Saturday, 20 May 2017

Can we really teach like Finland? Or do we really need to?

An online discussion has got the old grey cells turning. Finland is held up as the pinnacle in education and from everything I have seen and read, rightly so.  They respect teachers and respect the children...what a powerful place to start.

This is a powerful segment.

Some believe that Finland is just so different that it holds little relevance for New Zealand, I disagree.  I think that the fundamental concepts of respect, equity and fun have a lot to teach us.

But let's forget about Finland for a moment, I think what we need to do is get back to teaching like New Zealand!  Finland's system has a lot to teach us and there are systematic factors that allows their system to be so effective, systematic features that unfortunately us teachers on the ground have little control over.

But we needn't use this as an excuse, we may not be able to change the system, but we can change our schools, it is entirely possible to change our schools positively while still working within our current system.

New Zealand already has a ground breaking curriculum, a curriculum that is world leading and sadly a curriculum that has been narrowed by National Standards and the compliance that has come with these farcical benchmarks.

Luckily for us that curriculum is still there, it still allows us the right to place it at the centre of what we do and completely move National Standards completely to the side, and hopefully in the the bin!  It is us that has allowed National Standards to take over, to cause us frustration, to take away from our lovely broad curriculum and it is us that can make this right.

We are lucky at our school, or perhaps lucky is not the right word...we have been prudent and held onto the curriculum and everything it allows us to do for our children.  Do we 'do' National Standards, yes of course, we have to.  We report on them to the degree that the need to be reported and we send data through to the Ministry as we are required to do.  But our reports are still based on the child and full of lovely comments that actually mean something to the parent.

So, how can we teach like New Zealand, what are some small, or not so small ways we can once again broaden our curriculum. These are some of the things we have done and are in no particular order.

1) Bring back play, real play, play that involves risk.  Stop banning things.  Let them climb trees.  Take away rules and implement habits.

2) Allow children outside more often.  Make school grounds more open to creative play, stop spending money on colourful plastic playgrounds and start collecting tyres, wood, bits and pieces that they can create with.  Embrace the good old mud kitchen!

3) Ensure drama and the arts has a strong role in your curriculum.  Drama has had huge benefits for our school.  We use the Mantle of the Expert approach that I could not recommend more highly, it has had huge positive changes for inquiry at our school and has led to motivated and engaged children.

4) Ask the children.  Talk to them about what makes them happy, what they do or not like, get their opinions about everything, they will surprise you.  We have a school council of children, year 1-6 this allows me to have a direct link with student voice in the school.

5)Stop testing for testing sake.  Have a good hard look at all the assessments that are used, what is the point, if they are pointless, get rid of them.  We have stopped most testing in Term 1 and just use Term 4 data.  We use very few 'tests' now and assessment school wide is limited to mostly work samples, observation, running records, JAM/GLOSS etc.

6)This goes with number 5...get rid of stress where possible, teacher stress and child stress, a stressed child doesn't learn and a stressed teacher is not at the top of their game.

7) Give extra time, juggle release and timetables and allow teachers extra time to get 'paperwork' tasks done.  Allow them time to think, reflect and embed practice.  Don't flit from one PLD to the next.  We allow three years to explore and embed new learning.

6)Stop testing five year olds!  I am alarmed when I am told about the volume of testing a five year old is put through in some schools...what is the point?  A teacher will know within a week everything that needs to be known to move forward, without testing.  Where possible allow children to see any 'assessment' as one to one 'checking in.'  Use tools like seesaw and learning stories.

7)Use play-based learning for the first year at least.  The research around play-based learning is overwhelming and undeniable.   This does not mean children will not learn, in fact they are likely to surprise you.

8) Encourage playfulness across the school as much as possible, get age groups mixing.  Have a discovery shed or junk shed that children can access at lunchtimes or that children can access during class time.

9) Don't have staff meetings for meetings sake.  We didn't have a staff meeting after school for the whole first term.  We caught up with important items via email or via a quick Monday morning meeting.

10) Trust and respect.  Trust colleagues, respect each other.  Trust the children and respect that they have a lot to offer us.  Listen to each other, if someone has the bravery to speak up, they deserve to be listened to.

11) Promote kindness across the school and community.  We used bucket filling as our starting point for each class this year.  We also implemented KiVa anti-bullying programme which has been a fabulous addition to our school.  We are a values and thinking based school, to us the most important attributes are kindness, respect, resilience and empathy, from these powerful learning and relationships will come.

12) Have a common language for learning across the school.  We have used Habits of Mind over the years and for the last couple have really focussed in on growth mindset.

13) Promote fun at every opportunity.  Let children self-direct and trust that they can.

14) Stop ticking boxes for boxes sake.  Stop rushing, slow down.  Be flexible, integrate learning where possible.  Stop using learning intentions for learning intentions sake...yes sharing them out loud can be valuable, but often the best learning is not the intended learning.

15) Consider the role oral language plays in your school.  Vocal development is so crucial for future learning and it is a common deficit running through out schools.  Have a look at the talk moves as a starting point.

15) Talk to parents about everything and why you are doing it.  Allow them access to the research, fill your newsletter with anything that you think parents need to know.  Have events that allow parents to come into school and get involved in informal, non threatening ways.  Use social media to your benefit.

16) Take time to share with each other.  Set aside staff meetings that are purely about sharing.  We learn so much from each other.  Don't be afraid to ask for help and don't expect everyone to be the same and do everything in the same way.

17) We can't get it right all of the time.  We all make mistakes, it is how we grow from these that determines what will happen next.

18) Stop appraising and start observing and sharing.  Just like children don't respond well to tests, teachers don't respond well to being appraised.  We can get a feeling for the teaching and the class without ticking boxes.  Management needs to stop coming over the top and start working in classrooms talking to children and guiding where necessary.  Being a Principal does not make you all and powerful like the Wizard of Oz...I think we know how that story ended.

19) Make learning authentic.  Really think about the authenticity of a worksheet before you give it...or any task for that matter.  Children need to see how what they are learning will help them in 'real life.'

20) Relationships - take time to get to know your children.  There is no difference between the best behaved children and the worst behaved.  The best behaved children had their needs met before they got to school, the worst behaved came to school to have their needs met(Danny Steele via Twitter).  They are sent to try us, but they need us to really get know them, get them, respect them and care for them.
Ask yourself this at every opportunity "If I was a child in this class at this moment, would I be engaged in what is going on"  If the answer is no, stop.  Think about your classroom as a child would and shape your teaching around this.

These are certainly not a list of be all an end alls.  They are just some starting points.  I have been incredibly fortunate to have a very forward thinking Principal to take over from (10 years ago now) who put children at the centre of the school.  I have been able to continue on this path.  If it is any help, we had ERO last year, they loved Mantle of the Expert and play-based learning.  Don't let compliance be an excuse.

Put fun and children at the centre of everything we do....and we can't go wrong!  Let's teach like New Zealand!

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