Teaching in a Bubble: Blog 2 – Current issues in my professional context

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It’s like Hogwarts

 

I teach in a bubble.

A cosy, all-girls, day and boarding, decile 9 school bubble; with beautiful environs, involved parents who care about education, and happy, well-nourished, thoughtful students who strive to gain Excellence.

We have site specific language to describe our Hogwartian landscape. There are no bells, the girls wear their uniforms described as ‘tablecloths’ for juniors (think the red and white chequered Pizza Hutt tablecloths of the early 80’s) and ‘nuns’ (long, down to the ankle, grey skirts) for the seniors. *Disclaimer: we are in the middle of a BIG uniform review, prompted by the culture of change that now exists at the school. We have ‘sticky’ (a provided morning tea) for girls and staff, the students do ‘prep’ rather than homework, and our buildings all seem to get affectionate nicknames.

I visited a nearby school recently for football and as my team filed off the bus I was struck by just how similar they all were. They looked like an advertisement for health supplements, hair-care products, personal grooming, and the best boots, footballs, and other gear that money can buy.

Established in 1894, in the same site now since 1911, we are a traditional school that embraces innovation. I am acutely aware of my position. Teaching at a school like this is a privilege. I did 15 years at an all-boys, decile 4 school, with a good number of students who presented daily with behavioural problems, so the differences I see are stark. I have colleagues at other schools who present those war stories of students and their problems that sometimes make me feel guilty about my own practice.

In 2015 we recorded NCEA pass rates of 100% at Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3. Nowhere to go from there but down I guess!

But I am busier here than I ever was at my last school. The culture is one of innovation, risk, and change. We have taken our traditional heritage, our 100+ years of customs and we have added the constant challenge to be ‘better than before.’ Our school culture encourages risk-taking both from the students and the teachers, and I am in an environment that makes that possible.

Senior management (the top 3 positions have undergone a complete change over the last two years) encourage professional learning groups that are working independently on issues we raised as areas to be ‘better than before’ at a staff focus session. Those areas are broadly defined as: Staff Well-being, Curriculum Delivery, Innovation, Global Community, and Communication.

We are pushing for ways to make our school a place of constant, positive change. I think we recognize the trap of allowing ourselves to be complacent and permitting our teaching and learning ‘muscles’ to atrophy.

I teach in a bubble. But it’s a bubble I love, and the culture of ‘better than before’ makes it a bubble that doesn’t look likely to burst anytime soon.

 

References

APA. (2016). Education and Socioeconomic Status. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publications/education.aspx

Kraft, M.A. & Papay, J.P. (2014). Do supportive professional environments promote teacher development? Explaining heterogeneity in returns to teaching experience. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 36(4), 476-500. Retrieved from http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/mkraft/files/kraf…

OECD. (2015). Education at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators. OECD Publishing, Paris.DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2015-en. Retrieved from http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/download/96…

Stoll. (1998). School Culture. School Improvement Network’s Bulletin 9. Institute of Education, University of London. Retrieved from http://www.educationalleaders.govt.nz/Culture/Understanding-school-cultures/School-Culture

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6 comments

  1. I love your honest reflection and I could relate – not in having taught in two completely schools but teaching in two very different cohorts of students. Last year my class culture was driven by the behaviour of two individuals, who, believe it or not, completely changed the way classroom functioned. Days they were absent were noticeability different. This year I have no such students but instead the class works with a pleasant hum all the time and it is a place where you actually want to spend your day.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I too feel privileged to belong to this “Hogwarts” and while many would find the constant change a real challenge, it is the many colleagues such as yourself (who are essentially life-long learners with growth mindsets) that make my “bubble” just the best place to teach!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow – what an honest reflection of your school. I like how you are aware that you are teaching in a bubble yet your school still manages to boast a culture of innovation, risk and change. I’ve taught in schools in these bubbles who cruise within the status quo because they can… but your school, it sounds like an exciting place to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice job, Greg – you have very neatly summed up what it feels like to work in this environment. The extent of ‘bubble status’ really hit home for me at the Kamar conference – a large number of teachers and senior leadership that we interacted with are battling everyday with attendance (or lack of) in their classes and schools – they were all saying the same thing – “attendance = achievement, as simple as that”. So with few issues such as attendance or behavior to deal with we can focus on the task at hand – innovative, risk-taking and challenging teaching and learning, in a culture that celebrates excellence on all levels.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. An honest reflection Greg. It would be easy to feel jealous of your “bubble” but I’m sure all situations have their own challenges! Having taught for 14 years in a decile 2 -3 school, I am one of those teachers for whom attendance is a constant issue, along with a lot of other baggage the students bring and issues of English as a second (or third) language. However this is not a gripe, I choose to work there. I probably have quite different expectations of my students but that does not make it any less rewarding when they meet (or exceed) those expectations.

    Like

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