Monday, September 12, 2005

Schools working together

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I have just returned from a very enjoyable week working with a group of schools around Ashburton in Mid Canterbury.

The visit followed up a presentation I gave at their very successful Ashburton 'Magic of Teaching Course' held in Term One.

It was great to be able to travel around a range of mainly rural schools tailoring my advice to suit the needs of individual schools and, as well, to present ideas to groups of teachers, including staff meetings.

I was impressed with the professionalism of all the teachers concerned and their desire to introduce, and share ideas, to improve the educational opportunities of their students. Earlier in the year, at their conference, I had taked about the need to focus on quality teaching and learning and, in particular, to do fewer things well. I also encouraged them to work together to share their own ideas and to become their own experts.

Ever since the imposition of the ‘standardized’ Learning Areas of the early 90s, ( with all their strands, levels and endless learning objectives and the equally confusing assessment and accountability demands) teacher’s voices and professional judgments have not been listened to.

Now that the curriculums are being seen as part of the problem, and not the solution dreamed up by the Ministry technocrats, is the time for teachers to add their 'voices' to the debate.

Now is the time for the ‘magic of teachers’ to be recognized and shared.

Now is the time to appreciate that all real educational advances have been started by creative teachers and that it is these ideas will spread to other teachers, if the conditions are right.

And now the time for a new period of teacher creativity.

The teachers I have been working with in Ashburton are at the ‘leading edge’ of such exciting ideas. On the last day of the week they gathered together to plan how they might be able to work together and to tap into Ministry assistance. The Ministry is now encouraging school collaboration and there is finance available for schools to work together.

This is what the Ashburton teachers intend to do. The Ministry proposal 'Extending High Standards Across Schools, is based on school recognized as ‘highly achieving’ able to ‘demonstrate good practices’ working in ‘collaboration with partner schools’. This would have problems!

The Ashburton schools are developing an important variant; believing that schools that collaborate will have ‘best practices’ to share among themselves. They believe that by identifying such areas of individual excellence, these can be shared with other schools. In this process the individual teachers will gain recognition and all schools will develop quality teaching and learning practices.

Whether they gain Ministry assistance is not vital – but the Minisrty would be lacking if it didn’t recognize a better model than the one they are promoting. Groups of schools who might want to work together would be well advised to check the Ministry proposal. Any group that was to be established could share the costs of focused professional development based on their identified needs as well as sharing their own expertise.

I know of at least one other area where a quality school group has been in operation for a number of years. This group , centred on Blenheim, established their group because: they were frustrated with the breadth of the curriculum and workload issues, they wanted to do less better and sharpen the quality of learning experiences in their schools; and were keen to work together to promote and share such ideas.

It would be great if group could combine primary, intermediate and secondary schools in an area because the issue of transition and mismatch of teaching approaches are real concerns.

Schools collaborating to share their own expertise - an idea for the times!


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Bruce said...

Thanks to everyone - great hospitality as usual. Special thanks to Mark.

Mark Ellis said...

Thanks Bruce. We enjoyed working with you and I have contacted the MOE. I will also talk to Alan and Darren to get their advice. Hope we can get up to see you in 2006.

Bruce said...

Be great if you can involve as many schools as possible - what you want is to create both: unity/ consistency and individual and school creativity.

richnz said...

Again I make reference to the quality collaboration arising out of the ICTPD contracts throughout the country but also in good old Central Taranaki... I am all in favour of the MOE initiative, but just wonder at the frequent use of the word "lead school".. Perhaps the concept should get closer to good schools sharing their good practice as wide as can be... A one off lead school is back to the lighthouse in the dark, hard to see and surrounded by rocks.

Bruce said...

Terminology is often a problem -'lead schools' and now in this new contract 'highly performing schools'. Both titles are up for debate - who decides? The key is , as you say, schools collaborating to improve everyones teaching. The challenge is finding and sharing the work of creative teachers, no matter where they teach.

Anonymous said...

Schools have been forced to compete but sharing is their natural style - at last the 'powers that be' are recognising this. They, however, were slow learners!

Bruce said...

When will the Ministry 'techno-rats' appreciate that the expertise does not all lie in one, so called, 'lead' school but is spread around schools. It is not about one school helping it's 'poor cousins' but accessing the shared intelligence that lies, often untapped, in all schools. And anyway, who decides a school is a 'lead' school and on what basis?

Anonymous said...

There is aways someone on high who knows best how to help others into helplessness!