Thursday, June 04, 2015

Business 'guru' Peter Drucker wrote, 'the first country to develop a 21st century education system will win the future'.. Could be New Zealand if only...

 Just imagine!

We could develop the most creative education system, that is, if we listened to Sir Ken Robinson, David Hood,  and Kelvin Smythe and tapped into the wisdom of creative teachers past and present.

Reading Sir Ken Robinson's latest book 'Creative Schools - Revolutionizing Education from the Ground Up' has  really impressed me.

I hope it might  even be a' tipping point' to encourage school leaders to challenge current assumptions and start on the journey towards transforming schools into modern learning environments.

 A similar message has also been outlined by New Zealand educator David Hood in his new book 'The Rhetoric and the Reality'. For secondary teachers Bali Haque's book is worth a read.

Maybe I am being over optimistic.

Talking to  current principals  about the possibility of such creative ideas  is , often met by reasons why it is too difficult in the present climate. Both Robinson and Hood are well aware of the current political situation  but both see this as no  reason not to begin the journey to transforming schools. And nor do I.

The recent posting by New Zealand educator Kelvin Smythe  adds another voice to the debate - and his summary of holistic education is worth the read. Essentially the same message as Sir Ken.

Instead, schools busy themselves trying to solve the problem of developing 'sensible'  teacher objective judgments ( TOJs) to sort students into spurious, politically inspired, National Standards in  literacy and numeracy - the very antithesis of creativity.
Are schools risk averse?

I guess what is missing is the courage to take the lead. Principals seem to prefer focus on their own school ( compiling the best achievement data they can -' shonky' at best) and no one seems to have the courage to take the lead to  encourage schools to  to work together towards realizing a creative education. And of course  many think that is what they already do, or that all is well.

Time to break out
To me it all shows the power of the status quo  at best or self deception at worst. But surely there are principal groups who see that what they are currently doing is not the full answer?

Surely , if not principals , then there must be creative teachers who see the need to breakout of the current straight jacket of standardized teaching and imposed, so called, 'best practices' - particularly the demeaning effect of the current emphasis in judging student success based on narrow literacy and numeracy data?

The biggest block to creative teaching is the unquestioned use of ability grouping in primary schools and fragmented subject teaching in secondary schools - both with their genesis in the  industrial aged sorting and grading schools of the past century.

The simple way to judge if a primary school is moving towards developing creative education ( moving away from standardized teaching towards personalized learning)  is whether or not they use ability grouping ( or worse still cross class grouping) in literacy and numeracy- or isolated teaching of subjects at the secondary level.

That would exclude the vast majority of schools being creative as defined by Sir Ken.

Sir Ken, and Kelvin Smythe, write strongly against such practices. Finland gets buy, as do many Asian countries, without the use of this sorting and tracking of students. And there is excellent research both from the UK and NZ  to show the demeaning effect of such practices.

In contrast to these limiting archaic practices imagine a school system dedicated to developing the gifts and talents of all students - whose programmes were based on providing personalised learning
It's all too hard!
opportunities for all students . This would be the basis for transforming education as we know it. This is the thesis of Sir Ken's book. Schools, I believe, do not have an ''achievement gap' rather more an 'opportunity' one.

Sir Ken advises teachers to observe the educational opportunities offered by the best of early education  centres, sadly now increasingly at risk from being standardized, to gain insight.  He asks why does  the early intense curiosity of the early years diminish as students progress through school? Why is that far too many students act as if creativity is to be limited to the few talented individuals when everyone is capable of creative thinking?  Why is it that students, deemed to be successful at school, often fail to shine in later life and conversely why is it, so called, school failures often do well in real life?
Standardized teaching

The trouble may be is that primary students happily accept of whatever programmes are provided and that the trouble ( disengagement) only really starts when the  reach the more critical teenage years.

Maybe students don't fail school , maybe schools fail students? Consider the number of students who leave, as  educationalist Karen Olsen has written, 'wounded' by school?

 Le'ts get back to imagining  schools dedicated to developing the talents and gifts of all students.

Carol Dweck
There are plenty of inspirational ideas to make use of, once schools have re-framed their focus, to achieve such an enlightened scenario. Sir Ken's book includes plenty of examples and their are numerous excellent books to refer to from such educationalists as  Guy Claxton, Howard Gardner, David Perkins  Carol Dweck to name a few.

I am always curious to see what books are available to teachers on their staff bookshelves - or to ask teachers of educationalists that inspire them. It would seem schools are full of unquestioned habits, procedures and practices.

Sir Ken asks what if teachers were to re-invent schooling- what would it look like? What if schools were to focus on the competencies , attributes or dispositions their students will need to thrive in problematic and challenging future?

For those interested the ideas in New Zealand pioneer teacher Elwyn Richardson are worth a visit - ideas developed in an even more traditional era - the 1950s

And there is also the inspiration from Sylvia Ashton Warner from the same era.
Time for thinking out of the box!

And in the 60s and 70 the most innovative groups of teachers were junior teachers who introduced developmental programmes providing their students with opportunities for real choices. Ironically today all the so called, 'best practices' are provided by contracted consultants and Ministry  staff who have long lost a sense of classroom reality - that is if they were ever there in the first place.

Dr Beeby
The wisdom of teachers, particularly creative teachers has been lost in the current top-down surveillance audit culture.

Imagine if the 1940s vision' of an 'education of the kind they are best suited for and to the fullest extent of their powers' of Peter Fraser and Dr Beeby were to be fully realized.

 Imagine if the, all but sidelined, New Zealand Curriculum which asks schools to ensure all students leave confident lifelong learners able to ' seek, use and create their own knowledge',were to be made central.

Imagine a school premised on making student inquiry and talent development central to all learning.

Imagine a school that has re-framed literacy and numeracy to provide the skills to enable students to dig deeply and critically into the areas chosen for study.

Imagine such investigations being open ended, integrating  learning areas as required - investigation that provide opportunities for students to make use of , hone, or discover, their own unique portfolio of talents.

Imagine what this would mean for teachers - it would be impossible to  plans for pre- determined outcomes but rather be prepared to follow  their students leads and questions and to ensure students are given every opportunity to develop  all the appropriate competencies and  skills.

Imagine teachers who really valued students curiosity, questions and prior ideas and then did their best to challenge their students to defend and, if necessary, change their ideas. Teachers who believed that 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation' ( Jerome Bruner).

Schools to develop talent
Imagine classrooms  environments that reflected student in depth thinking around their chosen studies and covering the various learning areas - appreciating that such quality thinking is the result of doing fewer things well.

Imagine teachers integrating ICT to assist students in their inquiries - rather than providing ready made answers as is too often the case

And imagine that true accountability is judged by the quality of what students can do, through demonstrations, performances, exhibitions ( such as science, technology and art fair exhibits)-and   seen  by all interested in their electronic personal portfolios.

And all this is entirely possible  - all  that it would require is for principals and teachers to have the wit and intelligence to change
their own minds first.

Teaching , in this scenario, would be the most creative task of all.

It would be a real change from teachers being seen technicians delivering imposed curriculum and
bowing down to reactionary national standards in literacy and numeracy; a shift from compliance and conformity to creativity, diversity and innovation; from the 19th to the 21st century; from standardization to personalization.

Such a transformation would realize the sub title in Sir Ken's book of 'revolutionizing education from the ground up'.

And most of all it would make teaching fun again - sort of like doing the 60s all over again again but this time doing it properly. 

Now I am showing my age.

Some great leadership quotes to inspire action

Now there is a good idea!!!!!


Anonymous said...


Imagine if creative schools and teachers took the lead.

Capitalizing on their collective wisdom rather than kowtowing to distant experts - as you say, with only a faint idea of the reality of teaching.

There must be, will be, such schools/teachers out there?

Bruce said...

I am not in touch with schools as I once was but I can think of a number of schools led by creative principals and a handful of creative teachers working away in their classrooms. I have in mind a small rural school in the far North, at least three I know of in Auckland ( there must be lots more) one in rural Taranaki , another in Palmerston North, a couple in the Wellington area and a couple in the South Island.

Now these are only the ones I know of - before Tomorrows Schools, in the mid 80s, advisers and school inspectors could easily identify others. In those distant days it was easy to gather creative teachers together to share ideas. I don't think this is possible these days - more likely for teachers to be rounded up to be given the latest 'best practices' by contractual consultants ignoring good ideas the very teachers are developing in their own schools.

So all is not lost - just difficult.

Hope said...

This piece rings true to my heart. I have become bored as an educator giving children a cookie cutter education. It's time to refocus and reharness our energy to teach children how to create, to innovate, and develop their own passion for learning. Data can help guide our instruction, but not drive instruction. I'm personally ready to refocus and move my educational practice to a student centered classroom.

Bruce said...

Thanks so much for your comment Hope. I read your posting on your blog and wish you all the very best. Let's hope there are lots of teachers who feel as you do.