I presented a talk on leading change in a networked world to the School Leaders Network in Christchurch yesterday afternoon, focusing on the importance of understanding the emerging paradigm of the networked world and the implications for schools and school leaders.
As a timely introduction to my talk I referred to an article in the latest copy of the NZEI magazine, Educaiton Aotearoa, written by Professor Ivan Snook titled "The Purpose of Education" in which he compares two rival models of education and how these different ideologies shape our thinking and approach as educators. A key point he emphasises, around which his article is based can be summed up in one of his statements:
Education is not centrally about test scores but about preparation for life in its broadest sense.
Having recently been through an election here in New Zealand the presence of competing ideologies (or philosophies) of education became evident as different parties (and politicians) endeavoured to promote their education policies. I've often used the table below to illustrate how these different perspectives play out in our world…
As education leaders we need to…
- be aware of these competing philosophies and how they play out in the political directives we face, the expectations of parents, and the underpinning behaviours of teachers.
- understand that they are simply competing ideologies, and that we need to intentionally and intelligently reflect on our own ideas and understandings to identify our personal beliefs and where this positions us in the various continua.
- seek ways to lead those in our school communities to estbalish and articulate the shared beliefs that will underpin what we do.
- work with our teams to explicitly link our practices with these beliefs, to ensure our coherence between our espoused theory and our theory in practice.
My key message to the APs and DPs at the meeting was to ensure that their thinking and planning is anchored in a 'Future Focused' mindset – not simply replicating what we've done in the past. This is where the emphasis on considering education as a 'networked' endeavour comes into focus – challenging our existing assumptions about the stand-alone school, competitive mind-sets and 'patch protection' among other things.
There is a significant difference that emerges when we genuinely place the learner at the centre of our thinking – considering all of the factors that impact on their learning, including where they learning, what they learn, how they learn – and why they are learning. Much of our previous thinking about how we might reform/transform education has been structurally focused, i.e. the placement and construction of physical schools, the governance and management of the schools, class size and teacher workload etc. While these things are all important in the overall milieu, they don't define the purpose of educaiton – that is clearly around the learner, and equipping them as citizens of the future (or future workforce units, depending on your ideological position
Food for thought – lots to ponder here….
NZ teachers appear to have really gotten behind the first Connected Educator Month here! The info-graphic below illustrates how it is looking as we hit the half way mark for the month:
The numbers will all be larger as you read this – and the month’s events aren’t over yet!
Many of the children in the city today cannot remember a world before the earthquakes. The presenters in this TVNZ documentary ask how this has affected their wellbeing by visiting South New Brighton School in the heart of the most affected suburbs.
As someone who has visited this school, and knows the principal and some staff, I found this a very poignant and informing piece – so am sharing it here to inform and inspire others. It reveals..
- the resiliance of the young people – but also their fragility.
- the importance of schools as a focus of community, and a place where there needs to be opportunity to attend to the things that are important in the lives of the children and their families – in addition to the focus on learning.
- the enormous responsibility placed on the shoulders of school leaders to cope with all of this – on top of them having their own families, homes and personal health to consider.
- the restorative effect of a team of dedicated teachers committed to meeting the needs of learners – supported by other professionals with complementary skills.
It will be some years before the 'new' Christchurch is fully established, and in the meantime I pay full credit to the dozens of school leaders, staff and their communities who are working constructively and collaboratively to provide the sorts of support and opportunities portrayed in this clip.
The ULearn14 conference has ended for another year, with around 2000 people gathered at the Rotorua Events centre for four days (incuding pre-conference workshops) of professional stimulation, challenge and connecting. The #Ulearn14 Twitter stream was trending high through the conference and provides a great insight into the multi-faceted event. Many teachers have been active since the conference, providing their personal reflections on the conference, such as this blog from AnneMarie Hyde, or this storify from Vanessa Cancon.
For a number of years at this conference I have heard comments to the effect that "it's all about the pedagogy, not the technology" as people pass through that point in their own awareness and understanding – moving beyond simply focusing on the tools, and instead thinking about the way in which these can be used to support, enable and inspire deep learning. This year I felt, for the first time, that this level of awareness and understanding is a part of the system thinking, rather than simply the experience of indviduals. The level of engagement in pedagogical discourse was raised to a new level in the workshops, the reseach strand and the keynotes – exciting stuff!
From day one the keynote speakers certainly inspired us to think this way. Their presentations created a level of cognitive dissonnance that forced us to wrestle with the ideas presented, challenging our assumptions and 'comfort' with existing practice – and while the response to these messages was rather polarised (as Steve Mouldey reflects), the overall impact was to add a depth and dimension to the conference that we haven't seen before.
Here's my summary of the keynote messages..
Yoram Harpaz – described three ideologies that underpin the work of educators and define what happens in a school or school system – then created a cognitive dissonance in challenging us to make the tragic choice! Whether we found ourselves agreeing or disagreeing with having to make such a choice, no-one could escape the challenge he created in confronting how these ideologies shape our personal and collective view of teaching and learning.
See the collaborative document of notes from his presentation.
Adam Lefstein – challenged us to think more critically about the professional conversations we have, and understand how this discourse shapes what we see happening in our classrooms and the lives of our learners. We learned from him that professional discourse is not a bragging race on your students or colleagues – it’s about getting better from learning!
Katie Novak – introduced us to the fascinating world of Universal Design for Learning, equipping us with a systematic way of ensuring that the needs of every learning is planned for before the lesson. She capably demonstrated how this worked both what she shared and how she shared it.
See the collaborative document of notes from Katie's presentation.
Quinn Norton – tantalized us by the description of her studies of emergent feral network collectives. She challenged many of our pre-dispositions about the internet and those who use it, about hackers and hacker spaces, and about how we accommodate and engage the learners in our classrooms who are likely to be a part of these communities.
See the collaborative document of notes from Quinn's presentation.
I'll be interested to read the reflections of other teachers who attended – if you have written any up please add them as a comment below
With this event now behind us, it's time to consider how to continue the professional learning that has inspired us. There are plenty of opportunties still taking place in the Connected Educator Month activity until the end of October – and then there's ULearn15 to look forward to, with planning for that event already well under way!
This morning I had the privilege of joining a panel to present on the theme of modern learning practice in a connected world as a part of the Connected Educator Month here in NZ. Joining me on the panel was a very old friend from the UK, Stephen Heppell and colleagues from CORE, Mark Osborne, Janelle Riki and in the chair, Karen Melhuish Spencer.
In this post I don't intent unpacking what was said or the ideas that were discussed – if you want to know that then the recording is available here and the thoughts of the participants are captured in a shared Google Doc here and on Twitter here on #cenz14. All has been captured in Storify by Marnel van der Spuy.
What this experience very powerfully demonstrated to me is the principle of learning in a connected world. With an hour together online, a handful of 'presenters' and a few dozen participants all active in the back-channels, there was an extraordinary level of communication and ideas generated through the questions asked and responses given etc. – a true knowledge building community emerging. In reflecting on this, there were three dimensions of the knowledge building experience that I observed that I think may be worth considering when designing and planning for the learning experiences we provide (online and face to face) for our students:
Capturing the soundbites
As the presenters were sharing their ideas in the session there was a constant stream of 'soundbites' being captured and shared via the chat facility in the Adobe Connect environment we were using. Each of these represented the key idea or important concept captured by an individual participant – and collectively, they represent the key messages of the experience, there for everyone to review and construct their own memory of the event from.
Imagine if we had this sort of facility in our classrooms – where we were intentially capturing the ideas that are regarded as significant in the minds of each learner – and see them shared in this way so that what escaped the attention of one, is picked up by another etc. Seems to me there's something quite powerful in recognising and understanding the usefulness of this activity in the knowledge building process – recognising of course that it's a part of the process, and that there's a lot of revisiting, filtering and connecting of ideas that will need to occur yet. But at least it is captured – and accessible in a way that previously we've missed out on in our classrooms.
Co-constructing the knowledge base
The Google Doc provides a different level of engagement. Here we saw the knowledge base grow before our eyes during the presentation – and it continues to grow and develop afterwards as there are people active in it even as I am writing this post, editing and playing with the format etc.
The level of engagement here goes beyond the simple soundbites (although these are recorded at the bottom of the document) – and makes lots of use of the links that were shared during the presentation to add substance and value to the soundbites used – offering opporutunities to dig deeper into the concepts and ideas. The Google Doc also remains as an archive of the event and the knowledge shared within it.
This is a strategy that we're certainly seeing deployed in some schools – but there's room for far more of it! The ability of learners to use an online environment that is accessible from anywhere and at any time to share ideas and co-construct knowledge in this way must certainly come to feature as a 'must have' in the repertoire of any modern teacher.
Challenging the ideas
I also saw the start of some thinking that represents the metacognitive engagement – where questions were being asked in response to something that was said by a presenter, or where such thoughts or 'sound bites' stimulated another level of thinking in a participant. The use of the backchannels to immediately enable people to deal with the questions they have or dilemmas in their thinking is extremely powerful to the learning process – particularly as they are able to be responded to by the community, and not wait in line for the presenter to respond.
A counter to this is often cited from some who see this sort of activity as a distraction – preferring that everyone focuses on what the presenter/teacher is saying. I concur that it can be a distraction – but I also believe that dealing with distraction and making the right choices about when and when not to engage in such activity is a part of learning to manage self – an important skill for our modern learners and teachers. The fact is that for many, having the question buzzing around in your head as a result of something the presenter says can be a distraction in itself, and creates a 'block' to full engagement until it has been answered or responded to.
So my point is that the CEM experience this morning has powerfully reinforced for me again the need for us to consider, plan for and embrace the multi-dimensional experience that learning can and should be in (and out of) our classrooms.
If you aren't already connected – take a look at the variety of events and opportunities that are yet to come through the rest of October in Connected Educator Month. if searching the calendar of events isn't your thing, you can sign up fo regular updates.
One of the things I've had the privilege of contributing to in terms of the organisation is the upcoming Connected Educator Month which will launch here in New Zealand for the first time this year. My colleague Karen Melhuish Spencer (in the video above) has done an outstanding job leading the organisation from the NZ end.
Connected Educator Month began in the US two years ago, using online communities help educators share effective strategies, reduce isolation, and provide "just in time" access to knowledge and expertise. In 2013 nearly 200 educational organizations participated in Connected Educator Month in the US, providing a variety of interactive activities, such as webinars, live chats, open houses, contests, projects, and badges for connected educators to earn.
This year we are bringing the opportunity for teachers to participate in these sorts of professional learning experiences to New Zealand – joining with the Connected Educator teams in the US and Victoria, Australia, to make this a truly global event.
To find out what's available, check out the Connected Educator Month group on the VLN for more information, and the Calendar of Events on the Connected Educator websites. The calendar provides you with the opportunity to contribute workshops or events if you want to also – great for those in our education community who are doing some great work in their schools and who can share these experiences so that others can learn from them. You can also check out what's happening in the US Connected Educator Month calendar and joing those events if you wish.
Because Connected Educator Month is being run in October across all three countries, we're also integrating ULearn into the month, with several workshops and events there being shared as a part of the month's activities.
I've just arrived back from a trip to Chengdu, China where I was present for the signing of the Sichuan Christchurch Education Alliance. Nearly 40 educators from greater Christchurch were present, with a key focus of the time spent on developing relationships that are intended to lead to opportunities for educational exchanges between Christchurch and Chengdu teachers and students.
Globalisation will undoubtedly be one of the most significant influences on modern learning practice as we look further into the 21st century. The need for students to have well developed understandings of cultural literacy, inter-cultural awareness and a basic grasp of international language(s) must inform how we shape our curriculum and the sorts of learning experiences we provide for our young people. It's no longer satisfactory to simply teach about these countries and issues – we need to be exploiting the power of online technologies and authentic learning contexts to enable our students to interact directly with people in other places, and to collaborate on projects that lead them to these deeper understandings of the impact of globalisation.
The trip to Chengdu has reinforced this for me – and coming back to NZ on the day of the national election and the associated conversations about what people in our nation consider important even more-so. We cannot ignore the impact that being a part of a global village, with its global economy, will have on the lives of our young people into the future. Preparing them in this way must be a priority in our curriculum ad everyday practice.
The map at the top of this post links to a post of 38 maps that explain the global economy – a useful resource for educators interested in thinking about the impact of the global economy and how to relate this to students – as is this link showing where the oldest and youngest people live in the world's populations. This sort of information can be very useful in forming a more global picture of the sorts of issues that face us here in NZ, now and into the future.
I've spent the past week in Chennai visiting my sister and brother in law. During our evenings together we've enjoyed long conversations about all manner of things, reminiscing experiences and memories from the past – often triggered by a comment or something we've heard on the news. Things like "remember that last episode of M*A*S*H? – why was Hawkeye being treated for a breakdown?" or "whatever happend to that young Afghani woman whose picture appeared on the cover of National Geographic?"
As the conversations continuted and the questions arose each of us in the group would use the devices available to begin searching for answers – generally coming up with them very quickly, and helping fuel further questions. i
The experience provides a graphic illustration of how important access to the internet has become in our daily lives – without it, these sorts of conversations, or more importantly, our ability to inform ourselves in a timely and appropriate manner, would not be possible.
The graphic at the top of this post comes from an article in Edudemic titled "how the world really connects to the internet". The opening paragraph in the article reads:
The internet: Not just for first world countries anymore. While high speed, broadband access may be much more ubiquitous in more developed countries, internet infrastructure and broadband connectivity is much more widespread than you may be aware of. Over the last decade, huge strides have been made, meaning many more students across the globe are being connected to the vast network of students, teachers, and the world.
So it's interesting to me to reflect on what's happening back in New Zealand in the lead up to the election, where it seems that the issue of access and connectivity has become the 'hot potato' – particularly in education. Not surprising, as it's been brewing for some time.
Back in 2012 Nikki Kaye championed a cross-party inquiry into 21st Century Learning and Digital Literacy. With all political parties participating in the process and having full access to all of the submissions etc., there was a plethora of information to inform future political agendas, and all of which provided a strong case for improving the level and quality of access to the internet (and the devices for doing so) for all learners.
Since the release of the report of the select committee being released early in 2013 we've seen the release of a report from the 21st Century Learning Reference Group (of which I am a part) which suggests ten priorities for equipping learners with 21st century skills and digital competencies. One of the recommendations reads:
Achieve equitable access to digital devices for every learner: Ensure all learners have access to suitable digital technologies, regardless of location, background, abilities or socio-economic status.
Seems like this has now become a key focus of all of the political parties – unfortunately not in the coordinated or cross-party way that we might have hoped for durng the select committee process, but that's politics I guess.
While we wait to see what may happen with the recommendations from the 21st Century Learning Reference group, the National Party have announced a new ICT advisory service for schools.
The Labour Party have identified providing kids with devices as one of their 'hot buttoned school issues', where they propose the provision of subsidised netbook/ laptop for all students to the tune of $120 million.
The Internet Party (not surprisingly as it's their primary focus) has a whole section in their policy on modern schools in which they propose triple the amount of annual ICT funding to state and state-integrated schools.(section 5.2).
So the ball has started rolling, and it looks like support for ICT in education, with an emphasis on connectivity and access, will be one of the things to watch.
All I can say is that I hope, amid all of the political manoeuvering and points scoring, we don't lose sight of the fact that whatever the strategy might be that we don't end up simply changing things for the sake of changing them – or to simply do something different from what the other parties suggest because it's another party.
At the end of the day, what I'm interested in is that all learners in our education system can have the opportunity to do what I was doing with my family, where I was able to use the device(s) available to me to access the information I required as and when required (ubiquity!) to help reinforce and inform my learning.
As the politics of pre-electioneering begins to take effect, let's hope it doesn't cloud (too much) the bigger dream we have for equitable and ubiquitous access – to devices and to the inernet – for all.
The 2013 TALIS report has just been released and makes for some interesting reading in light of the work I'm currently focusing on regarding modern learning environments and modern learning practice.
This is the second cycle of the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey. The first survey was conducted in 2007/2008.
The main focus of TALIS is on the learning environment and working conditions of teachers in schools. It offers an opportunity for teachers and school principals to provide for education analyses and policy development in relation to the issues being studied in TALIS.
I always find this sort of 'meta-level' research of interest, as it provides an opportunity to verify – and dispel – many of the myths that exist about teachers today. In addition, it then provides the opportunity to look specifically at comparing the cross-country data with what is happening specifically in my own context. From my initial read of the report here are some of the things I think are relevant to what's happening currently in NZ…
This issue reared its head a couple of years ago when the NZ government announced a policy of increasing class size (albeit incrementally), based on research that suggests this isn't the most significant factor influencing student achievement. When teachers in the TALIS survey are asked about class size and whether it has any detrimental effects on their job satisfaction or feelings of effectiveness as a teacher, their responses reveal that it is not the number of students in a class but the type of students (such as students with behavioural issues) that has the strongest association with the teacher’s job satisfaction and feelings of self-efficacy.
Workload is an increasingly 'hot topic' among teachers in NZ schools – many of those dedicated to their profession that I know are working well in excess of the 40 hours a week that might be considered a 'normal' working week. Yet teachers in the survey report that they work an average of 38 hours per week across countries, which could be considered an average work week for many fields. On average, half of teachers’ time is spent teaching and half is spent on all of the other daily tasks that are required of teachers.
A key issue affecting workload that emerged in the report from my perspective is that more than a third of teachers work in schools with significant staffing shortages of qualified teachers, teachers for students with special needs, and support personnel. This inevitably puts a greater strain on the other teachers in the school, and may be linked in part to the teacher responses to the class size questions.
Collaborative teaching practice
A key feature of modern learning practice is the emergin emphasis on collaborative teaching. The TALIS data indicates that most teachers are still teaching largely in isolation, as over half of teachers report very rarely or never team-teaching with colleagues, and two-thirds report the same rates for observing their colleagues teach.
As we move into teaching in more open, flexible and dynamic learning environments, understanding how to work effectively as a part of a team and to demonstrate collaborative teaching practices will become a requirement of being a teacher.
In the TALIS study teachers who work collaboratively with their colleagues report a stronger belief in their ability to teach (self-efficacy), as do teachers with more than five years of teaching experience. In almost all countries, teachers who report participating in collaborative professional learning at least five times a year report notably greater self-efficacy.
Professional learning and development has been a key focus of my work for more than 20 years, and in that time I've seen all sorts of 'fads' and emphases come and go – but nothing changes the fact that it is one of the most essential parts of maintaining a vibrant, current and self-renewing education system. In NZ we've been pretty well served in this area, with a sizeable amount of money being invested annually by the MoE for PLD in a variety of areas.
Yet despite this, the data the MoE use suggests the impact is minimal in terms of raising student achievement – and so we're seeing a move towards channeling the money allocated for PLD towards school-level activity, including teaching as inquiry and clusters of schools working together to address identified achievement challenges.
To be honest I see great value in the underpinning intent of encouraging teachers to be more critically reflective of their own practice, and also of the principle of incentivising teachers to work with other teachers in sharing effective practice and seeking solutons to common problems etc. TALIS teachers who reported participating in professional development activities involving individual and collaborative research, observation visits to other schools, or a network of teachers are also more likely to use these practices.
I do have some serious concerns, however, about how and where in this process we get sufficient impetus to drive innovation and to introduce new thinking – transformative thinking, as distinct from simply improvement thinking.
Relying solely on the injection of new ideas from within the circles that teachers operate is fraught with difficuty – surely we need a dual approach that supports and incentivises both ends of the spectrum.
The reasons most often cited by teachers in the TALIS report for not participating in professional development activities are conflicts with work schedules and the absence of incentives for participation. In general, teachers report higher participation rates in professional development in countries where they also report higher levels of financial support. In some cases, even when monetary support is not offered, teachers who are offered non-monetary support, such as scheduled time for activities during the school day, report participating in professional development.
There's plenty in the report about school leadership – such a vital influence of change, at the school and system level. There's been much criticism recently about the level of leadership in our schools, despite considerable investment in professional learning in this area. The NZ government is currently looking at esablishing a new approach to developing leadership in our schools – from induction through to experienced principals.
A reason that I feel we're waning in this area is that so much of what we do is focused on developing the individual leader, creating a sense of self-sufficiency in leadership and building 'iconic leadership' models. In my view there isn't enough emphasis on the practice of distributed leadership – including how it is modelled at the top level of our system.
It is pleasing therefore to read in the TALIS report that principals are increasingly distributing leadership and decision-making tasks, which can benefit both the teachers and the principals themselves. Principals with heavy workloads who distribute tasks and decision making less also report lower levels of job satisfaction.
Distributing leadership also saves principals valuable time for what some consider the most important task: instructional leadership. Principals who report more instructional leadership tend to spend more time on curriculum and teaching- related tasks and are more likely to observe classroom teaching as part of the formal appraisal of teachers’ work. In some countries, these principals more often report using the results of student performance and evaluations to develop the school’s educational goals and programmes.
Job satisfaction is a critical element of teacher recruitment and retention. Workload, support, PLD etc, are all contributors to this.
TALIS findings show that, in nearly all countries, when teachers perceive that appraisal and feedback lead to changes in their teaching practice, they also report greater job satisfaction. When teachers believe that appraisal and feedback is performed only for administrative purposes they report less job satisfaction. In addition, teachers who report that they participate in decision making at school also report greater job satisfaction.
Indeed, although fewer than a third of teachers believe that teaching is a valued profession in their country, those teachers who report that they can contribute to school decisions are more likely to report that teaching is valued in their society.
Teacher-student relations have an exceptionally powerful influence over teachers’ job satisfaction. In almost all countries, when teachers have more students with behavioural problems, they report significantly less job satisfaction.
So there it is – a quick summary of key thoughts aligining the TALIS report with the situation in NZ. As the report authors suggest, their data helps to support or debunk many of the myths that exist in our teaching profession. There may be some here that you want to explore further and I encourage you to download the report and read it for yourself, for these are purely my opinions. The most important thing, as with any of these reports, is 'so what'? How will it now inform what each of us does in our practice? How might this data inform changes in our schools or in our education system?
The focus of my talk was on how we need to work with our teachers and community to ensure we are able to identify and articulate our moral purpose - identified in the beliefs and values we share, and which should underpin our approach to change. If we simply tinker with altering parts of what we do or have (i.e. the furniture in our classrooms), or get carried away with building architectural delights, but without considering our purpose – or the 'why' at the centre of the golden circle that Simon Sinek refers to – then we're at risk of missing the opportunity of effecting change that is meaningful, sustainable and adding value to the lives of our students.
The innovation, then, is being able to set a transformation agenda, working from the core beliefs and values (moral purpose) of our staff and community, reflecting the particular character, aspirations and ideals that they hold in common – to move to a 'third place' in terms of how we think about school and schooling, instead of simply swinging on the perpetual pendulum of improvement.
Of course, we must carry our staff with us – so a special focus must be provided in the area of professional learning and development. This can't be achieved through simply attending the odd workshop or having a guest speaker attend a staff meeting. This sort of change will require a combination of systematic, inquiry-based practitioner reflection and action, combined with the mentoring and support of the 'agents of change' who can introduce the new thinking, challenge assumptions and help clarify the moral purpose that underpins the school's activity.
I'm currently putting the finishing touches to an online course due to go live next term (referred to in my previous post) that will provide the stimulation for groups of staff within a school to activate and lead change in the area of modern learning practice, by challenging together their thinking and assumptions in four key areas:
- rethinking learners
- rethinking teachers
- rethinking learning
- rethinking support.
I'm really looking forward to this opportunity of working with groups of staff from a variety of schools where we can collaboratively seek to find and share our answers to these questions – and from that, build some new frameworks to guide our practice into the future.