School is finished and the year is nearly done. Before we launch into the excitement of 2014, I thought I would pause for a bit of a look back on my first 2 terms at Ridgway.
Welcoming, Friendly, Committed
I have been blown away, again and again, at the warmth and friendliness of the Ridgway community. I have, from the first moment, felt so welcome. Thank you to all of you that have gone out of your way to introduce yourselves..... and thank-you for being so forgiving when I've struggled to remember your name the next time we've met. (I am working on this!)
While I completely expected Ridgway to parents to have high expectations for their children's education and for their school, I've been struck by the commitment of the community to ensuring that Ridgway children get the best opportunities at school. So many parents contribute so much to Ridgway School, and in so many ways. Everywhere I look around the school, I can see the evidence of a community that want the very best for their children and work tirelessly to get it. I'm thrilled to be here, and I'm looking forward to partnering with you to make Ridgway the best it can be.
There have been numerous highlights. In fact so many that it's hard to believe we've packed all that into just 2 terms. The thing that stands out the most for me would have to be the WOW shows that the Middle/Senior and Junior teams put on early in Term 4. We had two completely different shows, but both were absolutely fabulous! The evening shows were the culmination of many hours of work by teachers and children, but on the night(s) it was the audience that ensured they were a success. I loved seeing the pride and excitement on the faces of parents and grandparents as their child had their moment in the spotlight. The support from the audience was amazing. The enthusiastic clapping and cheering helped the children to step up their performance; no longer were they merely children dressing up in recycled cardboard and scrap material, they became super stars in designer costumes strutting the catwalk with confidence! For many children, WOW was a rollercoaster of emotions. After the initial excitement of dreaming up ideas came the work to make those ideas a reality, tedious and frustrating at times (as work is). Then there was the fear and uncertainty of preparing for the show, what if it all went wrong? They played their part. They performed as they had practised. Then it was over. As children came out of the Big Space, it was obvious that they had conquered! They expressed relief, but were flushed with excitement.
After WOW, I reflected on how much learning had gone on. Not necessarily the type of learning that gets tested or given a percentage, but the type that helps you to live a rich a full life. During WOW our children learnt a variety of things. Different children would have learnt different things at different points along the way. Some children would have experienced this learning for the first time ever, while others would have had a chance to get better at it. Among a huge list of things learnt during WOW are learning to.... work alongside others, be creative, take a risk and try something new, do something even though you are afraid, support others to take risks and do things that are hard.... and the list goes on. WOW!
As the staff and senior leadership team review how things have been done before and consider what we can do to improve, we are making changes. Some of these changes will be barely noticeable to parents but others are like neon signs calling out 'look at me'. The changed report format is one of the latter. During the year the community was invited to give feedback on the report format. We received a 'loud and clear' message that the format used at mid-year was not popular. Many parents found the graphic display with its mix of colours and boxes confusing. Others were mystified that their child appeared not to have made any progress.
The previous format was problematic for reporting progress, especially for older students. Children do not all learn at the same rate. Some will have periods of seemingly no improvement while they consolidate what they've learnt. It can be difficult to explain this in a graphical way, so teacher's comments are important for explaining what the child has been learning to do.
For the end of year report we removed the graphics that many had found so confusing in order to give more space for teacher's comments. Of course this did not suit everyone either!
The other problem with our report formats (both the mid and end of year) is the huge amount of time that teachers must spend in writing them. This is time that teachers are NOT spending on planning interesting lessons for their classes! The bigger the box, the more the teacher will need to write, so the longer it takes. Many hours of work go into writing reports and I've often felt that this is not time well spent. (Wouldn't it be better for teacher's time to go into planning interesting lessons?) Teachers will deliberate for considerable time over word choices and what to write comments about. They will angst over how to phrase a sentence in exactly the right tone, so that parents will understand what they are trying to say. I'm not sure that we get it right often enough to justify the effort we put in.
Julie Scandrett, Sue Campbell and I looked at a wide range of report formats from other schools and sought advice from our Senior Ministry of Education advisor and professional development facilitator. We are not happy with our current format (either mid or end of year).
The National Administration Guidelines require us to use 'plain language' to tell you (parents) what your child has learnt (i.e. how much progress they have made), what they will be learning next and how you can help at home. We must tell you if your child is achieving the National Standards or not and we must provide a written report at least twice a year. Schools around New Zealand use a wide variety of formats and many are combining very brief written reports with a face to face conversation. Next year we are planning to use 3-way conferences and simplified written reports. I hope that in doing so we can meet both your need to get good information about 'what's going on at school' as well as the needs of teachers for reporting to be manageable.
Merry Christmas Ridgway