The key role design and furniture has in enabling teachers to change pedagogy - my presentation from CEFPI Australasia in Auckland, NZ last week.
I always enjoy the opportunity to share aspects of our journey of transformation at SCIL/NBCS. Included here is a link to a presentation June 2013 at EduTech, Brisbane. Transforming a school community into something far more relevant to the world that kids of today experience and will experience does not happen overnight - because it is about cultural shift. But it can happen. Gather your team - set your direction - broadcast your vision and just do it!
The following question in the context of a conversation connected to class size was posed to me via Twitter and the blog of @danhaesler and warrants a response longer than 140 characters.
“A poor lesson in front of 40 kids will still be a poor lesson in front of 20″. Could a great lesson in front of 20 still be a great lesson in front of 40? Just throwing the question out there. I am not a teacher and have no research to quote.
Would be interesting to get @gregwhitby and @Stephen_H thoughts on this due to large space teaching/learning areas/classes in their schools. @darrenhowell
Some excellent issues are raised here. It is relevant to draw from Hattie’s research (http://www.decd.sa.gov.au/quality/files/links/WhatIsEffectSize.pdf) where the impact of class size is listed in the of ‘low influence’ group of influences on student achievement. I should mention that Hattie’s research also suggests differences between open and traditional learning spaces similarly have a low influence. This is at odds though with the 2012 research from the University of Salford, UK (http://www.salford.ac.uk/home-page/news/2012/study-proves-classroom-design-really-does-matter) which suggests that learning space design can have a 25% positive impact on learning.
This leads me to the real issue – class size is not the issue, nor is learning space by itself. The key issue for me is the notion of a class being one teacher working in isolation with around 30 students in a confined room with little ability to do much other than sit in formed rows or groups. That is the key issue. Could the learning experience itself be vastly improved in a model where a class was viewed as a far larger cohort shared among multiple lead-learners (teachers)? If this was the case, then designed space is an issue because it needs to facilitate this larger cohort.
Our experience at SCIL/NBCS (www.scil.com.au) is that when we can get teachers to engage in an unlearn-relearn journey and figure out how to work in a genuine shared team approach, then the experience of teaching and learning can change dramatically. No longer is it dependent on the pressures of a one teacher to 30 student scenario, rather students have multiple mentors and can draw in learning relevant to their needs on a daily basis. If the team can provide an environment where they collectively own all the students (albeit they might have a smaller group for administrative oversight), then the whole issue of class size melts away. I’d be confident to say that our Stage 3 ‘Zone’ team are the most collaborative team that I have had the privilege of observing and supporting. I love the energy of the Zone and witnessing a combination of planned learning activities and spontaneous ‘just in time’ workshops to address obvious gaps in student understanding. Teachers have to surrender a great deal of their former practice (control and individual space), but they gain so much more. Their role shifts to being collaborative co-directors of learning and student behavioural issues become something of the past.
So my response? The issue is not class size or large space, rather how can we re-engineer learning so that the focus is on high expectations of students, formative evaluation, conversations, feedback, relationships – all the items listed in the ‘high influence’ on learning group in Hattie’s research. My experience is teaching me that working to develop the capacity of teachers to work in teams is the future. Debates on teacher / student ratios are increasingly irrelevant – and learning space design needs to follow pedagogy rather than dictate it. That is why I favour fluid learning spaces, lots of on-the-shoulder professional development – and all mixed with loads of team fun!
This blog post seeks to capture aspects of emerging technology and culture that will shape the world of tomorrow for the students of today. The way we have taught kids in the past just won’t cut it into the future. The traditional classroom is predicated on a control philosophy. The teacher’s role has been to manage and control the behaviours of the class and once this is achieved, to then be the provider of knowledge and content.
Some students can cope with the school models of the past, but many students (dare say most students) do not. The control classroom does not prepare students for the world they will enter. The control classroom says ‘it’s all about the teacher’s ability to be all things to all students’. No wonder that causes stress.
The African proverb that says ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ is far more accurate. Left alone in many contexts, even parents struggle to raise a child. How much stronger is a collaborative and community approach where a child has multiple relationships and multiple mentors. Learning does not all hinge on the one teacher model. Business has moved on from this years ago. Why place this as the model for kids to experience? No wonder so many students get disengaged from learning so quickly. Life outside the school gates is so very different from the world we still create inside the gates.
Governments and education ministries around the world just do not get it. They must create strategies for the future, not votes or their past. The control classroom can place a ceiling on the capacity of a child to think, to know, to understand & to create.
New technologies provide an amazing opportunity to allow a child to reach beyond the experience and knowledge of their teacher. Why limit that? Education as we currently know it in traditional schools will reach a tipping point. I suspect sometime in the next decade. Too much is changing for ed change not to happen. Costs of traditional education. Changing economic contexts. Changing cultural contexts. The current schooling model will exhaust itself. Why would a child attend school in a traditional way if better ways to educate a child emerge? Children will need a functional community. That will be the key to why schools should still exist.
Bubbling along behind the scenes of our society, our culture is being reshaped by new technologies. Think back 20 years as to what either did not exist or was not widespread. Can we now imagine a world without the Internet or mobile communication? Just as mobile phones have altered the way people communicate, so too access to mobile technologies will alter the way we work & learn. We receive and retrieve information in different ways. This will continue to change. Our children will interact with technology in ways that are not yet mainstream. Voice activated writing, touch screen technology, spreading from being fixed installations to multi-surfaced & pervasive will be their world. An ever-growing world of sensor-directed environments will be their story. Will our grandchildren even know what it is like to drive a car? Sensor technology is already taking over much of our daily experiences, even when we don’t realise it. Schools must adapt. The aeroplane industry is an example of computer controlled transport. Who needs a pilot when computers can now manage all aspects of a flight?
Technology is integrating into our existence. We see this happening now. This integration will filter into all aspects of life. The line between human and cyborg is already crossing. This will be the medical world of our children. In the UAE over 80% of television is consumed via mobile devices. The world is changing. Rapidly. The technology that surrounds our existence is changing. This will fundamentally change schools. Already children seem to be born with an inherent touch-screen capacity. I’ve seen that in 2 year olds in both the developed/underdeveloped world.
Why teach for redundancy, when we could be teaching for competency & creativity & relevance. The shift to the online world is not just about social media and games. Increasingly we shop online, do courses online, schedule our days online. We do our banking, buy our books, find our clothes, organise our travel - manage our whole lives online. Schools will change. We need to be training our children into the responsibilities of the online world. Has any country created a core curriculum that includes that? And this isn’t just the developed world. Are you aware of the impact mobile technologies are making in Africa and Asia? Have you seen whole villages painted over with the colours of the local telco companies? Mobile communication / learning is the future.
There have been enormous shifts in the world politically & economically in the last two decades. Our children will be forced to find solutions for some enormous challenges - climate change, cultural shift, changing demographics. Our children will be forced to find solutions for a new uncertain economic world order. Can education leaders respond to the ‘arab springs’ of social change? What will happen when those ‘arab springs’ demanding change hit our schools hard? Are we prepared for a new way? Whatever the outcome of the GFC, there is a monumental shift occurring from ‘west to east’, from the northern hemisphere to the Asia Pacific. Globalisation has already occurred and continues apace.
And around the world - whether in the developed or developing world, unemployment issues are starting to dominate the stage. Why educate a child if after 13 years they are still working alongside an uneducated neighbour in subsistence living? We have to teach job creation skills - otherwise we will fail our children. Over 50% of the youth of many nations are either unemployed, under-employed or mis-employed. Many students will graduate into a world unconnected to their higher education and training. Students are & will finish up with an enormous debt for the privilege of having a higher education. It has to be relevant. The NIC 2025 and 2030 Global Issues Reports both point to a near future that will be dominated by chronic food shortages and lack of access to water. Are we teaching students the skills to increase production, reduce conflict and focus on the critical issues that they will face? Have we given serious attention to enabling our children to understand how to respond to a world that is warming, whether that be from man made or historic cycles?
Our children are likely to live on average at least a decade longer than current life expectancies with new medical advances. Nanotechnology and other advances will provide better health care. Their lives and stories and social interactions will be inherently different. They already are. We have to focus on creating learning communities that are totally adaptive to change - but within the security of positive relationships, nurtured in functional communities. We have to collaborate. We should not compete. We have to think beyond ourselves. We have to second guess the world these children will inherit and give them every advantage to not only survive - but be those who shape and lead this new world.
(Text version of a manifesto for educational change. i have also tweeted in tweet-sized chunks as a bit of an experiment - @stephen_h. I’d love you to join the change journey - and add your reflections as well.)
Imagine Learning Manifesto
The world is changing rapidly. Regrettably, education is not keeping pace with change. We need to re-think education. Toffler said 21st C learning is about learning, unlearning & relearning. So true. Governments are rarely visionary. Educators need to lead the vision of education as politicians cannot. Do not. Education should be about empowerment of people. Education should be about growing people.
With clear shifts to online activity everywhere else, we should expect this to happen in education. This will change the nature of schooling. To not expect a fundamental shift to online would be to make a fundamental mistake. We need to train teachers to know how to maximise benefits of online learning. We need to re-shape online learning space and make it personalised, engaging & suited to the task. We need to recognise that in some contexts, students will more effectively pull in relevant learning via the Internet than they receive in class.
Online learning could empower students in developing world to rise above the knowledge ceiling of their often untrained teachers.
Will schools have a role into the future? Yes! Schools should be the core functional, relational communities of society. Students/parents will select a ‘base camp’ community & from there select relevant providers of learning opportunities. Schools need to be at core relational.Teachers who cannot relate have no place.
Physical space is just as important as virtual and/or pedagogic space. Kill off desks, chairs and lockers. There are so many better & engaging ways to furnish a space. Think creatively. Children live in multi-age communities (and will work in same). Change schooling to replicate this.
Leadership roles should match priorities, not history. Budgets need to follow vision. We need to grow people - students, teachers, parents, administrators. Students must learn to be engaged learners. Parents need to grow their understanding of the realities their children will face, not re-live their own school experience.
I heard it said recently that “schools are not mortgage paying institutions”. We should teach because we are passionate. Teaching could be about creative direction, rather than about behaviour management. We need to reorganise learning communities to allow teachers to shift their roles from being control agents to creative guides. Teachers need continual PD to learn, unlearn, relearn how to teach in collaborative multi-team environments.
Engaged learning cultures need to be stronger than any other culture a child experiences. We are assessing the wrong outcomes. Literacy & numeracy are critical, but so are many other areas. Discipline silos should give way to authentic real life integrated approaches. Curriculum should be meaningful, contextual, authentic, integrated, challenge based, relational.
Schools need to be located in new spaces avoiding/rejecting the ‘one box per batch’ classroom model. Schools should take over empty factories, empty malls as those spaces offer great collaborative opportunities. Existing schools would make excellent retirement villages. One room = great space for a retirement unit; good disability access too.
Teachers need to grow their capacity to be inspirational mentors, working in teams. We should kill off the one teacher per class model. It is fraught with emotional risks.
Learning is life; life is learning. Learning should enable and grow innovative capacities. View learning as a growth opportunity and grow the opportunities for students. Learning involves sessions of highly engaged community conversation. Learning involves collaborative team approaches. Learning involves times of individual high focus. Learning involves real life contexts, regularly. Learning involves times of expert knowledge transfer - small group, large group, individual.
Students should be given capacity to delve deeply into topics, not punctuated by factory-style bells. Schools need to experiment with far more timetable-less days - opportunities for real life learning. Street, social, sport etc cultures do not need to be defeated, rather take the backseat to engaged learning culture. School communities need to assertively shape a positive engaged learning culture by questioning every aspect of their operation. If engaged learning doesn’t naturally occur, look at what could be changed to nurture it.
Teacher PD needs to replicate the teaching methods expected of teachers. No more prolonged one-size-fits-all whole group instruction. Universities teach MBA courses in collective teams. Why don’t those same institutions use the same methods for training teachers?
And assessment. What do we think is ultimately important? Five years out from school, has a student continued learning? Could we measure that? Five years out from school, has a student shown capacity to be compassionate? Could we measure that? Five years out from school, has a student shown capacity to positively grow community? Could we measure that? Five years out from school, has a student shown capacity to take up or start a job? Could we measure that?
(Cross post from my recent ‘Connected Principals’ article)
As I plan for 2013, I was inspired to take up a challenge. Most executive positions in schools piggy back on to old paradigm thinking and roles. How many companies retain positions and titles simply because you’ve always had them? They wouldn’t and if they wish to remain alive, they don’t. Yet why do schools cling on to roles? We don’t think like businesses. Schools are excellent vehicles for recycling old ideas and not changing. No wonder Seymour Papert recognised back in 1995 that unlike other sectors, megachange was hitting a brick wall in education. And nothing much has changed almost two decades on. Time for a re-think!
If our executive structures cling to an old paradigm, how difficult would it be to shift the roles of thirty five people en masse to support where we wish to journey? We set about this journey in the last six weeks. To remove fear and anxiety, we set the parameter that no salary or status would go backwards. Then we were free to move forward. We made the process as fluid and as inclusive as possible. (e.g. tomorrow afternoon, we’ll re-think the roles of grade learning managers in a new model – join the conversation)
Four questions for design thinking
It is always helpful to use a framework for thinking – and we adopted this:
Where were we now? Where do we want to go? How do we get there? What do we need to do to get there?
We haven’t completed the task – but we have made immense headway. Four new pillars of leadership have been created, all with fresh perspectives on the task. There will be a community leadership team – people with a prime role to maintain community confidence and vision. A new logistics & data ‘dream team’ has been created. We are going to view the main people in our community (students and staff) through a new lens of ‘growth’. How do we grow people? And a team working on priority projects has been created to drive new directions (e.g. one embedding PBL more consistently across K-12; another addressing any implications of new 2014 national curriculum; another with a focus on growing our online learning capacity).
A helpful metaphor
The following metaphor has proven very helpful – the boats that follow the current (and drive activity) will no longer be the subject areas or siloed disciplines or stages. They will be the priority projects we are seeking to embed. A team leader will steer the boat. Other exec will nominate as team members into boats, with anchors into different areas of responsibility (e.g. mathematics or early learning). The implication with this metaphor is that an anchor will at times be down and the focus will of necessity be on the ‘sea floor’ of activity, but at other times, with the dispersal of responsibilities, the team members of the new boat (e.g. embedding PBL consistently K-12) will ‘up anchors’ and be able to focus on that priority task. Anchors permanently down run the risk of getting covered in barnacles – something that would eventually likely sink the whole boat: our goal will be to get team members to continually empower their teams to take up micro-responsibilities and grow themselves professionally.
At the same time we are viewing our working spaces differently. After 12 years of sitting in isolation in my own office as Principal, I moved into a shared, glassed-walled space with my deputy – an infinitely more productive and visible way of leading a school. The philosophy – teams need team space for working together and all ‘office’ space is up for re-think now. Teams will have choices as to locations and types of space. The best spaces have entire walls painted with IDEA paint for continual creative thinking.
A fantastic outcome
Already some exec have launched into their new roles, not wishing to wait until 2013, with a sense of fresh freedom to accelerate the change processes across the school. A new perspective has been added to the school-wide key focus on ‘learning’ – opportunities. We recognised that we could better educate students into understanding, recognising and taking up opportunities. A great new lens through which to open up new thinking and possibilities. One new role has been created: ‘student opportunities leadership’ and with multiple people putting their hand up for this position, we have appointed two people into this new team-building function. That in turn has opened up new ways of better utilising the talents of the previously-labelled Grade Learning Managers. Now we will have a leadership team looking to lead fresh teams around the tasks we really want:
- community relationship developers
- activity-based growth agents
- culture shapers
- ‘good choices’ influencers
- learning mentors
- entry (to high school) inductors
- exit (to further learning) managers
This process is open ended. I suspect with an exec team re-cast around a cabinet approach, we will shift roles and titles to continually match 21st century change priorities as they emerge. It is a much more agile and adaptive framework. And since we are already 12% of the way through the 21st century, isn’t it high time we matched structures to priorities?
Talk more? Love to hear from you via twitter: @stephen_h
The SCIL Building: a sequence of multimodal flexible learning spaces
The Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL) has as its home the SCIL Building – an inter-connected sequence of multi-age learning spaces. It is a deliberate collection of agile, active and adaptive environments – and the students love it.
Enjoy this short video and take a quick tour: http://vimeo.com/49879366
2. Vision has to be grown and shared to be authentic
I have always felt that vision needs to drive transformation, but that vision has to be an active growing and shared entity – not something that is printed onto a strategic document and placed in a file or drawer. One aspect of my role that I love is the uptake by my colleagues of a shared vision for converting a school from fifty classrooms to a collection of flexible learning destinations. We’re working on transforming the 50 classrooms into 100 learning spaces – and teachers select the most suitable space as the destination for that day’s lesson, a bit like a destinations board at an airport.
3. Tipping points will come
A tipping point has occurred in the process – a critical step where the need to push change is overtaken by a desire to pull in change by teachers and students. Then the challenge becomes how to keep pace with the re-purposing of any area in the school.
4. Light-bulb moments
‘Light-bulb’ moments have hastened the process. A particularly powerful one at NBCS has been when teachers working in courses where only one class exists per grade work out that there is no impediment to learning if you team up with a colleague and share space across grades. In fact, learning will most likely improve, classroom dynamics will be inherently positive and peer tutoring and mentoring will become a natural process. This has now happened for us in a few key subjects.
5. Batch-based learning has to be identified and ditched
Sir Ken Robinson has powerfully challenged the notion of organising learning around batches of students born in time-proximity. Why do we do that? Progression, friendships and creativity do not know such boundaries. We should view our structures through a different non-batch based lens – and make changes so that the needs of the learner and context come to the fore. We should view our spaces through a similar lens and facilitate deeper learning.
Twitter: Stephen Harris @stephen_h
Talk about a comprehensive analysis! Conclusions based on an analysis of the behaviour of 30,000 managers, as seen through the eyes of some 300,000 of their peers using 360-degree evaluations. The finding was that bad leadership is defined not so much by any appalling things leaders do as by certain critical things they don’t do.
When it comes to leading schools, those with capacity and position to grow a vibrant learning community should constantly be looking to our own habits and perspectives. This list, published in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, is pure gold.
I suspect the implications can stretch further - every teacher is the leader of their learning space and students. If teachers view their role as the effective ‘boss’ of their classroom, then understanding this list is critical lest we inhibit the potential to learn by viewing leadership as control, rather than empowerment.
“Are You Sure You’re Not a Bad Boss?”
by Jack Zenger and Joseph from the Harvard Business Review Blog Network
Here’s the list:
1. Failure to inspire, owing to a lack of energy and enthusiasm. Again and again failed leaders were described by their colleagues as unenthusiastic and passive. This was in fact the most noticeable of all their failings.
2. Acceptance of mediocre performance in place of excellent results. The poorest leaders did not set stretch goals, inadvertently encouraging mediocre performance by letting people coast along doing less work, less well than their counterparts working for better managers.
3. A lack of clear vision and direction. Poor leaders have a murky view of the future, don’t know precisely what direction to take, and are (not surprisingly) unwilling to communicate about the future, leaving their subordinates with no clear path forward.
4. An inability to collaborate and be a team player. Poor leaders avoid their peers, act independently, and fail to develop positive relations with colleagues. The worst of them view work as a competition and their colleagues as opponents.
5. Failure to walk the talk. Saying one thing and doing another is the fastest way to lose the trust of all your colleagues. The worst offenders here also pose a wider threat as dangerous role models — creating the risk that their organizations will degenerate if others behave as they do.
6. Failure to improve and learn from mistakes. Arrogance and complacency combine in the poorest leaders as they rise, causing them to come to the dangerous conclusion that they’ve reached a stage in their careers where development is no longer required. Closely connected to this failing is an inability to learn from mistakes, leaving these unfortunates to repeat the same ones over and over.
7. An inability to lead change or innovate owing to a resistance to new ideas. Whether stemming from a lack of imagination or simply too closed a mind-set, this flaw manifests itself as a failure to take suggestions from subordinates or peers.
8. A failure to develop others. Leaders who were not concerned about helping their direct reports develop and were not seen as coaches or mentors were highly likely to fail. Primarily focused on themselves, they were not concerned about the longer-term success of their employees or their department.
9. Inept interpersonal skills. These are the leaders who are rude, talk down, yell, and belittle either out of positive malice or out of boorish insensitivity. But even these failings often are manifested in things these poor leaders don’t do. Included in this group are the people who don’t listen, don’t ask good questions, don’t reach out to others, and don’t praise or otherwise reinforce good behavior and success.
10. Displays of bad judgment that leads to poor decisions. Here at the bottom are the leaders who lead the troops over the cliff by deciding to do the wrong things.
As educators and leaders, we need to re-think every aspect of our professional practice to consider ‘could we be doing this better?’ Here is a brain-dump of the 6 most powerful strategies that I have used or in which have participated.
1. Use a ‘hands-on’ approach that teaches team work
I want the teachers for whom I am accountable to comprehensively embrace student centred, inquiry based learning.
If as a school leader I expect staff to sit in a room listening to me talk for longer than 5 minutes (or saying anything at all), then I am assuming that the collective cost of the time of the number of attendees is best spent that way. I doubt that I could say anything so powerful or clear that it would justify the cost. Think about it. 100 people for 60 mins = 100 hours x the cost per hour of each person. (There are very good meeting costs apps like Meeting Cost Calculator – a very useful tool.)
Instead, use the mode of PD as a means to shift staff practice by getting everyone to experience the methodology you are advocating. Create tasks where every staff member has to be an integral part of a team where they create a challenge relevant to themselves, collectively work on a solution and during the same time frame reflect on the challenges and success of the task completion via a written blog or video blog.
The emphasis on this style of PD is that you get teachers to do exactly what you would want them to do with students. You also get them to experience the challenges of collaboration and people can then usefully reflect on what are the key essential qualities of be a team member. Useful in every way.
2. Run an Open Space workshop
The best thing about an Open Space approach to running a workshop, summit or conference is that it places core value in the capacity of any attendee to contribute something worthwhile that will in turn shape the outcomes or directions of the event. View as a means by which to sift and distill the thinking of every participant attending a conference or workshop and use their knowledge, experience and passion in collaboration with like-minded professionals to drive thinking for change forward and at the same time create new strategies for immediate implementation. And it is entirely scalable. The process works for 5 or 500. In fact, after participating in some of these type of summits, you will become very restless if forced to attend an industrial paradigm conference which is all about an ‘expert’ delivering content to passive recipients. You can still use the expert input – they can become an integral part of an open space process, but as a fellow participant whose thinking and experience you value.
3. Encourage as many staff to develop courses or present at conferences or workshops
The benefit of this approach is that any person from beginning teachers through to highly experienced people can be affirmed in their professionalism. As they articulate their journey and thoughts, so they strengthen and live those approaches. Again, another win/win. (Works with students too). We have been growing this culture for many years and our biggest challenge now is either fitting in all the PD courses that our teachers wish to prepare for their colleagues or working out the logistics for the large numbers of teachers getting selected to present at external conferences to attend. A great problem to have. If at all possible, I will seek to resource and support any person willing to develop PD for others. It is a high motivator for someone when they are asked to present and they are building their career at the same time.
4. Pecha kucha style gatherings
If you have experienced a pecha kucha style TeachMeet gathering you will know they are informal, informative and fast-paced. Translate this idea into the local school context where you get your change champions or your quiet achievers alike to share and celebrate with their colleagues their success and programmes. The busyness of a school day is such that many people are simply unaware of what their colleagues are doing. A pecha kucha style session is a great way of celebrating successes. A common outcome from such presentations is to have ignited passion for learning or sparked an interest in trying something fresh.
5. Take teams on observational journeys
The most powerful way to create fresh vision created in a collaborative context, is to plan a physical journey that will form the foundations for a professional and emotional journey. This was the way I started the journey to change at our school – and as a result the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning was born (www.scil.com.au). A shared journey is at the one time collaborative, empowering, affirming, active and game-changing. I recall ten years ago checking out for the cheapest web based airfares in order to take a team of 4 – 6 people (or more) interstate for a crash course of observation, conversation and dreaming. You can do it in a day, or take two or three days. People feel immediately valued and they will rise to the maximise the benefits of the shared collegial and professional dialogue. Ideas will form and grow during the process. Capture them and place them into an implementation timeframe so that you maximise the benefits of this activity.
It can also be done as a one day whole staff professional development. As we were considering the use of space and activity to more actively engage our students into learning, we sent all the staff in teams into the city on a schedule that was in part suggested and in part created. Teams then came back the next day to share their new ideas and thoughts and were encouraged to implement at least one idea as soon as possible. This is another game changer because it accelerates the process of change and it particularly appeals to the kinaesthetic and visual learners in your staff. For greater interest, we added a ‘race-around-Sydney’ component where we captured some ‘mathematical’ images within the central city area from Google Earth and teams got bonus recognition for the teams that identified and visited the greatest number of those sites. Perfect training for a fun excursion also.
6. Join or create a ‘Vision Tour’
It has been wonderful for a number of our staff to receive awards, fellowships and scholarships from time to time during our journey of change. While the awards are all very well and good, the money that often accompanies this recognition has been fed back into a recurrent process of taking a core team of change leaders on an international journey to look at exemplar schools, programs, museums, libraries or spaces, as well as meeting up with outstanding individuals who will immediately inspire or promote fresh vision.
One criterion we informally add into the expectations of participating in these tours (if not the immediate recipient of a scholarship), is that there is the intention to stay at our school for at least the next three years so that the monetary investment can have an impact back into the school community. I don’t think that unreasonable – and it is not a signed contract context anyway. These journeys have morphed into the most powerful type of professional development I could be involved in or could conceive. It has the potential to enable any school to create world class examples of transformation and it will also help shape the path of what schools could look like in 2013 or 2030. We shape the future with vision, rather than letting context and circumstance shape us or our thinking.
It will not necessarily be the places, spaces or people that will have the most impact, it will be the constant conversation, creating and collaboration that will shape fresh vision. And vision does have the power to transform communities and nations.
For further information on the types of activities we would recommend visit: www.scil.com.au/visiontour.
This blog follows closely on the back of my colleague’s recent blogpost (http://anneknock.com/2012/08/05/becoming-an-innovative-school-my-top-10-ideas/) as I consider her thoughts and some recent consultancy experience. What are five of the key considerations I can see in leading a learning community down fresh pathways?
1. Cast vision as clearly, concisely and strongly as you can
When it comes down to it, vision becomes the greatest unifier and direction-setter you can draw from. When ideas might be challenged, you can fall back to vision. The stronger you cast vision, share vision, grow vision, the more aligned everyone’s thinking will be under the ‘stardust’ of that vision.
2. Claim & reclaim conversations: be forward thinking & inspiration based, never reactive or defensive
In the sometimes battleground of change, look to the future as the rationale for thinking. What is the world these students will graduate into? Is it likely to be the same as ours? If in doubt, use a resource such as the NIC documents (see links). The world of 2025 / 2030 will require divergent, collaborative thinking and action. It will involve urgent conversations about food production, access to water, shifts in world economic and ideological power. The learning spaces of today must be preparing the leaders of tomorrow with the tools to address these issues. They will not be using current technologies. Those technologies are still only dreamt of at present. However they will need the thinking skills and challenge-based learning strategies immediately available to us.
3. Know the big picture of educational best practice – but resist resorting to empirical evidence of improved data to be the reason to justify change
I am often asked to provide the evidence that new learning spaces are better for learning or that changes from teacher-delivery or ‘industrial’ model teaching is no longer the best method. Yes, I could provide every evidence available to me that the data highlights that the learners for whom I am responsible have only gone forwards. Has any one single change created that? May be yes, may be no. Prof John Hattie’s effect size table suggests it is the combination of strategies that will have the most impact (see link). My experience? National data suggests our students are consistently moving ahead in a ‘value added’ way; staff and visitors to our learning community can clearly see that the learning culture is stronger than other cultures and owned by the individual learners; students are positive (and can articulate hope) about the future – but most importantly, they are being daily resourced in a relational environment to be the functional thought leaders and problem solvers the world and our communities will need.
4. Identify your team and grow people
This is a big one. Let’s face it. Education faculties and government policies worldwide have not taught teachers how to innately work collaboratively. Many colleagues are great at having conversations, sharing coffee – but when it comes down to the core skills of sharing a task, we often default to that which we have experienced: separation – trained to be separate teachers, working in separate rooms on separately created class programs. As education leaders, we have to tackle this one head on. Every teacher professional activity needs to involve teamwork at some level. Even better, make it the primary learning mode. How I can I justify taking up the collective time of 100+ professionals by talking for longer than 5 minutes. The lost productively is alarming. How much better to get those people into teams of their own choosing, working on relevant challenges linked directly to their core tasks and gradually learning the skills of collaborative problem solving? NASA did not get a vehicle on Mars through the efforts of one person. I’d love to know how many teams contributed to pulling that one off.
5. Be resolute – just do it
This one is a given. If you spend time working out a ‘safe’ way to introduce change, you will either waste months (probably years) on small scale trial programs, rather than taking the ‘risk’ of using your professional intuition, training and experience and allowing passion to direct the way. We have to accelerate change in education because traditional change processes will only ever see schools continually needing to catch up to society, business, technology – the world. What will the learning world of 2025 or 2030 look like? It will be the world that we will shape it to be! Take the lead and #justdoit.
Want to further ignite entrepreneurial and visionary thinking?
Join the 2012 SCIL Vision Tour!
SCIL Vision Tours have to be one of the annual highlights to which I most look forward. I love the SCIL Vision Tours because spending in-depth time with like-minded people who are similarly energised by fresh thinking, entrepreneurial mindsets, creativity and spontaneous dialogue, never fails to ignite new professional passion. This year we’ve managed to link up with some outstanding thinkers, as well as journeying to dynamic places and spaces. I love the intersection of minds as a way of sparking fresh vision – and with people from education, business and entrepreneurial backgrounds. This year the focus is once more on some northern European locations, plus the UK. Last year participants described the SCIL Vision Tour as the ‘best professional development’ a leader can undertake.
Some of the people we will meet along the way:
Dr Becky Parker (Langton Star Centre: www.thelangtonstarcentre.org; http://tomwhyntie.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/the-langton-star-centre-first-day/; http://www.youtube.com/user/LangtonStarCentre) ‘If you’ve met [Becky Parker] the Director of The Langton Star Centre, you’ll you know why that’s seventy shades of awesome.’
Prof Sally-Jane Norman (Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/acca/; http://www.sussex.ac.uk/profiles/240005) - an inspiring cultural theorist who innately understands the fusion of people, culture, space and technology
David Price OBE – Creator and project Leader of Musical Futures and Learning Futures; Senior Associate at the Innovation Unit, UK. David’s passion is learning. David’s thinking is guaranteed to inspire, unsettle and challenge. (https://sites.google.com/site/davidpriceorg/;http://davidpriceblog.posterous.com/; http://www.innovationunit.org/)
Jens Guldbaek (LOOP, Copenhagen). Among many community oriented design projects, Danish architect Jens Guldbaek designed Hellerup School, a game changing educational vision that continues to challenge and inspire students, teachers and visitors alike.
Some of the places that will spark thinking and lateral thoughts:
Design Factory at Aalto University, Helsinki Finland http://www.aaltodesignfactory.fi/Love this creative place & space!
Kunskappskolan Schools, Sweden & elsewhere – ‘the Knowledge School’ (http://www.kunskapsskolan.se/foretaget/kunskapsskolaninenglish.4.1d32e45f86b8ae04c7fff213.html;http://gettingsmart.com/blog/2012/07/free-school-reforms-sweden-boost-quality-innovation-choice/)
NEMO (www.e-nemo.nl; http://www.cityscouter.com/travelguides/amsterdam/NEMO-Science-Center.html) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands largest science centre. The motto says it all:’Please touch everything you see and explore’. The unique building was designed by Renzo Piano, for the National Centre for Science and Technology Foundation. It is a playground of creative thinking and learning.
DOK: Library Concept Centre in Delft – ‘the world’s most modern library’ (www.dok.info; http://themuseumofthefuture.com/2011/01/22/dok-delft-inspirational-library-concepts/) have reinvented the library as the heart of the community, on a mission to be the world’s most progressive library.
TU Delft Library (www.library.tudelft.nl; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZ4m3gnfpNQ) is an amazing university library, with a uniquely designed captivating interior, described as ‘triangle of grass and glass’.
Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Creativity Zone – a multi-configurable innovative teaching and learning space (http://www.sussex.ac.uk/acca/creativityzone)
(I’m also getting excited about the plans for the 2013 SCIL Vision Tour because the focus will be on the US and Canada!)
There is a clear movement occurring in education globally right now – a movement that is seeking to shift the epicentre of educational paradigms from an industrial-era experience to something more relevant to the ever changing and dynamic contexts of the 21st century. In the first decade of this new century, much great work has been done articulating what 21st century skills might be – www.p21.org is a great example of this.
My focus is the key importance of spatial awareness in redesigning spaces for learning. I hope the second decade of this century will be marked by an awareness that redesigning spaces will be as important to change processes, as describing the new skills deemed necessary for learning and career creation in the last decade. I will focus on our journey of change as a case study for education redesign.
Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS) is a co-educational K-12 school of 1300 students in the northern region of Sydney, Australia. The school draws from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, is located within a site that was built to support an industrial-era education philosophy and like most other non-government schools in Australia, it is funded through a combination of Federal Government support and parent fees. In the Australian context, we would be regarded as an upper range, low fee school.
In 2005 NBCS planted a research, development and innovation unit within the school – the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL). It was a means by which to support educational innovation at the grassroots. Seven years on and SCIL (http://scil.com.au) is now the public interface of the school with the global education community.
As part of its focus on leading the change in learning, SCIL has deliberately grown its understanding of the interplay between spatial concepts as a means to accelerate change. Much work has been done in the last two decades revisiting pedagogic space. Many schools have created virtual spaces to support face-to-face learning, enabling transitions from the real world to virtual spaces and back again, seamlessly in diverse contexts. Likewise attention has been focused on the key role that relationships play in engaging students into learning – with the social and emotional spheres of school life being under focus. The area of least attention has arguably been the key to global change – the importance of physical space as the cohesive component that facilitates global change.
What change has NBCS nurtured and why?
The industrial-era experience of education is centred around ‘separation’ as a key concept. Separate teachers working in separated classrooms on separate programs, created separately by individuals. Regrettably many tertiary institutions reinforce this in their education courses assessing the worth of teachers as potential separate deliverers of curriculum and engaging as behavior managers in solo contexts. It is a recipe for emotional meltdown. Why has it taken so long for the educational community to work this one out? Why do universities that offer MBA courses where students are expected to work in networked teams ignore this key element for pre-service teacher education?
Our experience has been that change comes from these key elements:
- Redesign spaces around collaborative teaching,
- Retrain teachers to work collaboratively and
- Empower and resource teachers to be the agents of change in any context
As a result the learning experience changes rapidly – leading to improved academic outcomes, greater alignment with the skills that will be valuable in post-school contexts and a far more obvious and positive culture of engaged learning will be evident.
We have learnt that space is both a fixed and fluid notion. It has an enormous impact on how we feel and think – the very core of our experiences of life. The challenge for schools is to identify the different spaces it inhabits – virtual, pedagogic and real, and to draw these together in meaningful ways so that learning can focus forward, enabled through technology.
NBCS has created some new spaces for learning:
- The flowing ‘nooks and crannies’ of the SCIL building
- Design and Production suites of the Undercroft
- Multimodal agile spaces of the Marina Prior Centre for the Performing Arts.
We have renovated existing spaces:
- The Zone (an open learning environment for 180 students and 6 teachers)
- Rhythm & Blues (a shared space for music learning) and the Hub.
We are now about to challenge school design thinking with a current sustainability project in the making - the Marketplace, which seeks to combine social and learning space as one concept, breaking down any concept of ‘separate’ classrooms. The Marketplace is an active glass canopy positioned over old spaces in order to radically transform the heart of the original school from industrial-era design to agile spaces suited to community life, engaged learning and enhanced through mobile technologies.
We have seen that if you place vision at the heart of school’s operation, and then share and grow that vision with high purpose, then innovation becomes a natural by-product. People are encouraged to take risks and condense any ideation and action phases of change into an accelerated journey that embraces failure, as much as it values success. We learn by doing – and if schools wish to transform, then they need to adopt this philosophy in tangible ways.
At the heart of our transformation has been the shift to collaborative learning. This has necessitated a lot of unlearning by the teachers, in order to build their new skills as collaborative designers of curriculum delivery. The trade-off for them has been the rapid decline in the required role of behavior manager, as this becomes a minor component of their daily function. We have watched a new creative energy emerge as teachers across the campus have all embraced the change process. No longer is it 20th century ‘push’ for change, rather 21st century teachers are ‘pulling’ in the new paradigm. Our role as educational leaders becomes one of facilitating new ways of learning. It is a powerful and exciting process. We also believe it is highly replicable and scalable. It is innovation at its dynamic best.
Examples of spaces for new learning
The Zone: the Zone is simultaneously a space and a project. The Zone is represents the learning program for 180 Stage 3 students (10-12 year olds) with 6 teachers. It is one group, not six groups. Learning is differentiated to the needs of every learner, every day, in a personalized process that tracks individual development. A day in the Zone involves sustained focus on:
- Literacy skill development
- Numeracy skill development
- Integrated studies (where students can create their own journey through a matrix of activities and select the spaces and teachers that will best support their learning)
- Specialized learning of foreign languages
- PDHPE and sport.
The benefits are well captured in this equation:
180 students + 6 teachers + one agile space + collaborative learning + BYOD (bring your own device) = engaged learners + zero behavior issues.
Rhythm and Blues: At the end of 2011, secondary music teachers requested that a wall with an operable door be completed removed between their two larger teaching spaces. This would enable them to teach two music classes in the one space, regardless of the level of musicianship or age. The space became like a large living room with immediate and obvious high engagement, across the age range of students. Again, a radical shift in thinking, led to a radical and highly effective shift in learning engagement.
Immersive gestural French: NBCS language teachers tackled the issue of gaining total student engagement in language learning who are undertaking the mandated 100 hour course in a foreign language in early secondary grades. The challenge of addressing student engagement in a mandated course was to adopt a Canadian approach where language is acquired in a fully immersive context, using signing gestures to reinforce vocabulary and the structure of the spoken sentence. The beauty of this approach is that it can be located anywhere. And it is. Visitors to the school will commonly come across a group of 26 students focused intently on second language acquisition through high kinaesthetic activity.
The greatest challenge to change in learning is our reticence to simply take action:
- change the space
- change the program
- expect high outcomes.
The formula – do, then think!
(Authorial note: This is a edited copy of the same blog post that appears as a ‘guest’ blog post on the website of the World Innovation Summit for Education - http://www.wise-qatar.org/content/stephen-harris-redesigning-spaces-around-collaborative-teaching . The original blog post on the WISE site also contains a sequence of images illustrating the different spaces.)
‘Every society that has prospered has done it through trade and not aid. Africa will be no different. Charity doesn’t incentivize. It stifles innovation. It causes chronic dependency. Africa’s contribution to global trade is 1%. If that were just 2% it would bring far more annual revenue to the continent than all the aid Africa receives in be year.’ Andrew Rugasira (CEO Good African Coffee www.goodafrican.com @goodafrican)
Great read about start up from #rwanda: lots of advice and useful commentary: Can Coffee Kick-Start an Economy?: http://nyti.ms/HPxuav
Can Coffee Kick-Start an Economy?
I love this because it is a great example of why education needs to change its end point focus in the developing world if we are to really help break poverty/subsistence cycles. Education needs to shift from colonially imposed ‘academic outcomes’ to entrepreneurial job creation skills & that has the potential to empower. If this strikes a chord, we’d love you to join SCIL at our global summit in northern Rwanda late May: http://scil.com.au/rwanda http://vimeo.com/37137613
I have been trying to get my head around the possibility that space in a school could be designed around more contrasting, conflicting and multifunctional uses than we have explored to date. Why couldn’t an area suited for comfortable conversation and food be suitable in an instant for collaborative learning? Why couldn’t a corridor become the space for group listening? Why couldn’t an entrance become a foyer become a function centre become a learning space - be useable/flexible/adaptable in any context?
There are some other questions? What would happen if we grouped people around a vision, rather than administration? What could an administration space become if it was designed around constant collaboration? How do we cater for 1 on 1? Do we need 1 on 1? How do we cater for staff working-in-private expectations?
Just thinking …
I’ll load some photos to capture some of the possibilities floating around in my mind …
Just out … A Vimeo video highlighting the SCIL Summit in Rwanda. Watch it. Join us! We can’t do this alone … we will need many minds, a spirit of adventure and lots of entrepreneurial thinking.
Wednesday, 23 May: Pre-Summit gathering
School visit, lunch, travel to Musanze and opening celebration.
The SCIL team will visit a school in Kigali on the day before the summit and you are welcome to join us for this. It will provide an interesting comparison to the rural schools we will visit in Musanze.
Bourbon Coffee is the best place for an espresso, latte or capuccino and we will be having lunch in Kigali before travelling to Musanze in the early afternoon.
On arrival in Musanze there will be time to check-in and perhaps a quick orientation walk of the city before the Summit opening dinner at Ishema Hotel. As part of the opening celebration we will enjoy a performance of a local dance group.
Stephen Harris, Director of SCIL, will welcome all guests and cast the vision for the next few days.Thursday, 24 May: Let’s get this thing started!
Schools, the lake and the conversations
We will start the day with a brief overview and background of the schools in regional areas.
There will be two schools on the program today - Maya 1 and Kagogo, a stark contrast to the city schools. The smiling faces of the children and dedication of the teachers will impress you. The school buildings and environments will challenge you.
After the school visits we will call by Lake Burera. The natural beauty of the Musanze region is breathtaking. While at Kagogo you will have caught a glimpse of Lake Burera. On the shore of the lake we will have our first conversation and share impressions of the school visits, before heading back for lunch.
In the afternoon we will commence the idea gathering process. The dialogue will have a facilitated session, capturing and sifting thoughts and impressions. We will stop for dinner, then keep talking as long as we need to.Friday, 25 May: Keep thinking, talking and processing
Another school and the hard work begins.
The day will start with a school visit to help shape your thinking.
Now, with all this input and the conversations, we put our minds to strategy.
What are the simple yet effective strategies that will make a substantial difference to the educational and life outcomes of young people in rural areas of developing nations?
Over to you!
Through a process of facilitated discussion we will synthesise our initial ideas and impressions into a broad range of strategies - at this stage, every idea is a good idea.Saturday, 26 May: A community visit and a laser focus
Kinigi and more hard work
This time the day will start with a visit to the community of Kinigi. Many tourists come here to see the gorillas, as it is located near the start of the tourist centre, but few actually have the opportunity to meet the local people, and play football with the kids.
The SCIL team have visited this community several times and have been warmly welcomed. This will give an opportunity to absorb the reality of life in rural Rwanda, yet be inspired by young people who can dream of the life that a good education can afford them.
Now the hard work begins. Taking all those great ideas of the day before and develop a number of strategies where we can think about our next steps. We will stop for meal breaks, but will keep going until we have identified those key areas. Lots of coffee needed!
The summit will officially conclude on the Saturday.Sunday, 27 and Monday 28 May: Post-Summit activities
The SCIL team will be in Musanze until Tuesday. Participants may choose to leave immediately at the conclusion, or join in some post-summit activities.There are a number of activities that you may like to do. A great way to contribute to the local economy.
Reconciliation Village: A post-genocide project that has resulted in a village built by perpetrators of the genocide, who have paid the price, for the families who were victims of the genocide.
Local Musanze activities: Church, Markets, Musanze Stadium
Lake Burera boat trip: There is an opportunity to take a ride on the lake. This is a business run by locals and you will appreciate the natural beauty of the region.
Extended Lunch together: There will be an opportunity to reflect over the last few days on Monday 28 May, before we all go our separate ways.Other activities that can be individually booked/arranged.
Gorillas and Volcanoes National Park: Your booking is required at least 2 months in advance. The exhilarating climb to the gorilla’s natural habitat of shady bamboo forest offers fantastic views in all directions, before the trackers are immersed in the mysterious intimacy of the rainforest, alive with the calls of colourful birds and the chattering of rare golden monkey. Nothing can prepare one for the impact of encountering a fully-grown silverback gorilla, up to three times the size of an average man, yet remarkably peaceable and tolerant of human visitors. Costs for gorilla permits: USD $500 per person for non-nationals
Akagera Safari Park: Akagera is, above all, big game country! Herds of elephant and buffalo emerge from the woodland to drink at the lakes, while lucky visitors might stumble across a spotted hyena or even a stray lion. The park costs $30 for entry and the transport for the day trip is approximately $50.
The Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning is facilitating a ‘collision of minds’ – an Open Summit that aims to create strategic directions for enabling 21st Century learning opportunities for students in regional areas of developing nations. The Summit will be held in Musanze, Northern Rwanda, about 90 minutes north of the Rwandan capital, Kigali.
This is no small task. With entrepreneurial thinkers, action-oriented people and those with a commitment to serving this generation, we hope to create sustainable and economic options for improving infrastructure associated with school and schooling. The summit has the support of the Director-General for Education in Rwanda and the Kigali Institute of Education. It will also draw on the experience and wisdom of local principals and school leaders. More than 50 government school in the region are administered by the Anglican diocese of Shyira, under the leadership of Bishop Laurent Mbanda.
The Summit program has been organised to enable participants to enter into a brief journey to understand and appreciate the local context through visiting schools in the region. These experiences will enable participants to experience, first hand, the challenges facing schools and provide a springboard for conversation and strategic planning.
Rwanda faces a critical decade. By 2020 there will be a generation once-removed from the genocide. The young children who survived the genocide, and those born soon afterwards, are now in adolescence. They are the leaders of tomorrow’s Rwanda.
This open summit of minds is being located at Musanze, in the heart of a wider region of Rwanda, where within its rural reaches, life still revolves daily around subsistence farming and there is little income for anything other than short term survival. There are many schools in this region which have been steadily providing an education with little assistance. These schools create the ‘perfect storm’ of need, stoicism, readiness for assistance and aspiration. A summit in this location provides strategic templates for educational change anywhere in the world.
“We could and should have done more”
– KOFI ANNAN
Kofi Annan was the United Nations Secretary General in 1994. In 2004 Kofi Annan made a statement about the Rwandan genocide — highlighting his greatest regret: “We could and should have done more”.
The world let Rwanda down in 1994 with devastating consequence. We must not do that again. And now as Rwanda continues to rebuild, reorder and reset their society, they welcome ‘borrowed talent’ — People whose thinking can help them move forward.
Who is it for?
This Summit is for anyone who can come with ideas, creativity and strategy that will help to bring solutions to improve educational and — ultimately — life outcomes for young people in regional areas of developing nations. When members of the broader SCIL educational community visited Rwanda, they were moved to action.
The summit is open to contributors, from any nation who are able to dialogue and bring solutions. There is no one plan or program that will solve the situation, but in true 21st century style, it will be the collision of minds that opens a way forward.Why come?
To appreciate the natural beauty of Rwanda and meet the warm and friendly people is a reason of itself. However, in addition, the opportunity to make a contribution to the lives of so many young people is an honour.
You will also participate in the facilitated Open Summit approach to developing solutions. Imagine combining a big problem, within the context of Africa, and matched with the breadth of experience each participant brings.Where is the Summit held?
The Summit will be held in Musanze, in Northern Rwanda, about 90 minutes north of the capital, Kigali. The Anglican Diocese of Shyira administers more than 50 schools in the region. The Musanze Cathedral provides a space where the Summit can be held, and SCIL is grateful to Bishop Mbanda in allowing the event to convene there.Next steps…
Stay in the loop for updates over the next few weeks. An initial program has been posted on the SCIL site (http://scil.com.au/rwanda) and registration will open shortly.
This interesting thought occurred during a conversation today. Are we living through a process whereby social media is finally breaking down some of the traditional divides that have kept education transformation suppressed? I suspect we are.
What is twitter managing to do?
· Break down the barriers that have made it difficult for teachers from different sectors to meet , collaborate and talk
· Spawn new grassroots movements such as Teach Meets where teachers from any background can freely share ideas
· Enable quick transfer of outstanding ideas and practice to anyone interested
· Gather a new educational tribe, one that has education and vision ahead of administration, policy or politics
· Challenge people to accelerate the change process at their respective institutions
· Enable easy access to educational visionaries from all over the globe
· Highlight where government policy is hopelessly inadequate across the world
· Bring together people who share a common passion for seeing students fully engaged in their learning
· Enable thought leaders to bounce their ideas with a speed and strength previously impossible
· Demonstrate that educational analysis can reflect current dialogue, not articles that surface a year after a conversation
I personally feel that the main blocker when it comes to changing practice is not the teacher, rather judgement and/or prejudice that has suggested that the education debate needs to be about public versus private, not passion and engagement. That debate has done enormous damage to the cause of education around the world. It has marginalized the passionate educators, thwarted productive conversation and allowed governments to be side-tracked into thinking that education is all about funding and budgets, rather than vision and opportunity.
I really hope that Twitter and other forms of social media will keep breaking down the walls of separation – and usher in a new educational era and tribe united around vision and hope.
Join the tribe. Be the change!
Rwanda 2012 Reflection #4 – do you use your role for a higher purpose?
As Principals, Superintendents or school leaders, do you use your position to try and ‘be the change’? It seems like a straightforward enough question – but probably one that bears a little more thought and conversation.
School leaders do have the capacity to speak out or take action more than others in a community. I guess that just “comes with the territory”. Though, if your experience is anything like mine, getting politicians and policy creators in my own State to listen is probably the hardest task of all. For some reason, the hometown is tough territory.
However – not so in Africa. My experience over the last few years in three different African countries – Malawi, Uganda and Rwanda has demonstrated otherwise. As a school leader from the developed world, I can have quite an influence on education systems in countries seeking aid. There are two reasons for this that I can see: firstly, Principals are respected as community leaders and secondly, as a result of my own experience, knowledge and understanding, there is in fact a lot I can share.
Only barriers in my mind
Rwanda is a nation that looks to use ‘borrowed talent’ in order to help development. In relation to education, I have found people in the different sections of education administration, extremely willing to talk and support whatever focus we bring. I have been honoured to be able to speak with a range of government officials over the last few years, including the Minister for Education (now an Ambassador), the Director General of Education, Chief Inspector of Schools, Head of the Higher Education sector and the Rector of the Kigali Institute of Teacher Education, among a number of people. These people are all excellent educational administrators and understand well what directions they need to steer their departments or institutions. Their main challenge would be resource related. The only barrier to supporting these people comes from my own perception that there is little someone like me might contribute. Such barriers exist only in my mind!
My African experience has also taught me that Principals really value the encouragement and support that can come from professional sharing with colleagues. In Australia (as well as times in the States, the UK, Finland, Canada, Sweden and elsewhere), we take the ability to talk with colleagues for granted. The opportunity to meet with and support fellow school leaders in developing nations such as Rwanda is more limited – largely because of the constraints of distance, travel, costs and staffing.
Share the journey – at any level
In the last three years I have travelled to Africa and had the opportunity to mix with fellow educators over there. I wish I had done this earlier in my professional career and I want to encourage you to use your talents, your gifting, your social standing for such purposes. By highlighting my journey, I am inviting you to share it.
I recall a comment, made by the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, that I have read somewhere where he said (my version): “we [Rwanda] missed out on the industrial revolution; we missed out on the agricultural revolution. We are not going to miss out on the technological revolution”. A visionary statement indeed!
A challenge thrown, a challenge received
During my second visit to Rwanda, I was thrown a challenge by Bishop John Rucyahana (now the Rwandan Reconciliation Commissioner). He told me that the churches are responsible for all the government schools in this region. But they have no money for it. He threw out a challenge to consider whether there was something that I could do that would help the schools. “Do something to help the schools. Do something to help the children.”
One possible way ahead
Having visited a number of the schools I can see what is needed. We need to help:
- reinvent the direction of learning
- lower the high post school unemployment rates (80 – 85% in many instances)
- rebuild many buildings
- retrain many teachers so that their English is more fluent
- improve literacy and numeracy achievements
- provide opportunities for the children so that they might be able to realize their dreams and ambitions
- find some funding
- direct new mobile technologies to the students and teachers
Obviously, a comprehensive strategy is needed – far bigger than my solo capacities!
So, my thoughts … what if I hold a summit? What if I used the natural beauty of this area to hook people into an African adventure? What if we had a collision of minds? What if I led others to walk the same journey for a few days – educators, entrepreneurs, architects, IT specialists, consultants, carpenters, explorers, anyone! What if we could use our collective thinking to describe a model for learning that would help in all these areas? What if we used our collective connections to find innovative ways of achieving the goals?
Rwanda was let down by a world which abandoned it in 1994 with devastating consequences - ‘We could and should have done more’ – Kofi Annan, 2004 (see my previous blog post: http://www.connectedprincipals.com/archives/5257). Let us use that as inspiration to help now.
The tale of two schools
To conclude, I’ll focus on the story of two schools. I am hoping to include a participant visitation to both of these schools as part of the [rw12] Innovate Rwanda summit during 24-26 May, 2012. Perhaps like me, you might compare the circumstances with your own school’s context.
Maya 1 is a rural school in the northern Province, not too far from Rugeshi– it can be found after travelling just a little way off the main road via rocky tracks created out of volcanic rocks within maize fields. There were hundreds of children that I saw the times I visited. I was told Maya 1 was built in 1934. The French & Kinyarwandan speaking Headmaster is an absolute gentleman – a stoic, resilient, compassionate educator. I’ll summarize his challenges:
• There is no electricity.
• There is no running water.
• There are no English-speaking teachers in a school where the children are being prepared for national exams in English.
• Some classrooms are so badly damaged by the earthquakes that accompanied the volcanic eruption in nearby Congo about six years ago, that the children have to huddle on to the benches in just one third of the classroom.
• In many classes over 70 children sit crammed on benches with no books, no pencils.
• There are few working blackboards.
• The windows are forced shut.
• There is little light.
• The children therefore learn largely by rote - for hours on end.
• When it rains, the teachers take the children into the adjacent church. The roof is safer there.
• The textbooks are in English. They sit in a dry room, hand built by the Principal.
It would seem to me this is pre-industrial revolution era education. The amazing thing is that the children seem happy in general and are very mindful of any opportunities that come their way. Imagine how much more we will be able to offer if we combine the enthusiasm of these children and their teachers with some assistance from the developed world. I spoke on this last trip with a parent of the school who lives adjacent to the property. She said it is “a good school – but it needs urgent help because of the roof”.
Kagogo Secondary School
Kagogo Secondary School stands above the beautiful Lake Burera in the northern province, nearby the Volcanoes NP – an amazing location. It currently caters for about 530 students - boarders. The school is already noted for its outstanding outcomes – especially in Science. Many students have gone on to further study at tertiary levels. It is already oversubscribed with waiting lists of local children who would love to come here to study. However, Kagogo has some significant infrastructure challenges:
• There is no electricity.
• There is no fresh running water.
• There are very limited toilet facilities for the students (3 latrines for over 120 girls; 7 for over 400 boys).
• The washrooms have no water supply – other than the buckets which the students carry with them.
• The boarding dormitories are crowded.
• There are no electric lights in the evening.
• The students need to bring their own mattresses and mosquito nets (if they have them).
• The chefs prepare food for all the students on wood-fuelled burners, in a kitchen with no electricity or running water. Meals are cooked for 530 students plus teachers three times a day.
Inspired to help? Join us!
On 24th, 25th and 26th May, 2012, SCIL (Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning) is holding a summit as a starting point to do something. We are going to locate it in this region. We are going to take people to these places - the fields, the homes, the schools. We are going to take people to join our journey. We are hoping for a collision of minds to find ways to construct a different future for these children. We have no other agenda. It may just be that we can create a template that can be applied to schools anywhere in the developing world! Wouldn’t that be outstanding!
We are hoping you will join us:
T @scil #rw12
Rwanda Reflections #3 - ‘They walk straight past us’
Through this series of blog posts, I am seeking to process another profound experience - visiting Rwanda for the fourth time. I am also hoping to raise awareness of the educational needs of this country – particularly in the regional rural schools. And I am inviting you to join SCIL (the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning) as we plan an international summit – a collision of minds, to take place in the stunning foothills of the Volcanoes NP, home to the mountain gorillas: scil.com.au/rwanda
One of the most moving experiences of my life has been to go for a stroll around the fields of Kinigi - the fields and undulating lower hills that surround the Volcanoes National Park. I have now visited this area three times. It is an amazing walk. I have walked there before with a few friends and colleagues - modern day ‘pied pipers’. On every occasion, we have been progressively joined by dozens of little feet walking alongside us – often barefoot. Not aggressive, nor assertive - just joining us. In a clearing we stop and we offer to play – word games, song games, action games – anything we can recall as once-primary teachers. At our request they sing their national anthem – a melodic song known by all and sung with pride. During the second trip we finished up playing soccer with the local lads in a clearing. It was a national holiday.
These fields appear to the outsider as serenely calm – but the reality would be that they are a place of constant struggle for survival. The houses dotted over the countryside are mud huts. The kitchens are most often separate - commonly constructed out of eucalypt leaves and branches. I take note of the small ‘sentry-box’ sized mud brick latrines. How do they cope? How do they keep well? With every question asked, I have lots more in my head. How do 9 people live in a single room dwelling? Some questions are best left unasked. I don’t see many girls. A few are around – but they are younger. Most likely their older sisters are tilling the fields or shelling the bean pods. Work today for tonight’s meal. Repeat that tomorrow. Repeat that the next day.
‘They walk straight past us’
We talk in a constantly changing pattern of conversations. They are all eager for a turn. A comment made by a young man, Honore, hits home: “people come to see the gorillas; they visit them, then they walk straight past us. You have come back to see us …” These young people are perceptive. They are also highly appreciative. They don’t resent the constant trickle of tourists, but they certainly appreciate people who have come to visit them. We chat. Honore loves studying biology and chemistry. He attends a school in Musanze. That must mean a ride every day in the crammed white mini buses. How does he pay for that? I offer to email him to help his English language skills. Then another small comment strikes home: “You offer your email to us first. That is different. Others only take ours, but don’t give us theirs.” Honore keeps chatting, not missing a beat. I inwardly smile as I recognize that he is taking every second available to practise his English. He knows that this is a great way to achieve that goal. Then he might be a better doctor, a better Principal, a better scientist.
Softly spoken Christian – ‘we are very poor’
I observe that Honore already has the welfare of others in his sights. He clearly sees a role in mentoring his younger field friends in English - friends such as Christian and Eric. I met Christian two trips ago. Christian, then 14, approached me on the first trip. He wanted to say hello. He was not inappropriate. He told me about his family. I asked him whether he went to school. He was in Primary 5. I didn’t have any contact with him after that first chance meeting. The second time I went to the area, he recognized me from across the fields. I asked him how school was. He was now in Primary 6. He told me he has to pass the national exam in order to get to secondary school. He doesn’t know whether will achieve that yet. I ask him about the future. What does he want to do? He had heard of a boarding school for secondary about 10 kilometres away. He had never been there. But he knew it would be an opportunity. He clearly dreams of this. (Maybe I can make a difference?) We exchanged email addresses. (Where would he go to send an email? I have no idea.) I see no electricity. His school doesn’t have computers. I see nothing but subsistence farming. He rushed off saying he wanted to give me something. He came back with a beautiful gift - a mountain gorilla carved out of jacaranda timber. I look at it every day.
First time - visitor; second time - friend; third time - family
I received two emails during the six months between visits. (How on earth did he manage to do that?) He asks if I am coming back. I hesitantly say yes. I don’t want to unsettle him or give false hope. I tell him we would be back that Saturday morning, early January 2012. He was right where he said he would be near the car park. He was there with dozens of others, mainly boys or young lads. No doubt word had spread within the community that the ‘mzungu’ people (white people) were coming again. He smiles. We start walking through the fields again. I don’t want to unsettle him. I sense that he would like me to come to his home, to meet his family. I have no idea what I am walking into. He generously steps back when his field friends step up to take their turn to chat and use their broken English. I ask each one to tell me what they want to do. Who they want to be? There are lots of aspirational doctors and a few teachers. “I want to help people.”
We finish up climbing the roughly cobbled road to his home. His home measures about 2.5 meters by 4 metres, I’d say at a rough guess. Nine people live in it. His parents. They must have a genocide story - everyone older than 17 does. (I’ll leave that to another time.) He is one of six. His elder brother is married and he lives in the home with his wife too, hence the nine. We are welcomed and sit down between the mud hut and the kitchen outpost constructed from dried eucalypt branches. Each day is spent in the small rock strewn hillside allotment. Each day is about getting the food for the next. Christian’s little sister looks on from a rocky ‘box seat’ position. We are joined by 30, maybe 40, soon 50 other children. My friend and social protector, Banner is nearby. Barack and Brian are there also. They can translate. Barack has just finished Senior 6 and wants to do Computer Science. Brian is in Senior 5 at the boarding school and term has not yet recommenced. Brian is studying hard so he can become a doctor. He lives in Kinigi too. I don’t know where this story will end. But it will continue, I know.
What can I do that might change the life circumstances of these children? What I can do to show them that the world has not forgotten them. Their resilience, aspiration and respect are phenomenal. What do I understand about poverty cycles? How do we break it? Why do I have so much (opportunity and possessions) and they so little? What am I doing with my circumstance?
On 24th, 25th and 26th May, 2012, SCIL (Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning) is holding a summit as a starting point to do something. We are going to locate it in this region. We are going to take people to these places - the fields, the homes, the schools. We are going to take people to join our journey. We are hoping for a collision of minds to find ways to construct a different future for these children. We have no other agenda. We are hoping you will join us:
T @scil #rw12
Rwanda 2012 Reflection #2 – ‘We could and should have done more’ – Kofi Annan, 2004
I have just spent 8 days in Rwanda in preparation for a summit I am organizing with some colleagues - [rw12] Innovate Rwanda (www.scil.com.au/rwanda). During these days, I had the privilege of being invited into the homes of several families in rural regions of Rwanda. I also re-visited some amazing schools in districts such as the undulating Rugeshi region, the serene shores of Lake Burera and the fields of Kinigi at the foothills of the volcanoes. It was my fourth visit to Rwanda.
My hunch is that Rwanda faces a critical decade. By the end of this decade, history will be a generation removed from the genocide. I was initially anxious about visiting Rwanda, most likely linked to images of the genocide that are imprinted in my brain. Travelling through the country, you will see momentary uncomfortable reminders of that time - a young boy carrying a mattock on his head as he walks along the road, a man carrying a machete. But these items are no longer the implements of war, they once again just the tools of daily subsistence farming.
I feel repulsed by the genocide. It is impossible to visit the genocide memorial and not be moved to tears – especially when in the Children’s memorial section. The signs and photos say it all, recounting each child’s favourite food, toy, friends and how they were slaughtered.
I still feel angry when I re-read Kofi Annan’s statement in 2004 – no doubt his greatest regret: ‘We could and should have done more’. The world let Rwanda down in 1994 with devastating consequence. We must not do that again. And now as Rwanda continues to rebuild, reorder and reset their society, they welcome ‘borrowed talent’. People whose thinking can help them move forward - not to take over, just stand alongside.
Last Saturday morning we went for a walk along a track near Kinigi, at the foothills of the Volcanoes NP. It was the start of the same track that tourists trek when they are going to see the mountain gorillas. A young man watches us then tentatively approaches. He speaks to Anne first, polite, respectful. I beckon him over. My intuition tells me that he sees an opportunity to simply talk. (How could I ever refuse that?) After a while, I ask the questions, some seemingly risky. And as I listened to James’ story, I start to learn. He is engaging. He looks tired. But I become aware of a resilient hope.
I ask James about his family and we inevitably get on to the difficult but imprinted experience of 17 years ago. James recalls running in panic into the fields the day his father was killed. James was only about 2 years old then, he thinks. But that was then and this is now. Today he is a young adult, very evidently incredibly respectful. He is in Senior 4 at a district secondary school. He wants to study tourism. He knows he needs to improve his struggling English to do that. He doesn’t have an English dictionary. Sometimes there are words he just cannot work out. But he clearly has an indefatigable aspiration that one day he will have a job that will empower him to make choices. No doubt he will be an excellent Dad himself: generational healing - generational reconciliation.
Come and help people like James. We want to help jump the schools in the northern rural regions of Rwanda through the centuries to the 21st century. We are hoping that a collision of creative minds might just facilitate that. Please consider joining us – for the journey of a lifetime:
T @scil #rw12
Rwanda Reflection #1 – Circumstantial Privilege
I probably think way too much and I’ve had the opportunity to travel a fair amount in the last few years as part of a process to determine ‘next practice’ for our school. When in the air and looking at a map of the terrain over which we are flying, I often think just how fortunate I am to be living in a country where the whole of our continent is free of war. If I landed in any one of a number of countries or continents, my circumstance would be vastly different to the life I currently enjoy. What would it be like to have been born in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran or Somalia? Why was I privileged at birth to be born in New Zealand?
When I came to Sydney in 1969, I came in by boat. But I didn’t have to find ways to circumvent Australian authorities. We sailed straight into Circular Quay. My family ancestry means I could get a job in the UK if I wanted to. I have choices and options. Taking that reflection one step further - when I travel, I can apply online to gain visa access to other countries with little hassle. In many cases, Australia has been party to a universal visa exemption scheme, enabling me to travel widely. When it comes to entering the US, I can enter via straightforward online processes. No desperate thoughts as a refugee.
In short, the experience of life for many people on this planet is significantly different from mine. At the World Innovation Summit for Education (www.wise-qatar.org) in 2011, I was reminded that there are still about 75 million children who don’t have access to education. There are around 250 million children still caught up in child labour. The biggest issue preventing girls from attending secondary school is forced early marriage.
I feel compelled to do something that changes the life choices for others. I have just spent 8 days in northern Rwanda in preparation for a summit I am organizing with some colleagues - [rw12] Innovate Rwanda, 24 – 26 May, 2012. We want to help jump the schools in the northern rural regions of Rwanda through the centuries to the 21st century. We are hoping that a collision of creative minds might just facilitate that. Please consider joining us – for the journey of a lifetime:
T @scil #rw12
Isn’t Twitter amazing! I have been in schools since 1978. But nothing has been like 2011, a real game-changing year for me, because I decided to take Twitter seriously. What I have discovered is a world of like-minded people who daily provide inspiration and ideas. A tribe. My tribe. I have also worked out who are some of the leaders of this new global tribe. Very 21st century practice – I can ‘pull’ learning down to me from the plethora of tweets injected into the twitterverse on any given second. No longer am I reliant on one-size-fits-all professional development courses pushed on to me. I suspect that if we can effectively harness the collective energy and experiences of this new tribe, we might have the capacity to establish fresh vision for learning. World history has demonstrated powerfully in 2011 how social media can change the direction of nations. Ironically, education has always been the slow learner in comparison with other societal institutions, but maybe, just maybe, we could direct the revolution from within. This blog is to share some of the people who have shaped my thinking this year – and I’d love to hear of your experiences and contacts. I will cautiously share how they have helped shaped my thinking – and in so doing thank them.
I had never heard about this summit before June this year. It is organized and sponsored by the visionary Qatar Foundation. The 3rd one was held in November 2011. I was honoured to be an invited speaker. Why was it so inspirational? The cross section of passionate educators from all round the globe, especially with those from less ‘vocal’ countries, meant that every conversation was fascinating, thought provoking and inspirational. The format was great (largely interview style). Among many providing input, Gordon Brown gave an outstanding – and seemingly spontaneous – talk. It’s worth watching the video (http://www.wise-qatar.org/content/rt-hon-gordon-brown-mp-teachers-are-biggest-influencers). And where else might you have breakfast with the Saudi Minister for Education, share a bus trip with the ex-chair of the Nobel Prize foundation, hear Marc Prensky over lunch and have ‘speed date’ style chats with multiple people about their passion for learning. Some amazing educators I have met on the global road this year (an apologies if I leave some out):
Charles Leadbeater (@wethink) – Charles is one of those people whose name is revered globally – I guess largely as a result of his outstanding TED sessions. To have the opportunity to meet him and learn more first hand was one of the real highlights of 2011. Charles’ work as a commentator on and observer of innovative practice in education is inspirational. Charles’ latest book: Innovation in Education: Lessons from Pioneers around the World, is very helpful in broadening the focus of education away from being the domain of the first world alone. (http://www.wise-qatar.org/content/21-wise-book-launch). Thanks Charles for your connecting me with WISE and Valerie Hannon of the UK Innovation Unit.
Dr Becky Parker (@langtonstar) – is an inspirational Physics teacher from Simon Langton Grammar School: Becky is passionate, engaging and I think seemingly single handedly churning out 1% of the entire UK physics entrants to university. I don’t think I have ever met anyone with such immediate verve, passion and commitment to education and the students with whom she learns. I highly recommend watching a couple of these youtube videos http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbuSZ3-8TLw; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Bup2kCsTYc to gain a quick understanding of the impact passion can have on learners and learning. Becky Parker is also looking for active participants in her global Space Lab project. It may just suit some of your students.
Béa Beste - When I received a twitter request from a German educator to visit us here in Sydney, I was both flattered and intrigued. When I met Béa, I immediately connected with someone who thinks out of the box - and someone who is actively on the hunt for creating ‘playful’ learning environments. Béa gave us an amazing gift this year - she has observed, analysed and reflected upon the work of SCIL. It might seem somewhat disarming to have someone so accurately sum up your intentions, thought processes and vision. But it is also incredibly helpful. (http://www.playducation.org/blog-reader/items/the-special-agents-of-change.html; http://www.playducation.org/blog-reader/items/big-five-of-innovation.html; http://www.playducation.org/blog-reader/items/the-oyster-of-good-learning.html; http://www.playducation.org/blog-reader/items/the-power-of-openness-of-place-people-and-pedagogy.html) Béa’s drive for new resources and modes of learning has seen her start playDUcation in Berlin. The team are creating some highly innovative modules and quests for ensuring that learning is not only fun, but life changing. (@playducation; www.playDUcation.org; http://www.playducation.org/playDUers.html). I encourage anyone who has a playful sense of fun, likes people who continually think and twww.playDUcation.org; http://www.playducation.org/playDUers.html). I encourage anyone who has a playful sense of fun, likes people who continually think and think and think … to follow the entrepreneurial spirit of Béa.
PlayDUcation team (http://www.playducation.org/playDUers.html ) While I only had a couple of days on Berlin, I had the opportunity to see an IDEO-style team of passionate people grow something from a concept to reality. Their website captures the heart of this fun team - who are authentically creating education products from a blend of educational understanding and entrepreneurship. Among others, the team includes Basti Hirsch (@cervus), a deep thinker and himself entrepreneurial in approach, as well as Peter Bannert (@peterbannert). Basti is involved with the Sandbox Network (www.sandbox-network.com; @sandbox_network - a group that links young passionate entrepreneurs from around the world. This would be a fantastic group to highlight with any exiting students in the senior years.
Oliver Beste (www.founderslink.com) - Oliver definitely deserves separate mention as his inclusion in amazing people connected with education for me came through his wife, Béa. Oliver taught me a great deal in the space of a few days, simply by having him observe at close quarters the operation of the school and then gain his perspective on the school from an entrepreneur’s focus. That experience highlighted for me the benefit of different ways of thinking, as well as the need to learn from other societal sectors - ones that don’t naturally have an intersection with schools.
Brian Bennett (@bennettscience ; http://www.brianbennett.org/) – I met Brian completely by coincidence at the iNACOL Virtual School Symposium at Indianapolis in November. Brian was a share-presenter during a session on blended learning www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlYo0pBM27U. Hearing him speak for 10 minutes immediately cemented him into being (at least from my perspective) one of the most outstanding new teachers I have ever met. Brian is in his second year of teaching. He spoke about his experience of #flipclass teaching – very worthwhile watching some of the Youtube clips: www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tRsW8dcSNM . Brian uses Twitter during a conference session like shorthand – way to go. It wasn’t just his passion that impressed – he so totally gets what education needs to be about. The future of education needs people like Brian Bennett. Thinking about emigrating to Sydney, Brian?
Aaron Sams (@chemicalsams; chemicalsams.blogspot.com; http://www.coolinfographics.com/blog/2011/9/13/the-flipped-classroom-infographic.html) I became more aware of the work of Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergman (who I haven’t met yet) courtesy of Brian Bennett. The groundswell of flipped classroom learning that Aaron and Jonathan started is phenomenal. And it makes such sense. This link gives more background: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkzuHlCepww. I had an engaging two hour conversation with Aaron at Castle Rock, Colorado. I think what really impressed me about Aaron is that he started his journey of pedagogic shift authentically in the classroom, clearly prepared to take a few risks and then simply enthuse others. Aaron is to direct his transformational thinking and practice into new areas later 2012 and I’ll look forward to observing how #flipclass thinking and a broader intuitive understanding of education could impact college level learning.
Matthew Anderson (@matthewquigley) & Kelly Tenkley (@ktenkely) – (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/18/idUS217960+18-May-2011+BW20110518; http://ilearntechnology.com/; http://reformsymposium.com/blog/2011/07/23/kelly-tenkely/; http://teacherbootcamp.edublogs.org/2010/12/04/building-the-twitter-academy-interview-with-kelly-tenkely/; http://www.classroom-aid.com/blog/bid/55654/What-e-Teachers-are-following-Kelly-Tenkely-and-Michael-Gorman) In late 2011, I visited Anastasis Academy in Denver with two NBCS/SCIL colleagues. Kelly has over 8000 twitter followers for good reason! Matthew and Kelly set out to put their ideas into practice and started a new school in 2011 based around the notion of passion-based learning. The small academy that they lead is inspirational – none-the-least reason being that they have taken the risk of doing what they know works in education and stepping aside from the traditional and/or conservative assessment-driven approaches. And it clearly works!
Jeff Delp (@azjd; azjd.wordpress.com) – I have been reading Jeff’s Molehills Out of Mountains blog regularly, as well as following him on Twitter. Definitely one of the best benefits of attending a conference is the interaction and conversation between sessions. Aware that Jeff was a fellow attendee, I took the chance to meet up. What I have admired about Jeff in his blog is his honesty and willingness to embrace the challenges of leadership. I had exactly the same sense in meeting him. I look forward to one day visiting his school and watching the journey of educational transformation in active process, inspired by someone who knows what needs to happen and is prepared to lead the change.
David Price (@DavidPriceOBE; www.davidpriceblog.posterous.com) – another not-really-planned meeting of 2011. David came and visited us at NBCS/SCIL on the recommendation of others. What we met was someone who is passionate about education and a clear leader in helping shape the road ahead for many. I have been privileged this year to have had three different people visit NBCS/SCIL and write reflective blog posts on our work. That is invaluable. Prof John Hattie’s work highlights the significance of feedback to learning – and as adults, we learn in exactly the same way as students – that’s where feedback is so critical: (http://davidpriceblog.posterous.com/great-ideas-dont-cost-anything; http://davidpriceblog.posterous.com/whats-good-for-the-goose) I love the work of Learning Futures (www.learningfutures.com). I love the fact that we can get to the same conclusions despite being around the other side of the world. I really look forward to some more conversation in 2012. Also http://www.musicalfutures.org/; https://sites.google.com/site/davidpriceorg/current-work/musicalfuturesgoesglobalwww.davidpriceblog.posterous.com) – another not-really-planned meeting of 2011. David came and visited us at NBCS/SCIL on the recommendation of others. What we met was someone who is passionate about education and a clear leader in helping shape the road ahead for many. I have been privileged this year to have had three different people visit NBCS/SCIL and write reflective blog posts on our work. That is invaluable. Prof John Hattie’s work highlights the significance of feedback to learning – and as adults, we learn in exactly the same way as students – that’s where feedback is so critical: (http://davidpriceblog.posterous.com/great-ideas-dont-cost-anything; http://davidpriceblog.posterous.com/whats-good-for-the-goose) I love the work of Learning Futures (www.learningfutures.com). I love the fact that we can get to the same conclusions despite being around the other side of the world. I really look forward to some more conversation in 2012. Also http://www.musicalfutures.org/; https://sites.google.com/site/davidpriceorg/current-work/musicalfuturesgoesglobal
Karl Fisch (@karlfisch; http://www.youtube.com/user/karlfisch/featured) – just a very brief meeting with Karl, in between classes at his school. Having the opportunity to meet someone who thoughts and ideas have been watched over 4 million times in its different iterations (2.0, 3.0, 4.0) on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ILQrUrEWe8) was inevitably going to be great. It was. Thanks Karl for the conversation – and keep shaping our thoughts! Thanks for squeezing us in between classes too. Love that about the twitterocracy – generous as well with their time and passion.
Larry Rosenstock (http://www.innovativelearningconference.org/2011-speakers/83-larry-rosenstock; http://davidpriceblog.posterous.com/we-seek-engagement-larry-rosenstock-on-what-m; http://www.edutopia.org/high-tech-high-larry-rosenstock-video; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIlsNXaF0i4; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDcVXNUfwp0&feature=related; http://vimeo.com/10000408; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acjXN3jfmYI) Lots of links here for Larry – but if you haven’t heard him speak, then you need to. I love it when conversations turn to the ‘cream’ of US schools, they will inevitably finish up with High Tech High – and for completely justifiable reasons. In 2011 I was lucky enough to coincide with Larry twice. Larry Rosenstock is the founder of the High Tech High schools in San Diego. The main problem with our first conversation (shared with Matt Spathas) was that it was so engaging, passionate and fun, that I ran out of time to walk around the different co-located schools. That was rectified during the second visit. I cannot believe the number of times when I have read or heard that when you talk about the ‘top of the chain’ innovative schools and inspirational educators in the US, and indeed the globe, it finishes up with Larry. He thoroughly deserves that accolade. The US just needs government policy to follow his lead!
Matt Spathas (@mspathas; http://www.voiceofsandiego.org/education/article_efb26800-9b2b-5d48-a38c-393af9c65bb5.html; http://www.sentre.com/bios/mspathas; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndPVek-xpLE) – I mentioned Matt in my previous blog. Matt is a San Diego based business entrepreneur. What I love about people like Matt is that their passion for learning is contagious – but he clearly understands networking and encouraging change at multiple levels. Educators have much they can learn from people like Matt. When someone from the business world and not directly in the classroom speaks on topics such as ‘Engaging, Empowering and Preparing all students for the 21st century classroom’ then we need to listen. Matt’s blog is well worth following. (www.ibrary.com).
Valerie Hannon (@innovation_unit; www.innovationunit.org; http://www.wise-qatar.org/ar/content/mrs-valerie-hannon; http://vimeo.com/12115825; http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/mar/29/pisa-international-education-systems-evidence-compare) Don’t you just love it when someone else has phrased something almost identically to you, even though you have never met. When Valerie spoke of the future of learning being about ‘base camps’ from which people will launch into personalized learning pathways, I instantly connected with my ‘base stations’ being the heart of new learning communities. The work and vision of the UK based Innovation Unit is inspirational – and their list of “clients” mind-blowing. What an incredible impact Valerie and her team are having on world education systems. Valerie’s explanation of the disjointed ‘s’ curve at WISE 2011 explains why every school administrator who is seeking to transform learning is stuck in this grey zone of old paradigm / new paradigm. (http://www.innovationunit.org/blog/201111/world-innovation-summit-education-2011-wise-global-take-innovating-educationwww.innovationunit.org; http://www.wise-qatar.org/ar/content/mrs-valerie-hannon; http://vimeo.com/12115825; http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/mar/29/pisa-international-education-systems-evidence-compare) Don’t you just love it when someone else has phrased something almost identically to you, even though you have never met. When Valerie spoke of the future of learning being about ‘base camps’ from which people will launch into personalized learning pathways, I instantly connected with my ‘base stations’ being the heart of new learning communities. The work and vision of the UK based Innovation Unit is inspirational – and their list of “clients” mind-blowing. What an incredible impact Valerie and her team are having on world education systems. Valerie’s explanation of the disjointed ‘s’ curve at WISE 2011 explains why every school administrator who is seeking to transform learning is stuck in this grey zone of old paradigm / new paradigm. (http://www.innovationunit.org/blog/201111/world-innovation-summit-education-2011-wise-global-take-innovating-education)
Riel Miller - I first came across Riel Miller when I read about his work with Xperidox and as one of the speakers at WISE. I was lucky enough to attend two sessions co-lead by Riel, but also to read his paper published through CSE on the end of schooling and the start of the learning intensive society. It was a predictive piece - but well worth the read. Riel is clearly a deep thinker and I think his understanding of what education might look like in 2025 very insightful. (http://www.urenio.org/futurreg/files/making_futures_work/Towards-a-Learning-Intensive-Society_The-Role-of-Futures-Literacy.pdf; ‘School’s Over: Learning Spaces in Europe in 2020: An Imagining Exercise on the Future of Learning’ http://ftp.jrc.es/EURdoc/JRC47412.pdf)
Tony Mackay (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zusz4LPPCRg; http://watch.thirteen.org/video/1966642668/; http://www.guardian.co.uk/innovation-education/speaker-tony-mckay) I have met Tony on a few occasions and ironically our paths coincided a few times in 2011. I have always been amazed by just how well connected Tony is - and how he is in someway connected with just about every influential educational body in Australia (ACARA, AITSL) - and also in the UK, as Chair of the Innovations Unit Board. I really enjoyed the sessions at WISE that Tony helped steer - and for his clear thinking in terms of change processes in education. Tony provides a great role model of being involved in shaping the pathway, not just observing. (http://www.wise-qatar.org/content/25-school-dead-long-live-school-centre-strategic-education)
Sofoklis Sotiriou (http://www.ellinogermaniki.gr/sotiriou/; http://gr.linkedin.com/pub/sofoklis-sotiriou/21/917/361; http://www.online-educa.com/profile-984) Sofoklis heads the research unit (http://ea.gr/ea/main.asp?id=600&lag=en) attached to Ellinogermaniki Agogi in Athens. Never one to miss an opportunity, Sofoklis was the driving force behind the ‘Never Waste a Crisis’ EDEN conference in October. Sofoklis also got me involved as a presenter at SCIENTIX in Brussels, even though as a non-European and non-science teacher, I could have been viewed as too left of field. Once again though, it was fantastic to network with a whole new group of educators and to also see once more a natural synergy of thought about the directions for education globally. As a side note for those who follow our work at SCIL (www.scil.com.au), the concept of a research unit attached to a school, as is the case with EA in Athens, influenced heavily the decision to start SCIL. Through Sofoklis I have been introduced to many educators from parts of Europe that I would not otherwise readily meet. I thoroughly recommend becoming familiar with the projects that are currently part of the focus of the team at Ellinogermaniki Agogi. The ‘science in a suitcase’ and ‘SciCafe’ programs are really great.
Greg Whitby (@gregwhitby; http://bluyonder.wordpress.com/; http://bluyonder.wordpress.com/2012/01/06/the-next-big-thing/; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHJ-YvBQCBk; http://www.youtube.com/user/gbwhitby/featured) In many ways Greg Whitby has provided a de facto education vision for NSW (and indeed Australia). While I can’t think of visionary comments or specific leadership from those charged with such portfolios state or federally, I do know that Greg has been leading the charge for change in the Catholic Education Office, through western Sydney and by influence around the world. I know that sometimes it is not easy being the advocate for change in NSW when there seems so little vision for change coming from the government or the DET. Greg was another visitor to SCIL in 2011 who honoured us with reflective blog posts and videos. (http://bluyonder.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/a-principals-perspective/; http://bluyonder.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/moving-forward-2/) Such reflection has helped shaped the direction that SCIL might grow. Thanks Greg!
Jens Guldbaek (http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dir/Jens/Guldbaek; https://sites.google.com/a/loop.bz/loop-en-2/about-loop; http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/better-designs-that-lead-to-better-learning-20110225-1b8c7.html; http://www.oecd.org/document/55/0,3746,en_2649_35961311_47286711_1_1_1_1,00.html) I have twice had the privilege of spending a day with Danish architect, Jens Guldbaek. Jens designed the world renown Hellerup school in Copenhagen, along with many other similar projects. Educators need to find people like Jens who are one step removed from the classroom, as they can find some astute observation that can help shape our thinking about learning. Jens is a passionate architect – but he is also passionate about seeing learning opportunities enriched through good design. Jens owns LOOP – an experienced consultancy that looks at school and community design. I sense that creating well-designed learning and residential villages will be the future of schooling and community. Jens is a thought leader in this space.
Barrett Mosbacker (@bmosbacker; http://vimeo.com/bmosbacker; http://christianschooljournal.com/; https://bctc2012.wikispaces.com/Keynote+Address) I spent a day with Barrett in late May after the Vancouver Symposium. It was another of those times when you could just relax in the knowledge that here was yet another person who was on a similar journey – being an agent of educational transformation. Barrett is Superintendent of Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama. He also serves as adjunct professor at Covenant College where he teaches School Business Management in the graduate program. I found his reflective comments highly inspiring – and his blog is one of those that will always stimulate fresh thought. As school leaders we all share similar challenges and we need to keep the dialogue active so that noe of us ever feel alone in the process of shift in education.
Greg Bitgood (@gbitgood; http://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/the-christian-educator-podcast/id272836730; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sd4xyE2g2Wc; http://www.christianthinker.org/; http://www.21stcenturyeducators.com/) 2011 wasn’t my first connection with BC-based Greg, but it was certainly another year of great opportunities to collaborate and share time at different events. In 2010 Greg spent a week observing SCIL at close quarters and provided very helpful commentary on our work. In many ways he started the journey where SCIL has been blessed with astute and insightful thinkers watching our work and then providing reflective feedback. Greg is superintendent of a suite of educational activities in Kelowna, based around Heritage Christian School – and in my mind would oversee probably the most effective online school operations anywhere in the world. I have learnt much from Greg as he has shaped niche online schools into a range of markets – providing fantastic educational opportunities for thousands of students. BC Online has created a highly effective strategy for sustainable and achievable online education – dividing up the roles of concept initiation, curriculum directions, visual enhancement, pedagogic pathways into multiple teams located all over British Columbia. Any school that is perplexed about how to start the foray into online learning and wants to learn from the master – contact Greg!
Ozgur Bolat (@ozgurbolat; http://tr.linkedin.com/pub/ozgur-bolat/8/414/203; http://www.wise-qatar.org/node/9824; http://yfrog.com/user/ozgurbolat/profile) - columnist at Hurriyet Newspaper, Researcher at the University of Cambridge and Bahcesehir University. I met Ozgur travelling together on the bus between the Hotel and the WISE Summit in Doha (http://www.wise-qatar.org/) and around the dinner table. I was fascinated by his own educational story – but ultimately impressed by his incredible sense of vision for education in Turkey. I have no doubts that he will rise in prominence there – perhaps even to Minister of Education! Ozgur has got me using Google Translate frequently as I seek to read his frequent newspaper columns. It is very inspiring to meet people from diverse locations all over the world – and to discover that we are all on the same educational pathway. I’m sure we are witnessing the beginnings of an educational ‘Arab Spring’, where from the grassroots, education and schooling will really start transforming into something far more relevant to the lives of children in the 21st century.
John Hattie (http://au.linkedin.com/pub/john-hattie/39/21/b22; http://leading-learning.blogspot.com/2009/01/making-learning-visible-john-hattie.html; http://www.slideshare.net/sozio/visible-learning; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SisXbT7CWWs&feature=related; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMSsH0jsfd4&feature=related) I had the opportunity to spend an hour with Prof John Hattie in Melbourne in October this year. I knew I would enjoy the conversation as speaking with the person who lead the pivotal research project looking at effect sizes in teaching (http://www.teacherstoolbox.co.uk/T_effect_sizes.html), would inevitably be helpful. I was not disappointed. I think people like John Hattie are vital to the process of educational transformation as they help shape the journey, reflect on practice – but keep all ideas on a rational pathway. I include a mini version of the effect size table in as many conference presentations as I can, because it is important to recognize that educational change can be accelerated if we understand the importance of different components of practice. Thanks John for fitting me into your schedule back in October!
I hope I have not offended anyone by omission in this blog post – I can claim a level of distraction as I write it. I have been writing this blog post while on the move in Rwanda – in preparation for the [rw12] Innovate Rwanda summit we will be hosting in late May www.scil.com.au/rwanda. It proves the power of the new WiFi world when you can pick up and put down such a blog post as you write in what would have been some of the most inaccessible regions of the world, including the beautiful surrounds of the Volcanoes NP, home to the mountain gorillas. What has really amazed me is the aspiration for learning that the children in this region have – and that has in turn inspired an even greater sense that we have the power to do something to assist their journeys out of poverty through education.
A valuable part of our professional journeys as educators is to look beyond our own experience and learn from others. One strategy that has worked very well for our circumstance has been to bend budgets so that we can recurrently send teams of teachers to learn from others. This strategy commenced a decade ago when we took advantage of cheap domestic airline fares and visited any school that in some way had been described as ‘innovative’. We learnt much from people such as Helen Paphitis, then Principal of Salisbury Enterprise High School (Adelaide) and Di Fleming, then Principal Kilvington Girls Grammar (Melbourne).
I loved an anecdote from Kilvington, one that I have subsequently referred to as the ‘sledge hammer’ approach – when frustrated by the slow pace of change, Di Fleming initiated a late afternoon walk around campus for any staff member who was interested in discussing change in education. Those interested finished up with an off-the-scale opportunity when compared to what they may have initially thought. The invited colleagues were asked to literally smash through walls in order to create the connected spaces that were deemed pivotal to growing a stronger learning community. (I suspect there was a deal of necessary orchestration behind this, lest walls fall in!) Sometimes I know we need this approach in the classroom. What would happen if we gave the kids the chance to apply the ‘sledge hammer’ technique to classes that were unbearably boring?
In 2005 I was the recipient of a Macquarie University travelling fellowship and took the opportunity with two colleagues to visit 22 schools from 6 northern hemisphere countries – a strategy that eventually sparked thinking that lead to both the creation of the SCIL: the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (www.scil.com.au), as well as our online distance learning program (www.hsconline.nsw.edu.au). Since then, we have used opportunities as they have arisen to visit other people and places, many through further awards. While the awards have been humbling, it is the associated ‘prize’ money, that has been the real asset. That money has always been earmarked for further visitations.
Fast forward to 2011
Two different strategies have helped accelerate the mission and vision of SCIL. The first is a simple strategy - actively learn from other schools and outstanding educators in a scheduled recurrent program with a clear focus for targeted improvement and involve as many as possible in the process. Recognising that SCIL can learn a great deal from institutions other than schools, in the last two years the focus for such tours has broadened to include innovative libraries, outstanding museums and influential change agents. With a collaborative mindset at its core, we have now taken that one step further and SCIL now hosts an annual innovation and inspiration tour for external schools or systems. The tours are organised using a dynamic group process, allowing participants to progressively debrief, contextualise and add new layers of possibilities to their thinking. It is a simple process – but highly worthwhile. (There is a tour planned for October 2012 – most likely Finland, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and the UK – feel free to contact email@example.com for more information.)
The second method to stretch thinking is related to the first – but recognises the tremendous impact entrepreneurial thinkers can have on education. In 2011 I have been privileged to spend time with some highly entrepreneurial thinkers. I met Matt Spathas (ibrary.com), a businessman and entrepreneur from San Diego – with a passion for contributing to educational change. It was sensing Matt’s perspective and passion for learning that helped shape my interest in the contribution that entrepreneurial experience may provide to accelerating change in education paradigms. In one of his presentations, Matt asked the question as to whether the secondary school learning experience was akin to going on a long distance flight: (paraphrased) ‘You have to keep quiet, sit in rows, face the front, watch the movie selection pushed on to you and hope that the final destination in some way compensates for the boring, uncomfortable ride’. A great analogy!
Interestingly, when I project forward to growing my professional network in 2012, I know that I will include as many opportunities to meet people such as Matt as I know it will grow my thinking more rapidly than anything else.
In 2011, I also met and enjoyed extended time with Berlin-based business entrepreneurs – Bea Beste (www.playducation.org) and Oliver Beste (www.founderslink.com). As with Matt, I have enjoyed every moment of conversation and reflection. It was the explorer heart of Bea that first found us via Twitter and then proceeded to visit SCIL during an international journey (having recently let go of the Phorms schools that she started in Germany, with the new goal of determining the next project on which to devote her energies). Bea’s gift to me has been reflective listening and observation on our practice and journey and then analysing our activity through a sequence of blogs and videos – a powerful present! (www.playducation.org/blog…/the-special-agents-of-change.html; www.playducation.org/blog-reader/items/the-oyster-of-good-learning.html)
Through Bea I met Oliver whose own background is not school related – but business entrepreneurship. Through them I have also met the wider team at playDUcation and separately other German entrepreneurs. Through Basti Hirsch (@cervus), one of the playDUcation founding team members, I am about to spend some time with the global Sandbox Network at their first global Summit in Lisbon (www.sandbox-network.org). The Sandbox Network is an inspirational organisation that seeks to harness and shape the collective energies of young entrepreneurs (18 – 30 age group). I am really looking forward to this, as while I might be able to provide some wisdom and mentoring, I suspect I am about to gain a fresh injection of innovative and entrepreneurial perspectives.
Do you have any up and coming learners (senior students or teachers) who could fit the description of potential Sandboxers? Perhaps they should join the Sandbox Network. We need to constantly seek to bridge the gap between education and business.
How has this impacted my thinking?
It has been extremely useful having people closely observe our work from a perspective removed from education. It has also been fun. Oliver and Bea decided to visit SCIL for a week during a recent holiday at the end of November 2011. It provided Bea the chance to test run some of playDUcation’s developing quests and afforded Oliver the chance to become more familiar with our work in promoting change and innovation through SCIL. I found the de-briefing conversations highly stimulating and they have challenged me to think about ways to better develop the practice of the school, as well as consider ways to become more entrepreneurial in our practice as a professional business. In a world where funding models will inevitably be affected by global financial trends, I suspect more entrepreneurial thinking – especially in directions not immediately in our sights, will become an imperative, whether we work in government or non-government schools.
If your experience is anything like mine, I never had training or experience in business management or business thinking and although I know many would regard me as being highly innovative and entrepreneurial in my thinking, I know I have a lot to learn still. I have been blessed to work with a visionary school Board over the last decade, led for the majority of that time by Peter King AO, himself an entrepreneurial businessperson, community advocate and an expert on governance. This has provided outstanding mentoring for me. I need to do the same for others.
The point I am seeking to make is that school leaders should be actively looking beyond the normal school community to find people with insights that will challenge your thinking, accelerate change processes and help embed a culture of deep learning.
A few years ago I spent a week in Queen Charlotte Sound on the northern tip of the South Island of New Zealand. It is spectacularly beautiful, but it can rain heavily. In the remote out-of-range, non-connected region in which we were staying, during those seasonal downpours, I had to read a book! The one of the shelf of the lodge was one written in the early 1990s on ‘outrageous service’. I have forgotten the exact title, but not the content. It was providing examples of businesses that had thrived as a result of ‘outrageous service’ – especially small, local businesses that ran the gauntlet of being wiped out by larger organisations. But they weren’t. The reason - focus on providing ‘outrageous service’. I learnt a lot from the book. I connected with many of the anecdotes mentioned – times when someone within an organisation has been outstanding in their service. Word-of-mouth growth then inevitably follows.
The point – apply the thinking
So, how might we provide ‘outrageous service’ to parents? To other educators? How might we provide ‘outrageous service’ to the difficult and hard-to-engage student? How might I provide ‘outrageous service’ to a parent who clearly has an issue with some person or aspect of the school’s operation? How might I provide ‘outrageous service’ for my staff? It did start to change my thinking. Thinking back now, I have embedded this thinking into my practice, ‘outrageous’ faith in all individuals to excel – students and teachers. Everyone has a skill that can be discovered and shaped.
Business has a lot to teach educators, but unfortunately the business world and education world have not always mixed well. That’s perhaps because we tend to stick within the confines of the education universe and have often limited our contact with outside world to just product suppliers or the occasional attendance at a local business forum.
We need to be the ones to make the move to link our schools with the business world. Find local entrepreneurs. Invite them to come and closely observe your school. Get their left-of-field perspective on the school. Find business mentors, invite them on to your school boards and councils. Get your staff thinking about the ‘client service’ they provide.
My hunch is that the closer the ties we forge as school leaders with entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinking, the faster the speed of transformational change in our schools.
What have I learned?
Innovation is only really game changing if it can be easily scaled up, replicated and put into practice. I have taken on that challenge. I am passionate about learning, passionate about providing opportunities for the learning environment at NBCS/SCIL (www.nbcs.nsw.edu.au; www.scil.com.au) to lead to the shaping of lifelong, deep engaged learning habits for every learner in the school community (myself included). But I need to network, I need to share our successes and failures. I need to hear your successes and failures. We need to grow together. We need to create the global tribe of educators who know schooling is changing rapidly and will continue to do so. Governments aren’t doing a good job setting vision. We need to. We need to share practice and scale our work into new directions. We need to learn from entrepreneurs how to do that.
There is a moral imperative to bring the developing world with us
We should not leave the developing world out of this process. I am about to visit Rwanda again because I decided that I could not devote all my energy to improving educational opportunities for students in an already well-resourced world. There is a whole world of under-resourced schools in regional, rural settings or perhaps the ‘slums’ of global developing-world megacities that need to be included in the conversations. There are many passionate educators in those places craving professional development and encouragement.
You may be interested in our project – starting with a ‘collision of ideas’ conference in northern Rwanda (scil.com.au/Rwanda) in late May. The intention is to come up with suggestions and strategies that could be applied to improving the educational experience anywhere in the developing world – in order to help kick start the process of enabling a shift away from the imposed colonial model of schooling, to something that will at least provide job creation skills. Beyond this project, there are still 70 million children in the world with no access to education. Plenty of scope for entrepreneurial thinking there!
I am constantly challenged to consider what we need to throw out from our assumed daily practices as teachers. If we come to the topic through the lens of making choices that maximize deep and passionate learning for students, then I have come to the conclusion that there is very little that will survive from the industrial model.
I’ll provide an anecdote to highlight this point. A couple of years ago I observed a lesson in progress on photosynthesis. I learnt a great deal and I have thought about this on mnay an occasion since. The context was in a school in a very deprived area of a large east African country. The school operated very much on a ‘hand-me-down’ colonial model where the assumption was that the teacher was the fount of knowledge, students were there to soak up what they could and spend the rest of the time either copying notes from the blackboard or a textbook. There were about 60 students in the one class, they were seated in rows facing a blackboard and the teacher had minimal training (possibly none). It was a Year 5 class. They had been rote learning the (mis)spelling of photosynthesis for about 20 minutes. They were moving on to a definition to be copied into the exercise books. When I looked out through the door, the classroom was adjacent to a school yard that had not one blade of green grass or any plants – despite the wide region being quite fertile. What was abundantly clear was that there was zilch context for understanding the concept.
What might have been the outcome if the energies and passion of the restless crew of 60 was unleashed via authentic learning: tilling the soil, planting the yard out and then observing photosynthesis in action over the coming weeks.
‘Just do it’
At NBCS/SCIL (www.nbcs.nsw.edu.au; www.scil.com.au) we have been progressively ‘throwing out’ the old. Three years ago we decided that we would get rid of the bell from the start of the new school year. On that particular idea, I was the driver and happy to lead the way. We did it ‘cold turkey’ – no warning, no strategy, just resolve. It has worked well. It wasn’t without its teething problems and for many weeks staff complained that they were not getting to class on time because of the lack of bells. The answer was easy – take individual ownership, create your own strategy and simply plan to turn up on time. I suspect there would be incessant complaints if we were to reintroduce this vestige of industrial factory practice. (We do play music for the youngest students in our K – 12 school, so that there is no anxiety for school beginners to know when they should be looking to go to class.)
In a second ‘overnight’ move in 2011, I removed the use of the very menstrual word ‘period’ from being the describer of different components of the day – and moved to the term ‘learning session’. Students now engage in four learning sessions each day.
We have had ‘Grade Learning Managers’ and ‘Learning Area Managers’ for a few years – but I know we should get rid of the word ‘manager’. It is a reductionist term and doesn’t imply creative scope in leadership. Stay tuned on that one, because we’ll find a new term.
The next big challenge is to gradually reshape the daily landscape away from ‘timetables’. The optimum would be for students to engage in deep learning, focused around areas of passion. I know this will take some time to achieve and while we still have to keep the mandatory endpoint state assessment systems in mind, we do not need to lock ourselves into factory mode thinking as the only approach to achieve the required outcomes.
In 2011 we trialed an elective class in Year 9 & 10 where the students (teacher or self nominated) had to create their own curriculum. (Read more via the blog of SCIL learning activist, @steve_collis http://www.happysteve.com/blog/gat-project-google-20-rule-in-school.html).
Students needed to frame a challenge – a passion project, create a timeframe for achieving it and determine who might best support them on the journey. We allocated one teacher for the group which met three learning sessions a fortnight and beyond that the students were responsible for their progress. Again, the experience was remarkably successful:
Students choose topics and production formats that far exceeded normal expectations
Students collaborated very well with the mentor teacher
Students created natural sub groups and in some cases worked jointly on a task
Students gained a lot of insight from professional mentors, practitioners from related fields
Students suddenly became film producers, novelists, scriptwriters, robot creators – a myriad of outstanding creators
We have generated further challenges – how do we allow for this depth of engagement to not be squashed in the more routine classes of Years 11 & 12? How might we transition an entire grade to have the capacity to do this in order that we might start collapsing the timetable on certain days and create ‘deep days’ on a more basis. How do we tie this in with the existing curriculum expectations?
An outstanding example from the UK
In October 2011, I visited the Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury, Kent, UK. We were specifically visiting Dr Becky Parker and her work with the Langton Star Centre. (@langtonstar; http://www.thelangtonstarcentre.org/ - and via this YouTube link, Dr Becky Parker invites you to join the SpaceLab project: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Bup2kCsTYc).
I do not want to move into a ‘grammar school or no grammar school’ debate – rather simply draw from their decision as a school to create new structures to allow what is very obvious deep and passionate engagement. The following is my take on the visit. The school was a school that was touted as a ‘failing’ school a decade ago – but rather than going down the track of focusing heavily on assessment and outcomes, they seemed to have taken a ‘what if’ approach - and with outstanding and inspirational outcomes. They adopted the 20/80 approach – allow teachers to devote a minimum 20% of their time teaching to their own areas of passion, not necessarily curriculum related. The supposition was that the lost time would be more than compensated by an increase in student engagement via passion. And they got it right. I have never seen a school with more passionate students.
The Langton Star Centre (Physics unit) had students differentiating cosmic rays and were busy anticipating the implications for data analysis once their cosmic ray detector has been launched as an attachment to a NASA satellite. As a non-physicist, I learnt more in a few minutes about the different cosmic rays that co-exist in the same spaces as me! Two 16 year old students had written a journal article on the topic and submitted it to a peer reviewed academic publication. It was published as a leading article – without the university even knowing initially that it was written by two school-aged students. The power of passionate engagement!
We were invited to visit the new observatory located in the school grounds – but we weren’t taken there by teachers, rather two students who had been responsible for constructing the telescope, parts of which had been shipped from Australia. One of the students was contacting the solar panel company in Australia to get greater clarity on the positioning of the panels. The power of passionate engagement!
We were invited to learn more about the school’s human genome project where under the direction of a teacher who was also a researcher-in-residence, over 100 students were conducting experiments on the human genome to help decode the essence of multiple sclerosis and contribute actively to advancing understanding and possible future treatments. The power of passionate engagement!
We listened to students who had formed their own society to advance their higher order thinking capacities – ready to take on the best at university level. One of the group was aware that the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer lived close by and after persistent requests got him to come and talk to their small lunchtime group about possible strategies to steer the global economies through the current GFC. The power of passionate engagement!
What was very clear at Simon Langton Grammar School was that when the focus was moved away from a relentless focus on state assessments and outcomes, then far deeper learning was possible. But the school leaders had to take the brave step of taking a risk, based on strong intuition and then creating new structures that could facilitate the approach. And wow – does it work!
Rewriting the script for Years 3 – 8 at NBCS/SCIL
Our major work in this area has been within our upper primary and middle years programs. Over the last few years we have created strong teacher teams who have created collaborative programs for Years 3 & 4, Years 5 & 6, Year 7 and Year 8 respectively. The programs look slightly different at each stage – but in essence allow for a deep focus on literacy and numeracy skills, personalized to each student’s stage of learning, while also freeing up a quarter to half of most days for work on integrated units.
I love the fact that the teachers are demonstrating the capacity for far higher-order teaching competencies as the program progresses. No longer are the teachers simply classroom managers and curriculum deliverers, now they are mentors, guides, learning leaders and coaches. They are also moving into areas of their own professional passion as leading learners and practitioners. What I really love is when teachers become the creative directors of curriculum modules that involve layers of learning and experience: drawing curriculum frameworks from a range of sources such as Bloom’s higher order thinking skills, Gardner’s diverse intelligences, ‘habits of mind’ strategies and then placing an entire simulated game experience over the top of the unit. I am awaiting this year’s ideas from the different teams eagerly.
What is needed?
This all requires team effort, operating on intuition far more than we have, running with an idea, taking risks, finding new structures, removing blockers, thinking differently, different spaces, team training: in essence a new mode of transport, not a reworked version of an old model. Focus on passion, not the ‘spoon-fed’ curriculum delivery strategies where there will undoubtedly be some short-term successes, but also the high risk of self-learning flounder once the student leaves that environment and has to take responsibility for their own learning. Therein lies the challenge!
Three other immediate examples that come to mind, which I have visited, include the Kunskapsskolan schools -scattered across Sweden and now in the UK and New York (www.kunskapsskolan.com/), the High Tech High schools in San Diego (www.hightechhigh.org) and the new Anastasis Academy in Denver (www.anastasisacademy.com/). All these schools have taken up the challenge of creating new structures for next paradigm learning – and in so doing, have created levels of engaged learning that certainly stand out.
I’d love to hear your stories of the power of deep engagement and the new structures that you have created or of which you are aware.