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)  

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