Educational Change-Engage or Resist?

 

In January 2014, like a missile out of the blue, the Prime Minister launched the Government’s $359 million Investing in Educational Success (IES) policy.  Some education leaders think it misguided. Others believe that, with feedback and course correction, it could end up spot on target.

IES seeks to help raise student achievement throughout the compulsory education system by encouraging collaboration between schools and expanding career pathways for teachers and principals.

Key components of the evolving initiative are communities of schools- voluntary primary and secondary school collaboratives resourced around agreed student achievement plans.

Proposed new roles nationally include approximately 255 community of schools facilitators plus 1000 cross-schools and 5000 in-school practice support teachers.

The payoff for the financial investment, if matched by an intangible investment of professional commitment and knowledge sharing, will be to lift student achievement, enhance professional job satisfaction and raise the status of the teaching profession.

Education representatives have been involved for some months in an IES advisory group and a working party. Despite the unexpected largesse, opinion is divided about the merits of the policy. The recent centenary of the outbreak of World War I is a reminder of the dangers of getting bogged down defending entrenched positions.

Tom Parsons, President of the Secondary Principals Association of New Zealand (SPANZ)  stuck his head above the parapet early on to encourage his members to be fully engaged with the Government’s “game changer” to smooth out the disparity between schools.  ”With your commitment and your engagement a successful educational and far more secure economic future lies ahead not just for our students but indeed for our profession also.”

The Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) was also open to change and took part in IES-linked remuneration negotiations with the Ministry of Education before seeking the endorsement of members.

The New Zealand Principals’ Federation (NZPF) sees the IES policy as the wrong model to achieve the Government’s objectives. Presenting distinct signs of premature exhortation, the Federation released in early July the results of a survey of more than 1000 principals which showed they had no confidence IES could achieve “a strong collaborative culture for schools, nor lift the achievement of especially our priority learners.”

The New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) expressed early reservations about an “untested mentor approach”, despite examples from elsewhere,  including vaunted education model Finland, of the mutual benefits for both mentoring and mentored schools.

After a NZEI survey of members, in the weeks weeks before the general election, 93 percent of teachers and principals voted “no confidence” in the government’s plan and 73 percent voted to reject the proposed new roles outright rather than try to change the policy through negotiation.

In quite a different response, in November PPTA members voted to include two teaching roles central to Investing in Educational Success (IES) in their collective agreement. 80.3% voted to include the Community of Schools (CoS) Within School Teacher and the CoS Across Community Teacher positions in the Secondary Teachers Collective Agreement (STCA).

Why the differences in the primary and secondary responses?

Perhaps the secondary sector assumes it will capture most of the new positions and remuneration, though good education leaders come from across the learning spectrum. Possibly it is easier to timetable principals and teachers out of typically larger secondary schools with a subject teaching focus. Maybe the primary sector is still tender after the introduction of National Standards, whereas the secondary sector has progressed through several assessment iterations.

But part of the answer lies in the role of the national secretaries in teacher associations.  They are the permanent agenda setters, while elected president come and go.

The classic example of obsessive-compulsive-disorder (OCD) is the person who can neither stop thinking about germs nor washing his hands to kill germs. For some time the NZEI has been fighting the equivalent of the Bertie Germ dental campaign of half a century ago. In his recent lead Education Aotearoa editorial National NZEI Secretary Paul Goulter says: “The choice is clear – a GERM-based future for our children or a non-GERM-based future.”

This antiseptic choice is offered without any explanation of the acronym. Because it has been used rote-like in so many previous issues it is assumed that readers know that it means the dreaded Global Education Reform Movement which apparently lurks Ebola-like behind any educational initiative of the Government.

The primary teachers’ union washed its hands of constructive professional involvement in the IES initiative in favour of a secular jihad in election year, but governments are entitled to govern by introducing new policies, especially if they have been flagged well prior to a general election, as was National Standards in 2008,(but not Charter Schools, which was smuggled in at teatime in Act III of that government).

Taking a different strategic starts PPTA president Angela Roberts was pleased with the way PPTA had been able to work constructively with the government to turn IES into something that could operate well in schools. “…It is an example of teacher unions being in their rightful place, at the table taking part in the process. Decisions are being made with us rather than for us,” she said.

The Ministry of Education says that IES “focuses on raising student achievement across the board, by supporting the education profession to build quality and consistency of teaching and leadership across the system.”

Positive education change involves lifting both professional and organisational competence, with a mutual appreciation of how each reinforces the other in each learning community.

Teachers are more likely to support what they have been engaged in creating, especially if they can share ways of helping students learn more effectively and pursue new career pathways.

The Ministry’s own best evidence synthesis, School Leadership and Student Outcomes, found school leaders promoting and/or participating in effective teacher professional learning have twice the impact on student outcomes across a school compared with any other leadership activity.

No school is an island unto itself. Every school needs to ensure that its own rate of learning at least equals the rate of external change and all education professionals benefit from best practice sharing.

Developed constructively by all concerned, with the focus on raising learning and achievement, this is what IES could be about.  A well designed initiative would be the catalyst for systemic and sustained learning development.

The voice of teachers is a necessary but not sufficient ingredient of education policy decisions.  In the pursuit of better public policy the Government needs to also tap into the views and expectations of parents, employers and others.

Learning culture is the invisible force that shapes professional behaviour and student achievement for better or for worse. Systems and practices can be copied, culture cannot. Everyone involved needs to understand the culture of their own learning organisation and agree on initiatives to enhance it. Well grounded change principles are as important as change principals.

Learning as inquiry is about powerful questions and shared knowledge and practice. It requires open minds, open dialogue and a long term perspective. The bandwidth of collaboration is trust.

Like all new policies IES needs more engagement, more time to bed in and more shaping. There are different ways of sharing both the collaborative responsibilities and the remuneration and the tiny amount of budget for school-based innovation needs augmenting.

But if the focus stays firmly on the learning needs of students, as they move through the learning system, everything else will fall into place.

Of course, in the words of W. Edward Deming: “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.” 

*Blinks

http://www.nzei.org.nz/NZEI/Media/Releases/2014/8/Primary_teachers_and_principals_vote_to_put_kids_first_and_reject_the_IES_.aspx http://ppta.org.nz/resources/media/3201-media-ies-vote http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/10463634/Teachers-protest-planned-education-policy-nationwide http://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/307854/otago-principals-agree-ies-initiative-flawed http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/10372352/Vote-looms-on-future-of-359m-education-fund  http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/10333139/Educated-questions-over-changes http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/jun/19/strong-schools-helping-neighbours-national-leader-education http://www.quality-equality.com/publications/qe-articles/emergent-change-strategy/

#Lyall Lukey 21 Dec 2014 http://www.lukey.co.nz/  http://www.smartnet.co.nz https://bluggerme.wordpress.com/  My other (bit less serious) blog

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