To Assess, To Assidere

To assess, to assidere !

Assessment, such a complex topic within education circles. Interesting that the Latin root word is assidere which means to “sit with”.In my new role, I have found myself knee-deep, down and dirty, in the world of assessment, grading and reporting in a Secondary School context. While this isn’t exactly a new topic for me, it’s definitely a new area of change management. Our school has worked hard over the years to move themselves forward in providing purposeful, meaningful feedback to students by way of a grading system. Academic achievement is measured without the confusion of behavioral issues such as meeting deadlines and homework completion expectations, so this is great.  There is a strong culture of understanding the difference between formative, summative and standardized assessments and this is well-communicated by both teachers and students. And yet…. The faculty know that they are not there yet! They use percentage gradings which have multiple complexities and teachers seem to be restricted by the confines of the data management system that is in place.

So what to do and what to do first? We have begun the year collectively working on our purpose. Recently we clarified for ourselves that, although grading has many purposes the most important for us is “to provide information for students for self-evaluation and future learning”. With this purpose in mind, we have created a study group of interested teachers whose task is to research the concept of standards-based assessment, what that looks like and how other schools have gone about moving into a SBG learning program. We have set some goals and are working with our teachers about what we are doing, why we are doing it and what we could do next.

This is great learning for me! I am finding myself buried in the work of experts in this field– Robert Manzano, Tom Guskey, Tom Schimmer, Ken OÇonnor. All of their work is fascinating, alongside my own favorite–John Hattie. While John’s work is not necessarily about grading systems, his advice about the importance of feedback, about teachers “knowing their impact” and about students knowing what they are learning, where they are at and what they need to do next, is keeping me on track. (Thank you John).

How do you change a school’s practice over time? I have always come from the core idea that change comes from within, it comes when teachers work together with school leaders talking, dialoguing, discussing, problem solving, trying things out, celebrating successes and evaluating impact.

It will be interesting to see how it goes…..

What works in professional learning?

As a school leader who spends quite a considerable amount of time and energy thinking about how best to provide, facilitate or organise continual professional learning for teachers, I am having an exciting time observing what appears to be an effective method of delivery in our school this week. Last year in my previous school and now again in my new setting, we are implementing the ‘lab site” method. What this means is that an expert is engaged to assist us make a long term impact upon teachers’ practice. The current consultant has been in our school three times over the past 12 months, for 5-6 days at a time. While here, our teachers are gathered together in groups of 4 or 5. They spend time each day discussing what they want to see the expert demonstrate, actually observe him or her teaching our students and then engage in dialogue with the expert and colleagues about what they have just observed. Targeted goals are set at the beginning of the week and revisited as we go.

As stated this method does appear to be effective. Indeed feedback from teachers is very positive. A new colleague states “it’s all about show not tell’ and I would have to agree. Many of us do learn by seeing, rather than by merely listening. We also learn, when the context is relevant and directly connected to the classroom;- in this instance the training makes use of our own classrooms in our own school. No heading off to a nice conference center here! The work is school based and school managed. There are many opportunities for collective reflection and participation. I guess the proof is in what happens next. Does this work translate directly into change in teacher’s practice? I believe it will. Collective and collaborative in-school professional development is the way ahead for implementing continuous improvement for all.

New places, new faces!


The school year is underway for me again! It is unbelievably my 32nd year in education which must mean that I have experienced the start of the school year 32 times. Wow! Amazingly I still get that excited nervous feeling, much like I am sure millions of kids around the globe also experience. Who will be my teacher? Will I make friends? Will I be ok? Will I learn anything? My questions are different, but the emotions are all the same.

This school start up is a particularly big one for me, as I have changed schools and leadership roles. After 28 years as an elementary or primary school principal, I have now moved into a position leading the teaching and learning in a school that caters for students from Early Years (Pre-Kindergarten, Pre-School) through to 12th Grade (or Year 13). It is a new and very exciting challenge for me, in a new and exciting country.

Being the “newbie’ is another interesting step. For years now, I have been helping teachers orientate themselves into new teaching roles, in a country usually completely different from their own. I have preached on and on about taking time to adjust, expecting highs and lows and being kind to oneself as the transition plays out. Now I am on the other side and I would have to say it’s not that easy. I have forgotten how uncomfortable it feels to be the one who doesn’t know anything, can’t find anything and has millions of questions to ask. So here’s my own 10 tips for those who like me, are starting a new job in a new country:


  1. Aim to achieve one new thing each day e.g. set up a bank account, walk to the shops, drive across town etc (Too many new things at once can feel overwhelming)
  2. Be kind to yourself, get lots of sleep and eat well
  3. Make your new accommodation as comfortable and as “home-like”as you can. It will be your refuge!
  4. Accept help from others
  5. Find a friend–usually those who are also new become your friends very quickly. Something about being in the same rocky boat.
  6. Visit the same places continuously e.g. the same coffee place, the same supermarket, the same bar (whatever is your fancy). After a while you will want to branch out, but the security in repeating the same routes will be reassuring
  7. Learn a few words in the language of your new country. You will feel so good when you can greet people in their own language.
  8. Stay in close contact with loved ones back home, their support will feel good (only if they are supportive)
  9. Be flexible–if it’s not the same as home, or the previous place that you have lived, then that’s ok, it is not supposed to be.
  10. Enjoy the experience! Being new can be a great time to re-energize yourself.


There will be challenging times, but I know it will be worth it.

Learner Agency

As a teacher and school leader, I am constantly searching for ways to develop in each individual learner, a strong sense of agency. Wikipedia defines learner agency as the level of control, autonomy, and power that a student/learner experiences in an educational situation. I do believe that the students in our schools today need to be active participants in their own learning process. Learning cannot be done to them, they must take an active role. Many education systems around the world espouse this believe in their mission statements. My own country, New Zealand has as its core vision statement the aim of developing students who are confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.

Here is an example of one of our kindergarteners reflecting upon the progress he is making in learning to write. He comments on his first piece of writing, then on his latest attempt, he talks about what he can now do and what he will work on next time. He has a strong sense of agency; he knows that his teacher is there to help, support and guide him, but his learning is his alone.


Check out this clip from Hampden Street School, in Nelson New Zealand, where learner agency is valued and strategically developed:

Let’s keep working together to ensure that learner agency is developed, encouraged and valued–it’s what matters!


The scary truth about what’s hurting our kids!

Becky Mansfield’s blog post popped into my newsfeed this morning and it is with great interest that I read it and reflected upon CNN’s recent interview of  Dr. Jean Twenge, author of iGen. The title “The scary truth about what’s hurting our kids” certainly made me sit up and take notice.Here is a link to Becky’s post:

My own thoughts about this are mixed. I mean, just the fact that I have a “newsfeed” tells me that my own world and the impact of social media upon it has changed considerably in this past decade. Yes, I agree the world that our kids now function in is completely different to that which we grew up in. The use of social media and online connections is now the norm for many of our children even at elementary school level and most definitely for those attending secondary. I even catch myself whiling away my own leisure time, checking messages and ‘connecting” with those far and wide. While the positives of this are definitely better personal communication with those that are important to me and a much greater feeling of being informed and up to date, the negatives are there as well in the misuse of time and the loss of privacy.

Back to Becky’s post–So now we have adolescence, a time of life that can be traditionally bumpy at the best of times with young people moving away from the security of the family and working out who they are as young adults, becoming an even more complicated and challenging time due to the impact of social media and connectivity. I definitely agree with her thoughts that supporting our children through this time cannot be left to chance.Our young people deserve our help with this, both from parents and teachers.

A reading challenge!

I love to read professional material that pertains to the field of education. I can’t tell you how many books, articles, now blog posts etc that I have read over the years, but all of them have contributed to my own thoughts and ideas about what works for children, parents, teachers and schools. I have usually always gained something from everything I’ve read. However, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite as challenging as the book I am almost finished. “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers” was recommended to be by a colleague and reading it has been an interesting experience!

The book tells the story of “The Michaela Community College”, a free school in Wembley Park, London, founded in 2014 by Katharine Birbalsingh.  The school has very strong approaches to both discipline and the rigorous teaching of content. It has become extremely popular with parents and students alike. There is a zero tolerance policy around poor behavior for both students and parents; there is no group work; children sit in rows and learn by rote and walk in single file between classrooms. The school website says: “Staff at Michaela tend to reject all of the accepted wisdoms of the 21st century.” In fact most of what the school is about is contrary to my own thoughts, experiences and beliefs about what makes a school successful.

However because it is so contrary to popular opinions about education, it is good to read. I have found myself almost agreeing with some of their ideas, while disagreeing with their implementation. Most importantly though, the book is forcing me to think and re-think about what matters. For example silence is expected in each and every classroom, with the rationale being that children need quiet in order that they can think and learn. Maybe this is correct? And my own “ideal” where classroom are buzzy places with students engaged in discussion and interactions is incorrect. Who knows! And maybe it’s a case of what is best for learning in some environments is not best in others. Anyway my whole point is reading material that is “outside our comfort zones” is good for reflection and provocation and for that reason I am pleased to have picked it up.


Instant Gratification?

I read a blog post recently, written by Victoria Prooday, an occupational therapist working in Toronto, Canada. She outlines her beliefs about why some children today find school boring, have little patience and no friends.

The part that really hit home for me was the following, as a possible reason why some children find school such a challenge.

    “I am Hungry!!” “In a sec I will stop at the drive thru” “I am Thirsty!” “Here is a vending machine.” “I am bored!” “Use my phone!”  The ability to delay gratification is one of the key factors for future success. We have the best intentions — to make our children happy — but unfortunately, we make them happy at the moment but miserable in the long term.  To be able to delay gratification means to be able to function under stress. Our children are gradually becoming less equipped to deal with even minor stressors, which eventually become huge obstacles to their success in life.
    The inability to delay gratification is often seen in classrooms, malls, restaurants, and toy stores the moment the child hears “No” because parents have taught their child’s brain to get what it wants right away.

Her blog post reminded me of another book that I have read that referred to “The Marshmallow Affect”. The Stanford marshmallow affect experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards (i.e., a larger later reward) if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index and other life measures.

It is very interesting to me, as this research concludes that there is a link between very young children who can manage themselves into delaying an activity while waiting for a better reward and success later in life. I have to agree with Victoria in that we are seeing more and more young people who do not know how to manage themselves in this way.Instant gratification is becoming more and more the norm in our young people’s lives.  In classrooms, some children who are told “please wait and take your turn” find this extremely difficult. As educators we need to support everyone in providing boundaries for children. “You will get that ice-cream after you have eaten your vegetables” would have been something our grandparents would have stuck to. In the classroom this translates to “You will need to show me evidence that you have done this learning, before we move on” and most importantly when an adult says “no”, we mean no, not just “no, but then I’ll find another way to get what I want”.

Working with small children is hard work whether you are a parent or a teacher, but the effort put in now has such long term effects. Our future citizens deserve nothing less.