Category Archives: Reforming schooling

Schools, COOLs and Kids

EdAmendmentUpdate

Let’s face it – schools are primarily about kids and their learning. Sure, we need buildings, teachers, furniture, timetables and the like to support that, but the primary focus should be on them.

This is why I am personally very pleased to see the recent announcement from the Ministry of Education regarding the Education (Update) Amendment Bill. The current Act under which our education system operates places huge emphasis on the structures and governance of our schools, but less on the kids themselves – in fact learners and learning are barely mentioned. This would work well enough if all of our learners were uniform in terms of their learning needs and they were all happy to take whatever courses their local school can provide – but that’s no longer the case. The world has become an increasingly diverse place, creating increasingly diverse opportunities – and demands – for our young people. As a result, their expectations (and those of their parents and whānau) have changed – and many parts of our current education system are struggling to address this.

The proposed changes to the Education Act will provide greater flexibility for the system to respond to these expectations – now and into the future. As with any change it will be necessary to discuss and debate the detail in order to ensure there are no ‘unintended consequences’ – and I welcome that as part of a participatory democracy, as long as we can move beyond the ‘sound-bite’ journalism we are subjected to from the media and politicians.

One part of the proposed Amendment that appears to have drawn lots of attention already is the proposal to enable new partnerships between schools and online learning providers, and enable children and young people to access their education through online delivery. It is proposed that online learning providers will come from the schooling, tertiary education, and private sectors, and will be able to seek accreditation as a Community of Online Learning (COOL).

Much of the discussion has immediately focused on suspicions around the entry of private providers into the education system (as if that hasn’t happened for decades already). The debate around corporate support of Education is crucial to the continuation of a public education system that is free and available to all and I support that. But within the rigors of this debate let’s not confuse the issues. If the concern rests with corporate participation, then let the debate focus on that –but let’s not pour scorn on the opportunities that are being created for learners to have their learning needs meet in ways that may be more creative, more flexible and more relevant to their needs, culture and interests.

It’s good to see that the first COOL off the block will be Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu (Te Kura) – formerly the Correspondence School. This institution has been operating since 1922, catering for the needs of students who don’t “fit” the conventional education system – some because of isolation, some because of circumstance, and a good many because the areas of study they wish to pursue aren’t available to them in their local school – and so they become ‘dual enrolled’. What’s perhaps not as well known is that until now, Te Kura has operated under it’s own section of the Act, especially crafted to suit the way Te Kura operates as the provisions of the Act that applies to all other schools don’t work for it – for instance, the requirements around attendance, opening hours, staff contact etc.

As someone who used to work at this institution, I am very pleased to see that they will now be able to operate with greater flexibility and in a more coherent way with their site-based counterparts, particularly as around 50% of their over 20,000 students are already based in these schools.

The fact is that for over 90 years, Te Kura has been serving the education needs of a segment of our population who would otherwise have been denied the opportunity within the structure of site-based schools – and to my knowledge, they have done this as successfully as any other school. Many of our business leaders, politicians and even Prime Ministers have benefited from an education that has included time enrolled with the Correspondence School.

Learning at a distance in this way has always been about a choice for some, and the only viable option for others – either way, the quality of provision has ensured success for those participating as learners.

The prospect of this ‘distance’ engagement moving into an online environment brings with it even more opportunity, as well as issues to be addressed (i.e. equity, access, support etc.), but is nonetheless a welcome move in my view. And it’s not new! Te Kura have been using online technologies to engage with their students for over a decade, and around New Zealand, teachers in many of our remote and rural schools have been using online technologies to create opportunities for their students to access subjects of their choice for almost two decades.

The Virtual Learning Network (VLN) evolved from its beginnings in the early 1990s when a group of Area Schools in Canterbury started collaborating to enable their students to be able to access subjects being taught be teachers in schools other than the one they were physically attending. (Back in the day I coordinated and helped write a handbook to guide the development of these LCOs – how the cycles continue!) Around the same time many of the Kura in New Zealand began doing something similar to ensure their students could access their subject choices in Te Reo under the KAWM project. The data around students learning in these networks suggests that they are just as capable of experiencing success as their classroom-based counterparts – perhaps even more so. (Read more in my paper with Michael Barbour)

What these schools have in common is that in the interests of serving the needs of their students they have had to struggle with and become creative about the way they operate within the limitations of the current Act. Being unable to recognize students being enrolled with more than one school, or requiring a teacher to be a staff member at a specific school while their expertise may be spread among many are a couple of examples – along with the whole financial side of things which means money allocated to a student can only go to one school with no easy way of sharing that when that student may be accessing her or his learning from one or more other places. The changes proposed in the Act will, hopefully, allow a more equitable and fair way for these schools and teachers to operate within.

The important thing about these examples is that they aren’t about a “one-size-fits-all” approach. No-one is suggesting that learners spend the whole day in front of a computer, devoid of any social connection. Educational research strongly supports the fact that the role of schools in supporting children’s social and emotional development is just as crucial as their cognitive development. I’d argue that by creating the opportunities for learners to access the subjects they want from while still attending their local school gives them the best of both worlds. There are several schools in the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) that are now thriving because they have been able to retain their learners in the local community where their social and emotional needs can be nurtured and cared for, while also ensuring their academic potential is realized by providing access to high quality instruction in subjects of their choosing using online technologies. This is not to mention also the opportunity created for many of these teachers to grow and develop professionally while remaining as teachers in these rural settings.

This isn’t something only for rural schools – the opportunities apply equally in urban settings. While I was working at the (then) Correspondence School our records showed only two secondary schools in New Zealand that didn’t have students enrolled for distance education – which suggests that even in our urban schools, the limitations created by factors timetables and staffing availability mean that even there students’ needs can’t be fully met under the current structure. A good example for me arose in Christchurch following the earthquakes there where one secondary school that was (and still is) re-located as a result of damage joined the VLN to ensure its students could have access to a broad curriculum. Their roll stabilized, their community remains intact and they remain a part of the VLN today.

I am pleased to see that due attention is to be given to the accreditation and regulation of any COOL providers – as should be the case, and is with our current schools. According to the information released this week, COOL will have to meet criteria relating to their capability and capacity to deliver education to students in an online environment and some COOL will be subject to additional terms and conditions, like which students they can enrol. All COOL will be subject to a robust quality assurance regime, including requirements to meet specified student outcomes.

This is both good and necessary because, as has been reported this week, alongside the very successful models, there are some rather awful examples of attempts to introduce online learning into schools – particularly some of the US online charter schools. This is where the voice of informed educational and community leaders needs to be heard, and involved in the process of accreditation. Staff in organisations such as Te Kura, the VLN Community and the Flexible Learning Association of NZ (FLANZ) are all part of an established body of education professionals within our country who have been doing this sort of thing for many years now – they should be consulted to ensure the policy and implementation models are informed by experience and research evidence.

So let’s keep the discussions going, and tease out where the opportunities are, and where the potential risks and downfalls are. But let’s also focus our attention on what this is all really about – our kids, their future and how we can work together to ensure we create a system that is fully supportive of addressing that.

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 🙂

Systemness – a way of thinking

Systemness

What do you get when you achieve a state where everyone 'buys in' to the change that is happening and feels that they are a part of it? You get systemness – a state where there is a 'harmonisation' among all parts of the system, each working towards the same vision and doing their part to 'make it work'. 

In our current education system, particularly since the 1989 reforms in NZ, we have seen a pervasive spirit of competition and divisiveness among schools in our system, brought about largely because of the emphasis on the 'self managing school', and rewards for leaders who are successful in making their particular school successful (often at the expense of or in spite of what's happening elsewhere). While this may be a good thing in terms of the experience of students in that partcular school, the result is fragmentation at a system level, with significant variations among schools and learners, depending on where they are learning and who they are learning with. 

This thinking has been reinforced for me as I've worked recently with Michael Fullan with the NZ cluster of schools participating in the New Pedagogies project. Systemness is one of the things identified in Michael's 2011 paper titled Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform, in which he identifies four policy and strategy levers that have the least and and four with the best chance of driving successful reform.

A ‘wrong driver’ is a deliberate policy force that has little chance of achieving the desired result, while a ‘right driver’ is one that ends up achieving better measurable results for students.

Systemness is not simply about aligning our activities and focus at a system level, it is about system coherence – it involves a mindset change​"Systemness” means that you develop experiences in people where they start to identify with the bigger part of the system itself. So a teacher, for example, who moves from just thinking of “my classroom only” to thinking of all the kids in the school—that’s “systemness”. It becomes a case of thinking in terms of "we, not me".

At the system level, ‘systemness’ means all schools work to improve the learning of each and every student across the system. Within the local school context, ‘systemness’ means each teacher isn’t just responsible for the learning of his/her own students, but for each and every student in the school. Structures won't achieve this – it requires a change of thinking and mindset. 

Systemness requires:

  • commitment to a common vision and aspiration for our learners across the system
  • shared goals
  • a high level of trust among all participants
  • a focus on 'we, not me' at all levels
  • the right support at the right time to the right people
  • inherent values of sharing and collaboration

This post has been prompted by some thinking I've been doing as I returned from the EduTECH conference last week in Brisbane, where I met and talked to a number of educators from Australia and other parts of the world who, like me, are involved in thinking about and working towards education change at a system level. It seems that no matter where we came from I heard common questions being asked around 'how to make the change scalable and sustainable?'

For too long we've tolerated a high degree of fragmentation in our school system, celebrating the achievements of individual schools at the expense of their neighbouring ones, and we've promoted the teacher and principal 'heros' at the expense of their colleagues. We have to change this mindset and work more determinedly towards a state of 'systemness' – a refreshed way of thinking that places the wellbeing and needs of every learner in the system at the heart of our thinking and decision making. 

 

 

Driving the skills agenda

EIU Skills agendaI've just been browsing this recently released report from the Economist Intelligence Unit titled The skills agenda: Preparing students for the future which draws attention to the challenge in education to prepare our current students with the skills and knowledge they'll require to participate fully in the future, in particular, in a digitally-enabled future.

The EIU embarked on a research programme, sponsored by Google, to examine to what extent the skills taught in education systems around the world are changing. For example, are so-called 21st-century skills, such as leadership, digital literacy, problem solving and communication, complementing traditional skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic? And do they meet the needs of employers and society more widely?

Their key findings are:

  • Problem solving, team working and communication are the skills that are currently most in demand in the workplace.
  • Education systems are not providing enough of the skills that students and the workplace need.
  • Some students are taking it into their own hands to make up for deficiencies within the education system.
  • Technology is changing teaching, but education systems are keeping up with the transformation rather than leading it.

These findings are consistent with the work of many other reports I read in the course of my work, and very consistent with the work of a group I am part of here in Christchurch where I live comprising members of local IT-related companies, the local economic development agency and some educators. Key issues that this group are considering include the fact that while there is a bias toward increasing demand for employees to fill positions in the IT sector, there is a distinct lack of sufficiently skilled staff available to fill these roles, which in turn is becoming a barrier to companies being able to grow and achieve their organisational goals. The same concerns exist in other parts of NZ – in Auckland earlier this year a survey of 61,000 secondary school students found that less than 6 per cent had a qualification in basic ICT, raising concerns among the Auckland Business Leaders Group about the ability to find staff for the growing number of IT-relaed jobs appearing in the city. 

The EIU report does contain several examples of where, at a strategic and systemic level, initiatives are under way that are addressing these issues, with students proved with opportunities at all levels of the school system to develop the range of digital literacies required to prepare them for their future. One example comes from New Zealand – featuring the work of the Manaiakalani Education Trust in Auckland (see page 11 in the report) where the provision of devices for each student has resulted in significant gains in learning for students, and preparation for their digital futures. 

While these examples are something to celebrate and share more widely, for the bulk of our education system we are simply moving too slowly, and putting the future of our young people – and the economic future of our country – at risk because of our conservative approach. What we now know about knowledge building, skills transfer, how learning occurs etc. has yet to fully impact the changes in education that are necessary to provide the sorts of programmes and environments that will prepare our young people for these futures. As the report states in its conclusion:

This style of learning places new demands on teachers, who may themselves not be universally equipped with the competencies to lead a more fluid, interactive class. It also requires governments to be willing to rethink their approach to teacher training and professional development. It is no longer sufficient—if it ever was—that teachers are well versed in their subject. They must recognise that the skills a student acquires through learning are as important, if not more so, than the content, and be able to incorporate opportunities for the development of problem solving, collaborative, creative and communication skills into their teaching. These skills cannot be taught in isolation but must be present across the curriculum, embedded in the fabric of how teachers teach.

We have this happening in pockets aroun the country – but how can we link it up and ensure that every student in every school has these sorts of learning opportunities as a matter of course? This is what the transformation agenda is about!!!

Rethinking education

Class dismissed

I currently have the privilege of participating in and contributing to a variety of working groups and reference groups that are concerned with the future of education, each addressing various aspects the traditional education system, including the future of assessment, the development of modern learning environments, the impact of technology etc. 

A central premise of much of this work focuses on just how well education is managing to keep up with the pace and scale of the rapid change that is experienced in the world in general, and how effectively we are equipping young people for life in a constantly evolving work environment. This is the question explored by Maha Barada in the latest edition of Learning World who presents three stories exploring this theme from different angles and in different locations.

The three stories explored in the video are:

  1. The  LINQ Precinct at Sheldon College in Brisbane, Australia, an innovative, interdisciplinary education centre designed to equip students with skills they can hopefully adapt to any new technological advances.
  2. A pioneering project from a public high school in Rio, Brazil, where students are encouraged to take more responsibility and manage their own affairs, and is producing amazing results.
  3. The work of Graham Brown-Martin, founder of Learning Without Frontiers, a global think tank that brought together renowned educators, technologists and creatives to share provocative and challenging ideas about the future of learning.

Throughout the video the same themes and challenges in our traditional education system are addressed – particularly the issue of assessment, and how the continuation of traditional approaches is fast becoming a 'handbrake' on the appropriation and development of the sorts of approaches to learning we should be taking in our schools and classrooms.

Examining our educational beliefs

Class-scape

As schools and teachers embrace modern learning practices there inevitably emerge a range of different beliefs about what works and why. Some of this becomes a part of the popular culture of education, and some of it even makes its way into policy at a national level.

Not everyone forms the same view, often leading to debates about what is 'right' and what is 'wrong'. What it really reflects is the differences in values and beliefs that drive our practice as educators. I read this week a Herald article about the decision of Auckland Grammar to stick with a more traditional approach to teaching and learning as they designed their new buildings. Here's a quote from the article that outlines very explicitly what the values and beliefs are in that school …

Headmaster Tim O'Connor said because Grammar's teaching style was to teach content, rather than focussing on student-led learning, the 12-classroom block's layout fitted it better. "Our teaching style is teacher-centered learning," headmaster Mr O'Connor said. "The key thing with the new classrooms are that they are wide not deep – so those in the back row are closer and it's all about the relationship between student and teacher."

In the rush to embrace modern learning practice there is inevitably a storng focus on the practices that may change – the practical, observable things that will impact on how things happen in schools. For example, the emergence of large, free-flowing spaces, moving from indiviudal desks to group tables etc. But these things alone will not change the effectiveness of our educational provision unless they are matched to our shared beliefs and values. It is there that we need to start – and continue to reflect and refine as we seek to develop an educaitonal approach that is relevant to the lives of our modern learners and their future. 

What shapes and forms our beliefs is important. Our own school experience, our particular world view, political or religious perspectives and the influence of particular thought leaders are all key influences on our thinking when it comes to forming our values and beliefs about education. A key challenge is to ensure that we are critically engaged, and constantly reflecting on these things in order to distinguish between the ideas that have substance and those that have evolved as 'myths'.

 An Edutopia article titled "8 myths that undermine educational effectiveness" exposes some of the ideas that are currently influencing or informing our practice. The 'myths' presented here provide a challenge to some of the things that we may be adopting in our own mindsets – or feel that we're obliged to work within. The key point here is the reminder that we need to remain vigilant as educational professionals and be continually assessing and being critically engaged with the new ideas and thinking as they emerge. 

Learner Orientation

tentrends15_smallThe latest of CORE's Ten Trends has just been released, focusing on the issue of placing the learner at the centre of all decision making and activity in our education system.  A learner oriented system requires reversing the “logic” of education systems so that they are built around the learner, rather than the learner being required to fit with the system.

The video above is available on EdTalks, and provides a useful introduction to the issue – great for use in staff meetings or other gatherings of educators interested in re-conceptualising how our educational institutions and programmes may better serve the needs of students. 

Innovating to create 21 century learning environments

OECD-ISTP15 The International Summit on the Teaching Profession is under way this year in Banff, Canada, with a contingent of NZ educators attending. Last year I had the privilege of attending this event when it was held here in NZ, and it provided a a great opportunity to hear from a variety of international 'experts' and leaders from a range of countries in the OECD. 

Among them was Andraes Schleicher who is the OECD's director of the Directorate of Education and Skills, and the person most will associate with the research behind the PISA results. He is also author of a new report titled Schools for 21st Century Learners which has been prepared for this year's Summit. 

I've only had a chance to browse the document, which has three key themes  around building responsive schools for 21st Century Learners:

  • Promoting effective school leadership
  • Strengthening Teacher's confidence in their own abilities
  • Innovating to create a 21st Century learning environments

Each of these themes is already a strategic focus in our NZ education system, and no doubt we'll see some of what happens at the Summit feeding back into our context. 

Of the three, however, I have spent a little time looking at the third one, Innovating to create 21st Century Learning Environments (p.61 in the downloadable PDF). 

The study concludes that schools and education systems will be most powerful and effective when they:

  • Make learning central, encourage engagement, and be where learners come to understand themselves as learners.
  • Ensure that learning is social and often collaborative.
  • Are highly attuned to learners’ motivations and the importance of emotions.
  • Are acutely sensitive to individual differences, including in prior knowledge.
  • Are demanding of each learner, but do not overload students with work.
  • Use assessments consistent with their aims, emphasising formative feedback.
  • Promote horizontal connectedness across activities and subjects, in and outside of school.

The chapter describes how some schools are regrouping teachers, regrouping learners, rescheduling learning, and changing pedagogical approaches – and the mix of those approaches – to provide better teaching for better learning. These are all themes that CORE is currently addressing in our work on Modern Learning.

The commentary and examples provided, together with the conclusions that the reearch team draw from, this will provide a useful reference for school leaders pursuing modern learning approaches in their schools, and who may find themselves responding to requests for 'the evidence' that this will contribute to better learning outcomes. 

 

Defining success

SuccessI was working with the staff of a local secondary school yesterday, and in the context of our discussion we shared our thinking around the question of 'what is success?' in relation to the purpose of school and schooling, and the focus on assessment that currently dominates much of the thinking in our school system and drives most of our curriculum design and delivery.

We were specifically thinking about the issues raised in the NZCER publication, "Swimming out of our depth" where the authors suggest…

"We need to think differently about what schools are for, about what students should learn in them and about how we should measure the “success” of all this. (p.4)"

The definitions of 'success' and 'being successful' lie at the heart of the design of our schooling system, and drive the activity of everyone in it – from the policy makers through to the students in classrooms. From a current analysis of what we see happening in the NZ school system it wouldn't be difficult to conclude that what we regard as success is intimately tied to academic achievement, and the relentless pursuit of excellence and results measured in terms of standards at a national level and our comparative rankings at an international level. 

Now as an educator I'm not going to argue that academic achievement shouldn't be a key focus for schools – but we do need to consider whether there's more to it than simply that? If we aspire to engage with and grow young people and see them develop as citizens into the future, ought we not be thinking about more than simply academic success as measured by (in the most part) summative examination scores?

While many may argue that the curriculum and educational discourse here in NZ has moved past this narrow thinking of success, the evidence I see when visiting schools and talking with students (particularly at this time of year when exams are the focus) would suggest that academic success is definitely the high priority for most. 

One of the consequences of this for our learners is the stress it creates – particularly at exam time – but also through the year when the relentless pressure (external and internal) to achieve consumes so many – spurring them to pursue goals beyond what is reasonable or expected in many cases (consider the students who asprite to achieving excellence in 120 credits!)

An article in yesterday's Toronto Star highlights how this should be a concern for all educators – from policy makers to teachers, and parents as well. Titled "Student Stress Must Be Addressed" it begins..

“Schools are first and foremost social-emotional institutions,” says York University professor Stuart Shanker, adding that failure to address issues leads to “early dropouts and lots of disorder.”

Professor Shankar's research is part of a broader move, launched by People for Education, to have schools actually measure how well they foster social-emotional skills, citizenship, physical health, creativity and a positive school climate overall — beyond the 3 Rs.

Such concerns would resonnate with the group I worked with yesterday, where student welfare ranked towards the top of every group's list when we were considering the priorities for the design of new approaches to learning in the school. 

Perhaps we need to reflect more seriously on the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson and consider how, in the frentic busy-ness of our lives in and out of school, we make time to embrace the significance of these measures of success for ourselves and our learners.

 

 

 

The disruptive power of collaboration

shirky

Collaboration is a hot topic in many areas of education at the moment. My work in describing and explaining the key changes for teachers as they develop their Modern Learning Practice places this pretty high on the list. So too with the work I'm involved in my home city of Christchurch, as school leaders and the Ministry of Education seek to explore more collabortive forms of 'school' and 'schooling' as they rebuild after the earthquakes here. 

in the video interview above, New York University professor and author, Clay Shirky, explains the disruptive impact of technology on how people live and work. While his comments apply much more broadly than the education space, the principle of collaboration being a disruptive influence apply.

What I get from this interview is the fact that we need to understand collaboration as an organic activty, not something we try to create policy and structures around, and expect to happen.

If we want promote true, engaged collaborative activity, we can do things that will create the environments that will encourage it (Clay's focus in much of his writing is on the way social media environments enable this to happen), and we can also incentivise collaborative behaviours (by re-examining the things that are 'measured' in our system – e.g. ERO criteria etc.), but little is likely to happen where we simply announce a mandate that we must all collaborate. 

This applies within schools where principals and school leaders implement new forms of collaborative teams as ways of organising staff, as well as externally – for instance, the organisation of schools into clusters. 

The second key lesson from Shirky is around the way in which collaborative groups can create success from failure. This isn't likely to be the case in 'enforced' or 'organised' collaborations where failure is often interpreted as a reason to stop collaborating. In a more organic collaboration, failure drives the group to find alternative solutions – ideas that may not have emerged otherwise. 

Of course the critical thing to consider is that collaboration is the polar opposite of competition, and we currently work within a policy and resourcing environment that promotes, encourages and rewards competition in our schooling system. Until there's some serious work done to change those drivers, then collaboration is unlikely to have a lasting impact at a system level – however, it may be the thing that convinces those in decision making positions to do so!

So my call to action would be, as educators, become active in those collaborative environments where you can add your voice to the tide of informed opinion (note the adjective, there's plenty of ill-informed suff out there too) that can help establish the case for change and identify the areas where changes need to be made (in policy, resourcing etc.) It's an election year after all 😉