Friday, June 30, 2017

Urgency. Transformation. Optimism. The way for schools.

During my sabbatical visits all school leaders spoke of the 'parent push-back' they encountered. While many spoke of having the confidence of the large percentage of their parent community they had to spend a lot of time dealing with small groups who wished to move their schools back to more traditional models. This is despite all parents knowing what the schools were like before they applied for their child to attend.

I am of the view that expecting and dealing with this type of push-back is an essential part of the leadership of a school contributing to the transformation of education. I also believe that we at HPSS have the confidence of the majority of our parents. Most of them see their kids wanting to be at school, being engaged in their learning, and developing excellent dispositions to prepare them for their present and future.

The frustrations I experience are with groups who do not have a connection with the school forming a view of our model without investigating it. Some of our parents tell me that some of their friends tell them we are a school where kids can do what they like, where there is no testing etc. While we are doing things differently, both of these are far from the truth.

Over the last few days I attended a Minister of Education Cross Sector Forum at which the new Digital Technologies Curriculum was introduced and have read some articles on future schooling etc. All of this has strengthened my resolve for how we are approaching education at our school. But, more importantly, I am feeling for the first time a groundswell gaining momentum and a shared sense of urgency.

It started at the Cross Sector Forum where a group of Lynfield College students from their Robotics Club spoke of their experiences. Even though they ae national and world champions they spoke only a little about their robotics. They talked about how the type of learning they experienced through their interest in robotics "taught them how to lead and taught them how to teach"! They talked about how they were knees deep in breaking down gender stereotypes. They also noted that the fun and passion they experienced in their robotics learning was not replicated across the rest of their learning. That's the challenge for us. If students are motivated enough to spend hours of their spare time having fun, exploring their passion and learning deeply about not only technical skills but inter-personal and self-regulation skills as well, surely we as teachers and schools can be motivated to make this possible for all learning.

This was followed up by Education Minister Nikki Kay who spoke of digital fluency as an essential life skill and that we were now moving past the structure provision phase to the people moving phase. She acknowledged issues of teacher workload and stated that if assessment is a major cause of workload then that was "an easy fix". I love the sound of that. You can read a recent blog post from Claire Amos on an innovative approach which removes high stakes assessment from schools and teachers so we can concentrate on deep learning and supporting students to collate evidence of learning.

Frances Valintine, an Education Futurist (think MindLab), then painted a clear picture of the world not too far in the future that we need to be preparing students for (something which I firmly believe conventional schooling is not doing). She spoke about:

  • moving from 'using digital' to 'being digital'
  • now time to hack education
  • the largest group in the world are Generation Z (currently in schools) and largely being taught by Baby Boomers and Generation X - are we holding them back?
  • entrepreneurship is in the DNA of Gen Z
    • they see the digital revolution as creating jobs (Baby boomers talk of it destroying jobs!)
While the Digital Technology curriculum is only a part of what a school delivers (though gaining increasing prominence) the messages from the Minister and Frances have filled me with hope. Have a listen to Claire's interview on Radio NZ which captures the excitement and optimism many of us feel.

I really enjoyed seeing one of Frances' slides which captured how schools could lead in this new environment.
 The last 2 points resonate as they ae central to the vision at our school:

  1. Create a delightful education experience. Contextualise all learning in real-world scenarios.
  2. Develop a student-led environment

This morning I came across this article in the Sydney Herald. It identifies the importance of literacy and numeracy as key skills, but it also identifies the need for the development of another range of skills conventional schools are not necessarily bringing to the fore:

  • resilience
  • growth mindset
  • capacity to fail and try again
  • empathy
  • collaboration
  • creativity
It also, quite correctly, acknowledges great teaching will never be obsolete and that "the relationships teachers form with students, to inspire them and lead them to greater things, will be more important than ever." It doesn't, however, hide the fact that teaching has to be different to be great in this new environment.

And picking up on the workload issue of assessment, we often frame this as a negative impact on teachers (which it is) but this morning I also read this article which describes the impact on a particular student.

So there are plenty of reasons to support the transformation of secondary schools. I am not comfortable with a model of learning and assessing having such a impact on the well-being of the young people we are supposed to be serving. Solutions to this issue will also have positive impacts on teachers. And we can't escape the digital revolution which is occurring right now.

There are certainly pitfalls ahead of us but if we invest in our young people, get out of their way a bit and concentrate on the development of dispositions and ethical behaviour I'm more optimistic than pessimistic.

We also need strong national leadership which partners with us to bring our communities with us. Right now I have confidence in our Minister to play her part and hope she maintains a strong partnership with thinkers like Frances Valintine and listens to the voice and questions from leaders such as Claire Amos (and the many others doing great stuff in our schools).

The future is in the hands of these Gen Z in our schools. I know none of the ones I work with would sell citizenship to the highest bidder or accept that it is OK for people to live on the street or factor in poverty as an inevitable outcome of how we do things in our country.

More optimistic than pessimistic!

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