Monday, October 31, 2005
The age of rationality, framentation and measurement.
Reminds me of an ERO team reviewing a school for their 'targets' and in the process missing everything else!
It is time we appreciated that the 'machine age' is over. The idea that ‘man’ can control and dominate everything has had terrible environmental and social consequences.
It is far better to see the world, and all our organizations, as living systems and to see our role as part of a range of integrated systems than underpin all life. This ‘systems thinking’ is the new 'world view' that we all need to learn to appreciate. Strangely enough the concept has direct links with earlier indigenous wisdom that everything is interrelated, often in ways we can’t at first recognize.
At the human level we all have a need for relationships and meaningful lives, and we connect with others who share similar ideas. These ideas are the basis of community or culture. Cultures ( including schools) are based on shared understandings and beliefs which, act as an 'attractor' to others, as a self reference to make decisions, and provide the motivation to network with others who share similar beliefs.
Change occurs in living systems( and organisations that understand the concept) in response to events that disturb them, causing them to make changes to regain equilibrium. In a school this might occur just because someone notices a new way of doing things and the idea is picked up and spread to the others with infectious enthusiasm. The community accepts ideas if they fit in with their identity – if not they resist, reject or sabotage them.
Schools as organic systems, or communities, continually evolve and change. They need new forms of leadership able to tap into, and share, the wisdom of all who belong. Rather than being run by, 'headmasters', bells, and fragmented subjects, living schools create the conditions for students to develop their talents. They do this by personalizing learning, providing rich integrated challenges, and assessing students by what they can do, perform, or demonstrate.
This is new way of organizational living and working. It is about learning as you go along, as things unfold, valuing the unexpected and enjoying the feeling that you might not know what will happen.
This is hard stuff for the analytic control freaks that currently determine 'our' educational outcomes. We can no longer hide behind their imposed plans, measures, targets, and outputs forever; we have to trust the process itself. Life is just too unpredictable to be so compliant.
This is about education as creativity; teachers as artists; students as explorers; it is about working in harmony; about valuing differences; it is about continual change; it is about life.
And it is about time.
If you are interested read the writings of Margaret Wheatley.
For ideas about how to develop Schools as Learning Communities visit our site.
The clockwork scientific age is falling apart - it was good while it lasted but now we need new thinking.
The problem with societies 'waste products'!
We like to talk a lot about systems but I wonder if we really know what the term means. For example, we talk about the ‘education system’ but in reality it is anything but a system; more a collection of disjointed parts that are continually patched up to keep it going.
It is all rather like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic!
And we talk about students who have fallen out of the system as being their fault! Like blaming the passenger (or the hapless crew) for their own drowning!
Recently we have had an outbreak of gang violence in South Auckland. And no one seems to know what the prime reason is for their behavior – or so it says in the papers. In the process of describing the situation the article itself provides clues to possible answers. Authorities even talk about studying the ‘psychology of gangs’ to see what attracts these alienated young people.
It would seem obvious that such young people want to belong to something; to gain a sense of personal power; to be part of something that makes their lives more meaningful to them, no matter how anti- social it looks to the rest of us.
The students involve themselves in ‘meaningless activities’ to gain a reputation for being tough; they are looking for some form of identity; some intimacy with others; they want to make a mark on society (one way or another!) – to fantasize about their lives, to gain status and ‘respect’!
The same reason people join Rotary!
I would have thought that the purpose of the ‘education system’ was to satisfy these needs in positive ways?
The young people above are but one group that has fallen through the cracks. Even the ‘system’ gives the so called 'successful' the wrong message for a new age.
This gets back to the point of systems. Our current western culture is more a collection of independent parts that, although they might have once worked well, are now falling apart; it is not a ‘system’.
We currently live in a world of separation, fragmentation, clear boundaries and accountabilities. We plan and control all this from above and those that can’t fit in are rejected. Unfortunately for the rest of us they still have needs to fulfill, even if they are gained in anti social ways.
And solutions will not be found – except for punishing and imprisoning the offenders, until we take a fresh look at out society and think about how we could create better ‘system’. Our justice ‘system’ is already full to the brim with the anti social. We just can’t keep on building prisons.
We have to accept that almost every institution is failing miserably. This includes schools that are currently turning out 20% of their students with nothing to show for their education except a desire to get even in someway.
Large secondary schools are a microcosm, or metaphor, of society at large with their fragmented subjects dealt out to students on the signal of bells, with no one really understanding what the total package the students are receiving. They are more education factories, locked into the past, than learning communities continually evolving to thrive in an unpredictable future.
The solution is to change all these complex and large ‘systems’ so that they work together and to replace their unfeeling mechanistic ‘mindsets’ with an organic ecological one. The future is about relationships, community and networks rather than the current competitive individualism of ‘winner takes all’. The future demands a personalization rather than a standardization of services
Maybe this is messy in comparison to the current craze of efficiency and measurement but it would create an inclusive sustainable world that would give all citizens a chance to make a contribution.
The age of science and efficiency, the clockwork measurable world, has lasted 400 years but now we need new imagery and new metaphors to replace our rusting machine age thinking.
It is impossible to think of fixing up education, welfare or justice system with thinking of the connections between them and the communities they serve.
We need to re-imagine our secondary schools in particular and re- integrate them with communities.
The first thing to do is to accept that the old ways are no longer working to make space for new ideas; before we can reinvent or re-imagine we have to let go of the old. And those who currently hold the power might, like the dinosaurs before them, quietly fade away.
The first country to develop new integrated organizations for an era of creativity and connection will in turn the first to solve the problems we are currently facing up to.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
Shared ideas provide a protective cloak
What are the ideas that are worth fighting for?
The other day I happened to run into a group of local principals who were meeting to discuss whatever they discuss. I was curious about what they might be discussing as I was a member of the same group a few years ago. I think it was all about giving each other mutual support as principal stress has become an issue.
The true challenge I believe is for groups of principals to find their common voice – what it is that all believe is important and would focus and engage the energy of them all. If my past experience tells me anything individual principals are loath to show their ‘real cards’ and share important educational issues. Our system had bred into them a competitive ethic and, as well, it is not good form to admit weaknesses to others.
Principals have been too passive the past decades busying themselves with complying with demands placed on them from those on high. In this process they have become stressed out, not sure what is expected, and this is exacerbated by the Ministry continually adding new requirements.
It is time they added their collective voices to the debate and this is easiest done by groups of courageous principals, defining what is important, and sharing it with others. And what they decide ought to focus on the needs of their students and communities and not the whims of politicians. Principals are in an ideal position to see the pressures that parents and the wider community have to face up to. They know well that, ‘it takes a whole village to raise a child’.
Principals need to think about what would be the ideal future roles of schools. They could together develop a list of principles that they are all prepared to stand behind. Such things as
All children can and will learn – nothing must get in the way of this.
Education must focus on personalizing learning for all students.
Education is a partnership between the school, the home and the students.
Learning is a life long activity– keeping the passion to learn alive is vital.
Developing caring and responsible students is equally important.
Developing student’s talents and creativity is the key to learning power.
Important learning attitudes cannot be measures by outside tests.
Schools must be inviting places for students, teachers and parents.
Anything that gets in the way of these principles must be stopped.
It is time for radical action; our communities are falling apart; students are failing schools; the status quo is no longer an option.
Principals could well begin the conversation to develop a society worth living in.
Unfortunately all too often it is easier to discuss the small issues and to protect ones own egos; people will argues endlessly about issues of no import. It seems we are all afraid of the big issues and prefer the safe arguments that fill in the time allotted. We are frightened of confronting ourselves, or each other, with the real problems because, if we identified these, we couldn’t go back to pretending all is well. It would be like opening Pandora’s Box.
But if we did face up to the important issues and decided to actually do something the current worries about the issues of stress would disappear in the excitement. Principals are more powerful than they like to admit – but, like too many of us, it is easier for them to leave the big issues to others, or just hope they will go away
But imagine if groups, such as principals, really asked the difficult questions, dug into issues of consequences, no matter how messy they are, shared their views, and started doing something.
Better than being stressed waiting for the next idea to be dropped on them from on high!
Perhaps this is what those principals were talking about. I might have witnessed the beginning of a revolution!
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Charlie Chaplin was aware of the problem im the early years of the last century!
It was Thomas Kuhn who was the first to introduce us to the idea of paradigms – the idea that we all live in world that we have all 'bought into' unconsciously. A potential for a shift happens when we are exposed to new ideas but, all too often our mindsets are so fixed, we cannot understand new ideas let alone make the change. Kuhn was talking about the difference between traditional science theories and new revolutionary ideas.
An example of such an 'earth-shattering'change was when Copernicus first talked about the idea that the earth goes around the sun, rather than then current view that believed in the opposite. In Copernicus’s day it was heresy to even think of such a thing as Galileo was later to find out. Columbus, in his turn, knew that world was round but his crew still believed the earth was flat.
Changing paradigms is not easy.
As someone said, ‘fish are the last to discover water.’ Even respected scientists have been shown to ignore data that does not fit in with their theories. Someone once said that paradigm only lose their power when those who hold past views die.
Paradigms are nothing new. Students are continually changing their paradigms (changing their minds) but only when it makes sense for them to change;this is called learning.
The cuurent Industrial Age ‘mindset’ has been the ‘world view’ that has dominated thought the past century or so. When it was first introduced it virtually destroyed the world it was to replace, causing considerable dislocation in peoples lives. All our organizations are currenty modeled on the efficiency inroduced by the industrial paradigm, including schools. The industrial mass production and assembly lines concepts 'morphed' into the dream of mass education for all. School became all about clocks, timetables, grading, periods, uniforms (uniformity) and bells. It was as if schools were some sort of machine to process people.
It was so successful that most people now find it impossible to envision secondary schools in any other shape than the endless 'egg crate' buildings in which students are passed from teacher to teacher, on the sound of the bell; each teacher ‘delivering’ their specialty to the students. Today we have all most come to accept that 20% of students as waste products are OK. Ironically no modern business could survive with such a failure rate in their products!
The world no longer needs compliant industrial workers – the new value is human capital – the creativity and imagination of all our students.
New paradigms for education do exist. But so far conservative schools, and even more conservative patents, stick to their 'flat earth assumptions' and, where there are calls for change, it is more often to revert back to earlier more basic models. Standardization still rules with its ‘one size fits all’ approach, like some procrustean bed – those who don’t measure up are rejected.
We need a new schools. The current system is under stress. The failure rate is beginning to worry us all. We need to think about how to create our schools as 'learning organizations', flexible enough to personalize learning so as to develop the talents and passions of all our students.
We know how to do this. Educators of young student are already well on the way and there are creative teachers, working away at all levels in our current schools, that we could listen to.
The real problem is to accept this fragmented machine like industrial paradigm, or 'mindset', is now part of the problem in every aspect of our lives. Once we appreciate that our outdated fragmented ‘mindsets’ are the real problem we can start to imagine a personalized world to replace the current model.
To change our schools, not only do we have to accept that the ‘machine aged’ schools are out of date, we also need a government courageous enough to discover courageous leaders, and to create the conditions to encourage new alternatives.
We need leaders to scan far beyond the current horizons.
This will require new eyes to envision new mindsets for a new millennium..
Changing schools into ‘learning organizations’, which have the power to continually evolve, and that work in concert with all other organizations, are the answer.
We should start now.
It is quick fix time again.
Most of the time we are happy to ignore the problems that are endemic in low socio economic communities believing that, in New Zealand, we all have a fair chance to gain success if we put in the effort. Too many believe we all live in a 'level playing field'.
But when young people get involved in gang murders the blame game starts and instant solutions are all the rage.
Add to this the rediscovery that 20% of all students fail school it is panic stations.
It seems impossible to ask the students to change their attitudes so now schools, according to the latest Education Review Report, are the problem. And of course they are – but only a part of the problem. Currently they are struggling to cope with ‘difficult’ students and it seems unfair to place the responsibility on them not withstanding they could do much better to assist such students.
Quite rightly the editorial in our loacl paper suggests starting early in kindergartens but with little real hope for change. Anyway this will cost money and the effects are too long term for most people.
And of course they slate the welfare system for squandering money on those who least deserve it. I wonder if they mean the very young children who need some sort of assistance. They ignore that the welfare system itself is struggling to cope with those who need some sort of help.
Or newspaper editorial finally places the blame on the parents. The problems according to our local paper are ‘unemployment, solo parenthood and households where education is not valued'. And they usually have a go at the ‘apologists’ who talk about such things as ‘loss of student identity, cultural deprivation, youth boredom and the inadequacies of an education system’. For the editorial in our paper it is all about ‘dysfunctional families where parents have failed to meet their responsibilities’.
And their answer is to ( in their words) 'impose a new set of values and accountability measures on such families'. This hasn’t worked with the young people and it is hard to imagine it will work with their parents, who must be at a loss about what to do themselves. And who is to do the imposing?
Constant attention by police and repeated jail time, they say, will eventually curb the gang leaders and discourage others to follow them. It would seem to me the jails themselves are also struggling and provide only a temporary solution at best.
They are a bit short on answers and heavy on rhetoric.
Current solutions all seem a case of blaming the victims; sounds all very Victorian to me.
It is not just the youths themselves, nor their parents, or the schools, nor the welfare system, that are dysfunctional. This is a community wide problem and must be owned by the community.
All the diverse groups involved with students, and not just those in trouble, must work together. Over the years functions that were once owned by families and communities have been passed over to institutions, who busy themselves protecting their own turf, while we get on get on with our own individualistic concerns.
In the meantime young children fall through the cracks!
The fabric of community needs to be restored and this will demand a new relationship between central government and local community organizations. And, at the centre of this, it will require all ‘helping’ organizations, including schools, to involve people in arranging and taking responsibity for their own development.
Personalization, not standardisation of services, is the basis for new organisations.
The fragmented monolithic ‘top down’ structures of the industrial era have past their ‘use by date’, and a new communal integrated society, based on shared values needs to evolve.
For this to happen the justice, police, welfare and education systems need to be transformed. Until this is done schools with ‘difficult’ students and struggling families will continue to be increasingly dysfunctional.
If this is to happen it must start from the top.
A challenge for our new government?
Monday, October 24, 2005
Who hasn't heard of Howard Gardner?
If the ideas of Howard Gardner were ever to be taken seriously by schools they would have to change dramatically.
It is only by such a transformation that the many students who currently fail now would gain their rightful success. Currenty too many students leave secondary education for little to show for their time but a bad attitude towards learning. Today, in our New Zealand papers, it is reported that our ‘achievement tail’ is 20% of all students.
We all ought to be ashamed.We now know enough that no student need fail if we were to change our collective minds about education!
Schools, as currently structured, were never designed to cater for the full range of students that are now forced to stay until they are sixteen. For the so called ‘achievement tail’ these years of time serving are wasted years of compulsory miss-education.
Everyone knows that school suits those who come from homes that match the school's expectations. Students with this, so called ‘social capital’, do well and some even enjoy the experience. But even for the so called successful students schools could be so much more.
This is where Howard Gardner comes in. His research has uncovered a range of competencies that few school currently recognize or, if they do, do not value them as important as they do traditional academic subjects.
Gardner has recognized eight separate human capacities. If schools gave up their industrial role of producing students who have consumed (or achieved) the narrow standards set, and gave up seemingly accepting 20% of the students as ‘failed products’, things would change. As it is secondary schools have changed little in a 100 years built as they are on an industrial factory model that even the business world has given up on. They still pass students along an assembly line of disconnected subjects, ruled by the bell and timetable, with teachers overly concerned with control and measurement.
And this at a time, when in all areas of life, customization and personalization is the order of the day. School would be OK if it were 1965!
A school dedicated to uncovering and extending the talents of every student would require a new conception of education. The multiple intelligences’ of Gardner provide such a conception. His ideas would move us away from the old concept of a fixed IQ (based on literacy and numeracy) and suggest that we all have a personal mix of talents that make us special. Some of us are ‘all rounders’ while others perform at the extreme limits of any intelligence. And, unlike the ‘old’ IQ, all these talents can be developed with opportunity and experience.
Briefly, the ‘multiple intelligences’ are: (1) Inter-personal relationships (2) Intrapersonal caring and empathy attributes (3) Mathematical and logical (4) Linguistic (5) Kinesthetic – or physical abilities (from dance to sports) (6) Musical (7) Natural history (8) Spatial artistic.
Traditionally schools focus on 3 and 4 but if we were serious about developing the talents of all our students we need to value them all equally and, in turn, personalize teaching and learning. Maybe many of our students, currently in the ‘achievement tail’, would find the recognition they deserve if we valued talent education and personalized learning?
As for assessment this can be ‘measured’ by what each student can do, perform, or demonstrate, to whatever varying degree of skill and creativity.
To achieve this we need to stop blaming students for their shortcomings and start to take a close look at our schools. It is not low achieving students that are the problem it is more low achieving schools.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
Do we really know the talents of our students?
It was interesting to read in the Sunday paper about how writer and biologist Lloyd Spencer Davis recalled the day he eventfully defied his school career adviser who was suggesting to him that his marks in history and maths suggested a career in business or law.
Spencer Davies protested he, ‘cared more about kingfishers and pied stilts - even bloody eels- more than the Great Depression or balancing budgets.’ None the less he signed up for the subjects his career teacher advised.
At the same time the author was reading a book ‘Quest for Paradise’, written in 1960 by biologist David Attenborough that ‘stuck in his mind’. ’It exuded a passion, not just for the story, but for adventure itself.’ Attenborough’s book illustrated the world, not a place to be subjugated (as in history) but a place to explore, where other different cultures were to be celebrated and be fascinated by. The writer was impressed with Attenborough’s quest to study the birds of paradise his deep-felt passion that drove him even through considerable hardships.
While reading the book, Spencer Davies had what he called ‘an epiphany’ and realized he didn’t have to do what the career adviser had suggested and that he could be his own man; a man of nature. He thought that it mightn’t make him rich but that he would be happy. He envisioned a career would that would allow him to realize his passion and offer adventure.
The next day he changed his options
Currently Spencer Davies assists with enrolling students at university and is concerned that every year he gets an alarming number of students who ask, ‘what should I do?’ For these students he gives them the same advice, ‘do what is in your heart’, the advice he gained from David Attenborough.
The story illustrates something is rotten in the state of education. Shouldn’t an education system be about helping every learner develop their particular talents, passions and dreams? Shouldn’t teachers see their role as developing an individual learning pathway for every learner one based on their passions, interests, dreams or talents?
I know of one high school system that does just this, ‘The Big Picture Company’, that believes in ‘educating one student at a time’. And at the opposite end of the spectrum the Emila Reggio early childhood schools do the same. In Christchurch, New Zealand, there is the Discovery One School, while throughout the country there are countless teachers doing their best to personalize learning even in an environment that is not always conducive. Our own site was set up to share such innovative ideas.
Imagine though, if talent development was the priority for all our schools. Business writer Tom Peters, in his book ‘Re-Imagine’ talking about US High Schools, writes that we couldn’t have planned a better system to destroy student talent if we had tried!
In the meantime our secondary schools struggle on with their ‘one size fits all’ approach; an approach based on measurable achievement, rather than uncovering and celebrating student talent.
Time for system wide epiphany!
Saturday, October 22, 2005
Wise words from Stanley Kubrick
‘I think the big mistake in schools is trying to teach children anything and using fear as the basic motivation to learn. Fear of failing grades, fear of not staying with your class. Interest can produce learning on a scale compared to fear as a nuclear explosion to a fire cracker.’
Tapping into student’s interests would seem obvious motivation to anyone - and for students of any age. Instead schools continue with their traditional obsession with their ‘just in case’ curriculum. A few innovative schools have moved on to a ‘just in time’ curriculum and are personalizing learning around the needs of their students. The business world learnt this trick long ago, but they had to, or they would have gone bust!
Perhaps it is not fear that is such a worry these days but the irrelevance and the boredom of having to sit in a ‘one size fits all’ factory environment where their interests and voices don’t seem to count. At the same time, when they get home, they can get all they want from the wide range of information media that they are plugged into in their bedrooms. Learning from anyone, anywhere and anytime! The curriculum is now in cyberspace!
Until schools lose their obsession of measuring 'their' success by so called ‘evidence driven data’ and start focusing on the real needs of their students nothing will change. Not enough testing is not what is wrong with our schools – we are already suffering from test overkill. In schools it is ‘data data everywhere and not a thought to think.’ In the USA they say they are well beyond being helped by tests. They are, as one school leader said, ‘awash with them’. Testing is big business and more about politics and schooling than real education.
As the educationalist Jerome Bruner wrote, in line with Kubrick’s thoughts, ‘education is the tricky art of intellectual temptation.’
We should focus more on this lost art and less on technocratic imposed solutions.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Saw a great quote in something I read last week, ‘Data, data everywhere and not a thought to think.’ The ‘evidence based’ mantra is currently all the rage.
Schools are busy setting targets to prove to all and sundry that they have achieved what they have decided in an attempt, somehow, to reduce the so called ‘achievement tail’. It seems the ‘tail is wagging the dog’. And as for targets, it is not the ones that you hit that count, it is the one you miss. Or as one writer says, ‘targets and outputs end up as handcuffs’ narrowing ones attention and, in the process, limiting creativity and initiative.
If we had a vision that emphasized personalized learning tailored to the needs of every student we would achieve far more than ineffective imposed reforms. What we need is a broad picture of where we as a country and in turn how education can contribute.
Do those who decide what school should do really believe that they can solve ‘our’ problems with their answers provided from on high and contracted out to be spread lightly around schools? Do they really have the right to tell us all what to think? Isn’t this kind of thinking more to do with some past Victorian paternalist mentality?
Take the curriculum. Where did such a strange beast come from? It has proved unmanageable but only after schools had wasted a lot of time and energy trying to implement it. Thank goodness it is currently away being ‘sorted out’. In the meantime we are to be saved by the introduction of ‘key competencies’. Where did the Ministry pick up such a technocratic word for the dispositions all students need to develop to thrive in an uncertain future? And what is so new about them? John Dewey would be turning in his grave!
Teachers have to learn to stop being curriculum ‘deliverers' and become curriculum ‘designers.’
Not withstanding the importance of literacy and numeracy (the current obsession) what about the importance of the ‘balanced curriculum’ that was at least promised with the introduction of the National Curriculum? It is within the remainder of the curriculum where there are the enriching experiences that will allow the development of student’s talents. Talent development must trump literacy and numeracy. These must be seen for what they are, ‘foundation skills'. Talent development and ‘learnacy’ are far more important but all to often literacy and numeracy are allowed to have ‘gobble up’ all the time available.
School that focus their targets and teaching on literacy and numeracy are missing the point. Creative schools that don’t could well be at risk when facing up to the ‘thought police’ in the shape of the Education Review Office but they could also be recognized for their courage and initiative so it is worth the risk.
High quality creative balanced programmes, developed by teachers with passion that engage students, will always win out. Such programmes not only stretch student’s minds but integrate literacy and numeacy naturally as important tools.
We have to move away from a centralized system that is hooked on continual reform and the endless gobbledygook of new phases such as, ‘targets’, ‘evidence based,’ ‘outputs’, ‘delivery’ and other current technocratic language, and instead, develop a vision that taps and shares the wisdom and values that exits in local expertise.
Such democratic ideas would develop the all the often hidden talents that exist in all our students and future citizens.
We need a creative vision for the21stC.
Listen to the voices.
The only way we will get a real change in the basic script of our society is for central government to start listening to the voices of the wider community and, in education in particular, to the voices of teachers, students and their parents
Such a move will be real change of direction as currently we suffer from central paternalism (the government's elite advisers know best) or consumerism (education as a product for students to buy or achieve)and all the deadening asociated compliance requirements.
If personalization of services were to taken on board as government policy direction then things could dramatically change. Imagine if solutions had to involve the very people that require the assistance. If this were to be the case then problems would need to require local answers and need to see people involved as partners in the co- creation of solutions. This in turn would require those in ‘power’ to create the conditions for this to happen.
It is all about tapping into the wisdom that exists in the people who actually do the work or who are involved in their decisions.
This would require those who currently determine what we need in any service to start listening to the voices of the people and to see partnership as the means to provide alternatives to the current contractual standardized 'top down' arrangements.
It would also assist the breaking down of the dependency cycle and the growing feelings of alienation that many people currently feel. It would help individuals, and groups of people, make, and be held accountable for their own decisions and in the process to take a growing responsibity for the control of their own destiny.
This personalization would provide a new organizing principle for the provision of public services for the 21stC
It would be revolutionary goal that would dramatically change the relationship between those who currently provide services and those who currently receive them.
In a school situation students would be expected to be able to write their own scripts and be able to tell their own story about their talents strengths and needs. Teachers in turn would need to see their role as one of mentors, advisers, or advocates dedicated to the personalizion of education of their students.
It would herald a new age of creativity and diversity.It would move away from the current problems associated with trying to make all efforts conform to a past industrial age of imposed audited standards and the ‘one size fits all mentality’.
Public good cannot be imposed from above as is the current situation but what central government can do is to set up the conditions to allow such self organization and participation to happen
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Prof Frank Crowther
To see changes sometimes you to have to stand back at a distance and look for patterns. It is the same as with the difference between the weather and a storm – when you are in the middle of a storm it is hard to work out what is the weather pattern is.
The same applies in education. Many people think major educational changes started in 1986 with Tomorrow’s Schools. This of course it not true. It was more just another nail in the coffin of creative teachers.
With this in mind it was interesting to read Professor Frank Crowther’s (Queensland University) address to Australian Principals. We are of the same generation and his thoughts, about the loss of professionalism and respect for teachers, mirrored my own.
Briefly he was saying that in the late 60s and 70s the conditions were right for creative teaching and it was then that the biggest changes in teaching and learning occurred. Child centred methods and open education changed the shape of teaching dramatically – if only in primary classes.
It was an exciting time to be teacher. The Professor talks about teachers meeting in the local pub to talk about teaching and share ideas. I also remember the endless discussions we had in our pub in our own town. I remember too, that we listened to ourselves, not distant curriculum writers, or even principals.
It was in this time that New Zealand teachers gained their well earned reputation for being creative teachers but, as Crowther says, today teachers are not getting the respect they deserve, and his reasons are true for New Zealand as well.
By the mid 70s there was a backlash and ‘research’ was saying that socio- economic factors outside the school had a greater effect than teachers. Schools were asked to respond to arange of equity initiatives and, as a result, teachers became less relevant in parents minds than where you lived.
Then came the worldwide rush to catch up with the Russians and the centralized curriculums, originating in the USA, spread to New Zealand. Now, as Crowther writes, ‘Curriculum was God’. Teachers now played second fiddle to the voices of distant ‘experts’.
The next step in the demotion of teacher expertise and respect was the elevation by 'research' of the principal as the key figure in educational change. As their status rose the teachers fell.
And then we come to Tomorrows Schools, introduced as part of the worldwide market forces ideology, and with this, in the 90s, the current curriculums which are so detailed as to be incoherent. This, along with an audit and accountability culture, placed what few really creative teachers there were at risk. Teachers were now seen as curriculum ‘deliverers’- more technicians. That there are still creative teachers surviving is a testament to the power of their own beliefs.
Today there are signs of hope as the 'market forces ideology', and associated compliance requirements on schools, are seen to be failing. And, all of a sudden the teachers are being recognized by ‘research’ as the most important factor in a child's learning. And even the idea of schools working together to share their expertise is all the rage.
Crowther concluded his talk by saying we need to do what we did all those years ago but this them do them better. Creative teachers are now being seen as the key to real change. Their role is now to be curriculum ‘designers’ by placing their attention on the learning needs of each student. Principals now need to engage the ingenuity of creative teachers and also to appreciate that problems can only be solved at the local level – with support of the powers that be.
Creative teachers are the only people who can create the learners we need to thrive in an ever changing future.
Schools need to be seen as 'professional learning communities' that respect creative teachers as true co-leaders. As Crowther writes, ‘Principals who can develop such learning communities can create creative schools with extraordinary teachers, and make learning stretching, creative, fun and successful.’
A new sense of excitement could well be on the horizon. Only those who have been around long enough will know this sense of possibility is not new – but this time perhaps the time is right?
Makes all the imposed rubbish we have been through almost worth it!
Monday, October 10, 2005
Too many masters.
Control your own destiny or suffer the stress!
A recent New Zealand Principals’ Federation survey pointed out the growing effects of stress of being a principal. Evidently things are getting worse and many principals are taking the option of early retirement.
The main causes of stress were the relentless press of administrative and operational pressure combined with a lack of time; Principals are spending vast amounts of time complying to Ministry requirements. Competency of teachers was seen by many principals as a ‘major breaking point’ and, for high decile schools, parental pressure another. I would suggest that competency (or lack of courage) of principals is another issue - possibly ignored by the survey!
There are some obvious solutions to this situation but they require some courage on behalf of principals. A bit difficult, it would seem, because as the saying goes, ‘it is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp when you are up to your backside in alligators!’ And, as well, the Ministry has created a ‘stand alone’ competitive environment between schools which restricts sharing.
Mary Chamberlain of the Ministry, when asked, says the Ministry has processes in place to help such principals! She needs, instead to look at the managerial environment that Ministry has established the past decades. Teachers, according to Andy Hargreaves, are suffering from an, ‘eroded autonomy, lost creativity, and a constrained capacity to exert professional judgment’; ‘they keep their heads down, struggle alone and withdraw from colleagues.’ Principals are too busy complying with, ‘time greedy tasks’ that exhaust and demoralize them leaving them no time for creativity and imagination.
No wonder there is stress. Stress is endemic in the environment they work in!
Principals need to snap out of the managerial role they have been forced into and show some collective leadership by working together to share ideas and expertise. The ‘low trust’ environment schools have had to work within is changing but not fast enough. The Ministry gives with one hand and takes away with the other – swinging from micro managing to encouraging school initiatives. This situation creates what has been called, ‘corrosion of character’ – freedom to do things without clear definition of expectation, OK as long as those in authority approve, but it results in trying to guess what those in authority want. A soul destroying stress inducing game at best; creativity and standardization make uncomfortable bedfellows. Some call this 'dis-ease' ‘anticipatory stress’ resulting in a flood of unnecessary paper work to prove whatever is being attempted!
The answer is for principals and schools to work to share their expertise and insights and to develop a group consciousness able to stand up to outside pressures. There will need to be courageous individual principals prepared to start the collaborative ball rolling. I can see problems with so called ‘successful schools’, or the competitive, ‘look at me' schools, wanting to share, and as well schools who are struggling ‘owning up’and agreeing to being helped. But, if someone starts the ball rolling then, as Dean Fink writes, schools can, ‘shake off the shackles of conformity and compliance and imagine and create.... do something.’
So the answer to stress is to work with others to ‘do something’ and to develop, what Fullan calls, ‘local creative adaptability.’
As Jack Welch (ex CEO of General Electric) said, ‘control your own destiny or someone else will.’ In the case of education it is about wrestling back what has been taken away by those so called ‘experts’ in high places who pretend to know best but who have created the mess we are in!
If school were to work collaboratively principals would be too excited to be stressed.
Stop the endless surveys – ‘do something’.
Friday, October 07, 2005
One of the top four netball teams in NZ
Tu Toa School only has 11 students and 9 of them, who play for their netball team, have just reached the top four in the NZ secondary schools netball competition.
Tu Toa School was opened by parents to give the girls an alternative. Although they excelled at their chosen sport that same focus was not always evident in their school work. They now do their academic work through correspondence.
It has helped that one of the parents was the NZ under 21 coach but it does show the power of tapping into students talents to achieve something really exceptional. It reminds me of a quote that I collected some years ago which said that:
‘an experience of excellence comes from mastering something really well. It can be anything- music, mechanics, motorcycle racing. If you don’t go deep into something, you don’t know what extraordinary performance is. You get satisfied with ordinary performance. And if you have never experienced it yourself, it’s hard to be a role model. Without an experience of excellence, you won’t appreciate the quality in others.’
What the girls of Tu Toa School (and their coach) have achieved demonstrates the power of tapping into students talents, of doing something well and building on student’s strengths. If the desire is great enough then there is no problem with effort, application and practice – the virtues that many students fail to show in big secondary schools.
A message here for schools; and for the Ministry who think the answers lies in literacy and numeracy achievement? This is just too simple.
What we need in NZ is a school system dedicated to realizing the talents of all students. But to this we would have to transform our schools.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Lady Marie Stubbs
Last Saturday our local paper ran an editorial about the problem of ‘classroom rebels’ based on the latest figures on expulsion from the countries schools.
These figures showed that 1200 students under the age of 16 had been banned nationwide so far this year because of ‘out of control behavior; in 2004 the total figure was 1432.
The editorial raised the question about what such exclusions do the youngster’s future and, as well, what the growing problem means in terms of teacher retention. With regard to students, the editorial quite rightly said that expulsions will lead to 'future disasters waiting to happen'.
As to what could be done to get the students ‘back on track’ and to remedy the situation the editorial suggested, early intervention, student counseling and education for ‘problem’ parents. Without such intervention, the editorial suggested there is little schools can do but bar the students.
Nothing in the editorial suggested that secondary schools themselves might be part of the problem – all the ‘deficits’ seem to be with the students and their parents.
On Sunday night TV One a play, 'Ahead of the Class', based on the true story of how Lady Marie Stubbs turned around a notorious school in South London was shown; this school, no doubt, had more than it's fair share of suspended students; the previous principal had been murdered by a pupil!
The play faced up to the challenge of ‘turned off’ learners that face too many of our secondary schools. And it also faced up to a staff who had accepted that the problem lay with the students. Lady Marie came with an unshakeable belief that all students can learn, given the right conditions, help and time. She worked hard to change the relationship between the students and their teachers and built on the strengths of both. Most of all she involved the students in the task of reclaiming their own school.
Her beliefs were challenged to the point of despair but she persisted and eventually created a positive learning environment for both students and staff. As much as education of parents and early intervention might help, Lady Marie showed that any school, with the will and imagination to work together, can solve the problem of ‘disengaged’ students.
Students have a right to be accepted as individuals, their ‘voices’ to be recognized, and educational programmes tailored to suit their needs and talents. Schools need to look hard at their current structures and organizations to see if they can do more to accommodate their less academic students. Anyone who has been to a secondary school will see that they have changed little over the years. Perhaps the time has come to‘re-imagine’ our secondary schools.
It would be interesting for a reporter to follow one of the less academic students around a school for a day? They might work out why so many students ‘disengage’! Time drags for those who are not touched by the lessons provided. Even successful students learn to fake interest!
All students need to be accepted as important in a true learning community and as yet few schools have realized such an environment. Schools ought to provocative, memorable, and enjoyable for all; a place where students see the point in what they do. All young people were born with a desire to learn and talents to develop. Those who have lost this desire, for whatever reason, provide teachers with their greatest challenge. Our mass education system needs to needs to transform itself to represent the student's future not our past; more of the same is not good enough! We cannot afford to give up anyone; it is a race against time.
If our schools are not transformed we will continue expelling students and creating demoralized teachers.
Perhaps there are some practices that need to be excluded rather than blaming the students?
Monday, October 03, 2005
Best month for our site
If you have a website you can get endless data about its usage.
I guess it is what the Ministry of Education would call ‘evidence based’ learning but in all honesty most of the data is data for its own sake.
Most organization keep data on a few important issues rather than getting carried away with measuring so much they can’t tell the wood for the trees.
For us the best feedback is when people actually tell us they have found ideas posted on our site of value to them- and we can tell which articles are most often downloaded. The most popular by far – about 40% are the quotes on our site. If you put ‘Educational quotes’ into ‘google’ our site comes in the first few! This probably explains it. All the rest of our articles get an even share of visits – less than 1% each.
Other popular postings are the Fullan newsletter; the Te Ara Vision; the School Strategy and then scores of others that get less than 1%.
Anyway during September an average of 2454 'hits' each day and these translate to an average of 450 visits per day which is pretty good. Over the month this amounts to over 13000 visits.
Our most frequent visitors come from NZ at 22%. Now and then we send out an e-zine to tell members of a new posted newsletter and this e-zine now goes out to about 3400 people, once again mainly to New Zealanders but increasingly worldwide. It must be the biggest educational e-zine in NZ. Other countries that visited this month were ; Australia 4%; USA 5%; UK 3%; Canada 2% and the remainder unknown and to all sorts of countries. The countries that find our way to our site is amazing.
Thought you would be interested.
About as exciting as many school achievement graphs
Sunday, October 02, 2005
An outbreak of creativity!
Over the years the ideas I have picked up teaching and learning beliefs from my experience, my observation of creative teachers , reading and, more recently, ‘surfing’ the world wide web.
The most powerful of the above sources has always been my observation of creative teachers, for it is only when ideas are seen into action that they gain any sense of reality. It is very easy to write or publish ideas, or for Ministry of Educations, from around the world, to write impressive documents, but we all know that they rarely get implemented in the way they were written. And just as well!
The teaching beliefs that 'we' have developed can be seen on our website. In particular the 'Te Ara Vision' document.These beliefs are not original, except in the way they have been arranged. And they relate to a number of international organizations, often without any direct reference at the time. Some that come to mind are: The Coalition of Essential Schools; The Foxfire Organization; The Big Picture Company; American Psychological Association Principles; the ideas of Julia Atkin; Concepts to Classroom; and the Personalized Learning documents from the UK Education Department.
I am, I think, beginning to rearrange the ideas I present at my workshops and seminars. In many ways I am going back to some of the original idea I developed because much of what ‘we’ have had to do the past fifteen years has been an attempt to manipulate the ‘standardized’ ideas imposed on schools that we have all had to comply with.
But things are changing – teaching and learning has now been recognized by those in power as the important factor. This coincides with the standardized curriculums, and associated assessment requirements, becoming impossible to implement.They are increasingly seen as incoherent.
Teacher artistry and creativity is what really counts!
So now my beliefs follow the below threads.
First the schools number one task is to develop the passions, talents, and dreams of every student. It is not a technocratic vision of raising and measuring achievement!
And this has to be done in a learning community based on personal choice and democratic values – not an ideology of selfish individualism and competition! Education has to be based on reciprocal respectful relationships not coercion.
Developing every student’s image as a learner is the most basic task of all. Every thing we do should be to develop every learner’s voice, identity and power to make positive choices. This makes valuing students points of views, question, theories and creativity as vital. Classrooms should reflect children ‘voice’ in their poetic and research writing and in their art. Every thing should celebrate their individuality.
Students need to develop learning power and increasingly be helped to design and evaluate their own tasks and to always consider what went well and they might do differently next time. As a result of their learning students will be able to articulate, select from, and use independently, a range of general or particular strategies, including using ICT.
The curriculum needs to ‘emerge’, or be designed, from the concerns of the students, their environment and the ‘big ideas’ they need to be exposed to so as develop their sensitivities to be good citizens, to develop an sense of place and ‘kiwi’ identity, and to uncover what ever talents they might have. Environmental awareness and observation needs to be an important element, contributing to student’s language development, science and art. Tasks selected for study should be rich, real, relevant and rigorous. Students should do fewer things well and in the process develop an understanding of quality and personal excellence.
Focus on uncovering students a talent underpins all the activities of the class; all learning needs to be personalized. The curriculum needs to designed around the needs of the student and not vice versa – every learner needs an individual learning plan, designed in co-ordination with themselves and their parents.
The role of the teachers is to negotiate organizations to allow students to focus on their learning and to come alongside learners to design learning tasks, discuss possibilities and where necessary giving necessary feedback or support, but always leaving the sense of control in the learner’s hands. Student’s assessment is based on what they can do, demonstrate or perform using criteria they have helped negotiate for themselves. The teacher is a creative learning coach.
The classroom walls, student’s book work, and files on the computers or the school website, should celebrate student creativity and, as well, should be presented with a sense of design so that it informs not only the students but visitors as well. Focused headings, key questions and explanatory information, along with student work, are valuable.
When all the above are into practice, in whatever combination, then quality teaching and learning is in place. I am afraid though, that too many imposed teacher or Ministry ideas, with their genesis in the mass production industrial era, get in the way.
Creative teaching and learning was never easy but, as we enter a post industrial era, creativity and diversity is a better strategy than the current standardization, compliance and conformity.
Saturday, October 01, 2005
One schools values
A vision gives an organization a sense of direction, a purpose, but only if it is ‘owned’ and translated into action by all involved.
But vision is not enough in itself. The values that any organization has are just as important or even more so because they determine the behaviors that people agree to live within. Alignment of people behind values is vital but too often both vision and values are just words hidden in folders are rarely referred to. What you do must reflect what you believe if there is to be integrity. And any alignment needs to include students and parents as well.
The vision and values provides the basis for all other strategies and actions and some would say that a staff aligned behind a vision and values is the best strategy of all. Many school the develop a set of teaching beliefs to put them into action and if they do them these naturally become the basis of the schools job description, school review, staff evaluation and professional development.
School values need to be defined into appropriate expected behaviors. Many schools develop Teacher, Student and Parent Charters with the people concerned to define such expectations. It is hard otherwise to live up to an ideal list of values.
When agreed to, and believed in by most people, positive peer pressure helps people live up to them. It is all about walking the talk. When people are seen to let down others the agreed behaviors can be used as the basis of a dialogue. For teachers they become part of the performance appraisal and similarly teachers can get their students to do likewise. New parent can be given expectations to help them clarify their roles in the learning partnership.
New teachers need to given time and help to appreciate what the school stands for and the expectations they need to live up to.
The vision, values and teaching beliefs form the DNA of the school. To work well people must be passionate about them so they just can’t be written by a committee and 'dropped' on people. And every now and again, as part of the school review, the behaviors and teaching beliefs must be reviewed and modified if necessary. Possibly it will be the area of teaching beliefs that will change the most if a school wants to keep up with new ideas.
All this can be summarized on one page and even when expanded and need not be a massive document. Focus is important. The one page summary can be placed in the front of all school folders, including BOT ones. If people are to make difference they need to know where to place their time and energy and not waste it on issues of little educational value.
A simple test to see if what school stands for is in place is to ask a random selection of teachers, students and parents what the school stands for. If the answers show similarities then this is a good start.
When everyone is aligned behind shared vision, values and beliefs them the school can be called a 'learning community'.
A School Vision ,Values and Teaching Beliefs to customize.
A School Strategy Plan to modify