Sunday, October 18, 2015

"You've got to have control before you can teach them!"

"The country's top schools are in open revolt against the Ministry of Education for being forced into multimillion-dollar "barn" classrooms where students are left on their own to learn."

There is so much wrong with the opening sentence from this front page article of this week's Sunday Star Times. This 'top schools' label really irks me and sums up the too-narrow definition of what it means to be a great school. It is more, surely, than having more "NCEA scholarships" than any other school. As well, this label is an insult to the many outstanding schools that are in NZ that fail to meet this narrow definition.

And what about these multimillion-dollar "barn" classrooms where students are left on their own to learn? I've seen plenty of students left on their own to learn in traditional classrooms.

And where does the principal of one of NZ's top schools in Auckland get his reasoning to claim: "The personalised learning philosophy does not encourage students' development of thinking skills and creativity"? Perhaps he could start by coming to our school for a visit and talk with our students.

And the principal from one of the other top schools in Wellington espouses that, "students would not learn what they need to learn if left to their own devices." I have no idea how this is linked to a discussion on MLEs. Perhaps he should visit as well (and drop in at Te Karaka on the way and talk with Karyn Gray).

And then back to Auckland where the principal of another top school dismisses MLEs because "you've got to have control before you can teach them"! He seems to be arguing that teaching and learning begins with control from the teacher and that that is more easily managed by putting 30-35 students into an enclosed space with one teacher. Once control is established learning can occur!

This view belongs with the dinosaurs.

My biggest frustration is that these three principals are wheeled out to comment knowledgeably on a topic about which they obviously have very little knowledge. They're all good dudes but they should decline to comment on such issues.

Thankfully, before I read the article I came across this post by one of our students on our Facebook Page. She seems to have developed some thinking skills.

And on Saturday one of our students helped me run an information session for job applicants at our school. 

Faced with 60 teachers she was unfazed when she was asked to name the three qualities that teachers need to display to be a good teacher for her school:
  • Passion for our Vision
  • Active communication with students and families
  • Accommodate a range of needs and be flexible
Sally's blog post is an excellent response to the article. I hope principals of top schools find the time to read it.
And while they're reading blogs they should dip into Steve's post on learner agency to see how students truly develop thinking skills and creativity.
It was left to the Deputy Head Boy of one of these top schools to speak the most sense: "People feel like they're being watched so they're more focused on their behaviour, teachers stay on topic more." These are two good things: students being self-aware and teachers being purposeful. This is where the necessary control comes from so that learning can be effective. The principal from the other top school should go and have a chat with him.

We welcome any of these principals to come along and talk with our learners because it's the kids, and not us leaders, who tell it how it is.