Categories
Leadership

Is “by teachers for teachers” always a good thing?

This is an excerpt from my latest Australian Teacher Magazine column.

In schools it is not uncommon for outside agencies to be brought in to consult on initiatives, but should the consultant lack a background in education they can be quickly dismissed by a less than enthusiastic staffroom. After all, what would they know?

Yet in other sectors and industries it is often seen as advantageous to bring people in from other domains as they are free of the common assumptions that sometimes hold innovation back.

‘Outsiders’ can see a universally accepted practice that would usually go unchallenged and ask, ‘Why do you do that?’ and in doing so can spark a conversation that otherwise would not have taken place.

You can read the full article here.

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

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
Education Leadership Tech & Social Media

“Just jump in the deep end!” – Worst Advice Ever!

SwimmingThere’s a reason I started to take my then three-year-old son to swimming lessons.

It’s because, left unattended, he would have – most likely – jumped in the deep end without the pre-requisite skills to live to tell the story. Neither he or his mum were too keen on that scenario. Hence the weekly lessons.

Just jumping in the deep end is a curious idiom. I can only assume it originated from swimming, but that would seem to suggest that someone did, at some point, believe this was the best way to learn.

Obviously it’s not, yet I see this advice – virtually on a daily basis – given to teachers who are new to #edtech, or for those of you not versed in Twitterese, Educational Technology.

By the way, this is a great video about hashtags! – Seriously, watch it.

Let’s think back to the pool.

You can’t swim, you get told to jump – or perhaps you are pushed – into the deep end. First thought?

OK, well after that one… your next thought is survival. You struggle, splash, kick without rhythm,  inhale water. Iyou make it back to the side, you’re unlikely to want to jump back in too quickly. Even less so if you have to be scooped out by a teenage lifeguard.

And what would you have learned during that time in/under water? The correct technique for the dolphin kick? A bit of bilateral breathing perhaps? Unlikely.

But what if, instead of being thrown in the deep end, you were encouraged to dip your toe. What if the coach got in the water with you? What if the coach guided you over a period of weeks, until such a point that you felt comfortable to jump in the deep end?

And then over time you were coached to further develop your techniques.

Of course that’s a better model. Not only for learning how to swim, but learning in general.

I’m pleased to say that my son’s swimming coach took that approach with him, so now as a 5 year-old, when he jumps into the deep end, my first thought isn’t to dive in after him, unless it’s a race of course. (No better way to teach him resilience that whoop him in a freestyle race every now and then!) 😉

It’s easy for us to tell people to just jump in as there’s no responsibility on our part. No accountability. No follow through. People either sink or swim – and if they sink, well perhaps it’s time they got out of the game altogether… 21st Century Education and all that…

Of course I’m not saying that people shouldn’t want to learn something new. Especially teachers. One of my favourite quotes from George Couros is:

If you’re done learning then you’re done teaching.

But we must realise that if people are hesitant with #edtech (or anything else that may be the flavour of the month in your school) they’ve probably got some very real reasons for that. Blinding them with all the benefits of using it will do little to sway them. Ripping through a staff meeting clicking and flashing multiple browser windows whilst speaking a language they barely understand will also be a waste of most people’s time, including yours.

You’ll only need a couple of sessions like this to lose them completely.

Let’s be more like good swimming coaches and less like scary old-school PE teachers.

Create a shallow end for learning, and rather than telling people to, just jump in the deep end, perhaps we can encourage people to just go a bit further towards the deep end. And let them know you’ll be there as and when they need you.

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

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).