A framework for thinking schools

Meeta Mohanty

Of late, the outsourcing of work to professionals and organisations to deal with day to day issues in schools has become a fad. As a result of the cut-throat competition amongst solution providers each agency wants to surpass the others by providing more solutions to the school system to ease the teaching-learning process. While these agencies certainly help facilitate change in the way a school functions, sustaining this change is entirely left to the school and how many schools manage it is a question.

The problem
The problem, essentially, is to sustain change in schools and to optimise learning in classrooms. Is it possible to sustain change, acknowledging the fact that outsourced professional assistance is an expensive solution and is accessible for a limited period only?

Some thoughts
A system that recognises the need for some external help is a system that learns and will grow. In Peter Senge’s (An American scientist and author of the book ‘The Fifth Discipline’) terms this system has analysed its current reality, its present situation, the problem it faces and is ready to seek help. In other words this system has self-knowledge and shows readiness for change.

Once a school has acknowledged its problems and is ready for help the second step is to look for help. Should the school outsource professionals or is there a scope of resolving the crisis from within? What shall affect a long lasting change? How should one move forward?

journal-writing

The visible trend
Increasingly, many schools are seeking professionals for the following needs:

  • Day to day lesson planning
    Most schools are now seeking professional help for day to day lesson plans to effectively transact their course books. When a school management requests external help for lesson planning it sends a message across that it does not repose faith in its own teachers but trusts professionals who lie outside the school system to prescribe the methodology for teaching. And more often than not these professionals providing solutions to teaching are not practicing teachers.

    If a school does need external help then why not organize regular workshops on how to plan lessons, have discussions on the school and class setting, the effective use of available resources in optimising learning in classrooms? What I am articulating for is a common platform; time for teachers to discuss key issues that are peculiar to each of their classes and finding solutions as a group. Rather than looking at class 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D as separate groups led by different section educators, it is possible to treat class 2 as one cohort group and then identify different kinds of learning preferences of children. Collective lesson planning will surely help in minimising problems, finding solutions, collating resources and upgrading one’s knowledge.

  • Making teaching-learning innovative
    Many schools are seeking professional assistance in acquainting teachers with ideas to make the teaching process engaging. Ideas are shared based on some philosophical or pedagogical theory; however such a system does not encourage teachers to develop activities on their own. It is important that teachers develop the capacity to create and design activities on their own. This can only happen when there is a culture of sustained reading and sharing. Expectations from teachers will only materialise when there are systemic changes as well.

    Time needs to be set aside on an ongoing basis for reading research, interpreting new syllabi document and engaging in a dialogue. Only this can push thought processes further and develop confidence to ideate and innovate. There needs to be an ethos where teachers can make errors and learn from their new experiments. It is imperative to move from being safe following the tried and tested chalk and talk method to becoming a risk-taker, plan based on one’s gut feelings, one’s interpretation of theories. There is risk in innovating, but yes there is also a sense of accomplishment.

    Isn’t this something we also expect of our students? Further as a practice, reflective journal writing can be introduced where teachers can pen down their daily reflections of their classes. This is important as these journals can be a source of assessing one’s new methodologies, and also can offer useful insights about learning and our learners. It is however important that these journals are not regulated and checked by the management as this would alter the entire dynamics and richness of writing, as somehow our schools are yet to function as a whole.

  • Drafting assessments
    Some schools demand professional help in setting question papers – unit and term papers included. Such a demand leaves teachers with no autonomy to draft need -based assessments. Further, all pedagogical deliberations on assessments to be formative, beyond paper and pencil tests seem to be only deliberations with no practical grounding in face of such demand and solutions. If we do seek professional help, instead of asking them to set question papers, let’s ask for how to assess, what goes behind setting a good and valid assessment, how can children be assessed in a formative manner, how to design rubrics that are valid and reliable? Such demand from schools will also push solution providers to move beyond the spoonfeeding mode to more thinking and challenging levels. This will set a premise for a thinking school, where all stakeholders are engaged in thinking – leaders, teachers and children. This is what I call HOTS applied to a school. Higher Order Thinking Skills – is a framework not only for students but also true for a thinking school – a learning organisation.

The basic idea is to push the needs of the school management and solutions provided by organisations to a level where the fundamental paradigm breaks away from giving solutions to thinking together and empowerment at all levels. From questions that move from ‘what’ to ‘hows’ and ‘whys’at all levels. Such an empowerment shall definitely be a breeding ground for a thinking classroom.

The author works with the Oxford University Press, New Delhi. She can be reached at meetaprabir@gmail.com.