Friday, September 30, 2005

A New Era - or more of the same?

Time for new ideas! Posted by Picasa

Who know we might have a new government in New Zealand by tomorrow.

If we go ‘right’ we will go back to the past – individualism and greed; a one size fits all people plus economic Darwinism. The rich will get richer and the poor will be left to survive on their own.

If we go ‘left’ ‘we’ will have real choice.

We will either continue with ‘top down’ management for ‘our’ benefit, whether we like it or not, or develop new ideas. We have lived through an era of 'the government know best for you'. It seems that, from the recent elections, the people have had enough of this patronizing technocratic manipulation and are asking for some room for individuality and creativity.

I would be great if the Labour Party were to return to power and saw this term (perhaps their last) as a chance to show some courage and leadership and to make some dramatic changes.

There are immense pressures to preserve the status quo and politicians, and so called leaders in all organizations, seem to have a 'right to manage' others as a basic mantra. We need ‘heroic’ leadership, brave enough to give up power and free the energy of those they control, to create positive conditions and infrastructure to trust people. And, as well, leaders need to value diversity rather than standardization. It is from diversity (and often ‘mistakes’) that new creative ideas emerge.

There are good reasons for a new government to be refreshed by such basic democratic ideals. Young people are not as keen to conform to imposed restrictions, or to comply, as their elders were. They have seen their parent’s life chances deformed by such pressures. They value individuality and creativity.

And as well organizations that create positive relationships between managers, workers and customers are more successful – they appreciate the power of shared purpose and positive relationships. And successful organizations also appreciate the need to attract agile, innovative, flexible and creative employees best able to thrive in this age of dramatic change.

People want to feel part of where they work and, in turn, be able to contribute their talents to the greater benefit of the country. It is not all about personal greed as we are led to believe.

So a new government needs to break down this sense of fragmented hierarchal control and develop new integrated structures based on trusting people. This means pushing down responsibity to the community level and to value the diversity that develops.

The real task of the government is to focus on setting the direction for the county and then to enable such a vision to be realized. We need to develop a vision of New Zealnd as a creative country with creative citizens, utilizing their talents for the benefit of themselves and the common good. The two can go together.

The new government ought to spend its energy defining a new sort of democracy for the 21stC by involving citizens in a national conversation about the kind of county 'we' want to become. New ways for people to participate need to be thought of; new ideas for expanding the role of local government; and new idea how to involve schools in such a revival, need to be considered.

Recent governments, and their associated organizations ( along with many traditional business organizations), have spent far too much time containing rather than liberating people; it has been too much about control and compliance based on a basic mistrust of people.

A new government could inspire new assumptions about human nature and in the process develop a positive image of New Zealand as a creative country, a leader in both intellectual freedom and the common good of caring for all its citizens and the environment

A revolution in democracy - or more of the same?

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

What does your school stand for?

Schools to develop a NZ identity. Posted by Picasa

I have little holiday job to help a school draft out what it stands for.

This shouldn’t be a difficult task because having visited the school to see it in action it will just be a matter of selecting ideas from their current documentation, reflecting on what I observed, and then crafting these ideas into a simple new vision and beliefs document.

Ironically the best description of the particular ‘schools way’ is written up in their excellent Education Review Report. It just goes to show that if a school is demonstrating excellent teaching across all classes it will not be 'punished' by ERO – thankfully they are no longer focusing on compliance and are looking for evidence of quality teaching and learning.

The key to success of course is demonstrating quality teaching and learning. It may be easier for some schools that haven’t developed a sense of shared philosophy to stick to compliance, clear folders and endless graphs!

The secret of the school I am working with is its principal – he won’t mind me saying he is of an age that complying to imposed requirements is not an issue to him; he only wants to create an environment based on positive relationships that expects the best from both the staff and students. Simple stuff but too often lost in the guilt felt by many principals if they do not do what they think others expect them to do!

So what does your school stand for?
Can your teachers, their students and the wider community express such ideas?
Why don't you ask them - it ought to part of your School Review!
It is worth having a go at trying to document your ideas on one page.

Michael Fullan writes that schools have ‘six years (or eight) to have a conversation with their parents’. If parents haven’t got the message of what your school stands for by then you have been focusing on the wrong things. He also says that it all depends on the ‘power of three’ – teachers, parents and students working together.

The school I am working with has ‘customized’ elements of the Te Ara vision available on the Leading and Learning website.

Defining what your school stands for is a good way to start.

Monday, September 26, 2005

From Chaos to Creativity?

As new stars develop so might new coalitions Posted by Picasa

All quiet, it seems, on the political front! Until the special votes are counted who know what might happen?

Let’s hope all involved have time to focus on what kind of society we need to become. With all the problems we face as a country you would think it would be a priority? A growing number of alienated people just can’t be left to spread discontent in an anarchic way like dropping rocks off motorways! All New Zealand towns have within them seeds of similar senseless acts but, all too often, they are swept under our collective carpets, or lost in the mad rush of ‘what’s in it for me’ represented by the present elections!

Labour suffers from an excess of preachy humorless political correctness while National promised individual self determination and ‘a winner takes all philosophy’; the ‘Welfare' or 'Market' State. Both are really about outside forces managing our lives.

It has been a divisive and destructive election – pushing an ‘either or’ or a 'black/white' mentality of a past age and not, ‘a better than both’ solutions for more ambiguous and unpredictable future. The main parties need to look beyond themselves – their ideas are tied to a past that is no longer with us.

The minor parties may offer solutions?

The Maori Party understands marginalization and alienation better than any other party and expresses a desire to regain sense of autonomy and self reliance for their people. They want to be able to tap into their aspirations and to help them develop the confidence to help themselves; they want to act as advocates for their people. They are sick of technocrats defining their problems and then contracting people to deliver answers; they want their ‘voices’ to be heard.

Those who work in schools will appreciate the concerns expressed above!

The Green Party, with its emphasis on environmental sustainability and community self sufficiency and regeneration, points the way to an appreciation of a post modern society. They, unlike the much vaunted capitalists with their immoral emphasis on short term gain no matter the consequences, have a long term vision. They are too easily written off as anti progress, modern day Luddites, or ‘dangerous'?

Labour, with its traditional concern for the wellbeing of all citizens, could learn from both.

Out of the confusion of this political limbo could evolve some new ideas for a creative New Zealand. Labour might even be able to take the best from National as well. But first the special votes have to be counted!

If a Labour coalition is established they would need to show some intellectual courage and inspirational leadership - as there is little chance of a fourth term what have they to lose?

We haven’t seen much courage or inspiration the last two terms but perhaps, as Bob Dylan sang, ‘things are a changing.’

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Creative Country? Could Be!

Brash or Clark? Posted by Picasa

The results of the elections are on hold. It is great to have a break from the rhetoric and the promises from the politicians.

I think we had a stark choice last Saturday. Between a return to the hard line individualism of the nineties with all its talk, 'of you know better than the Government how to spend your money', and the 'Government know best how to transform society for you'.

Both parties, in a desire to win or retain power, threw money at the voters – less tax for all or more support for the family.

I must admit to being pleased that the present Government might get a third term but I am equally pleased that the close result will make them look hard at their current approach they have taken about how to transform New Zealand on our behalf.

Unfortunately we didn’t hear much from the major parties about their vision or image of New Zealand for the future, nor the challenges facing our country in such unpredictable times? What kind of country do we want to become? This is important as we move into a new millennium marked by the waning of the mass produced industrial era and the beginning of a diverse global information age that will depend more on the intellectual capital of it's people? And, as far as education goes, what is the role of schools in this new era; what future attributes do we want our schools to develop? Any talk we heard of education was more about 'moving back to basics' by one party (with their reading and maths vouchers) and more bureaucratic micro managing by the other.

If New Zealand is to thrive it is no use trying to produce what can be produced more cheaply elsewhere (China), nor turn our students into knowledge workers (India seems to do that best) , nor to just rely on our primary produce, but rather to rely the innovative and creative qualities and talents of all our citizens.

To developing schools to realize the passions, dreams and talents of all students would need us to transform our school system with their current structures and traditions still firmly locked into a Victorian Era. And this hasn't helped by seeing education as a consumer good! Ironically most of our current entrepreneurs and creative people owe little of their success to their schooling! According to Peter Drucker ( the business 'guru') no country has as yet developed an education system for the 21stC and the first to do so will be the future winner.

We have a great opportunity in New Zealand to do this if we can throw off the deforming effects of our current top down technocratic system with its Industrial Aged mentality of, efficiency, conformity, standardization, fragmentation of learning, and measurement. We have to move past the incoherence and confusion of the cuurent NCEA!

And education, if it were to be transformed, can do much to develop our unique identity as New Zealanders - which can never be the ‘one people’ mantra the basic message of one political party. We have to embrace diversity and difference, no matter how messy it might look to those who prefer intellectual straight lines!

What was missing in the election was a debate about vision, direction and the defining New Zealand’s place in a future world. It was the worst of centrist politics, middle class, middle of the road, and focused on self interest rather than defining an exciting new sense of direction. There was no passion! All you could say was that one party seemed to represent a wider range of citizens and promised incremental improvement (continual tinkering), and the other party who appealed to our innate sense of individual responsibity ( and greed).

So if Labour survives it will need to retreat to consider the lessons it needs to learn so as to evolve some new more democratic ideas. Our country now seems divided by the results and the big challenge will be to unite all New Zealander to work together for both the common good and individual success. Everyone needs to be able to contribute to the creation of New Zealand as a strong, unique country; a multicultural society populated by an innovative and creative people.

National had some good ideas about the need to free us from the excesses of the central technocrats, who will have to stop trying to legislate 'us' into a mind numbing compliance, and consider how to create the conditions to release the energy and tap the talents of all people in all areas of endeavour. There is just too much duplication and confusion of services and too much reliance on measurable outcomes - the important things can never be measured! The fewer civil servants the better - but what we have must be of the highest caliber.

If we want to create a diverse and creative society, able to thrive in the future, then we need diverse and creative organizations.

And the best place to start this re-imagining and reinvention would be our schools. We need school focused on retaining, in all students, a love of learning and not to distorted by measurable narrow achievement. If we want to create a democratic inclusive, caring and entrepreneurial society we need inclusive, caring, democratic, and entrepreneurial schools.

What we want is a more focused Government, a Government that places confidence in the people to do the right things for both the common and individual good, but this can only happen if the right conditions are created. Developing purpose and creating 'high trust' conditions are the true tasks of any future Government.

The next few years ought to focus on the creation of a series of conversation about how this can be realized but, whatever, there can never be a ‘one size fits all mentality’ from either party.

The creation of a shared sense of direction will be everything.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

John Bevan Ford - Pioneer Educator.

John Bevan Ford Posted by Picasa

I have just returned from a tangi for a good friend of mine John Bevan Ford

Anybody who has attended a tangi, a gathering to celebrate the passing from this world of a person, will understand the importance of such an occasion.

Mihi eh hoa John – greetings to my friend John.

John’s tangi lasted three days. It began for me with a long drive in pouring rain to visit John lying at his home where he was surrounded by his immediate family and friends; even the rain was symbolic as it represents, in Maori legend, the Sky Father crying at having lost intimacy with the Earth Mother after Tane, God of the forests, separated them as part of the ancient creation legend.

A tangi, unlike a European funeral, provides time for a range of emotions from sadness to humour to be felt and expressed, and for contacts to be renewed. Early next morning John, his wife, his family and close friends, were welcomed, with all due ceremony, onto the Marae (at the meeting house at the College of Education Massey University).

During the day several groups of mourners were welcomed into the meeting house, also with due ceremony, to pay their respects to John and condolences to the family. And during the day endless cups of tea and food was provided.

During the evening after a formal karakia (prayer), time was given to share stories about John with the family. These ranged from the light hearted to the serious, each followed by a waiata or song. A ‘talking stick’ was passed around to those who wanted to contribute. It was a long and, if one can say it, an enjoyable experience. Certainly in the process we all learnt more about John. Having known John since for over thirty years I shared some incidents from the early days.

The next day John was placed on the porch of the meeting house ready to greet, and be greeted by, it seemed, endless groups of people. All were welcomed, as is the custom, with a greeting, speeches and waiata.

A formal ceremony was taken by a friend of Johns. This provided an opportunity to share with all, his philosophy, the beliefs that he expressed through his art, his love of music, and his considerable achievements. Others were invited to contribute and I took the opportunity to say a few words.

Ten koe eh hoa John – greeting to you my good friend
Mihi from Maunga Taranaki – greeting from the mountain where you once lived.
And greeting from your friends who still live there.
There is a saying in Taranaki that: ‘If you are going to bow your head – bow it to a mighty mountain'.
Today John you are that mountain.
In a persons life there are only a few people who really contribute important ideas
And to me, and many others here, you were that person.
We thank you for your wisdom over the years.
We will all miss you but your ideas and art will live forever.
Haere mai eh hoa - farewell my friend.

On John’s site ,if you wish, you can see his contributions to the art world. To me however his other important contribution was in the field of education. John was chosen to be a part of a group a Maori Art Advisers to introduce Maori Art into New Zealand schools in the early 1960s. Many of these advisers have since gone on to be come well known for their artistic achievements but not before they had made their contribution to the development of creative education in New Zealand.

Today the ideas they contributed are all but forgotten.

I met and worked with those advisers in those early years, which included European advisers as well. They all believed strongly in the natural creativity of all children and introduced teachers to a range of, visual arts, crafts, creative writing, music and dance. And they also encouraged pioneer creative teachers to move into developing integrated related arts programmes to break down the sterile formalism of those days.

Today we need a new group of creative and somewhat idiosyncratic advisers to challenge the deadening effects of the current imposed standardized curriculums and to lead the way into transforming our schools into environments that personalize learning. This is important if we are to develop the full range of the creative talents of all students.

This is the legacy, and the challenge, that John and his friends left us, and one that we at Leading and Learning, and the creative teachers that we know, are dedicated to continuing.

Thank you eh hoa John.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The power of biography!

All about my life. Posted by Picasa

The voices that are not as often heard in our classrooms as we would imagine are the voices of our students. Yet, if we want to 'engage' students (as is the present concern), we need to appreciate that the 'stuff' of their lives is what makes them learn.

Often we know too little about their lives.

When I walk around classrooms I look for 'evidence' (another current ‘buzz word’) of studies based on their questions followed by answers they have researched about such issues. And I also look to see a range of creative media used to express the concerns of their own lives and not just class themes.

Too often such personalized learning is missing; lost in all the teacher imposed curriculum and assessment requirents; too much teacher 'delivery' of curriculums and not enough 'designing' personalised studies.

One idea to remedy this situation is to study the significant and personal greatness of our student’s lives through biography. This could lead into , or emerge out of, a study of the biography of famous people, or the recording of the oral history of their parents, or of local people of interest.

If we want students to know it is important to have some sense of their own future it might be a good idea to focus, through biography, how various people have achieved their goals.

Students could begin by discussing, or brainstorming, elements to include in their biographies ( to be written by a partner) , including what they might want to achieve when they ‘grow up’. This could include: birth , early life, holidays ,family events, pets, favourite uncles and aunties, favourite music, sports and hobbies etc. The teacher could model the process using her own biography, or by reading extracts of biographies? Perhaps some form of criteria could be drawn up as a guideline?

It would be useful for each student, after a brainstorming session, to list all the important events in their lives as a basis for sharing with a partner who is to write the biography. Get them to select the things that they feel have been important events. Students could share their ideas orally, using their notes, with a partner. Similarities and differences will begin to be noticed (by the teacher?) and ideas discussed will 'spark' lost memories.

After a day or two to reflect partners could start interviewing and writing out the biographies, continually checking with the person concerned for details. It will be important for writers to appreciate that anecdotes/ stories are more impressive than just lists of facts and events. Interviewing subject’s parents might be a useful idea, or they might be asked to supply written comments for the authors to include.

The students could bring images, brought from home, for the writer to include using digital cameras.

Each person could then share the completed biography with class members and questions could be answered either by the author or the subject. Parents could also be invited to this celebration? Finished biographies could be displayed on the wall,the school website, or written up as a class book to be sent home for comment.

The next step is to design curriculums around students: environment, interests, talents, passions and concerns.

With such ideas in place 'engaging' students will no longer be an issue and ‘personalized’ learning will become a reality.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Time for creative teachers and schools!

Value your own ideas! Posted by Picasa

There was a time, before Tomorrows Schools, when teachers actually thought their own philosophies counted for something! And it was not as if these philosophies came out of thin air – they were crafted by all teachers from their experiences, the experiences of others and their reading.

Most teachers to this day are still inspired by particular teachers who, in their time, had the courage to develop ideas that were often not appreciated by the powers that be – or even their fellow teachers! As Sylvia Ashton Warner, an eccentric pioneer New Zealand creative teacher, once wrote, ‘You can tell a creative teacher, he or she is lying in the corridor with arrow in the back fired by fellow teachers!’

We have to learn once again to celebrate, value and share the ideas of our creative teachers!

Teacher’s philosophies in the past were not always gathered from teacher’s courses but, more often than not, were exchanged over a beer or two on a Friday night! And, as well, they often came from unusual sources – from quiet deep thinkers to eccentric art advisers; people who seem to be able to 'see' into the future! Art advisers in particular were great sources of creative ideas in the early days providing teachers with alternative points of view. They were all the more valuable because, along with other advisers, they traveled from school to school demonstrating lessons and spreading ideas.

This form of organic development was a feature of the sixties and seventies.

Unfortunately such haphazard, but creative word of mouth, means of spreading ideas were replaced by the efficiencies of the imposed standardized curriculums of the nineties, and ‘delivered’ by contractual advisers who lacked the passion of the earlier advisers.

In this new process the 'voice' and professional judgement of the teachers has all but disappeared; everything is now 'delivered'.

The time is now right, as the imposed curriculums falter under their own weight, and as teachers begin to resent the resulting joyless compliance, for a new wave of teacher led creativity.Better still would be groups of school sharing the ideas of their creative teachers.

To begin the process we all need to ask what kind of society or community we want to create? We need to consider how we can tap into the creativity and energy of all our students? Then we need to ask what kinds of schools do we need to create this future vision and, more importantly, what teaching beliefs should underpin such schools? We need to draft out our ideas, put them into practice, and to continually reflect on their value and to make necessary improvements. The future will require continual reinvention.

To find the answers to these idea we need to search both within ourselves, listen to our colleagues, our parents, the students and available worldwide.

Collectively we now know enough that no student need fail but only if we are prepared to change our own minds first

To be successful we must stop relying on outside experts to lead us – we need to learn to take responsibility and work with others so as to control our own destinies. If we don’t someone else will – up to now they have!

As Professor Ivan Snook said, to graduating students of Massey University College of Education:

‘The ability of people to participate in society is dependent on the quality of the education they receive. And this depends, not on large bureaucracies, glossy brochures, curriculum documents, or flowery mission statements, but on the personal qualities of teachers… (in their)... task of helping create the future.’

Schools working together

Works for Singapore Posted by Picasa

I have just returned from a very enjoyable week working with a group of schools around Ashburton in Mid Canterbury.

The visit followed up a presentation I gave at their very successful Ashburton 'Magic of Teaching Course' held in Term One.

It was great to be able to travel around a range of mainly rural schools tailoring my advice to suit the needs of individual schools and, as well, to present ideas to groups of teachers, including staff meetings.

I was impressed with the professionalism of all the teachers concerned and their desire to introduce, and share ideas, to improve the educational opportunities of their students. Earlier in the year, at their conference, I had taked about the need to focus on quality teaching and learning and, in particular, to do fewer things well. I also encouraged them to work together to share their own ideas and to become their own experts.

Ever since the imposition of the ‘standardized’ Learning Areas of the early 90s, ( with all their strands, levels and endless learning objectives and the equally confusing assessment and accountability demands) teacher’s voices and professional judgments have not been listened to.

Now that the curriculums are being seen as part of the problem, and not the solution dreamed up by the Ministry technocrats, is the time for teachers to add their 'voices' to the debate.

Now is the time for the ‘magic of teachers’ to be recognized and shared.

Now is the time to appreciate that all real educational advances have been started by creative teachers and that it is these ideas will spread to other teachers, if the conditions are right.

And now the time for a new period of teacher creativity.

The teachers I have been working with in Ashburton are at the ‘leading edge’ of such exciting ideas. On the last day of the week they gathered together to plan how they might be able to work together and to tap into Ministry assistance. The Ministry is now encouraging school collaboration and there is finance available for schools to work together.

This is what the Ashburton teachers intend to do. The Ministry proposal 'Extending High Standards Across Schools, is based on school recognized as ‘highly achieving’ able to ‘demonstrate good practices’ working in ‘collaboration with partner schools’. This would have problems!

The Ashburton schools are developing an important variant; believing that schools that collaborate will have ‘best practices’ to share among themselves. They believe that by identifying such areas of individual excellence, these can be shared with other schools. In this process the individual teachers will gain recognition and all schools will develop quality teaching and learning practices.

Whether they gain Ministry assistance is not vital – but the Minisrty would be lacking if it didn’t recognize a better model than the one they are promoting. Groups of schools who might want to work together would be well advised to check the Ministry proposal. Any group that was to be established could share the costs of focused professional development based on their identified needs as well as sharing their own expertise.

I know of at least one other area where a quality school group has been in operation for a number of years. This group , centred on Blenheim, established their group because: they were frustrated with the breadth of the curriculum and workload issues, they wanted to do less better and sharpen the quality of learning experiences in their schools; and were keen to work together to promote and share such ideas.

It would be great if group could combine primary, intermediate and secondary schools in an area because the issue of transition and mismatch of teaching approaches are real concerns.

Schools collaborating to share their own expertise - an idea for the times!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Artists interpretation of kowhai Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A great Spring 'Mini Unit'.

Kowhai -great mini unit. Posted by Picasa

Kowhai trees signal the beginning of spring but too often they are taken for granted.

Over the years I have seen teachers make use of the Kowhai, and the good spring weather, as a great integrated mini unit, so I thought I would share some of the ideas I have seen.

What do your students know already about the kowhai? What do kowhais mean to them? What question might they have about them?

Visit a kowhai – almost all New Zealand school has one in their grounds or nearby. At first just admire it using the senses and encouraging imaginative responses. One idea is to write a three line poem ( a simple haiku) .Ask the children for one phrase looking into the tree or flower, another about the branches, and one about the petals lying on the ground , or better still falling from the tree.

If the teacher were to collect some flowers, back in class students could be asked to draw them carefully with pencil and then use coloured pencils. Black biros are great to use also, as are fine line ink pens. Encourage the students to look carefully and to take their time – the secret to a good piece of observation is to: ‘look- draw- look’. An important ‘message’ the students should get is that quality work takes time!

The poems and drawing can be displayed with suitable captions.

The next day students can become amateur botanists and research the plant. The teacher would need to negotiate the study questions with the students about:
the shape of the tree, the bark, the leaves, how the flowers are arranged, and if there are any pods from last year.

Often tui birds will also be found feeding on the trees; research about these birds and what they are feeding on. Tuis make great subjects to draw (best from a suitable photo) and kowhais can be used for the background.

Using the flowers collected previously children can carefully pull them apart to see how many petals there are and what other parts can be seen. Using reference book these parts can be named and counted. Pods from last year can be collected and graphs can be made of how many seeds in a pod, introducing percentages.

Return to the tree and tie a piece of wool on several flowers to watch how quickly the female stigma grow into pods. They grow quickly, thin and long at first, and this growth can be measured and also graphed.

Reference books can be used to gather more information if required. Look for other plants with pods and similar flowers ( peas, beans, broom, gorse) - some students may begin to understand the 'big idea' that quite different plants are classified by their flower structure.

All this material can be placed in student’s topic book, or maths books, or on the wall.

This could be all over in week and the skills developed can be used in future situations.

Chinese metaphor for learning

Chinese character for learning. Posted by Picasa

In the Chinese language two characters represent the word learning. The first means ‘to study’ and the second ‘to practice constantly’.

The first character is composed of two parts, a symbol that means ‘to accumulate knowledge’ is placed above symbol of a child in a doorway.

The second character shows ‘a bird developing the ability to leave the nest’. The upper symbol represents flying, the lower youth.

For the Chinese learning is ongoing – to study and practice constantly; and ‘mastery is the way to self improvement’

What does learning mean at your school?

How do students see themselves?

What metaphors about learning does your school share with students?