Friday, December 31, 2004

New beginnings for 2005 - time to smell the smoke!

A big ending for 04 Posted by Hello

Metaphors, linking two disparate items, can give an easily remembered messages.

So to end 2004 on a big note I could not resist using elephant analogies or metaphors.

Three ideas come to mind with regard to elephants. One is how the most powerful mammal on land can be caught in the wild and tamed to do what ever the owners want. When first caught the elephant is chained with the biggest chains available. As the elephant learns that it can’t escape the chain is changed for a thick rope and eventfully it can be tethered with a light rope.

This of course is simple conditioning and it happens to us all- except for rebels and mavericks who somehow never learn – or more to the point seem able to resist the lessons. There would be little innovation in any area without them!

Many organizations, schools included, are rather like elephants. Schools are able to perform effectively what tradition and habit have taught them to accept as normal. As such more seem happier facing the past than the future and indeed resemble large factories.

The second idea about elephants comes from a recent business book called ‘Teaching the Elephant to Dance’. This book suggests that the answer to get big traditional organizations to become innovative is to create a sense of urgency, or to 'set fire to the circus tent'. The secret is to do this they say is to do it without 'burning down the tent! Elephants just need to smell the smoke to break the conditioning.

Charles Handy, the business philosopher, has written another book called ‘The Elephant and the Flea’. This book is based on the need for big organizations to employ outside innovative people for the mutual benefit of both. Another lesson for schools to learn that have become closed to outside ideas.

The final story is of course the story of the elephant and the blind men – each one feeling a part of the elephant and presuming that individual part they are touching applies to the rest of the elephant.

The last story is an excellent metaphor for the fragmentation and specialization created by the Industrial Age. The large organizations of the twentieth century have to adapt to the dramatic changes being created by the new information media. The new capital is now intelligence, imagination and creativity. Flexibility and empowered workers is now the name of the game.

So perhaps schools ought to focus on developing a new consciousness in their students of what will be required in an unpredictable future. What attributes will future citizens need? Schools will need to reinvent themselves or be bi- passed as young people gain their information from more technology more aligned to their needs.

We need new metaphors for the future if we are to shake off the shackles of the past.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Learn lessons at home first!

This small creek completely covered the dam a few minutes ago! Posted by Hello

In a couple of days it will be New Year. Time to think about the future?

I have read a lot about a ‘Post Industrial Society’ but so far, if it does exist, it has not yet formed into a recognizable entity. The old 'Industrial Age' mind-set, like the dinosaurs before, them lumbers on, tinkering it's way into oblivion.

I also read that the Industrial Age was only named in hindsight after the machine technology had virtually transformed every aspect of life for good or bad. I guess the same will apply for the 'new age' we are entering. It may not take so long to coalesce as the information technology is far more powerful and immediate than anything ever experienced before.'

In the meantime we live in a half world blinded by consumerism in a me and you, ‘I’m all right Jack’, mentality. Politician’s world wide practice poll driven pragmatism which avoids real change for fear of losing votes and do their best to pretend they are in control.

It is pretty obvious that all institutions are in a state of perpetual crisis. Schools are failing, worldwide, approximately a third of their students – the simplistic answer naturally is more reading, writing and maths. The Justice system is no better and seems dedicated to locking up too many citizens. Health likewise is in always in trouble. In New Zealand a third of young children are said to live in poverty while at the same time we are rapidly moving to a society of older people. Mono-cultural, one color fits all, attitudes still rule. Add to this the environment under threat as we greedily fish, cut, dig and destroy whatever will make money for those in power.

All these systems with their genesis in the nineteenth century are failing.

We need to re-imagine the kind of world we want or we will get more of the same or things will just get worse.

Communism may have failed but Western winners and losers capitalism is no real long term answer. Democracy is also at risk – too many people no longer care enough to vote and leave things up to others.

Everything needs to be re-invented to suit a new age.

Globalization is unavoidable but it needs to be balanced by a renewed sense of community responsibility. The state ( our national politicians) needs to rethink it's role to one of creating the conditions to encourage diversity and creativity.

In the meantime tinkering with creaky systems seems to be the name of the game. It is a bit like Nero tinkering while Rome burns. It seems as society we are blinded by greed, consumerism, house prices, self satisfaction turning a blind eye to the growing list of problems.

Like the Emperor’s fine clothes we are blinded by own our own self satisfaction. There are voices pointing towards a different future but no one is listening. The majority, led by self preservation and reactionary editorials, seems to prefer to return to the good old days of the nineteen fifties.

Let’s hope 2005 is the beginning of the end of the old limiting mind-set and the beginning of new possibilities. The beginning of the 'Age of Creativity, Inclusion and Imagination'. And let’s hope we have an emergence of new leaders with the courage to develop a new future oriented consciousness.

If nothing else the disastrous tidal wave in Asia had shown that everything is connected and that, with focused intentions created by a terrible emergency, people can work together worldwide to solve problem for the good of those in need.

Post Script:

In Taranaki we are in the middle of a rain storm. If I had been as focused on thinking ahead to solve problems I could sort out, rather than thinking about things beyond my control, I would have cleaned out the guttering and the drains before the rain came! Like most other people my own action is only activated when an emergency strikes!

As always actions speak louder than words.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Encourage creativity

Student creativity Posted by Hello

One of the best sources of innovative ideas is ' Fast Company'. If you visit their site you can join up for a free e newsletter. Although the magazine's focus is the business world the ideas apply to education.

A recent newsletter was about a design firm whose ultimate product is the process of creativity itself and in particular the need to 'encourage wild ideas'.

Sounds a bit like a creative jazz group - a place of continual experimentation. Everything is organized into project teams. The most important thing, the article writer noted, is 'that creativity gets stifled when everybody follows the rules.'

The design firms five principles for brainstorming ideas are:

1 Stay focused on the topic
2 Encourage wild ideas
3 Defer judgment
4 Build on ideas of others
5 One conversation at a time

Sounds like a good idea for a creative staff meeting based on a current issue or problem?

After a decision has been made speed is the issue. It is all about 'enlightened trial and error'.' Enlightened trial and error beats planning anytime.'

Future school cultures should be centers of creativity not compliance.

The illustration, based on using a Maori symbol ( the 'koru' ),was produced by a group of ten year olds and is a great example of focused enlightened trial and error!

The 'koru' is a symbol, or visual metaphor, for unfolding growth.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

A jazz group - a metaphor for a creative school.

Jazz group as a metaphor Posted by Hello

In an earlier web log I suggested the conductor as a metaphor for school leadership. To a degree it is good one but like most metaphors it can only be pushed so far and could be seen as a form of manipulation - the various members playing their part as arranged by the conductor and the composer. The creativity lying within the interpretation.

A jazz group is far more creative, particularly when improvising or jamming around. The group selects a tune and each member adds their contribution when and how they like - the others accommodating or extending each persons contribution. The results can not be predicted but all members have faith in each other do whatever they need to do. And no performance will be exactly the same.

In this respect this is similar to a creative principal who develops a learning environment in concert with all involved and, when there is agreement, everyone is expected to do their best to work to achieve the school vision. Different people will emerge as leaders depending on the circumstances. The 'leader' or principal need to not only create a 'high trust' organization, clear about it's purpose but have faith in the integrity of each staff member.

The same metaphor can be extended to the creative classroom teacher.

In education too many principals and teachers are playing the piper to someone else's tune!

For information on metaphors in education visit Judy Yero's excellent website

Monday, December 27, 2004

Decide what's important and stick to it!

Maunga Taranaki Posted by Hello

In Taranaki New Zealand we live a few kilometres from the impressive Mount ( Maunga) Taranaki.

There is a Maori saying, 'Ki te tuohu koe me maunga tei tei', which translates to , 'If you are going to bow your head make sure it is to a mighty mountain'.

Many schools and teachers have become caught up in a complience trap trying their best to respond to ideas given to them by distant 'experts' who have no idea of the local cicumstances. It is far better to decide what is important for yourseves and create your own set of basic values and teaching beliefs - your own vision.

To misquote G K Chesterton 'If a thing is not worth doing do it badly and then get on with what is important.' What he really said was , 'If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly', which is good advice for the new year.

Create your own mighty mountain!

If you want ideas to assist you create a vision visit our site

Sunday, December 26, 2004

A Simple School Vision

Impressive school entrance way Posted by Hello

'Kimihia te Aro - Seek the right path'

A simple but powerful metaphor for a school vision.

All about providing students with the values and skills, so as to make the best choices they can now and in the future, and for them to take a growing responsibility for their own actions.

To have all their gifts and talents ( pathways) valued so they can develop the personal goals to achieve their dreams.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

A quality experience

St Mary Church New Plymouth Posted by Hello

An ink drawing done by a ten year old before the days of Tomorrows Schools. Today too many teachers are too busy trying to cover countless strands, targets and objectives to spent such time on one activity.

The young artist spent the morning capturing the image of St Mary church in New Plymouth. Not only does the student exhibit a talent for art she has, through the reflective act of drawing, learnt a lot about the church and whatever else she may have been thinking about.

As well it is easy to see that she had a gifted teacher who taught her the observational and drawing skills to be able to concentrate on the task for a morning followed up by further work back at school.

What has been learnt by this student is, not only the importance of observation and personal effort, but an appreciation of a sense of excellence. These are attributes that will serve her well in later years.

If you are interested in learning about how to develop such quality work check out our site.

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Power of a Good Story.

Merry Christmas Posted by Hello

Tomorrow marks the birth of one of the most significant figures in history Jesus of Nazareth even if the story of his birth is a bit tangled.

It seems Christ’s mass, the birthday we celebrate, was shifted from an earlier date in March by Emperor Constantine, to replace a pagan mid-winter ceremony.

Adding to the mix of a pagan feast and religion is the entry of the fourth century Bishop Nicholas of Turkey who gave small gifts to the poor. Somehow he was transformed into Father Christmas and domiciled at the North Pole.

Victorian commercialism introduced the cards and the trees and I presume the feast and concept of Boxing Day (the day left over food was boxed up and given to the poor). And each year we add further to the commercialism. In the Southern hemisphere we struggle with being in the wrong season, although with the weather this year you wouldn't know!

Never the less the power of Christ’s parables about honesty morality and kindness to others remains as powerful as ever and has become the guiding myths of Western Civilization.

And the saving grace of rampant commercialism is the introduction of modern ideas of family togetherness and family values.

Have a happy Xmas, and a special greetings to all those who I have worked with in 2004.


The Leader as a Conductor.

The leader as a conductor Posted by Hello

The artistry of a conductor is vital to the creation of a wonderful performance.

Teaching is a little like conducting an orchestra. The teacher must be aware of what is to be expected from her students and appreciate the individual talents of every class member to ensure all are involved to work in harmony.

Teachers must know what each student can contribute to the class culture. He or she must ensure also that each student knows what is expected of them and help them hone their individual strengths and stretch their imaginations

Both the conductor and the teacher need real skill and sensitivity (and authority) to develop a quality performance. As in the orchestra there will be individual stars in many classes but it is the quality of the overall performance that counts.

As the conductor receives accolades for the performance and in turn refers back to the talents of the orchestra so must the teacher – even more so. Teachers might not get the spotlight of the conductor but without their leadership students would not reach the heights they do.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

If you have a vision - share it!

Ooops! They were wrong! Posted by Hello

Christopher Columbus had vision to sail to the East Indies – a short cut to acquire valuable spices. He never made it and instead ‘re-discovered ‘what is now known as the Americas. Nothing it seems works according to plan! Although he was convinced the world was round (being up to date with trends) some of his crew were not so sure.

Today a wise leader needs to have his/her team aligned behind the desire to discover new ideas

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

David Posted by Hello

Creative teachers have the ‘David Factor!’

I have a habit of collecting articles or quotes that have particular interest to me. This web log is a way to share them.

An editorial by Arnold Bonnet called ‘The Shape Inside the Stone’, in an ‘Education Horizon’ magazine (Volume 7 2002), really appealed to me. For those who missed it what follows are the ideas Arnold shared.

‘In the museum of the Academy of Florence, there is a passage leading to Michelangelo’s magnificent statue of the young David. On either side of the passage stand four large blocks of marble and from each, a heavy shape emerges, roughly carved and unfinished. They are Michelangelo’s ‘Prisoners’.

Arnold sees these forms evoking the meaning of education. ‘Each human being arrives in this world trapped in a block of marble and it is the job of the educators – parents and teachers- to free the individual from the imprisoning stone and reveal its true form without disfiguring or damaging it.’

The last phrase is important. Traditional schools have a preconceived model in mind but creative teachers Arnold continues have a commitment to ‘free the shape within the stone’ and as such are always on the ‘search for new ideas and new ways to inspire children to want and love to learn. They are teachers who bring innovation our education system.’

They have what I like to call, the ‘David factor’.

Such teachers, as with Michelangelo, do not like to work within prescribed programmes and targets passed down by distant authorities. Michelangelo was an artist and so are creative teachers. He was also a self willed individual. Too many teachers, due to social pressure to comply, become trapped in a marble block not of their own making and lose there individual creativity.

What we need, as we enter the first decades of the 21stC, are teachers with the courage and creativity to see new possibilities – the ‘David factor!’

And we need a Minister of education who has the courage to create a ‘risk friendly’ learning culture that trusts school to encourage potential Michelangelos.

Our collective future depends on developing such student’s and teacher’s talents.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

What is a 'committed sardine'?

The 'Committed Sardine' is a web-blog written by Ian Jukes. Ian is well known to NZ teachers having given exciting keynotes at the 2003 New Plymouth NZ Principals Conference on the use of information technology and how it will transform learning as we know it. His on line newsletter goes out to 16000 people. Become a committed sardine - join now!

Visit him at his blog site

Why 'Committed Sardine'?

In Ian's words:

‘A blue whale is the largest mammal on earth. The adult blue whale is the length of 2 ½ Greyhound buses…and weighs more than a fully loaded 737….A little known fact is that a blue whale is so large that when it decides to turnaround, it can take 3 to 5 minutes to turn 180 degrees in the opposite direction. As a result, some people have drawn a strong parallel between blue whales and our school system. It just seems to take forever to turn them around….There as some people who just don’t believe the public school system can be turned around.’

‘But compare the way a blue whale turns around (slowly) with how a school of…. Sardines- which is the same or even greater mass than a blue whale... A school of sardines can almost turn instantly around – how do they do it?’

The answer is simple. ‘If you take a careful look at a school of sardines you will notice that although all the fish appear to be swimming in the same direction, at any one time, there will be a small group of sardines swimming in the opposite direction against the flow. As they swim in the opposite direction they create conflict, friction, and discomfort for the rest of the school.’

‘But when a critical mass of truly committed sardines is reached – not a number like 50 percent to 80 percent of the school, but only 15 to 20 percent who are totally committed to a new direction – the rest of the school suddenly turns and goes with them? Almost instantly!’

‘Meaningful change begins with a small group of people truly committed to make meaningful change. That why we’re committed sardines.’

Thank you Ian for providing such a powerful metaphor.

Our website is happy to be a 'committed sardine'.

What about you?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Confusion is important

I went to an opening and Xmas party at the Govett- Brewster Art Gallery over the weekend.

I have always been keen on art, particularly as a means of expression for young people. The Govett- Brewster, situated in provincial New Zealand, has been developed as ‘cutting edge’ gallery and as such has had its share of controversy. The galleries policy is to show the latest of world art wide thinking.

I go along hoping to be surprised but more often than not leave confused.

The ‘messages’ of the artists are usually extremely personal but I don’t always seem to be able to comprehend what is they are saying. Well I don’t understand Einstein’s theory of relativity so I don’t get too concerned. I do wonder though if I am alone because everyone else seems to be suitably impressed – perhaps it is a case of the Emperors clothes! If you open your mouth you might be seen as a Philistine. As well it is a concern when the art elite (curators and friends) talk with authority and admiration amongst themselves as if they ‘own’ a secret language.

The controversial mayor of the nearby city Wanganui Michael Laws, who has a reputation of indifference to the views of the elite, has happily stepped into the debate saying it is time, ‘the elitist rubbish that parades itself as installation art was exposed for the nonsense it is.’ He made the point he was not criticizing art per se but ‘what the curatorial elite…. tell us is important’.

He went on to say that the arts in the late twentieth century have become ‘an intensely inward journey. Insular and isolated from both popular and public sensibilities. Art should uplift all not just be for the few.’ Laws was making the valid point that just because the art curatorial elite say so there should not be an automatic presumption of an acceptance of their ideas.

Whether you agree with him or not he says it as he sees it. At the opening I kept wondering what those present were really thinking about what they were looking at.

It was interesting to read review of the opening in our local paper with the cliché ‘Art Gallery pushes the boundaries’ but went on to say little else.

I guess it all makes you think. Should we accept what 'experts' tell us or listen to our own voices? Confusion must be good for you.

Time will be the final judge for the art.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Re -think the future...NOW!

The other day I received an e-mail from the UK from Rowan Gibson asking me if he could assist me in anyway – he had noted I had used a quote from him in a recent newsletter. I replied thanking him for his interest and after I had sent it checked to see what the quote was and also to check out Rowan Gibson using google.

As soon as I had done so I remembered I had a copy his book, ‘Re Thinking the Future’ (which is a great read, being a collection of articles on the future by a range of influential thinkers). It had also been the source of a number of the quotes I had used on our site. I felt obliged to send a new e-mail informing him of how I had used his book. I also noted that on his website there are photos of Rowan with Tony Blair, Bill Gates and my favourite stirrer, Tom Peters. I must say I was impressed that he had taken the time to contact me.

Rowan’s webpage has a few short articles well worth a read but I also recommend his more extensive book. Rowan’s theme is that last century most organizations had a linear view of the future and, using a transport metaphor, ‘they appeared to be driving large luxury cars on a wide open highway that stretched into the distant future.’

‘Today’, Rowan writes, ‘is less certain’. Many organizations now see themselves at the end of the road. The twentieth century marks ‘the end of a whole order of things; the end of a post war world.’ Alvin Toffler, one of the book’s contributors, describes the future as ‘terra incognito – the uncharted landscape of tomorrow.’ It will be a world of chaos and uncertainty; a world of accelerating and unpredictable change.

This future world will force us to drive off familiar roads and to do so will require ‘a new kind of vehicle, some new driving skills and whole new sense of direction’. We will need ‘a all wheel drive all terrain vehicle that is lean and highly maneuverable’

‘We all need to rethink the future now’.

Rowan provides three key messages:

1. The road stops here.

All of us have to realize the future will be different from the past as obvious as that sounds. Too many behave as if this is not so. This is delusionary. The past is gone. From now on it will be an ‘off the road experience’.

2. New times need new organizations.

We need completely a new ‘vehicle that can handle the rough and uncertain times. One that reflects the information age, rather than then industrial age.’ This vehicle will be beyond the mechanical and will need to have the ‘nature of a biological organism’ .This ‘nature’ needs to be distributed in a network in all the minds of those who work for the organization and be driven ‘by human imagination’.

3. Where to next.

To make confident decisions faced with an uncertain future leaders will need destination, a ‘vision, a point of view about the future, a direction in which to channel the efforts of he people they work with’. Leaders will need to look ahead and explore the horizon for themselves. This is a great opportunity for courageous leaders because they will have to create their own ideas. ‘On the road to the future there will be no pit stops’ – it will require continual reinvention.

Rowan’s ideas apply to schools, many of which seem locked in industrial age thinking. Too many schools still prefer to stick to the old roads of terra firma unaware that their world is crumbling underfoot. So, to extend Rowan’s metaphor, while such careful drivers wait in vain for new maps to be passed down from on high real leaders are developing new means of travel and making up new maps as they go along.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

What's Worth Fighting For in 2005

If teachers or principals were to read only three books about the need to transform education the trilogy of books by Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves would be a good bet.

The 'What’s Worth Fighting For’ trilogy has been designed to help teachers and principals fight for fundamental and positive changes. The challenge presented is to work with all involved, teachers, students, parents and the wider community to build a new system that succeeds for today’s students for tomorrow’s demands. The African proverb says, ‘It takes a whole village to raise a child’, the trilogy goes further by asking, ‘What does it take to raise a village?’

These challenges are real for post industrial countries like New Zealand. The rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. As well schools are struggling to educate a growing diversity of students in schools that were designed for a simpler age. And so far there seems little awareness of the need for real systemic change; all the so called reform we have seen to date amounts to no more than tinkering. What we need is to develop a new consciousness about the importance of the need to transform our schools so all students leave with desire to learn intact.

The first book, ‘What’s Worth Fighting For in the Principal ship?’ argues that principals are increasingly overloaded and that the current system fosters dependency. Principals, teachers and others are urged to take more control despite the system! It is call for courageous leadership at all levels.

The second book, ‘What’s Worth Fighting For in Your School’, examines school cultures and starts out with the observation that schools are not now learning organizations for either teachers or students. Too many school cultures are individualistic or ‘balkanized’. The book asks teachers to collaborate with each other to create powerful learning environments possible of continuous growth. A quick visit to a traditional high school will reinforce the view that little has changed over the years!

The last book, ‘What’s Worth Fighting For Out There’, argues that that the relationship between the school and those outside must be fundamentally reframed. The authors challenge us to go ‘wider’ and develop new relationships with parents and the wider community and also to go ‘deeper’ into the ‘heart of our practice’ by ‘rediscovering the passion and moral purpose that makes teaching and learning exciting an effective.’

All three books provide practical guidelines but most of all they provide teachers with a hopeful cause worth fighting for, one that places teachers and schools in a central role to transforming our society so as to develop a fairer and better place for all. The trilogy is all about developing a more democratic society – one that is inclusive of all members.

Well worth fighting for!
Well worth reading!

If you want a taste of Fullan read the article on our website. It is one of the most popular visited posting.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Great book! Make mistakes and win!

Now and again I like to share books that have really impressed me. One such book is ‘Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins’, by Richard Farson and Ralph Keynes.

For principals and teachers, living in ‘risk adverse culture of caution’, accountability and compliance, it would make a great holiday read.

The author’s main point is that it is neither possible nor desirable to differentiate between success and failure. Life they write is never that black and white. What might look like success today might be seen as a failure tomorrow and vice versa. The authors quote Chekov, ‘One must be God to be able to distinguish success from failure’.

Success, failure: who’s to say? We need to be more relaxed and focus on learning.

Creative people have always understood this paradox. The important thing, the authors continue, is be fully engaged, to do things with an intensity, and to learn from whatever happens. It is all about ‘flow’ and achieving ‘peak performance.’ People, they write, want to be involved in worthwhile memorable experiences; to live passionately and to learn from whatever happens. Failure at least means you had a go; ‘imperfection is the essence of evolution’.

The book believes that schools have become obsessed with success. That there is an obsession about achieving measurable results and this emphasis will have unintended consequences – initial success may well lead to narrowing perception and limiting innovative thinking. Accountability, no matter how well meaning, is an inhibiting practice. Many genuine innovators, they say, were ‘hobbled more than helped by what they had learnt at school.’

The authors have found no correlation between success in high school and being innovative in life. Most schools, they add, do a remarkably poor job of recognizing and rewarding future achievers. Schools instead penalize risk takers and honor those that play it safe. Most importantly they do not teach students ‘how to deal with failure.’

The advice they give educators is to be sparing with compliments and instead show genuine interests in what students are engaged in and to provide specific feedback. Students need to be helped to gain deep understanding rather than being continually judged; obsessive evaluation is the ‘mother of all caution.’

The fear of looking foolish is the biggest inhibiter of all, stopping too many of us from living our dreams. Courage is facing up to this fear of embarrassment and failure. Teaching students to face up to this fear is vital.

Nothing, they say, succeeds like failure. New ideas emerge. The authors advice is to analyze mistakes by all means but don’t get bogged down. Instead ask what happened and where to next! Learn to ‘fail intelligently.’ What is required is ‘enlightened trial and error’.

There is a need, the author’s state, to infuse all organizations (including schools) with an ‘innovative spirit’, so that ‘innovators can flourish. What is required are ‘risk friendly environments’ that value creative individuals.

Such creative individuals, they note, will be difficult, often ‘refusing to fly in formation’. A tolerance for non conformity is critical to the process. It requires in those that 'lead' organizations an openness towards learning from whatever happens without rushing in to prematurely judge whether a success or failure!’

If leaders need to create such learning oriented environments the best advice for innovators trapped in judgmental situations is, as it has always been: ‘It is better to seek forgiveness that to ask for permission.’

A book well worth a read!

Be happy if any one out there would share an inspiration book with me.

Check my book list.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

What have you added to your C/V this year?

One of my favourite writers is Tom Peters the business guru. Tom is a really creative thinker and one who educators should make time to read. His books are full of passion and energy; he hates mediocrity and is almost evangelistic in his beliefs about the need for personal and organizational transformation. His latest book ‘Re –Imagine’ should be on the shelf of every creative teacher and has a great chapter on education. More fun than dull Ministry documents which wouldn't be hard!

In one of his books he gives advice for people that they ought to review what they have specifically achieved the past twelve months so as to add to their resume. I think it is good advice for teachers who want to make a creative contribution.

1. What new ideas did you undertake this year?
2. How did it benefit your students or the school?
3. Can you provide references who can testify your efforts?
4. Who are the important contacts you have made this year?
5. Can you explain precisely why what you have learnt that makes you more valuable to your school?
6. What can you add to your C/V or Resume?
7. You might also like to consider what it is you think you are known for?
8. What do you want to be known for next year?
9. What ideas do you have to develop next year?

Tom believes you should take this advice seriously – it is about your professional life, or death. As Helen Keller wrote, ‘Life is ether a daring adventure, or nothing!’

The above ideas contribute to what Tom calls your 'renewal investment plan'; that is if you don’t add to your value you will depreciate and be left behind. In teaching it is starting to repeat the same year each year! I have seen many teachers whose careers have stalled because they didn’t keep learning. Some principals are so busy that they forget that their number one role is to be the head learner! The more senior you are, according to Tom, the more audacious you need to be. This, he says, is seldom the case. Bottlenecks are always at the top!

So do something different next year! Do you really think that what you are worried about this year will be remembered by anyone next year?

Take time to stop and think and dream what could be over the holidays. Consider transforming your school into a centre of creative transformation for both teachers and students – make that your Ministry Target!! I loved the quote from Bryce Courtenay at a Principals Conference, ’If you are going to skate on thin ice , tap dance, and go down in style!’ Have some fun!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

A return to real basics to reach all students.

It is pretty obvious school currently fails many students as evidenced by the existence of the achievement gap. The usual answer is to introduce simplistic solutions such as more emphasis on literacy and numeracy and higher expectations or more targeted accountability. While this may deliver short term results little will change in the long run.

It might be that the model of schooling itself is the problem? A century ago mass schooling was just dream but for many students today it has turned out to be nightmare!

Before mass schooling was invented children spent their time in the midst of multi age settings in small communities, maraes, villages and farms where they knew grown ups at work and play. This is not to say that the ‘olden days’ were idyllic. Far from it, hardship and poverty marked the lives of children in those days but some would say that many of our students today have similar difficulties – the very children that contribute to the ‘achievement gap’. But for better or worse, in the past, learning took place formally or informally in the company of grownups.

Learning in pre -school situations was learning by absorption and imitation. Formal schooling, when it was established, downgraded anything learnt in a non school environment leading to greater depersonalization. Curriculums became disconnected from the passions, interests and cultures of the students; timetables divided learning into arbitary segments; and the older the children the less ‘real life’ it became.

The children from the dominant groups managed this transition, having what is often called ‘social capital’, while other students, often from a different social or cultural background, found it increasingly unfamiliar and fell behind.

The real key to help students who find school difficult is to develop personalized learning again', a learning based on a respect for what the children bring with them. Mutual respect and sense of trust is required between the teacher and the student in line with the experiences they had before so learning can validate their out of school lives.

In traditional communities, or before school today, students learn through an innate curiosity as evidenced by the need to ask endless questions. They learn by making mistakes that are greeted with approval by parents who see them as efforts towards greater proficiency. They literally and figuratively pick themselves up, dust themselves off and have another go. The adults around them do not expect them to learn anything 'first go' and there is no sense of judgment. Help is given only as needed.

At school, even in well meaning classrooms, children soon learn not to ask questions and many become fearful of making mistakes. From these small beginnings some children gradually become uncomfortable and some even alienated. It doesn’t take much to turn learning off!

Gradually they learn that their own lives, their personal stories and culture are no longer relevant. School becomes more and more incomprehensible and as a consequence their view of themselves as learners suffers. All they learn is to show off their ignorance and some even fall into the trap of gaining attention by being ‘bad’, or uninterested, or by just withdrawing.

The solution for these (and really for all children) is to make full use of their real life experiences as a basis for literacy competence. Teachers need to value their questions, their prior ideas in any learning situation and most of all by tapping into their talents and interests.

Children at school need to be introduced to rich topics or tasks by teachers who are willing to learn alongside the learner. Children in such situations learn by wanting to, by copying, by listening, asking each other questions, by helping each other in joint tasks, and by gaining pride by having plenty of opportunities to demonstrate their new skills or knowledge in real life situations. This is imbedded evaluation!

Students will learn in such environments because they will sense we expect them too. When they feel trusted they will continue to ask ‘dumb’ questions and see mistakes as a good try - next time they know it will be better. And they will know there is no rush and that they will have time to figure things out.

The drive to learn and make sense of our lives is innate. It is schools that have to change to see that this curiosity is not lost or diverted into less productive activities. The students who are included in the so called ‘achievement tail’, if we don’t help them, might not learn 'school stuff' but they will learn and for some we will pay the price.

We need to reinvent schools to foster authentic learning and to do this in concert with the children’s parents by making them full partners in the process. We need to return the schools back to their communities so that school and out of school worlds overlap – and at all levels.

Creative teachers have already shown us that this faith in student creativity results in all students achieving school success. It can be done.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Why are teachers so reluctant to change?

Over years of visiting schools it seems mean to say that there has not been as much change as one might have hoped for considering all the imposed reform efforts. Ironically the biggest change I have seen was when a more progressive pedagogy entered our primary schools in the late 60s and early 70s. Out went straight rows, the strap, and the overbearing role of the teacher. Even the introduction of computers hasn’t yet changed school structures as much but there are signs they will.

I guess we are conditioned to act for better or worse by the organization we work in. Even though we like to think we live in an individualistic age, so called authors of our own lives, organizations still determine our actions more than we like to think.

Organizations unconsciously determine the norms and expectations we work under. Organizations are both an expression of who we are and shape us at the same time. This of course includes the school we go to. Organizations stir affection and loyalty and in turn become the breeding ground for shared values, solidarity and conformity.

They can also become bureaucratic and impersonal. In short they exert a powerful influence on our lives. There might be some who might want to be creative and make changes but this is a risky business. Far more have become conditioned to toe the line or limit their aspirations. This is the case it seems in education.

Changing entrenched mindsets is a difficult task even for those in charge. Leaders are more conditioned that those lesser mortal working at the fringes. The idea of getting to the top to change things is a myth. Creative ideas are always watered down by what is possible – the art of compromise.

The trouble is most of our organizations were developed in the nineteenth century and haven’t changed much since. They seem to be oblivious to the realization that we are entering a new era; a post industrial age; an age of instant communication and flexibility; an era which will demand new organizations and new mindsets.

Future changes will force all traditional organizations, including schools, to develop new shapes more suitable for the 21stC. More probably new organizations will appear sidelining traditional school entirely; already there are new innovative and virtual schools putting pressure on the old organizations. These future organizations will have to continually evolve to accommodate new expectations and aspirations. Evolution not tradition will become the overriding force underpinning the future.

It seems that when this new environments occurs teachers who are flexible enough will move into the new environments. Creative teachers and schools could even lead this revolution if they were brave enough. So far there is not much sign of this; they are too busy trapped playing the old game!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Disorganisation.Why organisations must 'loosen up'!

Organizations are caught up in a growing tension between those who want to take greater control in the name of accountability and those who want the freedom to make full use of their individual creativity.

This tension is to be seen in the relationship between schools and the Ministry of Education. The Ministry with its imposition of targets and other compliance requirements, and with the talk of software so all schools can collect and share data between schools (and the Ministry), sounds very much like George Orwell’s ‘Big Bother’!

From a creative individuals point of view there is a desire for greater autonomy and flexibility. Such people want a greater say in the future of the organizations they work for. In short the want organizations to ‘disorganize’!

This sounds like the beliefs of a small but growing group of creative teachers and schools. And it sounds like democracy!

Only a few organizations have as yet experimented with ‘disorganization’ but the idea is beginning to impact on organizations that understand that their very survival depends on the imagination and creativity of those who choose to work for them.

The problem is one of balancing control (or at least ‘keeping the herd roughly pointed West’) and providing an environment that allows people more freedom to express their personal values and identity. It will require real leadership to create and sustain this dynamic but essential creative tension.

Those who presume to know best will have to learn to ‘let go’ and disorganize otherwise the brightest and the best will leave to work where their values and aspirations will be better met.

So it seems that those who like to run a tight and tidy ship will be left high and dry in the future while the more creative organizations will sail toward exciting new horizons.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

How important is spelling?

See if you can read this.

‘ I cdnoult blveiee taht I cluod aulacity uesdnatnrd waht I was rdgnieg .The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid. Aodccrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dnsoe’t rllaey mttaer in waht orerd the ltteers in a wrod are squeneced, the olny iprmoatnt tigng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer to be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the hmuan muid deos not raed ervey lteter , but the wrod as a wlohe. Azmanig huh? Yaeh and I awlyas thghuoht slpeling was ipmorantt!’

It sure points out the amazing ability of the human mind to make sense of what ever it experiences. And it really confused the linear thinking of my spell checker which obviously isn’t as creative; it kept correcting words!. It also took me ages to type because my brain wanted to type it correctly as well, which illustrates how hard it is to change your mind!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

What do you believe about teaching and learning?

Last night, amongst the frivolity of an end of year shout for teachers, there was brief discussion about the point education. It didn’t last long but it got me thinking.

All too often the deep purpose of education is neglected in the hectic real time of teaching but it should really underpin all we do. To do so we have to really know what we believe.

I believe we now know enough about learning and teaching that no students need fail; and that all students can learn given the appropriate task, time and help.

Translating that into practice is the challenge. What is it that we all know about learning? What are appropriate tasks for students, and what is the role of the teachers in helping each individual learn? Answering these questions develops a sense of shared purpose or vision for a school.

I read, while surfing the internet, what educator Chip Wood believes about teaching and learning in his book, ‘Time to Teach and Time to Learn’:

‘I believe deeply that our schools can be better, our classrooms more purposeful, more disciplined and more generative. We can make the schoolhouse a joyful community of learners, a workplace of deep intellectual exploration and broad creative energy, a trustworthy place for social and emotional support.’

I have had the privilege of visiting many classrooms that put these ideals into practice but not as many as I would like. And we all know that too many students leave our school system less than joyful learners!

What are your beliefs about teaching and learning? Be great to hear from you but at least give it a thought over the summer holidays

Friday, December 10, 2004

Are schools coping? Is a new vision required?

It was depressing but salutatory to read statistics released from the Ministry of Education in an article, in the November 04 NZ Primary Principals Magazine, about the need for character education.

The figures reveal that since 2000, in primary schools alone, suspensions and stand downs have increased 31%, and that there has been a 23% increase in physical assaults on staff, and 40% assaults on other students. These are not teenagers, the article emphasizes, or even intermediate school students, but eight, nine and ten year olds. The 2560 removals from primary schools in 2003 is a 13.8% increase from 2000. The article continues that in former generations most primary school teachers completed a lifetime career without experiencing either a suspension or an expulsion.

I imagine the figures for intermediate and secondary school would make even more frightening reading? I do know that 19% of all students leave secondary schools without achieving any worthwhile qualifications and a high percentage of 13 to 15 year old absent themselves daily from school.

The problem is way beyond serious but does not register on the public’s radar as urgent.

It is time for a dramatic change .At the very least the government ought to investigate establishing a fund to encourage new approaches to schooling. Our current secondary schools are struggling to accommodate future citizens in buildings developed for the development of managers and workers for a factory era. Current educational reform is akin to moving deck chairs on the Titanic .As well many patents seem to prefer traditional approaches.

We need to develop a new consciousness in our society for a need for change.

After the almost collapse of Western economies post the crash of 1929 two important things happened educationally in New Zealand. A reform orientated Labour Government was elected and set about with enthusiasm and support to put New Zealand back onto its feet. Around the same time a series of international educationalists, under the auspices of the New Educational Fellowship, were invited to tour NZ to give talks in all centres. Evidently these talks attracted packed houses. The Minster of Education Peter Fraser and his Director General Dr Beeby, building on this desire for change, introduced a range of new and exciting idea to revitalize an antiquated education system.

The time is right again, as we enter the Information Age, for such an injection of new thought. The figures quoted are evidence that our current system is surely failing too many students and cannot be ignored. Visionary thinking is once again required.

The recent experiment with ‘market forces’ at the end of the last century may have made everything more rational and efficient in education but it has, in the process, almost destroyed the professionalism of teachers and the democratic purpose of schools, as well as destroying the social fabric of our communities. What we now see in school reflects this ‘winners and losers’ society. Even the recent improvement in unemployment only clouds the issue of many disenfranchised people having to work two menial jobs to simply keep their children fed and housed. Poverty is a fact of life for many children.

If we want to reinvent a fair society them we need new thinking; New Zealand s at a crossroads. We need a new vision for our country, one that all citizens can feel part of and, integral to this, is a need to reinvent education as the key for community and democratic renewal.

What we need is national conversation to raise the consciousness of the importance of education and the role it could play in community renewal. It would be great for the Government to invite a range of powerful educational thinkers to visit all major centres to inspire ideas to help us break out of our current thinking.

It is only when schools, parents, and the wider community (and students) all work together that we will solve the problems of a failing society. If we can reinvent schools to ensure all students can reach their potential and contribute positively to our country this would reinvigorate not only education but our communities.

As Michael Fullan the educationalist writes, ‘That would be worth fighting for’!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Our NZ students are 'above average'!

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released this month its international study of the competitive performance of students in maths and reading.

New Zealand students, our Ministry ‘officials’ say, didn’t do too bad and are ‘above average’. Our students slipped from 3 rd in reading to 6 th, and from 3 rd in maths to12th. In comparison the USA ranked 28 th out of 40 countries in maths and 18 th in reading.

Countries that did well were Finland, South Korea, Canada and Australia.

The maths tests provided students with tasks they would have to confront as citizens and results showed that those countries that emphasized theoretical maths or rote learning did not do so well as those that emphasized practical aspects.

The study also showed a widening gap between the best and worst performing countries. In New Zealand, although our high performing students did well, we have a long underperforming tail. Finland by contrast has the smallest performance of underperforming students. I guess it is also one of the most homogenous countries in the study? I would hazard a guess that the more culturally diverse a country is the more difficult it is for their education system to cater for all students? If you add on top of this the presence economically disadvantaged groups this would also impact?

Our New Zealand Ministry ‘officials’ responded by saying that our low achieving tail of persistent underachievers points to the need for a different approach and that the Ministry’s Numeracy and Literacy Projects will help.

Time will tell.

I believe the real answer lies in teaching that provides for the basic needs of our underachieving students. We need to provide learning environments that foster intrinsic motivation. The OECD study indicated that students learn best when it is practical, meaningful and takes into account the students attitudes towards maths and reading.

Underachievement must be more than improving maths or reading scores. The problem of endemic underachievement extends into the wider community and even to the vision we have for our country.

Underachieving children could be seen as a symptom of a bigger challenge. They could give us the motivation to develop more appropriate teaching and learning models for the 21stC that ensure all students learn. They are the ‘canaries’ dying for want of educational air in our industrial age schools! We need to reinvent schools so teachers can work together with their communities to solve the problem of underachievement?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

End of year student survey!

Click to read the latest blog

Updated end of term survey blog (2013)

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.

You might also like to think about developing a similar survey for the beginning of next year to give some insight into student’s attitudes that they bring with them to your class. You could include the various learning areas, what they are expecting to gain from the year with you, and what questions they would like to find out more about. You might be able to work the later into a negotiated curriculum?

For the students at the end of the year:

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.

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 and if they see themselves as learners or someone who is taught things.

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

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Does your classroom have the 'wow' factor?

I always enjoy visiting classrooms in the last term of the school year because this is when you can see on display the wonderful creative work of students and, by default, the skill of their equally creative teachers. But not in all rooms or in all schools.

Picking up on a phrase from my favourite the business guru, Tom Peters, these creative classrooms have the ‘wow factor’!

If you have the chance, walk around your school looking for signs of ‘wow’. Some schools I have worked with have drawn up a simple criteria to assist teachers develop and assess their room environments.

The first sign of ‘wow’ is the overall first impression the room gives you. The feeling you get is that you are indeed in special place. There is a feeling of positive relationships between teacher and learners and often parents are to be seen quietly helping students. Other students seem to be working without supervision. A quick look around the walls, covered with students creativity gives an impression that this is a room dedicated to the students themselves.

Then take a look at the whiteboard or blackboards. This is where you can see the management skills of the teacher. If students are to work independently in small groups, or even by themselves, then the blackboards ought to illustrate what, when and in some case how, the work is to be done. Naturally it is best if the tasks are negotiated with the students themselves.

Student’s bookwork is an important and often overlooked means to assess the ‘wow’ factor. By term four they ought to show qualitative improvement both in content and design and visual literacy skills. Some schools have reinvented their student’s books as living portfolios.

Finally the walls, where it is easiest to see if the ‘wow’ factor. The entire room is a ‘message system’ passing on what is seen as important to students and parents. A range of curriculum areas should be on display. Look for some in depth mathematical research work or examples of well displayed poetic writing or other language work. Both should be displayed with suitable headings and informative explanations of ideas learnt or processes used. Rooms should both celebrate and inform.

By term four there should be lots of work to be seen arising from the latest content study. This should have: a challenging heading, key questions, examples of student’s research, and possibly criteria for students to self assess their work. Look also as to how well information technology has been integrated into all areas of learning. Finally the most impressive thing to be seen would be the art work, either done for its own sake, or integrated into the current study.

I most case you can pick up the degree of ‘wow’ as you enter the rooms. A closer look around reveals the hard work that has gone into both the teaching and the learning and gives clues to others about how to develop a sense of ‘wow’ in their own room.

There will be ‘magic’ teachers who seem to be born with a gene for this ‘wow’ factor but it is my experience that every teacher can learn the tricks to develop equally impressive rooms: it is not brain surgery! Developing this sense of aesthetic design is an important 21stC skill in itself.

Think educational bureaucracy is bad - try France!

I am always pleased when people send me articles that they think I might be interested in. Recently I was sent material saying how bureaucratic teaching was in New York, well it seems it can get worse! Another friend has sent me an article about French requirements.

The French Ministry of Education (popularly known as the ‘mammoth’) is regarded only to have one competitor – the Red Army! In the French system it is said that the French Minister knows, at any one hour, exactly what children of a given age would be studying anywhere in France. A uniform education is given to students whether in an industrial suburb of Paris or in distant mountain village in the Pyrenees. As well parents are asked to sign and absorb five pages on enrolment.

It gets worse. No detail is overlooked. A recent swimming circular ran to 4000 words covering everything from the objectives of swimming to the temperature of the water! Evidently a water temperature of 27 and an air temperature of 24 to 27 are required. For outdoor pools the temperature is some degrees lower but no less than 25. A more recent circular removed the minimum of 25 degrees.

Of course the real issue is whether this stuff ever gets read let alone enforced.

Some teachers in France have difficulty imagining that they are actually communicating with living human beings.

This sort of imposed detail is also to be seen in the English (UK) Literacy and Numeracy hours in an attempt to improve reading and maths scores.

The rational ideas of the age of science exist in all countries. Our current New Zealand Curriculum Statements represent this desire to define what students should know and teachers should teach by defining endless strands, levels and objectives. And for a while the Education Review Office visited schools to see teachers were ticking off the objectives that were determined by central authority to be covered.

It pays to keep a close eye on these so called distant elites. It always looks easier to solve problems from a distance, particularly for those whose classroom teaching is a distant memory!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Let's start a revolution!

I am a great believer in creative destruction; that is to build something new you have to be prepared to give away what seems to be more or less working. I think this really applies to schooling.

At the end of the year schools are parading their success to the community and to the general public all seems well. The truth is that schools are very successful for catering for the academic students they were designed for. And, of course, these successful students come from successful parents who have little interest in changing what works well for their children. And why should they? And of course they can afford the ‘best’!

The trouble is lots of things have changed since secondary schools were introduced last century to transmit knowledge to often less than willing students. Even when they were made compulsory up until the age of 15 the less academic students left for the work force as soon as they could. In those days manual work was readily available.

Today secondary schools are great if it were still 1965! That is not to say schools with less academic students are not doing their best to provide alternative options for such students. Some school have created innovative courses but, while the basic structures of schools remain locked into an industrial age, it will always be difficult.

What is needed is for communities, with government support, to set up a range of alternative learning organizations that focus on providing each learner with a personalized programme. Such organizations (I hesitate to call them schools) could make use of collaborative teams of teachers to focus on: developing all students’ talents, developing future literacy’s, integrating learning with the local community ( in a form of service education or apprenticeship), and make full use of information technology.

This is all a very possible revolution and one that puts creative teachers and innovative communities at the centre.

In the meantime schools could look to rearranging the current NZCEA units into a range of cross curricula studies, combining teachers from various disciplines, rather than locking individaul units into traditional subjects. Not really a revolution but a start!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Basic beliefs about teaching.

We now know enough about learning that no student need fail if we changed our minds first! This assumption has the power to change education as we now provide it. All students, given the right task, enough time and appropriate help can achieve far beyond current expectations. Creative teachers, along with coaches in area as diverse as sports and the arts, have proved this. That we do not put into place what we know is called, by one writer David Perkins, author of the Smart School, the ‘knowledge action gap’!

All students have their own personal voice, experiences and latent set of talents that need to be acknowledged. Schools to realize these would need to personalize learning by providing all students with challenging learning experiences and their own individual educational learning plans. It can be done. To read about schools that have achieved this at the secondary level read ‘The Big Picture’ by Dennis Littky.

This personalization of education alters the role of the teacher into one of a learning coach or mentor. Students will always need positive relationships with others to assist them with the process of self realization, even though the content is readily available from the World Wide Web. The relationship will be one of a master / apprenticeship. Teachers however would need to appreciate that many students will surpass their knowledge base but, even when this happens, the mentor role remains. Ideally teachers and learners work together to help each learner construct his or her own learning.

Teachers, along with helping the students appreciate the range of talents they may have, also need to ensure students gain the appropriate set of personal values so as to be able to make the best choices they can, as well as ‘learning how to learn’ skills. And, along with having the courage of ones convictions, students need to appreciate that to achieve ones best requires perseverance, effort and practice.

This personalized learning is a direct contrast to the current ‘one size fits all’ secondary schools. It will require, not only a new mindset by teachers, but also the development of learning environments that allow students access to a range of teacher and subject expertise. Helpings students see connections between diverse learning areas will be a valuable future skill. Working collaboratively with groups of students and teachers will also be part of the mix, as will moving out into the wider community to both learn from and contribute to.

If this is realized schools will become learning organizations intimately linked with their communities and the wider world. The new information technology will make this development inevitable – it will only be matter of time. Schools will need to change or become increasingly irrelevant.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Educational lessons from the USA?

If we think the compliance demands in New Zealand are a pain then an article in the New York Times (Dec3rd 04) by Philip Howard, author of’ ‘The Collapse of the Common Good’, shows perhaps thing aren’t so bad after all? But there are lessons for us to learn.

In an attempt to ensure all students get a fair go, schools in America now have to comply to a mountain of curriculum, accountability and legal requirements; established no doubt for good reasons by well meaning politicians. The trouble is that more time is now spent on excessive paper work than focusing on the core role of teaching and learning. Howard writes, that once rule based management takes root bureaucracy grows, tying principals and teachers in time consuming legal knots. Such a legalistic culture becomes poisonous, transforming what should be a cooperative enterprise into an audit culture that just wastes everyone’s time and energy.

In New York the legalistic overload is so great as to be comedic, according to the head of the teacher’s union, Randi Weingarten. Legal mandates are imposed on all sorts of things, ‘Every minute of the day and every inch of the classroom is dictated, the arrangement of desks, the format of bulletin boards, and the position where the teacher should stand.’ Teachers, she continues, ‘are demeaned, they’re stripped of their professionalism and they are expected to behave like robots incapable of independent thought’.

The efficiency movement that created the mass production factories of the Industrial Age it seems are alive and well in American schools. Henry Ford would be proud of them! Everyone will have an education, but one size will fit all. The legalist demands, Howard says, have basically killed the human instinct and judgment required to run a school able to focus on the needs of individual students.

Fixing American schools seems like one of the hardest tasks in the history of civilization and it seems beyond our grasp, says Howard. He goes on to say that before we throw good money after bad it would be wise to learn why school reforms almost always seem to fail.

Perhaps, he says, it is time to rethink basic assumptions and move away from micromanagement. Maybe teachers and principals should be allowed to think for themselves? That’s how successful schools have always worked. No amount of money will rescue a ship sinking under the weight of endless rules and bureaucracy.

He concludes that, ‘Schools depend on the energy, skill, judgment and sympathy of teachers and principals. Liberate them to draw on all their human traits. Then liberate some of us to hold them accountable. Throw most of the rules overboard. Let law set basic goals and principles, not dictate daily decisions’

A lesson to be learnt by our political masters in New Zealand?

Friday, December 03, 2004

A simple Vision and Teaching Beliefs

Future orientated organizations need to be clear about that they stand for. And the most future orientated of any organization ought to be a school if it is to be a true ‘learning organization’.

To develop an inspiring future vision usually involves some process of dialogue with all involved – the staff of the school (which includes all who work there), the parent’s body and where possible include student input as well. And, of course, a school's vision needs to accommodate the directions as indicated by a democratic government which, hopefully, will have a clear vision for the country. Unfortunately this is not always the case.

Many schools have adapted or modified the following generic ideas it to suit their individual school situations. They have much in common with the teaching principles developed in Victoria I mentioned in my previous contribution and are not claimed to be original.


To develop the individual creativity and talents of all students, and to help them become thoughtful and respectful members of their community.

(Many school develop a simple motto to sum up their vision that all can easily remember)


To help all students develop positive set of personal beliefs so as to be able to make appropriate choices. Schools often develop a simple phrase like, ‘learning to make the best choices,’ to sum up their values.

(Some schools also work out simple Charters outlining suggested behaviors that the schools want to encourage in their students, teachers, and parents.)

Teaching Beliefs:

1. To ensure defined ‘Foundation Skills’ are in place

2. To develop students as ‘Powerful Learners’ – equipped with learning 'how to learn' strategies.

3. To see students as ‘Teaching /Learning Coaches’ who expect all teachers to reach for their personal best.

4. To provide ‘Rich, Real and Relevant’ challenging learning experiences.

5. To provide ‘Focused Safe Learning Environments’ that inform and celebrate student learning.

Schools usually develop their own key phrases for the above but they usually cover similar points. For each point the teaching team needs to develop a list of actions that they agree to put into practice to act as a performance agreement.

Once established, which usually takes at least a year to develop, the teaching beliefs in particular, need to be reviewed at the end of each year to add new ideas or to remove ideas that are no longer felt important.

There is further information on the process and examples on:

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Five principles for learning - worth thinking about?

Victoria (Australia) has introduced five principles for all schools to follow in preparation for a new curriculum as yet to be released. All schools, it is stated, would have to decide how to apply them.

They are hardly remarkable, or new, but they do seem fundamental and if acted upon would have a powerful effect on teaching and learning.

They are as follows:

1. Learning for all. All students can learn, given sufficient time and support.
2. Pursuit of excellence. Seeking to accomplish something noteworthy and admirable and performing at ones best.
3. Engagement and effort. Acknowledging that student ability is only one factor in achievement, if students work hard, and make an effort, they improve.
4. Respect for evidence. Seeking understanding and truth through structured inquiry and the application of evidence to test and question belief.
5. Openness of mind. Being willing to consider a range of different views.

I guess the principles are less problematic than defining a set of values but they do underpin the values of a democratic society. If they were all put into practice they would certainly challenge the current educational provisions that are more suited to an ‘industrial age’ environment than a ‘knowledge era’. By personalizing learning, as it would seem the above require, true twenty first century schools would evolve

A few comments on the principles.

If learning for all were taken seriously then everything needs to be done, including re –inventing current school structures and programmes, to ensure all students leave with the joy of learning intact. This is obviously not the case at present. Many schools try to cover too much material and many students are not taught appropriate learning strategies.

• Do all students leave any one class, or school with an enthusiasm for learning?

Pursuit of excellence would mean doing fewer things well and, for this to happen, the learning most be relevant and meaningful to the learner. This would require schools to focus on each learner’s particular learning needs and talents so as to motivate students to achieve their personal best.

• Can every school demonstrate for every student examples of excellence?

Engagement depends on relevance and a sense of personal control by the learner. Twenty first century schools need value their student's questions, views and current level of understandings and then to challenge them. Too many schools still see their role as one of transmission and testing of knowledge. Ability is an important factor but all students do need to learn to equally value effort, perseverance and practice. If the tasks are felt worthwhile by students they are more willing to put in the effort necessary.

• Are all students engaged and keen to continue learning?

Respect for evidence through structured inquiry would require schools to introduce all learning tasks as problem solving situations. Teachers would need to encourage students to consider possible actions, research the best option, reflect on the findings and, if necessary, continuing a new line of research. Learning ‘how to learn’ would need to be seen as important as the product and would contribute to developing the attributes required to ensure all students become life long learners.

• Are all students able articulate how they learn? Do teachers introduce learning as realistic open ended learning challenges?

Openness of mind. Students need to learn that there are often a range of views in any learning experience and that other views, and cultural beliefs, need to be considered and respected. In many situations there is often no obvious answer and students need to resist the temptation of imposing a ‘right answer’. This openess of mind is vital in a global world

• Are students open to new experiences and willing to consider other points of view?

I believe the principles would an ideal set for any school to implement. They have much in common with the five points of our Teaching Framework to be seen on our site ( ) which have been modified by many schools in NZ

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Retirement or redirection?

Over the past few years I have been asked to say a few words at various friends’ retirements. Personally I think the word is dated as I have observed that these ‘retired’ people are now busier and happier than ever.

This week I have the privilege again, this time for the principal of the school that I was the previous principal. I didn’t actually retire from this position but left early to reinvent myself as a independent educational adviser; and now I feel the need for a further self invention!

I think I was influenced by the example of my own father who voluntary gave up a more important job to go back to what he would rather be doing – and he kept up doing what he liked until he could no longer do it.

My advice would be to make the change early as possible rather than waiting for the right time. Charles Handy, the business philosopher, writes that life is divided in quarters. The first 25 years is all about getting qualifications for a job, the second 25, working hard to develop financial security for yourself and your family, and the third 25 years the opportunity to let go of such demanding responsibilities and reinvent yourself. The rest of your life is I guess a bonus. When it comes to living to a ripe old age there is nothing, it seems, better than keeping mind and body active. Learning, as they say, is for life.

In this ‘third age’ all sorts of opportunities exist to explore ranging from semi employment to learning new, or developing long forgotten, interests. Employment of course doesn’t have to mean paid work but for some it does, but doing something they really want to do. Many other people busy themselves helping by: others in voluntary organizations; taking up new learning challenges; while others go on ‘learning’ holidays.

This ‘downshifting’, as it has been called, appeals too the young as well who do not want to be tied to a job like their parents. Young people today are more inclined to have the confidence and skills to make use of their talents to suit themselves, rather than having one job for life.

The tradeoff of lack of money, status, or security, for this ‘downshifting’ is spiritual replenishment, or doing something felt to be worthwhile or creative. Money it seems is no longer everything; quality of life is just as important.

Those who have cracked the ‘retirement thing’ can be seen as pioneers leading the way into valuing the idea of life long learning.