Saturday, April 30, 2005

'Superkids'; the hurried generation!

David Elkind's book Posted by Hello

Now in its third edition David Elkinds book is worth a read.

Two basic metaphors have underpinned learning but now we have third. The first (and oldest) is the idea of the blank slate, or tabular rosa. This is the basis of our current industrialized mass education system, best seen in our secondary schools. This metaphor results in students gaining education from knowledgeable teachers in an assembly line factory schools, divided into forty minute periods, run by bells, books, tests and timetables. It is a ‘sit and git’ model – or ‘jug and mug’!

Much of the current school curriculum developments, imposed on schools, continues this metaphor with its obsession on educational measurement and the need to demonstrate the ‘added value’ the students have gained from their teachers.

The second metaphor is that of a growing plant. This is seen best in junior schools. This metaphor is based on providing a stimulating and supportive environment to encourage the learner to grow and to develop their gifts and talents appropriately.

The latest metaphor, and one with unhealthy consequences, is that of the ‘super kid’. This has resulted in what Elkind calls the ‘hurried child’. Arising out of an ideology of individualism and competition, this metaphor puts pressure on parents to hurry their children through childhood to give them an advantage in the future. It is an outcome of the ‘dog eat dog’, ‘me decades’, or the ‘yuppie me first’ culture!.

This hurrying is understandable in an age of increasing speed and insecurity and there is a growing industry ready to provide whatever any parents requires to give their child an academic advantage, non the least the computer industry! Parents often feel guilty if they aren’t providing all they can.

Unfortunately most of what is being provided goes against what we know as age appropriate learning. What young children want is not to grow up quickly but common sense parents with clear values who, care, love, understand and give their chidren their time.

Children, Elkind writes, need to learn self confidence, to be able to cooperate with others, require ‘normal’ competition, and most of all, time to do whatever they want to do the best they can. They need to value their spontaneity and be able to make age appropriate choices and not be forced to grow up to soon. They need to value their own creativity and expression and not be rushed into pseudo pre - school readiness activities. They need time to mess around, to explore their natural environment using their senses, to play imaginative games with others, to learn to think for themselves, and in the process, learn to appreciate their unique gifts and talents.

Rushing children, Elkind writes, leads to anxious and stressful children. Children can easy begin to blame themselves for their failure by not getting the 'right' answers. Trying to reach impossible expectations seems to realize its worst effect in the teenage years resulting in 'learned helplessness'. This is a term that expresses the feelings students have when they cannot meet what others indicate are necessary expectations. For such students school becomes ‘like a bad job’, resulting in depression and burnout. Free floating anxiety, aggression, withdrawal and uncertainty, and worse, are the prices to be paid for rushing.

In school rushing children leads to standardization, testing, uniformity and an unhealthy obsession with doing things right rather than experimenting. Social skills and creative arts suffer as schooling is increasingly focused on literacy and numeracy.

The key is to live well in the present and not be so concerned about rushing into the future. Parents should enjoy simple experiences with their children and schools, rather than rushing to cover everything, should stop and do fewer thing well.

Instead of rushing, Elkind says, children need to be nurtured in a relaxed environment which gives young people opportunities to make age appropriate choices and, through trial and error and sensitive adult help, grow in discernment. Freedom, responsibity and reasoning cannot be rushed and all grow from healthy relaxed trusting relationships.

Elkind writes. ‘The art of living is the most difficult task children have to learn.’ ‘It is the children’s right to be children, and to enjoy the pleasures and to suffer the pains of childhood that is infringed by hurrying. In the end, a childhood is the most basic right of children’

Where are people actually rushing too?

Are there aslo hurried teachers - trying to achieve impossible imposed expectations with equally stressful effects?

Quality if life is what it is all about.

Worth thinking about?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Ideas; the new capital of the future!

Ideas - the new creative advantage! Posted by Hello

We are well beyond an age that depended on transforming raw material for success – the new capital of the future will be imaginative ideas. And these ideas, will spread and infect minds, changing people as they do.

Just as mass production led to mass education imagination will lead to personalised schools.

In education the ground is ripe for ideas to transform industrial age schools, still obsessed with transforming raw material, with out outdated thinking. In reality the ideas required are already available, lying as it were sleeping, awaiting innovative people to reactive them. The spirit of John Dewey is waiting to replace the efficiency of Henry Ford! It is becoming obvious that the current education system is educating people for a world that is fast disappearing. Few seem happy with what currently passes for secondary education. These schools are simply not ‘delivering the goods’ with almost a third of it’s ‘products’ not up to current standards.

The old school system, like the dinosaurs before them, are no longer flexible enough to survive the ever speeding change that has been created by modern information technology. And no end of tinkering will save them in the long run.

Of course we are talking mainly about the outdated factory like high schools – the ideas of personalized learning have long spread through the schools for younger students, even if they are not yet firmly established in all classes.

If we really want to ensure every students leaves with all their talents developed, and with the attitudes to live well together and to continue learning, we need to start creating pressure for the new ideas to ‘jump’ into secondary schools and infect all with a new sense of possibility.

‘Idea viruses’ have always been the way the world has changed and organizations and schools that want to lead in the future , or even survive, will have to become learning communities, continually attracting new ideas and talent, evolving as they go along.

New mindsets will be needed and many current schools and teachers, as with the dinosaurs, will become extinct. Already they are struggling to cope with students whose minds have been shaped by the new technologies – technologies the students take for granted. While schools struggle with linear book learning students live in a diverse multi media world. The power, one writer says is, ‘no longer in the cathedral but is now out in the bazaar!’

Schools need to organize themselves to take advantage of the new possibilities, optimize them, and make them happen. They need to be seen as being at the leading edge of change. Students are tired of being controlled by old ideas and ancient bureaucracies.

Schools who sense that change is in the air need to open themselves to new ideas and particularly to the ‘ideas merchants’ who are sharing them. Such people carry the ideas from site to site.

Ideas spread where the environment is ripe for change.In turn others spread them to their friends.Ideas can even jump between schools mutating themselves as they go. When enough people are infected the idea reaches a ‘tipping point’ and an unstoppable educational epidemic is underway.

When the epidemic dies down a new world will have been created.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Creating a Learning Epidemic!

Idea virus  Posted by Hello

We have had enough of a culture that forces schools to compete with each other.

Teachers have traditionally shared their ideas between schools but this is not the case today. We need an ‘educational epidemic’ to encourage teachers to share their knowledge once again and to enable them to ‘catch’ each others ideas. Spreading school based innovation between schools is the way of the future.

For far to long innovation has been imposed on schools by central government with a ‘one size fits all’ mentality, and with a notable lack of success. As well, by default, imposed ideas have devalued the countless successful local ideas developed by classroom teachers.

The greatest source of untapped intellectual capital in any education system is the talent and enterprise of its teachers. To be of use this capital needs to be recognized, acknowledged and spread within and between schools. In the future a school’s success will depend on its capacity to create conditions foster teachers creativity and in turn their ability to introduce new ideas to the school from any source.

In a culture, too quick to blame teachers for society’s ills, teacher innovation has gone underground. If it is to be accessible to others the government needs to trust teachers and give active permission for schools to take the necessary risks to innovate and try new ideas.

If this were done it could unleash a spate of possibly unfocused innovation so it is essential that it be undertaken in disciplined way. It is important that schools do not waste energy reinventing wheels; the key is to identify and share successful ideas that currently exist in schools. To do this schools need to begin to break down current barriers developed since 'Tomorrows Schools' and begin to work together in informal networks.

It is always difficult for individual schools to judge how that stand against other schools. To achieve such self self knowledge schools need to be prepared to work with others to determine their needs and to see what they can share. Making use of a trusted mentor would be very useful. Such a person could discuss with each school what assistance they need and what they could offer others.

Teachers will always consider ideas they have seen in action. Even if the ideas are difficult they will be enthusiastic and give them a go.If they have had a say in what they attempt, and can see what practical help is available, there is every chance of success. Good ideas have always 'spread' between teachers as if a 'benign virus'.

A lot depends on teachers having face to face encounters with other teachers they respect and trust. Through observation and demonstration ideas will spread between schools particularly, when teachers can get together to learn from each other. Any successful sharing depends on positive collaborative relationships not current isolationism, competition and compliance.

Some schools and teachers will naturally be seen as being at the ‘cutting edge’ and others will be keen to take advantage of such expertise if they see the value. Those who share will benefit from helping others. This spirit of sharing provides a positive force for ideas to generate. Ideas will also spread to other networks, no doubt helped by the power of communication media.

Teachers have always been open to introducing new ideas into their classrooms if they feel the ideas will make their teaching more effective. As ideas spread the ideas will gain a life of their own and will even spread more quickly, particularly if there are channels to allow this to happen.

The path to transformation are decentralized networks and trusted mentors. Ideas themselves will be disciplined by the professionalism of teachers who are open to working with their peers.

To achieve such a sharing culture the role of central government needs be transformed. If the aim is to create self generating creative communities the Ministries role is to create the conditions to allow innovation to develop and to develop the processes to share the ideas.

Rather than a ‘compliance culture’ a ‘gift culture’ needs to be established – one that benefits both the person giving and the person is receiving. Such a system would value and encourage passionate teachers who would, in the process, gain a sense of joy from the free communication and excitement of sharing. A sense of creative freedom and reciprocity is vital but most of all recognition would be given to those who count – the creative classroom teachers who contribute their ideas to the common good of the teaching community.

Let’s share the creativity of teachers between schools.

Enough of imposed contracts and curriculums

Spread the word! Let’s start a learning epidemic!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Share your quotes!

Share your quotes Posted by Hello

I was invited to present workshops at the recent ICT2 Invercargill Conference18/19th April. In the programme booklet the convener, Marlene Campbell, used several pertinent quotes. I thought I would share her selection with you. If you want further quotes visit our site.

If you have a few favorites to share then do so. We can add them to our list.

Do not confine your children to your own learning for they were born in another time.’ Hebrew Proverb.

Here is Edward Bear coming down stairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is as far as he knows the only way of coming downstairs, but somewhere he feels there is another way if only he could think of it.
A.A. Milne

Man’s mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimension.’
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Much educational change is akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.’ Anon

Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those that mater don’t mind.’ Dr Suess

I imagine a school system that recognizes learning is natural, that a love of learning is normal, and that real learning is passionate learning. A school curriculum that values questions above answers….creativity above fact re gurgitation….individuality above conformity…and excellence above standardized performance.’ Tom Peters

And we must reject all notions of ‘reform’ that serve up more of the same – more testing, more ‘standards’, more uniformity, more conformity, more bureaucracy.’ Tom Peters (from ‘Re –Imagine’)

‘Plan to be better tomorrow than today but don’t plan to be finished.’
Carol Ann Tomlinson

Crossing this river is difficult. It means leaving behind some of your own ideas.’
Dick Raymond

Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.’
Ralph Waldo Emerson.

We need to decide whether to give full service or lip service.’ Peter Block

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the different results.’
Albert Einstein

If we always do what we have always done we will get what we have always got.’
Adam Urbanski.

Any good quotes to share?

Saturday, April 23, 2005


ANZAC Day Posted by Hello

ANZAC Day has become one of our most important national days, commemorating as it does the sacrifice of lives lost in all wars.

It is a shame that ANZAC Day falls in the school holidays this year because it provides inspiration for teachers to deepen students understanding of the importance of the Gallipoli Campaign in particular, and the sacrifice that New Zealand men and woman made in all the wars, as part of our nation’s history.

When the day falls in school time it is a great opportunity for teachers to make use of a constructivist approach by asking their students what ANZAC means to them. What are their questions about the day and what is the meaning of the poppy symbol? From such questions students can then become involved in research about the various wars and what they meant to their country, and to how it contributes to what makes us all New Zealanders.

A constructivist approach can be used at any level and as students return to the topic over the years their knowledge and understanding will deepen.

After gaining information about their ‘prior’ view and gathering idea from home, and other sources, the teacher can develop a few simple activities to help their students understand the implication of ANZAC and sacrifices made by New Zealanders in other wars.

The constructivist approach taps into the natural way we all learn, and when aligned with sensitive teaching to challenge student misconceptions, should be an integral part of all teaching whatever subject.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Innovative Conference: 'Embracing the Unknown'.

Wonderful Conference Posted by Hello

I have just returned from the ‘deep south’ – Invercargill, where I was one of a number of New Zealand educators presenting at the Southland ICT2 Conference, ‘Imaginative and Lifelong Thinkers’.

It was by any criteria a wonderful experience and we all learnt things as well!

It was great to be part of a teacher’s conference which had such a clear focus on teaching and learning and, although I couldn’t attend other people workshops, from what I heard they were all appreciated. Certainly I enjoyed my part in the programme.

According to Marlene Campbell, the Conference Convener, it was to be chance for Southland teachers to reflect on their daily practice and to help them focus on issues facing their students in the future. It was also an opportunity for teachers to ‘bridge the crevasse of what we need to do to create happy, successful and resilient student learners’ and for their classrooms to ‘walk the talk of innovation and change’.

It was also an opportunity for teachers to break down the isolation between each other by sharing whatever new knowledge they gained. Over 400 teachers, 96% from Southland, took advantage of the opportunity and there was even a waiting list! It was an impressive turn out.

Keynotes provided excellent motivation. Dr Sven Henson introduced the concept of resilience as a key competence – and how the unity between the brain, the body and emotions interact to drive creativity, decisions and action. American Educators, Renate and Geoffrey Caine, covered the general principles of learning, based on brain research, that provide powerful and reassuring ideas for the teachers present. Learning is natural – the secret is to tap into and develop further students natural learning traits. Why is it that traditional or academic learning fail to capitalize on these natural abilities?

Barbara Coloroso gave a dynamic presentation about the importance of treating students with respect and the need to give them a positive sense of personal power in their own lives. Students, she believes, can make appropriate choices to enable them to stand up for themselves and exercise their own rights while respecting the legitimate needs of others. Barbara’s presentation was illustrated by such events as the Columbine school shootings!

Michael Parmenter, who lived his early years in Southland, concluded the Conference with a dramatic and inspiring ‘presentation’ relating to the story of his own life. It was all about the importance of creativity. Michael’s life has not been an easy one but what stood out as a lesson for us all as educators was the importance of valuing each student’s talents, passions, dreams and creativity. In Michael’s case it was dance. Currently he is being acclaimed for presenting his own story in a creative and inspirational way.

Resilience, natural learning, respecting students, and creativity were the vital themes of the conference - and of course collegiality and fun. Marlene and her committee did a great job! Thanks Alison, Kerry (superb MC!), Alan, Peter and Dave.

I sense that teachers are once again, after a decade of educational confusion, adding their voices to the educational debate. Southland has the leadership and teachers who could well make Southland a national centre of educational innovation. Southland could become the ‘envy of their northern colleagues’ in the words of the president of their sponsors the Invercargill Licensing Trust.

I hope so. I would be happy to return – even if for the wonderful Southern hospitality!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

How do teachers develop their ideas?

Where do our ideas come from? Posted by Hello

There is a whole educational industry dedicated to providing professional development for teachers. Every school is bombarded with curriculum documents, contracts, and advisory visits, all with the aim of transforming teaching and learning for the better.

Hundreds of curriculum experts, consultants and advisers are making careers out of this provision, but to what effect?

Maybe we have been looking in the wrong direction to transform schools?

I would be interested in what teachers say where they gained their educational philosophies? Who, or what, influenced your thinking? How do ideas get known and shared amongst teachers? What would be ideal ways to share ideas?

Let’s know.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The power of imagination

Early creativity - imagining the future? Posted by Hello

There are those that say we are in the twilight of a society based on data.

As intelligence and information becomes the domain of the computer society will place a new value on what can not be automated – emotions, imagination, intuition and creativity.

The imagination is particularly important and is not able to be measured. Imagination allows us to visualize a realistic future and prevents us from reaching premature conclusions, or hardening of the categories.

Imagination allows us to leap ahead into uncertainty and is our primary tool for progress because it is driven by incomplete information and inconclusive ideas. Not qualities loved by the planners who work by brute common sense!

Imagination unlocks creativity – and creativity is difficult quality to control.

Creativity also develops positive sense of self and the confidence 'to go where angels fear to tread'. Those with imagination and creativity are happy to stretch or bi-pass accepted rules and to invent new possibilities.

Without these qualities the 'status quo' rules the day – until it suffocates the very energy it needs for its own survival.

Trust yourself - be a creative teacher

Unplanned curriculum Posted by Hello

I am busy trying to put together ideas for a range of workshops that I am to present during the next week or so.

There is always the thought, ‘who am I to pass out advice to others about teaching and learning. It just can’t be my advanced age’. As some wit once said, ‘Age is compulsory – wisdom option!’

And who am I to criticize the expert ‘wisdom’ that comes from on high written in the style of those who know best?

The answer is that we all have in our heads a view of teaching and learning that we use whenever we work with individual students and, for better or worse, it affects the learning of the student. During individual learning incidents we have no time to rush to read the curriculum manuals.

So it is important to clarify what you believe about teaching and learning. This is best done by, reflecting on each teaching moment, by talking with and observing others, and reading whatever you can. From such experiences we build up a comprehensive approach, to which is added, the courage absorbed informally from others you respect who believe in similar things.

If we don’t , with all the imposed pressures and expectation, plus accountability requirements, it is all to easy to throw in the towel and take the easy way out; to do what others expect of you. But this is not the easy way out at all as you find yourself rushing through things to cover what all the distant experts want. The sheer quantity makes us exhausted. Trying to do all this only results in stress and ‘burnout’ and feeling that something has been lost. Merely repeating approved orthodoxy is not living creativity; imagination and spirit are missing.

What is lost is ourselves; what we bring to each teaching situation. We lose what I like to call the ‘artistry of teaching’ because true teaching is an art – and not just mixing and applying a range of store bought colours. Art is about passion not technique – although both are necessary. Artists are not comfortable with uniformity and formula driven 'best' practices.

So, like an artist, you need a unifying vision to decide which action is significant. An artist knows intuitively what to select and how to respond when things don’t quite turn out right. An ‘artist’ teacher is always asking, ‘what can I do to help this learner next?’

The answers come to us distilled from all the learning conversation you have ever had. And from what you have learnt from the countless prior teaching incidents you have experienced.

It is these ideas I want to share at my workshops.

Trust yourself and keep learning.

No one forgets a ‘magic’ teacher!

It is a shame that we even need to fight for, or reclaim, the notion of the creative teacher

Monday, April 11, 2005

School networks the future!

School mural -Porirua Posted by Hello

Our latest Leading and Learning Newsletter no 23, available to read in full on our website, provides schools with an agenda for the future – one that places them in a central role in future educational change.

The ideas originate from a pamphlet written for the UK Department of Education and Science by well known educationalist Michael Fullan.

Fullan writes that ‘top down’ programmes, such as the UK literacy and Numeacy initiatives, while initially improving student achievement have now plateaued. This, he says, is because of a lack of deep ownership by schools and teachers. Compliance, it seems, only goes so far!

Fullan’s solution is to unleash the creativity of those who work in the schools but he warns this can not be left to the hope of some ideas from ‘a thousand flowers blooming’ spreading to others. He says there needs to be a means of turning independent judgments into collective decisions.

What we need, he says, is system that makes the best of strengths of both ‘top down and bottom up’ reform. The role of the centre is to create the conditions and provide resources for sharing ideas and invite the system as a whole to respond. This requires schools to work together with local liaison people to share ideas . Principals, he believes, need to worry as much about other schools their own.

This will require real local leadership to break through the isolation between schools that currently exists. It will also require principals with the courage to question unhelpful national initiatives.

The future, Fullan believes, will require problems to be solved at the local level and the answers will have to be worked out as schools go along – there are no answers to be gained from those at the top! Successful ideas need to gathered and shared with others through local networks.

All this means redefining the role of central government and local initiatives.

This must be vision that appeals to schools and creative teachers? So far we have seen only a few schools taking the lead in working together

I would love to hear of any initiatives or barriers to such ideas

To read more about Fullan's ideas read an earlier newsletter on our site.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

'Empowering the Child.'

Very practical book Posted by Hello

For those who want some very practical advice about how to develop classrooms into personalized learning environments then this book, ‘Empowering the Child’ by Robin Clegg, is for you.

Robin is an experienced educationalist. Over the years I have had the opportunity to visit him and see him in action and I owe many of the ideas I share to his practical skill. As a classroom teacher he ranks amongst the best; a teacher with real passion for his craft. It is great that he has taken the time to pass on his ‘wisdom’ to others.

We cannot afford to lose the wisdom of such people.

Robin believes strongly in the centrality of the class teacher and the importance of creating a learning environment that allows all students to take a growing control over their own learning.

Robin quotes Piaget in his introduction, which sums up his philosophy, ‘The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done…men who are creative, inventive, and discovers.’ To bring the quote up to date, it includes woman as well!

The book shows how to develop programmes that that helps students ‘learn how to learn’ using an integrated approach and how to organize the classroom to allow increasing student choice and responsibility.

Best of all it is full of practical ideas that builds on the basic skill teaching areas of the curriculum.

The book includes informative photos of real classrooms and many equally useful diagrams.

This inexpensive book is available from Curriculum Concepts. Ordering code 090809 Let’s hope it is the first of many such books written by teachers for teachers.

Highly recommended by Leading and Learning.

'Haiku Curriculum' - simple and deep!

Haiku Curriculum Posted by Hello

At some point the Japanese threw away complex poetic forms and invented haiku.

This is what we ought to do with our current incoherent curriculums!

Since the 90s schools worldwide have had to implement a complex set of curriculums imposed on them by ‘experts’ long removed from the reality of the classroom.

The New Zealand Ministry of Education, following the lead from other Western countries, is currently trying to 'slim down' or 'stock-take' their ‘obese’ curriculums which are, as one critic calls them, ‘a mile wide and an inch deep!’ Developed to provide coherence and a means of accountability they are now part of the problem. It has been ‘death by strands and objectives!’

The answer is the haiku curriculum – simple but deep!

Luckily there have been a few teachers who have struggled throughout the past decade or so to keep the belief in doing ‘fewer things well’ alive; believing in the concept of excellence rather than coverage.

The current complex techno rational ‘top down’ curriculums have had their day. Even the Ministry ‘policy analysts’ have come to this realization and no doubt teachers will see a real difference when they are finally passed back down to schools. Already we have been introduced to the new jargon of ‘key competencies’.

It has all been an unfortunate mistake.

Haikus are based on two key ideas – simplicity and depth; a deep response to intimate reality in contrast to the abstraction of earlier poetic forms. They are rich, real, relevant, focused and disciplined!

A ‘haiku curriculum’ is based on similar principles and reflects the reality of the students' own experiences. It is a return to the student centred idea of earlier days. A 'haiku curriculum' would be an antidote to the glut of complex curriculum and assessment procedures many schools are currently struggling with today.

A ‘haiku curriculum’ is simple, because it reflects the focused way creative teachers work with students, and deep, because it asks both teachers and students to dig deeply into questions of real concern, and also because it asks students to express their findings and expression with real discipline.

It is also about the ownership of learning (and assessment) being in the hands of the teachers and their students. It not only reflects the ‘artistry’ of pioneer creative teachers, but it also provides today’s teachers, struggling with present requirements, with a real alternative.

A ‘haiku curriculum’ is about poetry and not long winded badly written prose.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Educating for the spirit of beauty.

Sculptures at Springlands- Blenheim Posted by Hello

People have always surrounded themselves with beautiful things. In early Greek civilization students were taught to create and evaluate paintings, music and poetry. Today music, sculpture, and literature bring joy to our lives.

Herbert Read, the art educator of the 50s, argued that the general purpose of education was to the growth of what is individual in each human being and that the arts were central to this. Today we call it ‘personalized learning’ and ‘integrated studies.’

John Dewey, the progressive educator, years earlier, saw the teacher as an artist who facilitates the development of the child as an artist and said that no intellectual activity is complete without aesthetic quality. The value of art, he said, was to define experience.

Both these writers influenced the creative education of the 60s.

More recently Howard Gardner, known for his theory of multiple intelligences, saw aesthetic education as crucial to all learning. Every activity, including plying a sport, has an aesthetic dimension, and Garner believes that schools might judge their effectiveness by how well students can think in an aesthetic way.

Too often in school the emphasis is on students' gaining meaning in literature, art and poetry rather than aesthetics, and rarely do history, mathematics and science become vehicles for beauty. Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman talking about a friend who is an artist said, ‘I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. But at the same time, I see much more of the flower than he can.’ Using Gardner’s theory a flower can be interpreted through a range of lenses and expressed in many ways.

Unfortunately our schools represent a fragmented world where subjects, too often, do not meet.

Our schools need to be developed as total aesthetic environments. As Churchill once said, ‘We shape our building and they in turn shape us.’

Imagine a student entering a school for the first time what ‘messages’ would she gather if it were an aesthetically designed school? What would the foyer ‘say’ to her; the open spaces between learning rooms; the classrooms themselves? The music she might hear; the art she might see?

Creative teachers, who understand the power of aesthetics, have transformed their classrooms into environments that celebrate their students’ thinking and creativity. Not only are there well displayed examples of student art and creative writing but also marvelous examples mathematical and scientific thinking. As well all the individual pieces on display illustrate that students have been ‘taught’ the importance of design and visual layout.

Such teachers help develop connections between areas of learning by valuing aesthetics.

Take a look at the next classroom you visit – or your own with ‘fresh eyes’.

Is it visually attractive? How could it be more attractive? What ‘messages’ does the class gives to you; what does the teacher seem to value? Does the students work represent individuality or does it all look the same? Do the displays inform you with key questions, suitable heading and quality research? Is the work integrated? Then have a critical look at the teacher’s whiteboards and student’s book work – do they show an aesthetic understanding and do the student books show continual quality improvement? Is there evidence of the use of music through modern ICT Media?

Wise educators weave aesthetic experiences into all their teaching – the arts can enrich the learning of all subjects and make leaning more interesting and motivating.

I always like a quote I heard many years ago ‘We have no art we do everything the best we can.’

Thursday, April 07, 2005

What gets in the way of being a teacher?

Tom Peters great book! Posted by Hello

Tom Peters, in his great book ‘Re-Imagine,’ reckons that leaders should ask everybody what are the stupidest things we do in our organization? Acting on such suggestions will improve any organisation.

What about writing a short comment about some of the stupid things we do in education?
Things that just waste our time! What should we do instead?

Design and education

Design -simple, beautiful, effective Posted by Hello

Design drives modern enterprises. Design turns an ordinary event into a memorable experience. Defining design, Tom Peters, the business guru, says, in his excellently designed book ‘Re-Imagine’, is not easy. Design, he writes, means you love something ….it is about passion…emotion…attachment. Design increasingly comes before information when all products are technically efficient Design, Peters reckons, is treated as a religion in innovative business companies.

Well designed things have what Tom Peters calls the ‘Wow factor!’

When things or experiences are well designed, things ‘come together’. Aesthetics and design are vital and our students should gain an appreciation of it from an early age.

Design attracts our attention in a split second – impressions are made quickly - each time we enter a building, a garden, sit in a new car - design is integral to how we interpret the experience.

So we all need to be ‘design sensitive’ and ‘design aware’ says Tom Peters.

Appreciation of design ought to be built into every aspect of education from the building to the creations of each student. It is important to work in a well designed environment and to learn to do things well. A study of design through the ages would make a ‘rich’ study for senior students. Design elements of such things as cars and household appliances could be studied and their evolution considered. In a country that depends increasingly on high quality products design ‘literacy’ is vital.

Imagine the challenge of designing a new learning environment for students. It would be interesting to consider the ideas that have shaped our current secondary schools.

Design is not about superficiality but about functionalism. Many environments people live and work in are ‘human unfriendly’ and this includes many schools. In many cases we have inherited ‘ugly systems’ which were premised on a ‘modern’ industrial society. Many schools, with their bells, timetables and divided tasks, feel more like factories.

We need to live in dynamic systems capable of continual self renewal. Systems design should be simple, integrated and effective. Good design should run from the vision through to all school documentation. Too many schools have dreary, obese and confusing documentation that have grown like ‘topsy’. They need to redesigned and realigned. The human body is a good example of an integrated system with all the various function and organs working together in an efficient way to sustain life.

Tom Peters says that, ‘anything truly important can be summarized and clarified to one- third of a page. And suggest one page business plans. He advises every organization to assess all documents on a 1 to 10 scale using four criteria:

Simplicity. Clarity. Grace. Beauty.

Good advice to sort out the bloated clear folders that clutter up schools!

As Peters says, ‘Systems. Make ‘em simple. Make ‘em clear. Make ‘em graceful. Make ‘em beautiful.’

He goes on to suggest that everybody should be asked to identify, ‘the stupidest things we do around here’? ‘Subtraction’, he continues, ‘is the exercise of genius’.

Leaders should ask this question of everyone in the school and listen carefully! This would be the basis of the best Strategy Plan of all!

Tom concludes that in business, ‘we need less techies and more poets in our systems’. The same applies to our schools.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Design - the basis of future success.

Aesthetics and design Posted by Hello

There is one thing that has struck me about the teachers I have admired during my long career visiting schools and it is that they all believe in doing fewer things well – in personal excellence.

This of course is in direct conflict with the pressures of today’s standardized curriculums, which as one writer says, are ‘an inch deep and a mile wide’. Coverage and ‘delivering the curriculum’ and not depth, has been the message of the last decade or so!

With this in mind it was great to read what Rod Orams, the business writer in the ‘Sunday Times’, writes about the one common ingredient Kiwi business achievements have in common - the emphasis on design.

The teachers I have always admired place creativity at the centre of their philosophy. Today there is an emphasis is on the importance of process, or in the Ministry jargon – ‘key competencies’, and the need for students to be aware of the process by which they learn. The teachers I have worked with would agree but would possibly just call it 'learning how to learn' but, as well, they would add the need for students to complete tasks up to the learners ‘personal best’. Such teachers understand the power and pride gained by doing something so well that it surprises the learner. Process and product they would believe are equally important.

Back to the importance of design in Oram’s article. He says that, ‘it is design that goes beyond the narrow sense of being good looking’, it is the ‘application of design principles’ to every aspect of the organization.

In aesthetically orientated classrooms it is felt important that what students research, write, draw, make or present in any medium, is always the best they can do - assessed against their own previous best. With this in mind the craftsmanship element is valued and personal effort applauded. Perseverance is an important aspect; too many students give up before they give themselves a chance! Teachers who understand the 'artistry' of teaching, provide their students with focused guidance and 'feedback' so they achieve results of quality.

Teaching design starts early, with the first books children use, and in such classes’ bookwork shows continual improvement from February to December; no need to create artificial portfolios! Some teachers not only teach deliberately design layout skills but, also, provide simple ‘scaffolds’ for students to innovate from.

The total school should be a model of aesthetics and design – the foyer, the buildings, the grounds and most of all every individual classroom. The classroom, in particular, is an important ‘message system’ and design clarity should be seen on the whiteboards, the class displays and student bookwork. Class displays, in particular, should both celebrate and inform by using clear headings, key questions and process information.

Well designed classroom environments should leave students with clear messages:

1 That their ‘voices’, questions, and ideas are important; that it is their role to 'construct' their own learning.

2 That they need to apply themselves so as to achieve their personal best.

3 That all their work has a design element in it if they want their work to attract the eye of their ‘audience’ . Of course the need to demonstrate in depth content is always required.

Rod Orams writes that NZ cannot compete by quantity but by excellence of design.NZ, he believes, needs to make design a core value. This design needs to represent our ‘multicultural richness, creativity, our unique society, land and location.’ It is this factor, he continues, that will differentiate NZ production in a crowded market place.

Design is being recognized by Tom Peters the business ‘guru’ as the only route to economic survival and Orams says there is an, ‘absolute economic importance of NZ being design driven if we are to stand any chance’. Successful countries are integrating the twin 'drivers' of high technology and design in all they make.

This is exactly what schools ought to be focusing on from the earliest ages; doing fewer things well; quality not quantity; in depth not surface thinking; personal excellence not fitting into preconceived standards. The age of mass education is gone, or ought to have; we are entering into a world of customized or personalized learning.

We are lucky in NZ. We have always had a committed, if small, group of innovative teachers who, if identified, could spread their creative teaching insights to all schools.

This is what our website is dedicated to.

Read our latest newsletter

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Our World - but for how long?

The world, as we know it, at risk! Posted by Hello

The recent Millennium Report pointed out dramatically that we are robbing the present to sacrifice the future.

It seems we have relied on progress and technology to solve all problems but technology and progress often have disastrous and unforeseen effects. It didn’t matter in the early days when the technology was such that the ‘after effects’ were limited to a small part of the world. Cultures that used up all their tree resources disappeared – all to be seen of the once impressive culture in Easter Island of are lonely stone statues. Similar deforestation was the cause of other cultures to collapse. Irrigation, used to keep cultures viable, worked until the water table was affected and they also failed. This still happens today.

It seems from history that societies reach their maximum growth they become at risk as resources get stretched and they begin to look beyond their borders to remain viable. Europe was lucky when the ‘New World’ was discovered and the new resources (including gold and silver) kept Europe a powerful force. Today wealthy countries gain necessary resources such as oil from anywhere in the world. And as for oil, production will peak in a decade or so as a result of a greater use of oil in China and India, as their middle classes acquire cars.

The trouble is today is that worldwide resources are stretched and environmental degradation is now an international concern.

We don’t seem to have listened to the past where cultures sacrificed their future for short term survival.

We have no real excuses except national,business and individual greed. We now know that the whole world is interconnected in often surprising ways and that many problems can only be solved at a global level. ‘Think global act local’ is still an important catch cry.

And, it seems, now the world population itself is reaching its maximum worsened by an imbalance of use of resources by a few wealthy countries.

The Report writes, that as a world we do have the chance to reflect on what has happened and begin to use 'our' resources wisely. Sustainability is not just to protect the environment; the territory of ‘greenies’ – it about ensuring the world is a viable environment for the diversity of human cultures.

We all need to develop a new ‘mindset’ or life on the planet as we know it is, at best, limited. We are heading to what may be called a ‘tipping point’ and human life could well be at risk. Our concept of progress is 'killing' us. Inaction itself will be a problem. We have proved ourselves clever but now we need some collective wisdom.

With a new mindset, and the positive use of technology we, the Report says, can survive.

Education should play an important role in the development of this new mindset.

Now is the chance, the Report says, to get the future right.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The biggest issue of all?

Dr Robert Watson  Posted by Hello

Sustainability or Market Forces

There is no doubt that there have been advantages that have accrued from the ‘Market Forces’ ideology for some countries and for some people, but it has come at a price. Capitalism, at its best, is efficient but hardly a moral construct. The promised ‘level playing fields’ and the ‘trickle down' theories of sharing wealth are hard to see. The rich have got richer and the poor poorer and the ‘middle class’ more insecure than ever!

Capitalism is also not good at looking too far into the future, or worrying about unintended consequences of increasing production – in particular how it effects the environment or the lives of people affected by the changes.

On Thursday night, on ‘Campbell on Three’, there was a enlightening, or even frightening, interview with Dr Robert Watson the Co- Chairperson on the recently issued ‘Millennium Ecosystem Report.’ Dr Watson is the Chief Scientist for the World Bank.

We are now in a battle between environmental sustainability, the health of the planet, and human need – or greed!

In reply to the question that the report paints humans as arrogant, selfish vandals the Dr replied, ‘fundamentally yes!’

A few facts and figures to consider:

More land claimed for agriculture in the last 60 years than the entire 18th ad 19th centuries.
25% of the fish stock is currently being harvested
20 % of coral reefs destroyed since 1980
90 % of all large ocean predators have disappeared.
12% of all birds 25% of mammals and over 30% amphibians are threatened with extinction.

I also can’t believe that there are no more cod left on the Cod Banks off Canada; we were told at school that this was an endless resource! And recently we have been told that oil reserves will peak 2020 -2030 but no one seems too concerned!

So what did the Dr suggest needs to be done?

‘We have to stand back and look at the current situation. If we continue with business as usual, to meet current demand, we will degrade our ecosystem causing even greater problems.’

‘But if we change our habits now and take a full holistic review we can realize a positive outcome.’

To the question, ‘How are we fowling our nest’ the Dr replied:

‘Ocean resources are being depleted, the quality and supply of water is being degraded, fragile landscapes are under pressure, and we have over used nitrogen fertilizer which is leaching into rivers and oceans causing 'dead spots'. And we continue to fragment our habitats’ – ignoring the vast range of ecological interconnections that exist.

So what should we do the Dr was asked?

‘We need to value and manage our ecosystems as valuable resources .Too many agricultural subsidies are leading to environmental degradation .We need to invest in green technology that will make us more efficient and we need to look at the ways we use and produce energy’

The amazing thing was that Dr Watson remains, even after all the evidence of catastrophe, optimistic and convinced that we can still remedy the situation and save the world.

But he said, 'It will require a new mindset. We need to recognize the tradeoff between agricultural production and the need to protect the purity of our air and water.’

‘If governments take on this message; if the private sector takes it seriously; and if we empower local communities, we have a fighting chance to balance our human needs and protect our wonderful important ecological systems.’

Schools must play an important part in developing this new ecological mindset but this will be problematic if we continue to teach in a fragmented way. Indigenous people have always appreciated the interconnectedness of natural things as have environmentalists. Now scientists are trying to bring this awareness to all of us.

What is the challenge for those in schools?

An important value, underpinning all school programmes, should be the need to understand the interconnectedness of all life, and the importance of protecting the health of our planet, both locally and internationally.

I wonder how many schools teach this vital value. Environmental literacy may be the most important literacy of all?

‘Life forces’ not ‘market forces’ should drive the 21stC