Education Revolution: Right Idea, Wrong Method

The drum

I’ve been published on the ABC today giving my thoughts on the current state of play of education reform in Australia.

Here is an excerpt:

I’m not saying we shouldn’t aim to improve teaching and learning in schools. Of course we should; any profession worth its salt seeks to continually improve its impact.

But what I am saying is that whilst governments may say this is their aim, many of their actions only serve to undermine teaching and learning in our schools.

For example, the Federal Government is intent on paying the best teachers based on their performance. But by it’s own definition only 10% of teachers would pass muster, and there would – of course – be a reliance on standardized test scores to prove one teacher’s worth over another.

Forgetting for a moment that implementing Performance Related Pay in teaching is questionable at best, no single move could do more to destroy the fabric of education than this.

Only the most egocentric teacher would believe that her students’ performance was solely down to her. Schools rely on a sense of collegiality but introducing performance related pay would compromise this value.

I know there are good and bad teachers, just as there are good and bad politicians. But pitting politicians against each other hasn’t raised standards of governance, so why would we think it’s the answer to raising standards of education?

Read the full article on the ABC Drum

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 Leadership

Vive le Revolution!

On Friday 2nd March, the teaching community of Sydney got together for an incredible event.

Starting at 5pm (yes… after School), 300+ teachers from across all the educational sectors got together to share concepts, collaborate, start new projects, discuss technology and generally explore the nature, purpose and possibilities of education.

I’ve written of the TeachMeet phenomenon before and this event format was similar to previous TeachMeets, albeit on a larger scale, with teachers presenting either 2min or 7min presentations, while others facilitated 15min workshops to explore all manner of things from apps to worldwide collaborative projects – all for free, of their own volition and in their own time.

The evening wrapped up at about 8.30pm with everyone inspired to do what they originally came into the profession… To Make a Difference.

So what were my takeaways from the evening?

Apart from some interesting ideas to try out in my own teaching and a goal to host a TeachMeet at my school:

  • I further strengthened my connections with some of my Twitter Heroes. Some of whom I have “known” for well over 12 months, shared ideas with and even disagreed with, but until tonight had never met them face-to-face.
  • To listen the media’s coverage of education, you’d be forgiven for thinking education can be reduced to simply competition. League tables, NAPLAN, MySchool, international comparisons and the Gonski Report are all interpreted in a manner that ensures a headline – often at the expense of the facts in context. Tonight there was no sense competition, no consideration for the fact that by sharing your own practice, the school down the road could improve their MySchool ranking. Tonight there was an overwhelming sense of collaboration.
  • Politicians to not start revolutions. The people do. And last Friday, the people spoke, the people listened, the people cared and the revolution has momentum.

Forget politicians’ glib references to Educational Revolutions and start collaborating with the staff in your own school to ensure the kind of education you envisaged when you applied for teacher training. I am yet to meet a single teacher who went into teaching simply to impress their principal with their class’ NAPLAN or HSC scores.

Start collaborating with the school down the road, see what they’re doing – forget MySchool.

Start collaborating with teachers interstate or internationally via any number of online platforms.

Attend a TeachMeet, or if there isn’t one near you… host your own and Vive le Revolution!

Big thanks to @mesterman, @simoncrook, @henriettami, @benpaddlejones, @edusum, @liamdunphy, @pipcleaves, @7MrsJames, @malynmawby, @cpaterso, @mickprest, @townesy77, @jpilearn & @pehogg for their hard work in putting this event together on the night, and in the months leading up to it!

You can see a shortened (3m30s) version of my 7min talk on Facing Up to The Fear of Failure by clicking here. 


What the League Tables DON’T Tell You

In the last couple of weeks, much has been made of the fact that Australia is falling behind its Asian neighbours in terms of educational outcomes for its students. The recently published Grattan Report stated that, “In Shanghai, the average 15-year old mathematics student is performing at a level two to three years above his or her counterpart in Australia.”

I’m not sure if it’s relevant, but you could reply by saying, “In Shanghai, the average 15-year old mathematics student could not tell you the significance of these three words – Massacre, Square and Tiananmen.

To head further down this political dead-end, the Australian education system seeks to reward critical, independent thinkers. Indeed to acquire a Band 6 in most NSW HSC subjects these two qualities are sought.

In China, a critical, independent thinker is not what the government are looking for… or in some cases actually they are looking for them; men with guns are looking for them.

Anyway, back to the serious stuff… the Grattan Report went to great lengths to point out why the Asian education systems may be worth a look, and it’s not all to do with cultural stereotypes…

I quote directly from the Grattan Report (which I recommend to anyone genuinely interested in authentic education reform.)

The four East Asian systems (Hong Kong, China, Korea and Singapore) have found ways to connect high-level strategy to what others have been trying to achieve in the classroom.

The role of teachers is essential: they are partners in reform.

In Singapore, they are paid civil servants during their initial teacher  education. In Korea they must pass entrance examinations, including classroom demonstrations, before becoming teachers.

In Shanghai, all teachers have mentors. New teachers have district-based mentors and two in-school mentors (one on classroom management, the other on subject content).

In Hong Kong, classroom observations aim to change teacher culture and improve pedagogy. The focus is on openness to new ideas and career-long teacher learning.

These four systems are not afraid to make difficult trade-offs to achieve their goals. Shanghai, for example, has larger class sizes to give teachers more time for school-based research to improve learning and teaching.These systems are neither perfect nor universally popular. Hong Kong acknowledges that its move away from a strict examination focus has not yet persuaded most parents. 

The Government seems to miss the irony in wanting to use Asia as a bench-mark yet be at odds with, or only pay lip service to the points made above.

Education Wellbeing Youth

Farewell to the Graduating Class of 2025

Today is my 35th birthday.

By my reckoning by the time this year’s Kindergarten class graduate in 2025, I may well be in a position where someone might ask me to give a graduation speech for them.

So in the spirit of being prepared, here is what I hope to be able to say:

May I present to you, the Year Twelve Class of 2025.

It only feels like yesterday, when these kids walked through the doors of Kindergarten for the very first time. Some apprehensively, in tears clinging to their parents while others were more confident, wide-eyed with wonder and eager to take on all that school had to offer.

The changes we have seen in the education system since that summer’s day in 2012 have been remarkable. The Prime Minister of the time, Julia Gillard, believed that a back to basics curriculum along with overpriced school halls would bring about a revolution. Yet as we have seen in the past three decades that philosophy was never going to stand the test of time.

Regardless of how new the surrounds, how could a back to basics curriculum possibly have met these students’ needs?

You can read the rest of this speech at Online Opinion…

Education Leadership

It Just Clicks – Latest SMH Piece

At the start of this year, 7000  school students in Miami took a maths course delivered entirely by computer. Instead of a teacher, the only adult in the room was a “facilitator” who dealt with technical problems and ensured students remained on task.  Labor’s Digital Education Revolution (DER) ensures that every Year 9 student in Australia receives a laptop – so could Australian classrooms one day resemble those in Miami? And are teachers now an endangered species?

 Read my full article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Below are how you can connect with some of those mentioned in the article.

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Education Leadership

What is the Role of a 21st Century School Principal?

On Sunday I read a report by the Sunday Telegraph’s education editor Laura Speranza which highlighted the technological habits of school principals. I tweeted the following:!/danhaesler/status/117800130081587200

Unsurprisingly, many of the responses suggested they thought principals needed to be across all the latest technology, and if they weren’t it would hamper their students’ learning in the 21st Century.

However, whilst it may be preferable for a school principal to be across all the latest technology, it is both unrealistic and unfair to expect this to be the case.

Instead I suggest principals must satisfy the following four criteria.

1. First and foremost a school prinicpal must be a visionary. They must have a clear and well communicated mission for their school, its staff and wider community.

2. Principals must be expert communicators and facilators in order to deliver their vision.

3. Principals must be experts in their field – teaching. They must understand the implications of, and rationales behind various pedagogical techniques in the 21st Century.

Principals need not be experts in all areas of curriculum design, e-learning, finances, maintenance, wellbeing and psychology etc… Rather schools need leadership teams comprising of experts in each of these fields.

Using Richard Branson as an example. He has the vision of Virgin offering the first commercial space flight in the near future. However, I doubt he is an expert on the latest and most efficient material for space craft design.

What do you think? Is this too simplistic?

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Education Leadership

What’s wrong with Performance Related Pay? – Latest SMH Piece

It is generally accepted in most professions that the better you are, the more money you can command.  Many teachers would agree the top in their field should be rewarded accordingly. So why is it that the Gillard government’s proposed performance-related payment scheme is not being welcomed with open arms? Read my full article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

For another take on the psychology behind motivation, and an insight into why the Gillard model of PRP may not achieve its aims, watch this short talk by internationally renowned author and speaker Dan Pink.

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Five Ways to Wellbeing

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Felicia Huppert. Felicia is a well-known researcher in the field of wellbeing, and has advised and informed the UK Governments policy making in the area of mental capital and wellbeing.

Amongst other things, she introduced me to the work of the New Economics Foundation who, in their own words,  look at economics, “as if people and the planet mattered.”  Based on the latest scientific research the NEF have produced the “Five Ways to Wellbeing.”


With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.

Be active…

Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness.

Take notice…

Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.

Keep learning

Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun.


Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.

If you (or your school) are looking to take a more proactive approach to wellbeing, as a starting point, I think you could do a lot worse than explore how you can embed the Five Ways to Wellbeing in what you do.

In fact, if put into a school context, I think the Five Ways to Wellbeing presents a nice little values/mission package for your school…

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Education Engagement & Motivation Leadership

My Latest Sydney Morning Herald Article

Page 17 of today’s edition of the Sydney Morning Herald carries an article I wrote regarding the development of the new Australian Curriculum. Read it online here

Entitled “Old Ways Curb Young” Minds and featuring comment from Daniel Pink, Richard Gerver, Brian Caldwell and Professor Robyn Ewing, I will  be interested to see what reaction it gets, not only from the Education sector, but the public in general.

Please let me know what you think!

In other news…

My colleague, Ray Francis and I will be presenting at this weeks Association of Independent Schools Pastoral Care Conference. We are running a 60 min workshop on “Strengths-based approaches to Student Wellbeing.”

I’m also pleased to confirm that I have been invited to speak at the highly regarded Generation Next Youth Wellbeing Seminar in Perth in September.

Click here for more info on both of these events.

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