Archive for the ‘School Improvement’ Category

Along the battle lines

The NSW Department of Education’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation published its report last year finding that Reading Recovery (used in almost a thousand of its primary schools) should be ‘restricted to the lowest performing students’.

The mere mention of Reading Recovery sparks vigorous debate in a war that has been ongoing for decades between the behaviourists (phonics) and constructivists (whole language).

It’s a highly charged topic that draws comment and divides educators, parents and the media along the phonics versus whole language battle lines.

Teaching children to read is perhaps the most fundamental task of educators. We learn to speak before we ever read and children do not come to reading naturally nor does it happen overnight.

Teaching reading is a highly developed skill and the best defence we have in the “reading wars” is to improve the practice of all teachers so that every teacher is a teacher of reading.

Intervention programs like Reading Recovery are not designed to be a substitute for good classroom practice – it is the corollary of supporting the most vulnerable readers and creating professional learning opportunities within the school.

Teaching children to read doesn’t begin at home and end when students leave primary school.  Improving literacy is a community responsibility and it needs a community response (K-12).

The best approach to learning how to read is an integrated approach to teaching.  Arguing over which method is superior doesn’t move us any closer to winning the war on literacy.

 

 

The fierce urgency of now

160204CEO_011Last week our system welcomed 160 new teachers to the profession. The excitement of these teachers is infectious and after my 40 years in education, I know their work will be transformative in nurturing the heart, mind and spirits of students.

In addressing our new leaders and teachers, I urged them not to be disheartened by the negative commentary in the media, which always typically marks the start of a new school year.

Yes there are many professional challenges but I see the greatest and most urgent as the need to abandon ‘improvement’ and embrace transformation.  While teachers can’t ignore the realities and challenges of schooling in today’s world – we must seize the initiative for change without becoming disheartened.

It was Reverend Martin Luther King Jr who said that ‘tomorrow is today’ and in being confronted with a ‘fierce urgency of now’, there is such a thing in the ‘unfolding conundrum of life and history as being too late‘.

In twenty years from now, I don’t want to look back and see education as having been ‘too late’ when the urgency of now is so fierce.  This age presents significant challenges to all who learn and teach in our schools – challenges that primarily centre on the need for change.

Nobel prize winning Chilean poet and educator Gabriela Mistral said that we cannot say tomorrow to a child, when now is the time their bones are formed and minds are developed – when today is their name.

Our students should not have to wait for schooling to change.

 

A new lens

According to a recent Victorian study, many assistant principals aren’t prepared to take on the role of principal because of the associated work stress.

Responding to the survey, Dennis Yarrington, president of the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) was quoted saying that many states and territories were already looking at “innovative practices around principal development” to provide the skills and knowledge to be able to cope with increasing workloads.

I am a champion of innovation but what is the rationale for finding more efficient ways of fixing an old model of schooling and its increasing workloads?

As Canadian theorist George Siemens said you can’t expect theories from a largely industrial era to work in a digital one.  The solution is to create new pedagogies, new understandings of knowledge, a new view of learning and I would add new roles for teachers and leaders.

If anything, the study highlights that as a profession we aren’t responding to or adapting quickly enough to the changing nature of today’s world.  If we are still trying to up-skill our teachers and leaders to deal with 20th century challenges and workloads, then we are largely stuck in a time-warp.

I recently read in Time Magazine that the Ford motor company is on a mission to disrupt its own company by transforming itself from a traditional car manufacturer to a ‘mobility’ provider.  Its CEO said they would be looking at new services such as ride-sharing (think Uber); inspired largely by Apple’s transformation twenty years ago from a technology company to a lifestyle one.

Some have referred to the industrial model of schooling as a Ford production line but what we can learn is that the future of schooling depends upon innovation and transformation.  Like Ford, we need to disrupt ourselves because technology has already started disrupting the way students are communicating and learning in a hyper-connected world.  The paradigm must move from learning as remembering to learning as thinking.

Roberto Verganti, Professor of Leadership and Innovation in Milan, wrote a great article on innovation in Harvard Business Review this month. He says in order ‘to find and exploit the opportunities made possible by big changes in technology or society, we need to explicitly question existing assumptions about what is good or valuable and what is not – and then, through reflection, come up with a new lens to examine innovation ideas.”

Unfortunately schooling struggles to look through a new lens and as the brilliant Mark Twain said “you can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The third teacher

The Reggio Emilia approach highlighted the importance of the physical environment on learning and teaching.  The incorporation of the physical environment (in Reggio Emilia) to enhance early childhood experiences is seen as the child’s ‘third teacher’.

Stephen Heppell has been working for two decades on raising the status of the ‘third teacher’ within the K-12 sector.

As we move towards greater personalised learning contexts, we also have to think about creating more personalised physical environments.

As Stephen points out, students are integral to the whole design process where users become the designers. Strong student and community voice has been one of the guiding principles underpinning the design of the massive Lindfield ‘School of the Future‘ project in NSW.

The rise of learner-led design is starting to take off.

What’s really interesting is that there is growing research (including Stephen’s) showing how simple improvements to air temperature and light quality etc can make learning better.  Warm classroom temperatures have a negative impact on working memory and short-term maths performance!

Research and best practice illustrates that we can no longer evaluate student learning in isolation of evaluating the impact of the third teacher (physical environment).

 

 

 

Business failing education?

urbansprawlA recent survey of small to medium businesses said the education system isn’t providing the skills students need to be ‘entrepreneurial and innovative‘.  Is education failing business or is business failing education?

I attended the Western Sydney Business Connection State of the Region Address by the Hon. Mike Baird MP, Premier of NSW this week.

Around 600 local businesses and organisations were there to hear the Premier outline the government’s bold new initiatives around infrastructure.  It is a massive investment and undertaking which will impact significantly on western Sydney.

The key message is that local business is the driver of innovation and growth.  What I didn’t hear was the role of education in this work.  We are in the business of schooling 42,000 students across western Sydney along with the Department of Education’s schools. Collectively, we are the biggest business in western Sydney but don’t have a seat at the table when it comes to planning for the future.

I saw the plans for the provision of new government schools in western Sydney. Sadly they look like modern versions of the factory school. Where is the innovation and growth and the support from the business sector to develop new models?   We could easily argue that business is failing education.

The best outcome would be for both sectors (school and business) to work collaboratively but this can only happen when education is seen as an important stakeholder in the planning and design process.

Local schools serve local communities and it’s time the education sector were seen as a key player. We have a lot to contribute especially if we want the state of this region to be state of the art.

 

A level playing field

There are calls for fundamental changes to be made to the funding and regulation of Vocational and Educational Training (VET) in Australia.  In today’s Sydney Morning Herald, the Federal Education Minister said he wants to boost the status of VET  so ‘students don’t feel they have to go to university to have a good career.’

It reflects the need to radically rethink VET in a knowledge age and the importance of sectors working together to ensure a consistent approach and coherent framework for providing students with optimal opportunities.

It’s interesting that the new Education Minister calls VET the ‘forgotten’ education sector.  The established view is that VET is somehow less rigorous than an academic pathway to learning.  VET is a balance between the demands of work and study as well as integrating theory with practice.  Students learn the work by doing the work. VET actually provides for a level of personalised and independent learning not always evident in traditional subjects.

We have seen VET as the alternative to an academic pathway and while there are multiple pathways to learning (made more evident by technology), there is still one external credential (Higher School Certificate (HSC) in NSW).  This has been the gateway into university and for many, the path to a more rewarding and successful working life.

The view that university is the only option can’t be sustained in a knowledge age.  It is something the new Federal Minister wants to challenge.  It needs to be challenged at  policy level as well as at university and school sector level.

The vocational choices of students should be influenced by passion not process.  The challenge for schools is how we can, as Yong Zhao says entirely personalise not nationally or globally standardise education.  We need to level the playing field by allowing students the opportunity to draw from diverse areas of knowledge and skills.  It means allowing students to map their own curriculum based on individual interests and passions.

South Korea has effectively de-skilled a generation because of a cultural drive for students to be university educated.  While graduates compete for limited jobs, there is a growing gap for trades that have to be filled by overseas workers.

The knowledge age has created an even greater need for a level playing field in education.

Edward de Bono describes the current model of schooling like a pyramid where the bottom 80% are taught so that the top 20% can go onto university.  His view is that traditional subjects and universities may have very little to do with real life.  Interestingly, he asks why there are no exams in schools in ‘practical thinking’ and ‘value creation’?

de Bono argues that every student be taught what he calls ‘life skills’ such as critical thinking etc. The more academically inclined students take additional subjects that prepare them for university while the more practical and entrepreneurial minded students take additional subjects preparing them for work.

de Bono says this would be ‘the equivalent to teaching everyone to walk and then giving special coaching to those who showed an ability to run.  This is different from the current system of coaching everyone to run and then neglecting those who are not good at running.’ 

Not every student wants to be a runner nor should they be.  The biggest hurdle for schools and learners is the way
in which assessment is currently mandated and reported.  Meaning, we are still preparing all students to run the marathon by sitting the HSC.

As Professor Patrick Griffin from the University of Melbourne said recently, we will never get away from comparative measures (how good is my child compared to their class, state etc) but the focus has to be on where students are going (year after year) not on where they have been.

The most effective forms of assessments are those that support learning and inform teaching not control learning and narrow the curriculum.  Until we get on with the task of re-thinking assessment based on personalising the learning, we continue to neglect those who don’t want to be runners.

 

 

 

 

Improvement is no longer the challenge

I have just returned from two days at the third annual Leadership for School Improvement Colloquium.  The passion and pride for Catholic education is always evident at these gatherings; it reinforces the importance of taking time to reflect collectively on the how and the why.

I have to say however I left feeling a little flat and disappointed in the scope of thinking and models presented. There was nothing new, no stretch and certainly no innovative thinking or practice.  Unfortunately this seems to be consistent with most large education conferences.

If we look at other industry sectors we seem a much different approach. Businesses have shelved improvement because in this rapidly changing world of work, lifestyle and technology, they recognise the urgent need to transform themselves into something different.  Business communities across the globe are now responding to the challenge of the ‘Internet of Things‘.  These businesses are turning their backs on the improvement agenda because it’s no longer the challenge today.  I think this shift opens up a whole new perspective especially for education.

There is no better example of this than Apple. Up until 2001, Apple branded itself as a technology company within a manufacturing model (we see ourselves as contemporary schools operating within an industrial model). Steve Jobs and his team saw there was no future in the manufacturing space as it moved offshore.  Rather than improve an outdated model, Jobs announced that Apple was now in the lifestyle business.  This simple decision shifted the goal posts.

A Harvard Business Review article has examined how more businesses are moving away from improving old models to responding to the changing needs of consumers (and employees) within the context of a rapidly changing world.  In addition, real time data has helped to create a whole new paradigm for doing things differently, thinking creatively and responding immediately.

On the flip side, education is still wedded to the improvement model; looking for enhanced solutions to old problems. We operate on the assumption that we can control the variables, link performance to accountability measures and tighten up processes. Where are the innovative solutions?

Improvement is no longer the challenge so let’s use educational conferences and colloquiums to focus on how we change the system not how we fix it. As Sir Ken Robinson says the challenge is not to reform but to transform.