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.


Unknown said...

Yes! Very well put Bruce - I hope people are hearing.


Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Tony.Hearing is one thing but only the doing counts.

Mrs. Sheldon said...

Thank you for "hitting the nail on the head" in regards to education reform. It makes so much sense, I don't know how our leaders can ignore it?

Andrew jordon said...

Inspiring reading thanks
We have been trying to get this "inside out" approach going at my school in northern England and you can really feel the momentum gathering

Bruce Hammonds said...

The trouble is Mrs Sheldon and Andrew there are few if any leaders willing to lead outside of their own school. real chge needs a an inspiring sense of direction to give all courage to act. And while there is this leadership vacuum things just carry on as they are or, worse still, the agencies outside the school take further control.

I would call few school principals leaders. Managers of imposed change ( or compliers) more than leaders with a belief in a better educational world based on uncovering every students talent and creativity.

I live in faint hope that a true leader lies in waiting - educations Churchill, Mandela, Gandhi or Martin Luther King.