Welcome to my Professional Learning blog.
My name is Matt Nicoll and I am a high school teacher in New Zealand, interested in improving the classroom experience for my students. I am open to trialing new approaches and hope to use this blog to reflect on my ideas and practices.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

A School with No Students...Yet

Two weeks have passed at Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata. Two weeks working at a school with no students and hosted by another school (West Rolleston Primary School/Te Kura o Te Uru Kōwhai). It sounds a bit like a dream, doesn't it? All this time and space to...well, to do what?

I am relieved for the long weekend, because a lack of students has definitely not meant a lack of tasks to achieve or an "easy ride". It is just a different kind of busy. I have always fed off the energy and enthusiasm of students, so that driving force is actually missing. However, it has been replaced by highly enthused colleagues, and lots and lots of coffee!

The way our first two weeks have been structured has actually made me reflect a lot on what it must be like for students/ākonga. We had the excitement of the first few days, and getting to know each other and our place (including elements of the community). Friendships and working relationships have started to form. The expectations of those leading the learning have started to become more transparent. The learning tasks have been rich and every one of us has put in a genuine effort to complete each task to a high level.

The richness and relevance of the tasks (as well as the realistic time frames) have ensured high levels of engagement and that we actually want to work on them outside the allocated time allowed each day. We are not being made to do "homework", but we are choosing to do it anyway. Add into that the fact that most tasks are collaborative and each individual is striving not to let the rest of the group down. It is a great learning environment. It is fun, rewarding and a bit tiring being ākonga!!

As a teacher/kaiako, non-contact time is often used to mark student work, plan future lessons/tasks/units or maybe organise some extra-/co-curricular activity. It definitely isn't downtime. At Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata, we are given some individual learning time. Some of us collaborate on the tasks we have due this week. Some of us retreat into a corner to read, reflect or work on our own. Some of us need the time out and throw a rugby ball around, talk over coffee or kick a shuttlecock around.

The busy schedule of the last couple of days of last week meant this individual time was not available, and it was missed. Some of us did early starts to collaborate on our big learning task. Others did late finishes for the same reason. What I have learned from this is the value of "downtime", both for kaiako and for ākonga. Our students need time to reflect or even get active in the day. As teachers, we also need that time to do what is best for us.

The other standout from the past two weeks has been how flexible the daily programme has been. The leadership team must have a timeline and agenda, and it feels like we are making good progress. However, tasks and schedules have been adjusted in response to our needs as learners on a day-by-day basis. This makes me feel as though my needs and well-being/hauora are valued. This makes it very easy to get up in the morning and be excited about going to work. I hope ākonga will feel the same when we start working with them.

While we have not been treated like students in the first two weeks, I feel that we have learned a more immediate empathy and understanding for what it is like to be one. For a group of motivated ākonga/kaiako, engagement and quality of work are maintained at a high level through:

  • authentic tasks
  • tasks that are meaningful to the individual
  • collaborative tasks
  • realistic time frames
Additionally, the hauora of ākonga/kaiako has been accounted for in the structure of the day and the flexibility of the programme in response to us as learners. As well as managing our workload, it keeps us in a frame of mind to do our best work, and to be good collaborators. So, it is a new school with no students, but the teachers are the learners at the moment. That can only be a good thing for the students!

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Subject Communities, not Silos…

During the week, two of our tasks involved the unpacking of two Learning Areas from the New Zealand Curriculum: one given to us (not one we strongly identified with – unfamiliar text, you might say…); and the one we most strongly identified with. For me, this meant the first task was to try and unpack Health and Physical Education and to present what I thought to others, one of whom was actually an HPE specialist! For the second task, I worked with another Science specialist to unpack this Learning Area, and present the key elements (and “non-negotiables”) to all other staff.

One of our Senior Leaders talked about how we needed to be respectful when unpacking Learning Areas that were not our own. He addressed the term “Silos” that keeps being bandied around. He explained that he preferred to think of these more as Communities. This resonated with me. These Communities are populated by people. These people have adapted to be successful in these Communities. These people know what the key elements are for being successful in their respective Community. These strengths and predispositions need to be respected when we try to communicate which elements we see as being important in our new (broader, connected) Community of Learning…

If we think of Silos instead, it is very easy to forget the human side of the Learning Areas. I know that I immediately think of each Silo being a different part of a machine, doing its own unique and important role, that contributes to the functioning of the machine we call Student Learning. To get those Silos (machine parts) to work together successfully takes a fair bit of coordination. It often takes students a long time to see the connections between the parts. I guess this analogy works for me as well, but it lacks the human element of Communities. I like the human element.

What about those tasks?

Unfamiliar Learning Area

He oranga ngākau, he pikinga waiora.
We were given a period of time to try and break the Learning Area down into 20 (or so) words/key points. From this, we had to break it down into only five!! When discussing multi-disciplinary learning with peers in the past, the common concern has been about the potential for “dilution” of content and key skills. This thought struck me again – only five words/key points?!

Once I started, it was surprising how easily this Learning Area unpacked. A couple of different ways to arrange the Learning Area quickly evolved for me:

Four Strands/Contexts
  • Personal Health and Physical Development
  • Movement Concepts and Motor Skill
  • Relationships with Other People
  • Healthy Communities and Environments

 Four Concepts
  • Hauora
  • Attitudes and values
  • The socio-ecological perspective
  • Health promotion

Ultimately, though, I felt that everything emanated from Hauora. Therefore, I felt I had my five words, so long as I showed their interdependence with arrows:

Then came the tough part. Share this with someone from the HPE Community. When I fleshed out my simple little diagram with some thoughts about context and content, this was received much better than I thought!!

Familiar Learning Area

Mā te whakaaro nui e hanga te whare;
mā te mātauranga e whakaū
The task for this seemed much easier. It was the same task but within “my” Community – Science. I worked with another member of the same Community. This should be easy, surely! Not so. Within our Community, each member seems to put different value on different elements of the Community. That is natural.

However, what prevented this becoming a barrier was how easily these could be fleshed out. We were speaking the same language. We were able to group, classify and categorise our own ideas into bigger pictures under the “Nature of Science” umbrella. Finding five words/key concepts was, ultimately, not too tough (being familiar with TKI helped a lot with this, too!!):
  • Evidence-based
  • Knowledge is Provisional
  • Uses Models and Theories
  • Influenced by Society

We then unpacked each strand (Material World, Physical World, Living World, and Planet Earth and Beyond) into a couple of key “non-negotiable” points. These were the elements we felt were non-negotiable and may not be “diluted” by involvement in multi-disciplinary learning. Student learning must include the key elements (content and/or skills) of Science we identified. Boiled down, we did really get it down to:
  • Matter
  • Energy
  • Forces
  • Ecosystems
  • Inheritance
  • Cycles

Throw in some critical thinking, and I think the key words and non-negotiables cover the nature of the Nature of Science. The excitement came from hearing how other Learning Areas were unpacked, and seeing how Science could complement each of those “Communities” without diluting either. 

In fact, I can imagine how each Community (Learning Area) will be enhanced, along with the overall learning of each student, by having natives from each Community involved in each multi-disciplinary module. The NZ Police may build “Safer Communities Together”, but we will build “Stronger [Learning] Communities Together”.


In my mind, #scichatNZ exists for the growth of Science as a Community (rather as a "Silo"). Rachel, Chhaya and I are very keen to welcome "non-Scientists" into the #scichatNZ Community. This is a Community with members who have a passion for Science and Education. They "live" where these two Communities meet. Some Community members also "live" in other Communities. This enables them to bring their expertise from their experiences in these Communities into #scichatNZ chats and the #scichatNZ Community, in general.

More than just preserving the subject Community (Silo?) and its special characters (skills, content, systems etc.), #scichatNZ is inviting in new members and growing from their experiences. The Community grows by having regular input and collaboration between members from different Communities who visit or also live in the #scichatNZ Community.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Welcome to Selwyn!

Today was exhausting! Yet, here I am at 9pm starting to write my second blog post for the day. It might have something to do with how invigorating the day was, despite also being very busy, full-on and requiring a lot of concentration at times.

What was it about today that has got me buzzing so much that I am writing instead of getting a much needed early night? Today, we were sent out into the community in groups of 3-4, and challenged to find evidence of the Rolleston [College] Spirit in the Rolleston Community (11 Dispositions). Each group chose different ways to go about this and, hearing from the others, all were rewarding experiences. What ultimately came out of this for me was two-fold:

  1. I feel like I have a better understanding of more of the things that make the heart of the Rolleston community beat, and
  2. I felt a huge sense of welcoming and excitement that we were joining the Rolleston Community and even the wider Selwyn District.

As soon as we introduced ourselves, the welcome mat was laid out and we were accommodated, despite not making prior arrangements to visit any of the kura, businesses or institutions that we visited. We were told at almost every place we visited how excited they felt about the opening of Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata - Rolleston's very own high school!

Without exception, this morning's task had the theme of "Welcome to Rolleston; welcome to Selwyn!" The rain was never going to dampen this experience. Thank you to Andrew, Di and Murray for being part of a great team to explore Rolleston with!

I would also like to comment on the task itself. We had absolute agency about where we would go and what we would try to find out when we got to each place. We were in control of how we completed our task, and our own success/failure hung on our own decisions. Regardless of whether we have found evidence for every single Disposition or not, the task was rewarding and involved great opportunities. The process has been a success even if our finished product doesn't end up feeling quite as successful. That is a win in my book...

The remainder of this post may be a bit dry. It is a reflection of some of the specifics from the day - we have to put together a 2-4 minute presentation, so it is more for me and my team, to be honest! How we will turn 40+ minutes of interviews into 4 minutes (by Friday), I am not quite sure yet...


My team's first port of call was the Selwyn District Council buildings. The use of local stone on the building itself was our first motivation. We see this as creative, one of the 11 Dispositions. To me, this is also represents a connection between the land and the people.

While there, we asked to talk to someone about initiatives the Selwyn District Council was currently involved in regarding sustainability and the environment. We were already confident that there would be great evidence of another Disposition, be environmentally aware. This was when we realised how crazy and rewarding today would be. Would we like to meet with the new mayor? 
"Yes, please!"
"Look, Sam won't be free for another 10 minutes, so go down the hall and chat to someone there about recycling etc. They will be expecting you."

SOURCE: http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/
Not only did we get to talk to someone about environmental and waste issues and initiatives (who was very engaging, interesting and informative), but we also got to see the mayor on a whim. Sam Broughton has a background of working with youth and we talked about his desire to be connected to young people, their issues and their ideas. We were invited to help facilitate keeping our future students connected with Sam and the Council. A few more Dispositions: inclusive; collaborative; and able to communicate and connect.


Our team saw the relationships between the College and the industries/businesses of the community to be very important. Through such relationships, we imagine many aspects of the Rolleston College Spirit (the 11 Dispositions) can be realised for many akonga.

Driving around I-Zone, the variety and scale of the industries and businesses reinforced this. From its small beginnings, this is one of the largest industrial parks in the country. There must be stories behind many of these successes, and opportunities for now and the future.

We were lucky enough to be given a few minutes to speak to a floor manager at Tennant Engineering Ltd. He told us some of the qualities he would be looking for in an employee, and definitely kept the door open for opportunities for collaboration with the College and its students in the future.


Again, the doors were flung open for us, and we were made to feel most welcome - not just as visitors of each school but as new members of the Rolleston education whanau. Rolleston School was the original primary school in Rolleston and has grown from 200 original students to its current roll of over 800 students.

At Clearview, we talked through the meaning and background behind the school's name. The clear view to the Southern Alps/Kā Tiritiri o te Moana made perfect sense once it was explained.

At both schools, the leaders we interviewed talked with passion and excitement about the connections they envisaged between their respective schools and Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata. Sport plays a big part in the lives of Rolleston residents, and this is an obvious potential link but definitely not the only one that was discussed with great enthusiasm.

If only there had been more time... We wanted to visit so many more places. We wanted to see students having fun in their respecting learning environments and in their respective learning activities/opportunities. We wanted to learn more about the Maori name gifted to Clearview Primary. So much to learn, so little time...

Things May Never Be the Same…

This week, I was one of approximately 20 staff who started their journey at Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata. It has been great to be surrounded by similarly-minded people, and getting to know these impressive individuals. It has also made me reflect on the changes that lie ahead for my own pedagogy and practice in general.

Over the past few years, I feel that there has been one particular strength in my practice. I am uncertain whether this strength will be a big part of my modus operandi here. If it is, there will need to be tweaks and adjustments…and that is exciting!


One thing that I spent a lot of time implementing into my practice was to record the teaching moments of lessons, and make this available in a blog for my students. Complementing this with notes and images of the whiteboard work etc. meant there was a record of the key content and tasks available at any time for students. They could use this for revision, catching up on missed work, and/or revisiting something that didn’t “click” at the time of “delivery”.

I suspect that this “routine” for my lessons will be much less relevant at Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata. That could be a scary prospect. Instead, I see that as an exciting change. I envisage that I may collaborate with akonga and other kaiako to make instructional records like these. They are likely to be more polished and impressive than anything that I have done in the past, too (I hope)!!


While I was reflecting upon this potential change, the idea that “things may never be the same” brought an old favourite song to mind. The lyrics of the chorus are quite poignant for how I have reflected upon the changes ahead –  I may never meet my old practices and pedagogy again. I feel exposed, both my flaws and short-comings alongside my strengths and skills. That is more than okay; it helps me feel even more like part of a great team.

Additionally, the support around me – fellow “new” kaiako to Rolleston College/Horoeka Haemata, and the leadership team who have been guiding us for the past couple of days – has thrown its arms around me. I am excited about the unknown ahead, and feel secure to push my own boundaries. After all, it is to help be part of providing great learning opportunities for akonga.

“And we may never meet again
So shed your skin and let's get started
And you will throw your arms around me
Yeah, you will throw your arms around me”