Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The kiwi way?

What we need us some creative alternatives to current school models.We need courageous leadership to help students to escape the boxes we school them in!

I just had to read 'Kiwi Leadership for Principals' after reading Kelvins Smythe's critical comment on it that it, 'should never have reached the light of day'. Our, so called 'unique system' , even with the addition of a few Maori phrases, is not doing too well , and the Ministry leadership document won't help much.

After reading it who would ever care. Some committee has cobbled together all the latest ideas about transformational leadership without really saying why it is even needed. The simple fact is that our current system is hopelessly failing far too many of our students is not mentioned . The 'one size fits all' mass production academic model developed in, and for, an industrial age is simply past it's 'use by date'.

This is never mentioned honestly in the Ministry document. Little is presented of what a 21st century school might even look like. Whatever, it must certainly be far different that what is currently struggling to survive. Secondary schools, in particular, were never designed for many of the students who are now forced to stay there until they are 16! Compulsory mis- education!

Courageous leadership will be required to set new directions. New leaders will need to have 'respect' if others are to follow them into this continually evolving creative world. Such leaders are able to 'tap' a 'feeling' in others that there has to be a better way. Can't see 'evidence based leadership' inspiring anyone!

The Ministry paper is all just too bland and academic and seems to think that if 'evidence based research' is mentioned often enough all will be well. I can see principals in the future busy documenting classroom observations and gathering endless 'evidence'. There are lots of words about: trusting relationships, lead learners, developing capacity, learning communities, distributed leadership, meeting the needs of all students, developing partnerships with parents and the community and school culture. And, of course, education needs to be 'personalised', and that we have to move away from 'traditional views of knowledge and learning'. They don't mention coping with Ministry compliance demands!

Managing change , the document writes, is the principals key role.

The history of imposed school change and reform is dismal. Read Dean Finks article on Leadspace to get a taste of reality. Changing schools is easy to write about but hard to do - and reality is something those who live in their well paid ivory towers would know little about.

And all this as if it were anything new.

Researchers must be the last to discover anything - I guess it takes time ( that we don't have ) to gather up all this 'evidence'. As Einstein said, 'If we knew what we were doing we wouldn't call it research'. Life is about enlightened trial and error - do something and keep what works! Life, as they say, is next time not a rehearsal.

The Ministry's vision that all students should be, 'creative, energetic and enterprising' and that teachers need to use 'pedagogy that meet all student's needs' are fine words. And, of course the 'key competencies'; now there is a phrase from the industrial age1 These competencies have been presented as if the Ministry' had discovered the 'Holy Grail'.

I would've loved to have seen a vision where all students are given the opportunity to realize and amplify all their potential talents, gifts and passions. The desire to realize a talent creates the desire to learn (and to develop key competencies) and results in old fashioned stuff called knowledge and understanding. Education ought to about developing passionate learners driven by their innate curiosity - an education ensuring all students retain a joy of learning. One phrase in the 'new' NZ Curriculum, that needs to be highlighted, is that all students should be their own 'seekers, users, and creators' of knowledge. This has aways been the premise of creative educators.

That so many students leave without a positive learning identity is the real problem we have to face up to.

Back to Kelvin.

He believes that if principals are not able to fulfil their roles as curriculum leaders this is because of all the compliance and curricula accountability that has been imposed on them by the Ministry. If the Ministry spent more time working out how to reduce this compliance load this would free principals to get with being creative leaders, able to focus on teaching and learning.

Tomorrows Schools - or the curriculum that followed, and the 'naming and shaming' of the School Review Office ( even if it now 'assess and assist') has established a 'big brother effect' in our system. Devolving responsibility to schools, while at the same time creating a 'low trust' culture has led, to what one writer calls a a 'corrosion of character' - principals aways trying to double guess what is required of them by others. This leads to a 'anticipatory dread' settling on a school and with the news of an ERO visit an outbreak of folders outlining all the 'evidence based data' around school 'targets'!

It is this bureaucracy that is blocking creative leadership.

Most of all Kelvin makes the point that, with all curriculum imposition, accountability and regulatory requirements, we have lost the real 'kiwi' approach to learning that began with the work of Ashton Warner, Elwyn Richardson and other such creative teachers.

He mentions such things as: developmental teaching, the NZ balanced reading system, the wonderful work in the related arts and in environmental education, and constructivist thinking in science and social studies. These were all in place before Tomorrow's Schools. Much has been lost. We once had an environment, Kelvin says, where teachers had the freedom to pursue children's interests freely and imaginatively. He also bemoans the replacement of a passionate long tern advisory service with 'contracted deliverers' of Ministry 'messages'.

Kelvin warned us about the danger of losing our creativity, our sense of agency, way back in the mid eighties, but few were willing to listen . Everyone was too busy getting to grips with the new requirements. He, however, has been proved right.

This is why we need new leadership thinking now . Ironically principals are to be 'saved' by the very people who led them down the wrong trail!

It is great that Kelvin has had the moral courage to continue presenting his ideas; ideas I am in full agreement with.

The call for 'personalised' teaching and a focus on pedagogy is all 'back to the future' for creative teachers. New Zealand primary teachers have been leaders in 'personalised learning' for decades.

We must not believe that the Ministry has discovered new ideas to help us; 'best practice' comes from real teachers not 'evidence' gathered, and claimed, by researchers.

The Ministry is playing 'catch up'. Principals, teacher organisations and teachers must learn to lead. If there has been something wrong the past decades it has been with a Ministry that continually revises all procedures ( Ministry C.R.A.P.)keeping all schools in state of confusion. It all boils own who feels empowered - it certainly hasn't been teachers the past years!

Kelvin encourages teachers to challenge the bureaucracies. He makes the point that pedagogy is an art not a science - every school and teacher has to creatively face up to the special mix of circumstances only they can ever know.

At least, Kelvin says, the curriculum has once again been placed as the responsibility of the school.

The 'new' curriculum provides an opportunity for principals and teachers to once again take centre stage in the educational debate.

As Dean Fink writes,'it is about teaching and it is about time


Tom Sheehan said...

This blog is true.

Bruce - I am telling you that the amount of time I get to spend on curriculum, learning and teaching is about 5% of my week.

We have just been through an ERO review. It was not a fun experience, little advice was gained - after the review I felt as if I had been attacked. The reviewers were cold, distant and offered no advice or suggestions apart from "we saw one teacher in a class who wrote down all learning conversations she had with her children".

It is courage that is needed and we need all schools and principals to stop bowing down to these autocrats.

A great blog and well times for me to read and ponder.

Jody Hayes said...

And we have ERO coming term 4 ... I can feel the dread if I let myself... even though I am proud of what we are trying to do.

Bruce said...

I thought my blog all a bit long so thanks to both of you for taking the time to read it.

Jody, when ERO come tell them about your negative feelings about them. It will put them on the defensive. I once saw a very creative teacher tell a senior school inspector this. It put him off - he really had convinced himself teachers saw him as help!

Jody Hayes said...

I don't think I will actually. I believe in what I am doing ... always areas to improve but I am proud of my class and my children and my teaching ... I think I'll let the good shine.

Bruce said...

If I were you I would take your own advice - being positive and having faith in what you have achieved is far the best idea.

Bob M said...

Hi Bruce
Cant help thinking we (principals) have let all this happen to us.If we had all taken the advice you give weekly only do what we believe in, get the staff and community on side then this neednt happen.

"Jurasic Park"

Bruce said...

Reckon you are right Indiana!

Great he is still breaking rules, cutting thru red tape, ignoring experts and fighting for what is right!

Long live Jurasic Park!