Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas Time - a season of excess? The engine of consumption.

Christmas has come and gone for another season.

More than we can eat - or afford?
I had a very enjoyable and stress free Xmas. Lovely breakfast with the family arranged by my daughters in one of my daughters new house. I followed this up with ham and buns at a musical friends place  so it was pleasant to listen to the guitars.  Then out to the beach for the evening meal and swim. Couldn't have been better. Even got some great presents - new frying pans and gumboots!

Simple pleasures
But it all makes you wonder. This year lots of people needed help with their budgeting and Christmas meal. And lots of people will have to face up to debts incurred which will be stressful. Ironically this is the season of increased family violence as well.

Humble beginnings
As an aside the Christmas (Christ's Mass) celebrations have an interesting and somewhat confusing history. It is a shame that schools are closed for the summer break because there are a lot of questions for children to research. How did Christmas evolve? How did Father Christmas get involved?  Why is he also called Santa Claus? Who was Saint Nicholas? Why do we have a big feast, give presents and decorate a tree? Where did the idea of a conifer tree come from? When did cards begin to be sent? Why holly, mistletoe and ivy? And what is the origin of  Boxing Day

It would be interesting  for students to learn about the mix of  pagan pre-christian and religious origins involved in Christmas. What questions and views do children have about Christmas?

Chandran Nair
To be honest the issue of Christmas as a season of excess consumption has been brought to my mind through listening to a radio replay of a talk about 'Consumptionomics - Asia's role in Reshaping Capitalism and Saving the Planet'  given by Chandran Nair  at the 2012Auckland Readers and Writers gathering .

Christmas is the peak season for retailers. In the USA a quarter of all spending occurs during the season and Boxing Day has evolved into a shopping day with the greatest turnover of any day.

Chandran Nair's point is that if the Asian countries consumed goods at the rate of the West the results will be catastrophic across the globe as nations scramble for diminishing resources.

He feels that this issue is important as failing Western 'market forces' countries are encouraging Asian countries to consume more to help save the global economy. It will be like Easter Island on a large scale where competing tribes felled all the trees in a competition to roll their huge monument into place.

He believes Asian governments find them selves at a crossroads. They may take up the challenge to consume to the level of Western nations or take the responsibility of leading the world to a more sustainable path. It is message for New Zealand as well who, he thinks, could be a model of a sustainable community.

Do they need the American dream?
For Asians to aim for the 'American Dream'  is neither desirable or even possible. Imagine, he asks,  all the resources that Asia would need to bring their citizens up to the consumption level of the West? Imagine the results if all Asians became middle class consumers  . If the Chinese and Indians used as much energy per capita as Americans use their total power consumption would be 14 times as great as the United States! Take cars. If Asian countries reached Western levels their could be 3 billion cars in the world. Where would the fuel come for all theses vehicles? Similar calculations can be made for everything we take for granted in the West - even Christmas turkeys!

So, he believes, Asian governments need to reject the views of those who urge Asians to consume relentlessly - free markets, faith in technology and hope for the best is not a plan.

He is not arguing that Asians must remain poor , nor is he against economic development, or capitalism , or democracy. He is for 'contstrained consumerism', funnelled in a way that does not deplete the demand for resources that in turn depletes the environment.

 Asian governments must prioritise and provide incentives to use fewer materials. Management of resources needs to be at the centre of all policy making if consumption habits are to be changed. Efficient public transport needs to be in place to replace cars and motorways - a lesson for New Zealand. This move away from today's extreme capitalism could mark the start of a new industrial revolution.

How many cars are too many?

To achieve this will require strong and bold government interventions especially to combat vested interests. Such measures must be supplemented by 'draconian rules' constraining consumption of a range of goods , particularly fossil fuels, fisheries and forest products. It will require massive investments in public infrastructure to give people the transport, water and sanitation, health and education services badly need in Asia. Food, security and safety must be a priority.

Chandran Nair knows this will not be easy particularly for countries influenced by Western economics  who believe prosperity can be achieved through conventional forms of consumption driven economic growth.

Collective welfare and a 'hands on' state is preferable to the destructive current ideology of  less government and a 'free for all' unbridled market economy resulting in few greedy winners and lots of losers.

He concludes , 'if the governments of the region can rise to this challenge, it will be the decision makers in Beijing, Delhi and Jakarta that will determine whether our world has a future - not , as it has been for the last two centuries, the capitals of the West'.

Cutting back on Christmas excess might be a start for us?

Maybe looking after the needs of all people, particularly those living in poverty, would be a return to the true spirit of Christmas?

Sunday, December 09, 2012

End of year class survey

My fifth most popular blog is one about the end of the school year so here it is again -slightly amended.  There might be an idea that you might find useful?
Norman Rockwell painting of a classroom in the 50s
At the end of the school year it is a good idea to gather information from the students you are passing on. Not only is this a chance for you to get some insight about your teaching but it is also a great way to value the ‘voice’ of your students. 

It  is also a good time for the students (and the teacher) to reflect on what has been achieved. This is preferable to letting the end of the year become 'fill in' time. As a principal I always encouraged teachers to work right up to the last minute. I had learnt, from experience as a teacher, that working hard is easier than improvising programmes the last week or so

One idea would be to develop a  mini-unit of work with the students for them to reflect on  their own achievements. Not only will this bring a sense of closure to the year but it will help the students develop a sense of accomplishment and an affirmation of their years efforts. One theme could be, 'This is what I could do at the beginning of the year and this is what I can do now', or, 'Things I am most proud of this year'.

The class could 'brainstorm' all the activities they have studied throughout the year. It would feature all the exciting content studies that have provided the 'energy' for the years student research and creativity. This in itself will remind the students of what an interesting year they have had.

A display, featuring artifacts from the various studies (and maths and language themes), could be developed with information on the 'big ideas' of each study.

Students could develop their own wall display, or chart, of things ( say, the top six) they have learnt during the year. This could include, not only ideas, but also poems and pieces of art. Digital cameras would be useful to capture visual information. An idea would be to develop a 'My Reflections and Memories of the Year' booklet, or 'Things I have learnt during the year', or 'Things I am most proud of,'or 'Talents I have developed during the year'.

Students might also like to include their thoughts and hopes for the year to come - this might involve questioning older students in the next class to gather 'data'.

One valuable idea ( really an evaluation of the culture the teacher has established) is to ask the students to write, for next years students, 'How to survive in this class', or 'Tips for New Students'. This might include ideas,to  you, as the teacher, about how to improve the programme for the next year, and even things that students felt were not useful to them!

We really loved the bush walks

Ideas for students at the end of the year to consider

1. What have been the best things you have done this year? Why? 
2. What would you liked to have done more of this year? 
3. What didn’t we do that I wish we had? 
4. In what way have I changed this year? What areas have I improved in, or grown to like more? 
5. What were the things I didn’t like most this year? 
6. What would you change about how I teach or the class? 
7. If you were giving advice for next years students of how to survive in style in my room, what would you say to them? 

Below are some interesting sentences for students to finish that will give you some idea of how they see schools, teachers and themselves.  What metaphors would they choose?

A school is a place where…………….. 
A teacher is a person who………………… 
A student is a person who……………… 

It is interesting to see what metaphors students come up with  if they see themselves as learners or someone who is taught things.  For the first :do students see school as a place they have to go or a place they go to learn? For the second is the teacher a person who tells you what to do or is teacher a person who helps you learn? For the last is students some who is taught by teachers or a person who learns with teachers' help?

Try it. You might be surprised. You might even learn something.

A class newsletter to all parents , based on the reflections of the students, would be a great way to finish the year on a positive note.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Educational Readings : Marion Brady, Cathy Wylie.

By Allan Alach

Another week, with the end of year approaching fast. New Zealand and Australian primary teachers are in the ‘gritting teeth and hanging on to the end” stages of their school year, with a well earned break looming. Because of this coming break, this is the last education readings posting for 2012. Things will kick off again towards the end of January. Wouldn’t it be lovely for 2013 to see the end of GERM so that we can focus on what really matters - the children!

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


This week’s homework!


How Bad Can It Get?

The ultimate in ‘paint by numbers’ education.

“Perhaps the greatest evil of high stakes standardized testing is that it takes our eyes away from the children and focuses them instead on the tests themselves. Children become sources of data. Learning becomes something that is cut, sliced, packaged and weighed.

Until we rid ourselves of this impediment to education and find valid, humane, child centred forms of assessment, testing will continue to STOP our children from learning.”

The Common Core Kool-Aid

Ultimate aim of common core standards (aka national standards) is to prove how poorly schools are doing and therefore justify reform. Sounds plausible to me.

Nine questions about ’21st Century curriculum’

Another gem from Marion Brady.

Schools Ditch The Classroom To Put Play Back In Education

There is still hope - this is from USA. More evidence for politicians to ignore.

“At the PlayMaker school, don’t be surprised to find kids in a workshop or playing a game, just not in front of a chalkboard. It’s part of a new movement that is attempting to make education more fun--and work better.”

Teachers' pay rises pegged to performance

England today, down under tomorrow?

In a similar vein..

Seven Myths of Performance Management

A+ Schools Infuse Arts and Other 'Essentials'

Self explanatory!

Cathy Wylie outlines new wave of change for New Zealand Schools!

Here’s Bruce Hammonds’ review of Cathy Wylie’s book that analyses the so-called “Tomorrow’s Schools’ neo-liberal schooling system that was instituted in 1990. While there were ‘plusses’ from this, Cathy suggests that there were more ‘minuses’ and that revisions are needed. While NZ focussed, there’s plenty here for overseas readers.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Cathy Wylie outlines new wave of change for New Zealand Schools!

Time for a new wave of change!

In the 1980s a new political ideology swept through Anglo American countries. It was a time of dramatic change as the democratic welfare state was replaced by  what has come to be known as a ‘Market Forces business oriented’ approach based on small government, valuing self-interest, privatisation, competition, choice and accountability. This neo liberal approach was believed to be the only way to cope with dramatic worsening worldwide economic circumstances. A common phrase at the time was TINA (there is no alternative).
New Zealand was not immune. The recently elected Labour Government led by David Lange was influenced by finance minister Roger Douglas and the Treasury. ‘Thatcherism’ in the UK, ‘Reaganism’ in the US and ‘Rogernomics’ in New Zealand – continued by National’s Ruth Richardson and alive but not so well today!
The new ideology was applied across the public service and education was not immune.
In 1986 an ‘earthquake ‘hit education in the form of ‘Tomorrows Schools’; following the publication of the Picot Report self-managing schools were born.
Now, almost three decades later, A  NZCER  chief researcher Cathy Wylie has written a definitive and compelling story of school self-management called ’VitalConnections: Why We Need More Than Self-managing Schools’. For two background papers: link one - link two
Cathy Wylie
Cathy answers the questions: What was the real effect of ‘Tomorrows Schools’? Has the New Zealand Schools system improved as a result? And what changes are needed now to meet our expectations of schools?
People who were principals during the transition (as I was) will find the book enlightening and younger principals will learn that a lot of shared wisdom was lost in the process.
It is interesting to find that New Zealand was the only country to take self-managing schools to such extremes of local control and now Cathy believes that we have ‘made self-management into a barrier’ if we want all students to be treated equitably. Keep in mind our growing ‘achievement gap’.
The impression given at the time was that the then system was too bureaucratic, too centralised, to allow school flexibility and initiative.
An early chapter Principals  focuses on the situation before ‘Tomorrows Schools’. Contrary to the myth  being spread by those propagating change schools enjoyed considerable latitude in comparison to other education systems. They had on-going connections with the inspectorate, the local advisers and curriculum experts in the Department of Education and teachers often belonged to networks of teachers developing and trialling new ideas.
Inspectors and advisers could ‘connect individual teachers with expertise ….. They knew where good practice was occurring…they could identify and encourage talent’. All schools had liaison inspectors and inspectors arranged for teachers to visit other schools and to develop and share ideas. As a result there was a healthy cross fertilisation of ideas. As Cathy writes ‘they could connect the dots’ and ‘foster collective strengths of teachers working together’.
An OECD report in the early 80s was full of praise for existing educational provisions and did not find people wanting dramatic changes and was impressed with the engaging and active learning that keeps children motivated to learn. New Zealand students do well and still do, in international testing
But there were shortcomings. There was no national systematic way to support schools. The locally elected Education Boards looked after property and finance while inspectors focused on educational issues. Both were involved in principal and teacher appointment. There was growing concern with the failure rate of Maori students, communities were not fully involved with their schools and a growing number of students were not being catered for in secondary schools as students we were encouraged( by lack of jobs) to stay at school longer.
Education Boards and inspectors disappeared in the change and advisers placed with College Of Educations (later Universities) and employed on contract. In the process connections and collective wisdom was lost.
So where was the bureaucracy and over centralisation that was blocking the initiative and creativity of the system? It was in the regulations to do with staffing, with property and with resources for teaching. ’Tomorrows Schools certainly had its attraction when it came to these issues. Responsibility for such areas really appealed to principals.
‘Tomorrows Schools’ would tackle bureaucracy but this came at a price. Key interconnections were lost. Schools and Boards were on their own and this would create winners and losers.
An overseas observer described the New Zealand approach as the ‘earthquake method of educational reform’. Teacher unions were excluded. Changes were less to do with educational reasons but with political determination to restructure the economy and the role of the state. David Lange, as Minister of Education, at least did not allow education vouchers or privatisation to be part of the mix.
It seems there was not much thought given to the infrastructure needed to support the self-management of schools and the sharing of useful ideas. The general tenor was that schools were to be left to make their own decisions.
What eventuated was at best ‘fragmented freedom’. Schools in ‘better’ environments had the local expertise to do well but self-management was ‘sown on uneven ground’. Principals and BOTs learnt ‘by the seat of their pants’ and became occupied with compliance and the ‘demanding twins’ of property and finance issues and less a focus on teaching and learning. Competition between schools – the result of an emphasis on parent choice had unfortunate effects. Some schools ‘had the upper hand’. As a result self-management put one’s own school first.
The years that followed were demanding as the Ministry chopped and changed to keep schools viable. It was an era of ‘CRAP’   as the Ministry and ERO ‘continually revised all procedures’ Charters came and went. Strategy and annual plans were introduced. Growing problems with failing schools resulted in a number of safety net interventions. The introduction of the New Zealand Curriculum was rolled (and NZCEA in secondary schools) added to the confusion. Schools were clustered but schools took only what they needed. ERO were ‘the watchdog and scold’. The new curriculum with its endless objectives, and arbitrary levels, was a ‘mile wide and an inch deep’ but conscientious teachers did their best to tick off objectives taught. ERO ensured they complied.
And for all this, the very students, who were to be saved by self-management, still continued to fail. Literacy tasks forces were established and Numeracy projects, and other ad hoc projects, to try to help failing students.
Benign bureaucracy had been replaced by fragmentation – out of the frying pan into the fire! ERO and the Ministry worked in isolation. The Ministry has become risk averse. It needs a more effective engagement with schools but there is no longer the trust necessary.
The ‘too hasty and undercooked’ National Standards, a throwback to earlier days, are being imposed – the worse sort of centralisation and schools were bullied into supplying their data to the Ministry. Ironically schools that resisted were showing initiative and developing the creative programmes (based on the revised Labour introduced 2007 New Zealand Curriculum) that underpinned the ethos of self-managing schools. On the horizon lie league tables and national testing – issues that will narrow the curriculum and encourage teachers to teach to the tests and down play the creative arts.  What is to be measured will become the measure – will become the default curriculum.
The time has come for fresh thinking. We ought not to have asked schools to stand alone without being part of a supportive school district. Other countries have shown the success of supportive infrastructures to both support and share ideas. Schools can no longer work in isolation reinventing the wheel – too many schools ‘do not know what they do not know’.
The current focus on school failure, the ‘achievement gap’, has increased markedly as a result of market forces ideology which has widened the ‘winner loser’ gap. Schools can always do better but can only be truly successful if a more communal narrative (ideology) replaces the current emphasis on self-interest.
Cathy concludes her book with some hard hitting recommendations.
Schools need to ensure all students succeed to realise their unique set of gift and talents, equipped with the learning competencies to thrive in the uncertain times ahead. ‘The current New Zealand schooling system,’ Wylie writes, ‘cannot meet these expectations’. We have not been able to make the best about self-managing schools…..Tomorrows Schools has certainly enhanced school initiative…..(but) on their own they are not sufficient to improve educational opportunities and outcomes across the board… has been too uneven. It has yet to reach all students. Our system lacks the national and local infrastructure of connections to share and keep building effective teaching practices so that schools can do what we ask of them…The Ministry has largely played a hands off role’ providing one size fits all solutions relying on ensuring schools comply to regulations.. Between 16 to 20% of schools struggle each year’.
Schools need the’ opportunity to learn from their peers in other schools…There is an unmet need for cross fertilisation that the inspectors and advisers once played, such as arranging inter-school visits so that teachers and principals can see more effective practices and have the opportunity to discuss how these practices work, how to bring about change’.
We need a fresh approach. We need to construct a network of education authorities that support and challenge schools….in ways that make more of the schools than schools can make of themselves – ways that nurture the capacity of schools to self-manage. ‘We haven’t the time or the money to reinvent the wheel.’
The current fragmentation of government agencies are counterproductive. ‘The past 33 years have shown limitations of positioning each school as a separate island. It will be connections that increase the effectiveness of our schools.’ What is needed is ‘integrate the key strengths of what was lost with Tomorrows Schools….This means more than tweaking our current structures and ways of doing things. It means changes in the government agencies and some changes for schools and boards… I suggest more challenging support at the local level, more connections to share and build knowledge and more coherence between the different layers of the schooling system.’
Such connected infrastructures will make real difference.’ We have the experience and knowledge now to create the more dynamic schooling system that our children need. It is time to give all our self-managing schools the vital connections, support and challenge they need to succeed.’

(To appreciate the full message best to read the book particularly the recommendations)