Tuesday, April 22, 2008

'Unschooling' - do it yourself education

A new unorthodox style of home schooling.

The driving force beind the homeschooling movement is the belief in the power of young people's curiosity and their need to make sense of their experience's. As one psychologist has said 'The learning drive is more powerful than the sex drive and lasts longer.' That is until, for some young people, until they enter formal schooling!

'Unschoolers', a more progressive group of 'homeschoolers', believe that nothing worth learning can be taught and that the best way is to help children learn for themselves. 'Unschooling' takes 'homeschooling' to the extreme as there is no structured teaching. Parents who involve themselves in this approach want to take the 'school out of learning'! Obviously parents who involve themselves see formal schools as a less than wonderful place; a place where students all too ofetn learn about failure and where the sheer joy and passion of learning is downplayed. A place where Imagination and creativity is all often sacrificed for conformity and compliance.

The approach is not as revolutionary as it first sounds as it extends, after school age, what many parents already do, by providing a stimulating environment - reading, watching, visiting places and playing with their children. Parents who believe in 'unschooling' believe learning is a natural 'apprenticeship for life' interrupted by schooling.At home their children constantly learn from the moment they wake up. 'Unschooled' students, through their own interests, set their own learning agenda with parents providing activities and resources as needed.

Progressive educators will recognise the philosophy lying behind such an approach; many teachers do their best to try to implement such an approach in their classrooms within the constraints the 'system' imposes on them.

'Unschooling' parents live as 'rich' a life as they can and children take what they want from experiences and leave what they are not interested in. A strong philosophy by parents is required and choosing such an approach is not to be taken lightly. The real world, and not the school, is seen as where young people 'pick up' basic skills like reading, writing and arithmetic.

Lots of trips are involved. Every experience is seen as a potential learning opportunity. This is a natural approach to learning; the wider community is seen as the 'classroom'. Children are encouraged to ask questions and follow up their interests and express their ideas through whatever medium they prefer. 'Unschooling' provides a 'personalised learning' approach that schools cannot sustain.

American Mary Griffiths, ( author of the 'Unschooling Handbook') points out, 'that children learn to walk and talk without being 'taught'. Why should they change the way they learn when they reach school age?.The hardest thing is for parents to keep out of the way. Their job is to help their kids find answers to questions...The way to deal with a question is to say, "I don't know the answer but lets see what we can find out".'

Unschooling is not a new idea. In the 60s American educator John Holt described schools as 'jails for children' and believed too many children 'underachieved' because of schools. He emphasized the need for young people to take part in stimulating conversations, to participate in the community, and for students to direct and plan their own learning.

Unschoolers can call on a range of educationalists to back up their beliefs.

From John Dewey -an emphasis on the child's experience
From John Holt -about why children learn and why they fail.
From David Elkind -the need to delay formal education and value childhood rather than to rush into adulthood.
Children need opportunities to explore and create
Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi
- the need for children to achieve 'peak performance' and to go with 'the flow'.
Abraham Maslow- education for intrinsic 'self actualization' rather than for extrinsic success. To live a life of choices, being courageous, and valuing ones unique sense of 'voice'.

The above ,and others, are on the bookshelves of all creative teachers!

Unschooling is obviously only for committed parents who have the time and energy to clarify their beliefs and to create the conditions for their children to learn for themselves. Parents who do involve themselves find excitement in learning alongside their children and often rediscover a joy of learning they thought they had lost.

We need to being the 'personalised' philosophy of 'unschooling' into schools.

There are teachers who do just this - but they are hard to find.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Personalizing learning - success for all. It is possible.

Facing up to educating the great diversity of human capabilities is the future challenge for educators.

Choose randomly any ten children of the same age - they will vary greatly in weight and height. In any age based primary classroom you will find a range of five years based on knowledge, capacity and achievement, let alone reading age.

For too long we have based teaching on similarity and at best have divided students into groups for our convenience to teach them. This however is a long way from really facing up to individual differences. Our schools, particularly at the secondary level, still reflect their mass education genesis

Teaching a prescribed curriculum to a class will always favour some and neglect others. In the future teachers, if they are to personalise learning, will need to value and identify the talents and interests of the students who differ.

The dilemma of variation has been captured in the fable below, written in 1939!

'Once upon a time , the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a "new world". So they started a school. They adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals would take all the subjects.

The duck was excellent at swimming, in Fact better than his instructor, but he only made passing grades in flying and was very poor in running.Since he was slow in running, he has to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his web feet were badly worn and he was only average at swimming. But average was acceptable, so nobody worried about that except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much work in swimming.

The squirrel was was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of from the tree-top down. He also developed " charlie horses" from over exertion and then got a C in climbing and a D in running.

The eagle
was a problem child and was disciplined severely.In the climbing class he beat all the others to the top, but insisted in using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceedingly well, and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administrator would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum.They apprenticed their child to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.'

Sound familiar?

Must all students be shaped to fit the conformist requirements of the school? Is it possible to personalise education to give credit to the variety of innate talents that students bring with them? To confuse the issue even students with special talents often find it easier to go along with the crowd. Unfortunately our current school system favours students who happily do what is expected of them rather than those who think with originality and depth.

Cultivating individuality is one of the toughest future challenges teacher will face. As one American church leader said, 'We will either help our young people to find great dreams to work and live for, or they will give us nightmares to live with'.

It seems we know , or care little, about how to encourage and amplify the talents of all students. Respect for innovative approaches and pioneering effort is still more rare than it should be in our classrooms but there are teacher and schools that do provide a glimpse of what might be.

Until a new conception of education is in place we will continue to turn out frustrated, alienated and often angry young people.

The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum, with its direction to see all students as 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge' gives school a lead but will they have the courage to follow?

A great link for inspiration

A new Zealand secondary school personalising learning

Blogs on personalised learning.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Six Secrets of Change

Fullan's latest book published 2008.Only 140 pages long it expresses a powerful message to leaders

It is understood that successful organisations have to be able to adjust quickly to change but for all this understanding why do so many organisations fail to do so. And why are schools the slowest at becoming learning organisations?

Fullan provides the 'secrets' for organisations to make deep and lasting changes drawing on his work assisting national school systems. The six 'secrets', if put into practice by leaders, would develop organisations that are constantly learning, growing and changing.

Fullan's goal is to change whole systems so as to allow all involved in to invest the passion and energy to get results.

The six secrets are, in themselves, unremarkable. But each is not as simple, as it first seems, to action, and all need to work together to ensure success. The 'secrets', once introduced, would act a guide to monitor your leadership and 'your' school's success.

1 Love your employees. 'The quality of the education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers'. Systems that put the learner first ( e.g UK League Tables) create in teachers fatigue and a lack of appreciation. 'Top down' reforms fail because this has not been appreciated. All people involved in any organisation have to be equally treated with respect - principals, teachers, students and parents. It is the total culture that counts - everybody needs to feel proud of what is being achieved. Developing an inspiring purpose that all can rally around is vital; enthusiasm is contagious.

2 Connect peers with purpose. One of the problems organisations face is how to develop cohesion and focus in an otherwise fragmented environment. Purposeful peer interaction is the secret. This can only happen when: the larger values of the organisation and those of the individuals mesh; when information about effective practices are widely and openly shared; and when monitoring is in place to detect and address ineffective practice while consolidating effective ones. Working in teams is better than 'managing down'. Positive peer interaction, sharing ideas through collaborative team work, provides the necessary social and intellectual 'glue' to develop 'professional learning communities'.

3 Capacity building prevails. Capacity building concerns competencies and motivation. People high on capacity are committed to getting important things done and are collectively and continually learning. Helping people develop capacity by being non judgemental is the key. If you don't learn from failure, you fail to learn. Forgive and remember. Let pressure do its work through the interaction of positive peers and the interactions of the six secrets; 'good people working with other good people get better'. Leaders need to ask, 'what would attract good people to work here'?

4 Learning is the work. The challenge is to strike a balance between consistency and innovation/creativity. There is a need to address core goals relentlessly while at the same time learning continuously. Such focus on a few core teaching beliefs frees energy for creativity. There is a need to: identify critical knowledge; to ensure all are educated in doing the right thing; and verify learning and success - forever. Successes are recognised and challenges addressed. Learning comes from observation of others, coaching, and learning through reflective action.

5 Transparency works. Transparency is measuring what has been agreed by all as agreed as important. 'Measurements' should be guides to direct behaviour and not so powerful and not substitutes for judgement and wisdom. Transparency of measurement helps all involved develop 'trust' in the organisation if it is a positive pressure for improvement. Everyone needs to be held accountable to putting into action what is agreed by all.

( Transparency in school systems has been distorted by a international 'top down' narrowing focus on literacy and numeracy. The 'new' New Zealand Curriculum emphasizes assessing future 'key competencies' ( 'new basics') in realistic contexts.)

6 System's learn. The first task of secret six is to enact the first five secrets. Systems learn, in times of complexity, by cultivating leaders who are both confident and humble at the same time. Leaders need confidence 'in advance of the battle' and advice to followers is not to put blind faith in leaders. Leaders need to take action and then learn from experience. They need to visualize the whole while working on individual part. They need to look for patterns and relationships aways searching for better solutions; valuing both mastery and originality.

Reflective leadership throughout the organisation is required to achieve the agreed purpose, and it needs to be a purpose able to inspiring all to continual action and learning.

Fullan's advice is to capitalize on the synergy provided by the six secrets. By employing all the secrets accountability is inbuilt. A powerful quote about wisdom required for leadership, from Fullan's book is,' the ability to act with knowledge, while doubting what you know'.

'Leaders who thrive and survive are people who know that they don't know - are crucial to enabling others'. Finding the balance between guidance and listening, between directing and learning, are the roles of future leaders. Leadership is about creating an atmosphere where people constantly learn; it is about energizing other people to make good decisions and to learn from them; it is about releasing the positive energy that exists naturally within people.It is 'about improving the lot of people around us'.

Leadership is creating the conditions for other to find happiness through being involved a worthwhile purpose.

As Fullan concludes his book, 'go for it!'

For a summary of an earlier book on school change by Fullan

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Back to the future?

Reflections on thoughts written in 2002.

Mark Twain once said that he could live for a month on one compliment so it was great to receive an e-mail, from a student teacher from Glasgow University who said, after reading a newsletter I wrote on Teaching and Learning Strategies in 2002, that it 'completely changed my view of education and teaching'.

I couldn't resist re-reading what I had written in 2002 and was pleasantly surprised to see how relevant what I had written is to today's challenges.

In 2002 schools were trying to cope with the then Ministry of Education's Curriculum. Introduced in the early 90s to provide a 'seamless' curriculum it had, in reality, created change fatigue, confusion, stress and teacher 'burnout'.

My newsletter asked that, as a country, we needed to have a 'conversation' about how education could contribute to ensure all students are able to thrive in a a challenging future. The publication of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum has more or less done this.

I wrote very positively about the need to focus on the art and craft of teaching by sharing the ideas of creative teachers. I wrote about the Queensland New Basics, their 'future literacies, their focus on 'productive pedagogy' and their integrated 'rich topics'. Lasting educational change will depend on sharing the ideas of creative teachers rather than relying on imposed contracts.

I wrote that schools should clarify their teaching beliefs and share their 'best practices' by working in concert with other schools to break down the professional isolation teachers were feeling. Schools, I felt, needed to develop collaborative learning communities who continually question their own teaching. I wrote, quoting Art Costa, students need to be inspired by whatever talents they may have, 'able to set goals,establish plans and establish priorities.'

I believed then, as I do now, that we need to move beyond either child centred (primary) or traditional education (secondary) and instead to take the best of both. Creativity and talent development combined with rigor, effort, perseverance and depth of study. The best of both not either/or ; what I called a 'More Informed Vision for the 21stC'

I wrote that education is a process from moving learners from 'novices to experts' and that the role of the teacher is one of being a creative 'learning coach'. Such teachers need to believe that every student can learn, given the appropriate task, time and help. The teachers role, as a 'cognitive coaches', is to assess students current learning ( prior knowledge) and then to negotiate explicit 'stretch goals'; 'scaffolding' any help that might be required.

I wrote that all students need to experience 'personal excellence' as assessed against previous learning. That learning needed to be relevant and interesting to them if they are to invest the intellectual energy required to solve problems. Teachers need to introduce fewer topics and to do them in depth - the integrated cross curricular 'rich topics' of the 'Queensland New Basics'. I believed then ,and still do, that creative teachers can easily ensure that the major strands of the current learning areas would be covered.

I wrote that a (co)constructivist theory underpins such an approach to learning
quoting Lev Vygotsky who wrote, 'what a child learns with help today she will do by herself tomorrow'. Students questions, and prior knowledge, would determine the pathway of each individual; teacher entering into dialogue with students to expand their knowledge.

I wrote, that to achieve quality of student work, teachers needed to 'slow down the pace of student work' so to develop a reflective mindset in learners and also to provide time for teachers to assist students with their thinking. I felt then that students were covering too much content and that this was leading to 'fragile' learning - a 'trivial pursuits' curriculum. I mentioned the idea of a 'haiku curriculum' - one that was simple and deep.

Although I was supportive of ensuring students become aware of the process of how they best learn ( 'meta cognition') I wrote that achieving real content is also important. What is vital for future success is that students know what to do when they do not know what to do!

As for assessment, I wrote that it ought to be integrated into every learning task
and that the teacher, as a diagnostic coaches, would naturally integrate feedback and further suggestions for 'next time'. I wrote that students should become their own assessors, using negotiated criteria, and that the best assessment of all ( other than the obvious joy of learning) are the student's' presentations and performances.

Management, I felt, was the 'lost art' of teaching and that in the rush to cover so much content teachers had become 'activity managers'. Students, I wrote,needed safe predictable classroom environments to provide a secure environment necessary for them to develop the confidence to take 'learning risks'. Teachers to undertake 'focused teaching' also need to ensure that all student knows what, when ,why and how, they are to do what is asked of them so they can work independently. It is, I advised, a good idea to have group tasks clearly displayed on the white, or black, boards and I recommended using a rotational four group pattern for content studies similar to the pattern used in reading programmes.

My last point was that if students produced work of personal excellence then their work ought to be displayed with due respect. Displays should feature headings, key questions, and a range of finished student work. Rooms ought to celebrate student creativity and pride of achievement.

The whole point of the newsletter was to express the importance of the skill, passion and enthusiasm of creative teachers in contrast to imposed curriculum and compliance requirements.

I concluded that creating the conditions to allow teachers to practice 'their artistry', to honour and value their efforts, and to ensure the collective wisdom of such teachers is shared with others, is the role of future leadership at all levels.

The past decades have not been kind to creative schools or teachers.

The Ministry, since the writing of the 2003 newsletter, has given us a 'new' curriculum, one that recognises the centrality of those who do the real work - classroom teachers.

The only thing it seems that has changed, since I wrote the 2002 newsletter, are the views of the who work in the Ministry .

For ideas I have gathered from creative teacher over the years.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A new metaphor : Assessment tasks as performance.

A talented group of students from Marina View School. For the equally talented teacher of this group it is possible for her to assess both the group and individual musicians - and in a positive way so as to add value to every ones enjoyment. Learning as performance; nothing new.

It is exiting to read, in a recent Ministry pamphlet 'Assessing Key Competencies' ( written by Dr Rosemary Hipkins), that one way to think of assessment is to consider the demonstration of competency as a complex performance'.

The pamphlet suggests that the 'sum is greater than the parts, and all of the parts fit together.While individual parts may be singled out for specific attention', isolation of these may 'misrepresent the overall learning'.

It is somewhat surprising that some educationalists have only just picked up on this way of assessing learning, one used naturally in the real world. The problem is that schools have been diverted from such an understanding by believing in tests, written exams divorced from reality, and an obsession with assessing atomised bits of learning. Such educationalists have not been able to see the wood for the trees.

Quoting Howard Gardner, the pamphlet states, 'The only reliable way to determine whether understanding has been truly achieved is to pose a new question or puzzle - one on which individuals could not have been coached - and to see how they fare.'

Creative teachers have long practiced such an approach, as have those who teach music, or coach sport. In such situations every activity, or performance, is both a diagnostic and an assessment task. Learners in such situations are focused on improving their performances so as to extend their 'personal best', or the quality of their performance. Such evaluations depend on self assessment, assisted by students' coaches or mentors.

Performances involve both process and product and require teachers to be mindful of what each learner is doing, what assistance they might need, and what the might do next. The key to students' qualitative success lies in the ability and understanding of each teacher, coach, or tutor.

A challenge for teachers is to assess 'key competencies' involved in group tasks - assessing the success of the whole and at the same time the contributions of each individual. Sports coaches and artistic directors have always concerned themselves with both. If tasks integrate various Learning Areas ( which they ought) this provides another challenge, particularly for secondary teachers.

Thankfully there are plenty of ideas to assist. Students competing in science or maths fairs already appreciate the need to apply individual talents to a group task. Drama, music productions, and sport, all involve solving such dilemmas.

The Ministry pamphlet suggests the use of 'rich tasks' that could involve a range of subject areas and competencies. A problem, or project based curriculum, is required to allow competencies to be developed in real and relevant situations. This ideally involves teams of teachers collaborating to design (and assess) such intensive project based challenges.

Creative American high schools schools that have developed such an inquiry based performance based environment involve outside experts in the assessment of their senior students' projects, demonstrations, exhibitions, or performance. Such an approach creates a culture of personal mastery and continual improvement.

Such a performance culture would require a transformation of New Zealand secondary schools and a move, in primary schools, from an obsession on focusing on assessing literacy and numeracy targets. Many schools create portfolios of students' achievement, many stored for viewing on school websites. Such collections of projects are used by many schools as part of their three way reporting process, involving parents, students and teachers.

Schools, who are developing such a performance ethos, are well on the way to developing 'personalised learning'; an approach that values each student's 'voice', 'identity', and particular set of talents.

Such schools are moving out of the educational dark ages and are forging the minds required for an age of creativity; a second renaissance.

Schools using an approach involving 'performance as a metaphor for assessment' are well on the way to 'engaging' the students who have great difficulty in fitting into our 'one size fits all', traditional education system.

Further reading:

'The Big Picture' is an inspirational book about a school that has introduced such a performance culture,

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Key competencies - the heart of the curriculum?

A few thoughts about 'Assessing Key Competencies: Why Would We? How Could We?' Ministry Of Education pamphlet 2007 Dr Rosemary Hipkins.

The inclusion of key competencies in the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum are seen by Dr Hipkins as being ,'at the heart of the curriculum'. They add, 'something new', 'challenging some assumptions that are deeply embedded in traditional educational practices.'
Obviously the key competencies have implications for teaching and, in particular, assessment.

These changes are required because our students are entering a time of extreme social change, a future whose shape is unclear, and schools need to keep up with the times. Future changes involve being empathetic to different cultures, ever faster means of electronic information and communication, problems of environmental sustainability, and new ethical dilemmas.

For schools shaped by a past industrial age the challenges are both real and urgent.

The pamphlet provides guidance for schools to consider as they come to terms with the new curriculum.

It is important to consider the challenges assessing competencies provide as they ask, 'school leaders to rethink learning and schooling in some important ways'.

Schools, 'need to consider which aspects of existing practices remain appropriate and which need to be rethought, reshaped, and/or replaced.'

Although the phrase 'key competencies' may be new the idea that they express have long been a part of a progressive liberal discourse. ' Key Competencies' come from the European DeSeCo Report and have come to us from the tertiary level. Other , less 'technocratic' phrases, could have be used to suit a more creative era , such as: future attributes, intelligences,dispositions or behaviours, but we will have to live with 'key competencies'.

The challenge to implement key competencies will be more difficult for the more traditional secondary level of education. It is at this level that basic assumptions about teaching will need serious rethinking.

Fostering and assessing the dispositions required life long learning ( the point of the key competencies) needs to involve the students themselves in the process so they are 'ready willing and able' to face up to future challenges.

This is a move well beyond beyond assessing teaching and learning ( usually by the teachers) against specified standards/criteria to improve 'next steps' in learning, and light years away from traditional assessment through exams and tests.

If new ways of 'assessment for life long learning' are implemented then the school system, as we currently know it, will be transformed.

It will, 'require a shift in thinking about the roles that students and teachers play during learning' and such a shift focuses on developing students 'identities, strengths and goals'.

Although not directly mentioned in the pamphlet this is the essence of personalised learning.

At the heart of the challenge is the need for students to be involved in meaningful learning tasks; 'doing something that the student would see as relevant to their learning'. Such tasks need to help student become, experts on how they learn best, how to question information and, most important of all, to be ' ready, willing and able' to accept, often ambiguous, learning challenges.

How to assess the competencies involved in such tasks is the challenge for schools and teachers.

The pamphlet suggest a new metaphor: assessment tasks as performance.

A performance is more than the sum of its parts and, it is suggested, quoting Howard Gardner, that, 'the only reliable way to determine whether understanding has truly been achieved is to pose a new question, or puzzle...and see how they fare.'

This concept will not come as surprise to creative teachers.

Some of these assessment performances will involve group tasks and integration of various learning areas. The balance between assessing individual and group achievements provides new challenges.

For primary schools it means moving away from the current focus on the 'old basics' of literacy and numeracy and for secondary schools to develop a more problem centered often integrated curriculum.

'New basics include combining text, pictures, images and music; 'multi modal communication'.

Knowledge needs to be seen in the ability to carry out tasks ( performances); 'creating knowledge not just having it'. As the New Zealand Curriculum states, to see 'students as their own seekers, users, and creators, of knowledge.

'New basics' includes the ability for students to be aware of, and able to, adapt skills so as to develop a 'ready, willing and able ' attitude of mind.

New basic involves developing both an a individual identity as a learner and an ability to work well with a diverse group of others.

A lot of challenges for school to think about.

Assessment and learning has morphed into one and the same thing.

The distinction between school learning and real life has dissolved.

Teacher and learners' roles require new thinking

Creative times indeed.

Will schools be up to the challenge?

What needs to change?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Refreshing your school vision.

The key to an aligned school is to have a shared language ( 'key' beliefs) so everyone involved can make decisions with confidence.

I was recently sent the final copy of a school vision I had assisted them with last year. Since my input the school has undertaken lots of work with staff, teachers, students, and the community, to ensure ownership by all. This is as it ought to be.

One of the staff members had used her computer design skills to shape it into a very attractive document but the proof, as ever, will be in its application.

A recent Ministry document ( 'School Curriculum Design and Review' 2007) makes some worthwhile suggestions for schools to review how they are placed to implement the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum so as to ensure a 21stC educational environment is provided.

It asks schools to consider if:

If their vision is clear and shared by all?
If it expresses what you want for your students?
If the vision is reflected in the school curriculum?

If you have identified the values that are to be the basis of every ones actions?

If you have clarified how you are going to implement the 'key competencies'?

If the school curriculum is designed to meet the needs of your students?

Well this is only a summary of a few of the suggestions but they give good advice. The school vision I received aligns well with all the suggestions. I was going to say 'complies' but that is not a word that sits well in this new age!

In another Ministry document ( 'Assessing the Key Competencies' 07 page 8) there are suggestions that fit in well with ensuring your vision is fully implemented and more than just words.

Is there a shared language ('key' beliefs)that underpins all teacher actions?
Is there a process to review the beliefs and to add new ideas as you learn more?
Are the students able to articulate the beliefs as they apply to them?
Are the beliefs displayed for all to see so all can 'self reference' their actions?
Do teachers and students use the common language in their learning conversations?
Is there a process for teachers and students (self and peer assessment)to get feedback about the ways they are implementing the beliefs?

This is an adaptation of the ideas presented (they were written to implement the key competencies) but it is great to see ideas being expressed that I also strongly believe in.

As one of the Ministry documents states vision of the new curriculum will only, 'happen when the whole school community works to build a collective understanding of the school's vision of learning'.

Couldn't agree more.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Time for real leadership

Martin Luther King:'I have a dream'...leadership by ideas.

Leadership is tricky idea to tie down.

Most leaders are more managers, keeping things going well in any organisation. Continual improvement is the name of the game

Most school principals are managers. Even those in the Ministry, with the responsibility for leadership development, are products of academic success rather than from ideals forged in the heat of real practice.

Many years ago ,at school, we had to learn, as a example of irony, the verse from W.S. Gilbert

'Stick close to your seats and never go to sea
And you will be rulers of the Queens navy.'

Leadership is about change and transformation and this is at best a risky business involving what scientists call 'enlightened trial and error'; there are no road maps to the future. The leaders of change have presence and are often seen as unconventional 'mavericks', or 'canny outlaws', happy to cut through red tape, but they are all trusted by those who work with them for their intuitive intelligence and judgement.

Such leaders are well respected, seen as by followers as 'admire-able'; well worth the risk of following

In a low trust environment, where school principals are continually asked to respond to compliance and outside audit requirements, we have seen a couple of decades of, at best, low risk leadership.

The vision behind the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum asks for true leadership from school principals, and better still from groups of principals working together. Intuitive 'canny leaders' are required who see through eyes not blinded by the status quo have aways been a scarce commodity; one all too often seen as a threat by those who currently hold power.

Someone has to start the ball rolling. Unfortunately recognising creativity in others is not a trait I would associate with principals. This hasn't been helped by the competitive ideology of the last decades but, thankfully, times are changing.

The dream, for educational leaders to get behind in the 21stC, is to create a personalised education system where all students talents, interests and passions can be developed.

Such dream involves transforming both the culture and structures of current schooling. And, as there can no longer be a 'one size fits all' system , a range of experimental approaches needs to be encouraged with successful ideas being shared and amplified. 'Attractive' ideas will 'converge' that will, in turn, 'seed' further experimentation.

This organic approach is the opposite of the past top down technocratic approaches and will require action by leaders at all levels. Creating an environment for such diversity, and developing a system to tap into and share ideas, will be the new role for Ministry leaders.

Principals and teachers, as well as students , will need to be seen as active energetic, 'users, seekers and creators ' of their own learning, to slightly adapt a phrase from the New Zealand Curriculum. Leaders create powerful inspirational stories that give others permission, or courage, to act.

Key roles of such creative leadership will be;

1 To see leadership as one of providing direction -an enlightened view of the future. Leadership is an issue of purpose not personality.

2 With this in mind, once the direction has been clarified, the three most important requirement of leadership are: communication, communication ,communication.

3 Leaders have to have a recognisable point of view if they are to challenge current expectations.'It is what we know already that often prevents us from learning', Claude Bernard. Leaders never adopt they adapt - everything is judged according to the schools vision, values and shared beliefs. Such leaders know when to say no - they control their change agenda.

4 Leadership is all about purpose. It is purpose that creates consensus, commitment and collegiality.

5 Leaders focus on making explicit to the wider team what is important. To do this they limit and focus innovations valuing clarity and doing fewer things well; quality not quantity. Such clarity reduces overload complexity and provides a sense of security and hope which , in turn, develops empowerment and improving of decision making.

6 Leaders manage the heart; they say thanks to those who have made the effort; they model the way.

7 Leaders always expect the best and expect everyone to continually improve; they do this by clarifying expectation and by building an environment of trust.

8 Leaders treat others with empathy
and apply the 'golden rule' in all their interactions. They must be seen as trustworthy and must practice what they preach

9 Leaders ensure all understand what criteria staff members have to live up to and how success is to be judged
. See point 2

10 Leaders hold people accountable to agreed commitments even when it would be easier to ignore.Leaders show moral toughness, seeing any conflict as an opportunity to focus on what is important.

11 Leaders give recognition to those who show initiative or appropriate behaviour building on strengths member have by continually providing feedback and encouraging sharing.

12 They support those who need help the most - providing whatever help is required.

14 And they encourage leadership by all to achieve the school's vision.

It is time for real leaders to stand up, or out, to take the risks needed to make a real difference.

Creating a true personalised education system able to develop the creative talents of all students is a dream worth pursuing.

It is not on the test

Take the time to listen to Tom Shapin's song above, or visit his site to listen to it. visit his site. Great links for teachers interested in the creative arts.

In the United States the Federal Government has imposed on all schools, in every state, a 'No Child Left Behind' policy (NCLB). It sounds commendable being an attempt to ensure all students achieve basic literacy and numeracy levels.

Two problems.

The first problem is that for States to receive federal assistance their reading and maths programmes must conform to 'approved evidence based research'. The catch is with the 'approved research' aspect. With reactionary and conservative elements currently in power in American society, innovative child centred approaches are not included.

The second problem is the resulting narrowing of teaching to achieve credible test results. The consequence of this, 'teaching to the test', is that the the valuable creative areas of human expression - the arts, in all their forms, are being excluded.

This obsession with 'old basics', important as they may be, is a worry to song writer Tom Chapin who has written a song well worth a listen.

Below are words from his song.

'Go to sleep now, third grader of mine.
The test is tomorrow but you'll do just fine.
It's reading and maths, forget all the rest.
You don't need to know what is not on the test

'So music and art and the things you love best
Are not in your school 'cause they're not on the test'

The press to narrow eduction is being felt worldwide. Some countries, like the UK, have imposed 'league tables' to show how all schools compare and Australian States have complicated ways of reporting and comparing achievement in the basic areas.

Schools in New Zealand have not escaped as schools have been asked to define 'learning targets' for the year and, the reality is, that schools feel the pressure to limit such targets to literacy and numeracy.

Such blinkered thinking is occurring at the same time the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum is asking schools to develop a wide range of 'key competencies' for students to become, 'creative, enterprising and energetic learners'. Being literate and numerate are an important element of one of the competencies - to become 'a life long learner'.

Tom Shapin asks, 'why are we putting so much effort into a form of education in which there is no creativity?
This is the time our youth should be taught to "think out of the box" not to be put into a tighter one.'

Shapin writes, as a father and grandfather, that, 'music art, drama and sport - these are what kept me involved when I was at school. And these very things that make a teacher's ( and student's) job easier and more rewarding are what's been cut out from curriculum across the country'.

Teachers, he believes, 'need all the help they can get, anything that excites a student, opens their eyes, and hearts and minds is a positive that makes a child invest in school.' Couldn't agree more.

In New Zealand, with positive leadership from schools, we have a real opportunity to see all students leave with their love of learning intact.

Let's start with defining some more ceative school targets.

For ideas on creative teaching take advice from Sir Ken Robinson and Tony Buzan

If you never seen Sir Ken's video on creative teaching youv'e missed something wonderful. Google him to access it.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Providing opportunities to develop students passions and interests.

A creative teacher is always on the alert for an opportunity to involve students in meaningful learning - in this case learning about why archaeologists need to research an early Maori settlement. The students found the experience fascinating.

I have always liked the quote from Jerome Bruner that , 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation.' Students are innately curious and if they have developed a range of interests they will do almost anything to learn more about, or get better, at it.

The New Zealand Curriculum asks teachers to see their students as active 'seekers, users, and creators of their own knowledge'. Achieving this will provide a real challenge to many school

Our identity is closely linked to what we are good at doing, or the interests a we have, and so it makes sense to expose students to a range of experiences that provide opportunities to develop, uncover, or amplify, their interests.

A recent Ministry of Education publication, 'Assessing Key Competencies' suggests that we need a new metaphor for assessment - 'performance'. I can't resist a comment that this idea is hardly new - except to those who have been distracted from such a common sense idea by traditional educational assessing for accountability or, a little better, for acquiring teacher defined skills or content.

Performance , to me , suggests performances of student's talents rather than 'key competencies' but I agree key competencies are integral to any performance.

I just have a feeling that developing talents and interests have not been fully appreciated by current thinking - the emphasis is that the 'key competencies are at the heart of the curriculum.' This emphasis requires new forms of assessment beyond the 'old basics'.

I agree with the document that students need to develop an identity as a learner who is, 'ready willing and able' to apply themselves to any new learning challenge. I have aways liked the business firm that uses, 'Know how , can do', as it vision phrase but would add to to it , 'don't know how but will give it a go.'

A performance is seen as a complex mix of competencies and needs to judged as a whole after the performance as part of an ongoing creative process. This is not to say that specific elements cannot be highlighted for future improvement.

Teachers are asked, in the document to 'audit' the opportunities they provides to develop key competencies ( and I would add students talents and interests)?

What 'rich tasks' ( a term for topics designed as part of the Queensland 'New Basics') are being provided that allow the development of 'new literacies' to add to the old basics of reading writing and literacy'?

Other phrases sum up the 'spirit' of such learning: Inquiry Learning, Project, or problem , Based learning; generative topics and 'ill defined problems'. They all involve both teacher and students moving into new area of learning making use, in the process, all the key competencies and the various disciplines.

Some examples I have observed:

In depth ecological studies of natural environments - a piece of bush ( The missing cloak of Tane), long grass, a lawn, the seashore, streams one class studies a river from source to sea), life in the soil and studies of single plants ( the flax) and animals ( cicadas/wasps). One school studied the human body and skeleton extending into health and well being.

Exploring physical science topics from the science of fight (making kites) to household chemistry ( cooking).

Studies of other cultures, past and present, to develop cultural literacy. Studying recently migrated cultures using class new mates.

Exploring heritage building in the local environment ). One class studied styles of architecture). One excellent study was based on exploring the symbolism of a church. Oral history of those involved in WW2 ( linked in with ANZAC Day) another remembrances of older people in the community.

Art themes such as printing ( and writing) through the ages from clay tiles to multi media printing. The art and science of firing clay. Making videos and multi media presentations. Photography from pin hole to digital cameras.

Intensive studies of Maori, or Pasifica, culture - researching a pa site; exploring Maori, or Pacifica, art and craft. History of life and times of famous early Maori fighting chiefs. Life and times of a pakeha Maori:Kimble Bent.

Exploring maths topics such as patterns ( involving a range of Learning Areas) measuring, geometry in the environment.

Many of the above were planned by the teacher ( or teams of teachers) but a number arose through taking advantage of 'teachable moments'. However they were introduced activities and 'performances' were negotiated with students.

The best assessment , or demonstration, of key competencies would be for a student( or group of students) to undertake a self chosen independent study. Not only would this demonstrate what students know but would also indicate areas teachers need to focus on. At the beginning of each year is another time to assess what competencies ( and talents) students bring with them.

For a creative teacher the years programme could 'emerge' from students interests, concerns and teachable moments but, even for such a teacher, it is easy enough to ensure that the strands of the learning Areas are covered. It is vital that, whatever is studied, is done well to ensure 'deep' learning.

The key competencies maybe the 'heart of the curriculum' but the development of every students talents and interests are central to of each individual learning identity. I guess it depends on your point of view!

Take a look around your class, or school, what opportunities are being offered to develop either?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

We could be the Finland of the South?

One region of the world scores high in international science and maths tests - and also tops reading, is Scandinavia. New Zealand does reasonably well - coming in around seventh or so. Why is this?

Americans are always researching, or visiting, to find out why other countries do well in International testing ( since their industrial aged model system is predicated on standardized testing).They are aways surprised to find other countries that do far better than them. Conformist Asian countries are one such group that score well but Scandinavia is more interesting. Forgetting that the testing may well be looking for the wrong attributes for the 21stC, it is worth looking to see what they do in Scandinavia.

But first a few thoughts about the New Zealand scene. Once we were world leaders in reading ( we still do well) but with the imposition of the, now seen as failing standardized, curriculum of the 90s, we seem to have lost our edge.

It is not that we don't know what to do to remedy the situation. The Ministry 'preisthood' is full of self congratulation for it's Best Evidence Synthesis, proudly stating that an oversea educationalist ( from Canada) says it is , 'the smartest intellectual property in the world. Reading it will show that most of it states what creative educators, past and present, have aways known. The Ministry, after recently discovering it is the quality of the individual teacher that is the key to real student achievement, has now discovered the , 'evidence is emerging...that show the role of the principal is central to creating the right conditions for effective learning and teaching.' Both amazingly obvious one would have thought?

Such Ministry success is paraded in their recent Newsletter but the real 'evidence' lies in the reality of our schools. Figures still indicate large achievement gaps with up to 25% of all students, still leaving with little to show for their time. Secondary schools, in particular, seem impervious to the 'best evidence research' and remain locked in their academic straightjacket's.

So what is they do in Finland. A country, by the way that has lowered dramatically its diabetic and prison population rates, problems that we have yet to face up to in New Zealand

An American delegation, visiting to see how the Scandinavians were able to score so highly in recent international tests, found that educators in Finland, Sweden and Denmark all cited, 'autonomy and project based learning', as keys to their success. What they didn't find was competitive comparisons of schools, complicated curriculum, standardized testings and top-down accountability - all staples of the American system.

Credit to Finland's success were attributed to major reforms of the 1970s that placed an emphasis on primary education. All three countries start formal education at age seven after participating in extensive early childhood and pre-school programmes focused on self reflection and social behaviour, rather than academic content. By focusing on self reflection, students learn to become responsible for their own education. Philosophical thought is encouraged at an early age and student grading doesn't happen until the high school level because they believe it takes the fun out of learning. They want to inspire continuous learning.

Self reflection, philosophical thinking, fun and inspiration - great words!

Educators, in Scandinavian countries, view accountability far differently than in the United States. In contrast to the quantitative measures and standardized testing found in their 'No Child Left Behind' Scandinavians rely on a system that produces highly competent teachers who use their professional expertise to work with each student to develop individualized learning plans. In Finland such plans are completed when students achieve tertiary education or their first job.

My teacher' and 'the teacher' are terms of respect, not only when used by the student but also school principals. The teacher is viewed as a mentor, someone with the knowledge and wisdom to impart and who plays a key role in preparing students for adulthood. Teaching is a highly respected and sought after career. It is interesting to note that respect for teachers is also mark of Asian countries.

Scandinavians countries have established national curriculum standards but have set broad mandates, letting authority trickle down as close to the classroom as possible. Communities have the flexibility to provide services according to their students unique needs and interests as long as the basic policy statement is followed.

This is the essence of the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum but we are just starting the journey having been diverted by, the now enlightened, Ministry the past decades.

In Scandinavian countries teachers are extremely autonomous in their work , so are students. While in the US 'teachers are held accountable for teaching, here they hold students accountable for their own learning'. Students become independent learners working across curricular areas and it is common for one teacher, or mentor, to stay with students from grade one to nine, with students moving freely about the building. School libraries are seen as pedagogical centres.

In Denmark students are judged in relation to their own growth, rather than that of others, and they are continually evaluated. Teachers also write individual learning plans for each student after these evaluations. American visitors found this remarkable!

Project based learning begins in the first grade and teachers work with students to structure their learning through a process described as 'dialogue and trust'. Assessment is achieved primarily through a dialogue with each student, as is communication with parents about their child's progress. Exams tend to be limited as exit criteria to grade nine, along with project based assignments that require students to plan, research, present and create around a broad theme.

Along similar lines our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum asks teachers to see students as, 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge', something creative teachers have always done.

Changes in Scandinavian occurred because teachers felt the system stifled them and hindered creativity in the classroom. One Finish school believes students should, 'have fun and know the joy of life.

Best Evidence Synthesis is one thing - changing the system to create every student as a life long learners is another.

More about Finland

And even more

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Challenges of learning in the 21stC

Jackson Pollock painted images in the 1950s that may have predicted the ambiguity, challenges and excitement that future decades hold?

Our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum asks teacher to 'see' their students as active seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge. Students who can see 'connections' are able to call on, or integrate, various disciplines to solve problems.

It is no longer appropriate to see knowledge as prepackaged into subject boxes to be transmitted to students - who by nature are now no longer willing to accept second hand learning from their teachers.

Those who try to impose learning on students are fighting a battle that will be lost in the decades to come. In the meantime the 'knowledge priesthood' that reside in the Ministry, and secondary school subject departments, continue to try to retain their primacy. Add to this the reactionary 'default position' of primary teachers who cant see past the Victorian literacy and numeracy dogma.

Anybody who wants knowledge can access 'wikipedia' or search via 'google'. What is important for learners is to keep their curiosity intact; to continue to be exited about learning; to sort out which knowledge is authentic; and to develop their creativity and imagination.

What we need to teach is to help students trust themselves to learn how to become aware of and solve their own problems. Our teaching must result in students actually enjoying solving problem by creating their own artifacts of knowledge, or personal expressions, using whatever media they choose to select.

The role of future teachers in achieving the above is both an exciting and challenging one; teaching inquiry and thinking approaches; how to interrogate information; providing information and media assistance; ensuring necessary skills are in place ( including literacy and numeracy); assisting students in their 'personalised' learning pathways; interacting in the role of a learning 'adviser' or 'coach'; and, most of all, creating safe and stimulating learning environments.

To achieve this will require the dissolution of subject boxes and for teachers and students to work in teams. Balancing team work while still encouraging singular acts of creativity will make teaching far more exciting - but not for teachers ( and students) who have grown used to their boxes.

All learning 'emerges' from what someone called 'cognitive inconsistency' - when things don't seem to work out as expected. All learning is a creative act of personal construction - meaning cannot simply be passed on to students without something being lost in the process. All learners have to face up to jettisoning old knowledge to allow new idea to seep into the subconscious. Education is literally about changing ones mind.

Control of knowledge has to be wrested away from the 'knowledge priesthood' who presume to know better. New minds need to able to see connections between disparate areas of learning while at the same time calling on knowledge from the various disciplines.

And learning is more than pure logic. Intuition, feelings and imagination are to be valued if new ideas are to evolve.

Students as creators of their own knowledge requires 'new minds', or minds before they were hardened into categories by faulty schooling.

Students as creators requires new schools.

Students, who will thrive in the future, will need to be driven by their curiosity, able to call on past learning as required.

Such schools are hard to find today but they do exist in the minds of many creative teachers.

Leaders, who can combine such teacher creativity with the innate curiosity of students, will have begun the development of future schools.