Excuses vs Innovation

barack-obama-posters-war-yes-we-can1I’ve been exploring the need for professional integrity and intellectual rigour in previous posts and why exercising these within the profession would lead to a culture of innovation instead of excuses.

We too often judge the quality of schooling on the results of students as if the onus and responsibility is on their shoulders to improve learning outcomes not the teachers.

How often do we hear this statement “if we had more money, more time, more resources…..we could improve student learning” or “you have to understand where these children come from…”.

It is time we looked at schooling through a different lens because for the past 100 years, we have assumed that there is only one lens for us to look through; one way to teach; one way to design classrooms; one way to structure timetables; one way to assess student knowledge etc.

This sort of innovation comes when teachers learn to stand with their students not apart from them.  We know that good learning and teaching is at its heart, a relational process. 

This relationship is strengthened when we understand as much about the student in all of their rich and diverse ways.  Rather than preparing students for tests, why can’t we ask ourselves or colleagues what information would help this student make the necessary connections and then develop the structures to help them achieve deep learning?

The answer may not be an end of term test, it may be very different.

7 thoughts on “Excuses vs Innovation

  1. Tests may provide educators with evidence of what a student has learned, but is the learning meaningful for the student?
    Over the past two years in my current school, there have been a variety of educational changes that have enabled teachers to become facilitators of students learning. In schools today, students need to be provided with authentic learning opportunities that enable them to construct their own knowledge and understanding. As we are now immersed in the knowledge era, it is crucial that educators focus on the present and future as opposed to focusing on the past. Being able to work alongside students, facilitating their learning increases not only their knowledge and understanding, but also their passion in learning. Students become willing to seek assistance and discuss their research with educators, as it interests them.

  2. For many years we have professed the interpersonal approach to our relationship with our students. This lens is and was quite suitable and still has a role. However it is not the only means and today our students have moved on to other means of relating, expressing and seeking feedback. This is not a judgemental exercise but one where we see our younger generation at. I believe we need to enter their world and explore with them as co learners to provide the pastoral, academic and social support necessary that allows them to develop as better human beings. I always imagined that our next generation has to reap the benefits of our decisions both positive and negative.

  3. I read a post by Pete Hall http://www.onemanuprising.com/2009/07/assessment-and-leaky-huts.html that talks about student assessment & data. Pete calls us to challenge the data we collect from assessments and converse with our colleagues, (and I would expect our students), entering into real dialogue about the validity of the data and whether it tells us all we can find out about that student and their learning. He also queries the idea of using a single assessment tool or as you say ‘term test’. It is a great post to complement the ideas you put forward here. As you have stated, learning & teaching is a relational process. There has got to be a greater emphasis put on dialogue and collaboration and discussion in learning and assessment, rather than simply testing, analysing and reporting test results. We are working with people, who, as Pete states are “..such marvelously complex creatures..”

    Interestingly too, in high achieving countries like Finland, it is the teacher’s knowledge of the students rather than ‘testing’ that seems to be a key factor in their success. I read this article recently that really highlighted that point. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2009/06/30/36global.h28.html?tkn=NTSFzwrkfcvCSz26E7vgX2QBv/QbGaP4b03T
    As you say, if we “…understand as much about the student in all of their rich and diverse ways….” then we can truly direct our focus to improving their learning outcomes.

    1. These comments show us what we already know: good theory is good practice. When you strip everything away, learning and teaching is a relational process that builds trust in both teacher and learner. This enables the teacher to extend the child and student to trust that they can experiment.

      For teachers, this is the case as well. It is why teams are so powerful in supporting teacher-learning and therefore, student-learning. As Peter observes it’s not that we didn’t know this, we had a different set of lens on and now that lens have changed we are seeing the possibilities.

      The assessment bogey always surfaces in these sorts of contexts and it’s because the lens through which we look at assessment is around testing. What if the lens was to look at assessment as performance? Immediately, you broaden the possibilities and with the concept of performance you build in a sense of achievement and celebration.

      The one thing that has struck me about assessment is that it’s so negative…sucking the life out of student learning. I don’t find that when we talk about performance as young people relish the opportunity to perform and to demonstrate what they can do and to celebrate!

      Of course, this is a difficult concept to pin down, it’s easy to write a test, mark and rank it. Much more difficult to define performance but that is why we work in teams to make this process easier and enriching for teachers.

  4. when they walk out my door at the end of Y6 i dont look to assessment to judge how we went. I’m always looking at the skill set they possess. It’s neat having pete hall on the staff at school as we arte often flicking about our theory on everything most days. we seem to agree that it is HOW we teach that makes the difference, so like children, teachers need a skill set, one that can help them facilitate learning in a bunch of ways.

  5. This week at St Agnes we took delivery of furniture for our agile learning space. This area can take comfortably 90 students. However this is not the issue. What amazed me was the enthusiasm of our students to work in spaces that they determined. They moved desks, tables ,bean bags to suit what they wanted to do in order to learn. I watched with interest how they decided how they wanted to learn given the time of day, their focus and the directions of their teachers.
    Students of all ages in our school chose the environment and said to themselves this is what I have to do during this period of time. As one Yr 10 student stated, I had never seen ” so and so” involved in learning their work.We love the space, the furniture and the ability to work with others or on my own.
    By no means are we perfect and have much to learn in these spaces but what I do know is that our students of all ages appreciate the chance to work differently according to their needs.
    The other point for teachers in secondary schools is the fact that the barriers are removed and their are many more conversations occurring about how we work together to present lessons that enable students to achieve the outcomes of the syllabus.Breaking down barriers enables many inclusive practices to be adopted and pastoral care enhanced in many ways.
    Term 4 at St Agnes will demonstrate agile learning spaces to our parent group with a focus on connected learning across curriculum areas.
    Anyone interested please express an interest by emailing me as this will be the way we move forward with our education for the future.
    The challenge is changing our staff conceptions and changing parent images of education based on experiences from previous generations.
    As I stated at the outset we have much to learn and only by sharing experiences will we achieve this. Many years ago ,the patron saint of teachers, St John Baptist De La Salle, set about designing classrooms and instruction for imporished children in France.If you looked at the drawings of the time and reflected on today, very little has changed. We now have the chance to “grab the teachable moment”. What will our generation of teachers and leaders be remembered for?
    Be the difference that makes a difference!

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