Tuesday, March 28, 2006

C. A .T. says cat - or does it?

  Posted by Picasa The reading wars continue endlessly; ‘whole language’ versus phonics. The trouble is that the proponents of phonics seem to see the world in black and white!

Like everything in this interconnected world nothing is ever so clear.

A couple of day ago the debate was rerun on National Radio motivated, I would think, by a biased point of view of the interviewer.

The interviewer set the scenario. Phonics has just been mandated in all primary schools in the UK. California has thrown out ‘whole language’ (inspired by NZ educators in the 80s) and has also introduced phonics approach. And our 20% reading ‘achievement tail’ was produced as evidence that primary schools are failing to teach students to read and, of course, the simplistic notion that our scary prison population has resulted from reading failure. Not that our long ‘achievement tail’ is not a serious one.

The protagonists were Tom Nicholson, a rabid phonics fan who has just written a book on the subject, a pro phonics professor from Californians, and in the other corner our current Minister of Education.

It wasn’t such an uneven debate as might have seemed expected. A determined effort by the interviewer to force the Minister into mandating phonics in our schools didn't come off. Tom Nicholson stated no one had been taught to use phonics for three decades, that teachers were not allowed to, and that the ‘mixed’ NZ approach was not doing the trick as evidenced by the ‘achievement tail’ and the illiterate prison population.

The American professor admitted that whole language had been found wanting in California but that after phonics had been introduced the scores hadn’t changed. This he put down to immigration, cultural differences and poverty. Seemed like a clue to our ‘achievement tail’?

The Minister, fresh from seeing for himself the results of intensive literary training in a group of trial school which had shown remarkable success, was up to the occasion. He stated his belief in the NZ ‘balanced’ literacy approach, one which included phonics, while admitting teachers need a better understanding of literacy teaching including phonics.

While Nicholson (and the interviewer) wanted the Minister to follow the UK way and mandate phonics the American supported the Minister’s idea of providing phonics in realistic contexts as part of a balanced programme. He warned against simplistic solutions.

It was great to hear our Minister talking about the need for: a ‘personalized’ approach, the need for ‘rich’ language experiences, tailoring instruction through diagnostic teaching to the needs of the learner, as preferable to a ‘one size fits all’ mandated approach. He shared the ideas of ‘evidence based teaching’, he had just seen, where students and teachers could both articulate what they could do and what they need to learn or teach; and he shared impressive statistics to show how much these learners had progressed.

It is obvious that phonics is no ‘silver bullet’ but useful tool in decoding reading for students at risk. And worldwide there is research to indicate it would be mistake to mandate phonics as the number one way to teach reading.

The new draft NZ Curriculum includes grapho-phonics as an element of reading within the context of a language rich programme that challenges students to want to learn.

This is as it should be. We just have to do it better.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The earlier the better!

  Posted by Picasa Now and then common sense hits the newspapers about education.

Everyone has all sorts of cures for the number of casualties in our society particularly when it comes to schooling. Solutions for some seem as 'basic' as making phonics compulsory in all schools. If only it were so simple. Too many of our problems are already predetermined by our increasingly dysfunctional society before children get to school.

With this in mind it was great to read in an article in our local paper that we have a real cure already - one that has been largely overlooked or at best paid lip service to; the strategic significance of early intervention. It is common sense that the earlier you intervene in anything the better. And as the article said, ‘the magic time is well before they get to school. Wait till the kid’s turn eight and you’ve missed the bus.’

Scientists studying early brain development know that babies are born with unformed and plastic brain and that they start learning from the moment they are born and also that the success ( or otherwise) at this stage affects the cognitive and emotional skills they acquire which in turn affects their success in life.

The trick we are told lies in the interaction with their parents or caregivers and to be really 'mind growing' the environment needs to be ‘nourishing and stimulating intellectually and emotionally.’ ‘The earlier the seed is planted and watered, the faster and larger it grows.’

This dynamic support system can be lacking in homes disadvantaged by poverty and the absence of positive support systems. Families, not schools, are the major source of inequality in the performance of students. Gaps emerge early in student achievement but after eight research shows that the school environment plays only a small part in accounting for achievement gaps.

The lack of success of many students, it has been shown, were sown early in their lives and any help provided at later stages is problematic. Too often, the article states, ‘they strike after the die is cast’, but studies show that early interventions are highly effective. Many of these programmes were judged a failure at the time because initial gains had been lost but researchers, who followed these children into later life, found the students involved earlier more than three times more likely to be successful at High School compared to those who hadn’t been involved in such programmes; by 27, were four times more likely to earning a high wage; three times more likely to own their own home; and twice as likely not to have been on welfare or arrested.

So why did such programmes, deemed an early failure, produce such impressive results longer term? This is evidently because Americans place too much emphasis on cognitive ability (IQ) rather than on cognitive ability or emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ covers such things as getting on with other people, working with others and such things as perseverance and tenacity – attributes that help in many aspects of life.

It is common sense that taxpayer’s money, currently used helping many dysfunctional older learners and adults, would be better spent in ensuring all children get a good start in life.

And it is pretty clear as well that too much current education is centred on cognitive achievement rather than the wider dispositions and qualities necessary to be successful in life. As a result learner’s brains and their life potential are not fully realized – and as a result their creativity and contributions wasted.

Puting money into solving poverty and supporting early education for those 'at risk' pays off.

Maybe it is the wider society that is dysfunctional?

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The dark side of feedback!

  Posted by Picasa These days there are few teachers that don’t include in their teaching vocabulary the phrase ‘feedback’ and, to show they are on the ball, ‘feed forward’! And there are few rooms that don’t have written out (in ‘student friendly language’) ‘learning intentions’. And of course there are ‘negotiated criteria’ and ‘student self assessment’ to be developed. All these techniques are linked to the efficient sounding phrase ‘evidence based teaching’. All very technocratic if hardly original.

The proof is always in the results; in what students can demonstrate and do rather than recorded statistics and fancy graphs. And this ‘proof’, if it is required by those outside the classroom, ought to include attitudinal ‘data’ as well. All too often subjective aspects of learning, such as desire to continue with the activity, are missing.

Too often the processes have replaced substance; learning is essentially about every individual making their own meaning

All these ideas seem to come from literacy projects relating to the ideas about formative assessment led by people like John Hattie. Hattie’s basic research finding was that the single most important way to improve students learning is ‘oodles and oodles of feedback.’ Hardly an original insight; I have observed creative teachers, who really value what students think and can do, using these ideas for decades.

Creative teachers succeeded because of their focus on helping students achieve creative work required them to help with a 'light hand'!. The difference between what creative teachers want and the formative assessment ‘converts’ is this avoidance of conformity – the valuing of individual responses rather than imbedding a way of thinking. And to make things worse many teachers, by applying a heavy handed exemplar criteria based approach to areas such as art, are developing classrooms that reflect teacher’s ideas rather than the imagination of their students.

These dangers were pointed out by Noelene Alcorn, in NZCER Set 1 2005, who wrote that this emphasis on evidence based policy making and teaching, while having value, may as well lead to a narrowing of teaching possibilities. She says this narrow emphasis of issues of ‘evaluation, assessment, and measurement have become a major focus'. By placing student’s success or failure in the hands of the teachers skill of using such techniques could place unnecessary responsibity or ‘scape-goating’ on teachers.

She also mentions that there are a number of other exciting approaches to learning that are available that may be being neglected, and that this ‘new found faith in evidence based teaching needs tempering.’ She is concerned that evidence based teaching is at the expense of ‘creativity imagination and higher order understanding. Teacher creativity has also suffered.’ She continues, ‘imagination and mystery are integral part of our lives. Not all evidence is factual. Education is a life long process concerned with much more than achievement of specified knowledge and skills.’

And in respect to this faith in feedback research has shown that feedback can actually reduce ones capacity for honest self reflection by reinforcing our expectations that others will and should tell us how we are doing and therefore reducing self accountability and belief in ones own ideas.

All this is not to say that these ‘evidence based’ techniques are not valuable, it is just that they should be used with sensitivity and respect for the identity and voice of the students.

If teachers notices that their students writing, art and verbal responses, are becoming ‘clone like’ then it might be time to ‘lighten up’. We may be turning into ourselves into technicians and in the process sacrificing the artistry of teaching and the mystery of learning.

The future requires not just those who can learn efficiently but learners with their talents and passions developed; with the imagination and confidence to their live creatively.

Thinking from the inside out!

Teaching ‘thinking’ seems an important thing to do but paradoxically too much emphasis on ‘higher order thinking’ (HOT) can actually result in low level thinking!

Teachers can become so enamored with de Bono’s hats, Bloom’s taxonomy, Gardner’s multiple intelligences, graphic organizers, mind maps, Costa’s intelligent behaviors and endless inquiry learning models that the focus is taken off what it is the students are actually learning.

Not that anything is wrong with any of the above – they are all valuable ‘thinking process but they are a means to an end, students able to achieve real in-depth thinking about content felt to be important to the learner. As such they only work if driven by deep curiosity and a passion to find out something by the individual learner. All too often when I visit rooms I see walls full of posters outlining thinking skills but search in vain for quality results of all the processes. Such ‘thinking props’ ought to be placed in a ‘my thinking book’ book for students to refer to as necessary leaving the walls to celebrate student creativity.

It was great then to read in Mark Treadwell’s ‘A Thinking Framework’ Jan /Feb 2006 newsletter that the basis of thinking is personal and revolves around the question, ‘how do I know I am me?’ Thinking is an internal process of self invention; about developing our continually emerging mind by coming to understand ones personal world. It is developing in each learner a learning identity with a particular idiosyncratic voice.

By this process of self invention we all develop mental models which in turn help us interpret ant future experiences – for better or worse. What we think and do, and see other do, is limited by our internal world view. Our views are colored by our life experiences and interpretations. The room for misinterpretation is obvious

Rather than spending time teaching everyone a set of thinking strategies it would be wiser to pay attention to what students think and feel and to focus on what questions and queries they have, and to value their views, current theories and misconceptions.

Our minds are continually on the search to find patterns and meaning in whatever experiences we have. Humans are the only animals dedicated to ‘making meaning’ so as to change their environment suits their needs. It is this desire, or love of learning, that should take priority not imposing out of context think skills.

Helping students become aware of their ‘views’ and ‘thinking’ ought to be the focus of teaching – this awareness of ones own thinking is called meta-cognition and students who can achieve this are the real future thinkers. Encouraging such reflective thinking after any activity is vital if students are to ‘learn’ through their experiences.

The need to learn can be motivated by a number of things – curiosity, confusion, mystery, competition, identity and even fear. Really comprehending how students think is an elusive task but luckily the brain is equipped to process information and even has specialist areas for different modes (multiple intelligences). What is required is the provision of a stimulating environment full of intellectual challenges and a culture that encourages the use of intelligent behaviors (including learning through ‘failure’) to encourage the dispositions, or intellectual ‘habits’, to be life long learners. Any specific thinking skills should be called on appropriately to assist students make meaning. Inevitably whatever is learned is learnt because it has emotional meaning to the individual. Passionate teaching, linked to students needs to know, is vital.

So learning results from when students ‘mental model’ or ‘worldviews’ are challenged and modified. It is not as rational as providing a set of thinking skills. The model of teaching that best fits this approach is constructivism, or better still ‘co-constructivism’ where the teacher and learn together to ‘make up their minds’.

Teachers need to become skilled in establishing learning cultures or communities and in providing tempting learning challenges, and by using 'open', 'rich', or 'fertile' questions, assist their students think deeply about whatever has attracted their attention.

Whe need students when they leave formal schooling with their talents and passions developed, with positive learning values in place, and with the wisdom to be able to interact critically with whatever comes their way.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Which came first - the chicken or the egg?

  Posted by Picasa Does a school develop its vision first then set about putting it into practice, or does it decide that, since current reality is not working, to work towards something better and in the process develop a new vision? And does it really matter?

The most important thing is for a school to have a shared sense of direction that acts like a 'moral compass' helping all decide what are the ‘best’ actions to take. There will be no best actions but some are better than others.

A widespread realization is that a school should have a compelling vision of what it could become. But visions, without the 'buy in' of all staff members (or a critical mass), have no real power to change anything and are just a form of 'window dressing'. 'A vision without action is merely a dream.'

To develop a compelling vision that all 'buy into' requires a process where the ‘voice’ and concerns of all involved are recognised and valued. Every teacher, no matter how cynical, has an image of an ideal school somewhere in their mind and taking time to uncover this is well worthwhile. Even when a vision is 'drafted' out the hardest bit is actually defining what this new vision means in action. Everyone needs to be involved in thinking through what changes need to be made; most of all each individuals previously unexamined teaching habits! This requires courage and leadership by all because changing 'mindsets' is not easy. ‘A good past’, someone said, ‘is dangerous it makes us content with the present and so unprepared for the future.’

This is no easy process but done well it will result in a vision community owned by all.

In contrast schools that recognize that their school is failing their students, or who simply 'feel' their must be a better way, and then who set about exploring new ideas about how to teach and learn, can develop the ‘knowledge in action’ to develop a vision that, when realized, all will feel part of.

This idea of ‘growing a vision’, built out of the ideals of all involved, may be the most powerful process of all and ends up with a collective sense of direction owned by all.

One thing is for sure, there is no easy way to develop a powerful compelling vision. No way can you copy one, unless you do the hard work needed to ‘own it’.

Whatever way a school goes about developing a vision the process of shared dialogue is vital. The final proof will be seen in the actions and behaviors of all involved not in the paper work proudly displayed in the foyer. A vision lead school, no matter how the process begins, is an exciting diverse place to teach and learn in – a place of continual exploration and adventure; a true learning community full of good ideas, energy and hope.

'A vision with actions can change the world.'

As far as the 'chicken and egg' argument goes – my sense is that both are true. Teachers given the right conditions will always thrive and be creative.

Schools that fail are those with no shared vision.

From solitary play to collegiality.

  Posted by Picasa Relationships are the key to a quality school.

Relationship can range from vigorously healthy to dangerously competitive says Roland Barth, Director of the Leadership Centre Harvard University.

Strengthen relationships and you improve professional practice. The relationships between the teachers define all the other relationship in the school and determine the quality of the school culture.

Many schools, Barth writes, are full of ‘non discussables’- important matters seldom discussed. Such things as: poor leadership, issues of race, the underperforming teacher, the place of our own personal visions and, of course, the quality of relationships. Actually we do talk about them, Barth writes, but in the car park after staff meetings. The definition of a 'non discussable' is an issue of sufficient import that it commands our attention but is so incendiary that we cannot discuss it in polite society and they ‘lurk as land mines’.

Barth says there are various forms of relationships

1. Parallel play – a concept from pre school literature where young people play together alone, self obsessed and engrossed, not really sharing or collaborating. This seems a perfect description of how many teachers interact (the ‘self contained’ classroom) and also the relationships between adjoining schools – ‘we are all in this - alone’.

2. Adversarial relationships. This can be as simple of withholding information or not sharing ideas and insights (‘craft knowledge’); ‘guarding their tricks’.This can result in teachers continually repeating failed ideas. Often teachers who share ideas are subtly put down by their ‘colleagues’.

3. Congenial relationships. Such schools abound with positive interactive relationships but rarely about serious school issues. A place to drink and eat but not to think – ‘no talking about teaching in the staffroom’.

4. Collegial relationships. Of the four this is the most important and hardest to establish. ‘Schools are full of good players. Collegiality is about getting them to play together, having learning conversations, about growing a professional learning community.’ A professional learning community is built on continual discussion about what is important – the beliefs shared about teaching and learning. Simple ‘walk and talk’ staff meetings, sharing ideas, are a simple beginning.

Leadership is all about creating the conditions for teachers to share ideas and to foster collegial relationships; about making it clear what is important in the school; developing with the staff clear beliefs and clear expectations and protecting and celebrating those who engage in collegial behavior.

As Barth says, ‘Empowerment, recognition, satisfaction, and success come only from being an active participant within a masterful group – a group of colleagues.’

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Teachers can be prickly individuals

  Posted by Picasa

It does seem a paradox at times when teachers do not demonstrate enthusiasm for a new idea that would improve both their teaching and their student’s learning – and possibly make teaching more fun.

But it is also understandable as teachers over the years have been bombarded with ideas they ought to implement provided by distant, sometimes instant, 'experts'!

Some teachers, like their students, just find it easier to keep their heads down and play the game. This is a wise survival move particularly as no one seems that interested in the voice or concerns of the teachers

As a result many teachers seem to have adopted a few basic myths;

1. Some teachers believe that theory is not important to them as they are practical people and know what works for them. Asking teachers to articulate their theories, one observer writes, ‘Is akin to asking fish to examine water.’

2. Many teachers hold the view that teachers should be able to ‘do their own thing’ in the classroom as there is no one best way.

3. Some believe as ‘professionals’ they feel they ought to be trusted rather than be held accountable.

4. Some are delicate flowers very sensitive about perceived criticism, either direct or implied.

5. And of course there are the cynical and suspicious who have suffered at the hands of countless failed innovations. Many withdraw into their own world and in the worst of case become ‘cryogenics’; the ‘living dead’.

These are the ‘prickly teachers’ that are easily upset.

The challenge is to develop a school culture that can help such teachers reach past such counterproductive myths.

There are teachers in all schools who are open to new ideas that are there to help them if they were to ask but it difficult to change ingrained habits, particularly in traditional schools that reflect fragmented learning and privatization of teaching.

Another myth that gets in the way of school change is the putting down of teachers with ideas as ‘showing off’ and as a result such valuable teachers begin to downplay their expertise rather than evoking jealously from their peers.

All is not lost. Beyond such ‘defensive masks’ most teachers long to be part of a collegial community; one that values each persons uniqueness and contribution.

The first step would be to begin a conversation about what would make an ideal school for both teachers and learners. A number of issues would arise and teachers could themselves start to decide for themselves what needs to be done.

Teacher designed schools, teachers as learners – now that is a vision worth fighting for.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Time to throw a spanner in the works!

  Posted by Picasa It is not hard to see secondary schools as artifacts of the 19th C .They so much resemble the Industrial Revolution on which they were based. They may be kinder gentler places today – for some students that is debatable, but they retain the features of a true industrial aged hierarchial organization or, worse still, a factory!

Bells ring, students are passed from teacher to teachers to have information fed to them and they are tested and marked accordingly at the end of the assembly. There has been at least some cosmetic improvement – rather than 50% failing (a common practice within living memory) all students are now placed on some sort of achievement continuum - 20% leaving with litle to show for their time.

It is all about standardization, control and obedience, the very attributes young learners most need not to learn if they are to succeed in an age of creativity, ideas and imagination.

It is about time to throw a spanner in the works of such archaic organizations and to develop schools as democratic learning communities based on shared values that focus on developing the talents and creativity of all learners.

Customization or personalization of learning needs to replace the current ‘one size fits all’ approach.

A country can no longer afford to waste such valuable intellectual resources. We now know enough about teaching and learning that no student need fail but only if we change our minds and our schools first.

Pass around the spanners.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

No strategy plan for the future!

  Posted by Picasa There is no doubt when you look around the various Ministries and Education Departments around the world the dinosaurs are alive and well.

The world at the beginning of the 21stC seems to have much in common with the age of the dinosaurs. The comet is on the horizon and climatic change is upon us but like dinosaurs we all happily go on as if nothing could ever change.

And, like the dinosaurs unable to change, we seem doomed for extinction. Quite the contrary we seem determined to use whatever resources we have in a frenzy of greed – nations fight over the last drop of oil ( under the name of freedom of course!) .Locally we buy up beach land and build monuments to ourselves and generally pollute our environment.

There are a few who can see beyond expediency and are beginning to worry that it can’t go on as it is – the industrial age has all but destroyed itself and its institutions like school are caught in the same trap.

But who is listening?

In the meantime, out of view, ideas are emerging like the placental mammals in dinosaurs days, that, although they maybe smaller, are more adaptable and flexible. It would be hard for the dinosaurs to believe that they will become the dominant form of the future.

Of course dinosaurs couldn't think and it seems the same could be applied to the current educational dinosaurs.

Who will know what will emerge but one thing we can be sure of – it won’t be because of the current educational ‘elites’: strategy plans, targets, curriculums, contracts and guidelines. These ancient ideas are the last dance of the dinosaurs creaky bones, about as valuable as rain dances in these fast moving times.

Like the old dinosaurs before them the 'educational dinosours, when the future arrives, won't know what hit them! And those that replace them won’t even care except to place them in museums of failed ideas!

If you want to survive keep an eye open for some crazy new ideas!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Stumbling into the future; the blind leading the blind

  Posted by Picasa

As a country we continue to stumble our way into the future led by politicians who seem to believe that the future will some sort of extension of the past when, in reality, we need some new visionary thinking.

It is not as if there are no signs that things aren’t working out. Almost all our organizations and institutions are failing to do their task as designed – our health system, the justice system, our roads, our industries, our prisons and our schools. The trouble is they were all planned in a past simplistic industrial age where people at the top new best. Add to this environmental problem and the oil crisis and it would seem new thinking would be obvious.

The trouble is our current government is bogged down in the status quo. They need to realize it is time to at least begin a dialogue on worrying issues but they seem bereft of any idea of what is required and simply drift from crisis to crisis. And the opposition is no better.

The future will be different and not a linear extension of the past. We are in the middle of a major change from an industrial society to one based on ideas and creativity. To thrive in this new, as yet undefined world, we will need to rethink all our organizations and, in particular, schools if we are to develop ‘new minds for a new millennium’. The status quo needs to be interrogated and hidden faulty assumptions uncovered if we are to break the unthinking habits that tie us to the past if we are to live with ease in changing world.

As a country we deserve better but too many citizens are all too focused on their own personal needs (survival or greed) to consider the bigger picture. It is the blind leading the blind!

Would it be great if out ‘lame duck’ government faced up to the situation and, realizing that they have little chance of being re-elected, actually started the process of developing a new sense of direction for us all; one that we all could aligning our creative efforts behind. It is about the power of vision.

The reality of the failing current situation needs to be placed in front of all citizens so they can consider the various options available. Until this is done we will remain stuck in either or arguments when what we need is a range of options to think about – and with the thought there is no one right answer. The future will require constant rethinking.

Out of this national dialogue/conversation a new vision could be created. Or at least it would be a start.

What we need is some inspirational thinking from out politicians if we are to transform our country. Transformation is a word politician’s love to use but action is now required. Actions mean change. Change means upsetting the status quo. Upsetting the status quo requires courage.

The trouble is our government has become insulated from the needs of people and is too busy listening to their political analysts, advisers and ‘spin doctor’s, all of whom are employed to tell the government what they want to hear!

We need to reinvent ourselves. Other countries have done it: Singapore, Ireland and Finland.

So far there is no real need for change coming from anywhere. We are all too blind to see we can’t keep going on as we are but eventually the signs of trouble bubbling away in our complacent society will become too great to ignore. Change will be forced on us; but by then it might be too late.

Far better to control our own destiny.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Big Count : Census 2006

  Posted by Picasa No doubt teachers throughout New Zealand will be focusing on the census this week? The big count!

The five- yearly Census of Population is the largest official survey taken in New Zealand to see who where are as a country. It will go out to 4.2 million people and 1.6 million dwellings and will cost 70 million dollars

Every person and household will be involved and so it will affect all our students.

What a great chance to involve students in authentic research and to involve them in important social issues.

Students could research why we need to have a census.

Where does the word census come from?

Who might use the data?

Why does the census have to be compulsory?

As well it is great opportunity to consider how New Zealand, their local community or their school, has changed over the years. Students could draw up a set of their own question to ask of their parents?

Then they will need to decide how they are going to present their findings.

Our local paper provides information about how the population has grown since the 1901 census. The changing figures make an interesting graph and the basis for all sorts of discussions. The 1901 census asked how many servants households had! In 1926 they asked how many chickens people owned! The number of people living in the country and the town has changed dramatically over the years. Now people are asked about numbers of cars and their ethnic nationality groups. A new question this year is about the number of people who smoke!

Schools will have been sent information packs for teachers to use and, if not, the official NZ Census site might be worth a look? Also look up Statistics New Zealand.

Be great if citizens were to be asked to comment on what kind of country we want New Zealand to become – it doesn’t seem right to let the direction of our country to be left in the hands of politicians and technocrats.

May be we need a new survey – a national conversation about what kind of country we want to be seen as?

Where are we going is just as important as where we are now and where we have come from.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Walking through your classrooms

  Posted by Picasa It is early days yet in our classrooms but not too early to get a picture of what has been achieved so far by individual teachers.

Perceptive teachers will by now have developed environments that clearly indicate the important messages they want their students to gain while in their classroom. Equally perceptive principals – that is if they are educational leaders – will have indicated agreed school expectations to all teachers.

Take a quick walk around the classrooms at your school to see what impressions they give to you – a good idea is to pretend you are taking around a group of new parents or visitors.

This is not as superficial as you would think. Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘Blink’ talks about ‘thin slicing’ – the ability to gather a lot of information in a glance. Of course the quality of the information depends on the expertise of the individual. Wine connoisseurs can tell at a sip the quality of a wine while others of us are none the wiser after a bottle!

So what does your room environments tell about what the school values?

Before you say it is to early – think if you were opening a new shop in the local mall – would you leave first impressions to chance?

Are the room’s colourful, exhibiting student’s art and examples of work from their projects? By now the first class unit of the year ought to be coming to fruition. Does the room reflect the key questions for the unit and outline expected tasks?

Do the class whiteboards / blackboards illustrate teacher planning and management?

And do the student books that are in view show an effort to inculcate appropriate design and presentation standards – by Easter the student’s book work should be showing qualitative improvement in design and content but only if that is the teacher and school expectation.

Is their evidence of negotiated class rules and behavior expectations to be seen?

All this can be taken in by an expert 'blink' – the power of 'thin slicing'. Equally for those without the expertise the room could be patchy, flat, and dull, and not even be noticed.

If I were a parent I would avoid such rooms – but luckily most parents are not so aware - or are they?

For a teacher who understands the power of design and emotions it is a great point of differentiation. It I were a teacher today I know what you would see if you came into my room – I wouldn’t leave it to chance! And I would have to tell you – you would see it at a glance.

Ideas to halp:

Classroom criteria
Presentation of student work
Developing a sense of quality
Classroom display for unit of work