Monday, January 31, 2005
The attractive power of vision
Before we decide to go anywhere it is important to face up to the reality of where we are now: what is going well and what is not worth the effort or hindering our progress? Facing reality is the hardest aspect in any change process. If we can develop an attractive future this will give us the strength to face up to the inevitable 'storms' that we will encounter.
It is a good idea to ask a few questions.
1 What is the mission of our school?The answer to this should reflect our schools unique point of view or 'reason d'etre'.
2 What are the challenges of the future for our students? What do we think young people should be learning in school?
3 What are the major challenges we face as a teaching team?
4 What are our values? How do we want to treat each other and our students?
5 How can we create conditions to empower teachers, parents and students?
6 What aspects of our school currently disempower teachers, students and parents? Answering this requires courage and honesty.
7 What ideas can we think of to begin the visioning and transformation process?
8 What specific actions can we take? How will we know when we have succeeded?
Powerful advice from DrSeus S.
Sometimes school people, I am reluctant to say educators, make learning all too serious. This page from a Dr Seus book provides a simple but not simplistic message.
Professional 'school people' have created (or has it just grown like Topsy?) a complicated dysfunctional 'system' that worldwide fails approximately one third of it's students. And all too often the students are blamed, or their parents, but rarely the school, the teachers or the lack of real community adults have created.
If students have been helped to use the 'brains in their heads' in a positive way; and if their talents have been developed they can all 'go great places'; and if they have been helped develop positive attributes and values they can 'steer themselves' and 'go in any direction they choose'.
So what stops so many of them?
Why don't we simply ask them?
Who has read 'Doofendorfer School' by the Dr?
The miracle of community; birds flocking
As a new school year begins the question arises, ‘How does a school develop a learning community so powerful that all involved can act spontaneously within an agreed philosophy?’
For the past decade or so schools have been too busy, sidetracked trying to implement imposed technocratic curriculums and accountability demands, to consider a more effective way of working, that of being a ‘learning community’.
And, in turn, teachers have become so obsessed with complying with requirements that they too have neglected the real source of power – shared beliefs that they and their students forge through working together for their mutual benefit.
Flocks of birds and school of fish, and many other animals, have not lost this primal power! They could teach us a lesson about collective thinking.
It is obvious that teaching and learning are strengthened when teachers form a strong professional community and more so when they align themselves with other schools and organizations that are working in a similar ‘organic’ way.
To create such a professional learning community, schools need to have the courage to collectively question ineffective teaching practices and examine new conceptions of learning. It is through this process that they will generate ideas to support one another’s collective growth.
How do new teaching practices come to be known, shared and developed?
How do teachers develop a collective identity?
What conditions are needed to ensure teachers continually engage in ongoing professional work together because it is simply the best thing to do?
This is more than being handed out a vision and beliefs developed by others or agreed to by default.
Norms of isolation, tradition, habit, competition, and privatization of ideas need to be replaced by new understandings and by the lure of innovation, creation and being part of something exciting and worthwhile. Sharing each others teaching stories, successes and failures, and searching out common elements is part of this collective sense making process. To achieve this means being open and honest with ourselves and each other so as to give away defensive habits that create barriers to collective learning. This is not easy and requires leadership and support.
Once new conceptions have been identified new possibilities will emerge. From these beginning a new sense of being part of a learning community evolves. People then feel free to express uncertainties and dilemmas and are open to new ideas.
Attractive ideas will ‘gel’ together. When these are formalized they in turn act as a self reference for everyone’s actions. New ideas spread by themselves as if an epidemic. Wrong directions equally are seen as learning opportunities. Everything is learning. Everything is feedback and everything contributes to self correction.
Schools learn to fly as if flock of birds.
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
The edge of great possibilities
I am about to rush off to run a couple of days on school vision and quality teaching.
I have just received, by e-mail, an outline of a leadership course to be held in California based on the ideas of leadership ‘gurus’ Jim Kouznes and Barry Posner. Their leadership model outlines Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership and is one I make use of.
So before I go I thought I would share them. The next decade holds tremendous leadership opportunities for those with the courage to act and not to simply comply with imposed solutions devised with mindsets firmly locked in the wrong century!
1. Model the way – align your actions with shared values. But first you have to find you voice by clarifying what you value.
2. Inspire a shared vision – by imagining exciting and enabling possibilities. Enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations.
3. Challenge the process .Search for innovative ways to change, grow and improve. Experiment by taking risks and generating small wins and learning from mistakes.
4. Enable others to act. Foster collaboration by promoting collaborative goals and building trust. Strengthen other by power sharing.
5. Encourage the heart. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence. Celebrate the values and victories by generating a spirit of community.
All valuable advice for school leaders; their are great possibilities are available with those with the courage to act.
For more info. Also see Tom Peters.
Now to catch my plane!
Monday, January 24, 2005
Peter Jackson Director
I’ve always thought it would be interesting to follow successful creative people back to their schools to see how well they were accepted and how much their education contributed, or hindered, their development. It would be interesting to see where their passion for their vocation came from.
From what I have heard and read, and from my personal experience of others, those with a talent have discovered it early and have held on to their dream to succeed no matter what. I guess those with less talent, or less opportunity, lose their dreams and settle for what life offers them. Thee are so many stories of creative people being unsuccessful at school but succeeding in their chosen area that it would be worth the effort to ask them for their views.
I wonder what Peter Jackson was like at school and how he holds it in his memory. And I wonder what seminal influences, people and opportunities inspired him to take the course ho did?
Whatever, the metaphor of the film director is a powerful one, and one that fits well with leadership qualities the future will require. Leaders need a passion to do something they feel is very important to them. Such creative people have a desire to create impossible to ignore and to realize their dream they need to work with a range of other equally talented people.
A director’s key role is to create the conditions to get the very best out everyone involved and to cast the people in the film to take advantage of their strengths. A lot of this must be intuitive but an intuition honed by previous experience. And the interesting thing is, that at the end of the film, all the various contributors go their own way never to all work together again in the same configuration.
Other directors will select them for their various talents and the cycle continues.
This is how I imagine work in the future to be like. Success will depend on the talents each person develops and the contacts and relationships they make.
It would be interesting if film directors were to run our schools. I think they would value each person’s potential talent more than current school principals do. Such leaders would 'attract' their pupils. Schools could be established by people with particular interests and students could choose whatever schools they want to attend.
There are signs of this approach developing in many parts of the world now. Perhaps current schools have achieved all they can in their current format and that one day we will look back on traditional school buildings and say, ‘How did teenagers manage to stay in such places so long?’
I think if we asked creative people in any areas of endeavor about how to develop schools to develop whatever talents students have, they would provide us with some interesting ideas.
Sunday, January 23, 2005
From the 'modern' to the 'post modern'?
Art has away of reflecting its time or, in the case of the really creative, anticipating the future. For artists who are ahead of their times it is not an easy road as was the case of artists such as Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh. Both would be surprised (or depressed) at the prices people now pay for their paintings.
During their lifetime the all knowing and judging elite of the day rejected them because they did not fit in with 'their' criteria or what they consider to be 'exemplars' of quality art. These all knowing elites still exist today and we ought to be careful not to always follow their advice.
Creative teachers know this feeling of being ‘judged’ well, as they battle with comprising their integrity to comply with imposed curriculums and assessment tasks. Many are forced to live ‘double lives’; doing enough of what is expected so they can get on with what is really important - helping students develop their talents, dreams and passions. The really creative teachers have long left the profession.
The artist Mondrian abstracted natural form like trees to create what now represents ‘modern art’ – pure objectivity. His paintings could also be said to be seen as a metaphor to represent the strands and objectives of current standardized 'modern' curriculums. Mondrian's art, his grids and pure lines, although upsetting at the time, can now be seen throughout our modern cities today, representing the de-personalization’/ globalization of us all.
Jackson Pollock led us back to pure expressionism and subjectivity and painted, as unconsciously as he could, a world of ambiguity, serendipity and strange shapes. His ‘post modern’ expressionistic art represents could well represent a metaphor of the complex and chaotic future that faces us all. Our success in this complex future, of difficult to see relationship and patterns, will depend not on pre planned road-maps (or plans) but on our courage and ability to take advantage of what ever comes our way.
Every person has to abstract out the patterns in their lives so as to make sense of things for themselves, as did Mondrian, but it is not possible to follow others plans unthinkingly. The future is too messy for that.
Educators need to ask themselves what future attributes will their students need to thrive in such an unpredictable but potentially exciting future?
The answer lies within our reach – just watch any active two year old. At this age they still retain them all!
Saturday, January 22, 2005
Paul Gauguin's Painting 54"X150"
In 1897 artist Paul Gauguin found himself in a mood of depression. He was in poor health and financial strife and things became worse when he heard of the death of his 20 year old daughter. Finally he lost his home in Tahiti. In September of 1897 he wrote ‘nothing is clear ahead of me and no hope left. What shall I do?
At this point Gauguin painted the largest painting he had ever undertaken before what he anticipated would his death. He called this painting, ‘Whence do we come? What are we? Where are we going?’
Following this painting he made a fresh start and his next painting was about serenity and communion with nature. Nothing in this new painting derived from work done before. It marks renewal and a fresh start. As well his material situation improved although he was never to receive much of value for his paintings. He lived unrewarded and unrecognized dying in poor straits in 1903
The three questions are important for each of and to the organization we work in and I guess for the fate of the world itself.
1. What is our history – how did we come to where we are?
2. What is the current reality?”
3. What do we need to do to improve things?
If we focus on the first two the third might take care of itself?
Thursday, January 20, 2005
A simple but effective display .Students aged 7/8
This simple display arose because of a bed of spectacular sunflowers couldn’t but help attract students attention.
The teacher wisely capitalized on the excitement and the display above shows some of the quality observational work that resulted. What can’t be seen are some magnificent paintings by class members in the style of Vincent van Gogh completed following research into the life of the artist.
As part of the study students also studied the mathematical patterns of the seed heads and measured the rate of growth and height of the flowers. The students also grew sunflower seeds. Simple charts are also on display elsewhere in the class showing the research students completed based on some key questions negotiated with the class. These charts also include poetic writing based on their impressions written after sitting below the flowers.
All simple, effective and memorable.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
A simple display with important messages
I have been reading an article on the web about the pressures being placed on young children and their teachers in the United States to achieve expectations set by standardized tests. In the process teachers have had to narrow their curriculum to ensure their school does well when results are published. And as well, I guess, they would be worried about their tenure?
Another article described a young student who has been held back twice and now is three years older than her classmates because she obviously hadn't passed appropriate tests.
This is what happens when politicians impose simplistic solutions to complex problems.
What ‘messages’ about learning, and American culture, are being given by such articles?
In contrast the work above was done by creative seven year olds with an equally creative teacher. Work of this quality is to be seen in every class in this school.
When you visit such a class you can’t but admire: the quality of student's thought (in this case their prior ideas about what causes thunder and lightening); the teacher who had the sense to take advantage of a teachable moment to motivate her students; and a teacher who obviously understands the need to present her student's work in a way that tells them she really cares for their work.
As well the teacher has obviously helped her students acquire the design and graphic skills to present their work with individual style. The attention to detail is continued with an approach to handwriting, almost to the degree of making it an art form.
This is personalized education not schooling. About valuing student individuality, learning style , and creativity; hard to measure with standardized testing.
I know what class I would like my students be in.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
It is easy to see what is valued.
When I visit schools it doesn’t take me long to gain an impression of what counts as important. Of course it is only my impression but after visiting countless classrooms over the years I at least know what I like.
I think room environments should reflect the creativity of the students and the belief system of the teacher and hopefully the whole school.
In the small part of Christine’s classroom pictured above there is a lot to notice. I can see that she believes in celebrating the thinking and creativity of her students by the care she has taken in displaying it. In this process she is not only demonstrating to her students she values their work but she is also is unconsciously teaching design and visual literacy skills.
The students are aged seven and eight and the work is all of high quality. I note that she values the importance of close observation by the quality of the monarch butterfly drawings, part of a science study on these ever popular insects. As well the students have enlarged their original small drawings to colour in and add to the display. Finally she has encouraged them to move from the observational to the imaginative as seen in the large pastel art pieces. Observation is an important skill easily over looked; developing student's imagination is equally vital.
Simple stuff and well done. I know also that Christine has taught her students to take their time, to look hard and, when working, to ‘slow the pace’ so as to do their ‘personal best’. This sense of quality is also reflected in the research charts on birds from a previous study also on display. These charts indicate she has taught students simple design graphics to improve their presentation. The message she continually gives her students is, that if it is worth doing it is worth doing well.
Christine herself is pictured providing ‘feedback’ and ideas for her students to consider. She is well aware of the need to be careful about doing this because she wants to preserve each child special way of seeing and thinking. I know she sees her role as a ‘creative coach’ focusing on personally helping each learner to continually extend what they can achieve.
All these ‘messages’ can be seen in a few minutes. If you were to stay longer and see the day unfold, and if you were to look ate the way students happily work at their tasks, and as well, take a quick look at their bookwork, your first impressions would be confirmed.
Next time you visit a classroom look around – what messages can you pick up?
Ideas for criteria to evaluate your room you can be found on our website.
Other photos to view
Monday, January 17, 2005
What does all this reflect?
What do environments tell us?
It was interesting to read an article in our local paper about interior decorating. We all say that we want a home that reflects who we are but it seems in most case we search for what we want in magazines and stores.
Denny Daikeler is an American Interior Designer and Interior Minister. She see her role as helping people discover who they are so they can figure out how they want to live.
It seems to me that Daikeler's approach reflects the true role of an educator as against a school teacher! Teachers pass on to their students what some authority has decided students need; educators help students uncover who they are. We have too few educators.
Daikeler believes most of us are coached from birth to behave in certain acceptable ways so by the time we are adults we’ve lost touch with our inner selves so completely that we decorate our homes to impress others than please ourselves. Denny believes that this lack of individuality can in some cases be depressing.
I can’t help but think that the same thing applies to schooling. Many students must feel that their ‘voice’, identity, talents, passions, dreams, culture and ideas are not acknowledged at school. This also must be depressing. Even for the so –called ‘successful’.
Daikeler’s aim is help people rediscover what she calls their ‘inner blueprint’, the place within us that holds our joys, dreams, interests, childhood memories and other aspects that define who we really are.
Once we figure this out, she says, we can create homes that inspire and nurture us. Not ones that fit into others expectations. This is more than design – it is about being authentic.
Evidently Daikeler has had some amazing results with her clients creating emotional and physical differences in them. It is not about redecorating but more the process of helping people develop a clearer sense of who they are and then developing homes that reflect this in a way that energizes them.
Creating such ‘authentic’ environments in schools, ones that reflect the 'inner blueprints', culture and interests of students, does the same. It is all too easy for the design and visually illiterate ‘teachers’ to treat the creativity and ‘voice’ of students as mere decoration. Such rational people put too much faith in things that can be controlled and measured as determined by 'authorities.
Every classroom sends ‘messages’ to perceptive visitors, for better or worse, about the values of the teachers and the creativity of the students. I would put my faith in the insights gained from such ‘messages’ rather than the graphs and data that school so love making.
What ‘messages’ does your classroom tell visitors?
Some ideas to assist can be found on our site
What messages does your room reflect?
Ideas for displaying.
Sunday, January 16, 2005
Download this Report.
‘The Learning for the 21stC’ Report well worth downloading.
While nations focus on the literacy and numeracy problems the Report states that there still remains a gap between the knowledge and skills most people learn in school and the knowledge they need for the 21stC. The world has changed dramatically and so must schools.
Fifty years ago factory and office workers worked on a single machine but new powerful technology has altered traditional practices and participating effectively in communities and democracy requires peoples to use more advanced knowledge as well. Most job skills will become obsolete in a few years and workers will have to become life long learners.
Successful businesses are looking for employees who can adapt to changing needs, juggle multiple responsibilities and routinely make decisions for themselves. Future work will be about multi –tasking, teaming, problem solving and project work. Workers need more than know how they also need the ability to create, analyze and transform.
Peter Senge, the futurist asks a simple question, ‘How has the world changed in the past 150 years? And the answer is, it’s hard to imagine any way in which it hasn’t changed. Children know more about what’s going on than their teachers often because the media environment they grow up in. They’re immersed in a media environment of all kinds of stuff that was unheard of 150 years ago, and if you look at school today versus 100 years ago, they are more similar than dissimilar.’
The Report outlines six elements of a 21stC Education.
1. Emphasize core subjects.
2. Emphasize learning skills.
Students need to know how to use their knowledge and skills by thinking critically, applying knowledge to new situations, comprehending new ideas, adjusting to ever changing circumstances; communicating, collaborating with others and solving problems.
3. Use21stC tools to develop learning skills.
Technology will continue to be a driving force in workplaces and in the community. Skilled people need to know how to use technology and multi media tools. Students can from am early age learn to take full advantage of research and multi media tools.
4. Teach and use 21stC contexts.
Teachers need to create 21stC contexts by: making content relevant to student’s lives; bringing the world into the classroom; taking students into the world; and creating opportunities for students to interact with each other and knowledgeable adults. The community can become a learning resource. By these means students can see connections between their schoolwork and their lives outside the classroom. These connections are critical.
5. Teach and learn 21stC content.
It is vitally important that the next generation preserve and strengthen our democracy. This requires understanding of: global awareness and of different cultures, countries and regions ; an understanding of businesses processes, the importance of entrepreneurial spirit, and the economic forces that shape their lives; an understanding of civic literacy and the importance of participating in the political process; and finally ad appreciation of such areas as the visual and performing arts.
6. Use 21stC assessment that measure 21stC skills.
What is measured gets taught; assessment drives instruction. If we are to value project based learning then we need to integrate classroom teaching and assessment including the use of rubrics and self assessment.
These six elements would make an excellent basis to begin a dialogue in your school or community.
They have much in common with the Teaching Framework to be found on our site.
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Preparing citizens for the 21stC.
According to ‘The Partnership for 21stC Schools,’ a public private organization formed in 2002, a nation needs a vision for education that will inspire teachers, students and the wider community.
In their report ‘Learning for the 21stC’ they articulate such a vision. This vision asks for schools to change dramatically. The Partnership is committed to promoting a national dialogue about 21stC skills.
The vision they propose is an exciting and easily understood one.
Schools worldwide have not yet faced up to the attributes students will need to thrive in what will be exiting but unpredictable future. The partnership faces up to 21stC realities and defines the essential skills students will need rather than tinkering with a system well past its 'use by date'.
Today’s education faces irrelevance unless the gap is bridged between how students live and how they learn. Schools should be designed around the way students learn and for the 21stC Literacy must mean more than reading, writing and computing skills; it means knowing how to use these skills in the context of modern life. As writer Alvin Toffler points out, ‘The illiterate of the 21stC will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.’
And as John Dewey wrote many years ago, ‘the aim of education is to enable individuals to continue their education….the object and reward is learning is continued capacity for growth.’
While we currently fail about a third of our students we have along way to go and we can’t get there with the schools we currently have.
As Peter Drucker, the business philosopher has written, no country as yet has designed a 21stC education system. He has also stated that no organisation will have to change as much as schools.
The Partnership has made a good start with rethinking education but it is only the beginning.
Download the report and have a read - well worth the trouble.
The Partnership includes: AOL Time Warner, Apple, Cable in the Classroom, Cisco, Dell, Microsoft , SAP, national Education Foundation.
Friday, January 14, 2005
Bamboo - resilience in nature
Bamboos are a great symbol of resilience, bending in the wind and quickly growing if it comes to the worst. Going with the flow and knowing when to sidestep are important skills of learning. It is all about resilience.
Students at school need help develop to learn to stick at tasks and to persevere so as to gain the satisfaction of achieving something they didn’t know they could do. Naturally the task has to be meaningful and worthwhile to the individual.
Too often teachers do not ‘push’ students to finish and accept work from some students which ought to unacceptable. As a result many students have their desire for the easy option and instant gratification pandered to. Far too many students in our schools believe that 'first finished is best' and have little recognition of the need of an old fashioned word – effort. As a result they become part of a growing number of ‘ I can’t do it’ students – beaten before they start!
Such students, when they meet up with more difficult challenges, either give up too easily, think they cannot do it, or get stressed and can’t cope. To develop resiliency in such children is the role of a sensitive teacher.
Students who are resilient persevere because they have goals in mind to achieve or, better still, life long passions that drive them. This focus enables them to keep learning when the ‘going gets tough’. And each small success builds a platform for even greater efforts.
Resilience can be taught. There are several elements that research and practical experience has shown to be valuable:
1. Help students develop recognizable talents no matter how insignificant. What are the ‘intelligences’ each student’s shows interest in? What interests do students have? Schools should be about talent development and valuing students 'voice' as much as anything else.
2. When students undertake an activity that interests them, encourage them to stick at the task until it is finished. If necessary break the task into small steps, each of which can be celebrated when achieved. Help students appreciate that nothing is gained without the investment of personal effort. Too many students think that 'first finished is best'! Instant gratification is too often all they learn to value. Working hard is vital; it is as simple as that. Teachers need to learn to do fewer things well!
3. As an adult provide a mix of support and pressure. Provide high expectations and also focused feed back, withdrawing support as students gain confidence. A good metaphor for a teacher is a ‘creative learning coach’. When students achieve personal excellence they see it is worth the effort.
4. Many students, with a history of failure, think learning is a matter of intelligence (either you can or you can’t) or worse still simply luck. Both put learning beyond their control. By breaking tasks into steps, making learning explicit, and focused practice, students can see it is within their reach.
5. Resilient students are also happy to ask for help and are open to ideas. Less resilient students are reserved or antagonistic towards assistance. With encouragement, this self defeating attitude can be changed. Particularly when students see what they can do! Teachers who teach students explicit intelligent behaviors (see Art Costa) can assist less resilient students. Students can change from ‘I can’t do it’ kids to ‘can do’ kids!’
6. Resilience can be developed by having students help each other in co operative tasks. This lets students see that others may share the same problem as they do or they may have a skill that others value; both will help.
7. Obviously if parents can be helped to acquire these skills so they in turn help their children handle conflict and learning tasks this is the best strategy of all. When parent, child and teacher work in concert success can be assured. Developing this collaborative support is a challenge to many schools, particularly where there are a number of ‘at risk’ students.
Resilience is a bi-product of successful learning experiences; particularly ones that assist students develop a sense of personal excellence and pride. A focus on resilience, rather than literacy, may well be the solution for a growing number of students who have lost the intrinsic power that comes from being successful.
If resilience can be ‘taught’ then it is important that we not only believe all students can learn, but that we care enough to develop learning communities that ensure they do.
Students, like the bamboo (with our help) can then bounce back from whatever life throws at them!
Thursday, January 13, 2005
The Tsunami wave.
As bad as it seems now the countries reeling from the recent tsunami will bounce back. It is amazing how individuals and regions can bounce back from adversities which at the time seem insurmountable.
However not all people can bounce back. Why some people can face up too the most difficult situations do so, while others do not, is an important, but not often mentioned, factor in human development? What are the factors that enable some people recover from extreme poverty, personal calamities, or such natural disasters as last month’s tsunami? What enables such people to make a new life when everything must seem so black?
Psychologists use the word resilience. In some primary classes I visit it is called by the chidren the ‘tigger factor’ after the AA Milne character. ! The ability to rebound from set backs plays an important role in whether children are to grow up to be successful adults. Not that personal disasters are forgotten. While 'scars' may remain the ability to adapt and get on with life is vital.
Research studies indicate that a strong personal bond with parents in the first few years sets the tone for the rest of a child's life more than any other factor. Having an easy going personality is aslo an advantage. Educator Guy Claxton calls resilience the ‘fourth R’ and sees it as important as reading and writing and maths. Children who have resilience do not give up easily; they persevere.
There are things that we can do to help children develop resiliency. It is important to help them have the courage to stick at things when it seems it would be easier to give in. When young children gain experience at sorting out lifes small challenges from an early age this develop resilience. Having a positive sense of self as result of battling through is vital, as is a having a belief that there is something worthwhile to achieve in the future. Resilience builds up over time and is best started young.
Unfortunately many children are born into circumstances not of their own making and there are many risk factors that add up to making it difficult for such children to gain the necessary sense of resilience. Resilience is strength under diversity but the multiple risk experiences that too many of our students suffer limits their emotional endurance.
It may be that this lack of resiliency is creating the school failures, or the ‘achievement tail’, that is worrying so many educational experts. Maybe infusing resiliency attitudes into all our programmes is the real answer.
No wonder Guy Claxton calls it the fourth ‘R’
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Great book for middle schools
For decades reformers have been fiddling with how to improve our secondary schools derived from a different age and for a different purpose. Asking those who currenty control or 'lead' our schools to transform them is a bit like asking the Queen to abolish the monarchy!
To an informed outsider secondary schools are an absurd way to educate our students and at best only succeed with the top third of students – who would succeed anyway in spite of the system. Worldwide about a third of all studnts leave school dispirited, alienated and short changed by the system. Yet we still persist with the basic outdated 'factory' model.
Those in charge of our secondary schools are, like the Emperor, to blinded by the success of the few to notice their schools are crumbing at the edges. Reactionary thinking blinds school people (I am reluctant to call them educators) to all the available knowledge about how to create their school as learning communities; communities fully able to realize the talents of all their students.
One excellent model, gaining support in the USA, is the Big Picture Company developed by Dennis Littky. Littky along with Elliot Washor established a middle school in the sixties regarded as the most innovative school since John Dewey’s Lab school. Their school was one of the earliest members of the influential Coalition of Essential Schools. In 1994 they launched the ‘Big Picture Company’ to take their ideas for education out into the world. In 1996 they established the first of the six schools that comprise The Metropolitan Regional and Career Centre (‘The Met’). These were small personalized high schools, working with disadvantaged students in tandem with their students’ communities.
The Big Picture Company believes that every students learning should grow out of his or her unique needs, interests and passions. They also believe that the system must ensure that the students and their families are active participants in the design and assessment of the student’s education. The goal of education should be to connect students to the world ‘one student at a time’.
Big Picture Schools are small, personalized communities of learning were students are encouraged to be leaders and where school leaders are encouraged to be visionaries. Their schools aim to create respectful, diverse, creative, exciting and reflective cultures. They encourage their students, teachers and parents to see the ‘big picture’; to look at education in new and different ways. They also hope to reenergize teachers and provoke discussion and dissent about the shape of education required to ensure all students gain the opportunity to use their talents and not just the academic few as at present.
Littky wants students from their schools to be: 'a thinker and a doer, and who follows his or her passions….a adult who is strong enough to stand up and speak for what he or she believes, and who cares about himself or herself and the world. Someone who understands himself or herself and understands learning. Creativity, passion, courage, and perseverance are the personal qualities I want to see in my graduates…I want them to feel good about themselves and be good honest people in the way they live their lives…..finally I want my students to get along with and respect others….To become life long learners.’
Check out the Big Picture Company website and also that of the Coalition of Essential Schools and acquire a copy of Littky’s book ‘The Big Picture’; available from ascd.
The Teaching Framework on our site is also worth a read – it has much in common with idea of the Coalition of Essential School ideas.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Literacy -means or end?
The Ministry of Education’s mission is focused on closing the achievement gap. No one can argue with this, particularly as we have in New Zealand a long achievement ‘tail’. As the data is mainly focused on literacy and numeracy this is naturally where the emphasis is being placed. This emphasis is reinforced by regular press reports about students who cannot read and do maths after passing through our school system.
However, closing the ‘achievement gap’ has been one of most frustrating goals of public education worldwide. In recent years the emphasis has focused on the quality (or lack of it) of classroom teachers. Teachers with high expectations, using ‘best practices’, and with parent cooperation, are now being seen as the key to success.
Perhaps we are going about the issue in the wrong way? We are putting all our efforts into improving the skills of teachers and focusing everything on improving test results. In the UK test scores, which initially improved due to their literacy and numeracy hours, have now flattened out, and in the US, increasingly teachers are teaching towards the tests. Both strategies have resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum offered to students.
Gov. Schwarzenegger of California has added his wealth of educational knowledge to the debate blaming teachers in general for the 'disaster' of their schools. His answer is performance payment for 'successful' teachers. No consideration that teachers have been doing their best to assist students, many who enter schools from a dysfunctional society, while at the same time trying to implement the latest changes imposed by experts. Politicians, as always, like a simple solution to a complex problem. Scapegoating teachers is too easy.
What is required is an education that is focused on meeting the real needs of all students. This requires a personalized education that focuses on ensuring every students ‘voice’, thoughts and culture is valued. Everything in school should contribute to the development of every child’s talents, dreams and passions.
‘Students ‘voice’ is missing in many classrooms. A personalized classroom would , ‘illustrate’ the personal stories and expression of students; value student’s questions; and make full use of their cultures and immediate environment as learning resources. If this were to occur then literacy and numeracy would be improved by default. Writing and reading (and maths) are vital if children are to make personal meaning of their experiences – but real life challenges are vital to provide the motivation.
This personalized education was once a strength of creative New Zealand primary programs but to be of real value such programs would need to extended throughout the school system; a personalized curriculum for every learner.
But even this would not be enough to close the ‘achievement gap’. As well intentioned as the above efforts are they ignore the real problem, that of the wider social and economic conditions, and the lack of understanding of cultural issues that impcat on learners. As a consequence of earlier government policies we are now seeing a growing ‘under-class’ of disadvantaged citizens. Add to this cultural differences and alienation, and current solutions hardly begin to scratch the surface.
Children from poor socio economic status do not come to school with the same advantages as the ‘middle class’ children – or to put it another way, schools as they are structured, are more suited to the backgrounds of middle class students. This is not necessarily a deficit but a cultural difference. Parents of students from poor socio economic, or cultural backgrounds, have different styles of child rearing, different values, expectations, and different ways of relating to children, which create communication differences, which in turn 'mask' student’s abilities.
A move towards a personalization of education would require a transformation of schools as we now know them – particularly at the secondary level.
But even if schools were able to help children ‘catch up’, in the end, schools and teachers cannot solve the problem alone and it may be unfair to place such a responsibility on teachers.
We need politicians to develop an inclusive vision for New Zealand, one that really faces up to issues of poverty and economic exclusion; a vision that is based on the need for the reinvention of a sense of community; and the ability of all to contribute.
If this were to be achieved schools could then become centers of community renewal and talent development. To re-engage schools with their communities is the real challenge. Parents, community and school collaboration might be the real ‘achievement gap’ to be bridged.
Monday, January 10, 2005
Peak Learning Website Logo
I know of at least one school in Palmerston North that has been using the ideas outlined in the article ‘Relationship Driven Teaching’ written by Spence Rogers and Lisa Renard. The full article is available from their site ‘Peak Learning’
The ideas align well with our own beliefs found on our site .It is a co-incidence but we almost have the same logo!
Rogers and Renard believe that by focusing on the fundamental emotional needs of learners teachers can enhance students motivation. If ‘needs are met we want to perform to the best of our ability.’ Students are motivated when they believe their teachers treat them like people and care about them personally and educationally.
To achieve motivated students teachers need to create meaningful learning contexts that enable students to value the activities enough to want to learn and to achieve. By applying relationships learning ideas, Rogers and Renard write, amazing things happen. Teachers treat students with respect; offer meaningful, significant choices, and create valuable, fun, or interesting learning opportunities and in turn students see teachers in new light.
Spence and Renards 'Relationship Driven Teaching Framework' is based on two principles and six standards.
The first principle is ‘seek first to understand’; meaning we must understand the needs and beliefs of students as they are, not what we think they should be.
The second is that we need to manage the learning context, not the students; the need is to establish the conditions to foster intrinsic motivation rather than seek to control or dominate students.
The six Framework Standards are;
1. Safe. For students to learn they must feel safe from the threats of either physical and emotional danger or embarrassment. This is essential if students are to take learning risks.
2. Valuable. Students must perceive that what they are doing has value. Learning must fill a need; solve a problem; or be interesting, fun, or enjoyable.
3. Successful. Students need evidence of success in achieving either mastery or significant progress towards mastery. Learning must be challenging for each student. Students need to be able to be given regular and meaningful evidence of progress.
4. Involving. Students become involved when they have a meaningful stake in what is going on. Students need to be involved in planning and making decisions about what they are learning and how it is to be assessed. This includes self assessment using rubrics they have helped create.
5. Caring. Everyone has a basic need for love and belonging; to be valued and cared about; to be part of a group and not to feel an outsider. Caring can be demonstrated by valuing student’s views, listening to their ideas and by having high expectations for all students.
6. Enabling. Teachers must seek out ‘best practices’ to ensure all students achieve their personal best. Such teachers are not afraid to try new sound ideas when what they have been doing in the past has not led to mastery by all students.
All these standards are interconnected and create an intricate and powerful ‘web’ to ensure all students learn. They cannot be applied in a linear fashion and all need to work simultaneously to balance the needs and intrinsic motivation of the students. If teachers recognize student's needs and build powerful classroom environments by tapping into student intrinsic motivation they provide the driving force for achieving excellence for all students.
Rogers and Renard provide a powerful framework for all schools to use to create learning environments to ensure all students retain their natural desire to learn.
For another teaching framework visit ‘Leading and Learning’.
For a range of practical articles, including beginning the school year, go to Peak Learning Systems Resource page.
Sunday, January 09, 2005
Unfolding of natural creativity
Creativity is talked about a lot in schools and businesses. Developing new ideas and being innovative seem very important to everyone
Teresa Amabile, who heads the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at the Harvard Business School, has been studying for thirty years issues such as, what kind of work environments allow creativity to flourish and what can leaders do to encourage it.
What she has learnt has been written up in an article in Fast Company by Bill Breen. You can access the article by going to the magazine
Written for a business audience the finding are equally insightful for those involved in education. While politicians worry about ‘achievement gaps’ these are always in relation to literacy and numeracy. As important as these are, the failure to capitalize on the innate creativity of students goes unnoticed. As counter productive as it seems the scores in basic skills might improve if the focus instead was placed on developing the curiosity and creativity of all students. The desire to learn is what many students have lost; 'learnacy' not literacy!
Teresa studied creativity ‘in the wild’ by trying to look ‘inside people heads and understand the features of the work environment as well as the experiences and thought processes that lead to creative breakthroughs.’ Her findings overturned some long held beliefs and myths about innovation and creativity.
The myths she busted were:
1. Myth One: Creativity comes from creative types.
This is just not true. Everybody is capable of doing creative work. Creativity depends on a number of things but intrinsic motivation is vital – people who are turned on by their work often work creatively. Most people it seems don’t work anywhere near their creative potential, in part because they are in environments that impede intrinsic motivation. This would sound familiar to schools!
2. Myth two: Money is a creativity motivator.
Pay for performance plans can be problematic when people believe every move is going to effect their compensation. In such situations people get risk averse! Teresa found that people put far more value on a work environment where creativity is supported, valued and recognized. People want to engage deeply and make real progress so leaders ought to ensure that people are matched in terms of where their interests lie. People are most creative when they care about their work and when they’re stretching their skills. Too many people are mismatched, working below their skill level and are bored. Another familiar problem to schools!
3. Myth Three: Time Pressure Fuels Creativity.
Research showed people were less creative when they were fighting the clock – in fact in these situations their creativity went down. Time pressure stifles creativity because people cannot engage deeply with the problem, Creativity needs an incubation period and time to soak in a problem to allow ideas to bubble up. To be creative people must be protected from unnecessary distractions. For schools this would mean doing fewer things well rather than trying to cover everything.
4. Myth Four: Fear forces breakthroughs.
There is a myth that fear and sadness somehow spur creativity and more than suggestion that really creative people are depressed in some way. This may be true in some cases but was not evident in Teresa’s study. She found that creativity was associated with joy and love and negatively associated with anger, fear and anxiety. People are happiest when they come up with a creative idea and are more likely to be creative if they were happy the day before. There is a virtuous cycle. When people are excited about their work there is a better chance of making a creative association overnight. One’ days happiness often predicts the next days creativity.
In schools how often do we assess a love of learning as a key factor?
5. Myth Five: Competition beats co-operation.
This is a widespread belief in the business world, and one that has been passed on to schools, that competition is required to spur creativity. Teresa’s research found that creativity takes a hit when people compete instead of collaborating. The most creative teams she found are those that have the confidence to share and debate ideas. When people compete they stop sharing information. Schools are currently suffering from a lack of inter school sharing due to a competition ethos.
6. Myth six: A streamlined organization is a Creative Organization.
There has been a belief that downsizing and restructuring actually fosters creativity. It seems the opposite is true and it is worse than Teresa imagined. Anticipation of downsizing was worse than the downsizing itself. People’s fear of the unknown led them to disengage from work. This would apply to school closures.
The article concludes by Teresa saying that she is not advocating a soft management style - far from it. She is pushing for smart management style based on her research. If people are doing the work that they love, and if they are allowed to engage deeply in it – and if the work is valued and recognized, then creativity will flourish even in tough times.
Lessons in all the above for the school leader and classroom teacher? And lessons for those distant experts who, by imposing ideas from afar, may actually be killing the very creativity and innovation our schools are badly in need of.
Saturday, January 08, 2005
Albert Einstein 1870 - 1955
2005 commemorates a century since the publication of the great physicists Einstein's three papers that revolutionized the world.
To many of us the work of such creative thinkers is beyond our comprehension but scientists do not think differently than us, instead they apply their intelligence in a much more focused way. They stretch them selves to the frontiers of their understanding driven by an intense curiosity.This is very much what you see every two year old engaged in.
Like the two year old the scientist is busy making sense of things, developing new stories and then proving and testing them. For them both it is a continual journey of meaning making and changing ones mind. They both work at the boundary of observation and imagination. And as Einstein reminded us, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’
Einstein own school life was problematic and he even failed arithmetic! One of his quotes mentions that it is a miracle that the holy curiosity of children is not completely crushed by modern education! If we are to transform education, to develop the creativity and talent of all students, then we need to take Einstein’s advice that, ‘No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it – we need to see the world anew’.
If we want to make education engaging then we need to focus on uncovering and tapping into the talents of all students and to do this by exposing them to the disciplines of knowing by encouraging them to solve challenges with the same intensity of a two year old. In secondary schools this will require teams of multi disciplined teachers to work together sharing their intelligences planning exciting challenges to ensure all students are extended. To do this we would need to see ‘schools anew’ as they, and their curriculums, are currently locked into an outdated fragmented Newtonian mindset.
At the beginning of all learning is curiosity and with curiosity satisfied comes the delight of mastery – the joy of figuring it out which is the birthright of all students. Student’s questions should form the basis of learning at all levels. Innovative teachers can still ensure that appropriate curriculum demands are covered and can introduce interesting challenges to motivate student’s questions.
Innovative teachers will in turn value student’s prior ideas (theories or stories) and then work alongside the learners challenging them to clarify, deepen and if necessary change their thinking.
Scientists like Einstein do what they do because it is fun! As one scientist said, ‘I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning!’ and another said, ‘We were like children playing.’
Isaac Newton (whose mechanical view of the world was replaced by Einstein’s theory of relativity) before his death said, ‘I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a small boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary while all around lay undiscovered the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.’
Scientists are people who just can’t let go of an idea. They feel ‘acute discomfit’ at incomprehension. Einstein took eleven years of concentration to produce the general theory of relativity! One writer called this desire the ‘rage to know’. They share this with the two year old and, if schools were to be ‘seen anew’, this’ rage to learn’ would continue. Currently, for far too many students, the ‘holy spirit of inquiry’ is crushed’.
If we want to develop such passionate learners we must transform schools so they are seen by students as the most interesting place to be; a place where students face up to trying to answer the questions that concern them. Teachers in turn would need to re-imagine their role to one of a learning coach. Such teachers would need to exposing students to new ideas and challenge all students to push the frontiers of their personal knowledge. Like scientists students should become obsessed with getting their stories right. They have to learn to make up their own minds and not to accept uncritically what others tell them
We need a ‘new equation’ for our schools.
Friday, January 07, 2005
Magic mystery tour to the future
Being a leader creating a vision for the future is a bit like being a bus driver.
To develop a shared vision it is important to invite the right people on board the bus and also to ensure the ones who are already on board, that aren’t up to the adventure, get off.
Once you have the right people on board then it is the time to discuss with them where you all want to go. This way, if the destination changes during the journey, as it inevitably will, they will all feel responsibility for the final destination. If you sell them the destination before they get on board the bus that will hold you responsible if things don’t turn out as you described.
And also, if you share the planning then every body’s particular strengths and talents will be able to be used to the mutual benefit of all and all will feel valuable.
Being a bus is an excellent metaphor for a modern leader. The driver takes responsibity for all on board, ensures all can see and provides a running commentary to keep all informed. A wise leader will share the driving with others with driving skill.
The bus trip also a good metaphor for a school principal as it involves a journey through time and space. A good leader keeps an eye on the agreed destination and provides good company and support along the way.
The leader, like the bus driver, strives to make the vision concrete and specific by:
1. Ensuring the destination is always kept in mind. Too often many people have no idea where their organization is going or their role in the change journey.
2. Making use of available maps that show signs that the journey is being achieved and people are not going around in circles. Without ideas of progress others can lose focus or heart
3. Pointing out when milestones have been reached and that these, both major and minor, are celebrated. Too often, unless small achievements are marked, people will get lost reaching for distant stars. Good drivers will plan celebrations along the way as difficulties are surmounted or goals achieved.
4. Communicating with everyone when the path is lost and, during these confusing times, encourage everyone to keep the end point in mind. There are no accurate maps to the future and creative leaders and their teams will chart the way as they go. The best strategy is to have clear intentions and the ability to alter course as required.
5. Provide good cheer and confidence when things get really confusing. Everyone will be aware from the start that it will not be all plain ‘driving’ and the leaders role is vital in times of difficulty is vital.
To be sure navigating organizational change is far more difficult than getting on board a bus. Change is not always a pleasant process as it is by nature disruptive. Few people like to be jolted out of their comfort zone. This is why it is important to attract the right people in the first place but even then people will still change their minds mid journey.
It takes a special kind of person to be an adventurous bus driver but for those with the right ‘drive’ it is an exciting challenge. Helping others achieve a memorable journey takes character and the fortitude to be cheerful even in difficult circumstances. Achieving the final destination makes all the hassles along the way worth it. And all the time there are thoughts of the next adventure.
‘All aboard the bus to the future!’
Thursday, January 06, 2005
Scottish Education Debate ; making it work together'.
For too long education has been left in the hands of those who know best – the educational hierarchy in Wellington. And up to now they haven’t made a convincing job of it.
What we need now is a national conversation about the role of education in the Twenty-first Century. Education is far too important to leave to the politicians and their advisers. They are far too influenced by the need to stay in power and not upset those who have a vested interest in the status quo.
To be honest there was an attempt before ‘Tomorrows Schools’ with what was called an Education Review. Instigated by the then Minister of Education Russell Marshall it was tossed out the window with the introduction of the market forces ideology of the late eighties. The new mantra was to be competition, accountability and parent choice and it proved to have little with the wider personal and communal aims of education.
As it has turned out little has changed and today as many students fail as ever. And now, if anything, the current administration is leading us back to the educational environment pre ‘Tomorrows Schools’ with its focusing on the importance of the teacher, powerful pedagogy, the need to involve the community, and for homes and schools to work together. Of course this is now all based on 'new' research or so called 'best practice'!
There is however no way we can go 'back to the future' but it is important to make use of ideas forgotten in the rush towards self managing schools. What we need now is to stop tinkering with a system, with it’s genesis in mass education movement the Nineteenth Century, and begin a conversation to re- imagine what is possible so as to develop a more flexible and equitable system.
Such a ‘conversation was undertaken in Scotland in 2002 where a ‘National Debate on Education ’ was instigated. This asked all interested parties to record and send in their views.
In New Zealand such a debate could be replicated (perhaps motivated by a series of TV programs to provide the public with a variety of ideas) to inspire conversations in homes throughout the country.
Some of the questions asked in Scotland were:
1. Thinking about your own and others experience of school, what were the best things? Why?
2. What are the main things that need to be improved? Why?
3. What are the top five things all young people should learn at school?
What particular subjects and skills and attitudes.
(To help answer the above a list was provided: Things such as: To be able to read and write; to understand numbers and arithmetic; to be creative and enterprising; to have self discipline; to be flexible and able to adapt to change; to have ambition; to respect themselves and other people; to have positive attitudes and expectations; to know how to look after their physical and mental health.)
4 Is it important that all children are taught the same things or different children different things? If so who chooses and when?
5 What should young people leave school with to show what they have achieved? If so what and why?
6 How should children learn? How can we get children more interested in learning? What new options might we have in the future?
7 Children have different talents and abilities. How can the school system help each child develop to have the best start in life? How can we meet the needs of those requiring additional support and those who do not?
8 Who can help students learn? At the moment children generally learn with one teacher at primary school, with different teachers at secondary school and sometimes with classroom assistants and helpers. Is this the best way – are there any alternatives? Who ought to be involved in helping children to learn in the future? What skills will these people need?
9 How can parents help the children learn? What support do they need?
10 When should children learn? At the moment school is compulsory for children aged 5 to fifteen. Is five the right age to start? Why, or why not? Is 16 the right age to leave school? Why or why not?
11 Are the school terms arrangements suitable? At the moment school starts around nine and finishes around 3 or 4. How many days should students spend at school? What times should they start and finish?
12 Where should students learn? If you could design a school for the Twenty-first Century, what would it look like? Some things to consider might be: What might it offer that schools do not offer just now? Would it be more than somewhere to learn? Who might use it and when? How could children learn from a distance?
I am sure we could do something appropriate in New Zealand if we really believe in democracy and really want to value the diverse voices of our community. Our current ‘one size fits all model’ has passed it’s ‘use by date’. We can do better. At least we could establish a range of alternatives in every community. If we really want to develop healthy communities we have no option. It is time for the government to develop a new community based model?
It might be useful idea for individual school to begin the ‘conversation’ with their own parental community?
Question twelve might be all that is needed to be asked?
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Developing postive relationships
Earlier this week I caught a programme on TV about raising children by Dr Phil an American psychologist. It is amazing the people who agree to go on national TV to expose their problems but it was enlightening.
Parenting is something most people have to face up to but one few get any real information on about how to go about it. Although Dr Phil’s examples seemed worse case scenarios they did provide sensible guidelines for those watching.
We were exposed to really spoilt children who were able to manipulate their parents, dysfunctional homes where one parents yelled all day long while the other had withdrawn, parents who were doing exactly to their own children what they had had done to them ( being over regimented) , children who were bullies and children who had become obsessive TV watchers. I bet every watcher could see elements that they could recognize in their own lives and families!
The Dr essentially made all involved face up to the uncomfortable reality of their situation using TV footage and discussed the situation frankly with those involved. Once solutions were given they had to agree to hold themselves to it. They were all told it was going to be painful and were reminded that parenting is not always easy. As well they had to agree to be filmed.
He reminded them they were raising future adults not children and although parents ‘write on slates’ of their children, leaving a legacy for better or worse, individuals had the right to reject the bad bits of their past.
It was made clear that parents cannot do what they do not know how to do. To solve these problems the Dr gave advice about what to do and in some case practiced scripts with them for them to use. In most cases the parents involved were reluctant to take action because they were worried about their children not loving them if they did. In no uncertain terms parents were told that to stop spoiling children, or stopping watching TV, would cause pain but that it had too be done. Parent is not always easy! What all these parents were doing, it was pointed out clearly, was serious abuse. Adults need to act like adults!
Essentially it was all common sense. The Dr’s answer is for parents to create environments that provide opportunities for everyone to be who they wanted to be – to be who they uniquely are. This means being neither overly permissive (with ‘the tail wagging the dog’) nor or excessively strict. What is wanted are safe environments with positive structures and values and with benign routines and clear expectations.
Some adults rob children of decision making experience; others let their children develop lack of discipline by always giving in to them. The parents in the show were exhibiting and in turn passing on developing self defeating behaviors. They obviously knew they were in trouble (otherwise they wouldn’t have volunteered to take part) but they were locked into behavior they didn’t know how to change.
A key question parents should ask, said the Doctor, was what gift to your child do you want them to remember about their childhood when they are adults? What gifts and talents can you help your child develop? Everything that worthwhile that has been achieved has to be imagined first.
The trouble is that in real life how many struggling parents would have such powerful support to make the changes no matter how much it is common sense?
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
It's tough being in the rhinoceros group!
I have just listened to a repeat interview with Welby Ings on national Radio. Welby is currently an Associate Professor in Design at Auckland Institute of Technology and last year had been given an award for being an inspirational teacher.
It was a fascinating interview. Rather than being an inspiring teacher Welby believes that his role is to ‘uncover’ what students bring with them and then to help all students develop their ideas. In the process students inspire themselves. Welby believes all students enter school with the hope that they will learn but this desire is lost by a fear of looking stupid. An ‘inspirational’ teacher listens to students and helps them tap into their talents, passions and dreams. Learning, Welby says, is just not a ‘cognitive’ experience but an emotional one as well. Students ‘love’ teachers who are interested in their world
All students need a safe environment to try out their ideas and the support of an adult to provide encouragement and support. Schools, Selby said, send out too many students who can’t do this and who can’t do that. Schools too often teach students what you can’t do!
Students ‘love’ teachers who listen to them, who value their ideas and who help them create worthwhile learning. Too much traditional schooling is too focused on performance and assessment and not on learning. Welby believes it is not the assessment you get that counts but rather students knowing what they have learnt and how they learn. Too much schooling is assessment driven and student life choices are being decided by literacy and numeracy scores, and obedience! Too much measuring the wrong things rather than growing!
Welby himself had a checkered career at school being what he called a c minus student at primary school. His life choices were determined by being placed in the rhinoceros group! Once a rhinoceros always a rhinoceros! Too many students, he feels, accept the schools judgment and begin to conform to school expectations and settle for less. His secondary and training college careers were marked by conflict with authority! Currently he is completing his PHD!
Inspirational teachers and students are, it seems, subversive.
Creative teachers help students learn to take ‘failure’ in their stride as a growth experience to learn from rather than a life sentence. According to Welby, far too many students never get a second chance – a chance to get out of the ‘rhinoceros group’. As well many students who gain ‘success' in a narrow education system never learn how to handle the setbacks they will inevitably face in later life.
Welby believes in ‘slowing things down’, in doing things fewer things well so as to learn in depth. In the process students are given the time to reflect on what they have learnt and what they might need to do next time. And this means, in Welby’s words, ‘not accepting crap work’. Too many teachers praise work when it is not up to an excellent personal standard. Students need teachers to tell the truth. Honest feedback is vital. Welby teaches his students that they are ‘only as good as their work’. It is all about mutual respect and integrity.
Large classes sizes, Welby agreed, are a problem but expert teachers understand the need to work in family sized groups so students can think and discuss in small communities. Streaming, he believes, is just too simplistic and misses the point that all students learn differently.
We need to focus not on reforming curriculum (which anyway creative teachers, according to Welby, subvert to suit their students) and instead focus on ‘growing teachers’ who in turn can ‘grow’ people. Students need to be helped to handle conflict and dissent in a positive way. School should be a place to develop self and social understanding. Too much about schooling is ‘fixed’ and too many teachers are trapped in this formality.
Good teachers like Welby are inspirational and subversive - they have to be if we really want to help all students tap into their passions, dreams and talents.
There are inspirational teachers lie Welby in every area – hunt then out and learn from them. And throw way those curriculum guides and start ‘growing’ people!
Monday, January 03, 2005
Education is about creativity and fun
How many creative schools are there out there? Not too many I would think. Competition, accountability demands and focusing on measurable results slowly kills off the creative spirit in teachers.
Developing a creative school is an art. Give too much freedom and you risk chaos and too heavy a hand and you stifle initiative. The same applies to individual classrooms.
A few ideas to help are:
Employ the right people – recruit for diversity and alignment with the school philosophy. A diverse team can spark ideas and generate energy.
Develop an exiting and appealing school environment; environments that value creativity and difference. Right from the school gate the school should express student creativity. The foyer in particular is a vital area to express creativity. Ensure all rooms have plenty of quality display areas.
It pays of course to have been a creative teacher yourself if you want to encourage the creative spirit. The best leaders model what they want from others and understand the creative process. Define the expectations, the kind of students you want to develop, and let the teachers get on with it. Giving boundaries to creative teachers is not restrictive – it’s directive and gives focus.
Ensure teachers finish off what they start - creativity is generally 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. All creativity is a mix of fun and slog and the reward is in completion. Encourage teachers to have ago and expect not every thing to work out – but to always learn from the experience and to consider what they might do next time.
Make full use of teacher’s talents and talk to them about what they are doing and what they need – keep them in touch with other like minds. Get teachers to share with others what they are doing so ideas can be spread. Have regular 'walk and talk' staff meetings so teachers can share ideas naturally. Good idea will spread with a little encouragement.
Help teachers share their expertise with others within and with other schools. Make certain they feel their ideas are valued. Help them sell their idea. Get them to record their finding and publish regular best practice books to share with other teachers.
Protect creative teachers from creativity killers. Creative teachers work personally (as against following imposed guidelines) and as such their work is a personal expression of who they are. Protect fragile creative teachers from critics.
Although being creative demands hard work and can be emotionally exhausting (doing something different always is) when it works out it is fun. Leaders keep the environment supportive by developing fun activities.
Too many schools are just too serious.