Transforming our learners’ experiences
“Leaders that sustain their transformation always remember the reason for the journey: Transformation leads to new ways of helping families to self-sufficiency. Transformation increases capacity to help communities” (Oftelie, 2014).
Talking about ‘transformation’ can feel rather esoteric, vague and resonant of a hundred other buzzwords of the moment. That said, what’s important is to recognise that, internationally, many organisations and schools are having conversations about how we can rethink the design education systems and learning so that our learners and colleagues can gain the greatest opportunity to learn. This was the essence that lay at the heart of my recent CORE Breakfasts in Wellington and Christchurch a few days ago, both fully sold out and livestreamed across New Zealand.
It’s easy to talk about educating students for ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’ – in fact, it’s pretty much the meme du jour when people are arguing for change. There is no doubt, of course, that there are substantial changes occurring in economies, social structures, cultures, governments and so on, driven by globalisation and technological developments. The 2015 CORE Ten Trends offer a useful overview of the big picture shifts that we can see across international discourses around schooling and education.
Preparing students for this changed environment is a central driver for transformation – and it raises questions that go right to the heart of what schooling is for. Evolution over centuries highlight that schools have been designed for a variety of purposes: to pass on cultural important knowledge and behaviours; to educate a new clergy through monastic teachings; to instil basic literacies and maintain orderly citizenry; to prepare people to make worthwhile contributions to society.
With recent changing environmental factors has come increased understanding that these previous systems, designed around the teachers’ intent, do not prepare all learners adequately for “a decent life”. We are seeing renewed appreciation for the impact of systems that are oriented to the learner. In effect, a shift from seeing education in terms of human capital and shifting towards seeing it in terms of human rights (Reis Monteiro, 2014).
Our moral imperative
Fullan & Langworthy (2013) remind us that “effective and sustainable change happens when there is a consensus among all stakeholders that the new goals are a moral imperative” while Timperley et al. (2014) suggest that “momentum for substantive transformation builds from multiple inquiries that show change for learners is possible.” It involves a combination of shared vision, and negotiated processes that make impact visible over time.
Arguably, it is a moral imperative that is more compelling than economic drivers when it comes to motivating ourselves to reimagine what’s possible. Thinking about removing barriers to learning for the students, whānau and colleagues with whom we spend time every day has an immediacy to it that preparing for jobs of the future fails to achieve.
The breakfast sessions this week focused strongly on transformation as a shift towards inclusive, culturally responsive models. These are guided by the central philosophy that all learners deserve to belong at school and ask us to think about how we can deliberately design learning that is deeply motivating and agentic for students we are with today.
Transformation: Processes and Signposts
At the breakfast sessions, we explored the ‘why’ of transformation, as discussed above, and then dived into concepts related to transformation being both a process and also qualified by a set of ‘signposts’. Processes for transformation, embodied in a range of frameworks from spirals for inquiry (Timperley et al., 2014) and design thinking to Universal Design for Learning and Appreciative Inquiry, all centre on models that are socio-constructed, start with evidence of people’s differences and needs and involve participants throughout an iterative, reflective process. At its heart, transformation towards inclusive environments cannot be imposed or ‘done to’ – it is a negotiated process from start to finish.
Equally, if a process of change is to be a constructed one, there can be no pre-set destination. Rather, it is a mindset, a continual process of evidence-based reflection and renewal. That said, in order to create change in what we think and believe, we need to make our tacit understandings explicit and compare what we do with examples of where we might go. This can help create a shared language for change in relation to what we know to be effective for modern, diverse, tech-rich environments. Again, while no size fits all, the Ten Trends, the trial ERO indicators, the 7 Principles for Learning (Dumont, 2010), Hattie’s Visible Learning syntheses all might offer starting points for schools as they reflect on what’s important. At their heart lie learning models that deliberately offer agency and inclusive practices.
Considerations for leaders: Where to begin
Crucially, we need to accept that there is no blueprint or quick tick sheet for reimagined models of education. Negotiated processes take time, must involve students, whānau, community, teachers – and are iterative. One is never ‘done!’ Leaders of all organisations, not just schools, are experiencing this same disruption.
“We’re living in one of the most disruptive times since the Great Depression. Demand for services has risen sharply, while resources are constantly contested. The best leaders are not hoping for magic bullets—they’re transforming their organizations by reviewing their value proposition, scanning for value opportunities, and adapting their policies, programs, production, and provision” (Oftelie, 2014).
While this can feel uncertain (and exciting!) it means that modern leadership needs us to accept that this is ‘the work’, not an add-on but a way of living the work. Being flexible and reflective are important. All inquiry learning is messy but messiness is part of transformation.
We know change creates high levels of stress due to the ‘cognitive dissonance’ that can occur when we are confronted with ideas that are different to how we have always done things. It goes right to the heart of our values and beliefs. So, a clear process that is made visible and involves all participants is key. Change is easier to manage if you know there will be dips and challenges on the way and if you feel like you have real skin in the game.
Note: This CORE Breakfast session will be presented again at ULearn (October) and in Auckland, 6 November.
- Fullan, M. & Langworthy, M. (2013). Towards a New End: New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. Washington, USA: Collaborative Impact.
- Oftelie, A. (2014, June) How to lead a transformation. Policy & Practice: Leadership for a Networked World, 9-11.
- Reis Monteiro, A. (2014). The Teaching Profession: Present and Future. Springer Briefs in Education.
- Timperley, H., Kaser, L., and Halbert, J. (2014, April). A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry. Centre for Strategic Education, Seminar Series Paper No. 234.
- Dumont, H., Instance, D., & Benavides, F. (2010). The Nature of Learning: Using research to inspire practice. OECD Publications.
- ‘RSDigby_1999’ by Robert S. Digby is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
- ‘Double Helix’ by Jef Best is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0