Friday, 20 March 2020

What do beards and the OECD have in common?

As we watch the Covid-19 situation evolve as a rapid pace, those of us in schools are looking at our preparedness for the future challenges of causing learning remotely. There is an inevitability to this at some stage in the future, even if for a limited number of our students. Our overriding paradigm has to be 'business was usual' for as long as possible while taking all sensible measure possible to 'mitigate the risks', to keep everyone safe.

One of the things it has done for me is to provoke some thinking on our purpose as educators. You might say it's a little late in my career to start that. It's not a matter of having started it,  but rather a matter of deciding to put down in words how I see things in the face of the challenges we face right now.

In writing this, my target audience is our whānau and our rangatahi, because I would hope that colleagues have already determined their position in this regard.

So what is our purpose? I think that the greatest task that faces us is to prepare young people to take their place in society as people able to participate in society, to contribute economically, socially, morally, to bettering our existence as human beings. This brought me first to a piece I wrote in a school newsletter at the start of the year, as we faced the perennial 'beard wars', senior boys demanding the right to grow beards, despite the clear school rules. I wrote this:

Already this year I have had cause to consider the psychology of our teenagers. Psychologists in the 60’s and 70’s described them as ‘marginal man’ (at a time when our language was far less sympathetic to the issues of gender identity). They were referring to the idea that teenagers are at the margin, the grey area in which they are neither child nor adult. It is an age therefore where they are seeking identity, and they do this in many ways, not the least is by pushing against the boundaries in order to gain a line of sight to exactly what it means to be themselves. You will see this daily in your home lives.
Pushing against the rules of any organisation is perhaps the easiest way, as those rules are the things most visible and therefore the easiest target. The problem is that any group or organisation must have rules if it is to function. It matters not what the organisation is: the army, the Police, a hospital, a construction site, a school. They all need rules if they are to function. 
Therefore perhaps one of the best things we can do for our teenagers (after giving them our time and our unconditional love) is to ensure that they understand that rules exist and that they develop the resilience to cope with those rules, regardless of whether they agree with them or not. I have had cause to address the issue of beards. It is perhaps relatively normal for teens to see the growth of facial hair as a way of establishing identity, it reflects their search for themselves. However beards and moustaches are often not allowed. In the Police, yes, In the army no (although there was an odd rule that almost ‘required’ a sergeant in the Royal Artillery in the 19th Century to grow a beard - I haven’t been able to find out whether that is still allowed or not, although I suspect not). Our own school rule is clear: boys are to be clean shaven, beards and moustaches are not allowed.
There are rules in many workplaces, whether we like them or not, whether we agree with them or not. As a kura, and as parents, we do our children NO service at all if we do not support them to accept that fact. In one of our recent regular weekly visits to our local supermarket the checkout operator admired Lorraine’s painted nails, lamenting the fact that as staff they were not allowed painted nails if they were to work at the supermarket. When our employer says that we must wear protective footwear if we wish to work on site, then we have two choices: wear the protective footwear, or work somewhere else. We don’t argue with the employer that we want to work there but not wear the footwear.
Growing facial hair may well be seen as a chance to rebel, and you may argue that the growth of facial hair does not impact on learning. But as I said earlier, we do our young people no service whatsoever if we cannot help them to understand that societies and groups need rules to function, and that to some degree at least we all need to observe those rules. This too is an important part of their learning. If our young people want to rebel, let it be against something that actually matters in the long run. Facial hair hardly seems important  when the future of the planet is at stake, or when we have almost 300000 children still living in poverty. Support our rangatahi to rebel for a cause that actually makes a difference. Support them to show kindness in their actions, to show thought and care for others. An argument about facial hair seems to me to be very self centred. There are far better ways of building personal identity.

My brain then connected this with some material published by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development). Here's what they said:

Creative problem solving requires us to consider the consequences of our actions, with a sense of moral and intellectual maturity. This allows us to reflect on our actions in light of experiences and personal or societal goals. The perception and assessment of what is right or wrong in a specific situation is about ethics. It involves questions related to norms, values, meanings and limits: What should I do? Was I right to do that, in light of the consequences? Where are the limits?

That brings us to the toughest challenge in modern education: incorporating values. Values have always been central to education, but it is time to move beyond implicit aspirations to explicit education goals and practices. This will help communities shift from situational values – under which an individual’s actions are guided by circumstance – to sustainable values that generate trust, social bonds and hope. If education fails to build foundations for communities, many people will try to build walls.
(OECD Educational Compass 2030 Last accessed 21 March 2020)
The OECD has effectively stated in 'eduspeke' what I was saying about beards. All that matters in education, in learning, is not just academic in nature. One of our key purposes is to enhance and develop our moral position in life, to enhance our values, to grow those things that make us human.
The purpose of education is NOT to maximise examination passes. League tables and exam results do not measure what counts, and if we think so then we have certainly failed to give due consideration to what matters in education, to the true purpose of education. The OECD view certainly doesn't align with the 'League Table' bandits who thing that NCEA results are the true measure of the effectiveness of a school. It aligns very closely with what we call 'the front half of the curriculum' in New Zealand, that part that spells out key competencies, values, and vision, for our learners.
Yes we all want improved examination results. Yes these results matter. But more importantly we want young people to go out into society determined to make a difference, to be good citizens. For three years now I have been repeating my plea to our students: BE KIND. It is the SAME message we hear from our Prime Minister The Rt Hon. Jacinda Ardern.
The good news, going back to the original prompt for this thinking, is that as a Manaiakalani Programme kura, we are well placed to continue students' learning remotely, on line. Teachers have well developed Google sites that support visible rewindable learning. Students (and staff) blogs support interaction, they support the visible reflection of thinking and learning and the provision of feedback, the interaction with authentic audiences.
The 'however' is this: not all things that matter can be taught remotely, and not all things that matter can be taught in schools.
Much of the purpose of schools is to provide the social connection that we all need, to provide our children with the opportunity to a make it through adolescence learning those skills necessary to be connected, kind, adults who make a positive difference in our communities.
It is also true that not all that is important in learning comes from schools. If your children end up at home with you, take the time to cook a meal together, read a book together, prepare the garden for winter, or change a wheel on the car together. Maybe make a 'bobby cart' together.. do you remember the joy of that as a child yourself? Take the time to truly be 'present' with your children.

In the meantime, it is essential that we maintain business as usual, that we keep routine and 'normality' for our children. If nothing else, in Canterbury we learned this lesson post February 2011. The Ministry of Health emphasises that school closures do not keep people safer at this stage. It is essential that we follow their advice. THEY are the experts. We would be fools to ignore what they say.
In these challenging times.. kia tau te mauri
Robin Sutton

Thursday, 12 March 2020

The power of collaboration

I have written before expressing my opinion that the media, by attacking schools that attempt to be innovative, are simply demonstrating institutional racism. In short the argument goes like this: our education system has historically failed Māori and Pasifika learners disproportionately. There is nothing wrong with those learners, but rather there is something wrong with the system. If our society is to realize the benefits of the skill, the talents, and the humanity, of that section of our population, the system has to change. Attacks on those proposed changes are therefore attacks on attempts to create real equity in society. Economically, socially, and morally, we shoot ourselves in the foot, it is something of an 'own goal' to attack those attempting to create change in our current education systems and structures. Some say why change a system that has worked? To which my response would be 'worked for whom"? Who says it has worked given that there has previously been nothing to compare it with? And anyway, can we seriously claim it has worked when it has failed significant groups in our society?

Today I was privileged to be present when educators from 23 secondary kura from across our region got together to share their evolving practice under the title 'Secondary Flexibility'.  We were brought together under the banner of Grow Waitaha, This is an organisation set up to help schools transform their practice, to make themselves fit for purpose in this new age where the future is so uncertain, in an age when we have much less idea than we ever had about what learners need in order to survive in their future because the pace of change is so rapid. This was an amazing exercise in collaboration that is not normal in the world of education. The previous competitive schools model meant that schools were afraid to share practice in case they gave away an edge to their competitors. We were left with small pockets of innovation that in themselves were limited because it is often difficult to see the bigger picture when trapped in our own bubble. However we continue to see that education at least is stronger when we collaborate, when we share knowledge and expertise. In short, OUR CHILDREN ARE BETTER OFF when we share our expertise. The competitive schools model simply created winner and loser children.

You could observe stuff at the surface level like the passion in the atmosphere, like the desire for change that was visceral to say the least. These are people who totally understand the moral imperative, who understand that we can no longer tolerate leaving a growing proportion of our population behind. These educators were unashamedly sharing their work on the sorts of innovations that they believe will create greater equity in our system. And there were lots of cool things happening. Interestingly we are all on the same journey. It's not as if each school is following a significantly different journey. Rather we are all on the same journey, but adapting the thinking to suit our communities, things like the readiness of community, or staff, or students, to adapt to change, or the capacity to resource change.

We are all talking about systems that build stronger relationships with learners (at Hornby High School we call this Wānanga time). We are all talking about changes that connect subjects across the curriculum (at Hornby High School this is Hurumanu), destroying the subject silos that have been the feature of secondary learning in our secondary schools since.. well , since forever as our teenagers might say.

At a deeper level though I think there is something much more significant happening. I previously wrote that schools are often afraid to put their heads above the parapet for fear of being sniped, of being shot down, by a contemptuous and hideously ill-informed media. Today was different. Today we stood shoulder to shoulder, announcing for the whole world that we are committed to a better education for ALL rangatahi, that we no longer believe the lie that the western education tradition is the best and only way to cause learning. We all acknowledged without saying that there is stuff we don't want to get rid of, but we were all also acknowledging that what we do now is no longer enough, if it ever was.

You see, the impact of this stuff is real. In achievement Hornby High School accelerates writing achievement at twice (yes that's TWICE) national averages as a result of our engagement with The Manaiakalani Programme and its 'Learn Create Share' pedagogy. Hornby High School has maintained attendances at an average of over 90% when attendance rates across the country have been declining. That's called engagement. Maybe, just maybe, we DO know what we are doing.  Maybe, JUST MAYBE, the profession of educators does know what it is doing.

I am proud to be a part of a kura that is pushing the boundaries, a kura that wants the best for all learners, not just a privileged few. And today we saw that we are not alone, and in fact never have been. We now know that we have good company on this amazing journey. We have a whole community of educators with us in this work to change lives and communities.

This is the power of professional collaboration. This is the way of the world, this is the. way forward in our work to empower and embolden our rangatahi, to set them on their journey to better lives for themselves, and for all.

You see, the whole IS more than the sum of the parts. As one famous thinker once said 'you can judge the quality of a society by the way it treats its weakest members.' Today showed that as educators we are determined to treat our young people, some of our weakest and most vulnerable members, in the best way we can imagine.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

The new 'cornerstones' of our society

All groups need rules. They need a set of agreements on how members will behave, how they will treat each other, if they are to succeed. Regardless of whether it is the armed forces or the police, a kura or a hospital, a sports club or a motorcycle gang, all groups have to have some agreement about how they will act.

I recall Lorraine in the 90's inviting her parish vicar for dinner. It was an enjoyable evening, and I recall expressing the view that for many centuries in European societies churches provided the moral glue that bound us together as a society. I suggested that it was the failure of our churches in general to retain their relevance to people that has lead to a significant drop in numbers of parishioners generally, and therefore in their ability to influence values, to sustain a moral code that we might live by. I then suggested that this has accelerated a significant shift in our cohesiveness as a society because we struggle to hold shared values. Here is some recent NZ data, and I readily acknowledge that this doesn't reflect some of the changes happening with individual faiths.

I realise that that statement suggests that their values are the right ones, and all others are not. That is not my intention. It is merely an observation on what I think has happened in European based societies globally. Here too I stress that this is a very euro-centric observation, on which I'll say more later in this post.

The vicar certainly didn't disagree with me, and I have to confess that despite working for 15 years in an independent school with an Anglican ethos (and an excellent school, at that), I have at best 'flirted with faith'. That worried me, although despite that I like to think that I have managed to live a values driven life that reflects core values founded on respect for others.

I would also like to state that this is not a post promoting any specific set of values, Christian or otherwise, other than the values that are implicit in the New Zealand National Curriculum. I merely make the observation of the need for an agreed and shared set of values. As a state school in New Zealand, we are required to be secular in nature. We do however have a set of values (Commitment, Achievement, Resilience, and Respect), that are our own interpretation of the values spelt out in the front half of our National Curriculum.

Just last week I was in a meeting with Gary Roberts (Principal, Hornby Primary School) and Malcolm Gooch (Leader of our local Mana Ake team, working with the Uru Mānuka cluster). Malcolm made one of those statements that 'joined the dots' for me. I admitted that I felt deeply embarrassed that I hadn't made this connection, that I hadn't joined these dots, before.

He said 'schools are the new cornerstones of society', they are places in which society generally has high trust, they are gathering places for us, perhaps in much the same ways that churches were before.

That lit a number of light bulbs for me, reflecting a vital function that had lurked in the back on my mind like one of those ghostly memories borne of a half remembered dream.

It also brought me back to Simon Sinek's work on change, and the need to know, and keep at the forefront of our thinking,  the 'why' of our work, our moral imperative.

Image result for simon sinek why

Our moral imperative within Uru Mānuka is well represented in this visual representation of our work, one I've shared numerous times before:

Image result for equality equity liberation
Our work with The Manaiakalani Programme highlights one of the important pieces of work that we are undertaking at Hornby High School to achieve this end, to meet our moral obligation to see ALL students able to be the best that they can be. Our work in establishing our Wānanga time and our cross curriculum Hurumanu, are also important pieces of work in supporting the best outcomes for our learners.

The problem lies in that bigger piece of work, that new role for schools as the cornerstones of our society. You see, this is not something we are resourced to do. We are staffed with wonderful people who hold the moral imperative dear to their hearts. We are staffed by people who would (and figuratively, often do) give the shirts off their backs for tamariki that they teach. However as a wonderful former colleague was want to remind me, we are schools, not social work organisations. That is what we are resourced to do.

But what of our work? What can we actually do to  make a difference, given that we are not actually resourced to be those 'cornerstones' of our society? We can be values driven, as we all are. We can be culturally responsive, culturally inclusive, welcoming to all cultures in our communities. Every child ought to be able to bring their 'cultural backpack' into the kura, to be who they are without fear or reservation.

These two ideas come together in a unique way in Aotearoa New Zealand. We have a true taonga in Tikanga Māori, in those beautiful values of manaakitanga and whanaungatanga, of kindness and relationship. By upholding the precepts of the Treaty of Waitangi we may yet save ourselves as a society. We currently have a Prime Minister who talks the talk and walks the walk about showing kindness, about rejecting the cult of the individual that has been an implicit part of the neo liberal right wing agenda that has driven much of western society for the past 40 years. We hear those messages abut inclusivity, about embracing diversity. Doing so makes us all richer, better off. A society that has extremes of wealth, a society that is divided along any grounds at all, is a poorer society both economically, culturally, and socially. Embracing tikanga offers us a path to greater moral and economic wealth. Why wouldn't we?

That's a big ask for schools alone. We must play our part, but we can't do this alone.