Thursday, March 31, 2005
A house of cards!
Choice, Accountability and Privatization; Enuf is Enuf!
An interview this week on National radio, with a visiting educationalist about Roger Douglas’s ideas, and how they have effected Canadian education, ended up by saying more about the same ‘market forces’ ideology and their effects in New Zealand Schools.
As we all know, NZ Schools are now ‘self managing’ – well, they manage everything but the important issues of: teaching, curriculum and assessment! The Government keeps a tight control over those issues! Prior to market forces days primary schools were ‘managed’ by regional Education Boards. Some might say that good bits of the ‘baby’ were ‘thrown out with the bath water’!
The interviewer seemingly represented the views of the affluent self centred middle class parents, or perhaps she was simply playing the ‘devils advocate’!
The issues covered were:
1 Parental Choice.
In response to parental choice being a ‘good thing’ as parents ‘know what they want’ for their children, the guest replied by saying the ‘mantra of parent choice needs to be put to rest – it is as if a hospital should be run by the sick’, but she said, more importantly, individual choice sacrifices community well being in areas of the most need. Parents, the interviewer said, can ‘feel’ what is a good school. A later contributor to the discussion (by e-mail) said that international research does not confirm this – most parents judge schools by perception or by other parents views. Another contributor made the point that in reality it was the ‘good’ schools that were choosing the students!
2 Standardized Testing in Basic Skills.
This has been resisted so far in New Zealand .The interviewer said it was important so that parents could identify the ‘best schools’, and to this, the guest replied that in Canada ( and the USA and the UK) national ‘high stakes’ testing has narrowed the curriculum and only provided a ‘thin slice’ of a child’s potential to parents. As well, the very things parents want for their children (the arts, music, sports) are being dropped by teachers who, for self interest, teach towards the tests. If parents, the guest advised, really wanted to know how their child was progressing they would be best advised to visit their child’s teacher to see results of classroom diagnostic tests and samples of their child’s work.
3 The perennial dilemma of failing students.
Students leave our school without the basics in place, was the claim by the interviewer. This was accepted by the guest but she replied that continual narrow testing does not solve the problem .In the USA, political pressure has led to ‘the cow being continually weighed but never properly fed!’ It was said that in Canada any grade one teacher could identify the potential school failures – no need for tests - what is wanted is more thought about ways to help.
What is too often ignored, or down played, the guest stated, was the cumulative effect of poor socio economic factors. Extra funding in Canada had not been able to ‘level the playing field’. A competitive ethos, fueled by parental self interest, does not make the situation any better. Only inspirational leadership, quality teachers, and school and community collaboration, backed by resources, she said, can solve the problem.
4 The Standardized Curriculum.
The guest said that the imposed complex curriculums had created ‘curriculum crowding’ in Canada and, combined with testing, was killing teacher energy which in turn was cutting down time for valuable extra curricula and creative classroom teaching – ironically the very things the interviewer said parents looked for in ‘good schools’.
5 Managers or Leaders?
The interviewer thought that teachers were being precious about needing to be managed as against being led. The Canadian guest, in response, said that in her country since the 90s, managerial duties had distracted school principals from attending to their ‘core tasks’ of ensuring quality teaching and learning. It is now increasingly hard in Canada to attract ‘inspirational leaders’ to lead schools.
So it seems that privatization, (self management) choice, and accountability has not been the answer, even after 15 years, in both NZ and Canada; students still fail. As well ‘managerialism’ has resulted in a ‘de-professionalizing’ of teachers and, as a result, the time and energy of principals has become ‘bogged down’ in tasks divorced from real classroom issues.
Schools, the guest suggested, need inspirational leadership to return the focus to teaching and learning, and to put into practice all the exciting new ideas about how students learn. It is these issues, she believes, that will transform school.
Schools in democratic society must be more that about satisfying narrow self interest of parents, or single issue community groups. Our students are entering global a world beyond all our expectations. Their future success depends on us.
It must be beyond 'winner' and 'loser' schools - the health and well being of the whole community is dependent on how successful our are schools are. National guidelines are important to avoid 'capture' and to assure the public that their money is being well spent. Human need rather than human greed; choice , accountability and privatization are at best distractions, and have drawn attention away from the more important issue of the need to ‘transform’ all our schools into true learning communities so as to ensure all students succeed – no excuses.
Perhaps it is time, as one e-mail contributor said, to evaluate the changes that have happened since 1986; to look at the gains and losses since the disbanding of regional Education Boards. Time for some new thinking; perhaps in some case we have 'thrown out the baby with the bathwater?’
What do you think?
Tuesday, March 29, 2005
A 'prickly customer'!
If your aim is to fit in well and to do what is expected of you, you are guaranteed to end up doing mediocre job. I fear too many teachers and principals have opted for this option, and ERO visits give you full credit for complying. In essence you have, as the song goes, ‘sold your soul to the company store!’
The future requires almost the opposite qualities. If you hate timetables and resent authority, you are a potential winner for your workplace. This is what has emerged from research which specifically set out to find out who has the potential to be an innovative thinker. People talk a lot about the importance of innovation but do they really understand what kind of people are innovative thinkers?
Innovations can show up in unexpected places but it seems you are either the stubborn devil; who tells it as it is like – or the model worker who doesn’t complain. Conscientious workers, who do things on time, are less likely to come up with inventive ideas, than the difficult person whose chaotic ‘modus operandi’ dismays his colleagues.
Those who thrive on change, who think of new ways to do things, are the ones to watch. These are the ‘change agents’ who organizations ought to crying out for.
Nor do the best ideas come from the top, far from it. Innovative organizations ask for, and act on, suggestions from those who do the work, or even from outside the organization itself. And innovation is not the same as creativity – innovation is about pushing ideas to fruition rather than dreaming them up and dropping them.
Organizations might want to recruit innovative thinkers, but do they really want non- conformists on board? Those who understand the importance of innovation say that the risk of not having them is even greater. It is not like as in the ‘olden days’, when you could ‘churn’ out the same products, now companies that do not innovate die. And by definition you have to be difficult in order to innovate because it is about challenging the ‘status quo’.
The problem is that these people are all too often seen as troublemakers and are seen as a risk to those who want to keep doing what they have learnt; such people do not like those who break the rules.
Ironically, difficult innovative people need their more conformist colleagues to query their ideas and to help put them into action; they also need colleagues who look after them as they are not much good at internal politics! And having too many ‘change agents’ (continually arguing the toss) might as ineffective as having too few!
To survive organizations have to take on and listen to brilliant mavericks. Mavericks ought not to be required to fit in to the organization, but are there to help everyone see things through ‘new eyes’. What is required is an evolving culture that makes changing current ways of doing things permissible, because taking no risks is the riskiest thing you can do.
Those who ‘lead’ organizations need to act as mentors to such innovative people, to keep the staff ‘roughly on track’, but also encouraging them to break free from conventional thinking when an opportunity arises.
Seems to me we need this kind of leadership, and valuing of innovative thinkers, in our schools.
Our schools are full of people who, to ‘succeed,’ have had to comply, when we really need creative innovative thinkers. If we continue to fit in with imposed constraints and requirements, we will all pay the price.None more so than the creative students, on whom the future will depend to solve answers to question not yet being asked.
Who are these ‘prickly’, but innovative, thinkers in your school – and is anybody listening?
Sunday, March 27, 2005
The internet is an amazing thing.
I can tell you the gist of what Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, more or less, is going to say as he closes the 2005 April ASCD Annual Conference later this year. This is because I listened to an interview on the web in which he was asked what he was going to say!
I have heard the Professor speak at a conference in New Zealand and he is always worth listening to. Csikszentmihalyi is one of the world’s leading authorities on the psychology of creativity and, in particular, developed the concept of ‘flow’ as a metaphor for this optimal mental state. Flow is always linked with circumstances of high challenge where personal skills are used to the utmost.
Mihaly talks about how the President ( of the USA) wants a 21stC education but that current reforms persist with the approach of filling kid’s heads with information. This, he says, is not a 21stC education. If we are concerned with issues of the future, he says, we will really need to have children who grow up really wanting to learn, who are curious, and who are eager to confront issues and problems. And that you can’t do this simply by raising standards, testing or whatever.
Mihalyi continues that it is clear that schools are unprepared for the diversity of students who enter: students distracted by videos and various forms of entertainment technology; and students who bring with them a range of divergent expectation from their families and communities.
What he wants to share with conference members at their closing session is how an understanding of ‘flow’ can ensure more positive learning experiences for students and teachers
‘Flow’ is the state people describe when they are fully involved in whatever they are doing. The concept came originally from studying artists and musicians and athletes, and then moved on to how this state can be experienced by people who love their work, and then on to students who really like what they are doing. Mihaly has found that if a child experiences ‘flow’ doing maths they do better at maths, even in traditional tests; and also that this sense of ‘flow’ gives the learner the confidence to tackle harder maths and not to give up. Even very gifted people, he says, if they don’t experience this enjoyment, often don’t continue. ‘Flow’, he says, is ‘engine that, that keeps people wanting to do something.’
It is, he concludes, referring to the title of the upcoming conference, all about ‘power and passion’. We know students have this passion within them when they enter school and that it can be unleashed. When it is tapped children can achieve amazing things. Without it, he says, the whole enterprise is inconclusive and without a sense of passion, a desire to learn, their future is at risk.
Mihayli talks about experiences that lead to a passionate interest and curiosity in learning. Things like music and drama, anything where the child can do things and where they have control over what they are doing. These thing are not peripheral Mihalyi says. Being involved in a theatre production can ignites children’s passions – maybe by acting, or being involved in the lighting, or sound, or by designing and building the scenery; anything where children think they are ‘making a difference’. And often it will involve learning maths or science in context to solve problems. All this develops a sense of ‘flow’.
Anything can achieve ‘flow’ but sitting and observing passively is difficult except for students who get excited about abstract learning. All extra curricula activities are important particularly for more practical students. Mihayli mentions that Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences provides valuable insights – that students can be ‘smart’ in a range of ways. Too often schools judge student’s capability on literacy and numeracy scores.
The important thing, he says, that:
‘We are developing potentially self managing, self organizing, and self enacting individuals (not just)little jars to fill up with information in an assembly line format. We need to understand that this is a matter of – I don’t want to be dramatic – but it is a matter of life and death, in the sense that our society depends on children growing up with energy, curiosity, interest. Once they have these, they will find out for themselves. They will find the knowledge on their own. That’s what I intend to talk about.’
Developing a school system to develop passion and 'flow' in students is a bit more than talking about a dry technocratic concept of ‘key competencies’!
If you haven’t visited the ASCD site it is worth doing so. It is a great source of professional development ideas; I recommend joining and receiving the magazines and books.
The magic of creativity!
I have just read a fascinating article on the web, from USA Today 25/03/05, about a documentary called ‘A Touch of Greatness’, of which the writer Bruce Kluger says, ‘can teach us all a lesson or two – and perhaps guide us as we talk about reforming our education system.’
The documentary chronicles the career of author educator Albert Cullum about his stint of teaching as an elementary school teacher in the 60s and paints a portrait of the ‘magic that transpires when kids are lucky enough to land a teacher who understands the limitlessness of the young mind.’
‘Engaged, enthusiastic and wickedly creative’, Cullum learned early in his career that, ‘If I’m not having fun, no one is having fun.’ Cullum involved his class in a range of creative and imaginative activities that would be familiar to similarly creative New Zealand teachers.
Kluger writes that the creative ideas of Cullum , ‘serve as a cautionary tale about our nations ( the USA ) current education system, and the way in which policy makers ongoing efforts to tinker with the process may be, at best, heavy handed or, at worst, wrongheaded.’
In a city like New York, that is talking about holding back students who aren’t keeping up with their classmates based on standardized testing on a narrow range of criteria ( literacy and numeracy), Cullum’s words are relevant : ‘ I see (the classroom) as a wagon. Your thoroughbreds of the class are going to pull the wagon- they’re the leaders. But everyone is on that wagon, and everyone reaches the goal. No one is left out.’
The documentary shows a teacher devoted to ‘giving each child the gift of believing in him or herself’.
Isn’t this what education is all about?
I wish I could say that all students leave New Zealand schools with this gift intact.
There may be lessons is this documentary for New Zealand policy makers?
If I were the Minister of Education I'd get creative!
Some of us have seen the New Zealand documentary, ‘In the Early World’, a film of a pioneer teacher working in similar era. For those who saw it was also a powerful reminder of the need for a teacher to see in students the, ‘limitlessness of the young mind’.
(Elwyn’s book, ‘In the Early World, has been reprinted and is available from the New Zealand Council for Educational Research.)
Friday, March 25, 2005
Everybody has to go to school. What happens in school makes a difference for better or worse.
I guess we all believe that going to school helps the learner’s chance of survival and to develop citizens that are able to contribute to solving the problems we currently face as a society.
It is pretty obvious that for all students this is not the case. Perhaps we have forgotten what the purpose of school is or, more importantly, have not rethought the purpose of education in a 21stC world marked by dramatic and often unpredictable changes.
Too many of our schools seem pre- occupied with complying with imposed requirements to focus on the purpose of schooling and this applies equally to both to teachers and students. As well too many teachers have come to accept current school structures, with their genesis in an industrial age, without question.
What attributes do students need to help them thrive in the future and are we currently ensuring students gain these attributes? Maybe our schools ‘designed’ for another era are just not able to do the job? Maybe there are too many people who have a vested interest in keeping things as they are? Maybe the schools are more for the benefit of their teachers than their students? Maybe schools don’t change because change threatens those in charge of schools? Maybe conservative middle class parents don’t want schools to change that seem to suit their students?
Maybe rather than focusing on failing students we ought to look at the idea of failing schools?
Schools ought to be at the centre of their communities, continually self renewing themselves, able develop students who have the skills, insights and courage, to make the world a better place. To do this schools would have to change from places that pass on standardized prescribed information (to be checked and tested), to places that help students critically construct their own meaning based on exploring the own questions. Such schools would value diversity, questioning minds and critical thinking within their students.
An interviewer once asked the late Ernest Hemmingway to identify the characteristics of a great writer. The interviewer asked, ‘Isn’t there any one essential ingredient that you can identify?’ Hemmingway replied, ‘Yes there is. In order to be a great writer a person must have a built in, shockproof ‘crap detector’.’
Hemmingway identified the essential future survival strategy and the essential function of schools today. New ideas have only ever been developed when people have challenged faulty assumptions and ideas. Courage is required because people in authority do not like being confronted, or to change their minds.
A future oriented education would need to cultivate, if new ideas are to be developed, students who are experts in ‘crap detecting’. Such a system would need to employ teachers with the same attributes because there is plenty of ‘crap’ around in teaching.
Shame we seem to have so few, we sure need them.
Thursday, March 24, 2005
The Passion of Christ
I am not a religious person in the traditional sense but I have an admiration for the historical story of Jesus.
If we were to take away all the trapping and respectability that have been built around him since his death by the various churches, he was a revolutionary figure. Today many of the churches that have been established based on his story now represent elements of the traditional forces that Jesus in his day was so against.
I wonder today what Jesus would want to change; what unfairness and injustices would he ally himself with? He was never a person to be liked by those in power who control the lives of other people to suit their own material ends or ambitions. Who would be the poor, the sick and the persecuted today? Who would he be against?
Jesus was no respecter of proper channels, and his followers were a pretty mixed bunch. Today they would probably be all arrested for unruly behavior! Particularly if they were to criticize the unfairness of market forces and those who have acquired money, power and positions. These so called 'winners' seem to care little for those, who for whatever reasons, have little material wealth.
What I like about Jesus, and before him that other trouble maker Socrates, is that they did not believe in writing things down. They would make useless teachers today! Socrates believed in simply questioning everything and Jesus spread his messages through example, parables and stories, of which his follower had to make their own meanings. Both paid the price for their desire to change the world, both were punished by those in power, whose authority they were questioning, and both paid the ultimate price for their troubles.
Both had no choice. They both had to do what they believed in.
Today we need people with the same determination and integrity if we are to create a better world. Whatever we can’t leave it to the ‘secular priests’ who always know best what we want.
It is always the old democratic ‘bottom up’ freedom argument, against the ‘top down’ those who know always know best authorities. We know all about this in education – at any level – right down to each individual class. Who would want a Jesus or a Socrates in their class!
Today we desperately need people who lead with ideas rather than power or position; people who listen to the people. If anybody is willing they will have to be prepared to pay the price for their questioning, but it shouldn’t be as savage as what happened to Jesus.
Wednesday, March 23, 2005
The artistry of creative teachers
Isn’t it time that people in power realized that the real insights about teaching comes from the work of ‘master’ teachers. That teaching is more about the artistry and the craft of teaching, than following any prescribed approach.
The trouble is these days no one is even bothering to look for such teachers – and of course they are liable to be outsiders, mavericks and idiosyncratic. The very traits those who like to control things hate, but paradoxically, the very same traits required for progress in any field of endeavor.
How to create the conditions to ‘grow’ such thinkers and then to mine and share their ideas is the challenge? It could be as simple as visiting such teachers, observing what they do, and talking to them.
But first you have to find them. The trouble is many such teachers have learnt to keep their heads down and get on with 'doing their own thing' – and many just rely for emotional support through networks of like minds to share their creativity with.
The idea of artistry is well summed up by Lou Rubin 1985 when he comments:
‘there is a striking quality to fine classrooms. Students are caught up in learning; excitement abounds; and playfulness and seriousness blend easily because the purposes are clear, the goals sensible, and an unmistakable feeling of wellbeing prevails.
Artist teachers achieve these qualities by knowing both their subject matter and their students; by guiding the learning with deft control – a control that itself is born out of perception, intuition, and creative impulse.’
John Dewey wrote in 1929:
‘the successes of such individuals tend to be born and to die with them; beneficial consequences of such individuals extend only to those pupils who have personal contact with such gifted teachers.’
‘the only way by which we can prevent such waste in the future is by methods which enable us to make an analysis of what the gifted teacher does intuitively, so that something accruing from his (or her!) work can be communicated to others.’
This hasn’t happened officially yet! Those in charge are more concerned with ‘teacher proof’ ideas, prescriptions, and accountability pressures, to save the day.
One day they will realize their role is about creating conditions, supplying resources, trusting schools and teachers, and getting out of the way – only becoming involved to help share innovative ideas that have power to assist others. Personalized learning requires personalized teaching.
Sharing the creative ideas of classroom teachers is the mission of our leading and learning site. Have you had a look at the ideas we have gathered?
Eggs and rabbits - what does it all mean?
In a few days teachers and their students will have a well earned Easter break?
I know schools are busy teaching their planned units but Easter is a great ‘mini study’ to undertake, to learn the history and traditions behind Easter, and to make use of their information gathering and expressive skills.
I dislike seeing Easter reduced to making ‘corny’ Easter eggs but if teachers make use of a constructivist approach Easter ( and the eggs) can be the motivation for a powerful in- depth study and to demonstrate to them how they learn ( ‘construct’ knowledge).
Constructivism introduced before ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ and was well known to teachers then as the 'Learning In Science Project' (LISP) but it was ‘overwhelmed’ having to face up to implementing the new standards based curriculums with all their endless strands and objectives. Thankfully even the Ministry has now seen that this was largely a waste of time and energy.
Constructivism places importance on making teachers skills central to helping students reflect on, challenge and clarify their own understandings, while at the same time building up their ‘learning power’. And it is an approach that, while the teachers can ‘imagine’ many of the children’s idea beforehand, all sorts of equally important ‘unplanned' ideas can also emerge. Constructivism is creative way of teaching! It is a means to let students control their own learning and builds on their natural desire to make meaning and need to express their ideas.
So back to Easter and all those eggs and rabbits!
First what are the student's ‘prior ideas ‘about Easter?
What does Easter mean to them?
Why do we have Easter Eggs and why are rabbits involved?
What has Jesus Christ got to do with it?
All these ‘prior ideas’ need to be valued and could well be recorded by individual students, or as a class, and written or displayed under a heading: ‘What we think we know about Easter: Our before views’.
An overall heading could focus the study: ‘Why do we celebrate Easter?’
Student's questions could also be displayed. One educationist calls then ‘fertile question’, another calls them ‘key’ questions – but whatever do not have too many.
Often the most important questions will emerge as the students start to dig into the deeper meanings of the symbols of Easter. Such things as the importance of religion, myths, legends and use of symbols; how cultures merge and absorb ideas from each other; and the perplexing differences in seasons between the Northern and Southern hemispheres which can lead into scientific thinking.
Answering these questions becomes the real work of the study. Students can get answers from home, by selectively using the internet, and the classroom teacher can also gather up information to share (and to ‘flesh out’ his or her own knowledge).
As it will only be ‘mini’ unit, recording might well be done by the class, or different students could divide up tasks to add to the total display.
And of course students could draw various aspects to add to the display and even make decorated Easter Eggs.
After the Easter break is over it would interesting to get the students to write or discuss what they now know about Easter, eggs and rabbits. This would a natural assessment task.
As well the teacher could discuss the constructive learning process they have just used – this is the process, if their curiosity is kept alive, that will be with them forever.
‘What we now know’ could be displayed to complete the unit.
I hope you all enjoy your Easter break and that it is a safe and a happy time.
Educationalist David Ausabel wrote in the 60s ‘Find out what students already know and then teach accordingly’ Good advice. More quotes on our site
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
It is really great to hear out of the blue from someone who you never expected to make contact.
It is also amazing to get great feedback about our website, and even to be asked to give advice, worldwide. It certainly is a different world than when I started teaching – our source of information was then restricted to a few local ‘like minds’.
So when Robert Fried made contact with me it was a real thrill because his book, ‘The Passionate Teacher’, has always been one of my favorites, and one of a few that relate to practical classroom activity. As he writes, 'It is good to find a kindred spirit halfway across the world’.
Robert came across our site because he had seen a piece I had written on passionate teaching in which I quoted him! He is going to send me a copy of his second book, ‘The Passionate Learner’. He also has another new book, ‘The Game of School: Why We All Play It; How it hurts Kids’. Coming out in April, it includes what to do to change schools.
Sound like books we all ought to read!
One of his intentions is to rewrite his books using ‘local heroes’ in place of the teachers he highlights. I have never worked out why the ‘powers that be’ do not celebrate the creativity of our teachers. One day ‘someone’ will realize that real change only happens when teachers believe in what they are doing, and more so, when teachers develop their own ideas.
The preface of ‘Passionate Teacher’ says, ‘ We can’t afford keeping sending kids to schools that disrespect the qualities of heart and mind we claim to be promoting’. Robert, quoting John Dewey’s argument, believes ‘that nothing much of lasting value happens in a classroom unless student’s minds are engaged in a way that connects with their experience.’
Student’s ‘voice’, questions, ideas, expressions, research and art, should fill to overflowing, every classroom from the youngest to our senior students. Unfortunately, even in our youngest classes, classrooms seem dominated by the teacher’s curriculum, school requirements, or ministry 'targets' - real teacher and student creativity is not as common as you might think.
Fried believes everyone can be a passionate teacher if teaching is not undermined by the ways we do ‘business’ in schools. His book draws on the ‘voices’, ‘stories’ and interviews with good teachers and is an excellent blend of theory and action.
It is exactly the ‘voices’ of teacher that no one has listened to in New Zealand.
Everyone always knows better than the classroom teacher about teaching but few want to stop and demonstrate their wisdom! Fried talks about ‘less is more’ and ‘doing fewer things well’. That will ring a bell with teachers I have worked with.
This is a book for classroom teachers.
Today 'like minds' can share ideas worldwide - when this power is fully realized it will make a difference! Our site is a part of this worldwide creative revolution. There are other sites to be found on our links page.
Sunday, March 20, 2005
I am always indebted to be sent articles, attachments, or notes, by people who have attended presentations that they think I might be interested in. The followings ideas come from a presentation about understanding learning by John West –Burnham, a UK educator, and were part of presentation he gave in Hamilton.
Thanks Gary for passing them on to me.
First a quote from Steiner 2003, given as part of West – Burnham’s presentation that I feel sums up what it means to be a teacher:
‘ …a lust for knowledge, an ache for understanding is incised in the best of men and woman. As is the calling of the teacher. There is no craft more privileged. To awaken in another human being the powers, dreams beyond one’s own; to induce in others a love for that which one loves; to make of one’s inward present their future; this is the threefold adventure like no other.’
If you would like further educational quotes there are excellent ones on our site.
John West Burnham believes that the future of education will be substantially determined by the shared perception of the purpose of learning, and that this is best expressed in terms of the needs of the learner. A focus on deep and profound learning, West-Burnham believes, would determine the qualities of a learner of the future This in turn has implications for the quality of the teaching provided.
The following description of an autonomous future learner is from West Burnham colleague Christopher Bowring – Carr:
‘An autonomous learner knows how to learn and has the disposition to do so. She can identify on her own, and/or with others, a problem, analyze its components and then marshal the resources, human and non human to solve it.
She continuously questions herself and others as to whether she is employing the best methods.
She can explain the processes of her learning and its outcomes to her peers and others, when such a demonstration is required.
She is able to organize information and, through understanding, convert it into knowledge.
She is sensitive to her personal portfolio of intelligences.
She knows when it is best to work alone, and when to work in team, and knows how to contribute to and gain from teamwork. She sustains a sharp curiosity and takes infinite pains in all she does.
Above all, she has that security in self, built through a wide and deep set of relationships and through her own feelings of worth fostered in part by others, to be at ease with doubt, and to welcome questioning and probing of all aspects of her knowledge.’
To be honest that would make a great job description for a teacher.
I can also see it being ‘unpicked’ as part of a teacher’s professional development session to see what it all means to put into action - the kind of programmes, teaching strategies and assessment procedures. Imagine inventing a school to develop such students – how different would it look from current structures, particularly at the secondary level?
I wonder how many schools have had a conversation about the purpose of learning and have come up with their list of attributes required by future learners.
I know a number of schools, after they have developed a simple list of future attributes; place them on the classroom wall as a reminder for both the teacher and students. And also who share them with the parents of their students.
Both good ideas.
Thanks again Gary for sharing them with me.
The serenity of magical teaching
When presenting to teachers I often ask if there are any beginning teachers in the audience? There usually are. I joke with them that their choice for the year is to ‘survive or die’ and that the key factor to survival is to be lucky enough to be in a school with a supportive leader.
For the more chronologically challenged I indicate that when they retire they also have two choices – to leave cynically or serene! Cynicism is understandable after coping with all the endless ‘top down’ fads and fashions, most of which disappear without trace only to reinvented in another decade! Those who leave serene though, in my experience, are the teachers who developed a strong belief system and only took from official developments what they wanted.
A friend of mine, Alan, sent me the following extract about teacher’s satisfaction and disenchantment in older teachers, from a book on teacher development:
‘Teachers who steered clear of reforms …but who invested consistently in classroom-level experiments- what they called tinkering…..were more likely to be satisfied later on in their career than most others, and far more likely to be satisfied than their peers who have been heavily involved in school- wide or district-wide projects.
So ‘tinkering’, together with an early concern for instructional efficiency…was one of the strongest predictors of ultimate satisfaction. Inversely heavy involvement in school-wide innovation was a fairly strong indicator of ‘disenchantment’ after 20 or 25 years of teaching. Tending to ones private garden, pedagogically speaking, seems to have more pay off in the long term than long term land reform, although the latter is perceived as stimulating and enriching, while it is happening.’
‘(Older teachers) ..warded off stagnation (not) by leaving the classroom but by drawing on what diversity there is – and there is plenty – within the bounds of classroom instruction’.
‘It had to do, simply, with the experience of achieving significant results in the classroom- with a long, almost magical string of years in which apathetic pupils came alive, classrooms buzzed with purposeful activity, relationships with pupils were intense, and performance levels were well above average’.
So it seems there is some truth in my anecdotes after all.
Central governments, and school leaders, have to work hard in the future to develop environments that really value teachers’ voices in school transformation – and to learn to share power, if teachers are to develop the necessary deep ownership required for lasting change.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
Eric Shaw and Spotswood
'The visionary is the only true realist' Frederico Fellini ( Film Director)
Our journey through creative or personalized learning has taken us from the pioneers of the 50’s, Elwyn Richardson and Sylvia Ashton Warner, through to the open education movement of the 70 and 80s, and finally stopping to celebrate teachers in my own area of Taranaki; while acknowledging there were other such networks of similar teachers throughout New Zealand.
Unfortunately, with official approval, a number of teachers jumped onto ‘the open education bandwagon’ of the 70’s assisted by the affluence and the social movements of the time. It wasn’t to last. As economic situation hardened in 80s the political mood changed. The last decades of end of the century brought a reactionary 'market forces' ideology and with it a technocratic managerial approach to schools. It was all introduced with a speed that gave few teachers time to catch their breathe. With it, the earlier collegiality was replaced an individualistic competition ethic; an integral part of self managing schools concept.
Now mid way through the first decade of a new century voices are being heard calling for a return to the personalized learning of the 70s (see earlier blogs about Dean Fink) and to for schools to network together to identify and share ideas. More recently Michael Fullan has written that the next step for progress can only be achieved by tapping the wisdom ,ingenuity and creativity of those in schools – and that there can be no ‘top down’ templates to follow. Whatever is to be learnt can only be learnt by doing it!
So, rather than the NZ Ministry developing a e revised curriculum and giving teachers ‘time to get on board’ ( which in itself is a pleasant change), they need to be creating a new symbiotic role for themselves ; to focus on developing the conditions to release this local creativity. Only the schools themselves can provide the new answers.
Schools are already doing this. Spotswood Primary school, under the past leadership of Eric Shaw, is one such school. Spotswood was featured on last years ‘Breakfast Zoom’ programme. Spotswood has developed a simple but effective set of beliefs that underpin all their teaching resulting in a consistent, but also highly creative, school.
Each teacher at the school has to translate the beliefs into action. They are simple but not simplistic: (1) A consistent behavior programme based on students being helped to make the ‘right choices’ in learning and play (2) The importance of ‘teamwork’ – ‘together everyone achieves more’ (this does not limit teacher individuality and creativity). Team work requires trust and mutual respect. (3) ‘Focused teaching’ – a phrase indicating teachers should teach towards focused explicit goals, including giving specific feedback. The key is ‘slowing the pace’ of chidren's work to provide time for focused help. All tasks are clearly defined on teacher’s blackboards. (4) ‘Goal setting’ – individual students goals, group, class, and school goals. Reflecting on goals achieved and defining new goals is an important aspect of all teaching and at the ending of each school day. ( 5) ‘A1 Standards’ – agreed benchmarks in core curriculum areas and agreed book work presentation expectations across the school. This is important so students feel there is unity between classes. This includes high expectations and similar routines. (6) ‘Scaffolding’ – in the sense of developing design and presentation scaffolds for teachers to introduce as students move up throughout the school. Students require such scaffolded help to ensure they all achieve quality results. Teacher’s model and coach agreed expectations. As students gain skills they are expected to add their own individual creativity.
Eric has long since left the school but the ideas, as they were developed and owned by all, continue to underpin the teaching .No doubt new ideas have been introduced and the school will continue to evolve. This is as it should be.
Spotswood has disciplined itself to cut down on paper work – the school is about philosophy and excellence and not compliance. It is as Eric is keen to say, ‘All about working smarter not harder.’ The success can be assessed by observing the students at work and by collecting limited focused data which is fed back to the teachers.
My advice is to look around your area for a school like Spotswood. I can think of several I have observed in my travels throughout New Zealand. The next step is for schools to work together, still of course valuing their own individual creativity.
See article on Spotswood on our site and also photos
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
The power of the unplanned curriculum!
It was said in the 50s that teachers were so well organized and planned that even if a DC3 crashed in the playground the teacher would keep on working. A DC3 was a passenger plane of the day! And in many schools the windows were well above eye level to keep student’s minds on what was important. It was normal to see all the lessons for the day, written up before school, on the blackboard. It was all very teacher centred and formal.
In the past few years, if a similar event were to happen, the teacher might be too busy to stop for such an event. If they did, they would be expected by ERO to be able to show how the learning related to the appropriate objectives in the appropriate curriculums! ERO called this an ‘audit trail’!
Hopefully, with a retreat from such obsessive requirements, things are becoming more sensible. It is now being realized that preplanning all learning situations and tracking content objectives is really a waste of time, and that attitudes towards learning, and for learners to appreciate ‘how they learn’ is just as , if not, more important. All that should be kept in mind is for each class to be able to show that they have covered most of the ‘big ideas’ each year. This shouldn’t be complicated?
In the illustration above the teacher is taking advantage of a wasp nest discovered by a parent before the summer heat makes the smell unbearable. The nest provided an opportunity to develop careful observational skills, both of the nest and the different life stages of wasps, and the ensuring discussions resulted in questions that students were eager to research. As interest developed mathematical insights were explored and the social life structure of wasps considered and compared to human communities. At the end of a week or so the room reflected student’s observations, creative art, research and creative writing.
The teacher involved was Bill Guild and the event occurred in the early 80s. Teachers such as Bill believed in doing 'fewer things well'; in 'depth' learning; 'quality rather than quantity'. Not above covering, or ‘delivering’ the curriculum, but uncovering student insight and talents.
It is this spontaneity that we need to be encouraging today.
There is also no point in writing up lesson plans to cover such an event – the children’s book and chart work, and the displays of work on the walls, should demonstrate the learning achievements of the students. Any anyway, the students should be involved in planning what they want to do with the teacher.
This is the kind of work that you can still see today in creative teachers classrooms. For such teachers teaching is an art, not a pre-planned technocratic exercise. The past decades of imposed curriculum, and ‘prove it’ accountability requirements, have not made the life of such creative teachers an easy one,
If ERO can’t comprehend this then it is a sad commentary about how the ‘spirit’ of education has been lost in the futile rush to ‘prove’ student achievement.
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
The story of a creative Taranaki teacher.
There has long been a tradition of creative teachers in New Zealand. The two that I always think of nationally are Sylvia Ashton Warner and Elwyn Richardson but others will be aware of other important figures?
Both the above taught well away from ‘authorities’ and, compared to today’s access to information, worked in intellectual isolation relying on their own intuitive creativity and imagination.
In the 60’s the ideas of such creative teachers were spread by the more sensitive Department of Education curriculum developers and, by the late 60s, creative teaching was gathering momentum. It would be untrue to say that there were ever that many such teachers but in all areas of New Zealand there were such people.
The ideas spread through informal networks of like minds and through holiday refresher courses. The ‘open education movement’ based in the United States of the 70s added extra motivation. As did the publication, in 1969, of the UK Plowden Report validating a progressive approach to education.
When I began advising in Taranaki in the 60s there were a number of such innovative teachers, mainly in rural schools. As in those days advisers visited all classrooms once a term the few creative classrooms stood out. A key to spreading their ideas was the enthusiasm for the ideas by the then Art and Craft Advisers.
In the 70s I was lucky enough to be ‘allowed’ to work with a small group of local teachers, developing what was loosely called ‘environmental education’, referring to using the environment as a resource and creating well displayed environments inside.
In recent years a number of Taranaki schools have further extended this focus on to include a whole school approach.These schools have become well known nationally as the 'Taranaki Quality Schools Approach'.
The creative teachers of the 60s and 70s have long since retired but their ideas live on, even if many are unaware of their genesis. A new band of creative teachers continue to develop similar ideas in their own way - and this is as it should be.
Ironically as creative teaching became accepted world wide, many teachers 'jumped on the bandwagon', and by the 1980s the stage was set for reactionary approach – the imposition of our current standardized curriculums and accountability pressures.
Recently, one of these earlier creative teachers, Bill Guild, published a book celebrating the creative work of students over the time he was principal (1959 to 1986). He called his publication a ‘World of Difference’, relating to the ideas that transformed his teaching over the years. It is fantastic collection of in-depth class studies, research studies, language and art work.
All the above ideas: valuing creative teachers as the key to real change; networking to share their ideas; involving all teachers in a school; and school collaborating to learn off each other, are ideas that are very relevant today and need to be supported in every area of New Zealand. A 'bottom up' revolution, supported by central government, would be ideal and would redress the current 'top down' approach.
Creative teaching, or personalized learning, whatever it is called, places the teacher at the centre of real educational transformation and will require new leadership roles for both school leaders and central government.
As the standardized curriculums, imposed on New Zealand schools, are found wanting (they are currently away being revised) and the hyper rationality of assessment fails to ensure all students learn, creative ideas will once again be needed to ‘engage’ all learners.
Rather than the past focus on individual creative teachers what we now need is for whole schools to develop total creative learning environments, and for schools in every areas to work together to share their ideas.
Where are the creative schools in your area - they are your best resource?
Sunday, March 13, 2005
The best book ever on student creativity!
Perhaps the person who most influenced my own teaching philosophy was Elwyn Richardson.
Elwyn taught in a small rural school in New Zealand the 195Os and later in schools in Auckland.
In the 60s in New Zealand creative teaching ideas began to spread throughout New Zealand influenced, in particular, by the work of the then Art and Craft advisers, under the leadership of the National Director of Art and Craft Gordon Tovey.
There has always been progressive idea in education but after World War Two the idea of a more democratic creative form of education began to spread. The NZ Labour Government of the times developed a liberal philosophy of education system to develop all individuals no matter where they lived. The Director of Education, Dr Beeby, was a seminal influence and was later to be blamed by conservative critics as introducing the ‘play way’ method of teaching.
The establishment of the school advisory service was part of this movement.
Under the leadership of Gordon Tovey a small group of ‘native’ schools were given permission and help from advisers to develop creative teaching ideas. Elwyn Richardson, although not included in this group, became associated with the ideas. Permission was needed because schools in the 1950s were a very traditional.
In later years most innovative ideas were to be found in isolated rural school supported by school advisers .The advisers set up an unofficial network of creative teachers and I was lucky enough to tap into the excitement created by the ideas when I began my teaching career.
Elwyn Richardson stood out as a most important figure. In the 60s he published his book ‘In the Early World’ which become on inspiration to us all.
We again seem to be in a similar situation to one Elwyn faced in the 50s. The past 15 years has imposed on teachers a technocratic ‘standardized’ curriculum which has all but crushed the initiative of creative teachers. Now around the world there are signs that we need to return to a more personalized style of teaching so as to ‘customize’ education to develop the talents of all and, in particular, the students who keep falling through the cracks, no matter how obsessive schools and the Ministry get about assessment
Elwyn’s book is as relevant as ever and has been reprinted by the NZER. Creative teachers would be well advised to acquire a copy. A greater contrast to current curriculum documents could not be found! Written in personal narrative style it is full of creative examples of students language and art.
This remarkable book is all about ‘integrated curriculums, values education, the arts, inquiry learning, philosophy and creative thinking’. ‘It is a story about teaching told by a teacher who believed passionately that creative thinking and intellectual growth are inexorably intertwined.’
‘It is timely in the 21stC to recapture teaching as an art. ‘In The Early World’ inspires teachers to take risks, to contemplate values and philosophies as central to the teaching learning process and to adapt prescribed curriculum to the children’s own desire to explore, inquire and create'.
Just as all the technocrat curriculums have exhausted creative teachers we now being asked to consider what is being called personalized learning. Personalized learning is capturing the imagination of teachers, particularly in the UK, but as exciting as it is it certainly not new.
‘It has the potential to make very young persons learning experience creative, fun and successful. It means shaping teaching around the very different ways students learn and it means taking the time to nurture the talents of every pupil.’ For further information download this UK pamphlet.
If the Ministry were to have the courage they would identify groups of schools throughout NZ who are already trying out personalized learning, as was done in the 1950s. They would also have to give such schools give the some for of protection; excusing them from having to comply with many of the current distractions.
I the 50s it began with creative individual in small schools. Today it needs to be established in networks of school of all sizes.
We have the creative teachers; we just need to create creative conditions for their ideas to grow and spread.
(Some of the ideas on our site that owe much to the work of Elwyn Richardson are: developing writing; personal writing; and environmental studies.)
Sylvia Ashton Warner
Sylvia Ashton Warner is a legend to many educators worldwide, even if not greatly appreciated in her own country. She was, from what I have read, an unpredictable and sometimes difficult individual, but there is no doubt of the value of her creative teaching ideas in the field of language.
Lynley Hood has written a fascinating account of Sylvia’s life in her book ‘Sylvia.’
In this age of pretend rationality, where distant elites have worked out what we are to teach and how we are to assess it, it is refreshing to be reminded that people can never be regarded as merely passing on messages from on high.
There seems, as students worldwide are failing to engage in traditional education, a trend towards what is being called ‘personalized learning.’ This is to be welcomed but, as exciting as the idea is, it is hardly new. Until the imposed rationality of the 90s curriculums, the philosophy of personalized learning underpinned many creative teachers in New Zealand. Such teachers have almost been crushed by the obsessive compliance requirements of planning, tracking, proving and graphing everything that they were supposed to have taught.
If personalized learning replaces all this it will indeed be great. Personalized learning is about tapping into the passions, ideas and imagination of students, and using these as the basis for a wide range of creative expression. For personalized learning to be done well requires that such learning results in quality expression – the development in every learner of a sense of excellence. Teachers will need to encourage their students to work in depth and to provide sensitive help to ensure learners achieve their personal best.
Teaching in this sense is a creative art.
Sylvia represents the ‘central personality the artist – sensitive, imaginative and unique’ and as Lynley Hood writes, ‘she will go down as one of the seminal voices of our age.’ Sylvia worked in the 50s, an age not conducive to such creativity, but her determination to tap into the ‘life forces’ of her students is an inspiration to us today. Sylvia worked with the very children that today we call our ‘achievement tail’.
We would be well advised to replicate her ideas about ‘unlocking the storehouse of imagery native to each child’ and base their development on each child’s ‘key vocabulary' of personally important words. This would be amore creative way of ‘engaging’ students than more of the same, or an imposition of ‘scientific' phonic programmes.’
Sylvia no doubt was a difficult individual but, as George Bernard Shaw wrote, all progress depends on ‘unreasonable’ individuals!
Some idea to introduce personal writing into your programme, and for the really brave to base your literacy programme on, are to be found on our site. There are articles on: developing writing; mums and dads helping; and personal writing themesand oral language.
Friday, March 11, 2005
How to share the magic.
No body forgets a great teacher but what is the ‘magic’ of a great teacher and can it be shared?
Recent research reports have come to the rather un- amazing conclusion that it is the classroom teacher that is the most important factor relating to student achievement.
This conclusion, however, could well be double edged sword, for if students are seen to be failing then it must be the problem of the individual teacher and this leaves teachers open to the imposition of all sorts of ‘best practices’.
The answer to this dilemma is for teachers to learn from each other, particularly their more creative colleagues; those teachers whose classrooms exhibit those elements of ‘magic’.
Most teaches know intuitively who these teachers are but often fail to take advantage of the insight such teachers have. To the contrary, many such creative teachers, aware that their expertise attracts professional jealously, have learnt to down play their expertise rather than evoke such envy. Sylvia Ashton Warner, one of N Z’s most creative teachers, was believed to have said that, ‘You can tell a creative teacher, she is the one lying in the corridor with an arrow in her back fired at her by her fellow teachers!’
Creating the conditions to inspire teacher creativity is the key role of school principals. All too often this role is in conflict with complex compliance requirements and the demands of approved orthodoxy. If this is the case imaginative responses will be lost and a dull mediocrity will become the norm.
What is needed is to value the ‘voice’ of all teachers but particularly the creative. The challenge of school leadership is to develop an agreed set of shared teaching beliefs for all to work within (and for all to hold themselves to) but at the same time to value individual differences.
There need not be total agreement about the beliefs. Creative conflict, or tension, is always needed to ensure new ideas are available so as to ensure continual improvement.
What teachers want is not ‘one size fits all’ appraisal systems, which are all too often designed to keep teachers on the straight and narrow, but non judgmental supportive ways for teachers to get feedback and help.
Teachers have always looked towards their fellow teachers for such support but this can too easily confirm poor practice unless creative ideas are identified.To ensure such sharing is positive requires leadership and mutual respect between all concerned, and an environment that is open to new ideas. An agreed teaching framework can provide teachers a sense of unity and security but it should not be at the expense of teacher creativity and imagination.
When these conditions of mutual respect, support and clear expectations are met then the ‘magic’ of creative teachers can be shared.
In such a community of learners every body can then get exited about learning and rather than individual teacher ‘magic’, the whole school can becomes a ‘magic’ environment.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
I'm saved ....and I'm a dog again!
It is a faint hope that our traditional secondary schools will change of their own accord to ensure that all their students leave school able to thrive in what will be an unpredictable but potentially exciting world.
It is a lot easier to blame their pupils for their own failure.
It will require a real sense of urgency to shock schools to change, and for the wider community to appreciate that schools, in their present shape, are the real problem and that new thinking is required.
Courage and leadership will be required to help shape a new vision of an education system suitable for the 21stC. As one writer said, ‘Our schools are OK if it were 1965’.
It is a shame that we need dramatic shocks for us to change. It took the carnage and unnecessary slaughter of World War One to develop in the ordinary man a distrust of god given authority – particularly of the old generals who were long past their ‘use by date’.
And after World War 2 returning troops came home determined to build a fairer more democratic world. And woman war factory workers were equally reluctant to return to being housekeepers.
The best example of being shocked into change however is the story of Pavlov’s dogs. Everyone knows how he was able to condition dogs to drool at the sound of a bell but few know about what happened to his dogs in his laboratory in 1924.
On the 22nd of September of 1924 Pavlov’s laboratories in Leningrad were flooded. Pavlov’s dogs were forced to swim to the top of their low cells to avoid drowning. Pavlov’s assistants came to the panicking dogs rescue. The dogs then had to be submerged to be let out of their cells.
All the dogs wee saved but there were some quite exceptional consequences in some of the saved animals. In these animals the conditioned reflexes had disappeared as if they had never been formed.
This is exactly what happed to some troops when the imposed discipline broke down in War One. Pavlov’s dogs were retrained – the troops were shot by their ‘leaders’.
There is a message here for us?
Or have we all been conditioned to accept things as they are, to turn a blind eye to growing dysfunctional aspects of our communities and schools?
Surely we can think our way to a better future, or is the conditioning we have all had courtesy of our secondary schools, or by those whom the present situation currently benefits to strong?
If not, what will shock us into the future?
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
We need some customised Indiana Jones
Years ago, at one of the earlier NZ Primary Principals Federations meetings, a keynote speaker Prof. Hedley Beare, when talking about the need for leadership, said we all ought to become ‘customized Indiana Jones’
He was challenging us to have the courage of our convictions and not to meekly accept everything that was being imposed on schools as the gospel truth. His argument was that Indiana Jones was a good model because he was an individual who took short cuts, cut through red tape, but at all times acted morally for the cause of the greater good.
I liked that. Far too many school principals are too careful and fearful of doing the wrong thing to stick their necks out. After all ERO might visits and if they judged us failing and the whole school would suffer. As well I fear a lot of principal actually like all the managerial nonsense.
Whatever, there are too few Indiana Jones around – I can only think of a handful at best. That s not to say there are no leaders, just that few principals have had the nerve to join up with others and really provide a focal point for creative teachers. Worse still there has developed , in this age of having to prove how good you are , what one writer calls, ‘look at me schools’ – each school trying to show it is better than the others.
We really need some Indiana Jones right now. We need people not frightened of doing a bit of rule bending. As one business writer said we ‘need canny outlaws, system beaters, creative and responsible rule benders.’ Educationalist Thomas Sergiovanni wrote that this courageous attitude is needed because ‘the deck is stacked against the creative, imaginative and entrepreneurial teachers’ and principals.
A pioneering research study of successful principals found that they were frequently critical of the constraints imposed by central authorities, that they found it difficult to live within the constraints of the bureaucracy, and that they frequently violated compliance requirements. ‘Canny outlaws’ learn to ‘build in canvas’ – by working the bureaucracy to suit themselves. Their advice was to, ‘Start with the spirit of the rule- bending it to shape best practice. If the system tightens up, go to the letter of the rule and efficiently, do what is necessary with as little energy as possible and in a way that minimizes impact.’
I always think that, 'if a thing is not worth doing it is worth doing badly so you can get on with the important things.'
The bottom line is, ‘Will these decisions we make enable teachers to teach creatively so as to improve the learning of the students? The stakes are too high for school leaders to boldly follow the central technocrats. We must give up the belief that those in authority always know best.
The answer, as always, lies in collaboration with others. Groups of principals need to work together to use their combined intelligences to develop ideas and approaches that each of them can in turn customize to suit the individual contexts of their schools.
There is courage to be gained from such unity but someone has to take the lead. An ‘all for one and one for all’ outlook is the only way to combat outside auditors like ERO.
Each area needs its own Indiana Jones to start the ball rolling.
May be it is already happening? Love to hear about it if it so.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
More Dean Fink!
In Dean’s most recent writing (of which he sent me a draft) he talks about the challenges of educational leaders to be 'three legged leaders’… and that this is not easy for mere mortals.
The first leg is the traditional bureaucratized hierarchal organizations that many schools still cling to in the name of timidity, community pressure, and teacher resistance. And I would think that many secondary principals can see no alternative – it is the only way. The organizational structures of most schools are still fundamentally unchanged since the beginning of the 20th C he writes.
The second leg is recent central governments technocratic focus on inputs, outputs, targets and measurable school results. These, Dean believes have, ‘undermined educational leadership and replaced it with instrumental managerialism.’
The third leg, now emerging, focuses on developing schools as ‘learning communities’; communities to ‘enhance the learning of all the participants.’
For principals still working in traditional bureaucracies, dealing with imposed compliance issues while developing their schools as learning communities, he writes, present ‘unprecedented but not impossible challenges.’
The answer Dean believes is sharing leadership issues across the school and district so ‘mere mortals’ can together solve each other problems. The trouble is, in New Zealand, we now no longer have any real official ‘regions’ and as well secondary and primary school have never really worked together except at the most superficial level.
The one thing principals must never compromise, he continues, is their ‘absolute commitment to student learning’, and ‘a set of life affirming values that sustain leaders through good times and bad.’
Successful leaders have one thing in common, they all have a clear sense of purpose, a ‘philosophy, a mindset, a story, a stance’, a value system, that guides all their leadership activities.
‘Great leader are led by great ideas’….they develop an attractive ‘invitational story’ and communicate ‘a message of hope’ to build a shared and evolving vision. They have a clear sense of the ‘big picture’.
‘It is’, he continues, ‘important for leader to instill confidence, to believe in his judgment even when people no longer believe in themselves’.
People want from their leaders a sense of direction, a vision, a destination. Followers need to know ‘if the trip is worth taking.’ Hope is at the centre of a positive school community.
All this is problematic in our central governments current addiction to reason, efficiency and rationality. They have created an environment of measurement, targets and compliance and have relegated ‘the creative arts, and the imagination’ to the periphery. These are very attributes that are required if we are to re-imagine real our education system to develop the talents of all students.
Dean concludes with three messages.
1 Leaders are ordinary people who through extra - ordinary commitment have become extra- ordinary and in turn have made people around them exceptional.
2 Leadership is about developing invitational messages to build up an evolving learning centred school.
3 We all have the ability to shape events in our lives.
It is these three attributes, Dean believes, that will ‘sustain mere mortals’ in such difficult times.
I wish I were going to the Otago NZ Principals Conference to hear more from Dean but unfortunately I wasn’t invited! I suggest though that all school leaders make a point of attending and, better still, for them to leave with a will to get together in their various areas to make a concerted difference.
I will take real leadership to do so.
Monday, March 07, 2005
Dean Fink, 'It is about teaching and it is about time!'
It has been great to have had a number of e-mail conversations with Canadian educationalist Dean Fink. Dean is in NZ later in the year to present a keynote at the Otago NZPPF Conference.
Like Dean I have had the good fortune to have interacted with many educational leaders – principals who actually make a difference and so it is not a coincidence we share similar thoughts.
Dean, in an article he wrote, comes to the conclusion that ‘quality leaders come in all shapes and sizes’ and leadership is more an ‘art than a science’. ‘It is more about character than technique; it is more about leading learners and leading teaching than management of things’ he writes.
He believes there is no such thing as a definitive list of ‘best practices’ that can be ‘generalized to all’. Everything depends on the context.
For all this, he continues, the ‘technocrats’ search for the ‘holy grail’ of ‘best practices’ to use as a benchmark. There is no ‘leadership template’ and, Dean says, that ‘since most of us are mere mortals such lists can only promote guilt’ of ‘not being able to achieve everything’; or ‘martyrdom’ by ‘trying to do everything’; or ‘compliant managers’ who ‘just do as they tell us’.
Dean asks how did we get into this mess. He believes that site based management is one part of the problem – too much time wasted on trivial but must do things. The other issue is trying to comply with the big questions of how to implement central government directives ‘of what students are to learn, when they are supposed to learn it, and how teachers should teach it’; and of course the vexed problem of assessing and reporting it all.
Dean also has concerns that many principals have ‘bought into the management role’; it is easier to repair the roof than improve mediocre teaching or ‘inspire real learning for students.’
If the ‘technocrats dream’ isn’t the answer what is? The first thing, Dean writes, is to arrange for others to do all the ‘stuff that consumes school leader’s time’ and to limit ‘number crunching to a minimum’. One suggestion is for school to share such people to do this. Then, with the time saved, principals need to reinvent themselves as ‘leaders of learning’.
As Dean has previously written, ‘it is about teaching and it is about time.’
He continues, ‘there is no set template or destination to follow’ but ‘rather a journey with plenty of detours and even some dead ends’. Leaders need to be continually learning as they go along. It is about letting those who work in the school know you have the best of intentions, a clear philosophy and the courage and integrity to lead the way.
No point in ‘looking in the rear vision mirror’ to find best practices, instead we need to look to ‘a more creative, imaginative and forward looking view of leading.’
The future is about placing education rather than rationality at centre stage; the technocrats have had their turn! It is well to remember that the experts built the Titanic but an amateur built the ark!
It is time to tap into our own intelligence and regain some profession dignity.
From my observations the best way to do this is to link up with like minds and work collaboratively, not only to share the time consuming managerial tasks, but also to have ‘conversation’ with each other to: clarify teaching beliefs, develop sensible curriculum , assessment and reporting procedures. As long as schools customize ideas to suit their particular context, and value whatever creativity that emerges, then this should lead to both diversity and quality learning and teaching.
The so called ‘best practices’ of competition, that was part of the ‘market forces ideology’ of site based management, has led to too many struggling schools – or worse still, schools that are struggling but don’t know they are!
Another good idea from on high.
Just caught the end of a discussion on National Radio with Mary Chamberlain, a Ministry Curriculum Manager, about the Curriculum Review; sounded all sweetness and light.
The draft review will be available in all schools at the beginning of next year for their comments. It will then become official the year after.
This, according to Mary, is to give all teachers and school ‘time to get on board’.
It would seem to be ungracious to be critical of such developments but things need to be said. The first thing is to realize that what is now being proposed is nothing new except for the rather technocratic ‘key competencies’ phrase.
This phrase, which has been lifted from a rather tedious and repetitive OECD Report, describes the ‘generic’ competencies that every one will need for a good life and a well functioning society.’ It is a long read for some simple and obvious insights.
What worries me is the comment, from Mary, that ‘teachers will need time to get on board’. This implies that our experts have the answer yet again, and all teachers need to do is to learn these new improved tricks. I say ‘new’ because in effect they are a contradiction to the earlier advice passed out by the Ministry. The Ministry, it seems, is now saving us from themselves! Let’s hope that have fully informed the Education Review Office of their change of heart!
Rather than giving the teachers ‘time to get on board’ it would have been better if the Ministry had spend more time listening to the innovative and creative schools that are actually putting such ideas into practice. With a bit of historical research they might also find that the ideas have been the basis of progressive teaching way back to John Dewey and even earlier.
And what will worry me even more will be the schools, ever so eager to please their masters, who will rush to get on board, not even realizing that they had the ideas all the time. After all it doesn’t take a brain surgeon, let alone a technocrat, to work out what attributes, values, attitudes and strategies students will need to thrive in an unpredictable but potentially exiting future?
As for me, what is even more important than all the ‘competencies’, is to keep alive the desire to learn that all learner are born with; the passion to follow what drives each of us; the dreams we all too easy give up on. Schools should be about developing caring creative people who will hopefully leave the world a better place. Identifying and amplifying students talents is the number one task of a school. Schools too, should stop teaching and start listening to the voices of their students.
All this means we need awkward people who question everything. As George Bernard said: ‘all progress depends on the unreasonable man’; or in these more politically correct days, ‘difficult woman!’ This is always difficult. As Oscar Wilde wrote ‘Telling the truth makes you unpopular at the club!’
The first thing the Ministry should do is to listen to schools, to hear from them what the Ministry itself has to change, so schools can be all they have often been promised to be.
I would also like them to own up and say that ‘their’ earlier standardized curriculum model they introduced (with no time given for ‘teachers to get on board’) was the wrong model. It has only created confusion, stress and ‘burnout’ and hence the real need for a ‘new’ approach. We will wait forever of course – the official message is that it is all part of a natural development!
As I mentioned earlier, I can see schools so thankful for the new developments, that they will actually thank the Ministry for saving them from themselves.
Who cares, I suppose, as long as a lot of the compliance rubbish, that schools suffer under, goes.
If something doesn’t go teachers and principals, as Dean Fink writes, will have to more than 'mere mortals'.
We need more than sweetness and light from Mary!
Saturday, March 05, 2005
'Habits are at first cobwebs then chains.'
Change is really about confronting the power of habits.
Everyone has no trouble in articulating what ought to be done but putting ideas into action is a different thing all together. Transformational change is not easy. Every year principals all around the world go an annual educational crusades (Conferences) to seek the ‘holy grail’ of educational reform, but on the way back most of the enthusiasm for new ideas are lost and little changes.
Even if the ideas reach the school the chances of implanting new ideas are still low.
What gets in the way of change are unexamined habits. If we have been doing things in a certain way long enough it becomes the only way. Breaking these habits needs a concerted effort not just by an individual by everyone involved.
Change is both simple and not easy. It is simple to say, ‘I must give up smoking’, but giving up an addictive habit is difficult. There are all sorts of reasons why it is hard to a change even a simple habit like smoking.
The simple part is recognizing the need for change but the hard bit is actually changing habits that we are often unaware we use. Until we are prepared to uncover our hidden assumptions and habits and face up to current reality little will change. Facing up to reality is never easy.
To ensure change sticks we need to be held accountable to new ideas and this requires we listen to feedback from others. More often than not we soon slip back into old habits if there is no pressure. It is also important to realize that our failures are part of the process and need to be seen as learning experiences and not excuses to give in. Real change is never going to be easy. As they say ‘no pain no gain’.
The key to real change, once the need has been defined, is to work with others to keep us on track. In a school this could mean defining agreed teaching beliefs and then being held accountable through mentoring, class sharing visits, and agreeing to some form of observation of indicators of change. We all need to be held to the new ‘story’ to resist slipping back into old ways.
It is very important to be clear about the changes required.
Being open to others help and support is not easy. It is said that changing the culture of any organization is ‘a journey of 1000 days’. It is far easier to find reasons not to change.
So if new ideas brought back from a conference are to implemented time will be needed to share the ideas so all see the purpose of the changes.This will require leadership. Real leaders are people whose actions align with their beliefs and who can articulate a better future for their organization – one that can be seen to benefit all.
The power of habit (or the current culture or ‘status quo’) is so strong that it will require more than integrity from leaders; it will also require determination and courage. Change comes with a price and people who have been ‘successful’ in the old ways will be reluctant to change, no matter what they say.
Change is about challenging the power of unexamined habits.
Until this is done things will never change.
Friday, March 04, 2005
Don't touch the bananas!!!!!
It is always amazing to see how exposure to an environment, or culture, can change how we think without us even knowing – I guess this is called conditioning. New ideas always rely on those individuals who can see reality without the blinkers.
The truth however is not always welcome and it is always easier to go along. As Oscar Wilde once said, ‘The truth makes you very unpopular at the club.’
This is why real leadership is so scarce in any situation. Real courage is required.
The analogy of the monkeys in a cage is a case in point. Put five monkeys in cage, hang a bunch of bananas just out of reach on a string. As soon as a monkey begins to reach for the bananas spray all the monkeys with cold water. Keep this up until all the monkeys have been sprayed lots of times. Pretty soon if a monkey goes to reach for the bananas the others try to prevent it.
Now put away the water away and remove one monkey and replace it with new one. The new monkey will see the bananas and will reach out for them. To his surprise and horror all the other monkeys will attack him. After a few attempts he soon learns to leave the bananas alone.
Now remove another of the original monkeys and introduce another new one. Once again the assaults begin soon as the new monkey reaches for the bananas and the newcomer joins in with enthusiasm! Continue until all the original monkeys are replaced. The beatings continue if a newcomer reaches for the bananas although now none of the monkeys have any idea why that they are not permitted to grab the bananas!
None of the monkeys now have ever been sprayed with water. No monkey ever again approaches the bananas. Why not? Because as far as they know ‘that’s the way it has always been around here’?
That my friends is how dysfunctional systems develop – including schools.
Leaders need the courage to question every assumption that has been taken for granted but they will need to face up having cold water tossed on their ideas.
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Corinna School Mural: 'Our Best Always'
I have just been sent a booklet outlining developments of a collaborative Porirua East Quality Schools Project 2003 -2005.
I believe that this locally initiated school collaboration is a very healthy development and one that ought to be encouraged by the New Zealand Ministry of Education.
School collaboration was part of the ethos of the early days of ‘Tomorrow’s Schools’ but it was ‘crushed’ by the ideology of Market Forces of the 90s which was based on the value of school competing for students (‘clients’). Sharing was out!
Before ‘Tomorrows Schools’ school collaboration was part of the belief system of the then Regional Education Boards and Department of Education Inspectors. This was by no means a perfect system but what eventuated was akin to ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater’!
So the idea of schools getting together and sharing ideas is a move in the right direction. As well in recent years a more ‘enlightened’ Ministry has been encouraging a range of clusters. The best examples are the ICT Clusters.
The idea of schools self organizing around shared beliefs is another step towards true democracy and one the Ministry would be well advised to support with as much of a ‘hands off’ attitude as they can.
I would love to see small groups of teachers working collaboratively springing up throughout New Zealand because sharing idea is not only important for teacher growth, but the diversity that would eventuate would be to the advantage of everyone. Successful ideas would spread like benign viruses in the right conditions. Establishing such a ‘high trust’ environment would be the key role of a democratic Ministry. Naturally all schools would need work within a broad National Framework and be held accountable to their agreed Charters.
There is such a group in Blenheim and I know of other areas that just need a little support from the Ministry.
Throughout New Zealand there are a number of schools that have customized the Quality Learning ideas outlined in the Te Ara Vision and Teaching Beliefs to be found on our site. I would love to hear from schools that have made use of such ideas.
It is important that collaborating schools need to retain their individual distinctiveness and creativity within the basic ideas they share. There will always be creative tension between a sense of shared beliefs and individuality. Areas of tension are where all new idea germinate. Such creative tension can be seen in: every classroom between students and teachers; between teachers and principals; and between schools and the Ministry.
It is well to remember that the aim of education is to produce self motivated and caring learners and to achieve this requires trust, and that trust can only be developed where there is mutual respect.