Thursday, July 09, 2009

Reflection on my teaching beliefs

Reflection of Mamaku fern frond in a lake.

Recently I read an article by educationalist Andy Hargreaves who wrote about 'Four Ways' of educational change since the 1960s. His thoughts reflected many of the thoughts about educational changes that have concerned me over the years. It is obvious that what 'officially counts' in education is driven by forces beyond the classroom. The creativity of the 60s that 'emerged' out of decade of security following the Second World War, is a good example and was when my education journey, or story , began. The creative education arising out of this era is Hargreaves 'First Way'.

This is worth thinking about for there are many, including myself, that believe we are now entering a new age of creativity - some even call it a 'second Renaissance'. If this is so then many of our current organisations, with their genesis in an industrial age, will need dramatic transformation, as will, more importantly our mindsets. We will need new minds for a new millennium.

We will need to create networks of creative schools so as to to be in the forefront of such exciting changes. To achieve this schools, and their communities, need to stop and think about what is required of education in such exciting and very unpredictable times. Traditional education just won't do.

Back to my beliefs.

Ensuring all students leave formal schools 'creative confident life long learners' able to seek, use and create their own knowledge', as stated in our 'new' New Zealand Curriculum, is number one for me. Currently there are many students who leave less than confident and creative, and far from equipped to thrive, or contribute, to a new creative era. Developing the gifts and talents of all students ought to be the focus of education.

Creative teachers, led by creative leaders, in concert with the wider community, are the key to future education writes Hargreaves. We have long way to go. The past decades, the 60 and 70s excluded, have not been an easy time for creative teachers. They have been decades of standardised curriculums, accountablity, and compliance requirements and make up Hargreaves 'Second and Third Ways'.

Creating schools as creative learning communities ( 'communities of inquiry') is the future 'Fourth Way'. Such learning communities need to based around students, at all levels, exploring authentic learning challenges, integrating the 'foundation skills' of literacy and numeracy into inquiry learning, learning 'how to learn' attitudes and skills ( or 'key competencies'), and, in the process, digging deeply into all the appropriate learning areas or disciplines. Such an education will demand new roles for students as inquirers, teachers as learning 'coaches' or advisers and principals as leaders who are skilled in establishing the conditions to allow this. Very few schools work in such creative holistic ways.

Such communities ought to be examples of democracy in practice where everyone involved 'voice' is valued and listened to. Democratic school simply do not currently exist! It is time to apply the democratic ideals espoused by John Dewey over a century ago!

My more specific beliefs add greater definition to the possibility of developing creative learning.

To achieve all students as confident learners, with positive learning identities, we need to place our emphasis in valuing their interests, their questions, their ideas( theories), their cultures and their immediate environment. With such an approach a relevant curriculum will 'emerge' ; one that will lead into the need to explore traditional disciplines. This would turn traditional preplanned prescribed curriculums on their ear.

Really valuing each students 'voice' and 'choice' will obviously be important. Creative classrooms ( the whole school environment) should celebrate students' creativity, their writing, their art and their research . To achieve such 'personalisation' of learning ( the agenda for the new century) we will have to leave behind out current orientation towards the 'standardised' learning more suited to an a failing industrial age. In too many school the students 'voice' is silent

A source for much of students learning, other than that arising out of student's interests and concerns, needs to centred exploring their immediate natural, man made, and historical environment
. It will be important to develop in students a strong sense of place by developing an awareness and appreciation of their environment. As a part of this environmental education it will be necessary to value educating learners sensory awareness and their ability to interpret and express what is experienced creativity through a range of 'frameworks' or intelligences ( Howard Gardner).

Underpinning such learning is a 'co -constructivist' approach where 'teachers' and learners work side by side to develop in depth understandings in whatever area is being studied. It is an approach often called 'Inquiry Learning' or 'negotiating the curriculum' and is often a messy process at the beginning of any study. This is essentially a creative process of discovering as you learn. For teachers who see learning as transmission from teacher to learner such teaching is a real challenge.

New ways of teaching will need new ways of assessing. Simply stated the best way to assess what students can do is for them to demonstrate what they have learnt by means: of listening to them, by examples of their work on display, portfolios, performances and exhibitions, including innovative use of ICT. Such assessment offers a challenge to the traditional ideas of standardised testing. While it will always be important to value the students processes of learning ('key competencies') it is equally valuable for students to produce work of real excellence and quality. When student produce work beyond their current expectations ( and often also their teachers) these are important transformational moments for the learner and are almost impossible to measure. These are moments of personal pride resulting in attitudinal change and often providing motivation for life long learning.

Reflecting on such beliefs it is obvious that many of them are already in place in many classrooms although few schools come to mind. With the exception of ICT most of the ideas were in place in classrooms in the 1960s. The past politicized changes of the past decades, resulting in a surveillance accountability culture, has imposed a compliance mentality on our schools and has not been kind to creative education

The new 'creative era' asks of us to have the courage to bring creative teaching to the fore once again.It will require schools to work with others by creating networks to share expertise and ideas; and to work with parents and communities to ensure all develop an unformed understanding of the value of such approaches for their individual children, their communities and the nation. All students leaving school as confidant learners is a more positive ideal than presently 20% of students leaving disengaged and alienated!

We need to develop the creativity of the 60s again but this time to do it better. This was the essence of Hargreaves 'Fourth Way'.

Lets start the reflection, school community by school community, and begin the 'Great Debate'!


Maurie said...

I am currently at the ICP Conference in Singapore and heard Andy Hargreaves make a keynote speech on the Fourth Way. Reminded me a lot of what you have been writing about.

Bruce said...

I do like Andy Hargreaves- seems to understand the reality of classroom teaching. I read an article he gave in NZ earlier this year - possibly the same talk.

Seems like I will be working with REAP up your way in September.Look foward to meeting up.

Singapore sounds like a good place to be - have fun.

Anonymous said...

It is a wonder any creative teachers have survived.

Bruce said...

To be honest there never were that many really creative teachers but today it is really difficult because of all the imposed 'top down' expectations/assessments/standards they have to cope with. Truly creative teachers classrooms feature the individuality , questions and personal research of their students. In such 'personalised' classrooms students continually 'suprise' both themselves and their teachers by what they achieve and are often transformed by the process.

Hard to do.

Creativity is a word used pretty loosely by many teachers but when you see it you know you have!!

Such rooms have the 'wow factor'!

Jenny said...


My colleague and I have written a book for the 21st century secondary school teacher in New Zealand. Everything that you say about the creative teacher is supported and writ large in our book (which is gaining traction daily). The point about creativity, from our perspective, is that working in a creative manner, using creative tools, opens the mind to new ways of problem solving and thinking - it isn't simply the paint, the clay, the dance, the music but the exercising of the creative brain to engender the type of thinking that we need to solve 21st issues. For too long, we have wasted the potential of secondary education- and the extraordinary creative potential of teenagers. Check out our book and read an extract here:

Regards, Jenny

Bruce said...

Thanks Jenny

You have just sold a book!

Will write a blog about it when it arrives. Should be exciting - your book I mean. I am currenty putting together a few ideas for a book myself. Be interesting to see how our books compare - mine will be more orientated towards the primary level but also suitable for lower secondary where the real changes need to be made.

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dan dempsey said...

Bruce said:

Such communities ought to be examples of democracy in practice where everyone involved 'voice' is valued and listened to. Democratic school simply do not currently exist! It is time to apply the democratic ideals espoused by John Dewey over a century ago!

I am from the USA
Given the way things are going an Oligarchy model may be best so kids are prepared for the future. That way they will have experienced in school the great underlying structure of the current and coming society.

I hope things are better in N.Z.

Bruce said...

Afraid not Dan!

John O'Reilly said...

Hi Bruce,

Very interesting post. I am working with a group to develop a curriculum for an Educate Together ( secondary school in Ireland that would hope to incorporate a lot of what you describe above. We have been very interested in the work on Integrated Curriculum in the US, especially the writings of James Beane and Michael Apple which describe a truly learner-centered curriculum where students define their own learning goals (by definition more meaningful to them) and teachers have to be very creative in crafting learning experiences that match student interests to (state) syllabus goals.

Do you have any thoughts on Integrated Curriculum?