Monday, January 05, 2015

Educational Journey:A voice from the edge


Time for a new creative revolution.

Principals - time for action
A quote by ‘an 18th century divine’ Sydney Smith in the Jan 2015 NZ Listener’s column by David Hill caught my attention. He wrote, ‘few men have the fortitude to endure being forgotten’.  Maybe this explains why I hang on writing blogs about education!

Richard Gerver
Another quote that also caught my attention comes from the latest NZPPF magazine (Nov 2014) came from a presentation by Englishman Richard Gerver who warned those present ‘not to be obsessed with data and statistics’ and instead education is ‘about human beings and about passion, strengths, beliefs purposes and achieving dreams’ and added ‘education should be a celebration of life, of living, learning and laughing.’ This reminded me of another quote ‘education is too important to be taken seriously’.

 Gerver's vision was to create a school ‘that they would cue up to experience the fun of learning…an environment which was relevant and empowering to them’. Sounds a bit like the 60s revisited!

In New Zealand we were heading in this direction until the neo-liberal ideology  ( Tomorrows Schools) hit our schools in the  mid 1980s.
Observation a key skill

It is now time for some moral courage from our educational leaders to escape from the current audit and surveillance culture and take Gerver's advice before it is too late.
Study booklets 1977

Assisting in this revolution is why I hang on. Now that I am increasingly  at the edge of the debate, limited to blogging , as all the school leaders I once worked with have all but retired. The only consolation is that all true revolutions begin at the edge.

I continue because I have worked for decades with teachers who would've been encouraged by Gervers’s comments and  because we have lost so much and gained so little.

At this quiet time of the year I have been thinking of my own educational journey so this blog, a small indulgence, fills in a gap until the year begins seriously.

Elwyn's well used book.
When at training college in the late 50s I was intrigued  by a book written by Susan Isaacs about the   of child centred activity based learning - it seemed a contrast to classrooms that were part of my training. I spent a third year  training as a Nature Study Specialist (later transformed into a Science Adviser) my task, when appointed to a position in Taranaki,. was to visit every class, three times a year, taking lessons for teachers. In those days specialist teachers were appointed in areas most teachers had little experience of – art, nature study and PE. My position, as it turned out, was a wonderful opportunity to visit classrooms of some very creative teachers – the freedom of the 60s was spreading to schools particularly encouraged by the art advisers and junior school developmentally oriented teachers. The art advisers were at this time  running integrated learning courses which I also attended and later replicated with other local advisers. At this time the most innovative teachers were to be found in small rural schools – again at the ‘edge’.
Inspirational in the 60s

In the 60s I became aware of the Nuffield Junior Science approach (with links back to Susan Isaacs). The Nuffield approach was based on students following up their own interests and questions; an emergent curriculum. Often there were several studies occurring at any one time. It became a popular resource for teachers I worked with.

Determined to learn more  about the approach I arranged to teach in progressive English  school and through the creative teachers I worked alongside met  Leonard Marsh whose book, ‘Alongside the Child’, was later to become our ‘bible’ for  the teachers I worked with  back in NZ.
 Marsh wrote ‘there is only one starting point for the teacher – the individual experience and needs of the
UK teacher Marion Keeble
children’ and that teachers ‘are mediators, or midwives, acting with the child in the making approach by which the child seeks meaning for his world’
.
Len Marsh's book

Back in NZ I worked with a small group of teachers  ( Robin Clegg, Bill Guild and John Cunningham ) to implement ideas in their classrooms. As well we met up with Elwyn Richardson and were inspired by his  inspirational idea of a classroom as a community of scientists and artists exploring their personal world.

 Elwyn Richardson, following his work in the 50s, had  published a book ‘In the Early World. Elwyn’s which was quoted in Marsh’s book as an excellent example of creative teaching. Elwyn's book has recently been reprinted by the NZCER.

As a result of ‘our’ own work in the 1970s I published a small booklet to share our ideas. Later we were invited to present our ideas the Auckland NZEI Centennial Conference.
Published for Auck NZEI Conf.

In 1976 to 1978 I spent three years in a classroom to implement the ideas myself; always a good experience for an adviser! During this time I was asked to share ideas at a National TV programme on education.
My  experience as ateacher
Later I was appointed District Art Adviser. During this time I had the opportunity to learn about and implement ideas about a process approach to art which was a movement away from the ‘non-interference’ approach of earlier days – but an approach that valued the individual creativity of the student in contrast to much of the formulaic art seen in school today.

During this time I assisted large number of teachers from other areas of NZ to visit local school to admire the teachers work and, also, the Palmerston North Teachers College Art Department brought their students for
Junior science Vogeltown 1980intensive studies of programmes.
 Taranaki schools by now had gained a reputation for achieving quality work centred on integrated studies, making use of the environment, art, language and impressive room environments.

Pub. when Teaching Fellow
From 1986 to 1993 I was appointed principal  of Vogeltown School and, along with a few other local schools , developed a whole school approach. During this time ‘Tomorrow’s Schools was introduced
and all schools made ‘self-managing’ and competitive. It was to be the beginning of the end of teacher creativity and school collaboration.

 In 1994 I was made a Teaching Fellow at the then Palmerston North Teachers College (now Massey School of Education) and shared ideas throughout NZ.. In 1994 I published ‘Towards a More Informed Vision’ based on the beliefs underpinning my time at Vogeltown School.

Based on TOD programmes
Up until 2011 I worked as an independent educational adviser throughout New Zealand focusing on helping school develop their own visions and guiding beliefs – and the teaching strategies that applied them in classrooms. During this time I published ‘Quality Learning and
Teaching’ book to share ideas with a wider audience. Also during this time I presented at a number of regional Primary Principal Conferences and ran numerous Teacher Only Days.

A highlight was working at the Bali International School and presenting at a Principal’s Conferences in Sydney, and International School Conferences in Indonesia, Bangkok, Korea and Japan.

In 2011 my last presentation was at the Inspired Teaching Conference held in Palmerston North – I agreed to this because one of the co- presenter was to be Sir Ken Robinson who I admire greatly. Unfortunately he was ill and presented via the internet.

Bill Guild's educational journey
Now I just write blogs just for fun to encourage NZ schools and teachers to  develop a creative approach to teaching and learning to once again make NZ schools world recognized for their creativity.  I believe it is important for such ideas not to be forgotten so it was great to read about Richard Gerver telling attendees to bring passion and fun back into our schools – but sad because we were once well on the way.

In 2007 the ‘revised’ NZ Curriculum was introduced but unhappily it has been all but side-lined.
Philip Harding

As Philip Harding, the past Present of the NZPPF wrote in the November NZPPF magazine, it is time to leave ‘the toxic legacy’ of past policies behind and that we ‘need now, as never before, ethical leaders with strong moral purpose, direction and courage…. It is only such wise people who can resist the reversion to the mean, to the National Standards, to the league tables and the test. These are the leaders who can ensure that what is best for children is what guides their every decision.

I just want to do my bit. 

We need to work towards replacing compliance and conformity with creativity. I know there are still exciting ideas being created at the edge that have the power to change things for the best – ideas that will see the creativity of the 60s once again  but this time we need to do it properly.
Classroom Vogeltown 1988


I will call it a day once this ‘market forces ‘government is voted out. At this time I hope to have developed the ‘fortitude to be forgotten.
Bill Guild's room environment 1980s

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bruce. I am impressed that you haven't given it all up. Please keep up the good work. I always enjoy your blogs and readings. I fear that creative leadership - let alone teachers, is in short supply.

Deb Mitchell said...

Yes - there is a real fight to be had out there - I enjoyed this read - I hope to be able to do my bit as a foot soldier :)

Bruce said...

I am not sure too many teachers realize the dire situation they are in. Reminds me of Turkeys looking forward to Xmas - or worse, Turkeys having no idea Xmas is coming. Too busy teaching to notice. Or as my old friend Elwyn Richardson used to ' so busy draining the swamp to realize they are up to their backsides in alligators'. Or in today's schools to busy complying and assessing to really teach.
It will be up creative 'foot soldiers' like yourself to fight on.

Anonymous said...

My feeling is that most teachers have no idea of what has been lost. Few will have heard of Elwyn Richardson let alone the work you were involved in.

Bruce said...

My few visits to classrooms last year have sadly convinced me that the ideas that so excited us in the 70s/80s have all but gone. Replaced by sterile formulaic , so called, 'best practices'.
Classrooms look standardized - reminds me of the 50s.

Deb Mitchell said...

Kia ora - I trained at what was the last of Auckland College of Education graduates (2000-2003: before it was integrated into the Uni) - we had a lecturer share Elwyn Richardson's work ... I'd hate to think we were the last graduates for this to happen ... I was a student of the 70s/80s and I loved my schooling experience - Nga mihi
PS: I'love the "I'm not a robot" ticket box haha - well I certainly fighting against it ;)

Bruce said...

Kia ora Deb

I hope that Schools of Education courses still mention Elwyn's work. His book has recently been reprinted by the NZCER. My growing feeling is that schools have moved away from experiential learning displaced by an emphasis on literacy and numeracy and learning through ICT .The real world is losing out to the virtual. Measuring narrow achievement replacing exposing students to challenging learning experiences that values that their personal interpretations. too formulaic and standardized from my ancient point of view.

The 'robot' thing has been added by those who set up the blog - not me!