Saturday, 17 March 2018

Writing developmentally

 As you may know, I teach 5 and 6-year-olds at Haeata Community Campus.  In New Zealand, Ākonga are expected to be ready to begin formal learning of writing at the age of 5.  However, I question that.  Obviously, some are ready. It is a continuum obviously.  The ones who are not ready, in my experience can struggle to achieve, feel defeated, and think they can not write. This affects their learner identity.  The risk is that they generalize this belief and think they can not learn at all.  My goal is not to teach all children the same thing, but to find each child's pathway and teach to that.  Play facilitates this to happen.

As you know, there are a lot of skills that go into learning to write.  

Physical skills.  Able to grasp the pencil.  Able to coordinate the fingers and hand to move in a certain way.  Ākonga (learners) need to be able to listen to different sounds.   Resources that I have helped develop my understanding in this area are PMP and Yolanda Sorryl Phonics programme.   Others I would love to have a look at are Casey Caterpillar ,  Smart: Mark Making and Writing, 0-7 year olds. The Bridge. (Thanks to Jess Holdaway for pointing me to this.)  You will have other great resources I am sure.  Plus just loads of experience.

Mathematical understanding.  Writing is a symbol.  It stands for something.  In the real world, a child picks up an object and it stays the same as they move around it.  Letters have a certain position on a page, they are two dimensional. As children move around letters, they look different, from different positions.  Children need to understand one to one correspondence.    

Thinking skills.  Able to hold an idea in their head for long enough to write it down.  Develop working memory.  Able to focus on a task which is actually very abstract. Play provides an opportunity to develop self-regulation because the children make up their own rules, and to stay in a game, or take part you have to stick to the agreed rules.  "When  involved in play, children's concentration and application to the task are much greater than in academically-directed activities contrived by the teacher."(Dolya, G, 2010, p.10)

Purposeful nature of writing.  We write to convey a message.  What is the learners understanding of writing?  Have they experienced the results of someone writing a message and getting what they wanted?  Have they seen writing in authentic context?  Why do you write?
Authentic contexts to write.  Waiting for turns.

If you watch children freely play, you will notice them practising the above skills.  And that is because as Peter Grey says children want to learn the cultural tools of their society.  Vygotsky believed "that true education is not the mere learning of specific knowledge and skills, it is the development of children's learning abilities that is their capacity to think clearly and creatively plan an implement their plans and communicate their understanding in a variety of ways.  He believed this could be done by providing them with a set of cultural tools for thinking and creating.  These tools are the symbolic systems we use to communicate and analyse reality.  They include signs, symbols, maps, plans, numbers, musical notation, charts, models, pictures and language," (Dolya, G, 2010, p.8). 

A collaborative 'join in if you like'  map.  One child came and got me to show me their part, using loads of oral language.

Children write freely around the place.
As we talk about solving a problem due to the lack of Beyblades, I write. 

Play freely outdoor or inside.  Developing physical skills.  Simple bar set.

Zaiden writes a letter to ask for some bikes.  Authentic contexts for writing.

The issue for us teachers is not that play is stopping children from learning, but that we can not recognise what the learning is in the play.  If we did, we would be able to help them progress, by adding in vocabulary and scaffolding opportunities to extend themselves.  

"Young children play and give a running commentary on what is happening.  This is external monologuing. As time goes on, the external monologue is internalised as thought.  When dealing with challenging situations children and adults often find themselves externalise their thoughts thinking aloud.  The speech structures become basic structures of their thinking. This means the development of thought is to a great extent determined by the linguistic ability of the child.  This, in turn, is dependent on the child's socio-cultural experience.  So one of the most important functions of education is to facilitate the development of rich, effective spoken language (Dolya, G, 2010,p9).

As educators of young children, one of our main roles is to support the learning of oral language.  Vygotsky himself says that play is one of the best ways for children to learn oral language.  When I first began learning through play, I didn't know what to look out for.  I had to go back to go forward.  I needed help to learn the what of children's learning and roughly in what order.  This is not linked to age but stage.  Obviously, some children will jump certain things, some learn in their own order, others will need specific support around certain stages. 

I have found using the developmental writing stages has helped me to notice how children learn to write.  As a Primary teacher in New Zealand, it has been important to back the bus up and allow learners to develop important skills at their own pace.   If I don't I am robbing them of learning that provides strong foundations.   We now know earlier is not better.

Here is an example of the one developmental chart  If you google developmental writing, there are others.  

My ultimate goal is to know this learning so well, I can notice it in play, know what comes next and help scaffold the next steps if needed.  

Above all, I want to protect children's learner identity.  No one deserves to think they can not learn as a child.  My son Josiah, has struggled to read and write all his life.  He is now 18 years old.  When he was at school, the most important thing to me was to protect his love of learning.  Being able to read and write is helpful, but not at the cost of learning.  Being able to learn is far more powerful.  Humans all over the world, work out how to learn in many different ways.  Now Josiah can read okay.  He still struggles with physical writing, but guess what, he has a computer.  I remember visiting a Psychiatrist once.  He told me he hardly ever wrote.  He just spoke his words onto a recorder and someone else typed them up.  

And as Nathan Mikaere-Wallis says "There’s no rush to learn to write, and it shouldn’t be formally taught until the age of seven."

Over the last month, I have been collating, writing lists and working out what the foundation skills of writing are.  Here is my most up to date list.  At Haeata Community Campus, we use Individual Learning Plans (ILP) for each Ākonga (learner).  These are loaded onto a database (Link Ed) and we can click on to the goals that are most appropriate.  I have been developing the pre-level 1 of New Zealand Curriculum.  Have a look and see what you think.  I would love your feedback.  Maybe you have already done this.  Wonderful.  Creating this continuum has been really useful for my own understanding.  It will be fascinating to start to apply it to our learners.

Foundation Skills - Writing

I can use my hands and movement to communicate.
I can understand when someone speaks to me.  
I join in a conversation
I can use what I hear in my own way.

I love listening to stories.  
I can retell a story
I can tell my own story.
I can talk about what is happening now, yesterday and tomorrow.
I can tell you about something that happened to me.

I can recognise print symbols in my own world and culture. 
I use print symbols and concepts with enjoyment, meaning and purpose.

I enjoy listening to rhyme.
I can use rhyme on my own.
I can say a simple alliteration phrase.
I can use many different words to express myself.
I can use nouns, verbs, adjectives orally.
I can use the prepositions on, up, over, through, inbetween, in, to describe what I am doing.

Phonics Stage 1 Yolanda Sorryl
General sound discrimination
Speech Sound discrimination
Sound breaks

I can take part in imaginative play by myself
I can take part in imaginative play with others
I can use my imagination to visualize something.
I can use my imagination to tell a story.

Writing developmental stages 
I can draw a picture
I can scribble something that means something to me
My scribble writing is real writing to me.  It is written in a line.
I can write letters
I can write letters in a row.
I can read what I write.  
I can write letters from left to right and top to bottom.
I can write letters meaningfully into words.  
The words have spaces.
I can copy words found in my environment.

My eyes can track smoothly across the midline and follow movement without moving my head.
Both eyes move at the same time working as one.
My eyes and hands work together as one.
I can tell the difference and the similarities between two or more objects.
I can describe colour, size, shape, position, distance, direction, and orientation of an object.
I can make a pattern, sequence and order.
I can make a whole into parts and parts into a whole.

I can hop
I can skip
I can jump with two feet together
I can balance on one leg 
I can copy actions involving crossing my midline
I can cut and paste shapes
I can colour simple pictures.
I can pick up small objects using a tong or twizzers.
I can unscrew a lid on a bottle and screw it back up.

Level 1B    (NZC curriculum Haeata Verson).
Draw a picture
Talk about the picture
Write a sentence about the picture
Start in the right place
Put a full stop at the end
Leave spaces between words
Write the first sound.
Write the last sound.

Level 1A

Write on the topic
Keep writing interesting so the reader enjoys it.
Plan writing e.g. pictures, simple mind map.
Order ideas
Use different joining words (because, and, but, so, if) to join two ideas in one sentence.
Start sentences with capital letters
Use capital letters for names of people and places
Use punctuation (.?!) correctly
Express feelings about the topic
Start sentences with different words
Use interesting describing words
Use phonics knowledge to write sounds in the order they hear them including digraphs and trigraphs.
Spell some words correctly (Essential list 1-2 and some from list 3-4)
Write all letters the correct way.
Reread writing to check it makes sense
Underline some words and check spelling
Check full stops and capital letters have been used

1P (At Level 1)
Plan writing with a picture
Write two or more sentences
Put a full stop at the end of a sentence
Start a sentence with a capital letter
Try new interesting words
Begin sentences with different words
Write some small words
Write letters around the right way.
Write some middle sounds
Write the sounds in the order they hear them.
Use word endings? s, ed, ing.
Use word cards to help them write.
Reread writing to check it makes sense.
Improve writing by adding some more detail

I look forward to hearing back from your experiences.  I actually think that the foundation skills cover most of the subjects we teach at Stage 1.  These are the skills learners need prior to beginning formal learning.   While I have them for writing, they could apply to general thinking skills needed to learn.

I have used several resources to collate this list. 

Te Whariki.  
Yolanda Sorryl Phonics programme   
PMP programme.  
Barbara Brand   
Developmental writing charts.  
Vygotsky in Action in the Early Years.  The key to learning curriculum.  By Galina Dolya.
Free to Learn. By Peter Grey.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Learning Through Play Environment

I teach at Haeata Community Campus, East side of Christchurch, New Zealand.

This year we want to become more meaningful in the way we use our spaces.  Hikuawa (Year 1-2 - Age 5 and 6), make up one team of 9 teachers (some covering release and reading discovery teachers) and 90 Ākonga (learners).

We work in an innovative learning environment and take up half of one Hapori (building) which is designed to hold 300 students.  The other half is made up of Komanawa our bilingual provision.

Following are some photos showing how we have purposefully set up space to enable us to deliver our Haeata Curriculum.
Our quiet space designed for Ākonga to have a quiet space to be.  Comfortable, low lighting, sensory.  The hanging egg chair adds gentle movement.  Ākonga are encouraged to use this space to calm down, have a rest and refresh.

Clipboards are available everywhere.  Here a student has written about bean seeds in the garden.

Our Kai (food) area.  This is where the Ākonga can cook.  Where they can eat food.  They can choose to eat at a table or sit on a mat.  Ākonga are encouraged to go here to eat their Kai (food).

An area set aside for communication fluency - numeracy, reading,writing, digital communication.  Holds many of our books.  This will be valuable when we begin our Kaupapa Ako (main) Workshops.  Workshops invite (no child is made to go) Ākonga to learn specific goals from for example, their personalized education plan or maybe a new skill they would like to try.

Art and craft - open shelves so the Ākonga can choose materials they would like to use for their learning.

Construction, plenty of room for spreading out.

Dramatic play space.

One of our two glass classrooms with air conditioning.   Shut the door and you are in a quiet room.  Used for a variety of purposes such as collaboration, dramatic play, and being quiet or noisy.

You can just see our learning narrative journals.   

Construction area.

Outside with the mud kitchen.
An outside tray for exploration.  The Ākonga are free to move outside as they need to.  Our backyard is fully fenced. 

Monday, 22 January 2018

Planning in a learning through play environment

It is not easy to plan for play.  Over the last three years, I have been experimenting with different approaches to planning, here is where I am at the moment.

I love Leslie Allen's planning diagram because it shows in a picture form how many different things we have to think about as teachers.

I have been challenged over the holidays to think about learning.   Thanks, David.
What is learning?  What comes first teaching or learning?

If it is learning, how do we plan for it?

Planning for most of us was/is the thing you have to do because management wants to see it, and is what they told us makes us a 'real' teacher, and helps us to think about the really complex process of learning.  Somehow it is meant to prove we are teaching or not.  I think planning should only be done if you find it useful and if it has a purpose.

Some say teachers need to know what and why they are teaching and plan for it first, otherwise kids won't learn.  How do things change in planning when the learning comes first?  Who is the planning for? Useful planning should help us to focus on the learning relationship.

I've come to realize that learning is complex.  It doesn't happen just because I write a 3-week unit.  It doesn't mean a child has learned something or not because they could or couldn't do it on the JAM test.  Learning happens in relationship with others.  Ako describes learning as being shared among all the people involved with the learner: friends, whanau, teachers, and community.  Ako is teaching, learning and reflecting. Lorraine Sands from ELP writes recently, "This is a theory (socio-cultural), that focuses learning as the driver of development, not development driving learning."  We are so used to having a goal and planning for the learner to achieve the goal. We teach first expecting the child to learn.  Teaching isn't wrong, just maybe wrongly placed in the learning process?  I think that this type of goal learning is most effective when embedded in real life learning that is driven by the learner. 

What type of plan would be flexible enough to be useful in facilitating Ako?

I need planning tools that zoom out and see the big plan (long-term plan) and then zoom in to see the specific learning goals of each student.  I also need something which enables me to prepare for play and one which records what happened in play.  (When I use the wordplay, that for me is learning.  The question is what learning is happening?)

I continue to play with planning.  Basically, like everything in teaching it is trial and error.  I love the fact that I can play with ideas and trial different ways of recording learning.

At the moment, I use the following;

1.  Play plan (adapted from  Longworth Education)  Provides a wide zoom lens on what could/is happening overall, but also some detailed observations after they have happened.  Provides a place for reflection.  Shows the ongoing journey of learning overall.  Provides me with a list of resources that might be helpful.  I can also think about the learning in regards to different curriculums, and our overall big goals in learning.
2. Learning Story examples (Margaret Carr, ELP, local Early Childhood Centres).  These provide detail of the learning in a real-life context.  They are the most useful form of planning I do.  They are also where I intend to put most of my effort this year.   Learning stories shine a light on Ako.  They help me see myself as a teacher and a learner in the context of learners, whanau, and community.  Learning stories have been the key to my development as a teacher in play.  They really are the whole package. They include the whanau, the environment, the roles of learners and teachers.  Simply put they capture learning, making it visible.  I have found that I spend time in curriculum documents finding links to what the students have shown me.   Typically Learning stories are used to record dispositional learning, but I use them for both dispositional and academic type learning.  For flexibility in personalizing the learning journey, there is no better tool.
3.  Explicit planning for each student.  This is where I use testing to confirm what I see in the play or to give me some more explicit information. This is for me in my teacher role so I can upskill myself on different ways of planning about the best way I could help the student to learn a specific skill. I share these goals with the student if they are ready or interested.  This is also where some really specific and exact teaching can come in to help with learning if needed.  This is especially true for children with specific learning needs.

I hope this has been helpful.  The most important thing is that you continue to experiment with your planning.  I hope you can see planning as a tool for learning.   Keep it useful, keep it real.   Its all about the learning.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

The power of noticing learning

Dr Margaret Carr, developer of learning stories in New Zealand,  says that in any one day there are 936 learning moments that a child takes part in.  936 moments a day.  936 opportunities to notice, recognise and respond.

Noticing is a valuable skill in the learning through play environment.  Te Whariki reminds us of the importance noticing plays in learning.

What do you notice about your students learning?  As I learn to teach in a play based environment, noticing has become essential. As my focus as a teacher has moved away from teacher directed learning and assessment, to student driven I have been amazed at what I have seen.

What is important to notice?

Firstly, I build relationships with students, without this step, I wouldn't know what is important, what is unusual or what to notice.

When this has occurred, I take note.  That is why I love learning stories so much.  They help me in my noticing.

Let me give you an example.


The students who I spend most of my time with are my Puna Ako group.  The group assigned to me, the ones close to my heart.  We have had a tumultuous journey,  and at the end of Term 2, we celebrated 6 weeks where no one ran away from our learning area.  Putting this into context, learning was focused on relationships.  Looking through Te Whariki's woven values, these would be Belonging and Wellbeing and the New Zealand Curriculum, Key Competencies.


One day some rocks turned up at school.  They were an extension of our water table, where we had sand and water.  Some children had fun playing with the sand by making dams, building water falls and playing an imaginary game.  Keegan saw the rocks and asked for a hammer.  He started to hammer the rocks.  He kept at this for some time.  He told me about the treasure he found inside.
The opening up of rocks was an activity that other children tried.  They came back to it time and time again, until we didn't have many rocks left.

I thought about the rocks.  The last time I had given rocks much thought was when I gave a speech at the age of 9 on the different types of rocks. I would need to do some googling.

I noticed how the children were so excited about their finds within the rocks.  I wondered, if I was to get more rocks that were different and set up a bit of a provocation, would they notice?

The rocks from the 'rock shop'.
The Provocation

The noticing and wondering.
Lining up smallest to biggest.

Going Deeper

I used our Haeata Inquiry process to frame the provocation.  From Awakening of curiosity to navigating our way to exploring, discovering and communicating.  The first part, was already achieved, the students were curious.  I just added to what I thought they might be interested in and waited to see.  I asked them if they had any questions.  In my space, the children learn through play most of the day.  So I made myself available to be at the rocks when I saw someone interested.

There were two really incredible questions that I was able to capture and write as learning stories.

Jim asks "Why do sponges have holes?"

Jim finds out why
Steve melts rock

If you have time, have a read.  They tell in detail two student's learning journeys so far.

They show some pretty revealing thinking and link to many of our Haeata Values and Dispositions.

Where to from here?

We have plenty of rocks left.   Steve continues to investigate the temperatures and fires.  A road trip is planned to find a place where there are very smooth rocks and where rocks are showing in the hillside.  More will be added to the provocations around fossils.  We will ask our secondary colleagues to come and spend some time investigating rock hardness and how that is measured.

Keys to success

Notice what the children are interested in.  Put out a provocation.  Listen to the questions and support these by going on a journey with the children.  Resource.  Learn alongside.  Capture in a learning story, linking to the New Zealand Curriculum, Te Whariki or school curriculum.  Share with the whanau and children,  go for another spin around the block and see where else you end up.

Have fun!

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Inspiring a love of learning

Some of the learners I teach at Haeata Community Campus have arrived without a passion to learn. I'm sure you have learners like that as well.  It seems their interest in learning has been switched off.

 Or has it?

I've been captivated by this short video clip from Tom Shea this week. In  The Importance of Play
Tom shares a very simple message.  85% of the brain has been developed by the age of 7.   Play supports children to develop an innate interest in learning.  Enjoyment is crucial in the recipe of learning.  Play is about being able to choose.  The player might choose to be sedentary. They might choose to be active.  It is the choice that means they have a chance to develop a love of learning.

Have we as a society set in concrete expectations of what should be learnt in order to be successful? As a child if you don't do what is being asked then you get the message pretty quickly that you don't fit. I think you might work out that you are not liked or loved.  You might even believe that you are worthless.  Do learners enjoy being dis-regulated?  Do they enjoy not fitting in?  Do they enjoy being violent? Do they enjoy saying no? Do they enjoy sitting not doing anything?  I don't think so.  At the centre of it all we are hard wired to fit in, to please and to play.

I am fortunate to teach learners who don't fit inside the 'normal' box.  My learners make their presence known.  Some of their life experiences so far, have de-sensitised them to having a passion for doing much.  It is so tempting to want to control them.  To force them to behave.  To force them to learn.  To blame.

Teachers who aim to control students' behaviour—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others.

This article has also impacted me this week.  It gives me hope.

Motivation, a love of learning, is gained by choice and by being given autonomy.  Play, free play is all about choice and autonomy.  It is all about being able to have control over your own body and self. Some learners need help to work out what is getting in the way of being able to do this.

"The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired." 

What hope!  

Providing free choice to some of my learners really didn't go down too well.  I think they found it shocking. I think they felt almost lost.  Maybe I wonder, were they used to being prescribed what to do and by this action told what constitutes learning? Did this have the effect of making them less curious? Many of them told me they hated reading, writing and maths. Some have learning differences which haven't allowed them to be what school needs them to be in order to fit in.  They would start a task they choose but struggle to finish it.  Sometimes they would just do a task quickly, looking disinterested.  Some didn't know how to begin.  Many just left the learning space.

My experience shows me that often students when given choice don't know what to do with it.  This doesn't mean they don't want it.  Instead, it is up to me to facilitate and enable them to come up with strategies to help them to gain autonomy.  In order to help them to have a sense of competence, I am able to reframe small steps as being successful.  To help them relate to others, I coach them in how to manage anger, how to recognise when someone else has had enough and how to ask for what they need. Providing a free play environment is helping to facilitate this. 

When they are hooked in, when they are interested in learning, then I can build on that.  As an educator of young children, I believe my main job is to inspire a love of learning.   When I see that spark I celebrate and jump right in with the learner.  I pack resources around that spark.  

Sometimes, when there is just nothing, I recognise they need the chance to just be.  To relax and unwind.  To maybe play in water, to feel slime or draw randomly.  Sometimes, they seem to sabotage their own progress. But learning to play again, or maybe even for the first time is not easy. It takes time.  I still believe that it takes opportunity to make mistakes, to fail but to look up and see those who love and appreciate you, affirm you.  

I remember one of my learners.  They wandered around for a few weeks, not doing much of anything but annoying others and destroying stuff.  Then one day, they asked me a question.  The next day they began to talk.  Then I saw them sitting down playing with some cars.  They had self-directed themselves.  What progress.

This is such a fundamental shift for us educators isn't it. It appears risky. Trusting the child, giving opportunity to fail and not looking like a typical teacher.  And I think that maybe that is why starting on a play based learning journey is so difficult for many educators. If we liken education to building a house, finding the floor of some of our learners is like digging out past junk, it is hard work and rarely appealing. However, when the child begins to build the walls, you look up and you celebrate when you see no ceiling, because that reminds you of their unlimited future. 

Here is an article I have just read which fits in really well with this blog.
Toy free kindergarten (up to age of 6)

Friday, 24 March 2017

Getting to the heart of our leaners

It's hard to know what to do sometimes.

At Haeata Community Campus we had 850 kids start our new school on the same day. That was a challenge. We now have around 1000 students. At the end of week 7, Term 1, things have begun to settle down for most children. In my Hapari of Year 0 to 3 students I would say around 90% are feeling at home and are learning. The other 10% are still struggling to feel included.

I recently went to a ministry training day where we discussed ways of supporting all children to learn. We were of course thinking of our most challenging students. The ones that don't fit inside a box. The ones we don't always know how to teach. The ones who are our most vulnerable. I felt upset over a diagram that seemed to polarise student's learning with their wellbeing. They called it 'managing ready to learn behaviour'. Why did this term upset me? I think because we are asking children to learn academic stuff, without firstly meeting their real needs. I certainly don't like the word 'managing' this to me means we are not fixing a problem but accepting it and trying to ask children to learn what we think is important while ignoring the real cry for help.

If we are to be inclusive we want to include all children, 100%.

Don't we?

Do you want to include all children?

Most teachers will say yes.

Then the behaviour starts and the feeling of being overwhelmed begins. We try our best but nothing seems to work. We see small breakthroughs which we celebrate, then we return to the beginning. We wonder if we are making a difference. These kids stretch us beyond anything we have ever experienced. They test us and our system. Who will stay?

Inclusion requires perseverance for the long haul. Including these children is not easy. They don't always fit inside our idea of teaching and learning. This inclusion is not cheap. It is not tidy or clean. It does not happen inside four walls. It requires human resources. Inclusion requires time listening to whanau (families). Partnering with them. Time is expensive, not only in money terms but personally.

Beyond all the behaviour, swearing, running, fighting, sulking and failure, is a child. A child who would love to fit in, succeed, be loved, and learn. These ones, the hardest ones, want to be included. They want a friend. They want a teacher who likes them and shows them so. They want to play. They want to know new stuff. Sometimes, they want to be fed. They want to visit their parent. Sometimes, they want to be clean. They may want to hear or see properly. I'm sure they want to be calm.

Yet all we see are children out of control. Some who yell. Some who kick. Some who run and hide. Some who won't listen. Some who won't sit. Some who won't be a friend.

Their behaviour is the opposite to what they actually want. Imagine a child who has just been rescued from drowning in the sea. They sit in a boat with their rescuers. Then they pick up a hammer and begin to make a hole in the boat. While we offer help because this is what we see to do, the child may do the opposite.

Maybe we offer food. Clean clothes. Time to listen. Calm hands. An environment where they can focus on their passions. Often they are so tired, anxious, and so much in fight or flight they are exhausted and can not focus.

This is a diagram I drew up quickly last week. Basically, it talks about meeting the real needs of children. Not putting band aides on. We can manage children or we can met their actual needs. Inclusion should be about meeting the needs of a child even if they don't fit into what we consider to be school. For example, if a child doesn't have a stable home, how can we help the whanau find a home? If a child is anxious, how can we support them to learn to be less anxious.

I suggest we start at the bottom and work our way up. 'Academic learning' will come increasingly when other needs are met. For me inclusion is meeting the real needs of each child and whanau to enable deep learning.

As a teacher, I spend time noticing. Perhaps this is my sharpest tool. Noticing what my students like to do. I respond quickly by finding the stuff. The wood, the clay, the paper, the resources. Most of the children I teach (5 to 8 year olds) like to make, craft, paint, play. Some feel safe on computers. There are some who are too tired and hyper vigilent to even play. I notice that they get anxious when someone gets too close. Or they start to yell when someone has something they want. This gets them into fight or flight mode. Some arrive at school like this. Some stay and fight and some run.

What I have noticed and you may have as well, that often these children, get stood down. This often leads to being excluded from school. Then they go to another school and the same thing happens again.

It takes a village to raise a child. But at the moment our 'village' is broken. If school is the child's 'home'. Where are the villagers? Where I live, the villagers seem far away. At school we have the basics, we do have some resources. These are not enough for the deep needs of our 10% that need extra to be included. The villagers seem to hold the resources. These may include, diagnosis, access to operations, therapy, training, food, homes, counselling, social workers, occupational therapists, money to employ more teachers to lower the ratios, and skills. Sometimes the villagers argue over who should get what. This happens between the health, social and the education villagers. The arguing costs money. They sometimes wait until something really bad happens before opening the purse.

I am so proud to be at Haeata Community Campus. I am with an amazing team who are really trying to pull together a village to help a child and whanau. We certainly don't have all the answers, but we have will and passion. We want to partner with our village.

My point of view are that things are getting worse, not better. Children are in great pain. How can we improve our systems so that the children receive the help and support they truely need to be included fully in society?

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Building relationships

                                    I was part of the beginning a new school last week.  

Haeata Community Campus opened it's doors to over 1000 students from Year 1 to Year 13  on Friday.  This week (week 2) I have been busy trying to build relationships.  Through this process I have remembered how relationships are the foundation of teaching and learning. I am one of two Kaiarahi (Team Leaders) in the Year 1 to 3 Hapari (group where we find strength) so my first and most important job was and is to build relationships with my team and with students.

I have discovered that this is not easy.  One of Haeata's key values is manaakitanga which translated is care.  Hospitality, kindness, generosity, support.  It is the process of showing care.  It has been a real challenge to show care to so many new students.  Everything was new.  New buildings, new teachers, new friends, new timetable, new uniforms.  I soon discovered that in all the newness, my ability to make connections became imperative.   I guess I saw the difference any kind of relationship has on how we operate as human beings.  Without any, it is very difficult.

For our learners with diverse needs, our learners with Autism or with difficult home situations.

What does it really take to build relationships?

We sat in a circle and played name games.  We talked about how we would be in the building, like having walking feet.  We set boundaries, where we could go.  Because our building is so big, this was a scary thing for students and teachers.  It was easy to loose bearings and get lost.  We learnt where to put our bags, where the toilets were. We discovered how we were going to eat together and where to go out for breaks.  

I found play became my greatest asset.  My greatest challenge was that we didn't have time to set up properly.  We are in a new build.  We basically had very little.  But what we did have, the children used.

My base group, Puna Ako group is made up of 15 students and I team-teach with another teacher with 16 students.  On day one, I think we were all in shock.  The look of stress.  That is natural for us humans.  We don't tend to cope well with change.  On day two I noticed three children set up a shop out of a box, a play cash register and some cereal boxes.  On day three I noticed groups of students beginning to play.  They used dramatic play.  One group were cats with a mum who was looking after them, they played this for a long time.  They went back to it on several occasions.  Another group were on old phones we were given and made a play about phoning each other.  I had bought in a half tent and this became their home.  It was very cave like and helped to provide security to a couple of my students that have ASD.  What I noticed in all of this, was that play on my terms - name games, circle games helped me to build relationships with my new students by helping us all learn names.  The socio-dramatic play helped the children build friendships even quicker.  By giving them space to be and space to create, they naturally built friendships.

What we discovered during the week in our very large flexible space, was that it helped the students and the teachers to stay in one space for most of the day with the same people.  To much change was too challenging.  Moving really fought against building relationships.  Slowly as we all felt our students were ready, we ventured out to explore parts of the school.  We found that it is necessary to do this time and time again.  When everything is new, repetition becomes your friend.  Our brains look for patterns and those patterns provide us with security and help us to feel safe.

The key learning for me has been the importance of taking time to build relationships with each other but also with our environment.  I love the wisdom that comes from being in a team.  We have 14 teachers in our space with just over 200 students.  Gaining perspectives and insight from each other is priceless.  How important it is to begin and to begin not necessarily where we want to end up but where we can. In a way that builds security for each other.   Change is challenging and sometimes you can't do anything about it. You just have to get through it.  Giving yourself permission to change slowly is something I am learning.

Writing developmentally

  As you may know, I teach 5 and 6-year-olds at Haeata Community Campus.  In New Zealand, Ākonga are expected to be ready to begin formal ...