Doing it for ourselves

“It’s been bandied about for a couple of years now that we’re teaching children for jobs that haven’t yet been invented,” says Sharon Jane. “You hear people say ‘so what…

doingit“It’s been bandied about for a couple of years now that we’re teaching children for jobs that haven’t yet been invented,” says Sharon Jane. “You hear people say ‘so what do we teach?’ Then I heard Professor Yong Zhao speak at Annual Meeting. He said sometimes we get stuck in our box. That we need to step away from the box. He said we can’t teach for jobs that don’t exist but we can teach the skills that will be needed – critical thinking, problem-solving and entrepreneurial skills.”

Jane has taught at Wairoa Primary, a decile one school in the Hawke’s Bay, since 2000 – the same school she attended as a child. It took a few months of reflection on Zhao’s comments before she realised, “I was the person who stands next to the box and clings on to it.” From that realisation, she decided she would teach critical thinking. “I did some reading around it and jumped online to find ideas.”

What’s the message?

“I realised I could implement some of these ideas in my classroom because they make sense.”
Every morning, in her class from 9 to 9.30 there is now a critical-thinking time. “It’s like any other skill. I need to teach my children the skill and then give them lots of practice so they can learn it and consolidate it.”

Activities include a game called, What’s the message? Where children look at a photograph and describe the message behind it, rather than simply describing the image. Another game is called Would you rather? As in”would you rather lose one arm or one leg?” or “Would you rather have a one-week holiday in New Zealand or overseas?”

Ideas and decisions are written on sticky notes and talked over with a buddy, then there is class discussion, then ideas are recorded on a chart.  “If a child learns to problem-solve, this will apply to all problems later on, whether they’re about work, or sports, or a relationship. It’s a life skill. It’s bigger than the curriculum. It’s like the swimming we teach – it’s so children can swim for the rest of their lives and be safe.”
Jane’s efforts did not go unnoticed, and an RT.Lit teacher insisted she make a submission to present her work at an NZEI conference of international speakers, called “Taking Stock Moving Forward”. Jane more or less scoffed at the idea.

Achievement happened

To keep the RT.Lit happy, however, Jane wrote a submission but emailled it off several hours after the 5pm deadline. The next morning, however, she received a phone call from the conference organiser, saying, “That’s exactly what we want.”

Jane’s school was also very supportive because “achievement was happening in the class”. The initial presentation in Wellington was so successful it led to several more in the lower North Island, at NZEI Area Council and branch meetings, and to schools. “The feedback was really amazing. People were really encouraging. They asked lots of questions and then they emailed with more questions.”

At the end of the year, Jane was also the awarded the Advanced Classroom Expert Teacher allowance partly because she could show the evaluations from teachers of her presentations. “It was a huge year but when I finished I felt valued as a teacher, as a practitioner, and as an NZEI member.”
She encourages others to do the same. “Being NZEI, we have a chance to share the stuff that’s really important.”

Jane’s ideas are backed by Auckland University academic Dr Vicki Carpenter, who’s a passionate advocate of teacher-led PD. In a chapter entitled, “Pedagogies of hope: dialogical professional development”, she says, “Collegiality and bottom-up dialogical PD can contribute opportunities to close cultural gaps, broaden and deepen cross-cultural understandings, enhance political understandings and empathies, improve teaching practice and significantly raise teachers hopes and expectations.”
Read “Pedagogies of hope: dialogical professional development” here.