A hint of existential crisis and me

[From the posting alert for Parts 2 and 3 Holistic mathematics.]

Pleased to be back with you after a madcap few days on a family matter that had me travelling the length of the North Island (from Cambridge) to Invercargill and back.

I’m back at my desk, but things are so terrible with Hekia Parata, it is hard to know where to start. I could weep at the lack of understanding and involvement by NZEI and NZPF. Never in the history of education have we had such a ruthless and always less-than-the-whole-truth minister. I suspect the respective executives are scared of her, don’t have the guts – if so why the hell did they put themselves forward as leaders?

As for me, deep down, all I want to do are the Attacks! bury myself in the curriculum, but is that the ethical thing to do?

I will try to get going this weekend.


Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.40.34 AM

[Texts between Allan Alach, editor of the site and me.]

K: Taking advantage of the ‘break’ to work out how best to confront the Hekia problem.

A: OK – has she done something new?

K: NO. Just her terrible self again but still escaping the political death she so clearly deserves. Need to discuss with you sometime. Almost a kind of existential crisis for me. [My concern hinted at in alert.]

A: Tracey Martin had a go at her in question time over Rangiora.

K: Yeah! Very good, the only one who grasps the curriculum crisis in schools, but she got careless with last part of last question. Let her off the hook. But that reminds me, the Salford court of appeal judgement is out soon. If it goes well will have a feast on that. That could lift me.

A: Hekia is slippery.

K: Another word is pathological. I am also going to listen to an interview with Duncan Garner and a Christchurch one.

A: Who am I to argue about that?

K: I am going to change emphasis. First, I’m going to forget about teacher organisations: can’t take NZPF president seriously, and the NZEI president will go down as the worst president at the time when we needed the best. The problem with NZEI is that members are allocated the role of mushrooms; NZPF in the provinces is mainly used for a parade of government ideas.

A: Will wait to see what you write.

K: So will I.Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.40.34 AM[Then came some texts in response to my hint of existential crisis.]

Hi Kelvin

I’ve read the Attacks! and thoroughly appreciated the wisdom of teaching within and through a meaningful narrative, and, of course, such a natural approach works for any subject. I’ll be discussing these ideas with some of my colleagues this week. Some weeks ago I listened to Duncan Garner interview with Parata and was taken aback by the nonsensical way she twists the truth so far as to say, that in terms of educational progress, down is up and backwards is forwards. You could hear the disbelief in Garner’s voice.

Kind regards my friend; your work is not in vain.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.40.34 AMHi Kelvin

A reply from one of my colleagues who co-leads the Maths team is below. He is an absolutely brilliant maths teacher who holds to the same teaching philosophy as we do. He is adored by his students.

Hi …
I have read this before, many times. I have always taught this way. I feel that my students have benefited from this approach, as, due to the fundamental nature of engaging each student by the nature of the lesson content and concept, it develops their reasoning and improves their strategising. Because they are engaged they also are much keener to ascertain specific knowledge in order to solve maths problems.

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.40.34 AMDear Kelvin

Your writing has shaped my philosophy of teaching and learning.

I first heard you speak at an IRA International Conference in Auckland in the 1980s.

I was at that point principal … in Central Otago.

I sat near the front of the auditorium as you gave your address and was spellbound as, for the first time in my career, I was listening to someone articulate what I was coming to believe about teaching and learning.

It was a YOWZZZZZAH moment!  All the bells were ringing.

I was sitting next to an interesting Maori attendee who was being equally impressed by your address content.  I had no idea who he was but he and I exchanged ‘YESSS!’ moments as we responded to your address.

Then there was a break and the next seminar/address began and the man beside me was introduced to the conference as Witi Ihimaera!

But, getting back to your address – it helped me to begin to specify and clarify what I had found to be crucial to quality teaching and learning.

It was just the sort of professional jolt I needed – as up to then I was never sure if the philosophy of teaching and learning I was developing with children who had not found much success in school and/or had any intrinsic motivation to actively engage in the school curriculum up to the point they came to me.  Your address gave me a sense of authority in how I was shaping the teaching/learning environment in my classroom and in the schools I was leading.

From … School I next went to the university.  For 3 – 4 years I helped shape the professional development of mature students with your philosophy of teaching and learning at the very core of their pre-service education.  Those graduates have gone on to become significant teachers throughout NZ with one just completing her PhD in Gisborne.

A few years later I joined some of my university colleagues for work in USA. We were actively involved in the staff development of large groups of elementary teachers.  At the core of what we were pushing was the balanced literacy approach and your texts were key resources for whole school development throughout the city.

The above is a long-winded outline of why I wanted to personally THANK YOU for being such a key influence in my professional thinking and teaching –


Many must reach the end of their working life wondering, ‘Have I made a difference?’

You can rest easy.  You HAVE made a difference!

I thank you for being the most significant shaper of who I am/was in my teaching career.

Arohanui ki a koe.


Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 10.40.34 AMIf that doesn’t doing something to diminish my existential challenge nothing will, but I want to point out that that was the conference in which two principals took the trouble to cross from the coffee queue to the tea one to make the point that while that was an excellent address principals no longer ‘had to do the curriculum’.

And it is the curriculum that is in crisis. The organisational structure of schools in a text book sense is excellent, but in the sense of the curriculum is in crisis.

After all, why do the curriculum the best way, the holistic, the way that serves children – when that way takes a lot of effort and can get you into trouble with authorities (including private consultancies – all of whom work with ERO and the ministry)? The attention by them is not to the broad challenging curriculum but to a narrow one. However, even there, there is a crisis. I know this will be unfair to some schools, will annoy them: but why worry about falling national standards results when they can be adjusted, and widely are, at some stage of a school’s national standards process?

One final point about the crisis in the curriculum, a crisis that has Parata in full pathological flow, is that last year in NCEA Level 2 (the political criterion for judging the success of the education system) there was a minute change in moving a part of the 3Rs to exams and away from internal marking – the results plummeted – to fix that Parata has allowed gaining a car licence to meet nearly all the literacy requirements.

Anyway, see you next time. Though, you might say, that with the way you finished you needn’t bother.

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4 Responses to A hint of existential crisis and me

  1. Kelvin, it is always great to read your reflections. Your comment, that a person could articulate the view that “a principal doesn’t need to do curriculum,” fills me with horror. That this the fundamental flaw with our appropriation of ‘Tomorrows School,” over the past thirty years. We got it so wrong and followed a business model in education, and it has destroyed the joy of learning!!!

    Keep up the fight – we need you!!

  2. Michael Norris says:

    Hi Kelvin,
    thank you for posting my response. I am so privileged to be a teacher and to be able to inspire, intrigue and hopefully influence my students on a daily basis. I try to impart knowledge in authentic practices, things that will be useful to my students in their future endeavours. However, I often feel like I am swimming against the tide in today’s educational environment. You inspire me to continue to do what I know is right – and as I result I can sleep peacefully at night.
    Keep up the insightful work. Much appreciated.

    • Kelvin says:

      You, Peggy, and Melulater are symbols of why I have kept going and will continue to do so. All so inspiring. As I said, I sometimes feel I would like to hide in just the curriculum side, but the two interact – the political side to protect the curriculum. But how I love that word – curriculum.

      (Michael was the wonderful maths teacher referred to – adored by the children.)

  3. Melulater says:

    I haven’t had a chance to read your previous post you refer to, but I agree that the joy of learning, and teaching, is being killed by not paying attention to the curriculum. Teachers are so distracted by data gathering and analysing the data and using the data to inform their teaching they have lost focus on the students themselves and what gets them learning.
    I was so dissatisfied by the direction teaching has headed in last year that I made the decision not to go back full time teaching this year. I nearly broke that decision, because teaching is a hard addiction to break. But in the end I decided to go back to University to do my Masters of Education, supplemented by some relief teaching (gotta keep my hand in and get a small fix). Rather than doing Leadership, like every other man and his dog, I am focusing on Global Education Policy. I’ve whinged for long enough about the state of affairs in education, and if I want to be part of the solution I have to know about possible solutions… and there it goes.
    I hope that I can be part of the answer to getting education back to focusing on students and learning and teaching, rather than data collection, analysis and blinkered passionless teaching.
    I’ve been meaning to catch up with you in person since the NZEI Annual Conference last year, but time slips by. Hopefully soon.

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