Teaching is dead in its current format. It’s not doable. It requires people who can juggle so many balls in the air that most of them fall to the ground. It’s even too hard to focus on a few critical balls. So why do we persist with this used future? What’s the story of educational inertia? Why aren’t teachers falling in love with teaching? Are learners really at the centre?
Yesterday I had the privilege of working with the leadership teams of four amazing schools (three primary and one special school) and over the course of the morning we built on their expertise in leadership, which is already considerable.
As the conversations developed we recorded layers of ideas to form a futures triangle. It seems appropriate to share this since in Aotearoa New Zealand all our secondary teachers are on strike for better pay and conditions. But better pay and conditions aren’t the real issue. I’d like to share the triangle with you to provide a glimpse into the wider problem.
The Push of the Present
We started with a fun competition focused on jotting down all the initiatives, curriculum changes, governance reviews and legislation connected with their day to day work. You can see the brainstorm on the bottom left hand corner of the image below. It shows so many balls in the air that it’s impossible to keep up. We talked about the interconnectedness of some of the initiatives but even so you’d give yourself a repetitive strain injury if you tried to juggle even half these balls!
We didn’t explore all the pushes of the present. We could have added considerably to the balls if we had explored technological, social, environmental, economic and political changes. However, the conversation was cathartic and led to some excellent debriefs about what was important to create the biggest positive impact on learners.
The Weights of the Past
We didn’t spend time on the weights of the past, but acknowledged the importance of Te Tiriti ō Waitangi in all that we do, the future focused nature of NZ Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa and the impact of Tomorrow’s Schools legislation 1989. It is important to realise that weights are not negative (although they can be!) but they do underpin and influence the work of today. Also note that throughout the diagram school context features as a key element. The history, the place, the connections with people and the community are critically important. They also add complexity that is unique to each school.
The Pull of the Future
Again, this wasn’t our main focus for this particular workshop but we did take a glimpse into the world of 2043 and what we might see or hope for. We considered the changes in our population, the role of climate change and technology.
The Space of Hope
I have added a new dimension to the Futures Triangle, which I have labelled the Space of Hope. This was an important focus of the conversation as we explored the things we could change or influence. Given the overwhelm within the sector it was important for leaders to consider their role in designing the balls to be focused on. You will see that there is a lot that can be influenced. This led to a great discussion about the world of possibilities and the practical actions that leaders could be, and are, taking. This space of hope draws on the circle of influence work below. One of the reasons I like this as an addition to the Futures Wheel is that it provides a wide view of the system and how the parts influence and interact with each other. I could talk all day about that!
While the main focus was to help these leaders consider their spaces of hope I look at the triangle and see that that hope is being dragged down, in fact squashed, by the push of the present. It means that the focus is generally on ‘no change’ (ie surviving the barrage of balls) or ‘minor change’ (rearranging the balls you juggle). The pull towards the future is overwhelmed so there is little room for adaptive change (changing the balls for pins), let alone transformational change (doing away with the juggler). And so we continue to work in a used future full of disheartened jugglers and leaders who are ringmasters of the old style circus.
The pull towards the future is overwhelmed so there is little room for adaptive change (changing the balls for pins), let alone transformational change (doing away with the juggler). And so we continue to work in a used future full of disheartened jugglers and leaders who are ringmasters of the old style circus.
Teaching is dead – one possibility. There are many other possible futures that can be explored and many positive examples in practice. Yet the signals below are not so positive:
- it is increasingly hard to recruit teachers
- less people want to be principals or school leaders
- teachers are leaving the profession
- wellbeing, life balance and feeling valued are major issues
- schools are overwhelmed with change that comes from siloes of government
- leadership growth is poorly managed as a system
- learners needs are increasingly diverse creating a huge weight for schools
- community expectations and increasing polarisation add to the load
There are some amazing educators in our schools so this isn’t knocking the profession and I do want to acknowledge the leaders that I have the privilege of working with – they are stunning. But there are huge pressures on schools and the people within them. The siloed nature of government means that bureaucrats create change without talking to each other or considering the whole system. When new governments are elected the pendulum swings. Leading up to elections we have political soundbites explaining how education will be fixed. A back to basics swing when the world is changing so rapidly? We agree that our young people are not learning and thriving as we want them to. Thinking that a technical response will ‘fix it’ is naive and unintelligent. Education is complex. Schools are complex. We can’t keep adding to the workload, tinkering with approaches or throwing more balls into the mix.
It’s time for politicians in Aotearoa New Zealand to create a bipartisan agreement about the purpose of education and what principles will lead us forward. Without this the space of hope will be swamped and you won’t find great teachers or school leaders wanting to stay in the profession. Then technology really will be the way that education is transformed. One of many possible futures but is it one we prefer?