It is the end of term 3 and the start of the school holidays in New Zealand. Many people outside of education would describe a teacher’s lived experience in the school holidays in “Mr Curly” “doing nothing and having a rest” terms
Dear Vasco, In response to your question “What is worth doing and what is worth having?” I would like to say simply this. It is worth doing nothing and having a rest; in spite of all the difficulty it may cause, you must rest Vasco – otherwise you will become RESTLESS! ...
p26 The Curly Pyjama Letters Michael Leunig
However, “school holiday” is increasingly something of a misnomer for New Zealand teachers. An expectation has developed in recent years that, rather than holding teacher only days during term time, teachers will spend time in the “school holidays” in some school wide professional learning experience.
The first Saturday of these “holidays” saw us working on a thinking curriculum with teachers in Kaukapakapa and on Monday and Tuesday we have been looking at inquiry learning with teachers on a 2 day retreat in the Wairarapa Valley. We have a “where to next meeting” with some teachers in Wellington and then at the end of the week we fly to Sydney to work with teachers attending Navcon2k7 . Some of our cluster teachers are coming with us to Sydney, most are staying in Auckland and attending ULearn07 in Auckland
When you add these expectations for professional learning to the marking, reporting and planning that goes on in the average teacher’s “school holiday” time there is a strong case for finding a new descriptor for those “the kids are not in the classroom” times.
This is because the teachers we meet are not “on holiday” in the “school holidays” – they are captured in verve filled thought experiments on how to “better” what they do when the kids are in the classrooms, planning how how to “better” their performance.
I suspect that the term “School holiday” helps undermine the idea that teaching is a profession – in that it gives everyone outside of schools the impression that the day job is a doddle, and encourages the few inside, who have not looked closely at the working lives of others, an undeserved sense of martyrdom when they attend formal learning during “the kids are not in the classroom” times. And I cannot help but think of these malcontents who have known only teaching as a day job, and resent any intrusion into their “the kids are not in the classroom” time, in terms of the "Henny" Youngman one liner "I was an atheist for awhile, but I gave it up. No holidays!"
As we travel around during “the kids are not in the classroom” time I have taken advantage of the opportunities to read, consuming both “chosen for the journey” books and “found” books. My favourite read on this trip is a “found book” - Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
Doing things “better” is what many New Zealand teachers are exploring in their “school holidays” so a book exploring how to “better” medical performance captured me immediately. I read the chapters “On Washing Hands”, “The Mop Up” and “Casualties of War”, before the taxi arrived to take us to WTG airport but these three chapters allowed me so many connections to stuff that challenges us in school that I have ordered a copy from Amazon so I can finish reading.
An idea in “Better” that I want to think about, in terms of what it can offer schools and our work in the ict_pd clusters, is Jerry Sternin’s sense of the "positive deviant".
In every community there are certain individuals (the "Positive Deviants") whose special practices/ strategies/ behaviors enable them to find better solutions to prevalent community problems than their neighbors who have access to the same resources. Positive deviance is a culturally appropriate development approach that is tailored to the specific community in which it is used.Positive Deviance
Gawande’s chapter “On Washing Hands” (describing the inability of medical institutions to persuade their staff to adopt simple measures to prevent hospital acquired infections) reminded me of the simple issues that we never seem to resolve in school. Issues like persuading students and teachers to take responsibility for their own rubbish, or encouraging school attendance in low decile communities, discouraging Maori and Pasifika boys from early school leaving without qualifications, or sustaining school wide integration of ICTs in student learning experiences in ict_pd clusters. Gawande describes how when all other approaches had failed, a “positive deviance” solution made real shifts in hand washing behaviours in a hospital.
The Projects page of the Positive Deviance site is packed with stories about interventions that make real change and sustainable difference in the world AND because positive deviance relies upon identifying people within a community to model the behaviours for change, we ensure these changes are doable, manageable and achievable and avoid charges that so commonly arise when ‘developed’ world’s institutions see themselves as catering to ‘underdeveloped’ people’s needs.
I am thinking that we may get more leverage is resolving the “unmovables” in education if instead of bringing in “experts”, “facilitators”, specially funded research programmes etc into our schools we started looking for and funding interventions that explore “positive deviance” within a community and within a school.