Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Business failing education?

urbansprawlA recent survey of small to medium businesses said the education system isn’t providing the skills students need to be ‘entrepreneurial and innovative‘.  Is education failing business or is business failing education?

I attended the Western Sydney Business Connection State of the Region Address by the Hon. Mike Baird MP, Premier of NSW this week.

Around 600 local businesses and organisations were there to hear the Premier outline the government’s bold new initiatives around infrastructure.  It is a massive investment and undertaking which will impact significantly on western Sydney.

The key message is that local business is the driver of innovation and growth.  What I didn’t hear was the role of education in this work.  We are in the business of schooling 42,000 students across western Sydney along with the Department of Education’s schools. Collectively, we are the biggest business in western Sydney but don’t have a seat at the table when it comes to planning for the future.

I saw the plans for the provision of new government schools in western Sydney. Sadly they look like modern versions of the factory school. Where is the innovation and growth and the support from the business sector to develop new models?   We could easily argue that business is failing education.

The best outcome would be for both sectors (school and business) to work collaboratively but this can only happen when education is seen as an important stakeholder in the planning and design process.

Local schools serve local communities and it’s time the education sector were seen as a key player. We have a lot to contribute especially if we want the state of this region to be state of the art.


Collaborative competition

We live in societies where the culture of competition exists everywhere and it is no more evident than in education. Schooling has become big business and learning is competitive.  At an international level, we rank education systems and encourage them to ‘beat the best’.  At a local level, there is a growing demand for coaching and tutoring clinics.

Competition is not a 21st century skill.  Collaboration is.  So how long do we allow ourselves and others to define schooling as a ‘race to the top’; as a means of separating winners from losers; where measurable achievement is the most valid measure of a student’s work and their worth?

Black and Wiliam reflected that the practice of assessment had as its primary purpose competition rather than personal improvement.  This was highlighted recently by former federal Labor leader Mark Latham when he called the decision to replace exams with tasks at selective high school, Hurlstone Agricultural as ‘crazy and a soft-approach’.  This view still dominates public opinion and it plays a significant part in undermining confidence in teachers.  It also diminishes the value of collaboration in the process of learning.

The competitive nature of schooling only ever guarantees success for some not success for all.  Successful change today has to as Michael Fullan says come about through ‘collaborative competition’.  Notice that collaboration comes before competition.

Michael describes this as the ‘moral version’ of the Olympics where doing your best isn’t about surpassing others but spurring others to do their best. When teachers learn, students learn and when school communities learn, systems learn and so on.  It is the flywheel in motion.

Samsung has captured the spirit of collaborative competition with their latest ad campaign – We are greater than I. 



Remixing schooling

If you’ve been watching the series Redesign My Brain with Todd Sampson, you’ll be familiar with the work of neuroscientist Dr Michael Merzenich.  Dr Merzenich is a world authority on brain plasticity – the idea that the brain can continually re-wire itself.  Hence, the term ‘soft-wired’.

Sam Seidel, author of Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education also believes that understanding how minds work and how people learn is critical to the current discussions on innovation and education. Re-wiring or as Sam posits ‘remixing’ education is the ability to take what already exists and create something new and relevant for learners.  He uses the example of hip-hop because it illustrates how young people re-mixed creative elements to create a dominant music culture in the US.  Sam argues that innovative education is the remixing of ideas, practices and data points collected by teachers to create a personalised and relevant learning experience for students.

Since his appearance at PBL World Australia in 2013, Sam has been working with Students Design for Education (SD4E) which is leading a group of Rhode Island students through the design process to create a new ‘student-centred’ school.  According to Sam, human-centred design or design thinking is the next wave in education because it aims at empowering students and teachers to drive change from within by becoming ‘designers’ of the learning space and learning experience.

Sam was in Sydney recently to work with students and teachers at Parramatta Marist High and to talk about the student-designed school project.  He said that design thinking demands the same skills as project based learning (PBL): think critically, work collaboratively and communicate creatively.  Sam was impressed with how quickly younger students (Years 7 and 8) at Parramatta Marist adapted to new learning experiences as a result of the skills they’ve acquired through their PBL work.

Reflecting on the critical skills and qualities needed by teachers in today’s world, Sam believes resourcefulness is important along with compassionate listening, thorough planning and adaptability. These are the cornerstones of design thinking – an organic process requiring empathy, insight, flexibility and experiment. Teaching is essentially human-centred design work – creating something  for students and with them.

Remixing schooling is about continually re-designing learning and teaching. That’s what distinguishes a soft-wired experience of schooling from a hard-wired one.












Making maths meaningful

Why is it that so many students struggle with numeracy?  Is it coincidence that Asian countries out perform the rest of the world when it comes to maths?  Do we as teachers perpetuate the view that maths is intrinsically difficult?

Seven years ago, the National Numeracy Review recommended greater emphasis in the early years be given to ‘providing students with frequent exposure to higher-level mathematical problems.’  It went on to state that it should be in a context that is relevant to the learner. I still hear adults say that learning algebra or long division was a complete waste of time.

Central to deconstructing the myth of Mathematics is about contextualising the learning.  How can teachers make mathematics relevant to each learner and therefore more engaging and challenging?

Professor Peter Sullivan from Monash University says we have a fundamental problem with teaching Mathematics and we need to think differently about the way we teach maths in primary and secondary.

As a result of the Review, we introduced three system initiatives which invest in the professional learning and competency of teachers supported by leaders. Our approach has always been that improving teacher understanding and learning improves student understanding and learning.

We are forSt Clare's Catholic Collegetunate to have partnered with Professor Sullivan on the EM4 (English Mathematics Stage 4) program.  It began last year as ‘first wave’ teaching in English and Mathematics in secondary schools.   It is about creating opportunities for students to enhance and extend their skills and knowledge.  These strategies all rely on data and professional learning to inform good practice. For me, these should be evident across all key learning areas not only English and Mathematics.  However, without a solid foundation in literacy and numeracy, we cannot build upon a student’s learning.

EM4’s premise is to get students to think creatively about problem solving by posing questions that they don’t know how to do.  Professor Sullivan makes the point that we have taught maths by telling students what to do and then getting them to practice what they are told.  However, in this model, students create the maths not the teachers.

It’s a move away from the one approach fits all in favour of the many paths to the top of the mountain. According to the data being collected by Professor Sullivan, student-driven learning is leading to a deeper understanding of Mathematics.

I have been amazed when visiting these classrooms by the rich mathematical discussions between students.  Very different from my experiences of school maths.  Many of the teachers I speak to acknowledge that these strategies have led to a shift in practice and a new way of seeing their role in supporting rather than driving learning.

This “open to learning” approach by both the teacher and the student is the powerful engine driving a very different schooling experience . What is not made explicit, but is at the core of this approach is the shift of responsibility for the learning. For the teacher it is recognising that the curriculum requirements but then engaging in designing learning experience for each student. For the student it shifts the focus from one right answer to the process of how they arrived at that answer. Ultimately they both take responsibility for their learning.

Rebooting innovation

walkman 79In 1979, Sony produced the first portable cassette device – the Walkman.  It was a game changer for consumers and the music industry. Sony ended up selling 200 million devices worldwide.  Long before Apple or even Google established themselves as innovators, there was Japan.

The BBC recently had an interesting article on how Japan is trying to ‘reboot innovation’.  In an effort to encourage innovation, a hub called a high-tech ‘makerspace’ has been set up in Tokyo open to anyone who wants to turn an idea into a product.

The 20th model of schooling is like the Walkman – a product of the times but it’s been superseded by mobile devices, which can do more than just play music.  Innovative is not imitation; we need to realise (like Japan) that we cannot make a better version of the current model.  We need something never seen before – the school equivalent of Japan’s high tech makerspaces?

It certainly makes Yong Zhao’s argument for an entrepreneurial model of schooling even stronger. A model that cultivates student creativity and collaboration but where the focus of learning is on the ‘product not the project’.  Perhaps this is where project based learning is headed in the future.

Until then, we should ponder the comments of a former Panasonic employee and now founder of a start-up company who said any organisation is capable of producing something innovative but it is up to management as to whether they allow the ideas to be developed.

The question for school and system leaders is whether we are champions of imitation or innovation?




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.












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.









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