Friday, June 29, 2012

Weekend Readings from Allan

Weekend Readings

By Allan Alach

A consistent refrain is ‘improving teacher quality.’ On the surface, this is not rocket science. However, if we step back from this meme, we see that this is essentially meaningless unless defined. What is ‘teacher quality?’ What are the criteria for a ‘quality teacher?’  At this point we hit the wall, and find that the definition of quality depends on the agenda of whatever group of people are doing the defining. In today’s technocratic world teacher quality is raising test scores (or similar), whereas in more enlightened times the definition will be much different. This reinforces that we must not use meaningless terms like this, as this just buys into the prevailing ideology.

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

The Hip-Hop Generation: Implications for Teacher Preparation

An interesting take on teacher preparation, overall, and especially for the urban environment.  Article discusses “Corporate vs Communal Teaching” - you can guess which one is which.

Beyond the Politics of the Big Lie: The Education Deficit and the New Authoritarianism

Thanks to Mary MacKay from Amsterdam for this article. The title says it all. While written about the USA, readers will very easily make the connection with their own countries. The similarity of the agenda internationally is no coincidence. Diane Ravitch has commented, ‘Believe me, the attack on public education was well planned and well messaged. Careful rhetoric about choice, excellence.’  She’s talking about the USA, however her comments are extremely apt for other countries. This is an international battle for child centred education and we must support each other.

The Education System That Pulled China Up May Now Be Holding It Back

China wants inventors and entrepreneurs, but its schools, built around the notorious gaokao exam, are still designed to produce cookie-cutter engineers and accountants.”

So, hang on a tick, does this mean to say that ‘raising literacy and numeracy achievement’ is not the answer? Does this mean that standards/high stakes tests don’t ‘raise achievement’ and don’t produce well rounded, creative and innovative learners? What a surprise, who would have thought it.

Are We Wringing the Creativity Out of Kids?

Is any comment needed?

Better Childhoods Needed

“Poor children don't need better schools. Poor children need better childhoods.”

What else needs to be said?

Gerald Coles: Why Bother Educating the Poor?

In the same vein, here is a background explanation, that is unpalatable reading, yet, in my opinion, is accurate. Shades of the 19th century, the only difference being that back then, the ‘deserving’ were children of the aristocracy, while now, the ‘deserving’ are children of the risk. Want to know more?  Read A Measure of Failure: The Political Origins of Standardized TestingBy Mark J Garrison.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A respected principal speaks out!

Please share with other NewZealand principals


I have never felt so disgruntled with education.  I really don't know what to do.  We have developed a Concept Approach to teaching across the curriculum.  Thrown out numeracy and are pushing meaningful, creative, exciting maths learning.  It is more like the old days.

The problem is that I know we will get clobbered by the Education Review Office when they next come, because we are so out-of-line with what many of my colleagues view as the current malpractice!

I am bringing Charles Lovitt out from Melbourne to work with the staff on Mathematics.  Charles has directed several Australian National and State projects such as MCTP and Initiative 5.4 for Maths and Science.  He was director of Mathematic projects for the Australian Curriculum Corporation and generated such projects as The Maths Task Centre Project, The Chance and Data Project and, more recently, the Maths 300 Project.

He strongly believes that practicing teachers hold the wisdom of our profession stating that It is tapping into this wisdom via captured images from classrooms, which allows all of us to professionally grow and learn from each other for mutual benefit.

Lovitt's workshops explore extremely practical and immediately useable classroom activities.  However, their real purpose is to engage teachers in discussion about the role of such teaching and learning ‘ingredients’ as non-threatening learning environments, open-ended investigative approaches, meaningful contexts, technology support, visual and kinesthetic learning, concrete materials, catering for the “7-year-gap” of students’ abilities (success for all), creative unit planning, alternative assessments.   But what’s the point – his approach doesn’t fit the current constrained directives we have to adhere to.

 I certainly feel principals have been stifled and ridiculed if they speak out.

I have put an article that reflects my thinking on our school website.  It is attached below and I would be interested to know what others think.

 School - January 2011 - Position Statement

Our school is realigning its thinking about curriculum delivery and learning approaches.  There currently seems to be a significant mismatch between the ecology of learning and pedagogy we espouse and the reality of teaching and the demands placed upon New Zealand teachers.

New Zealand has adopted a scientific management approach to education.  In short, this means that much of what we do, in terms of assessment and data gathering, is about teacher accountability, not about children experiencing a well-rounded education that excites them to be intrinsically motivated learners.  Put another way, the clear thinking behind the ecology of learning resource and the commitment we have to the learning theory of Vygotsky (constructivist approach) is being hijacked.

Now, either we commit to this theory and align our teaching practices to it, or we abandon it and become part of the scientific management regime which clearly mistrusts teachers.  Scientific management uses the data-driven approach which attempts to measure every miniscule point of progress.  This approach has the consequence of breaking learning into little isolated pieces for the sake of measurement, certainly not for the sake of learning.

This is the ʻjigsawʼ approach to teaching, based upon the behaviourist theory.  Current education administrators like this because they can easily measure progress and see who is performing and who is not.  Unfortunately, children do not learn in this way.  Learning is much more chaotic and happens over a longer period of time.

But oh no, we are set to label children as failures early in their primary school days, ignoring all that we know about how children learn.  Do we need to weigh a pig every day to see if it is getting any fatter?  I believe this analogy applies to children.  We want for them a well-rounded education that inspires a love of life and of learning.  We donʼt need to measure every little step of progress.

A common sight I see is teachers constantly engaged in monitoring and assessing children.  Clearly this takes them from the real task a teacher should be doing.  Sadly, young teachers know no better, because this is what they have been introduced to and believe is real teaching.

Interestingly, a real measure of growth last year was when we repeated the PAT Tests in Term 4.  What huge growth we saw in children.  Isnʼt that enough to convince us that our children do well?  Do we really have to measure every little step.  Could we not just have a couple of measures to satisfy our need to know, and allow us to get on with the real task of facilitating learning?

Is New Zealand really failing in its education system?  I think not!  To illustrate this further, consider our Rich Task Curriculum and our Modules Programme.  Children are engaged in an inclusive curriculum that gives them broad and rich experiences that open their world.  It is firmly based upon the Vygotysky approach to learning and is held up high as an excellent model of teaching!

Now consider our Mathematics and Reading programmes.  These, by their very nature of being leveled and staged, create an exclusive curriculum.  In other words, some children are excluded from learning certain concepts because they havenʼt reached ʻthat levelʼ!  Some will never reach ʻthat levelʼ while at primary school, and so we do them the injustice of excluding them from the curriculum.  We guarantee their failure by excluding them from knowledge and learning experiences.  Of course, we donʼt do this knowingly or intentionally, but we still do it.

Ironically, we consider Numeracy and Literacy to be of prime importance at primary schooling, and yet we donʼt use the model of excellent teaching we espouse for other Learning Areas of the NZ Curriculum.  Why not?  Very simply because they both easily fit the scientific model for accountability and can be measured in small steps.  Remember, this is for teacher accountability, not childrenʼs learning!  This has been masterly crafted by the scientific management approach and we have believed the lie!  Never has this been better illustrated than through the introduction of national standards.  Do we really need national standards to know what our children can do and have achieved?

The Vygotsky approach that we have so carefully crafted in our Rich Task Curriculum is based on a clear set of principles.  It is inclusive and principled in its approach.  Conversely, the approach adopted in teaching reading and numeracy has a set of ʻunprinciplesʼ.  It is about realigning these areas to good theory and teaching practice that I would like to address at our school. My aim is to reduce the compliance culture, and by doing so, increase creativity.  There are some risks inherent in this idea, but I believe they are worth taking.  We just have to be cautious to ensure we have reliable evidence to satisfy the demands upon us.

We know what is wrong, we know what we want to do but the pincer net is closing in on us.  How do you survive in this environment?  I am seriously thinking it may be time to quit.  But I'll probably keep going until I get caught up with and then it will be all over!

Have you ever read the Dr Suess book, Diffendoofer Day.  It is worth tracking down a copy and reading it.  I use it as my guide at our school and am trying to convince myself this will still be the outcome in the end.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Survival of the fittest or the best connected - Market Forces or creating conditions for all to thrive. A new look at Darwin.

Charles Darwin was possibly one of the most important scientists of all time. His theory of evolution changed forever the view of humans .The phrase 'survival of the fittest' , attributed to Darwin ( although he never said it), has been used to justify 'greed is good' capitalism and ,more recently, neo-liberal Market Forces competitive free market economic thinking.

 Steven Johnson, in his book 'Where Good Ideas Come From', writes that Darwin realised that the true story of nature was not just one of ruthless competition. Darwin understood well the paradox of the  importance of interdependence as well as competition. Johnson writes that the most creative ideas come from open environments where people share and build on each others ideas - in Darwin's day the coffee shop. Creating such fertile ideas environments is the theme of Johnson's book. Darwin developed his ideas after observing coral reefs.

Darwin's paradox - competition or collaboration.

 On April 4th 1856 Darwin stood at the edge of a coral reef in the Indian Ocean. He is at the edge of an idea - exploring a hunch, still hazy and unformed, that will eventually lead to the intellectual summit of the nineteenth century -  the theory of evolution.

The diversity of life  observed a coral reef delighted Darwin. Darwin's observations were to disprove the current theory that coral reefs were the summits of underwater volcanoes but rather were ecosystems built up over time by tiny organisms .

Johnson's book is about why it is that some environments squelch new ideas while others, like a coral reefs, breed them effortlessly.  Coral reefs create environments where biological innovation  flourishes.  The diversity of life fascinated Darwin but it would take him a long time before he could comprehend what he was observing. Why, he wondered, were coral reefs such engines of biological invention?

Competition it is still believed leads to innovation but when you look at innovation from a long term perspective competition turns out to be less central that we have been led to believe.  Survival of the fittest has been oversold - from a long term perspective openness and connectivity may be more important.

A coral reef  provides a platform for a diversity of interdependent life.  The reef, Darwin observed, is characterised by intricate and interdependent food-webs.  The true story of nature is not one of exclusively ruthless competition between selfish agents.   Darwin came to realise this. There is, he wrote, both symbiotic connections and survival of the fittest ; that collaboration is vitally important in the natural world. What makes the coral reef is so inventive is not the struggle for life but the way organisms have learnt to collaborate. This is the ultimate explanation of Darwin's paradox. 

Human innovation , Johnson writes, also requires such conditions to allow creativity to emerge - conditions where ideas  collide, emerge, recombine and  where new enterprises arise.

We need to build such environments in our schools. Johnson describes the intellectual habitat of a highly successful science laboratory as a ' superb environment for young kids was an environment that encouraged people to think broadly and generally about task problems, and ones in which inquisitive kids feel free to to follow up their curiosity.'

Sounds like a  great school .

Shame is that  our current market forces competitive orientated government seems prepared to destroy such an environment by introducing competitive league tables which will destroy the valuable aspects of collaboration and connectivity and, in the process, narrow the curriculum as teachers will naturally begin to teach to the test - a version of the outdated ideas of ' survival of the fittest.

Governments could learn a lot by studying coral reefs.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Learning off Water Fleas ( Daphnia)

One of my favourite books at the moment is Steven Johnson's 'Where Good Ideas Come From' (2011).  Steven uses the story of the water flea  as an example for us all when things get tough - time to look around for new ideas! Johnson's book is about environments that foster innovation. 'Some environments', he writes, 'squelch new ideas, some environments seem to breed them effortlessly'. The future, he writes, is about  creating powerful collaborative environments to create and share new ideas. In my thinking - a definition of a creative school.

The water flea Daphnia lives in most freshwater streams and swamps. They are not really fleas but tiny crustaceans no more than a few millimetres long.

Under normal conditions Daphnia reproduce asexuality, with females producing a brood of identical copies of themselves. In this mode, the Daphnia community is composed entirely of females. It turns out this strategy is stunningly successful  in warm summer months.

But when conditions get tough , when droughts or other ecological disturbances happen, or when winter rolls in the water fleas make a remarkable transformation: they start producing males and switch to reproducing sexually.

Scientists believe that the sudden adoption of sex is a kind of biological innovation strategy: in challenging times, an organism needs new ideas to meet those new challenges. Reproducing asexually makes perfect sense during prosperous periods; if life is good, keep doing what you're doing. Don't mess with success by introducing new genetic combinations. But when the world gets more challenging- scarce resources, predators, parasites- you need to innovate. And the quickest path to innovation lies in making novel connections.

When nature finds itself in need of new ideas, it strives to connect, not protect.

It seems that in the human world we are entering equally challenging times  as old ideas no longer seem to be working and that we need to create environments that foster new ideas, connections -  to see things with fresh eyes.

Moving into standardisation and conformity - as schools are being encouraged to do, is the wrong approach. This is equivalent to asexual reproduction - and not much fun - and the consequences are just too predictable with a narrowing of the curriculum, teaching to the tests ( which will come) and sidelining of creative areas.

The water fleas have it easy.

PS Just been thinking how 'asexual' schools are. Compliance to Ministry requirements ( notably National Standards) and conformist requirements of schools results in a consistency of expectations that make it hard for creative teachers to develop 'sexy' ideas. Johnson's book has lots of examples of the kind of free flowing open environments that encourage the development of new ideas - some that even work - but , he makes it clear, taking advantage of  serendipitous mistakes are where new ideas emerge. Ideas that created the Industrial revolution were spawned in coffee clubs!

If such things as a performance management, merit pay and competitive 'League Tables' are introduced into schools  collaboration and sharing - even trialling new ideas  -then innovation and creativity will be at risk.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

More Weekend Reading from Allan

Weekend Readings

By Allan Alach

Another week, nothing much has changed. The attack on kids continues unabated. As I read somewhere, ‘Why do adults hate kids?’

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Common Sense Vs. Common Core: How to Minimize the Damages of the Common Core
Here is another article by Yong Zhao. While this is written about the common core standards in USA, spot the similarities with national standards in New Zealand. Will a similar beast appear in Australia at some stage?

Are Compliant Teachers Exhibiting Stockholm Syndrome?
In the next article, Horace Mann suggests that both male and female teachers are subject to a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, eager to please their bosses and maintain personal safety.  Does he have a plausible argument? Or maybe they just ‘follow orders.’ Heard that before? Maybe the Milgram Experiment is the explanation?
What do you think?

The Technocratization of Public Education: Subverting educational practices
This reading follows up on the Bill & Melinda Gates idea of fitting children with “galvanic skin response bracelets”  by examining the development of public education in the USA (with obvious links to similar education programmes in other countries). Of particular interest, note this quote by Frederick Taylor Gates (no relation to Bill Gates):
“We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning, or men of science. The task we set before ourselves is very simple, as well as a very beautiful one, to train these people as we find them to a perfectly ideal life just where they are. So we will organize our children and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way, in the homes, in the shops and on the farm.”
One could suggest that nothing has changed nearly a century later.

Disaster Capitalism, K-12 Education, and Corporate Takeovers of Progressive Organizations
The USA is much further down the road to destroy public education for the sake of corporate profit, however our ‘leaders’ in Australia and New Zealand are hot on the trail. This article provides a review of the template that is being following - how many ‘coincidences’ can you find?

In 2002, Business Week Revealed Why Common Core Disdains Fiction
 We know that the Common Core Standards in the USA have a fair bit in common with New Zealand’s national standards. While NZ’s version of reading standards is not (yet) as restrictive as those in USA, we can’t take this for granted, nor can Australians relax thinking that this isn’t their problem. The USA reading standard is heavily slanted towards non-fiction, as ‘non-fiction is where students get information about the world and that’s why schools must stop teaching so much fiction.’ 
This article discusses the given rationale for this, which will not come as a surprise to you!

The best book on creativity 'In The Early World' by Elwyn Richardson (reprinted 2012 )
Feeling poisoned by the relentless attack on child centred education? Here’s an antidote for you - the reprint of a seminal book on a New Zealand school in the 1950s. This has been called the best book about education ever written, and in the light of my limited readings, I would have to agree. The book is available here:

Readers will have seen the posting that Bruce wrote about this book earlier this week. Kelvin Smythe has also written at length about Richardson, starting here:

To add to this, here’s a documentary that was made about Elwyn’s school, where you can see his work in action.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Creativity not standardisation. The best book on creativity 'In The Early World' by Elwyn Richardson (reprinted 2012 )shows the way

Last Friday I travelled to Auckland to the opening of a new edition of Elwyn Richardson's inspirational book 'In the Early World'. The book, as the new preface says, 'is a celebration of the creative power of children and celebrates the artistry of a sensitive teacher as he crafted a ' new' approach to teaching and learning'. The book 'offers at least a partial answer to the question now being asked again: How can we put the lives of children and our trust in their creative power back into classroom practice?'

Book available from the NZCER - order your copy now!

New Zealand teachers - share this posting with creative teachers you know as an antidote to National Standards and League Tables.

Earlier postings have featured the work of Elwyn Richardson so this blog is drawn from a new hard hitting forward written by educationalist.  Gwenneth Phillips  The original forward is also included and is worth read as well.

Elwyn's book comes at an opportune time as the current government is finally showing its true 'market forces' neo liberal competitive  ideology with its intention to introduce 'League Tables' based on National Standards data to encourage competition through students and school comparison.

Schools now have a moral dilemma - to comply to such impositions that, where introduced, have narrowed the curriculum, with teachers teaching to the tests ( national testing will be inevitable ) and the sidelining of untested areas of the curriculum such as the creative arts, or be creative. Ironically countries that have imposed such approaches are well behind New Zealand in international testing!

The choice is simple. Standardisation ( the 'McDonaldisation' of learning) or personalization that celebrates every students' unique gift and talents.

New Zealand  has had a long history of creative teaching and Gwenneth writes  that these 'teacher-pioneers became driven by the belief in the creative power of children.....laying the foundations for a child-centred approach, unique to New Zealand... Elwyn's creative approach is an exemplar of this work.' Through such an approach New Zealand schools have achieved highly on international testing.

'But....times have changed... educational decision making has shifted from such innovative educators to non teaching politicians and policy makers; and in the classroom from practicing teachers to academics.'

This new guard of decision makers' Gwenneth writes,  'juggle political, fiscal and/or research agendas' . 'Teachers' , she writes, 'have long struggled with the conflicting particular the demands for accountability- based on the precise articulation of outcomes as well as their measurement. As a result, the basic tenants of of our unique child-centred approach...have been compromised.....the child's creative power has been strangled and the child marginalised'.

One might add so has the creative power of teachers and creative schools.

'An old challenge has re-emerged. How can we put the lives of children and our trust in their creative power back into classroom practice?' And  how can we develop trust in teachers to be creative in our present risk averse surveillance culture!

Gwenneth believes this new edition of Elwyn's book is both timely and important, for this challenge is at the heart of present debate. It presents a backdrop to current issues in education and to teachers' concerns - the narrowing of the curriculum, the setting of externally prescribed adult motivated progressions and outputs that neglect the developmental nature of learning'.

The book has two stories - the story of Elwyn an innovative teacher breaking away from a teacher dominated approach and learning to trust the creative power of children.

 Elwyn 'dsicarded the official syllabus and turned to the children's lives and immediate environment for the basis of his curriculum. Using the children's natural curiosity and interest, Richardson taught them how to observe closely the world around them and to record their new discoveries and their own responses to these. From here, he developed a school programme that was anchored in the children's surroundings and real lives'.

'Through environmental study the children learned the basis of scientific method, and brought these  skills to bear on studies that spanned all subjects. His method was a revolt against the treatment of science as a separate subject in favour of an integrated programme of arts ands science.'

'The second story is told through the voices and imagery of the children's own work. This  story captures the universal experience of children " learning to be"- to be members of a caring and respectful community of artists, craftspeople, scientists, historians, inventors, reserachers'.

'Success in these stories were sustained by the knowledge and professional artistry of a caring teachers who esteemed the voice and thinking of the children.' As Elwyn himself writes, ' they were my teachers as I was theirs, and the basis was sincerity, without which, I am convinced, there can be no creative education.'

This second story is exemplified today in the all but sidelined 2007 New Zealand Curriculum  which asks teachers to see their students as active 'seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge'.

The way of working captured in Elwyn's book are 'in stark contrast to that have emerged in the last decades. Current ways are based clearly articulated and predetermined pathways.The children are forced to state goals and are evaluated through criteria and standards that conform not to their own understandings of themselves in the world, but by expectations dissected from the forms and structures of adult thinking.' These approaches Gwenneth writes, 'are the antithesis  of child centred approaches.They marginalise children and show little respect for their creative power to develop their own life-learning pathways'

Unfortunately many school are well down this imposed formulaic 'best practices' approaches . Gwenneth writes  , 'for many teachers, especially primary teachers, the knowledge and professional artistry of their child-centred practice has been usurped; the courage and tenacity of the pioneering spirit stifled; and the recognition and trust of the child's creative power has been undermined.'

The aesthetic quality of children's art work, the accuracy of their scientific observations and the quality of language in Elwyn's book 'should inspire and convince teachers'.

'In The Early World, together with the stories of other early pioneers, tempered with new insights...has the power to inspire a '"new" guard of educational pioneers'. It is a book that 'celebrates the pioneering spirit of New Zealand tecahers'.

Please share this blog with creative teachers - before it is too late.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lets value individual creative teachers.

This is my rather battered copy of Elwyn Richardson's inspirational book 'In The Early World'. Tomorrow, after a long drive to Auckland, I am attending an opening of a new edition of the book originally published in the early 60s

If you are  a creative New Zealand teacher please share this posting with other like minded teachers - it is time creative teachers start to fight to have their voices heard. Education is too important to be left to politicians or even conformist principals

The sixties were exciting times.  Creativity and liberation were in the air. The fifties, following the devastation of World War Two,  were marked by both rebuilding and a need for security but there were also  feelings that there must be better ways of doing things in all areas of life.

We are at a similar position today!

It was during fifties in a small isolated rural school in the far north that teacher Elwyn Richardson, began his journey into creativity . Originally Elwyn had intentions of continuing his own science study of molluscs but somewhere along the way became focused on helping his students explore their environment and then to express what they saw and felt through a variety  of creative media.   The insights he gained through his experiences  are expressed poetically in the pages of his book.

About the same time of Elwyn's books publication I began my own teaching career as a school adviser. As part of my role I visited every school and classroom in South Taranaki and I soon became aware that certain teachers stood out. Such teachers were to be found teaching in small rural schools  and in my area about six or seven attracted my attention. It was through such teachers I became aware of Elwyn's book. The ideas he had developed  were well known to these teachers and their classrooms reflected similar student creativity. I also became aware of the work of the Art Advisers in the dissemination and support of this creative approach to teaching and learning.

Unfortunately the appreciation of the insights of creative classroom teachers ( today such individuals are called 'postive deviants') has been neglected  at first by the introduction of new curriculums ( most of which, due to lack of support failed to 'stick'). After the introduction of such curriculums came an emphasis on the importance of leadership and whole school development.  Now It is all about accountability.  'Experts' now abound delivering research based ( whatever that means)  'best practices'. As a result the 'voices' of teachers have all but disappeared.

Now, fifty or so years later, I still firmly believe that it is only by the sharing of the innovative ideas of individual teachers that real educational progress is realised. School based reforms  may have proved greater consistency, even quality, but  at the cost of creativity. 'Positive deviants' find it hard to survive in such a monitoring, and increasingly, surveillance culture. Conformity and standardisation are now features of our schools. and small rural schools are no longer centres of innovation. Top down compliance has created  risk averse school environments

It is time again to value those who dare to see things differently.

Creative leadership is required to create the conditions to encourages teacher creativity.

Developing creative school cultures the real challenge if we are to take advantage of the creativity of those teachers who want to try new things with their students.Leadership is required to support and protect such teachers. We need leaders with the confidence to let such teachers learn through their mistake so as to develop ideas that  can then be shared with others. Not many principals have the insight or courage to do this.

Real improvement in any area of life occurs when people feel free to share ideas and where the culture encourages open interaction between all involved. By such talk teachers build up a shared language and means to assess which ideas are worth pursuing. Good ideas are self selecting.

This approach, based on valuing the artistry of the teachers, reaches back to the ideas of such pioneers as Elwyn Richardson. Just as he needed people around him to support him in his endeavours so do teachers today. And when ideas are shared with other creative teachers by school leaders then real change will  spread like benign virus and be established in sympathetic schools.

It is this 'bottom up' innovation, supported by school leaders, and those outside of the school, that is now needed. Real growth in nay area of human endeavour  arise first by outliers, by those working at the edge by those willing to the risks,  but to be shared such ideas needs the support creative cultures and insightful leaders.

A creative classroom  can be seen as a 'fractal' of a  creative school and in turn a creative community. Creative classrooms,  creative schools and  creative communities  do not emerge by chance - they are supported, often intuitively, by having the right conditions and leadership.

Hopefully the republication of Elwyn's book  might be the spark that sets off of new creative era. As someone has said, we need to do the sixties again but this time properly.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The power of 'postive deviants'.- Michael Fullan recants

This Friday I am attending the book launching of a new updated edition of Elwyn Richardson's book 'In the Early World'. This is , my opinion, the best book ever about creative education. Elwyn has long since retired but his ideas about education are more relevant than ever in this deadening era of standardized teaching. Picture with Elwyn is Margaret McDonald who has completed a thesis on Elwyn's work. Elwyn was a pioneer of creative teaching whose views stood out in contrast to the traditional approaches of the time. His work certainly influenced the teachers I worked with as an adviser. I only hope there still are inspirational teachers today like  Elwyn because it is through the  identifying and sharing  of work of such teachers real progress is made.

If any creative New Zealand teachers read this posting please forward it other like minded teachers - and if you receive this posting add your e-mail to get regular postings

Michael Fullan recants
Surprisingly the Canadian ‘wizard’ of educational reform international educationalist Michael Fullan provides some answers.  Fullan, who has a history of assisting governments impose ‘top down’ initiatives focussed on literacy and numeracy, seems to have changed his mind.  Recently he has changed from assisting governments imposing accountability reforms on schools to a focus on building school ‘capacity’.
In his latest book, ‘The Change Leader,’ Fullan moves away from implementing reforms to the revolutionary belief schools ought to learn from their own experience. He now believes that practice, classroom experimentation, is now the most powerful tool for change. In this Fullan aligns himself behind the actions of scientists like Darwin by saying the theory will evolve through practice and reflection. His new thinking is also in line with the writing of educationalist Alison Gopnik who writes that children develop their theories through their explorations. .
Fullan’s advice for school leaders is to manage people by ‘impressive empathy’ To ‘manage others by creating environments that help them learn and grow’ and that this ‘includes understanding others who disagree with us’. Good advice for politicians. He writes that we all have a need to connect with others and that our brains are shaped by new thoughts and actions.
First practice then theory
Fullan now believes ‘most good ideas come first by examining the practice of others’ and then to ‘try out the ideas yourself’ and, finally , ‘ drawing conclusions from what you have learnt and then expanding on those conclusions’.  This is about valuing school creativity not compliance to imposed requirements.
In the past imposed reforms and strategies have dominated practice. The least we can do, Fullan suggests, is to ‘slow the adoption of bad practices’ including some of his previous advice!  ‘A large percentage of expert advice is flawed’, he comments. This he, he writes, also applies to advice on performance pay which he says ‘constantly fails to improve student performance’. ‘It is better’, he writes, ‘for change leaders to learn to rely on themselves, questioning themselves as they learn'. ’Leaders ‘don’t start by imaging the future’ they ’walk into the future by examining their own and others’ best practice, looking for insights they had hitherto not noticed’.’ This is the essence of the scientific method – once again creativity not compliance.
This paradigm for discovery is the opposite to of what is normally assumed. The sequence from practice to theory is exactly the opposite of how progress is thought to happen. Theories arise through action. Discovery is now to be seen as expert practitioners sharing ideas and influencing each other. The key for leaders is to find the ‘bright spots’, what some call ‘positive deviants’, and to for others to put into practice their ideas adding their own ideas in the process. This is learning by doing, being active, connected ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’ as the 2007 NewZealand Curriculum suggests.
This, Fullan writes, is about ‘acting your way into new ways of thinking, than to think your way into new ways of acting…. It is about finding and learning from practice what works to solve extremely difficult problems ‘.Trying things and keeping what works. Compliance is putting into action predetermined solutions while creativity requires experimenting, new discoveries, and continual adjustments.
New paradigm for educational change.
Fullan’s latest book contributes to ideas that are gaining ascendancy – the importance of creative hands on practice over abstract theorizing and compliance to requirements by those distant from the action. As a result, writes Fullan, ‘over the past fifty years in my own field in education….we have lost the capacity to build effective practice through the teaching profession and its leaders. Instead we have politicians running around introducing ad hoc policies far removed from practice that have no chance of improving practice on the ground.’
From ‘delivery’ to empowerment.
Tapping and sharing the expertise of creative teachers requires a new mind-set and a new set of skills from school leaders. It requires leaders to be comfortable about being uncomfortable because it is impossible to pre-determine in what direction some changes will result. Teachers need to see genuine reactions from their leaders to their discoveries so they will see them as part of their learning process. Creating new idea can be messy and dangerous but there is no other way to gain authentically owned progress.
Educations goal needs to shift from ‘delivering’ of something to empowering teachers and students to amplify their innate and natural curiosity to learn whatever and whenever they need to.   School leaders need to do all they can about eliminating obstacles to achieving this goal. Fullan’s advice to principals is to be a critical consumer of imposed requirements and to ‘examine received wisdom in light of your own practice and that of your peers, and only after thorough consideration of that practice. If practice is going to drive improvement, the leader’s job is to liberate practice’.
Heading in the wrong direction.
The current government seems determined to introduce standardized approaches with their genesis from  a past mass production age rather than implementing personalised approaches for an unpredictable, evolutionary, fast changing world. Rather than the current obsession with the ‘Three Rs’ (literacy and numeracy standards - as important as they are) schools need to focus on the’ Four Cs’: creativity, complexity, choice, curiosity, and collaboration. These attributes align well with the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum’s key competencies.  Countries, organisations, and individuals will be ill equipped if they don’t have what it takes to be creative.
A ‘bottom up’ world.
Today the dominant ‘voices are those those distant from the reality of schools. The challenge for school leaders is to break from old quantitative models and develop open environments that ‘breed ideas’ and work with others to share the creative ideas of their teachers. This was once the way ideas were shared before Tomorrow’s Schools. Thankfully inter school visiting is on the rise again and, thanks to modern information technology, it has never been easier to share ideas.
Future orientated schools need to create the conditions to encourage their ‘positive deviants’ and then let their ideas mate mutate and continually challenge their thinking. The future requires teachers who, in the words of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, who are busy ‘seeking, using and creating their own knowledge’ so as to break through the inertia of past practices.
 Creativity that enlarges experience needs to be the new norm.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Weekend reading from Allan

Weekend Readings

By Allan Alach

Another week, more educational madness in New Zealand, as the current government races down the ‘us too’ track being followed by other equally ignorant governments. This time the government has decided that the best way to ‘raise achievement’ and to ‘improve delivery of the curriculum’ is to increase class sizes and to spend the money saved on improving ‘teacher effectiveness’ whatever that means. However, since the government didn’t do their homework, this decision has rebounded on them, and succeeded in bringing parents alongside teachers in the fight to overturn this. As a result the government has had to backdown and cancel the increase to class sizes. This is a major victory, the first against the neo-liberal education agenda. One battle doesn’t mean the war is won, far from it, as the agenda is still there, and I expect a retaliatory attack on principals and teachers fairly soon, in an attempt to split them off from the parent support.

 I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

This week’s homework!

Is Real Educational Reform Possible? If So, How?

Why Daydreaming Isn’t a Waste of Time.

Research paper from England that shows that class sizes do make a difference.

Did A Big-Bucks British Testing Company Hijack America’s Public Schools?

Read and despair.... people like this are the influences behind the National Party's education agenda in New Zealand and Naplan regime in Australia.
Is American education backing the wrong horse?  Is Australian education backing the wrong horse? Is New Zealand education backing the wrong horse?  What’s the connection between these countries? Why do schools get blamed for the ills caused by poverty?

Friday, June 08, 2012

The corporate takeover of society and education.

Special request for New Zealand readers - please pass this, and any other relevant blogs, to other teachers who may be interested. If you receive this blog please consider entering your e-mail address to receive regular postings.
This blog has been based on an interview on National Radio with Richard Hil author of ‘Whakademia- an insider’s view of the troubled university.’Hil’s particular area of concern is the corporatisation of the university system.

Since the early 90s society has been reshaped by a neo liberal corporate ideology. An emphasis on private enterprise and self-centred individualism has replaced an earlier concern for collective good of all members of society.   As a result of this ideological shift a wider gap has been created between the rich and poor causing a number of social concerns. Schools as part of this shift have been transformed from a community orientation to being part of a competitive cut throat ideology.

Students at the tertiary level (and parents with regard to selecting schools) can be seen as consumers or ‘shoppers’, selecting from an educational market. All that is missing is some form of comparative ‘league tables’ to provide data for parent choice – this is sure to come.

New bureaucratic practices are now well in place in all public organisation and increasingly in education. Corporate jargon is now common in this new educational environment  – inputs, outputs, targets, key performance indicators, performance management, efficiency, accountability, benchmarking and quality assurance, all based around maintaining top down corporate discipline, brand distinctiveness and market share.

Corporate domination, to be put in place,  needs an acquiescent and  disciplined workforce – in schools the principals and teachers. Through compliance requirements a workforce supportive of the corporate approach is developed.

The corporate model is pushed on schools by policy makers imposing a policy framework model on schools – policy makers who have little or no experience of the reality of the classroom and deliberately the ‘voice’ of educationalist are ignored.

To achieve such a compliant workforce constant monitoring and surveillance, through regulatory mechanisms of review, assessment and evaluation, all under the guise of transparency and accountability and quality assurance, have been put in place. All sorts of byzantine assessment process are now to be found in schools producing lots of data but little enlightenment. Students are assessed against narrow arbitrary standards resulting in a narrowing of the curriculum and, in turn, a lack of provision for students to express their diverse talents and gifts – ‘one size now fits all’. This demeans the intelligence of both teachers and students. There is no time to do fewer things well to develop important attitudes and dispositions educationalists believe are necessary for students to thrive in an uncertain future. Such aspects are far too hard to measure.

The net result of such monitoring has been the lowering of the professional status of the teaching force. Teachers have developed a sense of being constantly surveyed and swamped by red tape, a loss of creative license, intellectual freedom and job satisfaction.  Many teachers increasingly feel stressed and many are considering leaving the profession. As a result teachers are feeling there is a lack of time for the important consideration of teaching and learning and grappling with growing numbers of needy students.

As a result of disgruntled and unhappy teachers there is a growing educational malaise.  There is also a growing disenchantment in schools about the mutations caused by the corporate ideology in education.

As part of the corporate strategy was the demeaning the teaching profession through finger pointing and blaming them for student failure while at the same time ignoring the effects of poverty on student achievement. The market forces  corporate ideology places value on hardnosed economic growth and demonizes teachers and schools as failing students and being stuck in the past. To reform this seemingly failing situation a standardised model has been implemented which has resulted in a one dimensional approach to education with success being determined and measured by narrow literacy and numeracy levels in primary school and NZCEA levels in secondary.

Through this corporatism education has been reshaped to suit economic and vocational ends – only measuring what can be simply measured and all this in a world where we need more rounded, globally aware, citizen minded citizens who subscribe to the common good and not self-centred greed.

What is now needed is to turn the growing dissatisfaction with the corporate model to ‘our’ advantage by reframing the current reality with a vision of what might be, rather than complying meekly with what is being imposed.  New Zealand needs to formulate a vision that faces up to the ‘big picture’ facing us all – with a focus on developing the diverse gifts and talents of all students if we are to solve issues of poverty, climate change and sustainability.

Educators, along with other citizens, need to be liberated from the petty tyrannical managerial control and excessive administrative compliance demands they now suffer under.

In our school system there are many who have succumbed to the imposed excessive measure for a variety of reasons, more often simply to ensure their and their schools success in a competitive market. Some have come to believe that there is no other alternative (TINA).

Out of dissatisfaction there are alternatives waiting to be articulated, including picking up on democratic and humanist ideals from the past. There is a need to reframe the current reality with a vision of what might be. To make a change will require courage, leadership and working collaboratively with others who share similar concerns.

This how the corporate model itself was imposed but it has had its time centre stage – time for a new narrative to replace its narrow pragmatic ideals.  Corporatisation, based on economic growth for its own sake, is unsustainable - fighting battles of a past world.

What is needed is a fundamental change from the individualistic and materialistic values of corporatisation. A new narrative for society, and in turn, education is required to replace the destructive winners and losers corporate model.

 What is required is to establish the conditions, at every level of society and in every school, to develop the creativity, initiative and innovation that the heavy hand of the corporate model is stifling.