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My Journey: A four part series of my journey in developing our School Curriculum

Part 1

Intro

Ko te manu e kai ana i te miro, nōna te ngahere.

Ko te manu e kai ana i te mātauranga, nōna te ao.

The bird that partakes of the miro berry reigns in the forest.

The bird that partakes of the power of knowledge has access to the world.

We are living in a knowledge and information society and our educational policies and strategies  are designed to enable us to work and live within the global community. This whakatauki suggests that we need to look further than our local economy  and gain knowledge that will allow us to live in the global society. The child is the bird and we need to grow their knowledge to enable them to live in the global community. To do this all stakeholders must be involved: parents, whanau, schools and communities looking beyond their own forest.  

I was at an elearning conference recently and the talk was about positioning ourselves for the future. Having a future focus but doing it today! We need to set in motion today what we need to be in position for tomorrow. Wayne Gretzky said  “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

If we look at this in relation to New Zealand education and the future focus, or positioning the Educational Puck,  how do we develop our school curriculum to place the children starting school today where they need to be when they leave school in 2028? How do we take our school from a good school to a great school?

Prensky suggested that our students today are not the students that our education system was designed for. While Bolstad and Lin go further to say we need to develop a new kind of curriculum which requires a pedagogical change to respond to the 21st century world. Digital technologies can support this but are not the only way to go about it.  Students, schools and communities need to be collaborating to build new knowledge, all having a voice in when, where, how, what and who will make up the new school curriculum.

In 1968, King, in a symposium held at the New Zealand College of Education, suggested that computers were here to stay and   “ .. the computer is more than an extension of the arm of the teacher : it can serve as an extension of the teacher himself”  (p. 16). They were cost effective in simulating situations, able to stimulate a variety of cognitive styles, store and retrieve personal data, and provide rapid and continuous feedback for students.

Roughly forty years later, Maharey  in his foreword for the Enabling the 21st Century Learner suggested that  “...the answer lies in reorienting the system.. away from the organisation, to the learner. e-learning has the potential to transform the way we learn. it’s about exploiting technologies and using ICT effectively across the curriculum to connect schools and communities and to support evidence-based decision-making and practices in schools” (p. 3). In 2007 we had the opportunity with a new New Zealand curriculum to reorient  our whole school systems and structures, not only transforming the way we learned with digital technologies, but the way that we presented our whole school curriculum.  

The Journey

  1. Working as a team

Seven years ago I started at a new school and we embarked on a journey. A journey that is still a work in progress but a journey that saw a whole school transformation in the way that we presented teaching and  learning to our children.   A journey that would place our students where the educational puck is when they leave school, whenever that may be.  

It started out as a two week review of our ICT. We were going through our regular two year review cycle of our policy and curriculum documents and ICT was the next thing on the list.  This time however we decided to do it a little differently than just looking at the tools we had, what we used them for and what else we needed to buy. This time we used an inquiry model and started by looking at: how we used ICT, the impact that ICT had on our students learning and how our teaching using ICT impacted on the students learning  (seems common sense now, but back then…). It became apparent very early on in the review that we could not just look at ICT in isolation to all the other subjects or in fact to the way we presented any teaching and learning to our students, and so the journey began.

As the principal in the school I needed to lead this change, but it was a change that needed the support and involvement of all stakeholders. So my first thoughts were ‘How do I get everyone on the same page?, What change is needed?, Is Change needed?, What will it look like?’ Many things going through my head and ideas forming and disappearing just as quickly. I had come from a sole charge principal position so all of these decisions had been easy before, I only had myself to please.  But too many times I had seen schools produce really well meant documents. Documents that would be really effective if everyone else knew what was in them. If anyone else knew what they were about or if they ever came off the shelf apart from when you show other schools or ERO. So all had to be involved in the process in a meaningful way to make these living, breathing documents that represented the way we presented teaching and learning in our school and to make the changes we need to make.  

I decided that my starting point for this would be the teachers. My first challenge was building a professional learning community. Getting them  thinking and talking about why our children are where they are academically in an open and constructive dialogue.  To identify what we have an influence on and what we don’t have an influence on in the students lives and learning. Then focusing on the things we can influence.  This was a huge step in making that transition to making a difference.  We have all at some stage  made excuses for our students results because of things we have no influence over.  So the first real change we made was our mindset!

We recognised that there are some things that we just have no influence over and we just had to get over it.  There were many things that we cant impact on and I won't mention any here, but i'm sure you can come up with several yourselves.  The discussion then turned to how can we make up for this at school. What can we do to help the student. So our mindset was now to focus on ‘what can we do’ not ‘what can’t we do’ and if we cant do something, what else could we do to make up for that.

A lot of work went into building the professional learning community and it did take time. Trust needed to be built within the team to be able to say what we thought without any anxiety or fear.  As a staff we needed to get to know each and accept each other as professionals. We needed to recognise that we all had something to share and all of our knowledge and experience was valuable and would make us a stronger team. We needed to accept that our view or way was not the only way and by working together and having shared solutions, we were all going to benefit.  

Once the staff were working as a team we were building a learning community that would be able to work together towards common shared goals. Everyone was keen to have their say, to have their voice heard, acknowledged and accepted, to be able to challenge colleagues thoughts and have their own ideas and thoughts challenged in a safe and professional environment.  The next stage was to get the parents involved and having their voice heard.

This took longer than expected as we would call curriculum meetings and we would have all of the BOT, all of the teachers and maybe three parents.  So we had to think about how can we get the parents down to school to be involved in this process.  We tried having food and drinks and prizes, but we still had all of the BOT, all of the teachers and now 5-6 parents. We knew that if there was a bus meeting we would get nearly 100% turn out of the parents. This was because it had a direct effect on the parents and their children. If the bus didn't go past their house or close to it, the parents would have to bring their children to school so they made the effort to get down to school.  

Our next challenge was how can we get the parents to school for a curriculum meeting. Then, how do we change their mindset that the school is responsible for educating their children. To one of, ‘we are all responsible for educating our children and to do this we must all be involved.’ Some suggestions were to call a bus meeting to get everyone down to school then spring a curriculum meeting.  But to create trust and openness you have to be honest, so that wasn’t really an option.

In school we had created, like in most schools, a house system for the children. The house system was not only for sports days but we used it in the classrooms for points etc. At the weekly assemblies the top house would be announced and that house would get the small trophy for the week much like many schools. The children were very much into this system and competition was high to be the best house. Not only in the children, but the teachers were very competitive in this as well.

We knew that to get the parents to school we had to find something that would directly affect them or their children. House points for the children were our catch.So we decided to award house points to parents that turned up to the curriculum meeting. The children were told that this was a very important meeting about their education and that if their parents turned up to the meeting then they would get house points.  At our first meeting we had all of the BOT, all of the teachers and about 95% of the parents with a few apologies being sent in. As the parents walked in the door they would say “Hi I’m ‘such and such’ and I’m in Blue house! Make sure I get the house my points.” The kids had done an excellent job of getting across to their parents the need to be at school for this meeting.  Great now I had them here my job was just beginning. Now for the hard part how do I keep them here and how do i get them to all come back.

The children also have an equal part to play in this team. Their voice is critical in developing the curriculum if we are to realise the vision of the New Zealand  Curriculum and have children who are confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners. No longer can we develop the school curriculum in isolation of the students. The students were probably the easiest to get to work as team. We already had school councillors that held meetings with children about the way that we did things in school. We just had to take this to the next level and get their involvement in the discussion. Have them thinking about their learning, taking responsibility for their learning and having a voice in why,what and how that can happen.

As I have mentioned earlier  students, school and communities need to be collaborating to build new knowledge, all having a voice in when, where, how , what and who will make up the new school curriculum. Work could now start on building our shared vision and mental model to be able to place our students to receive that educational puck. The hard part, I thought, had been accomplished. Little did I know…

Next month I will post the next instalment about some of the challenges, and some of the ways we worked through them.

Bibliography

Bolstad, R. & Lin, M. (2009). Students’ experiences of learning in virtual classrooms. Wellington, New Zealand: NZCER.

Kim, D. (2001). Organizing For Learning. USA, Pegasus Communications Inc.

King, R.J.R. (1968). Ways in which computers currently serve education. Symposium on measurement and computers in education: Otago College of Education

Ministry of Education. (2006). Enabling the 21st century learner: An e-learning action plan for schools 2006-2010. Wellington.

Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum.  Wellington: Learning Media Limited.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the horizon, 9 (5).

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Comment by Hazel Owen on March 4, 2015 at 21:43

I was really struck - and heartened - by your comment "students, school and communities need to be collaborating to build new knowledge, all having a voice in when, where, how, what and who will make up the new school curriculum" (something that Ricardo Semler is also working with, and who speaks about student-led schools, mosaic curricula, and stage, .... He also brings in the senior citizens to 'teach'). It definitely brought a smile to my face with the use of house points! What a neat strategy. I am very much looking forward to reading how you kept "them here and how do i get them to all come back?" :) It seems to be a key to sustaining community involvement. Also, how do you negotiate and compromise when different parts of the community suggest different, perhaps contradictory things?

So often schools and a lot of other formal education institutions, are perceived as closed spaces run by 'experts', where the community either has little or no real voice. Some might be involved in sports days and bake sales to raise funds, but, unless part of something such as the Board of Trustees, there is little sense of 'ownership'. 

I have a heaps of wonderings about your journey, but suspect much will emerge as we follow your journey in the next instalments. Thank you so much for sharing, Rick! Powerful :)

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