Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Starting our journey towards creative excellence

I've been thinking a lot about this creativity thing. We have embarked on an exciting new phase of our growth and development as a school with this new vision as 'a centre of creative excellence'. It connects perfectly with the manaiakalani pedagogy 'Learn Create Share' to which we have 'nailed our colours', and the nationwide data being gathered by Auckland University's Woolf Fisher Centre supports the effectiveness or impact of the pedagogy, and the corresponding use of digital tools, to improve learning.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, we now need to get stuck into a whanau/community wide discussion that helps us to understand what we mean by creativity.

When the vision was first unveiled for staff, a number asked if the word 'innovative' wouldn't be better than the word 'creative'. I was enormously grateful for this response for two reasons.

It told me that we weren't suffering from 'group think', that situation where people think they should just shut up and agree with everyone else. At the heart of our future must lie the growth of our individual and collective willingness and ability to question, to critically evaluate, everything we do.

It also made our Board Chair and I do a double check: is this really what we mean?

We decided that it is what we mean, but it is always worth that double check, everything should be questioned. What does the data say? Is this what we mean?

So now, we need to ask ourselves what we mean with the word creativity. I have been at pains to make the point that the word should NOT be tied only to the visual arts. It applies to everything we do. It applies across the curriculum (arts for sure, but also sciences, phys-ed, languages, English, mathematics, technology and social sciences).

It also applies to our school management and scheduling, to our course structures and organisation, to school governance, and to how whanau engage with the school and how they are supported to take part in the education of their tamariki.

I did a simple Google search on the word, and produced five pages of 'definitions' of what creativity means. Perhaps the most powerful was this:
If you have ideas but don't act on them, you are imaginative but not creative.
So if we are to embed creativity in the curriculum for example, students actually have to produce something. In the visual arts and technologies that has always gone without saying.

What about the social sciences? As our project based learning trial showed last year, getting students to take a social action to improve the lives of others in their community is an act of production. Students had to learn about the problem, and also learn whatever skills they need to help generate a solution.

In Te Reo, could it not be the creation of an app that supports the learning of the language, or promotes its wider use? In science, why not have students create a weekly podcast that highlights science issues that affect our local environment? In physical education, why not the design of a sports programme for younger children in the area? In mathematics, what about the creation of geometric shapes that can be translated into sculpture? The number of options is limited by our own creativity, and nothing else.

Notice that all of these things require 'learning', and once the act of creation is complete, they also involve 'sharing'.

On the question of course design, why do we assume that everything we do must be 'silo'd', that is why should learning be split out into separate 'subjects' (English, maths etc). That's not the way the real world operates. The real world needs people to solve its problems. Why isn't learning structured around the formulation and solution of those problems. Only then should we attach assessment to the student output/production. One sure outcome of this is likely to be increased student engagement. How much human potential do we lose in New Zealand because students are switched off school? Whether you measure that in traditional economic terms, or in human terms, it represents a massive loss for the nation as a whole, and for the Hornby community too.

What would happen if we abandoned courses as we know them today, and caused learning based around projects and problem solving?

The only significant obstacles to that are resourcing for teacher time to initially set these things up, and ensuring that students meet external success criteria for such things as university entrance. None of these is insuperable, forewarned is forearmed.

Is our current year group pastoral system the best way to provide pastoral support for students? What would happen if we shifted to a whanau based system? Society needs us all to look after each other, we are stronger when we work together.

E hara taku toa
i te toa takitahi
he toa takitini

("My strength is not as an individual, but as a collective")

A whanau or 'vertical house' system makes much more sense as a means of providing the pastoral support that our tamariki need if they are to grow into complete adults who are the foundations stones of the caring society that we all yearn for.

It is time to 'get creative', to rethink our solutions to the issues that confront us, and in doing that everyone's vice needs to be heard.

I'm very keen to hear from whanau and stude nts as well. Let's talk!!!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

A centre of creative excellence

So here we are at the start of a new year, that time for new academic and personal goals, aspirations and expectations. This year Hornby High School begins its first year with its own exciting new vision 'A centre of creative excellence'. When the Board of Trustees set this new vision, it did so with two specific thoughts in mind:
  1. A vision is an aspiration, a statement of what we want to be not what we are now
  2. Every one of us now needs to determine exactly what this means for us. What will creative excellence look like around the Board table? In Social Studies or Te Reo? In science or on the sports field?
At the start of their year staff will begin their own dialogue in which they try to determine what creative excellence will look like for them as professionals, and for their specific subject areas. A first look in a dictionary may give you something like this (depending on which dictionary you choose to use):

the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness

Sir Ken Robinson, English commentator on creativity in schools, maintains that schools around the globe kill creativity, and has this to say:

Why creativity? The pace at which technology is replacing repetitive human activity means that we need to more clearly understand and develop those things that make us human. Amongst those is the ability to think critically and creatively, things that technology (so far) has not been shown to be able to do.

Now the underlying pedagogy (the way in which we create learning) at Hornby High school comes from the Manaiakalani programme: 'Learn Create Share'. It is no coincidence that creativity sits right in the middle of that sentence. Our underlying approach to causing learning is to help students learn stuff, create something new with that stuff, and then share that creation with the world.

Every junior student at Hornby High School now has their own personal blog on which they will be writing about what they have learned, and share what they have created. Perhaps one of the ways in which as whanau you can be creative from now on is to look at what your tamariki have created, and to comment on it. Even a simple 'Well done' speaks volumes for young learners.

The Woolf Fisher Centre, the research arm of Auckland University, has been gathering data on the effectiveness of the Manaiakalani pedagogy, and the associated use of Chromebooks and devices, to improve learning. You can read more about their findings after three years here:

Click this link to read more 
The data so far is much more positive than we had dared hope: gains in reading and maths at 1.5 x the national level and gains in writing at 2 x the national average. 

So our mission starting right now is to find our creativity, to develop the ability in every student, every teacher, every whanau to come up with original ideas, to create something.

Whatever your perspective, whatever your place in the learning journey of every one of our extraordinary tamariki, dare to challenge yourself, dare to be creative in seeking out new ways of supporting their learning (and our own), dare to be creative in meeting the many challenges that every one of us faces daily.

Ko te pae tawhiti,
Whaia kia tata; ko te pae
tata, whakamaua kia tina

Seek out distant horizons
and cherish those you attain

Robin Sutton