Change Education Engagement & Motivation Leadership Wellbeing

Forget teaching… how about some learning?

If you’re interested, I’m involved in two professional learning events in the coming days.

PLANE Festival of Learning










You can REGISTER HERE to attend or you can watch the Live Feed here.

Follow on Twitter using #FOL12

If you’re there, please stop by and have a chat!

PLANE LeadMeet – The Wellbeing Series

On Tuesday 23rd October at 7pm (Sydney Time) I will be hosting the first of four LeadMeets – online Webinars aimed at school leaders to discuss ideas in and around wellbeing. They are free to attend.

Watch the promo below and REGISTER HERE.


Out of one school & into many…

After thirteen years in teaching and ten years at the one school I will be leaving at the end of 2012 in order to focus my efforts on a number of very exciting projects.

One such project is my involvement with PLANE. I will be developing professional learning experiences in the areas of wellbeing, engagement and leadership.

In preparation for this, I have created a survey that if you have a couple of minutes spare, it would be great if you could complete it to help me focus my efforts.

The other major focus in 2013 will be getting my not-for-profit initiative YouthEngage up and running. We’ve already received numerous expressions of interest from NSW schools keen to work with us.

There are other really cool things in the pipeline too that I’ll let you in on in the coming months…

Since handing in my notice I’ve experienced every emotion possible, but I figure after spending the last 13 years encouraging my students to believe in themselves, try to make a difference and ‘go for it’ – it was time to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk!

I look forward to having you along for the ride!

PS – If you’re keen on applying for my job you can do here! 🙂

Change Education

UK Education’s Double Act – But They’re Just Not Funny!

Two of the most prominent players in UK education are the Secretary of State, Michael Gove (left), and the Chief Inspector of Schools & Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw (right), pictured here with British PM David Cameron.

I wrote an opinion piece for the UK Huffington Post about these two characters… and I even managed to squeeze in a link to one of my favourite Monty Python sketches!

Check it out here!


Change Leadership

When’s the right time for change?

I was asked a great question on Twitter this week in response to a tweet I put out as part of research for a piece I’m writing.

I’m not sure there is a simple answer to Kimberley’s question.

But for what it’s worth here’s my two cents…

I don’t believe there is any gain to be made from change for change’s sake, but we do need to guard against adopting the “if it’s not broke – don’t fix it” mentality, as too often this breeds complacency or apathy.

There’s no doubt that an injection of “fresh” or new ideas can invigorate a school. And if a school is struggling (in any capacity) this can provide the impetus for positive change to occur.

However on the flip side of this, teachers are the experts on their school. Every school has its own idiosyncrasies and culture that only staff who have been there a long time genuinely appreciate.

So I certainly wouldn’t advocate mandatory “circulation” of staff or principals.

We need to constantly evaluate what we are doing in our schools from a wider perspective than just enrolments, attendance rates and examination results, whilst at the same time critically evaluating the latest trend being touted as the saviour of education. To do this teachers need to be empowered to make such evaluations.

I believe every school should have an “innovation” unit. Staff who are empowered to research and implement fresh ideas. This group could be staffed on a rotational basis to ensure that teachers had equal opportunities to contribute to innovation in their school. @Steve_Collis or @Stephen_H would be good people to chat to about this if you’re keen to explore this idea.

Peer-coaching is another model we could look at to invigorate or share ideas without the need for staff turnover rates to soar. @cpaterso or @benpaddlejones would be my go-to people here.

I’d recommend sharing ideas with colleagues from other schools as well as with your own staff – it’s not often we get to see what is going on in classrooms or schools other than our own – Teachmeets are a great way of doing this of course.

Other than that, Twitter is a great source of ideas, thoughts and accounts of literally 100s of thousands of teachers’ experiences. (As well as offering you the opportunity to find out what Kim Kardashian has for breakfast).

Change Education Engagement & Motivation

A long & happy engagement – latest SMH piece…

This originally appeared on Pg 17 of the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday 14th May.

Across Australia, approximately thirty percent of students who start high school will go on to university. So what of the other seventy percent – the majority who don’t go to university? Is school adequately preparing students for life outside the classroom, or is it overly focused on getting kids to university, leaving a large proportion of students disengaged with their learning and without the necessary life skills to flourish in the workplace?

Last year the NSW Business Chamber released a report entitled Could Do Better.  It stated, “…young people who do not enter university after they leave school need to be provided with a better preparation for adult life, including their life at work.” Consultation with employers and the community and comparing NSW educational outcomes with Victoria’s has led the Business Chamber to believe that present arrangements fall short of what is needed in today’s economy.

The report calls for a full-scale review of the final years at school including the Higher School Certificate (HSC) that looks beyond assessment and scaling. “It’s time for a review which looks at flexibility in course offerings, including integration of vocational education, and assessment of capacity and competency; not a mere university entrance score.”

As well as flaws in the HSC, NSW Business Chamber Chief Executive Stephen Cartwright says, “Careers advice in schools is at an all-time low. Students are unsure of what they want to do or what the labour market needs.” He says, “Many students have no idea what opportunities are out there.”

Whilst Cartwright believes that the abolition of the school certificate is a good thing, he believes the NSW Government have not gone far enough. “More needs to happen at a system level, rather than just replacing one form of assessment with another. It appears the education system has stopped responding to labour market needs or worrying about those students who are disengaged with their learning,”

The Principal at Cranebrook High School in Penrith, Deb Summerhayes could not disagree more with the Business Chamber. She believes that, rather than criticising schools, it should encourage businesses to help engage students’ interest.

“We need to be creative with the way in which we engage our students at school,” she says. “Businesses can play a large part in this, but all too often businesses don’t seem keen to build on-going relationships with schools.”

Despite this, Cranebrook HS have developed a strong relationship with some local businesses who play an integral role in the delivery of the VET program. It’s a sizable program with approximately 50% of Cranebrook’s Year 11 and 12s studying a VET course.

The program is flexible and includes students attending TAFE, or VET classes at school. Others work one day a week as trainees while continuing to attend school.

One such student is Jeromy Watts, who is in year 12 and works at Penrith Plaza Shopping Centre every Thursday. “The program has made me realize I want to work with people, which is funny because I was always the quiet one,” he says.  “I’ve been able to work on my communication skills and it has also helped me see the relevance of what I’m doing at school. It has made me want to work harder.”

Another student who is benefiting from the flexible programs at Cranebrook is Kiera Larsen-Allan. She attends lessons after school as part of her Business Services Cert II.“I can see how worthwhile it is,” she says. “It’s really going to help me when I leave school and it will look good on my resume.” Kiera recently completed a work placement. “I really enjoyed it,” she says. “I learnt a lot and could relate a lot of what we are doing in the course to the real world. But it was a lot more tiring than school; we didn’t get any recess.”

Summerhayes says there is a belief that the lifting of the school leaving age to 17, has led to many students being at school, “simply because they have to be”. She says the changes made at short notice gave schools little time to react and design programs for year 11 students. “We had a large number of students who would traditionally have left in Year 10 to enter the world or work or training, arriving for the first day of Year 11 to find a largely academic program provided for them by the Board of Studies,” she says.  “As always, schools had to get very creative, very quickly in order to ensure engagement and a relevant pattern of study for these students.”

Summerhayes believes that the programs such as those run at Cranebrook are the key to engaging these students. “The biggest benefit is that it helps us make what we do in school relevant for students,” she says.  “We can show them the connection between what we do here and how important education is for their future.”

However, Professor Margaret Vickers from the University of Western Sydney believes there is a need for a more comprehensive approach than just adding VET courses. Vickers recently completed a three-year research study of the effects of raising the school leaving age and she also had a key role in the writing of Could Do Better. “If you look at those students who go straight to the workforce from school, have they really been prepared for work?” she asks.  “Traditionally, Years 11 and 12 have been skewed towards getting students to university, yet we know that this is often to the detriment of many of our students who don’t see university as a viable option.”

Professor Vickers believes that NSW could look to Victoria for inspiration. As well as having approximately 51,000 students studying for the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), there are a further 18,700 studying the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL). The VCAL is a hands-on option for students in Years 11 and 12 that gives students practical work-related experience, as well as literacy and numeracy skills.

“These are students who otherwise would not be in school at all,” Vickers says. “It specifically prepares students for work, but if students wish, down the track they can switch to the VCE, and increasingly more Victorian universities are accepting VCAL as part of their admission process.”

Vickers believes that the NSW Department of Education and Communities has not embraced vocational education as fully as it could and if students do not have access to programs such as those offered at Cranebrook, they miss out. “Rather than VET courses being able to make up part of an HSC, students need a whole new alternative to the HSC – similar to the VCAL.”

Since submitting the Could Do Better report in October 2011, the Business Chamber is yet to receive any official response from the NSW Government, although a spokesperson for the Education Department says the NSW government is currently “considering the scope of reforms needed to ensure the training system delivers the best outcomes for the state.”

In the meantime, perhaps schools could look to Cranebrook for inspiration as to how to reach their disengaged students.

Change Engagement & Motivation Leadership

Who are the experts & what do they do?

There are people who are, rightly, referred to as experts. I’m sure you can reel off any number of names in your field who are regarded as the gurus.

However, I also believe there are too many people who are not regarded as experts, and it’s the very people who should be seeing these people as experts, who don’t.

Too many bosses fail to recognise the expertise on their staff, and the ramifications of this are far-reaching, eg. lack of employee engagement, loss of productivity or budget blow-outs (due to team building days or an inspirational keynote from a well-regarded expert in the field).

How often have you sat listening to an expert who’s been parachuted in to deliver the same Powerpoint presentation that fifty other schools or organisations have seen?

How often has the meaningful engagement and follow-up from such a presentation been exactly zero? Even despite the good intentions of the bosses and guru-for-hire?

I believe this comes from people misunderstanding their roles in the expert/audience/consumer interaction.

To those of you who read my blog, or listen to me speak – I’m not the expert. You are.

It is not my role to provide solutions – as every school, family or organisation has its own individual issues that need to be factored in. And those of you who have worked with me will know that a One Size Fits All approach is the antithesis of what I’m about.

My role is to ask questions, challenge what you take for granted, provide links to academic research in order to recognise and enhance the capacity of the audience. To build bridges between academia and practice.

The power isn’t in the words I say or write.

The power comes from your challenging, discussing, maybe ignoring, playing with or acting on these ideas with your colleagues – Your fellow experts. 

So, use your expertise to work with this idea…

In the next six months, why not have an entire staff development day run entirely by your own staff – 

By staff I mean not those in executive or leadership positions. If you like you could base it on the TeachMeet model that I’m sure you’ve heard of by now!

I’d place money on their being more meaningful engagement and follow-up after such a day.

Change Education

Let’s really flip the classroom

I‘ve read a fair amount about the flipped classroom of late… gotta be honest… I’ve not really been blown away by the concept in the way many have…

To me it doesn’t seem that revolutionary to me… I’m not sure how it is any different to an English teacher giving the class a text to read at home, so they can discuss it the next day in class… Anyone? Beuller? Anyone?

So… as I said let’s really flip it!

What if our extra-curricular activities weren’t extra at all?

What if community service, work experience, inter-faith dialogues, music groups, politics club, science club, the environment club, sporting teams were actually what we focused our time, money, resources and efforts on? What if these formed the curriculum and students could then choose to extend themselves in Maths, English, History, Geography as part of extra curricular clubs?

Would we be worse off? Would our best mathematicians still find their way?

Just an idea… and no, I haven’t thought about how we’d assess it.

**This blog started life on my Big Ideas site, and @SteveCollis commented on it. His comment really added value so I have pasted Steve’s thoughts below. Connect with him on Twitter or check out his website.

@cpaterso also linked me to this article. Again all good food for thought..

Steve Says…

I suspect that’s where things are heading.

How long will it take for mass awareness that kids studying online ‘perform’ better than kids in face to face classrooms, to translate into an exodus from traditional schooling structures? These things have a way of tipping quite suddenly. Like Borders / Amazon.

But the community of a school can never be replaced. It is, should be, a beating heart. It could morph into something like you’re describing.

You’d only need a few successful examples of such a model to be strongly popular and it could go viral.

I’m not sure you’d call it ‘school’ any more. Maybe you would.

You could start ‘real life’ sooner with the community model you’re describing. I realise real life is happening anyway, but it could cure the artificial bubble summed up in the question “Yes but when am I going to need to know this?”, “Trust me, you will one day.”

On the other end, it wouldn’t have to finish at age 18, and it could merge seamlessly with tertiary study… and beyond. This new learning-creature could become a permanent institution, rather than an episodic one. It could merge with other spaces you’ve invoked, like the sports field, performance centre… also shopping centre, business district, and so on. It might have multiple tiny campuses in addition to big ones. You plug in wherever you like, and mix and match as desired. In practice people would gravitate to centres-of-gravity and grow a sense of belonging around them, like Englishmen choose their local pub.

With you all the way Dan. The sort of thing you’re describing could come about through natural ‘market forces’ / shift-in-zeitgeist, which makes the scenario particularly credible.

Change Education Leadership

Why, why why… don’t we ask the right questions?

Those involved with education reform  in Australia, the UK and US seem to focus on what we should teach students, when we should teach our students & how we should teach, assess and compare our students with their international counterparts.

To me, it appears that those leading educational change* neglect the most important questions of all.

Why should we teach our students that?

Why should we teach our students then?

Why do we assess kids in manner we do?

Why are we comparing our students to kids (particularly in Asia) who are being educated to staff factories and call centres?

I believe we really need to get to the WHY of education.

I was fortunate to be in a room the other day when Susan Groundwater Smith posed a great question (in the style of TV quiz show Jeopardy):

“To what question is School the answer?”

I don’t know if there is one particular question that fits the bill here, but I do know that most politicians aren’t courageous enough to even think about it.

*In this post, the word change is used with a great deal of poetic license.

Change Education Engagement & Motivation

No Grades Day

Last year I set my senior PDHPE class a little task, then involved them reading up on the latest recovery strategies used by the top rugby league players. “Is it in the syllabus?” they asked. “No,” I replied, “This is brand new stuff.”

Out of 20 students, how many looked at the stimulus material provided on our schools intranet? (complete with a handy tool that tells me how many students have viewed said material)

Three. A 15% success rate!

When I asked why, the common reply was “We don’t need to know it for the HSC.”

To be honest this was a little experiment… although statistically not reliable given the small test group, it backed up what I expected to see.

Behavioural science tells us that when students see grades as the outcome of education, they actually lose the intrinsic love of learning they entered school with.

Daniel Pink’s talk in this post explores this concept in terms of monetary reward.

How many times has the first question a kids asked you after setting a task been “Are we being tested on this?” or “What’s this out of?”

If no marks are attached, what priority is it given?

How many schools say they want to create Lifelong learners, critical thinkers etc… and then subconsciously undermine their students’ intrinsic motivation to learn by continually attaching a grade to their learning?

I’ve heard of consultants who advise marking and grading S T U D Y N O T E S !

So my vision is to have a day where no grades are given. Anywhere. In Any School. WORLD-wide. But I will settle for some schools, heck even one’ll do!

Kids coming to school to learn for learnings sake. No fear of failure. No reinforcing the labels we have for our kids. Letting kids explore…

Never-mind teachers or parents, I reckon the kids would “flip out” because that’s how we’ve conditioned them…

So put the date in your diary: Friday 18th May – the day after NAPLAN – and no the irony is not lost on me…

Change Education Wellbeing

Improving Academic Performance – Through Exercise

Some of you will be aware that in 2012 I will be contributed to Generation Next’s Weekly Newsletter and Blog. This is my piece from this week’s newsletter.

The link between physical activity and improved physical and mental health has long been established.

However there is a growing body of research that suggests that increased physical activity levels in students also leads to improved academic performance.

In this research review by John Ratey and Jacob Sattelmair from the University of Illinois, reference is made to a 2002-2005 study of nearly 1 million students in California. In this study, investigators consistently found that those students with higher levels of fitness scored higher on academic tests.

A smaller follow-up study (Castelli 2007) replicated this finding. There, physical fitness—and aerobic capacity in particular—related positively to test scores in mathematics and reading, whereas body mass index related inversely to scores.

It’s also worth noting that Ratey and Sattelmair also suggest there should be less emphasis on sports specific physical education as this often excludes many students. Instead they advocate for a move towards physical activity or strenuous play, aimed at increasing the duration and intensity of aerobic activity.

As a trained PDHPE teacher myself, I find this very interesting, as this is a philosophy that has guided our PDHPE Department at Emanuel School for many years.

Ratey and Sattelmair’s report suggests that rather than PDHPE being one of the less important subjects at school, it is perhaps, one of the most important.

You can read more of my Generation Next articles here.