Sunday, August 1, 2010

Learning as a transformational experience

I was lucky enough to visit this classroom to see this young artist see her print for the first time. A moment of transformation and personal pride that will leave a positive and lasting image in her mind forever. This is the essence of transformational learning ; an experience that literally changes ones mind. Many students have acquired less than positive images of many areas of learning because this attitudinal or emotional aspect of learning has been neglected. Too much emphasis has been placed on objectively measuring achievement and not enough in valuing studnts attitudes towards areas of learning.

Children go to school. What they learn and how they learn depends upon what we believe and feel about children. Teachers beliefs make schools what they are. What they know and feel determines their daily actions.

And nothing introduced into classrooms can be successful unless teachers feel the suggested changes are worthwhile. Politician, or leaders in any organisation, who forget this will live to regret their actions.

With this in mind it is very important for schools to challenge teachers current ( often unquestioned) assumptions and, through dialogue, develop agreed to shared beliefs that all feel that it is vitally important to get behind. This is the point of school visions but few reach this level

All too often individual teachers beliefs are a bi-product of their own school experience and what they unconsciously pick up from those they teach with. Little time is given to reflecting deeply on what they believe or, more importantly, what it is that successful teachers do. Thankfully this sort of sharing and team work is now becoming more common.

On top of all this there are larger societal trends that have the power to dramatically impinge on school practices. In recent decades a 'market forces' business approach has all but replaced the earlier more 'child-centred developmental approach'. Measuring narrow achievement targets has all but replacing the wider responsibilities of education to develop positive well equipped future citizens.

A new societal trend, or paradigm shift, is now upon us but few school seem to have noticed. We are leaving the 'Industrial Age' and moving into what some call an 'Age of Ideas' or 'Age of Creativity'; others call it a 'Second Renaissance'. The first Renaissance was sparked by the power of the printing press - the second is being fueled by more powerful forms of cyber communication.

So it is now time for schools to begin the dialogue about what forms of education will contribute to this evolving society - and the first countries to do so will be the winners in the future.

What we need is a creative or transformation education system that can develop the gifts and learning capacity of all its students. Introducing industrial age 'standards' will just not do and will simply hold back the future success of schools.

The trouble is in our schools , overwhelmed with simply coping with imposed idea and behavioural problems, little time is being given to starting the dialogue. Too many schools just 'go along to get along' and have develop a maintenance or, worse still, a compliance mentality. It is all too easy to comply. Some try to get by by transplanting 'best practices' as 'silver bullets' but whatever creativity is in short supply.

We need to be thinking of new ways to educate our students for an unpredictable future and to recover creative ideas lost as a result decades of imposed technocratic curriculum's and compliance requirements.

Schools need to think deeply about the purpose of education. They need to see their school as contributing to something bigger than lifting narrow targets in literacy and numeracy. They need to consider how they can best contribute to developing a positive vision of New Zealand for the future - or is catching up with Australia all there is?

Things for schools to think about.

There are currently two agendas for change. One is a reform agenda led by politicians, imposing standards on schools; the other is not yet well defined but is a transforming creative agenda that will bring schools into the 21st Century. schools. A conservative versus an evolutionary approach; standardisation versus personalisation.

Somehow schools have to do their best coping with the reactionary 'standards' while at the same time keeping their focus on the tranfrmational issues implicit in the 'new' New Zealand Curriculum and espoused by such thinkers as Sir Ken Robinson, Art Costa and Guy Claxton.

In a transformational, or creative education, student inquiries are placed at the centre of learning with a recognition of students 'voice' and identity being key outcomes.

Few schools have achieved such a curriculum - most are seemingly confused about what direction they ought to be taking. Some are just too busy to notice the world has changed and continue to focus on business as usual! Literacy and numeracy continue to take up all the 'prime time' and inquiry, while talked about a lot, is hard to find. The future demands the 're framing' of literacy and numeracy to service student inquiry. Such things will require dramatic changes in mindsets , or beliefs, for many schools.

We all know the future will provide our students with challenges beyond our imagination and that this will require real change but few have risen to the challenge. Even the use of ICT seems to prop up traditional teaching approaches when it should really be leading transformation.

Schools need to discuss what kind of capabilities, or competencies, or 'habits of mind', their students will need to thrive in the future and then to orientate their programmes towards achieving such dispositions. Through dialogue schools need to develop an image of a future learner to keep in mind when working with their students.

Schools also need to look closely at how they are organised and to consider what needs to change to develop future learners. Dialogue could lead to the development of an image of a 'dream school'.

Schools also need to consider what would it mean to 'personalise' learning to develop in all students a positive and unique learning identity? How could students' 'voice', questions, culture , concerns and interests be accommodated as an integral part of their own learning?

Schools really working at transforming the experiences of all their students need too centre all learning around an agreed inquiry model based on the innate way students learn; a 'default mode' all too often 'flipped' by their school experiences.

To achieve such transformations will require schools to 're frame' their literacy and numeracy programmes to develop all the skills required for students to undertake in-depth inquiry.

And this will lead to looking closely at the role of the teacher in such a powerful inquiry based learning community - seeing their teachers as skilled creative learning coaches.

Finally , after all this dialogue, schools need to define a set of teaching/learning the beliefs that all involved will be held accountable to achieve. From such a series of dialogues a powerful school vision for the future will emerge.

Only when all these 'learning conversations' have been undertaken will will a school be able to deliver the 'confident life long learners', able to 'seek, use and create their own knowledge', as promised by the New Zealand Curriculum .

And only then will our schools be transformed enough to ensure all students leave with their talents and gifts realized, their learning capabilities and their innate spirit to learn alive and well.

The journey has just started.

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