Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Covid-19 Reflections

Never waste a good crisis Winston Churchill once said, or, 'so what does this mean for my learning?' when I was writing Learning Stories (narrative assessment) for pupils.

What are we to make or learn from this pandemic that has forced us to provide distance learning for 7 weeks for our learners and families/whānau? We have all heard about wonderful examples of engaged and motivated learners creating superb learning products and excelling in the home learning environment. However, we also know of many students that have not engaged in purposeful learning during this time, and there are a numbers of obvious reasons for this which still need to be addressed.

We have all witnessed how schools have responded to distance learning and how various governments around the world have responded to the pandemic.

During the last 7 weeks, the importance/value of the following has been strongly reinforced for me ...
1. leadership
2. collective action
3. coherence
4. challenging the status quo

I am not reflecting so much on the pedagogy in this blog, my colleague Robin Sutton at Hornby High has done some wonderful thinking in this space, I strongly suggest you read his recent posts.

I believe our Prime Minister and coalition government's response to Covid-19 and their leadership has been superb, some have descibed it as a "masterclass." An explicit game plan, clear and regular messaging and involving a team of 5 million. As a result, everyone bought into the plan. Contrast this with the leadership on display in the USA and United Kingdom, or more accurately, lack of leadership! Countries that have displayed strong decisive leadership, and strong government, have reduced the curve of infection and as a result, have saved lives. An interesting sidenote, the majority of these countries are led by females.

Strong leadership has been required during Covid-19 in order to support our learners and whānau during distance learning. This has not been easy, however, leaders who have employed the following qualities have been able to successfully navigate these challening times.

Kiwi Leadership for Principals (Ministry of Education, 2008). Four educational leadership qualities underpin principals' ability to lead their schools:

  • manaakitanga (leading with moral purpose)
    a strong values base is essential for decision making
  • pono (having self belief)
    a strong values base enables self belief
  • ako (being as learner)
    non negotiable, effective leaders must be life long learners and 'walk the talk'
  • awhinatanga (guiding and supporting)
    Sergiovanni refers to 'servant leadership'

Throughout this journey I have focused on all 4 qualities to varying degrees. I must admit there were times when I questioned my  'pono' ... was I up to this? However, a strong manaakitanga, always open to ako and awhinatanga convinced me I was ... my community and staff were relying on me. During times of crisis, leaders stand up, strong leadership is crucial if we are to win the battle. 

Because I am a political junky and am fascinated by Donald Trump (not in a positive manner), I will draw the comparison when the above leadership qualities are absent ...
  • manaakitanga - Trump is 'value free', only believes in winners and losers, and what is in it for him
  • pono - like all narcissists, plenty of self belief but unhinged and deluded, and lives in a parallel reality
  • ako - a "stable genius", does not need to read or seek expert advice, has little if anything to learn
  • awhinatanga - not a team player or capable of building high functioning teams, thrives in chaos
Barack Obama describes the current USA administration as a "chaotic disaster." This should not be a surprise to anyone.

Collective action ... no better example than the Manaiakalani Education Trust, which includes The Manaiakalani Programme (TMP). 

None of us are good enough to do this all by ourselves. The following collective action has put Hornby Primary and the Uru Mānuka Cluster in a very strong position to support our learners and familes/whānau during the lockdown. It looks like this
  • Manaiakalani Education Trust (MET)
  • shared pedagogy based on Learn Create Share
  • affordances of digital technology to supercharge learning
  • Woolf Fisher Research Centre (WFRC) data analysis and research, including high leverage  practices that accelerate student progress and achievement
  • shared sense making sessions with WFRC
  • Uru Mānuka Educational Trust (UMET)
    provide funding to employ Educational Programme Leader (EPL)
    supports procurement and provisioning of digital devices for families/whānau
  • Uru Mānuka Teaching as Inquiry PLGs that meet every term and share inquiries about raising student progress and achievement
  • Manaiakalani Digital Fluency Intensive (DFI)
    9 week intensive on Google applications and Learn Create Share pedagogy
  • One digital solutions provider across our cluster
Collective action has provided valuable support, not only locally, but nationally. Being able to connect with other principals in the same situation was invaluable, a problem shared is a problem halved. Manaiakalani Convenors were meeting weekly and sharing ideas and planning for each Alert Level. This certainly created more clarity for myself and I was able to share this with our Uru Mānuka cluster colleagues. An interesting sidenote, as a result of these weekly Google Meets, there is a desire to continue these Meets during Alert Level 2. 

It also begs the question, in the future, do our cluster meetings need to be face-to-face (F2F)? Or could we have a blend from now on, some F2F and some online Meets? May this be a more effective way of utilising our precious time?

This collective action, some may refer to this as a systems approach, not sure if it really matters, has undoubtedly placed Hornby Primary School and the Uru Mānuka cluster in a strong position to
  • reduce the digital divide
  • address fairness, equity and the moral imperative
  • accelerate student progress and achievement 
  • ensure fully engaged digital citizenship
  • ensure our learners are equipped to reach their full potential
As a result of five and a half years of collective action with Manaiakalani, Hornby Primary was well prepared to ensure learning was accessible and continued  throughout distance learning.  The UMET enabled 12 families to purchase chromebooks during this time also which ensured these learners were connected and able to access learning from home.

Coherence ... when all of its parts fit together. I love this word! Thank you Pat Snedden (Manaiakalani Chair), I first heard Pat use this word in 2015 when addressing our cluster at Hornby High and it has resonated ever since! Leadership and collective action will not be effective or reach its full potential if coherence is lacking. How does one enable or facilitate coherence? Certainly not by remaining in the Principal's head. Everyone must be 'singing from the same songsheet', fully undertand the game plan, and be intentional about the implementation. It is then the leader's job to keep the vision alive and enacted.

Status quo ... let's get back to normal as soon as possible. This is often the call we here in regard to Covid-19. But what we had before the lockdown was not working for all learners, reverting back to the status quo is not the answer as it was failing a significant portion of our learners. Dr Anne Miln in her video Colouring in the White Spaces: Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools, states we cannot 'sit on the fence', we have to take a position and do something about it. Absolutely!

Challenging the status quo requires boldness, leadership and collective action. The status quo is easy, we don't have to do anything except keep reinforcing deficit theorising and blaming others which lets us off the hook. Let's take control and put ourselves at the centre of the problem and look for solutions, they are out there. Utilise our collective strength, support systems and expertise, and anything  is possible!

Hornby Primary will not be wasting this crisis, the pain and suffering endured by many dictates we have a moral responsibility to learn from Covid-19 and develop our practice to ensure we are providing the best possible learning environment for all of our learners so they reach their full potential and become positive contributing members of society. This is possible through leadership, collective action, coherence and challenging the status quo. No excuses, we can do this!

Note: the political views expressed by the author do not represent Hornby Primary, Uru Mānuka or Manaiakalani.


  1. Morena Gary. Thanks for your reflections. Great to hear things went well for you and your community and as you say, our involvement with Manaiakalani ensured we were well and truly ahead of the game going into this period. Sometimes as leaders we over complicate things, your reference to the Kiwi leadership for Principals is very fitting, keep it simple but use this as a base for decision making, keeping people and values at the heart of what we do. We also had a very successful time over the last few months and have been blown away by the creativity and innovation of staff, students and whanau. I also hope that the support to close the "digital divide" continues as we did still have a number of families who are not interacting with the online environment. Keep up the great work Gary, there isn't much left that we have had to deal with now!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Andrew. Pleased to hear about the success at Gilberthorpe during the lockdown ... this is true collective action and collaboration, we care about others! We still have work to do around the digital divide and connection as you point out, but we will continue to focus on these areas along with the Ministry and persevere until we reach true equity!

  3. Gary.. nailed it.. Ka rawe e hoa. I like your reference to the Kiwi Leadership framework, and those key points:
    1. leadership
    2. collective action
    3. coherence
    4. challenging the status quo

    Like you (and any leader who is not a narcissist, I suspect) I am plagued with those self doubts. I think that is a good thing, because it leads us to constantly question, to be 'restless' leaders.
    Kia tau te mauri

    1. Thanks for replying Robin. I love the 'restless' leader comment ... I think it is a very useful reminder.

  4. Kia ora Gary,
    Very well put. I so agree with your alignment to the Kiwi Leadership Model. I have seen this clearly in action starting with my Senior leadership team, middle leaders, teachers and moving down to whānau as they have taken on the ever so important role of supporting their learners, right down to the wee ones.
    I have been delighted with the work from my team, the leaders and the learning that has been done by all of us. I am also thrilled with the strengthening relationships between parents and staff and children. The strong triangle, the value in everyone knowing what we are learning and why?
    At Alert Level 2, I still see the strengths as parents allow their children to develop independence as they drop them at the gate and our relationship with parents as we bid them 'farewell"
    As you refer to, Gary "Never waste a good crisis"

  5. Kia ora Wendy and thanks for commenting, I enjoyed reading your thoughts! Pleased to hear about the great team effort at South Hornby and strong relationships ... key aspects within the Kiwi Leadership Model. Kia kaha!

  6. Kia Ora to the Uru Manuka Learning Academies.
    Very interesting reflections Gary. I had to nod (possibly quite vigorously re the reference to Donald). Being on the same page within the cluster is a significant advantage. Having read some of the students’ blogs in the past it is very obvious that your focus on engaged digital learning (supported by achievement data) is proving to be right at the cutting edge of learning in Hornby. Ka Pai. Congratulations to all.
    Pete Bradley

  7. Kia ora Pete, thanks for taking the time to comment. You have witnessed our journey from the early days until now, so I greatly appreciated your observations and feedback. TMP has certainly positioned our schools well to rise to the distance learning challenge. Coherence has certainly been one of the keys!

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  9. I enjoyed reading this. Seeing comments from Robin and Andrew points to the power of collective action and collective support ya are talking about. We have been presented with the idea that learner pathways in relation to Kahua Ako are the guide to formation.. Having the shared language and coherence I think has real impact and will drive the learner pathways through community connections like you have established. So pleased that you have leadership at the top of the list and have established a group who can be proud of their mahi. I enjoyed your thinking on what has give us a different outcome from other countries. Go Otautahi. Kei runga noa to poh

    1. Kia ora Dave, thanks for commenting. As I have mentioned many times, TMP is a taonga and the collective action and networking it has provided has ensured Uru Mānuka has been extremely well placed to take on the unprecedented challenge, no one is good enough to do this by themselves. Thanks for your ongoing support!

  10. Kia ora Gary,
    As an aspiring leader, I enjoyed this post, especially the Kiwi Leadership model. This post is one I will be pinning to refer to in the future.
    I hope self-doubt is something we all suffer, as I think it is a fantastic characteristic to ensure self-reflection and growth.
    I do wonder if we need to change our mindset around this being a crisis to this being a fantastic opportunity and driver for societal change. We should also never waste a great opportunity.
    It has been fascinating watching some schools getting on with ensuring their students are engaged and successful learning at home, which has improved the student wellbeing compared to those that that only focussed on well being.
    Nga mihi,

  11. Kia ora mark, thanks for commenting. I appreciated your comment about self-doubt, self-reflection and growth, you are spot on! I think sometimes people view this as a weakness, I agree with you, quite the opposite. I also agree that we must not waste this opportunity for transformation, both in economic terms and our education system. Keep up the great work!


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