Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Week 27 Issues facing Education

My first year teaching was in a small rural school over 25 years ago when teachers had purple fingers from the banda machine and computers in the classroom was just a dream. One of my biggest challenges was how to draw a term plan onto an A3 piece of paper by hand and learning what a floppy disc was. Oh how life has changed and continues to change at an ever increasing pace. What I do know, is that if I continued to be the same teacher I was back then, I would not be of any value in the classroom today. The last 20 years of my teaching career has be one of constant change and professional growth.

‘If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob then of tomorrow.’
John Dewey 1859 - 1952

According to US National Intelligence Council (2012)’s “Global trends: Alternative Worlds” and KMPG International’s (2014) “Future State 2030” the challenges facing us internationally are that of empowering individuals and the ubiquity if digital technology. Although computers were a rarity when I began teaching, they now invade our homes, schools and our person with wearable technologies as we rely on them for increasingly more. This access to technology allows students to search out their own knowledge from experts around the world.

Bruce (2016) and Robinson (2010) both point out that to prepare students for the 21st Century, we must be developing the skills of creativity, innovation and collaboration. No longer will ‘batch taught’ content focussed, compliant workers meet the needs of the market place and if this is the case, we must look closely at what is really going on in our classrooms. What are we valuing and spending our time testing?
Image from Robinson in RSA 2010

The Education Review Office (2012) suggested that here in New Zealand the focus needs to be on developing student centred learning, a responsive and rich curriculum and assessment for learning.
The huge changes across education at the moment incorporate all of these points with the need to meet the challenge of working in modern learning environments (MLE’s) or innovative learning environments (ILE’s) to provide child centred learning, ubiquitously using technology to meet learning needs and scaffold independence in learning.

I had the privilege of hearing Neill O'Reilly, principal of Waitākiri School explain their philosophy behind child centred learning within flexible learning spaces. He suggested our biggest challenge is that schools have a shared belief of effective pedagogy, learning is child centred and teachers collaborate to use the learning space and technology effectivelly to enhance learning. The Horizon Report (2015) would agree with O’Reilly (2016) for child centred learning to take place, collaboration is key. We need to begin to unpack what skills teachers might need to make this happen.

The question is how will I address these trends and issues in my classroom and within my learning community.

Is our learning space child centred?
My co-teacher and I are beginning to ask those hard questions…. what evidence is there in our learning space that it is student centred? While we still follow the ‘hands up’ rule, success criteria are co-constructed and clearly unpacked with students, their learning is purposeful and where possible embedded in real life challenges such as planting to bring back the Tui to our area or improving our waterways to support the longfin eel. 

Students are given choice in the form of workshops or inquiry focus groups along with where to work and who to work with but not yet when to work. In the past we have included an element of mixed ability grouping in reading and writing but in the process of moving into our new flexible learning space and catering to the needs of our ORS students, we have slipped into some old habits. We do focus lots of having a positive mindset and using a range of strategies to get out of the 'Learning Pit'.

Target setting is both by the students and with the teacher but also supported by buddy conferencing and peer editing. We have a focus of AKO in our class where we have 57 teachers not just two. Students run their own learning conversations, confidently sharing their targets with parents, progress and helping determine new targets. We are great at teaching ICT based skills and giving students choice about how to share their learning with the wider world. Contracts are being made in writing where individuals select the genre, topic and then request appropriate workshops after conferencing with the teacher. 

We are gradually changing our role from teacher to someone who scaffolds learning, learning coach and mentor but this is an ongoing journey that needs constant reflection.

Is our learning space collaborative:?
It is clear to my co-teacher and I that moving into our flexible learning space has required many adjustments and has needed to develop in small steps. Is is not ‘my class’ and there is no ‘my space’ but is shared by all learners. 

We are great at targeted teaching where workshops are held in parallel and the co-planning of inquiry but it is clear that there are a much wider range of approaches that could meet the needs of our students, such as using a learning coach to conference or scaffold, using one teacher to observe for student engagement or a specific teaching strategy. We need to shift our focus from how the system is working to investigating the strategies that will support the learning needs of specific students of groups of learners. This is what will make our learning space more student centred and collaborative.

To improve my collaborative skills, the top questions I need to ask myself in the next few weeks are:
  1. Do I pause after asking a question to allow others to respond?
  2. Do I pause after others speak to reflect before responding or try to interrupt with my point of view?
  3. Do I pose questions to explore perceptions, assumptions and interpretations?
  4. Do I present specific, measureable and observable data rather than making generalisations?

This challenge of collaboration is going to be a personal growth opportunity. Teacher training was always about how to work with students, but should have been as much about how to interact with adults. (O’Reilly 2016) If I am to remain effective within today’s classroom, I have to meet this constant change by always reflecting on my assumptions and question why and how I meet the needs of my students.

Bruce, Bryan (2016). World Class Inside New Zealand Education A special report (2016)  May 23rd TV 3. Retrieved from

Education Review Office. (2012). Evaluation at a Glance: Priority Learners in New Zealand Schools. Retrieved 18 May 2016, from

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., and Freeman, A. (2015). NMC Horizon Report: 2015 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from

National intelligence council.(2012). Global trends: Alternative Worlds. National Intelligence Council: US. Retrieved from

O'Reilly, N (2016) Personal notes and handout from workshop.

The RSA.(2010, Oct 14). RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms. Retrieved from


  1. Allana, I found your post really interesting, especially the questions you are asking yourself to improve collaborative skills. I could see that they would be applicable not only in the classroom but also with relationships with colleagues. Have you thought about sharing the questions with your students and how they think they could be achieved?

  2. Hi Allana,
    Your questions are thought-provoking - and I'm now wondering those things too! You are clearly having purposeful and reflective conversations with your learning partner which can only mean great things for the learners in your spaces. Change needs to happen in manageable steps, as you have alluded to above, and I'm sure your changes will be more sustainable having been undertaken in stages, with time to reflect in between. Like you, we are moving into mixed ability - but not yet for reading, as we needed some 'routine' in amongst all the change!
    I also considered the teacher training aspect when looking at this topic - I think modern learning and collaborative teaching needs to be a key part of teacher training these days!

  3. Your first lines attracted me - oh, that banda machine!

    The innovative learning environment intrigues me. Collaboration and shared understandings must be a key. Developing self efficacy and self regulated learning practice in our students is another.

    This is a thoughtful reflection about something that you hold dear; which is why I'm enjoying this part of our course. The chance to read and reflect with like minded others is invaluable. Thank you.

    1. @Mrs_Hyde, if you remember the banda machinge then you must be as old as I am.

      One or two years ago, my past experiences with 'team-teaching' and a hugely high expectation of myself would have made me shy away from what I would now call 'co-teaching'.

      It is a joy to work with someone who is 'in-sync' with you, to be pulling in the same direction and to have student learning in the centre. It gives us opportunity to share our strengths, make connections with a wider range of students and share the load when things get tough.

      Just like a marriage, it takes lots of 'How are things going?' and listening to that constructive criticisim that hurts at the time but makes us stronger.

      I loved having my own class and had a very strong connection to my students, but now I feel like my relationship with the students is more balannced and I am so much more accountable now that I am 'co-parenting' our 56 students who we are on the journey with!

  4. Hi Allana,
    Really like the way you have moved from global challenges, to the questions you are asking yourself this week to address these challenges in your classroom. Also really liked your comment that, 'We have a focus of AKO in our class where we have 57 teachers not just two'. That's a powerful statement and a challenge to each of us educators.

  5. These last couple of weeks have been valuable with the reflection that we all have had to do. You seem to be in the same boat as me, the more you reflect the more questions that pop up. Still being in a single cell classroom, I am yet to see the power of collaboration with a large group of students. I tell my students everyday that I am a learner just like them and that we are all taking this new direction of learning together. When talking with a group I have to have a visual of the talk moves for myself otherwise, just like you said, we slip back into bad habits.


Thanks for your comment. It will be posted as soon as it has been moderated.