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
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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.

 

@anneknock

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!

@anneknock

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

The new normal: Helping parents to rethink success at school (and life) #abundancementality

As much as forward thinking educators are working for change we are still often exasperated by parent expectations of education. Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks in 2006 and 2010 were significant catalysts for change in the hearts and minds of many educators but we are yet to really help many parents embrace the need for change. As Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director of education and skills put it (quoted in The Conversation):

Parents are a very conservative force… Everybody wants the education system to improve, but not with my child

GOOD WEEKENDThe cover story in the Good Weekend, the Sydney Morning Herald’s magazine: Testing Times: Meet the tiger parents grooming their young offspring for academic success by Anna Broinowski. This article was particularly focused on families of Asian background and the ‘tiger mom’ tendencies.

In NSW, my state, there are 21 academically selective schools and 26 partially selective schools. Many parents spend a lot of money and much of their child’s ‘childhood’ in cramming for selective school tests. One coaching college boasted that 1033 students earned places in 35 selective schools, no data on those who failed to gain a place. In two states, NSW and Victoria, there are 3000 tutoring business, with an annual turnover of $200-$400 million and only 8% are registered with the Australian Tutoring Association.

We empathise with parents, especially those of us who have had to make these choices, wanting to do the best for our kids. Our own sons, now 31 and 28, both went to government high schools – the elder to the local comprehensive and the younger to a performing arts high school.

Our elder son undertook an MBA after his initial degree and is successful in business. The younger, is working hard to pursue his music and songwriting career, while working as a barista. His HSC mark was not sufficient to earn a place at university after Year 12, nor was it his goal. However, last year, he decided to go to uni, study a BA in literature and is getting High Distinctions and Distinctions for much of his work – maturity and purpose mattered.

We are proud of our kids. They are kind, considerate and wonderful humans. They really think of themselves as lifelong learners, work hard and enjoy life. As parents, we didn’t push hard, they were pretty well-rounded in their social, sport and cultural activities. Today, we like them as people and enjoy their company, and it seems that they quite like us as well.

I want to tell the parents of school-aged children:

that there is more to life than the score/mark to study a course at university, one that they may not want to pursue in the first place.

that the cramming, coaching and memorisation may get their child to university, but won’t necessarily be enough to keep them there.

that raising a contributing human is far more important than being able to tell your social group how well your child did at school.

that things change – even school. Your experience of school should not be the same for your own children.

that passion matters. Take time to discover what does your child loves to do.

that, above everything else, relationships matter. Careers, opportunities will come and go. Our children will face difficult and challenging situations. They will make both wise and unwise choices along the way. But through it all, we want to stay in relationship with them.

We can choose to see life as a broad spectrum of opportunities that match the breadth of passions and interests of humanity, or, as a pie. If I take a piece you won’t have it, or if you take it, I miss out.

Embrace the abundance mentality.

@anne knock

What if school was like Uber? 5 critical disruptions for educating children of the #ubergeneration

UBERUber, on the one hand, under siege from the taxi industry, on the other hand, every second person I speak to seems to regularly utilise the service, whether it’s in Sydney, London or New York. Of course, the under 40s have definitely embraced it. This generation embraces disruption. They don’t watch scheduled TV, they don’t own a CD, and less of them are even bothering to get a driver’s licence. Late Gen X and early Gen Y see the world differently, travel, lifestyle, balance and fair remuneration are their drivers (McCrindle Research).

This is the emerging generation of parents with children starting school in the next few years. The big question is: Will they consider disruptive thinking about the learning environment and context of school for their own child, or will nostalgia inevitably kick in?

In 2011 I was asked to write an ed-op-ed piece for the Sydney Morning Herald. At the time I had raised the issue of nostalgia playing a part in parent’s view of the education they seek for their own child, I wrote:

“Outside the school gate, our young people experience a dynamic, innovative and creative world, yet so often it is a foreign environment… Nostalgia often paints a picture of the school that parents may seek for their children. This picture can be informed by happy memories or the sense that ”it didn’t do me any harm”…” (Knock, SMH, 2011)

I’m curious to know how the Uber-generation will think about school, once they are parents.

This morning, I read an article by James Valentine, a late baby-boomer and technology embracer on his recent experience of Uber:

This is where it started: Saturday night Christmas Party, beachside suburb of Sydney. 1am. Time to go home. Or time to stay and get ugly. We decide to go. I use the m2 taxi app. I enter the address. I enter where we’re going. I book. A tag comes up reading “WAITING FOR DRIVER TO ACCEPT”. Nothing happens.

I wait 10 minutes. Nothing happens. (Valentine, SMH, 2014)

The so-called ‘tried and true’ methods, those with a monopoly on service no longer cut it.

I open Uber. The address I’m at comes up instantly. I tap in the destination, it figures out I want my home address. I book. Instantly I’m looking at a map showing an animated swivelling school of Uber vehicles. Seconds later I get a message from a driver who says he’s three minutes away. His vehicle separates from the school and starts heading to me. His phone number pops up. A little portrait of him arrives. I get  a countdown. Two minutes away. One  minute away. At the moment of arrival, he rings me. We’re already at the front gate.

At the end of this journey, I paid $14. I haven’t paid $14 for a cab journey anywhere in Sydney for 20 years

(Valentine, SMH, 2014)

This is the kind of service and connection that we are now expecting. It’s why AirBnB has revolutionised the accommodation industry and Spotify-like services, the music industry.

So if we are educating the children of the Uber-generation, what might they expect from a school experience for themselves as parents, and their child, that reflects the world we live in. Here are five critical disruptions for educating children of the Uber-generation

  1. Communication: relevant, timely, meaningful and intuitive. Not waiting until the formal reporting schedules for parent-teacher interviews, but setting in place a system for feedback that is manageable and helpful.
  2. Tracking: Following from the previous idea, providing a progress monitoring mechanism that enables real-time information flow.
  3. Breaking the monopoly: While defined outcomes, NAPLAN and formalised testing aid in the big picture, these have now become an industry themselves, rather we need to focus on authentic and purposeful learning.
  4. Relationship: Student to student, student to educator, educator to parent, parent to parent – all these relationships matter. The desired outcome of the clear relationships and roles will reap benefits not only at the individual level, but as a community.
  5. Destination: Taking the students where they want to go, achieve their identified goals and aspirations.

There isn’t a single industry in the world that doesn’t have to deal with this kind of rupture. If the new thing doing the rupturing is better, then the old thing needs to improve. Fast. (Valentine, SMH 2014)

@anneknock

Happy New Year!

Designing effective spaces for working and learning: How to avoid the factory, the treadmill and the waiting room

IMG_2599In my international travels I’ve seen many amazing schools, universities and libraries, some that are visually stunning, but often there is something missing. Designing spaces for effective work and learning requires the connection of three distinct ‘spaces’ – cultural, technological and physical – each in harmony. When one is missing you are stuck in…

 

…a waiting room, a factory or a treadmill.

Cross-pollination is a healthy thing. I look for opportunities to experience new contexts, learn about other sectors and meet people in different professional fields. This broadens the scope of  my experience and challenges mindsets. Over the last 12 months I have enjoyed connecting with James Kemp MD at Amicus Interiors. On the one hand Amicus (which is Latin for ‘friend’) Interiors could be described as a furniture company for office fit-outs, but on the other, and more realistically,

IMG_0016The brand personifies the business and represents the foundation of trust that we place at the centre of our company culture. We are an enthusiastic, friendly team and we love what we do…

We have developed a solid reputation for meticulous care and attention to all our work. This reputation has been built upon an underlying commitment to our clients, to understand, and plan for, the key issues and challenges that surround the delivery of each project.

James visited NBCS and was struck by the similarity of our school and the work of his company, he wrote on the company blog:

Led by the inspirational principal, Stephen Harris, they have created an Activity Based Working (ABW) environment at NBCS for the children to learn, develop and have fun. If you had told me it was possible to have over 180 year 5 & 6 children working effectively (and quietly!!) in one open plan area, I would not have believed you! But when you see it in operation it is truly inspiring.

These children are given the trust, responsibility, the technology and the right support from their facilitators (the ‘teachers’) to excel. Whether they are sitting at desk, on the floor in small work groups, on sofas or beanbags, they are working away with excitement. I loved it. (Read the full blog here.)

I first came across the idea of Activity Based Work (ABW) a couple of years ago after visiting a CBD corporate refit and wrote a few blogs (like this one) about it as I believed that this approach to the work environment had much to inform the educational context, a corollary to James’ inspiration for NBCS informing work spaces.

Amicus InteriorsJames and I caught up last week, to see the transformation of the Amicus Interiors office in Martin Place in Sydney as an Activity Based Work(place). This was my first opportunity to see the new fit out. We talked about how the team are adapting and changing to work in an ABW environment. As with anything that involves people, the shift to change takes them on a journey – no fixed desks, closed and open collaborative meeting areas and close co-location with colleagues.

 

 

In our lively discussions about the places of work and learning, James highlighted the three types of spaces that must inform the effective place of work (and learning):

  • Cultural space – the way we do things around here
  • Technological space – the tools that enable
  • Physical space – the surroundings that support the work and relationships

Each of these play a crucial role to encourage innovation and creativity and foster productivity.

What happens if something is missing?

Factory Treadmill Waiting Room

When we are thinking about the redesign, refit and transformation of learning spaces, how do these three elements interplay? In 2015 NBCS ‘Project Barcelona’ will be complete – a space that is open, social and connecting. It involves new ways of thinking about school, spaces and learning for the 21st Century. Right now we are gearing up to look at what is needed to optimise the space and prepare our staff:

  • Cultural space – how will the community shift their thinking about school and then own and embrace the space
  • Technological space – what tools and infrastructure are required for the space to function as intended
  • Physical space – how will the fit out, the zones and the movement meet the dreams and aspirations for connection

@anneknock

Some other posts to check out:

Putting the legs on vision. Making it scalable, sustainable and enduring

There are some people who embrace change and others have change thrust upon them.

There are a few who are visionary leaders, some who put legs on vision, others who are swept along and a handful who doggedly hang onto the status quo.

Which are you?

I’m one of the people ‘who put legs on vision’. Great vision inspires me to action, then, as I look around I can see:

  • Obstacles to overcome
  • Systems to set up
  • Mindsets that need changing
  • Policies to develop
  • Spaces to change
  • Tough conversations to be had
  • People to encourage

Each of these creates the context that helps the vision becomes reality.

Change needs more than a great leader. It needs a concerted, coordinated and sustained reworking of multiple work systems. (Shea and Solomon, 2013)

‘Systems’, not a particularly exciting word, but unless the vision is surrounded by good policy and systems it won’ be scalable, sustainable and enduring.

Think about the vision that motivates you to action. Imagine a scene that encapsulates the ‘vision to reality’. If you are in education, maybe it looks like this:

2011-03-03_0088The learning space is busy, active and productive. Teachers and students are co-workers. One teacher is alongside a student explaining a concept, another taking a small group in an instructional session. You see a group of students are working together on a project together, excitedly sharing and forming ideas.

There is engagement, it is highly relational and academically rigorous. A community of engaged, motivated and inspired learners.

How do you put legs on your vision?

Have a plan to develop systems, behaviours and attitudes that  are consistent with the vision. A vision without a plan is a dream. It will remain in your head and reach a dead-end. A plan gives direction and grounds the vision in reality. It generates action.

Remember the scene in your mind? Think about it in terms of these eight areas that will keep it moving forward. They are the patterns of behaviour that become the levers for change.

Organisation: Identify the most effective leadership structure that directs, guides and values people. Can the current leadership structure be adapted for the vision or is a new one required?

Place: Establish the physical and virtual environment that maximises productivity, learning and creativity. Can the scene be achieved in the current spaces? Does the furniture work? How does your virtual space serve the vision?

Task: Articulate what the ‘work’ actually looks like. How will this be explained, supported and modelled?

People: Find the right people and equip them. What do the people need to learn, relearn and unlearn?

Motivation: Facilitate an environment that keeps your people motivated and on track – rewards and consequences. How will you recognise and reward embracing the vision and ‘having a go’?

Measurement: Measure what matters. What are the top five areas that matter to the vision?

Communication: Think through and articulate who is responsible for communicating what. How will you manage the message?

Decisions: Authority and authorisations that enable not disable, that bring clarity not confusion. What are the levels of responsibility for complexity of decisions to be made?

Your plan guides strategy.  A vision is not the past nor the present – it represents the future. It’s new, scary and unknown. The only way change will endure is through addressing the work systems that surround the vision.

Shea and Solomon identified these eight elements that represent the essential areas to the plan. Each of these points can be further articulated and developed. If you are committed to your vision, believe in it and do whatever it takes to make it happen. Here is a starting point.

@anneknock

Why innovate? Answer inspired by Ghandi ‘Serving the unserved’

Lasting innovation comes from identifying and responding to need – human need.

We are often reminded that people in developing nations are amazing innovators – living, that is staying alive, on less than $1 per day. Ghandi is known as a liberator and revolutionary of his people, yet he approached the issues of tackling the British colonization with the mindset of an innovator.

While I have been travelling over the last few weeks I re-watched Sir Ken Robinsons 2006 and 2010 TED Talks to see how was are tracking since this call to educational change. I had already come to the conclusion that we need both a top down and bottom up approach to change in education. Sadly, we haven’t come far too far in changing the minds of the policy-makers. Standardized tests and the focus on academic intelligence as the primary measure remains, and this still needs significant work. But simultaneously we need to keep activating at the grass roots of education.

Ghandi faced the problem of British colonization through inspiring innovation in the day-to-day lives of the people, a simple idea that would bring change. Britain controlled the textile industry in India. Heavy machinery was used to make cloth from cotton and silk. But what if ordinary people could make their own cloth? This was the inspiration behind the Box Charkha. A portable (and inexpensive) spinning wheel used for spinning cotton and silk into thread. A small idea, with big consequences.

This simple innovation, inspired by Ghandi was then developed, made into reality, by his colleague. The Box Charkha made it possible for ordinary Indian people to ‘compete with modern industrialization by creating mass individual modernization.’ (Sawhney)

Ghandi’s approach to innovation had two key elements. It needed to be affordable and sustainable. Similarly in education, we need not always assume that to be innovative, there needs to be significant funds attached, but begin as Ghandi did, making important changes at the grass roots, he was able to to more with less. His focus was improving the life of his people, giving them the tools to be able to break from the constraints of British colonization.

Learning from Ghandi there are a few things to consider in getting innovation right

How do we serve the unserved?

Does the vision have a strong human dimension?

Are our goals and milestones too safe?

How do we use constraints to expand our creative capacity?

Are we measuring the right stuff?

Who are we doing this for?

‘Today, technology can be a similar equalizer in our search for economic development or innovation, provided these technologies function to empower the individual.’ (Sawhney)

A synthesis of Ghandi’s innovation applied to education
1. Disrupt existing business models – alter the way schools ‘do business’
2. Modify existing capabilities – break down subject hierarchies and silos, work together
3. Create and source new capabilities – look beyond usual boundaries for input, expertise and ideas

When faced with innovation, there are only two choices
Leverage existing resources in new ways
Change the rules of the game entirely

The choice we make depends on the context. But like Ghandi, if we are passionate enough about educational change, we need to make a start. I was initially discouraged after watching Ken Robinson’s TED Talks to see how little governments have changed, but I know at the grass roots, so many of us who are committed to making schools and education better and more relevant to our young people.

So at the outset of 2013, be encouraged and keep the flame for innovation and change burning. Be inspired by revolutionaries of the past, who, while they were in the thick of it probably doubted the difference they were making.

References
Quotes: What Ghandi, yes Ghandi, taught me about design, leadership and technology, Ravi Sawhney

Model of innovation: ‘Innovation’s Holy Grail’ C.K. Prahalad and R.A. Mashelkar
HBR, July 2010

10 [educational] New Year Resolutions for your 2013

New Year resolutions provide an opportunity to press the reset button on life.

fireworks

So here is a start for thinking about how you will step into 2013 and make some changes.

10. I will discover new ways of achieving the same outcome. One first step to reinventing learning is to think of new ways to both deliver content and for students to respond. Do you still think it is ‘harder’ to write an essay than build a model to demonstrate understanding?

9. I will learn from my students. Find out how young people navigate life. The reality is, they social media rather than email. What’s the most effective way to get your message to your students?

8. I will team up. No lone rangers anymore. One of the most significant images of school is the single teacher, up the front of the room facing the students. This model of teaching/learning bears little resemblance to the real world of work and learning. What could happen if you shared space, time and ideas with your colleagues? What would the students see and learn?

7. I will release control. Think about your most powerful learning experiences.  The things I have learnt deeply have often stemmed from a problem that needed a solution. ‘Just in time’ learning sticks more than ‘Just in case’. What areas do you need to release in order for your students to drive and own their learning?

6. I will develop coaching skills. When students take responsibility for learning the role of the teacher changes. The coach helps the learner to identify and achieve their own goals. These skills take time and practice to develop and directly relate to releasing control. How will you develop coaching skills?

5. I will get out of my comfort zone and build a wider network. Either electronically, through social media, locally through event/opportunities like TeachMeets; and/or travel. Connecting with people outside your everyday world changes perspectives. What’s your next step to widening your network?

4. I will consider the visual impact of content delivery. We are visual. For effective communication in the 21stC the visuals matter. Great visuals can easily convey a message and effectively make complex information simple. Some of us glaze over when we hit a wall of text. Visuals cut through this. How can your communication become more visually engaging?

3. I will change the space. When the media reports on school issues they look for photos to support the article. These are usually –  children at desks in rows, chalkboard with words and sums, teacher standing at the front – you get the picture. New ways of working need new spaces. These default images of school will only change if we change the spaces. What are some subtle changes and not-so-subtle changes you can make to your physical working space?

2. I will get mobile. Left to our own devices, we are creatures of habit we go to the same way, sit in the same place and connect with the same people. Working in cross-disciplinary teams opens new ideas and approaches. Where do you need to go or relocate?

1. I have chosen this career because I want to make a difference to the lives and futures of young people. Schools, as was recently expressed to me, are not “mortgage paying institutions”, nor are they our lifestyle-facilitators. Are you in this career for the kids first?

@anneknock

Leaders, Change school education in four easy steps (As if it were that simple!)

When it comes to rethinking school education I can be overwhelmed at the task and get stuck , or I can do something. The choice to take action is always the best course, but I need to be realistic about the change that is possible. I could look at our government education policy and give up at the complexity of bringing change, or I can start tweaking my own environment, increase influence and then maybe one day, feel that I can affect change in a much broader way.

Change that begins at a local level and grows outward has a much greater chance of sticking.

But how do we know the difference?

In my own life I filter ideas and passions into two categories, articulated by Stephen Covey:

  • Circle of Influence
  • Circle of Concern

 

It’s as simple as this diagram. Within the broader sphere of my passions and drivers in life, there are many things that need to change, be developed and to grow and there are also obstacles that should to be dismantled.

While, important, some elements of these are presently not within my sphere of influence, such:

  • national assessments
  • renewing teacher education
  • ubiquitous access to technology for all students.

I have opinions, if asked, and would love to one day be in a position that I can influence in these areas, so at the moment, they are in my ‘Circle of Concern’. In the meantime, I am focussing on growing my ‘Circle of Influence’. I have found that the areas where I can affect change are usually begins locally or within my network.

‘Leadership is Influence’.

The best way to grow lasting change is to grow your leadership.

I’m definitely not an expert on all schools and every context, but there are a few common areas in which to begin thinking about the future of school and education. Why? So that schools will engage, equip and inspire young people for a bright and purposeful future. The deeper you think about these, the less school of the future will look like school of the past, and the present.

This is what you need to do:

  1. Build vision for the future: Where are you going?

Then think about what of these look like in the context of the vision:

  1. Build capacity in the present: What do your people need to get there?
  1. Shape the learning:  What does the pedagogy need to look like?
  1. Shape the space: Where will learning take place? (Hint: think virtual as well as physical spaces)

So instead of being overwhelmed by the enormity of change and the complexity of today’s socio-political context, why not start locally in each of these areas.

She stepped back and replied, “You’re not one of those schools-with-no-walls, are you?” Who gets it and who doesn’t.

We talk about our passions, they just come up in conversations. sometimes we don’t even realise.

On the weekend I briefly met a young woman in her 20s who turned out to be English teacher from an inner London Academy. Once she heard about my work and why I was in the UK she stepped back and replied, “You’re not one of those schools-with-no-walls, are you?”. To her, the prospect of open space, students owning their learning and no longer teaching from the front sounded like a nightmare.

As an observer of people I take note of responses when I talk about what I do and tell them about  Northern Beaches Christian School in Sydney. I anticipate reactions, quite often from non-educators: “I wish there was a school like that for [insert name/me].” From educators, It seems that they are polarised in the response, either love it or hate it.

A little later on the same day over lunch I was sharing this story and telling some non-educator friends about what I believe about learning. They got it. Project Based Learning, flipped learning, choice, personalised approaches and comfortable surroundings made sense because they knew too many people who have been let down and alienated by conventional schooling.

Many of my peers, whose children are now adults, often tell of those who felt disconnected from school. They were either creative in the performing and visual arts, or were just not that conventional. My friends could see how the open and flexible spaces, focus on learning and the learner and the opportunity to develop an individual’s strengths would make a difference.

I am travelling alone at the moment so its easy and fascinating to eavesdrop conversations at restaurants while I stick my nose in a book. At the next table a father and daughter were discussing the preparation year for the final GCSE exams to come. After they talked about study and a whole range of things the dad said, “you need a strategy for the last 15 minutes of the paper. Work out how you will answer the multiple choice questions that you won’t get to, within the  limited time. Have a plan, just do A, B, B, C, C, C, D…” or something like that. Obviously, the purpose of the assessment was to maximise marks, and not show learning. This dad didn’t get it because the school system doesn’t get it (because maybe the government doesn’t get it).

Educators generally seem to be polarised on the subject. Whether it’s because open learning had (apparently) been tried and then failed in the 1970s or they are skeptical about opening up the spaces, giving freedom and embracing a different role. Just like the young teacher I met, monumental change just feels impossible.

On the other hand, there is a growing tribe of devotees to a new paradigm for school. Like us, they have seen young people switched onto learning, the significance of the high stakes relationships between the teacher and student and the quality of work that the student’s achieve. Assessment becomes a meaningful part of learning.

What would help the young English teacher change her paradigm?

  • Constantly challenging the conventional wisdom of what is a school
  • Shake-up pre-service teacher education
  • Provide meaningful, challenging and continuous in-service PD
  • Rethink assessment processes
  • Grow courageous leaders who are prepared to challenge the status quo
  • Commitment to doing both: meeting government standards and changing the paradigm
  • Provide conditions for teachers to work together, rather than in isolation

I explained to my new friend that this is a process. Obviously we can’t just push out the walls, throw in the kids and the teachers together and hope for the best. There must be support, encouragement, challenge and time. However, none of these things will work unless there is vision to show the way forward.