Mutha (Don’t Wanna Go To School Today)
Greg Whitby is surely one of the most forward thinking Directors of Education anywhere in the world. Fact. Even better, he kindly took time out of his fact-finding visit to LTS to speak to a group of learners and educators about some of the changes he’s made to Parramatta Diocese in Sydney and the 80 or so schools he is responsible for.
When you first meet Greg Whitby, you are struck by one thing. He’s tall. Very tall. I’m about 6’3″, and even then I found myself looking up to him… by the end of the afternoon, I meant that metaphorically as well as literally! He set out his stall by telling how, amongst many other achievements, he’d set up his own company to help connect schools because he was fed up waiting for the Australian Government/Education Department to do it… and that was the point that I knew how relevant what he was going to say was to us here in Scotland. For me, that is the situation we are in with regards to Curriculum for Excellence. Too many people waiting for someone else to do it for them… except, of course, that really means doing it to them.
Greg started his talk proper by pointing out that one of the greatest problems facing education today is the ‘disconnect’ of so many of our children… and as he pointed out, if you asked the kids why they’ll tell you it is because the majority of conflicts between the school and the pupils are caused by banning things. Especially if there is no good reason for the ban in the first place. Remember, we are trying to create confident individuals, responsible citizens — but we start complaining as soon as they demonstrate this ‘confidence’ by complaining about the fact that we don’t trust them to be ‘responsible’… and they have a point.
Part of the problem stems from the way we have designed and structured our schools. As this clip illustrates:
We start our childrens’ education based on an arbitrary age, a pre-defined cohort of peers, and a timetable that is designed to suit the demands of the teachers. Where is the learner in all this? What Greg appears to do, and do very well, is start by considering what do the kids need, and what do teachers need, to do their work. This is an apparently simple change in attitude, but it has profound implications for how we deliver education. As he went on to say… well actually, listen for yourselves:
The tool is never wrong. Or as the analogy highlights, ‘school’ is never wrong… but of course, it is becoming increasingly irrelevant. What appeals to people is the ability to create mashups, to take what is there and make it personal and relevant to them — hence the appeal of Web2.0 tools. Now take that idea, and apply it to education. Instead of telling pupils what we’ve always told them, and delivering it in the same old fashion, we should start to look at what they need to know and find ways of delivering that in a relevant fashion. Analysing, evaluating, creating… in other words, hitting the top of Bloom’s taxonomy rather than plumbing the depths of remembering things to pass tests…
Greg told us about a friend of his in New Zealand who runs a Primary/Elementary school. Some of the pupils had been studying desert islands, so the head went to the local garden/building supplies, bought 40 tonnes of sand, dumped it in the school grounds and said “There’s your island…” Pupils and teachers then went on to make trees and sculpt and mould the island… you’d have to be a really poor teacher to not find some opportunities for genuine learning in a situation like that… and yet I fear that these chances are few and far between. I will have to come back to why I think that is on another day…
What was refreshing to hear was how Greg acknowledges that many many educators pay no more than lip-service to personalising learning. He also introduced me to an expression I’d not heard used in this context before:
Greg’s notion of de-privatisation sounded as though it should be political… but is actually the process of getting teachers to open up and share. Open the classroom door and share, open the filing cabinets and share, open your mind and share. For too long, and in too many classrooms, teachers have closed the door and hidden away. Too many poor teachers are still in a classroom wasting a child’s time at school because no one, except the pupils, knows what is going on in their lessons. This is obviously something Greg feels passionately about, and is quite brutal in his assessment of. Basically, if you don’t make the grade, go play in someone else’s sandbox. Except, I don’t know if it really is brutal because, as came across loud and clear, he wants people who are passionate and committed to making a difference and who will lead and teach their pupils to become true learners… and that is what I want my own children to experience.
There’s a lot more to be said about GregMeet. In my next post, I’ll take you through some more of the points he made, and also get some more of the videos posted… but if you want more from #GregMeet, you should check out Ollie Bray’s excellent post about the points made…
End of part one! 😉