Monday, February 28, 2011

'Seeking, using and creating' -education for a creative age .Tapping the intellectual curiosity of the learner.

The title of this interesting book sums up what learning ought to be all about - students as explorers of their world.

I would like to think that creative teaching is alive and well but I am not sure I believe that anymore.

Being creative has always been a hard road to follow particularly since the introduction of the curriculum and accountability and assessment demands imposed on school in the mid eighties. And this has only escalated with demands for schools to focus on the 'three Rs' leading up to the most recent reactionary concept of National Standards - themselves one step away from National Testing and League Tables.

Creativity can only develop in environments of trust and adventure that favour the trying out of new ideas. Surveillance cultures and standardised expectations kill creativity - simple as that!

What is the basis for a creative or personalised classroom?

For one thing the philosophy behind such classrooms is anything but new but the revised New Zealand Curriculum provides new impetus for those left with the courage to be really creative.

The key phrase for me is to be found in the thinking competency (and also on the vision page) that confident life long learners are 'Students who have well developed thinking and problem solving skills are active seekers, users, and creators of knowledge. They reflect on their own learning, draw on personal knowledge and intuitions, ask questions, and challenge the basis of assumptions and perceptions.' Elsewhere it states students should have a '"can do" attitude' and 'know who they are , where they come from , and where they fit in'. The principles, curriculum statements and effective pedagogy section expand on these ideas.

The trouble is that few teachers/schools have challenged the basis of their own assumptions and perceptions .Unless teachers see learner as their own 'seekers, users and creators' then little will change. And nothing much has.

The 'seeking, using and creating their own knowledge' phrase needs to be unpacked.

The teacher's role is to help all student acquire the necessary skills to develop their own knowledge.

Perhaps the most important function of the teachers is to ensure students are involved in learning they see as purposeful. Jerome Bruner has written that the 'canny art of the teacher is one of intellectual temptation'. Tempting learning shouldn't be difficult - children are all born with an intense curiosity and desire to make sense of what they experience. It is this default mode of learning teacher should tap into.

As it says in the New Zealand Curriculum 'intellectual curiosity is the heart' of thinking ..or learning. It is this curiosity that teachers need to tap into rather than imposing their own curriculums. The need to learn comes from within.

What 'seeking skills' do students need? Children with well developed seeking skills need to have an inquiring mind open to all sorts of possibilities.

Curiosity is developed through involvement with the senses-each sense providing its own special contribution. Teachers, at all levels, need to develop their students skills in using the senses - children who see more ( or hear, touch, smell, or taste more) ask more questions, develop greater awareness, sensitivity, vocabulary, expressive language , art , music and dance.

Students need to be taught to 'seek ideas' using a range of perspectives or frameworks.

And students also need to be 'taught' to see through the eyes of an artist, of a scientist, a poet, through drama ,mathematics. Any experience can be interpreted in all sorts of ways and this is the basis on integrated programmes. All these frameworks make up the traditional disciplines or learning areas. Imagine exploring a tree in the school ground through each way of seeing/seeking.

Obviously students need to be taught to seek ideas through the use of other people, book resources, pictures,photographs and the Internet but all in purposeful contexts. This is where the literacy block ( I prefer language experience block) comes in - but with all activities tied to meaningful inquiry learning.

After 'seeking' comes 'using'.

This is the point where students need to be helped to critically interpret what they have seen, heard, or read. Critical literacy skills need to be taught in all areas of learning. Not only do students need to be open to ideas they must ,at the same time, be skeptical and question what they find. They need to validate ideas and, where possible, note where they found them if they are undertaking research.This is the essence of research in science and other learning areas. Literacy time has an important role to play here. Critically assessing maths/science data is equally important and as much maths as is possible should be linked to inquiry studies or at least be developed as applied maths explorations based on realistic contexts.

Critically using information gained through the seeking process is at the heart of an inquiry based personalised classroom and integral to every learning area.

Teachers who develop 'critical using of knowledge' skills, need to make very effort to value their students prior ideas . The creative role of the teacher is one of coming alongside the learner helping the students construct their own knowledge. This requires a light touch and good listening skills so as to apply appropriate feedback/feedfowards.

The final step - 'creating their own knowledge'.

A quick look around any classroom will show if the learning belongs to the students. It is just a matter of reading their finding to see if they are answering their own questions in their own 'voice'. And what is read ought to have a tentativeness about what has been learnt - learning is forever. Real learning ought to develop more questions than answers. To develop in depth creating it is good advice to do fewer things well so students gain feelings of success.
Teachers have a vital role to play in the creative process. All too often teachers , through the use of their intentions and goals, their criteria, exemplars and their heavy handed feedback crush students creativity. As a result there is a sameness about what students produce . And sadly this even extends to students creative art work. All too often creativity is completely absent - real creativity is about individuality, uniqueness and often has within it an element of surprise .

Creative teachers value their students individuality, 'voice' and uniqueness and, with this mind, any help they give is couched in terms of, 'what else could you do or, 'you could things like this', rather than 'this is how you do it. Such teachers recognise and celebrate differences and encourage their students to explore ideas further.

Creative teachers exhibit a true artistry, assisting students intuitively based on their prior experiences. This artistry takes time to develop and is easily crushed by heavy handed school expectations.

There are obviously things students have to learn but at least these can be negotiated to share the ownership. But if 'seeking, using and creating the own knowledge' were to be taken seriously things would have to change in most classrooms. All students, writes Jerome Bruner, 'have to create an interior culture of their own' ...every student ' must be his own artist, his own scientist, his own historian, his own navigator'.

All students must believe they are their own 'seekers, users and creators' if they are to become, 'confident, connected, actively involved, life long learners'.

This is not the case at present.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

It is about the right kind of leadership.Some questions to ask yourself.

Are YOU a Committed “Learning Leader”?
Prove it! In The Paradigm Debate.

This has been adapted from the article to be found on Tony Gurr's All things learning blog. It was written for CEOs but Tony also wrote that it applies equally to principals or teachers. With this in mind I have replaced CEO with school principal.

Two Principals walk into a bar and…

Sounds like the start of a very bad joke…but let’s run with it for a minute.

They sit down and, being worried about how their schools are doing, they each have a question and decide to pick the brains of the other:

Principal #1: What should I do to dramatically increase the performance levels of my staff?
Principal #2: How can I dramatically increase my school’s ability to learn?

Both questions are quite straightforward but fundamentally different.

Both say a lot about the “mindset” and “values” of the respective principals – and also the type of “culture” they are likely to create. The two principals also clearly have a very different “worldview” – and probably differ quite significantly on “what matters” in their schools. They might also see their “purpose” and the purpose of the school in very different ways, as well.

Don’t get me wrong – the questions both Principals are asking are “good”:

Principal #1 – is interested in “results”. No organisation can survive without these! In education, the results that relate to student learning are our “bottom line”.

Principal #2 – is also interested in results. However, she (bet you thought I would say “he”) also has a focus on learning – she has a focus on the learning of her people and sees this as the key to bigger and better results!

The problem is that many leaders have built up their stockpiles of values (and their mindset) in a largely “unconscious” way – and remain “blind” to what many of these values are and the impact they have on organisational culture.

Most of us appreciate the importance of leadership and “leaders” – in terms of how they can determine the level of success and effectiveness of an organisation.

However, it’s important to remember that “leaders” do not directly influence that success or effectiveness. Instead, they exhibit behaviours and make decisions that indirectly “shape” how an organisation develops and its culture evolves – and, more importantly, whether “good people” stay or move onto greener pastures!

It is the people who “live” and “work” in the culture that have the biggest say on results.

If the values of most leaders are hidden away – or remain “invisible”, we are going to have a pretty hard time trying to figure out someone’s mindset.

Worse than that – how the hell are we going to try and improve something that we cannot even “see”!

There is a way!

Bob Haas, Chairman of Levi Strauss, has said that there are two essentials required of organisations that wish to be true to their purpose: “The first is the value of people; the second is the importance of values”.

One minute, one minute…let’s think about that for a minute (or two) and dig a little deeper.

People are “engineered” for learning – it’s what we “do” best. If organisations and principals believe that people are their most valuable “resource” – then, these principals and their organisations should also value the value of learning!

But…yes, you knew it was coming!

Experience has showed us that it is not enough for an organisation or a principal to “pay lip-service” to the idea that its people are its most important asset or resource; it has to “walk its talk”. This has been evidenced by research into the most effective and elite organisations in the world: research that demonstrates a clear relationship between a culture that values people and how they learn and specific actions and reward systems that build both “community” and “capacity”.

Many principals do not see this.

The Solution – Principals need to GET CONSCIOUS and GET REAL!

The starting point is for principals to (really) have a good ‘ole think about “culture”. This is because (in a very basic sense) organisational culture is the “shadow of the leader”.

They could ask themselves a few questions:

What is the exact nature of my shadow?
How far does it reach?
Who does it touch – directly and indirectly?
What type of consequences does it lead to?
How do others “see” my shadow?
How do I know these things?

If the same principal is “serious” about learning, a few other questions should be asked – and answered honestly:

What type of broader culture do I want to drive my school?
Does learning figure strongly in the vision I have for the culture of my school? Why/why not?
Do I really believe in the power of learning? Why/Why not?
Do I really believe that all people can learn? Why/Why not?
Am I clear how much I value learning?
What have I learned in the past 7 days?
What new concepts and ideas am I using today that I wasn’t using last month?
How do I improve and expand my own capacity for learning each and every day?
How well do my people currently learn? How do I know?
Do my people really understand what we mean when we talk about a “learning culture”?
What things are inhibiting the learning of my people?
What needs to change for me to create the conditions for improved and expanded learning in my people?

How do I know all these? If the principal really wanted to push the envelope – she’d also ask herself:

What is the “glue” that holds my organisation together?
What sort of relationships and social networks characterise a meaningful, productive organisational culture?
What shared meanings, values or habits “drive” my people?
What can I do to enhance the relationships and social networks my people use to “do business”?
How do I know? How do they know?

End note from Tony[It’s quite difficult for me to thank everyone who contributed to this list of questions – I have “gathered” them over many years, from many people and even more books or articles. To mention a few – Terry O’Banion, Peter Koestenbaum, Edgar Schein, Steven Bowman, Peter Block, Marcia Connor, and Ziya Sel├žuk. My special thanks also to John O'Dwyer - for reminding me to "get real" recently!]

And my thanks to Tony for sending me the article.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Will the real leaders stand up so others can join you! Real leaders know what is worth fighting for!

Churchill spent a lot of his energy pointing out the dangers facing the United Kingdom to people who didn't want to know before World War 2. A true leader he stuck to his guns until the time was right. His leadership and oratory provided the necessary hope in dire times: 'we will never surrender'. Such leaders are rare -very few principals fit the description but it is such leaders we need now. It is time to stand up and fight for what is important. At least identify potential leaders and get behind them.

Excellent article about leadership

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 for the future.

The leaders of change have presence and are often seen as unconventional ‘mavericks, or ‘canny outlaws’, happy to cut through the red tape, but they are 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.

The vision behind the ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum asks for true leadership from school principals, and better still from groups of principals working together. This is all the more important as the Ministry is distracting implementing the philosophy behind the revised curriculum with their politically orientated National Standards.

Intuitive ‘canny’ leaders are required who see through eyes not blinded by the status quo has always 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 a changing.

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

Such a 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 a vital role of the ministry.

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 requirements of leadership are: communication, communication. Communication.

3. Leaders have to have a recognizable 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 improvement 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 will be judged.

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 members may have by continually providing feedback and encouraging sharing.

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

13. 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 environment able to develop the creative talents of all students is a dream worth pursuing.

'If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader'.John Quincy Adams

'If you want to build a ship, then don’t drum up men to gather wood, give orders and divide the work.Rather teach them to yearn for the far and endless sea'. Antoine de Saint Exupery

'In times of change,
learners inherit the earth,
while the learned find
themselves beautifully
equipped to deal with a
world that no longer exists'
. Eric Hoffer

'Leadership and
learning are
to each other'
John F Kennedy

Wounded by School

It is disconcerting to appreciate that schooling , usually seen as a positive experience, is seen by many as damaging to young people. Many years ago a Senior Inspector, of the then Department of Education, asked a group of advisers how schooling had benefited them. He was surprised when many said that little that they currently now thought important had been gained from their schooling. I had the same thoughts. And we were all 'successful'. Made me think, at the time, lots of students must see school in a different light. Of course no one listened then to their voice then - and mostly they were blamed ( or other factors outside the school) for their own lack of success! Things haven't changed.

Success in life is all too often determined by success at school. And all efforts to improve schooling very rarely take the trouble to listen to the voices of teachers let alone students.

In her wonderful book 'Wounded by School' Kirsten Olsen speaks passionately about the experiences of young people whom the school system has failed.

While reformers , policymakers and politicians focus on achievement gaps and insist on accountability measures thousands of students mentally and emotionally disengage from learning. As well many gifted creative teachers leave teaching finding the current surveillance culture demeaning. And worse still many school principals are part of the problem busy complying with imposed measures to standardize teaching to ensure their school is seen in a positive light by the authorities.

No one listens to the 'voices' of the students. This is what Kirsten Olsen has done and her finding speak loudly and poetically about the need for transform schools so all students experience the joy of learning.

Kirsten writes that current schooling harms all students; the talented and gifted, the middle of the road students , those from different cultures and particularly those the school has deemed to be problem learners.

She writes passionately about the need to develop schools where all students feel valued and empowered, where all students experience the joy of learning, and she writes clearly about the need to challenge school structures and practices many teachers currently use use without appreciating the harm they do.

Current schooling wounds too many students. Anyone who has listened to the voices of students whom school has failed , or their parents will recognise the extent of this wounding. And sadly most of this damage is done in the name of helping students learn what the school has decided to be necessary to learn. Very little of which develops every students gifts and talents even the so called successful students are unaware of their hidden talents. For too many school is neither benign or or neutral.

Olsen is raising fundamental questions about the purpose of learning.

Olsen's findings conflict with teachers who became teachers to help their students. Equally the school system 'wounds' creative teachers who are forced to conform to current approaches. Most classroom teachers currently feel that they have been diverted from their true educative task by the current emphasis on quantifiable improvements. No one is paying attention to the real needs of students to ensure they all develop positive learning identities; identities centred around the development of their gifts and talents. Success is solely determined on school orientated narrow 'academic' achievement.

Some of the school wounds are:

Children who leave feeling they aren't smart; that they don't have what it takes to succeed - caused by effects of testing, grading, ability grouping and streaming
Students who believe their ideas and thoughts are not valued.
Students whose talents and gifts have not been recognised or valued.
Students who have lost the joy of learning for its own sake.
Students who are risk averse to save face
Students who have developed poor attitudes and feelings of alienation or anger
Students who can no longer see connections between various learning areas.

To make things worse conversation with successful learners very rarely mention learning as a pleasure; learning driven by intrinsic motivation. Too many are stripped of their courage and nerve the very attributes all students will need to thrive in the future.

The sum result of all these wounds are a drain on schools and develop future societal problems.

I for one feel the ideas of Kirsten Olsen provide the missing reality of school - the thoughts and concerns of students.

Until school leaders start to listen to their students then little will change.

And only creative teachers -who have always listened to their students and have aways valued their talents, are in position to develop schooling as a positive experience for all.

Until real change occurs schools will continue to wound their students.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Schools can only change from within -and by networking with others.

A photo from the beginning of an exciting class study developed with the class by Deborah, a creative teacher. It is to such teachers we should look towards for inspiration not 'experts' from outside the school. Principals need to value such individuals and link them with other such teachers in other schools. Real change emerges from the 'inside out' not top down as is the current model.

For almost three decades schools have been bombarded by change initiatives from outside the school 'led' by 'experts' who have no experience of what they are talking about.

It is time school leaders worked out it is over to them ( if they are leaders!) to develop their own change model - led from the 'inside out'.

Current change model have made little difference to the quality of teaching and learning - if anything they have made things worse by undermining the professionalism of teachers.

Time for a change of approach - a more positive conception of change.

The world as changed dramatically the past decades but school structures and systems have changed little. If anything school systems cling to approaches that are well past there 'use by date'. Current 'standardized' approaches just eat up valuable energy and time to little effect.

Schools reflect a past age. Timetables.Bells. Fragmentation. Sorting. School features remain largely embedded with ideas and practices from the industrial revolution - of 19th and early 20th century factories.

Schools need to embrace a new model of change, one that resists current top down standardisation. In our schools students still look to the teacher for their learning and students are seen as raw materials by teachers to teach and assess. Students do what others ask of them and, more often than not, see little relevance in what they are asked to learn and be assessed on.

It is time for schools to move beyond such idea and to ensure all their students become 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge' as it states in the revised New Zealand Curriculum. Learning constructed from the 'inside out'. This is how students now learn in the real world using modern information technology.

A new future change model is required for education.

We now appreciate students exhibit a great variety of emotions, interests, abilities and ways of learning even if schools don't. Such variety makes nonsense of our age graded classrooms. Streaming and ability grouping to solve such diversity are techniques of a past age. Personalisation of learning is now a necessity. Mass education , the dream of the past, is now a nightmare for too many students. Learning is more a moving target than a teacher planned event. The transmission model is not up to such diversity. Students learn best around real problems using appropriate disciplines as required.

Teachers need to spend time listening to their students to find out what students bring with them to any learning situation. All too often current teachers are unaware of what is going on in their students minds and do not encourage them to express what they already know and what they might like to learn about.

In the real world student will have to know how to learn, where to find what they want to know, and how to use their innate talents to their advantage - students who are adaptable and who see learning as a continual life long process. As writer Daniel Pink says 'they will need brand new minds' for this new creative age. The future will belong to the very opposite of the students traditional schools now produce.

And this gets back to seeing schools as centres of their own self renewal or growth and not simply complying to outside advice. Schools that 'grow' and not stuck in improving the past or complying to outside impositions.

In the past people looked to others to help them and now today there is an industry of such people - people who ironically are making things worse by trying to replicate and transfer ideas from outside sources as if schools can simply adopt them irrespective of the individual settings of each school. Another failing 'one size fits all' transmission approach. Ideas cannot be simply transferred or replicated; they must come from within; they must grow and develop in their own ways.

It is inside energy not outside expertise that needs to be tapped. Inside energy needs to begin the transmission process.

Creative teachers and schools are the key to future change. And networking. Good idea will spread and change like a benign virus. Energy comes from the inventiveness from within, from belief in their own abilities, and to do this schools need to be free to create and and invent and to share and collaborate.

So far schools have not taken such initiatives.

Leadership is lacking. Inside energy and knowledge is not being tapped. The people closest to the problem of renewal are being ignored while simplistic linear one dimensional approaches are ( such as National Standards) still being pushed on schools.

Conditions for school renewal are:

Those who work in the schools ought to be responsible for creative reinvention of education. Change must be site based and it must emerge from innovative classroom ideas.

Teachers at each school need to come together and think about how they could ensure all students learn to be 'seekers, users and creators' and to discuss ideas that work, what might work and what needs to be changed. Who are the idea generators in the school? Staff meeting ought to developed as a means for dialogue and sharing practices. Teachers beliefs need to be made transparent and where necessary challenged. Through such dialogue a shred reality is developed and a common understandings developed.

It is useful to make use of an 'outsider' to works with teachers to help them make inside knowledge clearer and to help them share their ideas - not to solve problems or provide 'expert advice'. Such people ask questions, seek understanding and ideas behind teachers actions. They encourage reflection, new ways of thinking and assist with mutual participation.They act as a 'modern' teacher helping students 'seek, use and create their own knowledge'. They work alongside teachers and build mutual trust.

This is a approach that relies on trusting teachers and requires teachers to make their own choices. All teachers must agree to participate - this is not just another idea being imposed on schools. All assistance must be seen as a partnerships.

It is a democratic approach that embraces the power of individuals to act collectively in their own setting.

It is an approach that challenges long standing practices and structures of schools that have their genesis in past industrial age 'factory' schools.

It is not more of the same. It is a model that is congruent with the world students will enter.

It is a model that values creativity, imagination and self realisation; a model that is based on tackling novel challenges instead of solving problems of a failing system.

It is a model that hold the greatest promise for creating schools that reflect modern ideas about how individuals and organisations learn. School by school, as ideas spread , the education system will evolve into an organisations suited for changing times - schools able to develop new minds for a new millennium.

Now all we need is leadership.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Poster Schools and Principals

We need more black sheep leaders prepared to make their own tracks into the future not ones meekly following a standardized pathway.

Kelvin Smythe's last posting is too important to post only once so here it is again .

But first a few words:

It has aways been a concern of mine that over the past decades, for all the leadership courses, there seem to be so few true leaders prepared to stick their necks out. Plenty of compliant managers getting on with doing the wrong things right. A phrase that was used few years ago was that our schools have been 'over managed and under led' still holds true.

The trouble is leadership is something that arises due to a combination of timing, need and personal courage. In war time leaders arise like General Montgomery in the desert, Wingate in Malaya, and US General Patton. Ironically as soon as peacetime comes along such individuals are replaced by more conventional 'leaders'. Churchill, one of the great leaders was ignored until the Second World War started ( and dropped the election after!). Leaders lead by example and not by rule books. One of the greatest was Ernest Shackleton -an man of his word.

It was Patton who once said. 'If everybody is thinking alike then no one is thinking'.

Susan Anthony, American woman's rights activist (1820), said, 'Cautious careful people aways casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never bring about reform'. That quote fits far too many New Zealand principals.

Read Kelvins posting. It seems that we have a number of collaborators, or quislings, in our schools - 'Judas sheep' acting as 'posters' for others to follow.

Read what Kelvin wrote:

Poster schools and principals

One of the sad things about education controversies between governments and schools is the use and promotion by governments, for propaganda and ideological reinforcement, of poster schools and principals. Like all matters in education none are simple but, like most matters in education, they do become more comprehensible and realistic if, first, everyone accepts that nothing in education is simple, thereby accepting the valuing of difference and variety, and, second, looks to the wider context and accepts that what might seem relatively simple from a narrow perspective becomes much less so from a wider one.

Take, for instance, the poster principals for national standards. These principals, by definition, favour a solid regime of testing in literacy and numeracy. They also use such a regime as a driver of their schools, as a selling point in the education market, and as central to their philosophy. I’m not too struck on such a regime occupying such a place, but because I value difference and variety in education and the accompanying free interaction of ideas and philosophies, I say that should be their right.

Then along comes the government and says that such a solid regime in literacy and numeracy must be undertaken by all schools, and in the approved way.

At this stage, I would expect that a fair-minded principal of a school with the kind of testing regime referred to above, one with a feeling for social democratic ideals, an understanding of how education change best occurs, would say, such a regime suits my personality and philosophy, but I know it won’t suit all principals’ personalities or philosophies; neither is the uniformity or degree of government interference in the running of schools good for education; as a result, though I’m in favour of standards set by a solid regime of testing, I am adamantly opposed to national standards.

The important thing to note here is that some of the leading opponents of national standards do, indeed, undertake a solid testing regime in literacy and numeracy, though not to the extent of allowing it to define their schools or their curriculum. But what these principals recognise is that there is a world of difference between a systematic testing regime decided by schools for themselves, and a centrally devised, bureaucratically imposed, one imposed from the centre, with high stakes’ assessment an inevitable part of the mix.

Then there is the crucial wider context. Underlying the promotion of national standards is a destructive metaphor – the pyramid. The idea being that before children can reach the apex of being imaginative and creative in their learning they need to have spent years on building the base. In other words, children are put through years of routine, highly controlled learning before lively, challenging learning can occur. Why then should we be surprised that when children reach secondary school many of them have lost interest in learning; that they have become so accustomed to such controlled learning – that they reject any other kind.

A paradox about the current campaign for national standards, with its declared purpose of preparing children better for NCEA, is it will prepare children worse. The main reason a significant group of children, especially boys, fail to succeed at NCEA is not because of a lack of learning skills, but a lack of learning interest. They just don’t care a damn and haven’t cared for some time.

The wider context of learning, in relation to national standards, demands attention. I know the metaphor of a pyramid with the attention to the skills’ base is initially compelling, which is why it has been easy to sell to governments looking for simplistic answers in education, and for governments to sell to voters. I know I should propose here a contrasting metaphor but, while I can describe the contrasting teaching and learning process, I haven’t decided on a metaphor to fit, perhaps I will have by the end of this posting, perhaps a reader will make a suggestion.

There can be no question that imaginative and creative teaching and learning in schools is diminishing. If there is one thing all educationists agree on is that under a national standards’ regime the wider curriculum, and the richness of the curriculum, suffers. And it is suffering already in New Zealand schools: suffering from the time allocated; the quality of the wider curriculum programme; the sweeping away of the advisory support for the wider curriculum (ministry-based professional support is focused on ministry demands not children’s needs); and a marked sameness in the way schools function.

I am talking about reality and of direction.

Readers, I hope will give me leeway in my claims to some understanding in social studies (my feeling for approach, for instance), science (my writing of much of the Science Alive series, for instance), written language and drama (my writings and taking of courses), and my championing of the arts (for understanding and guidance, though, I rely on key ex-advisory people). As well, I still go into classrooms in an official and private capacity. To preface what I want to say in this manner is, I know, somewhat pathetic, but it is a measure of my desperation.

What is happening in these areas can be described as constituting a very low challenge to the imagination or encouragement to originality. The use of computers in social studies and science is disguising that what is happening is little more than old-style projects in a digital make-over. The following of the enquiry process is disguising that no genuine enquiry is occurring and little prospect of transformational learning. (See John Faire’s posting, ‘Report on e-learning programmes of enquiry’ in which he researched a number of schools.) Written language has become caught up with teaching progressions to objectives rather than holistic processes to criteria. Drama is virtually non-existent and art is being much undertaken but, in the absence of advisory stimulus, very much in a rut, a showy rut but nevertheless a rut.

Mathematics is in a somewhat different situation from the rest of the curriculum. The numeracy programme was more successful than the literacy one: partly because there was more ground to make up in numeracy, and partly because the programme used by the advisers was more holistic. The situation now with mathematics is that I go into schools and find that there are children raring to go, but bewildered (birds returning to a missing nest, a pub with no beer) because things have stalled. The stimulus from advisers to teachers to continue has been taken away to finance national standards with the ostensible purpose of improving national standards in numeracy. Put another way, money has been taken away from teaching and learning for the assessment of it at the expense of the teaching of what is to be assessed and the learning that results.

The key point I want to make is that imaginative and creative learning should not be made to wait, a la the pyramid base, until certain skills (often called ‘basic’ but I don’t use this term because it is pointing to the pyramid metaphor) have been learnt – but that the whole host of skills, attitudes, and understandings (far beyond those described as ‘basic) should be learnt together in a stimulating context – to the benefit of those certain skills but also to the benefit of those wider attitudes and understandings.

Any concept from any curriculum area, employing the full range of skills, attitudes, and understandings, can be taught to any age group, to the advantage of those certain skills, as well as those attitudes and understandings.

I make the challenge to any school that doesn’t believe that, can’t accept that – that I will come to your school and prove it in social studies.

So that’s my key point to poster schools and principals: by all means use what should be your right of choice – to run your school in any way you think appropriate, but be careful in the way your exercise your choice that it isn’t picked up by the government and used to help impose national standards, leading to an inevitable narrowing of the curriculum, a dismantling of a genuine and free-thinking advisory support, increased centralised control, and a reduction in genuine local control by schools. All the research evidence points to imagination and creativity coming from local initiatives exercised within a light regulatory framework. When I talk to Southland principals next month, it is the nature of just such a regulatory framework that we will be discussing. I will be reporting back via a posting just what they have to say. Meanwhile, poster schools and principals, tread carefully lest you tread on the dreams of others. I believe it is called professional ethics

Monday, February 14, 2011

Inspired Impact Keynote (and workshops)

A number of people have asked for copies of my keynote PowerPoint 'A view From the Edge' and my two workshops PowerPoints presented at the recent highly successful Inspired Impact Conference attended by 1400 teachers.

I have reduced them down to the key slides for each and they are now available for viewing or downloading. One idea is to download and the edit yourself down to key slides.

Keynote: 'A View from the Edge'

Workshop One: 'The Art of Teaching'

Workshop Two : 'The Craft Of Teaching'

I would be interested in your comments

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Mavericks - our only hope!

Since Tomorrows Schools of the 80s we have relied on distant experts and, worse still, politicians to determine what goes on in our classrooms.We seem to have lost more than we have gained. And most of all we have lost the insight of creative teachers past and present. And no one trusts Ministry experts.

As I was gathering material to write an article ( on the importance of the arts) it brought to my attention the importance of creative individual in any areas of human endeavour.

And as well, by gathering up resource material, it also made me reflect on the creative process - a very messy one indeed. Not a process liked by the technocrats who like to define and measure predetermined progress.

The creative process begins with some kind of vision of the finished product but whatever eventuates might, or might not, resemble the original vision. This is the essence of creativity -being open to opportunities as they arise but aways keeping the end( more or less) in mind.

And it is this creativity that we need if we are to thrive In the future.

Currently we are heading in the wrong direction with the imposition of standardisation, the current surveillance culture, and an obsessive testing of what can be tested. Most schools are in an educational no mans land unsure in what direction they should take. In such confusing and ambiguous times it is time for mavericks to be valued. Or rather for mavericks to do what they do best!

Does your school benefit from the talents and energy of the 'maverick' or does it seek to restrain them?. The following is based on material written by Pat Heenan of the Centre for Leadership Excellence , Education Queensland 2000 that I found in my search for my article on the importance of the arts .

New Zealand was settled by courageous creative Polynesian and European adventurers prepared to risk all for success in an unknown world. Not for then complying to bureaucrats sitting at their desks or self interested populist politicians.

It was anthropologist Margaret Mead who said that every new idea was started by a small group of committed people. Or as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, 'Every reform was once a private opinion.'

Look around your school. Who are the teachers doing great stuff that seems different from what is expected?

They may be doing great things but they may not get on so well with their more conformist colleagues and team leaders. Such people may be genuine mavericks able to make a greater contribution if treated differently.

It was pioneer creative teacher Sylvia Ashton Warner who was believed to have said , 'you can tell the creative teacher he , or she, is the one lying dead in the corridor with an arrow in their back fired by one of their fellow teachers'.

Maybe the problem is with the team culture that has become so dominant in schools these days?

It does seem that the intent of such a team culture is for every staff member to be fashioned into 'good' team player leaving little room for individuality. As some schools say 'there is no I in team'. Under such conditions mavericks are forced to conform and the benefits of their thinking ignored. And to make things worse such mavericks can become subversive.

Patriarchal, or matriarchal, leadership combined with oppressive teamwork ( backed up endless testing) are powerful combinations. All very well if all involved have helped construct, or have bought into, the vision and values of the schools - values that ought to value individuality and creativity.

In such top down environments it is all but impossible for teachers to be really creative. Everything is based on improving the status quo.

As we enter what some are calling a 'Second Renaissance' , or 'Age of Ideas' such a conformist environment is counter-productive. The past will no longer prepare us for an unpredictable future. It seems schools really dislike change - or learning - forgetting that real learning, or change, is aways at first disruptive.

It seems we are frightened to take big steps even while we know things simply not working and current remedies simply compound the problem - National Standards come to mind.

We need schools to take a creative stance and to value new ideas, ideas that come from any source.As ideas emerge trying things out and then keeping what works. Tapping into creative individuals are the key.

The challenge is for school leadership, and for team structures, to work with the way mavericks think. A kind of liberation leadership; a concept that applies to team leaders and teachers alike.

Liberation leaders need to identify the people who can challenge the status quo and who are able to devise original and creative solutions. Such leadership can liberate such people to do their best work and for such people to still be accountable within the agreed beliefs of the school. Mavericks will work with leaders they respect and within values they believe in.

Unfortunately most organisations find it hard to absorb the ideas of mavericks.

Here are a few ideas to help:

Stop excessive team building ( which can morph into group think) and put the 'I' back into team. Teams work best with different points of view.

Start tapping into the exciting the idea of mavericks and stop forcing them to conform. Let them know they are a way ahead of their time!

Stop creating conditions that stifle maverick's creativity and start developing an environment that nurtures mavericks and stimulates creativity.

Don't give the maverick too much freedom - encourage them to work within agreed boundaries however how liberal. Integrate their successful ideas into the school.

Protect your mavericks - let then know they are special. Reward them with more freedom. Start appointing/promoting people who demonstrate the characteristics of the maverick.

This is not an argument against teams - creative teamwork is vital. Nor is it an argument for rampant individualism. There is a need to fuse creative , often difficult, individuals with team requirements. It will always be a creative balancing act. Now and then individual will know better than teams! So don't overdo teams.

Stuffing mavericks into boxes will never work. It will stunt their creativity, develop them as potential wreckers, and schools will suffer for lack of their innovative ideas.

It is all a bit of a paradox.Capturing the talent, imagination,spirit and vitality of mavericks while at the same time still maximising the benefits of team building.
Leadership is the ultimate form of creativity at any level.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Sir Ken Robinson - amazing clip

On the 26/27 of January I gave a keynote address to the 2011 Inspired Impact Conference organised by Ross Kennedy Principal of College Street Normal school Palmerston North. Over1400 educators attended.

The major draw-card was to be creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson but, at the last moment, Ross was informed Sir Ken could not attend due to Sir Ken having had a heart attack. After the shock Ross arranged for Sir Ken to appear as if live through satellite link up. It was, perhaps, better than real life as sir Ken was screened onto two large screens and was able to take questions from the floor.

Click on the video link to get an idea of Sir Ken's message. Admire the cartoon graphics that run as Sir Ken is talking. And, if you have time, take a look at others in the series particularly the one by Dan Pink.

Sir Ken's theme of developing a new creative education system was followed up by the other keynote speakers including myself -I am a huge Sir Ken fan.

Quotable quotes:

"The present time is the most stimulating period in the history of the earth and our children are distracted by boring stuff. " [Sir Ken Robinson]

"We are alienating millions of our youth who see no purpose in going to school." [Sir Ken]

"We have to go in opposition to standardisation which is systematically destroying the capacity for cognitive development." [Sir Ken]

Why our current conservative government prefers to go back to the standardisation of a failing Industrial Age is beyond me.

Principals ought to share this link with all parents but, in particular, BOT members.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

A lesson around Waitangi Day.

A wise teacher should take advantage of important events in New Zealand history such as the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

As the celebration comes early in the year it is a good opportunity to introduce the students to how they will be expected to learn in the class; how to work together to develop critical thinking; how to value their own ideas; how to deepen their understandings and how to apply lessons learnt to their own class.

The message teachers need to give is that in all learning students need to follow up their own questions, to learn how to make use of whatever resources are available and, as a result of their efforts, to gain a deeper understanding.

Such a study could begin before the day and conclude the days following.

The first thing is to ask the students what important New Zealand event is happening over the weekend? Some students will be aware of the Treaty.

When the Treaty is in their minds the next thing is to ask them what they know about the Treaty.

This can be done individually, in small groups ( that could report their combined ideas back to the class) or done as a whole class discussion (with the teacher writing up their thoughts).

From such activities the teacher can then help the class write up all their 'prior' knowledge , misunderstandings included. Older students could write out their own 'prior' ideas - when such ideas are read by the teacher the range of understandings will be apparent.

At this stage teachers need to introduce some resource material for the students to study - most schools have facsimile copies of the Treaty to display and there is a range of pictorial and written resources that can be studied as part of the literacy programme as guided reading. A map of Northland would valuable to introduce focusing on the Bay of Islands. A chronological time line of events might be drawn up to clarify the happening before and during the signing. This is the time for some old fashioned teaching about the facts about the Treaty.

During the afternoon inquiry time the information gained from resources available can be used for students to answer key questions. Early in the year it is possibly best for teachers to help students define a small range of 'thinking' questions. Question should encourage comparisons and ask for students' opinions and feelings and not just be copied out as is often the case. It is a good idea to encourage students to list the resources they have made use of.

A range of outcomes could be negotiated with and developed by the students.

The teacher might take the opportunity for the class to develop a set of class rules and this could be written out on a suitable piece of paper to look like the original Treaty.

Students could study some of the main characters in and observers to the signing of the Treaty and write accounts from different peoples' perspectives - how such people might be feeling about the Treaty. Students would need to call on the knowledge gained during literacy time.

Junior teachers could write a 'big book' by scribing students thoughts about the Treaty.

Older students could complete a study chart, or booklet, following guidelines from the teacher.

The whole scene of signing the Treaty could be acted out with students dressed in suitable clothing ( which will involve considerable research). Students could compose some thought poems about the happenings of the day. Perhaps they could compose diary entry for the day -as no doubt people would have done ( those who could write that is).

Each student could choose an element of the signing that appeals to draw and later enlarge to paint or crayon. Once again this requires visual research and assistance from teachers to ensure the painting has some dramatic focus. In such times artists would have recorded the events by drawing - students could consider how such event would be recorded today.

To conclude the study parents might be invited to look at the work at the end of a school day or students ideas gained written out and sent home.

At the very least students could copy into their study books their prior thoughts and what they now know with suitable illustrations.

An event such as the signing of the Treaty provides an opportunity to bring history alive for the students as well as introducing ideas about how they will be expected to learn in the class

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Learning: from 'novice' to 'expert' from John Edwards

This is one of the key slides from John Edward's keynote presentation to the 1400 educators who attended the recent Inspired Impact Conference held in Palmerston North.

For principals, teachers, and their students who are beginning a new year, this particular slide has an important message -a message for anyone helping another person to learn anything.

The white horizontal line at the bottom shows the growth of a learner from 'novice', to 'beginner', to 'competent', 'proficient' and finally 'expert'.

The vertical line at left shows the appropriate basis for the level of help ( rule governed behaviour).

When anyone undertakes new learning ( including first appointment as a principal or teacher)one starts in the 'novice' position. At this point individuals need to know clearly what is expected of them and how to go about it.

As learning progresses the need for rule governed behaviour decreases as shown by the rising orange line. When the 'expert' position is realised then people are able to use their experience ( having internalised rule governed behavior). Such 'experts' are able to 'read' the context and make decisions intuitively. If I remember they have reached a personal professional knowledge (PPK).

The vital transition is from 'competent' to 'proficient' leading to becoming an 'expert'.

At this point the helper needs to pull back from providing explicit 'rule governed behaviour' otherwise people get stuck at the competence level.

This idea of 'puling back' is in line with the concept of 'scaffolding' where, as learners become effective, the 'scaffolding' is removed. If this is not done the learner becomes forever controlled by the rule governed behaviour. As learners, including teachers, develop 'competence' they need to be thrown on their own resources and encouraged to use their creativity, imagination, and intuition. For example insisting that expert teachers need to provide detailed lesson plans actually decreases such teachers effectiveness. In classes over use of teacher assistance leads to all students work looking the same.

As one old principal once told me it is possible to help people to death - others call it 'learned helplessness'. This,I believe, occurs all too frequently in our current surveillance culture and over planned classrooms. We need to give all learners space to be creative.

The time required to progress from 'novice' to 'expert' will depend on the situation and what is to be learnt.

The progression from a novice to an expert performer in such a complex situation as teaching some say is a 'journey of a thousand days'. Others have written it requires 10000 hours. We need to think, depending on the entry ability of the individual, of a three year progression to become an 'expert' teacher.

In a class the 'journey' will take from term one to four for most students and, in my experience, well over six terms for some. This is one reason why I favour 'family' or mixed aged classes.

For a classroom teacher it means not to be frightened to provide students with all the help they need at the beginning of the year ( or any learning experience) but to keep in mind that the vision ought to be to develop 'confident independent life long learners' equipped with skills and attitudes ( 'key competencies') to become 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.

The artistry of the teacher is to judge when to assist and when to trust the learner to strike out on their own.

This liberation of the learner is the real challenge of a creative teacher. Unfortunately too many teachers( and learners) never progress beyond the competence level.

Thanks John for sharing the model. Good advice.