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

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

If teaching and learning are relational how come I can’t use social networks at work?

We are coming towards the end of the first decade of the 21st Century.

What has changed in schooling over the last decade?

I’m not sure if that much has really changed.

I work at the educational authority/system level. My own experience is that I can’t even get a button added to my desktop because it is a social networking site.

The fact is that, along with twitter, facebook and LinkedIn have become tools that I have used in my work. They allow me to connect with other professionals.

Unfortunately, the bulk of my professional social networking occurs outside of my work place and official work hours. Yet it is a powerful professional tool and reflects new ways of working and learning.

In school education the practice of erring on the side of caution is very strong. I feel at times that we are still tinkering around the edges.

For me it reinforces that education authorities, school systems and schools continue to be at risk of being obsolete - a point I blogged about over 2 years ago.

Ewan McIntosh recently blogged about Why backward social network banning education authorities are wrong. It is an interesting read and highlights the frequently overlooked professional benefits of social networking.

At the recent World Innovation Summit for Education, Lord David Putnam, the Chairman of FutureLab talks about possibilities for education in the next decade. I love his story of the teacher directing the class to copy the set homework from the blackboard (or perhaps an interactive whiteboard) and the student who used a mobile phone to take a photo of the board.

Is it a case of "the more things change the more things stay the same in schooling?" I hope not.


Interactive whiteboard:


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Is education a gift or an entitlement?

Recently Greg Whitby wrote in a recent post,
Motivation (6 Oct. 09) that,
What motivates me and many of my colleagues is a desire to give young people the best opportunity in life by giving them the gift of education.
This didn't sit comfortably with me. I understand the intent behind Greg's statement.

Let me explain.
The part that caused me some discomfort was the notion of education being a gift. For me language is important. It's the sociologist and linguist in me (and perhaps a hint of the philosopher).

gift n. 1. something given: a present. 2. the act of giving. 3. the power or right of giving.
education n. 1. the act or process of educating: the imparting or acquisition of knowledge, skill, etc. 2. the result produced by instruction, training, or study. 3. the science or art of teaching.
Source: The Macquarie Dictionary
The Latin root of education is educare which means "to bring out of" or "to lead forth".

Gifts are things that we can choose to give or not give to another. For me education is not a gift that I give to another.

For me education is an entitlement. It's part of the right of being human.
There are implications behind these understandings of education as a gift or entitlement that lead to understandings of teachers, teaching, learners and learning.

If education is a gift then there maybe a danger that the teacher may be seen to be the holder of the gift who gives the gift to the learner. The learner can choose to accept the gift or not, or to value the gift or not. Sound familiar? Friere's "Jug to mug" maybe.

If education is an entitlement then the function of the teacher is more than giving something to the student. For me it implies that there is more at stake. The teacher needs to ensure that education is happening for all. This is what I know Greg to be about. He has said many times,
"What if learning was compulsory rather than schooling?"
How do we ensure that all students access and benefit from that they which they are entiltled? Education.
Image source: Artists_models

Friday, October 02, 2009

Tipping Points

I have not long returned from the Australian Council for Educational Leaders conference that was held in Darwin.
This is an annual conference for the peak professional association for educational leaders in Australia.
This years conference was outstanding and very stimulating with highlights being several of the keynotes and lead papers.
Key themes of the conference:

Challenging Environments, Extraordinary Leadership
Practices, Leading Change
Imagining the Impossible, Creating Tomorrow
the Future, Challenging the Past

Many of the sessions were concerned with distributed leadership, instructional leadership and continuous school improvement

My own learnings and insights from the conference

  • There is a tendency to hold onto old models when new models are required
  • Traditional school improvement can be short-lived – often there is nothing of substance underneath
  • Schools are becoming desensitised to external accountability to drive improvement
  • Good leaders create conditions for teaching and learning
  • The paradox: What gets you there won’t keep you there!
  • Leading for high performance requires constant disequilibrium and looking forward
  • Ineffectual schools have dysfunctional cultures
  • Leadership, rather than leaders, makes a difference
  • Learning is at the core
  • Leaders need a vision and need to develop a narrative
  • The goal is improvement – innovation is at the service of improvement
  • You cannot do educational improvement by riding the backs of teachers
  • Successful school improvement is rarely achieved without external support and impetus
  • Within school variance in pedagogical quality is 4 times greater than between school variance.

Possible tipping points

  • Leaders having high quality conversations about learning
  • Build capacity of leaders to have the difficult conversations with teachers about learning
  • Leaders being skilled in having conversations about expectations and support
  • Conversations need to be collaborative and respectful and based on evidence
  • Relentless pursuit of what will help students learn more, achieve more, be better
  • Couple optimism (what can be achieved) with realism (what is possible)

At a system level there is a need for

  • the lateral transference of what works
  • a strategy of sustainable improvement for large numbers of people
  • a simple narrative line linked to a vision to explain the complex

and a need to

  • draw upon and maximise expertise rather than positions/roles
  • distribute accountability and responsibility
  • ensure flexibility of roles within teams.

The “HOW” of school improvement as a continuous process
Alma Harris

Pro-Director (Leadership), Institute of Education,London; and Chair in Educational Leadership, London Centre for Leadership in Learning, England, UK

5Ds of continuous improvement

  1. Diagnosis
  2. Development – the right development strategies
  3. Data-informed
  4. Drive – focused to improve
  5. Distribute leadership

3 stages of improvement
Stage 1
: Stopping the decline and creating conditions
Stage 2: Ensuring survival
Stage 3: Achieving sustainability and aspiring for much more

How to get there

  • Evidence-based
  • Connected programs, not localised projects
  • High local accountability – build internal capabilities
  • Abandon what gets in the way

What brings about educational improvement?
Ben Levin

Professor and Canada Research Chair at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto

The right changes
Change teaching and learning practices in all schools
- best evidence
- student engagement
Reach out to parents and community
Build sector capacity and commitment
Improve leadership skills
Approach curriculum and assessment as servant, rather than masters

Where to focus
Think ‘systems’ more than schools
All schools need to improve
Pay specific attention to
- low performing schools
- “coasting” schools
Priority groups
Aboriginal, ESL, special education, disability

Focus on system and whole school changes – avoid projects
Create infrastructure
- relevant to the size of the challenge
- support people as well as resources
Be relentless about reminders, events and supporters
Build research, evaluation and data

Improving practices
Use what we know makes a difference (pick the low hanging fruit)
Build on good practices towards universal use
Start with easier steps
Take ownership
Work collectively in teams
Ground practices in school settings
Use data effectively

Importance of systems and processes
Regular events to review data and progress
Processes to ensure every student is considered
Prevention rather than remediation

Primary and Secondary
Different strategies are required
Primary – focus on teaching and learning
Secondary – focus on knowing students and tracking progress

Build sector support
Build strong political leadership
Align with local leaders
Respect all partners
Appeal to educators’ ideals
Build staff support
Stay focused and aligned
Develop public confidence and support

Public confidence
Public must believe that schools deliver
Requires sustained effort
Day to day work matters more than PR
There must be simple, clear messages backed by action

Role of assessment
Public is entitled to information system performance that goes beyond public test scores
Educators need information on student outcomes that is timely and relevant, and need to know what to do next

Communication and support
Endless communication to sector
- enlist support from leaders and teachers
- constant positive reinforcement
- respectful but with expectations
Regular public communication
- successes and challenges
Labour peace is a key element

Leadership capabilities that have a positive influence on learning
Viviane Robinson

Professor in the Faculty of Education, The University of Auckland, New Zealand
1. Integrate pedagogical knowledge

Learning Goals

Pedagogical Shift

Leadership required for shift

2. Analyse and solve complex problems
a. Goals determined
b. Discern constraints
c. Modify and integrate constraints in ways that enable solutions to be found

Loosen constraints to give room to move
Need for systematic identification and use of high quality solutions

3. Build relational trust
Relational trust is about interdependence
High relational trust leads to positive attitudes to innovation and risk

Uniqueness of the School context
Uniqueness of schools can lead to solving problems on your own
Need to test whether the school is more similar than unique

Further questions and answers
What contributes to a continuous improvement culture?
Flatter structures
Expertise at point of need
Work in teams
New ways of working

How do leaders influence teaching and learning?
Shape the work around learning
Shape goals focused on improving learning
Spend more time looking at teaching and learning

How are competing demands balanced and how is alignment created?
Focus on the things that need to be done to improve learning
Create alignment around Principles of Learning?

How much pressure and how much support?
Requires a skills set of strong influence
Pressure equates with High Expectations
What are the things that will move things forward with the least effort?

How can Instructional Leadership be strengthened?
Establish priorities/goals focused on learning at system level yet allow enough flexibility for schools to address
Develop a sustained improvement agenda
Slow down change to speed up improvement

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Getting the conversations right

Are we getting the conversations about education right? Are we even having the right conversations?

A recent Twitter post from Greg Whitby struck a strong chord with me. For a number of years now I have had a problem with the gap between school improvement and improving learning. Part of my concern has been the focus on the institutional and organisational aspects of schooling.

In more recent times here in Australia this concern has been reinforced by a legislative, policy and compliance agenda. For example, the National implementation of A-E Reporting and the recent proposed policy direction of creating League Tables based on national Literacy and Numeracy tests. Much has been said elsewhere critiquing the limitations and detrimental effects of such simplistic solutions to complex problems (Geoff Masters on A-E Reporting, Ken Boston on National Testing and Reporting, Brian Caldwell on League Tables and the need for the profession to agitate).

The key to moving forward is quality teaching linked to quality learning. The institution of schooling and approaches to improving the institution of school often miss the mark and lead to the wrong conversations.

The conversations should be focused on improving learning, not on merely on improving limited measurements of achievement.

The teaching profession needs to claim the space as the learning profession - the profession that has deep and informed conversations about learning, based on deep and informed understandings of learning. These seem to be the right conversations for the teaching profession.

It makes sense to me that improved learning must lead to improved schools. However, improved schools do not always result in better learning in every classroom.

Are we having the right converations? Do we know how to have these conversations?





Saturday, August 08, 2009

What would be a real revolution in education?

Here in Australia there is a show on the ABC called QandA, Adventures in Democracy.

The show’s format essentially is to have a panel of 5 people consisting of politicians, activists, community group representation moderated by a journalist. Questions are put to the panellists.

The ABC saw that recent show (Thursday 6th August 2009)

"was a special episode of Q&A in which the leaders of the present discussed the issues of the day with the leaders of tomorrow. The entire audience and three of the panel members were in the 16-25 age bracket….” (from transcript accessed 8th August 2009).

The panellists on the show were Julia Gillard (Deputy Prime Minister), Malcolm Turnbull (Leader of the Opposition), Sara Haghoodsti (climate change activist), Mitchell Grady (law student) and Linden Brownley (indigenous advocate).

The following question was put to the panel by Jono Leonard:

"I would like to ask a question in regard to the Labor party's 'Education revolution'. Should the government be focusing more of the $14.7 billion away from infrastructure and more towards productive means of education such as smaller class sizes, and better trained teachers? Shouldn't all teachers be 'superteachers'?"

The discussion was interesting, but at times I found a little irritating.

So what irritated me?

Reference to quality teachers, rather than quality of teaching. This resonated with a discussion I was part of at a recent forum I attended where it was noted that discussions around health care don’t focus on Quality Doctors; discussions about the legal system doesn’t focus on Quality Lawyers, Barristers and Judges.

In talking about quality teachers it is implied that there is a pervasive lack of quality teachers.

Greg Whitby recently tweeted about this:

Can any one explain what a quality teacher is? Mustn't all teachers be doing quality work or they shouldn't be teaching?

Statements from that panelists that the solution lies in “a) the curriculum; and b) having quality teachers to interpret and teach that curriculum” over simplifies the complexity of the work of teachers.

Further statements that “our numeracy rates are lowering. Our literacy standards are lowering. We're not going to fix that with a new gymnasium. We're going to fix that with better teachers teaching better curriculum” create a crisis that doesn’t exist by all accounts from international testing.

Such understandings can lead to attempts to teacher-proof the curriculum which lead us nowhere.

"Putting disinfectant right through the system"

Discussion moved into the publishing of schools' results publicly to allow for comparisons of "like schools". Publishing results to allow for comparisons of like-schools may well serve parent choice (though probably not those in disadvantaged communities). It does not however serve learning. The example of league tables in the UK and policies such as No child left behind in the US, that purported transparency and public accountability, have actually compounded the problem.

Julia Gillard, in response to a question in relation to disadvantage and publication of school performance data stated

“We can make a difference to that disadvantage if we focus on it.
That's what the transparency I was asked about [publishing performace data] is all about - putting disinfectant right through the system, every school, putting their results up so we can see where the problems are.”

An interesting analogy – “putting disinfectant right through the system.” Does it presuppose an infected system in need of cleansing, or at least prevention against possible infection?

World's best school systems

The McKinsey Report (2007), How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top, studied 25 of the world's school systems, inlcuding 10 of the top performers. This study, conducted by Barber and Mourshed , identified that

“The experience of these top schools systems suggests that three things matter most: 1) getting the right people to become teachers, 2) developing them into effective instructors and, 3) ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.”

This involves society, including politicians, appreciating the complex work of teachers and valuing that work and what it does contribute to society in terms that are broader than the predominant economic ones.

The issues are complex and require well thought out and whole system solutions. This, I think, requires smarter policies with a view to the long term and the future, not a short term political cycle.

It requires a view that says that our students need basic skills as well as skills and capabilities for an uncertain future. Our students need to understand oppression, patriarchy and discrimination to create a civil society – not just learn to spell these words; and indeed they can understand the concepts without necessarily being able to spell them!

They will require skills and capabilities to engage in and solve the problems they will face them: global warming, the water crisis, learning to live with diversity in a globalised world.

They also require teachers who can teach for uncertain futures. Teachers who understand learning and how today's world shapes how young people learn. Teachers that understands digital natives; but also understand that not all students use digital technology the same way or are in fact digital natives.

This requires time and space for teachers to learn. It has been argued by Professor Brian Caldwell that teachers should spend 20 days a year in professional learning.

The Australian Education Revolution, whilst well intentioned may not move us that much forward.

It seems to me that schooling, as presently experienced in disadvantaged communities, isn’t working well for those communities. Maybe there needs to be less emphasis on the business of schooling and being concerned with how to do school, and a stronger focus on learning and how learning is mediated, of which school maybe a part. This requires structural and institutional changes, not just “quality teachers”.

The Building Education Revolution doesn’t seem to be paying attention to creating spaces for learning, but rather seems to be replicating what has been – halls, gymnasiums, rooms for classes.

The Digital Education Revolution doesn’t appear to be paying much attention to emerging technologies. Laptops for every student may be superseded but more flexible, mobile technologies that can achieve the same. Maybe this is because those that design the policies don't engage with the technologies.

Understand learning

For me part of the solution lies in teachers better understanding learning and how to support the learning of a diverse group of students and engage them in learning. There is no one size fits all. The “cookie cutter” or “production-line” approach to schooling doesn’t serve us well today.

  • What if the focus were on learning and not schooling?
  • What if the profession of teaching were charged with the responsibility for ensuring the quality of teaching?
  • What if every backbencher worked in spaces with teachers for a week every year?
  • What if teachers had professional learning that focused on solving the complex problems of ensuring learning for all?

Great educational experiences depend on great teaching that takes place in great spaces (virtual and real), supported by great professional learning with great valuing of the complexity and significance of educators by the community.

I am left wondering, “What would be a real revolution in education?”


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Internet memes

I find the viral nature of the internet fascinating. Somethings seem to catch on. Some are funny or just plain bizarre; others are uplifting. What I didn't know was that they are called Internet memes.

At its most basic, an Internet meme is simply the propagation of a digital file or hyperlink from one person to others using methods available through the Internet (for example, email, blogs, social networking sites, instant messaging, etc). The content often consists of a saying or joke, a rumor, an altered or original image, a complete website, a video clip or animation, or an offbeat news story, among many other possibilities.

The one below is currently sweeping the world:

Below is a timeline of some of the internet memes:

Friday, July 17, 2009

Apollo 11 - Forty Years on

This anniversary is kind of emotional and nostalgic for me. My father (now deceased) worked in the space industry in Canberra; so I grew up with the Space Age being a part of the home.

As a kid I used to love to be taken out to the Orroral
 Valley Tracking Station, where dad worked, and was fascinated by the banks of computers with their flashing lights, as well as the dish that was controlled by a sphere mounted into a desk console (precursor of a touchpad).

On the day of the moon landing, I remember being taken out of school to watch it live, with dad explaining the whole thing as it unfolded. I knew that it was something big, but I was also struck by my father's passion around what was happening.

It remains a vivid memory of mine as a 7-year old boy.

What's exciting for me now is that the journey can be relived through wechasethemoon and followed on twitter @AP11_SPACECRAFT. Indeed, we are in a different age.


We also used to be brought home from school by my father to watch solar eclipses using pin-hole cameras. We'd make the cameras at home then draw phases of the eclipse from the camera.

I guess somethings about learning don't change. The learning was out of school, surrounded with passion, inquiry and questioning. It instilled awe and wonder in my young mind and a spirit of inquiry.

Photos taken from link to a Honeysuckle Tracking Station site.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A twenty-first century child

Recently I used the passage, I am Jarrod, at a recent presentationJarrod is one of my nephews.

The passage is an adaptation of one originally written by Hedley Beare that he uses in his book, Creating the Future school. Hedley uses Angelica in his passage, "I am the future's child". I have adapted the passage and have used it many times in presentations. The interest in others wanting a copy has prompted me to post it here.

Jarrod - a twenty-first century child

I am Jarrod and I am five and a half. I was born in the 21st century. On present life expectancies I will probably live until I am over 80. My children will see in the 22nd century. I was one of 3 out of every 100 babies that were born in a developed country. I am a Christian living in Australia. I will grow up in a non-Christian, non-European region of the world - the Asia-Pacific.

My world will be smaller. People will move about and communicate more easily across the globe. The main world language may not be English - it may well possibly be Mandarin. The world's population will explode and there will be several super-cities with over 8 million people in each. Several of these will be in Asia. These cities will bring with them increased poverty.

The environment will concern me. Global warming, food production and sustainability will be problems to be addressed.

Technology and its use will continue to grow and shape the world. I will be faced with moral and ethical issues around human reproduction, genetic engineering, aged care and health, the use of technology to improve the quality of life for some at a cost to others.

Commodities will no longer be materials, like production. The new commodities will be non-material, such as technical skills, brain-power and know-how. I will be a creator of ideas and solutions and an empathiser ina conceptual age.

I was learning before I started school and learning wont stop when I finish school; and I continue to learn outside of the school day.

I am not a blank slate nor an empty vessel waiting to be filled. I have ideas. I create. I problem-solve. I am learning about my world and the people in it. I am learning about myself, about the space around me, about objects. I am wired to learn. I want to learn. Each day I am learning more, building on what I already know. I use my will, my ingenuity, my effort and my expertise to learn. I am learning language and I am thinking. I am solving problems and I am applying what I know in my world. I want to show others what I have learnt. I am asking questions.

I will learn as much from TV, through the internet and through social networking as I will learn in school. I will have absorbed, and have started to absorb a US frame of reference on the world, with its values and culture. World-wide more people will be Moslem than Christian. Confucian characteristics will shape the Asian economies. I will need to learn to live comfortably in a multi-cultural, multi-national, multi-faith world.

I will need to know what I stand for. I will look to school for my values and beliefs. I am uncertain about the future and holding onto the past won't help me.

Digital technologies will change my access to information. Technology will become smaller, more mobile and more flexible than computers. I won't need a teacher to provide me with information. Knowledge will no longer be managed as subjects and classes with teachers as gate-keepers. Knowledge will be a web of interconnections. The curriculum will be influenced by national and international concerns. My teachers are important to me because they tell me how to deal with the future - the long, long future.

I will see the world differently.

Do you know what to teach me?

Do you know what I need to learn?

Do you know how to teach me?

Do you know how I learn?

I am Jarrod. I am 5. And I am in one of your classrooms now.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A more creative society

There seems to be a convergence of thinking around creativity, learning and schools. More and more it seems that creativity is a key feature of the "next age" in society.

Conceptual Age, creativity, creative minds

Dan Pink puts forward an argument that we are moving from the knowledge and information age and are now entering the Conceptual Age. The Conceptual Age is characterised by empathy and creativity.

The emergence of the Creative Class is a concept explored by Richard Florida, where he recognises a central role for talent and creativity in economic development.

The Creative Class is a class of workers whose job is to create meaningful new forms (2002). The Creative Class is composed of scientists and engineers, university professors, poets and architects. The Creative Class also “includes people in design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or creative content” (Florida, 2006, p. 8). Their designs are widely transferable and useful on a broad scale, as with products that are sold and used on a wide scale. Another sector of the Creative Class includes those positions which are knowledge intensive, these careers usually require a high degree of formal education (2002). Examples of this sector are health professionals and business management, who are considered to be a part of the sub-group called Creative Professionals. Their main job is to think and to create new standard approaches for fixing the problem at hand. Creativity is becoming more valued in today’s global society. (accessed 5th July 2009)

The importance of creativity is a theme that Sir Ken Robinson picks up on in his interviews, presentations and writings.

Sowing the seeds for a more creative society

I recently stumbled upon this clip of Mitch Resnick presenting at MIT Museum SOAP Box. His topic was Sowing the seeds for a More Creative Society.

The video is interesting in exploring themes of learning, collaboration and creativity. Mitch talks for about 30 minutes. The remainder of the time is facilitation and exploration of issues by participants with Mitch.

There are opportunities for schools to move from delivering information and ensuring good command of facts to spaces that allow students to work collaboratively to think and act creatively.

Working collaboratively to think and act creatively should be a central focus of what happens in learning - for students, teachers and leaders. In many schools this is starting to happen.


Resnick directs the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the Media Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He has developed new technologies designed to engage people (particularly children) in creative learning experiences. These technologies include a program called SCRATCH, as well as LEGO Mindstorms.

Picture from: minezone/120962030/

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