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The thoughts, ideas and content found here are my personal views and are not necessarily those of my employer.


PISA...self imposed embargo...

Last week in New Zealand there was a significant media frenzy around the release of the PISA rankings.  I am breaking my self imposed silence on this particular report, not because I think there isn’t some useful information in it, but because I get sick of reading and hearing all the ill informed comment in the media.  So I am providing three links to articles that if you are interested provide some thoughtful and informed reportage on this topic.

The NZ Listener published this article (if you are reading online click here, if you are reading a hard copy goto the principals blog linked off the school website for the link) which provides a good global round up of PISA issues.  Then there is this article from a school principal in Shangai, who topped the PISA table of achievement.  After reading ask yourself, Is this what we want in NZ?  Finally there is this article that while it has an American bias, provides a great deal of balance in a world charged with polecat extremes.


Prof Andy Hargreaves...uplifting

This short TEDx talk from Andy Hargreaves gives simple, yet profound insight into organisational success.  Simple in idea, yet surprisingly difficult to do, as evidenced by the majority racing to do all the don'ts he talks about.  What does this mean for your school / organisation?  What does this mean for the NZ education system?




Different but the same...

Today, Monday was the day of the ICoT (International Conference on Thinking) masterclasses.  I went to hear James Nottingham talk about challenging learning and mindsets, actually we ended up having Martin Renton, as James was not able to make it for family reasons.


So some learnings or takeaways from the day;

  • I realise this is an international conference, its in the title afterall, but within our small masterclass of approximately 14 people we had people from 6 countries. This really bought home to me the international element of the week.
  • As a result of this international perspective, hearing the 'other' experiences about learning, assessment, funding, curriculum is fascinating.  After this discussion I conclude and am reinforced in the belief our Kiwi kids get a good deal with the quality instruction they receive and the benefit of not only a world class but work leading curriculum.  
  • Do you have any curling parents or teachers for that matter?  Parents and teachers that like the sport of curling go in front of the child and smooth the way for them. Curling - smoothing the way Much like the curling team furiously brush ahead of the curling rock as it makes its way to the other end. Martin suggests the better way is instead of smoothing the ice, parents and teachers should cut the ice up, creating the right amount of challenge and therefore excellent learning.
  • Based on the research of Carol Dweck, do you use intelligence praise or process praise.  Her research found that over the course of three 'sessions'  those children given intelligence praise performance dropped significantly in comparison to those children that received process praise.  Their performance rose significantly for the same three tasks. Apologies this is my brief understanding from my notes.  I'm trying to source the research paper.  In the meantime here is a site I found discussion some of Prof Dweck's research.  Worth some further reading I think.
  • The research of Eccles (2000) presented us with the formula of Application = Value * Expectation.  Instead of me unpacking this here, James does a much better job in this TEDx video, Labels limit learning.  This 'formula' rang true in my own teaching experience.  The emphasis should always be on progress, knowing the learning that has taken place.  Do we do this in the New Zealand context or do we get dragged into concentrating on achieving the 'expected level'




Looking forward to Day 2, its going to be a big day.  Will start well if I get a great Wellington coffee  .  As usual Core-Ed are well organised.  They know how to run an event.  Getting online was as easy as 123.


An unlikely interview... very interesting all the same...

Pasi SahlbergI know two posts in a row on Finland and Pasi Sahlberg.  However I happened on Prof John Hattiethis interview between Prof John Hattie and Pasi Sahlberg thanks to a tweet from @kpullar.  John Hattie being the former Auckland University academic credited with advising the government on the introduction of national standards.

Pasi Sahlberg works for the Finnish equivalent of the Ministry of Education, among other things travels the world sharing the experiences of the Finnish education experience, seeking to share some principles that have worked for Finland and see it widely acknowledged as the among the best education systems in the world.

A couple of interesting points

  • Teachers operate in a high trust environment.
  • A healthy child is paramount to educational success
  • Children with special needs are helped, it's expensive, but better the investment as children, than having to spend money in adulthood. 
  • Equity very important.

 Enjoy the video.


speaking sense...Dr Pasi Sahlberg

Dr Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of CIMO (Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation) in Helsinki, Finland, and expert in educational reforms, training teachers, coaching schools and advising policy-makersRecently I had the privilege of attending the joint primary principals conference in Melbourne, Australia.  Among the line up of speakers I heard for the first time Dr Pasi Sahlberg from Finland.  Much has been written about the Finnish education system in the last few years, since it appeared that Finland came from nowhere and now essentially tops the international league tables other wise known as PISA.

Dr Sahlberg made the point of not coming to lecture us about how to run a top performing education system, indeed he told us not to copy what they had done.  Systems must be local and can't be transported from one nation to another.  My words but his thoughts.

Instead he suggested there are certain principles that are in effect in Finland and other nations should look at and see if they are a good fit for our nation.  Here are some of those things to think about.

  1. The foundations of the current Finnish system were implemented 40 years ago.  In a world where we want quick results and are not prepared to build something that will be well built and constructed and thereby stand the test of time, the Finnish show us how we should build, build and trust the 'results' will come.  We should not be giving up after a few months or years.  Interestingly the international results showed no real change until about 20 years into the process.  So in the last 20 years Finnish education has been on a steady improvement trajectory.
  2. The goal of the Finnish system was never to be No1.  They wanted EVERY child to have access to a great education.  The international results are simply a by product of that goal.  The work of Hargreaves and Shirley in the Global Fourth Way give a research foundation to this.  If a nation focuses on being No1 it will result in many unintended consequences on the system.
  3. The Finish system is underpinned by four key elements,
    • Collaboration
    • Equity - The greatest of these is equity.
    • Trust based professionalism - In one university, 2000 applicants for 120 places.
    • Good schools for all.

Dr Sahlberg wondered aloud during his presentation why other parts of the western education system were intent on "doing the wrong things righter".  This rang so true here in New Zealand.  I have heard that very idea being stated by current and past Ministers and ministry officials.  By way of example, when critics said the whole standards thing has been tried overseas and failed.  The response was, yes, but we are doing it differently.  When the critics said charter schools have been tried overseas and there is no clear evidence they add to a child's education.  The response was, yes but we have learned from those lessons and will do it better.Click to view related website

If you want to find out more about the details of the Finnish system, read Dr Sahlberg's book, "The Finnish Way" or lesson do a great interview of Dr Sahlberg by Kim Hill on Radio NZ.





Bad Call Dave...

Last week the NZ Olympic Team hit it first real bump in the 2012 campaign.  From all accounts, no matter which way you turned the NZ effort at the London games was firing on all cylinders.  It even had undertones of national fervour we experienced during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.  The bump as I have described it,  was the non entry of Val Adams into the women's shot put, actually it involved about 7 of our athletes, not that that fact was obvious watching and listening to the mainstream media.  I don't want to get on the case of NZ Olympic officials and surmise as to what effect this had or didn't have on Val not winning gold.  Other than to say an Olympic silver is nothing to be sneezed at.
I am more interested in this issue from a leadership perspective and in particular the actions of the NZ Chef de Mission, Dave Currie.  From the outset let me say I think Dave Currie has in recent games, olympic and commonwealth has done a fantastic job in building a real sense of 'team' amongst the huge range of sporting disciplines represented at these events.  However when he publicly announced and named that it was long time athletic volunteer who was responsible for entering said athletes, it was in my opinion a lapse in leadership, that should have been owned by Dave Currie publicly.
I was reminded of a quote from leadership expert and American pastor Andy Stanley, on the topic of how staff should act and behave in order to ensure positive organisational messages are portrayed.  Andy says we should be raving fans publicly and honest critics privately.  While this situation is a little different it does have similarities.  Publicly speaking Dave Currie is the leader of the NZ Olympic team and should accept total responsibility for what goes wrong.  Ultimately it was a human error and therefore a system issue, which is something Dave should have anticipated.  Either way as far as the public is concerned it was Dave Currie's responsibility to ensure those admin functions were executed correctly.  Giving the mainstream media the name of a long serving (30 years) volunteer they could harass was a leadership mistake, that considering his experience could have been avoided.  
What should have he done?  He should have been a raving fan about his team, backed the individuals without using names and then behind close doors he should have been an honest critic of their performance.  Was this an easiest track to follow? No.  It was however the correct path to go down though. 




the art of the political interview...

This from one of our most famous exports.  It is very funny, even viewing for the fifth time.


some thoughts on class size... updated

The following is a direct paste from the school newsletter published on 30th May.

Kia Ora

Our government has made some decisions in recent days that defy logic and belief.  A government that was elected with one of its tag lines that "frontline services would not be affected" this was in the contest of making the public services that you and I as New Zealanders use more efficient.  I have had and continue to have trouble reconciling this statement with the decision my the government to reduce teacher numbers and therefore increase class sizes.  There are so many illogical points to the governments argument I am not sure where to start.
The impression given by the Minister of Education is we need to spend what little money have on quality teachers and not class size as this is where the biggest improvement will be seen.  It is portrayed as a one or the other argument, quality teachers or reasonable class sizes.  It is not, it should be both reasonable class sizes and quality teachers.  Regardless of the quality of the teacher, if in 2013 they have 30 children in the class as opposed to the 25 they had in 2012 they have less time to work with the children as they have more children to spread their time around.  Brilliant teachers cannot manufacture more hours in the day and give more kids the attention they deserve.
A further line you will see, hear and read from the government is, "this is a funding decision, it is up to the school how the classes are made up".  While technically true, I can only work with the size of the pie I'm given.  It doesn't matter which way you slice and dice the pie it will be smaller from 2013 onwards.  It is very disingenuous of the Minister to push this line and convey the impression that any resulting increase in class sizes in 2013 is a decision of the school.
The technology teacher funding that has been in the headlines in recent days is a related matter, with which there has been a partial backdown from the government, promising that no more than 2 teaching positions will be lost from any one school.  This decision works on the assumption that losing 2 teaching positions is an acceptable outcome.
I am one that likes to take a balanced view of things, attempting to look at all sides of an argument.  With this I have, looked at both sides of the debate, there is nothing positive about the increase in class sizes, which will impact on the quality of education New Zealand children can expect to receive.  My suspicion from experience is you too will not be comfortable with the government plan.  Why do I say that?  Almost without fail every parent who sits in my office enrolling their child/ren asks me, "how big are the classes?"  So clearly you understand its about reasonable class sizes and quality teachers.
Therefore I am going to ask you to make your voice heard.  I'm meant to refrain from making political comment, or what could be construed as political comment.  However this issue is too real and will have an immediate and direct impact on your children and all Kiwi children.  How can you make your voice heard?  Email Bill English ( and copy it to John Key (john.key@parliament.govt.nzand Hekia Parata (  It does not need to be long and involved, simply a couple of sentences expressing your concern about the impending increase in class sizes.  The second thing you can do is sign the petition that has been started.  This can be found in the office and will also be available at the house meetings.

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss this further please contact me.

Kia Kaha
Ben Witheford
Update: On Thursday 7th June the Minister of Education changed this decision and teacher funding ratios and therefore staffing levels will remain as they are.

Butterfly of good teaching too hard to catch...

Joe Bennett wrote the following article in the Southland Times, which I think does a good job in capturing the 'humanity' of teaching.
The Government wants to introduce performance pay for teachers. Good luck to it, writes Joe Bennett.

Yorkshire, England, 1981, and I am on the second floor of the gymnasium in a grim secondary school. I'm drinking coffee and looking idly out over the school and the hills beyond. Below me a rowdy fifth-form class is waiting outside the music room, the girls' legs pink in the cold air. The elderly head of music arrives, a ring of white hair at the back of his skull like a horse's noseband. He unlocks the door of the classroom. A few kids go in. Most don't.  He tries to corral them, spreading his arms, urging them like stock. Some ignore him, some duck around him. Others go in, cross the room then clamber out through a window on the other side, and come back round to the front. They are laughing.
Fifteen minutes later he has them all more or less seated and he puts on a record of classical music. Through a window I can see a slice of the class. Most chat or sleep. A boy and girl at the back are kissing.  At that school I was a student teacher of phys ed but I spent most of my time in the drama room. The teacher there was a wonder. He liked the kids and they, more or less in consequence, liked him. He made them laugh and think. He widened their eyes and their minds.
Back then there were two ways for a teacher to earn more money. One was to be promoted, the other to get older. The head of music had done both and earned plenty. Yet he was obviously doing a worse job than the drama teacher.  So performance pay sounds like a good thing and over my 20 years of teaching the subject was raised at every school I taught at. Yet nothing was ever done about it. The difficulty was how to measure teaching.
Teaching is an intuitive human business. The golden rule is that you must teach according to your nature. If you don't, the kids will see through you. There is no one way to do it. And though there are tricks to be learned there is no body of knowledge that can turn a bad teacher into a good one.  Most people can name one teacher who mattered to them. That teacher offered something into which the kid's mind fitted like a plug into a socket. Something in the teacher's enthusiasm, in their way of seeing the world, lit a bulb that is still burning. It had nothing to do with the syllabus or exams. It was the transmission of some sort of humanity. And for different kids it would be a different teacher, which is why every school should employ a range of characters, from the rigid sergeant major to the floppy hippy.
Good teaching, then, is easy to recognise. But it is hard to measure. Exam results are important but they are not the whole of education. And if you judged a teacher solely by exam results, then they would teach solely to the exams. Which would squeeze out the good stuff, the real stuff, the stuff that just happens. And that's often the stuff that sings home like a well-fired arrow.
What will happen, I suspect, is that the mandarins of education will try to do to teaching what they have already done to learning. With the NCEA they reduced a subject like English to thousands of discrete bits of knowledge, or skills, that they could then assess one by one. But that's not how English works. The NCEA brings down the net but misses the butterfly. And it will be the same with teaching. They will spend vast sums of money coming up with boxes to be ticked, boxes called Key Performance Indicators or some similar jargon, in a bid to define good teaching. And though any kid in the school will tell you instantly who the good teachers are, the Education Ministry won't manage it. The simple butterfly of human truth will elude them.
I don't have an answer to the problem. All I will say is that the drama teacher in Yorkshire loved what he did. Whereas the head of music was in torment. He must have walked through the school gates each morning with rising dread. His job was killing him. So perhaps, after all, it was right to pay him more. Money for suffering.

Free images from


changing fast, happening fast...

You have no doubt heard it, now you can see it in visual form thanks to the Big Picture blog.  It is a wonderful infographic that displays just how much content and information is added, shared and spread every 60 seconds.

  click on the image to enlarge.