Thursday, April 14, 2011


As promised, I, like my 2000 plus principal colleagues received a letter this week from Minister Tolley urging action on the issue of bullying. The letter outlines some of the initiatives the current government has put in place to address behaviour problems in schools.

We are lucky to be one of the first schools in Otago to be part of the Positive Behaviour for Learning project, one of the Ministry's vehicles for change. We are also lucky to have a strong culture of positive behaviour at NEV Normal. Our teachers and parents do not avoid the issue.

Sadly school environments do not always protect children from bullying - the ratio of adults to children means that there are many opportunities for children to be unkind and even violent to other children.

Children who are teased or bullied at home accordingly think this is the way to react to a percieved injustice. These are the ones who will lash out or say cruel things.

The job of the teacher is to show that this behaviour is not what society, in this case the society of the school and the classroom, consider acceptable. This 'correction' takes time and while it might start in the new entrant classroom can take weeks, months and years to overcome.

Teachers use good modelling, role play, teaching, behaviour modification, peer suppport and mediation and sometimes expert intervention to show children what good relationships look like. The school also uses its behaviour management system to ensure that for every unacceptable action there is a commensurate consequence.

The temptation for school staff is to come down really hard on children who display such behaviour. The teacher and the senior staff are in danger of modelling bullying tactics themselves if they do over react. This just contradicts the message. We want children to develop new strategies to deal with their temper and their frustration.

Bad behaviour doesn't happen in a vacuum. There is always a reason. We try and get to the root of the problem and then deal with that. If a child is acting up we want to know why so the effort we put into remediating the behaviour has a long lasting influence.

Parents who may want to learn more about this issue should follow Frances Steinberg, A Wellington based educational psychologist:

Regards, John

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

MPs visit NEV Normal

Last Tuesday two senior Labour MPs visited the school to discuss our early intervention work with children and families. Annette King and Charles Chauvel headed our way after a morning of meeting about the Darren Hughes affair. King is the deputy leader of the Labour Party and Chauvel is their justice spokesperson. Ross Leach from DNI, Paul Richardson from Sacred Heart and I spoke about what we are trying to do be engaging with families and the community. Local Salvation Army Pastor Nolan Hill spoke about their committment to partnering with the schools and early childhood centres in the Valley to support our work. The MPs listened with interest to our stories and seemed to be on the same wavelength we are on.

I am a tad cynical about these visits. We have had visits from other luminaries - like the Commissioner for Children, and local National MP Woodhouse - they come and smile and say what a great job we are doing and how interesting it all is but I don't know whether we see any change in the way the world goes round! We certainly don't get any follow up phone call offering us some help!!

Anyway, for an hour we feel someone is noticing that we do things differently in this wee valley tucked away in a corner of this quiet city. That in itself is affirming.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Better Late Than Never

Hi there I happened to click on my blog today and noticed that I hadn't made an entry since 2009!!! I suppose it begs the question is such a facility necessary when we have Fb, emails, school blogs and websites and texting.

Having said that there sure has been a lot to talk about in the last 12 months and those who know me well know I like to talk about things!!! Firstly there's the national standards and the debate around them. The view of our Board is that the standards approach to raising achievement has not worked in any other country in the world and so is not what will be good for our youngsters.

Then there has been Pike River followed by the two earthquakes in Christchurch which have shocked us all and made us take stock about what's really important in society. When I think about what is important to our school and the way it operates I think we can pare things down to a handful of really simple messages:

Teachers should love the kids;

Teachers should be fair and firm;

Teachers should teach their hearts out.

Politicians come and go - as do their policies. Disasters come and go - some are handled easily while others alter us as a people. Life keeps moving onwards. It is beholden on us who are in the service of others to be strong in our ethical beliefs, have heaps of hope and show each other goodwill.

Cheers, John

Thursday, July 2, 2009

ESOL Conversation Classes

This week our ESOL conversation class hosted the school staff to lunch. What an exciting array of food we were presented with - food from the home countries of our class members including Malaysia, China, Japan, Nepal and India.
Mrs. Jan Probert, our ESOL teacher, is a really neat person and an xcellent teacher. Jan mamages to embrace people from other countries and make them feel at ease.
During the lunch , all the class members had to introduce their food. I was particularly taken with the symbolism behind some of the dishes: The making dumplings for example is a Chinese family activity and represents everyone working together in harmony!
Apart from the symbolic, the food tasted great!We are so lucky to live in a country where newcomers are, on the whole, accepted and made feel welcome.
The members of our conversation class are all lovely people who will add to the richness we already possess. Haere Mai koutou katoa!!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Kia ora tatou katoa – The Recession

When I lived in Wellington I used to dine from time to time at The Green Parrot Restaurant. Their portions are legendary and each meal comes with piles of fresh white bread and real butter! Established in 1923, this diner is well known as a favourite haunt of politicians. More importantly The Green Parrot has a loyal following because during the Great Depression the owners fed from their back door the poor and hungry with leftover food. That was over 70 years ago but the loyalty to this Wellington establishment is still strong.

Today I read “A Generous Difference”, a paper by Vivian Hutchinson, the beginning of which I have taken the liberty of recording here:

“The Great Depression of the 1930s was one of the most fertile periods in Western history for social innovation ... and our current economic crisis will no doubt demand just as much creativity and innovation from all of us. This paper looks at what social innovation is, and discusses the key role that philanthropy can play in fostering fresh thinking and action on our country’s social challenges.

In this paper, Vivian Hutchinson discusses some key strategies for philanthropy at this time:
1. Let’s meet this recession with our generosity ... which means being generous in our thought as well as our resources.”
Vivian Hutchinson’s speech was part of a workshop on Philanthropy and Social Innovation — New Approaches in a Changing World - given at the Philanthropy New Zealand conference, March 2009. The full text can be read online, and downloaded from:

The successive Green Parrot owners certainly have benefitted from the generosity of the founders over the intervening years and their story is a pertinent one for us as we currently face tough times. What an interesting take on the challenge of the economic downturn – turn it into a positive by being generous in thought and action!

Kind regards,

John McKenzie
Community Development

I have just completed the Ministry of Education's absentee survey. I was struck by the question about how our school deals with patterns of absence. There was no option to tick "Offer family support" ! And yet this is what we do at NEV Normal.

The point is that absenteeism is a complex issue closely related to family dysfunction and community well being. It is not that parents want their children to fail - to the contrary it is an indicator of failing parents.

And this is where we should be focusing our attention - strengthening the family and the community.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Musings from the Principal's Office - NEV Normal School Dunedin

Kia ora everyone!
This is the first blog from me and is going to be short and to the point. I want to join with the other teachers as they move along the ICT road. I have been involved in ICT in education for many years and I am pleased to say I still struggle with many aspects of the modern technologies. I am also not ashamed to say that ICT is not the be-all and end-all of teaching but a useful tool.
So whilst I encourage our school to be 'up with the play' in the use of ICT I acknowledge that really good teaching is what counts.
We have a tradition at this school of sound teaching and of making the best use of every minute of classtime - anything we do with technology must not get in the way of this sound teaching but must either make it easier or more effective.

John McKenzie