Basic skills

West Australian Education Minister Peter Collier suggested last month that parents weren’t putting in the time with their children at home and this was being reflected on school entry testing.

According to Mr Collier, there are increasing numbers of children starting school who lack basic skills such as being able to count, paint and hold a pencil.

The implication is that increased use of technology at home is impacting not only on the development of fine motor skills but also according to a report by Dr Jennifer Buckingham, the capacity to build language through conversation with adults and other children.

It highlights a need for researchers, politicians, parents and educators to re-visit the what, why and how of schooling in today’s world. What does it mean to be school ready in today’s world?  In ten years from now, will it be necessary for young people to know how to hold a pencil?  And what will it mean to be literate in an online world?

If literacy and numeracy are foundational skills (and they are), how are these skills developed in changing home/school environments alongside increasingly adaptive learning technologies?  And at what stage in a child’s development do we begin nurturing new ways of thinking, working, using tools and social responsibility?

If parents are being urged to do more educating at home, then what is needed are clear frameworks (of 21st century skills) for parents and teachers. This needs to clearly articulate the qualities and skills required in today’s world and the ways in which these are developed and assessed in each child.

One of the most common complaints I hear from parents is the lack of communication around what their child is learning in class, how it’s being taught and why it’s necessary.

In the context of a changing world we all need to be asking important questions about basic skills.

 

Australia has its Sport Hall of Fame, the US has its Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but where are the Education Halls of Fame?  We can name the great teachers that have touched our lives but what about the great school leaders? There are a plethora of books on educational leaders and educational leadership but who do we hold up within the educational community as exemplars of school leadership in today’s world?

These are some of the questions we’ve been reflecting on as we prepare to open a new school in outer Western Sydney next year. The proposed St Luke’s at Marsden Park will be ‘next generation’ – an innovative learning community built from the ground up through partnerships with Stephen Heppell, industry and the wider community.

This school will challenge the industrial constructs by embracing a pre to post schooling model not a K-6, 7-12 one. It’s collaboration not isolation, it’s integration not segregation and it’s personalised not programmatic.  We want learning to be adaptable to the changing needs of learners and the changing times in which we live.

We are looking for a next generation school leader who can lead a culture of change and innovation.  Someone that demonstrates 21st century skills like creativity, curiosity, adaptability, problem-solving and collaboration. Next generation leadership is entrepreneurial – looking beyond the next five years; seeing the infinite possibilities and making it happen. This is about being able to lead by example, to lead by doing, to lead by knowing and ultimately, to leave a legacy for future generations locally and globally.

Could it be you?

 

Along the battle lines

The NSW Department of Education’s Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation published its report last year finding that Reading Recovery (used in almost a thousand of its primary schools) should be ‘restricted to the lowest performing students’.

The mere mention of Reading Recovery sparks vigorous debate in a war that has been ongoing for decades between the behaviourists (phonics) and constructivists (whole language).

It’s a highly charged topic that draws comment and divides educators, parents and the media along the phonics versus whole language battle lines.

Teaching children to read is perhaps the most fundamental task of educators. We learn to speak before we ever read and children do not come to reading naturally nor does it happen overnight.

Teaching reading is a highly developed skill and the best defence we have in the “reading wars” is to improve the practice of all teachers so that every teacher is a teacher of reading.

Intervention programs like Reading Recovery are not designed to be a substitute for good classroom practice – it is the corollary of supporting the most vulnerable readers and creating professional learning opportunities within the school.

Teaching children to read doesn’t begin at home and end when students leave primary school.  Improving literacy is a community responsibility and it needs a community response (K-12).

The best approach to learning how to read is an integrated approach to teaching.  Arguing over which method is superior doesn’t move us any closer to winning the war on literacy.

 

 

Game changers

Marketer and entrepreneur, Seth Godin recently wrote a blog on pattern recognition versus pattern matching. Godin writes that “Some people have erroneously concluded that the way to succeed is to slavishly follow what’s come before. Pattern matching is for amateurs… pattern recognition is a priceless skill that comes with practice, with the experience of noticing. The art is to see patterns, [and] to use them to do something new.”

We spend a lot of time pattern matching in education when we could be pattern recognising.  A case in point was last month when I co-presented at the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) in Scotland.  ICSEI is a professional learning community of practitioners, policy makers and researchers who meet to share and spread best practice across education systems around the world.

As I listened to presentation after presentation at ICSEI, I realised that no-one was talking about educational transformation. This was a sophisticated exercise in pattern matching.  While conferences like ICSEI are great opportunities for building collegiality, we have to move beyond the concept of school improvement.

School improvement limits our collective imaginations because we don’t have to do anything new.  The industrial model continues to prevail because it is so easy to replicate what’s come before.

Education now needs game-changers not add-ons.  This can’t happen if we are still engaged in discussions that are narrowly focussed on improvement and effectiveness.  Let’s use conferences and professional learning networks to create something new rather than slavishly improve the old.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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