Saturday, 17 January 2009

Anarchic thoughts

Everybody has a viewpoint on schooling and each viewpoint comes from a position of experience in one form or another. For many, it is based upon the fact that at some time in their lives they went to school. The experience might have been joyous or destructive; meaningful or meaningless. Each experience depended on the school and its fit for the particular student. It depended on the values and beliefs that the student and his or her parents had about schooling. And it depended on the unique interaction between each individual student and the people they interacted with at school and in the community.

In his latest book
Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling John Taylor Gatto reflects on schooling from one point of view. His view comes from that of an informed educator and leader, but it is still one person's opinion. Gatto has had many years pondering the state of compulsory schooling and so perhaps his opinions hold more sway.

Like many, I believe Gatto's viewpoints have a great deal of merit, although they relate particularly to the systems of education in the USA. Even though other countries may say that's not what education is like in our country, there are many 'dark worlds' for students in every education system. Is it time to move forward in our whole definition of a school and maybe to even ponder if we need to look for a whole new metaphor of learning? New times need new ways.

But let's hang on here. There are some good things that happen in 'traditional schooling' and some not-so-good things happening with new approaches to learning. Do we have to have an either-or? With the increasing diversity in the world, within countries and even within small geographical areas we must move to an and-but understanding. Don't try and ram one type of education down the throats of all. Let models of education be more flexible in approach. Concentrate on developing great relationships that build knowledge, skills, values and attitudes from the needs of the students.

My next few postings will be dedicated to how leaders can be more flexible - from the Ministry of Education, to principals and to teacher training establishments. Rigidity prevents innovation and right now we need lots of innovation...

Monday, 5 January 2009

Networked Leaders

Educators often say to me that they don't have time to read, research or keep up to date with new ideas. They are too busy doing stuff!!

I recently came across this video on connectivism, created by Wendy Drexler. The video shows the power of connections and how the development of networks can help find information more quickly and effectively. This is not just needed for teachers but also for educational leaders. As leaders it is worth taking the time to develop these skills in ourselves, knowing that by doing so we will save time in the long run. It is a bit like the story of the person so busy pulling people out of the river that he doesn't have time to go upstream and see why people are falling in the river in the first place.

Leaders must be knowledgeable - in research as well as practice. Michael Fullan talks of the need for school principals to move back to instructional (pedagogical) leadership, spending less time on the bricks and mortar and more on student learning. For this to happen leaders need time. Some would argue that the system works against having this time and to some extent this is true. However, there are principals who do find the time - because they realise the vital importance of preparing the learning beds - getting the soil right and planting the most important crops. Just as, in the video, a good teacher makes connections to help students develop skills, so do educational leaders.

In his latest book Visible Learning, John Hattie synthesises over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Educational leaders can use this summary to determine what they may need to work on next in their school. If school leaders are to spend time on instructional matters they should focus on what matters. Some of the key ideas from the article include the importance of feedback, challenge and relationships. His model of Visible Teaching-Visible Learning is this:

When teachers SEE learning through the eyes of the student
When students SEE themselves as their own teachers

(Hattie, 2009:238)

So to bring it back to connectivism and using networks to find out information quickly, here are some links to Hattie's new ideas:
Sunday News article on Hattie's thinking, including his thoughts on rewarding excellent teachers
Twitter Poll asking the question How should great teachers be recognised? What do you think?

As a leader, what connections will you make? How will you get more information, share and connect with others?

John Hattie's book can be purchased through fishpond (see the link on this blog)