Friday, 12 July 2019

Problems or disruption: the better way forward for education

I have known Derek Wenmoth for quite a few years now, and have followed his work with more than a passing interest. I enjoy his ability to cut through the dross, to think with insight about the future in society and education. For the past twelve years he has published 'Ten Trends' for CORE Education. Here is the summary for 2019.

You can look back through those twelve years worth of insights here. The question is how do we see change, and how do we respond to change?

So an all too brief lunchtime conversation, followed by his workshop "Innovation and Future Thinking" at the NZSTA conference, has lead me to try to clarify my own thinking with this post.

Our conversation revolved around the question of our response to change. It was prompted by a comment by an earlier presenter who suggested that change is made in response to problems. That has traditionally been the case, after all why change if there is no problem? And that, in education, is often accompanied with the statement 'what I do now gets great results, so why change?'

The difficulty is that there may be no apparent problem, nothing that immediately presents itself as demanding a response, yet things are changing, and changing faster and more profoundly than we realise. There are massive disruptive influences in play around us every minute of every day. These disruptive influences may be technological innovation. They may be such fundamental issues as climate change. They may be the ever increasing diversity of our population.

Disruption is taking place around us all the time. 

Virtual reality example of disruptive technology

Here is a list of some of the disruptive technologies if 2019.

What matters is that we change in response to that disruption, not just in response to problems. If we continue to focus on identifying problems and nothing else I think that our responses become too slow, or (all too often) we take our eye off the ball and miss the problem until it becomes far too serious, until it becomes unavoidable. We allow our biases to rule, and we turn that proverbial blind eye to the circumstances that actually confront us.

Disruption is inevitable, it is relentless, it is the consequence of human endeavour, that underlying human drive to better ourselves. The net result is that the old frame of improvement doesn't work so well anymore. But even that mindset needs to be changed. We need to stop seeing that disruption as a problem. We need to start seeing it as the array of opportunities that it represents.

The time has never been better to re-imagine our futures. Re-imagining is the new creativity. It is the new 'improvement programme'.

Just as 'Disturbed' took this:

and re-imagined this:

So we have to take this:

and re-imagine it to ... well to whatever we establish will improve learning. We have known for nearly twenty years that the very nature of knowledge has changed. Jane Gilbert clarified this for us in her insightful work 'Catching the knowledge wave' in which she redefined knowledge as 'doing' not 'knowing'. Put another way, knowledge is 'creating' as we push with our 'Learn Create Share' pedagogy out to our learners. And let's be clear, create doesn't have to mean creating something knew that no-one has ever done before, although we should never underestimate the capacity of our young people to do that. Look at this example.

Create can simply be creating knowledge that the learner didn't have before. It is no longer a matter chasing improvement based on perceived problems. It is a matter of being proactive in the face of the disruption.

Manaiakalani is one part of the puzzle that is our response to disruption. It empowers learners, it enables agency or independence for learners. When coupled with our clear vision to embrace creative excellence, to create real world curricula that allow learners to learn through real world problems, to allow learners to see the relevance and importance of their learning, within the framework of our solid school values (Commitment, Achievement, Resilience, and Respect), you know we are developing future focussed learners who can work collaboratively, think creatively, communicate effectively, to embrace the key competencies that are the heart of the New Zealand Curriculum.


Embracing disruption is the ONLY way forward. We cannot do a 'King Canute' and hold back the tide. Improvement is no longer just a matter of addressing problems. It is a matter of grabbing the opportunities that disruption presents. Flexible, creative, critical thinkers who can collaborate and communicate effectively, and who are able to regulate themselves.. that's what we need. That's the brilliance of the NZ Curriculum which was a document ahead of its time.  We just need to embrace its empowering nature... NOW!!!

Monday, 1 July 2019

It's all in the words we use - let's 'talk (educational) dirty'

Yesterday I attended one of those meetings that we seem to increasingly have in education these days. They are meetings filled with optimism, yet at the same time they can feel a little conspiratorial.

File:Schurz Conspirators.jpg

We were there to talk about how we might get back to building collaboration across the secondary school network in Christchurch. This was something organised by Grow Waitaha that appeared on our 'landscape' in 2016/2017 and was, after its brief flourish, killed stone dead. We used words like collaborate, innovate, improve, as if we were a group of third world conspirators plotting the downfall of the world as we know it. Indeed you could be forgiven for thinking that using the word 'innovative' in education at the moment feels a little like 'talking dirty'. Such is the climate it would seem is being created by our media. Why research an issue in depth when you can make superficial sensational claims that will satisfy editors' demands for yet more click bait? I guess we shouldn't be too harsh on our reporters. Maybe what we are seeing is their initial responses to the disruptive influences of technology. Media owners seem intent on reducing reporter numbers in order to cut costs and drag in the advertising dollar. But that's another story.

Image result for conspirators
But here's the point: this is about our children, about their future (and ours), and superficial clickbait will NOT do.

If I use the word 'innovate' I am, it would seem, likely to be labelled as 'experimental'. If I talk about 'collaboration' it seems that I am likely to be labelled as someone who wants all children to learn in huge groups taught by several teachers in an out of control environment where mob rule is the norm. And of course that is the norm whenever a school is rebuilt, isn't it. Forgive me for cringing in the corner, won't you.

On the other hand, if I use the words 'school improvement' I am perhaps seen as being a moderate, nay conservative, educator who doesn't really intend to do more than tinker around the edges.

We all proclaim that we want better educational outcomes for our children. Well, helloooooo .. doing the same thing and expecting a different result is Einstein's definition of insanity. To get better educational outcomes things have to change. Who says that doing things the way we have for the past 150 years was the best anyway? Echoing the critics of change, show us your evidence that the past 150 years were 'best practice' and gave us the best outcomes we can hope for? It seems to me that it only ever worked for the privileged few, those of European descent and of middle class background.

All schools need to innovate, all schools need to be empowered to have the courage to innovate, to try new things. And most (if not all) schools have built into their structures and processes the innovative mechanisms that drive that improvement. It's just that some are taking bigger steps than others at any given point in time.

I had the privilege of sitting in on the mid year report back of members of our staff team from their Professional Learning Groups, as they fed back to colleagues the results of their inquiries so far this year. What I saw was 'gobsmackingly good', it was exciting. No one thing that I saw represented a quantum leap in change, each was a small incremental change in teaching practice. But here's the thing: small incremental change for each individual teacher represents large change for a kura.

For those who don't know (cue: take note, Media friends) Teaching as Inquiry is our key improvement process, our key way to generate teacher learning and better outcomes for learners. It is recognised as perhaps the best way to help teachers to learn, to up-skill, to better meet the individual needs of the learners they interact with daily. I could go on, but you get the idea. For those who don't know (yes, media .. this one is for you) the process looks like this:

Image result for teaching as inquiry

I saw teachers developing better ways to empower personalised learning. I saw teachers digging in to data to learn more about their learners. I saw teachers enhancing student mana by empowering them to become experts for their peers. I saw innovative use of technology to help students to read, write, and create, more effectively.  I saw teachers looking at how they can make more effective use of simple one on one face to face conversations to better engage students.

This is innovation. This is empowering. This is exciting. This is what leads to better outcomes for learners. It does also underpin more significant kura wide change. It empowers us as teachers to try new things, to be prepared to take risks, and risk taking is important because without it we get no change.

And all of those things I have described are informing our whole school evolution, whether it be Chromebooks and digital learning (Manaiakalani), curriculum change, or pastoral systems. Our school wide improvement data continues to be impressive. Take this writing data, tracked across a three year period form the beginning of 2016 to the beginning of 2019.

The data uses 'matched pairs', so a student had to be include in the testing at BOTH the beginning and the end to be counted. The right hand column is the one to focus on. If that number is 0, then students have made exactly the progress in their writing that you would expect over three years. If it were negative, then they would have made less progress than expected, and if it is positive then they have made more progress than expected. This is called acceleration. They are progressing faster than you would expect. A student can be expected to make 9.5 points of progress per term, on average. Our nYear 10 students made just under nine terms more progress than expected over that three year period. Framing that another way, we accelerated their writing progress by nine terms more than children of that peer group did on average across the country. This is extraordinary.

If by doing all of this we are, suddenly. an experimental school, then so be it.

And when undertaking inquiry, we all acknowledge that sometimes the hunches that teachers have are wrong, or the strategies they try out don't work. And do you know what? That's ok. Because learning that something doesn't work is just as useful as learning that it does. And it's better than doing nothing.

The media seems intent on beating teachers and schools over the head when they try new things. Schools come at this driven by the moral imperative to do better for our children. I am frankly not seeing much of that in the media these days. The climate being created by this approach will only serve to drive innovation out of the system. Or where it does occur, it will seem more like some sort of guerrilla activity, some clandestine operation undertaken in the dark of the night.

And this must be much like the innovators who began Manaiakalani must have felt in their early days. Maybe they didn't, or maybe the media had a different approach ten years ago. But thank goodness those innovators did. The outcomes for our rangatahi are amazing. We accelerate learning in writing by (on average) twice national averages. We accelerate improvement in reading and maths by (on average) one and a half times national averages.

We are out to liberate our young people from the tyranny of 150 years of educational practice that has served too many of them poorly. And that is NOT a plea to 'throw the baby out with the bath water'. There is much in what we have done that is good. However it is no longer enough. Here we go with this same image:

Image result for equality equity liberation cartoon

THAT is creativity. For our kura THAT is 'creative excellence' in action with teachers. THAT is the result of innovation. THAT is the result of moral courage. THAT is the result of some professional 'dirty talk'. If 'talking dirty' in professional terms is what it takes to give our rangatahi the better future they need and deserve, pass me the swear jar. I'm in!!!