Posts Tagged ‘community’

Wondering what’s next

March 8th, 2010

Ally and I have finished up our current round of data collection on the Teachers’ Work project, and are just trying to decide what might be next for us. We thought maybe we’d bring some of our questions and our thinking to this group to see if anyone else wanted to think alongside us.

When this project began, we were interested in how teachers made sense of their work, especially how teachers who were interested in 21C ideas made sense of it. We wanted to know how real teachers were thinking about what 21C education might be, how they were teaching in their schools, how they made sense of having ideas in the first place. We’ve done some of that, decided other bits were too big, and been confused and enlightened along the way. Now we’re trying to figure out what might be next for us.

We’re interested in the way that individual teachers make sense of their context and their aspirations for the future, and we’re interested in how that sensemaking actually shapes the context and what is possible for the future. We’re interested in how leaders shape their school contexts—and are shaped by them. We’re interested in where the power lies in the system—where the shifting thinking could be most useful, most likely to make a big change in the way kids experience teaching and learning.

The question for us now is: what’s the question for us now? We know that we have not found answers to this big question about leverage points, and we know that very many other things are already known about teachers and how they think and work and schools and why they are so hard to change. But given all that we know, what would be useful for us to explore together? What’s the key missing question?

Now, Ally and I enjoy theory enormously. But this is a practical undertaking we’re discussing here. We want a practical way to understand how schools can change, not a theoretical model of how change might possibly happen. Usually if you’re a researcher and you want to understand something practical, you need to go out and look at something. We’re not aware of schools that have really made it in this regard, schools that everyone knows have transformed teaching and learning so that younger people and older people (inside and outside the local school) experience a different kind of education. You readers might know about those schools, and might be able to say, School X has totally transformed. We’d like to hear from you about School X.

What we’re more familiar with, and we’re guessing you’re more familiar with, are schools that are trying to change. We could name dozens of schools with fantastic older and young people, who are trying to reshape the way teaching and learning and schooling happens. We know of communities where this is contentious, communities where this is invisible, communities where this is deeply supported. But all the ones we know would say that they’re on a journey, that 10% or 40% or 60% of the students/teachers/community members are on board. But we don’t know anyone who has arrived, and we don’t know anyone who isn’t fighting madly along the way.

So, if there are no models to say “this is where we’re going,” we can’t research those.  Indeed, what Ally and I think might be true is that we’re on a journey for which there is no “arrival,” no 100% on board.  We’re moving into an unknown future, trying to take a whole bunch of people who care a lot about schools along with us, and we don’t really know where we’re going. This makes for a tricky research question.

We wonder if you might help. We have an unresearchable question like: “How do you support yourself and others to move into an unknown future?” Now we wonder what questions you have about this whole topic that we might be able to engage with in order to figure out how we’re thinking about things and what we might do next. This is a question that needs a lot of heads thinking together for us to ask just the right question. Will you lend us your head, your questions?

Future focussed issues, Shifting research, Shifting schooling, Teachers' work , , , , , , , , ,

Community based organisations and parental engagement with schools

January 13th, 2010

I’ve just been reading an interesting article called “Beyond the Bake Sale: A community-based approach to parent engagement in schools”.  This article discusses three different school- community collaborations in the USA.  Although each collaboration was slightly different in emphasis and approach, all three shared some key features.  In each case a community based organisation was the initiator of the home-school partnership, rather than the school itself.  There was a focus on relationship building among parents as well as between parents and educators, a focus on the leadership development of parents and an effort to bridge the gap in culture and power between parents and educators.

The authors contrast the approach in this community-based model of parental engagement with a more traditional school-centred model. In this community based model the emphasis is on building relationships among parents as a basis for collective participation, rather than on involving individual parents.  The starting point in the community-based model is to create conversations to allow parents to articulate their concerns, rather than inviting parents to workshops or other activities.  When workshops are run, the focus is on the parents’ leadership development and personal growth, rather than on providing information. Parents are involved in setting the agenda.

I would be interested in hearing about any New Zealand examples where community-based organisations are brokering relationships between schools and their parent groups.


Warren et al. (2009) Beyond the Bake Sale: A community-based relational approach to parent engagement in schools. Teachers College Record 111(9), pp.2209-2254

Community engagement ,

Educating for the 21st century – is this just about school?

November 23rd, 2009

Others have written about communities learning together and of the fluid and ever changing nature of communities. The point has been made that we need dialogue between different groups within the community, such as between people within what we currently call formal education and people in the wider community (parents, employers, etc). Others have highlighted the more permeable boundaries between the formal (usually in the context of schooling) and the informal (community-based, out of school experiences, etc) and the enriched opportunity to learn that when this occurs.

As I have mentioned in other blog entries I attended a symposium, Educating World Citizens for the 21st Century and I one thing I am left wondering about is why when we talk about educating for the 21st century the assumption commonly made is that the conversation is about the education of 5-17/18 year olds (being in the US the speakers all referred to K-12)? The title of the symposium didn’t suggest to me that attention would just be on these years. There was maybe a hint in the high level questions posed in the programme: “How can our educational system evolve to meet the challenges of the 21st century; and “How will we educate people to be compassionate, competent, ethical and engaged citizens in an increasingly complex and interconnected world? But, with the exception of references to the importance of learning in the very early years all the conversation focused on the systems of schools and schooling. Interestingly too there was only passing thought given to maybe re-thinking aspects of schooling. The conversation was mostly about how can we use the knowledge that we have from a variety of disciplines to improve the way we educate young people, mostly in terms of the curriculum we offer and the pedagogy we use. There was some acknowledgement that adults would need to learn new things, in this case the teachers who will need to take account of developing knowledge from neuroscience and psychology given that such knowledge could help improve the learning of their students.

Now of course we know how important learning is during the years of schooling but the very early years are also critical (with growing evidence that these years are even more important than we have realised) and the kind of education that supports learning post school; at work, and throughout life seem rather important too! We can, of course, hope that schools can be beacons ­ as many already are ­ of what 21st century learning might involve but to me it feels too narrow a window to be pinning all our hopes and attention in these years of life. Do we need a more spacious definition of “education system” so the default position isn’t just a focus on schools but takes account of the kind of “systems” we need at the various stages of life? Or, given that many are advocating more permeable boundaries between the so called “formal” and “informal” systems maybe we need new terminology so that we keep our conversation on education and learning and not on the “systems” of today?

Community engagement, Shifting schooling , , ,

Talking with families about learning

September 17th, 2009

Some researchers at NZCER are currently working with a group of school leaders to try and answer this question: “How can whole school communities (staff, students, families) be provided with opportunities to engage with future focused ideas about education?” This project began with a workshop where school leaders and researchers talked about what things about school might need to change, and which school practices might be effective levers in bringing about this change.  Each school is now thinking about which particular lever they want to focus on over the next year or so.

Two schools have already decided on using three-way interviews as a lever for getting the whole school community to think about future focused ideas in education. One school has not done three-way interviews before. The principal decided to try this lever having listened to others at the workshop talking about the potential they thought these interviews had.  She is hoping that at these interviews teachers will use assessment data to talk to parents about their children’s progress in literacy and numeracy and then the (primary aged) students will show their parents examples of work that they think are evidence of what the teacher is talking about. The hope is that this will help the children become more involved in their own learning and at the same time make the “teacher speak” more accessible to parents in this diverse community.

We would really like to hear from anyone who has used three-way interviews in this way or who may have ideas about what leads to successful three-way conferences. What support do teachers/ children / parents need to make these interviews successful? Remember the focus of this project is on how to engage whole school communities in future focused ideas about education. All input welcome!

Community engagement , ,

Connectivity and conversation

July 1st, 2009

I’m writing this blog from the Rydges hotel in Rotorua, where I’m perched in this lovely open restaurant concentrating on a keynote I’m about to give to the School Support Services Hui here.  The work of preparing for this presentation has brought me to think quite a lot about communities and how we find them and how we build them.

I had resisted doing another keynote here in this season of speaking at multiple conferences. After all, a ninety-minute talk about transformation gets overly ironic after a while. Here we get back into questions about information and transformation, about knowledge and capacity. I think learning about adult development and transformation is potentially vital information to help people craft a map of their own lives and move more deliberately toward some desired future. And at the same time, talking for 90 minutes about transformation is hardly going to help anyone begin to transform. The best that can happen is a tiny beginning—and then the question is, what have we begun? Where is the community which supports this emerging transformation into the future?

The reason I’m so excited about this particular hui and this particular keynote is that from the very beginning, the organisers here were interested in deep exploration instead of a touch of this and a dash of that.  And so we have crafted this day together, building together on what our hopes might be for the people here, how we might all become a community of thinkers all trying to do this difficult thing of changing the way we think, work, teach, be in the world. And the big hope of this website is that we will all collaborate in becoming a community of thinkers together here too.

See, I believe the issues we face will never be solved by great minds thinking alone. We need minds and hearts and experience and theory and practice and passion from all of us working together, each of us pushing the thinking of the group a little, each of us contributing what we can to make us all bigger, to make us all a little more able to handle the complexities of the problems which face our world, to make us all a little safer as we are supported in our risktaking by the gathering community around us. That’s why I’m hoping that long after I’m done talking today, after the planes and cars have taken us away from this lovely hotel, we’ll meet again here on this blogspace, and we’ll talk together and learn from and alongside each other. And we’ll shift thinking and shift practice and shift schools and schooling. And ultimately, we’ll shift communities and environments and ecosystems. I do not think big because I am so idealistic and optimistic. I think big because thinking big is the only option available to us anymore.  We are on the threshold of a new world. A leader, facing a perilous time, once said,
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present.  The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.  As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”
Abraham Lincoln could not at that time have imagined what the storms the present would bring when he talked to the US Congress in 1862. Neither do we know what these storms might bring. But we do know that the increase in both connectivity and mutual peril in our world is bigger than any one person, community, or nation. And it is only in this gathering space—in huis like this one today, in virtual communities like—that we will be able to reach beyond our individual limitations and really “think anew and act anew”. Come, readers, and think with us. Let’s build a new set of ideas and practices and connections to move us beyond this stormy present.

Shifting schooling , , ,

Shifting parents

May 19th, 2009

The questions on this blog site about community and family engagement in education are timely. Having been lucky enough to be paid to think about these education questions for a number of years now, and more lately having two children on their way through schooling it is becoming clear to me that schools and their communities are in something of a rut in terms of how they can collectively work to enable the learning of young people. This is not a great start point for shifting thinking.

Over recent years in education there has been a strong focus on quality schooling – schools getting better and more focused on enhancing learning outcomes for all children. Observers note a new professionalism in teaching, and effective educational leadership has been strongly harnessed to teaching, curriculum and indeed learning. There have been big moves to enhance literacy and numeracy teaching across diverse schools and some impressive gains.  The notion of a teaching community of practice has found favour and teachers are becoming more inclined to be critical of each other and themselves. Reflective practice is everywhere. Formative assessment is taken seriously and there are tools in place to support it.

I think parents and by extension communities are being left behind in the new professionalism. Most school parents I know in my decile 9 community have little grasp of the reforms presented in the paragraph above. At the same time I pick up an unhealthy amount of parent stress around schooling. Confusion, mixed messages from teachers, fluctuating assessment results, unrecognised talents, apparently different teaching standards in different classes etc… Nothing new here perhaps but what really concerns me is that there is a lack of open dialogue between parents and schools about these concerns. They fester.

Why? One theory is that as teachers have raised their professional status parents have become stragglers. Really not much has changed about being a school parent across a generation – odd considering that in in the past 20 years the schooling system has been radically overhauled in its administration and national curriculum (twice!), not to mention the rise of the digital education age and a completely new secondary assessment system. Teaching communities of practice have created stronger bonds between teachers, and in some classrooms, between teachers and students, but this learning community has not bridged to parents. Its language and operation are pretty mysterious to parents and I think teachers struggle to see this, as well as how their new professionalism can dislocate them from parents, even in very subtle ways.

But of course this blog is about shifting thinking, looking ahead. Is it good that parents have been left behind because we need to start practicing differently anyway? I don’t think so because engaging parents in discussions about what is valuable to learn and know in the 21st Century has to excite a passive and disengaged group. This is a community development task – a vastly different proposition to most of the current school tools of parent engagement.

I think there are good models out there and one of them is some of the practice in early childhood education. Open and engaging formative assessment combined with a resolute view of all children as capable and competent learners, and a view of the family and community as fundamental assets to the learning of these children, has established a more purposeful family-ECE link that empowers parents as it values their contributions.

In talking to schools and early childhood educators about engaging families meaningfully, some have literally described the need to ‘de-professionalise’ themselves. They do not mean this in the sense of playing down to the audience, but they recognise the fundamental importance of relations of trust between teachers and parents to getting things happening for children. Perhaps some also appreciate that uncomfortable parents are the product of decisions of history that saw the outsourcing of the education of the community’s young to an institution. Over time that institution has changed and improved with very little influence or direct input from families. It has become more sure of itself which reinforces that taking children away from their families and the factories and into schools was the right call.

So to address one of your questions:

If schools are to become more future focused, what sort of support or information does the community need to be able to participate fully in debates about educational issues?

What is needed is a pathway of re-engagement for each school. I think each school needs to look at their current family and community strengths and opportunities to see the way forward. Who are the movers and shakers, the connectors in this community, and what already works to engage parents in the school? Last week I heard of a single Pacific women in one secondary school that got 130 parents to a school meeting in 2 weeks. Today I shivered with a smattering of parents at cross country; six months ago I sat in a packed hall for a school quiz night.

But then what? How can relations of trust grow between teachers and parents. What seems to have worked for early childhood educators is to reinforce that parents are an asset to the teacher as well as their child. If parents learn through real experience with teachers that their ideas, histories, skills, stories, and everyday activities, are part of the stuff of good pedagogy, and that they are not merely backing up the real professionals this could create a more fertile platform to have a genuine community conversation about the future of learning and schooling.

It’s not simple I admit.

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