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!!!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Robin - great to connect again at the STA event, and encouraging to see the processing of your thoughts as a result of the presentation there. I'm completely with you in your assessment of how we need to embrace the notion of disruption and stop trying to 'improve' things that (a) are no longer fit for purpose (i.e. timetables, exams etc.) or (b) don't actually need to be changed, rather, need to be more clearly understood and applied (i.e. NZC, NCEA etc.) We tend to get ourselves into a tangle when we feel the need to 'tinker' with things as a response to what we feel isn't working - without taking the time to deeply understand the context of it all and the impact of established mindsets in all of this. Thanks for your contribution to the discussion.