Judges’ comments on Kowhai School awards

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The judges, who offer a very constructive report on the initial awards, recognise that in 2014 the expectations required from entries can be factored in from the start of the year – and students encouraged to work towards high class entries.

They reported as follows:
Trees for Survival schools which completed 2013 applications for the new Kowhai School status were eligible for the prestigious Holyoake Award.  Several incomplete applications were not considered.

The judging panel hopes that the comments below will encourage more schools to apply for Kowhai School status, as well giving teachers a better idea of what the panel is looking for when assessing the teacher and student statements.

The entries from schools seeking to obtain the Kowhai School status confirmed that there are a number of schools successfully achieving the aims and objectives of the TfS programme. Hence 15 schools (including the winners of the Holyoake Award) have been granted Kowhai School status; see list (ADD link to list in e-news)

General Comments
In spite of extensive trialing it became clear that a number of teachers in TfS schools had difficulty completing the self-assessment questionnaire and uploading the teacher/student statements and associated images. The panel will review these systems before calling for applications in 2014 but it is assumed that teachers will be familiar with the computer file extension abbreviations .pdf, .doc and .jpg and the meaning of 1MB.

Statements were requested in .pdf format for two reasons; first, because that format reduces the file size especially when images are embedded in the document and secondly, the .pdf format provides additional security in that it cannot be readily edited or changed hence ensuring the judges received the original and not modified documents.

The size of images (preferably in .jpg format) was limited to 1 Megabyte (MB) so that the online system would not slow down due to overloading. The largest file size received was over 5MB’s, and this, along with statements submitted in .doc format, may explain the problems experienced by some applicants.

Self-assessment questionnaire (50% of the total mark)
This was designed to highlight the components of successfully teaching the TfS programme.  Achieving the key components of pupil involvement, teacher commitment, engagement with sponsors, liaison with landowners, the teaching curriculum and effective plant care all need a teacher focus and time. The judging panel understands that time is limited for teachers but the top schools clearly allocate sufficient to deliver the programme successfully.

It was pleasing that the self-assessments closely reflected the Field Officer verification, showing that teachers appreciate where they are at with the TfS programme delivery.

Teacher Statement (25% of the total mark)
This required a review of how the TfS programme benefited students particularly in relation to learning achieved, understanding of the role of trees, development of skills and experience of being involved in a conservation programme. Points were also awarded for following instructions, clarity of writing and presentation, and how images were incorporated to support the statement.

In many cases it would have been helpful to include captions with the images. It is also important to remember that, while growing and planting trees is a vital component of the TfS programme, there are other outcomes necessary to successfully implement the programme – such as understanding the environmental benefits of planting trees, appreciating our native flora (and fauna), learning how to nurture living things, and even relating TfS activities to other curriculum areas such as mathematics and English.

The judging panel felt that too much emphasis was placed on the planting day, and the fun and food students experienced. While important, these are only part of much more widely focused programme.

Student Statement (25% of the total mark)
Many clear and concise statements made showed that TfS teachers are doing a great job motivating and enthusing their students. There is always at least one student in every school who has the ability and stimulation to pursue an interest in conservation or closely related fields.

Some students were shown to have a well-developed understanding of how planting trees benefits the environment. However, many statements were rather single focused, not giving recognition to more than one of key environmental issues – reducing erosion, improving stream flow and water quality and increasing biodiversity. It might be helpful to read Why plant trees? on the TfS website to identify key benefits the judging panel were looking for.

Naturally it was expected that there would be some teacher intervention in the preparation of this statement, but it soon becomes clear if the intervention goes too far. However, the judging panel felt that advising (teaching/encouraging) the students to make sure that their statement has a beginning, middle and an end would help enormously.

The judging panel wishes to congratulate all those teachers who clearly teach the TfS programme and associated material so well, but also to applaud those who made the time and effort to submit their application. The standard of the winners of the Holyoake Award was very high and the panel looks forward to receiving more high-quality applications in 2014.

The judging panel was Don Roa, TfS National Manager; David English, Trees for Survival Trustee; Kirsty Hardie Boys, TfS Field Officer and Robin Beckett, editor Te Māra a Tāne.

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