Monday, September 12, 2005
Schools working together
Works for Singapore
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!