Thursday, November 25, 2010

Do not put trust in the Ministry of Mis-education

My greatest inspiration for the ideas I share can be linked back to the wonderful work done by Elwyn Richardson in his small rural Northland school in the 1950s. If any reader does not have a copy of his book 'In The Early World' they ought to get hold of a copy from the NZCER.

Elwyn established his classroom as a true community of scientists and artists who , for their curriculum, explored their own personal worlds and their rich local environment. This was very experimental work and he was given protection from inspectorial grading ( the equivalent of today's ERO) to develop his creative philosophy. At the same time, and in the same area, a group of Maori schools worked with the Art Advisers to develop similar ideas.

At the heart of these small experiments was the belief in the creativity of children and teachers given the appropriate conditions. In Elwyn's case it showed the importance of classroom teachers as leaders. A man before his time.

Later throughout New Zealand other groups of teachers (helped by art advisers) continued developing similar ideas.I worked with a small group in Taranaki who became teacher leaders. Just before Tomorrow's Schools there were in Taranaki whole schools working along similar lines and, best of all, these schools were sharing ideas between each other.Then came the confusing curriculums ,an obsession with accountability and assessment, and competition between schools. Today most schools are still trapped by this nonsense.

Since Tomorrows Schools teachers insights have been all but ignored being replaced by a technocratic belief in imposed curriculum's ( with endless levels and learning objectives all impossible to assess), in the principals as leaders, and more recently standardised testing and teaching. We have moved well away from valuing the creativity and collective wisdom of classroom teachers and now, sadly, most teachers only know about all this formulaic best practice imposed teaching approaches.

Creativity is all but lost!

Now we have the politicians ( with Ministry support) National Standards to distort teaching even further and who knows what will mutate out of these imported ideas when they are in place. The Ministry has lost touch with the reality of classroom teachers. Most have never experienced it.

Teachers need to make a stand and get behind those few who still believe in the transformational power of creative classroom teachers. We need to value as leaders those teachers who help individual children develop their talents and gifts and their innate desire to learn and make sense of the experiences. Teachers who help their students express what they feel and know in whatever way suits them.

Time to toss out all the so called experts living in their ivory towers with their fat salaries.The Ministry is full of highly qualified people who have little real experience of classroom teaching or inspirational leadership. And many come to their jobs from an academic secondary environment which is as far away from creativity as you can get.

Personally have given up on them all and this included their contracted 'delivers' of Ministry curriculum and compliance targets. And it will get worse with the introduction of hordes of literacy and maths advisers - the ultimate boring restricted individuals.

New leadership must come from creative classroom teachers supported by principals ( or lead teachers). Any good schools vitality comes from creative classroom teachers. Who would want to talk to principals with their concern with surveillance and gathering of evidence of targeted learning goals?

It is time to go back to what learning ought to be about- developing every learner as a 'confident life long learner'.This is their 'default' approach to life until 'flipped' by less than wonderful home experiences and misguided schooling. We need to to ensure all students become 'seekers, users,and creators of their own knowledge' as stated in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.

We need to identify remaining creative teachers in our areas who have survived with little support and help them recover their battered integrity and then to share their ideas.

A new creative era is dawning and classroom teachers are the only ones able to take the lead so as to develop a new consciousness of unlimited possibility in their students. Principals can't do this. School leaders need to create the conditions for such people to thrive and to link them up with other schools and, in the process, share and celebrate teacher strengths. Like Elwyn they are the real experts.

Teachers as leaders were gaining strength in the 70s and 80s but the music died with Tomorrows Schools. As the Bee Gees sang 'When the feeling gone you can't go on, it's a tragedy'.

Education is developing a 'feeling for' learning not achievement on standardised tests.
Time to fight back.

If you haven't read Kelvin Smythe's latest read it now. We need to listen to voices such as Kelvin's - and we ought to be skeptical of any thing coming from the Ministry.


Anonymous said...

I think you are right.Once teachers were the leaders in schools when it came to teaching and people travelled far and wide to visit them. No one travelled just to talk to a a principal - if they did listen it was just the entry ticket to get to see real teachers in classrooms.

Future school leaders will work in tandem with their teachers- this is the only kind of leadership that will contribute new and exciting ideas. Principals as 'hero makers' of their staff and teachers as 'hero makers' of their students.

Any other sort of principal gets in the way. Most do.

We need thousands of 21st Century Elwyn's!

Bruce Hammonds said...

During the past thirty years principals have been pushed as educational leaders and clasroom teachers reduced pawns in their endeavours. This , of course, is a myth.
We have had principals as 'transforamational' leaders ( where are they?); principals as 'instructional' leaders ( what - passing on Ministry's 'best practices'?); principals as administrators and educational accountants ( that's more like it!).

The only real innovations happens in the clasroom no matter who originates it. Teachers who develop exciting programmes ( who have escaped the conformist pull of imposed formulaic best pratices) are the real educational leaders.

How school leaders can develop such people and work with other schools to share their ideas is the real challenge of their leadership. Most have lost any classroom credit they might have had.

It is time to acknowledge teachers as co-leaders again.