Re-imagine secondary schooling while still in the system. What if…?

Photo by Duncan Rawlinson on Flickr

So if we are dissatisfied with the secondary school system in Victoria, the VCE, and we are teachers of sorts in a government school, are we trapped in the push through the congested pipe to the endpoint, the VCE, especially at my school, which is even more focused as a 9-12 school, and with a reputation of ‘getting’ the students the highest possible ATARs – which are the holy grail because (and now I’m a slave to sarcasm) the all-important goal in your life as a secondary student who wants a good career, a good life, is the final placement within the VCE system. And after that it’s smooth sailing, everything has been determined, you’re either a winner or a loser, and you’d better suck it up.

So if we are dissatisfied as teachers, as parents maybe, then are we trapped in a system that leaves us no choice? Bearing in mind that I’m now talking about my own school and its high-ATAR reputation…Do we have no choice at all? We are doomed to cram kids’ craniums with all the information they need, the right way to write, while they focus on the right way to take the UMAT, etc.?

What is the worst that could happen if we started to think for ourselves about what was important and essential to learning? What if we questioned the relevance of subject content to life? What if we decided to forgo some of the content in favour of skills? What if we realised that practising making mistakes was even more important than achieving high marks, that we would be doing our students a favour if we didn’t give them all the answers?

Would the sky fall?

[16:25] fallen

Photo by Frank on Flickr

Would the students fall behind? Would they score lower on the ATAR scale? Would it matter?

What if we really believed we had a choice. No, stop – really, really believed? What if the leadership team really believed and supported changes that would be more important to our students’ overall success in life after school, and instead of reviewing how well our students did retrospectively on the first day back of the new year, they chose to promote a different agenda? Would the reputation of that school plummet as the students’ marks plummeted?

Or would the school develop, over time, a new reputation, as a place of learning, of respect for thinkers and researchers, of a love for discourse, of a desire for dialogue across subject areas, of creativity, innovation and making. What if the spirit of student-led interest groups became that of the academic life of students? What if students could decide which aspect of set topics they wanted to do, and had choices about how to do it, with a maker bank of contemporary options to explore and play around with?

What if the principal decided that teachers were over-worked and exhausted, with no time to nurture themselves, cynical about change because they had no voice, disappointed about superficial requests for the use of technology without the time to play together and really understand its potential?

What if the principal changed the relentless cycle of weeks, terms, semesters, and created spaces for relaxation, communication, activity and creativity. What if teachers remembered their love of their subjects, and rediscovered their passions in other areas? And what if the whole school community saw this, and students would see another side of their teachers, and the relationship between them would change?

What if these things were possible? Why are they not possible?

6 thoughts on “Re-imagine secondary schooling while still in the system. What if…?”

    1. I’d like to believe so too, Simon. I wrote this because suddenly I thought maybe everyone is so sick of the situation they might feel brave enough to play a different game 🙂

  1. “What is the worst that could happen if we started to think for ourselves about what was important and essential to learning?”

    I am pretty sure the sky won’t fall … and if it does, you can just put it back up there.

    Systems thinking opens up all sort of ideas and yet, also shows us the confines of the systems we inhabit. Does it give us agency? or just depression?


    1. Good questions, Kevin. Putting back the sky – is that remixing the sky? And now I will dive into the rich collective on systems thinking for #clmooc. Starting with yours, thank you for being so generous.

  2. Not sure I know how to reply here. All worthy questions. Sometimes the favorite toy is broken and it can’t be fixed no matter how positively we approach the problem. Sometimes this is the curse we live in, the zeitgeist curse. You can’t remove yourself from the system that ostensibly does what you are called to do, help others learn.

    We are what we think.
    All that we are arises with our thoughts.
    With our thoughts we make the world.
    – The Buddha, quoted in the Dhammapada

    “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
    -Albert Einstein

    But you can think and then act differently about ways engender learning. I had to do that when my wife and I ‘unschooled’ our children. We didn’t do it because we were just contrary. We did it because there was not a single school that was willing to engage our kids on our terms. It was all or nothing. They got nothing and we got everything. This is not hyperbole. Nothing. Everything.

    I think I am done with reform as a way of re-thinking. I put a lot more faith in kind subversion, asking forgiveness and not permission, under the radar, subrosa, authentic learning. In our work at #clmooc I get frustrated when I see that some folks are just using it as way to help them do old teacher/school things in new ways. Old wine in new bottles is a damnable cheat. Others I see using the principles and values of connected learning in ways to generate very local change. And by very local I mean hand-to-hand, a dance, a game, not the battle on the curriculum scaffolds.

    I don’t think most folks realize that the call to connected learning is an inherently political one and not just the equity value we find there. I mean, really, could we ever have so-called gifted and talented programs, magnet schools, and all the other examples of the “rich” getting richer in a theoretical frame that values equity and connection over all?

    The radical agenda of connected learning (I just have to laugh out loud at what I just wrote) is obvious to me and just as obvious is that the questions you ask are part of that movement. I think that systems rise and fall as part of larger narratives. The school narrative that drives the current educational weltanschauung is dead. Being dead, that makes its practitioners, wait for it– zombies. The teacher zombie apocalypse is upon us. Stay out of the teacher’s lounge. Bar your doors or at the least pretend to be a zombie while in public.

    I have no fear in saying this aloud here not because folks don’t read your blog, they just don’t read comments. My ideas are hiding in plain sight just like the purloined letter waiting for Inspector Dupin to find me.

    1. Haha, I know. This is the invisible space. Nobody will find us here. We can say anything we want. Good one – the radical agenda of connected learning. For some strange reason I find comfort in your description of the zombie apocalypse playing out in schools. If that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is. I must always have pretended to be a zombie in public, in the staffroom. I like this and I’m thinking on it: ‘the school narrative that drives the current educational weltanschauung is dead.’ What is the point of us banging our heads against those walls. I will save myself the angst and follow your alternative ‘kind subversion, asking forgiveness and not permission, under the radar, subrosa, authentic learning.’ Good on you for unschooling your children. I put mine in alternative schooling at the start, then chickened out and put them back. That was a crazy ride.

      Thank you for the full picture. I like the quotes and will think about them. Who is Inspector Dupin. I will find out.

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