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Change Education Social Commentary Tech & Social Media

“The Robots Are Coming!” – Chatting with Dr Jordan Nguyen

A few weeks ago I had the fortune of speaking at an event alongside Dr Jordan Nguyen. And I was even more fortunate that we were able to catch up for a chat once his talk was done.

Jordan is a biomedical engineer, inventor, TV host and general all-round good bloke.

Having already invented a mind-controlled wheelchair, and being deeply invested in the development of Artificial Intelligence and the ethical considerations required when doing this, he assures me we’re safe from a Terminator-type outcome… for now.

We spoke about how his talents were largely left undiscovered at school, and how a freak accident enabled him to find his purpose and spark his intellectual journey.

You can listen to our chat here as part of my semi-regular spot on the TER Podcast. I hope you enjoy it.

You can find out more about Jordan at his website. 

Categories
Change Education

Snake, Walkmans, Moments & School…

What do these three things have in common,  and why on earth would I waste your time asking you that question?

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 5.08.34 pm

If you’re of a certain vintage you’ll be aware of just how amazing Nokia phones were.

What’s that? You can’t remember? Check this out.

Of course, Sony Walkmans were so popular even competitor’s offerings were referred to as Walkmans, and how many times have you thanked your lucky stars that your Kodak Moments weren’t captured in the era of Facebook or Instagram?

Nowadays, a straw poll of any group I speak with shows that very few have a Nokia phone, Sony Walkman (yes they still make and sell Walkmans) or have a Kodak anything… 

Why? We haven’t stopped communicating, listening to music or taking pictures – in fact we’re probably doing all three more than any generation before us – and yet all three companies have had to diversify to survive.

How did Sony in particular, given they owned a heck of a lot of music and the most widely used personal music device, miss the boat?

Is it possible they were so confident in what they were offering, they didn’t need to consider an alternative scenario?

Maybe. Lot’s of analysts have… erm… analysed the ups and downs of these companies in more detail than I have here, but that’s what I see they have in common.

Ok… so why waste your time with that?

What if education institutions as we know them are the Nokia, Sony and Kodak of Learning. We all know people – lots of them – who attend them, work in them and/or are generally in favour of them. They are the market leaders in Learning so to speak, with a captive audience.

Most would agree that education institutions offer two things – amongst a raft of other opportunities of course.

  1. A forum to enhance your knowledge, understanding, and skills in order to engage with the world.
  2. Access to qualifications/accreditation that further your education or employment options.

How has technology and changes in society and the economy disrupted this? Well the truth is, they haven’t – not much – really – yet.

But what about when they do? What will happen when society realises some of the short comings of its education system?

At one end of the academic spectrum, the majority of the long-term unemployed are young people who left school in the last ten years, whilst at the other, hundreds of medical graduates can’t find internships.

I wrote a fair bit about the fact we’re educating our kids into unemployment for the Sydney Morning Herald. 

Anyhoo… I noticed of late there seems to be some fairly distinctive lines being drawn in the sand with regard to the whole “Is School Fit for Purpose?” debate…

And these lines are not really furthering the debate. Too many are picking sides, picking names (progressive, traditionalist, 21C, anythingpreneur etc.) and picking fights.

A case in point:

This is a tweet from Britain’s School Behaviour Tzar Tom Bennett:

Now to be fair to Tom – he is an incredibly well-respected (by the profession & the government) commentator – some of the language in the graphic that he links to is well and truly ripe for a laugh, but I fear that by setting it up as the work of “an idiot” – he encourages the subsequent replies that his tweet receives… all eye-rolling etc…

The fact is that some  of the concepts that the graphic is trying to convey are worth discussing. To deny that seems a bit daft to me, And by going to the nth degree – on either side of the debate – much of the nuance in lost.

I believe it’s in this nuanced space where the education debate must take place so we can ask and then address questions like:

  • Why do our ‘best and brightest’ students feel the need to cheat at their selective schools or in their university courses?
  • Given Finland performs relatively well in PISA, why is it their Youth Unemployment rate around 24.5%? (By comparison in Australia it’s around 12% and we think that’s high.)
  • Why do Gallup regularly report that in Australia, around 30% of Year 5 kids and 50% of Year 12 kids have disengaged from learning?
  • What’s the best way to prepare students – and ourselves – for the workplace given that many estimate that 50% of the workforce will be freelance in the next decade?
  • And what do we make of the fact that Ernst & Young has declared that in the UK, they no longer take into account an applicants A-Levels or degree qualifications? Often educationalists cite tech companies like Google or Apple as examples of the shifting economy and workplace… but here we’re talking about accountants.
  • What happens to our institutions when we recognise the education system is failing too many kids, that learning can happen anywhere and that traditional qualifications might not carry the weight they once did?
  • And how long will it be before we realise that either/or arguments are unlikely to present many insights to these questions?
Categories
Change Education Leadership

Stop Blaming ‘The System’

the systemI often get asked to speak about engagement.

I outline that four key considerations are essential if we are to genuinely engage kids (and staff) in our schools. They are: establishing good relationships, developing a sense of autonomy, encouraging mastery and having a bigger purpose than just chasing grades.

Sometimes I hear that whilst these ideals are admirable – ‘The System’ means we can’t achieve them.

To be honest, I’m tired of hearing this argument.

I’m not even sure what people mean when they say ‘The System’ but they often qualify their position by saying, “We need to get rid of NAPLAN,” or “The ATAR kills learning” or “There’s just too much content to get through to do the things you talk about.”

I can only assume that when people speak of ‘The System’ they mean the politicians, policy writers, curriculum writers, ACARA and state and regional departments.

I often hear that things will never change until we get rid of NAPLAN or the ATAR and we can’t innovate in the current educational climate.

Well if that’s your position then it’s a bit of a cop-out. Because let’s be honest, they aren’t going anywhere.

Now I’m not saying there aren’t challenges. Of course there are. And it’s easy to become disillusioned when we hear leaders speaking of an Education Race and the like but…

Your idea of innovation cannot be dependent on the removal of the immovables.

Innovation will only happen if we have professionals who are willing to push at the boundaries.

I’m not sure if these people who rage against ‘The System’ see teachers as separate from it but personally I see teachers as the most vital aspect of ‘The System.’

And the point is – of course – there are countless teachers who are pushing these boundaries… which makes the whole ‘System’ argument even more redundant. 

So for what it’s worth, here are some suggestions to try to achieve the four ideals I outlined above.

Establish Relationships

Good teacher/student relationships are built on three things – Care, Respect & Trust. I don’t need to go on about this surely? Saying that relationships is at the heart of education is about as earth shattering as saying the sun is most likely to rise in the East tomorrow.

Autonomy

How can you allow kids to do what they want, when they want, how they want, with who they want? How might this impact assessment and learning? How might this impact project or group work?

Unless you work at Utopia High School, this might seem impossible, but look closer, how can we offer more flexibility in our offerings at school? Technology means this has never been easier to do. For example the Flipped Classroom offers one way in which kids can access content anywhere anytime. This could go some way to addressing the ‘too much content to get through’ argument.

Mastery

How many of your kids really want to master their subjects, or do they just want to get a good enough mark to keep people off their backs? I’ve been going on about this for years.

The fact is grades kill learning. Schools become engulfed in a culture of performance, competition and anxiety. As Dylan Wiliam says here

If you write careful diagnostic comments on a student’s work, and then put a score or grade on it, you are wasting your time. The students who get the high scores do not need to read the comments and the students who get the low scores do not want to.

Get rid of grades and over time we can create a culture of learning.

And you know the funny thing? ‘The System’ agrees! That’s why every state and territory in Australia mandates that we give a grade to parents TWICE A YEAR…

Not twice a week, month, term or semester. A YEAR.

You might also want to look at Growth Mindset in regard to this aspect of engagement.

Get this right and when NAPLAN and the pressures of the ATAR come around students, teachers and parents are better equipped to deal with it.

Purpose

The easiest way to give kids a real purpose for the work they do is to make it relevant to them today. Telling kids they might need it when they’re older, or even in the exam lead them to think one thing. “Sweet, I’ll worry about it then.”

Creating an audience for your students’ work is a fairly simple way to create relevance.

Consider how you might use Quadblogging, Skype in Education or Wattpad to offer just three suggestions.

I can’t remember who said it, but I once heard someone say, when kids are doing something for an authentic audience they want to do a good job but when they are doing something for the teacher they just want to do a good enough job. Big difference.

So the next time you hear a colleague taking aim at ‘The System’ for not being able to do what they want to do, why not get them to consider what they can actually do within the boundaries they operate, because that’s where real change will happen.

Categories
Change Education Leadership

The Problem(s) With (most) Professional Learning

Expert_01A while back I gained accreditation from NSW BOSTES to deliver workshops for which teachers who attended could claim hours against the teaching standards.

When I mentioned this to my old man in the UK he said, “Oh no! You’re not one them tossers now are you?”

He’s been an accountant for his entire working life building up – from scratch – a successful company just south of Manchester. He likens attending accredited professional learning in his industry to experiencing a slow and painful death. Hours of his life he will NEVER get back.

I’d never considered what professional learning looks like in any other sector than education but I’m of the opinion that many teachers probably think the same as my old man with regards to their professional learning.

I’ve arrived at this conclusion based on my own experience both as a participant in professional learning and as a facilitator working with different organisations (each of whom have various philosophies/understanding as to how learning takes place).

I’ve also observed how many teachers proclaim that Twitter (either a hashtagged chat or their PLN) and/or Teachmeets are, “The best professional development I’ve ever had!”

In short, if that really is true, then that is a sad indictment of your professional learning to date.

That isn’t to denigrate Twitter or Teachmeets, as I’m an strong advocate for both as part of any teacher’s approach to their learning. But it does highlight that many in the profession are disenfranchised from the learning that is provided for them by their organisations or systems.

As I see it, these are some of the issues with traditional approaches to professional learning:

1. Who are you?

I’m not against people from outside education offering their insights as to how education could evolve. In fact I’m all for it. However I am concerned when I see people from outside education suggesting that schools are fundamentally flawed, not fit for purpose etc. As a comparison, I could certainly offer some doctors I’ve met advice around developing their Emotional Intelligence… but I wouldn’t deem myself an authority on systematic health system (based purely on my ideology).

2. Ideas presented as fact.

Learning Styles – nuff said. (Check the date of this article – 2009 – seriously, how many sessions have you attended on this since?)

3. One size fits all.

We talk about individual learning plans and personalising learning for kids. What about for teachers? A one-size-fits-all approach rarely acknowledges the expertise or capacity of those in the room. This is where Twitter & Teachmeets have really found their place. Self Determination Theory (Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose) explains some of the key requirements for engagement – and Teachmeets and Twitter tend to tick these boxes rather quite nicely.

4. Talking the talk – and that’s it

It is ironic how many times you’ll be hearing about innovative ways to teach in the least innovative forum of all… a lecture. Often this is due to how – particularly large – events run. This approach often means many in the room are hearing things that they already know, or aren’t in a position to benefit from.

5. Not enough support to implement change as a result of PL

There are so many competing priorities in school (I’m yet to find a teacher drumming their fingers, at a loose end, looking for something else to do) that means professional learning is not an authentically continuous process as there’s no time. Rather it’s often a sporadic one, centred around 3 or 4 dates in the year.

So what’s the solution? HINT: There probably isn’t ONE (that would be a one-size-fits-all approach!) but for what it’s worth here are five ideas…

1. Engage someone who will build a relationship with your school, both prior to, during and after the learning, either in person, online or a blended approach. Relationships are pivotal in student learning. It’s the same for adults.

2. Develop your own understanding of what is presented. Some schools have their own research teams. But better still, why not seek to form a relationship (formal or informal) with a university or other research institution.

3. It’s one thing for leaders to present a vision (preferably one co-designed with the community) but it’s another to dictate the manner in which the vision should be achieved. An alternate approach is to empower your staff to develop their own learning plans in relation to your vision. They need to be accountable, and you could regularly get updates either informally, via an online platform or via a school event where teachers can explore what their colleagues are doing across the organisation. Heck you might even do all of these!

4. I’m not sure what the answer for HUGE events are here… but surely individual schools, or smaller events could get a little more creative in how things are done.

5. Time. Effective leaders realise that in order for good things to happen, often it means other good things can’t. Leaders need to ensure that there is time for teachers to meet, discuss, design and practice new strategies or approaches. For example in order to effectively implement Formative Assessment across your school, Dylan Wiliam suggests a 75minute meeting, with between 8-12 staff once per month… and that’s just ONE initiative!

I’d love to hear what some of your solutions are to address the issue of professional learning in your organisation/sector…

Categories
Change Education Engagement & Motivation Leadership Tech & Social Media

3 Common Myths About Innovation in Education

1. We’re innovative. The kids all have iPads. It's About Pedagogy, Not Technology

To do what? To do what you already did quicker, more efficiently or on a larger scale?

In many schools the power of the iFad or whatever technology has been wheeled into the school is compromised by the way in which they’re allowed or – more importantly – not allowed to be used.

Even if we adopt the higher order thinking of the SAMR Model, how innovative are we really being?

Innovating in schools is often equated to just increasing the amount of technology in the classroom – and this I think is to miss the point.

What if innovation in education sought to (genuinely) empower rather than control students?

Instead of behaviour management, what if we spoke of unleashing students.

What would innovation look like then?

Of course technology would play a part but so would where, when, who, what and how would you teach.

I’m of the opinion that many alternative education programs that work with kids for whom the mainstream education system hasn’t are some of the most innovative. I touch on this in my latest segment for the TER Podcast.

2. I’m too old to innovate – the young teachers have got it covered anyway

A knock-on effect of believing that the key to innovation is the increased integration of technology in class is that some staff feel they have little to offer.

Imagine if told you that you were too old to offer anything of value? You’d be offended right? And rightly so.

Yet there are many who tell themselves this very thing every chance they get. Every PD day, every staff meeting, professionals actively opt out these kinds of discussions as they see it as the realm of the younger teacher.

But here’s the thing, while new – or soon to be new – teachers may well be able to post a selfie on Instagram or fire off a quick self-destructing (in every sense of the term) video clip on SnapChat, many are not the ‘experts’ that some schools expect them to be around the use of technology and the Internet – and even less so with regards to embedding technology into an effective pedagogy.

So the very premise on which some choose to opt out of the innovation discussion is flawed.

Regardless of your teaching experience, you can be innovative. And yes perhaps having a crack at new technologies, combined with your knowledge and experience of different pedagogies, may just produce a light bulb moment for you, your faculty and your school but do it steadily… and if someone tells you to just jump in the deep end with technology- have them take a look at this post I wrote last year.

But be sure, innovation pays no mind to your age.

Regardless of where you are in your career you have a choice to contribute, push the boundaries or ask “Why?” or “What if…?” 

3. We need to innovate for the sake of our children’s future

Ok, this one isn’t necessarily a myth, but stay with me…

One of the most popular ideas I hear at conferences is that, “We are educating kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet,” or an offshoot from that is blog posts like the  Top 10 Job Titles that didn’t exist 5 years ago genre of commentary.

It gets the juices flowing but you have to be careful, because well-intentioned types will take that to mean the most popular jobs today didn’t exist 5 years ago, rather than it merely being a list of jobs today that didn’t exist 5 years ago. 

A subtle but important different – and even then, most of these jobs you can see have morphed from an existing job. They’ve hardly sprung up from nowhere.

As a little test, ask your students, or kids in your life what career they’d like – how many come up with a job that didn’t exist 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years ago? (SPOILER ALERT: I’m guessing not many)

So rather than using ‘the future’ as a reason to innovate – because things get a bit ethereal here and some can switch off – let’s start using the PRESENT.

Last year, Gallup surveyed 7000 students in Years 5-12 in 36 schools across six states and found that, roughly 30% of kids have disengaged from school by the time they are 11.

How about using that as an argument to innovate?

To compound things, over 50% of Year 12’s – and yes these are the ones that have STAYED on at school – are disengaged.

How about innovating to address this?

Categories
Change Education Leadership

How do you know if your school is successful?

Podcast IconMy latest #OffCampus segment for the TERPodcast focused on how schools measure their success, and whether or not we need a rethink. You can listen to it here.

I touched on some broad themes, that each on their own could speak to your schools strategic plan for the next 5 years… you have one right?

How and when do you measure your schools success?

Do ‘value added’ data add anything of value?

Do our ‘best’ students from our ‘best’ schools need something more than a great ATAR?

Can – or indeed should – we do anything different?

You can listen to my 5min segment here.

Or the whole TERPodcast, featuring an interview with David Price OBE by listening here.

 

Categories
Change Education

Adaptability the Key to Success

WorldfaceGlobalisation and the impact of technology means that, in many ways, the world of today is barely recognisable to that of twenty or thirty years ago.

This is particularly true of the workplace. We’ve long been aware of the concept of offshoring the work force, although many of us still equate this to blue-collar work or call-centre services.

The fact is more and more white-collar work is moving off shore, and the workplace is becoming increasingly “freelance.”

We’re not sure what impact this will have on our students today, but we must appreciate that the education system was essentially designed to produce people who were categorised based on their skill set, and set on a course, that for most would keep them in the same line of work, and for many with the same employer.

Have a look at www.freelancer.com for a quick reality check. Here you’ll see graduates from emerging economies doing what Australian kids can do, but at a fraction of the cost – everything from architecture, accounting and web design to industrial engineering, market research and translation services.

Our kids will have to be super-adaptable, creative, entrepreneurial and remarkably resilient as they enter a workforce that few of their parents will be able to help them navigate.

Let’s assume that at the very least, schools should prepare kids for life after school, Professor Andrew Martin has recently published some findings from his research into adaptability in school, and I’m of the opinion schools should be looking at this as earnestly as they look at “engagement” and “resilience,” if they are to truly prepare kids for life after school.

This was also a running theme in my latest article for The Age in which I interviewed amongst others teen science phenomenon Jake Andraka and UK educator and author David Price OBE.

This was originally written for my regular Generation Next column.

Categories
Change Education Leadership Tech & Social Media

When teachers say they’ve not heard of Sir Ken

A couple of weeks ago, I asked a room full of Australian teachers if they’d heard of Sir Ken Robinson. Sir Ken - Do you know who I am

One person tentatively raised their hand – and even then, he didn’t seem too sure.

I was seriously taken aback, not least because I use Sir Ken’s name in some of my promotional material!

Dan has appeared alongside the likes of…

But it got me thinking…  these teachers really haven’t even heard of him?

And just to be clear, I’m not saying we should all be kneeling at the altar of Sir Ken. Whether you agree or disagree with his arguments, hang off his every word or are a bit over the whole creativity thing is really beside the point.

The point is you’ve probably heard of him. But what about your colleagues?

If you’ve landed on this post courtesy of Twitter, I’m betting that you think I’ve made this up – after all Sir Ken has over 200,000 followers, most of them teachers. As if a teacher – let alone a room full of teachers – wouldn’t have heard of him. That’d be like Luke Skywalker not being au fait with Yoda’s body of work. luke and yoda

But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Twitter can be something of an echo chamber – that is – pretty much everyone is saying the same things about education over and over. With the constant reinforcement it’s easy to start thinking that this is how all educators think.

I believe that Twitter and other social media forums are the real drivers of professional learning – for those who connect – but what about the vast majority of teachers who aren’t connected in this way?

How do you spread the word to your less connected colleagues – in a way that genuinely influences the practice of your organisation?

And just in case you don’t know Sir Ken, check out this talk. And by the way, I’ve just been confirmed as a keynote speaker alongside him next year! 🙂

Categories
Change Education

Shut Up & Think!

I joined Twitter over three years ago. One of the first educators I followed was @cpaterso – or Cameron Paterson, as I’m assuming it says on his passport.group think

His then-bio appealed to me. It was something along the lines of hating grades and – I think in the metaphorical rather than literal sense – wanting to “blow up school.”

Since then I’ve enjoyed his thoughts on education, and had the pleasure of working with him and some of the staff at his school.

So I was very interested to hear of an article he’d had published in the ACEL Journal. It centres around some learning experiences he had whilst studying at Harvard.

It’s a great read for two reasons.

1. It tackles the issue of Cam’s dislike for grading in a system reliant on it.

2. It proposes a consultancy protocol for problem solving as a group.

I encourage you to read the article for yourself, but I wanted to share the consultancy protocol. (See the illustration below)

When faced with a problem, how often do our attempts to solve it turn into a “talk fest?” Everyone has their two cents to throw in, each with their slightly different agenda.

It’s quite clear in these circumstances that our ability to talk far outweighs our ability to listen, and if we’re not listening properly, our thinking will not be as clear as it should be.

Perhaps this is because whilst we’re taught how to read, write and talk – other than an ad-hoc session on active listening – we are never really taught how to listen.

In fact many people mistake listening with just waiting to speak.

Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf… – Native American Proverb

The Consultancy Protocol ensures that people have an opportunity to think about what they have heard before responding with further questions to clarify their understanding.

Or as one of Cameron’s colleagues at Harvard – the most experienced educator among them – said,

It gave me a chance to shut up and think a little bit!

I like it. And whilst I haven’t been able to use it myself yet, I can certainly see the potential for its use in the work I do with schools, and will be incorporating it into workshops later this year.

The protocol is illustrated below.

Consultancy Protocol

Categories
Change Leadership Tech & Social Media

What if every teacher blogged?

Let’s just say for a moment that in teaching, we value concepts such as:

  • Fostering relationships
  • Enhancing resilience & staff wellbeing
  • Encouraging deep reflection
  • Sharing of best practice and vision
  • Engagement in our profession
  • Enhancing teacher quality
  • Cross-curricular links
  • Links to the “real” world*
  • Peer-to-peer coaching
  • The development of a body of work
  • The ability to stay “current” with social & technological trends

Which one of these would blogging NOT address?

I believe that blogging is the simplest, cheapest but also the most effective way to enhance teacher quality in your school… without the need to fire or hire anyone.

I suggest that as a start, school leaders could create a school-based blog and allocate 1hr every one or two weeks for staff to blog. You can keep it completely “in-house” or use it as a window into your learning community – whatever suits your school.

In fact there are probably already a number of bloggers on your staff who could help facilitate the setting up of your blog.

If your school is devoid of bloggers, this link gives you the 101 on what’s needed to get a blog up and running.

Make sure you encourage openness, honesty and consistency. Encourage staff to read and comment on each others posts. Make sure you allocate time for this.

Struggling to think about what to write about? Why not start with:

What went well for me at school this week and why?

Do this for a couple of weeks and see how it develops.

As with most things, it will take time, but persevere and perhaps in 6-12 months, you could write a post about the benefits, challenges and opportunities blogging  in your school has presented.

And please send me the link to your post when you do!

Of course if your school is already doing this please feel free to leave us a comment to share your experiences.

*I’m not sure why school is so often seen as NOT being a part of the “real” world. But that’s another blog post for another time. 🙂