Thursday, September 24, 2009

Perry Rush -educator

It was great to listen to Perry Rush present to the Westcoast Principals' Conference earlier this month. Perry is not just implementing the New Zealand Curriculum he is well ahead leading teachers into true learning centred education.

The vision for Island Bay school is 'Our Way, Island Bay'.

Perry has a great story to tell and is an inspiration to others who might wish to emulate the spirit of learning that he represents. It is clear that Perry leads by example and that those that work with him have trust in him to take them into an exciting future.

He comes to Island bay following time at Discovery One a innovative independent Christchurch School. A brief conversation with him indicated that Perry has had to work hard to get to where he is now. I first heard of him years ago when he was the teacher of a year 7 and 8 Tawa school based in downtown Wellington.

Perry has taken advantage of the opportunity to develop a local curriculum offered by the New Zealand Curriculum. During his presentation he encouraged principals to follow his example and feel free to develop ideas that suit their community.

He see the New Zealand Curriculum as a visionary document and one that demands real changes from schools. He asked do schools really want be involved in such transformational change?

Island Bay has taken a 'learner centred' approach: 'Our Way, Island Bay,Integrated learning'.

He asked his audience to consider what things tend to be 'fixed' in their school? Often things they assume to be 'fixed' are only 'fixed' because no body has really questioned the assumptions behind how their school is organised. We all too often just assume current ways of working to be appropriate. These, he said, 'are the cultural traditions and mores of a school'. To move into the future we need to uncover and challenge such assumptions so as to consider what it is that can be changed?

The key is to find the time and space to focus on the needs of the learner.

Three issues to consider:

1 What are our beliefs as these determine our actions? And what is the basis of our beliefs and can we articulate them?

2 What is our culture - our educational environment? Culture is critical. The key competencies of the curriculum indicate the kind of behaviours we wish to encourage; how we wish to live and learn together.

3 What is our pedagogy? What are the strategies, approaches and techniques we agree to use?

A school that wishes to change needs to bring in new ideas and also needs to get rid of unnecessary things. But most important of all the teaching team needs to be able to articulate their beliefs.

At Island Bay the staff work to see learning from child's perspective, to appreciate that the students role is to make meaning, and that the teachers role is to support and challenge the learners to deepen their understanding.

Also as part of developing appropriate pedagogy the staff have studied all the available research.

The Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) has reinforced the valuing of diversity, of being responsive to differences, and the need for quality teachers to pose real problems - problems that result in active research. For students, as the NZC states, to be their own active 'seekers, users and creators'.

Graham Nuttal's book pointed out the power of the hidden curriculum; that we all construct our own meaning according to our prior experience; the power of peers on influencing learning and the need for kids to talk to each other about the right stuff. Nuttal's research pointed out to the staff the need for each child to be helped to make their own 'unique pathways'.

From Jane Gilbert ( author of 'The Knowledge Wave') a researcher at the NZCER the idea of the changing shape of knowledge. That knowledge is not seen as a noun ( to store) but as a verb (a doing word). Learning is about 'performativity' - the ability to do something with what you know. The deeper children learn the more they can apply what they know. As well there is the idea that knowledge is 'owned ' by the group - the idea of 'collective intelligence'.

And of course John Hattie's idea of 'expert teachers'.

Back to Island Bay's Culture.

A quote about culture Perry shared was , 'what we care about, what we are willing to spend time on doing, what we celebrate, and what we talk about.'

The practices that underpin Island Bay School are:

The learning is to be integrated
learning is to be conceptual and based around big ideas.
The NZC's Key Competencies are to be connected with Art Costa's habits of mind'.
Based on inquiry learning.

Perry outlined how Island Bay had 'grown' their curriculum.

The first challenge is to figure out the intent of the NZC;what does it mean?

Student learning and not about coverage.
An emphasis on local meaning.
A participatory view of learning.
Excellent 'essence' statements for each Learning Area.

The NZC provides both an opportunity and a challenge as it requires what Perry called a 'seismic shift' and not merely 'tinkering'.

Perry shared Five Change ideas:

1 Engage powerful speakers. Island Bay have used John Edwards, Mary Chamberlain, Jane Gilbert, Kath Murdock and Lane Clark.

2 Link theory to practice. 'Improvisation is the hallmark of a creative teacher'

3 Consult widely with the local community.Island Bay only selected 3 or 4 questions from those suggested by the Ministry.What problems/issues are worth engaging students in? What would make an ideal graduate profile for our learners? What ought to be our core beliefs? And what do the Key Competencies actually mean? Reduce them to five points.

The school felt it needed to 'unsettle' what parents and teachers think and sent out a 'provocative' newsletter based on ideas from Jane Gilbert. Focus groups were held with parents selected randomly ( about 15 in each group?). Each group was asked a key question e.g what do students need to thrive in the 21stC?

4 'Explode' teacher thinking. Teachers visited a range of 'best practices' schools and inquired into 'best practice' in areas of literacy, ICT, pedagogy and developed action plans to undertake inquiry. Action times had to research 'best practices'; attend appropriate professional development of their own choice; be mentored by a recognised expert and finally to provide the school with recommendations.

By this means the staff made their own shift and out of all the thinking emerged the new vision for the school.

5 The school kept 'wall stories' about staff inquiries.These displays made explicit the idea being explored and were a way of deprivatising teacher practice and contributed to the development of a shared pedagogy. This was 'low tech' approach that was achievable by all.

Drawing his presentation together Perry explained the Island Bay School Inquiry approach, a model largely based on the writings of Kath Murdock.

(1)When inquiry topics are decided upon they are linked to a 'host' learning area.
(2) Finding out. For each inquiry the main area are identified from the host Learning Area - the main strands and selected learning objectives are identified.
(3) Sorting Out. Learning tasks are mediated and appropriate key competences are identified but most units incorporate most, if not all, of these competencies.
(4) Going Further. Learning is expressed through a range of Learning Areas as appropriate
(5) Refection. Making connections, and 'now what so what'?

It all comes down , Perry concluded, to developing a curriculum that is living and breathing.

All in all an inspiring and practical presentation.

Thank you Perry.

PS Apologies for any misinterpretations but I think I captured the 'essence' of what Perry said.


Mike said...

Totally agree, good on you for recognising a local leader Bruce. As Lester Flockton points out we don't need to keep importing overseas gurus to hear great messages about learning.

Podgorani said...

had a great visit to Island bay School actually seeing the product backs up all you have explained. one key thing with all that is happening is the leadership and our mate has it in spades. nice work bruce

Anonymous said...

As owner of Leading and Learning, Inc.® and having 'Leading and Learning' copywrited we request you cease using the term. Thank you.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I believe we all have to support leaders like Perry and the like - they will need us as much as we need them. I am looking forward to visiting him next term when I am in Wellington. I am with you Mike - we need to seek out and celebrate our own 'experts'.

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Alanna - I am pleased you are enjoying my blog.Return and comment wnen you feel like it.Always appreciated.

Lots in Samara Costa Rica said...

These articles are fantastic; the information you show us is interesting for everybody and is really good written. It’s just great!! Do you want to know something more? Read it...: Great investment opportunity in Costa Rica

Anonymous said...

Look what has happened in the U.K. with our "National Curriculum" and SATs