Learning to unlearn: Rethinking student success in the 21stC #notNAPLANforYear9

Have you thought about this idea? Those times when you are learning to do something new and your instinct, your embedded knowledge and intuition keeps getting in the way? HBR article: “Why the problem with learning is unlearning?” arrived in my inbox this morning. The author, Mark Bonchek (Chief Epiphany Officer at Shift Thinking), describes his experiences as an American, driving in the UK. I could resonate on the other side as an Australian driving in Europe, “tight right, long left” was my mantra. The more I drove the more my confidence grew as I had almost audible conversations with myself. The purpose was to unlearn and learn simultaneously.

This HBR article is about the new sales environment in a globalised interconnected world. Unlearning is when we choose an alternative paradigm, “Many of the paradigms we learned in school and built our careers on are either incomplete or ineffective”

When Bonchek says ‘school’ in this context he’s probably referring to ‘business school’, however I think there much to learn for K-12 schooling as well. Some points he makes in the unlearning argument, that have relevance for schools:

  • Our thinking is permeated by the mental model of mass communication
  • The world has become many-to-many, but we still operate one-to-many
  • We treat customers as consumers when they want to be co-creators
  • We push messages through channels, even though real engagement increasingly happens through shared experiences

And this one: We move people through a pipeline even though the customer journey is non-linear. Ouch!

In my experiences talking with educators around the world there seems to be a shift toward this pipeline mentality for students. Mass-measurements instruments and common core curriculums represent these singular pipelines. This article comes at a time when many educators in my state (NSW), are aghast at the Minister for Education’s decision to connect Year 9 *NAPLAN Results, under the banner ‘HSC modernisation’. As reported in The Guardian Australia Online (22 Nov 2016): The pressure on kids is absurd, and a new Naplan rule is about to make it worse, by Anne Susskind:

“those who don’t achieve Band 8 in their year nine Naplan (a high level only achieved by about a third of the year’s cohort) will no longer be automatically eligible to sit the **HSC.”

In 2016, this is an example of ‘moving students through a pipeline even though the journey of learning is non-linear’. In my view, this is an unintended purpose of NAPLAN and places undue pressure on early teens. Of course, they aren’t discounted from the HSC entirely at age 14, the test can be retaken. The point is NAPLAN was established as a diagnostic tool, to take a snapshot of our nation’s literacy and numeracy and for schools to identify strengths and areas of growth. I believe this is a retrograde step, for a number of reasons, one being, it reinforces the hierarchy of subjects.

If we return to Bonchek’s article, he states that the process of unlearning has three parts:

First, you have to recognise that the old mental model is no longer relevant and effective

Second, you need to create a new model that can better achieve your goals

Third, you need to ingrain the new mental habits

Our instinct, our embedded knowledge tells us that that the only way to ensure quality students enter university is to test them to ensure a high standard in literacy and numeracy. These mindsets need to be unlearning and new ones learned.

The world has changed significantly from the ‘egg crate’ and one-to-many paradigm. New models of learning and measures of success will better serve our young people in the years to come. Perhaps we can embed alternative mechanisms for recognising student achievement and finding new pathways to their learning futures.


*NAPLAN: National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy

Assessing student literacy and numeracy for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in Australian Schools

**HSC – Higher School Certificate – NSW final school year (Year 12) credential


Bonchek, M (2016) “Why the Problem with Learning is Unlearning” Accessed 23 November, 2016

Anne Susskind, “The pressure on kids is absurd, and a new Naplan rule is about to make it worse” The Guardian Australia Online. Accessed 23 November, 2016

Collective Teacher Efficacy: The power of more-than-just one

Sometimes I feel like I’m learning a new language. Beside me as I work I have a thick research methodology book to clarify ‘phenomenology’ and ‘epistemology’. There is also Prof Google to double-check new words I come across, not assuming that I know what ‘extant’ or ‘reflexive’ actually mean, or for looking up new words like ‘polyvalent’ (
effective against, sensitive toward, or counteracting more than one toxin, microorganism, or antigen) and ‘attenuated’ (To reduce in force, value, amount, or degree; weaken; diminish). So when I started reading about ‘collective teacher efficacy’ I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what it meant.

img_3001This weekend I have been exploring the idea moving beyond teacher efficacy, and considering the power of a faculty or team of teachers. Teacher efficacy is the capacity of a teacher to believe they can positively  influence the learning outcomes of their students (Goddard, 1990 -reference below). The crux of the matter, with regard to teacher efficacy, is that the teacher believes that their efforts can make a difference, despite the context, and that they display a dogged determination to see this through for the sake of their students. When I work with teachers I am somewhat bemused when they say to me, “yes, but you don’t know our kids, the homes they come from, the struggles they have”. Teachers can be change agents for their students.

The idea of collective teacher efficacy is powerful and is at the heart of agency and collaboration, asking the question:

What is the combined impact of our team’s efforts on the learning achievement of the students we teach?

Where teacher efficacy refers to the impact of the of a teacher, collective teacher efficacy views the teachers as a team that due to their shared beliefs, shared values and shared commitment, they can create the conditions for the positive learning outcomes of their students. The hypothesis of Goddard’s study was that collective teacher efficacy is positively associated with the difference between schools with regard to student level of achievement. And he found that collective teacher efficacy was a significant predictor of student achievement in the areas of the study, maths and reading. Collective efficacy, according to Goddard, is evident in:

  • Tasks
  • Level of effort
  • Persistence
  • Shared thoughts
  • Stress levels
  • Achievement of group

For collective teacher efficacy two elements are matter:

Analysis of teaching task

Assessment of teaching competencies.

The former considers the school’s resources and facilities, the instructional materials and abilities of students, and the latter relates to the capacity of the teachers, their content knowledge, teaching skills and expertise. The assessment of teaching competencies also includes, “positive faculty beliefs in the ability of all students to succeed”. I’ll say that again… “beliefs in the ability of all students to succeed” (emphasis mine).

When we talk about innovative learning environments many would regard the idea of teachers’ shared practice as a key to this paradigm. If the egg crate classroom model is the less preferred option, then how teachers work together in these spaces is key. When Goddard wrote this paper in 1990, education had fallen off the open/shared ‘bandwagon’ of the 60s and 70s, but now in the 20-teens we are exploring this again and I wonder about the power of collective teacher efficacy when teachers not only share a faculty, but also share the students they teach, the space they work in and commitment for doing the best for their students.


Collective Teacher Efficacy: Its meaning, measure and impact on student achievement (2000) Goddard, Hoy & Hoy, American Educational Research Journal, Vol 37, No. 2 pp 479-507

Innovating learning environments: 4 ways to think about sustaining change

We love the photos of cool learning spaces with funky furniture They are captivating, inspiring, but it is impossible to know the full story from a tweeted photo. Recently I’ve had numerous opportunities to talk about the context for change and  several resonating themes are emerging around people and change:

  • That chair/table/tech won’t be the silver bullet
  • It’s just like Maslow’s Hierarchy
  • How does your garden grow?
  • This is just the tip of the iceberg

Photo credit: Derek Bartels

That chair/table/tech won’t be the silver bullet

When I walk around our school with groups, they take notice of the elements, the physical designs, the furniture and configuration of spaces. One thing that people notice in innovative learning environments (ILEs) is the lack of, or perhaps different thinking around, the teacher’s desk. At NBCS, we have ‘caddies’ in our learning spaces that serve the purpose of storage and provide a stand-up place for student-teacher chat. They have been useful, and have helped to dismantle the barrier and culture that a teacher’s desk creates. They came about through a process of identifying a need, addressing the context and designing a solution. This process is fairly important, as these decisions have greater impact when when there is purpose and intentionality..

It’s just like Maslow’s Hierarchy

The premise of the ILETC research project is: Can altering teacher mind frames unlock the potential of innovative learning environments? I am often curious when teachers say, “Yes, but you don’t know our kids!” This tells me that they think the effectiveness of changing the learning paradigm to be more relevant to the 21st C is dependent on their students’ capacity to embrace change. Rather, it seems to me, that the educators are the variable here. We need to believe that it is up to us, we are the change agents.

My colleague Steve Collis and I put our heads together little while back to (unscientifically) come up with the key concerns we regularly hear around ILEs. These included:slide1

  • Time to plan  
  • Kids off task
  • Acoustics and headaches
  • Back problems   
  • Storage of resources
  • Teaching on display to co-workers    
  • Parent expectations
  • General chaos!

When it’s working well many of us can attest to the benefits of the ILE to student learning: increased levels of students engagement, student and teacher agency, creativity, a sense of adventure. The environment of learning becomes more personal, real and fun.  I have started to think of the change process in terms in the style of Maslow’s Hierarchy, If we address some of these issues like ‘Where do I put my stuff?’ and ‘The noise is giving me a headache’ (both real concerns), it may be possible that teachers can move up the pyramid and reach educational self-actualisation: ‘I’ve never been so professionally creative and empowered’.

How does your garden grow?shutterstock_186549074.jpg

When it comes to the process of change I love the gardening metaphor. We never reach the place of completeness, something always needs to be done and to explain this I like to talk about the garden. Please don’t think this attests to any capacity on my part, no green thumbs here.

When we design and layout a new garden we can stand back and admire our work for about a week before pesky weeds seem to poke through. Then a little later we may need to prune back some branches, from time-to-time a plant needs replacing and there may come a time when we pull out all the plants and start again on that patch. When I gave this illustration to a group this week, one suggested that the lifespan of a garden is about five years. That could be a good way to look how we innovate in schools. Think about what stage some of your key projects are at: Is it time to re-landscape?

This is just the tip of the icebergiceberg.png

When we see the design of an innovative school, or spend a few days there what we see is just the tip of the iceberg. The real work is under the surface. What actually happens to maintain the vision and reinforce the culture? As I think it through I am developing this diagram as a way of thinking about this. We have a vision and core values expressing what we believe about education and learning, we can articulate the ‘mountaintop’ – what might it look like if we get there? To reach that aspiration the hard work needs to happen:slide1

How do we help our people?
Their mindset, feelings, equipping for the change

What are the practical tasks we need to get done?
Roles and responsibilities, protocols around the use of spaces and places, and articulating systems and processes.



School life 2030: When the wheels finally fell off the education bandwagon

Which do you choose?

Option 1: Learning in the 2030s has what I need, when I need it, nothing like my parents’ generation. They went to this thing called  ‘school’, it looked like a prison!

Option 2: Yeah, we tried those open, flexible classrooms in the 1970s and then again in the 2010s. It was never going to work, we decided to go ‘back to basics’. It didn’t do me any harm.

whichAs part of the PhD research project Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change I’m immersing myself in reading, my 10,000 hours, creating a new perspective on the world of school. In addition to this, over the past six weeks I have visited maybe 20 schools in UK, Europe and Australia, on the annual SCIL Vision Tour and for some additional work I have been undertaking as part of my role at SCIL. I guess a common theme has been the ‘innovative learning environment’ (ILE), either in aspiration or practice, it’s a global movement. I have concluded that designing and building an innovative place for learning does not magically create an alignment with culture and practice that is consistent with the opportunities the physical space offers, and which then transforms student learning.

This weekend I am reading Evaluating Learning Environments, edited by and with contributions from my new colleagues at Melbourne University (reference noted below). In his chapter on “Emerging Issues”, Wes Imms paints a challenging picture,

The huge open plan movement in the UK, USA, Australia and many other countries in the 1970s pursued a similar goal. Each flourished, each faded and each revisits our consciousness on occasions in the form of a new initiative. Sherman (1990) laments this cyclical nature of education as being a distraction to the point of an illness. Her regret is not so much education’s slowness of change, but its seemingly incapacity to sustain change. That incapacity, she argues, stems from “…pitfalls of bandwagon movements that are born from serious reform efforts but falters with shifts in the political and social climate” (p. 44)

Imms states that “Good evaluation…is the antidote to the sickness of the ‘bandwagon’ cyclical developments in education”. Many of us have often heard the adage along the lines of ‘if you stand still long enough it will all come around again”. It has probably been over the last decade that we have seen the emergence of the flexible, open, agile learning spaces, but now I am hearing of schools where ‘the walls are going back up’ as a political and community and pressures move in.

Can I hear the ‘bandwagon’ coming toward me?bandwagon

Many of us believe in the opportunities of the ILEs and have deeply invested in the conviction that they will make a difference to the relevance, quality and depth of learning for our students, but only  if supported by the complementary pedagogical practices and optimal culture.

So what do we need to do? It is probably too early for me to sufficiently answer that question, but I have a few hunches:

  • Attend to the physical elements of the space, especially the sound levels. Don’t let acoustic treatment be a casualty of budget cuts.
  • Engage teachers in the adventure as early as possible with enthusiasm, inspiration and vision.
  • Provide professional development for teachers – pre and post occupancy, meaningful and strategic.
  • Give teachers time and give them agency.

In 2030, I will have completed my studies and perhaps I will be working somewhat less and most importantly, my grandson who was born this year, will be in the early years high school. My desire is that his school experience is unrecognisable from that of mine and that of his father’s. The only way we can be sure is if we take the wheels of the bandwagon once and for all!


Ref: Imms, Cleveland, Fisher (Eds.) 2016, Evaluating learning environments: Snapshots from emerging issues, methods and knowledge. Sense Publishers

Great Teachers are Learning-Activists not Learning-Pacifists

logo_extendedh_rgb_colour_trans-e1455593082712I have recently began a new chapter in the PhD research project team: ILETC – Innovative Learning Environments and Teacher Change at Melbourne Graduate School of Education (Melbourne University).

Our mission is to discover: Can altering teacher mind frames unlock the potential of innovative learning environments?

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 6.02.50 PMCurrently I’m immersed in “teacher mind frames”, a term used by John Hattie in Visible Learning for Teachers (2012) to describe ways of thinking that “underpin our every action and decision in a school”. These mind frames are described by Hattie as “ways of thinking” that are “more likely to have major impacts on student learning”.


Mind Frame 2: Teachers/leaders believe that success and failure in student learning is about what they, as teachers or leaders did or did not do… We are change agents! (p.161-162). I love the idea of teacher as change agent.

Teachers need to see themselves as change agents – not as facilitators, developers or constructivists….Teachers believing that achievement is changeable or enhanceable and is never immutable or fixed. (p.162)

They are active. They make change happen. They become learning-activists. But what happens if teachers revert to being learning-pacifist?

So, I have a confession to make. In the late-80s I was a Kindergarten/Prep/Reception and Year 1 teacher. It was in the era of ‘whole language’. A term that is so loaded that people still shudder! I embraced the whole-language approach, as it put language, reading and associated skills within a meaningful context. Just to be clear, I didn’t abandon spelling and grammar, and didn’t have the just-write-anything-learn-by-osmosis approach. In my mind, it was never about “whole language vs phonics and grammar”, it was about instilling a love of language and literature while teaching skills. I supported a both/and approach and to be effectively executed, this required a lot of work.

But, as it seems to happen in education, some saw this as a licence to sit back and many students were significantly disadvantaged, and then the metaphorical pendulum seemed to swing the other way. The learning-pacifists let the rest of us down.

innovateThe language we use matters. Something we may say today can, over time, be distilled into a different meaning. We want to empower our students, using terms like ‘student-owned learning’, ‘teachers as facilitators’ and ‘self-directed learning’. These are essentially great ideas, but it also can’t mean that if students are ‘driving their own learning’, that the teacher might be having a snooze in the back seat.

In the section about Mind Frame #2, Hattie talks about:

“Teachers need to see themselves as change agents – not as facilitators, developers, or constructivists. There role is to change students from what they are to what we want them to be, what we want them to know and understand – and this, of course, highlights the moral purpose of education… teachers believing that achievement is changeable or enhanceable and is never immutable or fixed… a teacher is an enabler not a barrier…learning is about challenge.” (p.192)

A change agent is an active role, it is being an activist, someone who campaigns for change.

Are you in?



Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers. [electronic resource] : Maximizing Impact on Learning. Hoboken : Taylor and Francis, 2012.


Good school design & why it matters: 9 point checklist #RIBA #TopMarksSchool

In 2015 the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) awarded the coveted  Stirling Prize for the best new building to Burntwood School, a large comprehensive girls’ school in London. It is the UK’s most prestigious architecture prize. As Paul Monaghan, Director, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, the winning architecture firm, said,

“Schools can and should be more than just practical, functional buildings – they need to elevate the aspirations of children, teachers and the wider community. Good school design makes a difference to the way students value themselves and their education…”

So what is “good school design”? In terms of Burntwood, the project included “great contemporary design”, “clever reuse of existing buildings” and “superb integration of artwork, landscaping and engineering” (RIBA Stirling Prize 2015).

I have the opportunity to undertake professional travel, visiting schools, universities, libraries and other places of learning in different parts of the world. I have concluded that “new” does not necessarily equate to “good design”. It is even more fascinating to visit the same school every year or two, to see how the design outworks over time.

RIBA have recently published a report “Better Spaces for Learning”. The report seeks to  influence the UK Government to review its building program, indicating that good school design has become less of a priority, centralising school building, without considering “unique local circumstances of each school building project”.  The authors seek to show how “good design can help ensure that capital funding stretches as far as possible, without storing up problems for the future.”

The data was gathered from what is believed to be “the largest analysis of Post Occupancy Evaluations of primary and secondary schools in the UK, a nation-wide poll of teachers, and numerous conversations with stakeholders involved in delivering Government-funded school buildings”. The report identifies a few key outcomes of good design:

  • Positive impact on student behaviour
  • Improved wellbeing through a sense of ownership and belonging
  • Increased staff productivity
  • Reduced maintenance costs

What are the elements of good school design? 

  1. Good quality natural light, supported by good artificial lighting.
  2. Pupil sense of ownership, with dedicated social or self-directed learning spaces and display of work or imagery pupils can identify with on the walls
  3. Simple, natural ventilation systems, with higher ceilings to absorb stale air.
  4. Thermal comfort and control over temperature. Easy to use and quick to adapt to changing uses of space.
  5. Optimum amount of colour in learning spaces to create interest but not become a distraction.
  6. An optimum level of visual interest in terms of design to display of work and provide storage solutions
  7. Flexible spaces that can be zoned for various activity areas to help facilitate learning.
  8. Good acoustics.
  9. Simple design that reduces reliance on complex mechanical systems.

There are similarities from the UK experience to the Australian context. A number of jurisdictions across our nation are in significant growth mode to meet the need of bulging classrooms. If community wellbeing, teacher productivity and student behaviour are positively impacted by good design, therefore these are worthy considerations.


Resource: Better Spaces for Learning #TopMarksSchool
Written and researched by Emilia Plotka
Edited by Andrew Forth & Clare Corbett
Published by: Architects (RIBA) May 2016

So I said, “technology in schools should be like electricity – it should go unnoticed”

Screen Shot 2016-06-26 at 7.36.55 amCan you imagine what it would have been like to live around the advent of electricity? It was in the 1930s, as Google tells me, that US homes had electricity in the urban areas. We can only imagine what this meant for the average urban family. Reading at night, listening to music, keeping food fresh. Of course, electricity was always ‘there’ (somewhere). The difference came when it was harnessed, supplied and there were appliances like lights, refrigerators and gramophones to really realise its potential. The community quickly became reliant on the appliances, they were reminded of the source, electricity when there was a power outage or when the bill came in the mail. Electricity changed the world.


TES.pngEarlier this year I was a panelist at the BETT educational conference in London and technology is an important part of the BETT experience. The panel, hosted by Stephen Heppell and was represented by people from schools like mine, those considered “schools of the future”. We were deep in conversation about learning and design of the space, when an audience member asked the question, “Here we are at BETT, technology is all around us, but none have you have mentioned it at all. So what part does technology play?” (TES article).

My instant thought was, “technology in schools should be like electricity – it should go unnoticed”,

I went on to say to the audience at BETT, “We don’t talk about electricity in education do we? People, when they talk about our school, they say it is technologically advanced. Our principal was quick to see the advantages of technology and [he] was an early adopter of it. But in essence, technology is invisible now. Just like electricity, it’s there, it’s an enabler, it makes the connections work.”

10 years ago at the school where I work, Northern Beaches Christian School in Sydney, technology was a big deal. Networked desktops, computer labs were rolled out across the school. But they were for a purpose, to enable the fledgling learning management system, Moodle, the digital learning space.

In 2016 we actually need to be less enamoured with the ‘sparkly’ elements of technology, less impressed by the sales people and more focused on considering present needs, while simultaneously anticipating the future. Asking the question, “What do my students need now?” and then, “How do I ensure that we are agile enough to roll with the changes?”

techThe series recently aired on ABC (TV) in Australia Revolution School reinforced this point. A student, struggling with school, wanted to leave at the end of Year 10. Her teachers took a “whatever it takes” attitude for her to complete the work she needed to get done. They just needed one more essay. It was delivered by a series of text messages to the teacher’s phone. The essay was thoughtful and reflective and met all the criteria for the student to succeed. The method of delivery mattered less than the goal of success for the student.

Technology has changed the world and the irony of the description of the advent of electricity is not lost. Like electricity, technology has always been ‘there’, we just needed a way for it to be harnessed and supplied. While our ‘appliances’ are the ways we experience electricity, ‘apps’ seem to perform the same function in this parallel universe. Let’s keep perspective, the opportunities that technology brings to our young people and their future are immense.


It’s 10 Years since ‘that’ TED Talk: 5 questions to think about #doschoolskillcreativity

noun_476601_ccA decade ago a revolution started in education, a  groundswell for change. In June 2006 Sir Ken Robinson asked, Do schools kill creativity? This short talk has become the most popular of all time with close to 40 million views. The message resonated and Robinson concluded,

“and our task is to educate their [the students’] whole being, so they can face this future. By the way – we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.”

Revolutions usually begin with a tension for change and an event to galvanise the hearts and minds of the people. This talk by Sir Ken Robinson and the other merging voices of the time seemed to be able to put language around what many educators were thinking in the first decade of the 21st century. There have been a few landmark changes in that time.

The language shifted from ‘classrooms’ to ‘learning environments’ or ‘learning spaces’. We asked, ‘How can we create a learning culture that encourages creativity in schools designed in the last century?’

“Cells and bells”, “Factory model” and “Industrial-era design”, these terms referenced the physical environment, the need for rethinking the places where learning occurs, rethinking the physical constructs of school and even rethinking: ‘what is school?’

In 2010 the ipad heralded the opportunities of mobile technology. At the time technology was fixed, located in computer labs, with desktop computers and the necessary hardware and wiring. Ipads, ubiquitous wifi and the increasing mobility impacted the design of the learning and spaces.

Simultaneously, the role of the teacher started to change, with language describing the teacher’s role as ‘coach’ and ‘facilitator’, and the phrase, ‘the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage’ was often heard.

Have we managed to bring creativity back to life?

5 questions to see how far we’ve come (or not):

1. Are your students risk takers?
If they don’t know will they “have a go”?


2. Are you allowing students to be artists?


3.  Does success at the so-called “top end” of  the hierarchy of subjects still determine academic ability?


4. Is the education we are providing meaningful or meaningless for the future?


5. Have we recast our view of intelligence sufficiently diverse, dynamic and distinct?



Enabling Spontaneous Learning Environments: 5 keys to breaking free of (or within) the 4 walls


Are you comfortable with spontaneity, creating a context for learning that is fluid and able to respond to ideas?

One of the underpinning factors in the design for Manhattan and The City, the newest precinct at Northern Beaches Christian School, has been to enable the creation of spontaneous spaces.

File_000 (5)“We have created a structure whereby any teacher can spontaneously find different space, all the while supported by pervasive wifi and accessible solar powered screen technology, if chosen.” Stephen Harris, Principal at NBCS

The idea of a spontaneous space is nothing new to early years educators. Search “spontaneous learning environment” and you will see numerous entries for early years education, such as:


The Star Fish room provides a stimulating planned and spontaneous learning environment that focuses on children’s interests, strengths and development. littlelearnerschildcare.com.au

IMG_0990I am often curious about how so many of our foundational understandings  about learning seem to shift as students grow older. What if we maintained the idea – spontaneous learning environment that focuses on children’s [student’s] interests, strengths and development – all the way through school life? Timetables, schedules, outcomes and other external pressures seem to minimise the opportunities for spontaneity, and often negates it. But so do mindsets.

“There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.”  (Steve Jobs).  

At both Pixar and Apple Steve Jobs put a great deal of effort into creating office environments that “promoted encounters and unplanned collaborations”  boundlss.com

WMK_NBCS_StudentImages_5D3_9852“If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”  Steve Jobs

Spontaneity in a school learning environment takes planning and thought. Talk to an early years teacher about spontaneity. They are constantly watching, observing how these young learners are engaging with their physical environment and how the space, the furniture and materials are enabling curiosity, creativity and exploration. Is this any different for “later-years” learners?  

The idea of spontaneously changing location, regrouping learners and reconfiguring spaces has takes up considerable -less spontaneous – thought and planning, including:

  1. Teacher mindset – Start to think “Spontaneity can enhance the learning opportunities for my students” or “What type of space do I need for this learning session?”
  2. Mobility of furniture – Variety of furniture options, wheels, lightweight, multi-use
  3. Empty space – Quickly reconfigure an area. If it takes too much trouble or muscle to be rearrange the space, open the bi-folds, then it won’t happen
  4. The great outdoors – Identify and design the places for outdoor learning – considering what indoor-type conditions are needed (e.g.wifi, seating, shade)
  5. File_000 (6)Systems – Thinking through the mechanisms to make this happen:
    • How will the change of space be communicated?
    • Are there enhancements to a space that can make it a more effective spontaneous learning environment?
    • What are the requirements I need to consider for furniture procurement and allocation?
    • Do outdoor spaces require regular maintenance to make them attractive choices?
    • Does technology infrastructure support spontaneity?

Underpinning great spontaneous learning is a lot of hard work that’s mostly invisible.

If you would like to visit NBCS and see our spaces, talk to our students and meet some of the team go to www.scil.com.au/visit-us.



Does context & culture play a part in the Finnish education story?

File_000 (4)

After writing the post on phenomenon-based learning in Finland there was a great discussion, comments on the post and a LinkedIn thread. It really makes ideas come alive when we engage in discussion. So thanks to Seetha, Bernadette, Kristina, Rebecca and Matt.

The emerging themes were:

  • Curriculum review has collective responsibility and ownership
  • 15 minute break before next class
  • Autonomy is built on trust and ownership
  • Prioritising what matters when implementing a new system
  • Going against the grain – starting school later

And a comment for further discussion from Bernadette: I have seen context/culture not being addressed in educational discussions on Finland’s educational system

This is an important point. The photograph (below) accompanying the recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald portrayed Finland as an amish-style community, not really reflecting a modern culture. Was this how they meant to portray the nation today?

File_000 (3)

Source: SMH 25 March, 2016

My grandfather was from Finland and I have visited numerous times, professionally and to meet family. So my thoughts on this are based on my own experiences, there is something quite unique about the Finnish society.

Culture: There is a strong moral code and societal expectations that is the glue of society. Many traditions are held as they reflect the uniqueness. Visiting a school in an area with a large immigrant community they explained the responsibility to teach and model the Finnish lifestyle expectations to the new community members.

‘Nordic’ not ‘Scandinavian’: Have you noticed? I haven’t referred to Finland as ‘Scandinavian’. This is a point of contention across the region, as Norway, Denmark and Sweden don’t seem to consider Finland as part of Scandinavia, hence ‘Nordic’ as the collective term.

Finance and the Euro: Within the Nordic regions, Finland was the only country to adopt the Euro as their currency. This has led to much internal dialogue and doubt concerning its ongoing benefits to the people and businesses. My friends tell me that there are economic pressures at the moment.

Language: Finland is a country of only around 5 million people and a language all of their own. Swedish is taught as the official second language. English became the unofficial second language long ago.  My ‘small cousin’ and I are both in our 50s, and have been writing since we were 10. Kaija started learning English in 3rd Grade. 

Climate: It’s cold in winter and dark for long periods of the day between November and March. If you must stay indoors for long periods, you may as well put your head down and get your school work done.

Geography: Earlier this year I attended a briefing at the Finnish National Board of Education. Our host said that many describe Finland as an island because the longest border along Russia is almost impassable (at least from the Finnish side). History shows an ability to stand up to Russia.

Gender: Women are well represented across the society, especially in leadership  roles. Along with their neighbours: all Nordic countries have closed over 80 percent of the gender gap, making them useful as both role models and benchmarks. Huffpost. Finland gave women the vote in 1906, and have long-provided the conditions for women to return to work.

Brain drain and the Nokia-effect: In 2012 students weren’t interested in Nokia phones, they just wanted an iphone. Much has been written about the decline of the former tech giant. This has led to a brain drain. At a recent conversation with some young friends, they said that many of their peers see more opportunities outside Finland, and they are leaving.

This is completely subjective and could apply to many places in the world. But I do believe that these are a unique combination of elements that help make the Finns who they are today. They do need to work hard and make their mark in Europe and beyond, they need to address education to keep the best and the brightest in the country and, unlike Australia, a lot of time is spent indoors. Working hard to maintain their identity appears significant – way of life, traditions and societal codes.

Above all – education matters. It is the key to a better future.

I would love to receive comments, reflections and downright disagreements to help up all find out a little more about what makes Finland tick.