Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Personalised learning before Tomorrows Schools and it's time again!

The story of a creative Taranaki teacher. Posted by Hello

There has long been a tradition of creative teachers in New Zealand. The two that I always think of nationally are Sylvia Ashton Warner and Elwyn Richardson but others will be aware of other important figures?

Both the above taught well away from ‘authorities’ and, compared to today’s access to information, worked in intellectual isolation relying on their own intuitive creativity and imagination.

In the 60’s the ideas of such creative teachers were spread by the more sensitive Department of Education curriculum developers and, by the late 60s, creative teaching was gathering momentum. It would be untrue to say that there were ever that many such teachers but in all areas of New Zealand there were such people.

The ideas spread through informal networks of like minds and through holiday refresher courses. The ‘open education movement’ based in the United States of the 70s added extra motivation. As did the publication, in 1969, of the UK Plowden Report validating a progressive approach to education.

When I began advising in Taranaki in the 60s there were a number of such innovative teachers, mainly in rural schools. As in those days advisers visited all classrooms once a term the few creative classrooms stood out. A key to spreading their ideas was the enthusiasm for the ideas by the then Art and Craft Advisers.

In the 70s I was lucky enough to be ‘allowed’ to work with a small group of local teachers, developing what was loosely called ‘environmental education’, referring to using the environment as a resource and creating well displayed environments inside.

In recent years a number of Taranaki schools have further extended this focus on to include a whole school approach.These schools have become well known nationally as the 'Taranaki Quality Schools Approach'.

The creative teachers of the 60s and 70s have long since retired but their ideas live on, even if many are unaware of their genesis. A new band of creative teachers continue to develop similar ideas in their own way - and this is as it should be.

Ironically as creative teaching became accepted world wide, many teachers 'jumped on the bandwagon', and by the 1980s the stage was set for reactionary approach – the imposition of our current standardized curriculums and accountability pressures.

Recently, one of these earlier creative teachers, Bill Guild, published a book celebrating the creative work of students over the time he was principal (1959 to 1986). He called his publication a ‘World of Difference’, relating to the ideas that transformed his teaching over the years. It is fantastic collection of in-depth class studies, research studies, language and art work.

All the above ideas: valuing creative teachers as the key to real change; networking to share their ideas; involving all teachers in a school; and school collaborating to learn off each other, are ideas that are very relevant today and need to be supported in every area of New Zealand. A 'bottom up' revolution, supported by central government, would be ideal and would redress the current 'top down' approach.

Creative teaching, or personalized learning, whatever it is called, places the teacher at the centre of real educational transformation and will require new leadership roles for both school leaders and central government.

As the standardized curriculums, imposed on New Zealand schools, are found wanting (they are currently away being revised) and the hyper rationality of assessment fails to ensure all students learn, creative ideas will once again be needed to ‘engage’ all learners.

Rather than the past focus on individual creative teachers what we now need is for whole schools to develop total creative learning environments, and for schools in every areas to work together to share their ideas.

Where are the creative schools in your area - they are your best resource?


Anonymous said...

I think your final question ,'Where are the creative school in your area?' is a significant one.

Bill Guild was a truly creative teacher and as the principal of his own school had more control over his teaching, style and philosophy, than most. He also had far reaching positive influence on, and support for, other teachers.

I agree that valuing and supporting creative teaching, and allowing and encouraginging teachers to have their own 'voice' in the process is an important key to real change in schools. This is indeed a 'whole school' issue.

Your focus on personalized approaches to learning and insight into real teaching and learning issues very refreshing and much appreciated. Thanks!

Bruce said...

Your thoughtful comment is really appreciated. In our current 'stand alone' self managing environment there is no real desire to really share ideas. I heard one speaker on the radio talk about our schools as, 'look at me schools' - so busy telling everyone how good they are they are blind to the real issues facing them. If they do share it is usually about compliance issues not teaching and learning.

Thankfully there are encouraging moves for schools to co-operate. And personalised learning is a step in the right direction and would require teacher's voices to be realy valued. That will be a change!

Anonymous said...


I bought Bill's book off you last year.

Inspirational stuff.