Musing on the demise of Learning Media NZ

Why the ghost of Uncle Russell is on my mind tonight (and how I am trying to honour his memory).

Declarations of personal interests to temper your reactions to this post.

1. I am proud to be an educator in, and advocate for,  the New Zealand State School System, as founded by Beeby (influenced by Dewey)  during the first Labour Government in the late 1930s.

2. Through marriage I am proud of my family relationship with Russell Clark and his work.

As illustrator for the New Zealand Listener and New Zealand School Journal, Russell Clark’s art became part of New Zealanders’ daily lives from the 1940s to 1970s.

Clark attended Canterbury College School of Art, in Christchurch from 1922 to 1928,... It was as a painter and sculptor that Clark contributed to an emerging Modernist movement in Post-War New Zealand.  

In 1944 he was appointed Pacific War Artist by the New Zealand government, and this experience in Polynesia and Melanesia stimulated his inquiry into Māori art and culture, culminating in the Urewera series (1949-1951). Ironically, these works also reveal the influence of British artists Henry Moore and Barabara Hepworth, particularly in the use of stylised monumental forms which in turn were influenced by Pre-Columbian and African art. 

In 1947 he was appointed to the staff at Canterbury University College School of Art. Although criticised for his eclecticism, Clark’s association with 'The Group' and his Urewera series highlight his important contribution to New Zealand’s cultural development. 

His work is represented in the collections of the Christchurch Art Gallery and the Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa, the Auckland Art Gallery and many other public and private collections in New Zealand."

Anyway... Today I was really angry listening to the Minster of Finance on the evening news telling us all how Learning Media has to be wound up because it can't make a profit. 

Respectfully, the important fact is that the provision of quality educational resources is not about profit Minister!

The closure of  this smallest of the State Owned Enterprises will not swing the government  books back into surplus. All it will do is open the door to more darn pedlars.  My intolerance of commercial firms 'selling' resources to schools is reaching breaking point. The vast majority of resources being sold to schools are pedagogical crap.

At our school we have the smallest budget ever for buying 'so-called' resources for one good reason. They don't make a difference to learning and achievement. As a principal I have been able to say "get lost" to so many resource sales people because I know that the free, high quality, non commercial Learning Media products will take care of that need for us.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Free School Journals provided to schools are only free if they are authored by people who work to provide them for artistic and educational merit. If School Journal production  and editorial content is offered to commercial firms for the sake of profit things change. And can change in a sinister way.

To prove the point I have to go to the extreme. Read this article in the New York Review of Books.  
Now  consider curriculum. We have to accept that any curriculum in a state school system can never be politically neutral. The very definition of 'state curriculum' means that the government of the day sets the curricular tone. But the heritage of the NZ School Journal is all about exposing children to high quality art and writing, not a curriculum ideology. 

If content is open to profit based tenders then the resource pedlars come on in. They will pitch towards offering narrow National Standards content. Worse still, they will do so in a shallow pedagogical way. If the majority of the current resource-for-sale rubbish has a chance to get into the School Journals then heaven help us all.

The 'provider and examiner' corruption is a problem already evident overseas. In the UK, USA and Australia there is a disturbing trend. Commercial companies provide exams and assessment tools to the school system. They also helpfully also sell textbooks and resources to help kids pass the exams. So what is the role of a teacher in such a system? 

Look at the HMHCO website
They sell the assessment tools 
Teachers just have to turn up to work, use the resources provided, and get the kids to pass the tests. 

New Zealand is better than this. As a taxpayer I am happy to pay for the small cost of Learning Media to keep on being a tiny little loss-making quirky organisation. One that keeps on sending schools free resources. Resources which are artistic and creative and also grow the careers of New Zealand's budding  writers. 

If that is not possible then end it now. Stop the School Journals.  Stop them before HMHCO  (or a similar company) offers the NZ Government a good deal to publish them for us.

After digesting today's news an unscientific survey of the Clark family has support for my idea of ending it now, after 100 glorious years, rather than feeding kids a newer corporate-backed-efficient-resource from now on. 

Without the School Journal we may not have had arts and literary careers from these School Journal contributors  ...
 Margaret Mahy, Janet Frame, Elsie Locke, James K. Baxter, Witi Ihimaera, Patricia Grace, Joy Cowley, Jack Lasenby, David Hill, Norman Bilbrough; and artists, illustrators and photographers such as Don Binney, Russell Clark, Cliff Whiting, Dick Frizzell, Mervyn Taylor, Gil Hanly, Ans Westra, Gavin Bishop, 

What do you think about a 'free to schools' but profitable for someone-else School Journal future?

Theatre of light and sound

Would you rather see a movie with no sound, or hear a movie with no picture? Frankly I would rather do neither. I want to experience a full movie with pictures and sound for myself. 

Sometimes schools think that all staff members will have profound learning experiences by hearing about (or seeing pictures of) a few staff members' learning experiences. School leaders sometimes mistakenly think that by sending 'some' staff to a conference, or on a tour of other innovative schools, that those left behind and who then get to hear about and/or see the photos  will have the same learning experience as those who went away in the first place   [credit to Tony Burkin from Interlead for that great analogy].

'Everyone or no no one' is our mantra when it comes to re-visioning our school site in a new post-quake master plan. If we shift towards flexible, team teaching environments then every employee needs to understand why (and what it might look like) here is how we rolled...

After tireless fundraising (assisted by parents and the wider school community) the whole staff and BOT reps from Waimairi have returned safely from a week long study tour in Melbourne.

The mission was to look at, and reflect upon, a wide variety of learning environments. The study tour was not about the buildings. It was about looking at the underpinning values & beliefs about learning and associated pedagogies in each school. The secondary consideration was how the architecture supported and/or hindered the realisation of the former.

The final day of tour consisted of Dr Julia Atkin, Richard Leonard and Lisa Horton facilitating a reflective and visioning workshop with our team. This work will feed into the next master planning workshop for our cluster of schools.

What did we see?

-A school created by merger working in a brand new building.
-A school only a few years old working with purpose designed modern flexible learning spaces
-An old school with a clear pedagogical vision making magic happen inside ageing buildings.
-A school that has been open plan in the 1970s, walled up as single cell in the 1980s and then reopened as flexible learning environments in the 1990s.

What did we learn?
-A clear set of values and beliefs about learning (developed by and owned by the whole staff) are essential.
-When planning for change the whole team need to take part. BOT members and teachers are only 1/2 Waimairi's total payroll - why would only 1/2 of the team have inspiration and reflection before making decisions about the school's future?
-The New Zealand Curriculum ROCKS! It is the missing element in some visionary Australian schools' success.

It is not all about going on an overseas  trip - the principles of andragogical learning and vicarious learning for staff & BOT members can be realised by a team visit to almost any learning environment. Just down the road or just over the Tasman Sea.

Why educators should  get to see other educators in acton.

Teacher Self efficacy has a huge effect on student achievement.

Vicarious experience provided by social models is a way of creating efficacy. Some believe it to be pure imitation without actual learning, but nothing is further from the truth.  80 to 100% of what we know is learned vicariously, or by observing others do something and remembering what was seen. That's why doctors have Residency and Internship, mentors have to do practice-teaching, and that's why society exists at its core; we all learn from one another.  

Vicarious learning is learning by observation (aka modeling, social learning, or just the 'monkey-see-monkey-do' phenomenon). We now know that social learning is the most salient type of learning we possess.How does this occur? Social learning is mediated by the Mirror Neuron system in the brain. The mirror neuron system appears to be responsible for the mediation of musical experience (Molnar & Overy, 2006). This finding replicates what musicians have known all along; that they need exposure to other musicians to flourish in their art.

This is why we make sure as many of our staff as possible get to see other teachers at work. 4 minute walk-thrus or whole staff tours - the brain science is the same.

A River Runs Through It

Google Earth has finally done a photo pass over Waimairi School in the 'post quake' time period. I have captured the shot (yes, yes, copyright credit to Google Maps) to post here for two important reasons.

The first is to keep a historical photo somewhere. The next time the Google photo satellite passes over things may have changed.

The second is to reveal and explain what the quakes did to a part of our school and what might need to change at Waimairi as a result.

To the right of the black arrow is the now revealed old river. Forgotten generations ago. For those familiar with post-quake Waimairi School you will be able to join the dots in your mind. As you read these bullet points let your eye move across the picture from right to left.

- The great gushing lake of liquefaction sand and water that swamped us as we stood waiting on the back field after each quake.
- The twisted doorframe and cracking in Room 14.
- The big crack up the centre of the netball courts.
- The warped hall with its dropping floor and roof line and sticking doors.

We can build over the top of mother nature, but we can't beat her.

Lucas and Associates sure showed us this with their stunning historical map/modern quake damage map overlays.

It is important to note that all buildings have had inspections and are safe for us to occupy. The question is whether or not it is economic to repair them where they are or do a bit of a site re-design. These decisions are in the hands of the Master Planners, not me as a blogging principal. Please don't read this as an announcement on the future of any of our buildings.

But if you are part of our school community do make sure you take part in the information and consultation on our site master planning that will happen in the first part of Term 3.

Included for historical record are the two black circles on the picture marking the two 20,000 litre 'poo tanks' that captured our sewerage waste when the silted up Tillman Ave sewer was out of action after the quakes. These tanks and the port-a-loos are what finally got us open again after 5 weeks of closure.

I did take an extensive collection of immediate quake damage photos of the school. They are for publication much later. We don't need to re-look at those pictures just now as our mental health recovers.

Shamed back into blogging and loving it.

Beaten back into action by a group of ten year olds.

The quality and quantity of written work now flowing into the public domain by Room 14 at our school has reminded me of the importance of writing.

For four years I managed to keep up a decent rate of blogging myself. These wonderful youngsters pushed me back into the habit. So here I go again.

I have told them that my blog has got old and rusty so they will keep me honest and keep up a weekly post at least.

Enjoy their work here while I cook up my next blog post.