Monday, March 18, 2013

Is Moral Purpose enough?

Ken Robinson, in his presentation, "Schools kill creativity," says:

The education system has mined our minds in the way that we've strip mined the earth for a particular commodity and for the future it won't service.  We have to re-think the fundamental purposes on which we are educating our children.  We need to celebrate the gift of the human imagination - Seeing our creative capacities for the richness that they are and seeing our children for the hope that the are.  Our task is to educate their whole being so they can face this future."

We are in a privileged position at Hobsonville Point Schools to develop a school that embraces creativity and create an environment that allows students to pursue passions and enjoy learning.  An environment that sees students for who they are and what they bring, rather than seeing what 'box' they can fit into.  This is not to say it can't be done anywhere else.  As I've said previously, a modern learning environment helps, but it's not the catalyst.  An environment where students are at the centre, where they have every opportunity possible to pursue their interests and link their learning to their passions is completely reliant on teacher disposition.

So what is the right disposition?  Teachers who are agentic, not deficit:  they don't hold all the knowledge and value, rather than judge, the views that each of their students bring.  They don't dictate to students what they are going to learn, but collaborate and co-construct each students learning around students prior knowledge. They love working with students - they like children!  They want to know their students for who they are, not for what they can turn them into.  Teachers who can personalise students learning.

Wouldn't these dispositions be the expectation? I have an unfailing belief that people enter the teaching profession because they want to make a difference - they have a moral purpose.    Michael Fullan defines 'moral purpose' as "acting with the intention of making a positive difference in the lives of the people it affects." So what happens?  What goes wrong?  Why do some (actually too many) educators fall into the trap of teaching to assessment, continue with traditional teaching methods and content that clearly don't fit their students and take the approach that 'one size fits all?  Some would argue that current school environments and structures don't allow for '21st century teaching and learning'.  Or that they are meeting the demands of the community.  And yes, these reasons may be true, however, they can't be the reason for poor teacher practice.  Pressure from the school community is a very real issue.  However, it's what we do with that pressure, those demands, that is most important.  Many of our communities / parents views of what school should look like is based on their experiences and what worked for them (or in some cases - what didn't work).   It is our responsibility to work with our families about what education should look like to best meet the needs of their children. As for structures, currently there is a an emphasis on modern learning environments.  With a lot of restructuring happening, schools are being outfitted with open learning spaces and state of the art technology, but the shift that needs to happen before the structural one is a pedagogical one.  In all educational institutions we need to ensure we're not putting the cart before the horse.  Effective teaching and learning will only occur if the teacher that is placed in that modern leraning environment has the mindset and disposition to make a difference.

I still stand strong that moral purpose is alive and well.  However, it is not enough and it will not result in effective teaching and learning.  Once again I refer to Fullan, who I think captures the essence of what is needed: Teachers must become change agents - "Moral purpose keeps teachers close to the needs of children and youth; change agentry causes them to develop better strategies for accomplishing their moral goals."  Fullan sees four core capacities for building greater change capacity - personal vision building/ inquiry, mastery and collaboration.  

So, to answer the question of what happens? (or in this case, what doesn't happen?) When teacher's rest on having 'moral purpose' and don't continually inquire into what making a difference means for individual students, nothing changes.   'Personal vision building' means to continually examine why we choose teaching.  The desire to continually inquire ensures our purpose is never static.  We must be willing life-long learners, especially if it's a capacity we want to develop in our students.  Inquiry is also crucial for keeping our purpose / vision relevant and alive.  'Mastery'  is about achieving deeper understanding and to ensure our mindset is evolving to meet the demands of a forever changing environment.  The ability to collaborate is vital - to be leaders of pedagogical change we can't learn on our own.  

Bottom line:  teaching and learning is not a static profession.  We must move beyond a 'moral purpose' to make a sustainable difference.

Good reading:  Fullan, Michael: Why teachers must become change agents (Educational Leadership; March 1993; 50,6; Research Library, page 12-17)  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What works?

 You just have to google 21st Century Learning / Personalised learning / Big Picture Ed / any of those key words to get a very clear message - The current model of education no longer fits.  As Sugata Mitra says, it's not broken - it's actually still very robust as it has been around for the last 300 years, producing students with set skills.  This may have worked at a time when the nature of the workforce could be easily determined. However, now jobs of the future are undetermined.  Set skills are no longer the desired product for the workforce.  The design needs to be changed in order to develop thinkers and problem solvers (amongst other things).  What do we do when something becomes outdated?  I'd suggest that we don't hang in there with it, hoping it might make a comeback some day!  Or when we do attempt to bring it back, we find that it will never quite have the same impact as it once did (my hand-knitted leg warmers are coming to mind, along with Stubbies and wine cooler - they'd make an impact - but the wrong kind).  I digress.  My point - why keep on doing the same purley becuase that's what we've always done?

Look even closer to home - this same message is being reinforced by ERO and the NZC.  So, why  is it so challenging for educators to shift their thinking and practice?  For the very reason that Sugata suggests - the traditional model is so robust, however, this does not mean it's the right way.  Why change when you can show that a high percentage of your students are leaving your school with excellent qualifications?  However, just because they have the Quals, does this mean they've been engaged in learning, or have they just been doing what it takes to get through a predictable system.  I'm not saying that teaching and learning has not been effective - there is some outstanding practice occurring  but often in pockets.  Unfortunately, education is so assessment driven, but, as I keep questioning, does leaving school with a heap of credits equate to leaving school as confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners?

Our challenge isn't just knowing what education needs to look like, but also how to make it happen?

Over the last few weeks through investigating community projects that we could form partnerships with and through meeting fellow educators who are interested in what we are doing at Hobsonville Point, it has been incredible refreshing to connect with people who are passionate about education, passionate about teaching young people and providing opportunities for them to continually inquire and grow, and also passionate about their own learning.

I reflected back to my time at school and what made me pursue an English teaching pathway:  A teacher.  So often our own passions are ignited because of opportunities we are given, experiences we have or through positive relationships we develop.  Mr Lee was an avid and fanatical English teacher and quite the expert around all things 'English'.  However, this isn't what drove him.  What set him apart from your typical siloed subject teacher was his passion for teaching and learning and his desire to engage students in anyway possible - even if this meant putting himself out of his comfort zone!  On the other hand, my interest in History was quickly killed off by a teacher who was driven by the desire to fill her students with the information required to complete the assessments!  The specialist knowledge that teachers bring is important, but their disposition to be passionate, reflective, inquirers, innovative, learners, and pedagogically driven as opposed to  subject driven (this list is endless) is more important.

We have to remember - we are not teaching students to be 21st century learners - this is what they already are.  It's our responsible to provide them with the environment and opportunties to be 21st century learners and stop plying them with traditional models for the only reason being that this is what we have always done.

My daughter has just had a week at her school camp and had am incredible experience, learning lots, without realising she was learning (she thought she was just having fun!).  But now it's back to school and making sure she can cover enough to be assessed against the National Standards - not so fun.  Why do we seperate these experiences?  Education needs to be turned upside down.  When students have positive relationships with their teachers and are engaged in relavant and authentic teaching and learning experiences, the assessment will happen, amongst other wonderous things.