Thursday, March 17, 2005

A school near you?

Eric Shaw and Spotswood Posted by Hello

'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


Anonymous said...

Interesting insights as always!

I have some difficulty with the term team teaching approach, not in the way you describe which I agree with, but in what I think is a common misunderstanding or misuse of the approach in practise.

Too often it translates to a requirement for all teachers to teach the same topic, often at the same time, and a prescribed way. Too me team teaching needs rather to be a system of collegial support that encourages a teacher to develop their own style and passion in the teaching process, and importantly requires an interactive response to children’s interests and learning needs. I think creative teachers depend on certain freedoms and support for the view that their ‘voice’ and interests have a positive affect on the way they teach and in the unique opportunities they provide for learners.

Similarly the depth of focus and ‘active learning’ required in ‘child-centred’ and ‘holistic approaches’ to learning require these freedoms to be in place.

I agree there needs to be a school wide framework of shared principles and goals, as you outline above, but a team approach to be successful also has to allow individual teachers to be true to themselves and thus allow the maximum release of the teacher’s energies and interests to the advantage of the learner.

Even practical considerations seem sometimes to be overlooked in the name of the team approach and leads to teachers all competing for the same topic resources at the same time, or worse still leads to a defeat in purpose by large numbers arriving at the same location in the environment at the same time.

In the end I think the value of a particular team teaching approach put into practise must be judged by the depth of thought, quality, and the nature of social and learning attitudes evident in the children’s work.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I could not agree more. It is hard to believe a school values individuality if every teacher looks as if they are following the same plan. Sharing each others intelligences and talents is one thing - having to do what others have planned for you is another. It is the old 'top down bottom up' issue. Beween the two is the answer - and their will always be creative tension.This should be valued otherwise how do new ideas develop.

Anonymous said...

I visited Spotswood with you a few years ago - wonderful experience! Great to see you are still sharing the ideas.

Keep it up.

We need people like you Bruce