In order to improve we need to know how we’re doing. It’s a measurement and feedback kind of thing. It shouldn’t be a competitive process. Even in the highly competitive arena of professional sport, I hear elite coaches make the case for measuring performances against their own criteria rather than using the wins and losses as the only measure. So what is more important for the development and progress of a student in terms of learning? The grade? The comment? A measure of the incremental improvement?
“Experts are dived about the role of competition in education…Every educational academic I spoke to fell in with the line of thought that tilts towards the conclusion that intense competition in education – largely manifested by high-stakes standardised testing from a young age, endless exams, and the ranking of children – is damaging for all kids, even the successful ones.” Lucy Clark, Beautiful Failures (2016)
Alfie Kohn is the US’s most outspoken critic of competition in education. In his book No Contest he cites a couple of examples of high school teachers phasing out grades in an attempt to minimise or even eliminate competition amongst their students. One teacher offers comments to his 125 students about what they’re doing and what they need to improve on. You’ll find that for this set of interim reports we have adopted this method. There are no grades or rankings. Not even for behaviour, effort or engagement. There is only a comment on what each student has done well and what they need to improve on.
At MIC we are currently bound by the QCAA syllabus and senior education system so we are required to allocate grades to student work, however we are reducing the allocation of grades where we can so that we can encourage our students to focus on improvement and learning rather than simply the outcome, grade, number. We want them all to strive to better themselves with a focus on progress rather than on how they have done in comparison to others in the class.
A word from Brett… The world seems to be driven by big data at the moment. Education especially. The pervading attitude is if you can’t measure it then stop doing it. It has no value if we can’t assign a number to it. Although I value data and recognise its place in the formulation of education policy and practice we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are working with people. People by their nature have much in common but just as importantly they are individuals and have many differences. My fear is that we are working our way to a one-size-fits-all model of education. We have state based syllabi driven by a national curriculum and high stakes standardised testing with NAPLAN, HSC, QCS, PISA etc. What gets lost in this pursuit of better scores is the plight of the individual student. We need to constantly remind ourselves that we are working with young people at the most vulnerable stages of their development. Add to this that we are in an age of increasing personalisation and constant change. It is counterproductive to educate every student in the same manner. MIC is doing its best to address this by contextualising the curriculum to a student’s passion and aspiration and we are constantly looking to improve what we do within a state based education system. Through the interviews with past students I see the difference that MIC is making for individual students but it’s not hard data, quantitative data. It is however research. Action research. This concept, school, community of MIC is having a significantly positive impact on the lives of our students but this may not translate to OP scores or PISA test results. However our retention rates are high and engagement is up on previous school experiences. 90%+ of individual academic grades improve whilst students are at MIC. My question then is are we, as a society, measuring the right things? Because what we measure tells our students what we value. Currently we measure scores. The message to our students then is that scores are the thing that matters. Should we not be measuring the things that truly matter? Like happiness, growth, development and progress. My guess is that if we focussed on improving these for each individual then the results, grades, scores would all take care of themselves. I would be happy to hear your thoughts on the subject.
It’s always a bittersweet moment when you have to farewell people at MIC. Each year we send the year 12s off to a new adventure beyond MIC. This year we are also saying goodbye to a number of wonderful staff members too. Every person who becomes a part of the MIC community leaves a unique mark and the school becomes better for it. I’d like to once again say thank you to the Class of 2016. What a wonderful group of students you have been. Many of you are already industry ready and the rest of you aren’t too far away. One of our goals at the inception of MIC was to bolster the local music industry with talented, skilled and knowledgeable graduates. You lot definitely fit that bill. We are super excited to see what you do next. To Chloe, Charlie and Ed we also say a huge thank you for your dedication and hard work in helping the students at MIC realise their true potential. We cannot thank each of you enough for your contribution to the MIC community and we know that you will be missed around the hallways and classrooms at the college. As you move on to other opportunities we wish you all the absolute best and hope that you will remain connected to the community in some way.
Ask more questions. It’s currently the banner of the MIC facebook page. It’s there for a reason. I wanted to encourage all of our students, staff and community to ask more questions. The reasons are many but most importantly we learn about and make sense of our world and those around us by asking more questions. Young kids do it to a point where it can get a bit annoying. Every parent has experienced the ‘Why?’ stage at some point when their own children were trying to understand their world. The why question is so important, particularly at that stage in their development. For some reason we stop asking as many questions when we get older. Young adults do it less than children and as life progresses we tend to ask questions even less. Too often we simply accept things the way they are. Not only does learning come from asking the right questions but innovation is born out of a questioning mind. As our world is changing rapidly we should be asking the ‘How can we…?’ questions more often so that we can find solutions to a number of issues that the world is facing. Here are some examples: How can we feed an ever increasing global population? How can we deliver a quality education to every student in the world? How can we ensure that artists are fairly compensated for their work? It’s the how can we questions that will lead to innovation. What’s your ‘How can we…?’ question
I’m not sure if you are watching the Tour de France at all but it’s a bit like life. Some parts are gruelling sections that are all uphill, others it’s like you can put your feet up and coast down the mountain and then there are the manic sprints where everyone is focused on getting across the line as quickly as possible. Not that any of us are in a hurry to finish. Term three is a real sprint. It’s our shortest term of only nine weeks. We also lose the best part of a week with the Ekka holidays. So I’d encourage you all to hit the ground running this term and put all of your energy into the best work you can possibly do. I was pleased to see so many good results and comments on report cards last semester but I have a sneaky suspicion that you can do even better. Take a moment to reflect on last semester and ask yourself, “was there anything that prevented me from doing my best work?” Once you have the answer to that, do your best to address it this term so that when you reach the finish line you know you couldn’t have done any more. If you do that I know you and I will both be pleased with your end results.
I often have students asking me what is required to get a magic number for an OP. That magic number could be a 9, 4, 17, or 6 depending on which course they have chosen to study post MIC. My response is a standard one and often it is met with some level of frustration. My response is, “forget about the number.” or some variation of the same. This response is based on my experience from many years coaching sport. Let me explain. In sport I would always encourage my players to focus on what is within their control. To work on those skills that would best help them achieve their goals. In baseball it can be getting the mechanics of your swing right so in a game situation you don’t have to think about your swing, leg drive and head position. All you need to do is focus on the ball and hitting it where is it pitched. ‘Keep your eye on the ball.’ I recall in 2013 Australian golfer, Adam Scott had the chance to be only the fourth person in history to shoot a round of 59 in a major tournament. He was on track up until the sixth hole and although he still shot an amazing 62 he isn’t in the history books because he fell sort of the magic 59 – the lowest score ever in a major tournament. In his own words he began “thinking about it (59) hard.” He began thinking about the magic number and lost sight of what was immediately in his control. He fell short. Reflecting on her 200 metre win in the 2000 Olympics Cathy Freeman said this, “I don’t think about losing. I don’t think about winning either. I focus on what I have to do.” Based on my own experience with sport and educating young people for the past 30+ years my advice is unwavering. Forget about the result. Focus on what is in your control. Focus on what you have to do. Focus in class. Focus on your next assignment. Write a great draft. Rework the draft. Study for the exam. Get good rest before an exam. Eat well. Do all of the things that give you the best chance of success and then let the result take care of itself. I know that has worked for many MIC students in the past and I see no reason it won’t work for our current crop of scholars.
Welcome to the New Year. It’s great to be back and to be greeted by a wonderful group of new students and enthusiastic returning students. It just feels right returning to a warm and friendly community. A lot has happened since our last newsletter:
- Kristin has left us after five years of providing thought provoking and entertaining Maths lessons. Her presence will be missed at MIC and we wish her all the best with her new adventures.
- Emma (EK) has also left us to pursue full time work at QPAC. EK did a tremendous amount of work in the admin team and her efforst will be missed.
- We have added four new staff members to the MIC team – Bianca Hines (Art & Drama); Georgia Barling (Administration Officer) Rohin Power (Maths); and Tom Eggert (Music).
- We’ve had our third annual MIC camp at Luther Heights in Coolum.
- Aaron Shanahan of Miami Horror is delivering songwriting and production workshops using Ableton Live software.
As is normal for this little school we like to pack a lot in to a short amount of time.
I’m genuinely excited about what is just around the corner.
With only five short weeks remaining for the Year 12s there will be a number of emotions that they will be experiencing. Elation that they are close to the end of twelve years of schooling; fear of the unknown as they transition from school to tertiary study, work, music careers and a combination of all three; grief knowing that they will no longer get to experience this tight knit community on a daily basis. It is important the that this group of students, the CLASS of 2015 make the most of the short amount of time that remains at MIC. I encourage all students to do the very best on all of their remaining assessments, embrace every opportunity that is afforded to them over the next five weeks and enjoy the company, friendship and camaraderie of their peers and the staff at MIC. Make sure that you are remembered for the right reasons once you depart. Think of the legacy that you will leave at MIC. For the Year 11s, this is your time to step up and prepare for 2016. Although this year is not done yet I want to encourage you to begin planning on how you would like to maximise your senior year at MIC. What opportunities do you want to take and create next year? Set yourself some goals. Write them down. Put them somewhere you can see them everyday. What will make the CLASS of 2016 memorable?
Finland’s education system is regarded as the best in the world. I’m a little bit jealous that schools in Finland have top spot however it does provide us with a goal and it’s one that we aspire to. At MIC we want to be the best. So lately I’ve been reading and researching to find out what some of the keys are to Finland’s success. I was pleased to find that MIC has many of the same qualities that the Finnish education system embraces.
Here is a list of the things we have in common:
- In senior secondary school Finnish students can choose a school based on its specialities. It’s like a mixture of high school and college. At MIC students choose to study here based of the music industry context (speciality) and our mode of operation is a mixture of high school and college.
- The Finnish system offers a vocational education program in senior secondary. At MIC not only is our curriculum contextualised to a music industry career path but we also offer school based traineeships, internships and several industry aligned extra-curricula activities with realworld outcomes.
- Students in Finland spend less time at school each day, giving them more time to rest. In Helsinki they are creating a law stating that schools cannot begin before 9am because research has consistently found that adolescents need quality sleep in the morning. The two spares per week (for students on a five subject program) and Free Range Fridays mean MIC students spend less time at school per week than their peers and our 10am start was based on the same research that the Helsinki law will be based on.
- Finnish teachers teach 4 or less lessons per day. At MIC teachers have a maximum of 3 lessons per day. This allows both sets of teachers more time to plan and think about each lesson. It allows time to create great, thought provoking lessons.
- Students in Finland have fewer teachers than their peers in other countries. This leads to greater consistency and care. This also allows for more individualised attention. At MIC with our two teacher per class system, students will see the same teachers more often in their classes. This also leads to greater consistency, care and individualisation. An added benefit is that teachers are better able to make linkages across subjects areas, for example in Business we can talk about our film clips that we are developing in FTV in a marketing context. This helps students to understand the practical links between aspects of their course of study.
- Schools in Finland have a common teacher/staff room where teachers can come together at breaks and collaborate and support their peers. Traditionally in Australian secondary schools these staff rooms are divided along faculty lines. At MIC we have one common staff room that is similar to the Finnish model where there are tables, chairs, coffee machine, fridge and a couch.
- There is a lesser emphasis on testing in Finland and a greater emphasis on learning. At MIC we assign the minimum number of assessments that are required by the QCAA. By assigning the minimum we can reduce the stress load on students and at the same time give teachers more time to focus on learning rather than teaching to the test or assessment instrument. This also allows us to spend time on developing non-assessable skills and traits (life-skills, self-esteem, confidence, etc) in our students. These qualities can often be more important post-graduation than an OP score or results on a report card.
- There is almost no homework assigned in the Finnish system. With less homework there is more time for students to participate in areas where they have a genuine passion. Finnish students are also given more time in class to complete set tasks and assignments. At MIC we embrace a similar philosophy. Minimal homework is assigned because most tasks can be finished in class time. We also believe that students should be able to choose what activities they engage with once they leave for the day. Some will spend hours practicing their instrument, others will be involved in sports, some may even decide to help more with family chores while others have more time for part-time work.
- One of the key tenants of the Finnish model is TRUST. There is less structure, fewer rules and students are trusted to a higher degree than in other countries. Teachers in Finland are also trusted more by society and their individual school communities. At MIC, TRUST is the first of our four pillars. We are a high trust environment and we see the benefits on a daily basis. Our teachers are also trusted to develop their own subject programs, lessons and extra-curricula activities. They are also trusted to select their own professional development program. Based on our most recent parent survey I am happy to say that our parent body trusts our teachers as well.
That’s nine out of eleven aspects of the Finnish model that MIC has in common. That doesn’t mean that we are the same as schools in Finland, rather it means that we embrace a similar philosophy across those nine factors. MIC is unique in many ways however it is pleasing when you can compare yourself with the best in the world and discover that you are doing a lot of things right. We are also aware that there is still a lot of work in front of us before we can claim to be the best in the world. We may never reach that goal as what is happening in other schools is beyond our control but we’re happy to be on that journey and we’ll always be striving for our personal best.