Monday, September 14, 2009

The Perfect Principal

One of my senior managers gave me this when he was clearing out some files. Thought the blogosphere might like it too:

The Perfect Principal

A Principal must be a democrat, an autocrat, a diplomat, a doormat and a coolcat.

They must be able to entertain Director-Generals of Education, assistant secretaries, Deputy-Directors of Education, superintendents of Education, Councillors, teachers, parents and members of the Constabulary.

They have to settle arguments and fights. They must be a qualified solicitor, psychologist, clergyman, architect, supervisor, doctor, nurse, gardener, cleaner and on some occasions have some expertise in the role of sanitary contractor both in the literal and metaphorical sense.

They must always look immaculate when imbibing at end of term celebrations. They must allow their staff to reach maximum capacity but never reach the same happy state themselves.

They must be on the student’s side, the parent’s side, the teacher’s side, the Superintendent’s side, the Teacher’s Union side, the Progressive teacher’s side and the Ministry of Education’s side but never on their backside.

To be successful they must be able to handle irate parents, insane parents, hysterical overworked teachers (and support staff), the Ministry of Education, fellow principals and ERO officers.

To sum up they must be inside, outside, offside, glorified, sanctified, crucified, stupefied, cross-eyed and if they are the strong silent type, they can be deified.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Motorvatin' over the hill

I recently read some interesting comments on student motivation to succeed at their NCEA studies. It came from the New Zealand Ministry of Education (I hope you were sitting down) in a summary report titled, snazzily, "Motivation and Achievement at Secondary School". It may have past you by.

This bit on external influences on achievement grabbed my attention -

Students who do small amounts of part-time work, sport or other extracurricular activities show higher motivation and achievement patterns than students who do not participate in these activities or who do so more than 10 hours weekly.
Okay it's not earth shattering but when it's added to the following little nugget it provides some encouragement:

Whereas achievement in Year 11 (in 2005) was a significant predictor of achievement in Year 3 (in 2007), positive motivation orientations added significantly to the accuracy of prediction of future achievement. Motivation orientations were better predictors of total credits achieved two years later than predictions made solely on credits attained in previous years.
So, students can significantly build on their success at level 1 (and improve their success at level 2 and 3) by improving their motivation. This can be done by:
  • Working towards a merit or excellent endorsement,
  • Improving their relationships with teachers,
  • Being involved in sport or other extra-curricular activities and,
  • Getting some part-time work.

This is a good message I think. It encourages students to aim higher and be more involved in wider than study activities. Seems that old saying 'all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy' has some life to it yet.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Of (brick) walls and bridges

The academic brick wall that all students have in their school diary becomes a critical aid to success at this time of the year. It's a grid that allows our students to see at a glance how many credits they have towards an NCEA qualification and just as importantly - how many they have to go to reach their target. Each brick in the wall is worth one credit. Students shade in the bricks as they gain credits towards Level 1 or 2 or 3.

If you're a parent of our students reading this - please ask to see the academic brick wall. Then discuss how many potential credits there are to be gained in external examinations or in the remaining few weeks of the academic year.

Next week, during our Options Day, students in years 10 to 12 will be selecting their probable courses for next year (students in years 9 and 13 will not have timetabled classes on this day). The focus on this day is to plan for 2010 and to remind students that they need to gain success in 2009 to create the bridge to the courses they want to do next year. You were probably wondering how I was going to fit 'bridges' in weren't you?

I am keen that students think backwards from their chosen career/job or further education. For instance if you are in Year 11 and you want to become a nurse you will need to think about subjects you need in level 3 NCEA, then level 2 NCEA and finally in level 1 NCEA.

With this in mind Options Day also doubles as a careers intensive day for our Year 11 students. A number of visitors, as well as our guidance network, will be guiding students during the day.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reasons to be cheerful part 4

In my previous post I explained how the status quo industrialised version of education needs revolution. I mentioned Ivan Illich's book 'Deschooling Society'. Here is another excerpt:

The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his/her living into one of learning,sharing, and caring.

So what of these 'educational webs'? Clearly we (and by 'we' I mean
educational institutions in general) have made a tentative start - the interweb
has potential with elearning (electronic learning). So does video-conferencing.
So does distance learning. So does mlearning (mobile learning). But so far it's
been piecemeal and on a very small scale and really limited and, for various
reasons, hasn't challenged our industrial status quo at all. For instance there
is a tension in my school between appropriate use and inappropriate use of
technologies. There is also a tension between advising students on distance
learning/video-conferencing and allowing them the freedom of choice.

Anyway this doesn't feel revolutionary. And what about the good bits of
what we offer? The subject specialists, the facilities and resources? Do we junk
all of that? Well no, we don't. Illich again:

A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives;
empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public
with the opportunity to make their challenge known.

So... we need a smarter way of freeing up our tight control of timetables and classes and the other aspects of the industrial model that I wrote about last time, while providing access to available resources, empowerment to teachers and learners, and an opportunity of expression (imagination is more important than information - so said Einstein!).

Yep fine (apart from it being a really long sentence). But what?

Last year I heard an address by Patrick Duigan. He talked about the concept of “learning spaces” which is heavily influenced by technology and gave an example of a development by a company in Sydney called LandLease who are developing 10 x 30,000 home communities in Western Sydney where schools are being reconfigured into “learning communities”. The entire community is to be networked and businesses who want to be involved have to sign on to be part of that “learning community”.

Blended learning seems an exciting prospect to me. Here's a brief description of it:

This aligns with some aspects of experimental Canadian schools that I heard about at a SPANZ conference in 2008. Students, in these schools, arrive in the morning and select their day's programme from a menu of courses placed around the school. They then attend tutorials that incorporate 'face-to-face' sessions with access to other technologies. Teachers are called 'facilitators'.

This is the inquiry model at work. No industrialised classes in rows. What it does do is place the responsibility for learning squarely on the learner. Hallelujah!!