Saturday, March 4, 2017

Needs-Finding Mindsets

This week, through the NZ Primary Teachers' Facebook group I was reminded of my teaching days in "Open Plan". It was the 80's and I was a young 2nd year teacher 'placed' in an Open Plan School. It was in a new subdivision in a lower socio-economic area of Christchurch. And it was the hardest teaching of my career.

No-one had a clue what you were supposed to do in a school that had 'spaces' instead of classrooms and 'spaces' without walls. And so in the absence of any professional development or guidance we all continued to teach as though we were in single cell classrooms. I still feel pity for the colleagues who got to teach alongside me as I distracted their classes with my drama, guitar playing, all singing, energy boosting curriculum delivery!

As it became obvious that in most places 'Open Plan' wasn't working, school communities began to 'fill' in the walls between the spaces. As I reflect on this and how we are now investing millions in once again creating open learning spaces all I can see is missed opportunities and wasted resources. In the 80s it wasn't the walls that were missing in the teaching spaces, it was the knowledge, professional learning and leadership required to teach in this new and IMHO a much more effective way. People jumped to SOLVE the problem (the classroom is missing its walls) instead of discovering the NEED (teachers don't know how to teach in collaborative spaces) and filling that.

There is a proverb, attributed to African culture, that states: "It takes a village to raise a child" and I whole-heartedly agree, The education of our future generation is too important to be just left to educators (don't hate me for saying this I am still a registered teacher and have worked in education all my life!). Educating the rising generation is the responsibility of everyone and what education needs is for those not at the 'chalkface' to come alongside with a needs-finding mindset.

A needs-finding mindset doesn't approach with a pre-prepared solution. A needs-finding mindset listens empathetically to those they wish to help and then in partnership designs solutions that will bring everyone closer to their preferred future.

Needs-finding mindsets are not just required by those working on the edges of education. They must also sit with those working in education. I think back to my time in schools and yes we did listen to student voice, but in my experience once we had listened to students it was the adults who went away and came up with the solutions which were then 'delivered' to the students. I know I never checked back with students about whether or not the 'solution' I had come up with actually meet their need. And I wonder what might have happened if after designing an intervention we had prototyped it with students for their feedback, tested it with a small group, and only scaled it if it worked. I'm guessing that if we had we would have come up with solutions that were more likely to meet students needs.

Education is a very complex activity and there are no easy fixes or silver bullets. Education is a human-centred activity and in my experience most successful when focussed on meeting needs rather than the delivery of solutions.

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