Shaken but not stirred – unsung heroes

More than 5 years ago Canterbury was rudely shaken awake by the first of what was to be 2 major earthquakes. These events were to shape our focus as educators and re-shape our thinking for years to follow. There has been ample media attention on the disasters themselves, the tragic deaths and injuries, the brave emergency workers, and the unfortunate communities that have lost their local schools. There hasn’t however been an ongoing focus in the media on 2 things:

  1. The initial and ongoing care, support and energy of the teachers and support staff of children and their families following the earthquakes
  2. The emergence of the wide-ranging needs of earthquake toddlers and babies as New Entrants

As principal of a school that lost over 1,000 houses in our school zone to the Red Zone we were approached by Dr. Carol Mutch (along with 5 other schools) to participate in a study about the role of schools in the earthquake recovery process. As part of this study we were fortunate to have funding and support from UNESCO. Over many visits and questions we kept coming back to one thing, something that was not widely reported or acknowledgedIMG_3023the most important thing in the recovery of the children at school was the unwavering support of school staff. This was evident in the voice of the children, in the eyes of the parents and caregivers and in the grateful praise of school leaders. Teachers and support staff gave their attention and care to the children in their charge as they ensured their safety during the earthquakes, welcomed them back to school, listened to their stories and did all this while quietly putting to the side their own personal struggles. I was grateful of the opportunity afforded me in September by the University of Auckland to present a spotlight session at the British Educational Research Association (BERA) Conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland. During this presentation I told our story, but both Dr. Carol Mutch and I praised our teachers and support staff for the crucial role they played and, indeed, are still playing in the ongoing recovery of our school communities. While no medals or ceremonies were afforded to school staff their efforts, genuine care and selflessness is certainly recognised.

My second point above is an observation, no an obvious trend, which is charging into Canterbury Schools in great numbers and intensity. There are now many new entrants entering school with social, emotional and learning needs. These new entrants were toddlers or babies when the earthquakes hit. Now I am no psychologist or qualified behaviourist, however I am in my 20th year of principalship and in talking with other principals this is not isolated to my school. We have a greater percentage than ever of new entrants enrolling with high needs, including separation anxiety, high sensory reactions, and to put it bluntly throwing tantrums when they do not get their own way. My colleagues and I along with the RTLB service are sharing these observations with the Ministry of Education who are to their credit starting to realise the new tremors appearing across Canterbury schools. We now look forward to appropriate support for our new entrants and our staff.

In conclusion who are the unsung heroes of the ongoing earthquake recovery in Canterbury? It is the teachers and support staff who have continually been there for the children and families through the shakes, the emotions, the uncertainties and now the vast range of needs of children enrolling as new entrants. While outside Canterbury it may seem a long time since the horror of the earthquakes the recovery continues. Shaken but not stirred – hats off to our teachers and support staff, enjoy your well deserved break.


Holiday 3R’s – a good time to read, review and reflect

While term time is the “go zone” it is often difficult to stop and smell the roses.

The educational landscape is changing exponentially at present and as Steppenwolf aptly puts it we are “on a magic carpet ride”. Never before in my educational career have research, ideas and technology moved so fast or provided so many possibilities in the opportunities we provide our learners. I have spent time on Twitter trying to tie together aspects of these possibilities to assist us in shaping our future direction at Kaiapoi North School. The exciting but challenging part is there is so much to find and so much to digest!

Some of the most interesting material I have looked through has included:

  • Growth Mindset – Carol Dweck – Fixed v Growth, encouraging learners to look outwardly at how they can persevere, evaluate, re-try
  • Solo Taxonomy as a tool to assist children learning to learn
  • “Genius hour” for personal inquiry
  • Concepts of agency, ubiquity and connectedness
  • Re-emphasising the importance of the Key Competencies in our school curriculum (NZCER resource co-written by Mary Chamberlain)
  • CORE Ed’s website, 10 trends etc.

The exciting thing for me is I know that we have the benefit of skilled, dedicated and creative staff to continue to drive forward with modern learning practice (MLP). We have already well and truely scratched the surface of exploring the possibilities of MLP within 1960’s style buildings, and collaborative teaching, eportfolios and encouraging self managed learning. I am now looking forward to our next developments!