Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Where has that Aussie confidence gone from their teachers -and a look at where New Zealand is about to go!

A little bit of Ned Kelly spirit is required to combat the technocrats in charge in Aussie (and now in New Zealand).

Guest blog by Phil Cullen
Ex Director Primary Education Queensland.

Check out Phil's website.


The year of Orwell and  the introduction of Orwellism has been delayed.

 In the 1950s when we first read about a future manipulated, dysfunctional society, 1984 seemed to be so far away. ‘1984’ didn’t happen when it should have. Society was fairly comfortable in 1984, except for Queensland. The leader there had been appointed by divine authority, he had suggested; and made some curious judgements about schooling on moral grounds.
None could even imagine, then, a future where the country was run by a focussed control-pedant , who preferred to rule by fear-based, heavy-handed distrust and make decisions about  schooling just to illustrate his/her authoritative control. 
By the 1960s, the western world was on the cusp of creating a school culture of learning that would have had no equal in history. These years produced the greatest thinkers and writers of the 20th century; and teachers of the time, straining to shatter the shackles of colonial styles of teaching-learning were about to break loose. They read and they observed and they talked and they listened and they shared. The mood of the late sixties and seventies with its Deweys, Goodlads, Bassetts, Parrys, Postmann & Weingartners, Holts, Plowdens, Cleggs...such a long list of child-oriented scholars and writers...was one of hope
Every state Australian state bureaucracy appointed visionaries to important positions [e.g. Guymer in Q’ld, Swan in NSW, Jones in S.A., Shears in Vic., Beare in ACT] irrespective of the local political power base. Schooling was on the up and up - despite one or two attacks [e.g Back to Basics, M:ACOS] that the press enjoyed featuring.
The dystopic political arrangements for an Orwell-1984-style-Australia were put on hold for a quarter-of-a-century. It was destined to happen as soon as despotic managerialists and measurers introduced euphemisms as articles of faith [e.g. ‘outsource’ = don’t trust your own; ‘down-size’= sack those you fear] circa 1990. The public learned to tolerate this inconsistent square-peg  ruddism [in Q‘ld. in particular] without dissent; and ‘orewellism’ entered the language as a suitable descriptor for what eventually happened in 2009. Big Brother showed himself.
Turn back to the real 1984.
 The year itself, might have been considered a fizzer for those who had trusted  George Orwell’s predictions, but child-oriented schooling itself was well under way and schools were happily optimistic at that time. Big Brothers were not necessary. Teachers believed in themselves. They felt proud of what they were doing.
I could open a Principals Conference in 1984 by sayingThere is no task so demanding, no occupation [apart from that of religious minister or priest] so ethically professional than that of a primary or secondary teacher. Its impact on the welfare of the world, the care for people as people, the influence that it has on the achievements of each person and subsequently of each nation places the profession as something apart from all other occupations. It is concerned about a nation’s most precious commodity and its richest resource – children. It is a self-monitoring, self-improving profession ...and it is in this context that we have foregathered. We hope to make a determined and realistic commitment to enlivening classroom practices because they are the base-line of what we are all on about.”
The conference was about ‘Excellence in Teaching’. Attenders talked about teaching and learning and on how to improve both.  They could say that and do that in 1984 and believe in solid, immovable professional ethics. No jumped-up politician, lawyer or sciolist would dare to tell teachers what to do and how to do it. The force felt solidly professional from top to bottom and remained so until 1990 or thereabouts.
We can’t make those sort of statements that I made, anymore. The political Darleks, ‘utterly without pity, compassion or remorse with every emotion removed except hate’ have moved in. Professional schooling principles have backed off.
A 2011 national conference for principals [that I ‘attended’ on-line] was about improving scores on national blanket tests. Schooling by numbers. Pupil welfare and progress did not get much of a mention. Ethics had travelled a long way .
It was another sign that Orwellism was well entrenched. It had twenty-five years to arrive and it had infected all parts quickly.
What is orwellism? 
 Described as oligarchical dictatorship,  based on a nonsensical, peculiar thought process that manipulates social structures on behalf of the most powerful,  participants can indulge in double-thinking by holding two contradictory beliefs and believing in both. Teachers can believe in freedom to learn and use fear-driven practice techniques to prepare for Big Brother’s NAPLAN tests.
Thus, by embracing inconsistent concepts, school principals can acquiesce to the decadent political view that low test scores indicate poor teaching and shabbily-run schools; and their professional conscience won't worry them. Professionally neutered, they are unable to dissent from or offer ethical advice to political masters. The work-force generally is on the same wave-length. The school-tardy, both pupils and teachers,  must be punished; and all adults generally subscribe to this notion.
With ethical principles in suspension through political mandate, this further entrenches the style of Orwellian oligarchical dictatorship that decries individuality and teaching ethics.
Teachers are told what to do and what to think. School leaders acquiesce as it is easier to do do so. Double-think prevails. True-blue professional codes are trashed with organizational approval. The sycophants feel even more secure and comfortable; and the ultimate victims are not taken into account at any stage. .
Whereas politicians kept out of –perhaps avoided -  serious curriculum considerations in the real 1984, there has been a change of social climate since then. As George O himself said in the other ‘1984’, “ In our age, there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’ ; and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasion, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”  So its welcome to that sort of world for all 2011 school personnel and clients. 
Teachers probably sense the outrageously camouflaged intentions of our fat controllers, but cannot do anything about it. If the playing field was level, their organizations would be able to say to Her Overbearance, “We won't give your tests to our pupils.  We love them and want them to learn. It is unworthy of you to ask us to do so and a serious breach of schooling ethics.”
The field is very steep. The ball gets away from you if you don’t try to stop it. Orwellism is in full swing in dystopic Australia

Monday, November 28, 2011

Now the elections are over time to think of the 'big picture' - only the Greens had real focus on sustainablity!

The earth's climate was changed dramatically by a meteor in dinosaur times, and of course over time there are natural variations, but today it is humankind that is creating a crisis of its own that will effect all nations. So far world wide efforts to face up to this crisis has run up against national interests.

I have just read 'Here on Earth' by Tim Flannery ( author of the 'Future Eaters' and the 'Weather Makers' and Australian of the year in 2007) and his new book is an argument for hope.

The book is a provocative and visionary read providing solutions to the crisis facing us all.

Politics , as exemplified in our recent election, is still locked into selfish and destructive practices that place self interest about the common good - the market still rules although it is obvious world wide it's 'trickle down' theory gas failed - it is more a 'trickle up' - the rich get richer and the poor poorer. Flannery's book is  a warning about worshiping self interest if we wish to live in a fair and equitable society -a warning ignored by National voters in our recent election!

Flannery writes that there are two fundamental sentiments that decide an election - hope for the future , and fear of it. If hope prevails we elect more generous governments but if fear prevails we look inwards to a 'me first' mentality -  Darwinian 'survival of the fittest' ( or the rich). Our future depends , he writes, on which of these ideas prevail. It is worth thinking about the  self destructive fate of the Easter Islanders!

When it comes to surviving we need a sustainable 'win win'  co-evolutionary  cooperative scenario - the Greens best represent this and their followers are growing. Growth at all costs ( Nationals programme it seems)  creates pollution if only by apathy. Farmers and industry spoiling our rivers a good example - our  rivers are like canaries in coal mines. Competition and 'bottom line' rule supreme while cooperation is neglected. James Lovelock developed the Gaia theory describing the earth as a living interconnected self regulating world but , in contrast to Flannery, because of human change is pessimistic about survival of life as we know it.

Flannery's 'History of the Earth'  illustrates we just can't keep shifting our waste from one place to another and tells us that if we wish to keep our planet fit for life then the most humble and routine things we do must change.

We have escaped from co-evolutions grip  and broken free of environmental restraints that protect our fragile eco systems. Since the evolution of humans from Africa  human history has been a tale of destruction but as cultures evolve co-evolution slowly drew them into balance with the ecosystems they created. The problem is humans are evolving so quickly the fate of the environment has been forgotten in the search for growth and personal wealth. Modern humans live their lives, Flannery writes, without the slightest thought about the consequences.

Thankfully their are a growing number of people who who are beginning to realise it this understanding of relationships, rather than our technology, that will determine our fate. Flannery believes that after population the greatest obstacle in our path is lack of sustainability.

Flannery introduces the idea of people who act 'discounting' future consequences of their actions by using unwisely valuable resources and at the same time developing grinding poverty through greatly unequal societies; the rich reaping rewards while destroying other areas of the world in the process. This is a world of greed and markets of unrestrained top down systems - a selfishness that erodes common bonds and futures , and that erodes the value we place on understanding complex relationships.

Future successful countries  will embrace  business strategies with sustainable technology  and social accountability for the benefit of all - policies pushed by both the Greens and Labour in our elections. New Zealand should lead in this development not avoid this responsibility as the almost defunct ACT party was asking voters to do. And poverty should be everyone's enemy in a global world. Countries like Sweden leave New Zealand in shame when it comes to looking after their young - and in Sweden the rich do not mind paying taxes for social cohesion unlike National voters who believe in 'conspicious consumption'.

Well regulated markets build sustainable wealth - poverty is not inevitable. Flannery quotes John F Kennedy who said, 'if a free country cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich' -advice ignored in the USA and New Zealand. New generations, those  currently protesting against the rich world wide,  may develop new ways of thinking about the challenges.

Flannery envisages the day when international governance of our environment will be so complete that we will be able to avoid ecological disasters by providing adequate warnings -   worldwide environmental forecasts  to assist in sustaining life.

Flannery believes we are poised between destruction of our life supporting systems and and our ability to unite to secure our common wealth. He believes that through human history we have shown an ability to cooperate and live in successful communities by sacrificing for some individual wealth.

The climate challenge  is humankind's first test and Flannery believes we now have the technology to develop a sustainable  world. We , he writes, are just beginning to develop this planetary consciousness and if we do then, unlike the doomsayers, he believes the world will be healed and a sustainable life lifestyle established.

Flannery concludes his book saying, 'if we do not strive to love one another, and love our planet as much as we love ourselves then no further human progress is possible here on earth'.

A great read - a great Australian.

World wide politics is the future challenge.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

National's 'brighter future' doesn't include the students or their teachers!

The current National Government has ignored educators worldwide and opted for an accountants view of education turning students into products and schools into factories so as to give consumers a choice - but what a choice!

What many feared has come to pass.

Populist political simplicity has won the day!If you repeat a half truth ( one in 5 students are failing) without also factoring in the effects of poverty and poor health of  unknown in other civilised countries. One fifth of our students live in distressing poverty ( that is , of course, 1 in 5)

The Government seems to admire a McDonald's approach to education and , if they knew their history, one promulgated by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s. Joseph also believed in the pseudo science of measurement as do technocrats around the world.

Read what a young teacher wisely has written - shame many principals don't have the same insight.

‘Learn from what not to do from reform in the US’.....
said Joe Bower from Alberta, Canada quoting from “Testing, Testing’ by Larry Bool and J.C.Couture.  They maintain that the absurd elements of the absurd US reform are largely ideological....
*market-based business methods for the running of schools;
*emphasis on standardisation and narrowing of curriculum;
*fostering choice and competition among schools;
*making judgements based on test data;
*merit pay and other incentives;
*faith that technologically mediated instruction will reduce costs;
*overwhelming top-down approach which tells everyone what to do;
*holds everyone-else accountable.
For New Zealand and Australia [as well as Canada] to copy such reform elements is beyond belief - where was the professional leadership - setting tests no doubt!

And read what a  wise old Director General of Queensland Primary education has to say.

And check out this warning from a great Canadian blogger!

True science , according to Brian Cox Science Adviser to the previous Ministry of Education and Science in the UK is 'being happy with the unknown' - a search to reach for the stars.

A quote from American educationalist Glickman 2006  clearly states the scenario we are moving into in New Zealand.

' Today, measuring the accomplishments of students, teachers, and schools by standardised test scores and handing out rewards and punishments for reaching or failing to reach state and federal standards has become commonplace.

In such a climate, we typically err too much on the side of avoiding failure by relying on externally approved " research based" programmes, teaching methods, and assessments that are officially prompted by state and federal governments ( through their agencies).

What we lose in the process is imagination.Failure cannot go unchallenged, but what we have today is our own failure to imagine new possibilities and the worth of what has already worked well*. There is no tragedy in reaching for the stars and falling short; the greatest tragedy in never reaching at all.'


And from the  UK  another warning ( source NZ Herald).

'Survey slams schools.

Many British adults say they did not realise their true potential until years after they had left school. A survey of 2000  people found, on average,   they cited 22 as the age they found their niche in life.  Nearly half of those surveyed felt they  were regarded as average or poor students while they were at school. Of those, 15% said they never got the chance to discover their talent in the classroom because their teachers had written them off as failures'.

It seems to me that the challenge of 21stC schools is to ensure all the talents and skills of every individual students are realised - and, according to business philosopher Peter Drucker, the first country to develop such an education system will win the future.

Some countries like Singapore are doing just this.

 It is a shame that our government looks back to failed approaches , used by failing countries, for inspiration. And it is a shame that not many schools are developing true personalised talent based programmes.

 Most schools lost the plot years ago and now the 2007 NZ Curriculum - an antidote to previous curriculum approaches, has all but  been sidelined.

For more read Larry Cuban's blog

Friday, November 25, 2011

John Key and Mrs Tolley turn education into a McDonalds - principals will now become managers complying to franchise regulations.

Early this week National finally showed its hand about National Standards testing and 'league tables.

After months of weasel words Nationals agenda becomes painfully clear.

And on TV John Key happily blamed failing children on poor teaching - he evidently didn't see the programme shown the same week about the effects of poverty, poorly heated housing was creating for 1 in 5 children in such areas. And in housing managed by the government . Funny how the 1in 5 failing children fits the same data as Mrs Tolley's - this time the data is correct; not  simplistic political dogma spread by both Tolley and Key. I think we could correctly call it propaganda. The figures for failing children in these areas are greater than 1 in 5  due to poor housing resulting in health problems that civilised countries like Sweden have long since solved through integrated humanitarian policies. In New Zealand we still rely on the 'trickle down' theory that has failed wherever it has been tried - but the theory does save the self satisfied National voters facing up to reality. After all it is the poors own fault. All they need to get is job and all will be well - ignoring that there are no jobs to get!

Time will show John Key and Mrs Tolley to be the simplistic wreckers they are. In the meantime creative teachers will have to cope by going underground  and if the remainder can't see the problem then they will be seen as complying with the destruction of an education system once held in high esteem  by educators ( if not politicians and technocrats) around the world.

Principals who meekly went along with National Standards  will be seen as Judas Sheep or the Vichy ( who worked with the Germans) in France. Too few principals had the courage to stand up to such destructive polices and too few got together to make  a  group stand - I can only think of one group who did so led by Perry Rush. NZEI and NZPPF opposition was in itself not enough to make it clear to teachers and principals the need for action. 

To get an idea of what is about to rain on their heads teachers and principals need to read the Joe Stalin's approach to education and also click the  to Kelvin Smythe uncovering of the future agenda before it was announced.

Probably the best metaphor for the future direction of education is a comparison with McDonalds- and Ronald their clone like icon.

McDonalds is all about efficiency and standards - and each franchise can easily be reported on and help from the central office sent if necessary or the franchise removed.

Now I don't mind the odd McDonalds meal when in a hurry but as a diet it results in poor health. The biggest difference between a school and MacDonalds  will be that McDonald only takes in standardised potatoes and meat. Schools will have to take whichever students turn up -although students attending high decile schools, of course, will have the advantage of their parents 'social capital'. And the rich will simply avoid going to McDonalds school as they do now.

The McDonald story is quite interesting. By the 1950s one company was responsible for the the change in the American diet as fast food became the craze. One little restaurant in California sold more than any other in America. This was run by two brothers  - the McDonalds. The brothers were a success and opened others unfortunately for them they didn't like flying and Ray Croc bought the business and sold franchise  throughout America -  and the world. Standardised food had arrived.

The McDonald brothers originally started with a vision. They got rid of all the china, silverware and waitresses and reopened with customers coming to collect their own food - and they cut their menu to seven items. Customers only could specify the meal they wanted -  McDonald's became a success.

Every thing was standardised. The process was made into an assembly line. Kroc was obsessive that everything should be followed exactly -even down to the bun having 178 sesame seeds!

This all led a culture that was successful but dazzlingly unsympathetic to innovation; the formula worked.  A fifth of all meals eaten in the USA eaten in a McDonalds. This might account for obesity problems!

And if you think of it this can all be applied to schools.

The Ministry will determine the educational standards and 'best practice' processes to be followed.

Schools will report to the Ministry and the Ministry will ( Kroc like ) ensure any diversions from the standards are sorted out, or schools will be 'helped' by Ministry 'officials' - 'we are here to help you'.

Schools  will have to comply and to achieve fidelity to Ministry goals they will inevitably  cut back on areas of the curriculum not tested. As much as Mrs Tolley says this will not happen it has already has happened in the UK and the US.

Ministry 'helpers' will be  contracted to assist in the designated targeted standardised areas. ERO will complement the surveillance culture.

It will be  all about accountability, measurement, targets, efficiency and recorded progress -and sticks and carrots.

Innovation, diversity and creativity  -once the hallmark of our highly regarded system will go out the window.

Tough times for the creative.

No need for leadership ( what little there was) the future will be all about management.

I am pleased  I am out of it!

Only Ronald McDonalds (teachers, principals and students) will thrive -  the  different, the creative, and  those from different cultures will all be forced into a Procrustean curriculum bed  with only three slats - reading, writing and arithmetic.

We will have returned to Victorian days just as we need to encourage all the creativity and talent we can.

At least our future failure will be documented!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Are we losing interest based teaching?

Seven and eight year old children study Fuchsias.

I have been busy cleaning out all the students work I have kept over the years - one teacher Bill Guild left me an amazing collection of research work, language and art.
I used to take selections of this work to show schools but I got the impression they thought it all beyond their own students ( 'students are different these days Bruce'). On two occasions I took work back to the schools that the work originally came from and in both cases teachers thought it was beyond their low decile students!

Teaching is about high expectations and skillful teacher interaction where teachers come alongside the learner assisting but taking care not to  do the work for the children. In this respect helping is an art form - the 'artistry' of the teacher is won through experience.

When visiting schools recently I have seen student work, some 'scaffolded', where it is hard to tell one students work from another. This applies whether it is research writing, layout of work, language and, worst of all, art.This of course is not what 'scaffolding' was meant to result in - student creativity and individuality was meant to be protected.

The Fuchsia study illustrated resulted from one teacher who had a particular fascination for fuchsias - it is amazing what individuals become fascinated in! As a result she took her students to visit a fuchsia nursery where the children were amazed by the variety of fuchsia and watched how fuchsia were propagated.All students left with a fuchsia cutting to propagate back at school.

At school students learnt about the fuchsia family ( discovering there were two native fuchsias they were unaware of), completed careful observational drawings, learnt about the structure of flowers and their role in pollination,  how to propagate plants, and wrote up notes of all they had learnt.

All very simple stuff but involving  a set of skills to be in place - how to go about observing, using water colours (and later pastels as they extended their ideas into pieces of creative work), and note taking and research writing.

It is from such experiences ( not always arising from teacher interests) that provide the means to develop creative learners and it is through such experiences student will develop their own set of personal interests - some of which may lead to a career or simply a life long interest.

The last few weeks of the year is great time for students to study aspects of their environment to demonstrate all the skills they have in place - what better form of evaluation could there be?.

One good study is  looking at the flax plant which is currently in flower.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Free market Stalinism in New Zealand Education.

Why are we following Joseph Stalin?

John Key follows Joe's Communist policy

National goes for a 'big brother' approach - we always knew they would!!!!

The critics of the previous Labour Government used to call its leadership 'Helengrad'.

Ironically, in education, the current government is moving towards what looks very much like the philosophy of Soviet Russia under Joseph Stalin.We seem to be moving away from a benign 'nanny state' to a destructive and regressive Big Brother environment in education.

If schools have not read the recent posting of Kelvin Smythe they ought to do so because once the election is over they will have to face up to surveillance culture that will have long term effects on education. The innovation, freedom and creativity of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum will be at risk. Mind you this innovative curriculum was introduced under the previous Labour Government. The current government's approach is hard to align with  their so called core values  of  innovation, individual freedom and enterprise.

If it all comes to pass teacher professionalism will be replaced by technocratic control - compliance, not creativity, will be the new tune  to dance to.

Kelvin Smythe writes:

'.....we are going to have a more feral and destructive kind, New Zealand national testing. Unless you go to a private school, or a te reo school, children will be given a number, and test results will be sent monthly from classrooms for a profile to be established. There won’t be any privacy issues we’ll be assured, and in some respects they’ll be right, they’ll be ethical and moral ones. Children will know the information is being sent to the central bureaucracies and attached to a number representing them, and that the information will be stored. Is this the kind of knowledge, expectation, and experience we want our children to have? They will become well aware that the results from those monthly tense, high stakes’ tests will be sent to Wellington for that purpose.

Do you want this to be the experience for our children?'

The similaritiesies between what is being proposed in countries pursuing  a national standards agenda and 1930 Russia has been noted by American critics of national testing - and Mrs Tolley's proposal are in line with what is happenings in the US. Why we follow failing procedures from failing countries is beyond comprehension.

In the 1930s the Soviet Union was mired in a recession with poverty and unemployment rampant. The Soviet Union, under Joseph Stalin , instigated a series of educational reforms designed to obliterate the the established progressive system and to create a new centralised structure that would increase literacy and numeracy.

The similarities to what is happening in America today ( and Australia and  UK and soon NZ) are as discomforting as they are striking.

In America , despite uncertainty about what National Standards should look like and ignoring professional opinions, 48 state government have already accepted the new  standards - improved from the destructive standards previously imposed by the No Child Left Behind ( NCLB) of the Bush Administration.  States gain financial reward if they agree to take part!

Under President Obama'a Secretary of Education  Arne Duncan  the goal of the current administration is 'to establish national standards and national testing so that states, regions, schools, teachers, and students can be compared and ranked'.

This was Joseph Stalin's plan and now is Mrs Tolleys!

Before Stalin's educational reforms teaching was characterised by local control and educational polices influenced by 'pedologists' ( such as the currently highly respected in the West Lev Vygotsky) who were oriented towards a 'child centred' eduction. This approach , in contrast to imposed standardisation, is pursued by innovative countries as 'personalised learning'. It is this approach that underpins the increasingly sidelined NZ 2007 National Curriculum. The Communist party rejected 'child centred' learning in favour a standardised curriculum that featured frequent examinations, competitive  testing and  grading and a focus on the basics Sound familiar?

In America ,as a result of standardised testing/teaching and grading,  areas of the curriculum, such as the arts, physical education and areas of personal interest are being neglected. A 'procrustian' 'one size fit all' approach that ignores individual variation between students and will result in a loss of creativity. Schools are now teaching to the tests for their own survival.

Soviet teachers in the 1930s had little leeway to to veer from government edicts, and this is happening in the USA and will happen  in New Zealand. Government contracted 'advisers' will make certain of this. Few principals will have the courage to stand against such a technocratic approach. Advisers will determine 'best practices' for schools to comply with and ERO will reinforce this.

The most debilitating result of such a test regime will be  to use the narrow test results to assess the quality of learning - the national standards in literacy and numeracy will become the default curriculum.This is already being seen in the USA, the UK, Australia  and already in many New Zealand schools. Teachers in such an oppressive environment will not want to introduce students to areas of learning that will not be tested - their schools success will depend on them complying.

The whole idea of 'ivory tower educational tecnocrats' determining what standards students should know would impress Joseph Stalin! Joseph also banned fairy stories as being unscientific - imagination is not a strong point of technocrats in Russia, the USA and in the Ministry of education in New Zealand!

Why the public is blindly accepting the idea that their children's final outcomes can be standardised and preconceived  by technocrats is beyond comprehension. Mind you there are now many teachers, using teaching intentions and WALTS, who have come to believe in such an uncreative 'clone like' teaching approach. It is anti democratic and anti individualistic more suited to the goals of communism - all about discouraging creativity and individual personality personality and more towards averaging and levelling  of achievement - 'closing the gap' at all costs!

Already in America politicians are talking about firing the staff of unsuccessful schools as shown by testing under the catch call of accountability. Joseph would not hesitate! How can tests scores be compared between high and low decile schools - and do tests tell the whole story?

What is required is for educational leadership to 'fight for what is worth fighting for' to quote Fullan and Hargreaves. Remember it was Fullan who said, 'politicians always get it wrong'.

But leadership is one thing that is missing.

I wouldn't blame Russian principals for keeping their heads down but New Zealand is not yet so oppressive so there is still time.

Creative teacher ought to be valued for their enthusiasm , passion and relationships,  not just unscientific and narrow test scores. Teachers are important influences in a childs' life and  teachers know, through,experience, that many students who might struggle at school do well in life -and vice versa! And teachers know the debilitating effects of poverty on their students education success -something politicians are loath to admit.

In the 1930s Russian leaders rejected any notion of  heredity and environment in education  and that all students  ( the one in five who currently fail according to Mrs Tolley) can succeed if teachers conformed to government expectations.

While the Russian leaders extolled the  vital role of the teacher (as does Mrs Tolley) more emphasis was placed on conforming teachers to government expectation than improving the capacity of teachers to engage all students to help all students realize their full potential. In Russia teachers learnt to fear failure and to keep their heads down and toe the party line;  a lesson now being learnt in New Zealand schools!

It is not too late for real leadership in our schools!

If leadership does not emerge school principals will have to accept their role in transforming teachers into technicians. What will be seen as a  good teacher in the future will be a long way from the creativity that New Zealand teachers were once recognised worldwide for.

Education is fast becoming more about making teachers comply to government directives that helping all students realize their innate potential. Mrs Tolley and her National Party with their standards, and through  their future agenda uncovered by Kelvin Smythe, is destroying the creative fabric of education.

The Stalinisation of Soviet schools had a persuasive effect on Soviet life and  as a result Soviet schools remained largely unchanged for fifty years.

Education reforms in USA , the UK (and coming soon to New Zealand)  are leading schools to an era of measurable prescribed outcomes and deadening accountability rather than dynamic creativity - the cost is just too great.

A country in the twenty first century, an age of unpredictability, cannot afford to  lose the spirit of creativity in their students  - such dymanic creativity is the  only thing that will ensure success in the interesting and challenging years that lie ahead.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

NZ educator's voice heard in America! Well done Allan

Guest blogger Allan Alach has been under attack from a right wing blogger and the Minister of Education  for expressing his democratic right to share his views on the government's pushing it's National Standards on schools against the majority of school principals and well respected NZ educators advice.

This blog is a posting by Morna McGregor of the Baltimore Reform Examiner 8th November and shows how idea spread around the world. Standards are about  right wing corporate politics not education. And it is pleasing to see that old warrior Phil Cullen ( ex Director Primary Education) Queensland coming to his support.

I only wish more principals had the moral courage to express their views but then those involved in education are all too often under great pressure to comply.

The posting is as follows:

So I begin with a question:
When did it become acceptable to publicly attack educators dedicated to fighting for the welfare of children? Isn’t this supposed to be our charge?
Yet, with the onslaught of corporate driven education policies, educators are now coerced into tossing the welfare of children aside in order to advocate for the well being of multi billion dollars companies and the legislators who front them.  Alan Alach is a long standing educator in New Zealand who has also been an active contributing member to the United Opt Out movement . He advocated for our international outreach segment of the website. Why? Because he sees the writing on the wall . He sees the destructive nature of the educational policies being forced on educators in his own country.

 He, and New Zealand are not alone. Back here in the good ‘ol USA, his story should resonate soundly with us. Alan was “reprimanded” by the Education Ministry of New Zealand for his outspoken opposition to the standards being imposed upon students. Part of this attack was the accusation that he was using the school where he works as a "political soapbox." He is accused of spending time blogging when he should be attending to so-called day-to-day activities.
 We, the educators who advocate for opting out of high stakes testing understand that one of the key elements to bringing the public back into public education is changing the narrative that the corporate-led policy makers have so deftly co-opted. It would be negligible of Alan to act like so many others and simply stick his head in the sand. He is not writing about shoe shopping folks. He is researching and writing about education policy in an effort to advocate for his teachers and students.
 Such accusations ignore the reality that all educational work is political-to ignore the fact that the standards and common core themselves are a huge political and economic football is either na├»ve, or worse, deliberate-why is when the left speak out its political but when the right wing free- marketeers push their agenda it’s just “business as usual?” Because that’s the nature of hegemony and dominant discourse-to makes one’s agenda “invisible.” Alan’s work exposes the education reform for what it is: Politics for the rich and powerful, as usual.
We all need to follow Alan’s courageous lead and to announce loudly that the Emperor has no clothes. The high stakes testing agenda and National Common Core being rolled out across America is grounded directly in the pockets of the corporate reformers who have much to gainpolitically and financially from the implementation of these policies . Secretly behind closed doors, I hear teachers and teacher-educators alike expressing their opposition to new teacher evaluations, to new standards, to new testing policies; everything the latest reform measures have forced upon them. That’s because they see every day, on the frontlines, the negative effects these measures are having on their profession and the children they serve. But if you ask them publicly how they feel … you hear crickets. Educators are understandably afraid. Why? Look what happened to Alan. But rather than reinforcing our collective silence, we should be uniting.
 Don’t let Alan’s courage be in vain. Phil Cullen of Australia (a Member of the Order of Australia- a sort of Aussie knighthood-for services to education) writes this letter to the editor in response to the article that led the attack on Alan’s work (shown in its entirety here):
The article by Jessica Button on 4 November suggested that the education minister was displeased with the principal of Hokowhitu School for alleged injudicious remarks on a blog site.  Mr Alach is an ebullient critic of national standards. He seems to think that they constitute a confining process that constricts and lowers overall curriculum standards; and which does nothing to promote purposeful achievements in reading, writing and mathematics. As a practising school person, he is worried overall about the effects that politicking for corporate benediction has on children’s focus on learning.
Mind control of schooling and the use of officers to bring schools into line is pandemic. Mr Alach’s blog vocabulary indicates that he does not like it being used in New Zealand. Australia certainly uses forms of gestapo-ism; but I will not be called to account for saying that.  When Joh was king in Queensland and I was a state director of education, in charge of about 1200 primary schools, I was  sometimes called to account by school principals and nasty names were used. I felt aggrieved, of course. However, when at times I checked the accuser, it was often a principal who knew a thing or two. As far as school leadership was concerned, we did not have many Alachs. There were some, and although they doubted my parentage at times, I learned to give way, especially to the Alachs. On reflection I do wish that there were more Allan Alachs in our work-force, brave state-employed, good school operators unafraid to be critical;  reminding superordinates that they don’t know everything.
Some advice for Ms Tolley: “Young lady, part of your job requirements is to eat crow. Do it and just spit out the feathers; not seek revenge.”
Phil Cullen A.M.
Former Q’ld State Director
I concur with Dr. Cullen. We need more Alachs. If we did, maybe we could fight the take over of public education by corporate interests and get back to the work of provided quality and equitable education for all students. Please join and the rest of us at www.unitedoptout.com and be there for the Occupy the Department of Education in Washington DC  March 30th-April 1st. It’s our time to stand up and speak out.

A book for those interested in making real changes in their lives

Earlier this week I was sent a delightful  e-mail by a former pupil, Jolene Stockman, of the school I was principal of.

Jolene had read one of my blogs about the importance of schools developing in every student positive learning identity, enjoyed it, and thought and thought I would be interested in readinga  small book she has published.

Although it is targeted at teenagers it is equally useful for anyone who wants to create a new life for themselves. I would think it very useful for secondary school students who are having problem working out who they want to become.

The book is called Total Blueprint for World Domination - life planning for teens.

It is a delightful read and I have made use of some of Jolene's ideas myself! It is never to late to dream.

Below is a summary from Jolene's book .

(A Kindle books is available from Amazon and for those interested check out Jolene's blog and website.)

Total Blueprint for World Domination - summary  from the first chapter:

Each chapter contains practical act ivies to develop a personal blueprint.

For world domination you need two things: a superhero and a blueprint.

You’ve already sorted the hero (they’re wearing your shoes), and as you work through this book you will create a total blueprint for domination of your world. Oh, and when you hear “world domination,” forget weapons and wars. Think: magical and emotional worlds. Think: your reality. Achieving world domination means empowering yourself to create the world you want.

Scene One: Super You. We’re going to create a personal vision.

This vision will set the foundation for your new world. Plus, you’ll find out why you are the best person to make your dreams come true!

Scene Two: World Domination.

We’re going to dig up the things that get you excited, and find ways to bring them into your life. We’ll define and design exactly where you want to go. And we’ll dream: big, bigger, biggest, and mind-blowing!

Scene Three: Target. We’ll get SMART, and set up your targets
You’ll feel the deliciousness of anticipation. Your perfect world is well within your sights!

Scene Four: Aim. This is it!

We’re going to take your dreams, and set up a plan. We will aim for your perfect world. Aim for it, ready to take over!

Scene Five: Learn.

We’ll get to know the coolest person on the planet - you! When you ask for help, the universe opens up. You’ll get ready to create your world, and find out how learning can turn any situation into success!

Scene Six: Expose Yourself.

 You will figure out your challenges, and dig up more of the truth about you. You’ll get even braver, and learn how to handle the three kinds of fear: brain, heart, and kryptonite.
Scene Seven: Get to the Yes. You only have control over one person. But you are not on your own! Recruit your world domination army. Plus - persistence, enthusiasm, desire: we’ll find ways to get to the yes!
Scene Eight: Fire!

As you take over your world, you will start to feel the power that you were born with. Your life is an incredible force. You can change, create, grow, inspire. It’s all up to you! What are your intentions?
Scene Nine: Let Go.

You will let go of your beautiful plans and detailed goals. You will relax, have faith, and know that you are open to the ultimate possibilities.

In the book you’ll find tools and jewels you can use to design (and dominate!) your dream world.

The world needs its ass kicked. You’re going to do it. It starts now!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Time for a real 'step change' for educationl change

The challenge our past or their future - the need for distant horizons ?

By the pure serendipity of the internet I was sent a Scottish pamphlet ‘Transformative Innovation in Education’ which outlined the ‘three horizons’ of change.

The pamphlet repeats the familiar argument that nothing less than transformational change is required but suggests that experience suggests all such attempts will fail due to the forces of conservatism, powerful vested interests, the enduring infrastructure of schools and even the forces of the market that all conspire against real change. Incremental improvement of the current model is all we can expect. ‘Warning lights’, they say, ‘have been flashing for decades but secondary schools; in particular, find it difficult to leave their Victorian heritage’.

'Our debate seems stuck between those who want to dismantle the system and those who want to defend an indefensible status quo’ to quote Barrack Obama.

The pamphlet outlines a way to move beyond the inevitable maintenance of the status quo by transition rather than revolution.

To do this they have developed a ‘three horizons’ framework which is applicable to all areas of life and not just education.

The first horizon (H1) is the dominant system as at present. It represents ‘business as usual’ but increasingly a ‘business as usual’ that is beginning to feel out of place. Much current innovation is being introduced in light of H1 shortcomings.

In contrast there are innovations that look ‘way off beam’ looking from an H1 perspective. They are seen as ‘fringe’ activities and are based on a different premise. These radical innovations introduce entirely new ways of doing things, the authors of the pamphlet write, and are the beginnings of a ‘third horizon’ H3. Personalization of learning fits into this way of thinking.

The answer to the dilemma of polarizing ‘either/ or’ change is the development of a transitional ‘second horizon’ H2. Then the challenge, they write, is to address the dominance of the first horizon while at the same time ‘sowing the seeds of the third in the second horizon.  People, the pamphlet says, tend to identify with one or other of the three horizons. All three horizons are always present but the first horizon works hard to maintain its dominance by either crushing or co-opting the second.

The ‘mindset’ of the first horizon is about maintenance, efficiency and management; the second entrepreneurial; the third is visionary and aspirational.

 None of these mindsets is wrong but most of the problem of change result due to polarization between horizon one and three and to solve this problem of transition attention must be paid to the second horizon.

Unfortunately innovation in H2 tends to look backwards towards improvement and, as such, will not solve basic issues. H3 is about a world that doesn’t yet exist – ‘about solving problems we don’t even know are problems’. Without a strong H3 perspective – Ellyard’s ‘preferred vision’ - we will always be drawn back to the status quo. An active and imaginative vision provides a sense of possibility to focus attention on the future.

Education, the authors of the pamphlet write, is particularly averse to change and that there is a natural conservative bias towards conserving the wisdom of the past. Educationalist Michael Fullan has written that schools are poor learning organizations.

Demand for the H1 horizon has led to standardization, accountability and measuring demands so as to make comparisons possible between school leading to ‘league tables’.

The 07 New Zealand Curriculum provides a glimpse of the H3 ‘horizon’ but it currently at risk of being stalled by the government’s H1 national standards.   Compliances to such standards will draw school back to the first horizon and take their focus off the H3 21stC competencies –we will go on measuring the wrong things; the cure maybe worse than the problem.

The new curriculum provides schools with an explicit H3 purpose for education to ensure students leave ‘confident life long learners’.

It would be shame if such a vision were not to be realized. Business philosopher Peter Drucker has written that the first countries to develop a true 21stC educational system will be winners in the future but that to do it schools will have to abandon anything that holds them back.

The challenge to navigate between the past and the future lies in the transition zone (H2) but it depends on a strong vision of the future to focus practical action so as to escape the pull of the past. Being aware of the ‘three horizons’ will help clarify actions.

‘The future’, as William Gibson writes, ‘is already here’ for those who can see the trends but it will take the belief in  a strong future vision  and courageous leadership realize it in our schools.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Time for Democracy in Schools

John Dewey

Everybody in the modern world believes in democracy so why would anybody question the need for our schools to be democratic? Rather, the question should be why if we believe in democracy are our schools manifestly so undemocratic?

Educationalist John Dewey, writing early last century, saw implanting democratic ideals in students as the schools most important priority. Dewey believed that ‘children grow into tomorrow as they live today’.

One wonders what messages students are currently receiving from ‘their’ schools that are still controlled by the same hierarchical power relationships that worried Dewey?

The truth is that there is little evidence of democratic ideals in our schools.  Our traditionally oriented schools are places where certain information is given, where certain lessons are learnt, where certain habits are formed, and where students succeed by being judged on what others have decided is important. In this traditional model education is seen as a preparation for the future where students learn things ‘just in case’ they will need it. Obedience and conformity to requirements are the keys to success in such a system.

Dewey conceived schools differently. He envisioned them as learning communities seeing as important ‘the nature of relationships between student and student, student and teacher, and teacher and teacher’ and, of course, with the wider community. Dewey’s ideal for schools was for them to be based on participatory democratic values. In Dewey’s mind such values would be able to tap into, and unleash, the ‘immense intelligence’ of all students.  Dewey believed that ‘all those who are affected by social institutions must have a say in producing and managing them’.

Democratic ideals of freedom and creativity emerged briefly in the heady days of the 1960/70s but failed to change traditional schooling. Today there is now a new interest in a democratic education which places the needs of individual students central. This more personalized approach is implicit in the intent of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum where it states the vision is for all students to become ‘confident life long learners’; students  who are able to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’.

Such ideals of creativity, freedom and personal responsibility in any organisation are currently confronted by elite power structures run by experts, bureaucrats, and administrators. In education the elite who make the most important decision are the Ministry of Education.

 As a result of their actions school principals, teachers, and in turn students, are given little power and responsibility in the schools where they spend most of their lives.

The surveillance culture, imposed by the Ministry of Education and the Education Review Office, has created a risk averse culture which puts innovative approaches at risk. Compliance, not creativity, is now the name of the game. The problem is that our current standardized ‘one size fits all’ system is becoming increasingly unsuccessful as the number of students failing, or disengaging from the process, indicates. New thinking is required if we want all students to succeed, and if we want New Zealand to be a more inclusive democratic and creative society.

Developing democratic participatory ideals in schools is a difficult challenge as it confronts the ‘power down’ leadership style that is now firmly in place. As we enter what some call a ‘Second Renaissance’, or ‘Age of Creativity’, we need an education system that is able to realize the gifts and talents of all students not just the academic students as at present. To make things worse the current  government is determined to impose ‘National Standards’ in literacy and numeracy on primary schools which will determine student success in a very narrow range of intelligences.

The process of how to develop democratic schools still waits to be realized.  Sadly even creative teachers, once they become principals, morph into benevolent leaders who then expect teachers to do what they are asked of them! Most people, it seems, only want to be free from those above them!

How to provide direction, while at the same time tapping the creativity of individual staff members, is the challenge for principals – one which needs to be replicated in individual classrooms.

The success of democratic schools will depend on the strength of the shared purpose, vision, or beliefs, felt by all staff members and, in turn, their willingness to be held accountable to them.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

To cultivate creativity -work like an artist!

My brother Graeme and self have a small exhibition in our home town of Waverley.

I have always associated myself with teachers who believe their role is to create the conditions to realize the creativity and talents of all their students. New Zealand has had such innovative teachers for many decades ( the most well known being Elwyn Richardson who developed his creative ideas in the 1950s).

Being a creative teacher is not easy because it goes against traditional approaches where teachers pass on to their students what it it they expect their students to know - usually following advice from those who have long since left the classroom. And as well such traditional teaching focuses on mainly ensuring basic skills are in place.

Today creative teaching is even more difficult as the current government is insistent on imposing national standards against professional advice in literacy and numeracy. At present these are more school standards but it doesn't take much insight to see that such standards ( which have issues with reliability) will soon morph into standardised national testing and league tables.

Read Kelvin Smythe's posting to see through the shallowness of many current 'best practice' approaches being foisted on teachers by contracted advisers and compliant principals.

If we had real educational leadership in our schools, rather than principals who seem happy to comply with imposed political directions, schools would become vital organisations to develop the talents and passions of all students - the kind of citizens we will need if we are to ever to become world leaders again.

The missing ingredient in school  are the conditions to develop the creativity of their teachers and in turn their students. It is not the issue of helping students get ideas from their teachers but more how to create the conditions for ideas to get the students.

Many artists say that ideas come to them from their experiences and what they do is to give form to such ideas in whatever medium they work in, be it sculpture, painting, dance. music, film or literature. And this approach applies to scientific discoveries.

So the question for teachers is how do they put themselves and their students in a frame of mind so they can receive inspiration when it comes to them. Creative artists, and scientists, spend lot of time sketching, experimenting , and playing around with others.

Collaboration with others with interests different from our own seems vital - combining ideas from other fields provides fertile ground for innovative ideas. Seeing patterns between various fields or experiences  is an attribute of creative people.

Creative people don't dismiss ideas because they seem strange - they are not trapped by pre-set intentions, goals or criteria. Some of the most important discoveries in science and art have been as the result of serendipity not planning

Once creative people   are attracted to an idea  they then throw themselves into the challenge as they begin the process of fleshing out their inspiration to give it shape - often ending up where they had no intention of being. And during this period they work long hours becoming single minded about bringing their ideas into tangible form.

Traditional schools are not a very good environment for such learning.

There are three basic practices for teachers to cultivate to develop creativity.

Immerse yourself in the area you are about to explore -  innovation often arises from  working with others. Consider the  conditions  past creative teachers needed? Link up with others - ideas emerge when people enter dialogue.

Secondly tolerate uncertainty. Resist the decision to rush to judgement because many ideas are stalled by premature judgement. Learn to appreciate ideas  that defy current expectations and learn to resist others who prefer to follow the beaten track.

Look for simple patterns as they emerge. As work progresses  take advantage of serendipity and mistakes - once again many scientific ideas have been developed by following up on mistakes.

Once the project is over take time to appreciate what has been achieved. Think about what has been learnt and what ideas flow out of what has been achieved. If the conditions are right new ideas will emerge even before the current ideas has been realised.

In a creative school the curriculum will emerge.

What is important is that both teachers and students develop the  creative mindset and are not distracted by imposed answers . As the New Zealand Curriculum states students should be their 'seekers , users and creators of their own knowledge'.

To achieve such a creative learning environment takes real leadership - it is about creating an environment that  encourages teachers and their students to become engrossed in real learning based on ideas that make sense to them.

Unfortunately too many schools are are too tied to control  habits left over from the last century.