Friday, 9 December 2016

Schools Need to Be Fearless

Image result for pictures assessment

There are many conflicting pressures that need consideration when trying to establish and maintain a rich learning culture.
I was taken by what Iain Taylor (President, NZ Principals’ Federation) wrote in this week’s Principal’s Matter column.

“We want to develop kids who have ambition and acceptance of diversity and are disruptive thinkers, so we have to advocate for policies that enable those things to happen. If I have learned one thing this year, it is that we really do need to stop the over-emphasis on assessment and data and take control ourselves, in each of our schools, to ensure we give kids full access to a broad and exciting curriculum. We can and should be doing this. We are preparing kids for an uncertain future. Endless data gathering won't enable our teachers to be the dynamic teachers we need to help our kids be the disruptive thinkers and questioners our world requires!”

Over the last 5-10 years there has been an enormous amount of hype in the business and education world around the pace of change and what this means for our young people.
Questions such as:  How do we prepare our young people for a world beyond our imagination? How do we craft a student’s learning journey towards a job that has not yet been created?
So what are these skills or dispositions and what is the journey we need to take children on to give them real learning power?

They are a collection of attitudes and behaviours. Skills such as perseverance, flexibility, questioning, curiosity, creativity, abstract thinking, reflection, resilience and optimism.  I like Guy Claxton’s metaphor of a school as mind gym v an assembly line. The concept of imagining the mind as a muscle you can build is appealing. This is not about getting rid of content but going deeper and providing a broader utility.

We want to prepare our children to become brave new explorers in this exciting fast paced world. A few years ago an old boy of a school I was at, won a scholarship to study in the USA for his masters in political theory.  Before he left I got him in to speak to a group of 11 year olds. He spoke about what he valued most when he was at school which was being taught to always ask questions, to be curious. He talked about his love of sport but most of all his love of art where he was encouraged to explore and create and to be fearless.

He said, “I’m extremely excited to live in one of the world’s greatest cities. (New York) And I’m confident I can foot it there. And a lot of that is because of what I learned at school, and in particular there is no such thing as a bad idea, and what I think matters. I believe what you guys think, matters too. So I say be fearless. Whatever you do, do it fearlessly.”

This of course applies to us as educators. We must not be swayed by fads or pressure to do things for the wrong reasons but follow what our hearts, experience and quality research is telling us. Data is so important!  Good teachers are natural ‘inquirers’ constantly gathering important qualitative and quantitative data because they know this will provide rich information so they can provide the best programme possible. They are not driven by top down expectations unless of course it makes good sense.

However if data is just gathered to meet managerial expectations it becomes a ‘box ticking’ exercise stealing precious time , energy and motivation from already over stretched teachers trying to provide a future focussed curriculum. Any assessment and related data gathering has to be for the right reasons. So I really do relate to what Iain Taylor has said and encourage all of us to ‘be fearless’ and allow experience, best practice and common sense drive the learning programmes in schools.