This post is about schools’ ability to adapt but let me first set the scene as to what drove me to write it. I am not a fan of streaming learners into classes on the basis of existing ability. A system of creating an alien environment where people are only surrounded by like-minded and equally skilled people. Streaming creates environments that are not conducive to developing young people for the real world. The core challenge I have faced during my career was and is always to learn to build positive working relationships with people from all backgrounds and skill levels as we attempt to succeed in our tasks.
In fact, the most inspiring thing about working with people is reflecting on the privilege of having learnt from more talented people but at the same time having developed less experienced people I’ve worked with. Streaming classes by ability removes both of these key aspects that makes any activity positive and encouraging for all.I take pride and joy in reflecting on the people who have both grown me and the people I have encouraged to grow. This aspect of life is not something that should be removed from the classroom.
This post is not about streaming but I had an experience in a high school recently in regards to streaming that made me think about how schools can struggle when they are considering adapting to more relevant 21st-century learning practice.
In this high school, I spoke to every member of a particular department who all agreed that the students sitting in the bottom three streamed classes did not experience much, if any success in their subject. A programme that was delivering and assessing one topic at a time. Numerous students were studying and then failing the assessment in topic one, only to be systematically moved onto the second topic where they would fail again. This series of failures. made up their annual experience of the subject. I could only smile as some of the teachers proclaimed confusion that the students just didn’t seem to want to apply themselves. When I highlighted this to all the teachers individually, they all agreed their system of moving on regardless of prior success didn’t make any sense. But at the same time, no one in the department was making any move to change this. This was what they had always done and no one was in the habit of considering making changes. So my question is, why do so many teachers all around the world behave this way?
ɪnstɪˈtjuːʃ(ə)n/ noun an
organisation founded for a religious, educational, professional, or social purpose.
The word institutionalised does not have positive connotations. Most school communities are made up from parents, teachers, and students, all of whom are institutionalised by their own experience of school. As always, fear of the unknown has whole communities rigidly sticking to their institutionalised understanding of what school should be. Schools continue to embrace routine while the world outside the school gates celebrates change. This is possibly why Stanford University studies indicate students are overloaded and underprepared for post-school life of any kind.
To change the habits and routines of an individual teacher is not too difficult but to have an institution like a school and its community fully adopt a new approach can often take more than a decade. As a school leader, one question I now ask myself is: how long does it take a nation of institutions to transform from being based on routine to being based on embracing change and adaptation? A more frightening question is: Can any institution based on linear development be applicable in a world of exponential change. Why worry about a school curriculum if the institution’s routines develop understandings and a modus-operandi that are a decade out of date by the time the students leave.
Hey Meerkat, one loop or two?
I had a fantastic week last week at #NASDAP17, which was a conference for high school deputy principals in New Zealand. My favourite two ideas that were highlighted at this conference was that schools need more “meerkat” teachers, That’s those who look outside the school gates for what’s going on in the world in an attempt to maintain a relevant school experience. Complementing this, the second idea that really got me was the idea of the double loop review (Thanks to Karen), where you always return to the question of why are we doing this? Teachers generally receive results and then do a single loop back to the question of how did we get those results and how might we change to improve. Not enough teaching practice returns to the why question to ensure that what is taking place is the most relevant and appropriate experience we can offer the students.
Like the department I spoke to, if schools starts a more open & worldly “meerkat” conversation with their community, the individual voices will probably agree and form a consensus that the institutionalised view they all hold about schooling really is not relevant enough and appropriate in 2017. The question is, which institutionalised educator is going to start the conversation?
Note 1: This post was voice typed into an iPhone, negating the need to spell any word.
Note 2: As an example, here’s a world-renowned mathematician explaining how schools need to revisit the question why do we teach math?