I meet all sorts of educators in the day job, but my opportunities to talk with them for any length of time are limited. I am a conversational transient. A conversation started with one educator in one place is abandoned only to be picked up and carried on with another educator in another place, before being abandoned, again and again and again. In place and in conversation I am always moving on; moving on to another place, to another school, to another classroom, to another school hall, to another staffroom to work with another syndicate, another department, another team, and another teacher.
I have learned to snatch opportunities to talk about the things that matter most wherever and whenever I can. As well as snatching torn corners and strips of conversation, I rip images of the ordinary from each place locating them carefully in the corners of memory. For the ordinary of doing school in one place is the extraordinary of the next.
The loneliness and lack of any long term conversation in my daily wandering is disguised for the most part by a nomadic lifestyle that allows me to embrace the unexpected. No two days are the same. The rhythm of a fresh start to each day is unlike the rhythm available to me when I was an educator pinned to a thick waxy layer of institutional belonging. And I toss between the two – do I want to allow myself to be etherised and pinned and play where the ongoing conversation is able to be explored in depth or do I want to keep on living as a conversational transient skittering across the wild uncertain surfaces of what matters most? It is that old “do I want to be a pet mouse or a wilding mouse?” thing all over again
Whilst downing a coffee and peeling open the itinerant’s lunchtime muesli bar earlier this year I was approached by three teachers who wanted to talk about issues I had raised in the opening keynote. One wanted to talk further about e-learning through juggling and PowerPoint , another wanting to talk about using SOLO Taxonomy in her post graduate research and a third wanting to talk about parallels between “positive deviance” and the Tongan Kainga as an approach to creating educational, social and economic success of Tongan's in New Zealand.
It was the positive deviance conversation that excited me most –
for I was able to re-start a conversation I first started in Artichoke in 2007.
since I read and blogged about Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance
by Atul Gawande
I have looked out for a conversation
about positive deviance – one that could be used to make a difference in
educational policy and programmes. I am
certain you can knock out an edu_ground hog day list, most of us can. Those issues/outcomes that despite numerous
initiatives/ projects/ contestable funding etc we consistently fail to change
in classrooms and schools. Indeed the enduring nature of things we never seem
to fix when “doing school” makes even the most enthusiast educator cynical in
time – or else sees them prone to “this too will pass thinking” behaviour like
becoming educational facilitators or consultants - or adopting other escapology
tactics like applying for study awards – anything that allows them to keep thinking
about school but at a safe distance from the doing of it. If you don't believe me check out the Twitter
stream balance of tweets from educators who have just made “a presentation” to
show someone else “how to do teaching” against those “who are doing the teaching”
and tweet about their classroom planning. I am always fearful that one day we
will run out of the people prepared to keep doing school and be left with those who want to tell us all how to do it.
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. The Positive Deviance Projects showed me that this approach can stretch much further than changing hand washing behaviours in hospitals.
We attack the “unmovables” in education by bringing in “experts”, “facilitators”, and specially funded research programmes etc into our schools –But in every community there are certain individuals (the "Positive Deviants") whose special practices/ strategies/ behaviours enable them to find better solutions to prevalent community problems than their neighbours 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.
By relying on 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. The results from the Positive Deviance Projects persuades me that we might be better off looking for and funding interventions that explore “positive deviance” within a community and within a school.
All of which was why I was so excited when Tofi’a followed up on our snatched lunchtime exchange by sending me a copy of a recent Masters Research Thesis from Massey University written by Sione Tu’itahi.
Langa Fonua: In Search of Success. How a Tongan Kainga Strived to be Socially and Economically Successful in New Zealand by Sione Tu’itahi is a description of intergenerational positive deviance and what I have long been looking for. You can get a copy from The Directorate Pasifika@Massey Office, Albany Campus, Auckland.
The thesis “Langa
Fonua” argues that “to find solutions to the low socio-economic status of
Tongans in New Zealand, research should focus on their demonstrated strengths and positive achievements,
rather than their deficits.” p82 Tu'itahi uses the
Tongan model of fonua – ongoing inter-connected relationship between people and
environment (reciprocity) as the framework for understanding the successful progress of the Tongan Tahi kainga over the last 30 years.
He reveals how migration from a small island in the Ha’apai group in the Kingdom of Tonga, to the main island Tongatapu to New Zealand. The United States and Australia was the result of a consistent vision and strategy, a model that each generation followed that focused on balancing material, intellectual and spiritual development and contributing to the wider community. The Tahi kainga worked and studied hard but critical was how the kainga defined “success” (ikuna) and how this became an influential narrative for the success of each generation that followed. Success was a holistic construct and nuanced around:
- Spiritual well
being. Mo’ui Lelei Fakalaumalie
- Intellectual well being. Mo’ui Lelei Faka’atamai
- Physical health and well being. Mo’ui Lelei Fakasino
- Collective kainga health and well being. Mo’ui lelei e Kainga
- Contribution to Society. Tokoni ki he fonua
Langa Fonua uses observation, interviews, focus groups and two traditional Tongan methods of constructing and sharing knowledge and social realities.
I was quite taken by these traditional methodologies and how well they expressed what was missing from the day job.
Potalanoa (talking into the night) refers to a form of conversation in which Tongan participants analyse and reflect deeply on a subject or range of topics and issues that leads to constructing of new ideas or deconstructing and rearranging of existing ones(Manu’atu, 2000) (Cited in Tu’itahi 2009 page 16)
Fakalotofale’ia (creating within the house) is the in-house meeting of the extended kainga to investigate perspectives, facts and Tongan socioeconomic realities, and to plan on how to apply knowledge skills and information for the benefit of the extended kainga. (Tu’itahi 2009 page 16)
Apart from discovering positive deviance research that could be useful when imagining how best to enhance academic outcomes for Tongan students, the thesis was a powerful reminder that as a conversational transient in the day job I need to make more time for potalanoa and fakalotofale’ia with Artichoke in the evenings.