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Let teachers innovate, inspire

Opinion Piece

New Zealand teachers have been trying hard for quite a few years now to improve the reading (literacy) and numeracy abilities of our students. We had National Standards and we still engage our kids in plenty of standardised testing and assessments, from a very young age. Most teachers tie themselves in knots trying to do a great job for our students.

Our Ministry of Education requires educators and professional learning providers (like me) to make sure that the national priorities of literacy, numeracy and digital fluency are foremost in our thinking. The catchcry of cultural appropriateness has also joined the priorities. All are worth spending time and energy on, and yet our children continue to slide further down the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) scales. Why?

Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth.

1. We want robots not thinkers and that is what we are generating.

2. We have started to think of teachers as merely technicians whose job it is to deliver the policy agendas of whichever government is in power.

3. Teachers are not truly being encouraged to be professionals who are given licence to create innovative and inspiring curriculum. Check out the standards for principals and teachers. Contained within them is rhetoric about “managing performance and a focus on delivering national priorities”.

4. The interests of business and lobby groups have infiltrated education, muddying the waters. They have too much say in what is considered important to learn and what teachers should teach. The Mind Lab, Young Enterprise Scheme and the Springboard Trust come to my mind.

5. Our curriculum is disjointed and confusing. It lacks a clear vision for strengthening our democracy. The philosophy of education underpinning it is known as “rigorous eclecticism”. What the heck does that even mean? A mishmash of ideas, that’s what.

6. We have narrowed the focus to literacy, numeracy and digital technology, and everyone tries to squash their passions and expertise into those three agendas.

7. Students increasingly find education irrelevant and boring.

So let’s . . .

1. Stop making learning just about being able to read and write and use a device.

2. If a kid asks, “do I get credits for this” or “ will I be marked for this”, despair. That is not the purpose of education.

3. Teach our children to have substantive conversations with each other, with everyone. I know so many children with so much to share but they tell me “I know what I want to say, I just don’t have the words”.

4. Encourage all children and teens, through intelligent curriculum design, to get involved/get mad about social injustice, and spend lots of their time thinking about then working on the issues they see in their homes, streets, towns and environment.

5. Encourage and support teachers to be creative and innovative about what they teach. Understand that they will also have miserable failures when they are being creative. Life is messy sometimes.

6. When learners are working on our democracy — as a way of life, not a political ideology, and not for an assignment or a grade — they will rediscover their passion for reading and numbers.

7. Care about each other.

Additionally, see below. The Rongohia te Hau survey data for a school I recently started working with made for interesting reading. My take-aways from the data are:

1. The teachers care but Maori students don’t “feel it”.

2. Teachers think they show respect for the Maori learners but the kids don’t feel that.

3. Whanau think Maori learners are underachieving.

4. Teachers feel that the learners know them but the learners say they don’t.

5. Maori learners don’t feel that they have opportunities to “do what they want”. I wonder what those surveyed understood by the term “do what they want”?

6. Maori learners say teachers need to provide more explicit and timely feedback to them about their tasks and progress.

7. Maori learners don’t feel like the teachers encourage them to help each other learn.

8. Maori learners’ perceptions of what makes learning “fun” must be vastly different from that of the teachers! Best they all get on the same page.

9. Maori learners don’t feel high expectations of them as learners from their teachers.