Author Archives: Derek Wenmoth

The Future of Jobs

Future of JobsFor my first blog post of 2016 I thought it appropriate to feature a 'future focused' piece. As the parent of an 18 year old who is currently assessing his career options I was interested to read this morning a report from the World Economic Forum titled The Future of Jobs that has just been released. 

The report is premised on the idea that the world is currently in the midst of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. The authors argue that this revolution is not simply an extension of the digital revolution that began in the middle of the last century. While it builds on the developments of this revolution, it is significantly different in three ways: 1. the speed of the development, 2. the scope of what is affected, and 3. the impact on systems change. 

Key drivers of change in this revolution are the emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage, and quantum computing.

This interests me as an educator as I consider how these things are (or aren't) reflected in our curriculum – not as an argument for introducing these as defined areas of study necessarily, rather, how seriously we need to consider the development of understandings, skills and competentices that will enable our young people to participate fully in a world where these things are shaping the way we live and the jobs we do. This is not simply an argument for increasing the focus on technical skills – a far wider set of skills and competencies will be required to thrive in this 'fourth revolution'.

On average, by 2020, more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today, according to our respondents. Overall, social skills— such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others—will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control. In essence, technical skills will need to be supplemented with strong social and collaboration skills.

This is not a new message – this thinking is exactly what informed and underpins the emphasis on key competency development in the New Zealand Curriculum! The perspective added by this report, nearly 15 years later, is the reinforcement of how important and urgent it is that we take our curriclum seriously, given the data revealed here about the shifts in job types and opportunities that are occurring. 

While I hear a lot of talk among some of my colleagues about 'slowing down' and 'getting the basics right', we owe it to our mokopuna and tamariki to ensure that the things we prioritise in the precious time they are in our care at school take into account the sorts of trends outlined in this World Economic Forum report. 

A key factor for educators and our education system is to consider how we might re-think our approaches in schools and tertiary insitutions, given that the exponential pace of change. During previous industrial revolutions, it often took decades to build the training systems and labour market institutions needed to develop major new skill sets on a large scale. Given the upcoming pace and scale of disruption brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, however, this is simply not be an option. 

Computing our future

I've been privileged to be attending the Google CS Outreach Partners Summit in Sydney over the past couple of days where the conversations have focused on how we can promote computational thinking and coding in our schools for students of all ages. It's a timely visit, particularly as the Hour of Code is gaining momentum currently around the world.

Lots of reference has been made at the Summit to the Australian Federal Government's recent announcement that they will spend almost $1.1 billion in the next four years to promote business-based research, development and innovation, which includes money to be set aside to help students in years 5 and 7 learn coding. (I wonder if we'll hear a similar announcement on our side of the ditch in Auckland next Monday?)

Google has, of course, been providing support for programmes like this for a while now, including the successful CS4HS and CS-First programmes – plus they offer a huge amount of other resources and support on their Google For Education website. And so too does Microsoft, with their Virtual Academy, and their support for Hour of Code, and computer science student resources (app) for example. 

Despite this, however, the uptake of interest in computer science and digitally-related careers lags well behind the level fo demand – with CS and digi-tech yet to be appropriately recognised within the curriculum of many international jurisdictions. 

computing our futureSo it was of interest I read a publication recently released by the European SchoolNet organisation, titled Computing our Future (PDF downoad) – documenting what is happening in this area across the European context. 

The preface to the document includes the following:

The challenge for the Education sector is to upskill the future workforce, but more importantly to empower young people with the competences to master and create their own digital technologies, and thrive in the society of today. We believe that teaching and learning how to code, in formal and non-formal education settings, will play a significant role in this process.

I like the fact that the focus is wider than simply preparing kids for future employment, and includes the notion of 'thriving in the society of today'. 

While this report is austensibly focused on providing an update on what is happening in the various countries in Europe, there is a lot of valuable material in here for educational leaders who are considering the place and value of computer science and coding in the curriculum – particularly those who may be at the start of their journey of thinking about this. The document includes some really useful graphics and definitions that will be helpful. 

Of particular interest to me is section 3 of the document which looks at integrating coding into the curriculum (very timely in terms of the NZ context). Among the 21 countries in this report, coding is already part of the curriculum (at national, regional or local level) in 16 of them. Countries generally have multiple reasons for integrating coding in the curriculum – reinforcing the understanding that this is about much more than simply preparing kids for future jobs as programmers, in fact, the aim of fostering employability in the sector is key for only eight countries. The majority of countries aim to develop students’ logical thinking skills (15 countries) and problem-solving skills (14 countries), thus addressing 21st century skills. More than half of the countries, namely 11, focus on the development of key competences and coding skills. 

Key questions I'm pondering:

  • how should computational thinking, computer science, coding (interchangeable terms to some degree) be included in our NZ curriculum for the future?
  • what are the key messages we must develop to ensure this is not simply about preparing for future employment – but about developing essential skills, knowledge and competencies to thrive in the digital world of the 21st century?
  • How can we best utilize the abundance of resource already available to support what can happen in schools – but needs to be distributed more widely?

 

Education Act Update – a vision of transformation?

EdActUpdate

In the New Zealand context we are facing times of incredible change in our education system, including a review of our Education Act. The consultation process for this review is incredibly short – particularly given the scope of what the Act addresses and the complexity of issues that arise from it as we endeavour to operate an effective and efficient educaiton system within it. 

One of the things the consultation process focuses on is making sure everyone knows the goals for education. According to the consultation documentation, the current Act doesn’t say clearly what the education goals for our children and young people are. The document claims:

[The Act] should describe what early learning and schooling should achieve for our children and young people, and say what things are most important to learners, parents, whānau, teachers, education services, businesses and the public. The Update should establish a way for national priorities about what is most important for education to be made clear, so schools and kura know what is expected of them, and can be sure that their planning is focused on the right things. 

The consultation documentation identifies that we currently have multiple purpose/goal statements in documents such as the NZ Curriculum, Te Marautanga o Aotearoa and Te Whariki. We need to consider these collectively and identify what it is we have as our 'moonshot' goal for the NZ education system. The groups at the consultation sessions I've attended to date haven't really engaged with this in any depth – moving more quickly to some of the more detailed questions for conisideration – yet I can't help feeling that without a clear alignment on this first one it becomes difficult to answer any of the others. (Without a vision the people perish!) We see this currently in our education system where national priorities, no matter  how well intended or valuable they may be, can simply emerge (and do so) at the whim of the Minister or senior officials.

Ed2030_coverThis issue is not unique to NZ, and is the focus of systems around the world. I found it useful to read the Incheon Declaration for Education 2030, which sets out a new vision for education for the next fifteen years. It was developed by UNESCO together with UNICEF, the World Bank, UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women and UNHCR at the World Education Forum 2015 in Incheon, Republic of Korea, from 19 – 22 May 2015, hosted by the Republic of Korea. 

I really like the following from this document…

Our vision is to transform lives through education, recognizing the important role of education as a main driver of development and in achieving the other proposed [Sustainable Development Goals] SDGs. We commit with a sense of urgency to a single, renewed education agenda that is holistic, ambitious and aspirational, leaving no one behind. This new vision is fully captured by the proposed SDG 4 “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” and its corresponding targets. It is transformative and universal, attends to the ‘unfinished business’ of the [Eduation for All] EFA agenda and the education-related [Millennium Development Goals] MDGs, and addresses global and national education challenges. It is inspired by a humanistic vision of education and development based on human rights and dignity; social justice; inclusion; protection; cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity; and shared responsibility and accountability. We reaffirm that education is a public good, a fundamental human right and a basis for guaranteeing the realization of other rights. It is essential for peace, tolerance, human fulfilment and sustainable development. We recognize education as key to achieving full employment and poverty eradication. We will focus our efforts on access, equity and inclusion, quality and learning outcomes, within a lifelong learning approach.

Now that's a transformational vision! Imagine the possibilities and permissions there are within that statement, with it's emphasis on…

  • access
  • inclusion and equity
  • gender equality
  • quality
  • lifelong learning opportunities

How might we lift the level of conversation in our NZ Education Act consultation process to dig deep into these themes and issues, and consider how our Updated Education Act might create the platform for a wide range of truly transformative activity in our schools and communities, rather than attempting (as it does now) to manage our system with an unecessary amount of minute and detail that belongs more appropriately in the subsequent policy documents and priority statements that will change and evolve over time. 

Networked Leadership

TCreports

This week's announcement of funding to support the establishment of a new Centre for Educational Leadership in NZ heralds a significant change for the way we think about the leadership of our schools and educational institutions into the future. The press release states:

The centre will be established by the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand, the newly formed professional body for teachers, and will be partially funded by the Ministry of Education which is contributing $250,000 to its set-up costs. Its initial focus will be the principals who have been selected to lead the new Communities of Learning established to foster systematic collaboration across the education system.

The Teacher's Council has been preparing their thinking about future focused leadership, and have just published their paper on Leadership for Communities of Learning (pdf download) which has been authored by Robyn Baker on behalf of the Council. This paper is a synthesis of the five "Think Piece" papers (pdf download) that were commissioned by the Council from five educational leaders in NZ.

I was the author of one of the papers – on Networked leadership. My perspective is that as we embrace the thinking and activity of the Communities of Schools we must avoid thinking of them as simply another structural or organisational change in our schooling system, but rather a fundamental shift towards operating as a networked culture and as networked organisations. Leadership in this environment must be thought of and enacted quite differently from what we've experienced in the past. It will require considerably different mindset, based on deep collaboration at all levels, and the sense of being connected to something bigger than oneself and ones own (local) institution. It will require a fine balance of three perspectives, leadership of the organisation, leadership in the organisation and leadership as the organisation. 

This is going to require leadership that

  • is network literate, understanding the way networks operate and how to work effectively within them,
  • collaborative instead of competitive, moving beyond the self-interest of the local organisation,
  • moves from hierarchy and heterachy to holarchy, understanding that the conventional 'power-oriented approaches to leaderhsip no longer apply.

My hope is that this new centre will embrace this thinking (along with the key ideas presented by the other four authors) to create and promote a truly future focused view of leadership for our schools – not simply a regurgitation of all of the leadership thinking and theorising that has shaped our past thinking. Of course, there is much value in a lot of that thinking – but as we bring it forward to the present, it needs to be located within the paradigm of the networked organisation in the networked age. And that's something we're all going to have to imagine and co-create as we move forward. 

Does ICT assist learning?


The latest report from the OECD titled Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection has attracted lots of attention in the past week. The report's main claim is that computers do not improve student results, and news feeds around the world have picked up on this using headlines suggesting school technology struggles to make an impact and  schools are wasting money on computers for kids.

Lying behind the headlines are revelations that technology in the classroom leads to poorer performance among pupils is that it can be distracting and that syllabuses have not become good enough to take make the most of the technologies available. There are also concerns about plagiarism with concerns that if students can simply copy and paste answers to questions, it is unlikely to help them become smarter.

Such headlines are bound to appeal to the 'digital doubters' and those calling for 'back to basics' as the panacea to education's woes – but what does this report really tell us? Given the level of investment involved with the use of technology it's certainly not inappropriate to ask whether it makes a difference, but in doing this we need to ask: “Difference in what?"

The OECD researchers found no appreciable improvements in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested heavily in ICT for education. It adds that the use of technology in schools has done little to bridge the skills divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students. The report concludes that ensuring that every child reaches a baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics seems to do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding or subsidizing access to high-tech devices and services.

Of course there's nothing new in studies comparing educational outcomes using technology with those that don't. Back in the early 1990s the "No Significant Difference" study provided an analysis of several hundred reports comparing student outcomes between face to face and distance delivery courses. It concluded that an overwhelming number of studies showed that when the course materials and teaching methodology were held constant, there were no significant differences (NSD) between student outcomes in a distance delivery course as compared to a face to face course. 

One interpretation of the NSD conclusion holds that the use of technology to deliver courses does no harm – that is, face to face learning has no inherent advantage to students over learning at a distance. The other interpretation is that technology does not help – and if a course can be delivered for less expense without technology, there is no need to use technology at all. 

In the early 1990s Stanford historian of technology in education, Larry Cuban set out to find out if computers were changing education practice. His findings mirror the original NSD study. In his book he writes "In the schools we studied, we found no clear and substantial evidence of students increasing their academic achievement as a result of using information technologies." Further, he found "…the overwhelming majority of teachers employed the technology to sustain existing patterns of teaching rather than to innovate."  In other words, by simply using the ICTs as a substitute for traditional approaches it was not surprising to Cuban and his colleagues to find no significant difference in achievement. 

Acknowledgement of this is made in the foreword to the OECD report…

The report leaves many questions unanswered. The impact of technology on education delivery remains sub-optimal, because we may overestimate the digital skills of both teachers and students, because of naïve policy design and implementation strategies, because of a poor understanding of pedagogy, or because of the generally poor quality of educational software and courseware.

So here remains a big question for us to answer as educators, leaders and policy makers: "is the apparent lack of 'difference' in achievement attributable purely to the affordances of the technology, or is it more to do with the wider issues of teacher and student digital skills, pedagogical practices, assessment regimes etc.?" 

In their response to the NSD phenomenon, Diana Oblinger and Brian Hawkins of Educause suggest that asking whether technology makes a difference in student learning implies that learning is a high-tech or no-tech phenomenon. They argue the issue is not that simple. Learning occurs as a result of motivation, opportunities, an active process, interaction with others, and the ability to transfer learning to a real-world situation. 

This is the key focus of educational leadership guru, and more recently technology advocate Michael Fullan. His book Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge is about how the ideas embedded in the new technology, the new pedagogy, and the new change knowledge are converging to transform education for all. Fullan claims that…

Technology has had its own pace, wildly outstripped the other two in sheer quantity and in aimless quality. It is now time to reconcile how technology can join the fray in a more purposeful way in order to transform learning for educators and learners in the 21st century.

The OECD's Andreas Schleicher appears to support this position in his final paragraph in his foreword to the report:

If we want to mobilise support for more technology-rich schools, we need to become better at communicating the need and building support for change. We need to invest in capacity development and change-management skills, develop sound evidence and feed this evidence back to institutions, and back all that up with sustainable financing. Last but not least, it is vital that teachers become active agents for change, not just in implementing technological innovations, but in designing them too.

Computers can be useful when teachers sufficiently understand the technology themselves, believe it will enhance learning, and have the power to shape their own curricula. But these conditions can’t be met without a broader and deeper commitment to public education beyond preparing workers. More attention needs to be paid to the civic and social goals of schooling, goals that make the question of how many computers are in classrooms trivial. As the OECD report points out…

Empowering young people to become full participants in today’s digital public space, equipping them with the codes and tools of their technology-rich world, and encouraging them to use online learning resources – all while exploring the use of digital technologies to enhance existing education processes, such as student assessment or school administration – are goals that justify the introduction of computer technology into classrooms. (OECD report, page 186)

So what are some lessons for us all in this…

  1. Don't read the headlines only, read the substance of the report to find out what is really being reported.
  2. Take note of what the report confirms about comparative studies – if it can be done without technology then it possibly should.
  3. Consider the appropriate response to concerns about plagiarism and digital distraction in your school.
  4. Don't expect technology to, on its own, result in improved student outcomes. 
  5. Don't give up on the idea of embracing technology in your school – but ensure it's not simply as a substitute for existing approaches
  6. Improving levels of digial literacy and digital fluency among teachers and learners is vital – where is our PD focus?
  7. Focus on how technology, combined with new pedagogies and change knowledge, can transform our practices as educators.

 

 

Makerspaces

ProverbThe buzz words around many areas of education at the moment include STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and the Maker Movement – both of which emphasise 'hands-on' learning and 'learning by doing', emphasising engagement in real world problems and the use of design principles and approaches.

This interest has been  building for some time now – Mark Osborne discusses the Maker Culture in CORE's Ten Trends in 2014, noting that active learning increases the rate of learning faster than passive learning. Simply watching others build or make things fire up parts of our brain that are left untouched by passive learning.

Mark is one of the featured speakers at this year's pre-conference workshop day titled Permission to Play, which will provide an opportunity for the sharing of ideas and activities that are taking place in classrooms around NZ. 

MakerspacesIn his Trends talk, Mark references the fact that the idea of making, of building, of constructing has a strong basis in research. Seymour Papert introduced us to the notion of Constructionism in his book Mindstorms, back in the 1980s, and since then there has been a growing body of experience and literature supporting the call for more of this sort of experience in our schools. 

Thus I have been interested to see the release of a document from MakerEd titled MakerSpaces – Highlights of Select Literature (PDF download). This review looks at a selection of the latest discourse and thinking emerging from the growth of makerspaces and their developing roles in education and communities. 

Not motivated by the same political agendas that lie behind the STEM movements in many countries, this publication provides a useful read for those wishing to get their head around the Maker Movement and its impact in schools. There are sections that explore the types and categories of maker space that are emerging around the world, a whole section on benefits for participants and one on the interdisciplinary roles of maker spaces which has to be one of the defining benefits of this movement in my view. 

From the section on benefits to participants I particularly liked this quote:

“ … the most important benefits of maker-centered learning are neither STEM skills nor technical preparation for the next industrial revolution. Though these benefits may accrue along the way, the most salient benefits of maker-centered learning for young people have to do with developing a sense of self and a sense of community that empower them to engage with and shape the designed dimension of their worlds."

At the end of the day this is what we ought to be striving towards in our education system – not simply that our young people will be equipped to get a job in the modern world, but that they will be equipped as individuals and as human beings to live as citizens in tht world and contribute in positive ways to creating a 'decent society'. 

Leadership in times of crisis

do-not-enter-sign

Five years ago today, at 4:35 am, Saturday 4 September 2010, the Canterbury region was rocked by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. The next major earthquake was on 22 February 2011 at 12:51pm. On this occasion 185 people lost their lives.

From 4 September 2010 until 4 September 2011, there were around 9,000 aftershocks and earthquakes. Some of these were very strong and caused more damage to buildings and land.

Schools were closed for about two weeks after the Feb. 2011 earthquake. Over 12,000 students re-enrolled in schools outside of the Greater Christchurch area – almost 16% of the total number of students in the region at the time. Half of these had returned within a year of the first quake. 

Damage to school buildings was extensive, with remediation required ranging from complete demolition and rebuild to extensive repairs and refurbishment.

A number of the more seriously affected schools were co-located on other schools’ sites for periods expected to vary from a month or so to the rest of the 2011 academic year, and potentially beyond that.

During this time and since we have witnessed examples of incredible courage, of resilience, and of leadership in the face of crisis. This includes our education leaders – particularly school principals, many of whom worked tirelessly to support their staff, students and community for months on end, returning home each evening to their own damaged homes and property.

A lot of people believe that the true leadership capacity of a person is tested during times of crisis. Performance under stress can show how quick witted or level headed a person is, or on the contrary, it can show where their weaknesses lie.

The devastation of the Christchurch earthquakes caused an unprecedented impact on the human and formal school systems and infrastructures in the city. This natural disaster created a state of crisis. School leaders were required to respond during this crisis, executing crisis management and crisis leadership strategies.

Of course, this isn’t just about principal leadership. In times of crisis leadership emerges at all levels of the system. MIT Sloan Professor Deborah Ancona notes that natural disasters call on all of a person's leadership skills. She says…

“What is clear is that during such disasters you need leadership at all levels. Executive leadership to devise overall strategy and people on the ground with the authority and skills to act of their own accord when necessary.”

She goes on to say… “Natural disasters demand all these skills, they are important aspects of a leader's repertoire. A huge amount of innovation is necessary, new processes, new structures to pull together relief agencies and all the disparate actors in the relief effort. Multiple agencies have to work together, so relating skills are pivotal.”

Since the Christchurch earthquakes we have seen many examples of this with the emergence of groups such as the Student Army and CANcern, the activation of community groups in leading the restoration of community assets and facilities, to the heightened work within some neighbourhoods to provide support for the vulnerable in their midst.

A recent initiative to aid the recovery of schools involves a partnership between the regional Ministry of Education and Ngai Tahu, working with four provider organisations to design, develop and deliver a programme of support for schools and their communities as they work through their recovery process.

This is what the distributed leadership model is all about: understanding the context in which one is operating, developing productive relationships and networks, visualizing the desired outcome, and inventing ways of working together to realize that vision.

We are evolving towards the view of a networked education system, where models of distributed leadership will most certainly be required, and collaborative approaches demanded. We can use today to reflect on the events five years ago in Christchurch, and use this experience to consider what model or models of leadership are needed, working with parents, whānau and community, to provide us with the future focused education system that will prepare our learners, our tamariki, our mokopuna, for their future – and not our past.

 

Innovative Education Experiences

InnoveEdu

There's been a lot of discussion among my colleagues at CORE Education recently about the nature of transformation, and what this looks like in education. Stories emerge daily in our media of how our existing education system is failing to adequately address the needs of current students such as this one about Auckland's education story or this one about our 'broken' assessment system.  So where are the stories of where innovation is challenging traditional educational systems and models in a practical sense?

We do have some great examples of innovative practice here in NZ, as highlighted by the Prime Minister's excellence awards, or browsing the case studies on the NZC Online site or the enabling eLearning site for example. There's so much we can learn about innovation and the transformation process from such stories. 

With this in mind I was encourged recently to find this site from InnoveEdu featuring 96 initiatives from around the world. Each story presents meaningful learning experiences connected with the demands of the 21st century, distributed among five categories. Curated by Porvir, in partnership with Edsurge, Innovation Unit and World Innovation Summit for Education, InnoveEdu presents a wide range of ideas. Entries range from technological tools to facilitate teachers' jobs, to government policies to transform pedagogical practice in public education systems.

There's a useful filter you can use to locate the stories that will be most interesting to you, with three key sections:

  • Innovation – which differentiates between the type of innovation – disruptive or incremental
  • Where – locating the innovation within the school, community, home or online context
  • Trend – focusing specifically on one or more of five trends identified by the project as being hallmarks of innovative education experiences; 21st century skills, personalised learning, hands-on learning, community based learning and new credentials (including new forms of assessment). 

Using this framework, each case study is presented in a way that allows you to easily access the key points and make comparisons between and across a range of contexts.  

This is a great site to be exploring on a Winter weekend :-)

What makes for effective PLD?

GooDPLD

At a meeting I attended last week a group of people were discussing approaches they might use to 'bring teachers up to speed' with the ideas and approaches they were discussing (in this case, computational thinking). The discussion that ensued raised all of the usual issues around why it's difficult to find effective PLD solutions: teachers are time poor, the overloaded curriculum, lack of expertise, reluctance to change etc. When turning their attention to finding a solution the predictable list appeared: provide more teacher only days (TODs), introduce a range of incentives (carrots), introduce mandatory requirements (sticks) etc. The discussion also ventured into the problem with providing PLD support that is 'just in time' rather than that which is 'just in case'.

As one of the few professionals in the group whose work is built around designing and delivering professional learning and development, I was asked to offer my thoughts on what makes for effective professional learning and development. Having spent much time exploring what the literature says about this, and being involved in significant national research efforts to identify the same, my list was easy to share:

Effective professional learning and development has the following four characteristics:

  1. It is in-depth
  2. It is provided over time
  3. It is related to practice
  4. It is contextually relevant

I use this list as my litmus test when designing PLD approaches with principals and schools. Based on more recent experience, I think I'd add a fifth point: 5. It is collaborative. I see this increasingly as the differentiating factor in the level of success with PLD programmes in schools I work with.

Clearly, it would be easy then to eliminate the one-day workshop, or attendance at a one-off seminar or conference if using this list. So too a one-size fits all style of 'course' that is 'delivered' on a large scale with no provision for customisation or adapting to a personal need. 

This sort of thinking is certainly contributing to the current government policy in NZ, where the 'evidence' suggests that most forms of PLD to date have been ineffective, and that a new approach needs to be taken. In NZ's case this appears to be based on recognising the expertise that exists within schools and clusters and providing support for internally designed and developed approaches to PLD. 

Teachers know bestSuch moves are not surprising. In the US, similar dissatisfaction with existing PLD approaches has been reported, with a recent publication titled "Teachers Know Best" from the Boston Publishing group, sponsored by the Gates Foundation, reporting that large majorities of teachers do not believe that professional development is helping them prepare for the changing nature of their jobs, including using technology and digital learning tools, analyzing student data to differentiate instruction, and implementing the Common Core State Standards and other standards. The report provides a detailed breakdown of the types of PLD that teachers consider work or don't compared with what is provided.

Based on their research, the report authors suggest that principals and teachers in the US largely agree on what effective PLD looks like, and it is summarised in the paper as:

Characteristics of professional development associated with improving student achievement:

  • Sustained and content specific
  • Teacher learning goals aligned with standards
  • Involving active learning techniques (e.g., observing expert teachers, leading discussions)
  • Including established teams to facilitate “collective participation” and teachers using data in making instructional decisions

Two formats that hold promise:

  • Coaching has been shown to improve teachers’ abilities to adopt and implement new teaching practices
  • Collaboration helps to build relational trust in the school building, which enables teachers to more effectively make difficult decisions

In a recent blog post titled Developing Great Teaching that explores these same issues I referenced a report from the Teacher Development Trust which identifies 8 characteristics of effective PLD (repeated below) 

  • Duration: effective professional development lasts at least two semesters, and needs a ‘rhythm’ of follow-up and consolidation;
  • Targeted: the content should be relevant to the teachers’ needs and day-to-day experiences;
  • Aligned: no single activity is universally effective – instead it is a combination that reinforced the message from different perspectives that works;
  • Content: successful development must consider both subject knowledge and subject-specific teaching techniques;
  • Activities: successful development features common types of activities including discussion, experimentation and analysis and reflection;
  • External input: constructive external input provides new perspectives and challenges orthodoxies;
  • Collaboration: peer support gives participants an opportunity to work together and refine new approaches;
  • Leadership: effective leaders get involved in development, define opportunities and provide the support needed to embed change.

While there are some differences in each of the three lists above, there are also some very strong alignments. These are the sorts of things that we need to be taking notice of and building our future PLD programmes around.

It's too easy to look at PLD in a 'fractured' sort of way, thinking about each PLD event in isolation, without appreciating how, if a systemic view was taken, these elements could actually be aligned and understood as a part of a continuum of development, rather than an isolated experience. This is where the analysis in the Gates report is weakened, as it examines the reported effectiveness of each PD event (i.e. workshops, conferences, in-class observation etc.) without referencing how that might 'fit' within the overall programme of development of a school or district. Clearly, since the reports were based on teacher perceptions, those who were surveyed didn't have an appreciation of that – or the survey design didn't allow them to report that. 

Back to the NZ scene, I'm very excited about the increased emphasis on supporting schools and clusters to take a more proactive role in designing and developing their own PLD processes and approaches as clearly the mandated, imposed sorts of approaches are becoming less relevant where the needs are so diverse. There's a danger we must be aware of, however, in that cluster leaders will themselves need to be fully aware of and able to lead PLD approaches that are founded on the key principles that the research and evidence reveals, or else they two run the risk of implementing some of the very same practices that we know don't work. 

The secret is to take a system-level view, one that is designed to take all staff on a journey, over time, towards achieving both personal and school/cluster goals. and which has strategic means of measuring impact and outcomes. 

Rethinking Education

Rethinking Education UNESCO

So much of the work I do currently involves working with education leaders and school communities who are confronted with change as a result of one or a combination of new buildings, investment in technology or adopting modern learning practices. Typically there is a mix of reaction, from those who are keen to embrace the changes through to those who fiercly resist, preferring to defend the traditions of the past. 

Whatever the reaction, we need to recognise that we are living in a world characterized by change, complexity and paradox. These changes signal the emergence of a new global context for learning that has vital implications for education. It requires that we revisit the purpose of education and the organization of learning. 

Here's a great new release from UNESCO titled The Future of Education – Towards a global common good (PDF downlaod) that explores the context for this change at a global level. This report reconsiders the purpose of education and the principles that govern education and knowledge as common goods. The publication is intended as a call for policy dialogue and as a platform for research on the future of learning, but makes for excellent reading for those interested in education from whatever level of the system they are involved in, whether principals, teachers or parents. 

The report argues that the complexity of today’s world requires a comprehensive approach to education policy embedded in a better understanding of the way in which knowledge is created, controlled, disseminated, acquired, validated and used. It also requires further development of the ethical principles that govern education and knowledge as common goods.

I found reading this both refreshing and challenging. Too often the dialogue around educational change is anchored in the surface features of schooling – and in the materialistic context of NZ, focuses on things such as decile ranking, status, architecture, resources etc. instead of the outcomes in terms of what will best serve the future of our nation and our planet. This quote from the foreword by Irina Bokova Director-General of UNESCO, emphasises my point:

There is no more powerful transformative force than education – to promote human rights and dignity, to eradicate poverty and deepen sustainability, to build a better future for all, founded on equal rights and social justice, respect for cultural diversity, and international solidarity and shared responsibility, all of which are fundamental aspects of our common humanity.

Of course, a particular interest for me is the perspective on the impact of digital technologies, and how the ways in which the emergence of a 'cyber culture' is likely to shape and change our modern world. Here's the section from the report that deals with this (p.26):

One of the defining features of development today is the emergence and expansion of the cyber world, stimulated by the spectacular growth in internet connectivity and mobile penetration. We live in a connected world. An estimated 40 per cent of the world’s population now uses the internet and this number is growing at a remarkable rate.35 While there are significant variations in internet connectivity among countries and regions, the number of households with such links in the global South has now overtaken those in the global North. Moreover, over 70 per cent of mobile telephone subscriptions worldwide are now in the global South.36 Five billion people are expected to go from no to full connectivity within the next twenty years. However, there are still significant gaps among countries and regions, for example between urban and rural areas. Limited broadband speed and lack of connectivity hamper access to knowledge, participation in society and economic development.

The internet has transformed how people access information and knowledge, how they interact, and the direction of public management and business. Digital connectivity holds promise for gains in health, education, communication, leisure and well-being.38 Artificial intelligence advances, 3D printers, holographic recreation, instant transcription, voice-recognition and gesture-recognition software are only some examples of what is being tested. Digital technologies are reshaping human activity from daily life to international relations, from work to leisure, redefining multiple aspects of our private and public life.

Such technologies have expanded opportunities for freedom of expression and for social, civic and political mobilization, but they also raise important concerns. The availability of personal information in the cyber world, for example, brings up significant issues of privacy and security. New spaces for communication and socialization are transforming what constitutes the idea of ‘social’ and they require enforceable legal and other safeguards to prevent their overuse, abuse and misuse.  better prepare new generations of ‘digital natives’40 to deal with the ethical and social dimensions of not only existing digital technologies but also those yet to be invented.