Jim Bolger’s Decent Society


Image from: http://www.livestrong.com/article/391288-nutritional-values-of-a-slice-of-cherry-pie

Jim Bolger, early in his interview with Guyon Espiner in the The Ninth Floor series on five Prime Ministers, stated that New Zealanders believe more in fairness whereas North Americans believes more in  freedom.

As a result of listening to the interview, I have to reassess my ideas of Jim Bolger, a man I absolutely did not support when he was Prime Minister.  I have to allow that Jim Bolger and his government set in motion some very good things – they were the first to honour the Treaty of Waitangi and they ushered in proportional representation.  However, they also set in motion some very bad things as well.  My dislike was related to Bolger’s disempowerment of the union movement and for his right wing fiscal policy as seen in Ruth Richardson’s Mother of All Budgets.  The effects of both are still in play today, the rich being so much richer and the poor being so much poorer.  We always knew and said so, Jim, that trickle down economics could never work!

Yet listening to Guyon’s interview of Bolger, I gained new found respect for the man.  He admitted that these initiatives have been taken too far.  He sought a decent society where advantage was fairly spread.  The current world, he says, is neither decent nor fair.

  • Neo-liberalism has failed;
  • Unions should have a much stronger voice;
  • Treaty of Waitangi settlements may not be full and final after all; and
  • Maori language tuition should be compulsory in primary schools.

These are largely Green Party – Labour sentiments, with which I totally agree.  I also agree with Mr Bolger on his more centre-right attitude towards immigration.  He speaks loud and clear in admiration and favour of refugees and immigrants, who, like our forbears, courageously leave all that is familiar to build a better life for their families.  He believes that immigration provides good outcomes for our society.  He sees the sentiments behind Brexit and Trumpery as pure racism akin to that of Hitler.

Yet you, Mr Bolger, and we are to blame.  We have allowed the rich to get richer and we have marginalised the poor, the people who feel they don’t belong and haven’t been heard, who haven’t had the choices that education affords.  The ultimate indication of our wrong doing, says Bolger, is that we are building more prisons than schools.  So now the disadvantaged are speaking up, loud and clear.  But instead of blaming those who fleece them, they are blaming the immigrant.

Fairness and education.  So important.

Fairness.  In his 2013 Democracy Journal article entitled Of Freedom and Fairness, Jonathan Haidt says there are three types of fairness, procedural fairness, distributive fairness, and fairness of opportunity.  Quoting Obama’s 2012 State of the Nation address, he states:

“We can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.” The second phrase (“fair share”) is a clear plea for fairness as proportionality, and the third phrase (“same set of rules”) is a clear plea for procedural fairness. But what should we make of that first phrase, “everyone gets a fair shot”? What exactly is a fair shot?”

He goes on to say that both sides of the political spectrum see having a fair shot in terms of liberty.  The right has a negative view of liberty – the government leaving you alone to go about your business.  The left has a positive view of liberty – the ability to make choices and fulfill your potential because you have the power and resources to do so, the welfare state being a fine example of this.  I think, Mr Bolger, that, while you dallied with the former, in the end, you prefer the latter.

So how do we put it right?  I agree with scientist, Nicola Gaston, who, in a NZHerald interview plumped for lifelong education:

“I’d like to see far less focus on the utilitarian value of education for students coming straight out of school, who haven’t even had the opportunity to vote yet, let alone figure out what they want to do with the rest of their lives. If we actually value knowledge in New Zealand, we should put our money where our mouths are, and enable everyone to participate in learning as a life-long activity.”

Because education has become too utilitarian and too expensive, we have too many who are easily swayed by extreme right wing fat cats, obscenely wealthy because they took more than their fair share (e.g. Trump and his tax evasion).  Those swayed have been hoodwinked by the fat cats into believing that their social ills are because of the immigrants, not because of the fat cats!

Which brings me to Saturday’s Earth Day March for Science.  As reported in the New Zealand Herald, “Kiwi scientists are set to take to the streets in solidarity with US colleagues protesting against the policies of President Donald Trump – while also calling attention to concerns facing the sector at home.”  These include the government’s disregard for science that draws attention to water issues related to over-dairying, our society’s anti-immigration sentiments and other issues related to diversity and equality which are based on racism and ignorance, and the increase in anti-intellectualism in general which many blame on infotainment and fear-mongering through social media.

A fair and decent society, as Mr Bolger says, depends on each citizen feasting on a good slice of the education pie.

So thank you, Guyon Espiner, for another excellent interview of a Prime Minister, and for stimulating so much end-of-week thinking.

Codecracker, Exercise and Brain Power

Exercise boosts brain power.png

One minute and 53 seconds.  100th out of 513.  The simple pleasure of trying to beat the clock, oneself, and others by completing the NZHerald’s codecracker puzzle as fast as possible every morning .  During the week, it happens just before 6am.  Today, Sunday, it’s going to be more like 9am.  I keep telling myself it is good for my brain health as I take the last sips of morning coffee before rising to face to day. The little daily puzzle is keeping those synapses forging new neural pathways through my grey matter, which might just promote the longevity of my memory powers into old age.

Could be true.  To discover more, this year I’ve joined a new PLG (that’s Professional Learning Group to non-educators), all of us gathered around a common interest in the brain and memory as it pertains to learning.  Each is following a genuine interest and developing a mini research project related to particular students or classes on our timetable.  This in turn is a satisfying, collaborative and self-directed way to tick one of the boxes leading to teacher registration, the one that requires proof of professional development.

So I have chosen to work on a memory strategy with my Year 9 Latin class.  Two weeks ago I attended a public lecture at the University of Auckland’s Centre for Brain Research. It featured Professor Martyn Golding, a molecular neurobiologist from San Diego’s prestigious Salk Institute, who shared his work on the role of the spinal cord in the brain’s fulfilling of its primary role of facilitating the body’s movement, whether that be to open the mouth to form a vowel or to jump a hurdle and win a race.  The lecture was largely over my head but the emphasis on the brain and movement reminded me of John Medina’s book, Brain Rules.

John is also a molecular biologist who wrote his book to quash the many myths that we educators have developed around the brain and learning.  He established twelve research-based facts about the brain and learning, triangulated through publication in three or more peer-reviewed journals.  In his book, Medina dedicates a chapter to each brain rule, a rule being something that scientists know for sure about how our brains work.  He then suggests way that this rule might improve our daily lives.  One of those research-based rules states that exercise boosts brain power and improves cognition. It does so in two ways:

Firstly, “(e)xercise increases oxygen flow into the brain, which reduces brain-bound free radicals. One of the most interesting findings of the past few decades is that an increase in oxygen is always accompanied by an uptick in mental sharpness… (Secondly), (e)xercise acts directly on the molecular machinery of the brain itself. It increases neurons’ creation, survival, and resistance to damage and stress.”

Given Martyn Golding’s lecture which spurred my memory of John Medina’s book, I have decided to research the effect of exercise on my Year 9 students’ retention of Latin vocabulary.  Next term, every Thursday, I will introduce ten new vocabulary items and give the students ten minutes of class time to learn them, the first five weeks in silence, on their own, while seated at their desks, and the second five weeks in silence, on their own, while they walk up and down the flagstones or the field outside our classroom.  I’ll try and keep everything else constant (minimise variables) then test their retention via a vocab test immediately after the ten minutes, one the next day, and one before learning a new set of ten words a week later.  It will be interesting to see whether the brain rule stands for 13 year olds learning Latin in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, there is no mention in the brain rules about connecting synapses by doing word puzzles.  Oh well, I’ll just have to enjoy my morning codecracker simply because I enjoy the competition of beating myself and the clock.

Final Steps

Portrait Of Man Reading Book at a libraryImage from: https://www.brainscape.com

Last week I followed a supervisor’s advice to read my ready-to-submit thesis aloud as a final editing step before going to print. My goodness!  I should have done this much earlier. I was amazed that after so many reviews, I still found typos and poorly formed sentences.

I therefore recommend this excellent strategy. It might be  good to use it at least twice during the final stages of writing, firstly before submitting the first draft of all thesis chapters, and then once again before going to print.

I was surprised, however, just how time consuming this exercise is and just how much energy it takes. I was exhausted afterwards even though it was undertaken over several days.

An added bonus is the production effect, that is, what we read out loud we remember better.

Qualified to Serve


Wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul        (Proverbs 2:10 NIV).



My years of reading and thinking and writing for my EdD are coming to an end. I have a submission date now and am already planning my return to the big smoke from my seaside sabbatical in Tairua.

At the meeting with my supervisors last week, I raised what I might do with the knowledge I have gained so I don’t slide into a depression after completing such an opus as so many others say they have done. The fact that I have a job waiting for me makes a difference for certain but I will have to find ways to ease back into the ordinary again with its workload and stress without it destroying me. During this year of study leave, I have been able to create my own timetable, a luxury for most but especially for a teacher who has had bells ringing change of period and change of direction every hour for four decades. I have been able to sleep till I wake in the morning or work till the wee hours following an interesting idea. No more! In three months I return to the tiring and stressful work reality of the classroom teacher, having tasted the peaceful and pensive reality of  retirement to come.

With these anxious thoughts churning at the back of my mind for some time now, it was comforting to be reminded in this morning’s devotional about personal growth with a CV-like description of Daniel, of lion’s den fame:

Showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve (Daniel 1:4 NIV).

It was also a good reminder of my life’s goal, wisdom, and a fresh modus operandi for moving forward.

ANZAC Reflections


25th April 2016                                                          25th April 2015




Today in Tairua we have commemorated New Zealand’s involvement and losses in WWI. There was a dawn service at the local cemetery and a civil service at the community centre after a procession of service people through the main street of town.

Today I especially remember the Somme, where my maternal grandfather, William Frederic King, who, fighting with the Irish Riflery Brigade, became one of the 40,000 men wounded on the first day of battle, who returned to the battlefield too soon after, and who lived his life as an invalid suffering from the damage that mustard gas did to his respiratory system.

I recall the trip I took last year with three other teachers and forty-two students to visit significant places in the north of France as part of a WWI commemoration project between my school in New Zealand and one in France. In the image above our students are led by our Maori teacher and sing the national anthem and the school song at the New Zealand Memorial in Caterpillar Valley. It was a very moving moment.

As usual, Maori Television makes us proud every ANZAC day. I thoroughly enjoyed the hour long programme presented by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and one of her protégés, Kawiti Waetford, as they retraced the story of his tupuna, Henare Kohere, who died at the Somme and was buried far from his family and homeland. As they visited some of the same places we visited last year, it was a moment to reflect on the privilege of living in freedom in Aotearoa New Zealand but also the privilege of being a teacher and the opportunities that the profession offers.

Thank you, Grandad.  Thank you Henare Kohere.  Thank you Epsom Girls.



Plodding Boredom


I love to write.

I also love to plan for and teach secondary school age students.

However, the core duties of that job can be divided  into three stages:

planning, teaching, and marking.

It’s that last step that irks me.

I actively dislike marking.

I would rather do grounds duty than grade papers.  I know colleagues who have left the job and do relief teaching rather than grade papers.  It’s the tedium and boredom but also the responsibility of it.

So here I am released from the classroom with time to write my thesis.  A wonderful privilege. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and writing my first four chapters over the past three months.

Now the time has come for me to plough through hundreds – literally – of papers that are being graded from every angle in order to provide data for my thesis.  And I am bored witless.  It is such hard work.

And it’s ironic.  I began studying to allay the boredom of decades of teaching.  Now my studies are full time and I am faced with the very boredoms that brought about the original decision to study.

Can’t wait for this grading and findings stage to be over.

#23TeachingThings – Thank you!



So the second #23Things course is now complete.  Let’s celebrate what we have achieved and thank Damon and the team for making it happen!  I have thoroughly enjoyed learning new ways of teaching with technology and exploring new sites and apps.

My top takeways are Videonot.es, Google Sites, Twitter and WordPress.  I will definitely use the two former in my classroom, in fact have already done so, and am thoroughly enjoying tweeting and blogging.  I hope to continue with both.  Twitter keeps me in contact with inspirational others and blogging helps me clarify my thinking.  As a bonus, it is certainly gratifying to know others are reading my postings from time to time.

E-portfolios and AssessmentforLearning



This year, for the first time, I have created an e-portfolio using Google Drive for the purposes of appraisal and as a record of my professional development. I created an evidence portfolio and linked my artefacts in this portfolio to the master document which was a school-created job description tht aligns both with my school-based responsibilities and with the Registration Criteria.  It inspired me to gather together all the digital documents I already had from the previous five years spent at my current school.  These are easily shared with my appraiser.

One issue that bears remembering, is that these documents are currenlty held on the school server.  If leaving the school, it will be important to make a copy and change the ownership of the folders which need to be created in my own private Google Drive.  What is neat about Google Drive is that none of the hyperlinks are broken when you do this.

Another type of e-portfolio that i curently use, is the assessment portfolio.  In Year Levels 1, 2 and 3 NCEA Languages programmes, there are two internally assessed portfolios, one for writing and one for interactions.  In both cases students gather together three or four examples of their language produced during the year and submit them for assessment against the standard.  Although my students still use paper for the multiple edits of their writing, their sontaneous interactions are videoed and uploaded to folders in Google Drive and selected as evidence for meeting the standard.

In order to teach junior students the principles behind portfolio assessment, we have created a log of their assessments so they can reflect on their progress and watch their improvement throughout the year, for example: Year 9 Passport 2015

Of course e-portfolios align with AssessmentforLearning principles.  According to TKI, “Assessment for learning is best described as a process by which assessment information is used by teachers to adjust their teaching strategies, and by students to adjust their learning strategies.”

WW1 Commemoration, Robots, and Language Learning

Library Display

Recently on a school trip to Europe, we were hosted by the Technology students at the Lycée Gay-Lussac in Chauny, Picardie, our partners in a joint WW1 Commemoration project.

Over a two-year period, students in both schools communicated online to learn each other’s language, to exchange symbolic care packages, to research a person in their school communities who had fought and fallen on the Western Front during WW1, and to respond creatively to that research.  The shared work was displayed in each other’s libraries and plans for visits were made.

In April this year, 42 students and four teachers set out from Auckland for France.  After the obligatory trip to Paris, we arrived by bus in the Valley of the Somme.  Our first duty was the New Zealand Memorial at Langueval, where we sang the National anthem in Maori and English to honour our ancestors.  Nearby, we found the names of fallen relatives at the Caterpillar Memorial.  Then we arrived in Chauny for our homestays, the best part of the experience, according to the students.

The first day we were taken on a tour of the Technology Department.  Four young men, very proud of their workshops and of their newly acquired English, explained all that they did, from concept and design to finished product, using materials from wood to metal to plastic to Infotech.  We viewed a variety of plastic items formed in an industrial press, several energy saving devices inspired by the solar powered compacting rubbish bin on display, and we enjoyed, in fact accompanied, the robots they had programmed to dance.

The final event of our stay was the unveiling of the ceramic and glass fresque created over the previous year by the students and staff.  It featured the art work and the poetic responses in French, German and English written by the students learning those languages.  It was a moving and fitting moment.