What makes a happy school?

no_hierachy_in_learning-eduwellsWhat makes all humans happy?

How about feeling:

  • you belong
  • you’re appreciated
  • you’re approach will be supported
  • and you’re important.

The factory gets everyone down

As education slowly drags itself out from the pit of 19th/20th century ‘factory’ education, it seems obvious to me that these were and are unfortunately the sentiments missing from much of my experience, both as student and teacher. The system my colleagues and I were educated in was centred on the exact opposite of the above list. It is very important to the uniform delivery of exam material that everyone comply and any appreciation of individuality be stifled. This has not only led to a history of students wanting to avoid school if possible (“Snow day” anybody?), but also led to unhappy teachers treated as evaluated delivery mechanisms.

A happy Alternative

hpss-danielle-on-floor-copyTo the left is my teacher friend Danielle, using the floor to indicate her equal status as a learner amongst her students. The flatter the learning hierarchies in a school are, the happier everyone is: staff; students; and parents. Developing a culture where everyone is a learner and has something to offer others is key to happiness for all. I have visited many schools in New Zealand and I can report that the happiest and healthiest exist where the principal is clearly viewed as lead learner not lead expert. Personally, I’m often tempted to judge a school by how visibly reflective its principal is. Many principals in New Zealand blog publicly (Links below) about both their successes and failures. This has the knock on effect of making teachers and their students more comfortable to try, fail, and thus learn.

Negotiation your way to happiness

A key to happy learners is to ensure nothing is assumed to be definite. The teacher doesn’t always know the best approach to learning for the specific learners in front of them. Students don’t always know their own strengths and weaknesses. The most effective environment is one of negotiation and reciprocal accountability between teacher and student. In New Zealand, schools use the native Maori term of “Ako” in place of the word “learning” as it better describes this reciprocal nature of learning. [Video credit: Breens Intermediate school, Christchurch]

“The concept of ako describes a teaching and learning relationship, where the educator is also learning from the student and where educators’ practices are informed by the latest research and are both deliberate and reflective. Ako is grounded in the principle of reciprocity and also recognises that the learner and whānau cannot be separated.”

Ka Hikitia, 2008, p.20

This is just one example where New Zealand’s balanced appreciation for both our primary cultures (Maori and European) benefits the wellbeing of our schools and their communities. To maintain one’s teaching certificate in New Zealand, teachers have to provide evidence every three years of how they have further developed their own learning and collaborative pedagogical approaches.

Western society was built on rigid hierarchies and from politics to medicine and certainly to education, the faster we learn that flattening them creates solutions to our biggest problems, the better for all involved.

There’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.

_____________________________________________________________

Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International keynote speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.

_____________________________________________________________