Reflections - Panel Discussion
Dr. Martin Thrupp, Dr. Cathy Wylie, and Dr. John O'Neill reflect on the presentations, summarising the connections, possibilities, and potential pitfalls in making the curricula living documents.
Thrupp is Head of Te Whiringa School of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Waikato. His research interests are in education policy with a particular focus on the importance of school contexts.
Wylie is a Chief Researcher at NZCER. She is well-known for her research on policy and its impacts for school leadership, teaching, and learning, and the longitudinal study Competent Learners.
O’Neill is Head of the Institute of Education, Massey University. His professorial Chair is in Teacher Education.
This talk was a part of Taking the Lead - Celebrating the Curricula in Wellington on 9, March, 2018
As you watch the presentations, think about these questions:
- How do we get this right for our children?
- How will we enable all children to be ‘confident, connected, actively involved’ lifelong learners?
- How will we uphold the values and principles of a world leading curriculum, in the best interests of our children and our society?
- How will this start, from today?
You can also download these questions as a discussion sheet to use as a group. (Word doc, 0.15MB)
I’ve been trying to see some connections, possibilities, potential dangers and also the silences I suppose, which I think are so important. What are we not looking at, what could trip us up as we go forward? To me the last government undermined public education, in many cases chipping away by neglect, in some cases dismantling by design. And now we have this window in which to rebuild. It won’t be a thirty year window unfortunately and we need to go strongly in this first term of this government.
I think educators around the world will be watching and hoping and praying that we get it right because here we have the chance to show how a neo-liberal project can be pulled back in education and there’s not that many examples of that around the world. So I think we’ve had a world class instance of testing policy, I think people in this room and other teachers and educators around the country should be very proud of that and now we need a world class response in terms of what follows next.
I think we need to pay attention to history and to context. The strengths of the approaches that we’ve heard today of what was there before the National Standards, and also their vulnerabilities. For example being able to articulate the coherence of the assessment systems that were in place, the formative assessment systems. And also the history of National Standards and what was wrong with them and what we can learn from that. So let’s keep the focus on progress, which is popular with this government or as Perry Rush would say: with the shift, alongside a background awareness I would say, of achievement levels as well. And let’s try to avoid making assessment too burdensome so that teachers can teach as well as assess.
I’m looking for a framework that allows for all the complexity that we’ve heard about today, but doesn’t try to be too clever. Doesn’t tie teachers up in knots, not too many acronyms, not too much technical language, concepts that will become understandings rather than just buzzwords. And I think, a framework that people can enter at different levels of understanding as they come through teacher education and become more experienced teachers, and as they grow. Grow through professional culture, professional development, grow through an understanding of their local context. The framework being simple but allowing for the contexts and understandings within it that reflect the New Zealand curricula.
You could think about it like the generic teaching standards and the advantages of those over highly specified ones. Something that respects the autonomy of teachers and has an awareness of particular children and contexts. And trusts the intent of the vast majority of teachers to do a good job using a strong professional culture to call out any colleagues who are letting the profession down.
So some of the themes that – I thought there were quite a few common themes that came through – and I just wanted to comment on one or two.
Jan, you know the teacher making the difference, and I really liked that powerful example you gave us. Yes, but I also don’t want it to become a way of scapegoating teachers for the impact of poverty and wider social ills as has happened under previous governments of both stripes actually. Let’s make sure that we avoid those politics of blame going forward. And it’s very hopeful I think with the Prime Minister taking up responsibility for child poverty.
Mere, for me what came through in your talk especially was the value of cultural relationships and genuinely responsive pedagogy and ako and whanaungatanga and whānautanga and just the rich metaphors that come with whakatauki. And that also came through in O’Sonia’s talk as well.
We heard from Bronwyn about the costs of social grouping. We heard from Helen about a compelling case I think for the extension of Te Whāriki into the Junior School.
From Rachel about busting some myths for us about online learning and raising the potential of digital technology.
And from Rose I think the possibility of not such an instrumental approach to the curriculum. The way that key competencies can support the wider curriculum and are weaved in.
From Jodie and Bobbie, a strength-based, culturally sustaining approach and the importance for allowing for teachers to grow.
From Perry of course, the local context of if it doesn’t work at the centre, we do it anyway, and student-centred assessment and that focus on shift.
And from Lester, I was really struck actually from your talk Lester, the collapse of the networks supporting the curriculum. And it seems to me that that’s one really important ingredient to put in place if we’re going to go back to celebrating our curriculum and being very proud of it. Nationally and internationally.
Cheers thank you.
Kia ora tātou.
I’ve had a really rich, full day and what it’s brought home to me is that this New Zealand Curriculum, we’ve got to make it live. I think that was very powerfully brought home by you, Lester by saying that this document is not just to be celebrated and just, oh, we’ve got this wonderful document, therefore we’re all wonderful and what we do in schools is wonderful, because no, it actually requires a lot of work and thinking.
And I remember back to our NZCER national surveys between 2007 and 2010, when people were working on the draft national curriculum, how we noticed real shifts in the teacher professional practice and leadership. And it was just such a sense that what people had talked about for so long was actually taking place and thinking about what was a local curriculum? What was learning all about? How do we notice? A very strong theme for me of today has been about noticing. It’s been about respect, ako. It’s been about treating others as you’d like to be treated and when I think about the hard work ahead for this year particularly, because we’ve got this window of opportunity and we have to take it, and that means people are going to have to work together across their diverse contexts and the diverse knowledge that they’re bringing to lay some foundations for what we hope will be a thirty years path that no politician will want to divert from.
And that’s what we have to do. Is how do we make this attractive enough and understandable by parents about what it is that’s going on. Wean them away from measurement, wean them away, get them to understand - which I think they do – that they kids aren’t uniform and that it’s not about seeing where they are at this particular standard or this little box. But it’s actually taking that freedom ourselves and working together to talk about that, that holistic picture, which is what parents want. How do all these different bits tie together?
So Rose talked about rich learning tasks and they were also mentioned I think in some of the other presentations, if we don’t bring things together, and I think to do that we can’t all be reinventing the wheel at every school. Tomorrow’s schools has played a lot on we’re all unique, don’t tell us what to do. That’s where it can go wrong. It can say you might know something but actually we know everything at our own school best. We all learn from each other. We’ve all got to be scaffolding off each other and working together within schools and across schools and within our different expertise. Because if it’s still a competitive thing or a defensive thing where you think: oh I won’t tell people what we’re doing here… or the mistrust that’s grown up between schools and the government agencies as well as between each other, then we’re not going to make any progress and the New Zealand curriculum will just be a paper document.
Lester has pointed out the substantial work that is going to be needed to think about progress and achievement and he is quite right to say that this is years long work, that it should not be rushed. We need this year to be laying down some foundations about how to go about that work but not try and rush it, though you might have teachers saying: what are we going to do? And I heard last week that about half our teachers know nothing but National Standards. So we are going to have to think. School Leaders, we are going to have to think what support we provide around that so that we give people the understanding that National Standards is not the only measure we have or the only framework we have for rich learning, good learning, holistic learning. And to remember that the New Zealand Curriculum had something, it had an element which was briefly touched on which is, teaching as inquiry, and we’ve heard about noticing, we’ve heard about what is the evidence around this? We’ve heard about bringing students into the learning picture, we’ve got parents and whānau into the learning picture, so everybody’s working on it together, and it’s not just the teacher as bandmaster in the room. And I think that’s where the real growth is going to come. That’s the real challenge.
So I’m excited about… I’m very glad that we’ve got the opportunity to try and bring our understanding that’s grown through tears as well as through people trying out different things over the last ten, twenty, thirty years to really realise what it means to have a school-based curriculum. What it really means to have students as agents in their own learning and to work with parents and whānau. Also to work more constructively with the government agencies and to rework them, and I do thank Lester profoundly for reminding us what was lost was Tomorrow’s Schools with the loss of the curriculum networks and that sort of spiders web that we had. That’s the kind of thing we need to be recreating and making sure that we’ve got there. It’s not about everybody operating separately in their silos, but it’s actually about how do we share and create the knowledge that we need to energise the teaching and learning in this country.
So this is going to be a very exciting year as we start on the laying the grounds for the thirty years and it’s one where we’re going to have to all work very hard and be open and share with each other and push each other’s horizons and assumptions about things and not try and rush in with replacements. You know, there’s no replacing National Standards. That framework is gone. They do not need replacing, if they do, we’re lost.
So think. Now it’s ok teaching as inquiry and how do we not try to reinvent the wheel and every classroom, every school, every locality, how we actually pick up the best of what’s already around, to make sure that we share it and that we keep building on it and have the structures that will enable us to do that. The structures and the relationships. End clip
Kia ora Tātou.
Recently I’ve taken to apologising for being a man. It’s not a David Cunliffe thing it’s just that these days I’m on so many panels as a Pākehā male and in the winter of my paid career the future is not about me, it’s not about people like me, if we look at our demographic imperatives it’s about a bi-cultural and a multi-cultural community. I’m entitled to participate in those conversations but people like me shouldn’t be leading them.
There was a lot said today about – in many different ways – about the rights of children, the centrality of children - putting children at the centre of what we do. Lester captured it particularly well but so did other speakers. I think the fact that we have somebody like Andrew Becroft in the position that he’s in now, means that we have allies in and across the public sector. For all his trials and tribulations I think Peter Hughes has the potential to be a good State Services Commissioner and bring public servants back to the role that they ought to have which is to question and challenge ideological assumptions that have no basis in evidence.
So this cuts very much to the heart of what Helen was talking about when she was saying: Curriculum cannot do it on its own. Teachers have a role to play, whānau have a role to play, students themselves have a major role to play in determining the direction and the content of their own learning and so on and so forth.
So I think all of those things are important but fundamental to me is Te Ao Māori. The work of Mere, Bobbie and Jodie, Sonia and her colleagues in the Marautanga Māori space, I find just so exciting and full of potential and so unsettling. When you have to willingly engage with concepts that are not of your world but open up so many more possibilities about the richness of learning and the richness of relationships, it just kneecaps neo-liberalism straight away.
When you compare – for all their good intentions – the things that have come out of the Ministry and the Education Review Office over the last nine years, which haven’t questioned anything about the underlying assumptions about teaching and learning, and then you look at the stuff that comes out of communities and elders, out of iwi in their strategic education plans and you look at the aspirations for children. I think all of that provides a really useful touchstone for everybody in this room.
The partnerships that we need to develop are with the people and the communities of the future. The language that we need to use is language that puts children at the centre and is based fundamentally in our traditions from the past, and the present that will take us into the future.
For me that’s a really wonderful learning journey and a very unsettling one but I know that we all have guides there. NZEI has a Māori caucus, it has processes for making sure that matters Māori are brought to the centre of the agenda. And I think everything I’ve heard today reinforces the absolute fundamental importance of developing a language going forward.
As Helen and others have pointed out, we already have the building blocks in place, the work has already been done, it’s just been discarded, or distorted or hidden or the url’s been deactivated or whatever, but the work has been done.
And the last thing I want to say is that the other message I took from today is that there are so many willing partners in these conversations that it shouldn’t be a hard job to take students, whānau and communities with us provided we’re prepared to make all of these things concrete, tangible and visible rather than, as we academics and professionals sometimes too often do, leave them in the abstract as words not meaningful practices.
So for me, I echo the comments, this has been a fabulous hui, a real wānanga for me, I’ve learnt so much, I’m sure everybody else has and it’s a great start to what may not be thirty years but hopefully will at least be twelve years of a progressive left government.
Kia ora tātou.
More from this series
How do we take the opportunity to uphold the values and principles of our world-leading curricula, in the best interests of our children and our society? Curricula experts share their expertise in working with all the New Zealand curricula in Taking the Lead - Celebrating our Curricula.