Category Archives: Diary entry

RIP Seymour Papert


My post today is to acknowledge the passing of a truly inspirational leader in the field of educational technology – Professor Emeritus Seymour Papert, who died on Sunday aged 88. He was an educational-technology visionary and a founding faculty member of the MIT Media Lab.

Papert was among the first to recognize the revolutionary potential of computers in education. In the late 1960s, at a time when computers still cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Papert came up with the idea for Logo, the first programming language for children. I used this with my students to program the movements of a “turtle” around the screen, learning as they did so some of the essentials of programming.

As a young lecturer in educational technology at the CHCH College of Education back in the early 1990s I immersed myself in his book “Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas” (1980), and from it gaining insights into Papert’s position that it “should be the child who programs the computer and, in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intimate contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.

Despite the fact that we’ve seen generations of change in the form and nature of technology that we’re using in classrooms,  I find this to be as true a statement today as it was when it was written, and it continues to influence the way I think about how we integrate and use technology in education.

Papert has influenced a generation of educators such as myself, and the legacy of his work will continue to influence generations more I’m sure.

Leadership in times of crisis


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.


Welcome back… (not?)

I've spent every day this week in a variety of schools working with staff on their teacher only days before their students return to full time instruction. I have to confess that I really love this part of my job – it provides an opportunity to reconnect with that part of the 'chalk-face' where you see the passion and enthusiasm that exists within our profession, where plans are made for improving what is done for students, new ideas embraced and developed etc.

One part of the culture of schools that is evident in the schools I've been working with is the ability of teachers to act with good humour in times when the reality for them is that they're facing enormous change, mostly as a consequence of externally imposed pressures. This morning I was at a school where the principal used the clip above as a way of breaking the ice with his staff on their first day back. He coud do so, of course, because the portrayal of the principal in the clip is the antithesis of how he is percieved by his staff. The ruse worked, and after some good-hearted leg-pulling and banter, we got down to work together on some serious and challenging planning as the staff of this particular school prepare to move out of their existing earthquake-damaged buildings into a soon-to-be-completed modern learning environment. 

I guess my reflection today is on the value of relationships within staff, and the importance of humour as a means of ensuring that, in the midst of what can often seem an overwhelming and insurmountable task, we can laugh at ourselves and find humour in the circumstances. 

Resolutions for 2014

As I've been preparing for my work with schools in 2014 I've been thinking more about the need to be 'transformative' in our thinking and to be looking at doing 'new things in new ways' in order to achieve the sorts of change in our system and practice that is necessary.

After keynotes I give on this, or when facilitating professional development sessions, I'm often asked "So when can I start? What can I do to keep on with my professional learning after this session has finished?"  Well, in the digital world there are plenty of opportunities to engage in professional learning activity that will inspire, inform and support you in developing these new skills and knowledge. 

The start of a new year is when resolutions are made to do something new or to commit to a course of action – so in thinking about that, I've put together a few ideas that might be helpful in providing a practical starting point for embarking on your own professional learning journey in 2014. You might choose just one and pursue it deeply, or consider a combination. Each of these suggestions has the potential to link you to a rich source of information and connections with others – I'd love to hear how you get on, or if  you have other ideas and suggestions, share them in the reply field of this post. 


What are your big questions?


If you're looking for a great way to start your year in 2014 why not book now for the Learning@School conference to be held in Auckland on 22 and 23 January? 

We all understand that professional learning isn't effective in one-off or stand-alone events – it needs to be connected to the ongoing inquiry that we active as educators, pursuing answers the the questions we have about our own practice and its impact on student learning. The annual Learning@School conference has always been promoted as a sort of "national staff meeting" of all of those involved in facilitating or implementing new practices in schools. For many individuals and schools the conference provides the 'launch pad' for their PLD programme through the rest of the year, providing the stimulus and connections that are carried on through into the programme in the school context. 

L@S pick a pathThis year the Learning@School conference is going a step further to help you with this process by providing an online guide to let you plan your pathway of learning while at the conference, based on the questions you may be asking. 

Starting with your questions you can choose a pathway from the four themes of the conference:

•  Creativity
•  Partnerships
•  Leadership
•  Achievement

For each theme there is a great keynote speaker, and a spotlight speaker – plus  lots of workshops being presented by classroom teachers, sharing their practice and the outcomes of their own inquiries in the past year. 

In addition, this year we're introducing our 'sofa sessions' – informal discussions with experts in their field, focusing on issues and ideas related to each of the themes. 

I have the privilege of hosting a panel on the theme of "Achievement", which is the area I feel is most in need of a complete and radical reform in our education system – and I believe it is coming!! I'm currently confirming the members of my sofa team, and will let you know through my blog when this is done, but I am looking forward to a really interesting dialogue in which some game-changing ideas and initiatives will be shared. 

At next year's conference I'll also be running a workshop to launch CORE's Ten Trends for 2014 and another on what it means to be learning-centred in what we do in our schools and classrooms.

Learning@School is a time I really look forward to each year, to be energised by hearing about and observing what teachers are doing in their classrooms, to discover how schools are addressing the issues and concerns they have, and to be inspired by the various keynote and spotlight speakers. I look forward to joining many of you there!

Mushy finds his voice

Last night I had the privilge of attending the year group prize giving ceremony at the high school my son attends. It was a proud moment for me as he received an excellence award in science, the subject area that he has been most interested in and intends to follow through next year. 

Watching the assembled group of teachers and students, I was reminded, yet again, of the incredible investment of time and effort that is made by these professionals as they work tirelessly to shape and mould the young people in their care. The high quality of the musical performances, the looks of appreciation that were exchanged between students and their teachers, and the overarching sense of pride and achievement that filled the hall made me proud to be an educator. 

So it was with interest that I watched the clip titled "Mushy finds his voice', in which pupil Musharaf Asghar overcomes a lifelong crippling stutter and tells his classmates and teachers: 'Thank you for helping me speak'

Preparing for a crucial GCSE test in which he has to speak aloud, 'Mushy' struggles. His teacher, Mr Burton, recalls something he saw on The King's Speech, involving the use of music to re-focus attention while speaking.  Mushy pops in the headphones, and tries again, and as the words start pouring out of him Mr Burton's face is a picture of pure joy.

At the end of year assembly a teacher tells the pupils how when he arrived at the school Mushy could barely talk, was badly bullied, and had just a 34 per cent attendance record. Now he's a prefect and Mushy has something he'd like to say, she tells them.

Now that's a great story – an individual changed and liberated as a learner through the actions of a teacher. We need to hear more of these!

Building better schools

Andreas SchliecherThis morning I had the privilge of attending a breakfast at the Beehive with a large group of principals, BoT chairs and other educators to hear Andreas Schleicher speaking about what we can learn from the PISA data.

I've referred to Andreas' TED talk in a previous blog post – his breakfast presentation covered a lot of what is covered in that video, with specific reference to New Zealand in the discussion. Some of his recent PPT material is also available online from previous presentions. 

For those unfamiliar with the PISA research the Auckland Primay Principal's Association has shared a useful summary online reflecting what the PISA data tells us about NZ schools. 

The PISA data seems to capture headlines whenever it is released, and is increasinlgy used by governments to inform policy and resourcing of education. Such decisions are not without controversy of course. The previous evening I had the opportunity to attend the launch of some research commissioned by the PPTA, titled "Who achieves what in secondary schooling? A conceptual and empirical analysis".

The research, conducted by LIz Gordon with a companion piece by Brian Easton, aims to answer a series of questions relating to the currently popular political discourse that one in five students are failing in secondary school, and explores more deeply a lot of the PISA data in the process. The closest to the politically popular 20% figure the researchers were able to find was that 14.3% of students failed to achieve proficiency level 2 on PISA reading – and a closer examination of this group showed that 74% were male and that socio-economic factors such as parental income and the number of books in the home were clearly contributing issues.

The key things I took from both meetings were:

  1. confirmation of the importance of data in our decision-making process when it comes to formulating policy and allocating resources at a national and local level,
  2. there is now a rich pool of data available for us to interrogate and use to inform these decisions, and
  3. we need to engage meaningfully with the data to ensure the conclusions we draw are indeed supported by the data and that superficial conclusions, or  the use of the data to support pre-determined  conclusions be tested through a thorough interrogation and analysis process.

Tribute to a friend

vince ham3

Today my very good friend, colleague and co-founder of CORE, Dr Vince Ham died after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was at home with his wife and family.

Vince was one of New Zealand education's rare gems – both in terms his personal integrity as a researcher and educator, and in terms of his immense contribution to the educational knowledge base, nationally and internationally, around ICTs and learning. 

Vince and I were introduced more than 20 years ago when I began work as a lecturer in educational technology at the Christchurch College of Education, and Vince was already there in a senior lecturer role. He must have wondered abut me when I arrived, full of raw enthusiasm and completely naive in terms of working in a tertiary context. But he never criticised or made fun of me – instead he did what I've seen him do with dozens of other educators in the intervening years, he simply got alongside and gently channelled my enthusiasm by asking questions, making suggestions and effectively modelling the behaviours of a reflective practitioner. 

Over time Vince and I began working closely on a number of projects, collaborating to write papers and present at conferences and generally 'feed' off each others respective strengths. I did my apprenticeship as a researcher under his tutelage, benefitting enormously from the depth of his knowledge and skill across all dimensions of research endeavour – particularly action research. 

The connection with Stephen Heppell in the late 1990s fuelled our vision for a NZ-based educational research and development organisation, and with Nick Billowes, led to the establishment of Ultralab South (now CORE). In this venture, Vince became known as the 'consience' of the organisation, the 'keeper of the values' on which the organisation was based. He continued to defend this passionately, including in the more recent years when he was appointed as one of the founding trustees on the CORE Charitable Trust. 

Vince was indeed a man who 'walked the talk' when it came to living out his personal philosophy and beliefs as an educator. He will be missed by a great number of people. He will be missed by me because in him I had an 'anchor' for my thinking, someone I could pass my ideas before and expect an honest critique, and someone I could turn to when I felt out of my depth academically and intellectually to help make sense of things.

My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Ronnie and his family as they mourn his passing. 

Me te aroha tino nui atu.

The first web page

First Web page

It's now 20 years since the WWW was brought into the world, and to celebrate,The European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) has recreated the website that launched it. 

CERN is not only preserving the original site, but also a range of information and artefacts associated with the origins of the web, including Tim Berners-Lee’s original proposal for the web. 

Preserving this unique piece of the world's history is really important. As Dan Noyes, the web manager for CERN’s communication group says:

I want my children to be able to understand the significance of this point in time: the web is already so ubiquitous – so, well, normal – that one risks failing to see how fundamentally it has changed. We are in a unique moment where we can still switch on the first web server and experience it. We want to document and preserve that.

The whole project is being housed at the original web address, and is worth visiting as it contains the history of the web, as well as CERN’s plans to preserve that history.

More shaking up Christchurch Education

I spent today at a meeting of the Canterbury Primary Principals Association (CPPA) – an all day workshop facilitated by Dr Cheryl Doig of Think Beyond. focusing on sharing ideas, dreams, visions and concerns about the future of education in Christchurch. 

Cheryl used the work of the SUCE group to frame a series of activities through the day. It included short provocations from the CEO of CERA, Roger Sutton, international perspectives (by video) from Stephen Heppell, Julia Atkin and Damian Allen and Elaine Ayre, plus a handful of local people, including myself. 

The day was expertly planned and facilitatted by Cheryl and her husband, David, and begain with a sharing of individual stories around group tables, exposing the extent of the problems being faced by schools in the city. I was in awe at hearing the stories of these leaders who collectively share a responsibility for the health and wellbeing of a significant number of the children and their families in our city. The role of principal in Christchurch has been hugely expanded as a result of the earthquakes!

During the day we faced the reality that we are in this for the long haul. It will be years before we can say we have addressed all the re-building issues we face in the city, and during that time each of these principals and the school communities they represent will need to be working together to face the challenges of, on the one hand meeting the urgent and immediate needs that they face on a day to day basis, and on the other, take time to raise their heads enough to engage in some of the visioning and future-focused thinking that is required to galvanise a shared vision for what the future of education in the city might look like. 

So what might that future be? Well, nothing was decided at this meeting – that wasn't the purpose. But lots of issues were exposed and have been taken away to be processed for the CPPA to follow up on in future meetings.

For me there was one theme that repeatedly underpinned a lot of the thinking and discussion. Whatever the final shape of education in Christchurch might look like, it will undoubtedly be based on the principle of a network, of connected-ness, of a 'learning system' in which individual schools are the nodes, and not the fortresses they are now. I look forward to being involved in further discussions and working groups as these dreams and ideas turn into strategic directions and then become realities!