Tuesday, 28 August 2018

A complex messy business

Education is a complex messy business.

(Source: Creative commons https://pxhere.com/en/photo/968503)

It has always been so. We all have that desire to think back to former days with the belief that those were simpler times, easier times, happier times. And in education speak, there is a tendency to believe that we had it better in those earlier times.

Frankly we did not. We had a system that taught to those with specific academic talents. It left a large proportion of the population disenfranchised. The old school certificate system until its final days consigned 50% of the population to failure. Where is the justice in that? Where is the economic sanity in consigning half of our pool of human talent to a sense of failure because they don't hurdle a specific and narrowly defined academic barrier?

So it is that we push to evolve education. The evolution is driven by a number of things:

  • There are the economic drivers whereby business wants more productive units of human capital, or where the economy rewards innovation, new ideas
  • There are the social drivers as we see unemployment delivering a range of social evils
  • The moral imperative whereby we seek to create greater human happiness through education which, we hope, will create human beings who simply reach for that sense of fulfilment (perhaps Maslow was right)
  • The political imperative whereby successive generations of politicians would have us believe that our system is failing to perform, and so needs constant reform. Strangely, that reform pattern seems to be tied to our three year political cycle. Who knew?

Regardless of the drivers, education is a complex and messy business, much like creativity. For Hornby High School our driver is that moral imperative, that desire to see that our students and our whānau are as well served as they can be to lead fulfilling lives.

Our search for that continual improvement means that we have multiple 'work streams' on the go at any one point in time. In fact, if you wanted a visual image, you might think of our educational journey as being much like one of Canterbury's braided rivers, making education that complex messy business.

(Sources: https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/89196579/environment-canterbury-licences-11000-hectares-of-public-land-to-farmers)

The most obvious is our work shifting into the new spaces that we have. The planning has taken long hours, and the shift in itself has been a complex business. Staff have worked hard, and been pushed well outside their personal and professional comfort zones. That we are where we are today is testament to their professionalism and their resilience.

Then there is the work to reform the curriculum, to make the curriculum fit for purpose. This seems likely to see a curriculum that is more contextual, a curriculum in which learning takes place against real world problems and issues, learning that is driven by student passion, and goodness knows we see plenty of that.

Alongside that we are working on continuous improvement in our student reporting. Early efforts so far this year have been driven by two initial desires: to get us through a period of significant staff stress as we relocate the entire school, and the desire to report more often, and more effectively. Professor John Hattie's ground breaking work tells us that feedback is one of the most significant impacts on student learning and achievement.

This work on reporting is connected with our ongoing staff professional learning on how to more effectively engage in inquiry into how to improve student learning, and on how to make better use of data to do just that.

Student reading and writing skills have been a big focus for our work. We continue to accelerate writing at twice the national rates of improvement. Reading proves a little more problematic, and so we are trialling reading interventions that are already proving to have positive impact on reading levels. When a reluctant reader improves reading speed by 40% while holding 80% comprehension in just two months, you know something important is going on.

And then there is the issue of our graduate profiles, those specifications of what we think our learners should look like at Year 8 and at Year 10. It is our intention to develop a Year 13 graduate profile too.

Finally all of this is underpinned by our work to grow our understanding of our 'Learn Create Share' pedagogy. We want creativity to be our most critical driver, and we want the 'Learn Create Share' pedagogy to drive everything that we do.

There is a lot of work going on to make sure that 'Learn Create Share' is at the forefront of our minds and our work. And that is why our vision, our aspiration, is the be 'A centre of creative excellence He puna auaha".

Some might think that this work, under the Manaiakalani umbrella is a digital devices programme. But it is not. As the literature on digital learning often seems to suggest, place digital devices in the hands of learners without changing the way teachers teach and learners learn, and you achieve nothing. Change that pedagogy and the sky is the limit.

And in this regard student blogging continues to be the most important thing. The evidence that we have from the Woolf Fisher Research Centre (Auckland University) tells us that the 'Manaiakalani medicine' must be taken three times per week. That is, if a student writes three blog posts a week, then we will have this huge effect on writing, and on engagement and learning.

Excellence is what we seek. Last week's news that our senior girls basketball team won their division one final spoke volumes for the levels of student commitment to excellence in what they do, and to their search for creative excellence.

But for all that, I come back to my original comment: Education is a complex messy business.

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