Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Creative teachers for inspiration or corporate compliance/control?

Choices to be made!

With the election drawing near the choices are sharpening – or ought to be. Creative education will depend on who is the government post-election. So far the opposition Labour Party have yet to provide an alternative vision to attract voters. If they don’t – if they are seen as simply a little better than National, they will lose.

It’s time for all people share in the apparent growing wealth of the few – the disparity between the rich and the poor is still growing. In schools the government talks about an ‘achievement gap’ , ignoring the effects of growing poverty and sees the solution as developing ‘super’ principals, cluster principals and lead teachers as the answer – such people obviously chosen because of their  adherence to National’s policies – National Standards.

As well there is the growing acceptance of a secondary outlook in determining the future- Ministry advisers are all too often promoted secondary school subject teachers. The Secondary Union, it seems, is behind the government’s super principals and lead teacher model.  They see promotions ahead. The PPTA support is ironic because they were once the most supportive and aggressive for progressive educational change. The primary union, the NZEI, is fighting the battle and the Primary Principals Federation is playing an ambivalent role – maybe they see promotion opportunities as well?

Time to take head out of the sand!
It will boil down to a corporate managerial education system run by technocrats and politicians or one based on providing a broad education based on developing the diverse talents of all.  

The former narrowing the curriculum, focusing on the ‘achievement gap’ making use of testing and eventually, post-election, league tables and with them performance management of schools and teachers. The latter sees the problem, or ought to, as an ‘opportunity gap’. If you have been watching the cunning immoral
Never trust politicians!!
Democrat played by Kevin Spacey in the TV programme ‘House of Cards' you will see our future being played out
It comes down to standardisation versus personalisation; creativity versus compliance and conformity. Formulaic ‘best practice’ teaching versus insights gained and shared between teachers.
I have always believed that real progress comes from the edge – from those insulated from authority; from pioneers, mavericks and often outsiders. Fostering such people, in all walks of life, ought to be the role of any innovative government. The best example of this was leadership of Dr Beeby,Director of Education, in the 60s.

My own experience has been that the best way to develop innovative ideas in education is teachers to given the opportunity to visit and share ideas with creative teachers. New Zealand once had a world renowned reputation for such teachers. Two that come to mind are Elwyn Richardson and Sylvia Ashton Warner who did their best work in isolated schools in the 1950s. Junior teachers developed innovative reading and language experience programmesbased on a developmental philosophy and the work of art advisers in developing creativity was vital. The work of Kelvin Smythe – with his feeling for approach in social studies, the  writing approach of Harry Hood, and the  Learning inScience Research ( LISP) based at Waikato University have all been forgotten by the technocrats as has the work of Russell Bishop and his Kotahitanga research. All home grown products.

Find those creative teachers
As well every school, and certainly every area, has its share of creative teachers but in recent decades their expertise has been ignored and replaced by contracted Ministry advisers peddling approved ‘best practices’ – with inevitably ‘best practices’ morphing into ‘fixed practices’. A focus on school leadership has limited inter school idea sharing resulting in, all too often, limited programmes based on literacy and numeracy. Sadly too few creative teachers gained principals positions; it has been survival of the careful conformists.

With this pressure for conformity and compliance well in place I thought I would share the work of creative schools I know of. There are no longer advisers searching schools for creative teachers – they are now to busy delivering Ministry expectations.

To gain some sense of the creativity emerging in the 50s teachers
Elwyn Richardson
ought to read the inspirational book ‘In the Early World’ written by Elwyn Richardson
. Thankfully it has recently been reprinted by the NZCER.

Few principals have been brave enough to stick their necksout in our toxic compliance environment but one is Perry Rush of Island
Perry Rush
. Perry was earlier principal of Discovery One School in Christchurch.

Dan Murphy at Winchester School in Palmerston North is another educational leader with a real expertise in mathematics amongst other things. It is worth reading what he has to say. And, as well, a very brave letter to parents by Danny Nichols of St Patricks Taupo.
At Opunake, led by the dynamic Lorraine Williamson, the school
Students in family groups Opunake
has implemented exciting inquiry learning where all students from year 1 to 8 work together to present displays worthy of Te Papa.
Opunake bases their original ideas on the writings of James Beane.

I was fortunate to work at Hillcrest Normal School in Hamilton. It is worth reading about the ideas of deputy principal Gay Gilbert who has a link to the work of Elwyn Richardson.

In the far north a real educational outsider Fraser Smith leads a school that has a lot to share about  environmental education.

And of course there is he work of Taranaki teachers I workedwith from the 1960s to 2010. We were all disciples of our mentor Elwyn Richardson – some of the ideas we developed still are to be seen although, I guess, people might not know where they
Bill Guild's environment 1980
came from. Many still remember teachers such as Bill Guild and Bill Clarkson. One current creative teacher is Deborah French at Woodliegh School.  Woodliegh School's approach

A cruise through the above links will indicate we still have plenty of innovative teachers, and a few principals, left in New Zealand.

Education is a common good – privatisation is to the advantage of the few.

Time for teachers to wake up!


Unknown said...

It is indeed time for teachers to wake up, but having been to a union meeting yesterday where so many had no clue what's going on, I think we've got a job on our hands if we're expecting teachers to rail against these things. It's going to take a rocket to wake some of them. Maybe it all has to hit the fan before the majority sit up and see what's going on?

Bruce Hammonds said...

I had just read your blog about the union meeting and was somewhat depressed by your comments. We have a job on our hands as you say - more than a rocket will be required!! Let's hope as the election draws closer teachers will be able to sense the urgency and see where they are being taken. At the moment they are , as the joke goes, like turkeys looking forward to Xmas!

Anonymous said...

Future teachers will look back from the intellectual straightjackets being prepared for them by this corporate led government and wish they had listened to yours and Kelvin's voices.

Great selection of creative teachers - that they are not being seen as the most important resource is very sad.

Most Dance said...

I am sure that most of teachers are very really insightful people and they will wake up. They usually try to be aware and make their own conclusions. However they are so busy at school and after work that some support is necessary. It demands great efforts and new approaches to motivate students as it is much easier for them to search for the answers in the internet (for example this website essay paper help is supporting than to find their own. I am sure that teachers will be able to make a right choice as their mission is to enlighten.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Viv
I note you write from the US. I don't think that relying on the internet , as you indicate, will be any use to us in New Zealand.