Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Dean Fink on Personalizing Schools.

Each according to their need. Posted by Hello

I never know who reads my ‘blogs’ but I was thrilled to receive from a UK reader an article on personalized learning. This was in response to the 'blog' I wrote about Kelvin Squire’s article about the need to focus on student’s hearts and minds and to move away from wasting time on compliance issues.

The article I received was written by Dean Fink. He had attended a conference where UK Labour Party politician, David Millbrand, presented his perspective on personalized learning . Personalized learning, Fink says, is ‘ an exciting and revolutionary idea, but it is not a new concept’. It was tried, he said, in many schools in the 70s but they had their 'lights extinguished' by a variety of agendas.

The optimist in Fink sees personalized learning an opportunity worth seizing in the first decade of the 21stC – a chance to ‘shake off the shackles of conformity and compliance, and imagine, create, innovate, do something.’

The realist in Fink however sees 'large bumps on the road' and outlines four paradoxes of leadership.

1. The manager/leadership paradox. With site based management heads spend inordinate time attending to often trivial, ‘time greedy’, management issues, including what Fink calls the ‘care and feeding’ of school governors.

Personalized learning requires heads who are ‘leaders of learning’, not worrying about test scores or ERO reports. Leaders need to understand learning and have leadership skills to inspire colleagues to focus obsessively on ‘deep learning’ for all students.

To achieve deep learning for all ‘is impossible unless something goes’; things that ‘get in the way of heads being leaders of learning’.

Fink’s suggestion is for schools to hire people to free heads from management issues. Another I might add would be for schools to work together to develop a shared belief system for each school to ‘personalize’.

2. The second paradox is the proficiency/potential paradox. Most principals have been appointed based on the need to comply with Ministry requirements – most of which are managerial. Focusing on deep personalized learning, Fink says, is ‘rather scary, because they ( heads) have been trained as efficient managers, and now must know something of learning theory, alternative teaching strategies, emotional intelligence to name a few’.

3. This gives rise to what Fink calls the ‘standardization /flexibility’ paradox. ‘Past change efforts that have tried to force improvements by ‘brute sanity’, by standardizing curriculums, testing, inspection and even teaching have run aground on one basic reality – the kids are non standard.’.

‘Personalized learning takes account of this fact and calls on heads to be creative, innovative and flexible in responding to the unique needs of the student- wonderful. But school will still have to operate within the trappings of the failed standardization paradigm for sometime to come.’ This includes ERO etc. Heads, Fink says, ‘will be caught between a rock and a hard place negotiating this one.

I would suggest one answer is schools collaborating with ach other to give mutual support but this would be in conflict with past imposed competitive pressures.

4 The final paradox is the ‘good school/real school paradox’. Is the community ready for personalized learning? ‘Most middle class parents like things just the way they are because their children who are socially and culturally advantaged to do well. Existing schools are real schools.’

Fink suggests that innovative politicians, such as David Millbrand, and ‘every school head have a huge job to overcome the inertia of the smugly satisfied elites.’

Fink concludes that the time and the times are right for heads to focus on personalized learning because ‘it promises to do what education is supposed to do, enhance deep learning for all students.’

I wonder when our politicians will pick up the ‘personalized learning’ phrase. I prefer it to the latest ‘eduspeak’, ‘learning competencies’, which our Ministry technocrats seem to be enamored with!

I hope that there are NZ principals out there ready to take the lead!

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