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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Last night the federal budget delivered across-the-board cuts and the education sector was certainly not immune.

Schools need certainty in both funding and direction.

Funding has been essentially cut in real terms by linking increases to CPI, while educational expenditure grows at almost double the rate.

The Better Schools Plan (Gonski), which was agreed to by the majority of states, had given schools a clear pathway for improvement within a national framework. This has now been abandoned and the government has adopted a ‘back to the future’ approach of devolving responsibility to the states.

Regardless of your politics, if we want Australia to be competitive internationally we need a coherent, funded national policy framework for schools focused on the areas that make the greatest difference. We know this focus needs to be on improving the quality of teaching by building professional expertise and practice.

Cuts to AITSL and ACARA will significantly impact on Australia’s ability to deliver a national framework encompassing a national standard for teachers and leaders, and a national curriculum.

Furthermore, the constantly shifting educational landscape with each successive government or budget serves as a distraction to the core work of improving schooling.

 Any plan for improvement relies on three things – clarity, precision and relentless consistency. Can we be surprised, then, that Australia is not gaining momentum in school performance?       

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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