Opportunity squandered?

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“Move along. There’s nothing to see here – just children playing”.

Just like a moth to a light, I feel compelled to critique* the quality of education that is being delivered in New Zealand schools. I am at the chalk face. I witness it first hand. I have immersed myself for over 20 years in trying to understand what effective teaching and learning actually is. I do know that teaching is a complex business. That’s because humans are complex. We all have our flaws. Noone is perfect. But acceptance of that reality should not be interpreted as an invitation to avoid seeking the truth or doing the right thing. If we care to look, we will see that the latest research is inviting teachers to be more human, be more emotionally connected, be more generous of spirit – to operate from a growth mindset and with honesty.

I am encouraged by the way Pasi Sahlberg invites teachers to take note of the small data – those formative interactions with students. You can find his interview from ULearn 2018 here. You should have seen the teachers at the conference all nodding in agreement. And then they return to their classrooms, and ‘sigh’, it’s business as usual.

…small data, “those tiny little clues that can reveal big trends or ideas”… Pasi believes that when we talk about evidence based education, and evidence based policies or teaching, that much of that evidence is actually teachers’ own professional wisdom and experience and comes from professional judgement in interpreting small data.

Experience tells me that the current (inherited?) operating model for schools is an unforgiving one. For teachers and students alike. Humanity and common sense are by and large absent commodities in school settings, in any tangible form. Teaching operates in a non-sustainable way. It encroaches on personal life and well-being.  And on top of that, it also fails to deliver any meaningful successful learning outcomes. It fails to help students or teachers achieve their potential. Potential is being squandered. This scenario will continue as long as teachers remain unaware of what their impact is.

So who is responsible for creating this broken system? And who is responsible for being the catalyst for change?

If we were to generalise the message of serial entrepreneur, Vicki Saunders, the answer to the above two questions is easy – a). men and b). women.

But like Vicki, I also know how it feels to be picked apart. I know everything that is at fault with my personality. I know how it feels to have created an exponential learning environment for all the children in my class and to have that success ignored. I know how it feels to be told that it is I, not the system, that is broken. I know the consequences of challenging the status quo. Unlike the business world, it is obvious that education has embraced the role of women in leadership. It would be safe to say that women are the dominant force in New Zealand schools – at least in the early childhood and primary sectors. To put it simply, Vicki’s response is too simplistic.

Yes, maybe we do have an education system that has been inherited from men. But I am also seeing an opportunity for change being squandered. I’m all for more successful women entrepreneurs in the world but what better opportunity to change the world for the better than to work at the grassroots level of education – the earlier the better. I know there exist female and male teachers who would embrace the opportunity to be part of the process of change. Teachers who have had the passion for teaching squeezed out of them, who question the status quo but voice it internally or in hushed voices. The common denominator amongst these people is their positive humanity and their ability to connect at an emotional level that in turn allows them to mine for the small data.

Based on the evidence I see in a school setting on a daily basis, the world will not automatically be a better place when women are put in charge. It is people with heart and rationality that we need to be leading the good change. I believe those two qualities are compatible, not mutually exclusive. That is, my rational brain tells me that teachers need to be invited to bring their compassion and heart to the classroom. It is from that position that the essential skills of teaching can be developed, enhanced and shared.

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*Critique – It is a struggle to do the right thing in the face of an unforgiving system. But it can be done. Please read this as an invitation to question and challenge the prevailing and failing model of how schools operate.

Ease Education: Teaching at a human scale.

You can also find Ease Education on Facebook and Twitter.

The link to the RNZ interview with Vicki Saunders that I refer to in this post can be found below.

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