Thursday, April 12, 2012

Finland's Formula for School Success - how do we measure up?

Point 1: Early intervention
My response: This is something every good school does from day one. We do.  

Point 2: Schools are assigned a 'special education teacher' who helps identify and supports 'at risk' students.  
My response: Every school in New Zealand has some choice with their allocated staffing to try and balance classroom teaching needs and providing specific student support teachers but this is usually only 'affordable' on a part time basis. Depending on your decile rating a New Zealand school may have more or less 'discretionary' staffing to play with? Reading Recovery specialist teachers, Maths intervention? The government would argue that every school has enough staffing to do whatever it wants - the Principal just needs to increase class sizes to free up some staffing as class numbers don't matter - it's the quality of the teacher. I believe this needs a balance of numbers, a great teacher and adequate staffing for specific support - no matter what the decile!  

Point 3: "Every school in Finland has a student welfare team comprised of the principal, the special education teacher, the school nurse and psychologist, and the classroom teachers. The teams meet twice monthly to discuss the progress of students who are receiving extra help."  
My response: Our schools do not have a specialist team, outside the staff team itself. It is only accessible on an individual case-by-case situation. If an individual has been identified as needing further specialist intervention and support then the school is able to provide from within their own budget and staffing (which is linked to decile rankings - the higher the decile the lower the funding and staffing per child) then the student in question can be referred to the Resource Teacher of Learning and Behaviour (RTLB) team. They then decide if the level of need is appropriate for extra support or, if a case is deemed 'extreme enough', refer the individual to Group Special Education (GSE).

While the Finnish example is from a different cultural perspective than our New Zealand one you would hope that our policy developers / politicians are taking note of one of the best performing education systems in the OECD. Hopefully they are taking note of not just the American and the British systems, who do not enjoy the same level of achievements that we do! But, is it politically more attractive? Whatever they decide and whatever happens around funding and staffing levels I can still work on providing the environment where our teachers are able to have time to plan collaboratively, are supported with strategic and planned professional development and who know that their individual effort and passion all contribute to our wider staff and school culture that gives each and every one of our children the chance to enjoy personalised and customised opportunities to succeed. And that, is the main thing!

Monday, April 9, 2012

raison d'etat

A slightly left field example of how diverse a classroom is - how our programmes need to be diverse and personalised - not standardised, cause every child gets the call at some point...

Every child has their own story...

In this section of the 'Blue Man Group - CNN's the Next list' youtube clip Sir Ken Robinson comments again that the way to improve education as a system is not to standardise it but to personalise and customise it, because in the end every child has their own story!

I see my challenge as a school leader as providing the environment where our staff team have the skills and desire to 'personalise' and 'customise' our local school curriculum with the enriching contexts that the wider curriculum provides and not just let the focus be dominated by the concepts of reading, writing and maths! What do you think? Will the pressure on our public system become to great and will we end up opening our own 'Blue School'?

Friday, April 6, 2012

The top of the T gives way to....?!?

In our current climate, I have whimsically found a parallel with our recent change to the give way rule - where the top of the T now gives way - to someone?!?  How so? Well, we seem to be at a point in time with our public education system where suddenly performance pay, academic achievement results and what value is added to an individual student are being touted as the key drivers for change to a system that for too long has allowed mediocrity to survive and the failure of too many of our 'clients'.  We fly politicians to the states, where privatisation is championed, and employ English administrators (Secretary of Education and of the Treasury), who help espouse the sorting of 'the wheat from the chaff'!  Is our highly successful education system, which ranks in the top 10 of the OECD, about to have its give way rule changed?  Are we, as Scott McLeod ('Dangerously Irrelevant') says of America, seeing "...societal and political trust in schools and educators... on the decline. Educators face increasingly stringent demands to standardize what used to be a profession and to try and make error-proof what is by definition an enterprise fraught with uncertainty."
One of Scott's latest posts was entitled 'Making room for innovation' and is centred around one of his favorite books on leadership The Future of Management by Gary Hamel. Reading through his post has inspired me to order a little light reading, which hopefully will arrive during the term break, but if not I see a few late nights with the bedside light on! The essential premise of the book (and I quote Scott McLeod here) " that current management models, which are centered on control and efficiency, are extremely ill-suited for an era in which adaptability and creativity drive organizational success. This has major ramifications for how we think about leading schools and preparing school administrators, of course." 

I look forward to reflecting on this book and how it answers some of the key challenges that relate to the importance of my leadership position in our school to answer questions such as: How do I keep developing the right climate where innovation becomes a natural part of everyone's job and to keep a highly engaging work environment that inspires everyone to give the very best of themselves?  This at a time when the top of T is certainly not giving way to me!