We have a wicked problem in Aotearoa education. Are CoLs the answer?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Communities of Learning (CoLs) are our opportunity to collaborate across schools to make a difference for learners.

We have a wicked problem in Aotearoa education. Are Communities of Learning the answer? Amy Chakif

According to the Austin Centre for Design (AC4D) a “wicked problem is a social or cultural problem that is difficult or impossible to solve for as many as four reasons: incomplete or contradictory knowledge, the number of people and opinions involved, the large economic burden, and the interconnected nature of these problems with other problems. Poverty is linked with education, nutrition with poverty, the economy with nutrition, and so on. These problems are typically offloaded to policy makers, or are written off as being too cumbersome to handle en masse.”

It is true that in Aotearoa we have a high quality education system driven by the partnership of two of the most student centred innovative curriculum documents in the world. We have thousands of teachers who work days, nights and weekends to make learning personalised and meaningful for their students. You just have to follow the NZ Teachers (Primary) Facebook group to see more than 20000 teachers questioning, posting, sharing at all hours of the day and night to provide the best quality education they can for the children in their classes. The dedication of teachers in New Zealand is demonstrably not a problem.

However it is also true that we have some terrible statistics around what is popularly referred to as the ‘long tail of underachievement in New Zealand education’. While the statistics for achievement may be plotted out on a graph to look like a tail, in reality we are talking about individual children, their lives, their families and communities who are devastated by this. This is a wicked problem.

Many in education like Wayne Bainbridge argue that issues of socio economic status, income and poverty need to be addressed to make a meaningful difference for failing learners. Others like John Hattie argue that we need to do more of what we know measurably works in the classroom and eliminate the stuff that we know doesn’t work. Russell Bishop argues that how we do things in schools and in classrooms and how we build relationships for learning are what really matters for Māori learners. And what works for Māori will work for everyone however the opposite is not true. What works for the majority does not work for Māori.

One thing I imagine all the aforementioned will agree on is the power and importance of collaborative practices in tackling their respective areas of focus on the wicked problem. According to the Austen Centre for Design wicked problems – can't be "fixed." They are complex beyond a solution but designers can play a central role in mitigating the negative consequences of wicked problems. “...this mitigation is not an easy, quick, or solitary exercise. While traditional circles of entrepreneurship focus on speed and agility, designing for impact is about staying the course through methodical, rigorous iteration...This demands interdisciplinary collaboration, and most importantly, perseverance.”

Communities of Learning (CoLs) are our opportunity to collaborate across schools to make a difference for learners by building collective teacher efficacy. Interschool collaboration is a first step towards interdisciplinary or cross-sector collaboration. The first group of CoLs have begun and for principals working in these communities, building functional collaborative relationships with other leaders along with working out what and how they will share data across schools to measure student learning and wellbeing will be central to the early negotiation process. There is real vision and courage on the part of the school communities and leaders who have decided to embark on this process. This is also the result of successful negotiation between government, ministry, unions and others in the education sector to bring us this truly innovative opportunity.

Building functional collaborative relationships between leaders will be no easy feat even if the group is made up from ‘a coalition of the willing’. The stages of forming storming norming and performing will need to be traversed and innovative solutions for gathering and responding to data both quantitative and qualitative will need to be sought. This will take a new breed of leader with transformational leadership. These are exciting times in education in Aotearoa and I’m looking forward to seeing this demonstrably and measurably working to improve the educational and whole person success for every student.

Photo from: https://static.independent.co.uk/s3fs-public/thumbnails/image/2015/08/20...