Monday, April 4, 2016

Dreaming Schools...Dreaming Systems...

A post in response to the #edblognz February challenge to write about your dream school.

I’ve really struggled with writing this blog post. Not because I don't have lots of ideas, but in trying to narrow them down for a blogpost that would be easy and make sense to read! So I tried to narrow it down to a few words- freedom, personalisation, engagement, interactive, community-based. And I played around for a week but I wasn't happy with it. And then I realised was that I’m talking about is what I already know is happening- at least in some schools, and these are my current beliefs and practice. Not my dream for the future. So my challenge was- how do I dream into the future?

And then I realised- my dream school isn’t really about a school, it’s about a system. Its about transformational change on a big scale. Because while all those things I listed above, and more, are happening in some schools, they are not happening in all schools.
And then yesterday Kerri tweeted this quote from George Courus: “Kids need to be empowered not engaged.” And I thought to myself that’s the word Ive been looking for.

On all school levels my dream would actually be about empowerment. 

It’s about empowering our learners to know themselves and trusting them that they understand how best to learn. It’s about acknowledging valuing and protecting the natural learning curiosities that learners enter the school system with and empowering these to grow, rather than dampening them with the “must-do’s of our system.

Its about empowering teachers to be able to respond according to each and every learners individual needs. It’s about empowering teachers so they can respond to  individual students and their needs. 

Nathaniel ( blogged about anxiety in classrooms yesterday and linked his daughters blog- which I’ve also linked here. it's well worth a read. My dream school would empower all learners to be able to articulate this level of understanding about themselves, AND it would be about empowering teachers to respond accordingly. My dream school would be mean never having to read another blogpost like this where a learner can articulate their learning needs and show such a clear understanding of themselves, and not be having all these needs met. 

It’s about empowering leaders to give teachers “permission’ to meet individual needs without constant reference to how that end-outcome pass rate might look. Giving them permission to innovate. Its about empowering teachers to have faith that if they get the personal stuff right- that if each learner really gets themselves and knows how and why they learn best, then ultimately learning will flourish and grow, and that is what we are all there for. Its about leaders empowering teachers to understand that they are there to guide and mentor each learner, not be the oracle who knows best and has all the power in the learning equation. Not any more anyway.

And its also about the system empowering leaders to put the learning in their schools first, not the assessments. Its about empowering them to put learners well being before their outward school image of the standards or qualifications achieved. Its about wanting every young learner to be actively healthy and happy with options for their future.

Six or seven years ago I used to be quite happy to sit as a Principal in my own little school content and happy and probably somewhat smug knowing that we were doing this “ground-breaking” stuff.  And although I would get frustrated at the lack of movement in some schools I didn't do much but roll my eyes and moan about it within the confines of our safe environment. And then I realised that professionally wasn’t good enough of me. That I have a responsibility to the wider system. That doing good stuff in one school wasn’t going to have any long term effect  I couldn’t just sit back in my own school and not worry about what’s going on out there.I became much more acutely ware of the system and that we all need to play a part in transformation of the system. That we need to contribute and be bigger than just our current context.

I have had the privilege of setting up one new school in the last six years, and I got to do lots of ‘dream-school stuff. You can read about this throughout my blog.
I now have the exciting opportunity to live ‘dream school’ stuff on a much bigger scale as I work within a team for the year to set up another new school to begin next year. I’m living the talk and thinking around ‘dream-school’ every day as we talk and design what learning at Haeata Community Campus might look like. A dream job- yes. A dream year-sure.

But my ultimate dream is a system dream - where we don't just pay lip service to things like mental health. Where we don't just brush off how students feel-like has happened for our young learner linked above. Where we truly value each and every individual person. Where we truly collaborate as groups of schools to continue to the greater good. A system where we judge success by empowerment and engagement and health and wellbeing as well as and before the bunch of achievement statistics we use to judge schools and teachers and individual learners by presently.And where our whole system supports and subscribes to this.

If our system was empowered to have as its very first priority health and wellbeing, then surely the most amazing learning would be happening as a result. And the effects on society would be tremendous. We all know our young people are entering a very unknown world, and they need some really different skills to exist in this world. We’ve all heard the stories of young people with excellent university education who cant find appropriate employment and end up not working in those fields at all. We know the statistics about health issues facing us. We do know the future is really unknown. We need to empower our young people to be healthy and agile and adaptable as of necessity. And this needs to come first.  This requires some transformational change of expectations and understanding of the purpose of schooling from all sectors of society and at all levels of the system. And it requires us all to get involved.

That is my dream.

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