Line in the Sand – it starts with the purpose

The current National Standards debate is highlighting a very important question – What’s the purpose of education? Every school, teacher, principal and parent will have an answer for this and we see these ideas being played out in the decisions that teachers, Principals and schools are making every day. Here are three main themes I think you might encounter.

School is out

Schools exist to…
1. – assist a student to reach their academic potential,
2. – prepare and produce economic workers for our economic well being,
3. – create well rounded citizens who effectively contribute to society.
If you keep these three goals in mind when interacting with people day to day you will quickly hear the goal they are most striving to meet.
When you hear a Principal talking about their school having student achievement as it’s core function – then you are listening to someone who believes in the first idea. If a government puts policy in place to create standardised outcomes for students then it’s obvious that the second idea is in mind. And when a school provides extra curricula activities and instills a school wide values programme then the third has become part of it’s ethos.
What I’d suggest is occurring throughout the country is a clear demarcation of principals and boards, governments and communities around the aims of education; a line in the sand is being drawn. And there is one obvious litmus test of this line – the actions being taken in the shadow of National Standards, in New Zealand, and national testing worldwide. In other words, how a Principal responds to the National Standards debate is a reflection on what they believe the purpose of our education system is. The decisions they make on time spent in class, how they structure their classrooms, the PD they arrange for their staff and even the physical spaces they create for their learners.
A Line in the Sand
What I’m predicting will happen is that we will see this ‘line in the sand’, between those schools who see it’s purpose being in academic achievement and those who seek a holistic approach to student growth as well rounded people, become more and more vivid and marked. There is little debate around the fact that schools must adapt and reform to meet the demands of an ever changing world ( just google, ’21st Century learning’) but what IS being debated is how.
Whether schools continue to focus on the 3 Rs, whether they travel on a journey of personalised learning and student empowerment, and whether they deconstruct the traditional teaching and learning model to one that suits their modern learning community. All of these decisions will begin to create schools who look VASTLY different from each other – ones who are completely reformed and those who have stayed the same. These are interesting days and the results of these lines will, I’d suggest, will be very different types of schools across the educational landscape.
So, if I play this prediction out and we do have very different types of schools, it could lead to;
– Parents having a wide range of options about the kind of school they want their children to belong
– Teachers becoming very selective and purposeful about teaching at schools that match their educational philosophies
– Principals forming informal ‘clusters’ of colleagues that will collaborate together with others of like minds – even more so than we see today.
New Classrooms at BES
(Side note – From someone who is relatively young and new to this career… I can see this beginning to happen. And I’m VERY excited!)

7 thoughts on “Line in the Sand – it starts with the purpose

  1. Great post.

    There's a brilliant RSA lecture by Daniel Pink in which he says that successful organisation are driven by 3 things one of which is purpose. The other two are mastery and autonomy.

    Given your point about teachers being more selective about schools has me thinking more about where I would like to work next year. Of course being a BT means I can't be overly selective but I think being in an environment that doesn't value elearning wouldn't lead to a happy relationship for me or the school.


  2. Great post, Mark. There has always been this range of school function/belief structure, even back in days that Bruce, Kelvin and others refer to in their postings. Elwyn Richardson was unique in his times. There always will be this range in the future, and this is apparent as we look at how schools chose to interpret the NZC.

    The big, and very serious issue, is the one of compulsion, to follow the academic approach only. It is the freedom for communities, principals and schools to decide what best fits, that we must fight for with everything we have got. It was this freedom, to allow schools to reflect community desires, that was part of the justification for setting up the BOT system in 1990.

    We're now looking at the paradox of the more libertarian side of politics instituting state control of schools and learning, which contradicts many other aspects of their ideology. Go figure.


  3. Thanks for the comment, Alan. Do you think that the ability for schools to blaze their own path is something that will be reduced over time? As a new Govt pushes it's agenda in a different direction (as this one is and could say they have a democratic mandate to do so) from the last we're starting to see the fruit of that agenda. One that's a result of an economic motivation for education.

    What I'm excited about is also the thing I'm nervous about. I'd expect to see the line in the sand being driven into a chasm by forces of tech integration, teacher-less control and student empowerment and a push away from content based instruction and towards thinking and creative skills.

    Schools are going to become more and more different – beyond subtle pedagogy and practice. One will look VASTLY different from another.

    I also agree with the paradox – a hands-off approach to market forces balanced by 'strangulation' of our schools (and I use that term on purpose!)… and that last one too. haha


  4. I'm not surprised about you being choosey, Stephanie. I've made some great shifts between schools and feel VERY grateful that I'm in a school with a Principal that's on the same page. Very important.

    Love your blog, BTW. You won't regret being a part of the online dialogue, trust me.


  5. Mark thanks so much.

    I love being part of the online dialogue I just need to find a place where I can do so as part of my teaching so my students can be part of the online dialogue too.



  6. Great post Mark and a lot of food for thought. It's a great question to pose to anyone – What's the purpose of education? schooling? I believe we need to focus more on the Key Competencies and development of SKILL, as these can then be transferred across domains and disciplines. A good read.


  7. I really like what you are saying Mark. Your point about teachers picking schools that suit their ideologies is an interesting one. Too often, “tenure” seems to get in the way of changes in schools. Teachers often outstay their welcome, or quietly sabotage change efforts, to protect their own interests. The losers in this are children. I hope that as pathways in education become clearer that the newer generation of teachers and leaders will be able to blow the cobwebs out.


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