Richard Branson wrote a fantastic piece last month on why there is no such thing as an ‘average’ human being. Reflecting on his own experience he writes, ‘The concept of ‘average’ has failed us in many different aspects of life – most notably in our educational institutions.’

Branson wants to see an education system that isn’t geared to making students fit in but enabling each one to stand out.  He says when you base an educational system on the concept of an ‘average learner’, we fail to ‘recognise and nurture talent’.

I am sure there are many for whom schooling was a less than average experience.  It illustrates how critical it is for teachers and leaders to see the world from the eyes of the learner, to understand what motivates and challenges and to provide ladders to climb instead of hurdles to jump.

At the start of our school year, I wanted to share the inspirational story of one of our former students. Nas Campanella lost her vision at 6 months of age and despite this, went on to achieve her goals including becoming the world’s first blind radio newsreader.

She spoke recently to our system leaders about her experience of schooling and her work as an advocate for students with disabilities.

Our work as teachers and leaders must be as advocates for all learners; opening the doors of learning no matter how challenging.

A new lens

According to a recent Victorian study, many assistant principals aren’t prepared to take on the role of principal because of the associated work stress.

Responding to the survey, Dennis Yarrington, president of the Australian Primary Principals Association (APPA) was quoted saying that many states and territories were already looking at “innovative practices around principal development” to provide the skills and knowledge to be able to cope with increasing workloads.

I am a champion of innovation but what is the rationale for finding more efficient ways of fixing an old model of schooling and its increasing workloads?

As Canadian theorist George Siemens said you can’t expect theories from a largely industrial era to work in a digital one.  The solution is to create new pedagogies, new understandings of knowledge, a new view of learning and I would add new roles for teachers and leaders.

If anything, the study highlights that as a profession we aren’t responding to or adapting quickly enough to the changing nature of today’s world.  If we are still trying to up-skill our teachers and leaders to deal with 20th century challenges and workloads, then we are largely stuck in a time-warp.

I recently read in Time Magazine that the Ford motor company is on a mission to disrupt its own company by transforming itself from a traditional car manufacturer to a ‘mobility’ provider.  Its CEO said they would be looking at new services such as ride-sharing (think Uber); inspired largely by Apple’s transformation twenty years ago from a technology company to a lifestyle one.

Some have referred to the industrial model of schooling as a Ford production line but what we can learn is that the future of schooling depends upon innovation and transformation.  Like Ford, we need to disrupt ourselves because technology has already started disrupting the way students are communicating and learning in a hyper-connected world.  The paradigm must move from learning as remembering to learning as thinking.

Roberto Verganti, Professor of Leadership and Innovation in Milan, wrote a great article on innovation in Harvard Business Review this month. He says in order ‘to find and exploit the opportunities made possible by big changes in technology or society, we need to explicitly question existing assumptions about what is good or valuable and what is not – and then, through reflection, come up with a new lens to examine innovation ideas.”

Unfortunately schooling struggles to look through a new lens and as the brilliant Mark Twain said “you can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The innovator’s mindset

Our system has always welcomed the opportunity to engage with leading Canadian educator George Couros.  For me, George not only understands the theory but he is intensely practical – he knows how to empower teachers and learners.  George’s book The Innovator’s Mindset was recently published and I am grateful for his guest blogpost on why an innovator’s mindset will help educators and schools move forward.  

In an effort to bring the past alive, a historic tour of a Blockbuster store offers visitors a glimpse into the hardships of people who lived in the era of video stores. In a revealing video, reporters from The Onion interview period actors who explain that people once traveled great distances (sometimes six miles each way!) to rent and return movies. These poor souls lived in terror of never knowing if the movie they wanted would even be available!

The Onion’s video, of course, is a satirical look at a company that tried to continue operating as if the Internet didn’t exist. It was only a few years ago that video-rental stores, like Blockbuster, were the best way for people to watch movies in the comfort of their own home. In some places around the world, these stores still exist. But in the western world, cheaper and more convenient options (no travel required) have put most neighborhood video stores out of business.

The Internet completely changed the movie rental industry. Companies that took advantage of new technology, like Netflix with its DVD-by-mail and online streaming options, are thriving. Meanwhile companies that refuse to let go of outdated business models, like Blockbuster, experience a slow, painful death.

Blockbuster had the opportunity to buy Netflix a few times, but declined.[1]  And by the time it attempted to start its own DVD-by-mail program, the company had lost its place as an in an industry leader. The hard lesson that Blockbuster and its fellow neighborhood movie rental businesses failed to heed is this: innovate or die.

Defining Innovation

“Innovation” is a common term in many educational circles today, and has been used a number of times in this book already. But what does it actually mean—especially in the terms of education?

In my book, “The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity”, I define innovation as the following: a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new), or “iteration” (a change on something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative. That means that change for the sake of change is never good enough. Neither is using innovation as a buzzword, as many organizations do, to appear current or relevant.

Note, too, that I said innovation is a way of thinking. It is a way of considering concepts, processes, and potential outcomes; it is not a thing, task, or even, technology. As [2] Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, explains in his TEDx talk, “The New Rules of Innovation,” “Innovation is the process by which we change the world…. It’s the practical application of ideas and technologies to make new and better things.”  So, although many organizations approach innovation as if the word is synonymous with technology, it isn’t. Technology can be crucial in the development of innovative organizations, but innovation is less about tools, like computers, tablets, social media, and the Internet, and more about how we use those things.

Another word that is often used interchangeably with innovation is transformation, which is really more about dramatically altering the work educators do. Although I can see why some administrators are calling for transformation, the truth is innovation—in our thinking as individuals and organizations—is within easy reach; no dramatic shifts required. Katie Martin, Director of Professional Learning at the University of San Diego Mobile Technology Learning Centre, eloquently explains the importance of leadership in developing an innovative mindset:[3]

There is no substitute for a teacher who designs authentic, participatory, and relevant learning experiences for her unique population of students. The role of the teacher is to inspire learning and develop skills and mindsets of learners. A teacher, as designer and facilitator, should continually evolve with resources, experiences, and the support of a community. It is becoming increasingly clear that we don’t necessarily need to transform the role of teachers, rather create a culture that inspires and empowers teachers to innovate in the pursuit of providing optimal learning experiences for their students.

Establishing an innovative culture, doesn’t require transformation. However, it does require leaders who will develop and sustain systems that support “optimal learning experiences” and who value the process of creating and refining ideas.

A Constant Opportunity for Growth

One of John Maxwell’s famous quotes is, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” In many respects, that sentiment is true. We choose whether or not we will grow, change, or innovate. But in schools, where we focus on our students as the future, growth can no longer be simply an option.

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing. Perhaps, the great thing we can do is make growth mandatory—for ourselves as educators, as well as for our students. That is how we can truly serve our children.

Education cannot become the new Blockbuster, where we refused to embrace the new, in hopes that the old ways will suffice. In a world that constantly changes, if our focus is to only maintain what’s already been done, we are bound to become worse. The innovator’s mindset is necessary for all of us, if schools are to move forward.

 

[1] “Epic Fail: How Blockbuster Could Have Owned Netflix”, November 12, 2013. http://variety.com/2013/biz/news/epic-fail-how-blockbuster-could-have-owned-netflix-1200823443/

[2] Bass, Carl. “The New Rules of Innovation”, February, 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKV3rhzvaC8

[3] Martin, Katie. “Creating a Culture of Innovation versus Transformation”, June 10, 2015. http://katielmartin.com/2015/06/10/creating-a-culture-of-innovation-vs-a-transformation/

 

 

 

A last word

Here in the southern hemisphere the 2015 school year has ended and I regret to say that we are still in an educational policy wonderland.

A change of Prime Minister has produced some stirrings around the future and the importance of innovation but it has not even filtered into the education sector.  Despite the rhetoric of the Turnbull Government to deliver high-speed internet access via the NBN, the whole thing has become a white elephant!  And still we hear from our politicians about how poorly our schools are performing in an age of connectivity.  No wonder I feel gloomy!

One of the things that has struck me as the year draws to a close is how fortunate we are to be able to have discussions about re-imagining schooling in today’s world when other parts of the world are dealing with war.  So many children are facing a future without access to education.

A point I was reminded about when I spoke in Rome last month at the World Congress for Catholic Education.  A school administrator from Eritrea came up to me and said it would be wonderful if they could have conversations about creativity and innovation but her priority was to find ways of paying her teachers and putting roofs on schools.

Nevertheless, as educators we share the same aspirations – doing the best for our students with the resources we have.  In 2016, we will continue the work of sharing ideas, knowledge and opening up our practice to critique in the spirit of improving student learning outcomes.

In closing, I wanted to share one of the great joys of working in and for education.  This book was written by kindergarten students from St Bernadette’s Lalor Park.

Thanks to those who continue to read bluyonder and contribute to the discussions – it’s always a rich source of learning.

Wishing you a safe and Merry Christmas wherever you are in the world.  Here’s to a ‘connected’ 2016!

 

 

 

It seems quite ironic the most effective way of becoming an independent learner is through the process of interacting with others. This was social psychologist Lev Vygotsky‘s zone of proximal development argument.  Essentially we learn best when we learn from and with others.

Alma Harris and Michelle Jones from the Institute of Educational Leadership, University of Malaya, write that professional collaboration “in the form of professional learning communities, can be a powerful catalyst for building professional capital and by association, improving school performance”.  They go onto say that what really matters is the difference professional collaboration makes to learners.

Its impact comes from having a clear model for professional learning and the right conditions to make it work.  As Harris and Jones explains, it also needs to have a strong evidence base for it to be truly effective.

In 2008, Parramatta Marist High School adopted a new pedagogical approach to their learning and teaching strategies with the introduction of Project-Based Learning (PBL), Problem-Based Learning and the Flipped Classroom.  Although each of these strategies have been learner-centred and designed to provide students with the necessary skills for today’s world, it has also cultivated a culture of professional collaboration and learning within, and now, beyond the school.

This shift has resulted in a relentless focus on building professional connections and sharing ideas with the aim of deepening teacher learning and practice.  Discussion and reflection takes place on a daily basis and it is always as Harris and Jones describes, focused on what difference it is making to learners.

The implementation of PBL meant that Parramatta Marist teachers also had to engage in the inquiry and reflection, collaboration and critical thinking that is expected of students as part of the PBL process.

Collaborating and connecting with other professional learning communities has been key to the success of PBL at Parramatta Marist. Their affiliations with the The New Tech Network for Project-Based Learning and Republic Polytechnic, in Singapore for Problem-Based Learning has been key. Several of the staff at Parramatta Marist are also undertaking doctoral research under Prof. Henk Schmidt (a world leader in PBL research) of Erasmus University to build their evidence-base and contribute to the growing body of research on the impact of PBL on student learning and self-efficacy.

As the learning circle widens, so does the opportunities for innovation. Marist’s Centre for Deeper Learning (CDL) was established not only to build the professional capital of its own staff but to share their learning with other teachers.

Kurt Challinor from CDL says the school is now coaching several schools in Australia as they transition to a PBL model.  CDL has been facilitating workshops between each school’s common faculty areas as teachers connect on a regular basis to workshop ideas and share resources.

In reflecting on the impact PBL has had on his own teaching practice, Kurt says it has enabled him to continually push new boundaries.  The challenge he says, is to stay in orbit long enough to embrace new opportunities and possibilities.

CDL is one example of how shared learning can deepen the learning for students and teachers beyond the school walls.

 

When Yong Zhao was last in Australia, I asked if he would consider contributing a guest post to bluyonder.  I’m pleased to say his Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 12.54.51 pmpost, which is adapted from his newly published book ‘Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 Ed Tech Mistakes‘ is below. Yong suggests that we need to consider handing over some of the tasks traditionally done by teachers to technology. Look forward to your comments on this.  

With increased ease of access to vast amount of information and learning resources online and big-data-driven adaptive learning systems, will technology ultimately replace human teachers? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe technology will help make teachers more human educators. But this requires us to reimagine the role of teachers and the relationship between technology and human educators.

“Never send a human to do a machine’s job,” a statement from the movie The Matrix, is good advice for us to reimagine the relationship between humans and technology in education. Technology is developed to extend or replace human capacities. It is designed to do things that human beings are unable or unwilling to do or do things more efficiently than human beings, either more effectively or at lower costs. By design, technology is meant to replace certain human abilities. In other words, if technology can do certain things better with more efficiency or even things that are impossible for humans to do, we should let technology do it. There is no reason for humans to compete with machines. As a result, technology has replaced human beings entirely in cases where human involvement is straightforward and simple. For example, ATMs have replaced certain banking jobs and robotics has replaced certain manufacturing jobs.

Education is much more complex than depositing a cheque or getting cash from a bank teller. It is fundamentally a human endeavor. Technology will probably never be able to replace human teachers entirely. But many tasks that have traditionally been performed by human teachers can and should be done by technology so as to free human teachers to do things that machines cannot do or do as well. In other words, technology can make education more human if used properly.

To better capitalize on the potential of technology, schools and teachers need to reimagine the relationship between technology and human educators so as to determine what can be delegated to technology and what must be done by human educators, or can be done better by them. The reimagining can happen at multiple levels, and how it looks like depends on student characteristics, present arrangements and resources, grade levels, and educational objectives. But the advice would be the same: Never send a human to do a machine’s job. To paraphrase, we should not send human educators to do things that technology can do more effectively or at lower costs, and we should certainly allow technology to do things that human teachers cannot do or are unwilling to do.

A realigned teacher-machine relationship is essential for realizing the reimagined paradigm of schooling. As previously discussed, a personalized curriculum and product-oriented pedagogy requires schools to transform from one-size-fits-all factories into personal learning ecosystems. In a personal learning ecosystem, learners pursue their interests, create meaningful products, and take on the responsibility for their own learning. To realize this transformation, schools have to provide a lot more resources and opportunities and rethink how to organize and develop them. The increase in demand for resources and opportunities cannot possibly be met by human teachers alone. Thus schools will need to rely on technology, but not use it to replace human teachers. Instead, technology is meant to expand human capacities.

An essential element of the learning ecosystem is social and emotional support and personal guidance so that individual learners are properly challenged, supported, and mentored on their personal learning journey. No technology, even so-called big data, can be as socially and emotionally engaging to the human learner as another human being. No technology can understand the psychological conditions of an individual human learner, nor can it interpret human purposes. No technology can have the same level of wisdom, intuition, and caring as a human teacher. Thus emotional and social support, as well as mentoring, can be achieved only by human teachers.

However, no human being can compete with Google in terms of how much information one can hold and give access to. No single human can present information in engaging and multimedia ways that rival the computer, nor can one single human store as much information as banks of data servers. Additionally, no human teacher can be as patient as a machine when dealing with repetitive mechanical tasks. Thus human teachers should withdraw from such tasks as information gathering, storing, and transmission, as well as tasks as mechanical exercises.

After all, there is no reason for teachers to compete with Google or YouTube!

The third teacher

The Reggio Emilia approach highlighted the importance of the physical environment on learning and teaching.  The incorporation of the physical environment (in Reggio Emilia) to enhance early childhood experiences is seen as the child’s ‘third teacher’.

Stephen Heppell has been working for two decades on raising the status of the ‘third teacher’ within the K-12 sector.

As we move towards greater personalised learning contexts, we also have to think about creating more personalised physical environments.

As Stephen points out, students are integral to the whole design process where users become the designers. Strong student and community voice has been one of the guiding principles underpinning the design of the massive Lindfield ‘School of the Future‘ project in NSW.

The rise of learner-led design is starting to take off.

What’s really interesting is that there is growing research (including Stephen’s) showing how simple improvements to air temperature and light quality etc can make learning better.  Warm classroom temperatures have a negative impact on working memory and short-term maths performance!

Research and best practice illustrates that we can no longer evaluate student learning in isolation of evaluating the impact of the third teacher (physical environment).

 

 

 

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