I am a great admirer of the work of Andy Hargreaves, a re-known British educator who has had a huge impact on education across the world but most particularly in Ontario, Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand. He currently serves as the Chair in Education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. So when I read his most recent blog post this past week, my interest was piqued. The event that he recalls is, of course, of great interest to me, as I remember it well.
Andy recounted to his readers how on 22 February 2011, at 12.51pm, a monumental earthquake shook the city of Christchurch in New Zealand to its foundations. One hundred and eighty-five people lost their lives. Others lost family members, friends, limbs and homes. Around 10,000 dwellings became uninhabitable. The city’s historic stone cathedral cracked apart and its tower collapsed in pieces. Three-quarters of the central business district was destroyed or damaged beyond repair. After the dust had settled, the rebuilding had to begin. Some of this would inevitably be long term, and the giant cranes that now sweep across the city are symbols of the ongoing reconstruction. Other answers had to be more immediate. Where would the city’s residents and future visitors shop, dine and do their banking when retail space had been all but eliminated? The response was a quickly constructed precinct called Re:START, where scores of old shipping containers have been refurbished, brightly repainted and stacked on top of one another to make a chic shopping district. Where would the cathedral’s displaced congregation worship? The solution, devised by prize-winning Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, is the magnificent transitional Cardboard Cathedral, erected on the edge of the most damaged part of the city. It has not all been easy, of course but the reconstruction of Christchurch is a compelling case of how and why creativity, critical thinking, collaborative actions and problem solving matter. In today’s world these are the ways we devise ingenious solutions to overwhelming social problems.
In reading Andy’s post, I was immediately reminded of the importance of educating our youth in such a way that they can be the collaborative, problem solvers, capable of creative and critical thinking, as these are the attributes that the world needs especially when responding to crises such as the one in Christchurch five years ago. This is why our ACST learner qualities are so important! This is vastly different from the style of education I received as a student myself. All those years ago, knowing and remembering were valued. You were deemed to be a good student if you could follow instructions and remember all that your teachers told you. This is so different to what we value and celebrate here at ACST. We want our students to “question, connect, innovate, take risks, persevere, collaborate, reflect and wonder”. These qualities were chosen in 2013 and over the past three schools years we have worked hard to ensure that they actually do mean something to every ACST student.
Three years ago, we conducted a mini-research project here at ACST. We asked 60 randomly chosen students from across all of the grades what they believe good learners do to become good learners. The results were very interesting: firstly, most of the students regardless of age struggled to talk about learning as they lacked the vocabulary to do so; secondly many of our students confused good earning with being a well-behaved student. While we want our students to be well behaved, we don’t want them to think that for example “walking in a straight line’ or “doing their homework” is what it takes to be a good learner. The interviews were all videoed and then shared with the faculty of the time. The actions taken following this action-research were the establishment of the ACST Learner Qualities and the eventual implementation of them into all aspects of our school programs.
This year, in 2016, it was time to re-do our mini-research again. This time 50 randomly chosen students were interviewed by a group of teachers, using the same questions as those asked in 2013. A sample of the interviews was shared with the faculty who then had time to reflect upon “what does this tell us about what we have been doing?” and “what does it tell us about the future?” The good news is that most of our sampled students actually used the ACST learner quality words to talk about what good learners do. Asking questions, taking risks, persevering and having grit were by far the most popular responses. Some even talked about the ability to collaborate and reflect upon what you know and where you are going next, as important parts of their learning processes. The ACST students of today are a lot more metacognitive than those that we interviewed in 2013 and this makes us really happy. They seem to understand that learning is a thinking process and that if you are not thinking, you are not really learning.
However, one of the interesting aspects of our action-research this time around was that only one student talked about learning as something that can happen outside of the school day. This implies that our students still see learning as very much a ‘school-orientated” activity. While this is fine, one of our aims would be for all of our students to view learning as something you do on the soccer field, in the playground, while travelling on a plane and while talking with their family. Learning as a life-long habit is what we are after. Parents can support this in the questions and conversations you have with your child/ren. Feel free to use our ACST language, for example: – great job persevering on that task, or what questions are you thinking about? In fact, there is a lot of research available today that says that when a parent reinforces the concept that all students can grow their own learning ability (i.e. their growth mindset) the child will flourish, rather than when just the grade or the achievement is rewarded.
I am so pleased to be working in a school where learning rather than merely passing through the system is valued and focused on. Here at ACST we will continue to make this our focus because “opening doors, minds and hearts” is all about the development of an adult that might one day go on to solve the problems of the world. As Andy Hargreaves states “Crises and social problems require many people to be creative, not just one or two. At this point in history, we need creativity, care and compassion on a scale that we have never witnessed before.” Let’s work together to ensure that ACST develops these types of people.
Reference: Blooming Teachers by Andy Hargreaves
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