Timetable Mentality

While not originally conceived of as a companion piece to my most recent blogpost, this does work alongside quite naturally. Again, this is not intended as a criticism of any particular school nor teacher. This is my own personal opinion, and I invite your comments, thoughts and suggestions.

Ah, the timetable. I’m in awe of the immensely hard-working teachers who construct these. I love getting my timetable in the last week of school seeing what’s ahead for me in the new school year. I love to colour-code my timetable. See when my non-contact lessons are. Check out what I’m teaching Period 6 on a Friday. And Period 1 on a Monday.

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As a thoroughly Type-A personality, the organisation and structure of a timetable brings joy to my heart. By this means I can figure out what’s happening when, how to allocate my time, my efforts and energy. I know what classes I’m teaching, and I can know where any student or colleague is meant to be at any given moment of the school day. What a thing to behold.

Of course, the timetable is far more than the piece of photocopied paper in front of me. It is a whole system. In a timetable, students are allotted their chosen subjects, and are organised by their age, and sometimes by their ability. In a timetable, teachers are allocated their classes for the year, which places them within subject disciplines and departments. A timetable files people very well.

And by this ability to file people, a timetable becomes more than a system. It becomes a mentality – and possibly a fixed mentality at that. A timetable can limit the way both students and teachers see themselves and see their learning. Whole schools of thought are broken down into terms, weeks, and lessons. Learning only happens in 55 minute slots. Science and English are discrete subject areas. It is lunchtime and learning must stop. A timetable can be as rigid as the ‘cells and bells’ of traditional (secondary) schooling. Learning becomes assessment driven in a timetable. It is much easier to teach via direct instruction as a time efficient method of conveying the required content.

A timetable is a completely legitimate way to deal with these immense pressures. But I would like to pose a key question. Does a timetable suit an adult or a learner best?

What if…

  • We saw the barriers (timetable, assessment, university requirements) as enabling constraints?
  • We put learners at the heart of the system and built our schools genuinely and authentically around them and their needs?
  • We worked within the flexibility afforded by the New Zealand Curriculum and possible under NCEA to find creative, innovative structures and systems?

Because ultimately I believe that the big picture of education is really the small picture: start with the learner, not with the timetable.

Is this one of the biggest problems in traditional secondary school education?

This blogpost represents my personal views. While I do not wish to cause offence, I do genuinely wish to hear your thoughts about my wondering. I invite your comments.

Image Credit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/64/Knowledge-Reid-Highsmith.jpeg

This week on The Mind Lab Postgraduate course (Certificate in Applied Practice – Digital and Collaborative Learning) we were talking about epistemology. In other words, we were discussing knowledge. What it means to know, the changing ideas about knowledge, the implications of what it might mean to be a teacher in the Knowledge Age when basically the sum total of all human knowledge is now available in your pocket. Rich, interesting, thoughtful, provocative stuff.

In the past, schools have positioned their students as empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge. Students would retain this knowledge in their heads for a time in the future when it would be needed. For a teacher under this paradigm, content is king.

Now knowledge is increasing at an exponential rate. Google and Wikipedia know far more about any given topic than I could ever possibly be expected to know. And even about topics I have studied in considerable depth, like Shakespeare. Students can access this information any where, any time, via their smartphones. As a teacher, I cannot possibly present myself as an expert receptacle of knowledge. We have moved from ‘just in case’ knowledge to ‘just in time’ knowledge. When students need to know something, they can simply google it.  Content as king is dead. Long live the… what?

Today, this article from The Atlantic was shared with me via Twitter: “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher“. In part, the writer mourns the loss of the role of the teacher as “content expert”.

I don’t remember the last time I’ve attended, or even heard of, any professional-development training focused on my specific subject matter. Instead, these experiences concentrate on incorporating technology in the classroom, utilizing assessment data, or new ways of becoming a school facilitator.

In many respects, I understand where this teacher is coming from. When I would become disillusioned with high school English teaching, I would take genuine comfort from the fact that I was being paid ‘to talk books’.

And yet, the world has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. The siloed approach to content knowledge, to the very subject-specific matter this teacher is mourning the loss of, needs to change with it. Skills and dispositions are critical. Exploring, discovering, creating knowledge is where the emphasis needs to fall.

This reminds me of a conversation I was involved in during our last eFellows hui, whereby we secondary teachers were explaining to a primary school teacher that high school teachers don’t see themselves as teachers of students first, but rather subject specialists.

And this is my big wondering today. Is this one of the biggest problems in traditional secondary school education? That I identify as a teacher of English [or insert subject here] and not as a teacher of learners?

What do you think? How might we encourage secondary school teachers to put students and not their subject first?

My Inquiry

In this blogpost, I thought I would look to capture the essence of my CORE eFellow inquiry. It’s fitting for me to do this now, as my research proper will get underway on Wednesday, with the first ever intake of postgrads into the Wellington branch of The Mind Lab by Unitec starting (squee!).

mind lab by unitec_small

I’m asking for help from the postgrads to inquire into my own teaching practice. I would describe this as a Design Thinking pedagogy. On a really small scale, I want to cut any direct instruction time by me to 15 minutes. On a much larger, more significant scale, I want to ensure that I promote discussions around an overarching question or provocation, enable the playing with ideas, and a chance to reflect on education in New Zealand on a systemic, but also a personal classroom, level.

I want to do this in a respectful, empathetic way. I don’t want to make assumptions about why teachers have courageously chosen to make this impressive time commitment to their professional learning. I’m genuinely interested to hear about what’s happening in the classrooms around the greater Wellington region, and the applied learnings that might arise out of participation in the Certificate of Digital and Collaborative Learning.

My belief is that education is about citizenship. I feel a strong moral purpose to do what I can to transform education in New Zealand to better meet the needs of our 21st Century learners. So, in this inquiry I want to investigate how I might employ design thinking principles to invigorate teachers’ professional learning in order to nurture critical and creative citizens. My guiding questions are:

  • How can I use design thinking principles to promote active change in a professional learning context?
  • How can my use of design thinking shift a teacher’s ability to transform their mindset/learning and thus their classroom?
  • What stories of change can I hear from teachers who are inspired by a design thinking mindset?

I’m really looking forward to engaging in this research with the help and support of the Wellington postgrads. Any feedback, thoughts or suggestions are gratefully received. An information sheet about my research is available by clicking here.

A chance to explore my own growth mindset

A flurry of tweets (and exceptionally efficient blogging from Steve Mouldey!) from educators at the Auckland ‘Teaching for Intelligent Mindsets‘ event yesterday got me thinking. The seminar featured important thinkers Carol Dweck and Guy Claxton. (Read Steve’s posts about the two talks here and here.)

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I read Claxton’s What’s the Point of School (2008) in the summer and at the time, I was particularly struck by his ideas of intelligence and I reflected on how pervasive the idea that intelligence is innate or fixed really is in our schools. Heck, I’ll own it, in my own mind.

I can intellectually agree that intelligence isn’t fixed and can be exercised, explored and expanded. In schools, as Claxton says, “intelligence becomes defined as the kind of mind that responds most readily to the peculiar demands of school.” (p. 58) And yet the language of innate intelligence peppers my inner thoughts and conversations. I make jokes about blagging my way into jobs that I actually don’t think I have the ability to do. In the privacy of a staffroom, I’ve considered students to be ‘not the sharpest knife in the drawer’. I have filled out nomination forms for students to enter GATE (gifted and talented) programmes. I have used lazy, short-cut labelling for students: ‘capable but lazy’, ‘not working to their potential’, ‘nice student but not that bright’. All of these thoughts and comments point to a closed mindset and a belief that intelligence is fixed. That have a certain amount of ‘brains’ and that this cannot be increased.

It is a goal of mine to catch myself out of this way of thinking, to focus on developing a growth mindset. Handily, this fits with my word for the year: LEARN.

Starting a new, non-school-based job, is proving excellent training ground for stretching my growth mindset muscles. I am a methodical, organised, focused person. I like to be able to create to do lists that link to my big picture understanding of what needs to be accomplished, and then to set about checking these items off. In schools, I create big termly to do lists, broken down into weekly chunks.

You cannot do this in the agile, start-up environment that working at The Mind Lab is. I both love and struggle with the flexibility. Collaborating with colleagues to co-construct materials is amazing. And challenging. I am constantly having to catch myself: I can’t very well complain about things being different when I said I wanted to work in a different way. Argh!

It is exhilarating and exhausting. It is fabulous and frightening. But, as I learned in Christchurch, out of crisis comes creativity, and that just might transform education.

Musings on ‘Transformation’

9k=  9k=-1

The eFellows were in Christchurch. For many of us, it was the first visit post-quakes, so a visit to Cathedral Square was mandatory. Little did we know how powerful this walk was to become.

For me, the walk developed into a living metaphor for this second hui of the 2015 CORE Education eFellows. Straight after the walk, our mentor Louise Taylor facilitated a discussion where we unpacked what we had witnessed around the theme of transformation.

That change is messy. It is disruptive, in all senses of the word. That rising out of the ashes could come creative, innovative, human-centred spaces. That it requires resilience.That it requires new relationships to be forged, and it can offer fresh perspectives. That the most effective transformations hold a strong vision at its heart.

The following day, we visited Breens Intermediate School and Te Pa o Raikaihautu. I would like to thank the staff, students and whanau for making us feel so welcome at both schools. The visits were utterly fascinating, and helped me to cement my learning about transformation. In both schools their vision is clearly encapsulated and, more importantly, embodied in their day-to-day way of being. Both schools are unashamedly who they are, and if that’s confronting, that’s okay because it sparks conversation, and out of dialogue comes learning. Both pay testament to the idea that, as principal of Breens, Brian Price, said: ‘Out of crisis comes creativity’.

This statement was to continue to come back to me over the remainder of our visit to Christchurch. At a pot luck dinner with CORE staff and eFellow alumni, I was recounting this to Ali Hughes, who added onto the idea, saying: ‘Creativity and implementation is innovation.’ It’s not enough to have the idea. It must be enacted for innovation to occur. I like this very much, and brings me back to Breens and Te Pa. It’s not enough to have a mission statement, a strategic plan, or a vision for a school. This must be tangible, must be made concrete to be transformative.