Archive for the ‘Contemporary Schooling’ Category

Enterprising schools

Harvard Professor, Richard Elmore once asked ‘is it possible that schools can continue to operate in the 19th century while the rest of society moves into the 21st century?’ The simple answer is no – although the adversarial position historically adopted by unions suggests otherwise.

NSW and ACT Catholic employers are currently in the process of discussions with staff and the union on a new enterprise agreement that we believe reflects the need to create contemporary working conditions relevant to a twenty first century model of schooling.  This conversation is not limited to teaching profession, it is happening in most professional organisations around the world.  Federal education minister Christopher Pyne recently said that education is one of the last bastions in the working world where length of service is still rewarded.  Length of service in any profession does not guarantee that you are the best you can be.  It simply means you lasted the distance.

We want all teachers no matter what stage of their career to develop high level skills and knowledge in their work.  I know the majority of teachers want greater control of their working lives.  As John Hattie states ‘schools need to collaborate to build a team working together to solve the dilemmas in learning, to collectively share and critique the nature and quality of evidence that shows our impact on student learning, and to cooperate in planning etc.’

This calls for a new professional maturity that provides teachers with greater autonomy but acknowledges the need for all teachers to adopt a rigorous and intellectual approach to improving teacher practice. In 2018, Australia will have a new national teachers standard administered by AITSL.  This is one of the foundations of the new Catholic schools enterprise agreement. The standards are imminent and non-negotiable.

What is negotiable under a new enterprise agreement is how each local school community structures and shapes learning and teaching.  For more than a century the working lives of teachers have been controlled by bells, timetables and externally imposed agenda. Do we continue to defend an industrial model of schooling in the face of the irrefutable and overwhelming impact of a knowledge age or do we embrace the opportunities for teachers to chart new waters?

Enterprise is defined in the dictionary as a ‘readiness to embark on adventures with boldness and energy.’  Educational expert Yong Zhao believes the time has come for schools to be enterprising, for students to be entrepreneurial and for teachers to be bold in re-shaping the educational agenda.  This is what the new enterprise agreement is about.  It challenges teachers to think about new ways of working together to improve the quality of learning and teaching in schools.

We don’t just want teachers to last the distance, we want them to shape their profession and to continually raise the bar of excellence for themselves, the school communities and most of all, the students they teach.

If twenty first century schools are enterprising schools, then we need a contemporary enterprise agreement which reflects a 21st century teaching profession.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The proposal for an enterprise agreement stems from a recognition that a new century requires new ways of working in schools.  It aims to increase collaboration at a local level by supporting leaders but most of all, it aims to bring alignment in the standards

 

 

 

 

Enterprising schools need enterprise agreements.  It’s time for educators to be bold and to lead the way with imagination and initiative on how we want to work.

 

 

An investment in hope

Last week I happened to catch an interview with Nobel prize winning economist Professor Joseph Stiglitz.  Professor Stiglitz was in Australia talking about his latest book on inequality.  What resonated was his comment that a country’s best investment is in its people not its resources.  This is why investment in education and teachers is absolutely critical.

Unfortunately many educators still believe that schooling is somehow an instrument of the government or the economy or both. In doing so we buy into an outdated and mechanistic view of the world that has little relevance to the world in which we live.  It would be OK if it were just this but  in reality it is no more than social determinism.  A view of the world in boywithstudwhich learning is pre-ordained and pre-destined. We need to restate the purpose of education which has at its heart, the individual child.

Education in its truest sense is an investment in the individual- it builds on the nature of the learner.  It does not impose limits or attempts to squeeze learners into jobs that will no longer exist in a decade. Schools should be an investment in hope – equipping students to be life-long learners and hopeful about the future.  They are our agents of change and we must nurture their interests and passions as Yong Zhao says.

If creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship are the hallmarks of this age, then today’s learners will be creating the new world not our governments. Education is not designed to improve our economy but to improve our society by enabling all individuals to lead fulfilling lives. We can only challenge inequality in society by ensuring it doesn’t exist in our schools.

 

 

Connecting leaders

I’m always amazed at the ways in which technology is being used in education to inform practice.   Twitter continues to be a source of great ideas and professional learning particularly for the teaching profession.

For the past two years, I have been using technology (OscarLive) to connect with four school leaders each Monday morning. It is a simple video conference facility. We always have both primary and secondary leaders as the agenda is about leading learning.  The hour conversation has no set agenda – it is an opportunity to share, support and engage in reflective dialogue.

The feedback has been positive.  Leaders appreciate not having to leave their school and it’s been useful for secondaries to gain greater insight and understanding into primary challenges/issues and vice versa. It has become a natural and personal way to work, one which strengthens connections and deepens collaboration.

To spend the first meeting of each week talking about learning and teaching with leaders has been most rewarding for me.  I find it sets me up for the week, I often find I can reference comments made during our online time in meetings I am having during the week

It reiterates that leadership within a system is a shared responsibility, requiring ongoing dialogue and respect for ideas and diversity. It also reinforces the theme that leadership is most effective when it is genuinely collaborative.

Every week I see leaders who are passionate about their work, supportive of the system agenda and committed to sharing best practice to improve student learning outcomes across the board.

The challenge is how do we use the tools available to challenge, to empower and to deepen our own professional learning?

 

World class thinker

Earlier this month we had the pleasure welcoming Professor Yong Zhao to Parramatta to deliver the 2014 Ann D Clark lecture.  I recall last year when Larry Rosenstock, founding principal of High Tech High in the US was here for PBL World, he told us we wouldn’t be disappointed hearing Yong speak.  And we weren’t.

One of the many things that impresses me about Yong is  his willingness to look outward and to “read the signs of the times”. He is continually questioning his own worldview while coming up with fresh ideas and challenging ways of thinking.

I had the opportunity of sitting down to chat with Yong while he was here.  He is definitely a world class thinker.

Is experience overrated in a knowledge age?

In my experience, the education sector can only benefit from the innovations and ideas from other sectors and industries.  I think we should be examining the underlying philosophies, principles and practices that make an organisation successful in a knowledge age and how schools can learn from or even adopt similar practices.  Yet there is still a reticence to do anything that has been cultivated from without the education sector.

Everything is evolving in a connected world and it seems the game-changers are companies like Amazon and Google including how they employ and retain creative staff.  It seems that potential is more valuable than experience in the 21st century according to article in the latest Harvard Business Review.

The article’s author, Claudio Fernandez-Araoz believes we are moving into a new era of talent spotting, in which ‘potential’ is the ‘most important predictor of success at all levels.’  Fernandez-Araoz says that the 21st century work environment is complex, uncertain and volatile and the  question organisations need to ask is not do employees and leaders have the right skills but do they have the ‘potential to learn new ones.’  Remember Alvin Toffler’s famous quote about 21st century illiterates!

Fernandez-Araoz goes on to identify other qualities that he sees as the hallmarks of potential: motivation, curiosity, insight, engagement and determination. Interestingly, these are the qualities that effective teachers bring out in students when learning is challenging, engaging and rewarding.

For me this article raises new challenges for education to consider in the way we attract and retain teachers.  I tweeted an article from HBR recently on a company in the US that has taken the bold step of ditching resumes and auditioning potential recruits to see how they work in existing teams.  Several people responded to me on twitter to say they were already doing this in their schools!

Education in general needs to dismantle the industrial mindsets and practices that are stifling widespread innovation.  Even the Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne has said that education is one of the last bastions in the working world where length of service is still rewarded.

The days of logical career mapping and moving up the professional ladder are limited.  Schools need the best instructional leaders leading – and it may be that we need to look at potential over experience.

The rhetoric of being a life-long learner needs is becoming the reality for knowledge workers and teachers are no exception.

 

 

 

 

Are pigs more intelligent than humans?

I have to thank my esteemed colleague Professor Yong Zhao for the title of this post.  My original title was going to be “when will they ever learn’ but as Yong suggested humans often repeat the same mistakes, pigs, like all animals don’t.

I am referring to the business of large scale school improvement.  There are great examples of whole system improvement but then there are examples such as Newark in the US that make you want to hang your head and cry.

Dale Russakoff writes in depth in the New Yorker about the plan to transform schools in Newark and how it divided an already disempowered community.  Add to the mix a $100 million donation by Facebook head, Mark Zuckerberg, an ambitious mayor, overpaid consultants and you can see where it may have gone wrong, and in a big way.

Had it succeeded, it would have turned a district of high-crime and low-performing schools into a national model but in education nothing happens quickly.

What saddened me aside from the bleak future for these students was that we continue to make the same mistakes based on the same set of assumptions – money can fix the system, change can be imposed top down, consultants know best and the community shouldn’t be involved in the decision-making process.

One person quoted in the article admits the strategy was doomed because it didn’t address the issue of poverty.  Another said that “education reform…comes across as colonial to people who’ve been here for decades.  It’s very missionary, imposed, done to people rather than cooperation with people.”

The point for me is that you can’t look to the past for answers.  Yong Zhao says the same thing – there are many opportunities out there to do something different in education, not to copy but to invent from the ground-up.

This was the recurring theme at last week’s World Business Forum in Sydney.  Michael Porter, Gary Hamel and Randi Zuckerberg were all talking about the need for creative leadership in the 21st century, doing things differently and taking risks.  While there was no representative from education, everyone agreed that it was critical to the success of individuals and economies.

I’ve been lobbying our federal politicians for sometime for a similar forum, bringing together the world’s best educational thinkers and practitioners to Australia.   It would be the beginning of a dialogue, an invitation to create alternatives to the current model of schooling and learn from past mistakes.

 

 

Should all roads lead to PISA?

It was interesting to read the global response against PISA in the Guardian last week.  It follows on from Yong Zhao’s recent blog posts outlining the negative impacts of PISA rankings on education systems and education policy.

The open letter from academics called for the 2015 PISA tests to be scrapped.  The group expressed their concern at the ‘distorting effect’ PISA is having on educational practice.  They claim in short that PISA leads to a focus on narrow outcomes, short-term policy fixes, the commercialisation of educational services and endangers the overall wellbeing of students and teachers.

The letter concludes with constructive ideas that may help to address the challenge of improving schooling for all students.  It highlights the need for greater transparency, collaboration and accountability in delivering quality learning and teaching across OECD countries.

The authors assert: “OECD’s narrow focus on standardised testing risks turning learning into drudgery and killing the joy of learning. We are deeply concerned that measuring a great diversity of educational traditions and cultures using a single, narrow, biased yardstick could, in the end, do irreparable harm to our schools and our students.”

It’s difficult to disagree with the concerns raised in the open letter but I think we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater here.  For me, the benefit of instruments like PISA should be used by effective educators along with broad data sets to help inform improvements in learning and teaching.  Standardised tests become problematic when they are hijacked or used for utilitarian purposes, which have little to do with learning and teaching and more to do with political point scoring or sectional interests.

Schools become easy targets when these tests are used as the basis of league tables or quick fix policies and the honest efforts of schools to improve are disrupted or derailed.  I agree that PISA in its current form doesn’t do justice to the complexity of schooling in today’s world or the cultural traditions of OECD nations.

I hope the global consternation will lead to deeper and more transparent discussions over how data is used to improve the quality and relevancy of schooling for all.

PS:  Yong Zhao will be with us in Parramatta next month to deliver the annual Ann D Clark lecture.  His keynote on the need for new paradigms and ways of assessing ‘learning’ is relevant and timely not only for us but for education systems everywhere.

 

 

 

Crowdsourcing teaching

I’ve just finished re-reading Jeff Howe’s 2008 book Crowdsourcing.  It struck me as I reached the end of the book that many of today’s digital natives will become tomorrow’s teachers.  The question then becomes what impact or influence will digital natives have on shaping the role of teachers and the nature of teaching.

I’ve been reflecting on the role of teachers in today’s world for some time but after reading Howe I wondered if the role of teachers and their work will inevitably change in a decade because the nature of the learner has changed?

Howe asserts that today’s kids who Prensky coined as digital natives will create ‘wholesale changes to the workforce when they enter the labor force.’  Why? Because as Howe writes by the time they reach adulthood they will bring “behaviours and attitudes honed through thousands of hours in front of a computer, constructing their own experience and working collaboratively in various online communities.”

It begs the next question, will the next generation of teachers be all things to all students or will crowdsourcing become the norm?  It may be blue-sky thinking for the education community now but the concept of crowdsourcing is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Two years ago, I read an article in the Harvard Business Review on the competition to design the Beijing Olympics’ spectacular Water Cube.  It was in fact a structural engineer from Sydney that won the competition through what could be considered as crowdsourcing.  The author of the article refers to it as ‘teaming’ – assembling experts from various disciplines to solve a challenge encountered for the first time.  It’s a worth a read.

We cannot ignore the growing use and legitimacy of teaming and crowdsourcing. The challenge I see is how we can incorporate these capabilities into the practice of teaching now.  Could we respond to student learning needs in a more effective way by bringing diverse experts in to work with teachers temporarily?  Would teaming be a better way of utilising casual teachers who could convene quickly to solve challenges not only within one school but across several schools?  Would this give teachers greater flexibility to deliver individualised learning?

The future of teaching demands that we do something different and innovative now.  The way forward will require us to give greater weight to developments in brain theory, learning theory and evidence-based research. This understanding coupled with the tools to support the work of teachers will hopefully lead to new understanding of teaching and a more flexible, dynamic response to schooling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A quality education for all

Professor Stephen Dinham has been a strong and vocal advocate for greater equality in Australian education.  He wrote an excellent piece in the Melbourne Age recently on how the ineffective quick fixes to improve teaching would actually lead to greater inequity and decline in educational performance.

These simplistic approaches ignore decades of research on what makes teachers and teaching effective.  According to Professor Dinham:

Australia is becoming a less equitable society both generally and in respect of education and as has been demonstrated, inequality in society is actually worse for everyone.

Our collective failure to address the inequality that exists within our education system is a national shame and as Dinham warns if the profession remains ‘silent and passive’, we will only have ourselves to blame for what ‘might eventuate’.

It’s a national shame that we cannot address the inequality within our own education system.  But then I began thinking about the inequality that exists for our marginalised.  There are more than a thousand children living in offshore immigration detention centres.feet

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan said education is the foundation on which freedom, democracy and sustainable human development rests.  Australia offers all of this yet we fail to close the gap for our most vulnerable – the indigenous, the poor and the marginalised.

Picking up the paper to read headlines such as ‘Selective schools ‘the most socially exclusive’ in NSW‘ distract from the critical work of closing the gap.  We become polarised by the private v public debates and discussions on whether selective schools are the most socially exclusive.

A commitment to a quality education is a commitment to all students regardless of race, circumstance or background.  Closing the gap requires us to address the issues with open eyes and hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silverton’s silver lining

Tony Bryant with Silverton PS students.

Tony Bryant with Silverton PS students.

I had a chance to catch up recently with Tony Bryant, principal of Silverton Primary School in Victoria. If you’ve been reading bluyonder for a while you’ll know that I’ve visited Silverton PS over several years.  I believe Tony is one of this country’s most innovative school leaders and as he would tell you, their overnight success story has only taken twenty years of relentless focus.

The first thing you notice when you walk through the doors is that change is happening constantly.  This isn’t change for change sake but change as a result of continuous improvement, feedback and reflection.  There is an obvious passion for learning both at student and teacher level.  The teachers I spoke to tell you that it is an absolute pleasure to come to work each day; to be a part of a collaborative and committed team of professional educators.  This cannot be sustained without strong leadership. Silverton is a partnership between Tony, his staff and their students.

John Hattie talks about visible learning and teaching and that is exactly what is happening at Silverton.  Students take ownership of their learning, they set their own goals and articulate their learning so by the end of the term they can plot where they need to go next.  This does not happen without a high level of trust and respect.

Stephen Heppell always makes the point that when students are engaged in their learning we see how ambitious they can be.  What we sometimes forget is the central role, indeed the responsibility of teachers and of course leaders, to make sure that students are engaged because engagement is an imperative for academic achievement.

Despite the entrenched educational practices and mindsets of a century and more, Tony and his team have turned learning and teaching on its head.  It hasn’t been achieved with bucket loads of money but with a belief in students’ ability, a passion for learning and regular evaluation. Silverton PS isn’t the only school where this is happening and happening well but to see the theory in practice and to see students becoming their own teachers is after all this time still pretty awesome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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