Monthly Archives: March 2011

Mistrusted, mistreated, misgivings

People say we’re in a time of opportunity, a time when we can shape our educational future like never before.   I hope that’s true.   It has caused me to reflect a little on what has gone before and there are some underlying themes throughout our recent history that are worth considering.

In his book ‘Unfinished Revolution’ John Abbott asks do we want ‘battery hens or free range chickens?’  This strikes me as a good metaphor for our curriculum journey.   It gets to the heart of the debate about whether the curriculum develops independent thinkers, confident learners who are resilient, reflective and like taking a risk, or whether it sacrifices these qualities for coverage, pace and shallow learning experiences.   Education is contstantly at the forefront of political debate these days, it’s a vote winner if the cards can be played to suit the electorate.   The curriculum was firmly grasped by government in the late 70s.   The Tyndale affair and Jim Callaghan‘s subsequent Ruskin college speech led to a standardised model which meant schools could no longer follow their own teachers’ interests and enthusiasms.   Callaghan claimed the landscape was uneven, the quality of provision too variable.   The National Curriculum followed and with it a whole raft of new powers for government.   It saw the end of a long period without government intervention and heralded in the 1988 Education Reform Act and a period of constant tinkering and meddling.   Subsequent governments have not been bold enough to go the whole hog in terms of reform and for fear of losing anything (and upsetting middle England) they simply added more and more content to an already overcrowded curriculum.

The 1988 Act introduced us to the ‘Kentucky Fried Curriculum’ (you run the restaurant, we’ll set the menu) and ‘karoake teaching’. It ushered in an era of mistrust and misgivings about the profession to such an extent that a DfE spokesman in the early 1990s saw fit to announce:

‘We have set out arrangements for what is effectively a ‘teacher proof curriculum’.   Centrally dictated, centrally controlled and centrally monitored.’

Such sentiments hardly imbue you with the belief that teachers were going to be treated with any professional respect!  That lack of trust has been a constant over the last 30 years.   A time where politicians have intervened with the electoral clock ticking behind them as they unleash one masterplan after another bent on winning votes and keeping them in office.   The problem with political interference is it has a short shelf life, and education needs time – long term solutions not quick wins as Andy Hargreaves so  convincingly argues.   It is no good for policy makers to continually look back at their own halycon, often privileged education and use it as a benchmark for taking us forward.   We need more than this if we are to meet the needs of learners for an uncertain future.

If this is the time of opportunity we’re being told it is, then policy makers have to show a some professional respect for educators, some trust in our ability to know how to develop learners and some faith in us to plan a curriculum that meets children’s needs.

Sources: Unfinished Revolution – John Abbott, Reinventing Schools, Reforming Teaching – Bangs, Macbeath and Galton


A Family of Schools – Working Together

As we prepare for  new working relationships without the traditional influence and sway of local authorities our school to school partnerships will become more important than ever.   It was heartening to hear David Hargreaves his week talk about this kind of support.   I am in a privileged position to be in a school that already benefits from active involvement in a number of networks and has plans to exploit these links further.

David talked about such relationships as family relationships, he referred to groups of schools as ‘families of schools’ and also explained that in the future we might belong to ‘multpile families’.  I like this notion and see these kind of relationships as crucial in moving our schools forward.   In such ‘family relationships’ trust matters: supporting each other, sharing problems and solutions and learning from each other inform improvement.   David gave some great examples of how such a model has worked in industry, in silicon valley and with heart surgeons – he asked ‘can we learn the same way in schools?’

It is reassuring to know you are working along the same lines as a leading academic and authority on education and systems leadership and plans to further develop our CPD through one of our ‘multiple families’ would fit David’s vision for the future I’m sure.

As the Kaizen Network, we have worked closely with our local partner schools on various ventures to support staff and pupils.   We have agreed common inset days and made the most of shared staff meetings and twilight sessions for a few years now, pooling our resources to mutual benefit, we have a range of teacher and pupil forums that enable ongoing dialogue, face to face meetings and online discusiion and these have cemented strong links.   This year we are looking at things slightly differently.   We have agreed one common inset day when all our staff will come together as we traditionally do, but our other days are all being taken at different times to enable staff to visit each others classrooms and schools to see them in operation.   Our previous visits have generally taken place when the children have usually left and we are conscious of how little opportunity teachers have to get into each other’s classrooms when learning is happening and childen are present.   Our plan is to create the time and opportunity for all staff in each of our schools to visit each other, to observe practice, share ideas and work together.   To benefit from what David Hargreaves calls ‘reciprocal knowledge transfer‘ and ‘joint practice development’.    Such an approach to CPD costs little and the rewards are potentially very powerful and long reaching, impacting on practice in a way few courses could.

As stated earlier, such a relationship requires trust, it requires leaders to be interested in the success of the system, not just of their own school and it requires a commitment and shared belief that learning is reciprocal between schools and beneficial to all. The future is exciting and we are enthusiastic about developing new and more effective ways of working together with our ‘families of schools.’


The new currency

‘The principle goal of education is to create people who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done – people who are creative, inventive and discoverers’

Piaget

 

The use of new technologies in education enables us to move beyond traditional boundaries, to do things we’ve never done before and to do things we have,  in a faster, more convenient way.  It has helped us blur the distinction between home and school, between formal and informal learning and to empower learners, using their preferred tools for learning rather than those dictated by tradition.    In a short few years ICT has moved centre stage.   From a discrete subject, taught in IT suites – much like science in science labs – to something that permeates every aspect of the curriculum.  Children see technology as an essential, natural tool for learning.   Indeed they are learning constantly, testing the capabilities of any device they use, not necessarily in our presence but learning all the same.   In certain areas of new technology many of us have to accept that our linear approach to learning might be at odds with children’s more experimental approach.  I often share a story from a few years ago (pre iphone!) when I was with a group of Y5 childen at a dance festival.   One of the pupils asked if she could have a look at my phone.   I gave it to her and within minutes she had returned it to me with a stangely morphing animation playing across the screen.   ‘That’s amazing Chelsea,’ I exclaimed.   ‘Have you got a phone like this?’  ‘No’. she replied!

Prakash Nair states ‘creativity is the new currency’ and its up to us to develop this key quality in learners.   As Piaget stated ‘the principle goal of education is to create people who are capable of doing new things’ our job is to bring out the creativity, to encourage children to take risks, to explore, discover and get excitied by where their learning might take them.   They start out in life with such an inquisitive nature, its up to us to make sure it isn’t knocked out of them by the system.


Into tomorrow-getting geared up for the future

Anyone doubting the power and importance of technology over our lives doesn’t have to look too far to see how it is shaping the world. Recent political events have shown that social networking can’t be seen as a fad, it is affecting change on a huge, global scale.

The innovative and creative use of technology can be a force for positive change in our schools and the way we learn. As educators we ignore this at our peril. In a world of such rapid growth and change standing still is not an option and indeed, is tantamount to moving backwards. We owe it to children to embrace new technologies as this is the closest we can get to the future world they’ll function in.

The pace of change in recent years has seen many schools develop their pedagogy to incorporate new thinking and learning tools. Interactive whiteboards, visualisers, laptops, handheld devices– some or all of these are now seen as the norm in classrooms as teachers look to blur the distinction between formal (school) and informal learning.

It isn’t easy to predict the future but it would be fair to guess we’ll see an advancement in some of the areas currently emerging in schools. As mobile devices grow in capability and connectivity it is going to be important for schools to ensure they can cater for the ‘increased traffic’ going through their servers. Schools won’t be in a position to meet the demands of pupils to get online with the systems originally built for an IT suite and a few class computers. It might not be the exciting, shiny end of the new technology revolution but it is the foundation we need to put in place if we are to accommodate the needs of learners.

What are your predictions for the future of new technologies in schools?   I’d love to hear your thoughts.