Friday, August 26, 2016

Paradigm Shift badly needed in Education/: Teachers are 'burning out'; we need to listen to the 'voice' of our students; and the need for Inquiry based creative learning.

Time to escape the box!

Education Readings

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Paradigm Shift Urgently Needed In Education
Childhood stress levels are at an all time high.
‘The way to combat this childhood suffering is by creating a paradigm shift in how we currently educate our children. One which addresses both the universoul nature (our inner essence) and intellectual development of children. In the 21st century, children need hope and inspiration. They need guidance toward inner peace as much as they need guidance towards academic achievement.’

No grades, no timetable: Berlin school turns teaching upside down
Pupils choose their own subjects and motivate themselves, an approach some say should be rolled out across Germany.
‘The philosophy behind these innovations is simple: as the requirements of the labour market are changing, and smartphones and the internet are transforming the ways in which young people process information, the school’s headteacher, Margret Rasfeld, argues, the most important skill a school can pass down to its students is the ability to motivate themselves.’

Why Are Teachers Burning Out?
Many teachers feel suffocated by the teaching profession because of the intrusiveness of curriculum, district and federal mandates, behavior management systems, state testing and a constant re-vamping of all of the above. Very few of these norms” are ever generated by the adults on school campuses, and that disconnect creates a sense of disempowerment. 

Cognitive Offloading: How the Internet Is Changing the Human Brain
‘Though the ease of acquiring information in the modern world has improved our lives in so many ways, it is also changing how our brain works and processes information. Some wonder when taken altogether, whether the results are better or worse for us. A new study published in the journal Memory looks into the process of cognitive offloading,” or relying on Google, GPS, and other external devices for what we used to use our memories for. It considers the impact on learning and problem solving as well.’

The voice of the child in 21st Century education matters, now more than ever
‘In education systems today there is a real danger of children’s voices being swamped by those of
bureaucrats, economists and politicians. I believe to ensure we remain responsive to learners we have to listen and respond to what children have to say about the world around them. My particular concern is for the voices of young children and children with autism to be heard.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Personalized Learning: Enabling Student Voice and Choice Through Projects
"When you're able make learning relevant to a student it helps them want to do it and not just because that's what's expected. The whole focus of personalized learning is that students see the relevance of what it is that they're doing. The outcome is students are engaged, and they're enjoying the learning process."

Inquiry-Based Learning: From Teacher-Guided to Student-Driven
Tech in the field
Ralston educators are building a culture of inquiry, empowering students to ask questions like:
   How do I problem solve through this?
   How do I persevere?
   How do I understand the cause-and-effect relationships that occur in every field?

Curriculum Conversations: 7 Do's and Don’ts
One way to help students own their role (power) in the curriculum-making process is for teachers
to include them in the conversation. Here are seven conversational do's and don'ts to consider when involving students in curriculum decisions:

Fraud, mismanagement, lies, failure: John Oliver takes on Charter Schools
If you’ve not watched this, here’s your chance. if you have watched this, it’s well worth watching again.

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

An inquiry based classroom
Teacher : Deborah Frewnch
‘How is your inquiry programme going?' seems to be a common question asked by principals these days.Behind such a question seems the idea that inquiry is another programme to include in the school day along with literacy and numeracy.Two things are wrong with this.Firstly inquiry isn't a programme to simply be added to the daily programme rather it is a disposition ( their 'default' way of learning) that children are born with until it is 'flipped' by life experiences and by schooling.Secondly the teachers I have admired over the years see inquiry as the basis for all learning - literacy and numeracy included. Today many teachers ( and schools) have allowed literacy and numeracy to all but 'gobble up' the entire school day. National Standards will further dissipate this missing inquiry dimension.’

Don't touch the bananas!!!!
Cultures condition
The power of culture – don’t touch the bananas,
‘It is always amazing to see how exposure to an environment, or culture, can change how we think without us even knowing – I guess this is called conditioning. New ideas always rely on those individuals who can see reality without the blinkers. The truth however is not always welcome and it is always easier to go along. As Oscar Wilde once said, ‘The truth makes you very unpopular at the club.’”

Howard Gardner on creativity – are schools encouraging creativity? The challenge of creativity.
Howard Gardner:Being creative is vital but it isn’t always easy.
‘Gardner says his audiences expect him to fully endorse creativity but creativity in human history was ‘neither sought after nor rewarded’Human societies are naturally conservative – and
Charles Darwin
schools particularly so.
Humans strive to maintain their current position and in schools this mitigates against educational innovation and interdisciplinary leaps Many people we regard as great thinkers had in their day a difficult time with their ideas –  Galilee Galileo comes to mind but at least he wasn’t burnt at the stake but had to officially recant his ideas. People like Bach and Vincent van Gogh, Freud and Darwin were not at first appreciated.’

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The destruction of public education in NZ Time to make a stand!

Teachers and principals need to find their collective voice and fight back against the current destruction of the public education system - a system  once based on the centrality of education as a common good.

At the New Zealand Primary Principals Federation's Annual meeting the warnings about the negative future scenarios  couldn't have been made more clear.. 

One after the other  highly respected international educators made it very clear - do not follow the failed reforms that have been been imposed in their countries as part of a neo-liberal 'market forces' agenda/ideology.

Unfortunately, since the introduction of Tomorrows Schools, we are well on the way to making the same mistakes.

 Tomorrows Schools, introduced by the then Labour Government, held out a promise of  democratic neighborhood schools. Schools  were to be freed from the dead hand of central bureaucracy  and in the case of primary schools, local Education Boards. Schools were to become 'self managing'.

They were exciting times  In the excitement voices  warning of the consequences of such devolution were sadly ignored .

Behind the changes were the neo- liberal beliefs  of the need for less state regulation, the need to privatize public services and belief in  private enterprise  to solve all problems.    Neo-liberalism is based on a belief that unrestricted competition, driven by self interest, leads to innovation and  that the wealth created in the process will 'trickle down' enhancing the welfare of all. Changes were premised on the need for
competition and choice.

 A quote from the NZPPF Conference from the president

First they manufacture the ‘crisis’ ‘in New Zealand the ‘one in five failing’ and  ...’students are leaving school and can’t read, write or do maths’. Once the crisis gets public support then in comes the political solution.
The government chooses to ignore this?

 The ‘crisis’  is framed as teachers not doing their job properly, teachers unions protecting them, not being accountable and not having proper standards. Then in come the standards in literacy and numeracy and suddenly we have a standardized measure of a schools ‘performance’.

Next in line are privatised charter schools to solve the problem – and to make a profit. '

It is now now the way things are, neo-liberalisn has been normalised, but increasingly it is being found wanting. 

While a few have got richer the gap between rich and poor has widened along with  the social problems that result from such inequality. New Zealand is becoming a divided society - private need (or greed) has replaced a concern for the common good. The one in five failing can be identified by their post codes!

Sooner or later people must see that things need to change if all citizen are to  feel part of ,and
The inequality gap
are able to contribute to, the the development of a more caring and creative society
. Private enterprise values are destructive, not only for those who have difficulty  finding having enough to live on ( and a house to live in), but also the sustainability of our natural environment.

Schools have been caught up in these changes and need to be seen as fighting for a fairer and more equitable society.

As part of a neo-liberal competitive society based on choice schools needed to be able to be compared.  In other counties  the data available to parents  to assist them in making this choice is provided through national or state standardized testing and published league tables. In New Zealand the data for choice is provided by published school results on National Standards and NCEA level 2 achievement targets.  National Standard  and NCEA are both  open to 'gaming'.

National Standards have now become the default curriculum in our schools

 As schools focus on achieving results in National Standards other equally important  areas of
Education is more than data
the curriculum are neglected..
National testing , as destructive as it has been shown, at least does not require the time, energy and documentation required by National Standards.

Schools  are now infected with a audit and surveillance culture that ironically limits the very initiative, enterprise and creativity that the neo-liberal ideology promised.

Freed from earlier bureaucratic oversight by Tomorrows Schools  schools now find them in a restricting compliance environment. Out of the frying pan into the fire!! Visits by the Education Review Office ensure schools follow Ministry directives and targets.

The original devolution of schools to provide initiative and flexibility has evolved into situations whee schools do their best to implement the ever changing directives/targets of the Ministry and
Might as well paint a yellow star on them
the Minist
er.  This has created what one writer has called 'a corrosion of character' as schools try to interpret what it is the Minister wants. Such an environment is destructive to creativity and enterprise. 'The trouble with targets ( in any area ) is not the ones you achieve but the ones you don't see because you weren't looking'.

Talking to those in teaching and principal postilions there is a growing level of unhealthy stress in our schools.

As the competitive ideology is being found to be counter productive to  sharing of ideas between school ( once a feature before Tomorrows Schools) the Minister  has introduced her Communities of Schools (CoS)

As currently  structured they are more 'communities of compliance or control' 

It seems if schools don't  join such a community they with miss out on professional development and those that do join can only get professional development from Ministry 'approved' providers; 'Free
Trust me I know what I am doing
market Stalinism' at best.

Now we have the Minister pushing the idea of on line learning . In America, the home of such ideas,the provision of private enterprise on line learning, along with charter schools, have not realized their potential. a

When Tomorrows Schools was introduced the phrase heard was 'good people poor system' - it seems little  has changed? Worse System!

Patronizing but supportive bureaucrats have been replaced by out of touch technocrats that few trust.

The Minister on a rent Q &A  TV programme is proud of the 'real achievement gains made' based on her limited achievement targets limited to literacy and numeracy standards.  This misplaced emphasis on her narrow standards mean that many students do not have the opportunity to develop their unique talents and gifts. Evidently there are now new standards for years 9 and 10 -
ERO on target hunt
the madness goes on.

 The Minister now has the data ( based on here limited National Standards)  to 'measure how much learning a students gets in a year' and  believes for those that are not achieving  to 'catch up' so as to 'stop their learning debt compounding'. The technocrats have developed a set of criteria to identify failing children - bur one wonders what about the students who are having learning problems that the criteria might exclude. This obvious targeting of  parents and their children could have negative consequences. The data she talks of  sounds impressive but in reality is limited  shallow and easily manipulated.

We have an 'opportunity gap' not an 'achievement gap'.

This targeting misses the point. Students from the lower socio- economic groups do not suffer from an'achievement gap' but more an 'opportunity gap' and to  for those students to archive  their unique talents they need a rich stimulating and personalized  curriculum the very curriculum the emphasis on standards and targeting makes difficult.

Schools kill imagination
A quote from Einstein comes to mind: 

'If you judge a fish ability its ability to climb trees it will live its whole life believing it is stupid'

The Minister  seems to thing that here targeting with recognize that children are unique  but the results of her policies all lead to the very standardization that Tomorrows Schools was supposed to get rid of.There was more potential for creativity,diversity and collaboration in the decades before Tomorrows Schools.

Children's lack of achievement has a lot to do before the students enter the school gate.

The problems that beset our school have a lot to do with the difficult home circumstances of students and parents. The government , however, likes to ignore this situation , a situation created by their own neo-liberal polices and would rather place the blame of teachers and schools.
The NZ Curriclum

The only chance for creativity and diversity to be integral to education depend on a change of government and the  full implementation of the  creativity underpinning the New Zealand Curriculum.

MLEs, ILEs, and now FLEs.

The development of Modern Learning Environment ( MLEs) or  Innovative Learning Environment (ILEs) or now Flexible Learning Environment provide a challenging opportunity to develop rich learning environments. They, however, must be more than the provisions of buildings and  modern information technology.

 To be successful such environments need a creative rich curriculum - one that 're-frames literacy and numeracy in the service of authentic inquiry. If  this done they have the potential to become true learning communities of artists and scientists. 

Thankfully there are still innovative schools and teaches  providing such rich learning environments.

Escape the standards box
A real change of direction is needed.

The current government is undermining our schools ability to ensure all students leave school with positive learning identities and their unique talents and gifts identified.

 Schools cannot transform themselves to create the conditions for all students to thrive in the future when they are distracted by  culture of surveillance and compliance.

Are principals and teachers up to the challenge?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Education Readings / innovative schools/ creativity/ Dr Suess/ Estonia the new Finland/ and the lost art of play

Entering the creative era

By Allan Alach

I welcome suggested articles, so if you come across a gem, email it to me at

Which Is More Difficult: World’s Toughest Sport Or Teaching?
‘Speaking of deforming and fracturing, the figures for teachers’ careers are starting to look scarily more like the short-lived careers of elite athletes. Not because they ‘get old and slow’ and lose the
A world wide issue
athletic edge but simply because they get bruised and drained by the emotional highs and lows, the expectations, shaped largely by societal expectations but (soon) internalised as their own, incessant demands on their mental and physical capacities and more.’

A true educational warrior
My Epiphany Moment. A story.
‘My thinking moments changed to considering the differences between assessment and testing and evaluation and appraisement and teaching. I needed to sort myself out. Here I was:  professing to be a teacher, a lover of learning, a pillar of a thinking community and I was violating the sensitivities of children, defying the  conventions of confidentially and of morality, treating kids like robots; while, in other situations, I was constantly preaching that primary education was  the most intense, busiest, most noble caring profession the world had ever seen.’

The 13 most innovative schools in the world
Thanks to Tessa Calder for this article.
A floating school
‘Innovation in education can look like lots of things, like incorporating new technology or teaching methods, going on field trips, rejecting social norms, partnering with the local community. It can be a floating school in an impoverished region, like the one in Lagos, Nigeria. Or it can be a school that's blind to gender, like Egalia, in Stockholm, Sweden.
Keep scrolling to see what the future of education can, and probably should, look like.’

Research Finds The Effects Of Homework On Elementary School Students, And The Results Are Surprising
‘While homework has a significant benefit at the high school level, the benefit drops off for middle school students and there’s no benefit at the elementary school level,” agrees Etta Kralovec, an education professor at the University of Arizona.’

How to Become and Remain a Transformational Teacher
However talented, no one is a natural-born teacher. Honing the craft takes significant care and effort, not just by the individual, but also by the school at large. Though experience does matter, it matters only to the extent that a teacher -- regardless of how long he or she has been in the classroom -- commits to continued professional development to refresh his or her status as a transformational teacher.’

Contributed by Bruce Hammonds:

Why mastery matters and creativity shouldn’t be easy
‘Being creative makes us happy – that’s true – but not just because we just enjoy dreaming up new ideas and having flights of fancy. In fact, research tells us that what we really love about creativity is the daily drudgery – the slow and frequently painful trudge towards getting it done and mastering it.

13+ unusually simple techniques to get creative when you are in a rut
Very applicable in your classroom.
‘For businesses and content writers, such creativity and originality can often be a distant thought as
we battle with deadlines and other pressing needs. Yet most people desperately want to know how to be creative. Especially on days that seem like you are totally uninspired or stuck in a creative rut.

Is Estonia the new Finland?
‘Most educators and policymakers can rattle off a list of international educational powerhouses: Korea. Singapore. Japan. Finland.
But there’s an overlooked member of the list: Estonia. Even as educators from around the world flock to Finland to discover its magic formula, Estonia, just a two-hour ferry ride away, has not aroused the same degree of interest.’

Doodling with Dr Seuss: how the cat got his hat
Do we fully appreciate his work?
‘In teaching millions the joy of literature, Geisel also opened up a wonderfully unique perspective on the world, where life is funny and beautiful, and where topsy-turviness shows us how things should be.  As the author himself once said: If you can see things out of whack, then you can see how things can be in whack.”’

From Bruce’s ‘goldie oldies’ file:

Tapping the wisdom between schools.
Tap into local creative teachers - the real innovators
‘Over the decades innovation and creativity has shifted from isolated creative often misunderstood individuals, who network with each other for mutual support, to whole schools development where schools develop a common language or learning culture across the school.The future development is for teachers to share ideas between schools. Ministries of Education worldwide, after experimenting with the ideas of competing schools and 'top down change,’ have now realised the real power is to be gained through collaboration at the lowest level.’

Losing the art of play
Have you been in a toy shop recently? Very uninspiring.
‘A cultural historian, Howard Chudwell, believes that from 1955 , due to the marketing of toys, children's play became focused on the toys themselves. Toys have replaced imaginative improvised activity as the focus of play. New commercial toys provide restricted scripts 'shrinking the size of children's imaginative space' - and owning such toys becomes all important.’
Most valuable resource

School Reform: more political than educational
‘I would think that if we had focused on recognising, and sharing, the ideas of creative teachers and innovative schools in the first place, and if the various governments had seen their role as creating the conditions and providing resources, we would be in a far better position than we are in now. And, as well, we would have teachers who have faith in their ability to develop new approaches to teaching and learning without distorting and disabling the total system.’

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Thoughts about the future of education in New Zealand

A view from the edge.

I have been asked to share my thoughts about education to a group of rural Taranaki principals. Thinking about it I am not sure if I am a relic from  a past age or a person thinking of what might be. I certainly am not impressed with the standardized, target centred direction of the current government; Free market Stalinism.

Whatever I say  will need to be considered advisably

Sir Ken Robinson's new book
I think I have a good 'backstory' to use an in word. Over the decades I have been a school adviser in science and art, a classroom teacher, a school principal, Teaching Fellow Palmerston North Teachers College ( now Massey University School of Education) completing my career as an independent school adviser. I have also presented ideas about quality teaching and learning throughout New Zealand and at several International Conferences. My swan song was a keynote  presentation at the Inspired Impact Conference in Palmerston North 2011 at which Sir Ken Robinson was also a key note speaker.

Over the decades I have shared the ideas of creative teachers through magazines ( Primary Arts)  E-zines ( leading and Learning) and currently through this blog so although I am well and truly retired I still love reading and thinking about education - or what it could be if only....

An idea we need to keep  in mind; we are born to learn
Born to explore, learn and make sense of experience

We are programmed to learn from birth. If students appear not to learn then it is over to schools to present an environment to ensure this drive to learn is kept alive. I appreciate, however, that the difficult home circumstances of many children makes this a challenging task particularly as the government seems to ignore poverty as an important factor.

The big question is what  attributes or dispositions to we want our students to leave our classrooms or school with?

The big challenge is to identify and amplify the gifts and talents our students have. To ensure all students leave school with a positive learning identity.

To do this requires the establishment of stimulation learning environments that expose students to a range of opportunities to explore. Jerome Bruner has written 'teaching is the canny art of intellectual temptation' and 'people get good at what they get good at'.
Standardized  education

Achieving this challenge  is in conflict with the imposition of National Standards and NCEA targets which narrow  curriculum choices and ignore other equally important aspects of learning.  As well it is all too easy to 'game' the system! Business 'guru' Margaret Wheatley has written 'the trouble with targets is not that the ones you achieve bit the ones you miss because you weren't looking' and to quote Albert Einstein ' If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid'.

Our schools are full of such 'stupid' people and rather than introducing behaviour programmes to control such students we need to focus on how to engage them,

Ask teachers or parents.

I am impressed with the curriculum of New Tech High  ( check out this link). The principal Larry Rosenstock asks teachers to think of two or three positive learning experiences they had at school and after sharing them figure out the common elements.  From this develop a school curriculum based on
such ideas ; an idea for education at any level.

Worth doing at a staff  or parent meeting.

Better still what about asking the students themselves .
 (This is a link to  extract below)

The kids right in front of us often have the most useful information within them -- information that can help us reach and teach them, help us engage them, and that can help us have a fantastic year together.

What to Ask?

Here are several of my favorite questions to ask kids of all ages:
Neglected resource
  1. What would be the most useful thing for me to know about you as a student?
  2. What do you wish was different about school?
  3. Describe a moment in school last year when you felt really engaged. Why do you think that moment was such a positive one for you?
  4. What do you think teachers think about you, and what do you wish they'd think about you?
  5. Tell me about a teacher who you feel knew you well. What kind of student were you in his or her class? What did he or she do to get to know you?
  6. If you could build a school, what would it look like?
  7. What do you wish I would ask you so that I can be a good teacher for you?
  8. What makes a weekend day great for you?
When we ask questions, and when we're genuinely curious about what students say, we are communicating an authentic desire to get to know who they are beyond their test scores and beyond what other teachers may share. The questioning and the quiet listening communicate our care for our student
Some  schools make use of the ideas of James Beane to develop a curriculum based on students concerns and questions.
None of the above is new . Creative teachers past and present have develop 'emergent' curriculum
based on such ideas.  Unfortunately current Ministry requirements and the power of the status quo means that such creative school programmes are not common.

Imagine starting a school from scratch!

'If all your dreams came true in schools what would happen' Joseph Drieson National Radio 26 July

The 'wisdom of the crowds'; 10/4 voting.

A few years ago I was involved with local school that combined primary and secondary students. The development was led by consultants Dr John Edwards (Aust) and Dr Bill Martin (USA).

 The staff were individually asked to list all the things the school needed to do to make it a 'great school' . The staff then went around a circle giving their ideas, one at a time, ( no interaction from other staff members). After all the  ideas were listed some were combined but only  with the agreement of those who provided them.

The consultants then introduced 10:4  voting as a democratic way of deciding which actions to further research and implement. Each member had 10 votes and could place their votes wherever they liked. They could only use  4 votes for two  rounds and 2 in the final round.

Staff volunteered to for action groups and had two term to research and come up with ideas to implement school wide. A great process if done properly.
Learning is personal

'The three Bucket' curriculum;  do fewer things in depth.

One idea Bill Martin introduced was for things required to be taught to be placed in three buckets :  things are really important/ important./ less imp[ortant.  Then throw away the last two buckets. Martin used  this model in his failing American high school resulting in excellent success.

Final thoughts.

Already mentioned - do fewer things in depth. I see schools as a continual .
Imagine a new school
process of projects similar to science , maths and technology fairs, art performances and displays.

Place the focus on implementing the New Zealand Curriculum. The phrase that I like is for students to be able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge'. Endure full range of Learning areas are covered. (Link to New Zealand Curriculum challenges)

Appreciate that there is not an 'achievement gap' but more an 'opportunity gap'. This requires stimulating curriculum challenges.
Stop constraining learning

Integrate Learning Areas as appropriate. Check to see all the strand in each area are covered . Exposure to all  Learning Areas is vital if all students talents and gifts are to be identified and valued. This is particular challenge for secondary schools and  for school developing MLEs/ILEs or FLEs.

Get rid of ability groups in reading and maths in primary school and  fragmented subject teaching in secondary. 'Re frame literacy and numeracy to provide skills to be used in content studies as much as is possible. An interesting link for integrating learning)

Develop an inquiry across the curriculum approach. All Learning Areas have a common inquiry 'how to learn' process. I am a believer in the Learning in Science Approach ( what questions do the students have/ what are their current theories or'prior ideas'./ plan activities or experiments to  prove or challenge ideas/ reflect on new understanding.
Larry Rosenstock New Tech High

Make use of the multiple intelligence ideas of Howard Gardner when planing studies

Make developing the NZC  Key Competencies a feature of all learning. ( Link to onschool integrating Key Competencies well.)

Integrate modern information technology into learning as appropriate. Oversold and under utilized?

Value creativity/personalize learning. Move away from formulaic teaching.  WALTS,  learning criteria, feedback and the like, if overdone, produce clever conformity. Add one extra criteria 'is my work different from the others?'
Two great books

Develop more appropriate means of assessing students. Assess students through presentations ( where students have to explain and defend their learning), exhibitions, portfolios and demonstrators. Students can be part of developing criteria.

Help students surprise themselves. Creative teachers , through sensitive scaffolding of help and sensitive feedback are able to help students achieve their personal best. Quality learning occurs when students and teachers work together  - co- constructiveness teaching.

Develop the school and classrooms as stimulating environments that celebrates student achievement. The  school and classroom environments provide the main 'message system' for students and visitors alike. Schools/classrooms should integrate aspects of science laboratories, art studios. media centres, museums and  studios displaying  a full range of work from across the curriculum.
All sorts of intelligences

A More Informed Vision - a 21stC learning centred education.

The above ideas combine the best of primary student teaching and the depth of content of secondary education  Neither just student centred, which can result in shallow learning,  nor secondary subject centred but the best of both worlds - learning centred.

All easy to say but very hard to do.

'If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.'
Albert Einstein

Just change 'ability to climb a tree' with National Standards!

And for teachers:

'It is hard to remember you came to drain the swamp when you are up to your backside in alligators'

'Teachers have two important things to take care of, their time and their energy waste it on bull**** and they can't focus on teaching.'

Tell that to Hekia and her  Ministry and ERO thought police.