Saturday, December 5, 2015

Are National Standards An Excuse?

How often have you heard an educator say 'If only I didn't have to teach the standards" (insert assessment or standardised tool of choice).  Often, it is in the context of ruining creativity or killing off 'fun' in the classroom.  

I am going to be controversial - so here is your chance to stop reading.  Serious warning here, stop reading if your sensibilities are easily offended, especially if you are a teacher who has uttered statements similar, or you are a leader who only leads to the 'prescribed'.   You will not like it.  

Last chance - leave the page now.  

I call rubbish on the statement "If only I didn't have to..." and I call it what it is, an excuse.  

Yes, you read that right, I think it is an excuse. 

One of the definitions of 'excuse' is to release someone from a duty or requirement.  I can only really discuss this from the Kiwi perspective, but here in New Zealand, there is a requirement (in law) that every child is assessed against national standards.  The National Administration Guidelines (in particular Guideline 1) specify what the board and principal at each school is required to do.  Nowhere does it specify how you do that and nowhere does it suggest that a school or teacher suck the fun and creativity out of learning.  

As self managing schools with a world class national curriculum, we are merely limited by our imagination in terms of how we implement it.  Yes, we have a few requirements, but there is nothing in the legislation that tells us how we implement those requirements.  

It is ironic that we would use the National Standards (NS) as an excuse to not construct fabulous learning opportunities in our classrooms and schools.    We all know that an engaged student is one that will thrive and this in turn means we meet the NS.  The most important document at our disposal is the NZC (New Zealand Curriculum), in particular the front end of the curriculum, with the Vision, Values, Principles and Competencies.  What a rich source of inspiration lies within those pages! 

If you are one of those leaders that does not let their teachers explore, question, wonder and innovate using the front end of the curriculum because you are worried they are not teaching enough 'literacy and numeracy' then I urge you to think again.  Perhaps you are worried all this fun and creativity is impeding on students leaning the 'standards'?  Perhaps you have forgotten what the purpose of education is and what motivates and engages students?  Perhaps you have forgotten that the more engaged your students are the more likely the level of achievement will rise.   By all means ensure your staff understand data, pedagogy and how to accelerate, but allow them to do so creatively and with their own style.  This is not about the prescription but the delivery of the prescription, and you as the leader are the most influential in terms of allowing your team the freedom of how they administer it.   Give them the freedom to innovate and trust them - your reward will be increased success and engagement. 

If you are a teacher who has used the above excuse, then ask yourself this - why should a child be in your room?  What do you do that inspires and encourages any student to want to skip into your class each and every day, and most importantly, is that what you would want for your child?  The beauty of literacy and numeracy is that it can be taught by practically any medium you can conjure up.  The ability to be creative in your approach is simply limited by your own insecurities.  Examine what those are and use a critical lens to do so.  In my many years in education I have found most teachers to be control freaks (yes you are, you just think you are not) and therein lies the difficulty for some - letting go of control and handing it back to the students can be scary.  Just remember this - what does it feel like when your leader gives you freedom to choose how you teach, and trusts you to do it?  Is this not the same for students?  Give it a go - if you are unsure there are MANY places to learn how to jazz up your delivery and personalise the teaching - just google it! 

If you are a teacher in a school that doesn't have options for you to explore modern pathways, or you feel you don't have the freedom to innovate - ask.  Find out what sits behind that, and if you can, raise a respectful challenge by asking why.  If it is impossible, and your heart lies elsewhere, find the place where you can fly.  

So dear colleagues, don't use the standards as an excuse to not teach the way you know is right.  It is merely a tool.  Yes, it has requirements, but how you get there is not prescribed.  You have the flexibility and the mandate with our NZC to think outside the box.  Don't waste that opportunity - use it.  


  1. Good stuff. Lillian Katz has a lot to say on the project approach and the pursuit of intellectual goals over academic ones. It's that kind of thinking - child-initiated and directed learning where the 3R's sneak in almost without the child noticing (and getting bored by them) that is needed in our classrooms.


    1. It is important to retain some perspective - we can bemoan things like the standards or we can accept they are here and use them to our advantage (or work around them). Irrespective of what country you are from, it is the way we do things that is important. You can use it as an excuse not to do something or you can find a way to do what you know is right. It might be harder but it will most definitely be worth it.

    2. hmmm. How about both? Complain and a work-around? I don't like the idea of rolling over to ideology without a fight.

  2. Here here ... love your thinking. I would like to think the people in our school can think big and fly high!

  3. Replies
    1. Thanks Jeannette - I know you already provide your students with great learning opportunities!

  4. Replies
    1. Thank you Vicki - sometimes the best way forward is to move!

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