Opening up thinking about education today for tomorrow - Imagining possibilities and solutions

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"You are what you share." We-Think

Today I started reading Charles Leadbeater's recent book, WE-THINK: Mass innovation, not mass production.
It's shaping up to be a thought provoking book. Charles Leadbeater, a researcher with the London think-tank Demos, is one of the leading thinkers about innovation and creativity.

Leadbeater was

early to notice the rise of "amateur innovation" -- great ideas from outside the traditional walls, from people who suddenly have the tools to collaborate, innovate and make their expertise known.

Leadbeater has written about such ideas as personalisation. Publications include:

We-Think examines ways in which the world wide web is changing our world. These changes are creating a culture that allows people to share and collaborate ideas and information. Leadbeater argues that "the web is a potent platform for creativity and innovation."

The sharing can be for good, but also brings with it dilemmas.

We-think explores the new phenomenon of mass creativity exemplified by web sites such as YouTube, Wikipedia and MySpace. The book ... argues that participation, rather than consumption or production, will be the key organizing idea of future society.

The following YouTube clip provides an introduction to We-Think:

The thinking behind We-Think is outlined in a TEDTalk that Charles Leadbeater gave on innovation. (This talk is about 19 minutes)

The implications for schools, schooling and learning are great! Has anyone else read the book or have thoughts on the implications?

Remember: You are what you share!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Just because ...

I liked this clip ... just because it's fun and uplifting!

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Designs on Learning (3) - Re-thinking the learning process

I came across this YouTube clip from the Ordrup School in Gentofte, Denmark. In the clip the Chairman of the School Board reflects on the fact that the school was a product of the old society, in which classrooms where seen to be production units where teachers pushed the knowledge and wisdom out to the students. The school redesigned the learning spaces to support an approach to learning that reflects a contemporary society and how we young people engage in that society.
The challenge is to first rethink the learning process and the consequent design of the learning spaces.

Rethinking the Learning Process
Recently I was visiting a school where the principal and his leadership team were keen to explore what is possible for the learning spaces and for learning.
The conversation covered a wide area of thinking. Three key things seemed to emerge:

  1. Personalising the learning for students
  2. Ensuring deep learning
  3. Teacher learning to support innovation and transformation of practice to personalise the learning for deep learning.

The school was left with an interesting challenge through which to explore key concepts and to engage students, staff and the broader community. The challenge was to explore what might be possible.

What might schools look like if they didn't look like traditional schools?

What would learning look like if it didn't look like it presently does?

How might students respond to this?

What might they design?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Shaping Learning in the 21st Century - Teachers Leading Innovation: Key shifts and enabling factors (2)

The ACE presentation was well attended and I have received some very affirming comments from particiapnts. The powerpoint show is available as a share file located in the right hand column.

Below are a couple of comments:

"I was at your ACE presentation at our school on the 23/6. I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt very energised after it in terms of our own projects. ...We are fortunate in being a laptop school that has really good technology access and innovation. However, I think that your presentation provided that overarching paradigm that is sometimes lost in our everyday practice."

"Thank you for presenting such a thought provoking and complex issue for your seminar last night. I am not sure how you fitted it all in, in seventy five minutes but you did. It should be the start of a great conversation at many schools. I would love to have had the opportunity to work with you in a school setting."

"The first part of Andrew's talk with audience participation stimulated thinking. I think it is also time for strategy implementation."

"Congratulations on an excellent thought provoking lecture."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Shaping Learning in the 21st Century - Teachers Leading Innovation: Key shifts and enabling factors

I'll be presenting a workshop on Monday 23rd June for the Southern Harbour Chapter of the Australian College of Educators (ACE). Details can be found in the newsletter.

Whilst it is an opportunity to share some of the learnings from my Churchill Fellowship, it's also an opportunity to reflect on where my thinking is at and the challenges faced by education, schools and schooling.

I'm particularly interested in how others understand the challenges to learning in the 21st Century and particularly teachers leading innovation.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The death of education ... the dawn of learning

This is a wonderful and inspiring clip (sponsored by the Pearson Foundation for CosN) that is doing the rounds at the moment.
It opens up thinking about what is and what could be and should be in education, schooling and learning.

At the 2008 ICSEI conference, Susan Rona, a Hungarian-born Canadian who has worked on a project to achieve basic educational opportunities for the Roma (gypsy) children in four countries in Central Europe, put forward the proposition that education is important, but also put the question as to whether school is important.

Stephen Heppell was stronger in the clip in saying, "It's the death of education but the dawn of learning; and that makes me very happy!"

Imagine if schools were the "nearly now spaces".
Imagine if we did view schools as community sytems rather than a classroom systems.
Imagine if teachers had opportunities for global connecting.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Imaginings to develop innovation through networked learning

I'm excited because I have been able to organise David Jackson to come and spend a day working with colleagues.
In 2006 as part of my Churchill Fellowship I spent a day with David Jackson at the Networked Learning Group of the NCSL. The conversations and learnings from this day were significant.
It was from this day that I was introduced the the Three Fields of Knowledge.

From Networked Learning Communities: Learning about learning networks.

David, in my conversation with him in 2006, described the model of learning as follows:

In a learning activity there are three fields of knowledge and they should be represented in roughly equal proportions.

One of those fields is the knowledge that practitioners bring to the table. And that is where we should start, just as we do in the classroom with children. We build on prior knowledge. So we should honour, respect and build from the knowledge of practitioners.

Practitioners’ knowledge has two dimensions to it. One is their practitioner knowledge. The other is their context knowledge. The second one is really important because no one else has it. The knowledge of how to do it in our school is really a very important thing to bring to the table.

The second field of knowledge is the publicly available knowledge which we define as theory, research and the best practice elsewhere.

The third field of knowledge, which is where the whole construct of networking comes, is the new knowledge that we create together through collaborative, inquiry-based practices by building from the first two fields.

- David Jackson, Director, Network Learning Group, National College of School Leadership (meeting: 09/06/2006)

There is much that interests me about Networked Learning Communities in supporting innovation. The concepts of networking, learning, and communities when brought together can be quite powerful - as well as complex.

New concepts and learnings emerge from Networked Learning, Learning Networks, Networked Communities, Learning Communities, Networked Learning Communities.

I had this notion in my head that even if we had this holy grail of knowledge in our hand, if we had the knowledge that could transform the system, the system wouldn’t change because it isn’t orientated towards learning.

- David Jackson (meeting: 09/06/2006)

There are several things that I would like to follow up with David. These include:

  • Orientating systems towards learning
  • Working with the Three fields of knowledge to build system capacity
  • Designing and learning from networked learning communities
  • Identifying some of the pitfalls, danger spots and road blocks in working with large scale networks
  • Working with next practice thinking around professional learning, system learning and school improvement
  • Imagining a system where amazing practice was made visible and readily transferred to other sites
  • Imagining a system where the learning is transferred laterally across the system
  • Reskilling/reorientating the profession to networked learning and innovation.

At the heart is a focus on learning!

Probably the most powerful thing in our work is our model of learning. One of the points we make to people is that everyone is talking about learning, but what are the constructs in our heads when we use the word. Unless we all share a construct and understand what the disciplines are of the learning work we’re talking about then we are actually not going to go forward.

- David Jackson (meeting 09/06/2006)

One thing we know is that ‘top down’, outside-in change approaches are not working well in the medium to long term. School reforms have not succeeded in closing the gap in educational achievement between the most and least advantaged. Part of the solution lies within the profession, working within specific contexts. How are the insights and imaginations of practitioners and users to be employed in powerful and generative ways to develop innovation?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Designing Learning Spaces

It's funny how things sort of converge! Today I was in a meeting discussing the design of staff spaces to support teacher learning and collaboration. The regulations seemed to dominate the thinking as to why things couldn't be done differently.

Upon getting home I opened up my email to find an email from Futurelab,
a UK non-profit organisation that explores innovation in education. The email indicated that in January 2008 Futurelab conducted a workshop in which particpants explored personalising learning and school design.


The workshop explored

  • The biggest barriers
  • Principles of personalisation
  • Technologies and future learning opportunities
  • Student voice
  • Generated a set of outcomes of the workshop.

The summary document of the workshop, Learning spaces and personalisation workshop outcomes, makes for an interesting read.

Further information about this workshop can be found at the Themes section on learning spaces at Futurelab.

Futurelab has also produced a more comprehensive report on learning spaces, Opening education: What if … re-imagining learning spaces.

In addition, the blog FLUX is running a themed week this week (9-16 May 2008) on Learning Spaces. Entries include:

  • Tomorrow's schools more than just learning spaces
  • Personalising space and school redesign
  • A 'practical tool' for redesigning learning spaces?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Design on Learning - Design for Learning

Moving beyond school design that is limited to removing walls between classrooms deserves some serious considerations.

How the spaces for learning are conceptualised requires some thinking about the possibilities in schools for learning in the 21st Century. So often those involved in the design process look at other schools which, more often than not, are bounded by existing concepts of school and schooling.

What if …

  • Our concept of school was bounded by a view of the school as a studio rather than the factory?

  • Those involved in the design process visited other sites of learning, such as museums, art galleries, workshops, studios and kept away from schools?

  • Students were actively engaged in the design process and conceptualising what spaces designed for learning might look like?

  • Our school sites were conceptualised as villages of learning?

  • Students worked with designers in exploring the challenges of designing spaces, developing concepts and engaging in following-up on the development of the learning spaces?

Some interesting work has been occurring in England by the Sorrell Foundation through a project called joinedupdesignforschools.

These following links from TeacherTV are worth checking out.

Series on joinedupdesignforschools

This series features six schools which have successfully participated in the Joinedupdesignforschools project. Pupils have the major say in how an aspect of their school's environment is improved.
Pasted from <>

Video: joinedupdesignforschools - a place to chill

Architect Phin Manasseh works with pupils at Mounts Bay School in Cornwall to create an inspirational space with a social purpose but where learning takes place too.

Involving pupils in this way is a key part of the Joinedupdesignforschools project.
The brainchild of The Sorrell Foundation, the project gives pupils a major say in how an aspect of their school's environment is improved. The pupils are the clients, briefing designers who produce designs for their approval.

Phin Manasseh spoke of the success of the project. He said: "If all clients were like this, we?d have very different results."

The Joinedupdesignforschools project follows a four stage pattern:

  • The challenge
  • The brief
  • The conversation
  • The concept

A follow-up then looks at the school's success in finding the money to turn the creative designs into reality.
Pasted from <>

Saturday, May 10, 2008

All at sea in possibilities

The last few weeks have been intense with learning for me. Being a person who likes to explore connections and possibilities as threads emerge means that my mind has been and remains all over the place. All of a sudden "being lost in my own thoughts" makes sense!!

So what has been pre-occupying my thinking?

Students and their learning
  • The importance of knowing the learner and expecting all to learn at a deep level
  • The possibilities that exist for schools as we understand more of the nature of the learner and learning
  • Shifting from the atomised pieces of teaching (ritualised teaching) to opening up possibilities for the learner through deep learning, thinking and creativity.

Teachers and their teaching

  • Why finding excuses in the kids for why kids can't learn is so ingrained in teaching
  • Depersonalising the teaching from the teacher as a person and linking teaching with learning.

Designing learning spaces

  • Understanding the learning environment as the "third teacher
  • The need to have principles of learning to shape and inform the design of learning spaces
  • Does the space shape the practice?

Teaching as the learning profession

  • Building the learning within professional teams to deal with the complexities of teaching, not just training for delivery to achieve results
  • Teachers' agency and teachers leading learning across the school
  • Teacher inquiry and knowledge building and the place and nature of networks
  • Learning conversation that capture new learning and how to further develop and share the learning
  • Identifying what's worth sharing with others in the profession.

Transforming schools for 21st century

  • The tension between developing goals for schools and keeping an open-mind for unforeseen possibilities
  • The invitation to engage the imagination to reconceptualise schooling
  • Moving beyond best practice leading the rest to developing next practice.

Over the next little while I'll muse more publicly here about these, but would welcome any thoughts.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Enabling factors for robust frameworks to develop teacher agency, creativity and innovation

Recently Greg Whitby had a reflection on his blog Bluyonder titled Bogged down by accountabilities. This caused me to revisit my thinking from my Churchill Fellowship. A strong motivation for the trip was a concern that I had that accountabilities were stiffling creativity, innovation and the profession.

I share Greg's view that too often accountability is about blame rather than responsibility. I believe that teaching needs to become the learning profession. This means that teachers need to be the key decision-makers, but that decisions need to be made from a position of informed professionalism. Elsewhere in this blog I have expressed a concern with an emphasis on measuring and reviewing schools, and less of a focus on improvement.

Greg indictates that schools need robust frameworks from which good decisions about learning and teaching are made. I believe that these frameworks require teacher agency, creativity and innovation.

These enabling factors are not always recognisable in large scale reforms of schools and public accountability agendas. Further information on each of these enabling factors can be found in the ACSA paper I presented in 2007 and in my Churchill Report (see links).

What might be some enabling factors that allow for the creation of these robust frameworks?
  1. Trust the professionals.
  2. Build flexibility and adaptive capacity within and between schools.
  3. Create a culture of professional authority.
  4. Develop teacher agency and leadership.
  5. Develop informed professionalism.
  6. Strengthen collaboration across the profession.
  7. Foster networks for learning.
  8. Evolve communities of learning.
  9. Promote disciplined innovation.
  10. Harvest intellect and capture new knowledge.
  11. Build professional knowledge.
  12. Build capacity across the profession.
  13. Develop next practice.

A number of factors were identified that appeared to limit the development of robust frameworks that promote teacher agency, creativity and innovation . These include:

  • A political cycle and motivation that is focused on short-term reforms and lacks authentic engagement of the profession as well as the community;
  • An absence of incentives, rewards and acknowledgements for teachers engaging in improving the profession;
  • Focusing on the tools and processes of school improvement rather than the profession and people;
  • Over-emphasising the importance of positional leadership to bring about school improvement and under-valuing teacher leadership;
  • Emerging managerialism at the expense of leadership;
  • Focusing on reforming schools rather than transforming systems of learning;
  • Bureaucratic inertia and linear policy thinking that prevents the evolution of systems of learning;
  • Assumptions that education systems do have a strong focus on learning and have a learning culture;
  • Innovation fatigue with a few involved in doing the work.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Voyage into the unknown

I feel like I am on a voyage into the unknown.

Recently I was part of 3 days of professional learning with members of the team with whom I work.

The focus was on how we understand learning and support professional learning of teachers. We reflected on our work over the last term.

Two themes emerged from the reflections.

The experience of
  • Facing our own fears in learning
  • Facing our own fears in being a leader of learning.

Learning is, in part, about stepping out into the unknown. As the team I work with seeks to support schools in shaping learning in the 21st century we are feeling increasingly more vulnerable, living with the uncertainty of what could be. There is the expectation to know the answers - but the challenge lies in the questions.

Over the next few weeks I will reflect more on the possible frameworks to support shaping learning in the 21st Century through teacher inquiry, knowledge building and learning conversations.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Redesigning Learning

The redesign of learning spaces is linked to rethinking and redesigning schools. This clip from, System Redesign - How to Transform Your School is an excellent resource for opening up the thinking and conversations about redesigning the system of schooling. I'd be interested in others responses to the clip.

There has for a long time been a sense that there is a lack of congruence between school buildings/learning spaces, teachers/teaching and learners/learning.

A former colleague and mentor of mine, Kate Clancy (an outstanding educator and now Principal of Santa Sabina College, Strathfield, Australia) has, for many years, described this problem as learning taking place in 19th Century schools, with 20th Century teachers and 21st Century learners.

The video clip is a nice synthesis of some of the current thinking around redesigning. It draws upon some recent work from the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, an organisation I was fortunate enough to visit in 2006 to examine innovation. iNet is the international network that evolved from SSAT. It connects nicely with the concept of Next Practice – an area I am particularly interested in exploring further with schools.

What if … ? questions can open up thinking beyond current practice and shape new practices.

I was recently in a school that has established a strong working partnership at the leadership level with it’s neighbouring primary schools and the secondary school. The possibilities are endless for redesigning learning by exploring some of the "What ifs?".

What if …
  • There was shared leadership across the schools to improve numeracy for all students
  • Stage 3 and Stage 4 teachers worked together to address transition in investigating, planning, implementing and evaluating programmes
  • Teaching expertise were shared within and between the schools and was made available to other teachers and to the students
  • The network of neighbouring schools saw themselves as a learning precinct with shared responsibilities to the communities they served.
The list could go on!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Designs on Learning

Recently I was part of a conversation about a school building project. The design of the learning spaces is quite exciting, doing away with traditional classrooms as isolated boxes. The design has curved shaped walls defining a number of spaces opening out into a large central area.

In the course of the conversation I was struck by the danger of replicating existing structures and places within this new design. It was stated that a desk for every child is required so that the children can learn to write.

So there is the new design, recent technologies and traditional classroom furniture; and low and behold, before too long we have the familiar and recognisable classroom.

It was put to me that the school leadership needed to see what was possible elsewhere so that they could imagine school in new ways, rather than recreating what was in new spaces.

Of course there are schools that are exploring new ways of doing schooling - not just in design of buildings, but in the design of learning.

Of interest is what is happening at
Wooranna Park Public School. The school has designed learning spaces within the shell of a traditional school. The school describes itself as having

... endeavoured to create a learning environment for students that prepares them to live in a rapidly changing world, caters for their personal needs and passions, and excites their thirst for learning.

Another school that has the most amazing design is the Hellerup Skole in Denmark.

What both these schools have in common is a recognition that before considering the design of schools serious consideration needs to be given to the principles of learning that should inform and shape what the learning looks like. The learning spaces should be designed to support the desired learning.

This caused me to ask, "If we were to do school that wasn't to look like school, what might it look like?" This, I think, would be an interesting area to investigate with students.

This another clip that is provocative in opening up thinking:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Some challenges in being a learning profession

I thought I might be a little provocative in my thinking in this entry. Over the last few weeks I have had some interesting conversations with people about conferences and research.

A couple of things have struck me from the conversations; and I’d like to offer a couple of challenges as much for myself as for others.

1. There is a tendency for educators to attend conferences and expect to get something from them.
Often I hear attendees express disappointment that they have got nothing new from the conference. This may well be so. It seems to be an extension of the pragmatic approach I often experience of teachers: give me something I can do tomorrow that will be useful. Often this response is from the sheer business of teaching.

The challenge:
I do think that it is important to gain something from the conferences attended. I also believe that it is important to be active in building the knowledge across the profession.

At one level I find it affirming that what I hear is what I believe I already know and do.The challenge for me is to build on the knowledge. The focus I believe needs to be very much one of “so what?” “where to next?

This also challenges me to think about what I can contribute to the thinking either as a presenter or as a participant to engage in the professional discourse beyond my own site of involvement.

The networking of people, ideas and practice is central for me.

2. There is a tendency to disregard or "reactively challenge" the best available research, evidence and thinking at a superficial level.
I often experience a tendency at the local level (school and/or district) to often disregard or challenge evidence and emerging concepts when the evidence or concept challenges the status quo. This seems to often be done from a defensive and personal stance.

This is expressed in a number of ways:

  1. Picking of the eyes out of what is presented: "I like this part but don’t like that – so I’ll take the part I like."
  2. Blocking: "Well that won’t work here." Or, "They got it wrong."
  3. Comfort in the belief that it is already happening: “We’re already doing that. There’s nothing new here.”
The challenge
I believe that it is important to bring a critically reflective eye to the research. New research and thinking, that is recognised as the best or most significant available, should challenge my view of the world.

Significant professional learning doesn’t happen by accommodating the new thinking into my framework and theories, disregarding the pieces I don’t like or ignoring it (maybe hoping it will go away!).

The significant learning happens in the dissonance, when our safe theoretical and experiential frames are rattled and we are invited to see things differently and to re-frame our theories and make sense of the experiences from another perspective.

Depersonalising teaching
Recently I was part of a discussion about the need to not only deprivatise teaching but also to depersonalise teaching if we are improve the quality of teaching and build professional knowledge across the profession. This is not about removing or denying the relational aspect that is an important part of teaching; but rather to separate the person as teacher from the act of teaching.

The focus should be on improving the act of teaching.

In a conversation I had with Tom Bentley (former director of DEMOS - a British think tank), we talked about teaching being a Community of Practice (rather than a Community of Learners) whereby teachers:

- focused on their professional activities - what they do
- engaged in mutually supportive forms of professional exchange.

Such Communities can serve to reinforce our bounded professional identities as teachers and as a profession.

There is a danger of these communities of practice following the existing institutional contours (the way things are done) rather than trying to break out of these. We continue to keep doing things in pretty much the same way rather than exploring new ways.

Of course we can’t constantly be involved in deep or significant learning. But I fear that too often the opportunity to learn as teachers can be prematurely shut down in the name of pragmatism and a belief that it is a comment about me as a teacher, rather than about teaching.

Maybe teachers are just suspicious of research and new thinking that challenges the status quo. Maybe this has always been the case; but maybe the accountability and merit pay agendas have heightened the suspicion. Maybe increased external accountability and rewards such as merit pay get in the way of learning as a profession.

What do you think?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Disciplined dialogue to build capacity

I spent the last 2 weeks working with the Team Leaders and Teaching Educators who are part of the team with whom I work. Several of the team members were new.

One thing that struck me from the two weeks was the importance of talk in getting to know each other and in developing leadership. The talk allowed for us to get insights into how each person thinks about teaching and learning, the language we use to describe our thinking and our theories of learning.

At the recent ICSEI conference
I attended a session on Teacher Leadership conducted by John MacBeath from the Leadership for Learning network. The session identified the need to move from professional discussions (conversations that dissect and pull apart) to disciplined dialogue (conversations that flow through developing thinking and ideas).

Disciplined dialogue takes time but it is essential for effective distribution of leadership and the building of capacity in the profession of teaching. Engaging in disciplined dialogue is hard work.

Disciplined dialogue assists in developing a shared language for talking about learning. The conversations reflected understandings held by others. They allowed for theories of learning to be surfaced and for assumptions to be tested.

For me it reinforced the importance of professional talk about teaching and learning undertaken in a focused and disciplined way.

Engaing in disciplined dialogue takes time. Too often time is not given to conversations as time is viewed as a something to be consumed, rather than as an investment for the future.
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