Sunday, 29 October 2017

Manaiakalani, Learn Create Share, and digital learning

The history of education in the twentieth century is littered with the corpses of what, at the time, seemed like good ideas. Most of them I suspect were driven by a political imperative, the political desire of some nascent politician to make her or his mark, to go down in the history books as the one who reformed education. All too often these good ideas have been drive by political ideologies that were possibly never fit for purpose.

I also suspect, as a matter of opinion, that they have at times not been driven by any moral imperative at all.

What I suspect we can also say is that often these reforms have at best been driven by what seemed to be a good idea, by what logic told people was correct, what would work, all based on some mental model that had come from who knows where.

Worst of all, again in my opinion, I suspect all too many of them have completely failed to address the things that we know cause learning. Well, now things are different. At least, they are different within the Uru Mānuka cluster, and within the Manaiakalani clusters across New Zealand.

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Manaiakalani wananga hosted by Point England School, along with Principals and staff from almost all of the 50+ participating schools. We were presented with a rapidly growing, reliable and authentic body of research accumulated by the Woolf Fisher Research Centre (Auckland University). The data is clear:

Participation in the Manaiakalani programme for at least three years accelerates student achievement  by between 150% and 200%. Interestingly in our own cluster we are seeing gains of this magnitude within one year. So successful is the programme that it is being promoted globally as an outstanding force for acceleration in educational achievement. Here is what the Economist's Economic Intelligence Unit had to say. So successful is the programme that it is expected to expand to 100 participating schools in 2018.

Why is it so successful?

  1. It is based on a sound pedagogy - 'Learn Create Share'
  2. It uses technology to magnify student thinking, engagement, and so achievement based on that pedagogy 
  3. There is no 3. .. it's honestly that simple.

We are seeing a lot of debate about modern or flexible learning spaces, and about devices. These debates miss the point. Either of them will fail if we do not see sound modern pedagogy being used by competent teachers. These approaches are being criticised because they undermine relationships. Sorry - but feel free to hear the big red buzzer of 'fail' on that one. It doesn't matter what the physical environment, nor the technology in student hands. Good relationships come down to good teachers. Although as we say at Hornby High School, it's not 'relationships' that matter but 'Relationships for learning' that matter.

While in Auckland I was also privileged to spend all too short a time at Tamaki College, the secondary school which is a part of the original Manaiakalani programme. All I can say is 'WOW'. I saw a school filed with amazing young people, confident, polite and caring, and focussed on their own learning. They represent something that we can all aspire to.

The focus on the pedagogy must be single minded. It requires every ounce of skill that every teacher can muster.  At Hornby High School we are already seeing the benefits of Manaiakalani with the students that arrive from our partnership schools in the Uru Mānuka cluster. These schools are using flexible learning environments, these schools are using 1:1 Chromebooks. They are delivering into our hands students who are better able to manage their learning now than ever before, students who are more focussed on their learning than ever before, students who can manage their own behaviour and time better than ever before. How do we know? The research evidence gathered from sources such as the NZCER 'Me and My school' survey shows dramatic improvements in these attributes as measured by the survey. The observations and experiences of our Year 7 teachers confirms this. Does that sound like a failure of flexible learning spaces, and the use of digital devices?

Our Hornby High School vision to be 'A centre of creative excellence' is no coincidence. It was chosen partly because creativity is essential to human progress in the face of technological development. It was also chosen because 'create' is at the centre of the Manaiakalani pedagogy 'Learn Create Share'.

The Manaiakalani pedagogy and programme are being driven nationally by three gifted and visionary people: Mr Pat Sneddon, Mrs Dorothy Burt, and Mr Russell Burt. These are exciting times to be in education. Our tamariki are fortunate to have such people at their service, people who have successfully harnessed the collective focus of the staff of 50 schools so far, with that extra 50 schools coming on board next year.

Be aware though that perhaps the greatest failure in education has been the failure to sustain initiatives long enough for them to take effect. Often these initiatives come and go alongside our three year electoral cycle, yet change of this sort needs 8-10 years minimum to become truly embedded. If we are producing these results now, what might this look like in 10 years time?

Hornby High School, and the Uru Mānuka cluster, are in this for the long haul. Watch out world - we are about to unleash a generation of intelligent, critical, creative thinkers who won't take NO for an answer.

Robin Sutton