Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Creative Leadership lessons from Stoll and Temperley

Creative schools depend on creative leadership. The trouble these days is that the pressures on principals to: be seen by parents as doing what is expected, from analysing endless tests ( all too often in a narrow range of capabilities); coping with the imposition of National Standards; and most of all pressure to comply with Ministry and the  Education Review Office requirements,  being creative is the last thing on principals minds. And of course creativity was never something one thought of when thinking about school principals!

But creativity from the top is required to develop the conditions necessary to ensure both teachers' and students' creativity is recognised and developed.

Louise Stoll and Julie Temperley in their paper, Creative Leadership: A Challenge of our Times, quote George Lucas (of Star Wars fame).  Lucas has said creative organisations require, ‘people who question the assumptions they are given. They see the world differently, are happy to experiment, to take risks and to make mistakes.’  The authors contrast this creativity with the ‘dependency thinking’ of current imposed school reform strategies.  The status quo’, they write, ‘is a very compelling state’ and add that ‘school leaders should unlock the creativity of their staff.….to get the best out of their staff and students’.  ‘This, ‘ they write, ‘requires leaders being more outward looking and more adventurous, and thinking outside the box’.  Leaders need confidence to give license, or permission for others to be creative.  This form of leadership is ‘leading a team in such a way that it is not dictating and yet still scaffolding and supporting’.  It is a model that replicates the relationships expected of class teachers with their students.

Many teachers’, Stoll and Temperley write in their report, ‘get stuck in a kind of routine monotony and don’t feel they are encouraged to break out’.  Teachers require, ‘the freedom to explore, to take risks to make mistakes and learn from them’.  To feel free, to be creative, teachers should demand an ‘ethos where it is acceptable to take risks’ as long as a period of refection follows.

Explicit school core values, negotiated and agreed to, are required to provide a point of reference for those involved.  Any creative act imposes its own disciplined restraints.

To create the necessary mind shifts only ‘permissions from the top’ can create a culture where it is ‘acceptable to do unusual exciting things.  Such schools will be able to reflect what they collectively now know about learning, develop new understandings, and then be in a position to develop educational learning plans (IEPs) that honour the passions and talents of all their students.  Such IEPs will help students think deeply about questions that matter most to them.

Nine conditions for creative leadership from Stoll and Temperley

1 Model creativity and risk taking – lead by example

2 Stimulate a sense of urgency – if necessary, generate a crisis

3 Expose colleagues to new thinking and experiences

4 Self consciously relinquish control – avoid a surveillance culture.

5 Provide time and space and facilitate the practicalities.

6 Promote individual and creative thinking and design

7 Set high expectations and the degree of creativity.

8 Use failure as a learning opportunity

9 Keep referring back to core values

School self-renewal embraces the democratic power of individuals to act collectively to create a learning culture that recognizes the reality of students’ lives.  It is a process that provides all their students with the attributes to thrive in a changing environment – something well beyond the capabilities of traditional schools.  Individual and communal creativity and imagination are at the centre of school self renewal.

The ideas being expressed are radical innovations.  They are not, as with many current reforms are, mere ‘tinkering’ but are transformative.  If implemented they would result in fundamental new ways of doing things.

Implementing such changes through democratic dialogue and by challenging present practices is leadership’s greatest challenge.  If we want to develop ‘tomorrow’s schools’ – personalized schools where the curiosity, creativity and passion of both teachers and students to innovate are to be realized - these changes are vital.

Just imagine a transformed education system premised on developing the passions, talents and gifts of all students.  Such a system would have the potential to contribute to ensuring New Zealand is a truly innovative and creative country.

If we really want ‘tomorrow’s schools’ we need to heed Mahatma Gandhi’s advice, ‘we must be the change we wish to see in the world.’

Monday, August 29, 2011

'Another shot against the prevailing wind' - by Allan Alach

So now we read that the MOE have issued an ultimatum to Island Bay School - submit a compliant charter by Friday 2nd September or else. The MOE have obviously studied their history. Armies of occupation, and dictators who have seized power, work to cement this by eliminating the "ring leaders" of the opposing forces, making an example of them as a warning to others.

Targeting Island Bay School has this intent, with the underlying message to other schools being, "This is what will happen to you!" Can we also expect to see every tenth BOT "taken out and shot," when there are too many to eliminate all at once? 

This strategy of taking out the perceived leaders is a risky ploy, as this serpent has many heads and new ones will grow. Also as history shows, making a martyr out of a leader is not wise move!

Two recent postings by Kelvin Smythe about the approach the MOE has taken with schools also speak volumes.

In his article “Forced Documentation  Kelvin relates an incident where MOE personnel started actively developing an acceptable charter;
“...she proceeded to cover with highlighter, section by section, to give the principal the exact wording she would like to see in ‘their’ new charter.”

 Excuse me, whose charter is it? Isn’t a charter intended to reflect wishes of the community?

Kelvin’s second article, “Jackboots in the classroom” relates to a story from a ‘non-compliant’ school and the events of a meeting with the MOE.  During this meeting the MOE offered to send a compliant charter that could be used as the basis for the school's reworked version!

As Kelvin's correspondent said, doesn't this just make a huge farce of the whole process?

Both these cases reveal the full shallowness and ridiculousness of the charter compliance agenda. It is now very transparent that the pressure is on to ensure rapid compliance regardless of whether the documents have any actual value.

Does the imminent commencement of the Rugby World Cup have anything to do with this? Get it done before the world media arrives and realises what is happening?

Given that BOTs have an obligation to consult with the community over charters, would someone please explain to me how a MOE written or supplied charter will be able to meet this requirement?

Or will that legal obligation be set aside, in spite of the MOE using other legal levers on schools? There is a huge inconsistency here, and it's not hard to foresee legal action against the MOE on this basis alone.

While on the legal theme, the Education Act (63A(4)) states this about charter issues:
"The Secretary must then negotiate with the board to resolve the matters concerned and if the board and the Secretary are unable to reach agreement about the content of the school charter, the Secretary may require the board to amend the charter or updated charter."

The key word here is 'negotiate." It is implicit that this will take time to work through a due process. Therefore deadline demands by the MOE would seem to run counter to the intent of this section. One law for some, another law for others?

We can speculate as to why those at the top are either failing to see, or ignoring, the concerns over standards that are held by an extensive and rapidly growing nationwide movement. The media continues to play its role, typified by Jane Clifton’s column in the latest NZ Listener which excels even that DomPost editorial in its ignorance or complicity. To counter this, though, there are some signs, articles such as this Otago Daily Times editorial which suggests the message may be starting to get through.

Setting aside all the rhetoric about achievement and standards, and whether they are good or bad, let's step back a little to reflect on the whole situation. 

Going by this article, “NZ high on global prosperity list” New Zealand has the best education system in the world. The obvious question then begs to be asked; “If this is the case, why is this government hell-bent on changing it?”

(To head off the obvious retort, no one has ever said that core literacy and numeracy skills aren't important. Don't let anyone get away with that "red herring").

As far as I am aware (and I'm happy to be corrected here) the legislation that was rammed through parliament under urgency to establish the standards framework is the first time a New Zealand government has driven home a controversial education policy in this way. No consultation, no taking regard of research and evidence based findings, just an ideological and politically driven action.

Why was this done this way? Let's not be distracted by the usual political claim that the government received a mandate during the election. It is the method how this was implemented that needs close examination.

       Why was this legislation passed through parliament under urgency, without going through the normal select committee process?
       Why was there no opportunity for public submissions?
       Why was there no opportunity for expert input?

And so on....

Your guess is as good as mine.  Let's reflect on possible answers, again avoiding the mandate argument. One thing we do know for sure - this was not based on solid and reputable evidence and research.

       Arrogance?                       "We can so we will and you can't stop us."
       Ignorance?                       “We didn’t realise people would have concerns.”
       Fear?                                 "We can't make this public or else people may realise this won't work"
       Messianic belief?             "We know this is right so we don't need to consult"

I'm struggling to add more to this list, before falling back to my default position, that there's a bigger agenda and so things needed to be moved very fast. NZ political history suggests that any government may get re-elected once, but getting back in for the third time can't be guaranteed.  That gives six years to get as much done as possible.

I am in total agreement with Kelvin Smythe’s views:

In New Zealand, after the election, I predict a dramatic ramping up of the bureaucratisation of education, this will have the effect of entrenching political control of what happens in classrooms to the most minor of details. As we know, all the ‘services’ presently available to schools are already bureaucratised, from academic and professional development services right down to RTLBs, or in the process of being so.  

I anticipate that after the election, Public-Private-Partnerships will have quite an impact on how schools are viewed, but this will be small beer compared with what I believe will be a major reorganisation of the administration of schools to remove the last vestiges of Tomorrow’s Schools. It will be done, of course, in the name of efficiency but the real purpose will be control for revenge, ideological, and financial purposes.

I anticipate the closing of many smaller schools and the ones remaining being clustered under a larger school with a supra-board of control, sometimes with a non-education person in control, leaving individual schools with only nominal powers. Similar structures will be put in place in cities and provincial towns.

What needs to be realised is that we have a prime minister who has little feeling for school education and who finds it difficult to take teachers seriously; and a minister of education whose condescension towards teachers has turned to something nearer hate.

The forced imposition of standards based education seems to me, as a legal layperson, as an infringement on personal rights. Children of New Zealand will have their educational opportunities changed under this standards /achievement/ reporting regime.

Do parents get any say as to whether they want this for their children? What about all the parents in non- compliant schools who are saying very loudly,

"No. We want our children to have a full and rich education that isn't constrained by standards." 

New Zealand parents are finding their voice however, such as through the PROTECT movement (Parents' Rights On Their Educational Choices Today). You can find them here on Facebook or on their main website here. Encourage all parents to visit either of these two websites. Parent power will turn the tide.

Any government (regardless of which political party is in power) that imposes such potentially wide reaching educational changes, without full, thorough and in-depth consultation with all who have interests and knowledge, sends a very clear statement of authoritarianism.

We used to hear about the ‘Nanny State.” That seems to be rather pale in light of the forced changes in education in spite of the sound evidence to the contrary.

This "we know best" attitude has very alarming indications for the future of New Zealand schooling. This will affect not only the children of today and tomorrow, but have ramifications for the whole country that will last decades.

Education of children is a moral issue:

When we limit educational opportunities for children, we are stealing their future.

In a very perceptive blog article entitled “Dumbstruck”, Chris Trotter wrote:

“WELCOME to “The Age of Stupid”; to the great “dumbing down” of New Zealand. The place where educational standards are being reduced to readin’, ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic.”

What else is there to say?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The power of visiting other schools

A display of work from Woodleigh School New Plymouth. Room environments are  important  'evidence' of what is held to be important by the school or teacher. Room environments send out powerful 'messages' to students and class visitors.

Last week I accompanied group of rural principals from out of the province  visit a selection of local schools worthy of observation. Schools were limited to ones I am familiar with and all were involved in inquiry learning to greater or lesser degree. None were totally inquiry focused schools with inquiry as their number one priority - this is difficult in today's environment.

It is my belief that focused school visits ( hence the need for a guide) are the most powerful means to gain professional development and, in particular, to gain insights in to what other schools/teachers feel important. This is all the more necessary as schools are increasingly under pressure to distort their teaching programmes by the need to respond to the reactionary and politically inspired introduction of National Standards.

What visitors gain depends on what they individually  bring to the situations visited. If ideas gained are to be made best use of then there needs to be focused action plans, assisted by an  independent 'outsider',  to implement ideas seen in their own schools and, at an agreed point, to evaluate progress.

I have to admit not being an entirely biased guideAs a result of my own experience I am influenced by an approach to teaching and learning that is somewhat in conflict with some of the idea currently being imposed or being implemented in schools.

My own agenda is:

To place in depth student inquiry studies central to all learning and for such inquiries not only to focus on the inquiry process but also to develop  in-depth understandings. Inquiries need to challenge and extend students' prior views. The most important phrase in the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum is for students to 'seek , use and create their own knowledge'.

To 'reframe ' literacy and, to a lesser degree numeracy, to ensure all the skills students require to undertake in-depth inquiry are in place.

Students need all the skills in place to 'seek and use' information. As for mathematics it needs to be based on real life or relevant inquiries to develop real 'feel' for mathematics.In my opinion the key to maths  is to do less maths and what is done to be done in depth. Conventional teaching places literacy and numeracy as the most important areas of learning and this will be further reinforced by National Standards.

 Literacy and numeracy  need to be seen as 'foundation skills' vitally important to be in place so as to allow students to complete their inquiry studies. I am also opposed to ability grouping and 'streaming' of such learning areas. I cannot see the latter suggestions being taken up by  teachers

To value the individual creativity, 'voice' and imagination of all students and in the process identify and extend every student's unique gifts and talents - every student's needs their own Individual Learning Programme.

With this in mind it would be interesting to learn what ideas individual visitors gained, what idea they saw that conflicted with their current ideas and what they intend to action on return to their own schools?

The challenge for teachers visiting inquiry based classrooms that value in depth understandings and student creativity, is to  begin with 'the  end in mind' by considering classroom displays, students' book work,  and students' competencies requiredand then to to consider all the various skills  that would need to be in place for students to develop and take responsibility for their own quality work  - both process and content.

Inquiry displays to have key questions , processes, and quality examples of finished work including research , language  and art - both descriptive, or observational, and creative.

Teachers should do their best to base their studies on students' questions and concern and to negotiate with their students  inquiry and learning tasks and also criteria for evaluating their achievements.

Students to have observational drawing and descriptive writing skills in place   in particular how to write 'research writing';  the writing up of experiments or activities; and  how to acknowledge sources of their information. Such skill teaching ought to be the focus of   'reframed' literacy and numeracy programmes.

Displays and student book work ought to illustrate studnts' prior ideas -answers ( theories) to their first questions;  learning can be evaluated by the degree students have extended their ideas.

Students need to be taught design /presentation skills so as to present their work in pleasing ways. If such 'scaffolds' , 'wizards' or guides are developed students need to be encouraged to make use of their own creativity.  Many students have never been taught how to layout their work. Best models are exhibits for Science or Maths fairs. Visual language skills need to be included in literacy programmes.

To achieve quality in depth  work students need to be placed in safe secure organisational patterns. Such patterns are best seen in the  literacy  and numeracy blocks but the group task idea needs to be extended to the afternoon inquiry studies. Few school do this.

In inquiry classrooms information technology ( ICT) is best integrated as a natural part of inquiry studies. New technology skills  could be introduced as a part of the literacy programme.

Other important aspects of a creative inquiry based  classroom.

Personalised writing about students' own lives. Student's able to focus on a small event in their lives and to write thoughtfully about it. Personal writing is the best way to ensure each child's voice is acknowledged. Such writing could be part of the literacy programme - with one piece completed , with an equally focused illustration, each week. Such writing could be an important part of any early reading programme.

Last thoughts:

Do fewer things well.

Slow the pace of students work.

Ensure students have skills and time to complete work

Value student's perseverance, effort or 'grit'.

Do the 'messages' of your classroom reflect and celebrate your students creativity .

Related blogs

Classroom displays

Quality student work

Student work

Observation skills

Personal writing

Friday, August 19, 2011

Winning the battle but what about the war? Allan Alach speaks out - someone has to!

School principals spend more time reviewing everything leaving no time to develop exciting learning programmes. Measuring the pig does not make it fatter! As one wise old rural adviser once said, 'teachers have two important things they need to protect - their time and their energy - if  they waste it on bullshit they can't teach.'

In his recent posting, Bruce discussed the simplistic (and dare I say, ignorant?) view that is held by “Ministry bureaucrats, politicians, and many parents” about the teaching and learning process. I’d add one more group to that, possibly the most significant one.

Economists feel that schooling comes under their ‘discipline’, although whether economics is a discipline is a debate in itself. The vocabulary of cost/benefit analysis, measurable outcomes, inputs and outputs, targets, and so on, is from economics.

Kelvin Smythe discusses this business/economics connection in his recent article, which then goes on to to highlight recent research showing that “phonics teaching results in long-term reading disadvantage.” If you’ve not yet read this, then you’re missing a gem!

Governments in many countries are using the PISA testing results to beat schools and teachers over their collective heads. Ignoring the misuse of the results, let’s consider that the PISA tests are run by the OECD (“Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development”).

What? This is the organisation rating the world’s school systems? An economic think tank?  Google ‘supply side education.’ You will find many economic websites that include plans for education. Once again, play ‘spot the similarities”. Those amazing coincidences discussed in previous articles will magically reappear.

To close the circle:

Supply side economics’ (technically Neo-Classical economics) is the current financial orthodoxy of the Government, Treasury, Reserve Bank, Business Roundtable, and so on. It goes back in time through Don Brash, Ruth Richardson and Roger Douglas, to their mentor Milton Friedman, who believed in corporatisation of the schooling. Treasury provides all incoming governments with briefing documents, and education is not excluded from this. Need I say more?

Fighting this simplistic view of schooling is a major battle that we must win.

Seeing education as teacher ‘teaching’ and children learning’ lies behind the standards and associated ideologies. As economists and the business community are heavily influencing education policy it is not surprising that a factory view of teaching and learning is favoured. The omission of educational experts shows that minds are indeed very closed.

This ignorance is spread by a compliant media. The editorial in the Dominion Post on Wednesday 17th August is a typical example of this hegemony. If your blood pressure can handle it, track down and read this diatribe.

 Amongst the many illogicalities and misrepresentations is this gem:

“….the future labour market will be even more demanding than it is today. Those without skills and qualifications will face a bleaker future than they do now. It is thus not enough for a pupil to achieve at the level of their peers, hence national standards setting a high bar.”

Excuse me? This is implying that standards are designed to create a success/failure regime, so that some will achieve above the ‘level of their peers’.  That in itself blows the ‘raising achievement’ argument to pieces.

Standards used this way means perpetuating and enhancing a “have/have not” society, especially when we know that the key factor in children’s learning is socio-economic. So much then for the Beeby/Fraser vision I quoted in my last article.

The second interpretation is the belief that raising the bar will increase ‘achievement’.

Assuming this to be correct and that all children will ‘achieve’, we will find ourselves back where all pupils will be ‘achieving’ at a similar level to their peers. Raise the bar again, I suppose? And so the circle will continue until we arrive at the inevitable outcome of the ‘haves/have nots’. I don’t see a third interpretation of this statement.

The hidden bias of the author drips through the whole article. How about this?

“...the Official Information Act means that the data will be accessible to everyone. Then, parents who care about their kids’ achievement will be able to see which local schools do well and which do not.” 

Parents who care?  The use of this qualifier immediately reveals the author’s mindset.

A whole article could be written on this editorial alone; however I suggest you do read it. As well as the obligatory (and yawn inducing) attack on the NZEI the whole article is emotive and illogical, with barely a fact to be found.

The key warning for us is that the media are not objective and make use of the same emotional levers used by the government. Appealing to the baser emotions such as greed, fear, prejudice and many others, is an obvious strategy. Why do people buy into this?

The National Party targeted parents’ fears for their children’s future by continually stressing the one in five are failing line in the last election campaign. The Dominion Post editorial has played the same cards, to the point where the whole article reads like a National Party press release.

The fall of the Murdoch empire is showing how the media manipulate the public for their own ends. Murdoch seems to have been caught out, but we’d be foolish to think his companies are alone in this. In a later posting I will looking at the way the Government and Ministry of Education, in conjunction with the media, use language in shaping our thinking about education and how we inadvertently reinforce this.

What can we learn from this kind of ‘claptrap’?

We must not play by their rules. Instead, we must be able to argue from a position of strength. This will come from having an in depth knowledge and understanding of all the issues around national’s standards, and from having an extensive and rich understanding of learning and pedagogy. Unfortunately I’m often left with the uneasy feeling that far too many principals and teachers just don’t get it.

Your homework is to become very familiar with all the sound arguments against the very worrying developments in education. Become an educational expert.

Your career will depend on it. More importantly, the educational opportunities of present and future generations of New Zealand children depend on us winning this battle. The time to do this is NOW.

To paraphrase Shakespeare:

To fight, or not to fight, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

Ministry determined to subvert education

The voice of creative teachers being destroyed by Ministry requirements.

Allan Alach has given me permission to post his thoughts. I think they are worth a read. A good example of this 'self review' the Ministry is always talking about - but focused on them.

Hi all

Sitting here in a cold, dark house, there's been a power cut, I'm working on my laptop in candle light, and its snowing again. How exciting is that?

I'm needing to let off steam and this email will most likely turn into a blog at some time…

This morning I went to a Principals' workshop organised by two Massey University Mathematics advisers, or whatever their title is in these crazy days. The topic was assessment in strands other than numeracy. The part that really raised my hackles was listening to all the technocratic nonsense being spouted by my principal colleagues. Two of them, I know, are very anti-national standards and quite articulate about their reasons for this.

However listening to the 'assessment' regimes they have set up in their schools to "assess and moderate" mathematics achievement, it seemed to me that there wasn't a great deal of difference between their regimes and those of the standards - possibly differences in expectations (none of this 'aspiration' nonsense) and of course their 'data' wasn't being collated and sent to Wellington

However the instruct/assess/analyse cycle was very apparent, in all the jargon loaded ways espoused by our 'masters' in the MOE. Something was very false, for all their talk of authentic assessments. I'm not sure what it was that pressed my 'codswallop' button, but as Shakespeare wrote "something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

I'm left with this uneasy feeling that this pattern of instruction/assessment does not have its roots in established learning theories and that it reflects some other kind of approach that is akin to the standards movement and its origins in economic supply side education ideology. I'd value your comments here.  

It sure doesn't feel like anything I would consider examples of quality mathematics  programmes (carefully avoiding the jargon of 'best practice"). I guess that I've developed my own feel and vision for mathematics over the 35+ years of my teaching career, and the things I heard today are clashing with this mindset. 

For the life of me, as a teacher who really enjoyed teaching mathematics, I can not see why in depth 'assessment', and the like, is necessary for every area of mathematics. Exposing children to genuine real life (avoiding 'authentic" - ugh!) opportunities to explore and use mathematics is much better


I've had some further thoughts and have a better grasp on the source of my irritation. This relentless talk about assessment, leading to learning, doesn't sit with me. The phrase 'assessment to learn' is an good example of this. That is a very deficit focused model indeed, and the underlying philosophy is measuring 'achievement' (how I hate that word!) and then correcting 'deficiencies'

To me, that is the wrong end of the horse. We should be focusing on feeding the horse with the highest quality nutrition, in  the best possible living conditions, and not spending all our time 'assessing' what comes out. The tendency of principals to buy into this approach, regardless of their attitudes towards the national standards, suggests that they do not have an underlying knowledge of learning on to which to base their school's teaching and learning. 

Alternatively, or equally, their view of education is very didactic and dependent on tight control of school and class learning programmes. I can think of no other reason why they would ask their teachers to spend hours of their valuable 'non-contact' time processing 'data' and working in moderation activities with other teachers in the school in order to develop some kind of 'consistency of judgement.' 

Another thing that really got up my nose yesterday was looking at the results of some research by Massey University.

This research investigated teachers' abilities to form "OTJ" (overall teacher judgement against the standards) assessments of student 'achievement'.
Not surprisingly, teachers were found, in general, to not be very good at this, with the result that there was a high degree of invalidity and unreliablity.

Why would senior academics get involved in what, by any measure, is a process that will never work to the degree the government expect? I guess money may have been a factor, which to me comes under the 'prostitution' label. Integrity? I can't see how any reputable university academic would be a supporter of all this.
The relentless documentation and demands coming out of the ministry makes it very clear that this is a huge project that reinforces my belief about the overall agenda. The NZC seems to have been disregarded completely

The change in MOE terminology in the last couple of years is such that they may as well be speaking a different language and I felt ill listening to it.

There was talk about a meeting of 'providers' held at the Westpac Trust Stadium some weeks back, which apparently was rather heated, to the point where one of the Massey advisers admitted putting her fingers in her ears because of the loudness of the ranting from MOE staff member April Parata. I gather that MOE boss Karen Sewell was also rather aggressive. What gives here?

I've started reading a book I ordered from Amazon "A Measure of Failure: The Political Origins of Standardised Testing" by by Mark J Garrison. I've only got as far as chapter 3, but already it is crystal clear that standards serves a political purpose, and in Garrison's opinion, this is to prove schools are "failing" which in turn can be used to justify 'reform'. By passively going along with standards at any level, we are agreeing to this by default.

So that's my sound off for today…..

I couldn't agree more Allan - Bruce

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The artistry of the teacher.

A book put together by a master teacher - Bill Guild

Ministry bureaucrats, politicians, and many parents  seem to have simplistic view of the teaching learning process. Teachers teach , students learn. Ministry technocrats develop simplistic standards and school 'deliver'  them and then everybody knows how well students are achieving.Yeah right!

The dynamics of every classroom are different.

Every teacher brings with them their own set of beliefs and, often hidden , assumptions about how children learn, and the role of the teacher in the learning process. Even just being in a particular school will effect how teachers teach as they do their best to do what is expected of them.

The diversity of teachers is multiplied by the even greater diversity of  their students. Students come from different cultural backgrounds, home circumstances, different expectations ( based on their previous success or lack of it), and their own unique ways of perceiving and behaving.

Purposeful classrooms are webs of positive relationships but  in other cases rooms are 'tense' until the rooms develops a learning culture - in some cases this never evolves.  To make things even more difficult some children arrive in classes aligned with school expectations while others find classroom life problematic.

Alignment between home school and students is the ideal but where there is conflict this is not aways easily achieved.

Who ever thought teaching was easily - but paradoxically for some it is just that; teachers who have ,what Jerome Bruner writes, a certain 'artistry'. In the right conditions, or cultures,  most teacher can develop this 'artistry'.

Few people have studied life in a classrooms but one helpful research study ( Jackson 1968) researched life in American elementary schools.

Jackson looked at ways teachers judged their  own work and how they gained their satisfaction.

The following are the points he found:

Most teachers emphasized the importance of immediacy - their world revolved around the present -  as a result of their students' spontaneous responses.

The second issue was informality - they emphasized informal relationships with their pupils as being important while still  retaining their responsibility and authority.

Third was autonomy.While they welcomed guidelines and collaboration but they felt most comfortable with classroom doors closed and curricula guides tucked away.

The final point was individuality .Teachers assessed their success as teachers from their personal observations of their pupils.They knew when they were succeeding from the look on their students faces.

Such teachers sound like teachers who deserve to succeed because they are responding all the time to their pupils.

 It was noted what they did not do - they did not have behaviourally precise objectives, nor were they sympathetic to objective evaluation. The sample chosen were often not able to rationalize their approaches - they 'taught through the seat of their pants.'

Teachers, like their pupils, rise ( or settle) to the expectations that the school has of them. Once a school is thrown into higher state of excitation, by a wider vision and a new purpose, then the familiar and humdrum can be transformed. In such situations teachers extend themselves to meet new expectations.

Lessons here for school change models and leadership . Roland Barth has written that true transformation 'comes from within' - it cannot be simply  'delivered' to schools by contractual advisers armed with other peoples' 'best practice'. It is the culture that counts

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

'On the Shoulders of Giants'

Sir Issac Newton - ' If I have seen a little  further it is because I have been standing on the shoulders of Giants.'

Guest blog by Allan Alach

So now we are in a state of limbo, a ‘phony war’, while we wait to see what the next developments will be in the national standards stand-off. With approximately 20% of schools ‘non-compliant’ (and, by inference, probably an equal percentage ‘compliant’ in name only), this makes for a substantial statement of position by New Zealand schools against standards.

As I’ve indicated previously, the government has too much political capital invested in ‘standards’, ‘raising achievement’, and all those other meaningless phrases, to give in now. If the Minister of Education’s attack on the integrity of kindergarten associations is a precursor of the approach she will use against schools, we can expect considerable misrepresentations of the situation, as well as attacks on people and institutions such as the New Zealand Principals Federation. Kelvin Smythe has posted an article about the Minister’s attack on kindergartens, and the role of the NZ Herald in mindlessly repeating this. A warning here?

The case against standards, in any country, has been well made by many people. The puzzling question is why many/most teachers in these countries are not fighting back as a powerful block. Last weekend’s “Save Our Schools” march in Washington DC, which featured Matt Damon’s excellent speech, illustrated this. Where was everyone?

“Washington D.C. is less than a day’s drive from hundreds of thousands of teachers. Why was Matt Damon fighting for their profession while they stayed home? Make no mistake ladies and gentlemen. We no longer engaged in genteel academic debates over differing approaches to spelling instruction. There are well-funded powerful forces out to destroy public education and deprive educators of their livelihoods. Despite this, most educators remain silent and defenseless. The “bold ones” fantasize about Twitter saving the world while their dignity, expertise, paychecks and pensions are being attacked. Educators, if you will not stand up and take care of yourselves, how can we count on you to care for other people’s children? If you will not stand between students and the madness of “the system,” who will?”

It is timely, therefore, to do some exploring of various themes around this concern in this and future articles.

Some months ago, a comment was posted in reply to one of Bruce’s postings, which, amongst other things, complained about people who have long left working in schools, criticising principals for their actions, or lack of actions, over national standards.

There is an implied viewpoint here, that only those in the firing line have relevance in dealing with today’s educational issues, and that the voices, vision, and depth of experience of others, including our retired colleagues, is not relevant.

To be fair, I’m not sure that meaning was intended in the comment. However it does open the door to some reflection of how New Zealand education, and schooling, got to where it is today, and of the values and principles that have made New Zealand a world leader.

The present government’s agenda, and the introduction of standards, and all that goes with them, places all this at risk. More than ever before, we are dependent on the voices of those who are able to look at this from a background of history, understanding, knowledge and experience. Those of us in the the trenches are too busy coping, and therefore less able to look around to see where the battle came from and where it is going.

A key person in the development of education was the American philosopher, psychologist and educationalist, John Dewey, and his influence exists in New Zealand education to this day.

“He believed that students thrive in an environment where they are allowed to experience and interact with the curriculum, and all students should have the opportunity to take part in their own learning”

and also

the purpose of education should not revolve around the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills, but rather the realization of one’s full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good.” (Wikipedia).

Sound familiar? New Zealand Curriculum 2007?

This philosophy was brought to New Zealand schools by Dr C.E. Beeby (described as ‘the greatest achiever in New Zealand education”,  in conjunction with then Minister of Education, Peter Fraser. Fraser would be well in the running for New Zealand’s best Minister of Education. I doubt that the present incumbent would be a starter in this field.

Fraser and Beeby’s vision is still hard to beat:

 The government’s objective, broadly expressed, is that all persons, whatever their level of ability, whether they live in town or country, have a right as citizens to a free education of the kind for which they are best fitted and to the fullest extent of their powers. Schools that are to cater for the whole population must offer courses that are as rich and varied as are the needs and abilities of the children who enter them.”

From this, Fraser and Beeby established the primary school system that continued from the late 1903s until the institution of “Tomorrow’s Schools” 21 years ago. The accompanying educational philosophy survived the achievement objective wars of the 1990s, and was re-developed with a 21st century focus in the New Zealand Curriculum. Our challenge now is to nurture and protect this taonga in the face of the current attacks.

Under Beeby’s management as the Director of Education, schools became far more child centred and the curriculum was aimed at stimulating child creativity, expression, and imagination. The advisory service, as it used to be, provided assistance in all areas of the curriculum, including in the arts. That’s a stunning and tragic comparison with the deathly  and stultifying focus on literacy and numeracy ‘achievement’ that we are now left with.

Anyone reading this blog who attended a New Zealand primary school between 1940 and 1990 is a product of Beeby’s work, which in turn was a development of John Dewey’s vision. Reflect on this, next time you read the NZC - there’s that link right back to the early years of last century.

This isn’t to say that all schools were examples of best practice in that period. As is the case now, the range of performance was wide, and there were plenty of inspectors, schools, principals and teachers, who failed to live up to Beeby’s dream.

However the focus and vision was there for those who seized the moment, and none did this better than Elwyn Richardson at Oruaiti School in the far north of New Zealand in the 1950s. His book “In the Early World” (now republished by NZCER) should be compulsory reading for every teacher.  Kelvin Smythe has written extensively about Elwyn Richardson, on the Schools page of his Networkonnet website.

Those who have followed Bruce over the years will also be aware that Bruce too, has strongly promoted Elwyn Richardson, such as in this posting: Reclaiming the joy of learning and in this one: Whose learning is it?

More than just reflecting Elwyn Richardson, Bruce and Kelvin, and many others, have built on his work over the years. Online resources such as this Leading and Learning blog, Bruce’s other website http://www.leading-learning.co.nz/,  and Kelvin’s Networkonnet, provide extensive advice and guidance on best ways to truly enable children to develop their full potential. Further to this, Australian educator Phil Cullen’s website http://primaryschooling.net/  has a richness of resources to reinforce this educational vision. There’s enough on these websites to keep you fully engaged and supported in developing a truly wonderful school or classroom.

So where’s all this heading, you may ask? Let’s head back to the blog comment I mentioned earlier in this article.

The point I’m making is that those ‘who have long left schools’ have an incredible depth of knowledge, experience and wisdom in the development of the whole child. Because the present push to standards based schooling runs contrary to research and evidence about what really works in children’s learning, these senior colleagues are very well placed to see the dangers ahead, and to alert us to their presence. Their extensive work in education provides an historical context that was gained through time and experience, now enriched by an external perspective that has been enhanced by having the space to reflect.

The world is somewhat upside down here. One would normally expect the elders to be the conservative forces “they didn’t do that in my day” but in these crazy times, the reverse is applying. The message being strongly promoted by Bruce Hammonds, Kelvin Smythe, Lester Flockton, Warwick Elley, Ivan Snook, Phil Cullen, Diane Ravitch, et al, represents a fight against the conservatism of standards, and against the return to the pre-Dewey view of education. 

There’s been a lot of talk about 21st century education over recent years. I suggest that the time for talk has long passed, given that we are now eleven years into this century, and that babies born today will have a reasonable chance of living to 2100.  Paradoxically, the 20th century ideas of Dewey, et al, can easily be adapted to meet today’s and tomorrow’s needs and this gives great value and relevance to our educational elders.

Isaac Newton’s famous quote If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants” shows us the way forward.

Our challenge is to stand on the shoulders of these educational giants to look into the future.

Where the proponents of standards based schooling are standing, as they peer back into the past, is a matter for speculation.

How a return to the educational values of the 19th century is supposed to prepare children for their future is beyond me.

Strange times indeed.