Archive for the ‘Innovators’ Category

The speed of things

According to Yong Zhao one of the biggest flaws of PISA is that it “directs the world’s attention to the past instead of pointing to the future.”  Yet education systems and policy makers rely on international assessments such as PISA to gauge student performance in maths, science and reading.

In World Class Learners, Zhao admits that based on data comparisons, countries performing extremely well on international tests such as China and Taiwan tend to score lower in perceived entrepreneurial capabilities.  The good news is that Australia scores relatively high when it comes to entrepreneurship.

Harvard Business Review had an interesting article last week on the fastest moving digital economies.  The authors developed an index to gauge how countries compare in terms of their readiness for the digital economy.  Looking at performance over five years (2008-2013), they assigned 50 countries into four trajectories: Stand Out, Stall Out, Break Out and Watch Out.

Australia currently sits in the ‘Stall Out’ quadrant – having achieved a high level of evolution but losing momentum and at risk of falling behind. Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Estonia, the US and New Zealand are among the countries in the Stand Out quadrant.  These are countries who continue to invest in world-class digital infrastructure, encourage entrepreneurship and have governments which support and encourage growth of the digital ecosystem.

The authors’ advice for countries like ours is to invest in innovation, look globally for new markets and find ways of attracting ‘talented young immigrants’ to revive innovation quickly.

If as Zhao says schools must transform into global enterprises capable of educating globally competent entrepreneurs, then we need new measures that look forward – beyond traditional boundaries.

I wonder whether we need to be looking at schooling in the same way countries assess readiness for the digital economy?  Do we need a Digital Education Index based on key drivers?  For example, when schools deliver a curriculum (especially electives) are they aligning them with “Stand-Out” or the delivery of traditional subjects aligned with “Stall Out”?

Digital is no longer about hardware or software.  It isn’t about the number of computers or iPads in classrooms.  When we talk about digital education it encompasses the mindsets, policies, users, trends and infrastructure that support this dynamic and ever-evolving ecosystem.  An ecosystem that our learners are a part of and will inevitably shape based on their needs and ever-changing expectations.

The authors of the HBR article predict that the “next billion consumers to come online will be making their digital decisions on a mobile device – very different from the practices of the first billion.”

How will schooling be different from last year or even last week so we don’t end up in “Stall Out”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renew and Adapt

Our system and school leaders gathered last week to reflect on past achievements and to focus on the work ahead.  Over the next two years our system’s strategic focus will be to ‘renew and adapt’.   It is not about changing course or increasing the workload but reflecting on our practice; renewing our skills and passion; and adapting our pedagogies to improve the learning outcomes of each student.

Each year we select a professional learning text. This year’s was chosen because innovation requires teachers who are willing to continually renew and adapt their practice in ways that positively impact on students’ lives and learning.  As Lyn Sharratt says this is the essence of educational innovation.

Lyn Sharatt and Gale Harild’s book Good to Great to Innovate builds on Jim Collins’ good to great analogy by illustrating that purposeful innovation is dependent on a solid foundation of literacy and numeracy.  Schools must become good at the basics before they get great at innovation. As Andy Hargreaves writes in the book’s epilogue: “when the innovations we introduce involve children’s lives, they must be even more disciplined in their implementation.”

The “innovation” discussion is as relevant to schooling as it is to business. An article in the December issue of Harvard Business Review outlines the approach to innovation in business. The authors, Nathan Furr and Jeffrey H. Dyer state that the process of innovation requires “discipline, perseverance and dedicated, effective leadership.”

Furr and Dyer maintain go on:

Innovation is at heart a process of discovery, and so the role of the person leading it is to set other people down a path, not to short-circuit it by jumping to a conclusion at the start.

The process of innovation requires new mindsets in which we continually push boundaries and search for more meaningful and relevant ways of meeting the needs of today’s learners.

In both Good to Great to Innovate and the HBR article, the authors contend that innovation isn’t controlled by the leader.  The role of a leader is to encourage these mindsets, to encourage risk taking, to ask questions and to ensure there is equitable access to resources and partnerships.  The leader’s role is to advocate for ‘the new and different’, to listen and then test assumptions.

I think one of the biggest challenges we face is creating opportunities for innovation to grow. Companies like Google and Atlassian have succeeded at this because leaders and managers see their roles differently – as advocates and “bluyonderers”. It’s the shift from control to collaboration, from being risk-aversive to risk-taking.

There are pockets of innovation happening each day in schools and across systems but as I wrote in a recent blog post – how does it become the norm?  One suggestion is giving large groups of people uninterrupted innovation time.  Think of what happens in project based learning when students have time to sit with a problem, discuss, observe and experiment.

We need to start applying the same principles to teacher innovation. It’s about renewing and adapting.

 

 

 

 

Innovation as the norm

I made the following observation on New Year’s Day.

I think if we are going to do better we desperately need teachers to be prepared to challenge not only what they teach but how effectively they teach.

It is easy to understand this entrenched conservatism. There is a perception of mistrust about the work of teaching and government policy reinforces this view. Policies which seek to mandate what is taught and how it is taught distract the profession from professional competency and capability.

I believe the wider community see teaching as a “soft” option profession and often resist change in teacher practice as some experimentation which has to be resisted at all costs.  Why?  Because it is not what school was “like for me”.

This may be a generalisation but there are some real truths here. How do we turn this around? How do we encourage innovative practice and build community trust in the profession and amongst policy makers?

Last week I came across an article in the Washington Post from Pasi Sahlberg author of “Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?” Although the book was published in 2011, Sahlberg’s comments make great sense to me.

Sahlberg argues that an education reform agenda cannot be solved with short term policy quick fixes. He quotes the global fascination with Canada, South Korea, Singapore and Finland as models which will provide the “silver bullet” to improve teacher learning and teaching. What these countries take out of the Finnish and other approaches however is a narrow view.  Namely that improving schools means better teachers. Therefore we need to attract the “best of the brightest”. In doing so, Sahlberg insists that this misses the point.

He notes three particular fallacies in this understanding:

  1. We continue to assume that teachers work independently from each other but in reality teaching is a team effort in the end results are most often team efforts.
  2. The focus on improving the quality of education is the teacher ignores the research that says while there are often characteristics in improving quality, the most important is effective school leadership and it matters as much as teacher quality.
  3. You can improve schooling by getting rid of poor performing teachers and employing only great ones. This is problematic for two reasons; firstly clarity around “great teaching” and secondly, it takes 5 – 10 years of systematic practice to “effective” in any reliable way.

This leads Sahlberg to the view that “we must reconsider how we think about teaching as a profession and what is the role of the school in our society.” He offers three insights which I urge you to explore in more detail:

  1. Focus more on teacher education, less on teaching and learning in schools
  2. The toxic use of accountability is in many ways inaccurate and unfair
  3. Teachers should have more autonomy in planning their work, freedom to run their lessons the way that leads to the best results and the authority to influence the assessment of outcome of their work. Schools must be trusted in these by areas of their profession.

In citing Sahlberg’s work here I’m not trying to simplify a complex issue. However, his observation about teacher autonomy is critical to easing the conservatism I mentioned at the start. We need teachers as collaborators who share practice, try new things, are open to evaluating their effectiveness and are committed to continually improving their practice.

Just as importantly, we need school leaders who build a culture of trust, respect and participation in the life of the whole school and are learners as much as leaders. As innovation leads to improvement, share it and shout about it – that way society will come to expect educational innovation as the norm.

Where to from here?

As another year comes to a close it reminds me of the mechanical process of schooling. Our schools are placed in “mothballs” for six weeks and then the system fires up again in late January.  I wonder if the school year could be significantly different from the last?

It’s heartening to hear AITSL Chair, Professor John Hattie say recently that we are already having an incredible impact on student learning; the best is in Australia all around us.

We have never had better trained teachers, funding, buildings and access to technologies.  The majority of parents have high degrees of trust in their local school to deliver quality outcomes.  However, the challenge for the profession is  ‘where to next?’

As I’ve said throughout 2014, it’s a question that can only really be answered by those doing the work.  When I talk to beginning and experienced teachers, I see people who have great passion; who are not resistant to change (provided they have the structures and support).

Supporting and engaging our teachers more deeply in evaluating and improving their practice is the path that will lead us to the next stage.  It doesn’t happen by accident.  It’s a daily commitment to improving the learning outcomes of each child and an ongoing investment in the professional learning of every teacher. While the work isn’t always easy, the results are always worth the effort.

Since the best is here all around us, let’s share it, learn from it and answer the ‘where to next’ by raising the standards and status of the entire profession.

As always, thanks for reading and contributing to the blog – your comments shape my professional thinking.   A safe and Merry Christmas.

 

The radical centre

On Monday night I had the pleasure of hearing Noel Pearson deliver the annual Bishop Manning lecture.  Pearson is founder of the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership.  In discussing the complexities and challenges facing indigenous communities, Pearson explained that he saw himself as a radical centralist – someone committed to left wing objectives through right wing policies.

As Pearson explained, the free market approach assumes that everyone is educated and can therefore make an informed choice.  The paradox is that if you have no education, the market isn’t free.  The problem with the left wing approach is that you get caught in a cycle of more programs, more money, more administration.  One side wants to keep handing out fish, the other the rods.  Pearson’s view is use both to achieve an effective and equitable outcome.

At the centre of schooling is the child but for decades we’ve focussed on either the fish or the fishing rod.  It resonates with Michael Fullan’s theme that educational change will only ever come from the middle. The top (government) cannot be relied on because governments and policies frequently change.  On the other hand, when you give the bottom (schools) too much autonomy, you cannot build systemness.

The middle provides coherence so both school and system grow in tandem.  No-one is left behind.  I believe the teaching profession needs a coalition of central radicals to keep us focussed on the middle.

And that’s what Noel Pearson is attempting to do – build systemness so that no-one is left behind.

 

 

 

 

 

Above all, try something

There is a wonderful quote by Franklin D. Roosevelt in David Price’s new book ‘Open’. Speaking at a commencement address in 1932, Roosevelt said: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation.  It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.  But above all, try something.”

David Price was in Australia last week talking about his new book and the changing world of work, life and learning.  We live in a world that is increasingly transparent and open: open source, open learning, open communities. Price makes the point that we cannot control or contain knowledge so it is no longer powerful. What has become powerful are the social connections arising from the co-creation of knowledge locally and globally.

This is not explicitly about technology but how it is enabling new ways of thinking, working and learning. The focus is very much on people and how we are using the tools to connect and reshape communities in a more collaborative way.

‘Open’ fleshes out this new landscape by providing a lens from the outside in rather than the inside out as so often happens.  The book presents a sharp synthesis of what is happening in today’s world and importantly, how the education sector can learn from those who are successfully weaving the threads of social, open and informal learning into classrooms such as High Tech High in California and School of Communication Arts 2.0 in the UK.  These diverse examples illustrate how being open to new ideas, tools and importantly new ways of learning and teaching are changing the nature of schooling.

Price makes the point that ‘because education has such a deep-seated resistance to change, that what to them (e.g principals of  and ) seems logical appears radical to others.”  Price goes on to say that governments don’t do radical and so the responsibility to be different and “innovative needs to come from schools themselves, and unless innovative new approaches become more disruptive, the reality is that they will fall further behind the pace of change of ‘open’.”

We are living in uncertain times but to echo Roosevelt – schooling today demands bold, persistent experimentation so that schooling becomes truly open, relevant and meaningful well into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The great art of companionship

Spanish SistersFor the past year, we have been fortunate to have two Spanish sisters working in the agile learning space at St Monica’s Primary, North Parramatta.  It’s been a great cross-cultural experience for all involved.  They say the children are helping to correct their English!

In Spain, Sr Maria and Sr Teresa were the principals of two progressive K-12 Catholic schools in Barcelona.  Their congregation is dedicated to the education of children in Spain and abroad. Youth unemployment in Spain is among the highest in Europe – a staggering 54.9%.  The Sisters recognise that they have to educate their students to be global citizens.  Many of their students will need to move to other European countries or further abroad to obtain meaningful work.  Such is the reality of life in Spain today.

What impressed me was that every single teacher is proficient in using technology.  As a congregation of 9 schools and a university, they developed a model eight years ago whereby every school has a small technology team that coordinates learning for teachers either online or face to face.  As teachers become ‘expert’, they share their expertise within and across schools.   The Sisters accept that students will always know more about technology but to ask a student for help shows a “humbleness that teachers are also in a continual process of learning.”

As school leaders, they see their role as primarily helping others to flourish.  They believe that knowing your staff well leads to building greater levels of trust and transparency.  Sr Teresa says that teachers need to feel at home just as much as students when they come to school.   Teachers not only model collaboration but they model what is to be a learner.  The question they ask themselves continually is ‘how can we do this better?”  They are not afraid to look outside their communities or country for inspiration or ideas.  They’ve had educators from Finland and Reggio Emilia visit their schools to share ideas and practice.

Their mission (like Sir Ken Robinson) is to make schools places where creativity flourishes.  They admitted that not every child can change everything but some children can change somethings for the better.  Their staff see this as a great achievement and testament to the value of education in modern society.

In Spain they work across K-12 because it enables them to have a deep understanding of their students and the learning environment. In a week, each school leader in their system spends approximately 20 hours teaching across primary and secondary.  After school, teachers and leaders meet to plan and learn together.  It is a continuous cycle of learning and improvement.

They have been very impressed with the standard of education here and the support of our state and federal government.  The Spanish government has cut education funding, which is never the solution.  Despite this,  teaching is a popular vocation for young people.  They see good teachers as Spain’s great hope.

I asked each what they were most proud of as school leaders.  Both agreed that it was the quality of the relationships with students, with teachers and with parents.  They told me that students in their final year of high school don’t want to leave and when they do, they come back regularly to visit.

This reminds me of Maria Montessori’s wonderful quote that teaching is ‘the great art of companionship’.

 

 

 

 

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