Tuesday, May 29, 2012

This government does not like teachers. Time to fight back!

Schools are now beginning to realize that the government has no time for caring what teachers believe , think or feel. As John Key said during one of his speeches - 'teachers have let our students down'.

Ever since the introduction of the self managing competitive ideology  of Tomorrows Schools the 'voice' of teachers, of respected local  and international educators, have been ignored. Instead the government's tame Ministry technocrats have 'cherry picked 'research' that backs up their own agenda; an agenda that opens the door to increasing privatisation, or corporatisation, of our school system.

A month or so ago their high paid Secretary of the Treasury introduced the idea of reducing class sizes to save money and now this 'expert's'  advice has come to pass. Embarrassingly for the government, this advice has resulted in placing the technical staff of intermediate schools at risk.

One good thing is that the government's latest policy has angered Intermediate School Principals and caused them to speak out. It is not in the nature of schools to openly criticize governments but the time has come to speak out or simply fade into meek compliance.

Wayne Codrye, of Ross Intermediate, has done just this with a powerful newsletter sent out to his parent community. On National Radio Wayne was joined by Iain Taylor of Manurewa Intermediate to express their obvious anger during an interview. Other principals have featured on TV current event programmes.

Lets hope other individual principals continue to speak out. In our local paper one intermediate principal was doing just that but the real answer lies with groups of principals getting together to state their positions in the current debate and the purpose of education generally. If this is not done then biased populist commentators , with their ideology hardly hidden, will control the debate.

One such commentator, Michael Laws, sums up this right wing ideology. He writes that education is too important to be left to teachers - now while there is some truth in this  teacher's 'voices' are important and need to be as valued as much as the politicians and their rich and powerful  'free market' backers. These are the same people that created the financial crisis that had to be saved by government (our) money!

MrsTolley introduced National Standards to improve the education of the 1 in 5 students who currently fail - the so called 'achievement tail'. Tolley, and her fellow politicians, happily ignore that the current poverty was created by their own 'market forces' policies. The majority of these 'failing' students are to be found in the low socio economic areas that resulted from government policies. Poverty issues are  happily ignored by ideologues - the real problem is 'bad' teachers.

Even the depressing socio economic effects on students will be solved by 'good teachers'!

It is obvious that National Standards will eventually lead to 'league tables' and 'winner and loser' schools, as well as teaching to the tests , a narrowing of the curriculum and, as a result, demeaning of school creativity and innovation.

To the government it is all about teacher accountability and so performance appraisal and merit pay are on the horizon even though these have not produced the results in countries where they have been introduced. The government has  a blind spot for the law of unintended consequences.

All will be solved with more 'good teachers' even if all teachers will have to have few more students in their rooms.  All the government has to do is train up these 'supermen ' teachers and all will be well forgetting the power of school culture as the vital element that supports and develops all teachers.

Laying blame on teachers is like blaming bank tellers for the financial crisis.

Individual commentators tap into the popular belief , spread by politicians, that the education is failing and what is needed is some 'tough love' remedy - measure up or leave. Such commentators ignore the reality that New Zealand stands amongst the top countries in the International Test league tables. And, ironically, the approach that  the politicians believe will improve our 'failing' education system follows the corporate ideology of two countries that are well back on international testing - the US and the UK! Anybody who dares suggest other alternatives are simply written off as 'troublemakers'!

Well it is time for more 'trouble makers'.

I am hoping that the government will push teachers to a 'tippng point' and that all the past subservience will be overthrown as teachers see that what they are being asked to do goes against what made them teachers in the first place - to help all their students to the best of their ability.

This is not to say that education cannot be improved  but the current answers are wrong. Current answers look back to a past standardized age. What is needed to produce students who will thrive in an uncertain and unpredictable world is a personalised approach to learning. An education that taps into ,and amplifies, the gifts and talents of all students.

What schools are being forced to comply with is the very wrong thing if schools are to ensure all students as 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge ' as is suggested in the now sidelined 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.

Stop press from Kelvin Smythe

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Weekly readings from Allan

Greetings. This is the first of weekly (hopefully) postings highlighting interesting educational links that are pertinent to current educational issues. One thing that has become very apparent, and increasingly so, is that the standards/testing/teacher accountability/etc agenda is not specific to one particular country, and that rhetoric from an Australian or New Zealand politician is usually a very close match to that emanating from the United States.

It is very clear, to those who have their eyes open, that the attack on ‘schooling’ in many countries, particularly England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and USA, is a planned action, that has nothing to do with education and much to do with opening education up to corporates to enhance their profits streams and to enrich shareholders.  The fact that these are the ‘white dominated predominantly English speaking” countries must be a coincidence.

We must not make the mistake of thinking that our own local educational issues, regardless of country, are specific to each country. We can, and need to, learn from what is happening all over and we must play very close attention to the developments in the USA, as we can reliably assume that events and rhetoric there, will arrive elsewhere before too long.

Each week I will highlight half a dozen articles, out of the many that turn up on my computer from various sources, to enable readers to keep up to date with developments. I welcome suggested articles for this, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at allan.alach@ihug.co.nz.

This week’s homework!

US educationalist Susan Ohanian is another who has taken up the keyboard to attack the school ‘deform’ movement and also to provide links to suitable articles. Here are a couple of examples.

Early last year, a nasty piece of propaganda was produced in the form of a movie called “Waiting for Superman.” Superman in this case referring to super teachers, following the disparaging of teachers in the movie. In response, a group in New York produced a counter movie, “The Inconvenient Truth of Waiting for Superman.” This article tells more and also provides a link to the online version of this.

The following article “The fantasies driving school reform: A primer for education graduates” features a presentation to a group of graduating teachers. Spot the similarities with local developments!

US educator Paul Thomas is another eloquent anti-testing campaigner. Here he draws a comparison between high stakes standardised testing and the tobacco debate, in a post entitled “The Education Games: Reform as Doublespeak.”

The Education Week web page isn’t always a friend of the anti-school reform movement, however here’s an exception written by a school principal, Peter DeWitt, “Are We Paying for the Sins of the Past?” Peter discusses, among other things, the Common Core Standards (CCS) in the USA, which have a frighten amount in common with New Zealand’s National Standards, although, to be fair CCS seem to be worse.

Author C.M Rubin has produced a series of articles on her webpage under the title “Global Search for Education.” In this one, the attention is turned to Singapore,

... we are honored to share the insights of Dr. Pak Tee Ng - Associate Dean, Leadership Learning, Office of Graduate Studies and Professional Learning, and Head and Associate Professor, Policy and Leadership Studies Academic Group, at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Republic of Singapore.

One could write at length on why politicians in the GERM countries are ignoring Singapore and Finland, or one could summarise it rather succinctly!
Saving a heavy one until last, here is an article about the right wing USA organisation known as ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). Comprised of representatives from many of the biggest multinational corporations and people such as Bill Gates, ALEC develops and writes policy and legislation for the right wing side of USA state and national politics. Links have been found between ALEC and the Conservative Party government in the UK, and it’s not to hard to imagine similar links to like minded political parties in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  A read through ALEC’s education policy will ring alarm bells - how come many of the ideas and expressions are being implemented in Australia and New Zealand, as well as parts of Canada? Make no mistake, US activists will tell you that ALEC is the enemy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

GERM Warfare has hit NZ Education; the 'corporatisation' of our schools

Solving school failure.

Where exactly are these 1 in 5 students that fail Ms Parata?  In what socio- economic groups are they to be found. The impression politicians give is that 1 in 5 students are failing across all our schools.  Maybe the problem to school failure lies outside the school gate?Maybe in certain low socio-economic areas that could be targeted? 

On Campbell Live tonight, as part of series on poverty in New Zealand, viewers were told that 270000 children live in poverty - 1 in four young people in New Zealand . Children who do not get their basic needs met - shoes, food and a raincoat! Maybe these are some of the children Ms Parata should concern herself about. And, also, children living in unhealthy homes suffering from third world diseases. Too hard I guess to face up to, easier to blame poor teaching!

Maybe what is required is a more personalised creative approach - an approach NZ teachers were once world leaders in is the real answer. Maybe the government should look towards the success of Finland rather than corporate America. The corporate world of high finance is the wrong model as they seem devoid of ethical behaviour!At least the failing banks didn't blame the quality of their tellers!

Also on News Tonight New Zealand Business Association agree with Ms Parata's solutions - they  would wouldn't they! They like controlling their workers.

This morning Minister of Education introduced some pre -budget announcements about education.  Forget the fine words about focusing on teacher quality being the answer, it amounted to robbing Peter to pay Paul. Better trained teachers paid for by less teachers in front of classes. All based on this lovely word 'evidence'. 'Evidence', like the other current phrase 'based on research,' depends on who selects the evidence or research.

All of the ministers announcements were pre -empted a month or so ago by the Secretary of the Treasury. Financial considerations trump educational philosophy it seems.And all his ideas are common parlance in the corporate circles of America.

Paul Sahlberg, the Finnish Director of Education, refers to this Global  Educational Reform Movement, a market based business model  based on testing against standards,  competition, charter schools, performance measurement and merit pay as as GERM. Finland, by doing almost the opposite, is the highest performing nation in the world on international testing. New Zealand is also amongst the high performing nations and miles ahead of the American system we seem determined to ape.

American educator Diane Ravitch, once a supporter of school testing, has changed her mind and calls the people who are pushing the narrow demands of scientific management on schools the 'master and mistresses of the universe types who believe schools can perform miracles by relying on competition, deregulation, and management by data'. Such corporate ideologues  will allow no poverty excuses. It is all about getting rid of bad teachers and all will be well. Ravitch also reminds us the the strategies reformers want to impose are 'similar to the ones that helped produce the economic crash of 2008'. And for New Zealanders the same unethical mindsets that were behind the crash of financial institutions in our own country.

Read Ravitch's views if time.Article One. Article two

Obviously Ms Parata follows the same ideology.

And for those who want to see into the future one has only to look to see what has happened to Australian education. For those interested visit Phill Cullen's ( the ex Director of Primary Education Queensland) site.

The real concern is that this corporate approach is sidelining the development a personalised 21C educational approach as exemplified in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum

And there is a real need for those with a  far wider perspective to make it clear   the strong correlation between socio-economic background and educational achievement.

Lets run through the current governments corporate influenced approaches:

National Standards - where all children are to graded as:  achieved, at, or above, the defined standard. Firstly such standards are arbitrary and have, in other countries, forced schools to narrow their curriculum to achieve results. On the horizon national testing will be introduced ( as in Australia) and, with them; teaching to the tests.In America there have been documented evidence of cheating. With this emphasis on basic standards the arts, science teaching ( until this area is included) and other important areas of learning to hard to measure will be neglected.All this leads in other countries to 'league tables' so parents can compare schools on 'shonky' data.

Value Added Measurement ( VAM in Australia) will really focus teachers and schools to comply to what is expected by those who control what is to be measured.

Teacher Performance Appraisal -  to work out who are the 'best' teachers leading to Performance Pay. Compliance will be the quality teachers will need to develop and any creativity and initiative will put them , and their schools, at risk.  Who determines the criteria determines the tune!

All these corporate strategies will create a surveillance culture of fear, erode trust and collaboration and will result in student and school achievement being defined by a narrow restrictive set of targets. The trouble with targets in any organisation is that it not the targets you hit that count but the ones you miss because you weren't looking. Initiative, innovation and creativity will be at risk - the very attributes required of all citizens if New Zealand is to be successful in the future.

And Ms Parata isn't looking.

Who will want to be a teacher if the choice is between compliance or creativity. And as for the students they will have no choice in this new 'big brother' environment.

The saving grace is that the world is changing so fast creative students will get their education elsewhere - many are already doing so.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The science of teaching – or the teaching of science

What happens if you do this? What are students 'prior' views about how  electricity works? What theories do they have? How can teachers challenge their thinking? Students' ideas 'grow' out of experience. The worst case scenario is for teachers to teach them.

I have just listened to a discussion on National Radio about the poor state of science teaching in primary schools.

According to a recent report from the Education Review Office science education is not up to the mark; that new teaching graduates and current teachers lack confidence in the teaching of science.

Lots of reasons were discussed but perhaps the main point was that teachers had poor attitudes towards science and lacked confidence to teach it.

I don’t think there is anything new in the findings.

It would seem that students’ experience of school science has not helped them see science as an exciting way of thinking about fascinating areas of learning. Problem solving, finding out how things work, exploring ideas, learning through enlightened trial and error are all innate way of human learning – the default mode inherited from birth. All life is a search for meaning. It is not that children are young scientists but that scientists still see the world with the passionate curiosity of a child.
So why is science teaching, or learning, not strength in our primary classrooms?

I have to own up. For most of my teaching career I was a primary school science adviser with a particular fascination in natural science and, later, with an equal fascination with how students learn – the so called scientific process.  Later I became interested in  how students’ develop their ideas about any new content they become involved in. The last idea introduces the concept of constructivism – how learners reconstruct their  current or prior ideas through their experiences.

I  soon learnt as a primary adviser science that education was not popular with teacher and not only for reasons already expressed. It is also that a traditional mind-set holds sway in teachers' and the publics' mind. The 3Rs come first. New transformational ideas about education for the 21stC are needed.

The original thinking behind appointing advisers was to assist teachers in areas teachers lacked confidence – in the arts, physical education, science and music- areas often seen as the ‘frills’, attended to if time available after the ‘three Rs’. Advisers (specialist teachers) originally visited all classes taking demonstration lessons once a term and were also in the position to share innovative ideas picked from creative teachers. Such advisers did help.
Well that’s all history. Advisers come and go on contact and now the ‘Three R’ advisers areas have priority.

The solution to the dilemma of science teaching is to make science, or rather inquiry learning, central to the whole curriculum – to extend into schooling the way the very young learn before learning is distorted by the imposed demands of formal schooling. The traditional emphasis on literacy and numeracy is now being further exaggerated by the need to comply with the politically imposed National Standards  leaving little time or energy for such things as science teaching. Ironically this neglect is further reinforced by the very Education Review Office that has brought the matter to our attention!

My suggestion would be for schools to base all learning around the primacy of inquiry learning and then to re frame literacy and numeracy so as to achieve in depth learning and understanding.
In the classes I used to admire when I was an adviser this was the case. In such classrooms literacy and numeracy were still to be seen but most of what was being done contributed to the current inquiry study – or studies. Such studies were often science orientated or required the introduction of the various science strands.

 The key to success, if this were to be done, is to do fewer things well. Another suggestion would be to use science content as part of reading comprehension or science experiments to develop the skills of science recording. Many science experiments are as much maths as science.  Naturally not all literacy and maths (or science) needs to be integrated.
Just imagine if such an inquiry learning approach became the default way of teaching throughout the whole schooling experience with subject area contributing as required . It is such interdisciplinary learning that future careers will require.

 If this were to happen classrooms would be full of evidence of children’s questions, thinking and researched and presented findings. Such an approach would change the schooling from a standardised delivery model (‘one size fits all’) to a customised or personalized approach.
 Teachers would see themselves as learning advisers, or coaches, and involve themselves as required with individuals or groups with shared needs.

Teachers, in such a learning community, would learn with their pupils, challenging their ideas and introducing content and teaching appropriate skills as required.s ‘just in time’ helping at point of need
By such means both teachers and students can develop a better idea of science learning – and to learn to appreciate the true purpose of literacy and numeracy as means of making sense of their experiences. Many students have been, and still are, turned off learning because they cannot see the point of it. This brings us back to why teachers and students develop poor attitudes towards science –and also other areas of learning taught out of context.

In the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum teachers have a document that could change both teachers’ and students’ perceptions. This document asks teachers to help students become ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’.

This phrase, students as 'seekers, users and creators', sums up the essence of science and/or learning.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Time to see the big picture?

It pays to know where you're going -maybe it is time to think of new directions?

Schools are busy places. Teachers have such a lot of things to do. I was talking to a relieving teacher last night and she said she was pleased to be a reliever – so much is expected of teachers these days and, in her opinion, these demands were taking teachers’ focus of their role of helping their students learn.

Teachers’ situation reminds me of the story of the person who forgot he came to drain the swamp when he was up to his backside in alligators! Schools are too busy to see that there are two agenda competing to influence the future direction of schooling ( and society generally); the business worlds standardisation agenda, built around schools competing with each other, and the humanistic personalised learning approach exemplified by the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum.

Currently schools are scrambling to comply with the narrowing demands of National Standards. Politicians who believe in such an approach think that through management by data schools will improve the chances of all students. These politicians, influenced by competitive private enterprise ideology   (or is it the other way around?), seem detached from the reality of schooling and are indifferent to the important influences of family and poverty,Everything is blamed on the teacher - a bit like blaming the banking crisis on the tellers!

It is clear to those with a wider perspective there is a strong correlation between socio-economic background and educational achievement. Until politicians appreciate the need to mitigate the effects of poverty schools will always have difficulty catering for children who arrive at the classroom door with needs beyond the schools capability to solve.

While teachers in New Zealand are clearly on the back foot attempting to implement the imposed standards Finland, by contrast, one of the highest performing school systems follows a very different approach. Finland has rejected the market based business model based on testing, privatisation, standard based curricula, competition, charter schools, merit pay, and performance measurement. Finland has no tracking, or streaming, and all children receive free medical check-ups and health care.

Finnish schools emphasise creativity, ingenuity, problem solving and the arts. Pasi Salberg, the Finnish Director of Education says that Finnish education believes students ‘should know to create, and to sustain their natural curiosity’. His phrase resonates well with the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum’s goal for all students to ‘seek, use and create their own knowledge’.

The Finnish educational aim’, according to Salberg, ‘is the development of each child as a thinking, active, creative person’. Finnish teachers are well trained, well paid and highly regarded. Rather than making use of standardised tests Salberg says, ‘Finland relies on teachers’ and the schools’ ability to report to parent and authorities how they are doing. We in Finland believe more in co-operation than competition and have more faith in teachers’ and principals’ work’.

Finland is an important example that gives hope to those who believe in a more creative personalised approach than the standardised approach being pushed on schools in New Zealand.

 Finland’s approach was once the mainstay of New Zealand’s holistic primary education before the technocratic curriculum reforms of the 1980s.

Maybe  it is time that New Zealand teachers remembered they came to drain the swamp and try to forget about the alligators!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

National Standards or personalised learning?

A literacy/learning rich environment.

This month schools are required to supply the Ministry of Education with National Standards data relating to literacy and numeracy achievement,

Seems sensible enough but the process is open to the law of unintended consequences. The creations of comparative League Tables are an obvious possibility. As the system beds in I’m betting that the Government will insist on a more standardised system make school comparison easier. When this occurs then New Zealand schools will line up with what is in place in the US and the UK – both countries whose position on international testing tables are well behind New Zealand’s.

Standardizing education is an ideological imperative – part of the corporatisation of public services which requires simplistic ways of measuring progress to create a competitive environment.

More worrying to me is pressure for teachers to narrow their teaching to conform to school based requirements as schools do their best to supply the Ministry with data and for teachers to interpret their roles focussing on teaching literacy and numeracy.

All this compliance, conformity and associated surveillance places teacher creativity and initiative at risk; schools will be under pressure to implement approved ‘best practices’ in an attempt to keep up with other schools.

The general assumption in our culture is that students need to be taught to read – even to be taught to learn. When it comes to reading there are a variety of approaches for schools to follow ranging from explicit phonics teaching to what is called ‘whole language’. It seems the ‘evidence’ is that reading needs to be taught. Huge amounts of time and effort goes into teaching reading and there is a vast range of instructive materials for schools to select from.

For all this reading emphasis reading achievement changes little. In the UK, following imposed literacy and numeracy approaches, levels rose but have since plateaued and are trending down. In the USA, for all their intrusive stanardised testing little can be seen for the money spent.

I have always believed students will want to read (or learn anything) if they see there is power to be gained. The key to good teaching is to create the conditions to allow a wide range of ablities and talents ‘emerge’. As Jerome Bruner once wrote, ‘the canny art of the teachers is one of intellectual temptation’. The desire to learn this has to be seen as an innate ability – the default way of making sense of experiences. That student’s leave school as failures – or unmotivated, must be seen as the result of being in the wrong environment – at school or at home.

Back to schools. As a result of imposed pressure literacy and numeracy seem to have gobbled up the entire curriculum.

When a teacher I placed student’s inquiry central to the school day, integrating reading and other language skills, in the process. Due to some parent (and student confusion) I had to ’educate’ parents that we were actually teaching reading! As a principal I tried to encourage teachers to ‘reframe’ their reading programmes to teach the skills and cover content needed in their inquiry programmes. This is not as easy as it sounds because many teachers have been ‘conditioned’ by their own experiences to see reading as a stand-alone learning area.

I continue to believe that students will learn to read given the right conditions and that they will learn to read in their own way. Some will need a lot of careful encouragement while others learn seemingly without much assistance at all. If young people are surrounded by people who read they will learn to read. They will learn to ask their own questions and get pointers from others but this they can do by themselves. The same applies to any area of learning.

Creating the environment or learning culture and developing positive relationship with all learners is the essence of personalising learning – the antithesis of the current standardised approach of the current Government. Students will learn if immersed in a culture in which people are communicating regularly with the written word in any form much as they learnt to walk and talk. Many creative teachers have introduced reading through students interest in expressing themselves through writing and indeed the best first real books could well be the books they write ( with assistance if necessary).

It is ironic to realize that schools may be creating reading failures by their misguided attempts to ‘teach’ their students to read – failure that will be amplified by current standardised teaching.

By making reading so important those who fall behind will label themselves as failures. Placed in ability groups by well-meaning teachers only reinforces children’s perceptions- ‘once a weka always a weka’! Some of these early reading failures become labelled as behaviour problems as such students ‘lose the plot’ as they see little meaning in what they are asked to do. The more pressure placed on these children the worse it gets. Some students learn to hate reading- and in turn learning itself.

Children learn to read, or learn anything, if they see the need. They learn by being involved with others on joint tasks. Often students will help each other and thankfully students are not scared to ask for help from others. Such help is provided at the point of need not ‘just in case’ which is the basis of teacher reading programmes. At home many children write and illustrate their own stories making use of phonetic spelling and asking adults for help as required.

Every learner is unique. Everyone learns to read, or anything, in their own way. Only by observing your students can you pick the moment to provide help but give help lightly as students soon pick up that teachers have taken over. At this point many students, particularly those who have experienced failure, withdraw and stop asking for help.

Some children learn exotic words before they can read simpler ones. Some learn to write before reading. Some learn quickly and others take many years before they become fluent. Most of all children will learn to read if something has caught their interest.

I wonder how many personalised creative approaches will be overlooked in the need for schools to look good by following approved ‘best practices’ and the need to complete accountability requirements?

Teachers, like their students, can either be encouraged to be creative or compliant – they can’t be both.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Creative Teaching as DangerousStyle...it's time

Blog by
Morna mcDermot
Baltimore Education Reform Examiner

Every creative teacher should read Morna's blog if we are to subvert the corporate takeover of education. I have published Morna's blog in full - I am so impressed with what she has to say.


I have been taking a lot of risks lately in the name of resistance against the corporate takeover of public education .  And because of this, some days I worry for my professional security.  But I (and my conscience) sleep like a baby at night.  I think it’s good to be scared sometimes-because you’re taking a risk in something.  You see, life isn’t a dress rehearsal.  You get one shot, and I think it’s important to remember this, because when our children come into our classrooms, those moments are not a dress rehearsal for life either.  So the question becomes: What will we do with those moments?  Additionally, I pose the question in this essay: Are we preparing students for complicity or creativity?
In order to answer that question, we first have to pose the question: Are we preparing teachers to be creative? Because as the old saying goes- “You cannot transmit something you haven’t got.”

I’d like to share part of a poem by the late poet Charles Bukowski. He writes in his poem called Style.

“Style is the answer to everything.
A fresh way to approach a dull or dangerous thing
To do a dangerous thing with style is what I call art …
Bullfighting can be an art
Boxing can be an art
Loving can be an art
Opening a can of sardines can be an art
Style is the difference, a way of doing, a way of being done”
Teaching ought to be a dangerous thing done with style. Because it is an art. Science is good stuff. It gives us some solid information to help guide educational practices. But science is a tool, not a way of doing, in education.  Artists use science in their craft.  But the end results are far greater than the processes employed.  Like the poem says, education as dangerous style, a way of doing, a way of being done, creates all the difference.
Now, by dangerous I don’t mean running with scissors dangerous.  I mean the sense of danger that heightens the senses and creates what Maxine Greene calls “wide-awakeness,” such as when we are in the act of doing something creative.  Because creativity requires taking risks.  It requires embracing the unknown.  It requires both great humility to accept that maybe all the answers to life’s greatest questions have not already been answered, and great courage to trudge forward into the unknown in spite of this.
But how well do we prepare our teachers to approach their profession as a thing done with dangerous style? And better yet why should we?

We could discuss the well documented research that shows how creative teaching and learning result in vast improvements in student success, because if nothing else you’ve made the curriculum more student-centered, hands-on, and engaging. But I am not going to reiterate the obvious, even though this same research seems to escape the attention of policy makers pushing their one-size-fits-all model of curriculum and assessment for the sake of “accountability.” Now, I believe that some of these folks have good intentions; That they want all children to succeed, and that maybe they’re simply misguided in their efforts.  I have heard top-level administrators and policy makers play great lip service to creativity and critical thinking, but at the end of the day is anyone asking educators for samples of the dioramas the kids made?  Or video clips of the play they performed?  Photos of the wall murals they painted?   No, they ask for one thing: The test scores.
We cannot simply say to teachers, “Go ahead and risk everything-it’s ok-be creative.” That’s like saying let them eat cake.  It’s naïve, unrealistic, and simply unfair to encourage something for which they are given no genuine support.  That won’t work.  Teachers have to be encouraged to be, and honored for being, creative in order to redefine the narrative around education and the teaching profession first. And perhaps we need to begin with re-envisioning how we prepare teachers.
There are a few reasons that teacher preparation must embrace a more creative model for preparing teachers.

FIRST Right now there are folks, and organizations out there with economic and political motives of their own, writing the narrative around teacher identity, like what we’ve seen in Waiting for Superman-which I think more aptly be called Waiting for Godot, because it’s equally absurd.
And what does this narrative tell us? That teachers are lazy, unaccountable, uninformed, and are in need to tremendous micromanaging because of their supposed incompetency. What does that mean? It means that teachers are being told how to do their jobs, who they are, who they should be, or who they’re not.  Their own profession is being re-defined by others, and in a very negative light.
Teachers first need to take back their profession. Teachers need creativity in order to imagine a new narrative; to re write their own identities.  There’s a passage I read somewhere (sadly I can’t remember exactly where to give credit where credit is due but…) basically it said that if you want to colonize a people, you first take away their capacity to make art.  Why?  Because it’s through the creative imagination that we have the power to redefine for ourselves the world we wish to be in.  If you wish to foster complacency and complicity in a group of people, remove their opportunities to be creative thinkers.
It may seem a bit extreme to associate education reform with wholesale colonial oppression, but I think we’d be foolish to overlook some of the similarities.  When the Europeans wanted the lands of indigenous people, what did they do first? In order to take over a population you first have to justify your actions as morally sounds, right?  So the colonizers cast the indigenous people as lazy, stupid, unskilled, uneducated, “heathen” right?  A people in need of… wait for it folks….”REFORM!”

Our public schools are one of the last American land grabs for profit. These are dangerous time folks. And they require a dangerous style-creative teaching. I’ll give you one more brief example-the Tucson AZ Ethnic Studies program. You want to know the real reason why they shut that program down? Wait for it … it was working. It was increasing the graduation rate. Students were learning. They were being successful. The teachers in that program embodied creative teaching as its finest hour. Dangerous style, people. Dangerous style through creative teaching invites change you see.
If you go into almost any classroom today you’ll see teachers sacrificing their professional instincts to diverge from “THE PLAN” and the possibility of doing something creative and meaningful with their kids. I have heard a hundred times, “Well I thought it would be really interesting to (do X, Y, or Z) ….but I need to stick with the pacing guide or I need to use the worksheet they gave me because this is how it’s going to be on the test.” I can’t totally blame these teachers.  Look at what’s at stake if they take these creative risks and their students don’t produce the right numerical data needed to keep the sharks at bay.  It would naïve and foolish to expect teachers to risk their livelihood, their careers, and their paycheck that feeds their families.  Because sometimes fear is also a bad thing. And we are faced now with a climate of fear around education.  

Yet policy makers keep ratcheting up the stakes.  Now we threaten to fire teachers if their test scores aren’t high enough.  We close down whole neighborhood schools.  We post teacher test scores  in the news papers, so they have a big Scarlett letter A affixed to them.  We use punishment and public humiliation to drive success. This does not work.  Why?  Because fear paralyzes.  Fear kills our willingness to take risks even when we know the costs of our unwillingess to take those risks. That’s why they call it high stakes testing. But fear might also generate spaces for creative opportunities. Being creative now feels dangerous-and it is. Creativity reminds teachers that they have the power to take risks, to do a dangerous thing with style, and offers the skill sets needed to resist this destruction of their profession.
Because now we are at a new precipice. Teachers are realizing that even if they “play by the rules,” that their profession, their livelihoods, and the futures of their students are all going to be stolen from them anyway.  And when there’s nothing left to lose … dangerous style is exactly what is needed to forge ahead and fight back.
It is by being THIS kind of role model that we can successfully practice these same principals in our classrooms. The lip service teachers get from policy makers trickles down to what teachers say to their students. “Be creative. Take a risk. But you better get it right on the test, or else…” It’s a mixed message.  If you have kids-- in a classroom, or your own at home, or even if you’re a grandparent-- you know that the old adage “Do as I say not as I do” does not work.

So what is required in order to do creative teaching as dangerous style? Well in three easy steps… No. That's silly. You see,  it doesn’t come in a box. The prepackaged one size fits all Common Core does.
But creative teaching does embody particular qualities or elements.  Creative teaching is not the absence of standards. Creative teachers are not afraid of assessment or evaluation.  They are afraid of being reduced to a number.  They reject the idea that a score can tell you what you need to know about a child.
Creative teaching requires emergence. Sometimes we don’t know what going to happen or where a teachable moment in the classroom is going to go.  God forbid it might not even be on the test.  The fact that it matters to kids should matter more don’t you think?

Secondly, creative teaching as dangerous style requires collaboration. Teachers work together. Creativity isn’t something a teacher goes into the back room and mixes up in a beaker. It happens through our communities when we share a common vision and look toward our imagination for solutions and then enact them.  We must detach our schools and children from the “number thumpers” who want to isolate teachers from one another, and promote competition against one another as the model for students and schools. “Race to the Top” – the name  itself suggests that there must also be losers. 
Thirdly, creative teaching as dangerous style is transformative. Educational goals cannot always be predicted on the outcomes or objectives agenda written by someone hundreds of miles away in some office building working for a textbook company. He or she does not know the unique needs of individual children and how learning must be creatively accommodated to meet his or her needs. The writers of those scripted objectives do not know individual communities. The content of what we teach, even if its standards-based, must reflect the needs and identities of kids. Learning should be a process of transformation: Of self, of our understandings, of our communities and our world. The meaningful and powerful accommodations needed from day to day, from classroom to classroom, and child to child do not come in a teacher’s guide. They come from creative problem solving. They come from being open to imagine what each child needs, and how best to create that learning space for them. They do not come on a standardized test.

These are the skill sets that are lacking in our teacher preparation schools today. More so, now than ten years ago when I started as a teacher educator.  And this is because the disease of fear is trickling "upward."  Again, in academia we give great lip service to being creative at the university level.  But now, a lot of colleges of education will soon be beholden to the great and powerful accountability movement as well.  And if our preservice teachers don’t perform according to rank and file-they might not graduate.  So now, you have college professors afraid to teach creatively because they too must do what they’re told … or else.
Wayne Au writes:                                                                   
“Get one generation as the ‘tested generation’ and we’ll have a bunch of educators who cannot effectively imagine an alternative”

It’s not just enough to imagine other worlds and other possibilities-you have to believe you have the capabilities, the creative tools, to create them.

We must replace fear-based punitive measures in schools all over this country with measures that put into place supports for teachers to act creatively. To inspire their students to want to learn.  To attach real meaningful practices that foster a wide-awakeness in our children.
So ironically, the skills and capacities we desperately need the most, creative thinking to face the challenges of a changing and complex world, are the same skills we are so quick to eliminate.  Schools are now forced to forgo art, music, and PE in favor of more test prep.  We fire teachers and increase class size, while 45 billion dollars goes into the coffers of testing companies.  What does that say about us as a society?
We need to teach teachers how to be more creative, not how to be more compliant.
If we’re worried about keeping bad teachers in classrooms let’s “create” them out of schools.
Here’s how.
In the current system, where everything gets handed to teachers from a script and they’re told exactly what they need to do (or else…), and, if you were in a professional development training session being given exact orders on what to teach and how to teach it, the bad teachers might say, “Great! I don’t have to think about it. I’ll just skill drill and kill ‘em and go home.” Good teachers make a face in the back of room, and worry, “How am I going to make this interesting for my kids? This doesn’t really make a whole lotta sense,” and a great teacher might say “I’m outta here!” Or, they get pushed out for fighting back.

As Anthony Cody says: “I think it is likely to be some of the most creative teachers, working in the most challenging conditions, who are being encouraged to leave by the relentless pressure to increase test scores and the inequitable and unsustainable funding of high poverty schools.”
Now … In a system that expects creative thinking, here’s how the scenario to eliminate bad teaching might go:
During a faculty development session, teachers are encouraged to develop lessons (as one example) for  using the art work of Mondrian (a famous artist) in a geometry unit in which the teachers have to design and implement the connections between the artwork, the geometry learning goals, and their kids-- where they have to THINK and do some creative leg work. The bad teacher is going say “I’m outta here. This is too hard. It’s too much work.” The good teacher is going to nod their head and say, “Ok, let’s get to work.” And the great teacher is going to raise her hand and say “Wait a minute…I have an ever better idea!”

You see, great teachers don’t follow.  They lead.  And they’re greatness will not necessarily show up on the test scores, because you cannot measure creative outcomes on a bubble dot test, especially for students with ELL needs or special needs.  The tests set them up for failure anyway.  Those kids (or any kids) will not find their own creative greatness by filling in a bubble sheet with one right answer either.  We need to prepare teachers to be creative.  We need to teach them not how to simply follow the directions handed to them.  We need to teach them how to ask questions like “Does this even make the most sense for my kids?” and encourage them to take risks needed to really reach ALL children.
Creativity and complacency cannot exist in the same space.  Which do we want for our children and for ourselves? A world that is constructed for us by others, or one in which we possess the tools to make one for ourselves? What is our choice to be?
We need creativity, not compliance, to re-imagine and protect our public schools.  And we need teachers, great teachers, to show us how it can be done.