A fork in the road…?

I’ve spent the past three days at the National Association of Secondary Deputy and Assistant Principals (NASDAP) conference in Hastings – not as a presenter or speaker, but working on a trade stand – quite a different role for me 🙂

With over 400 DPs and APs from around NZ, the conference had a strong emphasis on leadership and leadership development, with a trio of Australian keynotes providing a trans-Tasman perspective (Frank Crowther, Tony Mackay and Julia Atkin) along with several New Zealand presenters.

As someone who regularly attends conferences with an ICT flavour, it was of interest to me to attend one with quite a different emphasis. A noticeable difference was that, despite the fact that there was an open wireless network provided, I didn’t notice anyone with an open laptop in any of the sessions, and only one or two in the foyers or trades area. This provided a healthy dose of reality for me as I’ve come to think that perhaps we are at a point where ICTs are a ‘taken-for-granted’ part of what happens in schools- not just the ICTs of course, but the assumed use of these as a natural part of how teachers communicate and record and share ideas.

Of the presenters it was Steve Maharey, ex Labour MP and now Vice-chancellor of Massey University whose message resonated with me. He said…

“… education is at the cross roads. Choosing one direction will lead to efforts to lift performance within traditional educational models. Choosing the other will see radical changes in education that will shift the way we think about learning and what is needed to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

Sadly, I feel that we’ve been at these cross-roads for a while, but, like sheep, we often drift down one path or the other simply because the first group heads that way. We end up vacillating between the two – and not really going anywhere.

What must we do to take this challenge seriously?

7 thoughts on “A fork in the road…?

  1. A good post, Derek. I am pleased to read of Steve Maharey’s message to the conference, as it seems to aling with the changes he is fronting within Massey (based on feedback from staff there). From my perspective there must be an awareness and willingness in the leadership of a school before the ‘radical changes’ road is taken. If this has occurred then my team might be able to facilitate some of the ‘connectors’ but that is all. What are the best indicators of a schools that has embraced this path?

  2. Thanks for the feedback Paul – certainly does seem that Steve is pursuing this belief at Massey, which is great to hear! Regarding the issue of leadership – there’s the old saying, “if you don’t know what you don’t know how can you know?” I think this, plus the fear of change etc are all barriers to adoption by leaders in our schools. You asked about some indicators of schools embracing this path – the key thing for me is I look for evidence of a principal and teachers actually using the technology themselves – laptops being used in staff meetings, documents being emailed to me as attachments, planning being kept digitally, wikis, calendars, search engines – all a regular part of their daily work. If I see evidence of this, then I can be more assured that there’ll be an informed and purposeful use of technology being made in classrooms by students.

  3. Derek, what about communities of practice? When I look at the Volcanics eLearning cluster it is as much about community and collaboration as it is about eLearning. The competitive funding model I think is a barrier to the idea of community and collaboration. Principals are looking for “bang for buck” and the investment needed to transform learning to 21st century learning does not always give this in the short term

  4. Kia ora. As a Principal I’d like to defend our colleagues who don’t have the time to adopt and adapt. DPs and APs are greatly under resourced for time as their schools for professional learning. DPs and APs are mired in the daily fire fighting of running our schools. If IT could help them deal with the long line of pupils in trouble for uniform, relationship breakdown, rule infringement etc then they would adopt and adapt. As it is they barely have time to enter the details of their fire fighting on their SMS before dashing off to a fight on the bottom field or 9Z whose relief teacher has not arrived.

    However Derek’s and Mr Maharey’s comments about crossroads ring true to me. I don’t think that the education being delivered at our school is vastly different from my school days and if it’s still that way in 10 years time we would have failed. Teams like Paul Seiler’s need to find a voice in our mainstream, in our staff rooms and teacher training institutions if the sort of stuff from IT world that makes change is to help the transformation.

    I was recently at an event in Christchurch about broadband for Christchurch that Derek spoke at. I was quite disappointed that the conversation (no fault of Derek’s BTW) was about the size of the pipes delivering stuff to our schools and not about the content of the stuff itself. There is I think a fundamental change needed in what we imagine.

    BTW I’m not sure why the I was taught is no longer good enough. What do others think?

  5. Hi Conor
    good point re community and collaboration – these should be the focus of a good education system regardless of whether it is face to face or mediated by technology at a distance. Sadly I agree with the bang for buck comment, and it’s not only principals who are looking for these short wins. I feel we are still at the mercy of leaders, decision makers and policy makers who are led by a focus on outputs, not outcomes, and are concerned with doing things right, not doing the right things.

  6. Hi John
    thanks for the principal’s perspective – always useful to acknowledge the realities of what it’s like inside the school system.

    re your comments about the reality for DPs and APs – I am certainly under no illusion of how difficult things are for this group of leaders in our school system, and they have my sincere support. Sadly, however, to allow a system to prevail that means this is the sort of situation we place such people in simply isn’t good enough. That, for me, is the point of the cross-roads comment from Maharey – unless we make the conscious (and often uncomfortable) choice to go down the second path then we’re forever going to be stuck with DPs and APs (and others) who spend all their time chasing their tails like this – while the rest of the world, the world the their students are about to inhabit by the way, simply moves further and further down the other path. That’s what we urgently need to work together to try and resolve.

    re the comment about the broadband meeting in CHCH – I accept the point made about the emphasis on the pipes, largely because that’s what the immediate focus of attention was at the time. You’ll be pleased to know that as a result of that meeting there has now been established a steering group comprising of representatives from the various principal’s associations in the city, and two other groups – a technical working group charged with looking at the infrastructure and services needs of schools and how these can be addressed, and a curriculum and innovations group that is charged with looking at what the pipes and infrastructure will actually be used for.

    Thanks for inviting further discussion on this topic – I too am keen to hear what others think.

  7. Derek, Connor and John, thanks for the comments and thoughts. I regularly stop and appreciate the quality of people involved in NZ education, the devotion they/you have to the profession and even this means of communicating. Free of the constraints of location and office-time I am able to ‘hear’ the authentic voice of others. I look forward to continued interaction and am happy to receive direct feedback on the workof my team (paul.seiler@minedu.govt.nz) or if it impacts on managed learning environments for our schools (http://groups.google.co.nz/group/mle-reference-group?hl=en or mle-reference-group@googlegroups.com). I acknowledge that working together raises the probability of success.

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