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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Born Creative ...

Born Creative is a new publication from DEMOS (the London-based think tank).
This publication is a collection of essays focusing on creativity and arts in the early years education.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Australian Educational Policy – Starting to Listen?

The following Blog Post was placed on the Innovation Unit blog. An interesting view on the Australian situation from an English perspective written by David Price. For more see David Price's Blog.

Having now spent 3 weeks working with Australian Principals, teacher trainers, teachers and student, and talking to press and media people, I feel like I'm starting to get a handle on the issues currently at play. The debates around education, for a Brit, are similar to almost all aspects of Aussie life: familiar and yet, unfamiliar, at the same time.

I wrote earlier about the Australian take on the 'accountability framework' – it seemed like publishing student/teacher results on a national website was bound to lead to league performance tables by any other means. A week later – and I'm sure my post had nothing to do with it – state Education Ministers were in Canberra, meeting to discuss 'school performance'. I happened to be in Parliament House at the time they were discussing it, and joked with colleagues that, if they'd let me in, I'd tell them to avoid league tables at all costs. Lo and behold, they seem to have reached that conclusion anyway, according to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald. The problem was familiar, the solution, unfamiliar – prevent the aggregation of individual school reporting into a national blunt instrument. Minister Gove, please take note.

And then there's the development of the National Curriculum. With the best of intentions, the Federal government had aspired to create a Finnish 'pared-down' curriculum, which would encourage flexibility. The consultation process, however, has spawned too much elaboration leading to criticisms of the draft curriculum as 'overcrowded and incoherent' . Amazingly enough, the government seems to be listening, and the intention is now to scale back in future drafts.

So, from a UK viewpoint, a familiar set of issues. But an unfamiliar response, in that people seem to be listening to school principals, teachers and – as in the event I attended last week in Melbourne, courtesy of Musical Futures school, Trafalgar Primary – listening to learners themselves. We (including our popular press) could learn a lot from the way schooling is publicly discussed in Australia.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Conversation from Penn State with Sir Ken Robinson: Education Innovation - Learning the true meaning of creativity

I woke up this morning to find I'd received the following email from Stephanie Williams from WPSU/Penn State Public Broadcasting:

As I'm sure you're aware, many experts believe the education system in the U.S. needs significant restructuring. WPSU-TV recently interviewed Sir Ken Robinson on a series called “Conversations From Penn State” where he discussed the problems facing the education system and suggests ways to improve it by promoting creativity. After reading through your blog, I think you and your readers may be interested in the interview. It can be found at and I have provided the embed code at the bottom of this message if you wish to share the video. Please let me know if you have any question or if you decide to post the video.
Stephanie Williams

As regular readers would know, I resonate strongly with Sir Ken Robinson and what he has to say about education.

Often times teachers and leaders in schools are hamstrung by an education system that is focused on reforming and teacher-proofing, resulting in standardising students and de-professionalising teachers.

However, There are many people in education for whom teaching and education is their passion. It is where they are in their element.

Video: Conversation from Penn State with Sir Ken Robinson
This conversation draws on Ken Robinson's work, The Element. During the conversation he makes the following points:
  • People underestimate themselves
  • The problem is the education system, not teachers and principals
  • Transformation is what's required, not reform
  • There's an obsession with Standardised Testing
  • Schooling is resulting in "standardising" kids
  • Reforms are focused on teacher-proofing.
After viewing the video I'm left with the opening question that was put to Ken Robinson:

What sparked your interest in education?
I'd be interested in what your thoughts on the conversation are. I have placed my own summary, comments and thoughts after the video.

My summary, comments and thoughts on the conversation
I have been working on my PhD studies which has involved me interviewing many primary and secondary teachers. As part of the interviews teachers commented on their view of schooling and themselves as a teacher. Several of these teachers, primary and secondary, commented that teaching is more than content and subject areas. Teaching is about students realising their full potential.

These teachers seem to believe this, yet an outcome of the education system, according to Robinson, is people underestimating themselves. Robinson highlights this when he comments that there is a view that only special people are creative or are good at Maths. For me it raises questions as to what we might mean be "full potential".

Robinson indicates that systems of mass education are the result of mass industrialism. The education system has been crafted in the image of industrialism. The education system is linear and based around supply and demand. It's a system that is about conformity, standardising and a presumed workforce and less about diversity. The system is founded on the IDEA of UTILITY: that is what will be useful in gaining employment and making a living.

For Robinson, education systems are obsessed with standardised testing. This culture of testing can result in narrowing the curriculum and teaching to the test. This comes at a price for students and teachers. Robinson believes that in attempting to deal with a culture of standardised tests the education system is standardising students. It also results in a stripping away of teacher professionalism.

Many Government policy makers invest huge amounts of time, money and energy in attempts to
teacher-proof the system through public accountability resulting in standardisation: teacher standards, leadership standards, standardised testing, public reporting of results comparing schools, common curriculum.

Teacher-proofing won't work. Why? Because teaching is more complex than standardised solutions. Scotland discovered this. Improvement processes can result in isomorphism - where it all starts to look the same, no matter the context. Robinson states that students don't comment on the curriculum or the testing regimes as making a difference to them at school.

Students regularly comment that it is the teachers who were significant to them at school. It's teachers (or other mentors) who can result in students realising their passion, and perhaps their full potential.

Many leaders and teachers are grappling with the issues of transformation. Just the other day I was having a conversation with a secondary teacher around the need for things to be different in schools. The teacher, a very competent and successful teacher teaching in a highly complex secondary school, commented on the challenges she was faced with on a daily basis. The world isn't changing - it has changed.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Maths needs a makeover

Dan Meyer is a young Maths teacher from the U.S. He recently presented at the TEDx New York. It is a refreshing look at the teaching of mathematics.

Dan Meyer raises a number of points that are worth considering.

He identifies 5 symptoms that you are doing maths wrong in the classroom. Part of the issue, he argues, is that students expect simple problems that can be resolved simply. He argues that the way text books present mathematical computation and patient problem-solving reinforces this. It conditions students to solve problems in a particular way - simply decoding, and applying given information within a very short time frame.

I like his notion that the maths serves the conversation, not the conversation serving the maths. Real problems either have too much information or not enough information. Students need to be engaged in deep thinking and in the formulation of the problem as well as the solving of the problem.

He proposes 5 actions for maths teachers:
  1. Use multimedia
  2. Encourage student intuition
  3. Ask the shortest questions you can
  4. Let students build the problem
  5. Be less helpful.
"Maths makes sense of the world. Maths is the vocabulary of your own intuition."
"We need more patient problem-solvers!"
The ideas presented in the video are timely given the development of a National Curriculum for Mathematics in Australia.

Here is Dan's TEDx talk:

Dan's blog is also worth checking out:

Friday, June 04, 2010

Imagining Possibilities

Recently I presented a keynote at the State ACEL conference. ACEL is the Australian Council for Educational Leaders. I am working with a cluster of schools focused on Numeracy. One of the questions that is a focus of the work is how leadership can influence learning.
The conceptual model for the project draws on the work of Vivianne Robinson and Helen Timperley from Auckland University.
To support leaders in exploring their leadership we are working with the ACEL Leadership Capabilities. These capabilities provide a comprehensive framework for reflecting on and developing leadership as an individual, as a group (such as principals) and as a team at school or system level.
The presentation (see below for movie format of powerpoint) were my reflections and learnings from engaging with the framework. It has only been a few months but the potential is great. The challenge I am finding (drawing on Pfeffer and Sutton, and DuFour etal. is moving from KNOWING to DOING!
I'm more than happy to provide further information or answer questions people may have.

Bring on the Learning Revolution

Many people would be familiar with Sir Ken Robinson's 2006 TEDTalk, Do schools kill creativity? This is the "follow-up" 4 years later at the 2010 TEDTalk.
Some key points from this TEDTalk are:
  • Education dislocates people from their natural talents.
  • Reforming education systems is of little use because it's trying to improve a broken model.
  • What is required is a revolution that transforms the system into something else.
  • Innovation is fundamental to the required transformation.
  • We need to challenge what we take for granted.
  • The Tyranny of Common Sense works against transformation.
  • The Narrative of Linearity in education (ie. it starts here and finishes here) is an example of what is taken fro granted.
  • "A three-year old isn't half a six-year old!"
  • Education results in conformity through a fast food model.
  • Passion is what excites the spirit and gives energy.
  • Does education feed people's passions?
  • Human flourishing is organic not mechanical.
  • "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." -W.B. Yeats
  • Everyday, education treads on children and young people's dreams.
The video of the talk is below.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Innovation and Teaching

Over the last couple of weeks I have presented two workshops/presentations to staff at Macquarie University on Innovation in Teaching at part of the programme offered by the Learning and Teaching Centre of the university.

Below is a copy of the presentation (in movie format) developed and used in both workshops.

Innovation can be seen as being radical or incremental as outlined in the slide below (taken from a presentation given by Valerie Hannon).

The notion of Next Practice was presented. The model presented is based upon that developed by the Innovation Unit in London.

The following framework was presented as a scaffold for developing innovation. It has been developed from frameworks developed from Next Practice Programme: Third sector development through brokerage (2010) and Innovation Self Evaluation Activity (2008).
I found the conversation stimulating and encouraging. I'm always interested how people take forward ideas they are presented.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Mac vs PC ... and Ellen DeGeneres

I stumbled onto this tongue in cheek "commercial" from The Ellen Show:

I thought it was pretty funny. Apparently the folks at Apple didn't find it so funny. They thought it made the iPhone look difficult to use.

Sort of got me thinking about the Mac vs PC ad campaign. It seems similar in style - except one was for marketing purposes!

Oh, and I am a Mac user!

Leading Learning: Our Principle Purpose

A part of my work this year has been working with the principals and assistant principals of 14 schools. These schools have been working together as "learning community" for a number of years. This year they have wanted to up the ante around learning, including their own learning.

The groups thinking has been informed by the work of Vivianne Robinson on leadership that has an impact on student outcomes and Helen Timperley on professional learning that improves student learning (teacher inquiry and knowledge building).

This learning meeting followed on from a successful staff development day for all the schools in the Learning Community. The principals and assistant principals brought along their thinking as to the goals for the year and key strategies the intended to use.

The meeting aimed to support these leaders in clarifying their goals, think about what their theory of action is to bring about the desired change and identify their learning needs as leaders.

My own reflections and learnings from the meeting are that:
  1. Developing precision around vision and expressing this as a couple of goals that are clear and unambiguous is hard work;
  2. Monitoring the effectiveness requires deep thinking in the planning stage; and
  3. engaging in open to learning conversations requires new skills and a shift away from monitoring, compliance and accountability mindsets.
Below is a copy of the powerpoint used in movie format:

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Looking for opportunities: Systemic reform, system learning? (Part 2)

This isn’t the Part 2 I had intended – but I thought that it is an example of how the system may actually be getting in the way of improvement and transformation.

Yesterday I picked up a series of Tweets from Greg Whitby about a recent policy talk from NSW opposition leader, Barry O’Farrell on proposed education policy. It had all the usual suspects:

  • Real choice for parents
  • Flexible system
  • Evidence-based policy reporting

And light on detail.

The identified policy problem was that there is

“one in five Year 9 students at or below the minimum [Australian National] standards in reading, writing and maths; it’s time to change our approach towards literacy and numeracy.”

More of the same. So what have we learnt?

The proposed O’Farrell plan for NSW focuses on investing in early intervention in literacy and numeracy and commitment to ensuring

“children develop the foundations for success in literacy and numeracy at an early age.”

No one can really disagree with this. It’s common-sense. And it's been a focus for improvement for nearly two decades now. (see Hill and Crévola (1997); Fullan, Hill and Crévola (2006); Fullan and Sharratt (2010)).

The proposed policy solutions appear to be about doing more of the same: providing more intervention teachers, more accountability, more measuring, national and international comparisons.

An old model, no structural change.

There is also an assumption that a focus on the early years and establishing strong foundations will solve the literacy and numeracy issues in later years.

How does this thinking contribute to the student learning outcomes we have? Where is the learning for the system? How have policy-makers, politicians and political cycles contributed to the educational outcomes we have? What have we learnt?

Are we asking the right questions?

At the school level we have come to understand what makes a difference to student learning:

  1. Teachers do make a difference. Some things make a bigger difference - use of data, feedback, explicit teaching (Hattie (2009), Visible Learning; Steve Dinham (2009), How to get your school moving and improving).
  2. Particular approaches to professional learning that are focused on student learning outcomes, teacher inquiry and knowledge building (Timperley (2009), Teacher Professional Learning and Development).
  3. Particular actions of leadership focused on student learning (Robinson (2009), School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying what works and why).

I have started to frame questions around these understandings.

  • What is it about my teaching that leads to those student outcomes?
  • What is it I do as a leader that leads to those student outcomes?
  • What can I change in my teaching and leadership to achieve better outcomes and opportunities for students?

I use these questions when working with schools to open up reflection, thinking, analysis of practice and conversations about learning.

The same questions I think can be asked at higher levels:

  • What is it I do in my work with schools that contributes to those student outcomes?
  • What is it I have done as a policy maker that contributes to those student outcomes?

New thinking for new solutions

Doing more of the same, but more intensely, won’t address the issues of improving learning for all students; nor will it create the solutions we need.

Part of the problem is partisan politics within short-term political cycles. There has been very little inquiry into how policy-makers and politicians contribute to "one in five Year 9 students at or below the minimum [Australian National] standards in reading, writing and maths."

The complexity of the issues that face schools in the first decades of the 21st Century requires long-term solutions focused on deeper change. There needs to be a stronger focus on learning across the system - learning for students, teachers, school leaders, educational bureaucracy leaders and administrators, parents, policy-makers, politicians, and researchers.

The answer has to be deep engagement with other colleagues and with mentors in 
exploring, refining, and improving their practice as well as setting up an environment in 
which this not only can happen but is encouraged, rewarded, and pressed to happen.’ 
(Fullan, M. 2006: 57, Turnaround Leadership.)

Shouldn’t policy create those conditions that are necessary for the educational professionals to engage in inquiry, innovation, development and research that is focused on improving outcomes and opportunities for all students?


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Looking for opportunities: Wide-open opportunities to invent or build (Part 1)

Sometimes things are serendipitous!

Innovation has been on my mind. Not that it is never too far away from my thinking; but recently I have been thinking about innovation in schooling and why it might exist in individual sites and pockets but not systemically.

I work with leaders in a networked learning community. It seems to me that intuitively these leaders of schools and the principals’ consultant know what it is that needs to happen to not only improve schools but to transform them. The strength is in leaders working together to solve the problems that they face together.

Traditionally we tend to isolate school sites, their leaders and their teachers and expect them to find solutions to the professional problems that face them. System level support is more often than not isolated to individuals working in individual schools. Efforts to de-privatise practice seem to not deliver the improvements and transformations we might have hoped for.

This got me to thinking: Perhaps it is the system that gets in the way of improvement and transformation.

Schools are expected to improve and even transform to deliver learning for today; and yet systems don’t look to themselves to radically change. There might be external reviews leading to restructuring, but somehow things don’t change. Maybe schooling systems are more resilient than schools.

Yesterday two things happened that fed into my thinking:

Firstly, I met with one of my former Directors from Sydney CEO, Seamus O’Grady. In the course of the discussion we got onto talking about strategic management and annual team achievement plans that consisted of lists of what individuals might do to contribute towards the year’s strategic plan for the system.

An alternative might be a more collaborative approach focused on projects and initiatives rather than individual contributions.

Secondly, I had dinner with a leadership team I worked with a couple of years ago. In discussions with the principal we talked about the inadequacies of system support being controlled by the system. We discussed the position I have arrived at in my thinking:
That systems should provide structures and scaffolds that allows for the leaders across the system – school leaders and system (office) leaders - to work together as system leadership with a focus on system improvement rather than school improvement.

One of the ideas I have been playing around with is the notion of schools being held accountable to each other through peer to peer accountability such as principals being accountable to each other for the educational opportunities and outcomes of their schools.

Coupled with this is a re-thinking of accountability as being not just achievement based and competitive, but rather a for schools, by schools approach where it is as much in my interest for you to be successful as is for you to be successful.

This is counter-intuitive to market forces thinking.

Imagine schools working together for the good of our kids and society rather than competing for enrolments, achievement levels and funding!

Part 2 tomorrow: Looking for opportunities: “Greenfield” schooling.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Value adding in education: Most Likely to Succeed:

Greg Whitby's recent tweet alerted me to this interesting article in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell from December 2008.

Effective teachers have a gift for noticing—what one researcher calls “withitness.”
The link to the article is below:
Annals of Education: Most Likely to Succeed:

Friday, April 09, 2010

The power of Twitter

I recieved a tweet yesterday from Frank Crawford (from HMIe) in Scotland. I met Frank a couple of weeks ago when he was in Sydney. Since then we have "met up" on Twitter. His tweet caused me to reflect on the power of Twitter for me professionally.

I've been using Twitter for a while and have found it a valuable professional tool. As someone who values networking for learning, Twitter has allowed the ongoing connection with others.

It has allowed me to:
  • maintain connections with colleagues
  • forge new professional connections across all sectors in education and beyond education
  • keep up with developments in education and beyond
  • be part of conferences when I couldn't physically be there
  • share my own thoughts about conferences and forums that I have attended
  • put questions out there about professional problems and get instant responses
  • access key thinkers that influence my thinking
  • put my own thinking out there and get responses.
The power of Twitter and the accessibility it provides has been quite significant for me. Twitter has given me access to people, knowledge and learning in a way that was not possible 5 or so years ago.
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