From Arkansas to Auckland
Today, I had the privilege of visiting Kaurilands Primary School and Glen Eden Intermediate School in Auckland, New Zealand. The two schools are focused on student choice, inquiry, blended learning, metacognition, and student interest. The schools emphasize student interest and relevance over grades and content. Schools in the United States are striving to become more like schools in New Zealand, but they often struggle with 'tradition.'
How can schools in the United States support the whole child, focus on student interests, and transform teaching and learning? Many educators point to standards, high-stakes testing, state mandates, board policies, and tradition as a few of the barriers that make it challenging to design the type of learning space witnessed in Auckland, New Zealand. Collins and Porras (1994) wrote, no longer can effective leaders frame choices in dualistic either or frameworks; rather they must learn to embrace the and, considering both what needs to be done and how that choice can best be implemented.
3 Lessons Learned in Auckland, New Zealand
1. When you focus on Learning, then school staff must make decisions about teaching, assessment, learning space, feedback, graduate learner outcomes, learning pathways, and how students learn.
2. If your goal is to create lifelong learners, then your instructional strategies and assignments will change.
3. Some schools give lip service to metacognition, self-directed learning, differentiation, and blended learning. When you truly commit to providing students with choice, voice, and time to reflect on their learning, you will transform schooling and the student experience.
The students we met in New Zealand were typical kids. They carried backpacks with Star Wars scenes, Disney characters, and even the Chicago Cubs logo. They shared how much they enjoyed recess and time to play with friends. The students entered school with curiousity, dreams, imagination, and a sense of wonder. Students in U.S. Schools are no different. The biggest difference observed was in the beliefs about schooling and how to develop lifelong learners. The educators we met provided students with a different experience than most U.S. schools provide. In other words, the only schooling these students ever knew was personalized learning, inquiry, metacognition, goal setting, and learning pathways. If students in Auckland, New Zealand can learn this way, then a nine year old in Arkansas could learn this way.
About the Author
Dr. Steven Weber is the Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning with Fayetteville Public Schools (Arkansas). He is participating in "A Learning Journey: Global Perspectives to Ignite Innovation in Education" with two principals and two teacher leaders from Fayetteville Public Schools, along with other educators from Northwest Arkansas. The trip is sponsored by the Walton Family Foundation and the Office of Innovation in Education.
This is a study tour of New Zealand's educational system and selected innovative schools. Efforts will then turn to transforming ideas learned during the study tour into action. The group is focused on learning how to create the conditions to generate, enhance, and scale dynamic innovative approaches to education.