Aotearoa Gazette: Another good news story
By Kelvin Smythe
Aotearoa Gazette: Another good news story
Using the key competencies in Sunnygully School has been a huge success says principal Marie Hill. She does admit to a slightly unfavourable response when, at their regular much-looked-forward-to Monday staff meeting, she announced to her teachers that she had volunteered the school to trial the new key competencies. Eventually, however, the teachers were encouraged to return to the meeting to participate in the discussion. It was, then, most unfortunate that a number of the teachers had to leave early, which led to some confusion especially since their departure was prolonged and noisy. I have since reorganised the staffroom, said Marie, and lead meetings from the other end of the room so in the case of simultaneous home emergencies occurring again, teachers can leave without the unavoidable hullabaloo resulting from the previous seating arrangement.
Since the meeting, the view has firmed that there was sufficient support for the trial to proceed. Marie said she was able to confirm this degree of support by consulting with the caretaker who had heard every word while tending the dahlias a hundred metres away. Marie said she rang the ministry next day to relay the good news. The promise of three teaching-free, professional-development days staying at the Chateau has only served to increase teacher interest in the project. Indeed, the group of teachers initially opposed had now formed themselves into a group that sat at the far end of the staffroom for their cup of tea where they discussed the competencies with considerable animation. The rest of the staff, said Marie, namely her and the d-p, have not been privy to the nature of the discussion, but the amount of laughter augured well. Marie said she was sympathetic to the initial concerns of the teachers because the ideas listed in the competencies were not ones teachers could be expected to be acquainted with. Such alien ideas as 'managing self', 'relating to others', 'participating and contributing', and 'thinking' were challenges enough without 'language, symbols and texts', an apparently new twist on reading and maths, being thrown into the mix.
The teachers themselves, said Marie, came up with the idea of wearing T-shirts displaying the competencies. To encourage their initiative, I allowed the teachers to decide which competency the children would wear. To be honest, said Marie, they were a bit unlucky with their allocations. However, 'Self-Motivation' seemed to wear his T-shirt with considerable pride when brought into school by the local constable for stuffing his pockets at the local Two Dollar Shop. Anyway, it meant he had his first day at school in three weeks. And the teachers showed their resilience by not being at all put out when 'Relating to Others' was dragged into my office following another punch-up with 'Interacting Effectively'.
I was particularly pleased, said Marie, with the teachers' response when I read a prepared statement from the ministry. 'The key competencies', stated the document, 'was not merely a list of key competencies, it was a way of viewing the world, of being in the world, not just of the world. It was more than merely a state of mind, it was a state of being.' This brought a 'halleluiah' from a teacher and a spontaneous burst of clapping.
The next day this teacher said he'd had an epiphany on the way to the dairy about how to include some of the competencies in the curriculum. We do not want the competencies to be pedagogical waifs, he said, they should be adopted into the programme. His enthusiasm was such, said Marie, that I asked him to lead the Monday staff meeting. The insight he delivered, and one we willingly share with other schools, is that language competency should be taught in the context of reading and writing, and mathematical competency in the context of mathematics, and so on. The teachers were clearly impressed with this, and immediately suggested incorporating it into school policy.
But what to do with 'managing self', 'relating to others', 'participating and contributing', and the big one, 'thinking'. The teachers, said Marie, all agreed that these were tough ones. I asked, how about incorporating those into our everyday programmes as well? The near festive atmosphere changed to bewilderment, she said. Never thought of that; can't remember anything on that at college; is there any literature on the matter? Wouldn't it interfere with learning? What has thinking to do with education? The questions and doubts came thick and fast. We'll leave that in the too hard basket for the moment, I suggested.
The next day, said Marie, I rang the ministry for guidance. They assured me that all these competencies were indeed part of learning and could, with a little ingenuity, be incorporated in the regular curriculum. What's more, the ministry analyst said, the children, after they have practised a competency should undertake meta-thinking. To my enquiry she said meta-thinking was when a child, having carried out a competency like thinking creatively, is asked to explain how that strategy helped the process. When I relayed this information to the staff at their next Monday staff meeting, the response was excellent. One teacher summed up the positive response. Yes, of course, said the teacher, such is the tranquil nature of classrooms, and the attentiveness of present-day children, they will quickly become engrossed in discussing how using their critical processes helped them to think about thinking. This brought much clapping and laughing, which was particularly heartening because the greatest applause came from the one or two teachers I suspected of still having residual reservations about the competencies.
That, however, was the high point of the meeting, said Marie. But it was no fault of the teachers, or a reflection of their view of the educational worth of the competencies, that things took a turn for the worse. I mentioned the idea of taking photographs of the children for concrete evidence of their mastery of a competency, for instance, showing a child with a beatific expression at a moment of creativity; or tracking children with a ticks and crosses chart when they, for instance, interact effectively with a diverse range of people. Quite co-incidentally there was suddenly a flurry of text messages signalling a series of home emergencies. I am pleased to report, said Marie, that the new seating arrangement worked a treat - the teachers exited in a flash.
As I said to the d-p when left on our own, it is about time we got in touch with the Aotearoa Gazette, they love good news stories like this.