Thursday, May 20, 2010

National Standards

Whilst I have been working hard to not spend unnecessary time and energy around debating the pros and cons of our new national standards, it seems that it is a hard topic to escape from. I have been in 3 principals’ meetings this week where it was the only subject of discussion and visitors to our school today asked me outright for my opinion. So what do I think?
As always in debates such as this one, there is merit on both sides of the coin. While I join with many of my colleagues in my nervousness about the consequences of such a system, in my own personal experience as a school principal the concept of standards (or a more favourable word—expectations) has actually resulted in overall school improvement.
Yes it is true that the experiences in the UK and the US are not great and all of us should take heed of the lessons to be learned. Yes it is true that the standards will not be totally valid nor 100% reliable—this is exactly why they should not be called standards. However, having lived with our own school-based expectations for the past 10 years and having reported using a 5 point scale, based on these expectations, I would have to say that there have been some positives around this practice. While our own system was definitely not a “pure science”—it did trigger 2 positive consequences—the simple act of naming where each child was at, sharpened each teacher’s practice and the use of the generated data affected the manner in which school-wide decisions related to resourcing and funding were made.
If only a version of this experience could occur across the country, then all of our children would be better for it. However and this is a big however, this would need to occur within an overall positive learning community, not one where all of the participants are polarized around opposite points of view. What a shame all of the various stakeholders across our very small country could not have got together to work out a way forward. Let’s hope that there is still space for this to occur.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Graduation Experience

Participated in my own capping ceremony yesterday and what a great time we all had. It is interesting to reflect upon the experience, especially the question of whether all that pomp and ceremony is relevant in this day and age. It would be easy to say no, there is no connection in today’s fast-paced, digital world to the historic rituals of trencher donning in gowns and hoods. However after participating in such an event, I would have to say that for a brief period of time to engage oneself in this world of academia was indeed a thrill. There seemed to be something really heart-warming about following the traditions of those who have gone before, engaging in a context that has survived many a year. It caused me to reflect on the importance of the rituals we follow in our school—such events as assemblies, welcomes, farewells and traditions that have become embedded into the fabric of school life. They do have their place; they form a sense of timelessness and security for students and adults alike. This is a good reminder to reflect upon the next time a school practice is terminated just because we’ve being doing it for a while. Traditions and rituals are about belonging, not to be under-rated in importance.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Adult Learning

What a fabulous example of effective adult learning I experienced on Fri/ Sat at the AppleITSC Conference here in Auckland. The 2 days sped by with my engagement on full steam for the whole time. One could not help but reflect on what it was that made it such a successful learning experience and how this could or should impact on future adult professional learning experiences that I organize here at school.
Firstly there was a well balanced combination of input from experts and thought-provokers, time to experiment and “get ones hands dirty” so to speak and also time to chat and network with others around you. Catering for different learning styles was well managed and balanced within the physical set up of the space provided. Large bean bags, circular tables and the like were mixed together with couches and singular seats to cater for all. Keyboards and i-phones clicked away as others spoke acknowledging the fact that engagement does not always mean silent eye contact.
Sessions where the learners could make their own choices as to what they wanted to focus on were the norm, allowing everyone to pick and choose their own learning needs. Most importantly experts were on hand to provide support and advice whenever required. This was done for even the ignoramus types like myself, who may have been too embarrassed to ask in other contexts.
Congrats to the organizers, it was time well spent! I will think hard on it, when planning our next PD.