Archive for the ‘Innovators’ Category

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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