Schools are still important

Jack Jeffries is a Year 10 student at Parramatta Marist High.  I invited him to write a guest blog as we don’t hear student voice enough when it comes to mapping the future of education.  His thoughts follow…

Six months ago I spoke at the International Conference for Teaching and Learning with Technology in Singapore (ICTLT). It was a great honour to attend as a Year 10 student of Parramatta Marist High.

I’ve been lucky over the past four years to experience innovative schooling through project-based learning. Aside from the emphasis on teamwork, I’ve been able to use technology to make connections via the web. PBL has been incredible for me – I can communicate with anyone, research anything and learn more effectively.

Learning this way has helped me form strong views on technology in education and it was this that led to the opportunity to participate in a student panel discussion in Singapore.

Despite speaking in front of more than 1000 people (which I is pretty daunting for most people), the discussion was exciting and the responses were varied, thoughtful and interesting. Singapore, being number one in education, meant that the use of technology and other aspects that make up the future of education where already well in play, and the students that joined my peers and I at the panel knew their stuff. The questions varied, from the pros of technological learning, in its usefulness and its role in communication, to the negatives, such as cyber bullying. Overall, even in considering the differences of everyone’s responses, a general consensus was reached – technology is opening up exciting opportunities for learning.

Where do I see education with all the tools available to us as learners? Over the past few years, I have seen the great potential in these tools and they have to be harnessed to give students an incredibly versatile, effective and worthwhile education. It’s not that we will be prepared for the future but it invites students to continue to learn and experience at an incredible rate inside school, outside school and continuing after school.

The potential of learning is open to anyone, anywhere. Khan Academy allows thousands upon thousands of kids to learn in an interesting, simple and engaging way – for free. How can schools compete? In all honesty, you can take the internet in general; it allows for instant access to any content in the world, with everything from video tutorials to diagrams to forums on every topic under the sun. Students literally have the world at their fingertips – our keyboards can take us anywhere. When did schools turn from a key to the world to a barricade from it?

I believe schools are still important and for good reason. They are the connection between our tools, the bridge looking out upon the expanse of our education. Schools are needed – they just have to change. Maybe it’s time for open learning, where students could harness the power of technology to communicate, discover and develop their understanding and their awe of the world at equal rates and harness the power of school to discuss and consult with peers and teachers.

As I said at the conference in Singapore, this is the time to harness technology so we can utilise the time spent at school for the most efficient and effective as well as exciting education possible.

 

Beyond curriculum

I have lost count of the number of curriculum reviews I have lived through as an educator and I’m yet to be convinced that past or even current curriculum reviews actually address the real issue of how teachers’ work.  It is one thing to strip back a curriculum to allow teachers greater flexibility and freedom to go deeper into the learning but there needs to be focus on how we develop teachers’ capabilities to teach a contemporary curriculum.

My concern with the latest curriculum review is that it distracts attention from the critical issue of how teachers’ work and how we make decisions about the quality of that work to improve student learning.   I agree that we must focus on literacy and numeracy as the foundation to good learning but it is contingent on teachers who not only know how to teach the basics but also continue to builstudent teacherd on and deepen student knowledge through challenging tasks and activities.

One of the main problems with a prescribed curriculum is it focuses on delivering content. While content is important, what matters is how students understand it, construct it and apply it.  Effective learning relies on effective teaching and in Singapore for example, there is heavy investment throughout teachers’ careers on developing their pedagogical and content knowledge.

Now we’ve had the government’s review of the what (curriculum), I believe we need a teacher led symposium on the ‘how’. How do we engage all teachers in the type of inquiry and critical reflection that we expect students to engage in to become independent learners and critical thinkers?

Curriculum will always be subject to heated debate and ideological divides so the opportunity for real change lies in exploring new ways of working, new modes of teacher practice that reflects the changing nature of the world, the tools and today’s learners.  As my colleague, Br Pat Howlett, Principal of Parramatta Marist High says how can you teach in a traditional way and expect students to think critically and work collaboratively.

As Richard Elmore et al Instructional Rounds in Education notes:

….if your improvement strategy begins with a curriculum solution … then you have to invest in the new knowledge and skill required of teachers to teach that curriculum if you expect it to contribute to new student learning. A failure to address teachers’ knowledge and skill as part of a curriculum-based improvement strategy typically produces low-level teaching of high-level content.   There are only three ways to improve student learning at scale. The first is to increase the level of knowledge and skill that the teacher brings to the instructional process. The second is to increase the level and complexity of the content that students are asked to learn. And the third is to change the role of the student in the instructional process. That’s it. If you are not doing one of these three things, you are not improving instruction and learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The power of now

I’ve recently discovered the work and energy of Tim Longhurst. Tim is an Australian futurist who is helping us to make sense of what is happening in a hyper-connected world and how we, as educators, can harness the power of now.

Tim suggests that today’s learners are part person and part mobile phone.  The ubiquitous nature of these devices means that students are informed and supported 24/7 and because of this, students see themselves as multifaceted global contributors – leaders, advocates, entrepreneurs, marketers and activists.  It fundamentally changes the way in which we share our stories and how we share our knowledge and assets on a global scale.

According to Tim, the three key trends are:

  1. The power of small (ability to change the world with fewer resources e.g Pebble Smart Watch)
  2. Barriers are collapsing (Khan academy has taught 100 million students for free)
  3. Wisdom of the group (Open Ideo)

These trends reinforce what is possible today using the power of technology.  We can’t predict the future but we can imagine what is possible by being curious and asking two critical questions: what is happening in the world and what are the possibilities for learning from each other using today’s tools.

As Tim says in a non-linear world, it’s OK not to know because we have a billion advisers at our fingertips willing to help and share an idea. Today’s learners have already worked this out: ask (on-line) and you will receive.  That’s the power of the device and we can learn from people like Tim who have their fingers on the pulse.  As Tim writes on his blog, if children are going to be in formal education for 12 years, then we owe it to each of them that schooling….

allows them to develop their understanding of themselves and the world. The qualities we ought to instill in learners include: curiosity, collaboration and creativity. Curiosity, because it’s the spark that turns us into lifelong learners—essential in a fast changing world; collaboration because knowing how to bring out the best in others and work in team environments is such a big part of realising our own potential; and creativity because that it is an act that puts these amazing supercomputers between our ears to work in ways that inspire ourselves and others.

 

 

Mindful learning

The challenge of re-imagining schooling is not about changing structures but mindsets. This was the theme of my keynote address at the ACE National Conference in Adelaide recently.  It is time for a new professional maturity.  Let me be clear that professional maturity is the courage to think differently, respond creatively and to act boldly against a dominant and outdated educational narrative.

There have been two books this year that have influenced my thinking on how we think more mindfully about learning and teaching.  The first is Carol Dweck’s Mindset.  The other is Ellen Langer’s ‘The Power of Mindful Learning‘.  Langer is Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and has devoted much of her career to the theory of mindfulness.

Like Dweck, Langer stresses that myths and mindsets about education undermine the process of learning.  The desire by educators to personalise learning isn’t a new concept but Langer suggests a new approach – teaching students how to make meaning of content themselves.

Langer talks about enabling students to draw their own distinctions and to frame learning in such a way as to see more than one answer or angle.  When students are able to contextualise material it allows them to ‘create working definitions that are continually revised.’   In her experiments over the years, Langer has found that when information is presented as ‘could be’ rather than ‘is’, it immediately opens up the possibility of seeing things from different perspectives or more mindfully.

Reflecting on her own teaching practice, Langer says we should see that every inadequate answer a student gives is often an adequate answer when viewed in another context.  Langer writes:

If we respect students’ abilities to define their own experiences, to generate their own hypotheses, and to discover new ways of categorizing the world, we might not be so quick to evaluate the adequacy of their answers. We might, instead, begin listening to their questions.  Out of the questions of students come some of the most creative ideas and discoveries.   All answers come out of the question.  If we pay attention to our questions, we increase the power of mindful learning.

DaliOften when I hear educators talk about the challenges of learning and teaching, they begin with ‘The reality is…….’.  As Langer shows, the reality is one perspective or one way of looking at the issue.  This notion is wonderfully illustrated by Salvador Dali in his painting The Persistence of Memory which challenges our concept of time.  There are as Dali depicts, multiple realities and many ways of seeing what ‘could be’ if we begin to view things differently – more mindfully.

The imperative we have to deliver a more relevant and personalised learning experience for all students demands that we think and respond differently.  John Hattie encourages teachers and leaders to adopt new mind frames.  He says these must ‘pervade our thinking about teaching and learning, because it is these ways of viewing our world that then lead to the optimal decisions for the particular contexts in which we work.’

Mindful learning must begin with mindful teaching.  And the challenge of re-imagining schooling begins not with what is but what could be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Delany Connective

I had the great pleasure of launching the Delany Connective at Delany College, Granville last Wednesday.  The Delany Connective is a contemporary approach to schooling aimed at fostering the deeper knowledge and skills (cognitive and non-cognitive) necessary in today’s world.  Students have access to contemporary tools within a contemporary and collaborative learning environment.

Delany staff identified an urgent need to provide a relevant and quality learning experience for students entering high school.  What makes this different is the partnership with Telstra and Cisco to deliver a connected learning environment.  The partnership with industry extends beyond an investment in technology – it is an investment in learners and teachers.

Speaking at the launch, Brendan Riley, Group Executive of Global Enterprise and Services from Telstra said the 4cs that underpin the Delany Connective: communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration were the skills that Telstra also values.  So much so that Telstra re-crafted its vision statement to a ‘brilliantly connected future for everyone.’

At the heart of the Connective is a curriculum framework called the Learning Wheel developed by our teaching educator, Dr Miranda Jefferson.  The wheel describes the qualities learners need in today’s world to maximise their learning.  It is expressed on the wheel as cognitive (communication, critical thinking, creativity), intra-personal (grit, curiosity, focus) and inter-personal (empathy, influence and collaboration).  Students are encouraged to assess how they are progressing and then take greater ownership of their learning.

The launch was a great success but for me the real stars were the parents.  Each spoke about their child becoming more confident as individuals and more engaged as learners. As one mother said, her son was now driving his own learning. When I asked these parents how they would know the initiative was working, they said their children were going to school excited and coming home happy.

Parents can be our harshest critics but these parents weren’t talking from a script, they were speaking from the heart.  One of the most encouraging stories was a Year 7 student with significant learning disabilities who spent much of their primary schooling feeling isolated and disengaged.  His mother told me that not only does he see himself as a valued member of the learning community but for the first time in his life, he’s proud of his achievements.

It’s important to remember this is the start of a very long journey for the Delany school community but I know with their passion and commitment we can look forward to sharing more of these stories.

 

 

 

 

Playing our A game

Photo courtesy of ARU

Photo courtesy of ARU

For those who don’t know, I am a rugby union tragic and die hard Wallaby supporter. It’s been a disappointing few years for the team (and supporters) but recently we had reason to hope with a new coach.  All this came to a screaming halt on the weekend when we were outplayed by the New Zealand All Blacks.

As I tweeted during the match, this was a masterclass on how to play the game and no matter who you supported, it was a pleasure to watch these professionals in action.

It was impressive to see how well the All Blacks recovered from the previous week where they drew with the Wallabies.  They came back on the weekend with a relentless focus and new strategy to succeed.

The All Blacks coach was quoted after the draw saying that the team needed to improve ‘just about everything’ and that their ‘skills and game structure’ was virtually non-existent.  What I saw were individuals taking responsibility for their own improvement.  Sure they had input from the coach and others but they did the work themselves.  In a week they were able to reflect on their performance, take on the feedback and implement a new strategy. Isn’t this what good learning and teaching is about?

Listening to Hansen reminded me of Michael Fullan’s message about the right drivers -“The glue that binds the effective drivers together is the underlying attitude, philosophy and theory of action.”

Saturday’s match was a great example of a learning community in action.  We owe it to our students to be playing our A game.

 

Earlier this month I was asked to be a part of a three speaker panel to discuss the topic of Catholic schooling in Australia. The panel was part of the University of Notre Dame’s silver anniversary celebrations in Australia.  This was my contribution on the history and future of Catholic schooling.

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