Monday, September 24, 2007

Tapping the wisdom between schools.

Over the decades innovation and creativity has shifted from isolated creative often misunderstood individuals, who network with each other for mutual support, to whole schools development where schools develop a common language or learning culture across the school.

The future development is for teachers to share ideas between schools.

Ministries of Education worldwide , after experimenting with the ideas of competing schools and 'top down change', have now realised the real power is to be gained through collaboration at the lowest level.

School collaboration, along with the idea of personalisation of learning, has the radical potential to transform our education system. These ideas are expressed in small pamphlet written by Michael Fullan for the UK Department of Education and Science but it is also an idea schools are coming to realize for themselves.

Appreciating that change is a 'bottom up' process is a radical thought but ,according to Fullan, it only works if in a dialectal relationship between the 'top' and 'bottom' - moving beyond either. It is an approach that believes that the 'actors' involved make meaning in the process of learning; and when this happens whole systems evolve.

Fullan believes there is need for teachers to encourage deeper learning and a wider range of pedagogical strategies and that, to do this, there is a need to engage the creativity of practitioners. The people with the problem, says Fullan, also have the potential to develop the solutions.

To achieve this systemic reform is a long way from the 'informed prescriptions' of current 'top down' 'best practices' and 'evidence based' literacy and numeracy strategies.

Central reform, it is now realized, can only take us so far but, 'letting a thousand flower bloom' in schools, will not us very far as well. Good 'flowers' ( creative ideas) need help to spread. Systems must be developed to mobilise the ingenuity and creative ideas of schools so as to achieve a critical mass. What is required is a 'we- we' mentality between schools , supported by central authorities, to share and spread idea between schools.

Systems must be developed to identify ideas worth spreading to develop collective action.School need to meet and discuss ideas and to identify individual teachers that have ideas worth sharing with others. The only way to make progress, says Fullan, is to 'learn by doing' - learning through action as you go along.

Developing a collective identify requires a new form of school leadership to break through the inertia of the 'status quo'. School leaders need to become as concerned about the success of students in other schools as much as in their own, seeing that the potential changes will benefit all schools.

An independent adviser is an advantage to ensure all schools live up to their expectations and to identify, nurture, and extend 'emerging' ideas. Developing systems to sustain and deepen the capacity for collaboration and implementation are required.

An exciting aspect will be to develop in all teachers concerned a sense of belonging to something important and valuable more than that their own school or classroom can provide. Individual teacher will also have the opportunity to be valued for their expertise that, up until now, they may not have had the opportunity to share. This will remedy the feeling that all ideas are developed outside of the school and passed down to them from 'experts' distant from their classrooms. Harnessing and fostering the energy, creativity, commitment of teacher is an exciting concept.

The really exciting thing is that the only way to develop new idea is by 'doing' and by building up networks, and ways of sharing what is learned, as part of this process. What will develop will be determined by the specific needs of the group and, in some cases, ideas will 'emerge' that will be impossible to predict.

As Fullan says,'Nothing beats learning in context'.

School collaborative learning has the potential to radically transform our education system particularly if developed in tandem with 'personalised' learning. Collaboration is process that enlarges the opportunity of all involved - both teachers and students.

The basic challenge is to break down the boundaries between schools and teachers and to develop partnership, both horizontally and between schools, to develop the potential to unleash unimaginable creativity.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dad, I'm reading your blog! Not too bad for an old man, you do speak some truth in the field of education. Love you (how embarrassing if everyone reads this!).

Tom Sheehan said...

One simple way to begin some collaboration is for teachers to talk to other teachers and show each other what they are doing. Often we get stuck in our own 'busyness' and forget to stop and small the flowers.

Bruce said...

Thanks Tom and Jen!!

An excellent book about this sharing process - to avoid confirming our own thoughts ( or 'group think') is a book called 'Wisdom Of Crowds'. Groups need diversity, a way to listen to every person, and a way to aggregrate what has been said.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing that our masters, 'who aways know all', have switched from schools competing to schools collaborating.It is a waste of time listening to them. It is common sense to co-operate and share so as to benefit all the students in all the schools.