A Reply to Ian McKelvie, MP for Rangitikei

When Measuring Kids is More Important than Educating Them.

By Mārama Stewart, Principal of Waiouru School

Ian McKelvie’s Article in the Ruapehu Bulletin, 15th May 2018

A response to Ian McKelvie’s article “Measuring Kids’ Progress, or Not”, Ruapehu Bulletin – 15 May 2018

One of the perks of being a Member of Parliament, is that for some miraculous reason, most of the drivel you write for the media tends to become gospel. Furthermore, this ‘expertise’ doesn’t seem to require any qualifications or experience working in the profession you are commenting upon. As our local MP, ‘apparently’ you know it all. ‘Apparently’ you know even more than the 47 000 principals, teachers, and support staff that make up the membership of the Teachers’ Union (the New Zealand Educational Institute – NZEI).

I’ve been a bit busy lately and I’m afraid I didn’t get the chance to read our little local paper that week, well not until one of our teachers pointed out this article during our research project’s lead teachers conference.

You see we had been talking about the relief we are all feeling now that “Labour had dropped National Standards”. Gone was this ‘imperfect’ system which has been having a detrimental effect on all young New Zealanders over the last ten years. Then we see this article, Mr McKelvie’s opinion piece, Mr McKelvie’s comedy of errors.

We were seriously wondering if we had missed a calendar month or two and it was actually April 1st! His entire first paragraph seemed to come straight from Opposite Day – that day is actually celebrated on January 25th, so it could be that! Which one of our 47 000 Teacher Union Members did he actually speak with to form this opinion? Maybe he couldn’t find us, as a point of note for the future – you can find us with your children and grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, your best friend’s sons and daughters, and the kids down the road at your local in schools.

Our school is on Ruapehu Road in Waiouru if you want to come visit Mr McKelvie. At our school we will tell you that National Standards did not provide a “universal platform … to track a child’s progress”. Mr McKelvie, National Standards were not “universal”. They were not “easy” to use and did not “determine how a child was getting on at school”. They did not show progress or identify “when intervention was required or alternatively, when a child showed exceptional ability and needed extension”. Mr McKelvie, they did none of the things you asserted in your poorly informed opinion piece.

But then again, how would we know? We are not politicians who can magically turn opinion into fact. Why would we know that Mr McKelvie was wrong? Well probably because we the that have actually read the growing body of research and evidence that emphatically states that the National Standards were not good for our tamariki. In fact this school is has been part of a rigorous research project which shows that

Unfortunately for the 47 000 members of the Teachers Union, explaining why the National Standards system did not work does not fit neatly into a 60 second sound bite in the news, or an easily consumed half a dozen paragraphs in the local newspaper. You actually can not simplify Education into neat and tidy ‘standards’ that children will meet at specific points in time. It is a lifelong developmental journey which must encompass the whole child, their whanau, their culture and their place in their community.

But don’t just take my word for it, don’t ever just take what you read in the newspaper as gospel. Demand evidence that what you are reading is factually correct and come from experience, research, and evidence. So here is my evidence that Mr McKelvie is wrong. This is an extract from the Key Findings from the report “NZCER National Standards Report – National Standards in their Seventh Year” by Linda Bonne of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research.

  • Concern was evident about the negative effects on those students whose performance is labelled as ‘below’ or ‘well below’ a Standard and whose progress is not visible in terms of current reporting practices. To a lesser degree, there was also concern about students who perform well above a Standard not having their high achievement acknowledged, using the existing terminology of simply being ‘above’ a Standard.

    • National Standards seemed to have little to offer students with additional learning needs. Concern about the negative effects of labelling these students’ performance—often as ‘below’ or ‘well below’ National Standards over the long term—was particularly clear. Few agreed that National Standards help with the inclusion of students with additional learning needs. Some principals and trustees were concerned that including National Standards data for students with additional learning needs in their overall school data lowered their results, leading people to think the school was not performing as well as it was.

“Education is not a tool to be used to play petty politics”. It’s far too important to ignore the research, the evidence, and the 47 000 voices working everyday with our tamariki. To do that will have a detrimental effect on young New Zealanders as they chart the course of their future.

First Time Principals’ Programme Presentation

This is my presentation for the FTPP April Residential Course 2012.  Click here to reach the information website and below is the presentation Prezi.  I would love any feedback added to the comments below 🙂

A Letter of Recommendation from my Board Chairman

The Magic Apple by Andrew Law (Chairman of the Board, Pukeokahu School)

There was a young teacher, I’ll call Harriet Potter
When she got an idea in her head nothing would stop her.
She had done all her research, she knew all her business
Harriet had a great big ginormous wish list
We need new computers, these old ones are stuffed
I done my very best but enough is enough
What sort do you want, asked the Board of Trustees
After all the moaning had brought them to their knees
Compaq, Asus, HP, Acer or Dell?
Harriet frowned, looked down and said, They all smell!
I need something special, magical classy
Something with style and cojones a brassy
A machine reliable and super dooper good
Saving money’s not an option, is that understood?
The one that I want is the magical Apple
It’s the one this school needs to snaffle
So the Board counted it’s pennies and doled out the cash
For the magical Apple to make a big splash
Harriet was pleased, she chuckled with glee
Now all I need is another three!
What! cried the Board.  This is not cricket
We seem to be playing on a sloping wicket
I need them, I need them, I need them, cried Mrs Potter
And once again, nothing would stop her.
More Apples were purchased, they are very good
Incredibly reliable the Board understood
Then came the sad day when the magic was gone
An Apple broke down.  What’s going on?
Did the Apple have a worm or coddlin moth
Harriet didn’t know, it had to be sent off
To the Apple workshop to have the magic restored
Meanwhile of course the kids were all bored
Cause school’s no fun without magic Apples to educate and amaze
Wistfully and sadly the Chairman looked back through the haze
To a time when all a school needed were paints, pencils, and paper you see
And Boards could afford to send Chairmen on trips to Fiji.

Andy wrote this for me last year and read it at our end of year celebration assembly.  I just had to share it because it is so good 🙂

Shifting Leadership to the 21st Century

A very short post, I should be in bed asleep not blogging.  Actually I should of done this earlier instead of watching the first season of Sherlock.  Best ever, now addicted.

So I last year, I managed to volunteer to be chairperson of my local New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) cluster.  Therefore, I now represent my cluster at the annual NZPF Moot.  Thankfully I quite enjoy this, despite what certain other principals in Auckland mutter about ‘fossils’, and met a whole bunch of very knowledgeable, interesting educational leaders.

Unfortunately, I have noticed, that about 95% of the leaders of our education leaders were completely missing the 21st Century boat :-/  In fact, I doubt most of them would understand that emoticon I just used … *

So I am on a mission, a Social Media mission, to shift the thinking of our educational leadership to the awesomeness of the 21st Century Waka!!!  Well after whole school camp that is …

I shall begin my campaign to ditch the eighties at the First Time Principals’ Programme Residential in Auckland (this holidays).  Unfortunately this means rejigging my entire presentation, but hey ho, it’s not like I need sleep ;-)*

*translation :-/ disappointed face

*translation ;-)* cheeky wink with a zit.

Managing Your ICT Infrastructure

On Monday I am presenting the Prezi below at Massey University to Sector Leaders involved in the NLC Cluster programme.

Click here for resource website – https://sites.google.com/site/managingict/

Last Day of Term and Stuff

Today is the last day of Term One and I am sitting in my office thinking.  There is a lot of stuff that I could be doing, or reading, or replying to, or leading.  But today I am going to have a little bit of “it’s all about me” time.  I have blogged about this before, feeling guilty about taking time during the school day to self-review, but I am happily over that (and because I know I will be in school most of the Easter break to catch up anyway).

So as most of you know I have been rather busy creating my first ever Strategic Plan, you can read about some of the troubles with that here.  But other than that small hiccup, I have really enjoying the process and now understand the importance of a strong school direction.  Honestly, I have never bothered to read a Strategic Plan before, I could never see the relevance to me as a classroom teacher, and as I had such a fantastic management team around me, I could just get on with the job with being the best teacher and learner I could be.

Now that I have switched to the ‘dark side’ 😉 I can really appreciate the hard work that goes into this process, even those awful surveys I hated filling out.  It is a real art, coming up with a valid community consultation process, which accurately gages the needs and values of a community without letting the ‘haters’ use it as a subversive means to undermine you (not that I get that here at all, I am very luck in that respect).

As I am in the unique position of having only, don’t laugh now, six families and one teacher to survey I decided to do this a little differently.  I wanted to find out three things – the values, the attitudes and the skills my community believe is important for their children to have by the time they leave as a Year Eight.  To do this I used a ‘Role on the Wall’, an old school reading activity commonly used with guided reading groups.  Basically you draw a hollow person, and the kids brainstorm the characters attributes.  On the inside of the character you brainstorm their personality and beliefs etc, while on the outside you brainstorm their physical characteristics.  For my consultation I asked the community to complete the brainstorm below and I am pleased to say that I received a 100% return rate, yep that’s right 7 out 7 😉

Community Consultation 2011

Ok, so getting 100% wasn’t so hard, but the information I received from the community (I was able to survey the kids too) has been invaluable to me while I flesh out the Strategic Plan.  The BOT also really enjoyed going through the information, collating the data (I just typed it out, verbatim, then cut it up so the BOT could sort it and stick it to the three headings Values, Attitudes and Skills) and discussing what really was important to them as well.  In the end we came up with ten fantastic values and attitudes which will help set the direction of the school.

Creativity; Self-Motivation; Individuality; Courage; Respect; Integrity; Enquiring Mind; Community Minded; Responsibility; Being the Best We Can Be.

I do realise, that this kind of method would be impossible for a larger school, but using this with staff, or a BOT maybe a really valuable process to work through.  One BOT member commented that it was really nice not being told which values they could choose from and they they felt like they could have more ownership of the process.  This made me feel great, I mean isn’t this exactly what our wonderful NZC is all about? 🙂

Good Advice from the Auditor-General

My buddy, the Auditor-General (not really my buddy, just exaggerating) sent out a “summary of a recent report that our Office has done on analysis of variance reports”.  This caught my eye as it mentioned school charters, and as you all know I have been having some discussion lately, with the MOE, about Charters …

Basically, the report has a lovely little check list for Boards and Principals to use when setting Strategic Goals and Annual Targets.  I won’t go into detail, as it is a really easy read – you can see the summary here.  Personally I like it and I will be using it as one of my resources while we develop our new Charter.  What I like the most about this little report is that it emphasizes the importance of “specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely” strategic goals.  And that, annual targets should relate strongly to these goals.

Therefore, I’m inferring that the Auditor-General would think it a good thing, for me to not rush the process of setting strategic goals.

So I’m not.

Self Review: The Guilt Post

I know…, you know …, we all known, that self-review is essential for good practice.  True self-review should be the combination of both formal and informal review tools.  These tools may include personal reflections, professional conversations, mentoring, professional appraisal, journals and learning circles.  Personally I enjoy engaging in self-review through reflecting and sharing my practice in a professional blog. My blog is where I engage in my own professional form of ‘just-in-time’ learning; it is here where my self-review with make an immediate impact on my practice. What I am having trouble with at the moment is wondering whether it is appropriate for me to engage in this medium during school time.

The Background:  I am the Principal of a Sole Charge Rural School.  This means that for 0.7 (three and a half days) of my week I am a normal classroom teacher, well as normal as you can get with eleven students, (grin) and for the other 0.3 (one and a half days) I am in the office doing management and leadership tasks.  I do not do any planning or classroom prep. during my 0.3 release, this is all done after the kids have left for the day or in the weekends (like any normal teacher).

The Requirements: As a part of my involvement with the First Time Principals Programme, and as specified in my job description, I am required to engage in self-review.  In fact, I have been advised by my mentor and my appraiser to keep a professional journal.  I would like to use this blog as my professional journal; I can easily keep any sensitive posts private or password protect them (save the trees!)

The Question: Is it appropriate for me to set aside time from my 0.3 release to reflect in my professional journal (this blog)?  Or should I be engaging in this reflection outside of school time, in my own time?

The Guilt: The reality is that I just haven’t done it at home because I am just so tired when I finally get there.  I would like to do it during my release time but I don’t know if this is ok?  Can I justify this as a good use of leadership and management time? Shouldn’t I be using my time for the benefit of the students learning?  But what about me, should I also be making sure that I am the best possible leader I can be? (and not burn out with the effort).

The Ideal: What I really want is to know that it’s ok for me to add regular self-review entries to this blog, which is all about my experiences as a 21st Century Learner and Educator, during my release time and not allow my professional life to invade my personal one.  I want to stop feeling guilty.

Up Here Where The Air Is Clear!

Breath in deep and taste that country air!

Up here at 600 metres above sea level you can see for miles, no wonder it has taken me so long to sit down and write a post!  I mean check out my view …

Though I guess I should admit to being a fairly slack blogger during the summer break (well in general really).  I am not actually a big fan of writing, I would much rather curl up and read a book, so I really must force myself to sit down write.  In fact the only real reason I do this at all is because I know I have an audience. An audience who is choosing to read my thoughts and opinions.  Maybe even gaining a bit of advice or a few new ideas from my natter about all things great and small in the world of eLearning.

Yep, I write this solely for a purpose, the purpose to connect with my ever patient and kind audience. This of course does make me wonder … do my students feel that there is a purpose behind what I ask them to write? Does ones teacher and class mates make an authentic audience?  And if I have answered ‘No’ to both question (which I have),  why am I making them do any writing at all? Hmmmm

This blog has helped me find a purpose and motivation for writing, it has given me an authentic audience.

If I give my students a blog, will they also find theirs?

I must say, all this oxygen deprivation is making my head spin!

Leading Change: 10 students and 0.5 teachers at a time!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I will be beginning a new position next year as a Sole-Charge Principal at Pukeokahu School (Pukeokahu means The Hill of The Hawk).  To put this into perspective for you non-kiwis out there – I will begin the year (Feb 2nd 2010) with 10 students aged between 7 and 12 years, with two 5 year olds beginning half way through the year.  I am expected to teach across all age levels with 0.3 release (one and a half days per week) to complete school administration.  One of the biggest appeals about this school is the extremely high level of community support.  The Board of Trustees (BOT) fundraises every year to employ a second teacher for an additional one and a half hours per day (0.2 teaching time) to focus on Junior Literacy (Yeah! I’m not alone!).

Soooo … I have a bit of a challenge ahead of me.  The teaching part will be as sweet as a nut, but I now need to learn all about the compliance stuff!  The paper work, administration, budgets, pay-roll (eek! I have heard many a horrible tale about pay-roll!), and water-testing will definitely be a challenge for me.  Yes, you did read that correctly, I do have to test the drinking water once a month!  But what is life without a challenge?  I say bring it on because I also get to do the exciting stuff, and by exciting I mean super-sized-geeky-fun exciting stuff! I now have a blank slate to create a personalised elearning environment for my school community. Woohoooo!

I thought I might share my ever increasing ‘To Do’ list with you:

  1. Obtain Domain Name details.
  2. Sign up for Google Apps.
  3. Sigh and stare at my tiny budget.
  4. Re-assess our ISP – InspireNet, Telecom, or Vodafone? (we have very limited options in Kiwi-land)
  5. Spend at least 17 hours fixing internet connection problems or just waiting while I am on hold.
  6. Create a new (official serious stuff) school website  – Self-hosted with Joomla or hosted by InspireNet with WordPress MU or use a hosted site like Weebly or Google Sites.
  7. Up-load all policy documents to Google Docs and link to school site.
  8. Write the elearning policy.
  9. Sigh and stare at my tiny budget.
  10. Start applying for Trust Grants to up-grade the current elearning infra-structure.
  11. Set up school accounts – Flickr, Voicethread, Delicious, Edublogs, GlogsterEdu, etc.
  12. Sigh and stare at my tiny budget.
  13. Decide if I should go to Learning @School or Ulearn10 and/or the NZPF National Conference.
  14. Create a school/class learning blog (for the fun learning stuff in edublogs) am thinking I might get the students to create a school mascot to host the blog.
  15. Create an ePortfolio for each child (in Edublogs) and set up their school email accounts.
  16. Clean out the old school room (currently used as storage) and turn it into an awesome Creative Art Space!
  17. Feed the chickens.

As you can see, I have quite a lot to do and a few decisions to make before the beginning of the new school year.  I will be blogging as I go to let you all know how I go.  Hopefully I will have plenty of tips and tricks I can share with you all as I bumble along.  I would also appreciate any wisdom and in-sites you could share with me 🙂

Images sourced gratefully under creative commons licence from: