Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Ernesto and the 'experts!'

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Ernesto Sirolli wants bureaucracy to become more responsive to individual situations – a ‘one size fit all’ mentality destroys initiative and potential entrepreneurs.

Instead Ernesto wants to develop passionate people but, he warns the bureaucrats, ‘passionate people are irrational people, people who do what they do, not because they seek comfortable, secure, predictable lives, but because they are propelled by inner feelings which make them take action.’

Ernesto pioneered a novel approach to local development based on 'facilitating' the transformation of local good ideas into viable businesses. He argues that society should give up its pushy and paraniod pursuit of trying to motivate young people.Instead, we should let them discover what really grabs them, and then be available with the best knowledge and support.

Those who work with people have responsibity, he says, is to ensure, ‘people grow, transform dreams into rewarding work- about bringing changes in society by directly tapping into the source of innovation and energy.’

This of course includes all teachers and schools.

Unfortunately most organizations reflect the apposite thinking believing that, ‘good ideas come from the top’. This may have been OK in the ‘industrial era’ and for ‘traditional’ schools but the future will require, ‘the mobilization of every ounce of intelligence…the brain power of all.’

And this, with our current school 25% failure rate, is not currently being achieved.

New organizational thinking ‘taps into the talents of all so all can contribute’. Applying this to all organizations is the real challenge. Facilitation, Ernesto believes, is the key. Facilitation is a way of tapping into this pool of talent and is a particular challenge to all those who work in education.

Facilitation is the basis of ‘person centred’ or ‘client centred’ approaches and Ernesto writes, in many cases, it is about ‘removing obstacles and having faith in the ability of all people.’

The trouble, he writes, our institutions, which are theoretically about ‘serving the public’, often do so in autocratic ways; so much so it is, ‘almost impossible to conceive a different system.’

All too often in education we, parents and teachers, assume responsibity for learning outcomes and by doing this we remove the initiative from the learners. Ernesto says, ‘we forget that ‘adulthood has to be achieved through their deeds and need to excel.’

As it is, he says, ‘the great majority of individuals resent what was imposed on them during their years of formal education. A good education system couldn’t exist without believing that firstly people want to learn, and that they know what they want to learn. We should begin trusting them rather than trying to achieve the impossible dreams of the planners and bureaucrats.’

‘Formal school could be used as the place where you meet with the facilitators who will help you shape your own unique path towards personal and professional fulfillment.’

This leads Ernesto to say that, ‘such a belief in peoples intrinsic wish to grow, allows for a change of attitude towards education, the national curriculum would be tempered by a degree of responsiveness which is not seen in today’s schools.’ Particularly, he continues, ‘with the absurdity and waste of talent focusing the same curriculum on really different people.’

Ernesto believes that, ‘from an economic point of view it is important for politicians and schools to realize that the so called ‘non-academically gifted’ kids who now fall between the cracks of the current system are as important and precious as those who go onto ‘higher’ education,’

To respond to each individual student’s needs require ‘experts’ (at whatever level) to ‘resist the temptation of deciding what is good for people.’ Ernesto believes we should be, ‘very skeptical of ‘experts’, who only use mathematical data to create images of a perfect society,’

The answer, according to Ernesto, is for ‘bureaucrats to stop patronizing us, stop pushing us around, stop deciding what is good for us, and administering it whether we like it or not.’ ‘Experts’ ought not to be trusted without question, ‘we need to know why we should take a certain action. We have the right to ask questions and get answers.’

As a result, ‘bureaucrats will increasingly think more carefully about imposing anything on anybody’. ‘Today more and more people, individuals, the ‘battlers’, are able to take on the bureaucracy on and get some justice’. ‘The tide is turning’, Ernesto believes, ‘away from authoritarianism in every field’. ‘The trend is towards respect and empowerment.’

The challenge for ‘our’ future orientated ‘experts’ is to remodel ‘our’ institutions to facilitate people to grow on their own. This, he says, will require ‘a new breed of professional bureaucrats who are not only natural ‘peoples people’, but who are trained to listen and respect’.

As Sirolli says this will result in revolution of Copernican magnitude.

And when this happens we will create a society that can capture and utilize the energy of all people to ‘propel our society through exciting uncharted waters.’

I am with Ernesto!

Ernesto's web site

Friday, December 23, 2005

Ideas of Ernesto Sirolli

Author of
'Ripples on the Zambezi' Posted by Picasa

A few years ago I heard Ernesto Sirolli give a presentation at a Reading Conference and was so impressed with what he said I bought his book ‘Ripples on the Zambezi’.

Sirolli an Italian born Australian Enterprise Facilitator is now based in the USA and the title of his book related to an failed ‘expert’ development in Africa. This crop development falied because the 'experts' didn’t listen to local knowledge resulting in the crop being trampled by hippopotamuses, who after trampling it, disappeared into the Zambezi, leaving only ripples. This analogy sums up Ernesto’s opinion of imposed ‘expert’ answers ‘delivered’ without an appreciation of the culture and ideas of local people.

As a result of his experience Ernesto has a passionate disbelief in bureaucracy and believes strongly in a 'person centred approach' to development and education. Ernesto believes that when ‘passion is the starting point skills can be learnt, doors can be unlocked, and dream can become reality.’ The governments, he says, can only influence through providing infrastructure and that the facilitator is a person who helps ‘transform the dream to reality’ only by using a ‘person centred approach.’ His message is that, ‘we have to respect other cultures, we have to wait to be invited, we have to listen with an open mind, and we have to leave behind our assumptions of superiority.’

The challenge is always to maximize individuals to their full potential and if this can be done Ernesto believes there would be ‘a revolution of Copernican magnitude,’ and that such fulfilled people would become in turn ‘good citizens’.

This philosophy requires not ‘experts’ to plan, or control people lives, but instead by building the ‘ideal society’ through respecting the unique needs and abilities of the people involved.

In education this is student centred learning and to be achieved it is more about ‘removing obstacles’ imposed by 'experts' and then by creating the conditions so that all students can take a growing responsibity for their own lives.

Ernesto has developed a great distaste for authority and manipulative people and his advice instead is to go with the energy and imagination of people.This is based on a universal need of people to want to become something, to enjoy their work and to gain self respect by ‘performing beautifully.’ The facilitator’s role is to help people acquire the skills to transform passion into rewarding work.

In this role, Ernesto writes, it is important not to be seen as an ‘expert’ or power figure – it is about being an advocate for other people’s ideas and dependency is to be avoided at all costs.

Facilitators who succeed have ‘no expectations, no plans, and no performance outcomes. They tread gently, they force nothing, and they hardly leave a footprint on the sand. Things happen by magic – but it is not magic.’

‘Things happen because they have faith in people because they are positive about their work and serene in their manner. They carry it out. They love to see others succeed.’ The success of any community must be based on the energy, imagination and skill of its people in pursuit of excellence; and a community that values the contribution of every single person.

The Government's role is to support such growth by being proactive (‘top down’) and responsive (‘bottom up’).The role of the planner is, ‘to plan for freedom, to plan to make things possible, to plan for flexibility and reconsidering, ; planning to be surprised’. Too often planners destroy initiative causing dependency when what is required is to draw on the passions and talents of others. A great facilitator ‘obliges the ‘clients’ to stop being a spectator, an infant, a passive sickly individual waiting to be cured.’

All this has tremendous implications for our education system. ‘Students need to be trusted to take responsibity for their own learning. The real issue of schooling should be that students, ‘are eager to learn and that they should be given the opportunity’ to do so.

Student’s, Ernesto writes, need to determine their own curriculum and be able to learn from whoever has the knowledge. Education in an in itself - self education. Students need to select what is of interest and relevant to themselves.

Ernesto sees education as a self determining and ‘not about achieving the impossible dreams of the planners and bureaucrats.’ Formal schooling should help every student to ‘shape their own learning pathway’

Ernesto’s philosophy is all about ‘tapping into the wisdom at the grassroots level’ so as to ‘regenerate the creative spirit of the young’.

Over the years all that the imposed curriculums ‘experts’ have left are but ‘ripples on the Zambezi’. It is now time for us to have our own conversations to uncover what we really believe in. The Governments's role is to create the right conditions, to remove the obstacles that they have put in our way, to support our creativity, and to allow us to share with others the good ideas that will emerge.

In this I am with Ernesto.

Read it in the Daily News - must be true!

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While some of us despair that education seems impervious to change at the high school level others seems to think it is a hotbed of revolution.

We can’t be speaking about the same place? Mind you editorials are notoriously reactionary about education and seem to think that there was some ‘Golden Age’ when every thing about school was wonderful!

A recent editorial in our local paper links the recent beach racial riots in Australia to the 'liberal' teaching in secondary schools. And in an amazing leap the editor ties it into teaching in secondary schools in New Zealand.

Has he been in a secondary school in recent years? Such schools were using corporal punishment in living memory – the 'good old days', but the rest of the coercive control structures are still in place – uniforms, bells, timetables, and teachers who ‘deliver’ often irrelevant curriculums to unwilling students.

For all this the editorial in question blames the race riots on schools saying that ‘
for the past 20-30 years , at least as long as the young people involved in Sydney’s so called race riots, the schools have preached the gospel about multi-cuturalism and the value of ethnic diversity. In both countries the dominant Anglo –Celtic culture has been deconstructed to expose its many faults, real and imagined. It was denigrated as being socialy unjust and divisive'.

The editorial goes on to say

‘brawlers were youthful members of the sharing, caring, inclusive generation who had been raised on educational and institutionally moral diets of ethnic awareness , equality and social justice.Clearly this force feeding has not worked’.

Schools are asked, in the editorial, to have second thoughts about what they have been teaching.

This is all a bit rich; scapegoating at its worst. The editorial indicates that such cultural ‘relativism’ has gone too far. Perhaps alienated youth should learn to accept their position in a monocultural society without question as was the myth of racial togetherness of early days of New Zealand?

What this teaching has to do with the riots on the Sydney beach is a bit tenuous to say the least, but if there are groups of youths who feel alienated from the society they live in then something needs to be done. And the answer can’t be to make schools more Anglo -Celtic traditional – quite the opposite. We need to create truly 21st Century schools where all students have a chance to develop whatever potential they have so they can make a real contribution to their community. This will mean for some of those currently in power, Editors included, to change their minds.

The editorial concludes by calling for a need for us all to make use of our 'collective intelligence' to develop a set of ‘core values’. A good idea but I fear ‘he’ means those good old Anglo Celtic superior mono-cutural beliefs .

Perhaps I got him wrong but I am unaware of all this ‘compulsory tolerance’ that he says our schools have been ‘preaching’. It might have been better if ‘he’ had his journalists really investigate the history of the riots in Sydney and the societal conditions that created the outbreak; I think he would find it a little deeper than a few social studies teachers trying to influence a few students – hard enough in the best of times.

But the idea of developing a vision for New Zealand, based on inclusive values that celebrate our cultural diversity and creativity, is a good idea as we enter what will be an increasingly multicultural world. I fear the era of Anglo- Celtic domination is long gone.

And once we have achieved this we can then decide how to create an education system that has more to do with our student’s future than the Editor’s past.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

John Holt: Schools as Learning Communities.

  Posted by Picasa Doing fewer things well.

Reading John Holt just reminds me of how little things have changed in our school system particularly for the older students. Schools look and act in much the same way. No wonder Holt became disillusioned with the idea of real school transformation – just too many vested interests to alter the power of the 'status quo.'
As he wrote all those years ago,
‘schools with very few exceptions school do not give a damn what students think. Think, care about, or want to know. What counts is what the system has decided they shall be made to learn.’

For all this there are students (and parents) with the appropriate ‘social capital’ that do well but who really who cares about the rest? If they do care the ‘system’ is reluctant to change to really cater for them. In New Zealand, until Maori and other cultures become articulate enough to make the rest of us feel what institutional racism is, little will change.Until we have a change of mind we continue to expect less from too many students and often blame the students themselves for their own lack of success without even bothering to look at what schools are offering.
Holt wrote that to solve the problem of bored and alienated youths – those disengaged at school schools must
‘be places where children – and adults- may have the time and opportunity to do many great things, so as to find out which seems most worth doing.’

And Holt goes on to say students are so busy ‘taking in information and spewing it back’ to have the time to ‘work seriously’ on things of real interest. Such students will find their ‘engagement’ in other, less acceptable, ways!
John Holt values the arts
‘because they have more room for thought, effort, care, discipline and growth.’ Whatever it is that involves students must he says, ‘call on and use a large part of the energies and talents’ of the student'...‘There must be an element of challenge, of striving for perfection, or at least improvement.’ Students have to learn the power of doing things well, ‘of making things of real beauty, of striving, like every artist, for a perfection that he can never quite reach.’

In short he says
school must become communities in which children learn, not by being preached at, but by living and doing, to become aware of the needs of other people.’ There is a need to make schools, 'a place in which a child has so much respect for his own work that he will respect the work of others and will be naturally concerned to make the school a place where everyone can do best at whatever kind of work he wants to do.’

We have along way to go but over the years I have seen many classrooms that have achieved Holt’s vision – but few schools. It can be done; we now know enough that no student need fail if we had the wit and the imagination to change our minds first.
Holt also writes that we have the ironical situation that
‘having spent ten years making some kids hate school so much that they drop out, we then spend all kinds of money trying to figure out how to make schools attractive enough to make them want to come back. May be something should have been done sooner?’

And we are still waiting – in New Zealand 20% of students leave school with little to show for their time.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More on learning by John Holt


With about 20%
of our students
currenty failing
we need to focus more on learning than teaching?
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In recent years we have wasted far too much time and energy trying to ‘deliver’ almost incoherent curriculums based on a number of learning areas, strands, level and learning objectives. And, to compound things, we have tried to ‘deliver’ such a technocratic nightmare by means of isolated subject teaching in school designed in an industrial age. This is old mind stuff for an old world. No wonder so many students fail – where are their concerns in all this?

As John Holt wrote, ‘It’s the expert who is liable to cling to a past which no longer exists’. Such ‘experts’ must feel that what they present in their carefully wrapped packages are the last word on learning. All that needs to be done is for it to be ‘delivered’ to students and then the students tested to see what more they need.

It is all so certain and predicable. It is a shame that reality does not match this technocratic dream – or nightmare!

As Holt says about himself that in contrast that he expects to,
‘live his whole life about as ignorant and uncertain and confused as I am now, and I have learnt to live with this, not to worry about it. I have learnt to swim in uncertainty the way a fish swims in water. It seem to me it only in this way that it is possible to live in the kind of rapidly changing world in which, as I say, we know so very little, in which, even if the experts know more than we do, we have no way of knowing which expert knows the most. In other words, we are obliged to live our lives thinking, acting, and judging on the basis of the most fragmentary information.’

The point is, he continues, that,
‘this is what very young children are good at….The very young child faces a world which is by and large, totally incomprehensible, just a ‘blooming buzzing confusion’. But he is not afraid of this confusion. He doesn’t feel he has to have it all taped. He is not only able but eager to reach out into this world that doesn’t make any sense and to take it in…..He is willing to tolerate misunderstanding, to suspend judgment, to wait for patterns to emerge, for enlightenment to come to him… And indeed, for facing situations of enormous complexity, traditional methods of analytic thinking are really no use.’
The enormous strength of children’s’ thinking, Holt says, lies in their ability to move joyously,eagerly, into this extraordinary confusion, doubt and uncertainty. They take it in and they wait for patterns and similarities and regularities of that world to appear. The young child Holt continues, is continually building a mental model of the world, of the universe, and then checking it against reality as it presents itself to him, and then tearing it down and rebuilding it and checking again.

What happens in school, as defined by the ‘experts’ is a different matter.

Holt says,’
I don’t believe in curriculum. I don’t believe in grades don’t believe in teacher judged learning. I believe in children learning with our assistance and encouragement the things they want to learn, how they want to learn it, why they want to learn it. This is what it seems to me education must now be about.’

No wonder Holt gave up on schools! I am with him – that is unless things change. Down with the ‘experts’ – it time to trust ourselves.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

So what is new?

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For those, who were around in the 60s, John Holt was a favourite educational writer. His books are just as relevant today and well worth a read if you can find copies. He started off talking about how to change schools and finished believing that schools were impossible to change.

If he were to visit schools today he would see that little has changed

In the forward to his book, ‘The Underachieving School’, he was asked to answer a question: ‘If America’s Schools were to take one giant step forward this year towards a better tomorrow what would it be’?And Holt's answer was:

It would be to let every child be the planner, director, and assessor of his own education, to allow and encourage him, with the inspiration and guidance of more experienced and expert people, and as much help as he asked for, to decide how he is to learnt, when he is to learn it, how he is to learn it, and how well he is learning it.’

And in his essay, ‘
True Learning’ can only arise out of the experience, interests and concerns of the learner, and later he says,

‘Almost every child, on the first day he sets foot in a school building, is smarter, more curious, less afraid of what he doesn’t know, better at finding things out, more confident, resourceful, and independent, than he will ever again be in his schooling or, unless he is very unusual and lucky, for the rest of his life.

To often, Holt says, children learn that, learning is separate from living, that they can’t be trusted to learn for themselves, that they come to believe that learning, from now on, depends on the teacher, and it about ‘taking orders’.

Teachers, according to Holt, in effect say ,
‘Your experiences, your concerns, your curiosities , your needs, what you know, what you want, what you wonder about, what you hope for, what you fear, what you like and dislike, what you are good at or not good at- all this is not of the slightest importance, it counts for nothing. What counts here is, and the only thing that counts is what we know, what we think is important, what we want you to think and be.’
As a result the child learns not to ask questions and he soon learns to accept the teacher’s evaluation of him. He learns that to be wrong, or to be confused, is a crime – he begins to learn the ‘game of school’. Later, if he can’t match the teachers’ expectations, he may learn to be indifferent, hostile or even ‘drop out’. It is, as one of Holts essay is called, the fourth R – the beginning of the rat race.

What true education requires of teachers, Holt writes ,
is faith and courage – faith that children want to make sense out of their life and will work hard at it, courage to let them do it without continually poking, prying, prodding and meddling.'

Is this so difficult?’

I think this exactly what creative teachers and school want as well.

Holt would recognize the ‘latest’ concept of ‘personalized learning’ but I bet he wouldn’t’ place money on it being achieved.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

What sort of learner do we have in mind?

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I seem to have been thinking about the importance of making use of sensory awareness, valuing student’s curiosity, tapping into their personal concerns and their question of late.

These might not seem that important in the scheme of things but, in reality, they get down to the basis of teaching and learning. Do ‘we’ (in effect ‘experts’ who work in Wellington) decide what students should know and then ‘deliver’ what has been decided to, often unwilling, students. Or do we believe in valuing the 'voice’, talents, gifts, questions and dreams of every student, and then do our best to create the condition to realize the innate potential of every student?

This is, in effect, deciding to either continue delivering ‘mass’ education or ‘personalizing’ the system. In the business world it is akin to Henry Ford’s saying, ‘You can have any colour you like as long as it is black’, as against today’s, ‘What exact modification do you want to ‘customize’ your car to suit your needs’?

Unfortunately schools are still working with an Fordist ‘industrial aged mindset’, producing students suitable to work in Henry’s, now antiquated, factory. That is, of course, except for the students are subtly streamed out to ‘manage’ the country. As someone said, ‘Schools are OK if it were 1950’. Although the mass produced system is most easily seen in the fragmented, specialized achievement orientated, secondary schools the, ‘teacher knows best’, mentality is seen even in the youngest of classes.

Over the decades only a few creative teachers, and even fewer schools, have been brave enough to organize their classrooms to develop the gifts talents and passions of the learner.

These schools and teachers are the future.

Our students face an unknown, unpredictable, ambiguous, but potentially exciting world. Future orientated schools need to have in their minds an image of a successful future learner equipped with the appropriate attitudes and dispositions, to thrive in this new environment. Such attributes will impossible to achieve in schools with their genesis in the past century!

We need to have a 'conversation' about what kind of country we want to become and the type of citizens we will need, and then we need to consider how best the education system be transformed to make a full contribution to realizing whatever vision is developed.

Schools today produce both successful students and at the same time fail far too many – approximately 20%. For many it is, at best, a mediocre experience. Even the so called ‘successful’ may not be ideal future learners; the values of all groups are too often self- centred reflecting the ethics of the times. If, at the end of schooling, we are producing students who have not realized their creative powers then we need to change our schools.

What kinds of people do want our schools to develop? What is there in the nature of every learner which suggests his, or her, ultimate destiny? Young children are essentially creative and imaginative, combining, each in their own way: the traits of a scientist, an artist, an explorer, a thinker, and a 'carer' for others.

Education ought to focus on developing such traits in every learner.

And to do this we have to 're-imagine' a new kind of education to develop students who are: self motivated; who can see connections between the various learning areas; who appreciate doing things well; who can work with others; who have the confidence to 'give things a go'; who care for each other, their community, other cultures; and, of course, the sustainability of our fragile world.

We need a responsive education system able to 'deliver' students able to imagine and realize a better world. We can’t get there with more of the same - a 'one size fits all system'.

It is no longer possible for ‘technocrats’ to pre plan expectations from a distance - we need schools with creative teachers dedicated to encouraging students to invent themselves.

This means we have to value student’s voice, personal concerns, and help the tap into, and develop, whatever talents each learner brings.

This is ‘personalized’ learning.

Imagine schools dedicated to realizing the talents of every student!

Friday, December 16, 2005

The neglected power of language


Why write?
Who cares

Teacher sharing student's writing. And in a room that celebrates student creativity Posted by Picasa

Until students realize that telling stories, and writing them out, is about power and personal identity, why should they bother? It is just too much like hard work!

As a result today too many students really like to write for writings sake. It is something they only do if the teachers ask (or really makes) them do. And I can’t blame them, as writing is at best, a laborious job - that is, unless you get something out of it. No wonder we have so many students who do poorly at reading and possibly worse at writing.

This is a shame because all students have countless stories to tell and love sharing them – that is until they realize that the teacher is not really interested. All too often writing is just a task given to students while others read. And, as a result, many students lose the opportunity to appreciate the power of their ‘voice’, and the importance of their own experience. As a result the stories they hold in their heads about themselves, that make them special, are lost.

When teachers really value the thoughts and feeling of young children they then unleash an amazing source of power. Such teachers teach students that their ideas ‘count’ and that they are unique.

And , as a result, students, who profess to be non writers, become ‘born again’ writers. And they are soon keen to learn, with a little help from a sensitive teacher, how to make their writing even more expressive.

For young children thoughts can be ‘scribed’ out for them by adults who need to do their best to capture the feelings the children are expressing. Often, with reluctant writers, a few guiding question help students develop more powerful ideas. With experience, they soon want to write their own stories by hand, or to use the word processor, and because it is their work, they learn to appreciate the need to sort out spelling and grammar. As a bonus their vocabulary expands tremendously as they learn to love the sound of words.

And, of course, they want to read their own writing to enjoy the attentiveness and appreciation of their peers. Sharing writing with parents makes it even more powerful and, if placed on the school website, it is available for everyone to read. At this point students also become aware of aesthetic design and see the need to include their very best hand drawn illustrations to make their writing even more impressive. They, with encouragement, will soon become connoisseurs of the illustrations in children’s books and school journals.

And as for reading, once they see their own lives celebrated, and see the connection between their writing and that of ‘real’ authors, reading is just something people do.

Now there is nothing new in all of this, but it is more than ‘whole language’, or ‘child centred learning’ – it is ‘personalized’ learning. Teachers are not ‘teaching’ reading, writing and spelling through ‘themes’ but are focused entirely on helping each learner to realize their potential as an authentic writer, reader – and proof reader.

As mentioned, there is nothing new in such personalized learning but with the current obsession with reading achievement it is time to reintroduce it again. The work of Elwyn Richardson and Sylvia Ashton Warner led the way in New Zealand in the 50s. Creative teachers have since continued their focus haven’t fallen into the trap of low level centres of interest, or teaching reading divorced from the need to write, or worse still phonics.

There are several articles on our site which elaborate the process.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Being curious -the key to all learning


Hooked by
a need to know.

Learning through
the senses. Posted by Picasa

Many Years ago I read a book called the ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson. Its message has been with me ever since; it provoked an understanding how ‘progress’ and technology were destroying our natural environment. Later, she wrote (in 1956) a book, for her nephew Roger, called ‘A Sense of Wonder’. This was a photo filled book all about taking a young person on nature walk.

Her messages are more in need today than ever.

Exploring nature with your child is largely a matter of becoming receptive to what lies around you. It is learning again to use your eyes, ears, nostrils and fingertips, opening up the channels of sensory impression.’

Students today, given the opportunity, are still hooked by an intense curiosity and drawn by an enhanced sensory awareness of the natural world, writes Robert Fried, in his book ‘The Game of School’. But to do this they need to be encouraged to think with all their senses.

When I visited primary schools, many years ago, it was common to observe student’s involvement with their natural world.Classroom environments celebrated poetic and creative writing, observational and imaginative art, and it seemed, most of the class studies related to learning about the natural world. The environment and real world experiences were the basis for the creative teacher’s literacy and content learning programmes. This was in more relaxed days when compliance to preplanned curriculum, and unrealistic accountability demands, were beyond imagination.

It is important to appreciate that by learning to observe the natural world, not only is curiosity stimulated, but it is also the beginning of development true literacy. Learning about the natural world is not about the need to name all the plants and animals, but more expressing a relaxed interest along side the learner. It about enjoying the experience; young children soon pick up knowledge.

Rachel Carson talks about a ‘learning spirit’ and, in her book asks that we provide a gift for each child in the world of a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, and the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial and that alienate us from the source of our strengths. All of this before the advent of virtual reality.

I would wish that junior teachers, once again, would learn to appreciate the power of the natural environment to inspire student’s curiosity language and vocabulary. I wish that teachers would realize that ‘before the word is the experience’ and, before ‘real’ books, is the nned for books written by children based on their own experiences and imagination.

Today literacy is seen as an 'achievement to target' in its own right. In this process teachers bypass the very source of student’s ideas and imagination; the children’s own thoughts, when ‘scribed’ or written, are the true basis of literacy learning.

We have fragmented everything in learning and, in the process, made it all too complicated – let’s get back to helping students do their own learning by valuing the power of their own ideas and their intrinsic need to make sense of their environment. We have cut then off from their natural source of learning.

Students need to seen as inventors of their own minds and meaning and not be limited to isolated skill teaching which, at its worst, degenerates into sterile isolated phonics all in the name of doubtful ‘achievement’.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Natural born learners


Learning is an evolutionary trait.

So why do so many students give
it away at school? Posted by Picasa

Robert Fried in his book 'The Game of School' talks about the ideas of Evans Clinchy who is both an educationalist and also a scholar of evolution. Clinchy believes there is a link between the sorry state in education and the failure to learn the lessons of human evolutionary history. Clinchy’s principle contention is that we have become human beings because we have been so passionate about learning and that education has stifled the passion in so many of us. Too many classrooms, he believes, undermine the lessons of evolution, as indicated by the serious lack of 'engagement' of too many students. It seems we have not appreciated the implications of our own history.

Fried writes that young children, reflecting their ancestry, are hooked on learning by an intense curiosity of the natural world around them and are driven by the importance of acting as explorers,scientists and artists. Motivated by an irrepressible urge to share what they have discovered.

It is this drive to make meaning and express ideas that has always 'powered' human beings. Students today are no different. They too learn through their senses, and feel powerful when in possession of important information - wanting to tell every one about it.

This passionate drive to learn is subverted by organized school, based as it is, on a premise of ‘delivering’ standardized knowledge to students. Such 'transmission' teaching inhibits the hereditary instincts of intrinsic curiosity.

Curiosity, it seems, is fragile and is 'at risk' in preplanned environments that stifle spontaneity and ignore the student's need for personal and intense sensory learning. Secondary classrooms, in particular, have all but replaced this natural learning, and instead, students are 'corralled' and spend their day moving around a series of sterile rooms. Whatever ‘learning spirit’ students bring with them is soon lost for many of them as they begin to play, what Fried calls, the ‘school game’.

The 'industrialized' learning environment is no place for the ‘wild intelligence’ of youth except to subvert it to be destructive or subversive.

As a result 'learning power' is lost – the very power students will need to thrive in what will be an unpredictable and potentially exciting world.

It is developing this power that school should focus on. All students are capable of generating powerful ideas if they are faced with rich, real and relevant challenges -and not just as at present the lucky minority. Even the so called ‘successful’ students may well not be learning the real lessons that will enable then to face up to unknown challenges.

All students, Fried writes, are capable of inventing their own theories, be critics of others ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers and creators of their own personal marks, in this most complex world.

We have to stop this 'delivery' of preplanned learning to students and work with them to 'design' their own open ended learning challenges. We have to forget this obsession with measuring narrow 'achievement' and instead tap into the talents of every student and, if anything is to be measured, it ought be the learners love of learning for its own sake.

The challenge for teachers, Fried continues, is how can we reach those students schools have taught to be 'incurious'? How can we awaken those who have been dulled by the monotony of their schooling? How can we reactivate those who feel decidedly un-powerful or alienated?

More importantly how can we turn teachers back into passionate learners dedicated to learning along with their students; using their superior experience to develop personalized learning pathways and to guide students through difficult challenges?

There is no substitute for feeling empowered. We forget our evolutionary heritage to be passionate learners at our own peril.

Next time you see a two year old in action marvel at the facility they have to learn through enlightened trial and error; through their curiosity and their senses – and wonder where the natural desire to learn has gone for so many of our students.

And then consider what you could do about re-igniting it!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Thoughts for a new school


Every teachers dream
to be part of creative new school
Posted by Picasa

This week I am off to discuss a few ideas with a group of parents who want to establish their own school. No doubt they will have their own ideas of why they want to do this and I just see myself just helping them sort a few things out, and dealing with the bureaucratic requirements, to establish such a school.

But the idea of establishing an alternative school is exciting. Few teachers will have not dreamed, at some point, about being free to focus on creating environments for teaching and learning without the distraction of often mindless paperwork and imposed requirements – and in particular in classes small enough to develop the all important learning relationships.

To be honest, I am a believer in a state education system, for all sorts of reasons, but am the first to admit that while things start out well in the early years but, by the time many students reach early secondary school, they have long since disengaged their minds from the responsibility of being in charge of their own learning.

So alternatives are important as the state is unable to foster the necessary diversity and creativity to provide a personalized education for all its students.

Imagine what you would say to prospective parents if you were beginning a new school?

Some things that come to my mind are:

• 'We want above all to foster a love of learning, for its own sake, in every child.'

• 'We believe that everything we will do will be based on helping each learner develop a positive self image as a learner and help them to answer the basic questions we all have to face up to: Where did we come from? Who am I? What really matters to us? What gifts do I have? What might I become? And how can I make the world a better place'?

• 'We will value what ever gifts and talents your child brings and then do our best to expand on these and to provide opportunities for new talents to develop'.

• 'We see education as a partnership between the learner, the parent, the student and see learning as a relationship between the teacher, the learner and whatever it is that is currently holding the child’s imagination'.

. 'We want them to develop a strong sense of place by helping them become aware, and caring towards, their natural environment'.

• 'We want your child to leave equipped with all the learning skills, including information technology, to be able to thrive in what will be an unpredictable but potentially exciting future. Literacy and numeracy we see as vital ‘foundation skills’ – but to us the most important future skill of all is to be continually open to new learning opportunities so that students see themselves as their own ‘meaning makers’'.

• 'We will value the need for every learner to do their personal best, to appreciate the need for effort and perseverance, and to continually want to improve'.

• 'Although we will value and protect your own child uniqueness we will also help him, or her, to appreciate and value cultural diversity and individual differences in others so as to become sensitive and caring individuals'.

• 'Through learning experiences, based as much as is possible on students emerging interests, we will ensure that students are exposed to all the important ideas that make us human and, in particular citizens, of New Zealand. We want all our students to see that learning is integrated and connected around studies that capture their imagination'.

• 'We see our teachers as creative learning coaches assisting every learner, according to their needs and learning styles, by providing whatever help they can but always with the thought in mind of leaving students in control of their own learning'.

• And, 'as for assessment of progress we will ensure your child can, show, demonstrate, perform, or tell you, what they have done, and how they have improved because of their own actions'.

• But most of all, 'we want your child to be a confident caring life long explorer of new ideas and opportunities – to love the act of learning'.

Have I missed anything out?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

End of year Ministry Report.


Who watches Big Brother?

We need the view of people
who are distant enough
to see through the delusion. Posted by Picasa

Once people believe in things it is hard to change their minds. What is needed in an innocent view to point out the blindingly obvious – the Emperor has no clothes. And of course this truth creates great panic amongst the courtiers who rely on the delusion to keep themselves in positions of power.

Fortunately for us all, with time, pressure builds up and the system can no longer cope with top down excesses.When is does those at the top can lose their heads – literally. But do we have the time to wait?

For too long teachers have been forced into a defensive posture to protect their fading professionalism from the technocrats (modern day courtiers) who spend their lives thinking of ways to improve those below with endless accountability processes. And, to make things, worse technocrats have had little experience actually doing the real work – they are driven by an ideology of standardization and control from the last century and are blind to the need for flexibility and diversity in a new complex interrelated world.

As Lily Tomlin quips ‘I worry that whoever thought of the term quality control thought if we didn’t control it, it would get out of hand.’

It is time to turn the tables.

How well are our policy makers and technocrats doing? Isn’t it time for those, who insist in controlling the system, to face the music? Isn’t it time to turn accountability on those living in luxury in their glass towers?

1. How well have they balanced top down change with the need for local creativity?
2. Do schools feel that they are given the freedom to innovate and try new ideas or do they feel restricted within an imposed intellectual curriculum and assessment straightjackets?
3. Has the Ministry spread creative ideas of school – particularly ones that have just ‘emerged’ as a solution to local conditions?
4. How much have they encouraged regional diversity and school collaboration?
5. Have they encouraged the establishment of a diversity of new schools to cope with the lack of engagement of students at years 9 and 10?
6. Have they begun a national dialogue/conversation about the future of education or are they relying on their own in house 'court' policy makers?

The overall impression I get is that they are just pleased to have survived the last election. The specter of the guillotine must have been frightening for many of them!

Their 'Curriculum Reform Project' is just the old material after a crash diet – just the same but less. It will do nothing to inspire creative education but, I guess, it will save the face of those who pushed such a technocratic model on schools in the first place.

The idea to cluster schools around so called identified ‘lead schools’ must have come from a market forces education kit from the 90s. This is just a localized version of top down thinking and nothing about tapping into teacher creativity.

The Te Mana ‘Teachers Making a difference’ was great but hardly the Ministries own idea and, being labeled for Maori students, will have the effect of it being sidelined – it needs to be implemented al all our monocultural antiquated industrial aged secondary schools.

The Ministry refuses to face up to the fact that they are responsible for the disjoint between primary and secondary schools and are thus responsible for all the students who fall through the cracks between the two incompatible systems.

And this obsessive focus on literacy and numeracy, and the need to send targeted results (soon to be computerized) to the Ministry, is killing the joy of learning and teaching. As one writer in the UK says, ‘The evil twins of literacy and numeracy are crowding out all the other equally important aspects of education’.

Overall I can only give the Ministry a pass mark for surviving. I guess they have had no time for real innovative thinking trapped as they are in their dress up box busily providing patched up clothes for the Emperor to wear.

The new Minister has written he is off to do some thinking over the holidays – there is plenty to think about!

The future is about democracy, creativity, imagination, diversity and the need to personalize education to realize all student’s gifts, talents and love of learning. There is no excuse for for failing 20% of our students - we know enough about learning that no student need fail, but only if we change our own minds first!.

The future isn’t about dull standardization, or 'evidence based teaching', or mindless grinding efficiency, it is about hope, spirit, trust and soul. Hardly words in the technocrats lexicon!

Time for some new clothes.

Play your own tunes


Have we been singing other peoples songs too long?

We need to rediscover and celebrate our own voices. Posted by Picasa

I often hear, from my principal friends, that being a principal is getting no easier. There are always things to be done that take their attention away from the teaching and learning that they feel ought to be their priority.

Maybe it is time for principals to stop dancing to others tunes and get together with each other and write their own script? The trouble is that, over the years, what with the pressure to compete with each other, no one is prepared to take the lead role? Too often whatever sharing there is is focused on ways to comply with imposed requirements. No wonder some principals are complaining of stress.

All this contributes to a loss of creativity and a lack of appreciation of the wisdom that resides in each school. Answers, it seems, always come from those on high. This can’t be right; it has never worked in the past.

Andy Hargreaves (see our newsletter) says that, ‘teachers are suffering from eroded autonomy, lost creativity, restricted flexibility and a constrained capacity to exercise their own judgment.’ He continues that principals, ‘keep their heads down, struggle alone and withdraw from colleagues.’ At the same time there are others who happily put on a brave face and say that things are just going well – it is seen as weakness to admit that perhaps they aren’t coping? Some, who know no better, even enjoy it their managerial roles – it is all they know!

It does seem that principals (and in turn teachers) are so busy complying with endless demands (none the least assessment requirements) that there is no time for creativity and imagining other possibilities – and no time to work with others to think of better ways.

Dean Fink (another International educator) advice to principals and teachers is to, ‘shake off the shackles of conformity and compliance and imagine, create,…do something.’

It is all about controlling your own destiny or letting someone else do it. About singing your own song in the company of other like minded schools. To do this schools have to realize the power of working together collegially and to recognize each other strengths and weaknesses. The latter is a problem.

Principals and teachers should be ‘designers’ of education and not reduced to ‘delivers’ of other people tunes

The development of new tunes would make teaching more fun but it will take courage from someone to find their voice, to take the lead, and start the melody going.

If someone does take the lead a Mexican wave could be started and who know what might happen ? The Ministry might even change their dated and tiresome tunes! Their new role could be to orchestrate it all, be talents scouts, and share all the music that would be created.

The best songs would have a power of their own.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Harakeke (NZ flax) a quick end of year study

 Posted by Picasa
Almost every New Zealand school has a Flax bush in the school grounds. A flax study is an ideal study topic to finish the year.

First see what students know about the flax bush and record their prior ideas. If they know little then they will be able to see how much they have learnt at the end of the study. They may know something about the Maori uses of flax, where they grow and, perhaps, that tuis visit their flowers in search of pollen.

Visit the flax to help the students gain some impressions. On such a first visit students could write down ideas to draft into a three line poem – one thought about the leaves (and the wind); one thought about the flowers stalks; and possibly one thought about the flowers, or last season seedpods, or if they are lucky a tui.

The teacher could collect a few samples of flowers to bring back to class.

Back in class students could complete an observational drawing of a flower and, while they are doing this, they could be asked to think about why plants have flowers and any questions about flax that come to mind. They might not think that the flax has ‘real’ flower. While drawing different parts of a flower could be identified and the transition to young pods observed. They could also research the relationship between the tui and the flax. The use of a digital camera would be useful at this point.

The thought poems could be tidied up (they should be encouraged to pick their words carefully) and poems could be displayed with the drawings. Or poems could be superimposed on black and white digital photos of a flax bush.

Students, after looking at some leaves (noting the parallel veins and ribs), could colour in with crayon and cut our leaves to combine to make into a mural .Others could draw some stalks on which bunches of flowers and pods could be attached.

Students could research up questions about flax they and be asked to research Maori uses of harakeke. They may be able to discover some Maori saying based on the flax. They may even be able to attempt some flax weaving if they had some help. They could also research early European uses of flax.

The school will have plenty of resources based on the flax.

If there are some last season flax stalks around pods could be investigated to see how many seeds in one pod and then they could estimate how many seeds on a full grown flax bush. Old stalks make idea media to carve into canoes with outriggers.

More than enough for a focussed integrated unit of work. If there are no flax bushes around search for an agapanthus plant – they are also an interesting plant to explore this time of year.

When completed a display could be created on the classroom wall.

Time for a rebirth of the creative spirit.


The time is right for a true educational revolution!We need to listen to lost voices and rediscover our own.

Who wants to join the fight to return to creative education?
 Posted by Picasa

It was real surprise – and pleasant one at that – to receive a publication written by Roger Hardie, celebrating the role of the Art and Craft Advisers in New Zealand education, and not just because, for a short time, I was an art adviser.

It was more because it made me reflect on the importance of these advisers on developing creative education in New Zealand.

Most teachers, with little knowledge of ‘the history’ will possibly think the current School Support Services, delivering Art Contracts, are the same thing. There is a world of difference.

The Art Advisers I refer to were set up after World War two as part of the then Director General of Education’s Dr Beeby’s and the new Labour Governments, liberal vision for New Zealand education. The key figure, with respect to art education, was Gordon Tovey. Tovey in turn appointed third year training college students who had particular talent in the arts and, none the least, a number of young Maori. Many of these people are now amongst the who’s who of New Zealand art, but it is the work they did to develop art and creative education, that is their legacy.

In the early 50s primary education was a very formal and inflexible affair. By the 70s a major revolution had occurred and today we take for granted the colorful child centred classrooms of our primary schools. Early educational innovators came to believe in ‘education through art’. Such teachers embraced enthusiastically: the writing of poetry, movement, dance and drama, story telling, myths and legends, social studies and natural science, the making of creative music, and of course a wide experience of the arts and crafts, including clay and paint – and at the same time the arts of the Maori were introduced.

There has not been such a change in educational practice to this day – and this includes the introduction of computers.

The programmes we take for granted today have their genesis in this period, including such ‘new’ ideas as ‘integrated programmes’. Throughout the country, in the early days, the art advisers tapped into the often latent talent of countless creative teachers. I remember well some of these teachers, long since retired. They had a self belief in themselves, and in the creative powers of their students, that is missing in today

A lot of the energy been lost today, dissipated by the requirements of teachers to comply with tiresome imposed curriculums and accountability requirements. And, as well, what has been lost is the focus on student self expression based on realizing their interests and concerns, and making full use of their immediate environment.

Throughout New Zealand week long courses, or longer, introduced keen teachers through practical activities, to the power of student creativity. It was attending one such course that made me realize my own passion for creative education. The Art and Craft Syllabus, introduced in1961, was a permissive document, a far cry from the almost incoherent Learning Areas documents of today.

Naturally things changed since those early days but what remains is under threat today as a result of the deadening compliance culture teachers now live in. Once again there is a need for students to develop their talents and express their lived experiences through whatever media they desire.

Dr Beeby is quoted in the book as saying that education unravels in forty year cycles dictated by the living memory span of the teachers involved. As the author of the book, Roger Hardie concludes in his introduction, ‘this may explain why we are now back to a somewhat similar point’ as when the ideas were first introduced. This time though, we have to replace the unwieldy failing technocratic curricula and return to developing a personalized education system to once again release the creative powers of our students.

As we enter an era of imagination, initiative and ideas, it is none too soon. A creative approach to life will be vital for our students to thrive in what is potentially an exciting, if unpredictable, future.

This time, though, we will have to do it ourselves! But the spirits of creative teachers, long gone, will be with us. The secret is to seek out and network with creative teachers in your own areas to share their wisdom.

Listen to your students voices.


Do we spend too much time trying to put into practice ideas imposed from above?

What do your students think about their 'schooling'? Posted by Picasa

For fifteen years schools have been bombarded with half baked managerial ideas from the business world and, at the same time, Ministry technocrats have imposed some of the most complicated and incoherent curriculums we have ever seen. As a result teachers have spent far too much time worrying about complying with such demands that they have lost their focus on the very ideals they entered teaching with – to help all children realize their potential.

‘Times they are a changing’, as Bob Dylan wrote, and today the Ministry technocrats have lost their authority, and their managerial ideas, and the standardized curriculum they imposed, are looking very much like the Emperors clothes.

Paradoxically while schools have become self centred and competitive innovative businesses are 're –imagining' themselves as ‘learning organizations’ aligned behind shared beliefs. As such they listen to what their customers want, or feel, and encourage and trust those who work for them to use their initiative and creativity to provide a personalized service.

It is now time for school and teachers to listen to the voices of our students. We have had enough of distant experts calling the tune – the real connoisseurs of education are our students.

At the end of the year would be great chance to capture their views as part of an end of year school review.

You could start by listing all the various learning area, including specific aspects, and simply get the students to mark them on a 1 to 10 scale (with 1 being ‘who cares’ and 10 ‘love it’). When students leave your class the most important things they take with them are their attitudes – you may find you have won several battles but lost the war! They might be able to do maths but still dislike it! What ever, you will gain insights for next year.

What do they think maths is, or science, or art, or reading? Hopefully they will reflect the ‘big ideas’ behind each learning area – or will they reflect the usual stereotypes? Students often can’t see the wood for the trees – but this is not their fault.

You could also ask them:

1. What was the best thing(s) about this year – and why?
2. What would they like to have done more of – or less?
3. What didn’t they do that they would have liked to?
4. What ways do they feel they have changed this year – and why? What areas have they improved in – and why?
5. What do they think you should change about your teaching – and why?
6. What advice would they give to the students entering your class next year?

The most important thing learners hold are the metaphors about how they see themselves, their teachers and their schools. A good idea is to ask them to complete the following phrase:

A school is a place where ……..
A teacher is a person who…….
A student is a person who……………

The answers will reflect the 'big ideas' that students hold – their views may surprise you.

All the above could be developed as an interdisciplinary class project to end the year.

Such ideas would also be an ideal activity to do in the first week of next year. Then you would be able to see, at the end of the year, how much the experiences of being in your class really means to your students.

You might even change how you view your students – you are ‘selling’ ideas about the ‘joy of learning’ but perhaps no one is buying it! We could learn off innovative businesses.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Culture Counts!


Tapping into the creativity of all students; rather that making every student fit the mainstream version of schooling.

Has our school system ever really concerned itself with the lived experiences, the culture and the environment of the students?

What would have to change if it did? Posted by Picasa

Saturday, December 03, 2005

'Attracting' students to want to learn.


The challenge is to 'attract' learner's minds rather than 'engage'. Posted by Picasa

The metaphor the Ministry of Education uses, in reference to students ‘turned off’ learning, is that they are disengaged. It all sounds rather mechanical, controlling, and technocratic to me – I prefer that we need to ‘attract’ learners to be involved in their own learning. The metaphors we use are important as they relate to the worldview we have. Take a look at how teacher’s metaphorical thinking shapes curriculum at the teachersmind site. What ever there is no doubt that worldwide there is a mismatch between schooling and students desire to learn about year 9 and 10.

What exactly is happening inside student’s heads and hearts at this level as they experience school? And what is happening in classrooms when students get engaged?

An article in the best of ascd summer 2005 provides some answers.

Classrooms, the article says, are powerful places which can either be ‘dynamic settings that launch dreams and delight minds, or arid places that diminish hope and deplete energy.’ Too often, quoting Goodland (1984) ‘boredom is a disease of epidemic proportions’ and most students wish they wee somewhere else.

Students experience disengagement in different flavors:

Slow time: predicable, mechanical, routine and dull – ‘like being on along trip with your parents without your CD player.’

Lost time: when students find it hard to say what they have experienced.

Fast time: where students position themselves to appear attentive – what someone calls devoting energy to ‘doing school’; going through the motions.

Worry time/Play time: where students worry about non academic maters, or are involved in off topic conversation that tactically shifts on arrival of the teacher.

One write Robert Fried has written a wonderful book about all the above called ‘The Game of School.’

Engaged time, the article continues, is when students are deeply immersed in learning where students are ‘roused to life, animated with feelings and ideas.’ Such moments are the ‘Holy Grail’ of teaching –‘learning is provocative, enchanting, memorable or enjoyable’; ‘the triumphs of teaching’ created when teachers ‘cultivate a powerful classroom ethos over the long term’. Such teachers are in tune with their students, value their ideas and contributions, use a variety of strategies, and work with them to help them make their own meanings.

Students need to create and are most involved when thinking about ‘projects that allows them express their originality.’ Feelings of ‘ownership’ are vital as is students having their ideas taken seriously.

Students also like learning from teachers who are passionate about what they are teaching. Expressive teachers, who share anecdotes from their own lives, and link learning to real life applications, foster ‘energized’ learning.

Most of all students want to ‘spend time with teachers who enjoy being with them and who know them as people. They wanted teachers to understand their experiences, interests, aspirations, needs, fears, and idiosyncrasies. Feeling known, understood, and appreciated matters.’

Young people in early secondary education are on a ‘journey to figure out who they are…what talents and potential they have, and where they might end up.’ Teachers who tap into these concerns, in any learning area, engage students.

Education is all ‘about wining hearts and minds’ by ‘engaging them in whatever subject we teach , so they can discover genuine meaning and value’ during their time at school.

Jerome Bruner once wrote that ‘education is the canny art of intellectual temptation’.

‘Global teen have a very low threshold for boredom…do not bore this generation or it will abandon you’, Elissa Moses wrote in 2000.

We need to make our school more 'attractive' and responsive by personalizing learning to the needs of the students. Mass education, based on a ‘one size fits all’ industrial mentality, has had its day.

This is why students are disengaged.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Unlocking the treasure within

A whaka huia - to keep toanga or treasures Posted by Picasa

Perhaps there is no way for schools to develop their Maori students learning unless they dramatically change their style of teaching – and if they did all this students would benefit.

There is a worry that this emphasis on failing Maori students indicates all is well with all the other students. This would be a mistake because what is being suggested to ‘engage’ Maori students is good for all. To suggest there is a particular Maori pedagogy is confusing because, although there are special cultural understandings, the pedagogy is required by all. And little of it is new. Progressive educators from past decades would recognize most it. The problem is that for too long pedagogy, or the art of the teaching, has been lost in all the technocratic nonsense of imposed ‘one size fits all' standardized curriculums.

For example who would argue with the idea that schools must believe that all can learn given the right help and time; or the importance of a schools holding high expectations for all students; or the idea that it is the teachers that make the difference.

Why these ideas are considered so remarkable?

Ideas suggested to endure Maori students succeed have a ring of universality about them.

Ideas such as:

(1) Engage students in the learning process and share responsibity with them for setting learning goals; learners are to be seen as co-enquirers, raising their own questions. Teachers need to value student's current knowledge (prior ideas); and encouraging students to self evaluate how much they have learnt.

(2) Learning is to be seen as active, problem based, real life, integrated and holistic - premised on students being their own ‘meaning makers’.

(3) There is need for respectful mutual relationships with the students and an appreciation of the each student’s cultural background.

(4) The teaching and learning roles are reciprocal and the teacher is to be seen as an experienced learning guide or coach. Teachers are only significant if they form respectful relationships and mutual partnerships with their learners – and give the attitude that they will never give up on their students.

(5) Teachers need to build on the interests and cultural backgrounds of students and the community. For all students ‘culture counts’ – but it is vital for Maori students. Teachers need to appreciate that many of their Maori students have learnt to feel marginalized by their school experiences. Student’s beliefs and expectation about themselves (self efficacy) can be raised and enhanced – and that these positive self beliefs are crucial.

(6) Teachers need to make sure Maori students feel our high expectations and belief in them. This may well be the key issue as so many teachers hold what is called a ‘deficit theory’ which blames students backgrounds for their lack of success and, as well, gives students an excuse for their lack of achievement.

(7) All students ought to leave education with what Hattie (2002) calls a ‘reputation as effective learners’.

Schools, and each teacher, need to ask themselves how much they put into practice such beliefs about teaching. Do they genuinely belief all students can learn? Have they really thought about what needs to change to ensure all students succeed? Have they considered how the school can reflect the culture of the students as quality teaching ought to confirm cultural identity? Do teachers understand and appreciate the lives of their students.

‘Culture does count’ and no more so than in every individual classroom in the country. Schools need to create an environment where students can feel proud of being Maori. The local history and heritage, the local people, and the environment that the school is placed, should all feature strongly in the school.

Now if schools transformed themselves to reflect these understandings Maori success would be guaranteed and, as well, all students would benefit.

It is not Maori achievement that should worry us – we should be more concerned with the schools lack of success in introducing such well known ideas about teaching and learning. It is the schools (secondary schools in particular) that are the ‘slow learners’!

Our schools are failing – not our students.

The 'treasure within' is waiting, there to be found.

Reference: ‘Teachers Making a Difference for Maori students ‘– Ministry of Education

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Primary Schools covering up Maori failure?

Simplistic nonsense from ERO

Who needs it?

Time for some real questions and answers?

The tukutuku pattern 'poutama' is called the 'stairways to learning'. Too often schools are a pathway to failure. Posted by Picasa

‘Education officials say primary schools are failing their students and leaving secondary schools to cop the blame’, says an article in last weeks Sunday paper.

The ‘official’, acting Chief Review Officer Mike Hollings, may well be right by pointing out that some primary schools fudge how well Maori students are achieving but to say that when Maori students get to year nine, these students fail because of poor teaching in primary school, is far too simplistic.

Holling's ‘argument’ is that if Maori students suddenly under perform at secondary school then it must be the fault of previous teaching. The answer, suggested by ERO, is for schools to introduce tests to measure and uncover poor performance and then to improve it.

The technocratic simplistic mindset of the last millennium lives on!

And of course opposition politicians jump on the bandwagon with calls for compulsory national testing. National testing is always a good vote winner – thank goodness it is not another ‘silly season’ election year.

Another well known conservative journalist (Frank Haden) added that primary schools should focus on numeracy and literacy and not waste time on the creative areas. What a barren and reactionary view of learning in an age of creativity and imagination; it is amazing that such dinosaur like view still gain attention.

Naturally a contrary view was expressed by the Primary Principals Federation president, who said, that testing would take time away from teaching – and he could have added, compounds the problem by narrowing the curriculum, as has happened in other countries.

The truth is, according to Lester Flockton (Otago University Educational Research Unit Director), that the identified lack of achievement is ‘grossly misleading’ as student achievement levels are improving in the primary area but are static at the secondary level.

You would have thought Hollings would have known about this? Flockton continued by saying, that children’s socio economic background was the strongest factor in educational achievement. This is the area politicians should focus on if they want to make a real difference but this would require them to take responsibity for ‘the fine mess we are in.’

The fact that 20% of our students leave our education system should surely make us question the system itself. Many Maori students achieve well in the right environments and we need to focus our energy on transforming our education system so as to develop such conditions for all students – and this transformation ought to include both primary and secondary levels.

Worldwide there is a loss of engagement of students at the year 9 and 10 level linked to low socio economic conditions, not ethnicity. Research in the UK (Cambridge University) indicates that 40% of students fail to make academic progress the year following the change to a secondary school. We have the same problem in NZ. Ministry of Education data indicates that suspensions and absenteeism increases dramatically in the early secondary years - and we know 20% of students leave secondary schooling with nothing to show for their time. As one 70s writer called his book, it is ‘Compulsory Mis-education.’

You would think that Mike Hollings would be better placing his energy in doing his best to transform our industrial aged mass education schools as it is the system that is so obviously failing.

There are no shortages of ideas to assist in this transformation but nothing will change until we all change our own ‘mindsets’ first. It would be great if such insight came from the top but Mike Hollings gives us little faith. The challenge of the future is to develop a personalized approach to learning to ensure all students leave formal schooling with ‘their reputation as learners intact’, their talents developed, and with a love of learning that will see them through whatever challenges life throws up at them.

Hollings could begin by reading the Ministry Of Education’s ‘Teachers Making a Difference’ for Maori Students – as should all school principals; or the Ministry’s ‘Best Practices’ findings. The former is the best thing I have read from the Ministry for ages but it was not all their own work!

He could also read David Hood’s book ‘Our Secondary Schools Don’t Work Anymore’.

As Russell Bishop says, ‘We’re risking turning out 40% of Maori students with no qualifications whatsoever. What we are risking in schools, and what we’re risking as a society, is too scary to contemplate.

So let’s have some better thinking from ERO.

Perhaps they are part of the problem, but that is another story.

Friday, November 18, 2005

All about developing student learning power


And student's talents!

One of my year's highlights!

The 'Puketaha way'! Posted by Picasa

A school that know what it stands for!


And where the actions match the words. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Gifts to realize - dreams to fulfil

A talent waiting to go somewhere.

A year 8 student's graphic work from an amazing little school. Posted by Picasa

I had the opportunity to visit a rural school recenty that really impressed me. In particular the year 7 and 8 students, who work in one space with three teachers, who were doing magnificent work. It was as if all the nonsense of the past years had only touched them lightly. The students were working on agreed tasks in tne various learning areas but it was their study work was the feature for me.

I observed groups, with or without their teacher, working in depth on challenging content, expressing their ideas with real thought and creativity ranging from discussion, written work to creative interpretations. The walls were full of their art and language work, celebrating an evironment of intellectul excitement.This is as it ought to be.

The students also develop very personalized graphic folders to record their ideas and, well, to say I was impressed, would be an understatement. Student talent was being used to the full. This small school even had a specially built performance centre for music, drama and dance.

It was a refreshing visit.

And the school did well with ther ERO Report but we all know they don't really mean much these day.

It was rural education at its best. the focus was in students learning and creating able to value their own 'voice' and 'identity' through their chosen tasks.

A vision in action!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Too much reliance on 'experts' and not enough common sense

 Posted by Picasa

There are experts these days to teach you everything you didn’t want to know.

Education 'delivered' by contract, seminars and outcomes - true expertise is over looked in the process!

Many years ago it was shown that the In- Service Education provided (the old word for courses), although often fun, didn’t really change much in the classroom. The ones that had the most effect were presented by classroom teachers, or where you had an opportunity to visit to see a class in action.

It seems that teachers respect what real people, like themselves, do in classrooms. All too often today’s facilitators are presenting ideas designed by a distant group of ‘experts’ who have long since forgotten the white heat and creative confusion that teaching all too often is is. They even imagine teachers would sit down plan how they will teach whatever, and will have time to calmly evaluate it. This is without even considering first, that whatever little bits they are recording, are actually worth the time to do so.

There seems no appreciation that creative teachers make thousands of decisions a day and automatically receive, and give feedback; all integrated into the process of living and learning in the classroom. To collect all this material, and to record and graph it – in the name of ‘evidence based teaching’, is just too silly for words .I guess it makes sense to educational researchers who have the time – and who actually believe in it. True education cannot be so easily graphed.

It is about time teachers reclaimed their authority and made their voices heard. All the flash curriculums supplied to them to 'deliver' just haven’t worked and, worse still, have left teachers feeling their own professionalism judgment is at risk.

Teachers do not want a constant barrage of new ideas thrown at them from outside the school. They need instead guidance and support from colleagues who know where they are going, and what they are doing, and who share some commitment to help each other get there’, so said David Stewart in 1993.

Since the early 90s teachers have to put up with an endless cycle of compliance requirements, confusing curriculums and impossible assessment demands designed by distant technocrats.

What is required now is for schools to tap into the expertise and wisdom within, and between each school, and to learn from and share such ‘best practices’ with each other.

It is over to teachers to claim back this need to focus on teaching and learning on their own terms. All those experts would fall apart if they had to stay in a classroom and actually take their own advice.

Don’t spent time worrying about crossing the road, just do it!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Sailing into the future on the educational SS Titanic!

 Posted by Picasa 'Experts' should go down with their ship to make room for new thinking.

It appears to me that many of our current organizations may look impressive but there are plenty of signs that all is not well. There are ‘social icebergs’ of discontent and alienation ahead that will eventfully force change on us. Just as it takes a tragedy in our personal lives for us to face up to new reality, so it is with the wider world of organizations – particularly those designed in, and for, past eras.

Large secondary schools are one modern equivalent of the Titanic. As with the Titanic they are built on traditional class based hierarchal lines and are not really equipped to save ‘passengers’ from the ‘steerage class’. What happened to the Titanic was unimaginable. At least schools today have figures to show that 20% of their students are ‘educationally drowning’.

But still we blame dysfunction students, or their parents, and even the teachers, when it is the schools that are dysfunctional. Failure is endemic. They are OK for the academic students, with the so called ‘social capital’ to go ‘first class’, but unhealthy places for the more creative or less academic One system does not fit all.

The trouble is we adjust so well to the current ways of doing things that any change seems unthinkable. If we are too good at adjusting to the current system we may never realize that the system needs changing. Too many school people have fallen into this trap. To free ourselves from this dilemma we need to think hard about the purpose of an education for the 21stCentury. If we are to do this we need to avoid involving the Designers, the Captain and Officers of the current ‘educational ship’. They should, as in all good movies, go down with their ship!

As for what to do, anything would be better for the ‘drowning students’. Creative teachers and their communities could invent a range of possibilities and keep what works. Forget those ‘experts’ in their technocratic ivory towers who have plans for everyone to follow. Their plans never worked in the past and the future requires new mindsets. They have been too busy ‘rearranging the deck chairs’ to consider the future.

And it is worth remembering that experts built the Titanic while an amateur built the Ark!

So what works best? Destruction, according to author Kevin Kelly in his book ‘Out of Control’. Kelly writes that it is, ‘generally much easier to kill an organization than to change it substantially. Organizations by design are not made to adapt…beyond a certain point. Beyond that point, it’s much easier to kill them off and start a new one than it is to change them.’

Things were never the same after the Titanic. Are we are reaching that certain point soon in education? Do we need to fail all our students to realize we persist with the wrong system for the wrong century?

The answer to the first is yes - to the second no , but only if we have the wit and the imagination to think up new possibilities.