Archive for the ‘Strategic Focus’ Category

The fierce urgency of now

160204CEO_011Last week our system welcomed 160 new teachers to the profession. The excitement of these teachers is infectious and after my 40 years in education, I know their work will be transformative in nurturing the heart, mind and spirits of students.

In addressing our new leaders and teachers, I urged them not to be disheartened by the negative commentary in the media, which always typically marks the start of a new school year.

Yes there are many professional challenges but I see the greatest and most urgent as the need to abandon ‘improvement’ and embrace transformation.  While teachers can’t ignore the realities and challenges of schooling in today’s world – we must seize the initiative for change without becoming disheartened.

It was Reverend Martin Luther King Jr who said that ‘tomorrow is today’ and in being confronted with a ‘fierce urgency of now’, there is such a thing in the ‘unfolding conundrum of life and history as being too late‘.

In twenty years from now, I don’t want to look back and see education as having been ‘too late’ when the urgency of now is so fierce.  This age presents significant challenges to all who learn and teach in our schools – challenges that primarily centre on the need for change.

Nobel prize winning Chilean poet and educator Gabriela Mistral said that we cannot say tomorrow to a child, when now is the time their bones are formed and minds are developed – when today is their name.

Our students should not have to wait for schooling to change.

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saving language

A decade ago Don Watson wrote the definitive book on management speak called ‘Weasel Words‘. It illustrates the way in which bureaucrats and politicians’ highly crafted messages obfuscate meaning and hide the truth. As Watson wrote “this dead, depleted, verbless jargon is becoming the language of daily life.”

The marketing guru Seth Godin recently asked the question on his blog ‘does vocabulary matter?’  He highlighted Randall Munroe’s concise and clear explanation of how the Saturn V rocket works using only a thousand commonly used words.

As Godin remarked:

It’s not about knowing needlessly fancy words (but it’s often hard to know if the fancy word is needless until after you learn it). Your vocabulary reflects the way you think (and vice versa). It’s tempting to read and write at the eighth-grade level, but there’s a lot more leverage when you are able to use the right word in the right moment.

Professor John Hattie once commented at a conference that ‘metacognition’ was just a fancy way of referring to thinking about learning.  He preferred to use the latter.

Education has fallen into the jargon web, which is ironic because as leaders/teachers we are entrusted to do daily what Randall Munroe has done – simplify the complex not complexify the simple.

The list is in no way exhaustive but here are some ‘weasel words’ proffered by some of my colleagues:

  • anything strategic (e.g focus, pillars, alignment, teaching)
  • building teacher capacity
  • deprivatising teacher practice
  • empowered/self-regulated learners
  • rigorous learning
  • guided thoughtfulness

Of all professions, we have a special responsibility to ensure we don’t take a reductionist approach and to consider whether some of these terms detract from describing the depth and richness of our work.  That work is to bring the world alive by bringing language alive. The goal, as Watson expresses in his book is to save language for future generations.

 

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. 

 

 

Improvement is no longer the challenge

I have just returned from two days at the third annual Leadership for School Improvement Colloquium.  The passion and pride for Catholic education is always evident at these gatherings; it reinforces the importance of taking time to reflect collectively on the how and the why.

I have to say however I left feeling a little flat and disappointed in the scope of thinking and models presented. There was nothing new, no stretch and certainly no innovative thinking or practice.  Unfortunately this seems to be consistent with most large education conferences.

If we look at other industry sectors we seem a much different approach. Businesses have shelved improvement because in this rapidly changing world of work, lifestyle and technology, they recognise the urgent need to transform themselves into something different.  Business communities across the globe are now responding to the challenge of the ‘Internet of Things‘.  These businesses are turning their backs on the improvement agenda because it’s no longer the challenge today.  I think this shift opens up a whole new perspective especially for education.

There is no better example of this than Apple. Up until 2001, Apple branded itself as a technology company within a manufacturing model (we see ourselves as contemporary schools operating within an industrial model). Steve Jobs and his team saw there was no future in the manufacturing space as it moved offshore.  Rather than improve an outdated model, Jobs announced that Apple was now in the lifestyle business.  This simple decision shifted the goal posts.

A Harvard Business Review article has examined how more businesses are moving away from improving old models to responding to the changing needs of consumers (and employees) within the context of a rapidly changing world.  In addition, real time data has helped to create a whole new paradigm for doing things differently, thinking creatively and responding immediately.

On the flip side, education is still wedded to the improvement model; looking for enhanced solutions to old problems. We operate on the assumption that we can control the variables, link performance to accountability measures and tighten up processes. Where are the innovative solutions?

Improvement is no longer the challenge so let’s use educational conferences and colloquiums to focus on how we change the system not how we fix it. As Sir Ken Robinson says the challenge is not to reform but to transform.

 

 

 

The Black Box

In 2001, Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam published their seminal article titled Inside the Black Box: raising standards through classroom assessment.  It focuses on formative assessment which according to the authors is at the heart of effective teaching.

The article suggests that the practice of formative assessment has not been front and centre in most classrooms. In fact the link between formative assessment and significant learning gains has been nebulous.

Black and Wiliam note there is a “tendency to emphasise quantity and presentation of work and to neglect its quality in relation to learning” in primary classrooms. There is also a tendency to over-emphasise grading at the expense of giving quality feedback to students about the task and their learning.

Integral to the success of the factory model of schooling has been this prevailing view to compare students and cohorts at the expense of using assessment as evidence of each student’s progress.  Black and Wiliam suggest one way of overcoming this is by creating cultures of success within classrooms supported by a school/system belief that every child can succeed.

Formative assessment becomes a ‘powerful weapon’ as teacher feedback is focussed on the task in the context of the learning target with the aim of continually trying to close the gap.  In this way, assessment forms the work of teachers as they adapt their practice to the needs of the learners.

Research shows that task, target and improvement are critical to improving student learning outcomes.  They must clearly articulated by the teacher and clearly understood by the learner.  Black and Wiliam state that students cannot be expected to ‘believe in the value of changes for their learning before they have experienced the benefits.’

The Grattan Institute’s recent report on Targeted Teaching makes reference to Black and Wiliam’s work and Hattie’s meta-analysis as the bedrock of targeted teaching.  The report identifies what teachers need to measure and evaluate but recognises a lack of time in classrooms and training needs to be addressed.

It is clear that assessment/evidence must be a priority within all schools and across all systems.  To do this, we must consider Grattan’s recommendations to develop a consistent approach to using evidence, a clear set of expectations and a common language so that all teachers can “support their judgments about student learning and determine their teaching decisions.”

Yong Zhao recently wrote that the quality of an education should not be evaluated on a mean set of scores or student performance in a few high-stakes tests but should always be geared toward the growth of each student.

Growing students cannot be done without knowing students.

 

Assessing intelligence(s)

Sir Ken Robinson in his book Creative Schools states that our understanding of intelligence over the past hundred years (measured largely by IQ) presents “a narrow and misleading conception of how rich and diverse human intelligence really is.”

As societies and cultures develop, new theories emerge and one of the most prominent theories of intelligence is Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences. However in 1985, American psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed the theory of successful intelligence.  Sternberg says he became interested in human intelligence because his teachers and his parents thought he was ‘stupid’ (thanks to an IQ test) and so he ended up believing that he was.

According to Sternberg, the theory of successful intelligence is the ability to work out what Einsteinyou want to do with your life and to succeed given the constraints of your environment.  While IQ measures a single intelligence (analytical), successful intelligence is defined as creative, practical and analytical.

Sternberg has been particularly interested in how his theory applies to teaching by questioning whether you could improve student outcomes if teachers recognise students learn in different ways.  Sternberg suggests teaching in different ways at different times so that every student’s creative, practical or analytical strengths are being developed.

For schools, we need to look to assessments that measure a broad range of skills including, as Dr Yong Zhao says, ‘non-cognitive such as motivation, persistence, confidence and personality traits’.  It re-affirms Sternberg’s message that we must teach and assess in ways that reflect how students learn best and not the other way around.

Interestingly, the OECD is recognising the importance of social and emotional skills in addition to analytic skills by beginning to develop international measures. Earlier this year, OECD’s Director for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher commented that cognitive abilities still remained critical but ‘people with strong social and emotional foundation skills thrive better in a highly dynamic labour market and rapidly changing world’.

 

 

 

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