Our school visits in Auckland continue to focus on two questions:
– What’s working?
– What is each school doing to improve?
Following from the previous post, what follows are a few vignettes, intended to pique curiosity…
– Every day, in every school across New Zealand, school stops between 2nd and 3rd periods. This break allows for an event that is both small and powerful: tea. Teachers from all over the school congregate in the staff room to fill a glass, chat with colleagues, and laugh a bit about the antics of the morning. The feeling in the room is comfortable, convivial. No one brings work, or stress, into the room. If they do, they leave each at the door.
What are the kids doing when the entire staff is having tea? Most are taking time to relax and play outside…
But, at some schools, kids are taking over the functions of the school itself–manning the library, answering phones, working the front desk.
— Many schools have found innovative ways of bridging the gap between school and community. At Henderson Intermediate, the school partnered with local and national government to build a dental clinic on school grounds. Centrally located, the clinic offers free dental care to every student at the school–as well as to targeted members of the community (e.g., families living in poverty, pregnant mothers, etc.). The facility also serves as a teaching facility for the local technical college, with five open office spaces to allow for collaboration and supervision.
In another school, both the library and the art center were designed as a public space, open to the community. In the “Art Shed,” artists-in-residence could truly work as artists, both individually, and in collaboration with schools.
— Another example of creative community partnerships is the collaboration between schools and professional sports organizations. Over the course of a year, a series of sports leagues, clubs, and associations will engage in school-based residencies. While were were at Blockhouse Bay, a member of the national badminton team was in the middle of a four-week residency.
— There is also a small aspect of school design that has had a huge impact on both teacher success and–equally importantly–teacher culture, morale, and sense-of-community. Without fail, every school has established a complete separation between work spaces and social spaces for staff. Teachers’ rooms (where “tea” takes place each day) are never clogged with photocopiers. In fact, they are consistently light, spacious, and comfortable. Each has a dishwasher, allowing for easy clean-up after tea and other functions. Work spaces, in the meantime, are dedicated to work, and are efficiently laid-out and apportioned.
– In the United States, the first two years of a new teacher’s contract are “probationary.” Whether cause or effect, it seems relevant that 50% of teachers leave the profession in the first 5 years. By contrast, New Zealand has a national policy of actively supporting teachers who are new to the profession. First-year teachers are released–as national policy–from 0.2 of their teaching time. This means that they only teach the equivalent of 4 days/week. The release-time is used to observe more experienced teachers, to meet with mentors, and to be observed by those supporting the new teacher’s professional learning goals. Second-year teachers are released from 0.1 of their teaching responsibilities, for the same purpose.
“Tutor-teachers” are given the primary responsibility for mentoring new teachers, and are given their own release-time to perform this service. Tutor-teachers may or may not also be “senior-teachers,” or team leaders–each a further series of steps representing an ongoing series of professional development levels.
– At Henderson, we met a science teacher who had just returned from a six-month leave. Encouraged by his school and supported by the Royal Society, many Kiwi science teachers take the opportunity to step away from the classroom for half-a-year to work as a scientist, doing real research. This 8th grade teacher had just returned from working as a vulcanologist. With a smile, he told us about being at his research site when the volcano began to erupt. This was a professional with a renewed sense of purpose. Coincident or not, he was preparing to take his students the next day on a visit to a set of four-story dunes, to better understand how they are formed.
– Examples of attention to student voice abound in New Zealand. At Balockhouse Bay, students lead their own parent-conferences, walking both teachers and family members through what they have learned, how they have grown, and their goals for the future.
– Another striking example comes from Henderson intermediate, where the first stage in a school-wide process of re-evaluation began with a series of in-depth interviews and focus groups with 30 students in high school. Conversations focused on one central question: “What were you missing?” Once this data was collected, a similar process took place with teachers. The Principal made sure to point out that “there was a .7 correlation. Students knew.”