Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What did you learn at school today?

  Posted by Picasa Compulsory mass education has been in place in Western countries for over 130 years and is now accepted without question.

Education and schooling have in turn become synonymous seen as a common good and as a necessary ingredient for a person’s success.

It would seem uncharitable to criticize such an accepted part of our way of life. There is no doubt that for the great majority of students schooling and education seem a happy mix, many thrive in the traditional environment but there are up to 20% who school experience is definitely not positive nor educative.

So what they learn isn’t as simple as it sounds. And all students learn different things. If the schools role is to produce students with certificates to indicate their achievement based on what the school has decided as appropriate then it is successful. And if the students are predictable, fit in with the imposed authority, and easily controlled as well, all is for the best. These are students who will do well but will hardly change the world by developing new creative ideas. And if a few have to fail so what.

Traditional schools are a success if this is all that is required but things have changed in the real work of work. Students will no longer find future occupations jobs in an industrial world, nor even a knowledge based world; the future will require talented, independent, self reliant individuals able to thrive in what some are calling an 'Age of Creativity'.

SchoolS designed in an 'Industrial Era', with by fragmented subjects, run by bells and timetables, will simply not be able to produce the creative individuals we will need.

Future students will have to learn new things. Schools will have to change. Perhaps we will no longer need schools as we know them?

There were those who were writing about this in the 70s .Ivan Illich wrote a book called ‘De-Schooling Society’ which now makes more sense with the advent of the world wide web and modern information technology allowing learners to learn anywhere, anytime. These writers believe the 'agency' for learning should be in the hands of the students themselves. Today we are calling this movement ‘personalized learning’ basing it on the idea that the vision of ‘mass’ education can no longer educate all students to develop their individual potential.

Students, in out current system, learn to do what others expect and ‘not to do their own thing’ .And, as well, their success is determined on how well they achieve based on what the school determines as criteria for success. Although the current system is slowly changing education is still seen as students 'consuming' what school provides and being assessed on how well they do it. The ‘hidden curriculum’ of conformity, control and ‘do as we say’ remains. Those who want to ‘do their own thing’, or refuse to conform, find themselves in a difficult position. Worse still many accept their failure as their fault.

Little thought is given that it may be the school which is failing the student. Maybe we have ‘Underachieving Schools’, a title of a 70s book by John Holt?

Today there are those that see many teachers as having ‘deficit theory’ mindsets, to quick to place the blame for student failure on their culture, their backgrounds, or the weather! Anything but look at the school's culture, structure and their own lack of pedagogical expertise.

As result of such 'dysfunctional' schools (designed for a past era), and teachers who know no better, many students leave school, after twelve years of ‘Compulsory Miss –Education’, (another 70s book title by Goodman) with little to show for their time.

What did these students learn? Students always learn something!

Today we know enough about the conditions required for learning and teaching that no students need fail. And, as well, we now have the technology to transform teaching and to develop ‘personalized learning’.

'Personalized learning' is the style all students bring with them to school; young children learn what they need, when they need it (‘just in time learning’) depending on their interests, curiosity and desire to make meaning of life. And their reward is intrinsic rather than school approval.

At school they start to learn what the school wants of them;what is regarded as ‘good ‘or ‘bad’; how to get on in this new environment. The ‘hidden curriculum’ starts early. Most of all they learn that their interests, concerns, special talents are subservient to the curriculum the teacher sets for them. They learn that school is a place not to ‘do their own thing’.

‘Personalized learning’, which had done them so well in their first few years of life, is slowly replaced by ‘the curriculum’. There have been, and still are, creative teachers who have tried to keep this intrinsic ‘joy of learning’ alive. The best known creative teacher in NZ was Elwyn Richardson who was working in the 60s. His book, ‘in the Early World’, still available from the NZCER, is regarded by many as the most inspiration book on ‘personalized learning’.

Slowly student curiosity, as indicated by the asking of questions and self initiated learning, is substituted by teacher planned activities and associated assessment tasks. By secondary school the transformation is complete. Learning is subject centred, fragmented,taught in separate classrooms, and ‘delivered’ by teachers who know little about the inner thoughts and concerns of their students.

The majority of students learn these new lessons without any awareness and ‘succeed’ at what schools ask of them but at what cost to openness to new learning, seeing new connections, developing emotional sensitivity, aesthetic awareness, individual talent development and creativity?

All the things students need to learn to thrive in an 'Age of Ideas and Creativity'.

Some would say schools have ‘stolen’ the very essence of being a learner from their students - a desire to make sense of their world, spontaneous inquiry and a joy of learning.

If we want to ensure all students retain their desire to learn we will have to change our minds first to learn to see the process of learning and teaching in different light. We now know enough that no student need fail but only if we have the will, wit, and imagination to do so.

'Personalized learning' could be the biggest change of direction in schooling since the vision of compulsory mass education.

Our success in the future demands we transform our schools to make them 'learner friendly'.

Teachers have new lessons to learn.

Exciting times!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Bring back the Jesters!

  Posted by Picasa I was interested to read in an article that in 1995 British Airways had appointed an official ‘corporate jester’ (a qualified business consultant) on a temporary experimental basis

The idea was that the ‘official’ jester might actually play an important part in the company, just as mediaeval precursors had done in royal courts.

Modern boards of directors are a bit like mediaeval courts where no one questions the king or the senior courtiers because they have become far too important to challenge. And as long as they can’t possibly be wrong, they can continue doing the wrong things all the time and never know it.

The idea is worth spreading throughout all organizations to combat the blindness created by past success. It is one way to counteract the conformity which pervades top down management. Telling the truth is difficult in too many environments and as a result organizations fail to adapt to changing environments. As Oscar Wilde wrote, ‘Telling the truth makes you unpopular at the club’.

An official Jester is one way to counteract this conformist thinking which inhibits open creative thinking. I guess making use of de Bono’s seven hats is another way.

The jester at British Airways serves a serious role, as in medieval times, as a mouthpiece for unorthodox criticism couched as harmful jests. The corporate jester is not part of the reporting structure and can question management without fear of repercussion.

At the very least organizations need to have a ‘critical friend’ who is prepared to provide advice for organizations to think about and action only if it makes sense to them.

Hearing the truth might hurt temporarily but it is preferable to blindly heading down the wrong path towards oblivion.

Leadership and learning are both about listening.

Just chose your ‘critical friends’ carefully.

Each one will show you a different perspective

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Education for a Creative Age'

  An excellent illustrated book about the 'dream killing' side of schooling. Posted by Picasa

Sometimes you wonder if schools are really aware of the interests, diverse cultures and the environment of their students because is seems to feature so rarely in their programmes.

Teachers 'just keep on talking' too busy to notice the learning opportunities that lie under their noses;'the geraniums are dying on the window sills.'

Primary teachers , while keen to acknowledge that they are 'child-centred', in reality spend most of their time implementing literacy and numeracy programmes, all too often following ‘scripts’ prepared by those long distant from the reality of classrooms. Ironically recent national surveys indicate that students are less competent in mathematic than they ought to be! The recent emphasis on literacy and numeracy are a retreat to the Victorian basics and leave little time for the potential excitement encapsulated in the remainder of the Learning Areas.

Secondary schools are now being encouraged to get on board the literacy and numeracy ‘bandwagon’; secondary teachers, in the past, believed that these skills ought to have been in place by the time students reach their classrooms. Secondary teachers however remain locked in their Industrial Aged schools teaching their fragmented specialist subjects to the sound of the bell as if in some 'kafka like' educational factory.

In both cases teachers are too busy to capitalize on the interests and talents that each student brings to the learning situation; the 'geraniums are left to die on the window sills’.

At the very least schools talk about the ‘Information Age’ but, according to perceptive commentators, this ‘age’ has already passed its ‘use by’ date. According to Juan Enriquez, in his book, ‘As the Future Catches You, the ‘future belongs to countries who build empires of the mind’.

Richard Florida,author of ‘Rise of the Creative Class’, believes we are entering the ‘Creative Age’ – an age of ideas and innovation, and an age that will require a whole new class of workers: 'the creative class'.

To be successful a country like New Zealand can no longer rely on its natural resources to survive. Human creativity, Florida believes, is the ultimate economic resource. This takes us well beyond the current emphasis on literacy and numeracy and our antiquated traditional secondary schools.

Talent, technology and tolerance replace the old ‘three Rs’;the new 'capital' of the 21stC are creative, social and human.

This will requires ‘a brand new mind’, according to Dan Pink (author of a book of the same name), the future will be all about ‘high concept and high touch’. The dominance of the ‘left brained’ ‘Information Age’ needs to give way to ‘right brain’ qualities of: inventiveness, empathy and making new meanings

‘The keys of the kingdom’, Pink says, ‘are changing to suit people with a certain kinds of mind’ – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. These people – artists,designers,educators, musicians, story tellers,entertainers, inventors, scientists, architects,caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will now reap societies richest rewards and share its greatest joys.’ The function of all is 'to create new ideas, new technology, and new content.’

Schooling will need to be transformed if we are to develop New Zealand as a 'creative country'.

Our current 'one size fits all' system will not adequately equip all our future citizens. ‘The main crisis in our schools’, according to Dan Pink, ‘is irrelevance’. Most schools, without being aware of it, are participating in the suppression of the creative genius of too many students.

Educator, John Taylor Gatto, says, ‘Schoolteachers aren’t allowed to do what they think best for each student...they forbid children their own discoveries, pretending to possess some vital secret to which students must surrender their active learning to acquire.’

Schools need to 'do stuff that matters'. 'Education at best is ecstatic'...'learning ought to be about delight'....'when joy is absent the effectiveness of the learning process fails and falls until the human being is operating hesitantly, grudgingly, fearfully’ ( George Leonard in ‘Education and Ecstasy’ 1968)

Frank Smith (in 'Insult to Intelligence’) writes, ‘Children learn what makes sense to them; they learn through the sense of things they want to understand’. 'Students', he believes, 'want to be allowed to think for themselves, to experiment, to engage in first hand observations’. He continues, ‘we are all capable of huge and unsuspected learning accomplishments’. In 1974, James Coleman wrote, that we need to ‘develop in youth the capabilities for engaging in intense concentrated involvement in an activity’.

Teachers need to stop talking and notice the ‘geraniums on the window sill’ – the interests and talents of their students so that they can acknowledge and build on them.

So it seems the ‘Creative Age’, according to Richard Florida, is a ‘wide open game’.

If the 'Industrial Age' needed factory workers equipped with the ‘three Rs’ and obedience, and the ‘Information Age’ required knowledge workers, the ‘Conceptual Age’ requires creators and empathizers.

Schools will need to transform themselves if New Zealand is to be a future world leader.

What we want is a ‘personalized’ education system that develops the interests and talents of all learners.

Friday, August 25, 2006

So what has changed -everything!


Just another 'tool' but a mind changing one.

The most important 'tool' of all is the 'space between the ears'!

The future is the 'age of inner space'. Posted by Picasa

New Literacies for a New Millenium

  Posted by Picasa It is hard to imagine that such an innocent act as reading could limit our thinking. After all what could be more innocuous than reading a book?

Certainly the thought that the centrality of literacy in our lives could be questioned is hardly considered. However literacy wasn't aways central to human life. Until the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the 1400s reading was only for the very elite, books having to be copied, one by one, by copyists in their monasteries. The Church kept reading to themselves – the rest of the community learned by oral language, art, music and song and dance.

After trying to hold back multiple printing the Church soon took control of book printing to suit their own political or religious ends. They appreciated the power of the written word but they were not able to stop its development. As a result the new technology created the impetus for the explosion of learning that was to be known as the Renaissance.

Literacy became the keystone of learning reducing oral history to the background and in the process, over the generations, important skills were lost. This was compounded by the industrial age when functional reading and arithmetic became the important skills for employment. One could also add obedience!

The emphasis on reading has, according to researchers, actually shaped our brains to think in linear ways and many students lives are now determined by how well they achieve in this one area of learning.

Today new technology is reshaping our consciousness. Modern information technology is having the same effect as the earlier invention of printing but on a amazingly compressed time scale. We are entering what some call the 'second Renaissance'.

This is not to underrate literacy as an important skill to access ideas and extend imagination but it has lost its primacy – except in schools. Young people today live in a post or multi- literate world. New technology offers no threat to them. As one writer has said they are ‘digital natives’ while the rest of us are often uncomfortable ‘digital immigrants’

Education now needs to think of the attributes that learners require in post literate and post industrial society. There are those that call the new era the ‘Age of Ideas and Creativity’, an era when talent and imagination of citizens will be the basis of future survival.

Reading will not be enough. Students need to be exposed to a full a range of creative arts, learn to see connections, and in the process, develop every talent they have. Aesthetic literacy will be vital as design and quality become economic imperatives. Oral language (story telling) and personal skills will return as vital future attributes.

This will require schools to look hard at how they educate their students.

Secondary schools, in particular, are structures more suited to an industrial era. A quick visit down the corridors will illustrate how little they have changed over the decades. Transformation is their only choice.

Primary schools, more child -centred, are still locked into past thinking. There the ‘evil twins of literacy and numeracy have all but gobbled up the rest of the curriculum’. Primary classrooms have almost made a complete return to an obsession with the ‘Three Rs’ of the Victorian Age. Little time is left for intensive exploration of 21st literacies. A necessary obsession with developing students’ talents and a passion for imaginative quality work is missing.

How students learn, and why they learn, are the keys to the future. A ‘personalized’ learning approach, based on rich real and relevant ‘challenges, allowing students to work in teams to utilize their individual strengths, and able to make use of the full range of information technology, is the way of the future. Students need to develop the literacies of the creative arts and the sensibilities of a sensual, emotional, and visual culture, not just a one dimensional literate one.

Traditional literacy needs to vacate its central place and become one of variety modes of communication and expression forms to be made available to students. As well older forms of communication, seen in pre literate cultures (‘suffocated’ by literacy) need greater focus allowing greater cultural appreciation and diversity.

The current technical approach to teaching (criteria, feedback, pre-planned intentions, narrow performance achievement targets) needs to be replaced by an appreciation of the 'artistry' of the teacher to develop ‘communities of inquiry’ so as to develop the idiosyncratic ‘learning power’ of all learners. Educationalist Guy Claxton calls this power ‘learnacy’. Such an approach would ensure no student need fail.

Such developments would transform what it is mean to be fully human. Students who understand how all actions are connected,who value their own creativity and talents, who appreciate the joy of learning, will be our best hope for a sustainable world.

We need 'new minds for a new millennium'.

We either need to change or be changed; the 'status quo'is not an option.

Schools ought to lead the way. If only they had the courage, wit and imagination.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The dark side of Literacy and Numeracy

  Photo: Dean Fink Posted by Picasa

It would seem heretical to suggest the current obsession with Literacy and Numeracy is limiting the learning of our students. Every classroom you visit is full of the current approaches as introduced by ‘contracted’ advisers following their written scripts; all passing on the John Hattie message of intentional teaching, feedback and the dogma of ‘evidence based teaching’.

Not that it isn’t a good message but to restrict it to literacy and numeracy is to limit the potential power to develop students’ talents in equally, or more important, areas. Literacy and numeracy are 'foundation' skills. They do not 'drive' learning – learning is driven by students’ interests and talents and their deep desire to make sense of their lives.

As Dean Fink and Andy Hargreaves write in their latest book ‘Sustainable Leadership’, ‘our continuing obsession with reaching higher and higher standards in literacy and mathematics is exhausting our teachers and learners turning vast tracts of the surrounding learning environment in the humanities, health education and the arts, into barren wastelands as almost all peoples achievement and improvement are channeled elsewhere.’

They continue, ‘the political pesticide of teacher professional standardization’ is resulting in ‘collateral damage in creative and critical learning.’ ‘The coming of such a ‘Silent Spring’ in education’ is a ‘looming danger as the all consuming standardized education reform leaves plagues of exhausted teachers and joyless learning in its wake’.

Hopefully we will avoid the worst of this in New Zealand but I see the beginning of the educational monoculture of literacy and numeracy. One only has to look at the educational ‘targets’ schools are setting in their Annual Plans.

Fink and Hargreaves write, ‘ All teaching and learning are emotional practices – if learning isn’t personalized- that is, customized to the meaning, prior knowledge, and life circumstances, then many students, especially the most disadvantaged, will scarcely learn at all.’

If learning is to be sustained teachers must tap into area of learning students enjoy – the areas we most linger over? We need, they believe, endurance in learning not the efficiency of measurable performance. Still waters, they continue, run deep. Deep learning takes time. According to Guy Claxton, ‘Slow learning is essential for our lives – it draws on creativity and ingenuity needed to solve complex problems’ and ‘to learn their way out of trouble’.

It is 'learning to learn' that ought to be the focus of all teaching and not restricted to literacy and numeracy which seems to be the current trend.

We ought to be concerned with the ‘art of teaching’ so as to develop all the talents our students have, talents all too easily lost if we focus too much on literacy and numeracy.

As Fink and Hargreaves write, ‘When people have a passion and a purpose that is theirs, not someone else’s, and when their passion is pursued together and is sharpened by a sense of urgency...there are no limits to what they can achieve.’

What is wanted, they say, is learning that is self sustaining. Learning that really matters to the individual students. Learning that lasts a lifetime; learning that sticks.

Schools ought to ensure that such important ideals are not forgotten or overwhelmed by schools with their current, almost Victorian, obsession with literacy and numeracy.

Perhaps the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum will provide a challenge to schools to look beyond such limited horizons?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Slow food movement - and teaching as well!

  Posted by Picasa A significant movement in the culinary area is the ‘slow food movement’, a reaction against the ‘fast food’ industry.

The fast food industry is product of our fast moving industrial age providing reliable, efficient food, on demand, to consumers. Even those who work in such outlets cook everything to precise timing and heating instructions. Nothing is left to chance. Outcomes, inputs, and measurable targets, are all defined and the last thing they need are cooks!

And the food is bland, or at the very least reliably the same any where in the world – but it is quick and no doubt profitable; standardized food for standardized people. We are what we eat it is said.

We have become ‘fast food nations’. Everything is in hurry – even childhood according to David Elkind author of the Hurried Child. Everybody is rushing to prove success or achievement, none the least the education ‘industry.

The ‘slow food’ movement was reaction against this industrialized approach to living. Followers believe one should take time over food and enjoy the subtlety of the cooking;take the time to try out new dishes and to enjoy the conversation and the wine. Or at the very least enjoy a home cooked meal around the table interacting with members of the family or friends

We now need an educational equivalent of the ‘slow food movement’ so as to value the richness and relevance of any learning experience. Students need to appreciate that the act of learning is at the very heart of their identity and a high quality life and as such should not be rushed.

The standardized ‘fast education’, as exemplified by the curriculum statements of the past decades, has resulted in a loss of appetite for real learning. There is just no time. Gwen Gawith writes we have an ‘obese curriculum’. She has also called it the ‘KFC Curriculum’ – ‘I’ll have two strands, three levels and fifty plus objectives to go!’

As a result there are now many teachers who can no longer remember earlier times when learning was based on educational ideals and the development of student talents rather than achievement targets. The pace of change , the need to plan and assess every objective, has , according to educators Dean Fink and Andy Hargreaves in their latest book ‘Sustainable Leadership’, undermined teacher confidence and competence leaving no time to respond flexibly to students’ needs.

Even the much heralded literacy and numeracy initiatives are imposed on teachers leading to a bland uniformity of teaching – an improvement on the shallowness of standardized curriculums but resulting of a narrowing of the curriculum ‘menu’. This has resulted in other, equally important areas, being neglected; in particular, an appreciation of the power of tapping into students’ interests, concerns and talents as the basis of all learning.

What we need is learning that is sustainable and self renewing; experiences that provide students with a sense of challenge and mystery. We need to move away from having every intention and criteria decided before we even involve students. Learning is a ‘risky but potentially exciting personal journey that can’t be preplanned. If there is no risk or desire to continue learning there is only bland achievement.

The remedy is for teachers to learn to slow down and help their students live life to the fullest. To do this they will need to stop deterministic teaching and learn to listen to their students. What is it that captivates students' curiosity? How can they to tap into their students concerns? They then need to use all their professional skill and artistry to practice what Jerome Bruner calls, ‘the canny art of intellectual temptation’; creative teaching.

Teachers, by providing their students such a menu of rich, real and relevant experiences, will rediscover a sustainable joy in teaching.

This is real learning and learning. Chasing ideas. Trying to sort things out. Each adventure leading on new areas to explore.

All humans have a hunger to learn, to understand, from their own perspective, the meaning of life; and this hunger can only be satisfied by personally meaningful experiences. As Fink and Hargreaves say in their book, it about the quest for human transformation and sustainability – the desire to make ones mark and to leave the world a better place. A curriculum based on such ideas ‘emerges’ – calling on the content of the various learning areas as needed.

Whatever is chosen needs to be done well. There are important lessons to be learnt by students in taking the time to do the very best work they can – as compared to their previous 'best' experience.

As Mae West once said, ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly!’ Deep learning is more like love than lust. Targets don’t improve it. Tests can’t measure it.You just know in your heart when you are achieving something beyond your current expectations – and as well the brain supplies dopamine to reward you.

Such deep slow learning is an experience to be remembered and to be savored in reflective moments. ‘Slow leaning’, according to educationalist Guy Claxton, ‘is essential for our lives – it draws on the creativity, ingenuity needed to address complex problems’.

So let’s move away from trying to prove fast measurable achievement in our hurried schools, based a narrow range of ‘paint by numbers’ tasks, and start to think of providing deep learning experiences.

Learning that is deep and slow, sticks; and once students get a taste for it they will equipped to seize learning opportunities throughout their lives. Less is definitely more! Quality rater than quantity.

Let’s all join in behind the ‘slow teaching’ movement!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Beautiful minds - 'in a world of their own'.

  Photo: Sylvia Nasar. Economist and Author of ' A Beautiful Mind' Posted by Picasa

Last Sunday I watched the last of three programmes on savants – or as they are called the ‘knowing ones’.

Savants are very special individuals that have one amazing passion. Possibly the most well known savant was featured in the film ‘Rain man’ portrayed by Dustin Hoffman. Based on a particular individual who had an amazing mind for mathematics and, in common with other savants, was very limited in social and relationship areas.

The programme made viewers wonder about the amazing potential that lies within us all.

The question is that if they have never been taught their ‘wonderful knowledge’ how did they get to acquire such an amazing ability. Although most of the savants were born with their ability there have been cases of others gaining such amazing power after a knock on the head! One individual, after such an incident, became an expert on dates from the moment of the accident with a recall of everything that had happened on every day since but not before! Another changed from an admitted hardened criminal to a sensitive artist and poet.

The capacity of the brain is infinite. Lucky for most of us so called 'normal' people our brains suppress, or filter out, most of the information coming our way but for the savants their brains take in everything in their particular sphere of interest without interference. It is as if they have no ‘delete’ button; their mind, like a ‘google’ search, recalls everything! And as a result they miss out on capacities such as social and practical skills that we all take for granted.

It is lucky for us that we filter out all but what is essential for us to survive and what remains, pegged by our emotions, becomes the sum of our memories. Not so for the savants, many can’t dress themselves or find their way to a place that they visit regularly – they pay the price for their phenomenal and to many an incomprehensible ability.

Savants, as result, are in world of their own!

For ‘normal’ people 90% of our days are lived unconsciously but each of us has a hidden range of talents that can only be made accessible by being in appropriate environment. The concept of multiple intelligences or talents has been explored by Howard Gardner who has researched over eight ways of ‘being smart’ – each with a range of possibilities and degrees of depth.

The question is how many talents are hidden in our heads?

Those, whose misfortune it is to have one talent taken to such a depth that it limits other areas of humanness, find it hard to be ‘normal’. Others, it seems luckier, we calls prodigies or genuiuses, but even they find many areas of life problematic to various degrees. Along with savants many such 'gifted' individuals find themselves placed in special schools – or simply find school difficult for them. There seems a fluid line between savants and genius.

Our ‘one size fits all’ mass education system just can’t stretch to fits such talented individuals. And their talents beg the question, ‘How did they learn to do what they can do – without school?’

But back to the savants; many of then suffer degrees of autism and aspergers along with many of those we call the talented and geniuses. Teachers will be aware of such children in their classes and struggle to accommodate their needs.

There are savants who are incredible artists.

Others have phenomenal mathematical ability.

Others are incredible musicians.

Opening up the secrets of brains of such enigmatic individuals are areas of research for many scientists. Well over half have been found to be autistic. Many of the great intellectuals of the past may well have been savants to some degree: Da Vinci, Newton, Mozart and van Gogh come to mind and in recent times, Einstein. ‘Ordinary’ people find it hard to understand such people. It was said that Einstein saw things with a naivety as if through the eyes of a child.

It was fascinating to see one individual being studied to see how well he could remember and draw five blocks of Rome from memosry after a forty-five minute helicopter flight. Given four days, and a five metre piece of paper, he could draw every element of every building seen! He noticed everything.

Another individual could model horses, and animals, perfectly but struggled with people. This amazing individual began his talents after a knock on the head at 31. He is now 'compelled' to sculpt animals. When put him a special class to learn ‘normal ‘things he scraped putty from windows to make his models.

Compulsion is a mark of all savants and geniuses – and potentially of all students given the right environment. We are all born with an inbuilt desire to learn.

A young person, deeply autistic, discovered a hidden talent for jazz. He could compose original jazz pieces – ‘the music was in him’.

The original ‘Rain man’ was dismissed as a 'retard' at nine months still, and can't dress and brush his teeth, but can recall every book he has ever read and play every song he has ever heard!

The point being made by the programme was that we all come with ‘software’ in our brains for a range of abilities installed – all we all need is the opportunities to express them.

Brain research shows that when such individual (and all of us) achieve something their brain rewards them with a chemical, dophomine – which provides a ‘high’ or ’joy of learning’.

The savants show us that their genius is the result of purity of perception – they absorb everything in their particular area of interests or obsession. They see the world as it is, with no filtering, while we, the more ‘normal’, see things through ‘mindsets’ that interpret experience for us.

Could we help our students escape 'the tyranny of imposed mindsets' to see things with more clarity – by bi passing the brain 'mindsets'? By: making use of more first hand sensory or real experiences; by creating multi- dimensional environments more conducive to allowing talents to emerge; by exposing students to a range of rich mathematic, scientific and artistic experiences full of intellectual temptation; by building on the strengths of our students rather than trying to teach then what they are often not interested in; or by developing learning environments that reduce stress and distractions.

The savants work compulsively only in areas that interest them. One savant was interested in knowing all about roller coasters (but not in riding them). I taught a young boy once who was deeply interested in the sewers of London – and little else!

For most of us, as we get older, we lose brain circuits that are not used but savants keep all the neurons in their areas of interest at the expense of skills we take for granted.

The last programme looked at male female diffences. Half of those defined as savants are autistic and six out of seven are male. Researchers have defines two kinds of brains, an ‘e’ brain (for empathy and relationships, and an‘s’ brain (for ‘system’ or logical thinkers). Autism, caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, is male logic at its extreme – an exaggeration of a male ‘systems’ brain operating without regard to people. Autistic people take everything literally at face value and find it difficult to interpret ambiguous situations or what others are thinking.

Today most of us see male and female brains as androgynous but research is indicating that male and female brains have different evolutionary pathways and provide different contributions. One savant, as mentioned earlier, after a stroke, changed from a career of crime to being a sensitive artist and poet.

It begs the question, ‘Who is he?’

So it seems women are the gentler sex, or perhaps it was suggested, woman use more subtle forms of violence by withdrawing of love! Male brains display a better sense of direction and parking of cars while women are more articulate and cry at movies! We all have elements of both but savants have pure ‘s’ brains. Female traits, many feel, may now have more survival advantages today and this possibly contributes to girls doing better at school!

There are a lots of implications arising from the study of savants and talented people, particularly for teachers who believe it their job to ‘delver’ curriculums to ensure students 'learn'. The programmes provided a positive message to those who believe the challenge of teaching is to create conditions and to provide experiences that uncover and build on the strengths of their students.

Schools ought to be a home for growing beautiful minds.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Attributes of people who will make the future history books

  As provided by Tom Peters Author of Re-Imagine Posted by Picasa Tom’s list is as follows:

• Committed
• Determined to succeed
• Focused
• Passionate
• Irrational about life projects
• Ahead of their time/paradigm busters
• Impatient/action obsessed.
• Made lots of people mad
• Flouted the chain of command
• Creative/quirky/ peculiar/rebels/irreverent
• Masters of improvisation/thrive on chaos/exploit chaos
• Rather beg for forgiveness than ask for permission
• Bone honest
• In tune with their followers aspirations.

Elsewhere Tom talks about all progress depending on PPP – personally pissed off people. He calls this innovation source number 1.There is no number 2! It about people who always put into practice ‘plan B’ –whose only strategy is doing something and keeping what works; continual improvisers.

Other writers note that creatively talented individuals, innovators and entrepreneurs rarely did well at school. Looking at the above list it is not hard to work out why.

What are the attributes of future learners that underpin your school?

Traditional schools seem to value conformity, obedience and control and a ‘one size fits all’ mentality. But as Tom Peters says 'one size only fits one size'. In his book Tom writes that we could not have planned schools better to destroy students' talents if we had actually tried to do so!

'Personalized learning' would seem the answer but difficult to do in a 'mass education system with its genesis in factory industrialized age.

Be great if school ‘targets’ were the number of independent talented individuals they ‘produce’ rather than always focusing on literacy and numeracy? As important as these are they are no more than the ‘foundation skills’ for a future that will depend on talented, creative and adaptable individuals.

Maybe it is time to worry about the ‘talent gap’?

The future is Peters says, 'the age of ideas, creativity and imagination'.

As Dan Pink writes in Free Agent Nation, 'the main issue in school today is irrelevance.

Coudn't agree more!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ideas from 1995 - so what has changed?

 Article found while tidying up! It is always interesting to what ideas have changed. Posted by Picasa

October 24 1995

'Tomorrows Schools has created a new environment for schools.

In many ways the bureaucracy of the old Education Department has been replaced by a technocratic culture which has imposed new layers of accountability over teachers in the name of efficiency.

As well there has been a profusion of curriculum changes to cope with.

This has resulted in many schools and teachers feeling somewhat ‘shell-shocked’.

It is not possible or desirable to return to the past.

We need to accept the new reality and make the best of the situation we find ourselves in. It is important to reflect on the changes, be critical, and then add positive alternative to the debate.

What are missing in this new environment are the humane and holistic values that have always underpinned primary teaching. The technocratic business audit culture sits uncomfortably with child-centred teaching. We know the important things in education can’t be simply measured and that education is more a lifetime process than measurable outcome.

To retain a sense of control, important in times of continual change, we need a model that we feel comfortable with. This is why the ‘School as a Community’ is an excellent alternative.

It is interesting to note that innovative businesses are also moving towards a similar concept, that of the ‘learning organization’ which is based on trusting people to feel accountable to the bonds of shared values for their competitive advantage. Trusting ‘empowered’ employees in self managing teams is the only way a modern business can thrive in these times of continual change.

What we need to do (within the current compliance constraints) is to develop the ‘School as a Community’ model. To work it will mean that each staff member of the school making a real commitment to its success. This may mean giving changing some of our views on teaching and giving away some of our individuality as teachers (or isolation) and really valuing the advantages of collegiality.

The community model is so soft option and depends on each person being willing to be accountable and appraised against agreed school values. Any diffences will have to be made open and handled constructively for the common good.

The teaching approach will have to be compatible with the agreed belief system.

We need to move away from the more permissive ideas developed in the 60/70s, build on the best of past practices and include new ideas about how students learn.

We need to place greater emphasis on teachers interacting to make sure students really think about what they are doing. In the past we may have placed too much faith in ‘learning by doing’. We now know that talking with others, and recording what we know, is also vital.

In the past we also may have been so concerned with providing activities and managing them that we never had time to teach. To counter this we need to introduce more predictability into our classrooms and only provide students choices when they can work independently. We need to organize ourselves to gain time to teach those in need.

We also need to negotiate with the students the values that underpin all class interactions so they are able to control themselves though moral obligations. The classroom communities will need to reflect the values of the total school community.

To empower students we need to negotiate with them class activities and organizations, the achievement criteria they need to assess how successful they have been, and to help them set new goals to develop the habit of continual quality improvement.

As well students need to become aware of thinking strategies involved in any learning activity. To do this we will need to deliberately teach thinking strategies in realistic contexts.

It will be important to help them see connections between Learning Areas so that they learn to instigate their learning. This will require teachers to work in teams to plan collaboratively. Secondary schools will need to develop new multi skilled teams rather to replace their outdated subject departments.

Most important of all students will need to value person effort and perseverance if they are to gain the satisfaction of quality achievement. In the past we may not have expected enough from our students. Too many students are caught up in wanting instant gratification, thinking that first finished is best. We need to instill a sense of quality rather than quantity in our students.

All these ideas combine to help students take a greater responsibity for their own learning and contribute to them becoming life long learners. Little however will be of use to our children ‘at risk’ if we don’t work in full partnership with parents and the wider community.

Such a transformation will require leadership and hard work but it will promise raising teacher morale, make teaching more fun, and will ensure all students gain a sense of responsibity for their own learning.

If school combine the ‘School as a Community’ model with new ideas about teaching and learning they could be transformed. It would be hard work and require a total school effort to realize. However if the ideas were to be considered realistic they would be worth the effort'.

Bruce Hammonds

Still makes sense to me. Now almost common practice?

For ideas about how to develop your school as a learning community based on the power of shared Vision, Values and Teaching Beliefs, visit the Leading and Learning for the 21stC website.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Curriculum - 'just keeps rolling along'!

  Scene on the bank of the Mississippi. Posted by Picasa

Curriculum seems an innocuous word but, as it is conventionally understood, it is full of deadness and quiet oppression. It is what teachers and students must fit into - often to be 'judged' by those outside the classroom.

Curriculums are fragmented, divisible and assigned to different levels. Students who don’t 'light up' when exposed to it are seen as deficient. To be sure creative teachers do their best to subvert it and tailor it ( or these day ‘personalize’ it) to the needs of their students but curriculum as a central entity just goes rolling on, like Old Man River, but less alive.

Whatever happened to the idea of the curriculum intrinsically related to children’s lives? How can set of requirements planned centrally be relevant to the diverse students that populate our schools?

There must be a real connections with students to inspire learning; ‘Men must…learn to know and investigate the things themselves’ (John Amos Comenius 1630). The curriculum ought to ‘emerge’ from students intrinsic curiosity and their questions and this can only happen when teachers create their classrooms as 'communities of inquiry'.

The teachers’ challenge is to ensure student curiosity is not dulled. As Rousseau (1773) wrote, ‘Keep that curiosity alive...put questions to him…he should not learn but invent science.’

True ‘personalized’ learning must take into account the learners culture and environment and his or her personal concerns and interests. By exploring such things develop a child develops a positive sense of self as a learner. To achive this requires respectful mutual trusting relationships between the ‘teacher’ and the learners. Learning content must ‘be connected with their own personal observations and experience’. ( Pestalozzi 1895)

The idea of curriculum suggests a 'royal road' to learning of generalizations defined by those with the ‘expertise’ to insist other follow it. The truth is students can only discover such understandings for themselves – the must learn 'to see the woods by studying the trees'.

As John Dewey wrote (1897), ‘There is no succession of studies in the ideal school curriculum. If education is life, all life has, from the outset, a scientific aspect, and aspect of art and culture, and aspect of communication….The progress is not in the succession of studies, but in the development of new attitudes towards , and new interests in, experience’.Much of present education fails because it neglects this fundamental principle of the school as a form of community life.Education must be conceived as continuing reconstruction of experience; the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing’.

Curriculum then is both content and process. Broadly speaking it is everything that happens to a child at school. In a more focused way it is the utilizing of children’s’ concerns, both deep and transient, by the teachers to develop students who understand the natural world;technology; themselves; creative expression; all forms of communication; to gain proficiency in the skills of learning; to develop judgments; to develop one’s senses and sensitivity to feeling; to integrate learning and doing; and in the process to learn to experience life fully.

‘The only way to fit all this into school is to plan around children’s life concerns, feelings, interests ,fears, concerns questions and activities. The curious mind is not divorced from the questing spirit, the passionate heart or the vigorous body. It is nourished by and grows out of these'. (Dorothy Gross 1974).

There is no need to ‘cover’ all the subjects. Bring life into your classrooms, and take children out into the outside community. Select experiences according to the interests of both children and teachers (Bruner said, ‘teaching is the art of intellectual temptation’) and shape these experiences according to the age and abilities of the children.

In short such an ‘organic’ curriculum increasingly dealing with realtionships will be difficult in schools obsessed with literacy and numeracy and 'covering' teacher selected curriculum topics. Literacy and numeracy ought to evolve out of experience. The more powerful the experience and the ‘deeper’ the students look into it the more students will want to read, research,communicate and express their findings.

We need a curriculum that is based on students’ unique interests and points of view. This is impossible if at the same time teachers have to ‘prove’ that they have ‘cover’ what others expect of them. The proof of learning can be seen by how children relate to each other and by what they can do, demonstrate, or perform.

Such teachers need to be ‘artists’ able to pick up on what to extend, what to ignore, what challenges to introduce, and how far to go. This will take thoughtful observations of each child individual needs to decide what experiences are relevant.

This will be no easy task, even if it were to be ‘approved’. It would require a deep understanding by teachers of child development, learning theory and content knowledge. Such teacher will need the support of others to be able to ignore selectively imposed curriculums.

But if this were to be done then we might be able to talk about ‘personalized’ learning with some intellectual honesty– and we could throw the curriculum documents into the rubbish tin- or use them as guides only.

In the meantime the curriculum ‘just keeps rolling on, like Old Man River’ distorting true educational ideals.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Here's to the crazy ones.

  Posted by Picasa Here is to the crazy ones
The misfits
The rebels
The trouble makers
The round people in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently
They’re not fond of rules
And they have no respect for the status quo.

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.

They invent. They imagine. They heal.

They explore. They create. They inspire.

They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy?

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?

Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?

Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones,
we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think
they can change the world,
are the ones who do.

Poem from Apple Computer.

Seems to be putting computers in their rightful place to help people, in all creative fields, explore things that make them curious – inspired by their talents, passion and dreams. The crazy teachers know this, developing personalized curriculum for every one of their students, rather than fitting them into preplanned curriculum boxes.

Let’s have more crazy teachers!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A sign that says it all!


'Sometimes you don't ever have to see a school to know with absolute certainty that something profound is going on there'.

A quote about the sign from an American website! Well done Puketaha! Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 11, 2006

Robert Fried on Seymour Sarason

  Seymour Sarason: Sculptor of IdeasPosted by Picasa Seymour Sarason is a name I often see quoted and so it was great to be sent a copy of an introduction to one of his books by my friend Robert Fried ( see picture) himself a writer of such wonderful books as the ‘Passionate Teacher’ and the ‘Game of School’.

One of Sarason’s forty odd books has a name that reflects his lifetime theme ‘The Predictable Failure of School Reform’. He retired in 1989 as professor of clinical psychology at Yale University.

Fried calls Sarason as a ‘cautious radical’ and a pragmatic idealist who staunchly defends classroom teachers in one breathe and scolds them ( and policy makers) in another for their failure to make schools interesting places for teachers and children.

Fried believes we should take him seriously. For sixty years Sarasan has agonized about why our institutions and social systems so rarely succeeded in achieving the visions of those who created them despite the hard work and sincere efforts of all involved. Sarason has relentlessly challenged conventional thinking about why schools seem so resistant to change.

Fried introduces Sarason as a ‘sculptor of ideas’ who has shaped the ideas of many scholars and educators over the years.

Some of the ideas he has shared are:

1. Every school has a culture that defines how people within it operate. Culture affects people in ways they acknowledge as well as in ways that are hidden from their consciousness. Taken for granted culture is rarely questioned by teachers, students, or the wider community. Until the assumptions behind the culture are questioned as to how well it is performing things carry on as they are.

2. The ‘regularities’ of that culture – the rules and procedures that are mostly assumed tend to undermine the basic purposes of educating our youth. ‘But we have always done it that way’ ensures culture remains unexamined and unchallenged.

3. The overriding purpose of the school ought to be that children should want to keep learning more about themselves, other, and the world, yet that purpose is mostly ignored. Why should kids go to school? To learn basics or to gain cultural heritage, or do we want them to become better learners, more confident, more capable, and more curious? Is there any goal, Sarason believes, that even comes close in importance to having students increase their desire to learn more about themselves, others, and the world. If not why this goal is so rarely articulated?

4. The educational ‘system’ has an oppressive impact stifling progress. The search for culprits – teachers, students, bad parents and schools is a popular activity. But the real culprit is the system itself, a system nobody designed, nobody champions, and almost nobody challenges. The system seems pervasive and everybody at every level seems to distrust and resent those who wield power over them and disrespect those who have less power e.g. students.

5. The system, as it currently functions, is intractable, not easily reformed, and reform efforts that ignore systemic obstacles will predictably fail. The most significant feature of the system is to perpetrate itself, to roll along in the face of research illuminating its inefficiencies and failures. Reform efforts that do not address undesirable features of the system itself are doomed to failure as change gets stymied by the very dysfunctional aspects one is attempting to alter. For example it is common to changes to be handed down from on high yet this way of initiating change almost always leads to resentment, subversion, and failure.

6. More specifically, reforms that do not change the power relationships between and among people in schools are fated to suffer paralyzing inertia. Power is unjustly and inequitably distributed in schools and school systems. We have to ask ourselves why we behave as we do towards those above and below us in the hierarchy of power and how we can change those relationships so that they reflect our democratic values and promote shared decision making.

7. Sustained and productive contexts of learning can exist for students if they do not simultaneously exist for teachers. Everyone in a school needs to work together to create an environment in which learners feel motivated and supported as they build on what they know and seek to learn more. Unless teachers feel that they are part of a high quality respectful learning environment we cannot expect more than a few such teachers to create that environment for their students.

8. Applying labels to people, especially a student is futile and unjust. Too many children have had their careers misshapen by being tested and put into categories that often have little to do with their real potential as learners.

9. The democratic principle, while often celebrated, is undermined or ignored in our schools and school systems. Those who will be affected by decisions have a right to be included in helping shape that decision.

10. Parents are vital partners, and teachers qualified leaders, and both are potential governors of schools. It is easy to proclaim the values of parent participation, or involvement, but such advocacy is meaningless when parents are sidelined or their roles trivialized. Parents, along with teachers, deserve a much greater role to run their schools.

11. Politicians need to understand the systemic features ( failures) of the education system and not just to foist new pressures, programmes, goals haphazardly on schools.

One place to begin, Fried believes, is with Sarason’s notion of the culture of the school. The school culture is so evident, so persuasive, yet so invisible. If we fail to see the school as more than a collection of classrooms we will be continually disappointed by the inability of people in schools to make those changes that are called up by research, intellectual honesty and democratic principles. We need, Sarason believes, to identify, examine and challenge aspects of school culture that stifle progress. If not we will fail to see the forest for the trees.

Until systemic problems are faced up to changes designed to improve will be sidelined, 'sweet talked' to death, ignored, or sabotaged. It is this stagnation that has inspired Sarason to challenge the ‘status quo’ as much as had John Dewey a good half century earlier.

Sarason is now in his mid eighties. He paradoxically remains idealistic while often taking a dim view of the possibilities of significant improvement in the schools he has devoted more than half a century to. He continues to write about the nature of the obstacles and dilemmas that confront real school reform and continues to challenge himself and other with the questions he poses. He has, as Fried writes, refused to soft pedal the truth about systems and their cultures.

All countries need their Seymour Sarasons to ‘sculpt ideas’ to keep 'us' focused on the real issues that confront those who believe passionately in developing the talents and dreams of all students in a democratic environment.

Thank you Robert for sharing this will us.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The 'new' or 'revised' NZ Curriculum?

  Posted by Picasa I was at a meeting recently when a Ministry ‘contracted’ employee pulled me up for giving credit to the ‘new’ NZ curriculum. She objected to my use of the word ‘new’ - ‘revised’, she informed me, is the correct title!

Who cares!

The ‘new’ or ‘revised’ curriculum has moved along way from the appalling 1992 NZ Curriculum Framework ( NZCF). The further away the better. A ‘senior’ Ministry Curriculum ‘Manager’ said recently on National radio that the original curriculum was 'good' but the ‘revised’ one is better. A real understatement – there is a world of difference. We are now back to where we should have been before politicians introduced the 92 model with little or no consultation with educationalists.

For over a decade schools have struggled to implement a document that had little to do with education and more to do with an imposed ideology of efficiency, accountability and competition. Supposedly to clarify what schools ought to ‘deliver’ it soon became obvious that it was so incoherent and complicated that it became itself a barrier to the very problems it was supposed to solve. But not before a number of creative teachers and schools had paid the price – either by trying to implement the impossible or by trying to hold on to their educational principles. In most cases professional integrity was compromised as most schools tried to do their best to ‘colonize’ the continually changing compliance expectations.

Not that original NZCF was ever ‘original’. An exchange UK lecturer at Massey College of Education (when I was their ‘Teaching Fellow’) showed us a copy of the earlier published UK National Curriculum. It was dark blue with a shell on the cover (a spiny murex) while ours was a lighter blue with a nautilus shell on the cover! On closer inspection the saving grace for the NZ version was that ‘we; had avoided national testing at ‘key stages’ and the associated league tables based on them. While working with the Bali International School I realize that the curriculum documents from the various countries or states all followed the same technocratic formula – learning areas, strands, levels and countless learning objectives, all to be taught and assessed. The insertion of a few Maori words could not disguise the lack of originality of ‘our’ curriculum statements. Since then the Ministry’s policy advisers have led us down several other UK ideas – numeracy and literacy initiatives, targets, and strategy planning. We even followed their ‘slim-lining’ of their ‘obese’ curriculums with our ‘stocktaking’ version.

So there is nothing original about the Ministry – a classic case of ‘group thinking’ leading to a false sense of consensus while all the time ignoring the ‘wisdom’ of the teaching profession.

As it became obvious to all that the ‘Emperor had no clothes’ a revision of the National Educational Guidelines (the NAGs), and then the NZCF was inevitable.

And along with this a softening of the hard line ‘name and shame’ of our Education Review Office (another UK idea) into an ‘assess and assist’ model.

The metamorphosis of the original ideology, with the publication of the ‘revised’ NZ Curriculum, is now almost complete.

Of course no one will admit that they were wrong in the first place but at least common sense seems to have prevailed even if those whose memories stretch back before the 90s will have feelings of ‘deju vu’.

Back to the ‘revised’ NZ Curriculum.

I don’t think it will evoke any great excitement, more a sense of collective relief. It legitimizes an approach that many innovative schools have already taken and for such schools it is a welcome ‘catch up’ document.

It reverses the order of the original curriculum. It begins with vision, principles, values, key competences (a ‘new’ version of essential skills), highly reduced learning areas (sending to the ‘shredder’ the eight separate curriculum statements), and finishes with effective pedagogy (a word ‘revived’ from an earlier era), designing school curriculums and planning and assessment. An ‘appendix’ is a remnant of the previous earlier incoherent learning objectives.

A few points.

No argument about the vision, values and principles. The freedom of the ‘revised’ document for schools and their communities to set their own programmes, within national guidelines, is a welcome return to democratic ideals. ‘Key competencies’ are the new ‘buzz words’ but are little more than a reframing of the ‘learning how to learn and relate to people’ of earlier progressive educationalists such as John Dewey. The ‘key competencies' phrase comes from an OECD report and seems to relate more to the technocratic past than a creative future.

The current Learning Area Frameworks have been reduced to a pull out appendix for each area. And we now thankfully ‘design’ rather than ‘deliver’ a curriculum to the students. This is an important change in terminology and ideology.

There must have been some considerable discussion about ‘effective pedagogy’ as this page has changed the most from an earlier March 06 draft. I seem to feel a strong emphasis on ‘constructivist’ teaching has been lost in the process and if so this would be a shame.

What appalls me most of all is that ‘they’ have removed a phrase from the March draft – ‘encouraging a love of learning’. This phrase, to me, symbolized most dramatically the change of ideology from the previous technocratic NZCF.

If there are ‘fishhooks’ hidden in the ‘revised’ it is in the planning and assessing of learning outcomes. ‘Effective based teaching’ is the new Ministry mantra! How this is to be interpreted is open to question. The learning objectives ‘appendixes’ could have been even more reduced by defining the ‘foundation skills’ even further and leaving the learning area objectives open to greater teacher creativity. Appendixes are all too often unnecessary organs.

A requirement to assess students’ progress on ‘key competencies’ would seem problematic; such learning dispositions ( including the missing ‘love of learning’) are not easily measured and are best seen through student actions.

All in all, ‘new’ or revised’, the draft curriculum is a ‘giant step forward’ for the teaching profession. Schools will now have to ‘shred’ all those compliance documents that have kept them away from focusing on teaching and learning!

At last it is about teaching and about time!

What is missing is a real focus on developing the talents, passions and dreams of all students. Key competencies by themselves do not make a learner. Love of learning come from exploring things of interest – we all get better at what we get good at.

Developing students’ talents means more to me than helping all ‘young people reach their potential and developing the competencies they will need’. It seems to place the cart before the horse.

And where is the mention of personalizing learning that our Minister believes is the most radical change in education since the introduction of mass education of the 30s?

Let’s hope it makes the final document.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A process to develop shared teaching beliefs.

  Posted by Picasa Poutama -stairways to knowledge pattern.

If a school is to have any impact on teaching and learning there has to be a collegial understanding of what the ‘school’ means as quality teaching and learning. This can only be achieved by a series of professional dialogues or conversation about ‘what counts as important’ to ensure the school vision and values are realized.

All too often when one asks teachers what the teaching beliefs that underpin their work are they find this question difficult to answer? This needed be the case. Teachers often have the ideas in their heads but have no simple framework to focus their thoughts.

By using a process of professional dialogue or conversations a simple teaching framework can be developed that taps into teachers ‘collective wisdom’ – a framework that they all will have sense of ownership in developing.

By developing a set beliefs to act as a ‘scaffold’, to unify and focus their thoughts, is the key. It is preferable, for ease of memory, to have no more than five core beliefs. When such a ‘common language’ is in place transitions between class levels becomes less of a problem and, as well, teachers have a means to self reference all their decisions. Such focused teaching making life simpler for all

A process to use could be to first decide on the five framework headings.

Then taking each heading at a time get the teachers in groups (depending on how big the staff is) to suggest beliefs or actions that fit under the chosen heading. Record these with no discussion. Teachers can simply say ‘pass’ if they wish.

When all ideas are contributed some can be combined but only if agreed by those who suggested them. People may ask a contributor for any clarification. No cross discussion should be allowed.

Once the list is finalized each member is given 10 votes that they can assign to any idea using four votes at a time. This process is called ‘brainstorming’ and ‘10 /4 voting’. If there is more than one group a team could aggregate group ideas to later present to staff for approval.

A 'lead team' could tidy up the list for final acceptance. When agreed the framework becomes the basis of the teacher performance system. It will take time for all teachers to gain confidence in all suggestion to close this 'gap'will become the basis for school or idividual professional development. Whatever is developed ought to be modified at the end of each year as part of the normal school review system.

The heading blow are arbitrary but most school could modify them. The ideas beneath each are just suggestions. A completed model is available on ‘our’ website.

1. All students to leave with ‘foundation skills’ in place.

Literacy and numeracy are basic to all learning (hence the ‘foundation’ metaphor) and most school would have no trouble defining a set of ‘we wills’ to ensure they are in place. Target or benchmarks could be agreed to as well as school wide programmes and teaching and assessment practices.

Detail of any ‘we wills’ need to be kept in a separate ‘best practices’ folder.

2. Our students to be ‘powerful’ learners.

The ‘shadow’ of all content experiences ought to result in students learning ‘how to learn’ so as to develop their ‘learning power’. Students ought to be aware of their particular talents. They ought to be able to articulate why, what, and how they learn able to set goals, make choices, take responsibility, and self assess their own progress against agreed criteria. Appreciating the importance of effort is important. Ensuring the ‘key competencies’ are being developed and agreed higher order thinking skills.

3. We see our role as teachers of being ‘learning advisers’.

The ‘we wills’ to be included under such a heading need to ‘mirror’ the powerful learning strategies we want the students to achieve. The teacher is a ‘learning coach’ providing diagnostic help (‘feedback’) to ensure all students are able to ‘construct’ their own learning. Idea that might be included could cover teaching an agreed inquiry model, ensuring students are goal orientated able to self assess their own work and teaching agreed design ‘scaffolds’ to ensue all students can produce work of personal excellence.

4. Students to be challenged by ‘meaningful’ learning experiences.

To engage and inspire students rich, real, relevant and rigorous learning experiences need to be provided. Ideas that might be included under the ‘we wills’ could be: planning collaboratively, developing a framework of rich topic themes to be covered each year, making use of students interests and their environment, integrating learning areas and ICT, and teaching using a ‘constructive’ inquiry model. Agreed planning formats might be considered.

5. Room environments that both ‘celebrate and inform’

Collectively the class environments provide the most obvious ‘message system’ to all visitors. Students need benign routines to allow them to take the necessary ‘learning risks’. Ideas to be considered could be: clear daily programmes and group tasks on whiteboards / blackboards, displays of students’ inquiries with appropriate headings, key questions, and process information. Agreed planning formats could be considered.

A test of any set of beliefs is whether or not every member of the school team (including Board of Trustees) an articulate them. Only when they can do you have the beginning of a learning community. When they can be seen in action in all rooms then you have real learning community.

A model for a 21stC School Vision.

  Posted by Picasa Developing a school vision is not such a difficult job.

Putting it into practice and maintaining it is the real work.

What is required is an image, or metaphor, that everyone can remember and that is in turn clarified and made more specific by the mission, the values chosen, and finally the core teaching beliefs.

Traditional schools, with reputations earned in a past era, have it easy – their school motto is clear to all and their values and beliefs are implicit and rarely questioned. They know what they stand for.

If a school wants to develop a new vision for their school it is important to involve everyone in the process because people work hard for what they have had a part in creating.

Often a local geographical feature of the landscape provides inspiration for a simple vision phrase. In other cases a Maori saying is appropriate. Sometimes the school’s name provides the inspiration. Often there is already a suitable phrase ‘hidden’ in the current school mission.

Writing a statement expanding what the vision phrase means and the challenges involved is important. What do you want to achieve for your students so they can thrive in what will be an uncertain but potentially exciting future? What strategic issues need to be considered to achieve the vision?

The mission just focuses the staff on achieving the vision but the values are important to demonstrate how you are all going to relate to each other, work together and make decisions.

Finally the teaching beliefs provide the real focus for the teaching team to achieve the intent of the vision.

It all can be as simple as:

Vision :

To develop the talents, dreams and passions of all students.


Students to respect: themselves, others, other cultures, and their environment.
To treat people as they would wish to be treated.
To learn to make the ‘best choices’ they can and always to consider ‘next time’.
To involve students and parents as learning partners.

Teaching Beliefs (each to followed by a set of agreed ‘We will’s:)

1. All students to acquire appropriate ‘foundation skills’

2. Students to be ‘powerful learners’

3. Teachers to act as ‘learning advisers’.

4. ‘Rich, real and relevant curriculum’ challenges.

5. To provide ‘celebratory and informative learning environments’.

If each of the above were combined into a Performance Agreement then the teachers could use their initiative and creativity, using the above as a means to self reference their decision and to plan appropriate professional development. If all agree with the beliefs then accountability and monitoring ought to seen as an important means to ensure the vision is not lost track of.

To achieve such focused simplicity would require a number of ‘learning conversations’ with all involved in the school to develop the clarity of intentions required to be able to trust team and individuals to get on with their job of teaching and learning. The teaching beliefs ought to be clear and 'owned' by all teachers and ensuring this is an important role of team leaders and the principal - the 'lead learner'.

If all this is achieved then you have a ‘vision lead school’; a ‘learning community’ able to trust ‘self managing teams’ able to continually reflect on how well things are going and able to make continual qualitative improvements.

Such schools are few and far between but the ones I have seen are the fun ones to work in.

Well over a score of schools in New Zealand have adopted the above model to suit their particular sitution.

There is an example our site Leading and Learning for the 21stC

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Developing a powerful school vision

  Posted by Picasa When I visit a school I often like to ask teachers what is the vision of their school – or ‘what counts as important around here?’ I also like to ask students as well and any parents that are around. I also like to ask, ‘how did the school develop its vision?’

All schools these days have Visions, Missions and Strategy Plans but all too often few people can articulate them let alone say what they really mean in action. No matter how well they are drawn up if no ones know what they mean they are not worth the paper they are written on.

I say this with the knowledge that I have helped scores of school develop such statements – I am all too often disappointed when I ask the above questions at such schools.

For all this I still believe that a vision, properly developed with all involved, is a powerful idea. There is no more important work than the development of an inspiring vision that provides a clear sense of mission for the staff based on agreed beliefs about the need for excellence of teaching and learning.

Visions do not work if individual members own belief are not congruent, or if there is no ‘buy in’, or if the vision is not powerful enough for teachers to consider changing their practices. And to be really powerful it also must include members of the school community who need to be aligned behind their school.

To achieve this require real leadership. Leaders who are courageous enough to act as ‘champions’ of the vision and who are prepared to provide the necessary support, and sometimes pressure, to ensure action are aligned behind what has been agreed to. This is the moral dimension of leadership – holding people accountable to achieve what has been agreed to no matter how painful.

The only meaningful way to develop a vision owned by all is to develop a process that involves everyone in developing their ideal school – a school of their combined dreams. Such a process should develop their school not as it is but what it could become. It must reflect the ‘best’ thinking, beliefs, and ideals of the entire community. Every body must feel empowered. This is not to say it will all be happiness and light – tension between the vision and the reality are the source for creativity and professional development but if the vision is powerful enough it will provide the rational for all decision making.

A vision is an image of a desired future – a picture of the future you seek to create. It shows where you want to go and what it will be like when you get there. It is worth describing your ideal school as if it already exists – whatever, the pull of the future must be strong enough to overcome the inertia of the ‘status quo’. It must be worth the risk of letting go of past practices and thinking.

Values are vital to ensure it is clear how we are going to relate to, or behave with, each other .When such value expectations become central to the schools vision effort they become like a moral compass helping people make the best decision they can as they move towards their vision. It helps people speak to each other openly and honestly and to share information and ideas. Team work, open communication and shared decision making will be vital. Shared values provide an environment of openness and trust and continual feedback. Some schools I have worked with have developed simple charters of suggested behaviors for teacher, students and parents to clarify such expectations.

The mission represents the fundamental purpose of the school staff to implement the agreed vision and values. It defines that we are here to achieve the agreed vision

Finally school needs to develop a set of shared teaching and learning beliefs that all teaching will be aligned behind to achieve the vision. All teachers have their own set of teaching learning ideas but this need to be articulated, shared and focused into five or six key beliefs. A number of processes are available to tap into this ‘collective wisdom’ but once settled on the teachers need to be held accountable to implement them. Naturally this will be difficult at first but with time and professional development they will become an integral part of achieving the school vision becoming a common language that all teachers can use to self reference their actions and decisions against. This is not to say all teachers will be 'clones' - what is required is enough consistency to achieve the vision combined with individual teacher creativity to explore new ideas to improve our efforts.

When all is in place a school develops a ‘future pull’ and becomes a 'community of inquiry' continually reflecting on progress and reviewing all aspects. When such a community is realized choices are made by the vision and not by the book, or any individuals personal preference. The vision, when realized, becomes the schools DNA or internal guidance system; providing everyone involved with the confidence to explore any idea that may contribute to the well being of the school.

Being a part of such a vision community is an exciting, inspiring and creative experience. Such a learning organization is well placed to thrive in what will be an ever changing and uncertain world. Such schools are capable of new learning and adapting to change able to build for themselves a unique future.

So what is your schools vision?
What are the values you all share?
What are your core teaching beliefs?
How do you know things are getting better?

For ideas about the vision process and examples of School Visions and Stratgey Plans etc visit our site 'Leading and Learning for the 21stC.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Future thinking - and education

  Posted by Picasa You would think that the questions that all citizens need to be asked regularly are where do we want to go as a country? What we want to create as a result of our joint efforts? What kind of society do we want to be known for?

If we are never asked such questions by our so called ‘leaders’ we will revert at election time to narrow self interest. Such short term self interested thinking will not help us think about the bigger questions that ought to determine our future.

It is becoming obvious that fast moving change is going to become a feature of our future. It is also pretty obvious that the received wisdom of the past is no longer viable. Old myths need to be debunked and new myths discovered. The uncertain future provides a great opportunity for the counties, organizations and individuals that can tap into new thinking - that is if they can escape the reactive pull of the 'status quo'.

A recent TV programme discussed the challenge of the future. The biggest issue was one of sustainability – how to manage our natural environment so that valuable natural resources are not wasted. And, as well, the need for New Zealand to develop a positive cultural identity. The question asked was what kind of identity and values do we want to encourage?

For too long we have waited for ‘leaders’ and their ‘experts’ to solve such problems for us but if we believe in democracy, as messy as it is, then the ‘voices’ of the people ought to count more than voting every three years.

Some way to tap the ‘wisdom’ of the people needs to replace the current reliance on so called ‘experts’.

What we need is a process to allow a range of national conversations to be undertaken so as to gain the diverse insights of ‘ordinary’ ‘people. Alternative scenarios could be presented of ‘preferred futures’ to debate, or groups could simply provide the answers to open questions.

Those in positions of authority need to think of such processes – either face to face meetings or by using modern information technology and then devise ways to aggregate ideas. This process could be used nationally, by communities, or in any organization.

Such ‘conversations’ could be precursors to elections (local or national) or when any organization is considering its future.

What is needed is to create a community of discussion, debate and healthy argument to replace the current cynicism that many currently hold about those in authority.

Such a community of debate must be preferable to rule by distant ‘leaders’ or their technocrats both of which seem to have little insight about the lives of ‘ordinary’ people. A healthy democracy requires a constant flow of idea from its citizens and a way to tap into their ‘collective wisdom’. Experts have no monopoly on the future as history shows.

One way to do this is to develop some agreement is about where we want to go as a country – how we want to be seen – and the behaviors we want to encourage.

If we can develop a future that encapsulates the shared dreams of us all we can shape our own destiny and create a better and more sustainable world.

This will take real visionary leadership.