Over the last year or so I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of the establishment of what looks to be a particularly fabulous West Auckland Community of Learning (CoL) – Te Whiria te Tangata. It is great to see school communities of schools coming together to collaborate to improve student outcomes. It is great to see school communities of schools collaborating, full stop.
However, I do have a concern. I am not concerned that CoLs won’t see schools coming together to improve learner outcomes, what I am concerned about is that they may not, because of their very structure and achievement challenges, actually change much else. When scanning the endorsed achievement challenges and in the conversations I have had with many colleagues from a range of communities, I keep thinking, is there much within CoL plans and achievement challenges that move beyond the paradigm of business as usual? Or are we simply going to see CoLs holding hands, singing Kumbaya and patting their respective inquiries on the back?
Is there much within CoL plans and achievement challenges that move beyond the paradigm of business as usual?
At this point I need to make an admission. During the period of CoL policy development, or what was then referred to as IES or Investing in Educational Success, I was lucky enough to be serving on the then Deputy Minister of Education Nikki Kaye’s 21st Century Learning Reference Group. We were in the throes of developing a set of recommendations that came together as the report Future Focused Learning for Connected Communities. I remember very clearly the day we were briefed on the plans for IES and getting my knickers in a complete twist. Why the freakin’ heck weren’t they weaving the need for innovation into the very DNA of the CoL policy? Having long been an amateur futurist and early adopter of technology, I was confident that critical thinking, technology, personalisation and greater learner agency was something we needed to help all schools and educators to tackle.
This was compounded by the fact that I had recently had the pleasure of leading a large scale ICTPD contract at Epsom Girls’ Grammar School. Whilst I won’t make any spurious claims about achieving a massive change, I did see, first-hand, the potential of a school-wide teaching as inquiry initiative infused with an expectation to explore e-learning interventions within every inquiry. Inquiries were still firmly focused on raising student outcomes, and also had a focus on developing thinking skills and introducing differentiation to develop greater engagement and interest. Yes, it caused unease and a certain level of discomfort as each and every teacher was expected to explore technological interventions, whether that was personally appealing or not, but it also got teachers to see the potential for employing new and different ways of engaging and supporting learning.
In this case, the demand for technological pedagogical interventions was a disruption, albeit a fairly palatable and minor one. It stopped teachers simply resorting to interventions that sat within their comfort zones. In my mind, teaching as inquiry, or spirals as inquiry, without discomfort and an element of disruption, is simply teaching.
The policy as it exists doesn’t preclude disruption, it simply doesn’t demand it. And I am certainly not suggesting that there isn’t brilliant and innovative work taking place. I am just concerned that CoLs, particularly if risk-averse, can avoid any real change. So what can we do? Well, the first thing I would suggest is that any educators involved in leading or supporting a CoL develop an understanding of exponential change and what this might mean for the very near future of schooling in New Zealand. See Kaila Corbin’s fabulous Introduction to Exponentials below:
And if you are in any doubt that this isn’t really applicable to education, listen to what Sue Suckling, Chairperson of NZQA, has to say in Future of Education. If the chair of NZQA questions the future of NZQA, NCEA and the whole current concept of schooling, you need to wake up and smell the curriculum! (Who just today announced NZ’s first micro-credential on Twitter.)