- On 25-10-2013
“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.”
Phillip Barlow is well known in the art world for his out-of-focus oil paintings. The South African artist uses blurriness to hint at shapes, subjects and context. In a world which has become hooked on high definition his work highlights the importance of focus and clarity in our everyday life. Those of you who wear reading glasses know the importance of being able to focus and have clarity when you are reading. I invite you to consider that many schools, teachers and students operate within an environment of a lack of clarity.
Many schools are unclear about the professional or student learning culture they are building. They have an idea of what they want but a range of pushes and pulls from education systems, parents, day-to-day issues and even finances blurs the focus of the individuals who are responsible for keeping it on track. It shows up in the way strategic plans are created and then followed (or not), in the staff meetings (and their number and length), in what is considered important throughout the school year, and in the structures put in place to support the school vision and goals.
Teachers are often unclear about the actual outcomes and goals they require students to achieve inside of a whole school plan. They read the prescribed curriculum and then form an interpretation of what that means. Quite often the result is a surface interpretation as deeper understanding and coherency requires the time for significant discussion and unpacking by a team of teachers consistent with the school mission and goals.
Students are often asked to learn in an environment where they don’t why they are doing what they are doing, nor what skill they are actually building. Without structures such as learning intentions, success criteria, formative rubrics, and clarity about WHAT, HOW, WHY and how to deal with obstacles to their learning – they often progress slowly towards achieving learning outcomes and building required skills.
Clarity, by definition, is the quality of being clear, coherent and intelligible.
The more that we work with schools the more we discover that what they are actually asking us is to partner them in creating clear, coherent and intelligible approaches to achieving what they want to achieve. It is not that they don’t know what they want (necessarily) but that it is a bit fuzzy or maybe they are unclear about the path to achieve their goals.
We find that most schools, whether they are of the government, catholic or independent persuasion, often have not clearly articulated what their purpose and the overall goals that they are trying to achieve. Sure they have school values. Sure they have a strategic plan. However we when dig down into what those goals, visions, and plans we find a lot of uncertainty rather than rigor and dealing with the reality of achieving their goals.
When we look at most school strategic plans they are often planned in such a way that it is hopeful rather than based in the reality of what would work best for schools, staff and students. It is NOT that we are dealing with people who can’t plan. What we are dealing with is, quite often, a lack of clarity of WHAT they are actually trying to achieve and a lack of a clear path to HOW they will achieve those goals in ways that coherently creates a powerful learning culture whilst supporting all students, staff and parents.
The same can be said with teachers. When we support teachers in planning curriculum we spend an enormous amount of time having them become crystal clear about what the learning destination they are desire the students get to. What are the skills, understandings and knowledge they want the students to gain? What will it look like when the students get there? What scaffolding and learning activities could they then design that will have the students’ progress towards that learning destination?
The great thing we have found, time and time again, is that once the school, teacher, or student is clear about their destination – they are immensely able to do what needs to be done to get there.
I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.
– Winston Churchill