Sunday, February 20, 2005

The power of speaking from the heart!

Kelvin Squires Posted by Hello

The Empire it seems is striking back! Kelvin Squires, principal of Stratford Primary and past president of the New Zealand Primary Principals Association, interviewed for our local paper, was speaking from the heart about primary education as we currently know it. Forget all the endless compliance requirements he says, it all comes down to ‘hearts and minds’.

‘It is the hearts and minds that the ‘blue suited bureaucrats who are molding the counties education system have forgotten about’. ‘What we have is a left wing government that generally has this one size fits all mentality.’ This is not working says Kelvin because, ‘if people don’t connect with what you’re asking them to do…then they bloody well won’t do it!’

At last a principal with the courage to say what is on all our minds .Kelvin reminds us all forcefully that the real passion for education comes from the classroom not from distant ‘experts’ from Wellington.

Leadership, he continues, is vital if we are to add a voice of realism to the educational debate. Principals need to be supported to do what is right for their pupils. He asks the question, is the system about listening to the voices of the local community, or is it about a system continually dictating compliance requirements that makes the job of those running schools difficult? ‘Compliance is an ugly word in an increasingly regulated New Zealand society.’ Schools are constrained by constant accountability and distracted from developing in students a love of learning for its own sake.

Kelvin believes it is time we ‘led the government’ because ‘there are a lot of causalities as a result of political whims’ as politicians decide schools can solve all societies’ problems by dictate. The latest is the worry about obesity which, important as it is, must be more that a school problem. Of greater concern Kelvin, suggests, is the issue of the development of self centred students, and students ‘at risk’, resulting from the individualistic and competitive ‘market forces’ ideology we have had imposed on us.

Students, Kelvin says, need assistance with emotional intelligence and learning to live with others. Parenting is another issue that is of concern to Kelvin and the suggestion that mothers should get back into the workforce may help the economy but parents need to see their vital role as ‘their children’s first teachers and that the school just adds value’

What worries Kelvin is the ‘lack of thought about what really matters’. As for Ministry consultation, ‘there is consultation and consultation’. It is time for all the government departments that impinge on schools to work together to ‘provide unflinching support networks’ for those working at the front line. The government’s role is about providing ‘synergy’ between all the providers. At present, ‘it is like a lot of chooks running around with their heads chopped off – there doesn’t seem to be a hell of lot of talking to one another’.

If we don’t improve the situation we will face problems attracting high caliber principals in the future. Too many principals with much needed wisdom are leaving and there is no rush to for senior teachers to take on their roles. Attracting principals is more than about salary; ‘people need connectedness; they need to have their hearts and minds valued’.

There are real strengths in our system Kelvin says but, ‘if you are always striving to catch up’ with the latest compliance requirements it is difficult. People need affirmation; ‘it is important that people know they are doing a good job’.

Education is about developing citizens who will leave the world a better place. This underpins Kevin’s philosophy. ‘Politicians are calling the tune ‘but as Kelvin wisely reminds us that it is the children’s ‘hearts and minds that count’ in the future.

We have been to busy jumping through political hoops for too long. It is not about compliance and Kelvin concludes the interview by saying, ‘I’m not a great believer in rules. I have set of values,’ education is ‘about connecting with the hearts and minds of teachers and students’. Helping all students develop a positive sense of values is vitally important task of both home and school.

All I can add is that it time to stop and collectively say ‘enuf is enuf’ and add our voice to the debate. Kelvin has made as start it is now up to the rest of us!

The last word from me comes from Spike Milligan, who wrote in his book ‘The Looney’, that 'a bureaucrat is a man who obeys orders from above and ignore complaints from below.’

It is worth remembering though, that in a election year, someone might be listening.


Anonymous said...

Principals As Leaders

While agree with what Kelvin Smythe has to say I feel that it is important not over emphasise the importance of principals as leaders in education, at least in terms of reality of what is actually happening out there. In short I suspect that those as enlightened as Kelvin Smythe are the exception and even so it is always more important to focus on the teacher in the classroom to sort out what is important for learning. Every school, no matter how good the principal, varies significantly from classroom to classroom, in terms of the passion, energy and success of the teacher. Principals need to accord the same respect and support that children should receive, by allowing teachers to be creative and independent individuals with their own particular passions, skills and style of teaching thus enabling optimal impact for the learners within their classrooms.

Of course also the teaches have to be worth their salt but too often principals can be responsible for administering restraints and difficulties for creative teachers, sometimes under the name of National Curriculum or“team teaching”, that stifle and make it harder for teachers to be true to themselves and be the best teachers they can be. In this context the concept of “team teaching” is often misinterpreted or misused to the level of “duplicate teaching” where topics and styles of teaching are directed by the “team leader” or the “team consensus” and every one is required to operate at the level of the lowest common denominator within the team. Similarly streaming and cross grouping is often imposed to the extent that attempts to adopt holistic and child centred approaches to learning are made more difficult or in some cases impossible. Similarly team or principal directed obsessions with checklists, compliance, curriculum micro-objectives, have reduced the focus on the essential purposes of learning, the lifeblood of successful classrooms.

Along with this there is the misnomer of the trickle down theory of how organizations work. It is belief that knowledge and expertise is set within a hierarchical structure and that the “education system” and curriculum delivery somehow derives from this. It is simply reification, what sociologists have called a “systems approach” to understanding organizations. What is required in its place is a focus on the teacher as the principal “actor” within the organization, and what experiences, collegial support, and freedoms are required for them to be best teacher they can be. Importantly the principal’s role is that of facilitator, resource person, or in some cases challenger of ideas, and at best a leader by example- not restraint or direction or coercion, or by giving in to the status quo or majority view.

Teachers as beginners need support and guidance and inspiration but at some point they should be given their wings and be given the opportunity to be the best they can be. There is so much untapped energy out there!

Anonymous said...

Sorry I meant Kelvin Squires not Smythe in the above comment.

Bruce said...

I agree with all you say.And I am sure Kelvin would as well. Every principal is only as good as the teachers who do the real work.

Kelvin said that the passion comes from the classroom but equally teachers cannot work independently. Respect works both ways. As well the 'voices' of students and parents also need to be included.

Real innovation has always come from creative teachers and everyone else must focus on establishing the conditions to let such creativity flourish. This was Kelvin's point. The trouble is that not all teachers are equally creative. As well there will always be a creative tension between a collaborative agreement and individual creativity.

And of course not 'creativity' is right. I agree though that many principals, rather than freeing teacher creativity, actually place contraints on it.

The answer is for all to work within a set of agreed teaching beliefs and to take advantage of creativity when it adds to the mix.

I guess it is all about relationships and mutual respect.

Anonymous said...

Passion counts and sadly the 'system' constrains too many of us (yep I'm a P)- we allow ourselves to be too easily boxed, bagged and "toyota"ed by it all. That stops many from creating an environment where pasionate teachers can teach passionately! Keep at it Bruce and Kelvin - we need you both!! DC!

Bruce said...

Thamk you 'DC' - I know who you are!
I have been working with Kelvin to adapt the article for possible inclusion in the Principal's Magazine - far too honest to waste!

You do know that Kelvin has been very ill since he wrote it? Not connected of course! He is slowly getting better. Fingers crossed.