Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

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professional maturity is the courage to think differently, respond creatively and to act boldly against a dominant and outdated educational narrative.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.

 

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?

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making time for great teaching

The latest Grattan Institute Report, Making Time for Great Teaching, by Dr Ben Jensen is a must read for educators. In an age of teacher over-load and increasing external accountabilities, Jensen presents the case for removing the distractors so that teachers can spend more time on the things that really matter.  He argues that if schools reduce the number of staff meetings, school assemblies, extra-curricular activities etc then critical time can be devoted to proven school improvement practices. Jensen and his colleagues worked with six schools across the country to enable more time for intensive mentoring, observation of practice, collaboration and school-based research.

Schools must make difficult but crucial trade-offs in how teachers and school leaders spend their time. We must be explicit that every time we ask teachers to perform extra activities we are decreasing the quality of teaching and learning in schools.

Last week at the National Catholic Education Commission annual meeting in Canberra, my colleagues and I met with a number of Members of Parliament. It was an opportunity to further impress the need for politicians to focus on what is really important in the work of schools.  Many priorities and procedures are often assumed to be mandatory when they are mere accretions. Jensen makes the point that

Government regulations restrict schools. Enterprise bargaining agreements restrict changes to work schedules, and duty of care requirements restrain schools that want to free their teachers from child minding to focus on improving teaching.

Ultimately, the responsibility for making time for great teaching lies with individual school communities but the Grattan report shows what is achievable when we focus on what matters most.

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