Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Time to return the focus back to encouraging creative teachers - the only real way to transform our education system

Educating for unknown horizons

I began this blog in 2004 after the website I shared with myfriend Wayne Morris was ended.The intention of the blog (and the website) was to encourage and share the ideas of creative teachers – ideas we both felt were largely ignored by those who determine our education system.

NZCF Straight jacket
The impetus came from the need to oppose the New Zealand Curriculum Framework introduced in the late 80s after the introduction of Tomorrows (‘self-managing’) Schools. This was a curriculum which introduced a technocratic approach to learning- a curriculum based on learning areas with objectives to be gained at defined levels; it was ‘death by strands, levels and hundreds of objectives’. It overwhelmed schools and teachers with accountability problems and side-lined the very creative holistic approach to teaching that New Zealand was internationally admired for.

At this time my blog focused on encouraging schools to leave the excesses resulting from having to comply with the onerous requirements of the New Zealand Curriculum Framework and later to take advantage of the freedom offered by the 2007 NZC. Many school principals, under considerable pressure to comply, had introduced assessment requirements that were destructive to creative holistic teaching. Such an audit and surveillance culture, once established, is hard to escape from – particularly when so many school ‘leaders’ were complicit with such accountability measures.

The election of a National government, after two terms and now entering a third, has with their unwelcome introduction of National Standards all but side-lined the liberating intent of the 2007 NZC. 
2007 NZC now sidelined
The technocratic emphasis of the original New Zealand Curriculum Framework has returned with a vengeance!  Schools are now forced to focus on showing achievement for students based on a limited focus on literacy and numeracy. As a result creative activities (never a strong point of schools) are now of less value as the curriculum narrows to improve student achievement.

Sadly there is a lack of school leadership (difficult with competing self-managing schools whose reputation relies of improving National Standards) to fight for a holistic approach to learning – one that recognises and values student achievement in areas other than literacy and numeracy.

Now schools reflect a formulaic approach to learning – based on improving achievement perhaps but not valuing student uniqueness and creativity. Education is increasingly being standardised in
an era that above all things needs to be personalised so as to develop the diverse talents of all students.

 A visit to classrooms will provide evidence of such standardised procedures. Examples to be seen are: WALTS (‘we are learning to’), success criteria (defining what the teacher thinks indicates success), and teaching to objectives (‘intentional teaching’). All indicate outcomes defined by the teacher. As a result, the work on display indicates conformity of achievement rather than a diversity of student creativity. As one commentator has said, ‘literacy and numeracy have all but gobbled up the entire curriculum’. This is a ‘colour by numbers’/ ‘one size fits approach to learning’. Evidence of authentic inquiry based learning (other than Google ‘cut and paste research’) will be hard to find. 

Inquiry learning
In the few remaining creative classrooms such studies provide the intellectual energy for much of what evolves (not always pre-planned) and in such classrooms literacy and numeracy have been ‘reframed’ to contribute to such authentic inquiry.

Add to this obsessive time hungry recording of achievement data (data which excludes as much as it records) the growing use of ability grouping, setting and streaming makes the possibilities of creative integrated teaching all but impossible. That is unless the school is lucky enough to have creative leadership.

Thankfully there are still such principals to be found.

With the re-election of the National government with its market forces ideology it is time for my blog  to return the focus to supporting individual creative teachers.

New Zealand gained it reputation for innovative primary education from the work of creative teachers who, in their time, had to fight for approval.

Elwyn Richardson
 In the 50s the work of Elwyn Richardson and Sylvia Ashton Warner come to mind.  Elwyn created a ‘community of scientists and artists’ exploring their environment and students personal thoughts in his rural school in the far North. Sylvia based her reading on the ‘stuff inside her students’ heads’

The 60s (an era of creativity, individuality and anti-authority attitudes) provided impetus for creativity in education.

 Juniorschool teachers with their language experiences and developmental programmes were integral to such creativity. Advisory teachers also helped spread creative child centred ideas. Art advisers, in particular, recognised and supported creative teachers particularly in rural schools well away from the hierarchical control of larger urban schools. To add to the mix there were a number of American writers critical of traditional schooling loosely grouped as part of an open education movement as well as books celebrating English child centred learning. Exciting times to be a teacher.

Taranaki room environment 70s
Teachers involved developed anemergent curriculum based around exploring the local environment, tapping intostudents’ interests and questions, valuing creative expression, and creatingstimulating classroom environments. We believed in ‘doing things in depth’‘doing fewer things well’ and the importance of ‘slowing the pace of learning’ so as to come alongside the learner to assist them achieve their ‘personal best’. Other groups existed in other parts of New Zealand – often well away from the centres of educational authority.

In the 70s I taught for a number of years to implement the ideas myself. An important experience for anyone who wishes to give advice about teaching! One thing I refused to do was to use ability grouping and instead I integrated as much of my reading and maths programme into class studies . I had an overriding concern to develop positive attitudes towards learning – many students, even at age 10, had already given up on such things such maths and reading.
Teacher in 70s

The teachers of this era have by now been well retired.

In the 80/90 the biggest move was to whole school development.

 I was lucky enough to be appointed principal of an urban school where creative ideas were introduced across the school and across the curriculum. Sadly I never was able to convince teachers to move away from ability grouping but all agreed to introduce mixed ability family grouped classes. A number of Taranaki schools became nationally recognised for their quality work.

Then, in 1986 came Tomorrows Schools followed by the introduction of the New Zealand Curriculum with all its strands, levels and objectives. This was to be the beginning of the end of teacher led creative education.

All of the teacher led developments prior to Tomorrows Schools were been put at risk as schools were forced to comply with the demands of the new curriculum by regular visits of the
It takes courage to resist!
newly established Education Review Offic
e. Formulaic approaches to learning and assessment were introduced through contracted facilitators (the old advisory system had been disbanded) for schools to be ‘encouraged’ to follow.

The Ministry (under a Labour government) seeing the error of its way introduced a ‘revised’ New Zealand Curriculum in 2007. This innovative curriculum had far more in common with the holistic beliefs of innovative primary teachers. A key phrase was for each student to be ‘a seeker, user and creator of their own knowledge’. 

It was to be a short lived development.

 With a new government came the unwelcome imposition National Standards and with it its accountability demands came a narrowing of the curriculum around achievement in Literacy and Numeracy. 

These developments are now seen as part of a Market Forces ideology held by the government known as the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). This is an ideology that is based on comparative achievement data and focusses on blaming the teachers for what has come to be known as the ‘achievement gap’; in reality, the one in five ‘failing students, are suffering from more an ‘opportunity gap’. It is an approach that ignores the effects of poverty on student achievement.  In other parts of the world failing schools (based on narrow achievement data, national tests and league tables) have been privatised – Charter Schools!

It will get worse.

As consequence my blog is re-dedicated to sharing ideas of creative teachers, or ideas that will support them in their difficult endeavours

I have no idea how many creative teachers are out there, or how tocontact them, but this is no constraint to having a go. I am aware of a number of schools that hold true to a holistic creative philosophy and, as well, a number of blogs sharing innovative ideas.

I believe it is vitally important to encourage creative teachers who
Developing the talents of all
focus on providing engaging programmes and who develop personalised programmes able to develop the gifts and talents of all students.

 Perhaps the recent development of Modern School Environments (MLE) with their genesis in the open schools of the 70s will provide an answer but they do seem to be in conflict with the conformist demands of the National Standard.

 Time will tell.

New Zealand’s future lies in encouraging and tapping thecreativity and talents of all its citizens so as to develop an innovative,entrepreneurial and inclusive culture

The only place where this future can be kick-started is in creative schools dedicated to the development of the talents of all its students

To place the focus on creative teachers  education at all levels school cultures need to change.

There is no doubt about the value of being irretrievably committed to developing teacher creativity. As they challenge the status quo their path is not always easy. Far easier to comply.

 As Margaret Mead has said, ‘Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens (teachers) can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ All the best ideas come from the edge but they need to recognized and shared.

No one is saying it will be easy but what is the alternative?


Anonymous said...

A very interesting summary of developments since the 1950s.

I would be interested how you would define criteria for a creative teacher.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I will make that the topic for my next blog - but they will be the same criteria that creative teachers also need - and in turn creative principals

Leon Salter said...

Great post Bruce. You've summed up developments from the 1980s to now, really useful for my research.
Would like to hear more about your Taranaki environmental approach.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Leon. I will add a link where I mentioned 'our' approach but will sort out other links and send via e-mail

Jayne Bolsover said...

I'm a creative teacher, in favour of balance. Mornings in my class are structured, yes Walts and Success Criteria, maths, reading, all that. This year I have smiling children who realise that they have succeeded. But in the afternoon we have "Zone" work. Working co-operatively on other areas. Gardening, fitness, art, technology, research, lego, writing, thinking. It gives the children, breathing space in their learning. A stress free environment, where learning can happen. Flexibility for children to explore what interests them. I agree with you, promoting creative teachers, putting our energies into creativity is more productive that blathering on about what the government are doing are not doing.

Maria Lawrence said...

Nice one Bruce. Are there still some schools that hold true to a holistic creative philosophy? I wish I knew where I could find one.

Bruce Hammonds said...

Hi Maria. I can think of a handful of schools that hold true to a holistic way of teaching but I guess there never were many and it harder as the years go by. School are naturally conservative by nature.

Hi Jane. Balance is obviously important but it is where the emphasis lies that counts. The default position for most schools is to focus on literacy and numeracy as a priority ( with ability grouping/labeling) while truly creative classroom see them as a means to an end - developing every learners unique gifts and talents. In the rooms that feature the 'best practices' you mention they can produce quality but not necessarily creativity; conformity not diversity.
If WALTs , success criteria and feedback focus on ensuring uniqueness is important they may be useful. Sounds like you have it sorted.