The Woolf Fisher Trust Fellowship recipient – Mark Wilson

It has been an extraordinary privilege to have spent the last term away travelling, visiting schools in Britain and Europe and studying at the Graduate School of Education, at Harvard University in Boston. This amazing opportunity was thanks to being awarded the Woolf Fisher Trust Fellowship. My thanks to our Board of Trustees for supporting my time away, Carla Smith for assuming the Acting Principal role and my Senior Leadership Team (SLT) for taking up some additional duties during my absence. What a great team am blessed to work with.

It has been truly wonderful to have the time to visit and Observe other schools across different countries, talk with other educationalists and study and reflect. So what did learn over this time away? Firstly, that despite different systems, schools across the western world are remarkably similar, and are grappling with many of the same issues as we do here in New Zealand. Nearly every public education system across the world is in the process Of some form Of reform to try and meet the challenge of how to best educate people for the modern and digital world.

The schools I visited could easily be grouped into two types: firstly those undertaking radical changes based around what is commonly regarded as “21st Century Learning” (e.g. open plan environments and Project Based Learning); and secondly those schools making more moderate developments around shifting teaching practice (e.g. blending in digital technologies and having more varied learning opportunities). Those schools engaged in more radical changes were characterised by having students from lower socio-economic and often ethnically diverse areas. They were driven by a sense of urgency that “schools need to change” (i.e. not engaging students) and “students were failing (e.k. poor attendance and low academic results). The other schools making moderate changes were all based in higher socio-economic communities. These schools were perceived as popular (i.e. strong enrolments), were achieving good outcomes (e.g. attendance and academic results) and had no community desire for radical changes.

In terms of the use of digital technologies in schools, my observations found the access and use in teaching and learning varied widely between schools and even widely within schools. This was the same regardless of the school’s socio-economic type, and regardless of the dominant teaching instruction (e.g. traditional or progressive). I do believe that New Zealand schools overall have a higher level of integration. NZ school wifi coverage is typically much stronger and more accessible, and technologies used more by students in their learning. My perceptions are well supported by the recent findings of the World Economic Forum’s The Global Competitiveness Report 2017-18, which ranked New Zealand schools first equal with Singapore (out of 137 countries) on the topic: “to what extent is the internet used in schools for learning purposes”.

There was plenty I saw and experienced that I liked and that I did not. I also felt very affirmed by the high quality of our teachers here at Cashmere High School, the balance of our programmes, and the strong and positive culture that we have as a community.

Nga mihi nui

Mark Wilson