Friday, December 30, 2011

Elwyn Richardson: NewZealand's pioneer creative teacher.

Elwyn Richardson with Margaret MacDonald. Margaret has just completed a thesis on Elwyn Richardson's place in creative teaching in New Zealand.

Take 15 minutes to view this U -Tube video of Elwyn's work and pass it on to others.

I was reading in an art book I was given for Christmas about all the influences that had contributed to the development to the artists personal style.

Everybody has people who have contributed to the beliefs they currently hold and I got to thinking who had made the greatest contribution to my own views about education.

In one way I was was rather privileged because most of my time in teaching, since the 60s, has been as an itinerant specialist teacher, first in nature study, later as an adviser in science and for a short time an art adviser. I say privileged because the various advisory roles enabled me to come across number of teachers whose approach to teaching and learning stood out from other teachers.

I have aways believed that the best professional development is to be gained by observing other teachers - particularly those who have the ability to draw the best out of their students. Teachers have a  profound respect for the advice from those who do the real work.Unfortunately, in recent decades, 'experts' from outside the classroom have become the sources of 'official'  knowledge and this has led to a reduction in the importance of those creative teachers. This is is a shame.

In my early years the most innovative teachers I was lucky to visit were principals of small rural schools.Bigger urban school were very traditional places in those days.  There isn't much point in mentioning names as all have long since retired but they, I realised later, were aware of the creative ideas that were in the air, in all areas of life, after the World War Two. In New Zealand progressive child centred ideas were being encouraged under the guidance of Dr Beeby the then Director of Education.

During the sixties I became involved with local art advisers ( who were under the guidance of National Art Director Gordon Tovey. With Gordon's encouragement the art advisers involved teachers to explore integrated  or related art studies.  With most classrooms having every part of the day timetables this was a revolutionary approach and suited those teachers in multi-age small schools who had the freedom to experiment.  Unfortunately such advisers, in a range of fields , are now history and  leaving an important inspirational gap that has never been filled.

Also during this time I became aware of the UK Junior Nuffield Science approach and worked with a number of local teachers to implement such ideas. This approach encouraged open ended inquiries based on children question making use of the immediate environment. This  dovetailed nicely with the ecological approaches that were being encouraged by nature study and later science advisers.

It was during this time I learnt about the exciting work of Elwyn Richardson  in his small school in the far North written up in his book 'In The Early World'.

Another important influence to my beliefs came from my visit to the UK to learn more about Nuffield Science and English child centred learning. The most important aspect was working in a very progressive school King Farm School Gravesend Kent.

Returning to New Zealand I worked with a small group of Taranaki teachers to develop what came to be known as the Taranaki Environmental Education Approach (the environment referred to the importance of stimulating classroom environments and making use of the rich local environment). This group combined ideas from the related art approaches,   English progressive teaching and the ideas of Elwyn Richardson ( who we had made contact with).

At this point my ideas about teaching and learning had become clear. Going teaching for a few years in the 70s  enabled me to put them into practice as did being a principal in the late 80s.

Since then lots of ideas from a range of educationalists have added to the mix.

Unfortunately sine 1986 the winds of change worldwide have sent school off in another direction towards standardised education -an approach that undermines the very creativity and diversity that New Zealand educators had gained world wide respect for

It is time for  schools to return to believing in the importance of creative teachers as the source of lasting changeTeachers will need to work together ( they now have the technology to do so) to articulate a set of beliefs for the new century - one thing that they could do is get behind the  almost side tracked 2007  New Zealand National Curriculum.

Elwyn remains as an inspiration of what can be achieved if we want to develop the talents and gifts of all students

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