Categories
Education Media

The Revolution Won’t Necessarily Be Televised

keep-calm-and-start-a-revolution-6Over the past month Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC, aired a four-part documentary called Revolution School in which it followed the staff and students of Kambrya College in Victoria throughout the course of 2015. The premise of the doco was that Kambrya was a struggling school – in 2008 its Year 12 results put it in the state’s bottom 10% of schools – and that by applying “cutting edge research developed by Professor John Hattie at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, [Kambrya] undergoes a dramatic transformation. Ultimately [Revolution School] is a lesson for all schools in Australia, identifying what they can do to improve standards at this critical time.”

It was set against the backdrop of an Australian education system that is, “letting down our kids and the nation” and that’s compounded by the ‘fact’ that most of the things educators and parents think matter in education actually don’t.

John Hattie states from the outset that reducing class size, private education and giving parents choice do not “make a difference to the quality of education.”

The show concluded this week and it’s fair to say it received a mixed response – from 43 people on Twitter at least.

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 1.40.20 pm

Here, for what it’s worth, are my thoughts on it.

THE TITLE – REVOLUTION SCHOOL

revolution

noun: revolution; plural noun: revolutions

a dramatic and wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes, or operation.

I can only assume that this was a decision made by TV execs who needed something catchy, and to be fair it certainly caught my attention when I saw it advertised. I was genuinely curious to see what kind of revolution was taking place, but I was left feeling a little underwhelmed.

To be clear – I’m not dismissive of the efforts of the teachers, the consultants and – importantly – the students. Any school, teacher or student who works to improve standards is worthy of acknowledgement. From the outset I commend the staff and students of Kambrya for allowing the cameras in to give an insight into how a dedicated team of teachers (as well as the kids) can address some of the daily challenges faced in a typical school. For some watching it would have proven insightful.

Rather I was left underwhelmed because there was very little in the show that could be seen as being revolutionary. Whilst it might have documented a wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes or operations at Kambrya, the claim that Revolution School would “serve as a lesson for all schools in Australia,” might be seen as a tad patronising.

It should be noted that Revolution School  had at one time been titled Making The Grade, which in my opinion would have been a more appropriate (if less appealing to TV execs) title for the documentary.

THE STRATEGIES

Many of the strategies for improvement were a result of the school’s partnership with Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE), with its impressive team of educators and experts. Teachers were able to work with the likes of John Hattie, Lea Waters, Bill Rogers and Di Snowball to refine their approaches in class and the wider community. However the coverage of these working relationships was superficial at best, limited to soundbites and the obligatory rounds of applause at the end of teacher PL sessions. Bill Rogers, for example is a legend in the realm of classroom climate and handling behaviour issues, but all we got from his appearance was the idea that you could chart on a whiteboard how on-task the class are over the course of a lesson. Now I appreciate that TV execs might not think that a more in-depth exploration of classroom climate would be compelling viewing, but if Revolution School really was going to “serve as a lesson for all schools in Australia” then these are the paths they needed to go down.

Similarly with regard to Lea Waters’ work on wellbeing, I cringed at the superficial nature in which it was presented to the TV audience, with no reference to what Positive Psychology is or the potential significance of character strengths.

However one soundbite I did enjoy was literacy expert Di Snowball’s reflection of the way in which many schools teach reading using literacy exercise books. In doing this kids only read small passages in isolation – something that was implied did little to encourage a love of reading and as Di pointed out:

What’s the point of improving reading through these programmes if you aren’t then reading?

John Hattie was a common voice throughout the series and in Episode 4 introduced the idea of teachers having their lessons transcribed live, and their words projected onto screens around the classroom. A programme from MGSE called “The Visible Classroom.” (As an aside, this is on top of Hattie’s Visible Learning approach, and Lea Waters’ Visible Wellbeing approach. I’m spotting a theme.) One of the main reasons for doing this is so that the data from the class can be evaluated by MGSE to ascertain how much a teacher talks and what kind of dialogue with regards to questions and interaction is happening. Hattie argues that teachers should be talking for around 50% of the time in class, but in reality most teachers spend 80-90% of the time talking. Assuming this premise is correct, the episode went on to show teachers who had in fact reduced their talk in class, but again tellingly for a series that was to “serve as a lesson for all schools in Australia,” it didn’t explore the changes in practice/planning that teachers undertook to make this happen. I’d imagine for some teachers these changes would have presented significant challenges, and it would have been good to see how these challenges were addressed.

Towards the end of the series the concept of Clinical Teaching (the approach taught at MGSE) was introduced as having “the potential to revolutionise our classrooms” but again I was – along with many teachers I’d expect – left underwhelmed. The core principles of Clinical Teaching as explained by Hattie are:

  • Diagnose: Ascertain the areas in which kids need to improve, learn etc.
  • Intervene: Deploy strategies, questions and activities that address these areas.
  • Evaluate: Ascertain whether or not kids have improved their knowledge, skills or understand.

In other words… teach.

Look, I know I’m being a little flippant here, and I do know that this might seem revolutionary to some… but seriously, I recommend you read pretty much anything by Dylan Wiliam, because formative assessment has been addressing this stuff for yonks.

AS FOR THE OTHER STUFF…

An outdoor ed camp, a class for disengaged boys, a kid who left under a cloud of drug use, another who left after Year 10, kids getting into strife for fighting and (alleged but ultimately unproven) theft, a school production of Aladdin, a formal ball, a kid who didn’t get into medicine, stressed out G&T kids, a girl arguing with her mother, school captain elections and a deputy who was a little skeptical of consultants… are the ingredients of a typical day in a typical school and I’m unsure as to what lessons they taught us, other than apparently after going on a four-day hike, some kids who hated school and had previously all failed a maths test all of a sudden aced it on their return… Again, not underestimating the impact of the outdoor education or the commitment of the staff, but come on… the superficial nature in which it was covered left me cold.

I was left wondering if police officers are equally underwhelmed after watching an episode of RBT? Or what about doctors and nurses after watching Trauma: Life in the ER?

But then again RBT & Trauma aren’t broadcast on the premise that the policing or health professions are failing to such an extent that they require such TV shows to “serve as a lesson.”

Now to be fair, the series finished by highlighting the gains the school has made which are impressive and for which everyone’s efforts should be applauded, and it’s worth noting that this has been an 8 year journey of which MGSE were a part for the past 12 months. Clearly they’ve made great gains but there are still some questions that remain particularly given the premise upon which the series was set.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 6.16.27 pm

QUESTIONS THAT REMAIN

  1. When Hattie says it’s not the school that make a difference, but the teachers, what does that really mean?
  2. When Hattie says, “Class size doesn’t matter,” do you think he should clarify that by finishing that statement with, “if we don’t change our practice.” As you may be aware I’ve covered this in the past in my blog posts and in an interview I had with John Hattie himself. 
  3. Aren’t the things advocated for in Clinical Teaching (more student interaction, better feedback etc) impacted by class size?
  4. What was the impact on staff & student engagement of having cameras in the school?
  5. How many adults (teachers, consultants, camera & sound operators) were in each classroom and what impact would this have had?
  6. Given the series website states, “By applying simple low cost ideas in the classroom Kambrya undergoes a dramatic transformation,” how much would it cost your school to do something similar with MGSE? Having looked at the MGSE’s School Network page, a quick calculation would put it at around $50-60K
  7. How did the airing of students struggling with drugs and family pressures serve as a lesson for schools around Australia?
  8. What have you learned (with regard to pedagogy, wellbeing, classroom management, professional growth, enhancing student outcomes) as a result of watching #RevolutionSchool?
Categories
Education Social Commentary

Why the Federal Government’s Education Policy Misses The Mark…

educationWith a fair amount of fanfare this week, Australia’s federal government announced that it would invest an additional $1.2 billion from 2018 to 2020 that would be tied to a needs-based distribution of funding and reforms in our schools to “help every parent have confidence that their child is receiving the teaching they require.”

Most of the commentary around this decision has been around the fact that the figure of $1.2 billion falls some way short of the $5 billion that the Gonski report suggested was required in order to achieve a level of equity in education across Australia.

I’ve written before about the high levels of inequity in Australia, and whilst I’m no expert in these matters – and I’m aware that state governments carry the majority of the funding burden – it does strike me as strange that a search of the MySchool site tells me that a private school in my local area whose net income for 2014 was $52,000,000 (yes, fifty-two million, and that’s by no means an anomaly) receives three-and-half times the amount of federal funding that my local public high school gets, despite not having 3.5 times as many kids… curious.

But the seemingly inequitable funding of independent schools this isn’t just a Liberal government issue, as it was the then Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who in 2012, was the first to state that no private school would lose a dollar in any future funding agreements, when perhaps it might have been more prudent to ask private schools if perhaps – just perhaps, they might wish to curtail their spending on capital works, such as new dance studios, learning centres (always makes me smile that we need these in schools) or olympic size swimming pools, just for a year or two. After all as Prime Minister Turnbull pointed out this week,

“While Bill Shorten has promised more money for schools, Labor is ignoring the decades of significant funding growth yet declining performance. For all Labor knows, their extra funding will be used to build a second or third sports shed or pretty up a school gate rather than addressing the generational deficiencies of our schooling system.”

Hmm… quite.

But rather than just adding to the chorus of “Show me the money” , I want to have a look at some of the other aspects of the federal government’s approach to education that I believe are flawed.

First of all I take exception to the rhetoric that surrounds education in Australia. Politicians of all persuasions appear to want to reduce education to a competition, with Turnbull stating the aim is for our kids to “get ahead” and sprinkled with the usual dose of political xenophobia, the kids we really need to get ahead of are those from overseas. Particularly Asia.

Performance Related Pay (PRP)  is one of the pillars of the government’s policy with teachers being rewarded for meeting the criteria of the Australian Teaching Standards. I have a number of concerns about this, not least the fact that in a lot of cases results have been mixed to say the least. As the OECD states:

Performance-based pay is worth considering in some contexts; but making it work well and sustainably is a formidable challenge. Pay levels can only be part of the work environment: countries that have succeeded in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching, offering real career prospects, and giving teachers responsibility as professionals and leaders of reform. This requires teacher education that helps teachers to become innovators and researchers in education, not just civil servants who deliver curricula.

Incentivise high-performing teachers to work in disadvantaged schools. Leaving aside the insulting implication that there aren’t already high performing teachers in these schools, I’d argue that what constitutes “high performance” in one school might not cut the mustard in another. Every single school community is different, and with that come different challenges. We need to be clear what high performance means before we talk about this any further.

Maths for Everyone! The government has stated that every student will need to study a Maths or Science subject up to Year 12. Welcome to the #IdeasBoom! Leaving aside the fact that this is merely a narrowing of the curriculum, based on some fairly spurious claims that “the most exciting jobs of the future will require maths and science,” I can’t see this doing anything to raise standards can you? If anything mandating that all students study maths or science will only bring down levels. Then won’t we be panicking!

Standardised Tests for Year 1 Students. If you listen carefully, that distant cheering is the sound of publishing companies rejoicing that they now have a whole new market of anxious parents to target. For too long these parents have gotten away with reading the Gruffalo or Possum Magic… but no longer! Already NAPLAN preparation guides are among the best selling books in Australia and soon it will be the Year 1 preparation guides. To be clear, OF COURSE we should know where kids are at, and identify those at risk of falling behind. But I’d wager the vast majority of schools do that already, but then face the challenge of trying to help those kids with minimal resources. If only there was some way we could get more money and resources to these schools and communities…

But I’m not all about picking holes. I’m here to offer solutions too.

So Malcolm Turnbull and Simon Birmingham, if you’re reading this, perhaps you might glean some ideas about how we can win the Education Race from the advice I offered your predecessors some years ago.

Categories
Education Social Justice

Why I’m supporting the ILF

KindleFirst of all, thank you! Thank you to everyone who has already got a copy of my book #SchoolOfThought!

I was blown away to wake up on Sunday to find it #2 in ‘Schools & Teaching’ on Kindle in Australia… behind the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Malala!

If you get my newsletter you’ll be aware that all the profits from the sale of #SchoolOfThought will go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) here in Australia.

I just wanted to share with you some of the reasons why I’m supporting this great organisation.

First and foremost on my travels around Australia, I’m constantly challenged by the inequities I witness. With regard to Indigenous Australians these inequities are extreme. According to the ILF:

  • Between 40% and 60% of Indigenous children in very remote locations across WA, SA and NT are achieving below minimum standard in Reading in Year 3.
  • Only 2 out of 10 children in very remote parts of the NT are achieving at or above the minimum standard for reading in Year 3. This drops to only 1 out of 10 by the time a child reaches Year 9.
  • School attendance rates are as low as 14% in very remote areas of Australia.

PrintThe ILF operates without any government or major corporate funding and has a full-time staff of just three.

Despite this, each year they manage to get thousands of books into hundreds of
communities, and run community literacy projects – including two in Walmajarri language.

If you’d like to support the ILF in their work, but aren’t that keen on having to get my book to do so, you can find out more about them at: http://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/

You might also like to get involved in the Foundation’s major fundraising campaign: 
Indigenous Literacy Day, on Wednesday 7 September 2016.

And of course, you can do all this AND grab a copy of #SchoolOfThought…

*I know that some Aussie readers might be put off by having to buy the paperback through Amazon in $USD. We’re working on it, and hope to have be able to offer you a way to pay in $AUD in a couple of weeks. 

Categories
Education Social Justice

Gonski isn’t about getting *more* money…

In today’s Sun Herald,  you may have come across a piece headlined, NSW public schools increasingly turning to cashed-up P&Cs for funding.

In brief the article points out that:

P&Cs are asking parents for annual voluntary contributions of $200 per child or more to help pay for education programs as well as iPads, upgrades to toilets and additional support teachers or in some cases to buy language textbooks, workbooks and to pay for student welfare support.

And to be clear, these are public schools we’re talking about. Not private.

The article goes on to suggest that it is not uncommon for public schools and P&Cs to have fundraising goals of in excess of $200,000.

Whilst some of the funds that schools raise may be spent on what you might perhaps call discretionary items – a minibus for example (although many schools rely on theirs for a whole host of reasons) – money spent on things like toilet blocks, student welfare, books and technology are not. They are necessities.

Schools don’t have enough money for the necessities.

So they reach out to their community. But clearly, this has repercussions.

Even schools in high socioeconomic surrounds will have families who do not fall into that category, and a lazy $100 isn’t that easy to come by. But it’s compounded in whole communities that simply don’t have that kind of money in their collective back pocket.

Much of the talk around funding in education is about Private v Public, but there is more to it than that. In the public system alone there are the haves & the have-nots.

This is where the needs-based funding model of David Gonski serves to address the issue. But as you’d no doubt be aware, the Australian Federal Government has said it won’t fund the final two years of that.

Since taking office as the Federal Education Minister, Senator Simon Birmingham’s mantra has been:

“In the end, what we know is just spending more money on schools doesn’t necessarily lift outcomes.”

I’m yet to meet a single person who believes that it would. Just spending more money.

In doing this, Senator Birmingham is creating a straw man argument – making a case against an opinion no one actually holds. To further advance his position, he then comes up with claims like this one during an interview with the SMH:

“Some officials have said, ‘We’re not quite sure what we’re going to do with the extra money, we’re just going to employ more teachers'”

I call ‘Bullshit’ sorry, ‘Rubbish.’

Who are these ‘officials?’ And if by some small chance they actually do exist, and are officials of some description then they need to be relieved of their position immediately. (Just my 2 cents)

But the bottom line is this. By continually framing Gonski as an argument that schools want more money without having any idea what they are going to do with it, is misinformed at best, and disrespectful and manipulative at worst.

In many cases, Gonski isn’t about getting more money. It’s about getting enough.

Categories
Education Engagement & Motivation Mindset Tech & Social Media Wellbeing

Developing a Minecraft Mindset

What’s in this post:

  • How I used Minecraft to discuss Mindset with kids for whom mainstream education doesn’t work
  • Access to the materials I created in order for you to do similar if you wish

Of late I’ve found myself working with kids from some fairly tough backgrounds.

Whether it’s kids who are wards of the state, living in temporary shelter, or kids in mainstream settings who don’t hold out much hope for their future, I’ve been keen to explore how Carol Dweck’s theory of Growth Mindset might apply to these young people.

Incidentally if you’ve read Mindset or not, I’d highly recommend getting a copy of Dweck’s earlier work Self Theories, a series of essays that go into more detail regarding the research and – in my opinion at least – is a better read than her more well-known publication.

Anyhoo… just last week I had the opportunity to try something with a group of kids who attend a school that caters for those for whom the mainstream education system simply doesn’t work. Some of these students (currently all boys in Years 6-8) have severe behavioural issues, some have wellbeing issues and most have a combination of the two. I’m fortunate that I get to spend time with these boys on a semi-regular basis and so have been able to establish a bit of rapport with them.

I determined that it might be interesting to play Minecraft with them… and just see what happens. I hypothesised that many behaviours that Dweck describes as being Growth Mindset behaviours would be evident whilst the boys played Minecraft:

  • seeking out and embracing challenge
  • persisting in the face of setbacks
  • revelling in the struggle
  • taking on feedback
  • and being inspired by the success of others

I then wanted the boys to reflect on this after playing… but first the set up!

The very first thing I did was tweet out what I was thinking of doing. If you check out the comments down the side of the doc you’ll see heaps of good ideas, that either validated or pushed my thinking. Thanks in particular to:

 @eduGrunt@nickpatsianas@jeffkuhn72@dbatty1@jokay and @SteveT_AU for their input.

In the end this is what I went with…

Equipment – Given I didn’t want to impose on the school with regards to organising Minecraft Edu accounts or the like, I sourced the following…

  • Samsung 10.1 Note running Minecraft PE (My 3 year old tablet)
  • 5 x Lenovo TAB 2 A7-10 Tablets ($97 each) Probably one of the best tablets in the sub $100 category
  • 1 x TP-LINK N300 Wireless Modem Router TD-W8961N ($47) I’d originally planned to network through my 4g hotspot, but then got nervous thinking about risk assessments and kids finding stuff they shouldn’t online… So the router serves to act as a network between the tablets without allowing access to the net.

I decided to set up a scenario as such using this website… (I’ve de-identified the school for privacy reasons)

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 5.50.56 pm

In order to set up the scenario in Minecraft I built a world using a seed… a simple internet search will give you plenty. For those of you interested, I used the Minecraft PE Seed: -94440.

Screenshot_2015-11-10-11-52-46

From there I was able to switch between creative and survival mode (I found that installing a mod called Too Many Items on my Samsung made this a much simpler process) in order to hide gems around the area, and ‘bury’ villagers as well as create the sort of havoc an earthquake might cause by detonating TNT around the place and setting fire to buildings… 😈

Screenshot_2015-11-11-17-35-12

The kids had three missions:

  1. To rebuild and enhance the village
  2. To find the buried villagers
  3. To find the stolen gems

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.10.28 pmIn the full Minecraft game (on PC, Mac or Console) you can use xyz coordinates that allow gamers to know where they are within their world, but in Minecraft PE this isn’t the case. So I created a map – again by going into Creative mode and taking a Bird’s Eye View screenshot and then overlaying a grid.

Students could work out the coordinates for the villagers and the gems by solving maths problems.Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.07.31 pm

Each group of students – small groups of 4 boys or so, which is the nature of this school – had around an hour. The last 10-15 minutes or so was spent on the reflection. Which again I put out on Twitter in it’s early form:

This was the final version. You’ll note I got rid of the sword (it’s school after all!), gave space for students to identify their own strengths (thanks to@corisel) and then scaffolded the transfer from Minecraft to ‘real’ life… (although Minecraft is real life of course! 😀)

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 6.14.38 pm

Was it a resounding success?

Let’s not go too far. It was after all a one-off session using the most basic version of Minecraft. I’m aware many of you will be using Minecraft Edu or the full PC-based Minecraft and as such will be doing much more advanced work.

But as the boys’ regular teachers noted:

  • Kids who would ordinarily not be able to be in the same room as each other were working as a team
  • Boys were running around the classroom to answer maths questions (I know, I know… it wasn’t in the risk assessment!)
  • They were talking about their strategies and what they would do to improve all day…

Some of the boys reflections were pretty powerful too – and I’m paraphrasing a little…

  • I realise that making mistakes doesn’t make me a bad person
  • I tell myself I’m no good at something before giving myself a chance to get good at something
  • I get frustrated when I can’t do something straight away

As well as working with the boys I ran the sessions to show the teachers the power of Minecraft – or games in general – in order to get students to address their behaviours and – more importantly – their thinking around their behaviours.

The staff are now investigating how they might incorporate similar approaches down the track.

Obviously if this were part of an ongoing approach we would be able to explore our mindsets in various scenarios. I’m not saying it’s as simple as being resilient in Minecraft means you can be resilient in ‘real life.’

But I am saying for some of these kids acknowledging they do exhibit these behaviours somewhere is an incredibly important first step.

Demonstrating through Minecraft that they do exhibit the kind of Growth Mindset behaviours that Dweck talks about is – for some of the students – the first time they or anyone else have recognised they are capable of doing so.

If you think this could be of value in you classroom, you can get all my resources for this activity here, meaning you can use the seed (-94440) along with the map I’ve produced, also please feel free to change up the reflection tool to suit your context.

Would love to hear your thoughts, or other cool ideas you have for Minecraft or games in general!

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
Education Leadership Wellbeing

3 things you (probably) didn’t know about Finland

FinlandEvery couple of years, the OECD publish a report from their Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Their findings are (very helpfully) compiled into league tables, charting the performance of each of the participating countries in maths, literacy and application of scientific knowledge.

These tables are then used to fuel media stories like this one, which make claims like:

“Australian schools should copy their top-performing Asian neighbours and push to keep only the best teachers in the classroom if local students are to stop slipping further down the ladder.”

The PISA report also provides ammunition for politicians like Education Minister Christopher Pyne to come up with gems like this:

“We’ve spent a great deal of money, 40 per cent more on school education in the last 10 years, but we haven’t focused on the basics – teacher quality, autonomy in schools, parental engagement and the curriculum. We’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted with other issues. And our competitive – competitor nations, particularly in Asia, they have focused on the basics.

 

We need to have a back-to-basics approach.”

So what’s this got to do with Finland? After all it seems the media and the politicians are only focused on beating our Asian competitors.

Well, many of the opponents to the “Beat Asia” campaign, cite the Finnish education system as the one we should look to in order to raise standards.

I’m all for looking at other systems to see what we can learn. Indeed it was when I looked at the Finnish system I learned the following…

1. More than 30% of Finnish students say they aren’t happy, or they do not belong at school.

According to the last set of PISA results (PDF) – published in 2013 – on average, 20% of Australian students report they are not happy or that they do not belong at school. Yet in Finland, 32% of students report that they aren’t happy.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.28.27 pm

Since PISA started, we have seen a steady decline in the amount of kids who feel they belong in schools in Australia, but interestingly, this decline has been even more pronounced in Finland.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 1.31.39 pm

This is of particular interest to me given the link between school connectedness and wellbeing. 

2. The Youth Unemployment rate in Finland currently stands at 23%

The Finnish rate of Youth Unemployment runs at almost double that of Australia’s current rate of Youth Unemployment that stands at 12%. 

I’m not sure the significance of this to be honest, but I do find it interesting.

What is the education system doing if it serving kids well on standardised tests but not enabling them to get into the workforce? I’d love to get a better perspective if anyone is well placed to offer me some advice?

I’ve previously attempted to tweet Pasi Sahlberg to get his thoughts on this, but he’s a busy guy. If anyone knows him, could you ask him for me please?

3. Finland value different things & different people in education

OK, you probably thought this might the case, but it is nevertheless still interesting to note the different reactions of Christopher Pyne and his Finnish counterpart in the face of declining standards.

Whilst Pyne spoke about competing, getting back-to-basics and teachers who weren’t up to scratch…

When questioned what her thoughts were about the fact the likes of Liechtenstein and Estonia had overtaken Finland in Maths, Finnish Education Minister, Krista Kiuru said:

“We will bring in not only experts in research and education and political decision-makers but also student representatives and parents. Besides strengthening equality, we must find means to improve and sustain motivation in learning and studying and make schools a good environment to be in.”

Krista Kiuru engages education experts, students and parents in order to make schools a better environment to be in.

Christopher Pyne brings in Kevin Donnelly.

For me, this is one of the main reasons why we should look to Finland to see what we can learn from them. Their focus on the bigger picture.

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
Education Leadership Wellbeing

5 Key Takeaways about Student Wellbeing

Screen Shot 2015-05-30 at 3.13.02 pmA couple of weeks ago the Centre for Education Statistics & Evaluation released their literature review into Student Wellbeing. You can access the entire document here. It clearly and concisely lays out all the considerations important for addressing student wellbeing in your school. It also offers dozens of research papers to explore by way of referencing.

Having said that, if you’re pushed for time, I’ve distilled the essence of it here. [Anything in italics denotes it has been taken verbatim from the report]

The Department of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations (DEEWR) defines wellbeing as:

A sustainable state of positive mood and attitude, resilience and satisfaction with self, relationships and experiences at school.

I’ve spoken and written at length to explore the research evidence shows that students with high levels of wellbeing are more likely to have higher academic achievement and complete Year 12; better mental health; and a more pro-social, responsible and lawful lifestyle. And yet – even though we know this – I often find approaches to wellbeing in organisations that are tokenistic, or tick-a-box in nature.

Assuming your school or organisation is keen to address wellbeing in a meaningful way, the literature suggests you need to have 5 things in place.

1. Schools need to provide a safe environment

The report states: A safe school is one where the physical environment is safe and does not lead to harm or injury for students; the emotional environment is one of positivity and free from negative behaviours such as bullying which can affect mental health; and where a healthy lifestyle is promoted through initiatives such as increased participation in sport and/or healthy food at the canteen. 

2. Connectedness

A sense of belonging to the school environment is an established protective factor for child and adolescent health, education, and social wellbeing. Students with low connectedness are two to three times more likely to experience depressive symptoms compared to more connected peers.

The reports states: McNeely et al examined the association between school connectedness and the school environment using data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and hierarchical linear models. They found that positive classroom management climates, participation in extracurricular activities and tolerant disciplinary policies were associated positively with higher school connectedness. Other strategies can include increasing the time, interest and support given to students by teachers, empowering students to have a voice, engaging community partners to provide a range of services at the school that students need, and developing a shared vision of high standards and behaviours for the school. Involvement in extra-curricular activity and exposure to a challenging curriculum can also assist with connectedness. 

3. Learning Engagement

According to the report: Students can engage with school at social, institutional and intellectual levels. Social engagement is how a student is involved in the life of the school and can refer to a sense of belonging, positive relationships and participation in clubs and sports etc. Institutional engagement is how a student values school and strives to meet the formal requirements of schooling such as attendance, positive behaviour and homework, and intellectual engagement relates to emotional and psychological investment in schooling such as interest, effort and motivation.

So key points of interest for me – particularly given my interest in engagement and positive psychology – were the following suggestions:

i. Quality instruction may mean student participation in design, delivery and review of the program and/or active participation in parts of their education, from consultation to decision-making. 

ii. The work of Suzy Green was cited as such: When people work with their strengths [signature strengths as defined by Martin Seligman], they tend to learn more readily, perform at a higher level, are more motivated and confident and have a stronger sense of satisfaction, mastery and competence.

iii. And Lea Waters’ research into Positive Psychology interventions in school was summarised as: Waters reviewed evidence from 12 schools that had implemented positive psychology interventions focusing on gratitude, hope, serenity, resilience and character strengths, and found that these interventions were significantly related to student wellbeing, relationships and academic performance.

4. Social & Emotional Learning

I’ve heard a few teachers – and even leaders – suggest that there simply isn’t time to address the social and emotional learning of students. But if you’re trying to make a case for it in your school, you could cite the research of Durlak et al (2011). (Again from the report) They conducted a meta-analysis of 213 studies of SEL programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students in the US. They found that compared to control participants, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behaviour, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.

5. Whole School Approach

Student wellbeing cannot be seen as something else we do in schools. It can not be thought of in isolation. As the report suggests: Critical elements to supporting wellbeing at the school level are: strong school leadership which emphasises and promotes the importance of wellbeing at the school and within the broader school community; and a culture of high expectations for all students with teachers who emphasise continuously improving. In other words, wellbeing must be integrated into the school learning environment, the curriculum and pedagogy, the policies and procedures at schools, and the partnerships inherent within and outside schools including teachers, students, parents, support staff and community groups.

I highly recommend having a look at the whole report, not least for the wealth of resources it will point you to in order to address each of these five key areas.

I believe that engagement & wellbeing are at the crux of what we do in schools and if we get this right, outcomes will – largely – look after themselves (for staff as well as students).

But still… too many schools, organisations and systems pursue outcomes at the expense of engagement and wellbeing, and then they struggle to understand why staff, students and the wider community are so disaffected.

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…