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.


Allan Alach said...

I agree totally with your guest principal. Good on him for having the foresight and strength to stand up, to protect the very good school that he runs. Clearly he and I share very similar viewpoints on education, as it should be provided in a child centred learning environment, against how schools are being forced to implement the standards based behaviourist nonsense.

Beware, the forces of darkness strike when you least expect it, from unexpected directions. However a point arrives when it becomes untenable to carry out requirements in a school that go so against the grain. Does one swallow principles, and submit (as Phil Cullen has highlighted in his article "A Memetic Scenario' ( and thus just follow orders, or does one stick to principles regardless, with inevitable consequences? The Eichmann defence (following orders) doesn't wash, as Phil points out. He also mentions the Milgram Experiment, which revealed that people do have a tendency to follow orders, and draws the comparison with principals who roll over and meekly submit.

It is not possible, given the headlong approach that the government is using, to try to sooth the beast by making soothing noises and hope it goes away. There are only two choices, submit or fight. Safety in numbers is of paramount importance, as Ben Franklin said "We must hang together or we will surely hang alone."

There is worse to come. This is a carefully planned long term agenda, that started in 1990. They won't give up.

Bruce Hammonds said...

This is what Kelvin Smythe has recently written about what has happened since politicians have taken control of education:

Does .... see national standards, league tables, charter schools, the centrally-driven narrowing of the curriculum, the uniformity and standardisation of education, the lack of freedom for teachers to organise their teaching on holistic grounds, the centralised and bureaucratic dominance of the system, the way the education review office dominates the direction of classroom practice, the highly competitive basis to our system, the emphasis in learning on that which is measurable, the serious weakening of the RTLB and other support services, the dissolution of the advisory service, the way government contracts have made many universities the cruel and arrogant exploiters of schools, the increasing class and ethnic basis for school rolls, and all that stuff – as being separate from Tomorrow’s Schools?

Anonymous said...

If only other principals (or better still groups of principls) had the courage to speak out

Thanks to the guest principal - powerful stuff.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to the author of this blog.
This is what I need to hear and read.
Thank you.

We were taken to task by ERO earlier this term - I was acknowledged as being an experienced and competent teacher/principal but was blasted for data interrogation techniques - I didn't interrogate it enough!

Bruce please send me the article that reflects this principal's thinking. I'd get value from reading it I'm sure.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Hi NZkoobi - thanks for your comment. I am not sure of the article you refer to but e-mail me I will send you a video/article by Yong Zhao.

Or google below - video great for BOT or staff meeting.


Bruce Hammonds said...

Diffendoofer Day by Dr Suess is an excellent book. You can tell which side the Governmnent and Ministry are on!!!

All schools should have a copy!

Anonymous said...

Let's hope this guest blog is the beginning of principals realising that it is time to stand up and be counted. Time to confront the political ideology thst is being imposed on education.

Mark Walker said...

Speaking out doesn't automatically mean dissent. It does mean we have an opinion and as leaders of communities we are actually paid to express them.

I find that its not just governments and departments that want to measure and weigh - i think there is a general community distrust of non measurable things these days as people seek assurances in an increasingly anxiety prone era.

I see it in parents taking their children off to all the tutoring programs after school so that they can get ahead of the imaginary standard they set.

People do care but we must speak out even if its unpopular.