“We’re in a new world and we need new structures, new ways of doing things in order to participate in it,” so claims Frank Green, CEO of Leigh Academy in his opening keynote address to the 1400 delegates at the Learning@School conference being held in Hamilton.
Frank Green comes from UK where has has an established reputation for innovation and transformation as part of the school improvement process. The schools he has led have become leading schools in the country.
Frank challenged us to think more creatively, more strategically and with bigger vision about the transformation agenda in schools. His key challenge to the delgates of the conference: "What is transformational about what we’re doing?"
“Transformation hasn’t yet happened – most of what we’re seeing is simply modernization”, says Frank, “compare the development of trains and the rail system – they’re still trains, they still ride on tracks and they still provide transport within the confines of the continent on which they’re based. What we need is to build a jumbo jet – that opens up entirely new dimensions of travel that the train, no matter how modern, could possibly compete with.”
Frank shared the background to the development of the Leigh Academy, highlighting the process of developing the vision and values upon which the school is based. At the Leigh, the mission they've settled with is:
Creating a quality learning network that delivers excellence in all its services in an enterprising culture and in partnership with the community
Which Frank summed up as..
- Take risks
- Work together
- Work hard
This sort of process and thinking will be familiar to many L@S delegates… things such as partnership, collaboration, students at the centre, high expectations etc. forming the underpining beliefs behind the formation and ongoing operation of the school. We've seen schools in New Zealand go through a similar process in thinking – take the new schools that have opened recently in the Auckland region for example.
The point of difference in what Frank shared, however, is how to take the success of one school and replicate it in others, and so begin to achieve systemic change, rather than simply just another 'island of excellence'.
He challenged us to make sure that everything we consider doing in terms of the transformation process is underpinned by research and evidence. His rationale for breaking the Leigh Academy into four 'schools within schools' for instance ws informed by research evidence around the increase in vandalism and grafitti in school buildings, which revealed a correlation with roll size.
Franks provided a list of questions as examples of the sorts of things we need to consider in setting our transformation agendas, such as
- How do children learn best?
- Where do they learn best?
- At what times do they learn best?
- What size of group is best?
- What style of learning//teaching works best?
- Which teachers are best?
- What abut Technology?
- Where is the evidence?
- What about research into learning?
- What about neuroscience an how the brain works?
Rather than provide specific answers to each of these, Frank encouraged us to find answers to these that are a best fit for us and our context, and then find the evidence to support and back up our position. I suspect this list could easily form the basis of some really useful professional discussion at staff meetings in the early part of the coming year.
I was intrigued by the reference he gave to some 1948 research into effective learning which concluded; "children learn best when they learn from other children". The theme of students at the centre of the process and design thinking was central to much of what Frank shared. The signs of transformation in our school system that he'd be looking for included:
- students are the teachers
- school students as self motivated as university students
- school students as leaders of learning
- 20/80 to become 80/20 at least (i.e. 80% achieving what 20% used to achieve – as leaders in their field etc.)
Frank emphasised the mportance of being practically involved as a part of learning, and need for practice (e.g. mechanics don’t learn to fix cars by only reading books, gymnasts don’t become great at what they do by only watching videos of others) and provided several examples from his UK school experience to illustrate this.
Technology was also profiled significanlty in the programmes in the schools Frank is responsible for. There is a signifcant focus on the personal use of computers in all aspects of the learning process. He referenced how iPads are being used at Longfield Academy where every student comes to school with an iPad, and shared an interesting movie clip made by students to illustrate how they are using iPads at the Academy.
Frank also shared another video titled "why did we choose the iPad?” which I watched with interest given the topical nature of this debate in New Zealand. While this clip certainly conveyed the enthusiasm of the students, and began to unpack the potential uses of a personally owned device, I was disappointed that it didn't really live up to its title of why they chose iPads – it could really have been any mobile device.
Frank certainly left us with lots to ponder on, however, particularly in stretching our thinking beyond simply thinking about our own school to think of our education system. Here is his summary of what is required to move forward:
- Clear vision and educational plan
- Enormous expectations
- Outstanding learning and teaching
- Relentless pursuit of improvement
- ‘it’s relationships’
During the keynote we also set up a collaborative open Google Doc so delegates could take notes together during the keynote – check it out.