Auckland principal Sarah Martin shared how to design effective student learning experiences, including why teachers need to talk less during lessons. Sarah Martin talked to Edthena founder and CEO Adam Geller in part 3 of this 4-part series.

Watch the video with Sarah Martin above, or read the transcript below.

Principal Sarah Martin on designing student learning experiences and teacher talk time

Adam Geller – Welcome to another PLtogether Lounge Talks. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, the video coaching platform for streamlining feedback to teachers. Today, we’re talking with Sarah Martin. She’s a principal in Auckland, New Zealand, and also been an invited speaker at conferences around the world. Sarah, thanks so much for joining us.

Sarah Martin – Thank you.

Adam Geller – Well, you are in New Zealand. Many of the people who have, who consume the content on PL Together in the United States, those places are very far away, but we’ve both been experiencing, uh, big shifts in learning and designing learning, and designing schools based on COVID, and we’re at various times able to get back into our buildings and really rethinking what’s happening in school buildings as a result of this, you know, period where everything was changed. So, you know, I guess, take us into your school, take us into that, some of those conversations that you’ve been having with your teachers about, you know, maybe, maybe some of the things we can let go of that, that we thought were important, but weren’t very important now that we have a fresh perspective.

Sarah Martin – That is such an interesting question, such a good one. I think the whole notion of time, and how we spend time, and how we use time, and what we show what we value and how we use time needs questioning. Why do we have bells? Why does a lesson last so long? Where are we seeing the deep and meaningful learning happening? I think one of the huge learnings in COVID has been online, just simply reflecting on what is the optimal size of the group to really get learners engaging and interacting and, and useful discussions? Or are they just passive recipients of what the teacher is going, blah, blah, blah, blah about? So those would be a couple of the areas that’s really made us reflect and think. And when we think about those the system haven’t served yet, and really heighten our notice, recognize, respond, what is working for our students support learners? And what we’re finding is yes, they might be in a group of say, six to eight with a teacher workshop, but then it’s the followup with the teacher assistant or the um, the learning aid that can continue that learning and go much deeper with that learning with those kids. So, I think it has helped us to reorganize in how we think about that. I think the other thing that was heightened through COVID, and we’re in a lockdown at the moment, is the importance of teacher feedback, and what form does that teacher feedback take? And probably something, when we’ve been in and out of lockdowns, and been back on site physically, is not losing the learning of the successful feedback during that distance learning experience, um, and teachers being incredibly creative in how they do that.

Adam Geller – My mind is battling me here, because I feel like I’m getting tricked into asking you about, well, have you been using any video with your teachers for feedback? Because of course that’s my area of great interest, so, how has video played a part in feedback during COVID and during coming back to, to in-person learning with teachers?

Sarah Martin – So, um, teachers do record a number of their sessions virtually, and are giving their insight, I think I was in a principal’s forum this morning, and they’ve been encouraging their teachers to listen and watch what’s been happening, and what it’s illuminated as just how much teachers talk. And, so, our discussion actually led to what are the techniques and the ways that you’re encouraging increased discussion, um, with your learners online in a virtual environment? And, you know, one of the ideas that our lot are piloting at the moment, and particularly for our sort of 11, 12, 13 year olds, we’re a year zero to eight school, so they start at five and then they’re finishing our school when they’re turning 13, is how might you create those more social group projects? So, for that age group, they want to be connected, they want to be social. And you know what, they don’t want to let their group down. So how might you following the learning be setting up, by design, these opportunities for the kids to get together after perhaps the more formal part of the day, um, where the kids are coming into at least two workshops, um, and a check-in session each, um, each day? So, I think it’s really making us think how do we design for that potentially, in the more afternoon part, um, of the day?

Adam Geller – So, before I diverted us with this question about you were describing some of the changes, uh, and, and kind of rethinking about what’s important, you know, and it sounded like almost in the, the level of interaction between the teacher and the student, or within the classroom context, you know. So I’m curious, you know, step us up a level. Is there anything maybe at a, at a level higher than a teacher, maybe even higher than a school that, you know, the experience of COVID and going through it right now and, and just really reprioritizing that has you questioning, well, maybe we don’t need to do that thing anymore?

Sarah Martin – When I think about our, what we’ve made decisions around our local curriculum and what’s critical to learn, and what’s critical to know, what underpins that, is how real is this learning for our young people? How does it absolutely connect to their hearts and their minds? I think through COVID what we’re noticing and seeing more of is whole Fano, that’s a Maori word for family, whole family engagement and some learning. And we call that other learning opportunities where they’re provided through, um, a blog that anyone connects is those. So, an example of the other learning that takes that rich, real learning to the next space and engages family, would be something like, we’ve just written a new school song, as an example. So there’s a virtual band happening where children are providing their piece of the, um, school song on any instrument of their choice, and then our wonderful music teacher will weave that together. But, we’ve got whole families being seen on our padlets, engaging in that experience together. I think about many of the physical challenges that are put out there, and they may be woven with maths, and that’s looking at letter box numbers and all sorts of creative ways you can start to make that learning, um, real and, um, fun, and engaging for the whole family. And another example, I’m meeting with a group of boys shortly, that’d be 12 and 13, and they’ve got their family involved in gathering other expertise as in, um, they really want to leave a legacy and what’s called a Maori, or it’s a cultural post, um that will mark the significance of their journey and our school. So, I think we’ve always wanted the learning to be real. Actually, one other example that comes to mind, what’s been incredibly successful through COVID, and I think we’ll bring that forward again, and I think it’s been more successful via distance learning than it has physically, is our year seven and eights are doing a massive deep dive around different careers. Now their parents are opting in and coming online and presenting their career. Those, um, Google Hangouts are maxing out at a hundred kids right now, and they’re recording them so others can watch them, but it’s a beautiful example of partnership. So, I think one of the silver linings through COVID has been this actual partnering in a child’s education, like we’ve always wanted to do, but because the reality is such we’re in our bubbles and our homes, um, has been an absolute, um, yeah, it’s one of those silver linings. It’s been wonderful. We want to bring that forward.

Adam Geller – Yeah, I was going to say, it sounds like, you know, the kind of phrase, the educating the whole child, or supporting the whole child, it sounds like you’re speaking to that idea here. And, um, it didn’t quite light the, the past curriculum on fire and throw it out the window, but really, you know, created a pretty significant space on the shelf, so to say, to kind of put in some more things that sound like they’re, they’re really important both right now, but as you said, to take going forward.

Sarah Martin – Yeah, I think probably I haven’t outlined is, um, we did spend a lot of time in considering our distance learning philosophy, and what we would take into that space, and what we’d perhaps leave behind. So it’s really built on what I call a third, third, third. So a third of the day the children are in workshops that are differentiated and meet their needs. A third of the day the teachers design so that they’re furthering their learning that is related to their progressions and their next steps. And, the last third of the day is this beautiful array of other learning opportunities, and that’s where our specialists often provide a lot of the learning design, and it’s all optional. So, again, we’re really wanting to nurture that learner agency and opting into the things that really spin their wheels. You know, the perspective, the photos and doing perspective shots went quite viral in our community. Um, Recreating artworks was another beautiful family experience that people really got in and behind, so it’s been really wonderful for us to notice what is really engaging that whole family?

Adam Geller – Well, Sarah, we need to take a break. If you’re watching this video and curious about the rest of this conversation, head to for the rest of the conversation, as well as many more. Sarah, thanks so much for joining us.

Sarah Martin – Thank you.

For more interviews with Sarah Martin and other education leaders, check out all our PLtogether Lounge Talks