For almost four weeks, I have had the pleasure of offering a series of workshops in New Zealand. Most of the participants have been educators, although we did have one session in Wellington that attracted over 140 mental health counselors. While I have been impressed by the passion, skill, and dedication of New Zealand educators, that isn’t the thing that has stood out the most as I near the end of my time in this beautiful country.
No. What has impressed me most is how receptive educators here are to the ideas of engaging and inspiring, as opposed to shaping and controlling students. Let me give an example. The other day I presented to a group of principals. At the end of the session, they were given an evaluation form asking them if they were interested in additional training about choice theory and the concepts of internal motivation and control. Every principal wanted to know how to access additional training for their teachers.
If I were to conduct a similar session in the United States, I suspect the majority of principals would be afraid to pursue something that asks them to focus less on control. I’m still sorting through all of this, but here are some initial thoughts. With the heavy emphasis on test scores, AYP, and accountability, US administrators are driven by fear. Even if they are genuinely intrigued by what internal control psychology/choice theory has to offer, they are afraid to try something different. In many cases, the flawed model of external control works well enough. Most schools manage to make AYP. Those few who are declared “in need of improvement” typically manage to coerce enough students into enough compliance to keep the accountability police at bay. The result is that we continue to flounder but we keep afloat – barely.
In New Zealand, even with the advent of national standards, there seems to be less fear and coercion in the system. Consequently, school administrators are much more receptive to innovative ideas that will lead to significant school improvement. The educational environment here is remarkably different from the one I am used to. It seems considerably healthier and encourages educators to be creative, innovative, and receptive to new ideas.
As I sort through all I have learned (and continue to learn) from my time here, I am even more appreciative and have even greater admiration for those US administrators who have the courage to face the fear, be truly innovative, and give their teachers and students the opportunity to develop schools that engage and inspire students rather than attempting to shape and control them. They are the exception, they are truly courageous, and it is a pleasure to work with them. You know who you are.