Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fast brain & Slow brain thinking

NASDAP Workshop 1 workshop led by Tony Burkin

The beauty of being able to attend an education conference is the opportunity to do some big picture thinking and what better way to do it than attend a workshop on fast brain thinking and slow brain thinking. Put simply rather than just dealing with the obvious, what we see immediately in front us,  slow brain thinking challenges us to be looking "under the surface", to what lies beneath. Some of the gems Tony has shared are summarised below:

Tony argues lots of the gnats we are confronted with as senior leaders in a school every day are often unprofessional practice (such as staff not meeting deadlines for reports, not responding or reading emails, not marking and returning student work etc). Yet we are often slow to deal with these issues. For some reason we accept teachers as having these components to their practice as more often than not they are good teachers in the classroom. This unwillingness to confront the issues is often because using our fast brain we equate teaching practice with professional practice, yet we need to be able to see these separately. The teacher may be a great classroom teacher but this is separate from professional practice - using our slow brain enables us to distinguish these two forms of practice. Taking a step back to realise that it is sound professional practice that provides the right foundation for effective teaching practice can significantly alter the way we consider such actions.

Within school organisational structures there exists 3 sorts of practice - leadership practice, teaching practice and professional practice. Focus of professional development in schools for years has been on teaching practice but how do we bring in development around professional practice. Good professional practice underpins good teaching practice, developing good systems of professional practice such as allowing observation and critique, regular inquiry and journaling will allow for teachers to be more reflective and allow for insight into effective teaching practice. How might we develop and enhance professional practice? The secret is to develop a culture where learning and critical conversations between staff are an accepted and desirable part of the school.

When we consider values - the fast brain focuses only on enriching values (innovation, caring, excellence, integrity) but ignores selfish values (such as cunning, looking the best, avoiding conflict, independence etc). The slow brain acknowledges and lances these. The more we talk and be open about the selfish values the more we can then build on developing enriching values. We need to be establishing a culture where as reflective practitioners we use our own reflective feedback and the feedback from others to improve both our professional and teaching practice.

When we talk about learning we can talk about informational learning or transformational learning - it is transformational learning that has as its core reflection and inquiry. Slow braining takes us here and catalyses the right sort of learning for change. Leading change starts when teachers experience metanoia, real learning. Learning is not about motivation - it's about overcoming our defensiveness and re-wiring our thinking. Open to learning conversations are critical in this, to enabling teachers to be on a path of continuous improvement. These conversations do not just rely on the leader having the skills to carry it out but more that the culture of the school is developed such that we are all open to having these conversations and the learning that they generate.  

What do I take from all this? Two key things: the need for more professional practice to be brought more to the forefront of what we do, discuss and dedicate professional money develop towards. Secondly, the importance of continuing to develop a culture where open to learning conversations are part of how we operate, it's what we do. The challenge for me too is to demonstrate this as a leader by  modelling this.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Inequality in New Zealand

I have now been involved in teaching within the secondary school system for over 20 years. It is becoming increasingly apparent to me the emerging gulf between those on lower incomes and those very wealthy. I have witnessed student unable to attend trips or take up opportunities that others get purely because they can't afford it. I also know how many sacrifices some families make to enable their child to afford the schooling that should be of right, free. It is with a growing sense of injustice about this situation that has lead our school to be looking at ways to develop a sizeable fund to help those in need - so they don't miss out just because they are not able to afford it. We are hoping to develop a fund that businesses and alumni can feed into and that can support students to access opportunities they otherwise couldn't afford. Interestingly, a recent Ministry of Education circular stresses the fact that learning opportunities for students should not be withheld if students cannot afford to take them up (see circular here). I completely agree, yet the implications for schools and the current ways they operate, is significant. Of course this is all put forward without any significant funding changes by the Government.

I also, therefore look forward to reading my most recent purchase - Inequality in New Zealand edited by Max Rashbrooke. Robert Wade, an author of one of the chapters, discusses the rapid increase of wealth of the rich over the last 30 years and notes The sharp increase in income concentration at the top of national income distributions over recent decades should have prompted a … public debate about the question: ‘When are the rich too rich?’  He has a short interview here.

There is growing debate around inequality with respect to education and I look forward to being involved in these discussions and debates.