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Saturday, 28 October 2017
For the good of our children...
This post was triggered by a conversation I had with a parent coming in to enrol her children. Lovely family, three beautiful children, full of potential, as all children are. Towards the end of the conversation mum felt the need to tell me that her seven year old is not very good with his reading or writing. His face turned down, he looked at the floor and you could just see any of that self-belief drain out of him. It is obviously a message that in his short time at school so far he has received either directly or indirectly. Mum felt this was something I needed to know, it was almost as if she was apologising for enrolling a child that was not reading or writing into our school. In that one statement you could hear that this is the message that she has been given by our current system that this was what success looks like at school, that you can read and write in the first two years and if not, we then you are failing.
Thanks to all the work we have been doing with growth mindset over this year I was able to leap in and change the mood by adding the word yet. I simply said, "you are not great at reading or writing , yet...but you will be if you keep trying." As I said this you could see his demeanor change, I had given back his mana, it was not that he could not read or write at all, it was just that he couldn't do it yet. Mum also leapt in and said "sorry son" and reinforced the importance of 'yet.'
Adding this word 'yet' seemed so simple, but you could see the weight drop off mums shoulders as well, she quickly apologised to her son and said of course, just not yet.
I then went on to ask what he does feel he is really good at, he smiled broadly at me and exclaimed 'maths.' It was lovely to see this open and positive mindset to maths, but what I was really after was something else that he was good at, unfortunately the message our system has been giving to children is that school is about reading, writing and maths and nothing else.
It is hard to put into words how much it hurts my teacher heart to see how narrow the picture of school has become for many of our children and families. I use the word 'our' to encompass all schools, because it is my belief that our education system should be seen as one quality beast, not a bunch of individual parts, whilst there will always be many points of difference between schools there should be some common messages we are sending children and their families.
I was ecstatic the other morning to finally hear out of Chris Hipkins mouth that National Standards will be gone. I have no problem with setting expectations for our learners, monitoring their progress and ensuring they leave our schools reading, writing and being confident mathematicians. The real problem with National Standards has been the overwhelming message they have sent to parents and children, that learning is about reading, writing and maths and nothing else. The constant use of standardized testing to marginalise learning and put it into boxes has bothered me no end. The anxiety it has caused for our children is immeasurable and something we need to rectify now!
For the good of our children we need to widen the gaze of success. We need to enable children to experience success in a range of areas. I bet this little guy that I spoke to has many talents, but he felt what I wanted to hear was that he was good at was within one of the 'big three.' I would have been more happy to hear that he was good at climbing trees, hopping, skipping, running, imagining, digging, anything really.
For the good of our children I want us to strip away the damaging messages of National Standards, to focus in on a much broader picture and help children to understand that they are much more than how well they can read and write and much more than a mathematician. I want them to see themselves as a learner with endless potential to do whatever it is they set their hearts to.
For the good of our children I want us to help them to see how our wonderful curriculum fits together, reading and writing are simply tools to unlock the world, no more, no less. They are powerful tools that allow us to access the world and all of the wonderful and amazingness around us. Maths, well maths is all around us, it is not just something done for an hour a day, seeing maths as a stand alone subject is not positive at all for our children. Learning can not be fitted into boxes, when was the last time you timetabled your day according to the curriculum you were working in?
For the good of our children we need to think about the messages we are giving them about themselves as a learner. They do hear what is said, they see the tick boxes on reports, they understand and that is who they believe they are. They feel the failure when the test is too hard. They feel the pressure to perform. The messages we give them create a fixed learning mindset that does not contribute to growth.
For the good of our children we need to open up learning, allow them to explore and understand their uniqueness, allow them time to just be, to imagine, to create, to explore, to begin to understand themselves.
For the good of our children, we need to allow them to be children. We need to be prepared to let them explore their limits and to stand out from the crowd.
We need to be like this little guy...be brave, because the view at the top is incredible!