Home > Conference: November 2009 > Delicious, dastardly dilemmas

Delicious, dastardly dilemmas

October 6th, 2009

At the ShiftingThinking conference, we’ll be thinking together about the various things which get in the way of our transition to the future of schools and schooling. Our read of the 21C school literature shows us that if we’re really going to invent schools for the new millennium, we’ll face changes in all kinds of different ways. We’ll have to really think through issues like:
•    Purpose: What is the most important purpose of schooling in the 21C? What current purposes are you willing to give up?
•    People: Who are the people in these learning spaces and where do they come from? How are the older people qualified/grouped and how do they interact with each other and the younger people? How are the younger people qualified/grouped and how do they interact with each other and with the older people?
•    Process: What happens over the course of the day? How is the day defined and organised?
•    Place:  Where does this thing called “school” happen?
•    Content: What is the learning content of schools and how do people engage with that content? How do we know when people have mastered that content? Who gets to decide what the content is?

We’re guessing that from this set of questions, a set of dilemmas will emerge. You could take just about any question from the above list and imagine that people might have very different answers to them—and that those differences might expose competing commitments right down into the fabric of our society. On this rainy school holiday day, for example, one of the core purposes of school seems to me to be: Get the children out of the house and in some supervised activity where they’re not bored all day and driving me crazy! Now, in my life as a teacher and an educational researcher, I would never put “child care” on the list of major purposes of school. But if I am really honest, in my heart-of-hearts I have to say that I know that if the “child care” component of schooling were absent, that would be a big problem for me as a mom.

At the ShiftingThinking Conference, we’re going to be looking at some of these core dilemmas and why they’re so hard to change (see my thinking about one issue here). We’d like readers to contribute what they see as some of the most difficult and intractable (and thus most interesting and important) dilemmas which face us in the Shift to 21stC schools and thinking!

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  1. | #1

    @Ruth Fearnley Hi Ruth, great to hear your perspective, and you’re not the only non-teacher/non-parent to have their interest in the education debate questioned! One way to answer your critics would be to say (as Jane Gilbert has pointed out) that education is a public service – and therefore as taxpayers and citizens we ALL have the right (possibly even a responsibility?) to be involved in deliberations about how we want this public service to be shaped. Imagine if people said that you had to be a doctor in order to have the right to weigh in on debate about how we want our public health systems to work, or that you had to be a lawyer in order to have a voice in debates about our national justice system. (Hmm, maybe some people would make those arguments – but I wouldn’t!)

    Another response would be something along the lines of John Donne’s oft-cited “No man is an island” :

    No man is an island entire of itself; every man
    is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
    if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
    is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
    well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
    own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
    because I am involved in mankind.
    And therefore never send to know for whom
    the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

    Which is by way of saying – we’re all interconnected, your future is intertwined with my future and everyone else’s, and therefore I have a stake in how well the education system works for you (and your kids, and their kids, and the people down the road’s kids), and vice versa, etc, etc.

  2. | #2

    Oooh, Leilani’s comment reminded me of a dilemma I’ve wondered about. Namely, if we start to engage families and communities much more intensively in shaping learning, curriculum, and schooling – where does that time come from, and does anyone have to pay for it? Can people who work full-time still manage to find time to get involved in shaping and supporting their community’s education planning? Is it up to families and communities to make the time for it (because hopefully it is a priority!) – or will the future also include flexible working arrangements for everyone, so that people have time to do all the important commnity-based work that needs doing, without sacrificing their ability to earn enough money to provide for their families etc?

  3. lei.unasa
    | #3

    Kia ora
    This is my first contribution to Act I. I have a small, and most likely, unformed dilemma that I’ve been thinking of for a wee while: I just can’t get over the length of time (10 plus years usually) children and young people spend in the education system. My feeling is that this speaks to the custodial function of school more than anything else. As a parent, this worries me. As a worker in the labour market, I’m comfortable with it! That lies at the heart of a quite basic conflict I think and influences, for me anyway, schools and institutions attempts to ‘engage parents, families and communities’.
    On a semi-related note and linked to the post on ‘untrained’ persons in the classroom – I’m quite interested in what happens when you take teachers out of the mix altogether. How much are children and young people learning from each other?

    Leilani

  4. Ruth Fearnley
    | #4

    oo, another we trick for the webmaster – the missing line above was a cut and paste from the quote (light blue) above and it didn’t work. Need ‘edit’ button!

    So the beginning of my previous post should read “part of the quote you referred to said: the work of educators was more accessible and understandable to the wider community of interest”.

    I’ve popped this here so my above post makes sense.

    Ruth

  5. Ruth Fearnley
    | #5

    @Rachel Bolstad

    Hi Rachel

    Part of the quote you used referred to

    Now I’m not a teacher, or a parent, so occasionally I get asked why do I have any right to be a part of the education debate (truly!). “the work of educators was more accessible and understandable to the wider community of interest”.

    In a nutshell, I was a student in the school arena and it sucked (let’s not bother with the fancy ways of saying that). My interest is predominantly around ways of improving all those things that didn’t work for me when I was a school student for those who are not getting a positive experience of school.

    I also believe that not all potentially great educators can fit into the school system either, but that that should not exclude them from being an educator. I’m sure some enjoy contributing in other forms of kid life – scout leaders, sport coaching, other ‘extra curricular’ activities. Just maybe there are more potential roles that could exist wherein more non-qualified educators could contribute to an education in a legitimate, recognised way.

    So where I’m heading is to throw and extra word into the above quote so it reads:

    “the work of BEING educators was more accessible and understandable to the wider community of interest”.

    Now I’m not going so far as to suggest the abandonment of schools or teaching professionals, but more addressing the “where does school happen” scenario.

    The dilemmas I can spot are:
    Teachers not wanting to introduce an “untrained” person, who may possibly be perceived as a disruption, or worse, preferred by the kids!, into their classroom.
    And everybody’s favourite: who’s going to pay for it?

    Ruth

  6. | #6

    Governmental and BOT priorities- how can we convince the holders of the purse strings that money needs to be spent (and quickly) on 21st century infrastructure in secondary schools – How can we convince holders of the status quo that we are moving into our second decade of the 21st century and we need to stop talking and take action- especially in secondary. And provide: one to one access to laptops, different learning spaces that are larger, colourful and with moveable walls, new furniture – bean bags and leaning desks, a much more flexible timetable, new subjects (future focussed as well as practical- ask the students), Maths and English compulsory only to year 9, two adults per 30 students, more adult teachers and learners from the community in our learning spaces, creativity everywhere in all learning areas, support for teachers by utilising the strengths and expertise of early adopters and providing direct modelling. Time for action. The future is here.

  7. | #7

    Can I suggest a dilemma/question/challenge offered by Robyn in this comment on the Future Focussed Issues blogthread – to quote part of her comment:

    In thinking about communities in the 21st century there was a suggestion by one writer (blogger!) that there may be a need to “de-professionalise” teachers/educators so that the work of educators was more accessible, and understandable, to the wider community of interest. I am wondering what might be the community activities (and actions)that will challenge the boundaries of the professional educator

    This is of major interest to me! Hope some others also would be interested in exploring that question….

  8. | #8

    Cool Brenda! I really like the idea of using real life examples to think about the ways we might resolve some of these dilemmas–that seems very 21C to me! I hope you’re coming to the conference to continue these conversations…

  9. | #9

    I visited Lucknow School in Hawkes Bay earlier this year to explore the Discovery Time programme that they had implemented. The session started with a focus on a key competency that teachers had observed their students needed to strengthen and then children moved into a range of free choice activities. Perserverance had been a focus for previous sessions and there was evidence of it in the language the students used when talking about their work, in the written work around the room and in captions to pictures. Increasing students awareness of the need to perservere when activities became tricky, and the celebration of successful outcomes when students had perservered, showed that there are ways to bring these key concepts and free choice activities together.

  10. | #10

    Hey Miriam and Ally,
    I think these are delicious dilemmas! I LOVE that you approach this with a parent’s perspective, Miriam. We need all kinds of minds on this from all kind sof different perspectives. Thanks so much for adding in!

    I’m reading a book about Polarity Management right now (by Barry Johnson–might be one of our thinking tools at the conference). Some of these dilemmas are polarities:
    -Balancing the needs of the individual with the needs of the group
    -Planning versus being open and co-constructing the curriculum with your students

    Some of these are not particularly polarities, but are more like How-on-earth-will-we-do-THIS questions:

    If we increase the number of adults in the school so that kids get to do more individualised and interesting things:
    Who will take responsibility for what? will teachers lose control of what’s going on? would it be more difficult to manage? What if it doesn’t go well? (Ah, there’s a polarity here between Individual teacher control versus sharing control with others)
    IF we want to change what is taught and focus not on particular content or on particular skills but on learning dispositions, how would we assess that?

    Then there’s a clump about change and the rate and extent of the change we’re talking about, whatever it looks like:

    How do we provide structure and routines when your own thinking is changing?
    How do you manage the slow and uneven rate of change and what is the role of the community in this process? What is the role of the student in this process? How will students manage when they move from one sort of teacher’s class to another?

    This is a great beginning to our list of dilemmas, and I think that making traction on some of these would go far towards helping us understand how to support the change to 21C schools. I hope others chime in as well!
    Warmly,
    jennifer

    PS. Perseverance vs free choice got me—because the set of assumptions that makes it a polarity means that we believe (and I know that many many people DO believe) that perseverance comes from pushing to do things we don’t want to do—which admittedly is a key form of perseverance. I’ve been persevering on ordering and understanding these dilemmas at 6.30 in the morning not because someone is making me, but because I find these comments SO interesting that I can’t even begin my day before commenting on them! Maybe we could just decide we wanted to give kids experience with that kind of perseverance first? I wonder if changing some of our assumptions will make some of the polarities dissolve…

  11. Miriam
    | #11

    I really like the way you speak of “older people” and “younger people”, Jennifer!

    I’m not sure if I am on the right track, but these are a couple of things I wonder about (speaking from a parent’s point of view here, although I work part-time at the school my kids attend). I wish there were easy solutions to these problems, because I worry that if we don’t get started soon it won’t get any easier to bring everyone along with any changes – and I mean the older people as well as the younger ones.

    * How schools/classes might be organised –> what can happen at school
    Working with a big group of young people at once, when their needs and interests are very diverse, must be extremely difficult. While your ratio of younger:older people is around 30:1, there’s only so much you can do to manage opportunities for those young people to spend time doing what they really need to do, and what motivates and excites them to learn (assuming they’re not the same thing!) For example, activities like copying words across a line to practice letter formation and spelling, as opposed to having more time to write creatively, read about (or watch, or listen to, or do) things they love, talk about or write about their learning with others, as they choose. Maybe teachers could accept more help with this, and not in a superficial way, from whatever sources they have – teacher aides, library staff, parents, whanau. Maybe a dilemma for schools is in opening up their classroom to others’ contributions: if they do, who will take responsibility for what? will they lose control of what’s going on? would it be more difficult to manage? What if it doesn’t go well?

    * What school leadership requires in terms of change.
    Unless school leaders kick it up a notch in what they expect staff to do about “shifting” (literacies, schooling, thinking), ditching activities they believe to be ineffective or just no longer that useful, trying new things (technologies, and ways of working with others), and so on, there will be those who carry on in a kind of “I just follow along” way. Some might need a lot of support with this. Families need to know how and why things could change. Why not start making changes sooner rather than later? School management (and the school community generally) can help make that happen by providing the right tools, people, PD etc. Or should the school community just accept that some teachers (and parents) will not change their ideas about what could/should happen at school, and some will change more than others?

  12. Ally
    | #12

    I’ve just started thinking about what some of the other emerging dilemmas might be and was reminded of a primary teacher I worked with a few years ago. This teacher was worried that the new entrants in her class were not only making slow progress in basic literacy (however that is measured) but were also being “turned off” learning. With the encouragement of her principal she was trying to do something really different with her class of five year olds but was constantly plagued with questions: How do you balance the interests of the individual with the needs of the group? How do you develop perseverance in students when they have free choice? How do you provide structure and routines when your own thinking is changing? How do you plan (for accountability) when you are aiming for curriculum co-construction? How do you assess progress when the focus of the programme is on learning dispositions not skills? How will the students manage when they move into a new class?
    Perhaps some of these questions are pointing towards some of the dilemmas you are talking about, Jennifer.

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