Education Leadership

If I was interviewing for teaching staff…

Question_MarkRecently I was chatting to a principal about what we would look for in potential staff members if we had the opportunity to build a school from scratch.

I scribbled down some notes, and later copied them onto my Tablet. I tweeted it out on my #DoodlesByDan tag and within about 2 hours it had been retweeted over 100 times. It’s by far the most prolific response I’ve had to any of my tweets.

I thought I’d share the scribblings here with some further thinking around it.

1. I’m over teachers telling me kids have to “earn” their respect. No they don’t. Respect for kids should be the number one pre-requisite for being a teacher. I couldn’t care less what your qualifications are if you don’t get past this first question.

2. Research suggests that teacher expectation plays in important part in whether kids learn or not. If you don’t think kids can learn, then I think you’re probably right. They probably won’t. We can’t have teachers thinking like this.

3. Trust me… there are some teachers who turn up at 8:55 and leave at 3:25. They do exactly what they need to in order to comply with their job description and no more. Not for me thanks.

4. On my travels I meet many keen teachers who are excited to push their thinking, explore new, or old, concepts and research with the mindset that regardless of their ability as a teacher, they want (and are able) to improve. They have what Carol Dweck would call a Growth Mindset. Unfortunately I also meet the odd teacher (as in numerically not characteristically) who has no inclination to explore such things. You know what that’s cool. It’s just not what I’d look for in members of my team.

And that is a key word – Team.

This is certainly not intended to be in anyway definitive.

What would you include in your criteria?

Change Education Leadership Tech & Social Media

When teachers say they’ve not heard of Sir Ken

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

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

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

Dan has appeared alongside the likes of…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education Engagement & Motivation Leadership

The problem with professional learning

I love getting feedback. After each speaking engagement or facilitated workshop, I seek feedback from those who attended and from those who engaged me for the gig.

I enjoy receiving positive feedback (obviously) but it’s the feedback that suggests improvements, or points to flaws in my delivery that push me to be better at what I do.

Having said that…

I do tend to bristle at the types of feedback that are along the lines of:

Teachers want something they can take away and do first thing Monday morning.

For me, this mindset is the biggest problem with professional learning – particularly in education.

Let me explain why I think that. And by explain, I mean ask you some questions.

How many Professional Learning days have you attended in your career? How many had a take home message? How many can you remember? How many of those messages still resonate with you?Expert_01

I’d hazard a guess that for each of those questions the number got lower and lower right?

Here’s the thing. It’s not like I’m out there teaching people how to tie their shoe laces (great talk by the way!). In my sessions we’re discussing engagement, wellbeing & leadership. Three things that look quite different in your organisation compared to the organisation of the next person who reads this blog. I’ve never worked with you, your colleagues, your kids, your kids’ parents or your wider learning community. I’m not the expert- YOU ARE.

When I’m working with professionals, my goal is to stimulate discussion and thinking so as to empower those present to design strategies that will enhance the experiences of everyone in their school or organisation. I seek to recognise and build on the capacity of those in the room, and in turn, their colleagues when they return to their schools.

I believe that the First Thing Monday Morning Mindset is a product of the way teachers have been treated over the years. Continually told that we need smarter teachers or that the system’s failing; that the Uni’s aren’t preparing teachers properly or, “I don’t know what you’re complaining about, look at your holidays!”

Some teachers genuinely believe they need a guru to come in and give them a list of things to do with a class or staff body that the guru has never met. It’s quick, to the point and everyone can tick that box off the list of things to do that year.

It would be interesting to see what kind of bang for buck your school gets for this approach to professional learning. It would be interesting to ask each member of your staff the four questions I asked earlier. We know the answers of course, and yet we persist…

So, in an attempt to appease everyone, and at the same time stay true to my philosophy… here IS one thing you can do first thing Monday morning…

Suggest to your Principal that at the end of this term, or the next, your school holds an IDEASFest. I’m sure you’ve seen enough examples of this kind of thing through TED talks, FODI and the like to get the idea.

Open it up to any member of your learning community – parents, kids, teachers, maintenance staff – and hear what they have to say about the things that matter to them and your school. You could frame the talks to be around a certain theme, or be less prescriptive.

No big bucks for keynote speakers, no experts or gurus and I’d bet you’ll have to persuade some that this would even constitute professional learning… 

But I’d also bet that this kind of day would provide you and your staff with a take home message or two that might resonate the rest of your career, let alone just the weekend.

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 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

Education Wellbeing

Buying into NAPLAN Stress

I wrote this for my weekly Generation Next column.

According to Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald, “Stuffed toys that help children deal with ‘difficult emotions’ are kid stressed exambeing spruiked as a means to ‘assist with the stress of NAPLAN.’”

As an aside, it does seem ironic that the PR firm pushing these toys is called Evil Twin.

Now, I understand that Year 12 students get stressed over HSC or VCE examinations. After all these are what they have been playing for since the Game of School began.

I understand Year 6 students getting stressed over a scholarship examination. After all, I’m sure they know just how lucky they are to even get the chance to sit for that test.

And – at a push – I can even understand Year 4 or 5 students getting stressed about being examined in order to gain access to the illustrious Opportunity Class. (Seriously… who comes up with these ideas?)

But a Year 3, 5, 7 or 9 student getting stressed over NAPLAN?


Let’s be clear. NAPLAN is not something students should be stressed about.

However, the way in which NAPLAN has been rolled out, and the use of the data it generates, means that NAPLAN is certainly something teachers and principals get stressed about.

What should be seen as a diagnostic test to gauge those kids who need extra help has been turned into a blunt instrument to judge teacher and whole-school performance.

Whether you agree NAPLAN should be used to measure school performance – and for the record I do believe it should play some part in a far more comprehensive analysis – the fact remains that a student’s results in NAPLAN, will have little bearing on their education. Certainly not in the same way their performances in their Opportunity Class, scholarship or Year 12 exams would have.

So why the stress?

One can only assume that it is the schools imparting this stress onto students and parents.

Anecdotally there have been stories in the past, of principals telling less-able students to stay at home on NAPLAN day, fearful of how the school’s results would be impacted by his or her attendance. And then of course there are the schools only admitting new students whose NAPLAN scores are deemed “good enough.”

Parents are simply following the lead from the schools.

Tutoring companies and NAPLAN study book publishers can’t believe their luck. One publishing company has sold 180,000 books already this year, whilst you’ll find School Zone NAPLAN-Style Workbook: Year 3 Numeracy at Number 9 on the Bestseller list courtesy of well-meaning parents.

Bookstores who may have been worried about their future a couple of years ago are now banking on NAPLAN hysteria seeing them through!

Meanwhile ACARA and government officials trot out the same old tired lines about NAPLAN being something you can’t prepare for.

Well people aren’t buying those words. They’re buying the words in NAPLAN books, and now it seemsGood Luck toys.

So I ask again, why is it – do you think – that the kids are stressed?


Teachers protesting to GET BACK INTO school…

So there I was on Monday, enjoying my first morning in Copenhagen when I stumbled across a protest taking place outside the Danish Parliament. 20130408_141142

A group of teachers were protesting what is known as “The Lockout.”

Essentially – and I think this is right – based on my conversations with the teachers protesting and press reports…

The Danish system allows for a review of working conditions every two years.

The latest review has seen the leaders decide that teachers will have less preparation time – it seems the disconnect between policy makers and teachers is not the sole preserve of Australia!

The teachers obviously aren’t too keen on this move.

But here’s the thing… because the teachers want to keep their preparation time intact, the municipalities (different regions are responsible for their local public schools) have locked the teachers out.

The teachers want to work, but aren’t allowed, until they agree to the changes.

And they aren’t getting paid their full wage either – in another week, they’ll get nothing. Some of the teachers I spoke to had been locked-out for nearly two weeks and were already having to worry about borrowing cash from family and friends.

The teachers have a great deal of public support, and you’d hope that common-sense prevails and while it might sound a bit over-the-top, I felt a great sense of camaraderie with the Danish teachers I met and I wish them all the best for the future.

Engagement & Motivation Leadership

Do other schools think more of you than your own?

When I’m in schools, I always recognise that the teachers I’m working with are the experts on their

As well as being expert educators, they understand the idiosyncrasies of their colleagues, leaders, students and wider community.

However, what I’m finding more and more is that within schools, teacher “expertise” is often not recognised outside of their perceived domain.

In other words, teachers limit ourselves and each other by our job title. We are there to teach our subject(s), do playground duty and write reports. There is little attention paid to actively recognising and nurturing innovation, collaboration or creativity.

Up until a few years ago this meant that people just got on with what they were paid to do and thought little more of it.

However, with the advent of social media, and Twitter in particular, this has changed.

Online, I regularly see PE teachers from one school collaborating with English or Drama teachers from another. Sharing their ideas, experiences etc. Maths teachers developing innovative ideas with art teacher.

Yet when I ask about such collaborations taking place within the walls of their own school, very often there’s not much doing.

Which led me to ask this question (on Twitter obviously!):

Which led to some interesting debate on Twitter over the weekend… here are the picks…

So with these thoughts in mind, I sought the opinion of school leaders who I KNOW value and actively encourage autonomy, creativity and innovation in their staff.

Ben Jones – Head of Teaching & Learning in Public School in Western Sydney

Stephen Harris – Principal of Northern Beaches Christian School

And to finish with, I couldn’t go past this one… I LOVE the sentiments expressed by John his tweet.

John Goh – Principal of a Public Primary School in Western Sydney



What do you expect?

For the most part, I believe that kids tend to rise or fall based on the expectations of the adults in their life. 

Last year, I was reminded of the book, ‘Pygmalion in the Classroom’ when I attended a workshop by James Nottingham.

The book describes an experiment carried out in a US elementary school to test this “expectation” hypothesis. In the experiment, Rosenthal and Jacobson tested the intelligence of all of the students at an elementary school. Then, they randomly selected 20 percent of the students – without any relation to their test results – and reported to the teachers that these 20% of students were showing “unusual potential for intellectual growth” and should “bloom” in their academic performance come the year’s end.

At the end of the year, the researchers came back and re-tested the students. Those labeled as “intelligent” children showed significantly greater increase in the new tests than the children who were not singled out for the teachers’ attention.

This means that,

“the change in the teachers’ expectations regarding the intellectual performance of these allegedly ‘special’ children had led to an actual change in the intellectual performance of these randomly selected children.”

The experiment only focused on favorable or positive expectations and their impact on intellectual competence, but common sense tells us that lower/negative expectations could also lead to a corresponding decrease in performance. The authors say, 

“There are many determinants of a teacher’s expectation of her pupils’ intellectual ability. Even before a teacher has seen a pupil deal with academic tasks she is likely to have some expectation for his behavior. If she is to teach a ‘slow group,’ or children of darker skin color, or children whose mothers are ‘on welfare,’ she will have different expectations for her pupils’ performance than if she is to teach a ‘fast group,’ or children of an upper-middle-class community. Before she has seen a child perform, she may have seen his score on an achievement or ability test or his last years’ grades, or she may have access to the less formal information that constitutes the child’s reputation.”

The bottom line is, teachers’ expectations matter, that student labeling is often done very early on in a child’s education, and often with very little or arbitrary/biased opinions. In doing this teachers can, consciously or unconsciously, reinforce existing class, ethnic and gender inequalities.

And it’s not just teachers – kids will rise or fall based on the expectations of the adults in their life.

Which way will the kids in your life go?

Education Engagement & Motivation Leadership

What could leaders learn from Rugby League?

I’d imagine a few things would come to mind if I asked this question to a room of teachers. Some of the answers, I’m sure would be pretty funny – if a little inappropriate.

However, yesterday I was reading this article by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter FitzSimons, discussing the merits of Des Hasler’s coaching techniques over those of his counterparts in the NRL. Towards the end of his piece, FitzSimons makes this point:

There are two ways of coaching football. One is to regard yourself as the puppet master endlessly sending runners out on to the field, ensuring that each cog in the machine is conforming to your precise instructions. And the other is to empower the players to make the decisions themselves, trust them to get it right, give them the tools to win, and then let them get on with building it. In my experience, it is not only the second model which is the most invigorating for the players, but also the most successful in the long-term.

Is there anything we can take from this, not only in terms of leadership in school or the corporate world, but for teachers working with students on a day-to-day basis?

Social Justice Youth

What’s Wrong With the Juvenile Justice System?

Originally posted on The ABC Drum.

In the wake of two teenagers being shot by police in Kings Cross, The Sydney Morning Herald has been running a series of articles focusing on the  effectiveness of the juvenile justice system.

The facts presented by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics within the articles are startling.

As a result of a ten year study, the Bureau report that domestic violence cases involving 10 – 17 year-olds have increased by 167 per cent, while other violent crime, break and enter and malicious damage to property all rising 21, 13 and 47 per cent respectively.

Approximately 5000 young people per year have their first contact with the juvenile justice system, but of particular concern is the rate of recidivism of those juveniles brought before the courts. Of the 4938 juveniles who came before NSW courts in 1999, over 2600 of them reoffended, on average four times before 2010. For Indigenous kids the rate of recidivism was 84 percent.

What is going wrong with our juvenile justice system? Why are kids released only to return a few months or years down the track?

The fact is: If we want to stop these kids re-offending, we have to stop them offending in the first place.

We must address poverty in earnest. We need to be creative in how we run our schools. We need to provide genuine learning and employment opportunities. Provide better funding for youth workers, outreach programs and schools. We need to support families.

The government must realize that society as a whole is responsible for our youth, and funding in this area should not be seen as a cost but an investment.

You can read my full article on The ABC Drum…