Friday, 26 July 2019

Creating Life Long Lovers of Learning

                                                         Actions Speak Louder Than Words

If I was asked what is important in education I would probably say first and foremost, to promote Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) and in particular kindness. With this front and centre, all else is possible.

The next level of importance for me is to foster life-long learning. A very key aspect of facilitating this outcome is
to provide the conditions where children are supported to see their world, grapple with it, play with it and express
their ‘take on it’ through their amazing creative self. We just need to help them experience wonder, joy, discovery,
adventure and personal achievement whilst skillfully building their resilience, curiosity, creativity and of course those
foundational skills which open the world of communication and reasoning.

This is easy said, but hard to achieve. However if we are determined to build our capability around  this philosophy,
then our children will not only become capable learners, they will become life-long lovers of learning. This is no
soft, new age thinking  approach as it demands high expectations, rigour, humility and tenacity by those skilled
educators taking on this challenge.

I like a lot of the Montessori philosophy as their two main goals are to build this love of learning and confidence in
children. The Montessori approach provides a child with extended time in which to develop their emerging cognitive
abilities acknowledging the developmental nature of learning. This developmental and personalised approach fits
well with what I have said above.

So what’s new? Not a lot as this has been said by all ‘n sundry’ for centuries. The ‘powers that be’ who set policy
have the best intentions and are usually well informed but in their attempt to create the ideal conditions for learning
in schools, they have often stumbled.

The main area of this ‘stumble’ is their desire to see accountability. Often blunt tools are used which require schools
to justify their existence. National Standards was one of those tools as is ‘teacher inquiry’ where teachers are
directed to  inquire into their practice and provide a trail of evidence to show they are going through a cycle of
review of their teaching. Of course this practice of trialing new approaches to maximise student learning is very
important, but it has always been part of a good teacher’s repertoire of practice. It is to be fostered and expected.
Unfortunately though, the compliance expectations have often been misinterpreted so ‘teacher inquiry’ became
‘bigger than Texas’ for some schools. This has caused frustration, anxiety, stress and confusion for some teachers
and they can spend an inordinate amount of quality time filling in their trail of evidence to meet the school’s

Thank goodness national standards have been scrapped and clear messages have come from the Minister of
Education that teacher appraisal as we know it needs re-defining. 

I am cautiously optimistic about the future here. However, I am hoping some new assessment ‘ruler’ is not created
to promote teacher / school accountability as students do not learn concepts in a linear fashion and to date, this
approach has been counter productive in the primary sector.  Equally, teachers need to be accountable and we
need to promote and encourage teachers thinking and inquiring into their practice. We need to have high
expectations and then give them time to think, watch, absorb and do their magic.

The very well respected educationalist and author, David Stewart said in 1997, ‘ will be necessary to step
beyond the current obsession with measuring short term inputs and outputs and attempting to decide whether
individual teachers meet some mythical standard which is so difficult to express. Instead we need to address
teaching as a form of intellectual endeavour as opposed to a collection of definable tasks, and devise
methodologies which both increase teachers’ intellectual fluency and provide time, space and incentive for all staff
to engage in critical reflection of their work.” 

I agree and the accountability model of assurance checks on schools should be tweaked to a rigorous guidance model.
Accountability is a must but the focus should be on sustainable progress implementing best practice within minimum
bureaucracy and ‘death by paperwork’. 

Enough ‘talking the talk’, schools should only  ‘walk their talk’.

Friday, 17 May 2019

What does love look like?

Teamwork in Year 1

When things go wrong in a child’s life, either at home or school, a basic but very important question cuts through all the other dialogue adults engage in.

What do you want for your child ? On the face of it, this is a simple question. most parents would say they want
their child to be kind, resilient, responsible, secure in themselves and with their peers, happy and confident,
loving and keen to learn.

Over my 40 plus years being an educator I have met many parents about their child’s behaviour and/or
happiness at school. In these situations, parents are usually upset and in some cases very emotional. Quite often
the child has been having trouble with peers and a lot of blame is attached to how these children are
treating the child concerned. Some families want punitive action against these other children. In many cases
the child who is having trouble has a history of ‘scratchy’ relationships with other children and in some cases
taken the ‘victim’ approach. Everyone is ‘picking on me’. Usually when I have ‘dug into’ the situation the issue is
complex but quite often, it comes down to the child not having the skills to form strong relationships.
They are fragile, feeling insecure and get into the ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ mode quickly.

Some children have difficulty making friendships usually because they have yet to learn some of the simple
fundamental rules about developing positive relationships. Sadly this deficit can burden the individual for life.

If a child has been regularly indulged by their parents they innocently learn to respond to their world as if they
are the ‘centre of the universe’.

In her article ‘How to Ensure Kids Know They’re Not the Centre of the Universe’, Katie Mertes says, “In a
materialistic world focused on having the latest and greatest, the biggest and best, our children are headed
down a dangerous path of being robbed of their joy. Consider this: if a child grows up with the mindset of always
needing more, never sitting with contentment, never practising true gratitude, we are inadvertently telling them
that life is meant to serve them. They will be completely unprepared to enter the “real world” where hard work
is necessary and important, and things are not handed to them.” Her short article is worth a quick read.

It is rather cliched but the old book of ‘How to win friends and influence people’, (1) has advice which pertains to
us all, adults and children alike. It is not rocket science.
Some key advice for children

  1. Show genuine interest in other people. ( it’s not all about ‘me’)
  2. Be warm and friendly. (smile)
  3. Know your peers names.
  4. Be a good listener. (again, it’s not all about ‘me’)
  5. Talk about or ask about the other person’s interests.
  6. Be willing to help the other person feel positive about themselves by complimenting them on things.
  7. Show respect for the other person’s viewpoint. It is important children feel comfortable to express their
own viewpoint and maybe agree to disagree rather than saying they are wrong. (don’t have to agree
but you can listen and try and see what is being said from the other person’s viewpoint)

This may come across as insincere and manipulative but it will only be this way if the child is not sincere about
wanting to be friendly and they don’t truly care about the other person’s feelings.

Modelling is the key--if you swear they will swear.  If you put people down in subtle or not so subtle ways, they
will will learn to do this. If you behave like a bully (mental or physical) or  gossip about people, they will learn to
become bullies and gossips. If you eat unhealthily, they will more than likely take on these habits. If you have a
‘victim mentality’ blaming everyone but yourself for the misfortunes of life, your children will more than likely
take on this persona.

Our school values are a good place to start. These 3 basic tenants of life are a good compass for us all. Respect,
Responsibility and Resilience.

These values represent how we all should try and live our lives. I say try because it is really hard being a good
parent and it is not about being a paragon of virtue.

So going back to my original question, ‘what does love look like?’ Well for me it is about supporting children to
be decent human beings who can contribute to society in positive ways. If we can do this our children will be
secure and happy and full of appreciation and love. Often this can require tough love. **

Habits are formed early in life and there is more than some truth in the famous quote by Aristotle, the famous
philosopher (384BC) “Give me a child until they are 7 and I will show you the man.” The upshot clearly is to start
early with children and be consistent with your support and expectations.

There are a million pieces of advice available around all this and I don’t mean to sound as if I have all the
answers because I don’t. However, a good place to start is looking at ourselves and what we are modelling.

  1. Dale Carnegie  ‘How to win friends and influence people’.

**Tough love is a parenting approach that can help children see that although their parents love them, they aren't going to
enable them. Tough love parenting can still be warm and empathetic.  It involves clear boundaries and limits.
Consequences are enforced as a way to teach teens life lessons.

Tough love is not about being hard and punitive. Looking for positive behaviour and praising it is so powerful and this
should always be the focus but at times boundaries and expectations will need to be enforced quietly, consistently and
calmly. Don’t give way to tantrums, melt downs or victim behaviour.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

A Shared Vision for Aotearoa

There is no doubt about it, ‘together everyone achieves more’. Over the years we have all watched New Zealand’s political circus of punch and counter punch. When election time comes around the hype and marketing builds. Unfortunately some ‘over promising’ can happen and this of course comes with quite a bit of under-delivering once elected.  No matter how principled people are, they usually vote with self interest and who can blame them.

The current situation is no different.  The reality is, New Zealand has a combative and party dogma centred construct of governing. Under this model how is it possible to harness the best of what we have and have a fully unified, inclusive and powerful strategy ahead!

We have a choice. We can accept this as is and carry on regardless. To be fair, New Zealand can be proud of much of what has been achieved in recent times, including getting through in pretty good shape after the challenges of the Christchurch earthquakes, recessions and of course the global financial crisis (GFC). However, everyone would agree, the gap between those ‘who have’ and those ‘who have not’ is far too wide. Our education, health and social sectors are underfunded and operate in an uncoordinated fashion. That’s probably too harsh but a cross disciplinary approach would be more powerful.

A fundamental question needs to be asked. If you were responsible for a large number of people’s welfare and their asset base, would you set up a system of governance as we have currently?

I personally wouldn’t. I may be naive, in fact I know I am but the idea of a meritocracy of sorts has much merit in my mind. Democracy has to be at the heart of this.

I believe most New Zealanders have a very similar vision for our country. I also believe most would ascribe to very similar principles and values. For example, most New Zealanders believe in democracy, racial and gender equity, environmental sustainability, freedom of speech and so on.

If a shared vision was democratically settled on and then the agreed principles and values we wish to live by are agreed, we would then have the basis to create a shared strategic plan and related goals to implement.  These goals would be far ranging having targets across the spectrum of what we hold dear as New Zealand citizens. Of course these goals would need to be revisited regularly to ensure they still have the powerful relevancy and currency required.

Having a shared and ‘owned’ approach like this would take out the enormous amount of time we waste on petty and quite often personal political debates which cause division and take the energy away from what is important.

This would also take away the need for political parties and allow passionate people to put their hand up for election to New Zealand’s  1st XV who would take up the responsibility for leadership. I use the term 1st XV with ‘tongue in cheek’ as it is a parlance many would recognise. Essentially the best people for the job similar to a Board of Trustees. Right now, my vote would be for Jacinda to be captain and coach. I see many others across the parties who have so much to offer NZ but are caught up in party politics and ‘treading water’.

I like you want the best for NZ as much as a role model for the rest of the world as our planet is in a perilous state.

Before you dismiss this idea as nonsense, debate it with your family and friends as I know we can do better. Let’s get our best people on the park as together everyone achieves more.

Picture ref:



Sunday, 31 March 2019

Be a Kahawai

As so many have said, the tragedy of the senseless Christchurch mass killings may just be the wake up call we need as a nation. There is no turning back, we either grasp the mantle or pathetically wilt back to our acceptance of what we know is wrong. That is, not to get involved, look the other way and meekly accept the world as a flawed place and fall back on the excuse that our individual effort won't amount to anything.

Well, I feel optimistic! I am hopeful that not only will individuals start calling out racism but call out all sorts of wrongs, including workplace bullying. 

We are more than ever before in this together. ‘He iwi kotahi tatou.’ (We are one people) 

Metaphorically, I like the view of New Zealand as a fish. Maori culture is the backbone and all the many other cultures are the bones running off this backbone. The many, many cultures that make up Aotearoa are equally important as each other. 
Maori culture is rooted into our land and our DNA as a nation and needs to be central, honoured and celebrated so we can all be proud citizens of this wonderful country. Equally so, let us celebrate and respect the many other cultures not only because they add tremendous diversity and richness of spirit into our lives but because we are ‘one’. We are all fragile human beings that need and deserve respect, support and kindness. It has been refreshing to hear our Prime Minister put these things out front and forward in her speech to the United Nations Assembly where she called for a different world order - one that puts "kindness" ahead of isolationism, rejection and racism. This last week she has more than 'walked her talk'. Let’s not hide away now but be strong because as Martin Luther King said, ‘silence is complicity’.
Note to self: maybe Kahawai---love this fish’s character traits.

Kahawai is the traditional Maori name which when translated means "brave" or "strong" (kaha) water (wai). This in reference to the kahawai's tendency to jump and fight when caught. In New Zealand it is often caught in abundance at river mouths and is a highly popular sports fish that punches above its weight" in terms of challenge to land. (

Monday, 11 March 2019

The Aotearoa Curriculum

The task force (1) empowered to review the provision of compulsory schooling in NZ have given all of the stakeholders plenty of opportunity to have their say. We are almost at midnight and decision time.

The  summary of the 8 key issues (2) and recommendations are far reaching and potentially exciting. There could be substantive changes coming up ! I commend the taskforce for their efforts to consult and gather the viewpoints of all the stakeholders.

 I have given my views (via the official channels) for what they are worth but a recent DomPost (Saturday, February 16 2019) obituary on Sir John Jefferies has inspired me to say more. I have done a lot of thinking about the taskforce’s brief and the implications for schools, not least the curriculum. The last curriculum implemented in 1990s has a very sound education philosophical, co-constructivist underpinning. Where it failed to deliver its promise was often in its interpretation and in recent years, the pressure and distraction from the ‘powers that be’ around National Standards.  The intensity schools felt from all quarters to ‘accelerate progress’ for those students not meeting the age appropriate standards sucked the life out of many teachers and distracted some schools from the underpinning philosophy of that curriculum and the overarching goal of inspiring lifelong learning for all.

Sir John’s obituary highlights what research has been telling us for a long time. There is no correlation between high attainment at school and later success. After failing School Certificate three times, John Jefferies went on to become a High Court judge and a Knight of the Realm for his services to law, his leadership in the business world and his lifelong contribution to New Zealand’s constitutional fabric.

The Headmaster of St Patrick’s College wrote a reference for the young Jefferies in which he advised prospective employers not to give him a job that required any study. John Jefferies was considered a failure at school!

How often have we heard these sorts of stories! How often have we seen some of our peers who struggled at school go on to achieve great things in their field of choice!

Sir John is one of the lucky ones who through his own determination, maturation and I am sure family encouragement, overcame the lack of the then ‘meal ticket’ of jumping through the hoops (School Certificate) of the school system at the same time as everyone else, to go on to have a very successful career.

Sadly though, how often have we seen the confidence of young people get knocked out of them in subtle and not so subtle ways via the school system. Many of these young people don’t rise back up but live their life believing what they have been told ----you are not worthy! We know that some of these young people go on to take these feelings of inadequacy out on others and often their anger gets them into strive. Worst still is the modelling to their young and the perpetual cycle that can develop.

So it is time! Time to do what we know is right. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick because it is a complex task that is going to require more than the education system alone to put right. It is going to require a multi-faceted approach engaging other agencies such as social welfare to work together in a coherent and transformational way. It will also require the energy and support of the political parties to get away from New Zealand’s combative and party dogma centered construct of governing. The parties will need to work together to ensure we have a truly inclusive and powerful strategy ahead.

This comprehensive review of our school system promises much. However it is one thing to change the structure of our school system but I am really hoping a realignment of the curriculum is prioritised.  I would like to see a new curriculum developed possibly named the  Aotearoa Curriculum or the Arohanui Curriculum (love for our young) for the obvious connection with our indigenous people. In any one’s language, the colonists actions ripped the heart out of our Maori people. I am definitely not saying that was the intent but through many of their actions, this was the stark nature of things. Many of the colonists were wonderful and kind people. Many were visionary or at least well meaning, but looking back on our history, I think even the most bigoted would acknowledge we could have done better.

Metaphorically, I like the view of New Zealand as a fish. Maori culture is the backbone and all the many other cultures are the bones running off this backbone. The many, many cultures that make up Aotearoa are equally important as each other.  We are more than ever before in this together. ‘He iwi kotahi tatou.’ (We are one people)

Maori culture is rooted into our land and our DNA as a nation and needs to be central, honoured and celebrated so we can all be proud citizens of this wonderful country. Equally so, let us celebrate and respect the many other cultures not only because they add tremendous diversity and richness of spirit into our lives but because we are ‘one’. We are all fragile human beings that need and deserve respect, support and kindness. It has been refreshing to hear our Prime Minister put these things out front and forward in her speech to the United Nations Assembly where she called for a different world order - one that puts "kindness" ahead of isolationism, rejection and racism.(3)

 A 21stC  curriculum representing what we know from research and the best education minds in the world implemented  by inspired teachers is the key. We know that having supported and passionate teachers teaching in a tent, is far more effective than worn out and stressed teachers operating in the best of facilities.

Change is timely as despite the huge goodwill, energy and resources that have gone into New Zealand’s education system over the last few decades, many of our education outcomes have been progressively falling. (4) We are not alone in failed approaches.  In a keynote address, Professor Guy Claxton from Kings College, London listed many international failures.   (5)

These countries’ visions use similar words describing the desired skills and attributes needing to be promoted in their students. Words such as ‘creative’, ‘confident’, ‘flexible’, ‘curious’, ‘independent’ and ‘collaborative’ abound. These key skills and dispositions are widely recognised as being central and critical to preparing our young for the wild ride ahead, yet they get lost in the mire.

Claxton and others asks, ‘So what goes wrong’? (6) Why aren’t these dispositions imbedded in our education system after so many years of talk? Never before has it been so easy to access research and around best practice pedagogy via the world’s experts! So what gets in the way of achieving better outcomes for children?

I don’t have the ‘silver bullet’ answers but I do believe  everyone involved, including the politicians, set out to do the right thing based on the best practice but often the desire to improve learning outcomes is accidentally sabotaged and confused by each level of the education hierarchy setting out to justify their existence.

We have a great opportunity to make change now but we have to be fearless.

Many well-meaning people worry about falling standards and the importance of the basics in education. Of course we can’t underestimate the importance of the basic skills that empower communication and knowledge building.  These skills will always be fundamental and need to be fostered with rigour wherever possible using authentic and meaningful contexts. It is not the ‘content’ of these fundamental skills that needs changing but the ‘how’ they are taught and scaffolded which is crucial.  Essentially we need a school system that values the developmental nature of learning. Young children don’t and can’t jump the same hurdles all at the same time, but we can engage their minds and capture their unique ideas and thinking. Get this right and you build real learning power, confidence and aspiration.

We need to value questions above answers and creativity over fact regurgitation with an overlay of high aspirations for all.

People like the world renowned ‘thinking’ guru, Dr Edward de Bono have always believed thinking and creativity are skills that can be taught and learnt! The exponential change our children will face, demands that thinking skills should have the same focus and currency as the core skills of numeracy and literacy.

What is exciting, is that once this is recognised, across the board academic outcomes trend upwards.
According to Friedman, Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world and it is the only country where students leave high school ‘innovation-ready’. They learn concepts and creativity more than facts.” Intelligence is not enough. creativity, or the ability to think divergently, can be developed and improved. It’s a learnable process.

What are these skills or dispositions and what is the journey we need to take children on to give them real learning power? The answer to this question has been written and spoken about for years and years.
Skills such as perseverance, flexibility, questioning, curiosity, creativity, collaboration, reflection, resilience and optimism.  I like Guy Claxton’s metaphor of a school as a mind gym v an assembly line. (6)  The concept of imagining the mind as a muscle you can build is appealing.
Seymour Papert said, “Learning should be hard fun” (7)   where there is engagement, passion and purpose.

Another key barrier which gets in the way of successful implementation of New Zealand’s vision for education is we haven’t unpacked what the key skills and dispositions actually mean and look like for our teachers. Many people in schools for example, do not consider themselves as creative and they need support to demystify and unpack what we mean by ‘creativity’.

The word creativity is bandied about quite often in education circles but what does it actually mean? Do some have it and some not? It is a widely misunderstood word.

Creativity is not a magical quality that some have and some don’t! We have to ensure creativity and thinking skill development is a dominant part of the curriculum. Not only should it be totally integrated in the curriculum ensuring the learning tasks engage higher order thinking and age and stage appropriate ‘hard fun’, but right from pre-school, children need to explicitly know that their thinking and ideas have merit and value.  Discussing these attributes and providing skill development and understanding adds enormous uplift in confidence and indirectly demonstrates to children that their thinking has merit and it is an important aspect of their development.

But it isn’t going to happen by osmosis. Schools and teachers need support, the mandate and the expectation that the culture of their school needs to live and breathe these dispositions.
We need this education change not only because it has been proven without doubt that children will benefit in all manner of means (not only academically but holistically) but also for survival. The world is facing unprecedented challenges such as population explosion, significant climate change, significant human conflict via religion, politics and greed and of course our growing resistance to antibiotics and the threat of superbugs. It is a no brainer if for nothing more than making schools a place of true learning where young people are set up wanting to learn and create for the rest of their life.
It is time to focus on learning and not schooling. Education should not be seen as something that starts at kindergarten and finishes at university. Even from a practical point of view, a university degree is no passport guarantee for a job anymore. The 19th and 20thC roadmap for success has been disrupted by exponential change, much of which has been brought about by technology.

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.

The arts have suffered over the last decade or so as schools got distracted by National Standards and  the digital world. The arts taught well have always been a conduit to higher order thinking. Sir Ken Robinson gets it big time when he said, Of course technology is important as is science, maths, engineering (STEM) but they are not enough! STEM is at risk of becoming a fad and a diversion away from the heart of the matter. Students need equal doses of the arts, the humanities, physical exercise and play. But more important than any subject content is school culture. (8)

A central part of this ‘culture’ is recognising the immense importance of teacher connection and building self-belief in students (relationships), combined with fostering an exciting and rigorous thinking philosophy where ideas are celebrated and questions valued over answers. The role of the teacher is more complex and demanding than any time in history.

Interestingly enough there is nothing ‘earth shatteringly new’ with what we know about how children learn and thrive. From 1949 to 1962 Elwyn Richardson at Oruaiti School with the blessing of the then and now famous Director of Education, Clarence Beeby,   discarded the official syllabus and turned to the children’s lives and immediate environment for the basis of his curriculum. Using the children’s natural curiosity and interest, Richardson taught them how to observe closely the world around them and to record their new discoveries and their own responses to these. From here, he developed a school programme that was anchored in the children’s surroundings and real lives. Through environmental study the children learned the basis of scientific method, and brought these skills to bear on studies that spanned all subjects. His method was a revolt away from science as a separate subject to an integrated programme of arts and science. Richardson wrote In The Early World (9) at Oruaiti School published by The New Zealand Council for Educational Research NZCER in 1964. The book tells the story of how Richardson’s students became increasingly aware of their own capacity for personal expression, while collectively establishing a shared understanding of aesthetic values.

Richardson’s holistic philosophy capturing the children’s thinking and creativity has stood the test of time and is an inspiring story. The aesthetics and the power of nature holding the secrets of so much are as relevant today as ever.  Our best internationally acclaimed educationalists continue to champion such beliefs. For most children up to the 1960s their world was their neighbourhood but now technology has shown us a global neighbourhood which our young people are embracing. It is time to thread this holistic and constructivist philosophy through our schools leveraging and integrating the powerful digital tools of the 21stC. How exciting would that be!

Let’s get on with it with rigour, high aspirations and passion. Let’s really create a nation of curious and creative minds combined with kindness, empathy and good will. (E.Q.)  Let’s be fearless in the pursuit of what we have known for a long time and provide a truly transformational education that will not only excite students but set them alight to achieve more than they thought possible.

Warren Owen

(5) + (6) Professor Guy Claxton, Kings College, London, U.K.
(7)    Professor Guy Claxton, Kings College, London, U.K.
(9)    Sir Ken Robinson, p19
(10) Elwyn Richardson, In the Early World,