Tuesday, 31 May 2016

If you teach, you know isolation....

This is a response to Mark E Weston's blog post . He called his "TEACHING PROBLEMS (And How to Solve Them) – The Shift Paradigm Series" and I've stolen the first sentence of his post for mine. 

I'd like to respond for the following reasons:
First, I don't know much about the educational context he's referring to in his post, or what sort of schools he has in mind, for those are not made clear. For example, does he have secondary or primary in mind? Or both? Second, I'm not sure if he has a particular country's schools in mind either, or if the post is to mean schools everywhere on the planet. 

Some of what Mark describes may be ubiquitous descriptions, such as: 
The paradigm that guides the field of education assigns great value to standardized school days, unidirectional meetings, institutional not personal development, and cookie-cutter buildings. It commits students to age groups, teachers to levels and subjects, and both to buildings and classrooms. A teacher teaches a set of students in a classroom. There she is singularly responsible for how and what students learn. Every other teacher, each in a classroom, is singularly responsible for her or his students’ learning and performance on achievement tests and other academic measures.
The design and organization of your school—schedule, meetings, professional development, technology, and building—reflects your responsibility for student learning. It may support you meeting that responsibility but definitely prevents you from working collaboratively with other teachers. And, if you try to work together, you encounter difficulties. So you and other teachers co-exist. Co-existence is the source of your isolation.
However, when I think of the changes to schooling contexts in New Zealand, I cannot but think, 'yes, but..' to a number of his contentions. 

Let me explain.

Firstly, in new Zealand primary schools for example, there has always been a focus on collaboration in year level or learning area syndicates of teachers. This persists, and is aided by collaborative tools like GoogleDocs.

Secondly, because of population in various parts of New Zealand, or, in Christchurch's case the need to rebuild schools after the earthquakes, new kinds of schools are being built. They are built in accordance with new thinking about how education happens. The new thinking defines these spaces as ILSs (Innovative Learning Spaces), or, in Ministry of Education speak, ILEs (Innovative Learning Environments) or FLSs (Flexible Learning Spaces).

Thirdly, there are online portals here which foster collaboration, such as:
Other aspects foster collaboration in educational research, such as TLRI or TLIF. A brand new initiative to share good practice has just been announced too - the Grass Roots Ideas Initiative.

And a way for educators to collaborate across the country is provided by #edchatnz - the Twitter hashtag used for regular discussions. One of these is collated in relation to the question

Question 1 – Why engage with the community when designing your school curriculum?

 And lastly, I shall give you a secondary school example, which also counters Mark E Weston's contention that 
Teachers who co-exist do their core work alone, all the time, never together. For instance, when one designs a complete lesson—pedagogical approach, strategy, materials, and rubric—other teachers do not benefit from her efforts. Similarly, when a teacher delivers instruction, she cannot share what she learns from her delivery with others. Such duplication of efforts and disconnection of core work is why your workload is so high. It is why you have neither time nor energy to teach well. It is why teachers burnout. Why the field of education cannot reform itself. And why you feel so isolated.
Hobsonville Point Secondary School, a new (state funded) school now in its third year, has taken advantage of the option to resign how the school enacts the national curriculum, and how teachers work in these new spaces. From the beginning, teachers have critical friends who are colleagues they turn to for advice. Also, teachers work in cross-curricular teams developing a term-long big module that pulls together learning from 3 subjects under one theme. Each week, the teachers get together to review students' progress and design the next week's learning programme. In this school, not teacher is isolated or teaching alone. They may plan lessons individually for their curriculum, but these lessons are designed to complement the two other subjects and links to learning outcomes that all work towards.

When they teach, they do so with colleagues present. The learning and teaching take place in wide, open and large, communal spaces. Breakout spaces for smaller group or individual work make it easy to concentrate on specifics and complete tasks as needed. Teachers, like students, collaborate as needed.

Teachers openly blog about their growing learning, as does the principal. They let me visit a few times a year to find out how they are evolving(see, for example, Wright, N., & Adam, A. (2015). The ‘critical friend’ role in fostering reflective practices and developing staff cohesion: A case study in a new secondary school, New Zealand.School Leadership & Management, 1-17. doi:10.1080/13632434.2015.1070821).

This way of operating is now spreading to another school which opened this year (Rototuna Junior High School). It has heavily borrowed ideas from HPSS, and so this open, collective and supportive vision of education has an opportunity to override the paradigm of one that Mark describes. I am currently awaiting review feedback on a paper about disrupting the paradigm of one. I'll let you know when it sees the light of day!

While Mark hopes for change, here in our little corner of the world, it is already happening, and has been for some time. Perhaps isolation is blessing- may be it means we work harder to make connections and support each other.
So what's happening in your corners of the educational world? Anything similar?

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