Purposeful direction

Hauraki Plains College

Ngaire Harris talks about core values, purposeful direction and creating a collaborative learning community. 

Pedagogical leadership

Doing a Masters in Educational Leadership has provided a structured framework for much of my leadership journey. I have been hugely influenced by Louise Stoll, Michael Fullan, and Hedley Beare's work on futures thinking and on leading in a purposeful and intentional way.

I have also been influenced by Jim Collins' work on leadership. Collins' research gave me a lot of hope, because I don't see myself as an 'up there out front' leader. Collins talks about leaders who take an organisation from good to great, and who possess personal humility combined with fierce professional will. And I think that influenced me significantly.

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Core values

I believe that a focus on identity is really important in giving purposeful direction to our students. We have a significant proportion of teachers at Hauraki Plains College who are themselves ex-pupils of this school, so we have a strong Hauraki pride that filters through everything we do.

We ensure that students know the history of the area and where we have come from as a school. We frequently tell our students that they have inherited the ground from those that have gone before, that they hold the ground for those who come after, and that they are part of the continuing story of the school.

As educators at Hauraki Plains College I believe we have two core purposes. Our first purpose is to prepare our young people for their future, for life in the 21st century. We don't know exactly what the future looks like but we know that they will need to be equipped with knowledge, skills, values and attitudes so that they can cope in a very complex and rapidly changing world.

Our second purpose is a moral one – it is to support the development of our students into becoming responsible contributing citizens. I believe that our future as a community and nation depends on this.

We have developed The Hauraki Way, a code of conduct of how we do things around here. It's based on our core values – respect, responsibility, consideration for others, work ethic and pride in our school. We really encourage our young people to be involved with, to participate in, and to contribute to the school community, and hopefully they will continue what they have learnt when they leave this school.

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Purposeful directions

From year 9 to year 13 our focus is on providing purposeful directions for our students.

I believe that all teachers come into the profession because they genuinely want to make a difference for young people. Everyone wants to feel that their life is meaningful and that the work they do has purpose. It's the same for our students as for our teachers.

And I have done a lot of thinking about our core purposes and the purposeful directions that we should have as a learning community. Part of that journey has been ongoing discussion with our staff, parents and the wider community about what is important to us, and what matters most.

I learnt the hard way that we were not going to see our vision realised or manage change effectively without a collaborative environment. That meant that we all needed to share in the decisions about what initiatives we are going to be involved in, and what was important for us.

The groundwork for change was to first develop a school culture where we could work together with a common understanding of what our future could look like both for our school and for our students.

We have a strong belief that all of our students have gifts, talents, and interests with which they can find a meaningful and purposeful direction for their own lives and through which they can contribute in a meaningful way to the community. So we believe our task as teachers, in a sense, is to be 'dream releasers', to spot the talents, to look for the potential and to encourage our students to find their own direction through life.

We believe that the university is not the only road to excellence, so, we recognise many forms of excellence. Each is valued and valuable, and we reward the students accordingly.

Our Academy of Agriculture is one example of this. Several years ago our community identified a need for many more skilled young people to be working on farms. So in response to that need, and working closely with our local community, we established an Academy of Agriculture. It focuses on training young people with the skills, knowledge and values needed for the agricultural industry.

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Looking to the horizon

When we first started our journey we needed to think about what the world would be looking like for our students in five to ten years from now. As an educational leader this means looking to the horizon, and thinking about what sort of world our young people will be entering. And then working back from there, asking ourselves what are the attributes, skills and learning our students will need to prepare them for that future. We asked the question, "When students come to us as year 9 students, what do we do to prepare them for leaving school and beyond?" This is a question we are still asking ourselves.

From these discussions we are developing a focus around building lifelong learning capability, increasing learning responsibility and creating learning and future career pathways.

In terms of providing purposeful direction for year 9 and 10 students, we grabbed an idea from Selwyn College about a junior diploma of learning, and over 12 months we shaped the idea into something that could work for Hauraki Plains College.

The diploma is based on the NCEA model in which all subjects offer credits, and for knowledge, skills, self-management, participation, contribution and good citizenship. Over two years, students need to achieve two thirds of their credits to achieve a Junior Diploma of Learning. We introduced this initially to provide motivation for our students, but we soon recognised that it was a way of preparing them for NCEA and for enabling them to take responsibility for their own learning. We are currently working on adapting the proposed key competencies into the Junior Diploma.

At year 11 our focus is on students achieving NCEA level 1. To support our students we have developed a monitoring and mentoring programme. Students are expected to self-monitor in terms of the credits they are achieving, and to go for excellence as appropriate in given subjects. We call the programme Going for 80+ Going for Excellence.

For our year 12 and 13 students, we have developed a Pathways Programme. This programme combines career advice, goal setting, and subject selection altogether in a comprehensive mentoring and monitoring programme. The programme encourages our students to take responsibility for their own learning and career pathway and to map out a future direction for themselves.

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Building a learning community

Everyone is learning at this school. Teachers are learning about their craft and about teaching practices that lead to effective learning. We are opening up dialogue about what learning looks like, particularly for the 21st century. Equally the Board of Trustees and myself take leadership of learning as a serious responsibility. Of course students are learning too.

I'm very aware that collective wisdom is a powerful force for school improvement, and the more staff are involved in the decisions that affect them, the more effective we are going to be as a learning community.

It is important to see one's own personal vision as part of the collective vision, so I try to communicate frequently about where I am coming from as a leader, and invite teachers to become part of the dialogue. I like what Stoll, Dean and Fink say about learning being of the community, in the community, for the community and by the community.

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Teachers are definitely more learning-focused now. I believe that our students also are more focused on learning, and in developing their own pathways for the future. We have worked hard to establish a culture of achievement where it is now OK to achieve in whatever field. For example, there is a greater focus on academic awards in regular assemblies, we have an academic leader as part of the leadership team and we have started '2:12 awards' for excellent classroom work. Students who receive these awards meet with me during the lunch hour each day with their work. I discuss their work, congratulate them for their efforts and reward the students with a cookie or a couple of pens (their choice).
At junior level we are very much focussed on learning about learning, and thinking about thinking and how we can incorporate the key competencies that the Ministry are proposing into our work. We have also noticed significant change at years 9 and 10 – students are much more motivated to achieve. At the junior diploma graduation, parents turn up en masse with their cameras and it's a real celebration that did not happen before.
At senior school we are focused on providing purposeful directions for all our students.

With the Pathways Programme we've found that our students are much more focussed on their career pathway. Over 90 percent of our students leave at year 12 or 13 to go into apprenticeships, fulltime employment, or further education, depending on their interests and talents. They confidently make these choices. We would much rather our students leave at year 12 into a carefully thought out career path than return as a year 13 lacking direction even if it means our senior roll is down.
I think that students, both junior and senior, now understand that they are here at school for a purpose. They understand that through these programmes they can find purposeful direction for their own lives.
As a staff we have come to realise that any new initiative, any next step, needs to be grounded in our reality. So, if we learn of a new idea that appears to have merit, our question is "How can we do this the Hauraki way?" This involves lots of reflection, dialogue, taking risks and new learning. What we say "no" to is as important as any change initiative we develop. Home-grown solutions to our own issues is a significant part of how we do things.

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