Saturday, March 26, 2011

Towards a creative school.

It is sad to see schools happily 'driving into the future using their rear vision mirrors'. Just as our students are entering a world beyond our comprehension we are busy ensuring they will be able to cope with a past age. There is more than a whiff of Victorian three Rs around our schools as teachers focus on testing children in what are considered the two areas of concern literacy and numeracy. All this conformist formulaic 'one size fits all' teaching is leading us back to the standardisation of Henry Ford who one said, 'you can any colour you like as long as it is black'.

It was great to be asked to talk to teachers and parent of a local school about the purpose of education for the next decades.

There is no doubt that things have taken a turn for the worse since the introduction of the idea of National Standards. Not that I thought that things were that great anyway as, since the 1990s, the agenda for education has been in the hands of centralist technocrats. The introduction of the 2007 'revised' National Curriculum with it's enlightened vision of students as 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge' was but a brief burst of fresh air soon to be overwhelmed by populist surveillance political agendas of a new government.

And most principals seem happy to 'go along to get a long' - or worse still can't see any real problem with National Standards. And few principals have been known for creative educational leadership. As it was once said, 'schools are over managed and under led'.

Andy Hargreaves has written that , 'principals are to busy complying with time greedy tasks that exhaust and demoralise them leaving no time for creativity and imagination'.Not that creativity and imagination were ever attributes of most principals I have known and they are not on the criteria for successful principals today. Hargreaves continues, 'teachers are suffering from eroded autonomy, lost creativity, and a constrained ability to exert professional judgement.'

Teachers who really believe in creativity understand that their job is to help students learn for themselves - to keep alive their innate desire to make sense of their experiences and the need to express what they find out in a variety of ways. Creative principals need to create the conditions to allow teacher creativity and to network with other like minded principals.

Creative principals and teachers understand, as the 2007 National Curriculum system says, that 'intellectual curiosity is at the heart of knowing'.

The creative educators role is to be a subtle learning coach .Jerome Bruner says the the true educators task is 'the canny art of intellectual temptation'. Schools seem to have forgotten that nothing is more powerful than the learners' desire to demonstrate their talents and hear their own unique voices in what they do.

By institutionalising learning we have taken something precious from our learners. Their natural curiosity has been replaced by our curriculums. Schools are about teaching but not necessarily about intrinsic learning.

Back to my local school which has as part of its vision for their students to, 'become confident learners with the courage to seek a better world and to aspire to heights beyond the horizon'. Of course it is this desire they were born with!

The school wants to be known for 'its spirit of creativity, adventure and exploration' but they recognise they still have long way to go to achieve this.

They want their teachers to develop a 'curriculum that builds on their ( the students) innate curiosity , and the interests and talents students bring with them'. Now there is a challenge.

And they want their students to 'express their personal voice and to achieve personal excellence'.'Students who are able to reflect on their own learning, who have learnt " how to learn' to aim high, to express their creativity and to have the courage to aspire to heights beyond the horizon'.

Great stuff but first the teachers need to exemplify such vision themselves - and this is not easy in the current conformist environment.

I look forward to assisting the school in its journey towards creativity for both teachers and students.

They have made a start.

There is a lot of unlearning to do!


Anonymous said...

I must say I agree with what you are saying but still hoping principals and teachers ( and the wider community) will eventually see and act to confront the conservative and demeaning practices that schools are being asked to comply with.

I liked the message of the school you were working with - let's hope they succeed.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I too am hoping that principals will take up a leadership role - in three directions:

1 To create the conditions to allow their teachers to be leaders and to share their ideas within the school rather than always complying to outside advice- many who have never been near a classroom in recent years.

2 To network with other principals to share their teachers' expertise.

3 For those few creative principals to take a leadership role within their principal groups to give others the courage to be creative.

Most leadership groups simply reinforce conformity, or a conservative stance and, as a result, potential creative principals keep their views to themselves.

I only know of one group of creative principals who network with themselves across New Zealand.

I do know that in earlier days real innovative idea came from creative teachers ( not principals but there were teaching principals) who shared their ideas, and ideas of educators, with each other.

Allan Alach said...

I'd like to see more risk taking from teachers, actually. The pressures of work/compliance/collection of 'data"/fear of change seems to be forcing teachers into a 'play safe' mode. Suggesting/encouraging change amongst teachers can be a fraught business and collective backs go up very fast. Maybe its my aging memory, but it seems to me that I don't see that WOW factor in classrooms anywhere near as much as I used to. I tried to encourage our year 5 & 6 teachers to throw their planning out the door, when the Japanese earthquake and tsunami hit, and to run an impromptu study around this, driven by children's questions and interest. The result..... do you need to ask? Our vision is very clear; teachers are well aware of it, having been fully involved at all stages of its development. Are they experimenting with the possibilities? Are they taking risks? Are they being creative and innovative? Some are, yes, but generally, not to the extent we'd hoped for.
I do, however, agree with your perceptions of principals. Another colleague and I are finding the same thing, that by and large, principals aren't sufficiently up with the play to see what is happening and the threats looming rapidly on the road on front. Maybe, to use your analogy, there's too much looking in the mirror, both to see what's behind, and also to check on their makeup - does everything "look good"?

Bruce Hammonds said...

Alan I know you are up with the play but how many other principals keep up with progressive educational writing/ websites etc? I guess most teachers and principals are in the same boat -moving to the beat of someone else's drum. Doing what is expected of them. And you are right that "wow" factor is missing in many classrooms. Just not the time - too busy complying to other demands.

Unknown said...

Hey Bruce! Love to talk to you about the new stuff (old stuff) we are trying to do. Loving teaching my 'creative and divergent thinkers' group two days a week. They don't know they are called that though...they are just Ms French's group! It has been lots of pop in....