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.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Learning through mistakes

Can we learn without making mistakes?

James Nottingham's Learning Pit, advocates that without failure you can't learn.

During my own education, failure was not something celebrated.  I remember with clarity being stood up in front of a class of peers and asked to spell my last name, in which everyone else could do but I couldn't.  I remember the feeling of failure.  I also remember subconsciously defining learning as copying, trying to be the same,  so that I remained in the safe zone.

I think maybe that is why as an adult, I try really hard not to fail.  However, over the last two years I have been inspired by my students that failure in learning is necessary and failure by its very nature can, if it is treated wisely give ownership to learning in a powerful way.

In a classroom the learning environment should be one where failure is acknowledged.  In fact, failure should be celebrated.  I watched as my students (5 to 8 year olds) learnt to not only recognise their failures but to celebrate them and ultimately, do something about them by using them to learn.  I think that the ability to be a truely self managing learner is not possible without acknowledging failure in a positive way.  Traditionally education not only controled what students learnt, but it  controled their failures and in doing took away powerful learning opportunities.

As a part of a learning community, as the teacher, my job is to create an atmosphere where failure is allowed and the process through it supported.  That means things can get messy.  I am not just talking about academic mistakes, but emotional and social ones.

During this term, I have experienced one of each type of mistakes and thought I would share.

1.  Academic - I finished my Masters (yeah!) but I got the feedback (not so great) and it reinforced what a terrible speller and grammener (okay that is not a word, but you know what I mean, fullstops, apostrophes and the like).  When I read the feedback, of "you have done enough to pass", I felt failure. This learning became a sinking feeling.  The thing is though, this failure framed in a traditional learning context would leave me powerless, unable to succeed.  Actually, this is not true, I can do something about this.  I can go  and learn how to improve.  The internet provides many opportunities to learn how to write.   In failure, we have to get over ourselves quickly and make adjustments.   One of the adjustments, is to remember to focus on what I did learn, in this case, I learnt some key things which are not dependent on spelling and grammar but are significant to my ongoing work as an educator.

2.  Social - It was my job to get the keynote speaker to the conference in time for 9am. Here I was with one of my educational hero's!  I was in a strange city and without Mrs google.  Anyway, I took a wrong turn and went to re-adjust only to discover it was in a one way street and I was now driving in the wrong direction.  At that very moment a traffic officer drove past. Yep, I got a ticket.  Good news though, he showed me the right way to go and we made it on time.  Her keynote speech was awesome!  Now this could have been a high risk mistake on many levels, lucky for me the nice officer came along at the right time to re-direct.  This reminds me that there are many different types of mistakes.  This blog post discusses them.

3. Emotional - I am now co-leading a team of teachers.   Working in teams is the default setting for many Early Childhood Educators.  However, for Primary and Secondary trained teachers this is different.  It really brings to mind the heart and head stuff.  How important it is to consider the heart of relating through how we relate.  At my new school, Haeata Community Campus, relationships are at the centre of everything we do.  However, building and maintaining relationships is complex.  So I made a mistake in the way I interacted with my team and really upset some them.  On reflection, I could completely see how I had done this.  I was able to explain why, said and meant sorry and they graciously forgave me and we moved on.   These type of mistakes ultimately involve emotions and are probably the hardest to deal with.  There is no getting away from it, where there are people trying to work together, there will be challenge.  How we deal with these mistakes impacts on how our students learn.  One of the positives in team teaching is that students will have us as models.  As we relate together on a daily basis little eyes are looking at us and ears are listening.  We have an amazing opportunity to showcase how we get over mistakes together in positive ways.

I believe strongly, that making mistakes, needs to be an everyday disposition that is seen and celebrated in our learning communities.  It is not likely that we are going to make mistakes on purpose, but learning how to recover from mistakes in a positive manner, is a crucial skill needed in the learning process.  I wonder how you will achieve this in your particular situation?   I wonder if you can help students learn to see failure as a positive in the learning process not only in the academic field but the social and emotional?  Finally I wonder how authentic these learning situations can be?

"After all these years, I am still involved in the process of self-discovery. It is better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe. Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life" Sophia Loren.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Disrupting Education

I love the word disruption.  We had a disruption this week when we had to evacuate from our house at 2am because of threat of Tsunami.  Most of the time we think of disruption as negative.  It think it is uncomfortable.  While uncomfortable it can have positive results.  Think of the disruption of electric lights.  A huge change.  I think we need this type of change we need in Education. Education needs disruption!

We try and disrupt education by adding in Innovative Learning Environments.  The spaces are new but we take our old practice with us and add it into the space.  It would be like taking a candle into a modern house with lights and using the candle instead of switching the lights on.

We try and disrupt education by adding in technology.  Again, we use technology like we use a pencil or a book.

We enter the 21st Century but live like we are still in the 20th Century.  We continue to use plastic while our oceans are drowning in it.

What is it going to take to disrupt?

We are going to have to stop doing some things.  Stop lighting candles, and turn on the lights.  Stop using ipads to write on.  Stop teaching like we always have.  The most important word is.... Stop. What are we going to stop in order to start?

A little example.  Over the last two years I stopped teaching writing like I used to.  I stopped having small groups of children and teaching them how to write by sitting them down and giving them a direct lesson. I stopped defining writing as the activity we do when we open our writing books and use a pencil.   Instead, I put numerous writing tools around the learning space.  White boards and pens.  Clip boards and pencils and Ipads.  Chalk and concrete.  Crayons, paints, pastels. Writing was modelled by me and others as we needed to use it.  If we needed it, we used it.  Writing is a culture tool and when it is seen as genuinely useful, and genuinely cool, everyone wants to do it!

Writing wasn't defined as a lesson.  Children wrote because they wanted to, or they didn't write because they didn't want to.  I didn't make them.  Some children copied words.  Some made words up.  Some used writing to communicate with.  The way we viewed what writing was, changed.  The way I taught writing changed.  It wasn't me teaching writing, but children learning to write.  Actually, those children who didn't write, found other ways to communicate.  They were still learning.

Not disruptive enough!  However, it felt it.  I wasn't teaching the way I had taught forever.  I had to learn a new way of viewing teaching.  I have recently learnt a name for it.  Instead of direct teaching, it is embedded instruction.  One definition of embedded instruction is "Inserting planned, individualised teaching into children’s ongoing activities, routines,and transitions in a way that relates to the context of what the child is doing. It involves distributing opportunities to use teaching strategies for the child’s objectives throughout the regular routines of the day.” 

I am not sharing this to focus on the writing, but to show how I had to stop one practice to enable another to begin another.  I am still learning to embed instruction.  It could disrupt education then again, how many times did Edison fail while inventing the light bulb?  When a reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" Edison replied, "I didn't fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps." More importantly, the concept of stopping one practice to start another or enable another to begin, could lead to the difference between a candle and an electric light in education.  

The problem I think is that we haven't got the time for 1000 steps.  We need solutions to global problems now.  Is disrupting education about providing the space for our children to provide solutions to our most pressing needs?

Have a think.  Are you in an ILE or a flexible learning space? How disruptive have you been? Electric light disruptive or are you still using candles in your space?  

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Practicing resiliency through change

Term 3 was challenging.  Sometimes I felt like I was going to combust.  I kept getting sick.  I was feeling anxious.  I felt like there was too much to do.  I couldn’t stop, I had to keep going.  I felt driven.  

I hadn’t meant to end up like this.  I never do.  But circumstances can’t always be controlled. Basically, I love change, but my body doesn’t always enjoy it.
Are you aware of those times you step outside your comfort zone, being brave, and in your head it is all okay, you know it will be, but your body doesn’t agree?  That is what happened.  

I have now moved to Christchurch, New Zealand and I am loving it.  But, it was uncomfortable to get to this place.  For the last 5 and a half years I have lived at Te Karaka 20 minutes North of Gisborne, New Zealand.  It took a few years to feel comfortable but finally it was.  Everything was familiar.  Then I moved to Christchurch and everything became unfamiliar.  The buildings, the house, the food, the school, the staff, my family wasn’t with me (they arrive in one weeks time).  Driving to Christchurch I worked really hard to control my anxiety.  

I now have a home, with my own pictures on the wall.  I can drive to school without using Mr Google Maps.  I know the names of all my new colleagues.  I know the timetable.  It is amazing how anxiety lessons when patterns start to form.

Why am I sharing this?  Because we need change in Education.  There is a huge equity gap and it is most noticeable for learners who are Maori and Pacifica, for our learners with Diverse Needs, for those in poverty and for those learners who just don’t fit into the factory model of school.  In order to move Education from Factory Models of producing students who are similar, and leave school with a closed mindset, re-producing knowledge, to a future focused model of learners who are able to think for themselves producing new information, we are going to have to change. Teachers will have to experience change, students will have to change, schools will have to change, education systems will have to change.  And I don’t think we can change without getting uncomfortable.  

Change is not always pleasant, even if we think it is the right thing to do. Change often requires us to be in a space where things are unfamiliar.  The positives of being in an unfamiliar space is that we notice new things.  We are more open than usual.  We met new people and might have more opportunities. If we take opportunity during this change through reflecting we can become innovative, we can change our selves by noticing things we hadn't seen before.  Blindspots become visible.  During my move to Christchurch I had to dig deep and pull out some dispositions that I hadn’t used for a while.  I am reminded of one from my previous school Te Karaka Area School.  Stickability!  The ability to keep going even when it is tough. We used to say out loud “I can do it! I won’t give up!" At my new school, we call this Resiliency.  Never giving up, persevering with new knowledge and skills.  

I have practiced resiliency before in my life, but I had forgotten what it felt like to actually have to use it.  And it was tough.  I don’t think it was any easier.  I had to work my mind, reminding myself where I was going.  I depended on my friends who said “You will be okay, keep going”.  I practiced mindfulness through deep breathing.  I prayed and spent time where I could in the quiet. Thinking about the future and where I was going and why also helped greatly.  I had to influence my heart!

The same can be said for changing pedagogy.  Changing the way we teach to something we are not familiar with is scary.  All our patterns are disrupted.  However, isn’t this what learning should be?  Can you learn without changing?  Yes, you can learn something in your head and not have it affect your heart, but isn’t real learning about changing the head and the heart?  

And what of our learners?  How often do they feel change?  You know I was in charge of my change from Gisborne to Christchurch, and I was tested. But for many of our learners they are not in charge of change.  They have to learn this or that.  They have to do what the teacher tells them.  They have to study this topic.  Wouldn’t it be aspirational to believe that each learner could influence their own learning and by doing so have opportunity to practice resiliency in a safe to fail way.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Exploding the box

I remember saying to the Principal when my eldest daughter started school "She is not in a box"!  She is now 18 and I am proud to say she still remains outside 'the box'.  

The Box?  Education as we knew it.  The known.  Reading, writing and numbers.  Specific knowledge for a specific job.  Teachers teaching a specific curriculum.  Expected ways for children to behave.  Teachers saying "we have always taught like this and they all learn exactly like this at the same time and in the same way.

You know I love play based learning.  The main reason is because it is outside of the box.  Actually, it smashes any box.  The OECD report on innovative learning environments has at the centre of its curriculum "The learner and learning".  If the learner is at the centre of education, nothing can be predicted, known or expected. And that describes our future.  We don't know what the jobs will be in 15 years.  We don't even know if there will be jobs.

Learning outside of the box, means the learner is free to learn how they need to learn.  It means the teacher is thinking about the learner first and their needs.  They are not thinking "you will fit in with what I already do"  They are thinking "What can I do to support you?"

And that brings me to the changes that the National Government want to introduce into the New Zealand Education system.  I liken the changes to an open box.  I think they are trying to make education more flexible, and student centred with the COOL concept, and with the Special Education concept of placing resources into early childhood, they want to target children when they most need the help.  However, I am also a parent of three diverse learners.  Three learners who have and will continue to require learner support.  And as a parent, it is not only 'stressful' living with a child outside the box of regular education, but overtime if someone wants to change my 'box' or my known, it provokes more stress.  And to be honest, without more funding, I can't see how the proposed changes will be fair to anyone.  I can't work out how you can put more into one sector without taking it from another if you are not going to increase the total sum.  But that doesn't mean I don't think the ideas are not good.  And I know how I am feeling, thinking that the meagre funding that keeps my children in school now, if that disappears, how will they cope.  It is a real fear.

Over the last 5 and half years, I have been teaching at a school that is an innovative learning environment.  My three children who are outside the box have been attending this school.  It hasn't always been easy, but I can say that the child centred pedagogy, like described in the above OECD report has supported my children to learn.  Because the child is at the centre, their needs are listened to, well most of the time.  Nothing is perfect, I mean life and learning is difficult no matter what.  But, certainly, my voice as a parent, and their voices as students are listened to. I am pleased to say that many of the teachers, have listened and learnt along with me.  And actually, it has been better than being in the box of regular education.

I can see how our education system could be better.  If we truely put the learner at the centre and if schools and teachers could stop peeking out of the box, but explode it, we could be providing an amazing education for all our learners.  What could the exploded box look like?
Teachers changing the environment, their expectations, their lens to teach through, to suit each learner. Teachers listening to parents and trusting them as experts.  Teachers working in teams and not alone.  Teachers functioning as a team, joining together to come up with innovative ideas.  Schools, being able and free to educate the way each community needs them too.  Whanau, Schools, Special Education, Health,  CYF working together, communicating freely, making smooth transitions, opening up resources, sharing knowledge, together.  Putting the child at the centre.  Not the system, or the 'way we have always done this' but learning from each learner what is needed.

And change doesn't mean we chuck everything out.  There are some things that will still be needed. For example, a diagnosis.  That is essential, because it helps me as a parent, to have a framework to work within.  We need as much knowledge as we can, but it is what we do with that knowledge that makes the difference.  If we treat it like it is fixed, we will fail.  But if we treat it like it can be used, changed and manipulated, we will succeed. As the OECD report points out, it is the mix which creates the success.  How we mix up what we know, with each part of the system, helps create the change we need.

Here is my attempt to change an environment so the learner is at the centre.  I have been deeply moved by play in the classroom.  When the child arrives in the class, they are surprised to see they can play.  Children understand play.  Play is children's work. Play is learning. They relax, so the brain starts to work. They begin to learn.

Two children have recently come from schools, where the box is well defined, closed even and they have found themselves very much outside of it. So much so they have been isolated and unable to learn.  As they have been immersed in our play based environment, they have begun to enjoy learning.  They not only have success, they have continued success.  Their next steps are identified and the teachers start where they are, sensitively helping them to move to the next step in their learning.  Sometimes, it is social for example, learning how to get on with others.  Sometimes, emotional, learning how to calm down when angry. Sometimes it is academic, learning how to sound out letters. It is always about learning how to learn.  This future focused skill is transferrable, no matter what your age, or what your stage, learning how to learn is an absolute.  It explodes the box.   Learning what it feels like to struggle, being supported to keep going and not to give up, and then experiencing the success.  Being trusted to know what you want to learn and then being provided with the resources meaning you are in control of your learning not the teacher.  As we know, relationship is the key.  Exploding the box, means removing our blinkers about what we think we know about any child and looking in a new way.

Exploding the box is most uncomfortable for the adults but for the learners, it is fun, meaningful, life changing, and well, it simple enables learning.

Do you want to explode the box?  I think we can, I know we need to.  Not for our sakes, but for the children, for the learners and for the future.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Protecting the genius in our learners

Oh I love this quote. It really does work, if you stop and take time to watch each child unfold, you see the genius. I have noted that in the NZ Ministry of Education Document, Ka Hikitia, on page 37 says that Maori student are more likely to have lower levels of achievement than non-Maori in literacy, numeracy and science. It says if this is not addressed early, they will fall behind and then be at risk of disengaging in the early years of their education. It goes on to say how National Standards are the key to identify these early warning signs so students receive help before the negative consequences of falling behind compound.  

I think they have got this the wrong way around. If children are engaged in learning that they love, they will continue to learn, especially with excellent teaching that supports literacy and numeracy through their interests. I think they are more likely to disengage, when literacy and numeracy are taught out of context and out of a learners developmental readiness. I wonder as well, by what measure they falling behind? Children develop and learn at different times. It is the system that the learning is assessed against that makes it look like they are falling behind. Far better to have them engaged in learning, everything else will follow. Oh and a play based learning environment provides just that - engagement rich in deep learning about how to learn.

I have one student who has been in a play based learning environment most of his schooling. Phillip ( I have changed the name), has just completed learning most of his letters and sounds. He has just turned seven. According to our National Standards, this is an extraordinary long time to learn letters in. It has required an extraordinary effort and much persistence. For the longest time, it looked like our (Phillip, teacher, whanau) efforts where making no difference at all. This year, we have seen progress. And just last week, Phillip began to read. At his instructional level, he recognised words, sounded them out and read fluently.

I have been coaching Phillip for two years. I would tell him not to give up. His whanau helped at home. We started with and continue to use Yolanda Sorryl phonics and early words. We use a group, direct reading lesson every day. We used the Davis Dyslexia Method for around 6 months last year, making letters out of clay and mastering them using their visual method. Phillip didn't give up. He wanted to. I saw the pain looking at letters caused him. The discomfort. The rubbing of his eyes, the wriggling, the distractions and we slowly taught him to focus, to be aware of his triggers and how to calm his brain, to focus on the task.

Last week, we celebrated! We turned to each other and smiled. I told him, how proud I was with his stickability. "Phillip, you can read because you kept going and didn't give up!" And he knew his 'not yet', had moved a step closer to a being achieved. I wrote a certificate to tell whanua of his achievement. The next day, he came to school and he asked to read with me. When I saw his Nan, she said that he now says 'he likes reading' and has been asking to read more at home.

I believe that Phillip loves learning today because he has been in a learning through play environment allowing his strengths to flourish and success to be celebrated daily. Phillip knows he is a successful learner. And learning is defined in the broadest sense. In our learning community, key competencies and learning dispositions, are celebrated and discussed more than academic competencies. These form the foundation on which academic skills sit, not the other way around. Student's interests are embraced and supported first, and academic skills are skilfully woven within these.

Everyday, Phillip is able to play. In this context we see an amazing learner. A child who can socialise, show imaginative, creative and dramatic play. He is a stunning friend, kind and compassionate. He loves to sing, he loves to build. Lately, his creativity exploded onto the iPad, using the puppet pals app, that he taught himself. He draws detailed characters and tells stories. We protected his 'not yet skill', "I can't read yet" while enhancing his strengths.

Phillip, is defined not by his lack of academic skills, but by his abundance of learning dispositions and his knowledge of how to use these. Phillip is beginning transition into the next learning community. I know Phillip has a solid foundation to continue to learn throughout life. As Plato advocates, lets find the genius in each of our learners by finding what they are curious in and work with that first.

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 ...