Friday, August 17, 2018

Why are teacher's striking? What are the conditions stressing teachers? A letter to the Minister.

Education Readings
 By Allan Alach
 Every week Bruce Hammonds and I collect articles to share with teachers to encourage a creative approach to teaching and learning. We welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Secret Teacher NZ: Why I left teaching?
‘I sat down to write this and had to start over many times. I’m not sure how to go about explaining
why I left teaching in a way that doesn’t come off as judgy, or blamey or a woe-is-me tale. I suppose many educators feel like this. Teaching seems to be the one profession everyone feels qualified to have an opinion on, seeing as we all went through a school at some point.’

The Destruction of New Zealand's Public Education System
Dave Kennedy wrote this back on 2014. Has there been any change? Worse? Better? About the same?
This government is destroying our amazing collaborative, holistic public education system that recently led the world. They are determined to implement systems that have failed spectacularly overseas. Professional knowledge based on evidence and research should lead education, not political ideology. What angers me the most is what is being denied to our most vulnerable children when they should be the real focus of spending and any systemic change.’

Time for a rethink about the role of education in a democratic society.
Bruce’s latest article:
“I write this in a week primary teachers are to go on strike for better pay.  Concerns about the workload expected of teachers is just as big a concern. Both issues need to be sorted if teaching is to become an attractive career – a career that values teachers as the professionals they once were. If conditions are not resolved then improving salaries will not solve the issues of workload and associated stress. As one wise old rural adviser once said, ‘teachers need to protect their time and energy, if this is wasted on b/s then they will have no time left to teach.’”

An open letter to Minister Hipkins - 13 Reasons Why EVERY teacher deserves a pay rise!
‘Too often the narrative around why we need a pay rise can become focused on how hard the job is. The act of teaching is hard, however be assured, a career in teaching is a privilege. That said I do believe each and every teacher in this country deserves a generous pay rise, not because it's a tough job, but because it is a bloody important and complex one. Here are my 13 reasons why…'

'We're not being trusted': Teachers drowning in paperwork at expense of teaching
"Demands upon teachers are very substantial, potentially debilitating, and growing - particularly in administrative work." Teachers who filled out the survey said their work hours had increased significantly over the past five years. Some 97 per cent reported an increase in administration, and 89 per cent said their teaching was hindered by it.’

The 5 Elephants of Education
Pay, Resources, Expectations, Red Tape, and Lack of Respect

10 examples of how ‘DEVICE fetish’ is ruining EdTech
Device fetishism has been a destructive force in research, procurement, projects and outcomes. So here’s some blowback. Note that I’ve been implementing and writing about the use of tech in learning for 33 years, so I’m speaking, not as a philistine, but a convert.’

Top Ten Cognitive Dissonances That Give Teachers Headaches
But the cognitive dissonance doesn’t end with the idea of pre-planning.  The meetings themselves are full of cognitive dissonance. I often come away from district meetings, state DOE emails, and faculty meetings with splitting headaches. These headaches are caused by the cognitive dissonances I find in these places. Here are  just a few examples of some of the cognitive dissonances I live with in teaching every day.’

TTWWADI - A Culture Killer
‘However, there is another significant impediment to change that doesn’t get as much focus as it should and that is tradition.  What this then morphs into is a mentality of ”if it’s not broken why fix it”? However, the underlying reason for not changing can be
chalked up to TTWWADI – That’s the way we’ve always done it. Tradition, combined with the comfort of the status quo, forms a plausible excuse for not changing. As a result, the learning culture does not evolve or becomes stagnant for both learners and educators. TTWWADI is also a characteristic of a fixed mindset.’  

How welcoming are your school environments?
‘Have you ever walked through your school and asked yourself, “Who would feel welcome and comfortable here? “I am sure we have walked into a space where we immediately felt comfortable and, conversely, have been in spaces that do not feel welcoming or comfortable. What is it about thosespaces that engender those feelings?’

Dear Parents, It's Not Always the Teacher's Fault — It's Your Child
I love teaching. To me, there's nothing quite as satisfying as helping my students understand the material and enjoy learning. However, that job will continue to get harder and harder if we all don't
accept the fact that children are capable of making mistakes. Lots of them. And what's so bad about that? Making mistakes is a huge part of growing up, so parents, I beg you — please stop blaming the teacher for every problem your child encounters.’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

The NZF curriculum nautilus
The shell of the nautilus is a symbol, or metaphor, for beauty and proportional perfection . First
used on a New Zealand Curriculum in 1993 it has become a familiar symbol for New Zealand teachers. Or has it?The ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum introduced to schools in 2007 comes with a redesigned nautilus shell.To introduce the ideas of the curriculum to students (and teachers) it might be worth giving thought to the reason for the selection of the image.’

Learning from Michelangelo
‘Each human being arrives in this world trapped in a block of marble and it is
the job of the educators – parents and teachers- to free the individual from the imprisoning stone and reveal its true form without disfiguring or damaging it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

New minds for a New Millenium

Time for a rethink about the role of education
 in a democratic society.

A crisis in education

I write this in a week primary teachers are to go on strike for better pay.  Concerns about the  excessive workload expected of teachers is just as big a concern.

Time for new thinking
Both issues need to be sorted if teaching is to become an attractive career – a career that values teachers as the professionals they once were.

If conditions are not resolved then improving salaries will not solve the issues of workload and associated stress. As one wise old rural adviser once said, ‘teachers need to protect their time and energy, if this is wasted on b/s then they will have no time left to teach.’

With this in mind the following is a look into a possible future.

It all began with Tomorrows Schools

The workload and associated stress has increased dramatically since the introduction of the competitive Tomorrow’s Schools reforms of the late eighties. These reforms were part of the dramatic political changes of the times based on a belief in ‘market forces’, individual responsibility and choice (for parents) would encourage greater initiative. It hasn’t quite worked out to plan

As part of the reforms a New Zealand National Curriculum was introduced along with documents for every learning area that outlined learning objectives to be achieved and assessed.  requirement placed impossible demands on schools and eventually, with a change of government, was replaced 2007 by a revised New Zealand Curriculum which did away with the problematic Learning Area booklets with their  impossible assessment demands but before this could be implemented another change of government saw the introduction of the reactionary National Standards in literacy and numeracy which required greater  intensive assessment and reporting to parents and as a result a narrowing of the curriculum.

And now a new government has been elected and, by removing National Standards, have signaled a return to the highly regarded (but side-lined) New Zealand Curriculum.
The techno- rational model is the problem

The past decades have seen a techno-rational model of teaching replace an earlier more creative holistic humanistic developmental model. Sadly current teachers have only experienced the current techno rational model based on standards, testing, levels, outcomes, targets, hyper assessment, measurable evidence and a narrow focus on literacy and numeracy. Teachers now have an opportunity to escape the pressures created by hyper assessment and evidence based teaching.

Time for new thinking

Time now for some fresh thinking and to place the focus on creating a ‘high trust’ environment
A 'high trust' culture
to allow teachers to get on with teaching guided by the vision of the innovative 2007 curriculum

This of course is not to say that there are not teachers and schools already involved in developing more imaginative and creative approaches to teaching and learning. It is to such teachers and schools ‘we’ ought to turn to for inspiration and in the process share their ideas in a more collaborative future environment.

Need for a 'high trust' environment

For schools to be developed as learning communities, premised on creative teachers and active learners, all current workload expectations need to evaluated, streamlined or abandoned. Teachers need to have a 'high trust' environment  for them to be able to use professional judgement to assist their students.  The current stressed and overworked teachers are a sign of an unhealthy system 'low trust' system.

Learning is an innate disposition.

The basic premise that teachers need to hold in mind is the belief that all students have an innate desire to learn and that, as educational psychologist Jerome Bruner has written, ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation' to ensure all students are positively engaged. Sadly, as
Jerome Bruner
teachers well know,  many children  arrive in class (at all levels) with their desire to learn damaged from early experiences placing ‘learning recovery’ a priority for such learners.

The ‘artistry’ of teaching

The challenge for teachers is to create a ‘tempting’ environment to capture the innate curiosity of their students.  Active learners need authentic tasks that require them to use inquiry ‘how to learn’ skills making use of appropriate learning areas.

Teachers need to come alongside the learner (s) to help as required – making suggestions, challenging student preconceptions and helping sort out necessary resources.   the fast changing future requires of future citizen’s creativity, imagination and individuality to achieve this students need to ‘go beyond’ what is expected.
Valuing students ideas

This is going well beyond current formulaic standardised ‘best practices’ such as ‘learning intentions’, ‘success criteria’ and WALTs. Such practices infer that teachers know what students require and this too easily results in results lacking individuality.

Authentic learning challenges

Teaching teams could devise provocative topics or themes for students to explore that relate to, or combine, the various strands of the New Zealand Curriculum. This would not preclude topical studies that ‘emerge’ that students might want to study. Themes could cover language and mathematical studies and, as well, these areas will be integrated into all studies.

The future emphasis will need to be on inquiry and talent development rather than the current literacy and numeracy.

It might be possible for workshops (at various levels of expertise) to be offered to the students selected from the Learning Areas – drama, music, cultural experiences, mathematical explorations, ecological studies –the possibilities are endless  Students could get credit for their achievements level
and outside expertise could also be involved if required.

At all levels students could keep learning journals  expressing personal ideas as well as content from learning areas covered – such journals  could be kept in electronic portfolios or developed as personal blogs

Need to value the ‘voice’ of all students.

Teachers need to value the ‘voice’ and identity’ and areas of personal interests of all students as central to all learning. Students need to feel their questions, concerns and their lived experience are the vital ingredient in all their learning. Schools needs to provide opportunities for students value their strengths rather than have their weaknesses identified.

The teacher’s role is to provoke students to ask their own questions, to encourage to work collaboratively, to allow them go at their own pace and to value the diversity of their students. This is the essence of personalisation  . Over time identified talents would be amplified, new areas recognised and  recorded on their learning profiles and included in the portfolios.
Value multiple intelligences

Personal writing journals could be also kept to record student’s inner thoughts and shared with teachers if agreed to by the students.

Need to dig deeply into curriculum

The curriculum, whether arising from student’s interests or negotiated by the teacher needs to assist students dig deeply into  areas chosen and result in worthwhile learning artifacts. It is important to do fewer things well to achieve the students ‘personal best’.

The curriculum is itself a search for meaning and a mean for students to expand their perspectives, to challenge their thinking and to provide opportunities their potential talents to be recognised.

Students as active learners

When students are treated as active learners (the 2007 NZC states that students should be ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’) they will, through their actions, discover the value of craftsmanship and honest work and in the process provide teachers and parents with authentic assessment of their achievement.

As students work together to solve problems their combined efforts creates a true democratic learning community where all the diverse voices are valued and appreciated.  We are talking about classrooms in which the students are moved to imagine, to extend and renew their ideas creating in the process their own learning community.

Student achievement can be assessed by means of demonstrations of knowledge, exhibitions and displays, presentations and portfolios of completed work.

A creative role for teachers

Teachers have a vital role in creating such learning communities by providing opportunities for students to express their ideas through exploring a range of media. Teachers help students realize their own images, their own vision of things helping them develop ideas they never (nor the teacher) knew existed. This creative pedagogy empowers both teachers and students and prepares all
involved to thrive in what will be an exciting and ever changing future.

All interactions with students provide opportunities for evaluating achievement and, if necessary, students can be withdrawn for ‘catch up’ help and then returned to the tasks at hand.

Ideally schools need to appoint teachers with a diverse range of talents for enable them share their talents with their students including teachers with special qualifications in helping students with particular learning difficulties.

Class and school organisations

The shape and organisations of such learning communities will challenge the creativity of teachers.  Classrooms (or work spaces) need to be envisaged as an amalgam of an artist’s studio, a science laboratory, a media centre/workshop, and exhibition gallery. 

A class /school could be imagined as an educational version of a modern art gallery/museum such as Te Papa – with students researching topics and creating interactive displays for visitors encouraged by their tutors. Such schools already exist to some degree.

Industrial age remnants

Today’s classrooms all too often reflect a past industrial age with students moving from subject to subject or , at the secondary level, from room to room following a set timetable. This fragmentation is further fractured with the use of ability grouping (usually only in literacy and numeracy) and further fragmented by isolating such things as phonetic instruction in language. As a result it all too often is hard to see evidence of real creativity and student ‘voice’.

Re-imagining the school day

It will require a dramatic mind set to re-imagine flexible new organisations. It would be possible to block times for certain activities (as long as they were integrated with current study topics) and, as
Valuing imagination
teacher and students skill develops, times for various activities could be negotiated with the students – some schools currently do this.

With time students could take responsibility for arranging their own timetables determined by requirements for their negotiated individual learning plans – a form of contract learning.

An imaginary visit

 A visitor entering such a learning community, particularly if they reflect on their own more traditional school experience, will be in for a real surprise , particularly if the school is an open modern learning environment with no traditional classroom spaces

Visitors (provided with a student guide) would be amazed by the quality and the range of the work on display. If visitors have attended a science, maths or technology fair, combined with an arts festival, in the past, they will get the idea. The majority of the displays will interactive and involve the use of a range of computer controlled activities.

Nothing is new -the future is already here. 

We already have teachers and schools at all levels well along the way; it just needs for the ideas to spread throughout our education system. There are plenty of educationalists to provide inspiration such as Sir Ken Robinson who has stated that ‘creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy’ and Guy Claxton replaces Sir Ken’s ‘creativity’ with ‘learnacy’ in a similar quote,

The diverse programmes outlined tap into the ‘multiple intelligences’ ideas of Howard Gardner and also Eliot Eisner who, echoing Gardner, writes that we all interpret the environment with different ‘frameworks’. It’s time to face up to the issue of student disengagement for far too many students.

Elwyn Richardson
In the 1950s pioneer teacher Elwyn Richardson developed the genesis of such a learning community of scientists and artists.  It is timely that his inspirational book, ‘In the Early World’ has been recently republished by the NZCER.

It was John Dewey who wrote over a century ago that ‘children grow into adults as they live today’, that they learn through doing and reflecting on their experiences and that, if we want to ensure democracy endures, we need to have democratic schools.

If such a transformed ‘high trust’ education system were to eventuate (combined with appropriate salaries) talented individuals will want to become teachers and to be part of the unfolding adventure of learning; what better job could there be?

Friday, August 10, 2018

Personalized learning / school culture / Finland / and NZ's pioneer creative teacher

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

Every week Bruce Hammonds and I collect articles to share with teachers to encourage a creative approach to teaching and learning. I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Why Are We Still Personalizing Learning If It’s Not Personal?
‘As an ideal, personalized learning aims to provide instructional experiences tailored to each learner’s preferences and interests, and at a pace appropriate to their needs.But despite our good intentions, personalized learning in practice often falls short of those ideals. And that’s due to a number of misconceptions that persist around personalization.’

These Educators Are Using Personalized Learning to Think Differently About Teaching
‘Students have more agency in their education and are becoming creators and contributors in the learning process. The goals aim to ensure that learning is still focused on rigor and hitting the standards, but that students are also learning soft skills and advocating for their own education and needs as learners.’

The Role of Advisory in Personalizing the Secondary Experience
‘The goal of an advisory is to help students figure out who they are, where they’re headed and how
they’re going to get there. Through an advisory system, each student has an adult who knows them and helps them navigate high school so that they leave with a meaningful, personalized plan and are prepared for post-secondary options.’

3 Challenges for the Future of Education
Thanks to Michael Fawcett for this article.
‘I was recently sent an email and asked to identify some of the challenges I see for the future of
learning in education. These are things that I have noticed through my travels and after countless conversations with educators, and things that I have seen in my work. Although I am providing challenges, I am not necessarily giving solutions but am using this space to work out some of my ideas.’
 What Makes a Good School Culture?

Thanks to Tony Gurr for this one.
‘As she explains, researchers who have studied culture have tracked and demonstrated a strong and

significant correlation between organizational culture and an organization’s performance. Once principals understand what constitutes culture — once they learn to see it not as a hazy mass of intangibles, but as something that can be pinpointed and designed — they can start to execute a cultural vision.’

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern: Why I want arts and culture integrated into all areas of NZ society.
Maybe she needs to have a quiet chat to Minister of Education Chris Hipkins…
‘Art and wellbeing, the idea that creativity and joy should never be just the domain of the privileged few, but accessible to all, isn't new, but hopefully it's coming of age. Peter Fraser was onto it back in the 1940s when he was Prime Minister. He knew that creating a foundation to allow the seeds of art and culture to take root was a key ingredient in establishing a sense of identity.’

Beyond Recess: How to Explore the Forest as a Kindergarten Class
'American kids are spending less time outside. Even in kindergarten, recess is being cut back. But in
one small town in Vermont, a teacher is doing something different: one day a week, she takes her students outside - for the entire school day.
It’s called Forest Monday.’

Sis key principals that Finnish schools excellent.

‘So, what makes Finnish schools consistently excellent? A curriculum reform adopted by the Finnish National Agency for Education in 2016 set key goals that I think are clear reflections of the Finnish approach to education.’

LISTEN: Dylan Wiliam on the role of research in your classroom
‘The acclaimed academic offers his thoughts on growth mindset, cognitive load and how research can be used in schools.

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Elwyn S Richardson 1925 -2012 Creative teacher
Elwyn’s educational philosophy was based on the belief that all real learning must be anchored in
personal experience. It was this conviction that provided the foundation for his developmental approach to education. Central to this was his theory of integration, a personalised process whereby children moved from one expressive medium to another, between all subject areas.’

Experience and Education -John Dewey 1938
‘John Dewey's ideas have all but been lost in our current system particularly as students reach higher levels and, because of this, we now have such worrying problem of dis-engagement of learners.’

Friday, August 03, 2018

Developing a pedagogy for Modern Learning Schools / the power of drama / and the artistry of teaching

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

Every week Bruce Hammonds and I collect articles to share with teachers to encourage a creative approach to teaching and learning. We welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Drama the pedagogy of hope  
‘The importance of drama as pedagogy and as a way of resisting threats to participatory democracy was affirmed by an international conference of drama educators and researchers in Auckland last week.’

Opinion: Peter Lyons – the modern tyranny of metrics
Peter Lyons is dubious when it comes to setting SMART goals to hold teachers accountable.
‘I loathe the modern mantra of management which entails the need for metrics to measure performance and ensure accountability. To prove your worth with a
quantifiable measure.’

Place-Based Education Empowers Students to Make Change
‘Place-based learning engages students in solving problems in their communities. In the
Brightmoor neighborhood of northwest Detroit, one of the biggest problems is lack of water–ironic in a state surrounded by it. The issue resulted from a 2015 decision by the city to shut off water service to 23,300 Detroit homes in a crackdown on delinquent accounts. Brightmoor residents were left to collect water from their roofs using rain barrels, but the water was not safe for drinking. How’s that for a challenge for students to take on?'

Can the ‘Not-School’ Movement Help Kids Re-Engage with
‘An Australian researcher asserts that the alternative educational approach known as the “not-school” movement can lead to greater learning outcomes for children who are struggling in traditional school.’

Carol Dweck Explains The 'False' Growth Mindset That Worries Her
Carol Dweck
'Dweck explains all the ways she sees growth mindset being misappropriated. Her complicated psychological research has gotten boiled down to, "praise the effort, not the outcome." Dweck also explained what she means by a "false" growth mindset.’

Finding the joy in learning. Harnessing the power of ‘What if…
‘I know many schools are moving towards, or already include this style of learning with extended periods of time via project/problem-based learning, genius hour, inquiry learning, etc., but what if all students at all levels could feel as engaged and as excited about their learning as I did about mine today? Today, I experienced being lost in the joy of learning that is too frequently denied many of our students.’

Here’s a selection of articles looking at how secondary schools can be run to meet the needs of today’s students. Sadly many/most New Zealand secondary schools don’t appear to have moved beyond the late 19th century factory model.

How does a new secondary school ‘become’? Claire Amos
‘So how do a new school’s leaders turn a vision into reality? Evidence on what it’s like to make a new school from scratch is hard to find. What is scarce is information that helps us understand what it takes to develop a school culture, systems, pedagogical and pastoral practices and the like from a vision and empty new buildings. Hobsonville Point Secondary School (HPSS) gave me access to learn a little of how this particular school found its feet.’

My HPSS Journey - reflecting on an awesome five and a half years - Claire Amos
Claire Amos
‘I believe HPSS is genuinely beginning to reimagine what secondary schooling needs to look like and I can tell you, having lived it for the last five and half year, it is the most exciting and most challenging job an educator can have. Experienced teachers feel like they have their training wheels permanently fitted, genuinely living out what it means to be an adaptive expert.'

Impact Projects - Prototyping an innovation project
‘So when I had the opportunity to offer an Impact Project I knew I wanted to see how I approach it as if developing an Innovation Curriculum. I began by thinking about what Innovation might look if it were to become a stand alone subject. I decided that I would be best offering a project that was less about subject expertise  and more about focusing on supporting students who came with their own ideas and were more in need of a project/innovation coach.’

Patea Area School receives UNESCO Award

Nicola Ngarewa presents the exciting developments of Patea Area School at New Plymouth TED Talk.
‘Ngarewa closed the show with her captivating plight to "disrupt the education norms".Born from along-line of educators, Ngarewa's talk detailed her time as a principal at Pātea AreaSchool, which
was a low-achieving school under statutory management when she first stepped into the role.She spoke about how through shifting mindsets and tackling education with an innovative approach, she was able to radically improve the school's academic results and increase both its roll and its attendance rate.'
Aotea Canoe Patea

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Transforming Secondary Education – the most difficult challenge of all.Thoughts from a past age – ‘Young Lives at Stake’ by Charity James
‘Charity James believed it was important to get secondary education right if all students were to leave able to take advantage of the exciting opportunities the future might offer.  The challenge remains. Secondary schools need a radical reappraisal to ameliorate the effects of obvious social and cultural disadvantages and also to develop the needs, talents and gifts of all students.’

Artistry versus conformity in teaching.
Today 'best practice' rules supreme as teachers follow suggestions to try to direct their students'
learning by the use of defining intentions, negotiating 'success criteria', or something called WALTS. Teachers are too busy providing 'feedback' and 'feed forward' all too often unconsciously removing student intuition and imagination in the process.'