An apology to my blog


Free image from Pexels

Dear blog,

I am sorry you have sat here neglected for all of 2017. I thought about you often over the year but did not make the time to come and visit. Life just kind of got in the way…

I spent January getting my house ready to sell.

Then February and March was spent maintaining the place for open homes and its eventual sale.

April was spent packing the house up into a container and moving into temporary shared accommodation.

May and June was spent busily procrastinating after realising that there were three presentations to write for the fast approaching SLANZA conference.

Then July was spent with a long and protracted bout of the flu.

The rest of 2017 was spent in a state of unfocused confusion, wondering what I’m going to do with my life, and realising that the shared accommodation was maybe not going to be as temporary as first anticipated and that it definitely does not have a quiet place for me to sit and think. Oh, and a change in employment status, writing and facilitating online PD for SLANZA, going over new house building plans, and a rather nasty sinus infection.

Anywho, none of this is to excuse the neglect you have suffered, but rather to go some way to explain it. I am sorry. I have come up with a plan for 2018 so that I will make contact more regularly. I look forward to hanging out with you again this year! See you soon. Promise.


Steph copy


Reading Challenge 2017


Image shared on Pixabay under a Creative Commons license

It’s that time of year when I start thinking about the reading challenge I am going to set myself for the year ahead.

Lots of people I know sign up to the Goodreads’ Reading Challenge, however, I find the thought of a numbers-driven challenge absolutely anxiety-inducing. I personally do not find this type of challenge motivational. And, after completing a 1000 kilometre running challenge in 2016, I know that a similar type of reading challenge would not be right for me!

The Goodread’s Reading Challenge does also not really fit with the other reasons I like to set myself a reading goal each year. One of the main reasons I set a challenge is to share it with the students. I display my latest challenge in the foyer of our school library to show the boys that even experienced readers can be challenged and that there are many different ways to approach these challenges.

I also like to set a public reading challenge to promote a reading culture within our school, and to show that reading can be a social activity. Some of the challenges I’ve undertaken have been really good at prompting student discussion. I especially appreciate it when boys give me reading suggestions to help me along with my challenge.

On a personal level, I like a reading challenge to broaden the types of things I read. Left to my own devices I would be entirely happy reading police procedurals, narrative nonfiction, and anything written by Anne Tyler, Kate Atkinson or Margaret Atwood for the rest of my life. Sure I’d be happy – but  I wouldn’t be very good at recommending engaging reads suitable for the teenage boys I work with!

Some of my past reading challenges have been more successful than others. The challenges that I have failed at have tended to be ones where the focus has been too narrow, for instance, historical fiction, and haven’t taken into account my need to remain current with the library’s latest book stock.

Challenges I have undertaken so far have been (photos to follow):

  • 2016 – Reading A-Z: for each letter of the alphabet I read books with titles starting with that letter and a separate book that was written by an author whose name started with that letter (ACHIEVED)
  • 2015 – Reading Through the Ages: for each century AD (until the 19th and then it became each decade) I read books that were either written or set during that period (FAILED)
  • 2014 – Reading Bingo: this one has probably been my favourite so far. I used Random House’s Reading Bingo cards (I completed both as 25 books didn’t seem like much of a challenge). This challenged me to read widely and also some students elected to join in. (ACHIEVED)
  • 2013 – Read Around the World: for each country in the world I read books that were either set there or written by an author who came from there. This challenge was made harder by the fact that I am only fluent in English! (FAILED)
  • 2012 – Read as High as Me: this required me to read a stack of books as tall as myself. This was not too hard as I’m pretty short – but this challenge probably prompted the most discussion with students. (ACHIEVED)

With all this is mind, I’ve decided that 2017 is going to be the year that I read harder. Using Book Riot’s Read Harder challenges from this year and last year, I’m going to personalise a NBHS Read Harder challenge. Using Book Riot’s ideas, I’ll create a list of 52 book types that will challenge me to read widely, allow me to keep up with our latest book stock, and encourage a few of the students to join in too. I’ll get back to you when my list is complete.

How about you? What reading challenges are you giving yourself this year?

Edited to add: here is my personalised read harder list. Wish me luck!

Lessons from uLearn16: Keynote 4

Karen Spencer: Beyond the echo chamber – The extraordinary possibilities of a networked profession


Karen was probably a really sensible keynote to end uLearn on. After a couple of days of being exposed to numerous ideas, Karen spoke about ‘so what now’? What happens when you get back to your school?

It is so easy to get caught up in the energy and enthusiasm of events such as uLearn. Being surrounded by motivated professionals (it was the school holidays after all!) and without facing the barriers of your school environment, it is easy to get creative about the changes you’ll make or get swept up in the latest educational fad. But Karen reminded us to pause and take a step back before implementing the next big idea.

Ways to do this are:

  1. Find the urgency. What are the most important things for our learners? Any changes should be focused on creating desired outcomes for our students. Choose the most important initiatives and make sure they are sustainable. Too often we fall into the trap of trying too many new things at once.
  2. See the story behind the data. Data gives us a picture, but it is not the whole picture. Talk to students and ask them for their stories – understand why the data says what it says. Consider the viewpoints of all learners and ensure planned changes are going to help them.
  3. Be able to embrace discomfort. Acknowledge that people see different things in the data and student stories – there is no one correct interpretation. Look for ways to hear diverse views and have biases challenged. Learn from those who think differently. Work to avoid the dangers of being in an echo chamber.

Unsurprisingly, this was my favourite idea of Karen’s:


This is the attitude I try to have towards changes I make in the library. Want to make a change? Just do it. And if it doesn’t work? Stop doing it. Be prepared to fail, and be prepared to walk away from an initiative that is not working. Remembering that the focus should always be on students and their learning – not staff ego!

So what, now what?

What does this keynote mean to me and my practice? What impact does this have on the school library?

  • I have a great PLN, but am in serious danger of being in an echo chamber – find some diverse viewpoints quickly!
  • I need to get some student feedback and stories – remember non-library users as well

Some links and follow ups:

What I think about when I’m running: uLearn edition


It seemed rude to travel all the way to Rotorua for uLearn16 and not spend some time exploring the Redwoods. So with a full brain on Thursday afternoon, I snuck off to enjoy some “fresh” air and some world-famous-in-New-Zealand trails. Here’s what I thought about while I was out there.

  1. The 11.5km Tokorangi Pa track should be totally doable before dark.
  2. Follow the purple arrows – how easy is that?
  3. Hmm, maybe going off-road after all this rain wasn’t such a good idea…
  4. Mud is fun!
  5. Man, there is a lot of up.
  6. The other people on this trail are so polite!
  7. This is awesome. I can see why people get addicted to trail running.
  8. This trail is really clearly marked.
  9. Yay, finally some down!
  10. Whoa, nearly ended up in a big mud puddle there.
  11. Hmm, which fork in this path should I follow?
  12. Where are you now, purple arrows?
  13. This doesn’t look much of a path.
  14. I’ll go back and follow the other one.
  15. This looks like even less of a path…
  16. I’ve come a long way down now, I can’t be bothered going all the way back up.
  17. Hmm…this looks like a dry creek bed…
  18. Yep, this is definitely no longer a path.
  19. I wonder where the path is?
  20. I’ve tried retracing my steps but all the mountain bike tracks have confused me.
  21. I am surrounded by hills and trees and can’t see any landmarks, paths or people.
  22. Good one.
  23. Oh, now you’re going to start raining?!
  24. Okay, think.
  25. Nope, no cell phone signal.
  26. Better keep moving to keep warm.
  27. I’m going to be one of those people on the news that is mocked for not being prepared.
  28. Why did you leave your jacket and hat in the car?
  29. And why didn’t you tell anyone where you were going?
  30. Or when to expect you back?
  31. Amateur.
  32. Someone should notice I’m missing in about 24 hours.
  33. I’ve been out here over an hour. I wonder how long I can keep going?
  34. It feels like it’s starting to get dark…
  35. Is that a road?
  36. Yes!
  37. Okay, roads have to lead somewhere.
  38. I should go up the hill so I can get my bearings again.
  39. Hey! A purple arrow! I’m saved!
  40. Of course it’s pointing back down the hill…
  41. Right this feels more like it.
  42. I wonder how far I’ve actually gone.
  43. Up again?
  44. Ooh, look, another runner! I must be close to civilisation again.
  45. A tarseal road!
  46. Where have the purple arrows gone again?
  47. How do I get on the other side of this fence.
  48. Wah! I just want to get back to the car!
  49. OMG, it’s the carpark!! Hooray!!
  50. Thanks for the adventure, Redwoods.


(For my more usual running thoughts see this post here.)

Lessons from uLearn16: Keynote 3

Michael Fullan: Early lessons from implementing New Pedagogies for Deep Learning


Michael Fullan continued the theme, common among the keynote speakers, of student-centred education. And in particular, the idea of transforming pedagogies to tap into the incredible reservoir of children’s creativity.

Michael talked about how humans are innately wired to: connect, create and help humanity. This was tied in with the idea of millennials gravitating towards good. And they do this not because they’re altruistic, but because that is what it is to be human. It was nice to hear of this positive aspect of millennials, as they generally get a bit of bashing (particularly, it must be said, from baby boomers). And made me think back to John Couch’s keynote and the fact that we don’t use student-power to solve community problems.

Perhaps most excitingly, NPDL helps those most disaffected with current education systems. It does this because it: connects with the real world by providing relevance, is congruent with native values, has a culture of high expectation, builds relationships on trust, increases efficacy and optimism, and provides support for students who don’t have much. Like the other keynote messages, this doesn’t seem like rocket science to me. Coming from the primary sector, I feel like there is a lot of this going on already in their classrooms, and it saddens and frustrates me that there seems to be little or no educational innovation happening in my environment. We seem to be bound by NCEA, becoming slaves to it, rather than making it work for our students.


Because we don’t need better leaders. Leaders are not the solution, better citizens are.

One of the things that made this keynote more interesting is that Minister Parata was sitting in the front row as it was delivered. And she was watching on Twitter as those listening reacted to messages that seemed incongruent with current education policy. Points such as: bad strategies for whole system change are accountability and standards (and evidence proves this!), and focus on long-term success rather than units of work (which is not was NCEA encourages).

Again I left a keynote address thinking that we need some brave leadership in more secondary schools so that we can do our best by all our students. The “tail” of NZ education tells us that the current system is not working for 20% of our kids, and in particular our Māori and Pasifika students. Something needs to change so that these young people can reach their full potential.

The session did end on a hopeful note. Michael encouraged leadership from the middle. That is, to exploit policy from the top but add to it to make it work for you. This, in turn, leads the top to learn from the middle. Let’s get exploiting!

So what, now what?

What does this keynote mean to me and my practice? What impact does this have on the school library?

  • I’m not sure yet…need to keep thinking

Some links and follow ups:

Lessons from uLearn16: Keynote 2

John Couch: New dimensions in learning


John’s keynote was built upon Simon Sinek’s golden circle concept: the WHY of things. This resonated quite strongly with me, not least because I am always questioning my own practice in an effort to get rid of unnecessary tasks. But also because both education and technology can be quickly consumed by the latest fad, without much thinking about whether it will improve teaching and learning or not.

John talked about having a clear vision as this is what drives mission. However, he was quick to point out that visions should be aspirational, while missions are measurable. Throwing creativity at a problem, rather than money, appealed to the number 8 wire mentality. But I think this also has bigger implications in an educational context. Why are we not harnessing student creativity to solve community or school problems?



Joi Ito’s ‘learning over education’ was referenced. If we think about this in terms of our students we have to cede some of our power and control. If students are engaged they will learn, so it is up to us to put them at the centre of things – otherwise why do we exist? If schools aren’t about the students what are they about? Students’ curiosity-fueled exploration creates knowledge – where do we see this? Especially in a traditional secondary context?

John made the point that education will not change from the top down (despite the Minister’s best attempts) and as technology becomes more freely available, it will become a disrupter and help change come from the bottom. While we may see technology as a tool (and I am guilty of saying this all the time), to our students it is an environment. Are we recognising this and meeting them where they are at?

Lastly, John talked about educators providing access to content. If this is all they are doing they will become obsolete, it is essential that educators are providing context for the content. This will need to see teachers change their role to become co-learners, and this is okay – in the age of the internet, no student expects an adult to be the font of all knowledge. Instead we need to see a symbiotic relationship in learning between teacher, student and community.

So what, now what?

What does this keynote mean to me and my practice? What impact does this have on the school library?

  • in terms of my role on our ICT steering committee, I need to be asking WHY
  • the school library policy manual still needs to be updated – what is our vision? what do we aspire to?

Some links and follow ups:

Lessons from uLearn16: Keynote 1

This was my first uLearn and I suspect I’ll be processing the experience for many weeks. However, I thought I’d get a few thoughts down before things get lost in the daily minutiae when school starts back again tomorrow!

Larry Rosenstock: It’s time to change the subject


A saying that is suitable for life – not just carpentry!

Larry spoke about his school, High Tech High, and the project-based learning approach that they use.

It’s funny (and not in a humorous way) that despite the rapid change that is going on in the rest of society, schools continue to operate in the same way they have for centuries. And this is true of secondary schools in particular.

The school day is still segmented into random times, learning is divided into subjects, and these subjects are given a hierarchical importance. Value continues to be placed most highly on English, mathematics, and science, despite the fact that our students are heading out into a vastly different labour force to the one that schools were originally designed to cater for.

Add to this New Zealand’s NCEA requirements, where learning is separated down even further into artificial and discrete units, and it’s no wonder students may have difficulty applying what they know across curriculum areas and into different contexts.

A key point I got from Larry is that we create false dichotomies in education: projects don’t have to be maths or art, they can be maths and art. Similarly, it doesn’t have to be a student-driven curriculum versus exam based, it can be both. We will need some brave school leadership (and this may have to be prompted from below) that can see learning that puts the student at the centre can still produce the required* NCEA results.

*required by students, parents, schools and the Ministry.


John Dewey – still making sense after all this time

So what, now what?

What does this keynote mean to me and my practice? What impact does this have on the school library?

  • I will definitely stop talking to students about when they are out in “the real world” – they’re already in it!
  • I will look for ways for teachers to collaborate and get cross-curricular links happening – the English and Earth & Space Science information literacy standards seem ripe for this
  • I will champion those subjects deemed lower down in the education hierarchy

Some links and follow ups:


Write That Essay: professional development day


Image: “Power of Words” by Antonio Litterio, shared on Wikimedia Commons with a Creative Commons licence

Today was a teacher only day at my school. Dr Ian Hunter was running a school-wide essay writing workshop, held in the library. Given that “teacher only” actually means “all staff” and the workshop was held in my work space and it was literacy-focused I thought I should attend. Because, duh, I couldn’t do anything noisy (like covering books), the library is all about student literacy and, well, some people actually like learning.

Here are some of the notes I took.

We need to model better writing.

Five types of sentences:

  1. Very short sentences (five words or less)
    • use in the middle of paragraphs – gets attention, OR
    • use at the end of a paragraph – emphatic
    • don’t overuse it!
  2. W-start: with, while, when / where as / where, who, what (progression of Ws)
    • they are the foundation sentence of analytical writing
    • holds attention to tell more significant thing
  3. Adverb (-ly words)
    • importantly, significantly etc
    • however, yet, now, often, moreover
    • adverb, comma, rest of sentence
    • introduces interest and intrigue
  4. Em-dash (long hyphen)
    • drop in phrase completely separate from the rest of the sentence for impact
  5. Explore the subject of sentence

Teach sentences in RHYTHM and STYLE – not parts of speech



Who’s the most important person on the page? The reader.


  • clarity means the reader follows every word and gets it.
  • author examples: Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, C S Lewis, Hemingway
  • see The Screwtape Letters by C S Lewis (available at Napier Libraries)

Barriers to exam essay writing:

  • writing speed / output (successful Level 3 and scholarship students are writing 160 words every 10 minutes – students need to know this, and they need to practise writing fast)
    • Level 2 = 140 words / 10 minutes
    • Level 1 = 100-120 words / 10 minutes
  • essay planning
    • mind maps are great for generative thinking – not for creating logical judgement and structure
    • list ideas in one or two words
    • choose your best three ideas
    • decide a logical order to present your ideas – start with your best idea ⇒ what logically comes next?
  • how students are taught to manage time
    • 10 minutes planning / 45 minutes writing / 10 minutes reading – this is not enough time writing!
    • instead: 2 minutes planning / 55 minutes writing / 2 minutes rest
  • legibility
    • while this may not be such as issue at NCEA level, at tertiary level if your handwriting cannot be read it will not be marked
    • help students now to write fast and legibly – practise, practise, practise


(Boys like rules, it is a structure imposed upon them, removes not knowing and increases confidence)

  • no essay longer than 1000 words. Ever.
  • no report longer than 1500 words
  • make six paragraph essays mandatory (where the fifth paragraph is a discussion paragraph → most important idea and why)
  • no conclusions shorter than 100 words


(not to repeat what you’ve already said!)

  1. RESTATE the argument.
  2. Tell how you PROVED it.
    • most significant point and why
    • new insight (not new evidence)
    • personal reflection
    • two things we learn from this
    • two things to bear in mind for the future
  4. POWER sentence – 12 words or less.


  • avoid three things approach (ie, Firstly, secondly, thirdly etc)
  • avoid detective approach (ie, suggests a big reveal, doesn’t reveal position)
  • if you ask a question in your introduction – answer it straight away

An introduction in four sentences:

  1. A neutral sentence.
  2. Write a context sentence.
  3. State your argument.
  4. Sum up.

ESSAY = the defense of a thesis statement (ie, what you say in your introduction!)

In order for students to demonstrate UNDERSTANDING and ANALYSIS, the questions you ask must FORCE A CHOICE.

Dr Hunter was a charismatic presenter. He kept 70+ staff (of varying degrees of receptiveness) engaged throughout most of the day. He came across as confident and knowledgeable, and was able to answer any questions that challenged what he said. However, he did say a couple of controversial things. And that’s all good if they’re true. But I don’t know whether they are or not as they were not offered with any evidence. Dr Hunter may have data that we are unaware of, this was not shared with us. Instead what was offered was anecdotal evidence and that just didn’t sit right with me. So I will investigate the controversial things.

Overall, this was an interesting and informative day. And I learned some stuff I wish I knew in high school!

What I think about when I’m running*


Image shared on Pixabay with a Creative Commons public domain licence

  1. Let’s do this!
  2. *looks at the smoky haze from orchard burn offs hanging over the Heretaunga Plains* Nice day for a run then.
  3. Are we there yet?
  4. If I’m running y kilometres today and I’ve already run x kilometres then I’m x/y of the way through my run which is z%.
  5. We are not there yet.
  6. Why is this so easy / hard today? #runningisrandom
  7. Tawhirimatea, why must you always blow wind into my face?! *shakes fist*
  8. Man, it’s hot!  I wish there was a breeze on my face…
  9. Why am I doing this again?
  10. Are we there yet?
  11. *recalculates 3*
  12. We are still not there yet.
  13. I wish I’d stayed fit in my 20s and 30s…
  14. Dog owners, if you insist on having your dogs off the leads (despite all the signs telling you to keep them on) you should at least make sure they are under control.  Don’t let them rush at cyclists, walkers and ME and then yell at them.  It’s your fault, not theirs. #eejits
  15. I love this song! *sings along out loud*
  16. Why is there so much Burt Bacharach on my running playlist?
  17. When I get home I’m going to eat (insert fatty food here) and (insert salty food here) and (insert sweet food here).
  18. I wonder why I’m not losing weight with all this running?
  19. I’m pretty sure 17 and 18 are in no way related.
  20. We must be there soon.
  21. Gah! Why can’t all these people just keep left like we do on the roads. #itsnothardpeople
  22. Midges! *runs like Phoebe to keep from swallowing any*
  23. Ugh, swallowed a midge. *composes witty hashtags to use when sharing story with running friends* #buglife #mouthbreather #paleodiet
  24. Ooh, this song is used for a bicep track at Pump. *starts doing bicep curls while running*
  25. I hope there is no one behind me that saw that ^.
  26. *composes thoughtful, insightful and inspiring blog post in head*
  27. I hope I remember that ^ when I get home.
  28. Are we there yet?
  29. *recalculates 3*
  30. Nope, we are still not there yet.
  31. *flips the bird* I know my face is scarlet and I look like I’m in pain, but it’s rude to stare.
  32. Aaargh! Dear cyclists, please give me a warning when you are about to pass me, I do not have eyes in the back of my head!
  33. Today is the day I am going to nail the clapping rhythm in U2’s Sweetest Thing.
  34. Nope.  Still couldn’t do it.
  35. Seriously, why am I doing this again?
  36. I hope that swan that has pulled itself up to its full height (which has made it as tall as me) and has a touch of prehistoric aggression in its beady eyes, stays on its own side of the path.
  37. Phew, made it past the swan!
  38. I can see the car!
  39. Why are my last 3 kilometres always my fastest?
  40. We’re here!

*with apologies to Haruki Murakami and Raymond Carver