Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Anything is Possible"

“Anything is Possible”: Big Picture thinking for TCS
“ Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not” (Dr Seuss)
Jen McCutcheon September 09.

Press release dated 10.09.09: “ more than a quarter of New Zealand teenagers quit early..NZ has the second worst drop-out rate in the developed world…the recently released OECD report shows 26.9% of New Zealanders aged 15-19 are not in education compared with the OECD average of 15.7%”

This information was released at the conference held in Wellington in September to discuss ways of engaging young people in learning.
Professor Sandra Christenson, of the University of Minnesota, said students needed to be shown the relevance of school …not all students are disengaged from school for the same reason..she went on to discuss the role of mentors for pupils losing interest in schools. (google Sandra Christenson Minnesota University for more information)

TCS is designing a creative approach as to how we may begin to address lack of engagement among students building on current good practice, common sense and wider information from around the world (particularly the USA, Canada and Australia).

Big Picture Schools:
Returning from a study tour in the USA our Chief Executive, Mike Hollings, came back with a good grounding in the ideas currently being promulgated through schools subscribing to the “Big Picture Education Philosophy”.

Reading “Big Picture: Education is Everyone’s Business” by Dennis Littky, the founder of this education movement rings immediate bells for me as an educator of some 20+ years. Some quotations from his work follow: (see more detail by googling him)
“you cannot know a kid whose voice you don’t listen to, whose interests are a mystery, whose family is excluded, and whose feelings are viewed as irrelevant to the educational process” (p21)
“ those of us involved with kids lives need to remember how fragile they are…even the toughest ones need us more than they would ever admit…as adults we have the power to break their spirit with even the smallest word or gesture, and with some kids we may never get a chance to help build them up again” (p20)
Kids are very attuned to adults’ attitudes towards them. They can tell when you have low expectations for them…(this) can hurt them badly”
“when a teacher loves kids, is excited about the act of teaching and is a learner himself or herself, that is when the best teaching happens” (p15)
“ (education should be about) figuring out problems together”
“ Knowledge can get in the way sometimes” (p 16)
“schools (should be) part of the solution rather than one of many problems”
“ the 3R’s at the Met are relationships, relevance and rigour” (p39)
“ at school I have to have a pass to go to the bathroom, but at 3:00pm I’m an assistant manager at McDonalds” (p44)

From my reading there are some significant differences between the “Big Picture Schools and TCS. Big Picture schools are small schools (up to 250 students). Teachers have a Learning Group (Advisory) of 15-17 students who they retain over four years. Learning Advisors provide leadership in their own curriculum area (within an interdisciplinary team), but also act as generalists to support students in project-based learning.

Learning Advisors are employed based on their ability to build and sustain strong relationships with students, families and community members, as well as their subject expertise. There are different management structures than we currently have at TCS, but that is not to say we would not be able to adapt some current structures and focus on areas through selective employment initiatives.

Current Big Picture schools do not have a national qualifications framework to facilitate student progress through. Each student has a Learning Plan (somewhat like an enhanced and more specific SEP) which sets negotiated goals and describes how he or she will be building skills and knowledge through the various LTI projects. The Learning Plan is negotiated between the student/whanau, Learning Advisor and mentor. There may be a number of LTI projects. The focus in each is on the development of a number of skills including developing and answering deep framing questions, and developing reasoning skills, planning and project management skills, problem solving using hands and minds, assessment of situations, completion of actual projects and then celebration of accomplishments.

Each LTI project will have a main focus from:
· Quantitative reasoning
· Communication
· Empirical Reasoning
· Social Reasoning
· Personal Qualities
The student population has similarities to many on the TCS roll in that those they initially attracted were disengaged from standard schooling in their States, but the Big Picture schools have turned around levels of failure through the approach “one student at a time” based on authentic learning and individual support for each student to succeed. These schools currently attract a broader group of students than those disengaged.
There are details of the types of positions available to teach in these schools on the Big Picture Website (copies appended).

The Correspondence School:
Staff input is essential into the development of our TCS model, and this will be managed through a series of discussions and consultations. External input will also be sought from students, supervisors/parents, some business groups and TCS stakeholders. This will require a project management framework, and this initial work is the first step along a phased in development.
Regional managers have a pivotal role in development and socialization of the concepts and discussions within their own staff. There will be a TCS structural model guiding the on-going development but within that regional variations will evolve to meet the differentiated needs of communities and stakeholders.
Our starting point will be in-region Teams and internal (Wellington Teams) self identified.

The TCS model will be multi-layered
· Level 1: the student at the centre. (TCS support at the micro-level). How we can implement a model from Term 1 in 2010 building on current best practice with further adaptations linked back to the developing philosophies and pedagogies.
· Level 2: access to Mentoring organizations/Significant Adult/ Internship (TCS support to identify and facilitate support at this level)
· Level 3: Role differentiation/variation/TCS development at the macro-level..TCS self reflective questions to stimulate engagement and solutions.

As an overview, TCS challenges fall within some headings:

· The wide and varying nature of the fulltime and Young Adult students on our roll
· The levels of engagement of our students
· Our developing regional structure
· How to get closer to our students
· Our employment structures. How adaptive are groups of current staff to the necessary changes
· How best to meet the needs of our students as individuals, ie how to meet the challenge of “one size fits one”
· How best to work with our Year 9 and 10 students to begin to develop the skills required for authentic project development models within our Integrated Curriculum Te Ara Hou
· How best to allocate/reallocate resources appropriately to meet the needs of our students so that funding is redirected to each student
· How to adapt resources to meet the range of blended delivery options needed to meet the needs of net-gen students plus those without even a supply of electricity and the many in-between.
· How to provide IT resources to our students within a fiscal framework
· How to best utilize existing community resources (eg not for profit groups, Iwi groups, Libraries, schools) to support student learning
· How to develop among staff the skills to work with students and whanau to elicit enough information about interests and goals which are within the student, and from which to customize relevant learning opportunities (curriculum based, wrap around support and authentic learning opportunities)
· How to continue to provide staff with the skills needed to become facilitators of learning for a cohort of students as their Learning Advisor, customizing aspects of curriculum to ensure appropriate pathways, and assisting in the development of life- long learning pathways
· How best to work with employer groups and individual employers, and how to manage those relationships to meet the needs of all parties
· How best to interface with ITO’s and other providers, including mentoring organizations and groups
· How best to work with local Iwi groups, whanau and hapu to develop relationships to support the goals of the programme

The TCS Structural Model:

The main components:
documents and diagrams still under development. These will be used as focus diagrams for discussion and consultation
1. Student at the Centre. (diagram 1)

2. Person-Centred Planning (circle of influence)

3. Learning Advisor/Liaison Teacher adaptive roles, incorporating Circle of Influence and Gateway models

4. Developmental/ adaptive roles of all in-region staff

5. Mentoring/Significant Adult/ Internship Models of support

6. Macro-questions: Strategic Questions for consultation

7. Student Development Centre model and examples


  1. Kia ora Jen

    This is huge! I am looking forward to finding out how your thinking is developing.

    I am very excited by the possibilities opening up as we work out how TCS students can benefit from Big Picture-style programmes. Within this we need to develop appropriate and suitably flexible/adaptable learning resources which students can access when they are ready to learn. This is a huge challenge for teachers and curriculum leaders!
    Kerry (Parker)

  2. Kia ora Kerry

    Thanks for your comments. yes, the ideas are exciting, and clearly we will be able to build on best practice at TCS. There are some challenges ahead..the ideas are simple,but the settings more complex. Implementing the ideas is definitely possible...not across all students or all teachers after all the philosophy is "one size fits one". Among the challenges are resource adaptability and flexibility, so I'm looking forward to getting ideas from all staff about this.

    Na, Jen

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