Archive for the “opinion” Category

The Internet is a wonderful thing. It has given us everything from dancing babies to cat videos. It is also an astounding place for the creation of communities of practice, the sharing of professional knowledge, and for people who are interested in quite narrow topics to find communities of affinity with others around the world.

One of the quite interesting things to come from the rise of social media in particular is the meme:

‘A meme (/ˈmiːm/ meem) is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.’

Memes are exemplified by the fast spreading of things, like the dancing baby above, through social networks and social media. The wondering for me is:

“How do we make effective leadership and school change practices into memes?”

How can we make effectiveness and high performance contagious and for them to spread like some sort of disease that has no cure?  How can we develop the super-bug of effective school change?

Some of the key influencers of the effectiveness of change that I see in my work with schools and in the literature are:

 1.  Relationships — people need to develop trust and agreed ways of working before the ‘hard stuff’ of change can be a focus.  Only surface and ‘safe’ things can be explored.  There is a saying that equally applies to change:Maslow

This challenges us to ensure we have agreed ways of working and high levels of professional and personal trust before we can get to the really meaningful conversations and change efforts.

2.  Understanding — I have written before about getting ideas outside the echo chamber and avoiding the Medici Effect.  Are you really getting to the underlying cause, or simply looking at and dealing with the symptoms? I think we often do this with assessment data – perhaps our literacy results are lower than we would like, so we do literacy Professional Learning and Development. But if we dug a little deeper and explored the information available to us a little more, we may find that engagement or home-school partnerships are larger causal factors than teacher pedagogical content knowledge specifically in an area of literacy. Sometimes, we don’t really understand the underlying causes of the data we are seeing, and, therefore, put our intentional change efforts in the areas that will not give us the best ‘bang-for-buck.’

3.  A focus on comfort and happiness — change is often difficult and uncomfortable.  If the index of success is the degree to which everyone is comfortable and happy, then change becomes impossible. Comfort and change are, at least to some degree, mutually exclusive.  Understanding this (perhaps through models like Fullans’ Implementation Dip, or Nottingham’s Learning Pit) is a key element of beginning change processes and ensuring change and improvement are continuous and ongoing processes in a school.

4.  Planning and Checking — we often make changes without a clear set of measures for what ‘good’ or ‘effective’ looks like, or what we are expecting to see as outcomes of the initiative. We know we want things to be better than they are now, but without agreed measures how will we know if we are on track or have achieved them?

So we do know what some of the key influencers of change are. We know what works!  We also do know what some of the highly effective processes are. We do know what highly effective practices and outcomes look like.  So this begs the question — ‘Why are we not able to pull things together to achieve the package that makes the gains for students which we are all hoping for’?

Most of the things I see answering this provocation come down to people. How we work together; our mindframes around achievement; and more particularly our mindframes around change.

To simplify things a lot, people tend to sit somewhere on a continuum with respect to change:  From the CAVE mentality to those with a high BIO quotient.

CAVE BIO diagramme


So my pondering becomes how to make the BIO mentality sticky and contagious.  How to get people onboard with change.  And conversely, how to get those who live in the CAVE out into the daylight and revelling in the excitement and challenge that highly effective school-change brings.

I would love to hear what people have found works well in your context!  A big part of spreading a meme is enabling the contact and having the conversations.  Let’s share our effectiveness ideas in the comments below.

Image sources:
Maslow quote: Future Classrooms (slide) Dean Shareski CC
Diorama of cavemen — Wikimedia – Public Domain

**Cross-post form:

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Before I begin – Deliberate Provocation Alert!

Change is hard.  Change in schools is REALLY hard.  There is the dance between the carrot and the stick, and as leaders we are often plied with ideas from near and far about how to best go about getting people on-board and all heading in ‘the right direction’.  All sources and thinkers I can find seem to agree on the need for an alignment in the vision and buy-in from staff and families for school transformation to be its most effective.  From the Best Evidence Synthesis series to Timperley, Fullan to Stoll and Fink, they all extol the virtues of a collaborative and cooperative culture.  Some dissonance is good they claim, but not enough to derail the overall progress and momentum of positive change.

After a comment from a colleague recently though I have been thinking a lot about this:  “At what point do you shoot the wounded?”

When does the time come to pose the question and put in front of someone the provocation about whether their fit in the culture and direction of the school may not be a good one?  We will have all heard the urban myths (and not myths) of the principals who have left copies of the Gazette in people’s pigeon holes.  I have it first hand from a staff member from one school where it went as far as photocopies of pages with positions circled.  Not terribly subtle and (quite rightly) these days would probably have the Union rep knocking at your door mentioning phrases like constructive dismissal.

But what to do if the change and practices seem to either be so well beyond someone as to be unachievable; or they are completely resistant the proposed direction the school is taking?  I have worked in schools where the most powerful index of success is everyone being happy and comfortable, and anything that disrupted this was heavily resisted.  This made meaningful change nigh-on impossible; and extremely frustrating to try and lead.

In the work I do in professional learning and development with schools I have the luxury of not being in the school 24/7 and being able to position myself as provocateur and then walk away for at least a period of time.  This does enable me however, to be able to pose thoughts like is ’the professionally defensible thing to do’ to vote with your feet if the current/proposed school change is not for you and everyone else is on board.  I actually do this reasonably often to overtly point out the elephant in the room.  I always begin sessions with groups of staff by quite unequivocally stating that part of my role is to provide provocations (see how Reggio Emilia positions provocation to see what I mean here) and that if at least something I say or propose does not strike you as pretty outrageous then I have not pushed hard enough.  I have not challenged sufficiently to get to the limits of what the thinking is, and that this is a crucial part of my role.

So, my point here is …. how can you replicate this as a leader when you have to look the same people in the eye in the staff room the next day?  How can you challenge hard, find the edges and limits of people’s thinking, and still maintain the working relationships?  How can you prod the thinking in people who may be better served by finding a school which is a better fit with their beliefs?  How can you create a climate of positive discomfort to get things moving if this is not a normal state of being?

I would be really interested in hearing what others think!

** cross-posted from

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applying the 80-20 rule

Source: Adapted from photo by John Nakamura Remy under CC

I have been doing quite a bit of work in schools, recently, who are right at the very beginning of their e-learning journey. For these Schools, things like GAFE (Google Apps for Education), Flipped Learning, and lots of the other things that many people reading this may now take for granted are, in fact, really new. One of the first things people in this situation tend to ask me is, “What should I do?”

Let’s reframe the question

What I think we should really do is reframe that question around impact. I, therefore, often answer the question with a question along the lines of, “What do you think the one change you can make is that will have the biggest positive difference to the learning for the students you work with?”  Another addition to this could be, “ … and for the least amount of change and/or work for you”. I often quote the 80-20 rule, sometimes known as the Pareto Principle, when having these discussions. The premise of this is that 80% of the results or impact come from 20% of the energy or change. In the pedagogy context this could be thought of as identifying what the initial change/s are that will make, or have, the biggest impact on the students.

Start small and get it right

It is essential that any changes made rapidly become embedded in practice and part of the ‘normal’ in the classroom or school. Starting in a small and focussed way and using an Inquiry mindset, is a useful way of doing this. You do one thing and get it right, then quickly move on to the next.  Don’t revamp everything in your programme at once. Start small and learn what you need to know to make that thing successful, then scale this learning across more of your programme and pedagogy.

For example: change something with one reading group, get it right, and then roll this out to everyone. Experiment, do it well, and learn from the implementation of this prototype about what needs to happen when you scale things up.  Once you have sufficiently mastered things, move onwards and upwards to include more and more people, and more and more of your programme.

Bells and whistles don’t always make things better

One of the real challenges of technology and the digital space is the highly seductive nature of it all. I have seen many schools and teachers fall into the trap of trying to ‘do it all at once’ and turning their schools or classrooms into a digital christmas tree with all the whistles and bells at a meteoric pace. The sad bit is though that the whistles and bells may not in fact be making things any better for students, or the learning any deeper. Sure the teacher is working harder and things are taking longer. Kids are having to learn new routines and ways of doing things. But a lack of focus may actually be detracting from the learning. The whole thing quickly becomes unsustainable for both the teacher and the students who were supposed to be benefitting from this in the beginning.

Finding the sweet spot using the 80:20 rule

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am definitely not advocating for inappropriately slow implementation of change any more than I am for over-paced development. The ‘sweet spot’ is somewhere in between.

I was reading about this idea recently, which takes the 80:20 rule above and extrapolates it out even further:
“What if you took your 80-percent results and applied the 80/20 rule to them? And then one more time?

80-20 rule graph

Source: ShawnBlanc.Net

What you end up with is the idea that your initial 1-percent of energy spent brings about the first 50-percent of results.

It’s about finding the key things that make the difference

For me, this hits home the point about key things making the difference, and choosing that sweet-spot where we get the best bang-for-buck in terms of both simplicity and impact. Small changes often have disproportionately and deceptively big impacts.

I wonder then, if we can come up with a set of questions we can ask ourselves in order to force a focus on some fundamentals and the things with the biggest influence?

Here is my attempt at this:

Question Rationale
What (potentially) small changes COULD I make that will have the most significance for the learning of the students I work with? Trying to focus in on the key small actions or changes rather than the big ones — eg: introduce a choice of digital activities for the non-instructional time with the XXX reading group NOT digitise my entire reading programme
How much personal learning and change is required for me, for my programme, and for students? Is the learning curve involved for the teacher and the students worth the time and effort? Remembering that learning software is not the focus of our programmes and the purpose of our time in the classroom is not to be trained in apps, tools or technology.
Is the proposal doing things better or just differently? Are we exploiting the potential of technology to make things possible that are not in a ‘pen and paper’ or analog world? If not then is having the tech the best option?
Does the ‘better’ justify and outweigh the ‘different’? If the answer is yes then this proposal may have real merit
Of the possible changes I COULD make, which SHOULD I make to have the biggest initial impact? Choosing the most ‘impact-full’ option among the possible choices as the place/s to start.

What other questions or considerations would you include?


**Cross-posted from

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One of the interesting things visiting the Melbourne schools was the differences in the ways they approached organising 'ownership' of space and students.  The two are related I suppose but I put the slide below together to try and capture what I was seeing as the differences in approaches:

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 11.12.58 AM

At one end there is the INDIVIDUAL teacher who oversees a home group of students for much of their programme.  They coordinate the pastoral, academic and organisational aspects of their school life within the collaborative space of the MLE that may have over 120 students in it.  They are responsible for all the process things like assessment and reporting, coordination with families and being the person who is 'responsible' for knowing them well.

At the other extreme is a collective responsibility where all teachers in a space hold COLLECTIVE responsibility for 100+ students.  All staff collectively work with students across the group on the needs that are identified.  Groups are fluid and teachers report on the bits of the curriculum they have particular iinsight into for instance.  There are careful mechanisms for collecting and collating achievement and pastoral information.  We saw instance of these in Google Docs and more formal proprietary SMS systems.


Both extremes work.  Both have their strengths and challenges.  It is figuring out where you sit …

Once you have done that it is thinking through ALL the implications:

  • Assessment
  • monitoring
  • organisation
  • reporting to families
  • organisation of teaching materials
  • attendance
  • behaviour management
  • etc, etc, etc

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Have the funeral for Vince Ham tomorrow. This came in today.

'nuff said really.

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From Scott Mcleod:

The unholy trinity of student classroom technology usage

Taking notes (look, we’re using computers!)
Looking up stuff (Google and Wikipedia reign supreme)
Making PowerPoints (and they’re not even good ones)
Honorable mention: Completing Google Docs electronic worksheets (just type in the empty spaces…)

The unholy trinity of teacher classroom technology usage

Interactive whiteboards (can you say ‘really expensive chalkboards?’)
Clickers (digital multiple choice! woo hoo!)
Pre-selected YouTube videos for students (passive viewing of filmstrips, VHS tapes, laserdiscs, or DVDs is s-o-o-o yesteryear)
Honorable mention: Blackboard or Moodle (let’s devise really complex systems for transmitting really basic information!)

Is this the vast majority of what we see in P-12 and postsecondary classrooms? Yep. Can we do better (a lot better) than just this? Yep.

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Looking at data is always an interesting thing.  The same for school-wide achievement data.  For years we had the National Education Monitoring Project, which was focussed completely on providing a robust picture of where we are as an education system in NZ.  In the last few days we have the release of the National Standards data for the country.  It makes interesting reading, as much for the odd things as for the data itself:

* if we take out the magin of error, which I would guess is in the region of 3-5%, then there is in fact no difference across the two years.  There is also little or no difference between the three areas of Literacy and Numeracy

* there is no european ethnicity registered.  Therefore the data for Total includes maori and pacifika data.  Given these groups under-perform on these measures with respect to many other ethnic groups, if we made a comparison group by group the differences would be LARGER than comparing to the total which also includes them.  In reality maori are probably over 10% below the rest of the population across the year levels.  For pacifica students then, this means it is more like a 15-20% difference.

Screen Shot 2013-06-12 at 4.15.32 PM

* Year 7 must be hard.  Across the board students are achieving lower in this year level than any other.

* Writing achievement falls to Y4 then rises again to Y6; Reading does the opposite.  What explains this?  Y7-8 patterns are identical.

* Maths is pretty random, except it gets harder as the years go on, with fewer students meeting expectations (if we made an overall trend line).


So …. an odd mix of outcomes, much of which validly says nothing (even if we ignore the other issues where I have been pretty clear about what I believe before).  The one thing that does come through though is that we are hiding the extent of the difference between maori, pacifica, and other ethnic groups in the data.  The situation is more pronounced than the graphs show.

It is interesting that there appears to be no deeper analysis of this information anywhere.  Like in a school it is only when you delve into the data, make an effort to understand it and present it in valid ways, and draw some conclusions that the really interesting stuff comes to the fore.

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Sir Ken is an education rockstar.  He now commands massive fees on the back of his astoundingly successful TED talk.  In this talk he outlines some fantistic concepts we need to bear in mind as we think about educaitonal reform.

"The role of the teacher is to facilitate learning" …. ah, YUP.  


Watch Sir Ken Robinson on PBS. See more from TED Talks Education.

I like the bit where he critiques the current delivery, testing, accountability focussed model of education. "We have a culture of standardisation".

High performing systems:

* personalise learning

* have teaching as a high status activity

* responsibility falls at the school level for 'getting the job done'

As he says education is currently viewed as a mechanical system.  I have written about this before when critiquing the way Bill Gates is funding work trying to find a set of replicable behaviours that define good teaching and simply train other teachers to do them, therefore making all teachers good.  Not that simple.  Teaching is complex, messy and a profoundly human undertaking.

Sir Ken describes some of this messyness in the video.

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