Friday, May 05, 2006

Great things happening in Taranaki Schools!

  Posted by Picasa Now and again I get the opportunity to visit a number of local schools to show visitors some of the exciting things that are happening in our part of the country.

The hardest thing is to decide which schools to visit as any number of schools would be ideal but I try to include schools that stand out for particular ideas they are known for. And, of course, I can only visit schools I personally know about because it is no use taking visitors to see what they might see in their own area.

I have always believed that visiting other teachers (even in one’s own school) is the best way to gain ideas that might be of use back in a teacher own class or school. Seeing is believing; most people see and ‘feel’ their way into new ideas rather by being told, reading about, or watching a PowerPoint!

One idea to keep in mind when visiting schools is its ‘CC Rating’ .The first ‘C’ stands for consistency of the school culture. When visiting a school what common elements can be observed in every classroom? Is there a ‘common language’ that all teachers use to talk about their teaching?

Developing a consistency of approach is the role of the leader – ‘keeping the herd roughly pointed West!’

The second ‘C’ stands for creativity. Consistency is important but it can also be overpowering and limit teacher individuality, resulting in a ‘clone like’ approach to teaching. When searching for the second ‘C’ look out for differences/ individual creativity in any classroom?

The balance between the two ‘C’s depends on many factors: the history of the school, the experience of the teachers, the confidence of individual teachers in any learning areas, and the make up of the class.

The balance of the two ‘C’ also brings up the age old dilemma of individual creativity versus community expectations but it is important to appreciate that any points of conflict are often where new ideas are created.

All schools we visited reflected, in their own ways, the balance between the two C’s. All schools had high expectation of their students and all were working to help students to be able to articulate what they were doing and what they need to do next time.

The five schools provided a range of insights to my visitor but I have no idea what he took away with him except that he enjoyed the experience.

All schools we visited were ‘attractive’. They all expressed the feeling that they were exciting places to teach and learn in.

All schools strongly focused on the idea of developing caring, skilled, independent learners. All the teachers, in all the schools, could be summed up as ‘learning advisers’ or guides. All schools were doing their best to ‘personalize ‘ learning so that all students could feel the pride that comes from doing ones ‘personal best’.

The things I particularly noticed were the enthusiasm of the teachers, the displays of quality thinking on the walls and in the student’s books, the importance of in depth studies and, most important of all, classrooms that reflected an aesthetic, sense reflecting the high expectations of the teachers.

To a greater or lesser degree all schools made use of cognitive teaching ideas such as Art Costa’s Intelligent Behaviors, Graphic Organizers, Blooms’ taxonomy etc but always with the point of encouraging students to achieve quality work and in-depth thinking. ‘Doing fewer things well’ was an obvious feature in most classrooms.

One school believed strongly in a collaborative and cooperative integrated approach across the whole school (and involving the wider community) based on student’s questions. In this school, where thing were at a low ebb a few years ago, the difference was spectacular. A key to involving the wider community were open days where parents and the wider community were invited to experience culminating activities.

All schools visited reflected strong teaching and learning philosophies.

All teachers in all schools obviously cared deeply about the progress of all students and had high expectations, and all were doing their best to ‘personalize learning’ to suit the needs of each individual.

All schools were true supportive ‘learning communities’ that knew what they stood for and who valued and respected both their teachers and their learners.

The answer to transforming education lies in sharing the expertise that lies within schools themselves. All teachers should have the opportunity to visit other school to share and spread the excitement.


Anonymous said...

When will teachers begin to appreciate that the answers lie within themselves and not in curriculums they are provided with to 'deliver'?

Anonymous said...

You are so right.Somehow we have to track down all the creative teachers and get them to share their wisdom.

Amber-Lee said...

From one one has visited and been inspired by some of the Taranaki schools I would like to give them all a pat on the back and especially to Bruce who has played such a major role in the Taranaki success.
In response to Blog one I want to encourage you to look for answers more collectively than just yourself. There is very little critical mass for change with just one teacher e.g a great cog in an ineffective machine will not make a huge difference. BUT a series of great cogs nurtured in a top performing machine....
The pressure is on Principals, and rightly so to provide the impetus and drive the vision to turn schools around. We need to nurture and align effective practice so the teachers can see answers and worth within their school and the curriculum that they are delivering.

Bruce said...

Thanks Amber Lee

Couldn't agree more - principals are the key to creating the conditions and to give 'permision' to others to innovate; but everyone also needs to search out like minds and network.

Anonymous said...

I wonder at the terminology of "permission?" Why should a Principal need to give Permission surely the great collegial atmosphere of professional school teaching ensures that the Team gives itself permission and the Principal supports and facilitates ie "servant leadership". I can't count the number of times I have heard teachers(mainly secoundary) refer to the principal as the BOSS! Could this be tied to the thought of Permission from the boss??? Is this concept of BOSS fostered by the Ed Act by making the Principal the BOSS ie. responsible for day today decsions. I have supported 2 great teachers in disputes with the Boss! and even though the schools Charter believed in Partnership the Principal insisted he/she was the Boss!!

Bruce said...

I guess I meant by 'permission' ( inverted commas in my comment) not the authoritative meaning but just by being supportive of ideas. I am with you in your comments.

Bruce said...

Consistency evolving into creativity occurs when a school agrees to focus on a small number of important things ( no more than six) rather than having a go at every quick fix that comes by. The six or so key points pull together, or are a focus, for many other ideas e.g At our school we will develop students 'learning power'. If this is chosen then what will teachers all agree to action to achieve ( and monitor) this? This is the model on our website