Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lessing aint no Doris

A well known Deputy Principal (ninja stare) was at a meeting where several Principals were in attendance. She suggested using google docs for some information sharing and gathering. One of the Principals said "what is google"? "I have yahoo but not google".
It reminded me of the video about the british royal family.

You see its about looking at the world through a different set of eyes. Perhaps my colleague just paddles his own waka and takes care of business in a different way. Or perhaps this principal is an absolute lemon. This of course is not known and in a way not for me to judge but it's one for all leaders to consider. You have staff who are different, they see things in other ways to the way you do. In fact all staff could do with remembering that. More importantly the world of the web may not be there strength, or area of interest but they may be a fantastic staff member.

If we all thought the royal family were Betty and Phil and a few spoilt kids then where would we be.

Consider this :
"Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: 'You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.' "
— Doris Lessing (The Golden Notebook)

If this rings true with you then perhaps celebrating difference in staff and kids is OK.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Reflective Practice

I need to talk about appraisal and the need for us to get rid of those classroom observations, those goals, those attestation sheets, those books we write in and all other associated nonsense that we have been using for donkeys ages. 
Why is every teacher Guilty before being proven innocent every year? 
What about those guys who have been teaching 20 years and you as a principal know they are very competent but wish they could look to "get better".
ERO visit schools and principals bleat and moan about the process, claiming "its a snapshot" "they missed this" "they missed that" and all of those assumptions are true. Principals who bleat the loudest need to first look at the way they appraise their teachers before taking the whip to ERO.
If your school organises visits, writes up what they saw, writes recommendations, uses senior managers in a hierarchical structure to observe and more, then arent they "doing and ERO" on your teachers. The very same people they bleat too about ERO.

The simple answer is that appraisal is not easy, and I am yet to come across a school that has a brilliant system. We need to do something that will address all the issues, tick all the boxes and make a difference.
There needs to be a balance of several things.
Trust, belief, value.
Firstly what is this crap that teachers need to be attested too every year, so does this mean that you are competent one year and not the next year. How can Principals who use a checklist on an observation really determine your Professional Standards and attest to them. You know they are coming. You have marked your kids books. You have planned the model lesson. The only way to know how you are going is to work with you over a period of time and to see you operate many many times, at all times of the day, prepared and not prepared, hot or cold, wet or dry, there is nothing to hide when we have trust.

As well as trust staff need to know that the hierarchical system isn't the go, isn't fair, isn't sensible, and isn't productive. When this discussion is had, it is time to look to something that we believe in. As teachers we are all different with our ways of dealing with issues and problems but generally a teacher is intelligent and quite opinionated. Therefore any replacement to the ERO model must have an underlying belief from everyone that it's right.

There is nothing worse than an observation from some lemon who offers feedback. You either nod away and take the suggestions or you uncomfortably challenge but remembering you are in a hierarchy. The outcomes of an appraisal need to be valuable, for both parties and they should address needs. 

Conversations are everything but how are they set up to address everything above.
We are working together on a system of reflective practice, having observations that are non judgmental, unplanned, and as pairs or groups. The value comes in the conversation with the observers, the observee is just a vehicle for discussion. Teachers are able to observe pedagogy and discuss pedagogy in a controlled, non judgmental way. How many staff-rooms around the place have those conversations. 
How do I justify the Attestation. Easy - Trust in staff - Belief in what we are doing- gaining Value through the process.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Whos job is it?

While on holiday I went for a walk and had a look through the windows of NZ's worst school. It is difficult to judge why things are the best or worst and you could only say "in my opinion" but the sad truth is that this little school is failing miserably. I spoke at length to a teacher, BOT member, employee, parents, grandparents and other professionals so I got quite an insight. Where has it failed, who failed it and how many years until it gets turned around. How in fact do you save a school like this. I know there are a few out there that are fairly bad, so what are the answers to fixing these schools.
First you have to understand why its failing.
1 BOT are not interested really, they expect their Principal to be doing the work.
2 BOT are well down on skills, good people but down on skills.
3 BOT are in a small community, they have known all the teachers all their lives.
4 Family loyalties run deeper than school.
5 No one has the skill base to challenge the school.
6 MOE don't have the guts to make the hard calls.
7 Principal doesn't have the goods.
8 Teachers don't have the opportunities to be the best they can be, have no role models and are well down on skill sets.
9 The school has employment opportunities in a poor area therefore peoples jobs become more important than education of kids.
10 Everyone talks around the problems without addressing them.
11 A Maori card can be played so MOE are more sensitive and no press is interested in the shambles yet it is 10 times worse than any Selwyn College or Cambridge High.
12 ERO didn't have the integrity or honesty to write a true report in the "best interests" of the community.
13 Everyone walks around saying 'it's not my job"
Ok - there are a few reasons why, and there are countless more.
I don't actually want to blame the Principal, School or Community, it is in fact the system that has stuffed this school. The longer the system lets this shambles continue the longer the circle of failure will self generate in this community.
So why has the system failed.
Unions - they wont allow for dismissal of a poor principal. They just wont let it happen. They have a job for life mentality.
BOT Governance - The BOT appoint their Principal but the problem in these small communities is that schools can be the best employers in the areas. Schools pay great wages for these poor communities and people on BOT's are either employed by the school or have family working there. Tell me how a small unskilled BOT can have the knowledge of what a great school does, needs and how it operates. How can a BOT run competency proceedings when they don't have the skills and are dealing with family. Something that serious will never be forgotten in a small community. Governance model isn't working, not every school suits this model.

Solutions, some of them are so it doesn't happen again and others may resolve these ugly situations.
Appoint a commissioner NOW.
Appraise the Principal and assess competence.
Audit the school and the payments to all ancillary staff and community members.
ERO the school with the key ingredient being the kids learning
Fixed term appointments for Principals of five years, where jobs must be re-advertised and interviews before re-appointment. 
Set up a task force of experienced people to trouble shoot these type of schools where they have authority to walk in and clean up a school. It's not a communist state in NZ but someone has to make the hard calls.

It sounds really harsh, who makes the call that this is NZ's worst school, there are more q's than answers, the thing is that not many people want to talk about these difficult situations. I know that I haven't really got the answers and simplify issues as "easy to do". But at least my solutions are somewhat better than MOE ones.
Want to hear what the MOE are doing to help this school in 2009, they are introducing interactive whiteboards, truth.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Cheers John Hattie

I stumbled across some important reading while clearing out the macbook, I'm not on my twelfth novel but I did read something.
I have linked the interview Kim Hill had with Dr Nuttall, they videoed classrooms and went deep into learning/learners/classroom effectiveness. Well worth a read.

Hattie made my holidays with his sunday paper headlines that shut the mouth of many "educators and informed parents" with his on the money comments of effectiveness.
Of course TV3 had to jump on the performance based pay issue which is always the most contentious but you cant win em all.

Usually i sit in the far north and watch education cop a bashing from the uninformed, but no, these holidays have been brilliant. What was encouraging was to read that the ever vote winning National Party were asked to comment on Hattie's article and they could only just agree........ i'm lovin it...