Archive for the “Pedagogy” Category

I have written previous posts about how we collaborate, prioritise and ‘make and break’ decisions about school and organisational change. The decision-making process and how we seek different influences to inform it continue to fascinate me. There is no one answer or simple prescription that can be followed in these areas, and, consequently, one thing many schools struggle with is how to allocate the very scarce resources that they have. Each school has only a limited amount of ‘discretionary spend’ in financial terms or in the focus, time and attention of the staff. There are a lot of competing things we could focus on for our professional learning or spend our curriculum, property or staffing budgets on. The question is, how do we make sure we are getting the most positive outcomes possible?

When I was a principal, for example, much of the mail that came across my desk was offering deals on this product or that programme, and contained sometimes quite extravagant claims about the results that could be expected for our staff and students. You have to have a well-attuned filter at times. There are plenty of snake oil salesmen out there who will push hard for you to spend sometimes significant amounts of that discretionary spend on their products or services, when they may not align well with your articulated beliefs. So, how do we make the decision about which things are, in fact, the most important and influential levers for positive change in the outcomes for our students?

In the work we do in Learning with Digital Technologies and in CORE’s Professional Learning opportunities, one of the key informers for this decision-making process is what we frame as a ‘Graduate Profile’. In any school, if we have done a really good job with our students for the full time we have had them, all the external and family influences have been overwhelmingly positive, and the child is an enthusiastic and positive learner — what sort of learner and person will they be when they graduate or leave us? What will their academic and non-academic profile look like? This gives us the fundamental purpose of our school or kura — to make sure that all that we do is purposefully and intentionally encouraging the child to be more and more like this ‘ideal’. This also provides an effective filter for any changes or initiatives we are looking to put in place. If the plans will promote or extend the graduate profile competencies, then they are worth considering; if not, we can safely put them aside. I believe a well-understood and socialised graduate profile puts us less at risk of swallowing the snake oil described above.

The MoE has produced some useful guidance on choosing commercial packages, and there is good research about what is effective in the New Zealand context, too.

If we have our purpose clearly articulated and understood, then much of what we do, and the decision-making processes we undertake can be expressed as a series of questions:

WHAT: do the students need to do, be, and understand in order to be able to demonstrate the Graduate Profile?
WHAT: pedagogies and practices do the adults supporting the students need to have? What pedagogical content knowledge is integral to this?
WHAT: stuff is needed to support these practices?

I am a big fan of drawing pictures, and in my head these questions can be expressed slightly differently as a series of concentric circles.

graduate profile

This is, of course, similar to Simon Sinek’s well known why-how-what model.

This model above helps us to be clear about the flow of logic when we are making decisions about initiatives or changes that we are planning as well. Again, we are able to ask ourselves if there is alignment between the proposal and ensuring our students are more and more like the graduate profile. If this is not a purposeful intent, then, I would argue, the initiative — no matter how good it might be, no matter how many others are doing it, or how good the bargain is — should be abandoned.

It also positions teachers, and supports staff knowledge, skills, and abilities fully in the service of student outcomes. If students are not achieving what we hope, then what is it that WE are doing or not doing that is resulting in this outcome. Blame and/or responsibility are not with the child, their family or whānau, intelligence or genetics, or any other external factors. Sure, they matter, but we still have an obligation to make sure all students are achieving and making progress, don’t we?

The other significant thing in this model is that you work from the inside out. This is quite counter to the decision-making processes I have often seen in schools, where things are stalled, or progress is difficult; where a programme or initiative is planned and put in place without clarity about why; where the about what the proposed change is trying to achieve. Just because everyone else has BYOD, a certain phonics programme, GAFE, or any other initiative in place does not mean it will be a good fit for your context and address any need youhave. It may well be a good fit, of course, but the implementation will be much more effective and smoother if everyone is on-board with the rationale and what need it is actually filling, and what the intended benefit for the students is.

Inherent in this model, too, is effective self-review. This is the thing that will help you determine where the ‘gaps’ are at each level, and also what the most effective solution might well be. It will also help you determine where your priorities lie; the thing/s that will have the greatest impact on making your students more like your intended graduate profile are the things that you have the obligation to focus on first.

So, as you are implementing change in your context this year:

  • Is everyone clear on the why?
  • Do all staff have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to implement the change? If not, is the PLD planned going to address this?
  • Do you have all the resources you need?
  • Will the initiative result in positive progress for students towards a clearly articulated graduate profile?

If the answer to any of these things is no, or you are not sure, then there is value in taking the time to reflect on what is central for you and your students. Make sure you really get to the heart of where the issues you are trying to address really lie. Get appropriate support from outside the school if you need it, and make considered decisions about pre-packaged solutions. Most of all, ensure everyone is really clear about why the change is important and what part they will play in it.


** cross-posted from

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Red team chess

I wrote a while back about getting out of the ‘education echo chamber’ and challenging ourselves with people who may think differently or come from a different perspective than us. One of the links in this post was to, who are counter-insurgency and security specialists. I find the whole concept of ‘red teaming’ fascinating, and those I work with will often hear me talk about trying to ‘break ideas’ and thrash plans around while they are still in their formative or concept stage. Red teaming has evolved from the historical Vatican concept of the so-called  devil’s advocate – someone whose job it was to try and break ideas or plans, or to argue from the opposite perspective to the status-quo or accepted doctrine. The counter perspective was seen as essential to coming to good decisions and decision-making, just as actively seeking multiple perspectives is central to effective change in education contexts today.

One of my current favourite reads is Micah Zenko’s ‘Red Team — how to succeed by thinking like the enemy’. It outlines the whole concept of Red Teaming, and gives examples from a number of different fields across military and business arenas. He begins by observing:

Institutions — whether they are military units, government agencies , or small businesses — operate according to some combination of long-range strategies, near-term plans, day-to-day operations and to-do lists. Decision-makers and other employees do not simply show up to their jobs each morning anew and then decide then and there how to work, and what to work on. The existing guidance, practices, and culture of an institution are essential to it’s functioning effectively. Yet, the dilemma for any institution operating in a competitive environment characterized by incomplete information and rapid change is how to determine when it’s standard processes and strategies are resulting in a suboptimal outcome, or, more seriously, leading to a potential catastrophe. Even worse, if the methods an institution uses to process corrective information are themselves flawed they can become the ultimate cause of failure. (pg: xvi)

To me, that sounds very much like the dilemma schools and centres face each and every day, particularly at this time of the year as they are refining and confirming their strategic planning and day-to-day ways of working for the new year. It also reflects closely the understandings we have about the work we do in Learning with Digital Technologies to support schools and clusters to implement their plans and goals, but with a specific e-learning lens. Planning, making strategic choices, change management and ensuring the smooth implementation of actions promoting change towards agreed outcomes are all crucial elements of what we support schools and clusters to do.

Zenco (in Chapter 1) also describes six critical factors to the effectiveness of any Red Team programme. Once again these things will sound very familiar to anybody who is involved in school leadership or change management. With a specific school or centre context, these factors could look like:

  1. The boss must buy in: The support and engagement of the leadership in the entire programme and its outcomes is the most critical single factor in schools, centres and for Red Teaming.
  2. Outside and objective, while inside and aware: Those leading or supporting any programs or changes must be aware of the culture of the organisation and effective ways of engendering change within it. They must also understand who the official and unofficial leaders are and who it is most effective to work with and through to get the desired outcomes.
  3. Fearless sceptics with finesse: Don’t make assumptions — check them, break them, challenge them, and change them. Dance carefully around and between the things and people that may be blockers or impediments to change. Work carefully and skillfully with those people who may not be as on-board as others.
  4. Have a big bag of tricks: If one strategy doesn’t work effectively, good change leaders always have other ways of getting things to happen. They will know who the effective people are to collaborate with, and what strategies are most useful to work with them to get the change they desire.
  5. Be willing to hear bad news and act on it: Once again, effective leaders will be constantly reviewing and checking that they are on track for the outcomes they are seeking. They will be prepared to make changes along the way, and, if necessary, refocus their efforts in ways that will promote the long-term outcomes and gains they are seeking.
  6. Red team just enough but no more: You can over plan! At some point you need to get on with it and implement change, not just plan it and think about it. Fullan often quotes an inverse relationship between the overt ‘quality’ of strategic planning and the ‘quality of the outcomes’. has a moto of “Plan, execute, vanish”. Again this has a strong education parallel:

  • Plan well and for all contingencies.
  • Do what you planned, and said you were going to do.
  • Re-focus your change management attention and get on with the next thing when you have achieved your goal/s.

So, as you reflect on 2015, and really begin to ramp-up your school or centre development in 2016, what elements of Red Teaming can you include?

  • Do you actively try to break goals and plans while they are at the formative and intellectual stage so you are less likely to be surprised by something you never thought of?
  • Do you actively seek out the wacky and weird ways things that may go wrong – because they often do?
  • Do you seek the perspectives of those you disagree with or ask the dissenters for their ideas?
  • Do you over or under plan?
  • Are you even planning and actioning the right things, the ones that will have the greatest impact?
  • Do you over-labour things and not move on to the next thing you need to do?
  • What will you do if your plan does begin to falter?  Can you bring it back on track because the challenge you are facing is something you have already considered?

What other questions do you need to ask yourself to ensure that you achieve the things you aspire to for yourself, you students and your school/centre this year?


** cross-posted from

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I like to read quite widely. My RSS feed is full of all sorts of seemingly random things that inform my thinking and sometimes these ideas provide real me with real challenges to what I believe. The challenge bit is quite intentional. One of the issues we sometimes face in education is the echo chamber we live in. We subscribe to the feeds of people we agree with or whose ideas have grabbed our attention. On Twitter we follow the so-called ‘thought-leaders’. We go to conferences where the EdTech and educational rock stars are speaking and running workshops.

idea-right-on-manGraphic: Bobbi Newman under CC

But, will this give us a wide and varied diet of influences, ideas and inputs into our thinking? I was reading today about the Medici Effect. This refers …

“… to being open to transferring knowledge from different fields, e.g, from business to education. Education is excellent at being reflective and looking inwards, but very rarely does it seem to draw from other fields. Constantly be on the lookout for things you could use in your classroom. …. Having an open mind to ways those outside of education engage and educate is very valuable.”
(p43, Forget being the favourite: 88 ideas on teaching differently by Tim Bowman)

I agree with Tim completely here (and his book is an easy and enjoyable read). But it is the message in this quote that is key. How many of the influences on our thinking do we consciously look out for that are different from our own? How many from outside of the closeted world of education? How many from people we profoundly disagree with?

This blog post from Corrine Campbell sums things up quite well too, and specifically in relation to Twitter.  Corrine addresses the power of what some are calling abrasive tension or positive abrasion.  A few people like George Couros picked up her post and commented on it too:

The beauty of genuinely engaging with someone I don’t agree with, rather than trying to argue against them, is that it stretches me. It forces me to re-examine my beliefs and put them under scrutiny. I may emerge with an even stronger commitment to a particular stance, or I may find myself shifting on issues and adopting a new position. This is healthy, and it is to be encouraged.

Out of disagreement or challenge comes a forced deeper thinking. After all if you can’t provide the strong and cohesive counter argument to something do you really know what YOU think?

Question the answsers
Graphic: walknbostin under CC

Also, in what areas of our work in schools do we consciously work to find influences outside of education?  Schools are not the only places in society where we manage people, want them to learn, manage conflict and institutional change, juggle competing demands for scarce resources, and so on. We could do worse than look beyond our own sheltered garden for ideas and inspiration.

So in my current reading I have people like:

  • – who are security and counter insurgency specialists. The interesting part though is that so much of their thinking is hugely applicable to strategic planning and change management processes. Red Teaming is loosely the good guys trying to break into computer, military and other secure systems. In order to do this you have to plan effectively, manage change and be hugely agile, and look for weaknesses in systems and processes. It would make a big positive difference if we ‘Red Teamed’ things we are planning to do in schools before we implemented them.
  • Shawn Blanc and Patrick Rhone – who both write about technology and simplicity. The beauty and elegance of simple things done well is amazing. The catch is, simple is HARD!  Having minimalism and simplicity at the core of what we do in education would help in many situations however, where complexity and ‘bloat’ are sometimes stifling creativity and effectiveness. (As an aside Patricks Dash-Plus system is gold as a simple task management system!)
  • Bruce Hammonds and Allan Alach — who I sometimes agree with absolutely and sometimes leave me shaking my head.
  • On Facebook my feed is full of things from conspiracy theorists as well as family and friends. Again sometimes there are interesting provocations and sometimes some head shaking on my part.

My wondering here for us all is this: Who do we listen to who challenges us? Who makes us want to throw things at the computer screen or the TV? More importantly … if we were in the same room would we be able to put a convincing counter argument to what they are saying?  If the answer is no do we really understand what we claim to believe well enough yet?

Getting outside our echo chamber and actively utilising the Medici Effect may well have a lot of positive benefits for our own thinking and the learners we work with as well.


** cross-posted from

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Link to info on her presentation

Q:  Does the next big best thing really make it any better?  Different is NOT better by definition.

The focus should really on the 'WHY' rather than on the technology.  

compliance DOES NOT = engagement.  Quiet and still does not mean learning.

Describing using video with pauses and prompts.  eg:  watching a video made by teacher that has instructions like "pause the video now and using a post-it label 4 polygons n the room".  Enables the medium to scale the teacher around the room => active, engaged room.

She is constantly referring to "problems of practice" … Teaching as Inquiry anyone?

Using a GForm as a check-in.  "The comfort of anonymity" 



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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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Just looking back over some of my notes from Melbourne MLE tour with CORE Education last week.  I am trying to pull some ideas together to mke full sense of the full-on week and all that I have seen and heard.  It was a fabulous learning experience and I have a million thoughts and wonderings floating in my head I need to get lined up in a way that they form a cohesive pattern …. getting there but a way to go.  I am posting below a reflection from on the plane on the way over by way of a frame for later posts:


I have been doing some reading on the plane over to Melbourne from different research about the so called 'modern learning environment'. 

Open-plan learning spaces, with the pedagogy to match, are driving learning innovation in New Zealand schools.
The new ‘hubs’ thrive on increased collaboration between teachers.

One of the interesting things is the difference between the MLE and the 'open plan' movement of the 1960's and 70's.  There is quite a lot of thinking about how the current movement is different.  The MLE is the congruence between what we know about the influences of buildings and space on learning and what we can now achieve in the physical construction of acoustically, energy and light efficient buildings; brain research and what we know about learning; collaborative practice and what we know about effective pedagogy and teacher professional learning; what we know about effective learning and how essential full engagement with students and communities is; and what we know about the impact of technology on todays students and how it is simply an integral part of their lives.

The intersection of these things is the space that an MLE sits in.  Where all the factors come together and the personalised mix is 'fit-for-purpose' for the students, community and staff of a particular school.  A key part of this seems to me to be clarity around PURPOSE.  The WHY.  What is it that we are actually aiming to achieve?  What does success look like in a school if you have the students for the full five, six or eight years?  What do they 'look like'.  What knowledge, skills, attitudes and personal values has the school supported them to build into their character?  What kind of person are they?  What beliefs do they have about where they fit in society and the agency they ave to cat and have a positive influence on the world around them?  This graduate profile is a key component of the effective implementation of the NZC and also has been a central focus for quite a bit of the work I have been doing in the Blended eLearning programme over the past two years.  

Lots of random thoughts floating but keen to see where the congruences above align with the graduate profile in the espoused philosophies and the practices.   It will be interesting to see where this fits within the schools we will visit over the next week.  Part of the real value for me is also in travelling with others on this journey.  Having the perspectives and understandings of the group, as well as Derek and Julia to draw upon is going to magnify the depth I am exploring this to as well.

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Man, it has been a wee while since I have put anything on here!

I am currently in the Koru Club with Derek Wenmoth form CORE Education en-route to Melbourne for the CORE Education MLE (modern learning environments) Tour. One of the really fun parts of my current role in the Blended eLearning Programme has been working alongside Derek with two schools involved in the rebuild programme in ChCh. The physical spaces that schools are building are radically different, but more importantly the head space and pedagogical approach is too. It is a privilege to walk alongside schools as they work out what it is all gong to look like for them! This tour is very much part for the learning for me to be able to provide the best support for them.

Julia Atkin is also supporting the tour and there are 15 of us in total from around NZ.

Bring it on!

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Thanks Jane for sharing this.  

The video is a short, provocative but readily accessable watch.  Only 5min or so long with a load of content:

The report itself from here goes in to more detail and again has a content well worth reading.  Some HUGE brains involved in puting this report together!


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