Monday, June 23, 2008

Lester Flockron.Nothing wrong with being critical!

Lester Flockton Research Fellow and Co- director of the University of Otago Educational Assessment Unit. Lester has contributed to many educational projects including the recent New Zealand Curriculum.

I have aways enjoyed listening to Lester's Flockton's views on the New Zealand educational scene. He is one of the few people who is both respected by the Ministry for his expertise and able to be critical of the Ministry as well. This is something I certainly have never enjoyed!

With this in mind it was great to read his comments in a recent New Zealand Principal's Magazine where he was encouraging principals to develop critical reflective thinking about what is 'put before us from on high, or the latest offering from theorists, researchers, policy pushers, advisers, consultants, programme package purveyors and the like'. 'Such people', Lester reminds us, 'often have claims that are incomplete in their perspectives and insights about the working of schools and classrooms'.

As a person who has aways believed that lasting educational innovation always evolves from the efforts of pioneer creative teachers, and not from 'distant experts' whose advice has little to do with 'real time schools', Lester's advice aligns with my own.

The only advice that is worth listening to is advice that, after full consideration, you can turn down; saying no can be a creative act.

Educationalist Michel Fullan has written that 'central governments aways get it wrong' and his advice is worth remembering. Where the Ministry see themselves as 'up with the play' in most cases they are are saving schools from their own previous bad decisions. The current 'new' New Zealand Curriculum is a case in point, an attempt to correct their past misguided effort's.

Lester wisely suggest that we need to reflect carefully on the 'over stated claims' based on this thing called 'evidence'. It is almost impossible these days to avoid 'evidence based', or 'best practice' whatever, in any Ministry document! 'Best practice', when imposed through heavy handed contracts, can 'mutate' into, what educationalist Dean Fink calls, 'educational sects' that make it all but impossible for teachers to develop new creative approaches. If we are to be creative then there will be times that we can't wait for the 'evidence'. Schools must feel free to create their own 'best practice' through their own actions. Such an approach is what some scientists call, 'enlightened trial and error' - or simply common sense.

Lester is careful not to say don't listen to statements like, 'research says', or 'research tells us', but he reminds us that research is 'only part of the story'. Our teaching ought to be 'research informed' not 'research led'. 'All together', Lester says,' educational research has become absurd, out of harmony with good judgement'.

It is with this in mind that Lester believes that it is important that principals exercise critical thinking able to, 'mediate the messages of others in the light of experience, maturity, healthy dollops of common sense, commitment to beliefs, values and aspirations'.

This, Lester says, is all about 'the grit of honesty and integrity' and 'professional judgement'.

The imposed compliance, curriculum and assessment required of schools these past decades have put these qualities at risk.

What is now required, and the opportunity has been given to schools by the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum, is courageous leadership.

It will not be easy to be critical because criticism is not always be accepted by those in power. 'Being critical',Lester writes, 'ought not to be confused with being negative'. There is nothing wrong with saying no if it allows the school to focus on what the school thinks is important or to conserve teacher energy.

It is important for schools to be reflectively critical so as to weigh up what the school is currently doing and to consider whether what is being suggested will add to what is already being done. It is obviously important to question and to weigh up the benefits of any advice.

Lester concludes by stating those who are in the best position to lead the direction of schools are the school leaders themselves.

But, he asks, is this the case? Do leaders 'indiscriminately trail behind so-called gurus and experts who proclaim' that this is the next best thing? Are principals too much 'under the influence'? I would add, as another leadership issue, under the influence of past unquestioned assumptions and structures.

Perhaps the important questions to reflect on are: what is the role of education in a society that is suffering the stresses of 'selfish' materialism and environmental despoliation; are our school outdated?; and do we need to transform our school to meet the needs and to develop the unique talents of our students? Leaders need to reflect on such issues rather than focusing on narrowly based school defined achievement?

What changes do schools need to make to ensure a safer, fairer and more sustainable world?

What we we really need the moral educational leadership by school principals that is asked of us by Michael Fullan.

I apologize if I have misinterpreted Lester's ideas. Read his unadulterated comments in the June Principals Magazine!


gregcarroll said...

check out this blog post from Wesley Freyer: we are being technology obsessed at the moment in the same way some are following blindly behind the so called eucational gurus in redeveloping curriculum

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Gregg.I did check out that site and found it very interesting - ICT is a powerful tool for a creative teachers otherwise...

I also watched the corny video referred to: ' If only we had cool new digital technology at our school, then learning would be great and everyone would love school.'

Just to simplistic to be true. Some schools, as you say, are blinded , or 'under the influence', when it comes to technology.

I mean, what is with schools and electronic whiteboards - an expensive way to take us back to outdated, watch the front of the room, pedagogy!!!

Keep in touch.

Anonymous said...

Motivated children, teachers who care enough to challenge and support - that's what I think ...