Archive for the ‘Innovators’ Category

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 In doing so we buy into an outdated and mechanistic view of the world that has little relevance to the world in which we live.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.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All that glitters isn’t gold

The release of the PISA results last year confirm Shanghai’s status as the world’s top ranked education system in Maths, Science and Reading.  All credit to Shanghai and its teachers but are the results the key drivers for quality learning and teaching which China seeks to pursue?  Probably not.

Ian Johnson in the New Yorker magazine reports on the rise of concerns regarding China’s approach to education and possible alternative models of education. Johnson follows the journey of China’s first Waldorf school in Chengdu.  He writes that while Shanghai is widely praised internationally, many Chinese intellectuals see ‘education as among the biggest problems facing the country.’   There is even growing discussion on how to reform China’s public schools as more and more parents look to the West for alternative models of schooling.

Among those quoted in the article, a university student whose recently published book articulates the growing discontent: “In elementary school, they rob us of our independent values; in middle school, they take away our capacity for independent thought; and in university, they take away our dreams and idealism.”

Those who are critical of China’s current education system are concerned that the country won’t be able to compete with an innovative West. Chinese-born academic Yong Zhao admits in his book World Class Learners, “the focus on academic achievement is the continuation of a long Chinese tradition that puts book knowledge above all others.”  Education in the age of globalisation needs to deliver much more than ‘book knowledge’.

After reading the article, I’ve concluded that China is no different to any other nation which views education as an investment in its future.  As in the West, the traditional model of schooling is being challenged albeit for different reasons and although Shanghai students may be ahead of their Western counterparts in international measures, the moral is that sometimes all that glitters isn’t gold.

 

Innovating workplaces

The slow and steady demise of manufacturing in Australia has sparked interesting debate in recent times over competitiveness in a global economy.   I was interested in the discussion following on from Toyota’s recent announcement and whether workplace arrangements had jeopardised the big car manufacturers presence in Australia.

The need for contemporary practices impacts also on the education sector.  It seems these discussions have always been framed around productivity and performance but I think we are still looking at the problem through the wrong lens.

Daniel Pink proposes an interesting theory of 20th century motivation vs 21st century motivation and the changing nature of work in a knowledge age.  The knowledge economy requires a new mindset and skillset.  Innovation is key and key to innovation is human capital.

I heard Professor Bill Harley from the University of Melbourne talking recently about the need for workplace innovation in Australia.  He said research around the world shows that there are three things that make productive workplaces:

  1. Employees have appropriate skillset (teachers up-skilling and re-skilling)
  2. Approaches that allow people to collaborate and solve problems (de-privatised practice)
  3. Motivated workforce at every level (managing and rewarding performance)

Professor Harley reflected on the fact that a strategic approach to implementing these practices has been absent from Australian workplaces.

The practices that have prevailed in education over the past century are obstructions to innovation. We need to change our practices by changing culture.  The three points Professor Harley refers to demonstrate the shift from industrial to knowledge, from convention to evidence.

Ironically, Toyota is one of the companies recognised for its innovative culture.  There are numerous case studies on what drives Toyota’s success but it comes down to investment in its people (skillset) and organisational capabilities (problem-solving and intrinsic motivators).

Listening to Professor Harley made me think about education in terms of our manufacturing industry.  Only for us, it will be our students not car manufacturers who will walk away in search of something more relevant and rewarding.

A different level of insight

Following on from last week’s blog post on big data, I had the great pleasure of meeting researcher and educator George Siemens recently.  George is the Associate Director, Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University in Canada.  He was also one of the first people ever to facilitate the use of MOOCs.

George has been immersed in learning and online networks for such a long time that he presents a different level of insight.  He shared some of his insight when I asked him about the opportunities of big data on education.

 

World Class Leader

Last week I had the great pleasure of sitting down for a Q&A with Larry Rosenstock.  Larry is the founder and CEO of High Tech High in San Diego and one of the keynote speakers at last week’s PBL World Australia 2013 hosted by one of our high schools, Parramatta Marist in partnership with the Buck Institute of Education.

I had heard of Larry Rosenstock and High Tech High before but it wasn’t until I read Yong Zhao’s World Class Learners that I realised Larry is truly an educational entrepreneur.  He has taken John Dewey’s ‘learning by doing’ as a model of education and made it work successfully in a 21st century environment.

Larry’s an engaging speaker but more importantly, an engaged school leader and I share some of his pearls of wisdom below from our Q&A.

  • The purpose of education is to serve society and create it
  • Education allows people to rise above social disadvantage but schools are the least changed institute
  • Education should be a combination of academic and vocational – the theory and the practice
  • High Tech High’s most important data point is a four year college degree
  • High Tech High is a misnomer – it’s not about technology – it’s about personalised learning through integrated disciplines
  • Every teacher needs to ask themselves how are they bringing the content alive for their students
  • High Tech High teachers work together in teams – there’s a deep respect for the craft of teaching
  • Craft always follows intellectual purpose and the purpose is profound
  • Any change management at school level must be driven by a growth mindset – every child can learn
  • Content standards don’t make sense – process standards do….’how do I think like a mathematician?’
  • Role of a school leader is to make as few decisions as possible – lead from behind because you inspire teachers to want to do better every day
  • Schools are messy organisms; you can’t replicate a school model but you can inspire other teachers/school communities to learn from each other
  • The focus shouldn’t be on competition between students and schools but collaboration – this is a national narrative for 21st century schooling
  • High Tech High is focused on student production not simply student consumption of technology. When you focus on both you see kids’ creativity explode.

I ended our session with the question that if Larry had to start all over again what would he do differently.  He replied that it’s not what you put into a school that counts, it’s what you leave out.  And there is much in many of today’s classrooms that need to be removed. Things like fixed white boards, rows of desk, and teaching times set by timetable requirements, don’t add much value to creating a dynamic learning environment. most importantly he wouldn’t allow teachers to find themselves working in isolated classrooms.

His last point was the one Carol Dweck makes about teacher mindsets.  Larry said we are still inclined to see students as either ‘smart or dumb’.  His advice – ‘don’t continue to mis-predict kids’ ability and intellect’. Larry’s a world class leader overseeing the education of world class learners.

There is little doubt that what Larry and his colleagues shared with us resonated with the conference attandees. What we need to understand from the High Tech High experience is that what they do is not a solution but rather a response to the context and understandings that their learning communities currently have. You cannot just superimpose their solution on your own school. This is a mistake made too often anfd always leads to failure.

High Tech High’s story is one of continuous growth and development and continually learning about how schooling can be better. The live the motto of “learning the work by doing the work.” For me this is the most powerful message, however you have to begin the journey, and the best time is now!

The science of learning

Fortunately we now know a lot more about how people learn from the learning sciences and while there is still more to learn and uncover, it helps us become more effective in our teaching. As a system here in Parramatta Catholic schools, the work of John Bransford and John Hattie has helped shaped our understanding of learning, teaching and most importantly, teacher learning.

The role of neuroscience in learning and teaching was the theme of this year’s ACER research conference in Melbourne.  By all accounts it was outstanding particularly John Hattie’s keynote.  There is no denying the significance of contemporary theory and research on the work we do. For too long we have accepted personal preference and experience instead of intellectual rigour. The science of learning needs to influence the practice of teaching.

For a psychometrician, Hattie’s work is easily digestible and after listening to a vodcast of his ACER keynote, I was inspired to re-read Chapters 7 and 9 in Visible Learning for Teachers.  I felt compelled to re-calibrate my educational compass.

Hattie’s makes the compelling point that we don’t go to school to learn what we know but what we don’t know. So why then are we teaching kids 60% of the things they already know?  It comes back to knowing where each student is and being able as teachers to identify where they need to be.  We’re not good at this because as Hattie says we make erroneous assumptions about students and their learning.

In fact, he believes we are novices when it comes to continually monitoring learning in progress.  This the power of feedback and it needs to be seen as a necessary disruption.  Why? Because it forces students to slow down, to process and think.  Slow thinking is stressful for students especially those who are struggling.  The message we have to impart is it is OK to stop, to think and to take risks.  Our schools are risk averse environments – we don’t often know when to hit the pause button and ask students to stop and think about what they are doing.

This is why Singapore’s approach to learning has merit. The goal when Singapore adopted a minimalist curriculum was as the then Minister of Education Tharman Shanmugaratnam said in The Flat World and Education to “give students themselves the room to exercise initiative and to shape their own learning.” The goal for Singaporean teachers is to get students to accept that it is OK working with unanswered questions.  It calls for a slow thinking movement in schooling.

Door to skyWhat Hattie found in his Visible Learning work was that we are stunningly good at predicting outcomes therefore students set low benchmarks. Our job according to Hattie is to ‘create schools that help kids exceed their own potential’.  We will never imbue confidence unless we make every child believe they can do better than they are already doing.  This is why feedback is so critical because it “aims to reduce the gap between where the student ‘is’ and where he or she is ‘meant to be’ – that is, between prior or current achievement and the success criteria.” (VLFT Chapter 7).

One of the most powerful statements in Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers is the notion that feedback thrives on error but

error should not be considered the privilege of lower-achieving students.  All students (as all teachers) do not always succeed first time, nor do they always know what to do next. This is not a deficit, or deficit thinking, or concentrating on the negative; rather, it is the opposite in that acknowledging errors allows for opportunities.  Error is the difference between what we know and can do, and what we aim to know and do – and this applies to all (struggling and talented: students and teachers).  Know this error is fundamental to moving towards success.  This is the purpose of feedback.

I should write this on my office window along with we go to school to learn what we don’t know.  We have underestimated the power of feedback in helping every student to identify where they go next; in moving them up the ladder of learning and success.  Our job as Hattie explains is to be able to give good feedback and to teach kids how to receive it and articulate back to teachers what and how they are learning.  This is why instructional walks are centred on the students and not the teacher.  We gauge the effectiveness of teaching through the eyes of students.  Hattie’s mantra is know thy learner….know thy impact.

As we begin to consider our system focus in 2014 and beyond, I am drawn to the point Hattie makes in Chapter 9 about losing interest in discussions about teaching.  He says it’s not because teaching isn’t important but it often ‘prevents important discussions about learning.”

I’m convinced that learning has to be the profession’s new narrative.

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