Friday, March 28, 2014

What is it good for? (Edwin Starr) Part 2

This post continues my BIG PICTURE look at the organisational culture within my current school.

Last post I considered 'socialisation' and my pursuit of bananas. Today it's a look at our status quo horizontal situation.

I Googled 'advantages of horizontal tutor groups' and nothing came up in the search. Nothing! Go on - see for yourself!

Instead a few billion entries on the advantages of vertical tutor groups came up!

I tried other variations of 'horizontal' and still nothing.

I'm not as green as I am cabbage looking - I know horizontal forms are popular beasts but clearly the bully boys from the vertical forms have bounced them off to the outer rim.

So I decided to use the interweb's 'disadvantages of vertical groups' search results to see if that made a case for horizontals.

And here they are:

Disadvantages of vertical forms

  1. Reduces opportunities for same-age students to be together.
  2. Older students may not be good role models.
  3. New intake may be intimidated by the presence of older students in their tutor group.
  4. Tutors may need support to manage the breadth of issues within their tutor group.
  5. Communication is more complicated, e.g. having to send out notices to every tutor group in order to reach a single year group.
  6. Tutor group activities must be widely differentiated to enable all members to participate.

Let's go through them:

  1. Reduces blah blah - well yes - that's obvious. Horizontal forms are same-age forms. As I said -  I haven't read any research that says it's inherently good to have that opportunity.
  2. Sure - that could happen - there is good and bad in all of us and in any situation. But so what - horizontal forms have that capacity as well.  
  3. Yes - that could happen. Some schools I worked in chose to use a horizontal format for their new entrant cohort but I've also worked in schools that successfully vertical formed everyone.
  4.  Tutors may need support. Yes, I guess they may but I'd argue they may need that support no matter what the format.
  5.  Communication - yes this is probably better with a horizontal group.
  6.  Activities - yes I can see this too.

So - what is the horizontal system good for? On the whole - not a lot there apart from some bureaucratic advantage.

The organisational culture at my current school is heavily weighted to horizontal year groups. The Deans' structure is a very powerful presence. 

How do I know this? 

Last year's staff photo. 

Most staff photos I've been in have the great and the powerful in the front row. Usually this is the Principal - centre front, flanked by senior leaders, then further out - senior Heads of Departments - the middle managers.

Who sits in the front row in our staff photo? 

Senior managers and the YEAR LEVEL DEANS! That's who.

Changing the organisational culture to vertical forms would affect the Deans' structure. A change to vertical forms would mean a change away from year level Deans  towards...THE HOUSE structure. 

Currently no one knows who leads the House structure - in fact the staff take a back seat to the students in this regard. But why couldn't the House Leaders (staff member and student) share that role?

I'm all for strengthening the House system in terms of giving it a pastoral care role. Would the school be brave enough to tamper with the status quo? Not on current evidence.

That bunch of bananas looks like it's set to outlast me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What is it good for? (Edwin Starr) Part 1

I threw down a bit of a gauntlet at school this week to a distinctly luke warm reaction.

Not only did I support a move away from the old Teacher Parent Student conferences (you know - the ones where only a few of 'the good' parents attend for a 5 minute feel good slot)  towards longer more holistic meetings with form tutors (10 minutes with, ideally, every parent and student in the form class) but...and I couldn't help myself...I also put in a plug for vertical forms.

Shock horror. I know - what was I thinking?

It went down like a cup of cold gravy with a hair in it!

But WHY?

Well I know why. I was messing with the organisational culture of the school. More specifically I was messing with the socialisation of the culture.
  • To explain how socialisation works consider this experiment. A caged group of monkeys is confronted with a bunch of bananas on bungling from the ceiling. There is a ladder placed invitingly just under the bananas. Immediately some monkeys rush to the ladder. As soon as they start to climb it they are all hosed down, not just the monkeys on the ladder but all the monkeys in the cage. As they don’t like water they leave the bananas. One hussy monkey tries again but the same thing happens, all of the monkeys are hosed. Now they watch each other to make sure no one comes near the ladder. Then one monkey is replaced by a new one unaware of ladder-water misery. He sees the bananas and rushes to the ladder, but to his surprise is beaten up by the other monkeys. Now a second monkey is replaced by a new one. He approaches the ladder and is beaten up. The first new monkey who himself had been beaten up participates in the mugging because he wont permit another monkey to do something he himself was not allowed. This continues until all the monkeys are replaced by new monkeys none of them having the experience of being hosed down or even having a faint idea about it. The reason why they wont permit each other to reach for the bananas has become of a metaphysical nature, it is simply not done.

This is the area where I'm a new monkey, a relative outsider and the long standing members of the culture are protective of what they've established over time.

Nevertheless - over the next couple of posts I will be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of horizontal (same year level in the tutor group who may or, usually, may not stay with one tutor during their time at school)  AND vertical forms (a mixture of form levels make up one tutor group who stay with one tutor during their time at school).

First up - horizontals! The status quo. The bunch of bananas in question at Woodford House.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

When we were at school our games were simple (the Hollies)

How it was done in the sixties...

Mid term break and wowie zowie - what a term so far. I hate it when people complain about how busy they are so I won't do that! Suffice to say that I definitely feel like I need and have earned a break. 

The school ball was on Friday night and you need to know going in that I'm NOT a fan of school balls. 

...and the seventies.
I feel I'm qualified to say that. Since 1976 (my own at Mt Albert Grammar School) I've attended a large number of school balls over the years - as a student, as a teacher, as a Deputy Principal, as a Principal and now as a Year 12 form teacher at Woodford House.

My over riding thought - teachers make lousy wall flowers. Standing around in an amazingly awkward way watching the amazingly awkward mating rituals of adolescents is NOT what I want to be doing of an evening.

The whole thing went well last night (I'm not about to criticise anyone involved in getting a school ball off the ground - it's a thankless task and the only reward is another huge 'PHEW!' that nothing happened that will make the newspapers). 

Some random quizzical thoughts that raged around in my brain as it unfolded (and the hormones raged in the youngsters): girls dancing with girls? Boys dancing with boys? Big cheers for songs like Lynyrd Skynyrd's Home Sweet Alabama and other seventies songs that emerged decades before they were born?? No one approaching staff for a dance? The Gay Gordon? No chicken dance? Cell phones everywhere? The girls' table manners were fine but the boys'? Dresses that cost nearly 2,000 dollars? Can she really walk in those heals?

Unfortunately the ball is another reminder that while I continue to age, the students remain forever 17 or 18.

The school ball next year! Oh sure - it's a date!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Even the cover looked like Catcher In The Rye (Jerry Maguire)

My report into the 2013 English department results and so on is done. I aimed to meet the March 7 deadline and that's been accomplished.

It clocked in at 33 pages in the end which I'm picking may be a record! It certainly is for me (see my last post for the less-is-more rant).

The actual writing and researching of the report has been a positive (albeit exhausting) experience for me in that I know have a much firmer grasp on the department's strengths and weakness. But not only that. I now know stuff. More stuff.

Luckily Jacky had a number of evening duties over the last couple of weeks so I was able to sped some long hours writing those 33 pages.

I have to do a board report in person later in the year (I did one at the end of last year as well) and I now feel on much firmer ground making generalisations about stuff. Confidence in this case comes from living the job and experiencing the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

I am mos def a visual guy. This is not news to me. I find it really difficult to read tables so I need to create graphs from the information to draw trends and inferences. I guess it's more of that Occam's razor principle.