Networked Education

How can we build a future of education where institutions, teachers and learners are connected, not isolated? More »

Modern Learning Practice

What will the future of teaching and learning look like in environments where the focus of activity is on participation, collaboration and contribution? More »

4 D Learning

A conceptual framework for understanding how learning activity can be supported and enhanced through the use of digital technologies More »

Layered archtecture

Where do all the pieces fit in terms of technical infrastructure for schools, who decides, and on what basis? More »

A Future MLE

How will learning be different into the future? Have we taken account of the changes in expectation, and the changes in the way learners can engage with their learning? More »


What if all of this really is true??

In the 19th century the Industrial Revolution created a huge urban proletariat, and socialism spread because no other creed managed to answer the unprecedented needs, hopes and fears of this new working class. Liberalism eventually defeated socialism only by adopting the best parts of the socialist program. In the 21st century we might witness the creation of a massive new un-working class: people devoid of any economic, political or even artistic value, who contribute nothing to the prosperity, power and glory of society. This “useless class” will not merely be unemployed — it will be unemployable.

This morning I spent some time reading and reflecting on a challenging article I came across by Yuval Noah Harari titled “The Rise of the Useless Class” in which he asserts: “just as mass industrialization created the working class, the AI revolution will create a new un-working class” – a group he calls the ‘useless class’.

This is challenging stuff, and not entirely palatable for those of us who are ‘long in the tooth’ and concerned now about the future for our kids and grandkids. The central tenet of Harari’s thesis is that what we do as humans is the product of organic algorithms (occurring in our brains and consciousness), and that eventually these can, and will be replaced by the non-organic algorithms of machines and artificial intelligence.

Of course, Harari isn’t the only person speaking about such change. In 2015 Darrell West of the Brookings Institute wrote about the impact of emerging technologies on employment and public policy in which he cites computerized algorithms and artificial intelligence as key influencers of this change. West argues as one of the solutions we should consider the establishment of activity accounts for lifetime learning and job retraining.

Almost daily we see reference to this sort of thinking and the impact it is having on a changing job market. In New Zealand we are seeing robots being used increasingly in a range of industries, including areas not previously considered such as on dairy farms. And this change is occurring rapidly, as illustrated in a recent Bloomberg article suggesting economists may be underestimating how fast robots are coming. A July 2016 report from Mckinsey predicts that 45% of all jobs in the US could be replaced by technology that currently exists – although when asked about this US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin doesn’t see it this way, saying that the artificial intelligence revolution and its impact on the US workforce is “not even on our radar screen.”

This is not the first time I’ve felt confronted by bold predictions about the future. Back in the 1970s when I was training to be a teacher we were encouraged to read Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, much of which I’ve seen come to pass in my 40 year career. While my peers and I might have read the material, very few of us (myself included) took these predictions as seriously as we might, and soon found ourselves immersed in the culture of schools and teaching of the time, finding little opportunity (or need) to actively pursue new ideas and approaches in our practice. For me that came later in my career!

While I’m sure there will be many others besides Mnuchin who have a similar ‘optimism’ that nothing will change (or if so then very slowly), there are indeed plenty of signs that they indeed are. And if this is the case, then we need to be concerned about how best to prepare ourselves. This is the question that Liam Dann responds to in an excellent article in the NZ Herald  titled “how to prepare your kids for the robot revolution“, in which he explores whether they will kill our jobs, and how we can future-proof our children.

Reflecting on it all this morning I find myself asking

What if we were to take this challenge seriously – and I mean, really seriously??

What if all of this talk about robots and artificial intelligence really is true? As Harari points out in the article…

Since we do not know how the job market would look in 2030 or 2040, today we have no idea what to teach our kids. Most of what they currently learn at school will probably be irrelevant by the time they are 40. Traditionally, life has been divided into two main parts: a period of learning, followed by a period of working. Very soon this traditional model will become utterly obsolete, and the only way for humans to stay in the game will be to keep learning throughout their lives and to reinvent themselves repeatedly.

In view of this sort of challenge…

  • How might we reconsider our models of school and schooling?
  • How might we reconceptualise our thinking about curriculum and assessment?
  • What about our pedagogical practice – who teaches who and how?
  • What will be the role of teachers – and who will those teachers be?
  • What emphasis needs to be on things like citizenship, ethics and equity – alongside the development of job-ready skills?

These questions have been asked for as long as I’ve been a teacher – but our schools and schooling system remains largely the same as when I started. Sure, there are now more computers being used, a number of walls have been knocked down between classrooms and vogue terms such as learning styles and personalised learning have entered our vocabulary, but for the most part these are what I call first level changes (where the change takes place within accepted boundaries and leaves basic values unexamined and unchanged).

If the challenges presented by Harari and others are really true, then perhaps we need to be actively pushing at the boundaries of existing practice and examining the assumptions that influence first order thinking (second level change). Then we need to push on to develop a deep understanding of alternative world views and ways of doing things, seeking change that is transformative – for both individuals and the whole of society (third level change).

So I ask again….

What if we were to take this challenge seriously – and I mean, really seriously??

Balancing internal and external expertise in professional learning


I’ve spent a number of days recently in a couple of schools where I’ve been working with school leaders and staff for an extended period of time now, assisting them with their strategic visioning and planning, and in coaching and mentoring staff leading their in-school professional learning programmes. I find this highly satisfying and rewarding work – and it reminds me of just how complex the setting of a school is, and  how important it can be to have a variety of perspectives included in the process of designing and implementing an effective PLD programme that will (a) help a school achieve it’s strategic goals, (b) enable individual teachers to develop and grow professionally, and (c) contribute to raising student achievement as the ‘end game’.

New Zealand schools are currently coming to terms with what the new environment for professional learning means for them. The Communities of Learning | Kāhui Ako that they are being encouraged to form are described as a group of education and training providers working together to help learners achieve their full potential. The significant difference here is that previously the agenda for government funded Professional Learning was determined by the Ministry of Education in order to meet their objectives – where now the onus is on schools and Kāhui Ako to take on this responsibility – and then proceed to find the approach that will best suit them to achieve this.

As someone who has spent much of the past two decades working alongside schools and teachers I am very interested in the approaches being taken (and in some cases not being taken) to engage with external expertise as a part of this process. In the Best Evidence Synthesis, Helen Timperley et al. (2007) emphasise the role of external expertise, which they say can assist in creating more challenging dialogue across a group. They found that “all studies of professional communities that did not lead to improved outcomes for students lacked external input. In these studies, challenges to assumptions held by community members typically did not happen” (p.203)**.

So it was with interest today that I came cross a report titled The State of Educators’ Professional Learning in Canada (pdf) from LearningForward, which provides a  useful overview of the experience in Canada – across the diverse approaches taken across the ten states and three provinces – of the provision of professional learning in schools.

Overall, the study findings indicate that valuing, respecting, and promoting a range of professionals’ and students’ outcomes is important in Canada. Student achievement matters; however, outcomes are not only about test scores. Generally, professional learning content needs to develop teachers’ efficacy, knowledge, and practices in order to support students’ efficacy, engagement, learning, and equity of outcomes.

In relation to my point above regarding the role of external vs internal expertise (and direction setting etc.) the Canadian report concludes..

Overall, the findings indicate that system- and school-directed professional development can be important to support current priorities; however, such development also needs to be balanced with flexibility for teachers and other educators to identify specific professional learning needs for themselves linked to their students, schools, and contexts. Opportunities for teachers to lead their own learning, and that of their colleagues, can benefit individual and collective professional learning and support changes in practices to benefit students’ learning.

This finding should offer some encouragement (and direction) for New Zealand schools who now have the mandate to operate with similar agency as they identify specific professional learning needs for themselves linked to their students, schools, clusters and contexts.

The key findings in the report are:

  • Evidence, inquiry, and professional judgement are informing professional learning policies and practices
  • The priority area identified by teachers for developing their knowledge and practices is how to support diverse learners’ needs
  • A focus on a broad range of students’ and professionals’ learning outcomes is important
  • The appropriate balance of system-directed and self-directed professional development for teachers is complex and contested
  • There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to professional learning; teachers are engaging in multiple opportunities for professional learning and inquiry with differentiation for their professional needs
  • Collaborative learning experiences are highly valued and prevalent within and across schools and wider professional networks
  • Teachers value professional learning that is relevant and practical for their work; “’job-embedded” should not mean school-based exclusively as opportunities to engage with external colleagues and learning opportunities matter also
  • Time for sustained, cumulative professional learning integrated within educators’ work lives requires attention
  • Inequitable variations in access to funding for teachers’ self-selected professional development are problematic
  • System and school leaders have important roles in supporting professional learning for teachers and for themselves
**Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H., and Fung, I. (2007). Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES). Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Practice-based learning


The start of the school year in NZ is not far away now and I’ve been gearing up for a number of teacher only days with schools in various parts of the country. As part of my preparation I’ve been talking with some of the principals and senior staff in these schools to determine exactly how my contribution will assist them in achieving the goals they have set for staff etc.

A common theme that is raised in these conversations concerns how well (or not) teachers are being prepared for their work in schools the approaches taken to initial teacher education in many of our pre-service providers. A critical concern is around the perceived gap between theory and practice, and what appears to be the limited amount of time pre-service candidates spend in classrooms practicing and refining the things they have learned in the lecture halls and classrooms of their initial teacher ed provider.

It’s an age-old debate – one that was certainly alive and well when I was a lecturer in one of these institutions, and that was before the amalgamations with Universities had even occurred. And it’s not simply the domain of education in focus here – we’ve seen similar developments in health, with nurses being trained in primarily in tertiary institutions and less on the ground in hospitals for instance.

It always seems to polarise opinion. Advocates for greater amounts of time in classroom-based experience argue that it ensures candidates are more ‘classroom ready’ when they graduate, particularly when it comes to aspects of behaviour and classroom management. Those advocating for more theory argue that building such a base of knowledge better prepares students for the diversity of experiences they may encounter in their career. A sub-argument in this group is the fact that it’s often cheaper and less resource intensive to cater for larger groups in a lecture-style environment.

practice-based-importantI am personally disposed toward a practice-based approach. Just a few  years ago I had the privilege of being part of the team that designed and developed a new pre-service teacher education programme for the Eastern Institute of Technology. This three-year Bachelor of Teaching qualification is a practice-based teacher education programme providing a balance between theory, research and practice. The practice-based approach involves the candidate teachers working alongside experienced teachers in local primary and intermediate schools for two days a week as part of the programme. The other days in the week are spent on campus exploring the research and theoretical aspects of curriculum and pedagogy etc.

A point to be made here is that practice-based approaches are about much more than simply finding a place for candidate teachers to spend time observing and then mimicking what they see being modelled by their host teachers. An argument against practice-based approaches is that they can simply result in a ‘replication’ model of classroom practice – where bad habits and poor teaching strategies are perpetuated. Practice-based approaches will only work where both the candidate teachers and the host teachers are working together to resolve the issues and concerns they face in the classroom on a daily basis, drawing from experience, evidence and research as they do so.  The strength of the EIT programme is that it is a true partnership between the candidate teachers, EIT as the provider organisation and the schools which provide much more than simply a place for the candidate teachers to ‘practice’.

The report illustrated at the top of this post titled ‘learning to teach‘ outlines essential features for providing high-quality, structured, and sequenced opportunities to practice within teacher preparation programs. The report recommends that programmes should fully incorporate the following features into all practice-based opportunities:

  • Modelling is how teacher educators provide candidates examples of what expert performance looks like in practice.
  • Spaced learning opportunities are those that offer candidates opportunities to practice the knowledge and skills acquired in coursework over a period of time, that are sustained and repeated, and that are scaffolded to deepen candidate expertise.
  • Varied learning opportunities are those that provide candidates with opportunities to practice the knowledge and skills they learned in their coursework across varying contexts, with a diverse range of student learners, and with differing degrees of support.
  • Coaching and feedback opportunities are those in which supervisors provide explicit coaching and constructive feedback as candidates practice the knowledge and skills they acquired in their coursework. The focus of the coaching and feedback is on improving candidates’ practice and expertise.
  • Analyzing and reflecting opportunities are those in which candidates practice the knowledge and skills they acquired in their coursework while engaging in analysis and reflection upon both their practice and their impact on student learning.
  • Scaffolded practice-based opportunities are those in which candidates apply the knowledge and skills they acquired through their coursework, within teaching experiences that gradually increase in complexity over time with fading support from teacher educators to promote deeper learning of content, improved instructional implementation, and, ultimately, autonomous performance.

Arguably, these same features could (or should) just as easily characterise effective in-service professional learning. The point is that the relationship between pre-service and in-service teacher education so often focuses on what makes them different, rather than what makes them the same or similar. If we are truly committed to principles of life-long learning, teaching as inquiry and responsive practice, then we need to be thinking more of developing an approach to professional learning that is more collegial, more collaborative and more inquiry-focused – where the openness to changing practice in light of evidence is the norm.

So let’s stop the rhetoric that ‘blames’ others for the perceived failure to adequately prepare for or grow within the profession and let’s start 2017 with a commitment to working together to find new ways of addressing the issues and concerns in our classrooms, schools and clusters, using methodologies and approaches that draw upon the vast pool of experience, research and evidence that exists in our midst.

Whakahaerehia tētahi Hour of Code Mahimaina mō tō akomanga


December 5-11 is Computer Science Education Week, and everywhere I go there seems to be all sorts of activity going on with children in schools learning to code and use computers in interesting ways.

One of the initiatives that seems to have taken off this year is Hour of Code™, and as part of this initiative the organisation I work for, CORE Education, has worked with with Microsoft, OMG Tech! and High Tech Youth support this by assisting with the development of a new Minecraft tutorial, which was developed in close partnership with

The tutorial includes Minecraft characters and Minecraft-inspired challenges that will be familiar to the expansive Minecraft community, while still being approachable to newcomers interested in learning the basics of coding and game design. The new Minecraft tutorial is for students ages 6 to 106—anyone can learn to code!

Our Māori team at CORE have contributed to this effort by ensuring new Minecraft tutorial is available in Te Reo Māori. This now makes this significant resource available to students in the many Māori Medium schools we have in New Zealand.

Why code? In a society continually transformed by technology, the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills gained through computer science education provide the essential tools needed to innovate, pursue in-demand jobs, and understand the world. All young people should have the opportunity to learn the skills needed to fulfil their passions.

It’s easy to sign up your school or class to run an Hour of Code programme – with everything you will need to lead your own Minecraft Hour of Code, including a facilitator’s guide, quick tip sheet, and PowerPoint slides. These materials are available for you here.

The Future of Education

I’ve spent some of the time over the past few days preparing for two conferences that are coming up next week – the first being the NPDL Southern Deep Learning Lab in Christchurch, and the second being the huge ULearn conference – being held this year in Rotorua and expecting nearly 2000 educators from all over New Zealand. Each event provides an opportunity for educators to delve more deeply into the things they’re interested in and to be exposed to a wide range of new ideas and new thinking that they can translate back into their context.

As I look through the abstracts and programme for ULearn this year, I am heartened to see a distinct change in the themes and topics that are the focus of the three days. Alongside the usual array of workshops sharing new ideas for using technology in the classroom, there is a more significant focus on the ‘bigger picture’ issues impacting our education system – consistent with the themes of the conference , and the focus on Transformation that is common across this  year’s keynote speakers.

Seems to me that now, more than ever before, we need to create room in our busy lives to take time for this sort of thinking, as now more than ever before, we’re facing times of exponential change in all facets of our lives – including education! In these exponential time we are faced with a number of wicked problems that will require much thought, consultation and innovation. They cannot be solved by the simple stroke of a politician’s pen to implement some new strategy, neither will the be solved by learning about some new app that one can install on a tablet to assist with reading.

productivity-commissionAs part of my preparation for the conference I’ve been reviewing a number of the ‘big ideas’ that are impacting education at present – and pondering these in light of the various political agendas that seem to be driving change at present. One of the things that set me thinking along these lines was the release of the draft report from the Productivity Commission on New Models of Tertiary Education (PDF). Not surprisingly the draft report has drawn immediate reaction from a wide range of people – including politicians, universities, tertiary teacher unions etc. as it makes some very bold recommendations for what might happen in our tertiary sector.

What interests me in the report are the key messages that have emerged through the process of consultation so far, and how these have influenced the recommendations being made. These include…

  • Need to agree on the purpose of education – focus on developing personal skills to live an enriched life, but includes public benefits too: a stronger civic society.
  • Students are disempowered in the system – there needs to be a strong focus on placing students at the heart of the system, recognising the agency of learners, and the need to meet the needs of all learners, from diverse backgrounds and with diverse goals.
  • High levels of regulation and compliance have the effect of perpetuating traditional approaches to tertiary education.
  • A high degree of central control [of the system] stifles the ability of providers to innovate,
  • Providers are more responsive to the government than to students.
  • While some teachers and providers innovate, core business models have persisted i.e. there isn’t evidence of innovation at a system level.
  • Inertia is an emergent property of the system – and government control is pervasive.
  • Quality is a concern – the system appropriately seeks to ensure minimum standards are met, but overall the system lacks a mechanism for rewarding quality or responsiveness to students.
  • The system is educating fewer students over time and continues to serve some population groups poorly.

Astute readers will recognise that many of these points are also made about the compulsory schooling system – in fact, similar points are made in almost all of the reports about education systems around the world at present. Not surprising then, are the familiar kinds of recommendations that have emerged, including…

  • allowing more providers into the market – including those providing for international qualifications and those with different approaches such as MOOCs etc.
  • breaking open the EFTS (currently measured in hours of ‘seat time) – allowing the introduction of innovative models of delivery
  • giving institutions more autonomy and responsibility – including over all of its financial concerns
  • promoting student access and mobility – mix and match courses from multiple providers to build their qualifications

Whether or how these recommendations are acted on will depend on the feedback in the next round of consultation – what we can be more certain of, however, is that the rate and pace of exponential change will continue to impact on us, demanding that changes are made to our system – and these must be transformational in nature, not simply incremental.

The video at the top of this post is a salient reminder of the types of issues we face – not because it is necessarily an accurate prediction of what the future may hold, but because of the way it captures and illustrates the potential futures that may emerge based on the actual present and recent past events that are a part of this exponential change in society. There are a lot of important indicators embedded in this video that are consistent with the messages coming through the Productivity Commission’s report, and as educators we will do well to deeply engage in the debates and issues – not devote all of our energy to the superficial themes that are distributed by the ‘sound bite’ journalists in the media.

The salient point of this video comes right at the end where the narrator attempts to conclude that there are two possible directions the future may take. The predictions are concerning at the very least, and verging on apocolyptic at worst – but serve to illustrate the point I am trying to make, that in the times ahead, the times that will define the future for the kids in our schools, for our own kids and grandkids, the challenges we face will be wicked problems (problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise) and to address them will require that we all are proficient in the skills of critical thinking/problem-solving, creativity, communication, and collaboration, and that we demonstrate the character qualities of curiosity, initiative, persistence/grit, adaptability, leadership, social and cultural awareness.

The fact is that we’ve needed to steer this course for some time now – but the fact is that our pace of change is being outstripped by the pace of change in the world in which we live and in the lives of our students!

As we make our way to the various conferences and events we have lined up over this student break, let’s be prepared to raise the level of our thinking and allow ourselves to be challenged, made uncomfortable and to engage deeply in the issues that we most urgently need to address. Or, as the move above warns, we will by default subject ourselves to the decisions of ‘the leader’ (whoever or whatever that may mean!).

Schools, COOLs and Kids


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.

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.

Thriving in a modern world

I've just been watching this film from the Let It Ripple Series titled The Adaptable Mind (11 mins) which explores the skills we need to flourish in the 21st Century. Like many other lists that have been created to define and describe the skills/knowledge/dispositions that are needed for the 21st Century (e.g. a previous post Driving the skills agenda), there are several familiar terms here:

  • Curiosity
  • Creativity
  • Initiative
  • Multi-disciplinary thinking
  • Empathy

The difference with this list that is so well illustrated in this short clip is that each of these things are in essence a part of what makes us human. There's nothing in this list about specific domains of knowledge, or specific technological skills etc. Even the STEM set isn't represented here. These five things have been the engine of innovation and survival since the beginning of civilisation. We're at a point in history where our human skills are just as important as our knowledge. 

The challenge for schools and educators is to maintain a focus on these things amidst the pressure to also ensure we are addressing those fundamental pre-requisites of literacy and numeracy. We're fortunate in NZ that our National Curriculum has at its primary focus the Key Competencies around which the curriculum in our schools should be designed. New Zealand schools have the scope, flexibility, and authority they need to design and shape their curriculum so that teaching and learning is meaningful and beneficial to their particular communities of students. 

So one would imagine that in such an environment we'd see amazing things happening in terms of the development of 'an adaptable mind' as this clip celebrates – and we do, but often in pockets rather than in a systemic way. The constant pressure to recognise and measure achievement in terms of the traditional subject areas can mitigate against efforts to develop a curriculum that will truly inspire and develop things like curiosity, creativity and initiative among our students. 

As we enter a time in our system where the primary focus of attention will inevitably be on identifying and addressing specific achievement challenges in our schools and clusters of schools it will be important that those leading these initiatives are also abe to maintain a focus on the development of these deeper, more enduring skillsets.

As a father of five and grandfather of five also, I have high aspirations for my children and grandchildren, that indeed they will be proficient in the key skills that will enable to learn and be successful in their learning – but just as importantly, I want them to posses the quality of 'an adaptable mind' that is identified in this clip!


A collaborative approach to PD


In a previous post I described a new era of professional development, outlining four key principles drawn from both research and experience in this area. I reflected further on that today as I read a report from leading Australian researcher Ben Jensen, titled Beyond PD: Teacher Professional Learning in High-Performing Systems in which he analyzes the way four high-performing education systems provide professional learning to their teachers.

Across all four high-performing systems analyzed—British Columbia (Canada), Hong Kong, Shanghai (China) and Singapore — professional learning is central to teachers’ jobs. It is not an “add on,” something done on Monday afternoons or on a few days at the end of the school term. Teacher professional learning is how they all improve student learning; it is how they improve schools; and it is how they are evaluated in their jobs.

While these systems are quite different, the key to all of them is that collaborative professional learning (teachers working with other teachers to improve curriculum, instruction, school climate, etc.) is built into the daily lives of teachers and school leaders.

According to Jensen's reserach, this is reinforced by policies and school organizations that:

  1. Free up time in the daily lives of teachers for collaborative professional learning
  2. Create leadership roles for expert teachers who both develop other teachers and lead school improvement teams
  3. Recognize and reward the development of teacher expertise
  4. Enable teachers and school leaders to share responsibility for their own professional learning and that of their peers.

These points align with the rationale promoted by the New Zealand Ministry of Education in its current policy initiative, Investing in Education Success (IES). According to the IES policy, schools will receive additional funding to release other teachers to spend time on the job, continuing to develop their professional skills for the benefit of students in their own classrooms. Specifically,the IES policy promotes a greater emphasis on Inquiry Time,  providing more time for teachers to focus specifically on working together to tackle achievement challenges. The proof will be in the pudding, of course, as to how effective the drivers that are being used to implement this policy are in terms of promoting the desired shifts in behaviour at a school and system level. 

There's no doubt in my mind that the principles identified by Jensen in this report provide a useful framework for the design of an effective approach to PD, at a school or system level – but the success of any implementation will depend on the following:

  1. the buy-in of all involved – not just school leaders or a few enthusiasts on the staff,
  2. an emphasis on a collaborative approach, where the rewards are availabe to be shared equitably, and where everyone's voice is recognised and valued in the process,
  3. sufficient resources are available to support local initiatives – including mentoring support and external expertise where appropriate, and
  4. well developed frameworks and models exist and are used for evaluating the effectiveness of the process – including the impact on student learning and achievement. 

We stand on the brink of a radical change in the way PD is 'done' in NZ schools – my hope is that those who are leading the approach within the different schools and clusters (and nationally) take the opportunity to delve deeply into the theory and practice of professional development, and ensure the strategies they adopt and promote meet the standards of what the research has been informing us about over the past decade or so. 


A new era of professional development

Teacher PD

There’s an old saying, “There’s nothing more certain than change”, and this will certainly be true as educators in NZ prepare to return to work in 2016. Whether we’re re-thinking what we teach, how we teach, where we teach and even who we teach, dealing with the demands of change is the biggest challenge facing schools, kura, and centres today.

Consider the following examples of change on the horizon in our education system in NZ in 2016…

These are just a selection of the drivers at a national level for 2016 — in addition, there will be all sorts of drivers at a regional and local level that may need to be considered.

Change confronts and challenges our ability to address the needs of our learners in a productive and relevant manner — at both a personal and system level. While many of these changes may not appear to be immediately relevant to the teaching and learning that occurs in individual learning environments, collectively they point to some significant changes for our schools, kura and centres, and for our system as a whole. As such, there will inevitably be an impact on the work of individual teachers and the work they do with their learners.
It is imperative that educational leaders understand how to engage their staff, and lead their school/kura/centre (or cluster), in collaborating around change. Don’t be afraid to draw upon the advice and guidance of external expertise where this will help — engaging a critical friend at this stage can save a lot of angst as the year gets under way. When it comes to effectively managing change 'nobody's as smart as everybody' because schools/kura/centres/clusters must consistently identify and resolve critical change issues, innovate the way they work, and find new and different ways to grow.

This can only happen if time has been spent considering the following:

  • Is our school/kura/centre/cluster aligned around its educative purpose? Does this clearly identify the learner at the centre?
  • Are we guided by a clear vision for the organisation, for our students? Whose vision is it?
  • Has this process involved genuine consultation with the community — including local iwi?
  • Do we have a set of collaboratively developed and owned values that guide how we work?
  • Have we clearly identified the challenges that we must address — and why?
  • Are the responses to the questions above clearly articulated to the staff, BoT, and community in an action plan with well-defined goals and outcomes that can be measured?

If the questions above can be answered affirmatively, then your school/kura/centre/cluster is well positioned to move to the next stage of designing and implementing a change management programme.

Of course, managing change in any educational setting isn't as simple as implementing some seductively attractive turnkey change management model. This is because educational change isn’t primarily about introducing new systems, facilities, or resources — it’s about changing people. It’s about changing hearts and minds, and about ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to participate in the change process, and not feel that it is being ‘done’ to them.

Professional development in collaborative groups is needed to understand and collectively build the trust, shared values and beliefs, shared purpose, shared goals, and shared responsibility. Along the way there will be provision for meeting individual needs, ensuring that individual staff are provided with the support and resources required to prepare them personally for the change. However, achieving whole-school/kura/centre change requires everyone to be committed to the same change goals. Ultimately, these change goals must reflect a concern for the learners, with every learner achieving to the very best of his or her ability.

An effective professional development programme must offer more than a sequence of ‘one off’ learning experiences for staff — in the form of isolated staff meetings or off-site workshops. The programme must be a part of the ‘weave’ of everyday activity in your school/kura/centre, with regular opportunity to identify and celebrate the successes along the way as the change goals are achieved.

If you are responsible for the design and development of professional development programmes in your school/centre, here are four research-based principles that should underpin your planning and decision-making.

1. In depth
The change process will inevitably challenge existing beliefs and behaviours. The change won’t occur by simply sharing what the ‘new’ beliefs and behaviours must be. There must be opportunity for engaging deeply with the background rationale and evidence, and for in-depth discussion and debate.

2. Sustained over time
“Rome wasn’t built in a day” (or so the saying goes), and effective, lasting educational change doesn’t occur as a result of a single staff meeting or workshop. Sure, a single event may act as a catalyst for change, but for the change to be embedded and sustained the professional development must be sustained over a significant period of time to allow for iterations to occur and the new behaviours to ‘bed in’ and become the ‘new normal’. An iterative approach that builds on action research or cycles of inquiry provides opportunities for the refinement and ideas and approaches that eventually establish the changed culture and patterns of behaviour.

3. Contextually relevant
Meaningful change cannot occur simply by borrowing ideas from elsewhere and assuming they’ll work the same in your context. Your staff, your students, and your community are different. There will be different needs and different opportunities and resources for you to tap into. Sure, an idea from somewhere else may serve to stimulate your thinking, but you need to do what will work for the learners in your context.

4. Linked to practice
Finally, there’s little point in any professional learning that isn’t linked to practice. Stories abound from the days where teachers periodically went off-site to attend PD sessions, most of which were aimed at providing ideas and experiences that may be useful ‘just in case’ the need emerged when the teacher went back to school. Nowadays, the focus needs to be on PD approaches that provide access to these new ideas and approaches ‘just in time’ — so that they can be implemented, trialed, reflected on, and refined in the context of the teacher’s own practice. Not only must the PD be linked to practice, but there must also then be evidence of the impact of this on that teacher’s practice.

The approach outlined above places high expectations on the leadership in our schools/centres. The competing demands for the limited financial resources available in most schools/centres to support professional learning can create tensions that are difficult to resolve. Approaches that rely exclusively on externally designed and delivered PLD are no longer viable (or effective).

The changes announced to PLD by the MoE aim to grow leadership capability across the system and strengthen profession-led support for curriculum, teaching, and learning. The momentum must come from within our schools, kura, and centres — but doesn’t exclude drawing on external expertise. Indeed, a further goal of the MoE changes to PLD is to mobilise quality assured internal and external expertise — drawing on the strategic wisdom and critical support of external providers where this is aligned with and adds value to the internally agreed goals and direction for the school, kura, or centre.

As you contemplate the changes that lie ahead in 2016 in your school/centre, now is the time to review your vision, values, and action planning, and to ensure that a well-designed programme of professional development is a key part of this planning.

NOTE this was cross-posted from the CORE Education blog on 21 Jan, 2016