diverse groups of young people, including initiatives and programmes they co-design and lead.

As a prompt to consider where you might be at in your school with regards to agency and engagement, you may like to consider student leadership.

  • Who are the student leaders in your school?
  • How are they selected?
  • What role(s) do they fulfil? How much agency do these leaders have?
  • Who is not represented in student leadership roles?

And perhaps more broadly:

  • To what extent are young people involved in the design of programmes / initiatives and in decision-making generally?
  • Are there are a variety of opportunities for young people to participate and be involved in meaningful ways?

To grow the capacity of a school to support youth wellbeing, it is important to be a learning community. The principle of ako is crucial here: how do we learn with and from one another, how do we share this learning, how do we curate this learning? The challenge in this space is to have a commitment to innovation and collaboration, and iterative ways of working and learning both internally and externally. To have knowledge shared openly, and learning that is reciprocal, and that young people are active agents in creating and sharing knowledge. Collectively, we build a broad and deep knowledge base that is curated.

As a prompt to consider where you might be at in your school with regards to cohesion and collaboration, you may like to consider learning as inquiry.

  • Who decides what is taught and how?
  • To what extent is learning through inquiry a basis for learning in classrooms; as professional learning and development; as building capacity for leadership?
  • How do we share the learning from our inquiries with one another?

And perhaps more broadly:

  • To what extent are individuals, groups, teams and / or departments operating in silos or in isolation?
  • How do individuals and teams draw on and contribute to data and a shared knowledge base?

The third aspect to consider is that of environment and community. This is intentionally broad, encompassing all aspects of the environment: the physical, cultural, social and emotional environments of the school. It is important that the input and value of young people is reflected in places, spaces and governance structures.

As a prompt to consider where you might be at in your school with regards to environment and community, you may like to consider what’s on display on the school and classroom walls.

  • Do we display learning in progress, or finished products?
  • Who decides what is displayed?
  • Who decides where material is displayed?
  • How often is material for display changed?
  • What isn’t displayed on walls?

And perhaps more broadly:

  • Do young people feel welcome and included in our spaces and community places?
  • Does the design and management of amenities and spaces specifically incorporate young people’s needs?

These are big issues for schools to grapple with. However, starting by asking young people what is happening for them in their lives, and in your school; auditing wellbeing programmes, initiatives and data; and then considering the strengths the school has to build upon are useful beginning steps. The key theme is that of agency: Nothing about us without us. This is a wero all schools should wrestle with.

Resources:

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Co-design for Wellbeing

The seeds for this idea have come from many nurseries. One in particular I would like to acknowledge is my place on the Flourishing Fellowship, offered by Lifehack HQ.

Thanks to NetSafe, I have started to think about digital citizenship in the context of wellbeing. In case this isn’t a logical connection for you (because it wasn’t for me), let me offer these thoughts. Digital citizenship is more than cybersafety, although that is an important aspect. Feeling safe and knowing how to keep yourself safe online is crucial. Being online and being a digital citizen means being connected to a community or communities. It entails being respected and respectful. Sharing and contributing. Giving of yourself. These resonate with my understanding of wellbeing, and I can see connections to these concepts and the Mental Health Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing:

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In schools, as a gross generalisation, I think we have a tendency to do ‘to’ our students rather than ‘with’. And I think the area of digital citizenship is no different. You may recall that I’ve been thinking about how we seek technical solutions to people problems. And that I frequently urge people to sit deeply with ‘buzzwords’ to think about the vast implications these have for our practice. And that I’ve had a bit of a shift in my design thinking methodology to incorporate co-design.

So.

What if co-design was not just a process to create learner-centred initiatives, but also an empowering methodology by which youth wellbeing was fostered?

The excellent NetSafe Digital Citizenship Capability Review Tool holds student-led digital citizenship initiatives as the ideal for schools. It suggests practices such as: “Our students are active partners when we plan, develop and review digital citizenship and wellbeing” and “Our students drive initiatives that promote the relationship between the positive use of digital technology and wellbeing“.

So.

I would like to develop (or be part of a team which develops) a resource to support schools and their learners to co-create student-led digital citizenship initiatives.

My hunch is that this will have greater impact than other digital citizenship programmes. That co-designed initiatives will be more sustainable. That these initiatives will lead to a more embedded approach to digital citizenship. That co-design develops the key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum. And that co-design fosters learner agency.

My secret desire is that learning to co-design might lead schools to reflect on their ‘learner-centred’ practices and explore ways in which working with young people shift power structures and genuinely foster agency.

My wonderings are encapsulated in this image, which I gleaned from our second Flourishing Fellowship hui:

ExpertiseEvidence

and how I might tap into these aspects of expertise, especially mātauranga. What does digital citizenship look like in kura? I need to test my assumptions about learner-centredness, because they are entirely based on my observations of and experiences in English-medium schools. I don’t want to add chocolate sprinkles on the top, I want mātauranga to be a fundamental ingredient to this digital citizenship cake – without which it will not rise.

So, here’s the invitation. How can you help me? What do you know? Who do you know? What can you suggest? What are your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions? Please let me know by commenting below or tweeting me: @AKeenReader.

For … With

Last week I went to the Wellington EdTech MeetUp where, among other speakers as well, I listened to a man named Rahman Satti. He spoke about his experience working with refugees and new migrants in Germany in 2015. And of course, we’re not talking about a small group of 15 in a community, but a whole country working with an influx of one million displaced people.

One of the ideas a group had was to create and build an app for refugees and migrants. It would be multi-lingual with the aim of being a kind of ‘one stop shop’ for all kinds of things new people to Germany might need. It was well-intentioned and thoughtful. But it didn’t fly with the people it was supposed to help. There were numerous reasons for this, as there always are, but the point Satti was making was that the app with designed for refugees and new migrants rather than designed with.

Instead, Satti and his group approached the refugees and new migrants as co-designers, as crucial, as agentic, and as fundamental to the design process as they were. One of the first learnings Satti and group gained was that the refugees and migrants didn’t like these labels. They wanted to be known as new-comers.

This idea of co-design, of designing with rather than for, really got me thinking. When we design for, we run the risk of re-creating existing power imbalances despite our very best intentions. Whereas, when we design with, this is empowering for all involved. I think this holds great potential within a school (or a Community of Learning) for open, flexible, genuine learning for all involved – no matter their shoe size (as Keryn Davis might say.)

Co-design calls on us to hold our ideas lightly and to be ready to challenge and confront own assumptions. To put aside what we think “should” be.

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I wonder if we might have a tendency as adults who work with younger learners to want to “just” help and that this might mean that although we intend on designing with – this could come with an unintended superiority or paternalism/maternalism, to want to do ‘for’. Perhaps as adults we might need to do some ‘unlearning’ first and to remember the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, where children have the right to be heard, the right to be taken seriously, and the right to be treated with respect. (There are also some cool NZ resources on working with children from the NZ Children’s Commissioner: an explanation of the children’s rights, and some ways to engage with children.)

Which leads me to wonder:

  • How might we approach learners as co-designers?
  • How might we create a safe space for co-design? (The principles of Universal Design for Learning could be awesome here.)

And then further, given my current interest in school libraries: What might a co-designed school library be like?

  • What do learners value in their school library?
  • What innovative ways could they see the library space being used?
  • By whom?
  • At what times?

What rich learning is possible if we design with rather than for.

Secret Agen(t)cy

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Attribution: CC0

This year I am obsessed with the question of how you encourage / enable / empower (what is the verb to use?) agency.

Why am I obsessed with agency? A couple of reasons. It seems to me that we spend quite a lot of time talking about learner agency, meaning student agency. But I wonder how we develop agency in our young learners if their teachers are not agentic learners themselves?

We also seem to spend quite a lot of time and anguish wondering about how to “shift” teachers: how to get them to take on board whatever initiative is currently on the table. And I wonder if developing teacher, or professional, agency might be a key to adopting innovations, changing practice, and thus transforming education.

So, the million dollar question… How?

I’m wondering about reflection. When we take time to really think about things, we develop our self awareness. We have the opportunity, in the quiet and privacy of our own mind, to analyse ourselves, to critique our decisions, and evaluate our next steps. In other words, when we reflect, we learn.

This reflection and learning, I believe, can lead to an internal ‘aha’ – a realisation. When we discover things for ourselves, this gives us an impetus to act – our own reason to change. Our secret agency. And this is far more powerful than anything imposed on us.

 

#WellyED

You know, I’ve been meaning to blog for a while. I have several ideas about things I’d like to explore. But this is the blogpost that fell into my head while I was washing dishes…

I’m part of the collective behind #WellyED: a connected educators’ network in Wellington. I’m the human who tweets using the @Welly_ED handle, and the person who posts on the blogsite. While I kind of pitched the idea of starting such a group at an Eduignite evening last year, I’m by no means a lone nut. One of many things that’s so awesome about WellyED is that it’s much bigger than one person, and therefore stronger and more vibrant for it. Just some of the awesome educators I get to work with on this project are: Leanne Stubbing, Rebbecca Sweeney, Nathaniel Louwrens, Stephen Eames, Paula Hay, Diana-Grace Morris, Tony Cairns, Lisa Bengtsson, Matt Ives, Brie Jessen-Vaughan, and more! (The problem with naming individuals is that invariably you leave someone out. Sincerest apologies if this is you – let me know, and I’ll add you!)

Well Ed Logo

And I’m proud, so very very proud of what we have achieved. We aim to connect Wellington educators so that we can share and learn from and support one another. We aim to hold at least one event per term. We launched off with a hugely successful #educampwelly in February (over 100 registrations!), and, since then, have showcased 18 educators on the blog, socialised over a beer, and listened to inspiring speakers at last month’s Edugnite (with over 50 in attendance).

The numbers of local educators we have continued to attract to our events shows to me that there is a groundswell of support for future-focused education in this country. What we’re taking about here is nothing less than grassroots revolution. There is also increasing pride in Wellington as we prove ourselves to be as innovative, imaginative and curious as our colleagues up and down the country. And I get to play a small part in this. Awesome.

Hui 1: Breathe a sigh of relief

I’m a CORE eFellow. Even though I’ve been to my first hui, I still can’t quite believe that once again I’ve blagged my way into something far exceeding my skills and abilities. I look around at the amazing, passionate, innovative educators around the hui table and think, ‘Really? They picked me?’ But they did, and I’m grateful.

I’m also grateful for the overwhelming sense of relief that I experienced sitting in Auckland airport on my way home. Exhausted yes, exhilarated yes, buzzing with ideas yes, but mostly relief. I had expected to feel scarily confronted with educational ideas that I didn’t know how to wrestle with. And while there were certainly interesting philosophical discussions, there wasn’t anything so new or so ‘out there’ that I didn’t know where to begin to engage. Whew.

The dedicated list-maker in me (yes, I outed myself as being ‘Monica’ from the American sitcom Friends – I can have fun, I just need it to be tightly controlled. And tidy.) also feels much more comfortable with understanding the overall shape and expectation for the eFellow year of awesome learning. I’m seeing this experience as kind of like a ‘mini-Masters’. Employing educational research methodologies to investigate an area that for me has a clear sense of moral purpose, to keep my project small and simple in order to present at ULearn15 and deliver an EdTalk for CORE Education.

In a way I’m also feeling embraced (yes, physically hugged) but more importantly, a sense of connection. The first activity Louise had us do was to talk about the three (three, people!) artefacts which we had brought along to represent ourselves. Here are mine:

IMG_0023 Very briefly, I brought along a Dominion Post two-speed crossword (because I love the power and slipperiness of words), Baking Powder (because I’m a bit clueless at the moment about my new job that I haven’t started yet, but I’ve taken it because I want to be an agent of change), and post-it notes (because I love design thinking and the way it is creative and yet structured).

Exploring these, and later on in the second day, exploring more in-depth as to what we each believe the purpose of education to be, truly reveals so much about a person. It was amazing that without sitting around and hearing one another’s life stories, we quickly got an insight into each other.

And this is something I want to take into my research. Once this is a little more concrete, I’ll blog about that, but suffice to say that something I learned from Louise and John is the power of stories, but, more importantly, the power of having your story heard. And I want to hear the stories of teachers. I want to be a respectful listener, not a preachy mouth. If people feel heard, and therefore respected, appreciated and safe, perhaps they’ll feel confident to embrace something new. And my first eFellow hui certainly made me feel this.

Reflection: Collaboration in Year 11

This year I have looked to push my teaching practice to embrace ‘future-focused’ pedagogy. In order to make this more manageable for myself, I chose to focus on one area of inquiry for each year group. I gave an overview of this at the end of Term 1. As a quick snap shot, I wanted to provide more opportunities for my students to learn from one another, rather than solely relying on me. I had my tables in little ‘L’ shapes, had a seating plan which changed every term, and introduced the class to Edmodo and Google Docs. I was hoping that students would learn to connect their ideas to other texts, and to the world beyond the classroom. We had as a theme for the year ‘find your voice’ and I hoped to reflect this in honouring student voice.

Before the girls left to sit their final exams, I surveyed them on several aspects of the year’s programme, but particularly focusing on the measures I had put in place to encourage collaboration. Here’s a summary of the data:

Question 1: Comment on the layout of the classroom

All of the comments here were positive – although ranging in enthusiasm. I was interested in the perception of seating plans, which is mandated by my school. However, the girls like being mixed through as this gives them the opportunity to work with other people and be exposed to other ideas. For next year, if I am to keep a similar physical layout, I want to think more about moving students more from the front to the back and to put more thought into the groupings of students. Perhaps seeking their input would be good. Although there was a comment about sight lines, I didn’t use the front of the room much, in terms of a ‘chalk and talk’ approach. While the projector screen is at ‘the front’ almost every time the same document was available to the girls on their own devices via Edmodo.

Question 2: Comment on the time given to you to discuss work with your group or with the whole class

There was always going to be a range of opinions here! However, 11 out of the 17 respondents felt positive about the time they were given. Students commented on the fact that working with others helps them to understand better, to hear a variety of ideas and “appreciate” them, that it brings out ideas everyone can benefit from and that you can “analyse work with lots of different perspectives”. I’m pleased by these responses. What I would like to do more of is shared negotiation of time and to ensure these mutually agreed time frames are put on the board for everyone to monitor.

Question 3: Comment on the use of Google Docs as a way to work together with others

Again it is clear that the students enjoyed working in Google Docs…once we had got over the novelty of them! One student responded honestly that they were “sometimes frustrating but a good way to learn new ideas”. I also liked that it was “fun to share our opinions instantly”, and that “if you were ever stuck you could get inspiration and help from other people through the doc”. Here’s an example of one of our collaborative docs, from towards the end of the school year.

Question 4: Comment on the use of Edmodo as a way to help you access information and resources

All of the comments were positive in response to this question. The girls liked having all of their notes stored in one place, the ease of access, and being essentially ‘paperless’ (less to lose, their lockers were tidier said one student!). Students felt that Edmodo was a great way to share files and to have tasks set for them. I was appreciative of one student who made it her mission to capture any notes that went on the board and share these with the class via Edmodo.

So, what are my next learning steps?

I didn’t especially want to teach Year 11 this year. But this class was a blast! It was a great embodiment of ‘hard fun’ and the surveys reflect this. However I felt that overall the lessons were still very traditional. I really want to get into the habit next year of timing myself – no more than 15 minutes of direct instruction at any one time. This comment from one girl: “I thought the classes were run really structured and organised which I really enjoyed! I also like how sometimes we were allowed to plan the lesson to what the class as a whole thought we needed more work on.” has prompted me to commit to more co-construction of work. This is always successful when I take this approach. And I want to push the boundaries of collaboration more. Rather than ‘just’ sharing of ideas – which the girls clearly found powerful – I want to encourage more reflection, analysis, feedback and critique. Suggestions welcomed!

Marsden Professional Learning Session 12

The theme for today was critical thinking, and it was mostly about having two staff members highlight activities they have used to encourage critical thinking in their students.

Here is a copy of the wrap-around presentation I used:

I enjoyed talking about thinking, particularly the opportunity to share how I feel I have been guilty of having quite a shallow understanding of the ‘thinking’ Key Competency specifically, but all the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum more generally. When I put the slide up of points about what ‘Thinking’ entails from Bolstad et al’s book ‘Key Competencies for the Future‘ (2014) there was quite a buzz that suggests to me that I was not alone in treating the competencies lightly. We need to ensure that we don’t play lip service to thinking, but are offering explicit strategies to our learners, and to highlight to them times when they are thinking to build this awareness.

It was fantastic to hear from a PE/Health teacher and a Science teacher about their practice. The staff were impressed by the health advertisements some Year 9 students had produced. It was great to see Health content, English and Performance Media skills coming together. A challenge would be to do this in a more explicit way for cross-curricula links to be forged. I also loved how the teacher spoke thoughtfully and honestly about worrying that her students would ask her for technical support and she wouldn’t be able to offer this. She learned over the course of her unit that it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t have all the answers. Powerful stuff.

A Science teacher spoke about the collaboration I have blogged about here – whereby we teach the same Year 8 class and the girls used their forensics knowledge from Science to write ‘whodunit’ plays in English. I appreciated that she highlighted the usefulness of Google tools such as Docs and Slides to allow the students to more easily move across the learning areas and tasks. She also commented that she thought the task was a challenging one, but the students showed resilience and critical thinking in having to interweave the skills and content needed. I’m pleased that she’s keen to use the unit again next year!

My workshop was one offered previously on Edmodo, and the helpsheet for this is available here.

He aha te mea nui o te ao?

He aha te mea nui o te ao? 
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world? 
It is people! It is people! It is people!

 Reflecting on my ULearn14 experience, for me the overarching theme of this year’s conference was relationships. Everyone is a learner – teacher and student alike – and all learners should be at the heart of what we do. I could see this message coming through from every speaker I heard:

  • Yoram Harpaz’s keynote argued for three ‘meta-ideologies’ in education. I align myself mostly with ‘individuation’ – the fostering of autonomy and honouring the authenticity of the child.
  • Mark Osbourne’s breakout highlighted to me the learning that teachers can experience in a MLE (Modern Learning Environment) is as powerful as the learning the students can experience.
  • Tom Barrett’s breakout on design thinking: curiosity is the start of everything; it’s about questioning the world
  • Adam Lefstein’s keynote on teacher professional discourse and learning: the kinds of conversations we have as professionals can help or hinder our practice
  • Katie Novak’s UDL keynote: when we host a dinner party, we serve the food we love to eat. In what way do we address others’ dietary needs? We certainly don’t try to fix the diners’ problems; we cater accordingly. This is what UDL asks us to do for our learners.
  • Derek Wenmoth’s breakout: MLP (Modern Learning Practice) requires rethinking content, learners, teaching, learning – we need to be adaptable and flexible
  • Jo Wilson’s breakout: Professional Learning programmes should allow staff to grow into the roles they seek, allow them to be great leaders.
  • Steve Mouldey’s breakout: creativity enables you to create change in the world around you.
  • Quinn Norton’s keynote asked: What’s the MacGuffin of our generation? We probably won’t know until we’re scrambling to catch up, so learning to build relationships is an important future-proofing skill.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to present at ULearn on the staff professional learning I co-lead in my school. Although it was a small (but perfectly formed!) group, it was a satisfying experience. Tuning into myself as we were speaking, I realised how much staff had moved in their skills and that there is a growing appreciation and awareness for the need to embrace future-focused pedagogy. (Presentation here)

Oh, and I got named as a CORE eFellow for 2015. What an amazing, humbling and gratifying moment. I only hope I can do the opportunity justice. I so look forward to the learning to come, and the relationships to be forged with the other eFellows.

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Ring In

Yahoo! Today is Day 1 of Connected Educator Month – and I got to participate! This amazing, global, event champions collaboration and networking amongst educators. Unfortunately Danielle Myburgh, our wonderful #edchatNZ host, was unable to present in the ‘Connected Professional Learning: Stories from NZ‘ so I was her ring-in.

I thought it was really important for #edchatNZ to be represented because of its role in inspiring and empowering New Zealand educators. As I said during the session, to me #edchatNZ, and particularly our amazing conference in August, truly embodies the spirit of Connected Education Month. It is a community which aims to support and foster ‘lone nut‘ educators who seek to engage with professional learning in order to bring the best of the cutting-edge pedagogy for the benefit of Kiwi kids.

It was also interesting to be presenting alongside representatives from the Ministry of Education, NetNZ, Secondary Literacy Online and Te Manawa Pou. As one astute presenter commented: the thread really was collaboration. It’s amazing what we can achieve together.

Oh, and I earned a badge 😉

CEM