Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Primary Schools covering up Maori failure?

Simplistic nonsense from ERO

Who needs it?

Time for some real questions and answers?

The tukutuku pattern 'poutama' is called the 'stairways to learning'. Too often schools are a pathway to failure. Posted by Picasa

‘Education officials say primary schools are failing their students and leaving secondary schools to cop the blame’, says an article in last weeks Sunday paper.

The ‘official’, acting Chief Review Officer Mike Hollings, may well be right by pointing out that some primary schools fudge how well Maori students are achieving but to say that when Maori students get to year nine, these students fail because of poor teaching in primary school, is far too simplistic.

Holling's ‘argument’ is that if Maori students suddenly under perform at secondary school then it must be the fault of previous teaching. The answer, suggested by ERO, is for schools to introduce tests to measure and uncover poor performance and then to improve it.

The technocratic simplistic mindset of the last millennium lives on!

And of course opposition politicians jump on the bandwagon with calls for compulsory national testing. National testing is always a good vote winner – thank goodness it is not another ‘silly season’ election year.

Another well known conservative journalist (Frank Haden) added that primary schools should focus on numeracy and literacy and not waste time on the creative areas. What a barren and reactionary view of learning in an age of creativity and imagination; it is amazing that such dinosaur like view still gain attention.

Naturally a contrary view was expressed by the Primary Principals Federation president, who said, that testing would take time away from teaching – and he could have added, compounds the problem by narrowing the curriculum, as has happened in other countries.

The truth is, according to Lester Flockton (Otago University Educational Research Unit Director), that the identified lack of achievement is ‘grossly misleading’ as student achievement levels are improving in the primary area but are static at the secondary level.

You would have thought Hollings would have known about this? Flockton continued by saying, that children’s socio economic background was the strongest factor in educational achievement. This is the area politicians should focus on if they want to make a real difference but this would require them to take responsibity for ‘the fine mess we are in.’

The fact that 20% of our students leave our education system should surely make us question the system itself. Many Maori students achieve well in the right environments and we need to focus our energy on transforming our education system so as to develop such conditions for all students – and this transformation ought to include both primary and secondary levels.

Worldwide there is a loss of engagement of students at the year 9 and 10 level linked to low socio economic conditions, not ethnicity. Research in the UK (Cambridge University) indicates that 40% of students fail to make academic progress the year following the change to a secondary school. We have the same problem in NZ. Ministry of Education data indicates that suspensions and absenteeism increases dramatically in the early secondary years - and we know 20% of students leave secondary schooling with nothing to show for their time. As one 70s writer called his book, it is ‘Compulsory Mis-education.’

You would think that Mike Hollings would be better placing his energy in doing his best to transform our industrial aged mass education schools as it is the system that is so obviously failing.

There are no shortages of ideas to assist in this transformation but nothing will change until we all change our own ‘mindsets’ first. It would be great if such insight came from the top but Mike Hollings gives us little faith. The challenge of the future is to develop a personalized approach to learning to ensure all students leave formal schooling with ‘their reputation as learners intact’, their talents developed, and with a love of learning that will see them through whatever challenges life throws up at them.

Hollings could begin by reading the Ministry Of Education’s ‘Teachers Making a Difference’ for Maori Students – as should all school principals; or the Ministry’s ‘Best Practices’ findings. The former is the best thing I have read from the Ministry for ages but it was not all their own work!

He could also read David Hood’s book ‘Our Secondary Schools Don’t Work Anymore’.

As Russell Bishop says, ‘We’re risking turning out 40% of Maori students with no qualifications whatsoever. What we are risking in schools, and what we’re risking as a society, is too scary to contemplate.

So let’s have some better thinking from ERO.

Perhaps they are part of the problem, but that is another story.

Friday, November 18, 2005

All about developing student learning power


And student's talents!

One of my year's highlights!

The 'Puketaha way'! Posted by Picasa

A school that know what it stands for!


And where the actions match the words. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Gifts to realize - dreams to fulfil

A talent waiting to go somewhere.

A year 8 student's graphic work from an amazing little school. Posted by Picasa

I had the opportunity to visit a rural school recenty that really impressed me. In particular the year 7 and 8 students, who work in one space with three teachers, who were doing magnificent work. It was as if all the nonsense of the past years had only touched them lightly. The students were working on agreed tasks in tne various learning areas but it was their study work was the feature for me.

I observed groups, with or without their teacher, working in depth on challenging content, expressing their ideas with real thought and creativity ranging from discussion, written work to creative interpretations. The walls were full of their art and language work, celebrating an evironment of intellectul excitement.This is as it ought to be.

The students also develop very personalized graphic folders to record their ideas and, well, to say I was impressed, would be an understatement. Student talent was being used to the full. This small school even had a specially built performance centre for music, drama and dance.

It was a refreshing visit.

And the school did well with ther ERO Report but we all know they don't really mean much these day.

It was rural education at its best. the focus was in students learning and creating able to value their own 'voice' and 'identity' through their chosen tasks.

A vision in action!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Too much reliance on 'experts' and not enough common sense

 Posted by Picasa

There are experts these days to teach you everything you didn’t want to know.

Education 'delivered' by contract, seminars and outcomes - true expertise is over looked in the process!

Many years ago it was shown that the In- Service Education provided (the old word for courses), although often fun, didn’t really change much in the classroom. The ones that had the most effect were presented by classroom teachers, or where you had an opportunity to visit to see a class in action.

It seems that teachers respect what real people, like themselves, do in classrooms. All too often today’s facilitators are presenting ideas designed by a distant group of ‘experts’ who have long since forgotten the white heat and creative confusion that teaching all too often is is. They even imagine teachers would sit down plan how they will teach whatever, and will have time to calmly evaluate it. This is without even considering first, that whatever little bits they are recording, are actually worth the time to do so.

There seems no appreciation that creative teachers make thousands of decisions a day and automatically receive, and give feedback; all integrated into the process of living and learning in the classroom. To collect all this material, and to record and graph it – in the name of ‘evidence based teaching’, is just too silly for words .I guess it makes sense to educational researchers who have the time – and who actually believe in it. True education cannot be so easily graphed.

It is about time teachers reclaimed their authority and made their voices heard. All the flash curriculums supplied to them to 'deliver' just haven’t worked and, worse still, have left teachers feeling their own professionalism judgment is at risk.

Teachers do not want a constant barrage of new ideas thrown at them from outside the school. They need instead guidance and support from colleagues who know where they are going, and what they are doing, and who share some commitment to help each other get there’, so said David Stewart in 1993.

Since the early 90s teachers have to put up with an endless cycle of compliance requirements, confusing curriculums and impossible assessment demands designed by distant technocrats.

What is required now is for schools to tap into the expertise and wisdom within, and between each school, and to learn from and share such ‘best practices’ with each other.

It is over to teachers to claim back this need to focus on teaching and learning on their own terms. All those experts would fall apart if they had to stay in a classroom and actually take their own advice.

Don’t spent time worrying about crossing the road, just do it!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sailing into the future on the educational SS Titanic!

 Posted by Picasa 'Experts' should go down with their ship to make room for new thinking.

It appears to me that many of our current organizations may look impressive but there are plenty of signs that all is not well. There are ‘social icebergs’ of discontent and alienation ahead that will eventfully force change on us. Just as it takes a tragedy in our personal lives for us to face up to new reality, so it is with the wider world of organizations – particularly those designed in, and for, past eras.

Large secondary schools are one modern equivalent of the Titanic. As with the Titanic they are built on traditional class based hierarchal lines and are not really equipped to save ‘passengers’ from the ‘steerage class’. What happened to the Titanic was unimaginable. At least schools today have figures to show that 20% of their students are ‘educationally drowning’.

But still we blame dysfunction students, or their parents, and even the teachers, when it is the schools that are dysfunctional. Failure is endemic. They are OK for the academic students, with the so called ‘social capital’ to go ‘first class’, but unhealthy places for the more creative or less academic One system does not fit all.

The trouble is we adjust so well to the current ways of doing things that any change seems unthinkable. If we are too good at adjusting to the current system we may never realize that the system needs changing. Too many school people have fallen into this trap. To free ourselves from this dilemma we need to think hard about the purpose of an education for the 21stCentury. If we are to do this we need to avoid involving the Designers, the Captain and Officers of the current ‘educational ship’. They should, as in all good movies, go down with their ship!

As for what to do, anything would be better for the ‘drowning students’. Creative teachers and their communities could invent a range of possibilities and keep what works. Forget those ‘experts’ in their technocratic ivory towers who have plans for everyone to follow. Their plans never worked in the past and the future requires new mindsets. They have been too busy ‘rearranging the deck chairs’ to consider the future.

And it is worth remembering that experts built the Titanic while an amateur built the Ark!

So what works best? Destruction, according to author Kevin Kelly in his book ‘Out of Control’. Kelly writes that it is, ‘generally much easier to kill an organization than to change it substantially. Organizations by design are not made to adapt…beyond a certain point. Beyond that point, it’s much easier to kill them off and start a new one than it is to change them.’

Things were never the same after the Titanic. Are we are reaching that certain point soon in education? Do we need to fail all our students to realize we persist with the wrong system for the wrong century?

The answer to the first is yes - to the second no , but only if we have the wit and the imagination to think up new possibilities.

Monday, November 07, 2005

More of the same but less

 The New Zealand Curriculum is being revised but who will really care - or understand it all?

We are losing an opportunity to develop a true 21st Century Curriculum.

The 1990s NZCF curriculum is not working now and, while primary schools are getting on with their own creative ideas, the technocrats in Wellington just won't admit to a wrong model.

Worldwide these imposed hyper rational standardized curriculums are failing and, bar for the technocrats, we might have had a chance to develop a real futures curriculum!

If you have a chance take quick read of the October 2005 Ministry of Education’s ‘Setting Directions for Learning’.

The words that come to mind are timid fine tuning. But then why would you expect from contractual workers doing their best to tart up a model that was never any good in the first place.

Clarifying and refining are the words they use. Trying to save their buts come to my mind! Sure they suggest focusing on ‘effective teaching’ and focusing on ‘school ownership of curriculum’ but for God’s sake why has it taken them so long to state the obvious.

For all that the document says little about either.

At least we will get a single document which should be easier to lose! 15000 students, academics, teachers, principals, advisers and academics have contributed to the ‘refocusing’. All I can say is there is consultation and there is listening.

We are going to have researched (cosmetic) alteration of the strands and a reduction of the learning objectives – now that must have taken some real thinking!

But for all that the model stays in place to confuse teachers. School based technocratic managers will have their time extended. It will be more 'rule by clearfolders and graphs'! Real creative leaders/teachers need to have their say.

Do principals believe in all this rubbish?

What about these ‘school based curriculums’ – are they to be the Henry Ford equivalent of, ‘you can any colour you like as long as it is black?’

And what of the Queensland ‘Rich Topics’ idea – this is an idea that resonated with creative schools? And what of the push towards personalized learning and talent development – how is this to be reconciled with the refocused draft?

Their next issue will be an update on values and their highly unoriginal ‘key competencies’

I can hardly wait

 Posted by Picasa

Friday, November 04, 2005

The need for new age school buildings

The ultimate efficiency - but one bird escapes? Our traditional schools are built based on an egg crate metaphor. Time for a rethink? Posted by Picasa

Visit a school and your own memories of school days come flooding back. If you visit a primary classroom it may look to be a different world with children’s art and research work displayed for all to admire ; students working in groups or individually; and some busy on a computer or two. Sometimes you have to look hard to find the teacher!

Remove everything and most classrooms are still based on the box like pattern that you would have worked in in your day. All too often a corridor unimaginatively links all the rooms. There was a time, in the 70/80s, when open plan classrooms were built but few remain today. Possibly a good idea ahead of its time, but the ones that worked well were exciting examples of collaborative teaching and learning.

A visit to most secondary schools and the changes are not as apparent. Teachers still teach their particular subjects, some in purpose built rooms such as a science lab or art room. The style of teaching will look similar and, in the main, computers will be found in a computer suite or information centre (the library).

Our memories of our schools are vivid and enduring and they define for us this place called school.

In areas of population growth in New Zealand you can visit purpose built primary and secondary schools which have been designed specifically for teaching in the 21st century.

If you were to visit such a school you would find little in common with the schoolrooms of your time. In many cases the new principal and senior staff were involved with the architects in planning such buildings, before the students even arrived, in line with their proposed philosophies and teaching practices.

Originally schools were modeled on factories as part of a modern industrial aged mass production mindset. They were, and many still are, run by bells, timetables, and insular specialist teaching 'delivering' a ‘just in case’ standardized’ curriculum that many student couldn’t, and still can't, see the relevance in. Their role was to produce students who could fit in with the work pasterns required for the day. Many students left school early to take up employment.

Today things have changed new attributes are now required. Future workers will live in a global world based on ideas and imagination rather than raw products or capital. Schools will have to respond to this challenge. Old skills are important but no longer enough; new ‘key competencies’ are required. Schools need to develop the talents of all students in an environment of enthusiasm and flexibility – not quite the image of the schools many of us remember!

The new schools being built offer the best chance to develop the students we will need in the future. They will look nothing like the secondary schools of our past and will have more in common with the personalized environments of the best of our primary schools.

Such schools will feature students involved in collaborative projects, or independent studies, many relating to the environment the school is situated in, and students will need to call on the specialist knowledge of a range of teachers. Teachers, in turn, will collaborate with each other to tailor education to the needs of each student by providing a ‘just in time curriculum’. Information technology will be integrated into every corner of the school and student projects will be kept in electronic portfolios. Assessment will be based on what students can do, demonstrate or perform.

School buildings in the future, to accomodate these ideas, will need to be flexible and provide a range of studios, theatres, conferences rooms and workspaces. As well, there is a need to develop smaller, more diverse and intimate, secondary schools, or schools within schools, to allow positive relationship to flourish - or to offer a particular aspect of learning.

Schools will need to move away from a prison like mentality of control and isolation from the community and become ‘learning organizations’.They will need to share their facilities and, as well, make use of local facilities such as museums, sports grounds and local businesses.

All these ideas are already in place somewhere in New Zealand or in the wider world. For those interested there are plenty of organizations to gain inspiration and ideas from.

The Big Picture Company.
The Coalition of Essential Schools
The International Baccalaureate Schools
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Alfriston College Howick New Zealand

There is still a wide gap between the dream of personalized learning and the drudgery of the current reality for many students and teachers.

The biggest problem will be to change the mindsets of those who have spent too long being conditioned to accept schools as they are and, if anything, want to go back to the past; searching for some ‘golden age’ for their inspiration.

The factory designed image of our ‘one size fits all’ secondary schools has well passed their ‘use by date’. Too many students are ‘disengaged’ and are falling through the cracks. New thinking is required, particularly for the talented and less academic.

It is hard to leave our mental cages, or our nostalgia for the past, and begin to explore new and exciting possibilities but, eventually, we will have no choice.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Discovering the power of collaboration.

Learning to share with each other. Posted by Picasa

Slowly schools are rediscovering the power of collaboration, not only within a school, but more importantly between schools.

Collaboration between schools was not unknown before competition between schools became the norm in the 80s and 90s, as part of a ‘market forces’ self managing ideology.

Now there is a growing realization that ‘experts’ at the top can no longer solve particular problem and opportunities that schools have. Every school is different and each has their own particular circumstances and solutions. A ‘one size fits all’ mentality is no longer relevant

Collaboration is not as easy as it sounds as schools have often developed structures and mindsets that do not encourage sharing .As well, some people prefer to be left alone to do their own thing, while others don’t want to open their ideas up for perusal to others because they feel guilty that they are ‘not up with the play’. In some cases traditional school structures have not encouraged sharing or integration of knowledge. The latter is endemic in secondary schools but it can be found in all schools. I often observe schools where each classroom is so different you would wonder if they actually belong to one school. As someone once said, ‘Some schools are like 11 sole charges – all they share is the car park!’

Growing organizations thrive on relationships and conversations about what is important. From such interactions they develop a shared sense of direction and agree on ways to achieve their aspirations. And they are 'curious organisations' always on the alert for ways of how they can do things better. An aligned team open to new ideas has the best future strategy of all. And all needed be sweetness and light – creative conflict is a sign of a growing evolving organization.

Schools that don’t encourage such sharing are doomed to be left behind in an information age. The best sharing can be currently seen in the ICT clusters and I do know of groups of schools that are working together behind shared ideas. Where this clustering works well someone needs to keep everybody honest so they action what they have agreed to do.

Every school has people who are ‘idea hunters and sharers’ and they should be encouraged. Wise principals need to see teachers as important leaders in their own right and tap into their wisdom and expertise. As well, the school cultures should expect everyone to be able to demonstrate that they have implemented some new ideas as a normal part of their professionalism.

When people work well in teams then individuals gain the courage to try new things. When schools work together this also applies. Achievement develops not only confidence, self respect, and group well-being, but also the motivation to try new things.

The payoff for collaboration can be felt: higher energy, greater focus, better achievements, mutual respect and organizational trust, less stress and more fun!

Most of all it places the centre of innovation within and between schools built on what individual creative teachers have contributed for the common good of all.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

We need leaders not accountants.

  William Blake's painting of Newton as the 'great measurer'. Possibly our Education Ministry's favourite work of art! And too many principals as well! Posted by Picasa

It was interesting to read an article by Elizabeth Moss Kanter saying, ‘number, numbers, numbers - is that what preoccupies the school system today – tests and school performance statistics’?

It is not that she doesn’t believe in measures but if school systems focus too much on complying with such demands they are in danger of being taken over by accountants not leaders.

Accountability, she says, is a loaded word and the important issue is who decides what data is too be collected, measured or tested.

Schools, she believes, should be about people, relationship and students performing to their highest ability in areas that they are meaningful to them. Creating the conditions for this culture to evolve is the real role of an educational leader. The energy of leaders should be in helping all members of the learning community craft a vision, values and teaching learning beliefs that are owned by all; and then doing everything they can to help people achieve their aspirations.

Accountability, then, should be to these agreed beliefs and not to imposed targets. As they say, it is not the targets you hit that count, it is the ones you miss, or were too busy to have the time to think about.

The most important form of accountability is a school review where the whole school reviews itself to see if it is living up to its espoused beliefs and then, in turn, to take actions to remedy any gaps. All the information gained needs focused on the aim of helping people reflect on what they are doing and then to take action to get better.

Agreed indicators or measures need to be developed collegially for the mutual benefit of all. If this were done information collected would be more informative than data collected on narrow range of skills. The question to ask is what would show that the school is achieving the aspirations set out in its vision?

To do this leaders need to create an environment of mutual respect and trust. It should not be about naming and shaming, or finger pointing, or collecting data for its own sake.

This is what differentiates leaders from accountants.

To read Elizabeth Moss Kanter visit