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.


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?

IMG_2784 (1)

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?

Pick Me!

This post is my application for a 2015 CORE eFellowship.

#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore
#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore

My application presentation can be found here.

My Twitter profile
My Twitter profile
The kind words of Steve Mouldey
The kind words of Steve Mouldey

Marsden Professional Learning Session 7

Today the focus was on tapping into student voice to engage learners and allow for learning to be personalised. To run alongside the session I created a ‘TodaysMeet‘ backchannel. I invited staff in, get them multiple ways to access the Meet, and gave them time during the session to use the backchannel to suggest ideas or give answers. This seemed engaging, and people were interested in it as a tool.

Here’s a snapshot of it in action:


It goes to show that having something interactive is a winner!

I also offered a repeat of the Google Drive/Google Docs workshop. I enjoy these when there is a help sheet for staff to follow along and then I can just respond on the fly to what people need. This was my experience this afternoon. Today’s workshop also reminded me that people do not learn new skills by osmosis. They need time to learn, to play, and to have questions answered. As always, it is dangerous to assume a base-level of knowledge.



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:


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!