Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The teacher makes the difference!

  Posted by Picasa Bill Guild:perhaps the best teacher I ever had the opportunity to see in action!

In the last few years politicians have learnt from their 'expert' researchers that it is the teacher who is the greatest influence in the classroom and not the curriculums that have dominated everyones thinking the past decades.

It would seem both the researchers and their masters are slow learners because this has been obvious to most parents, teachers and students themselves for many a year. It may be not as obvious though to those teachers who still hold on to the 'myth' that they are all equally important. My experience has taught more that some are more equal than others and a few stand out for their expertise and creativity. Teachers who do 'stand out' have had learnt the trick of not making it too obvious which is a shame - over the years it has been the ideas of such teachers that I have been only to happy to share.

In particular I worked with a group of local teachers many years ago that will forever be part of my image of what teachers should be – and could be if given the right conditions. These teachers had but one abiding desire – it was to help their students develop all the creative talents they had within them. Curriculums were treated with the 'respect' they deserved and the saying of Jerome Bruner that, ‘teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation’, could have been their philosophy. That is, along with 'networking' with 'like minds'.

All sorts of research now backs up the view of the importance of the teacher and the culture they need to work in. Sadly to many imposed constraints still get in the way of creative teachers, imposed by those who do not trust teachers to do the right the thing given the right support.

In ‘Leading and Making Hope Practical in Schools’ Australians Bob Lingard and Martin Mills identify the power of excellent teachers to see what truly makes the difference in attempt to redress the, so called, imposed ‘idiot proof' solutions. They are careful to state that the teacher variance at best is about 30% but this is more than enough to make a powerful difference, and it is one under every teachers control, unlike the home, peers and even the school and its principal.

Their research found that while teachers have power, a few do damage while others maintain a status quo; their research focused on those having the most powerful effect on achievement (a tricky concept in itself). They identified several dimensions of excellent teachers.

Excellent teachers are able to combine new subject matter with students’ prior knowledge and are able to relate the content to other areas of learning. They are able to 'think on their feet' spontaneously modifying their teaching according to student needs. Their teaching is very context bound and they find it hard to think outside of the specifics of their classroom.

Excellent teachers focus on solving problems with respect to each individuals needs and are opportunistic and flexible in their teaching.

Expert teachers are more adept at anticipating problems continually monitoring students’ responses and improvising accordingly; they are greater seekers and users of feedback.

Their ablility to improvisation makes them better decision makers. Interestingly none of the excellent teachers had written lesson plans but all could describe 'mental plans' for their lessons. They could describe possible sequences but details of timing and pacing were made in response to student questions and concerns. They were very skilful at keeping the lesson 'on track'.

Expert teachers build climates where error is welcomed and where student questioning is high. They are able to deal with the multi –dimensionality of the classrooms by being effective 'scanners' of classroom behaviour; part of their success was their knowledge of what they were teaching and their knowledge of the ability, experience and backgrounds of their students.

They skillfully anticipate disturbances and can detect when students lose interest, or are not understanding. As a result they are better able to seek out and provide feedback enabling them to provide their students with appropriate learning strategies or assistance. They have the skill to do this almost without effort because the skills have become automatic with extensive practice – this is in contrast with ‘novice’ or less expert teachers.

Expert teachers have high respect for all their learners and demonstrate their commitment to them. They can recognize and overcome barriers to learning in their students that others find difficult. Like experts in other domains they show more emotionality about the successes or failures in their work.

All their teaching is focused in developing their students’ responsibility for their own learning and do so by ensuring students are involved in challenging learning tasks that result in both 'mastery' and ‘deep’ learning.Expert teachers achieve ‘deep’ learning rather than superficially . ‘Deep learning’ is where students have created their own understandings, can use what they have learnt, and can relate and connect their knowledge to other areas or tasks.

Rather than ‘do your best’ students are challenged to really engage in their learning and achieve the ‘best they can do’. ‘Learning conversations’ are a feature of their classrooms, focused on sorting out challenging problems students are encountering.

Expert teachers have a positive effect on student outcomes no matter how they are defined – self efficacy, willingness to be challenged, self regulation as well as content.

Without understating the importance of teacher content knowledge (which must be present) the authors believe that is the pedagogical skills, or the ways knowledge is used in the classroom, that 'counts'.

The results, the authors believe, are clear. Expert teachers do differ from experienced teachers particularly in the way they organize their rooms, the degree of challenge and support they present to their students and, most importantly, the depth of processing their students attain. It is less 'how much' students learn but more 'how' they know.

As long as we work on the assumption that all teachers are born equal we will not be able to take advantage of the insights and skills of such teachers.

We still need to provide teachers with resources to assist with content but what will achieve the greatest breakthrough will be a deeper appreciation of the 'artistry' of the excellent teacher.

The task of a school leader is to create the conditions to ensure that the skills of such teachers are distributed throughout the school; creative schools for creative teachers and students.

Such a focus makes ‘hope more practical’ and teaching a more creative and attractive endeavor.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Schools to develop the creative talents of all students.

  Posted by Picasa 'Out of Our MindsLearning to be Creative’ By Sir Ken Robertson

Sir Ken Robertson is to be a keynote speaker at the combined NZPFF/ICP Conference to be held in Auckland in 2007.

It sounds like he will be well worth listening to. John Cleese writes about the book as ‘brilliantly written about the different ways in which creativity is undervalued and ignored in Western Culture and especially in our schools.’ Another commentator says the book, ‘calls for radical changes in the way we think about intelligence and education’; UK Educator Ted Wragg comments that Robertson reminds us that, ‘education, in particular, can squash the imagination and rock self confidence’.

It is not a hard book to read - but be warned, it could be mindchanging!

It answers the questions: Why is it essential to promote and develop creativity and what is involved promoting it? The concept of creativity the book argues for is that; everyone has creative capacities; these capacities are the greatest resource available to an organization, and the need to develop a culture of innovation.

Education, ‘doesn’t just follow the natural grain of young people’s abilities’. Education, Robinson believes, is vital to every individual’s success but all too often it, ‘stamps us with deep impressions of ourselves….that is hard to remove….Success or failure can affect our image of ourselves for life…. Some of the most brilliant and successful people in all walks of life…failed education’.

Education ignores too many people abilities leading to a waste of talent and resources. As a result many highly intelligent people have passed through education feeling they aren’t; even so called ‘successful students’ leave never having discovered other hidden talents.

Creating the conditions to release creativity of students, and their teachers, is the real issue. We simply do a disastrous job presently; and too many teachers find it impossible to utilize their own creative energy due to imposed pressures.

Education tells students the wrong story ignoring that, ‘real creativity comes from finding your medium from being in your element’. Worse still creativity is simply ignored – education kills rather than kindles creativity. Too many people are displaced from their own capabilities by schools designed for an industrialized society; we need new thinking for an information age premised on the creativity of all citizens. Ideas and creativity are the new commodities.

The fastest growing areas in the economy are the so called creative industries creating demands for new sorts of skills and aptitudes. Employers want people who can think intuitively, who are imaginative and innovative, who can communicate well, work in teams and are flexible, adaptable and self confident.

Achieving such people cannot be produced by our current education system in, fact schools, as they are currently structured, Robertson believes, are part of the problem. We need, he believes to confront, ‘deep seated assumptions that underpin our view of ourselves’ and our formal education system. ‘The dominant ideologies of education are now defeating their most urgent purpose to develop people who can cope and contribute to the breathless rate of change in the 21stC – people who are creative and flexible’ resulting in a ‘ tragic narrowing of intelligences…and a waste of creative ability.’ The sense of alienation of students trapped in the wrong system is compounded by structures of subject divisions, periods and bells. As a result many individuals leave school without ever discovering what their real intellectual capacities are; in a ‘crucial sense they never really know who they are or what they might become’.

Our current formal education system is still obsessed with an academic curriculum and achievement in literacy and numeracy to the exclusion of other forms of more creative intelligences. A paradigm shift is now required similar to the Renaissance sparked off by the invention of the printing press.

Robertson believes, ‘we are all born with extraordinary natural capacities’ and to develop our idiosyncratic creative abilities, ‘we need to recognize how rich they are and the conditions under which they will emerge’.

Creativity is a process of making sense by ‘trying on ideas’ – a process of ‘successive approximations’. New ideas can transform how we see things. Being creative, Robertson reminds us, involves doing things. ‘Real creativity comes from finding your medium, from being in your element. Discovering the right medium is often a tidal moment in the creative life of the individual’

Much of the assumed dichotomies between the arts and the science are false. Both are being creative, both are subjective. It is difficult pre-plan the final outcomes of both; a problem for our current education system based on reason determined to measure learning objectively. Too much of current education is still premised on transmission of traditional bodies of knowledge to individual students

We are at turning point when new liberating ideas are replacing accepted wisdom. New values, beliefs and attitudes are now gaining ground – but too slowly in our schools. New conditions are required to release the creativity of all students – we no longer live in a linear, logical planned world. Creativity draws on a network of ideas and knowledge too easily stifled in a traditional environment – we need to create new learning cultures open to ideas from all sources. Schools need to tap into ideas that excite their students’ passions and that have the potential to lead into many fields.

New ideas take root because they capture the imagination and the spirit of the times; societies and organisations that cannot adapt are doomed to fail.

Schools need to identify the students (and their teachers) creative abilities by putting them into situations that engage them in interdisciplinary tasks that test them to call upon ideas they may not be aware they have. It is critical to find the right medium to release students’ abilities and then to provide them with whatever assistance is required.

To do this means energizing and re-culturing the whole organization utilizing various disciplines or more radically removing such structures all together to give teachers and students the freedom to explore and be creative. There are no pre-planned ‘right answers’ in such dynamic organic environments – in creativity, ‘most of what you are going to do isn’t going out to turn out how you thought it would’.

Robertson believes, ‘education must change to meet the radically new circumstances in which they are now operating’. ‘At the heart of this argument’, he writes, ‘is that knowledge can be generated in many other ways than in words or numbers’. ‘New structures, and new ‘permeable’ curriculums, need to be developed – ‘we cannot meet the challenges of the 21stC with education ideologies of the 19th’.

Roberson’s challenge is for schools to seize the opportunities that now exist but to do so means, ‘we must be creative, we must cherish the individual and we must be courageous enough to meet ever greater challenges head on. We must routinely do what has never been done before and we must be obsessive about improving what we already do.’

The future is all about developing talents of all students and for this to happen there must be a new conception of human resources- we need all the talent we can get to ensure the very sustainability of the very world we live in – a world that our our past industrial thinking has all but destroyed.

We can no longer, Robertson concludes, ‘subject ourselves to a partial form of education. We have wasted or destroyed a great deal of what people had to offer because we couldn’t see the value of it.

Education, he believes, is the key to the future but only if it is changed to ‘give people back to themselves’; ‘we will need all our wits about us- literally. We must learn to be creative’.

A powerful read.

Will schools take up the challenge!

Last word to John Cleese ‘Brilliant

A 'must read' - particularly for secondary teachers!

  Posted by Picasa ‘Catching the Knowledge Wave’ by Jane Gilbert Chief Researcher NZCER.

Available www.nzcer.org.nz

According to the book's back cover, ‘if this book were a film it would be rated M’ – with a ‘caution that some viewers might be disturbed’ by the ideas.

It ought to be compulsory reading for all teachers, particularly those in the secondary schools, as it challenges many unquestioned assumptions about traditional school structures and mindsets

The ideas underpinning the ‘knowledge society’ are explored leading inevitably to the need to completely transform the role of education for the 21stC.

The book argues that our current system is set up to serve 'industrial age' needs that are no longer relevant. Our 'industrial aged' schools work like a production line, using bells and timetables and academic subjects to sort people out. This, the book argues, is inappropriate as we move into 'knowledge age'. Society, Gilbert informs us, is going through major paradigm shift similar to the printing press led renaissance – today modern information technology is sparking the new creativity.

Future citizens, she believes, will need more than basic literacy and numeracy .Everyone will need 'higher order thinking skills' and the ability to go on learning all their lives. But, Gilbert argues, knowledge is still important criticizing those who suggest that the process of be able to learn is enough in itself.

No longer is their a need for students to memorize knowledge for its own sake; knowledge now has new meaning. The old idea of knowledge as ‘stuff’ to be learnt is being replaced by a new view of knowledge as being more like energy – something that does something; that makes things happen.

Knowledge though is still important. Students, as they create new meanings for themselves, will need to call on 'old knowledge' as 'raw material' to create new ideas.

Students, in the future, need to be judged by what they can do, perform, or demonstrate, not by what they can recall.

The ‘one size fits all’ industrial aged school educating individuals is no longer appropriate. Diversity is now the norm and students in the future will learn differently to create meaning - often in concert with others. Students will have to know who they are, where they come from, ther strengths, and how they can contribute . Identity, like knowledge, is a verb not a noun, Gilbert writes; always ‘in process’ never finished.

To educate all students we need more flexible, non linear learning systems.This will be a challenge to our current system and will not be achieved by 'tinkering' with the current system – a paradigm shift is needed.

Gilbert believes that the present system is not able to facilitate the transition to students as active meaning makers.

She offers a few guidelines about what teachers could do now (ideas that a few innovative secondary and many primary schools are already implementing):

Teachers could work together in interdisciplinary teams allowing them to combine their strengths (and compensate for their weaknesses) and plan integrated units of work based on real life situations.

They could think of ways to organize their timetables so that cross disciplinary teams of teachers could work together.

They could develop their (and their students) group working skills for sustained periods on specific projects.

They could develop projects designed to engage students in research or other real world activities.

They could integrate information technology as and when needed.

They could develop data bases of community contacts/partnerships that could help them in their work.

They could focus on helping students develop 'meta understanding' of the various curriculum areas – the ‘essences’ of each subject as a way of knowing. Students need to see themselves as: scientists , mathematicians , geographers, historians and artists, and they need to combine elements from the ‘old knowledge' in new ways to make new connections.

Together these would radically transform schools and create them as 'learning, or living', organizations that would permit them to continually evolve, experiment, evaluate and change.

For students these changes would provide them with the opportunities to develop the talents and competencies that they will need in their future lives.

The current industrial secondary school model is under considerable stress. Students no longer want the knowledge and skills that they were set up to provide. And as well society can no longer accept the number of school failures, disruptive or alienated students.

We need replace the ‘one size fits all’ model with new schools able to 'design' educational programmes 'personalized' to fit the individual needs of every student.

‘Only when developments in our education system are underpinned with new mental model, will we be moving our schools into the knowledge age.’ Jane Gilbert

Surely we have schools and teachers up to take up the challenge?

I couldn’t recommend the book more highly.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

It is the culture that counts!

  Fish, the last to discover water! Posted by Picasa

What cannot be seen often determines all the actions within an organization. As the saying goes fish are the last to discover water!

Schools spend a lot of time developing beautifully crafted strategy plans, involving endless consultations, which end up in a folder that no one really reads or refers to.

It would be more profitable for school leaders to focus on the culture of their schools (or teachers in their classes) because it is culture that drives behaviour for better or worse – determined by the underlying purpose, values and teaching beliefs.

How everyone behaves (or relates to each other) is the basis of a school culture – positive, neutral or toxic! So the alignment between the strategy plan and school culture is a vital one – the best strategy plan ought to develop actions to ensure everyone is focused on achieving the purpose of the school. And the best strategy is for all to be able to make the best decisions, 'on the spot', guided by broader strategic long term intentions.

Without the right culture staff members may even work in conflict with each other and the agreed purpose, or vision, of the school. Conversely when everyone works in ‘synergy’ great things happen almost by chance (things just ‘flow’). If the staff work autonomously within a ‘silo’ mentality a postive culture is impossible to achieve.

Culture, ‘the way we do things around here’, when positive, creates a 'force field of energy' that all involved can almost 'feel'. A positive culture is created as a bi-product of the relationships when staff members ( or students) collaborative with each other to achieve common goals.

This, rather than endless plans, is what creates a successful cohesive creative school or classroom.

Culture as the key driver of a creative school should never be an afterthought or left to chance. A positive culture infuses all work with meaning, passion and purpose; amplifying the energy of all involved.

If not shaped well it can conversely become a liability. Ask the staff what they all think is important, what the purpose of the school is, and what they think are the key teaching beliefs they all hold? If there is no alignment between their thoughts there is every chance the culture is working against the ‘written’ strategy of the school.

Sometimes the school culture is never even given thought – like fish who are to busy swimming to appreciate its importance!

Creating a dynamic culture is the ultimate leadership task, pumping passion, meaning and purpose into every action. A powerful culture creates a ‘behavioral blueprint’, an image held in the imagination of everyone involved, to align all actions and decisions.

What is the ‘water’ like in your school or classroom?

Most visitors can tell in a 'blink'.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

How our school system developed!

  Posted by Picasa
Start with a cage with five monkeys whose natural food is bananas.

Inside the cage hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs spray all the monkeys with cold water.

After a while another monkey will make another attempt with the same result – all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water. This continues until pretty soon whenever a monkey tries to climb the stairs all the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now put away the cold water and remove one of the monkeys in the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey will see the banana and will attempt to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror all the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt, and attack, he knows if he climbs the stairs he will be assaulted.

Now remove another of the five original monkeys and replace it with another new one. The first newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm. Continue replacing the monkeys until none of the original monkeys remain. Every time a new monkey takes to the stairs to get the banana all the other monkeys attack him. The monkeys have no idea why they are not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

None of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try to get the banana.

Why not? Because it is, as far as they know, the way it has always been done around here!

And that is how school systems ( or cultures) develop.


It seems we have all allowed ourselves to be made monkeys out of.

What unexamined assumptions, behaviors and practices about out Industrial Aged system do we need to consider in our schools?

What current ‘mindsets’ currently limit or perception of what schools could be?

How can we change limiting assumptions, practices, behaviors and mindsets of teachers, students and the wider community?

What is the ‘cost’ if we can’t get rid limiting ideas?

Are you happy doing things that make no real sense to you except it is the way it has always been done?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Draft NZCF: a giant yawn or creative potential?

  Posted by Picasa I have recently been involved with schools coming to terms with the ‘new’ Draft New Zealand Curriculum. I know Ministry ‘people’ like to refer to as ‘revised’ but it is a long way away from the ‘mindset’ behind the original NZCF and its Curriculum Statements with their almost incoherent strands, levels and endless learning objectives.

There is some pretence in the guide to the draft that it is natural progression from the Education Review of the late 80s. This of course is rubbish as the current curriculums they are now trying to distance themselves from is an artifact of accountability based ‘market forces’ ideology. It had little to do with true education – more about proving school were achieving whatever ‘targets’ were set. The full ‘market forces’ model can be seen in the UK with their ‘league tables’ – the NZ version is just a local ‘modification’.

No one of course will own up to this, nor accept the blame for wasting the valuable time and energy of New Zealand teachers on this now irrelevant curriculum; it is now ironic that the current model is now all some teachers know. It is even more ironic that teachers are now feeling grateful to the Ministry for the new draft but for those with longer memories it is ‘back to the future’.

Back to the draft.

I sense a collective sigh of relief from teachers to see the end of all the previous ‘crap’!

Who could argue with the drafts Vision, Principles and Values? This is all playing ‘catch up’ with innovative schools for the Ministry. Nothing original.

The Key Competencies would all seem rather obvious and worthwhile but I hear there are thoughts about requiring schools to assess their students against them! If so, the idea is dead in the water. When teachers develop ‘complex contexts’ to challenge their students their students ought to call on such competencies as and when needed. If they are expected to be assessed as ‘atomized’ items the Ministry technocrats have learnt little and would show a return to their true colours.

As I see it the ‘competencies’ (an uncomfortable ‘managerial’ word) are what creative teachers have always kept in their mind – it has been ‘part of their identity.’ Creative teachers have always wanted to ensure their students’ feel an ‘agency’ for their own learning as they help them to develop their own ‘voice’ and ‘learning identity’. Such teachers have always believed it was the total culture, or climate, of the room that was the vital issue; today this is called a ‘learning community’.

Reading the Key Competency page one wonders if they could have squeezed in any more educational ‘buzz words’.

The final key competency paragraph states that, ‘students should be active seekers, users, and creators of knowledge’. Knowledge ‘creators’ not knowledge ‘consumers’ of teacher preplanned ‘intentions’ as present teaching all too often is. This will be a real challenge for many teachers – particularly those who seem to think that students should ‘learn how to learn’, using ‘Higher Order Thinking’, with little regard to the depth of understanding of knowledge the students are ‘creating’. In my opinion to many classrooms are full of examples of ‘shallow thinking’ – ‘higher order thinking for thin learning.’ Creative teachers of the past would be appalled – I am.

What is missing in this draft is a real focus that education should develop the passions, dreams and talents of all students because it is these that will provide them with ‘clues’ for their future careers and, in the process, provide the motivation for using the ‘key competencies’. And it is creative talent that NZ will need to thrive in the future!

As for the ‘essence statements’ of the Learning Areas they could have been even more reduced to ‘essences’. They would seem a sop to the secondary mindsets that still hold the power in the educational echelon. But at least all those endless strands, level and objectives have gone – reduced to a kind of last minute appendix (and about as useful).

It is great to see that the ‘art of teaching’ (pedagogy) has been ‘resuscitated’ even if, once again, in a dense ‘buzz words’ approach. I would have liked to see ‘co-constructivist teaching model’ made more obvious but this might have clashed with secondary approaches whose pedagogy is as ‘slim’ as primary teachers’ knowledge is ‘fragile’.

It is great also that school now have the freedom to ‘design’ (not ‘deliver’) curriculums that reflect the particular needs of their students – and encourage teachers to in turn encourage their students to call on content from the various learning areas as they require. How this fits in with the ‘appendix’ is problematic – as true creative learning is ‘generative’ and ‘open-ended’.

The draft doesn’t even mention the phrase ‘personalized learning’. The Minister talks about it a lot – he just hasn’t got it through to his technocrats who are focusing on their ‘key competencies! It is all about relationships and mutual respect.

Personalized learning is what it should all be about – the 19th dream of mass education has all but destroyed the life force of too many students and teachers.

All in all about 6 out of 10 – but as the previous NZCF failed to even score this is a high mark.

What is missing (other than the phrase ‘love of learning’ which was included in the March Draft) is some honesty about: the state of school failure that we seem to accept in our current education system (failing up to 20% of all students – 50% of Maori boys). What is missing is the difficulty schools are having with a growing number of disruptive students who can’t recognize their ‘dream’ in our Eurocentric Industrial Aged ‘one size fits all system’. The draft fails to mention the ‘gap’ between primary and secondary ‘mindsets’ that creates too many ‘failing’ students. And it would be honest to admit that too many teachers still hold on to ‘deficit theories’ ( particularly in secondary schools) about their students who fail to see that they, and their antiquated schools, that are the problem.

We have along way to go yet to develop a school system that equips ‘all students for life long learning in a world where continual change is the norm’.

‘We know enough now that no students need fail if we were to change our minds (and our schools) first’. As Peter Drucker, the business philosopher has written, ‘no country as yet had developed a 21st Century Education System’. The first to do so, he says, will inherit the future.

It is about time we faced reality and started a real revolution?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Connecting with alienated students.

  Posted by Picasa I don’t know how long politicians and community leaders can ignore the breakdown in society that is painfully apparent in every community in New Zealand. That it occurs in areas of poverty and social dislocation ought to make the problem easier to face up to.

It seems, as a result of a ‘market forces’ ideology, we have developed a society where winners are celebrated while the ‘others’ are left to their own devices without adequate resources to catch up. The effects of this indifference cannot forever be ignored as alienated young people’s anti-social behaviour impinges on us all.

There is a price to be paid for our lack of a communal caring ethic.

In the educational area the Ministry of Education acts as if providing resources to close the ‘achievement tail’ in literacy and numeracy will solve the issue. This simplistic solution will do little to fix the wider issues of indifference that pervades such communities. This is a bigger issue than literacy and numeracy – what is required is to create conditions to involve all ‘players’ so as to develop a sense of ‘learnacy’ and purpose in the minds of the students; this means questioning the ‘success’ of school structured around antiquated industrial aged thinking.

‘Our education system’, says Anne Milne, an exceptional Otara educationalist, ‘succeeds spectacularly in doing badly for our kids’. Her own school proves that things need not be so. She says, ‘We have successfully alienated our kids by ignoring their voices and the reality of their lives’. Currently 40% - 5O% of Maori students leave school before 16 with little to show for their time except a bad attitude towards their experience.

It seems that as nation we are failing to face up to the truth that it is our Eurocentric schools that are failing such culturally different students. ‘If they were white kids, it would be a crisis to be solved immediately’, says Anne. One size definitely does not fit all!

Our education system, by not facing up students reality, are not providing students with the necessary ‘faith, hope and purpose’ that are the 'default mode' of middle class children. The ‘master script’ that determines our education system is just not able to recognize the ‘voice’ of different students and, as a result to succeed, such students feel they need to become ‘voiceless’, or to ‘act white’, to fit in. The resulting loss of cultural identity only creates new problems

By not realizing the potential of such students we are adding to the growing social alienation resulting in the violence and crime that worry us all.

There is simply a lack of connection of students with their schools.

The students who feel rejected by their schools, and who are increasingly divorced from their own cultures, are left in an ethical vacuum with no choice but to live in a fragmented superficial present. No wonder they are attracted to join anti social gangs to gain some sort of belonging.

It is as if they have lost the plot of their own lives and with no constructive sense of purpose or direction join gangs by default and in the process put their own , and others, lives, at stake by becoming involved with the mindless violence that results.

Survival and excitement become the name of the game for such students to combat the meaningless of their existence. It is all too easy to get into trouble, almost unwittingly, once the connection with the wider society is gone – and once in trouble they have no 'social capital' to fall back on.

Locked into the present their lives become pointless and endless and, with no positive group ethic to determine their choices, trouble inevitably mounts up. Often it is not that they know what they are against as that they do not know what they are for.

They see themselves as failures of a school system that has ironically failed them.

It needn’t’ be so.

It the right environment these students can be ‘recovered’ but it will need an educational transformation, and one that involves the wider community. And this will involve more than the current ‘rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic’!

No country can afford to neither lose the talents of such students, nor pay for the social dislocation they create.

The students we fail will make their ‘mark’ one way or another as we all well know.

We need to give these students a reason to care and feel valued as members of their communities. To do this means we will have to change our minds and our schools first.

Anne Milne has shown it can be done.

See for similar ideas the Big Picture Company.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Imagination before literacy and numeracy!

  Posted by Picasa Schools seem obsessed with literacy and to lesser degree numeracy. As important as they are they put the horse before the cart.

All invention and creation begins with an idea, problem, challenge or experience which in turn creates the need to know more, to define what has been discovered, or to express in some form their new ideas.

This is how it is with children before they come to school and it is the way scientists and artist work in real life.

But not so in school.

There reading and mathematics need to be taught for there own sakes or as ‘foundations’ for other learning. Sure teachers develop areas of interest to involve children but it areas they decide and children learn to do what is expected of them.

And this takes up the ‘prime time’ of the school day – the two areas combined taking up all the time and teachers energy until lunchtime.

Little is left to introduce experiences from all the other Learning Areas to inspire learning, personal expression, to integrate literacy and numeracy in realistic contexts, or opportunities to develop students’ talents and their imagination.

As one UK commentator has said, ‘The evil twins of literacy and numeracy have gobbled up the rest of the curriculum.’

All that remains is an updated version of a Victorian ‘Three Rs’ curriculum.

Students’ creativity and insight is developed through tackling real problems not finding solutions to problems or tasks others have given them. This is the beginning of the depersonalization of education that reaches its heights in the secondary system. No wonder Einstein wrote that it was almost impossible for a child's imagination and sense of wonder to remain intact in modern schools.

What are missing are the personal stirrings and strivings of self discovery – the innate drive to make sense that is every learner’s right is replaced by teacher planned activities that miss out on the personal investment and emotional learning that typifies pre-schoolers and scientists or artists.

Insight often comes direct from the imagination and Einstein himself said the, ‘words or the language, as they are written or spoken, do not seem to play any role in my mechanism of thought.’ He continues by saying, ‘Conventional words or other signs have to be sought for laboriously only in a secondary stage.’

Imagination, or inspiration, comes before literacy and numeracy in Einstein’s world – I would guess the same applies to all learners.

Perhaps we are all visual thinkers first, sorting out images, relationships and rehearsing in our minds, and falling back to literacy and numeracy to sort the ideas out later for publication?

‘Before the word is the experience’ – unpacking experiences and making sense of them is what learning is all about. And the experiences that count are the ones that make sense to the individual learner.

And if the means to express experiences are restricted to words and numbers students are receiving ‘thin’ learning indeed. And if numeracy and literacy are allowed to ‘gobble up’ too much of students time, time that ought to be dedicated to ‘rich’ personalized experiences, then students are the losers.

With the source of their personal investment in their own learning ignored it is no wonder that many students eventually 'disengage' from their schooling. It would seem a sensible thing to do!

To see multiple perspectives in any experience

  Posted by Picasa We all learn through experience but all too often we are not equipped to see all we can see. Many students have lost their natural openness to experience through all their senses and their natural sense of wonder that served them so well before they entered formal schooling.

At home they ask more questions about serious topics (to them) and are involved in far deeper conversation with adults than they will experience at school. At school their concerns are replaced by teacher planned activities and all too often reduced to literacy and numeracy understandings.

This is a shame for students, as well as teachers, as natural sources of motivation to tap are ignored as is the scope of means of expressing ideas. In the process the sensory nature of learning is diminished and real life concerns are all but ignored.

All ways of expression are equally valid – dance, drama, poetry, art, music, and mathematics but at school ‘success’ will be determined by scores on numeracy and literacy tests. It is as if all intelligence is to be limited to verbal and mathematical reasoning. Measurable achievement is valued over inquiry and love of learning! Today over half the school time is dedicated to literacy and numeracy. No wonder large segments of the school population fail to engage!

We need to go back to educating children’s senses and environmental awareness as this is the source of all art and science – and words and ideas. Each sense, and way of expressing what is seen, provides a greater variety of ‘nets to cast’ to capture meaning, and each net catches different fish! Each student needs to be helped to weave their own nets

If the only game in town is poker and there are some very good chess players then the chess players are culturaly handicapped! If all meaning could be adequately expressed with words and number there would be no need for music and art.

What we need is an education concerned with developing every individual’s ability to secure meaning through diverse means. All means of expression have their own literacys. We want students to grapple with questions related to their own personally felt experiences because this challenge will be part of their future success.

This means we need to value creative expression, particularly the creative arts, and to see them as valid ( or basic) as literacy and numeracy. This wolud value a wider conception of the mind and particularly value feelings and imagination in learning.

Just imagine visiting a bridge (or tree, or anything). It can be seen through the eyes of a scientist, an artist, a historian, an engineer or mathematician, a poet, a painter – each form of experiencing involves different ways of dealing with the task. Each will call on the appropriate subject disciplines nad require specific skills. Learning would not have to be integrated – it already is.

All sensory information and means of expression helps students uncover talents they might not be aware of. As well, while ideas are expressed using any expressive form, new question and challenges arise. And students learn not everything can be expressed through anything.

It is important that we help our students develop multiple perspectives as our definition of curriculum shapes the consciousness of our students. The gains we may currently be making in literacy and numeracy might not be worth the price our students have to pay.

All too often we limit our students’ perception and imagination by our limited views.

Teaching itself is an artistic and imaginative experience and not as simplistic as those who wish us to measure narrow achievement would have us believe

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Creativity and talent development.

  Posted by Picasa New Zealand is currently trying to escape the worst of a curriculum design that has all but destroyed creativity in our primary classrooms.

It has been depressing to have had to watch schools turning themselves inside out trying to implement (let alone assess) such techno –rational nonsense: Learning Areas, strands, levels and countless learning objectives. It has been depressing because many principals fell in line behind such demands – maybe they liked all the managerial power it gave them over their teachers? It has been depressing because many young teachers actually now know nothing better. And it has been depressing because teachers seem to want to thank the Ministry for lessening demands in the past or, as at present, redrafting it! Bit like thanking a prison guard for giving you a bigger cell!

Educators at any level in our school system seem to have been unable to present any real alternatives. There is a lack of creativity – the very creativity that our nation needs if we are to be a player in the 21stC!

I have to admit to feeling relieved after my first read of the new draft curriculum: out with all the confusing curriculum statements and those doubtful learning objectives; a new emphasis on school freedom to design programmes to suit their particular environment;and a renaming of essential skills to Key Competencies

All seemed well with the world.

But is it?

I have recently learned that there are ‘thoughts’ about school having to assess students achievment of individual key competencies. This would not only be a nightmare, and waste teachers time, but fragmenting competencies is simply old world industrialized thinking. Students should be assessed by what they can do, create, demonstrate and perform; on whole tasks not fragments.

And I also heard that the learning objectives, tacked uncomfortably at the end of the new draft, now that they have been reduced, it will be required for teachers to assess to ensure all students gain the ‘defined’ knowledge. This is the return of another industrialized concept – the future is about creating not memorizing.

Both the above create a greater nightmare than we just seemed to have escaped from. Assessing the key competencies will be like pinning down a shadow and ensuring all the defined objectives are covered is plain silly – understanding is different from knowing 'stuff', it is about being able to use knowledge in context.

I hope I am wrong.

What we really need is to ‘personalize’ education so as to develop the creativity and talents of all students, and this idea is hardly mentioned in the draft.

Our country, to thrive in an evolutionary future, will depend on the creativity and innovation of its citizens, and it is this 'creative power'that needs to be the focus of our education system. A strong talent based programme, with an emphasis on the creative arts and media, is the only way to: develop creative students able to work together, to be able to solve complex problems, to develop critical thinking, to be able ‘think outside the box’, and most of all to create new ideas and understandings.

It seems all this is beyond those who decide what we all ought to do (after cleverly gaining our approval without them telling us the true story).

I for one have withdrawn my support until the above issues are sorted out.

Creativity or ‘mind control’ – they can’t have both!

PS Anybody out there with information to share about assessing key competencies and objectives?

Friday, October 13, 2006

Creating conditions to 'invite' growth

 The climate 'we' create as teachers determines our students' growth. Posted by Picasa

If teachers really thought hard about the conditions that students, as living being, need to develop their learning potential then we wouldn’t have so many disenchanted or, worse still, alienated students.

We spent too much time wishing some students were different and not enough on making learning 'inviting'.

According to Carol Anne Tomlinson, an American Educator, expert in differentiating learning, students care about learning when their teachers ‘invite them to learn’ by meeting their students’ needs for: ‘affirmation, contribution, purpose, power and challenge in the classroom'. In such learning environments students see themselves as: contributors, creators of their own knowledge, able to bring their talents to a problem, and to see that their learning 'makes a difference'. The teacher’s role is one of: creating the conditions to invite students to learn; ensuring there are engaging learning experiences to challenge learners; to provide whatever assistance students need; and to hold high expectations of all learners.

Too much current learning is a form of 'educational compliance'. Tomlinson believes there are five needs teachers need to address that work in tandem to make learning invitational.

Young people she believes need affirmation that they are significant individuals needing to know that they are accepted and safe; that people care about them; listen to them; acknowledge their intests and talents; and care about them doing well.

Students need to believe school is about assisting them in their search for meaning and purpose. They need to see themselves as knowledge creators who need to understand what they do, see learning as significant to them by reflecting their world – and to be involved in 'work' that absorbs them; providing a sense of pride when new learning is achieved or expressed.

Learning, from birth, is about developing learning power, growing competence and independence. Teachers need to ensure their students see that what they learn is useful, allows them to make choices, and to develop a growing sense of quality based on improving on their 'personal best'. The teacher’s role is to support their students on their learning journeys by constantly building each students capacity to learn and develop a sense of personal agency.

All students need to be challenged to overcome any fears by work that stretches them, and helps them accomplish things that they didn’t believe were possible. Such students need to appreciate the importance of effort and hard work so as to associate success with their own efforts.

All these needs have to be tailored , or personalized, to suit each individual learner but, when in place, ‘invite’ all students to learn.

Teachers in such 'invitational classrooms' have a clear focus on believing in their students. They try to see things through their student’s eyes and give then all the time and help they require. They really care about their students learning and open up every possibility they can imagine to assist. They are true partners in their students’ learning.

What teacher do is as important as what they say – their very enthusiasm ‘invites’ their students to catch the 'learning bug'.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

An amoeba - a model for future change!

  Posted by Picasa The humble amoeba!

It seems strange to think of one of natures most simplistic animals as metaphor for an organizational model for the future but the amoeba is a good choice, as it has survived almost as long as life has been on the planet.

It is able to sense environmental threats through its semi permeable membrane and move away from threats – it is also able to equally sense the opportunity to move to a better environment or to seek out food which it simply engulfs. The intelligence of the organism is centred in its nucleus and a deeper look indicates it is not as simple as it first looks.

It is adaptable


Able to divide itself whenever it feels appropriate it is an excellent metaphor of a flexible future orientated organization.

Humans are made up of a diverse set of organs and system that have all evolved from simple cells which, at their first origins, had the potential to develop into whatever is required. As such humans are a complex set of interrelated and interconnected organs and 'parts' made up of a variety of cells – all of which work to keep us self-regulated, alive and well.

Given the right conditions we are as flexible as the simple amoeba and equally programmed for survival. We have the added advantage that we are able to think and learn from our experiences – but, equally, we can be limited by poor environments and, in the worse cases, we can give up the desire to thrive and learn altogether.

Better to be seen as an amoeba – able to adapt and change, than a 'cog' in a man made 'machine' destructive to the drive to grow. This is the metaphor that has been the basis of the Industrial Era.

If we want to thrive, in what is being called the 'Age of Creativity', we need to see our organisations as living complex organisms able to create all sorts of wonderous things as we work in concert with each other.

That’s more impressive than the simple amoeba.

Schools as living communities – now that is a powerful metaphor.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Time for a new story for the 21stC

  Posted by Picasa It is said that fish would be the last to discover water and the same could be applied to people who lead their lives unaware of the influences that effect all their actions. People who experience the higher atmosphere of our planet and experience weightlessness soon appreciate forces on earth they take for granted.

When we meet people from other cultures we soon become aware that there is a world of difference between what we both hold to be true – that cultures shape our minds more than we sometimes realize.

The more perceptive amongst us have been writing and talking about the idea that the world is currently going through major transformation about how we see ourselves which overrides all the different cultural points of view – that there is a new story beginning to determine the lives of everyone on the planet.

New understandings of how humans grow and evolve are emerging from a range of diverse sources – quantum physics, chaos theory, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, system theory and new ideas about how the universe is now seen as continually expanding. All together they create a ‘new organic living system story’ for the 21stC replacing the Industrial Age ‘story’ which is based on cause and effect, predictability ,and mans ability to control his environment.

Modern scientific thinking had its genesis in the printing press, the renaissance and the age of scientific discovery. The idea powered the expansion of Western Civilization and has provided the world (particularly the Western World) with technological advantages. More recently serious problems, including the very sustainability of our planet, have emerged and a ‘new story’ needs to be understood and acted upon.

The institutions of our current society, including our schools, that have their genesis in the ‘old story’, are now becoming dysfunctional and are creating more problems than they solve.

To prevail in the 21stC we need new organizational forms and new metaphors (stories) that are able to create a global sustainable world and, in turn, flexible and resilient organizations capable of tapping every individuals creativity.

What is required is a cultural transformation.

The 'past story' can no longer energize us for whatever is to evolve. The ‘new story’ needs to be based on a hopeful vision of a better world so we can evolve new ways to live and learn together.

Essentially we are shifting from a machine like, or mechanistic clockwork, model of seeing the world, to one of continual growth and adaptation. The mechanistic ‘mindset’, or ‘worldview’, has led to the Industrial Revolution and the current obsession with rationality, control, measurement and efficiency.

This ‘mindset’ is easily seen in our current fragmented 'one size fits all' secondary schools; students being classified, measured, sorted, processed, and in some cases rejected. This traditional mass education model is now becoming to be seen as dysfunctional. Students thoughts and creativity are being suppressed, their strengths go unrecognized and, as a result, their learning potential is diminished.

A new personalized ‘story’ of education will be needed to solve this crisis.

Humans crave meaning, connectedness, a sense of belonging and deep and meaningful relationships. People of all ages grow best by sharing, trusting others, and by being in environments where it is safe to do so.

We need visionary and courageous leaders to develop such learning communities to develop the talents and aspirations of all students.

For creative teachers, and learners, this ‘new story’ provides exciting challenges; and for the more traditional, the opposite! Schools need to evolve into playful learning environments driven by individual students desire to learn. Students ‘voice’, passions, interests, questions, and their growing identity as a self motivated learners, will provide the motivation. Assessment will based on what students can demonstrate or perform

A new covenant of sustainable personalized learning underpins this new ecological 'story'. Life long learning will be the norm, replacing the ‘one size fits all’ mentality of current earlier efficiency model.

The teachers role will be to focus on creating the conditions to tempt student to undertake area of learning that they might never have considered and to assist each individual on their personal learning journey. In the future students will learn their way into the future!

How long will it take for this ‘new story’ to seriously challenge what currently passes for education. If schools do not learn to escape from the constraints of the past and transform themseves into learning comminities they will find themselves bi passed.

Nothing is certain in this evolutionary world!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Why schools don't educate.

  One of my favourite graphics. From a 70's book about the lack of student 'voice'in schooling. Posted by Picasa

Notes taken from John Taylor Gatto’s acceptance speech as New York Teacher of the Year 1990.

Gatto was recognized in Tom Peter’s (the business ‘guru’) in his book ‘Re-Imagine’ published 2003 as an important future orientated educator.

‘We live in a time of great school crises, Gatto began his presentation, ‘and we need to define and redefine endlessly what the word education should mean. Something is wrong. Our school crisis is a reflection of a wider social crisis – a society that lives in the constant present, based on narcotic consumption’

In his 25 years of teaching Gatto has noticed that schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant. The truth is, he believes, schools don’t teach anything but how to obey orders not withstanding the efforts of countless human caring teachers. In spite of the teachers hard work the institution of school is psychopathic – it has no conscience. Every thing revolves around the bell, timetable and fragmented learning.

Compulsory schooling is an invention of the state and in the early days in the US school attendance was resisted and children learnt to read at home – today home schooling is on the increase and these students are testing higher than their schoolmates.

Gatto doesn’t believe we will get rid of schools anytime soon but that if we’re going to change what is rapidly becoming a disaster of ignorance we need to realize what school do well even if it does not ‘educate’. He believes that it is impossible for education and schooling to be the same thing.

Schools in the US were designed to be ‘instruments of scientific management of a mass population’, to produce, ‘formulaic human beings whose behavior can be predicted and controlled.’ To a very great extent schools have succeeded in this. But, he says, ‘our society is disintegrating, and in such a society, the only successful people are self reliant, confident and individualistic and care little for the common good of the community’.

Schools Gatto says are ‘anti –life’. They compel students to sit in confinement with people the same age cutting them off from ‘the diversity of life and the synergy of variety’; cutting them off from their own past and setting them in a continuous present. It is, he says, absurd to move students around from cell to cell at the sound of a bell for every day of their natural youth in an institution that allows them no privacy.

Today students learn to read, write and do arithmetic cut off from the life that unfolds around them. ‘In centuries past’, he says, ‘young people would be occupied in real work, real charity, real adventures, and the realistic search for mentors who might teach you what you really wanted to learn. A great deal of the time was spent in community pursuits, practicing affection, meeting and studying every level of community…dozens of tasks to become a whole man or woman.’

Today little time is available for young people in a school week to be involved in such activities and what little there is is taken up by TV and electronic media. The effect of all this is to take away the time children need to grow up and, in the process, ‘creating cosmetic human beings’, who, all too easily get caught up in aimlessness and dependency - drugs, alcohol, violence, brainless competition and the ‘worst pornography of all - lives devoted to buying things; accumulation as a philosophy’ this, he says, ‘is what our brand of schooling must inevitably produce’

Gatto sees children who are indifferent to the adult world. Nobody, he says, wants to grow up these days; he sees children with almost no curiosity and what they do have is transitory; they cannot concentrate very long; he sees children with a poor sense of the future and the past, living as they do in continuous present; he sees children who are cruel to each other lacking in compassion and laughing at weaknesses; he sees children who are uneasy with intimacy and candor; children who are materialistic; and he sees children who are dependent, passive and timid in the face of new challenges, too often masked by surface bravado.

Either school has caused these pathologies, or media, or both, he believes. All the time children have is eaten away. This, he believes, has destroyed the American family.

What is to be done? First of all he believes we ‘need a ferocious national debate…about this school thing until it is fixed or broken beyond repair, one or the other’.

‘We need to rethink the fundamental premises of schooling.’ ‘For over 140 years this nation has tried impose objectives downwards from the lofty communication centre made up of “experts”’ ‘It hasn’t worked. It won’t work. And it is a gross betrayal of the democratic promise’. ‘It’s fundamental premise is mechanical, anti human, and hostile to family life. Lives can be controlled by machine education but they will always fight back with weapons of social pathology – drugs, violence, self destruction and indifference’.

He believes we need an educational philosophy that works. ‘Right now we are taking all the time from our children that they need to develop self knowledge. That has to stop. We have to invent schools that trust people to from an early age with independent study.’ ‘We need invent a curriculum where each kid has a chance to develop private uniqueness and self reliance.’

Gatto is confident that as students gain self knowledge they also become self teachers – and that only self teaching has any lasting value. He believes we ‘have to give kids independent time right away because that is the key to self knowledge, and we must involve them in the real world as fast as we possible.’ It is urgent to change our ‘warehoused’ schools, he believes, ‘because our students are dying like flies in schooling,’

‘Independent study, community service, adventures in experience, large doses of privacy and solitude, a thousand different apprenticeships’, are all, he says, ‘powerful cheap and effective’. But, ‘no large scale reform is ever going to work to repair our damaged children and our damaged society until we force the idea of “school” open to include family as the main engine of education’. ‘If we use education to break children away from parents…we are going to have the horror show we have now.’

Gatto concludes saying we have to bi pass the vested interests that support the status quo and get grass roots thinking to demand that ‘new voices and new ideas get a hearing’; that, ‘we have had a bellyful of authorized voices’. That, ‘we need a decade long free-for-all debate…not more “expert” solutions’; “experts” in education have never got it right’.

‘Enough’ he says, ‘time for a return to democracy, individuality, and family.

I bet he hasn’t been invited to be teacher of the year again but he were to be he would have my vote! It would seem to me that much of the poor behaviour that schools in New Zealand complain about, and violence in society generally, relates to the ideas that Gatto expresses?