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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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!

TeachMeetNZ

tmnz
Click on the badge to see my TeachMeetNZ page.

Ever grateful for the opportunities that come my way, this weekend I shared a presentation through TeachMeetNZ to the CLESOL conference.

I really enjoyed presenting in this way: the combination of speaking to your slides seemed to suit my delivery style well. I learnt a few more ‘techy’ tools along the way, such as how to embed my presentations, set them to auto-advance, and how to share my screen during a Google Hangout. I really enjoyed working more with the wonderful Sonya van Schaijik, who also works on the #edchatNZ steering committee with me. Getting to know a few more connected educators, my co-presenters, was also a bonus. It was fascinating to hear all the different topics people spoke to, but also some of the common themes of really knowing your learners well in order to best meet them and their needs with empathy, understanding and support.

I also want to reflect a little on my topic in particular, as putting together my three minute wonder gave me good time to reflect on my Year 8 inquiry into flipping lessons. Here is my presentation:

I’ve been ‘flipping’ my language lessons for six months now – it’s roughly about one lesson every two to three weeks. I  find using TED-Ed straightforward, and although I can sometimes spend a while to find exactly the ‘right’ video to choose, making the lessons themselves in this way, is fairly quick and easy. The students seem to enjoy completing their TED-Ed homework, and I remain convinced that the three minute videos I choose will always be more fun and engaging than drill and practise out of a workbook.

One of the aspects I really like about flipping my language lessons is that it gives me a much better understanding of the students’ individual strengths and weaknesses. One example in particular is one of my very bright, articulate students, who did poorly with a lesson on verbs. Without the data provided from TED-Ed, and flipping this activity, I would have assumed her to be confident with this material.

It is this ability to personalise learning more that I see as an important benefit to flipping lessons. And, conversely, it’s also where I can see I need to do some more work. Because the questions I tend to set for the students to complete are largely multi-choice, the spread of data I get is really insufficient to separate my class into more than two groups in an informed fashion. Thus, the flipped lessons I have prepared these holidays are less reliant on multi-choice, and I’m hoping this in turn generates a greater spread of students. I would like to be able to put them into at least three groups, each with their own tasks to complete in the classroom, so that I can target their needs to a greater extent.

I’ve also just taken my first baby steps to making my own videos! I had a play with the ‘Educreations‘ app on my iPad and I’ve made a revision lesson on apostrophes. It was surprisingly quick and easy to do. However, I really want a tool that means I can upload my videos (gulp) to YouTube so that I can incorporate them into TED-Ed. I think the ‘Show Me‘ app will allow me to do this, but I’m open to other suggestions if you have them!

I think this has become a bit rambly, so by way of summing up:

  • Being a connected educator means great opportunities come your way – these are to be embraced.
  • I recommend presenting through TeachMeetNZ or its equivalent to you – supporting the professional learning of others is a neat experience.
  • Reflecting on my ongoing inquiry has shown me that flipping lessons has much potential – but I can do more, and I have already taken some steps towards doing so.
  • A common denominator between the subject of my presentation and being involved with TeachMeetNZ: rewindable learning! Technology really does have the power to boost our learning experiences.

 

Term 2 Reflections

I have been inspired today to write another reflection post. But this time, rather than reflecting on my classroom teaching this term (although that may well still come), I thought I’d reflect on my position as ‘Future Learning Leader‘. I got to write my own job description, so how am I doing if I measure myself against my own criteria?!

So, here are each of my ‘key tasks’, and the work I’ve done towards each one:

1. Lead professional learning in staff meetings to develop future learning pedagogies.

2. Attend HOD meetings to promote FL and blended learning approaches and inquiry practices.

  • I’ve put myself on the agenda twice so far: once to talk about my job description, and how I’d like to work with departments, and, more recently, about the potential of the Pond as a resource for staff.

3. Assist departments and individual staff with FL inquiry and skill-building.

  • I’ve attended meetings with five different departments, and have directly assisted three departments so far.
  • I have ongoing discussions with the Science Department, where we have been focusing on ways in which we can address concerns around students’ mis/pre-conceptions.
  • I have worked with the Languages Department around ideas of feedback, and looking at Kaizena as a tool to help address this concern.
  • I have worked with the PE/Health Department looking at offering more choice and investigating LiveBinders.
  • I’ve worked alongside several individuals also, investigating the possibilities of Twitter, blogging and Project/Problem Based Learning

4. Model or promote best practice examples of FL pedagogies.

  • I hope I’ve been using this blog as a forum to do some of this, reflecting on things like my Y8 website, using rosebud feedback, and the other tasks my classes have been up to.
  • I’ve also been tweeting useful links and resources using #MarsdenPL14

5. Encourage and support the development of personal/professional learning communities.

  • The #hackyrclass project that I’ve embarked upon with the amazing support and collaboration with Matt Nicoll from St Andrews’ College in Christchurch is a great example of my work towards this goal. We have offered staff the opportunity to be a part of a PLN and have been using the #edSMAC to build these connections and opportunities for professional learning.
  • Another connection that has been forged through this blog and through Twitter has been with Catherine Wooller of Westlake Girls’ High School, and between us we facilitated an interesting and useful Skype chat between our respective Science Departments.

6. Contribute to online library of workshops and instructional videos.

  • Okay, this might be the area I haven’t been so flash on. I haven’t made anything specific for staff, but, obviously, all the workshops I offer for Professional Learning sessions are easily accessible to staff. In addition, I’ve added other links to our Professional Learning page on Ultranet:

Ultranet

And finally…

7. Work on other related and relevant tasks as negotiated.

  • Here’s where I’m feeling particularly proud. I feel as though I’ve really been raising the profile of Marsden as a school who is actively committed to implementing future focused pedagogy for the benefit of students.
  • I’m a Pond Pioneer educator
  • I’m exceptionally proud to be a small part of the #edchatNZ conference steering committee.
  • I attended the inaugural #WellyPLG meeting at Amesbury School
  • I have two conference presentations coming up: one for TeachMeetNZ and CLESOL, and the other for ULearn14 – where I’m co-presenting with my wonderful senior manager
  • And this very week I’m the ‘keynote presenter’ for our Y9 Creative Inquiry Symposium

And, you know, when I look back at six months’ work laid out like this, I feel pretty chuffed with what I’ve accomplished, the progress I have helped to promote, and the amazing opportunities that have come my way.

 

 

Blossoming

As part of my current unit on ‘poetic geography’, I wanted my students to reflect on their poetry drafts, and to get feedback from their peers. I’ve used the whole ‘PMI’ (plus, minus, interesting) chart in the past, and also a modification of it: ‘smiley face, sad face, question mark’, to varying degrees of success. Then, in a tweet from Steve Mouldey (@GeoMouldey – where so many of ‘my’ ideas seem to come from…), I learned about ‘rosebud’ feedback.

Watch the YouTube video about it here – courtesy of Lisa Palmieri (@Learn21Tech).

And here’s the Google Presentation with the instructions I made for my class. I added the ‘helpful, kind, specific’ criteria after reading Andrea Henson’s blogpost trialling the same rosebud feedback activity (@AndreaHenson_nz).

Here are my students in action:

rosebud

I was very impressed by how engaged the girls were. They really worked with focus for far longer than I anticipated.

At the conclusion of the lesson, I wanted to know how the girls found the activity. They commented that they enjoyed it, but wanted less repetition in the feedback they were given by their peers. They also wanted more specific feedback, so that they really had a direction to move in to improve. It is clear that giving feedback is a skill that the girls will need more practice with, but this activity definitely showed me the benefit of a structured peer-feedback activity like this.

Three things really stood out to me to highlight the worthiness of the rosebud task:

  1. The student who wanted more bud/green feedback so that she could improve her poem further (“just one post-it note isn’t enough, Ms Nicoll, I’ll finish that too quickly!”)
  2. The student who realised that her poem wasn’t the best she could do and wanted to continue to craft rather than produce her final copy. (Especially when she’s normally the student who rushes to finish and is satisfied with her first attempt.)
  3. The day before, I had a queue of students behind me, all wanting feedback from me. The next day, they wanted feedback from each other.

The rosebud bloomed!

King of Shadows

With my Year 8 English class last term, we embarked on a novel study of Susan Cooper’s book King of Shadows. I’ve taught this novel for a number of years now, so it was time to try something new. Particularly in light of the ‘inquiry’ focus I’m looking to bring to this class. I decided I wanted to have the class make a website to reflect their knowledge and understanding of the text.

In terms of process, the plan I followed was to introduce the class to the kinds of websites students usually go to to access information about texts: Wikipedia, Shmoop, Sparknotes. We thought about what kind of information is on these sites, the language that is used, how the sites are organised and laid out. We considered what someone wanting to know more about our particular novel might be after. This brainstorm eventually generated our ‘to do list’ and the various tasks students completed to generate information for our website.

I did some lessons on digital citizenship. I tried to shift the focus away from the ‘don’t dos’ that the girls could easily and happily recite to me (‘Don’t post mean things’, etc.) and onto making a positive contribution to Internet-land.

We decided on an appropriate time frame, considering that the teacher, as editor, needed time to look over everyone’s work, and that the website designer in the class needed time to upload and format everyone’s work. Students nominated the tasks they most wanted to attack, and the partner they felt they would work well with. I collated this information and allocated tasks on this basis. We also had a go at co-constructing an assessment schedule. And then we went for it!

I was really excited to observe the engagement of the students in the task. They will openly and happily tell you that they didn’t especially love the book, but this didn’t stop them from being thoroughly engrossed in their work. They came into class and got started straight away – no need from prompting by me. They sought very little feedback from me in terms of clarifying their understanding of the task. If they asked, I simply asked a question of them: ‘What do you think someone visiting the website wanting more information about the book will want to know?’ No-one came back for more help after this.

I also liked that no-one blinked an eye when I sent work back to them for a second, third, fourth edit or proof-read. They accepted that if the work was being published for a genuine audience, it needed to be accurate and high quality.

The finished product is here. I’m very proud of what the class produced.

In terms of my reflection, there are two main areas I would want to improve upon if I used an activity like this again:

  • More time on digital citizenship, and to co-ordinate better with the school librarian to deliver this.
  • Better co-construction of the assessment schedule. I don’t know how to do this well, and the way I went about it meant both that the girls lost interest, and we didn’t end up with something they understood or could use to self/peer assess their work.

However, I surveyed the class at the end of the unit, and here are some highlights of what they said:

  • I liked that “everybody had a part, each person was a piece of the puzzle. I also liked the ‘freedom’ of each task and independence.”
  • “I found it interesting how the class is making a website to help others focusing on the book. Not just in NZ but the world.”
  • I got a “better understanding of the book and I quite like the idea of it going ‘live’.”

An Afternoon with Ken

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley

3 Principles that supports human life flourishing:

  1. Diversity – “kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents”
  2. Curiosity – “curiosity is the engine of achievement”
  3. Creativity – “one of the roles of education is to awaken and develop powers of creativity”

Other gems from this talk:

  • Great teachers “mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage”
  • “The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning” – there is difference between the task of teaching and the achieving of it, e.g. dieting.  You can be on a diet, but not be losing weight…!
  • There is a place for testing but it should not obstruct learning.  We currently have a culture of compliance rather than a culture of curiosity.
  • Case of Finland, where teaching and learning is individualised
  • Also places importance on the professional learning of teachers

It would be interesting to see what the New Zealand Curriculum says about these three principles.  My current understanding is that they are supported.  The intention behind the NZC is for schools to create their own curricula which are in line with the communities and students they serve.

The three principles are also ways to measure the benefit of new teaching practices.  Will they allow diversity, curiosity and creativity to flourish?

Universal Design for Learning

This is another concept which I need to spend more time thinking about – particularly: how does it relate to future learning principles?  However, I definitely agree with the idea of universal design for learning – that students should be able to show their understanding in a way that best suits them.  The principles of UDL seem to be around making knowledge accessible, and making the assessment fit the learning.  I think English as a subject is particularly well placed to do this – we might have more freedom in an English classroom to allow students to present in writing, orally, or visually.  This way we can assess both content knowledge and production skills.  Success criteria therefore need to be flexible, or perhaps even co-constructed with students.

I do think that there is a challenge (albeit not an insurmountable one) to balance the concept of universal design for learning against the demands of meeting NCEA assessment criteria.  Something we’re looking to try at Whitby next year is to focus on teaching key skills in the first half of the year, putting aside various pieces of student work as they go.  Then, in the second half of the year, these pieces can be crafted into items for assessment, playing to the strengths students have exhibited.  It will be interesting to monitor how this approach works towards meeting the needs of students.

As I came to appreciate at ULearn, and as this YouTube clip makes clear, it is about opening doorways for students – and technology has the power to do the same.  Technology can be used to make knowledge accessible to students, and it can be used to help students show their understanding in a way that best suits them.  The New Zealand Curriculum talks about ‘diversity’, and some of the reading I’ve started to do unpacks this idea to not just be about catering to students from diverse backgrounds, and not just a diversity of learning styles, as UDL can do, but it’s also about coping with and managing a diversity of ideas.  In this way technology can be both a boon and a burden.  Perhaps this is also where TPACK and careful, clever learning design comes into play – providing a specific context but flexible success criteria so that students don’t flounder and lose their way.

Today I gave my Year 8 students an independent reading assignment.  Within reason, they can choose their own fiction book to complete the assignment on, and while I have given them a range of activities and questions to complete in relation to their chosen text, I have set them the challenge of finding a creative and original way to present their final product.  They can complete it in their exercise book, as a poster, as a blog, as a podcast, as a YouTube video…it’s up to them.  The girls have embraced the idea and are hugely enthusiastic.  And while, yes, it will be interesting to see the final products, at least it has them excited about learning, and they feel they can attack the task.  And perhaps that’s a real benefit of trialling something like universal design for learning.