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.


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.

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”

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



How Finland is leading the way, again #phenomenonbasedteaching


The SCIL Vision Tour 2016 will be spending a few days in Finland. This small Nordic nation is in the process of rolling out its new curriculum approach phenomenon-based teaching.

Around 15 years ago Finland became the shining light in education achievement, due to its “mouse that roared” status. With a small population and modest budget Finland shone in the international PISA rankings.

When I first visited Finland in 2012 to find out more about the education system, there were high-level administrators from other countries at that time beating a path to the door, anxious to reach the goal, “beat Finland”. The Finnish National Board of Education told us that Singapore, South Korea and Shanghai, amongst others, were sending successive delegations.

From my perspective Finland’s uniqueness included:

  • Equity and access to learning across the nation
  • High community regard for the teaching profession
  • Teacher quality
  • Local autonomy for schools
  • Culture of trust
  • School as community

Since then, the Finland have been usurped in their positioning, but remain a place of interest as they seek to continually respond to the changing world that young people will face and look at curriculum reform from a future-focused viewpoint. Bi-partisan agreement on education policy enables continuous transformation.

Headline: Finland schools: Subjects scrapped and replaced with ‘topics’ as country reforms its education systemThe Independent (UK) newspaper, 20 March 2015.

A year ago international headlines heralded the next stage of development, Finland  “scraps subjects”. It turns out that this was more sensationalist than reality, but it caught the world’s attention and Finland was back in the education conversation.

Next headline: Finland’s school reforms won’t scrap subjects altogether, The Conversation, 26 March, 2015

So what are they really doing in this small Nordic nation that once beat Russia in a war? (no, really – here)

The new National Curriculum Framework will be in place at the start of the school year in August 2016, outlined by Irmeli Halinen from the Finnish National Board of Education

Developing schools as learning communities, and emphasising the joy of learning and a collaborative atmosphere, as well as promoting student autonomy in studying and in school life – these are some of our key aims in the reform. FNBE, 25 March 2015.

Specific subjects are taught maths, history, arts and music; in addition, transversal competencies will work across the school subjects:

  • Thinking and learning to learn
  • Taking care of oneself
  • Cultural literacy
  • Multi-literacy
  • ICT competence
  • Competence for the world of work (entrepreneurship)
  • Participation and influence – building a sustainable future

Local authorities and schools have the autonomy to translate the competencies in ways that are meaningful to their community and each are assessed as a component of the core subject assessment. Key to the changes is rethinking school culture, each school a community in itself.

So what’s different about this from our own school experiences (those of us outside Finland)?  Many of us apply new thinking and methodologies at an individual school (or even class) level, whilst simultaneously juggling state/national obligations that feel in conflict with what we believe education should be. In Finland there is no national testing, no inspections of schools. Therefore the curriculum becomes a tool for steering a national direction in education. This core curriculum, along with the local curriculum is developed in an open and collaborative process.

The SCIL Vision Tour will be spending a few days in Finland – Helsinki, Espoo, Tampere and Hameenlinna. This will be a unique opportunity to gain a first hand experience of the forward-thinking approach to school and learning.

More information here.



We just want a [insert big idea here]. The three As of culture change

It seems that a lazy long weekend gives enough time to chase down a rabbit hole or two. Each day I receive an update from Medium, a community of readers and writers offering unique perspectives on ideas large and small. Of course, as with most of these things, we sign up with good intentions, but there is often little time to follow through.

This morning, I had the time and stumbled across a series of letters between two education leaders, Dominic A.A.Randolph is the Head of Riverdale Country School, a PreK-12 independent school in New York City  and Max Ventilla is the CEO and founder of AltSchool.  

What is school.png

Medium published an insightful interchange between Dominic and Max from December 2015 discussed:

What is school? (from Dominic)          Why is school? (Max’s reply)

How we learn best (back to Dominic)     How should school change? (from Max)

Reimagining school (summing up from Dominic)

In the final letter Dominic outlined four themes: (1) the changing UX of schools, (2) zen learning, (3) students are more than two numbers and…

(4) developing a science of school culture: People talk about the effect of a leader on a school environment or the way a particular class is difficult, but where is the science of the culture of schools?



Culture. It’s the thing that makes or breaks any organisation, any school. Drucker is famously attributed with saying “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, when in reality, “culture eats everything for breakfast”.



Your school may have outstanding practitioners, out-of-this-world technology, a comprehensive five-year strategy, but unless the culture changes is carefully strategised and comprehensively led, humans will default to the known and to the comfortable. As Dominic says in the final letter:

I think we agree that we need to focus less on the scores and on the individual within the school environment and more on the culture of schools and how we can all play a part in making the culture of schools more dynamic, more engaging, and just a better place to learn.

To change the culture we need to look at its composition. Earlier this week I came across a paper by Haworth, How to create a successful organisational culture: Build it – Literally. The culture of our school or organisation is seen in its:

Values: What we do, our mission and what’s important to us

Assumptions: Our attitudes, often unconscious, formed through our processes and actions and inform what our people think

Artifacts: The tangible examples of what represents us – uniform/dress code, location, architecture, technologies

Our big idea might be: “We just want a better place to learn” or “An engaged community”

Start with the three As of culture change:

  1. Articulate and embody your values
    • What really matters in reaching your big idea?
    • Is everyone on-board?
  2. Address assumptions and attitudes that are not in line with your values
    • Professional learning strategy
    • Modelling and reinforcing desired behaviour
    • Policies and processes that support the big idea
    • Filtering policies and processes through the agreed values
  3. Audit your artifacts:
    • Does the built environment support the big idea?
    • Is there a reliance on textbooks?
    • Furniture, and its arrangement, matters

If these are the ‘what’ to facilitate culture change, then we also need to look at the ‘how’. That’s a new rabbit-hole I’ve been exploring: Competing Values Framework.

Stay tuned.


What happens when 16 architects & educators travel together in the wintry north? Part 2



First things first in Copenhagen

We spent five nights based in Copenhagen, including a weekend, which enabled the group to explore city and visited Hellerup Skole and Orestad Gymnasium (Senior High School) both are considered inspirational designs. We were grateful that the principal of Orestad took time to talk about the vision – “the open plan office as a school”. At Hellerup, an early example of deliberate open-space design, the new head is seeking to reshape the school’s culture to be in alignment with the original intention of the design.




We were very grateful for the input from our friends at Ecophon. Clapping and looking for reverberations seemed to be part of an assessment of all spaces, after our seminar with Mai-Britt Beldam. We spent the next day just across The Bridge in Sweden, hosted by Colin Campbell visiting Kunskapsskolan in Helsingborg and Landskrona, and a university in Malmo, all the while applying some of our new knowledge about acoustics.

Kunskapsskolan is the name of around 50  free-schools  across the nation. These are an example of a scaled model to grow a system of schools. The design and pedagogy aims to provide an education that is highly structured and self-directed, where the students are supported by teacher-coaches in a physical environment that is repurposing factories, hospitals and office buildings as schools.

IMG_7756 (1)One of my favourite places to visit is the learning space for nine to eleven year olds at Maglegaard school in Copenhagen. Central to the shared space is a kitchen (with knives in the draws!) and a shared table with flowers and candles (yes, they were lit). If the children are hungry they get something to eat. It was a comfortable environment, with caring teachers who created an ambience that felt like home.


Projects by big-named architects and some well-known buildings featured on the itinerary. The 8Tallet building in Orestad was designed by Bjarke Ingells Group (BIG). We visited the RIBA award winning Den Bla Planet, Denmark’s national aquarium, designed by 3XN, who also designed Orestad Gymnasium. Meccanoo designed the TU Delft Library and Delft’s new train station. NEMO science centre in Amsterdam which was designed by Renzo Piano.

NEMO and Den Bla Planet (The Blue Planet), along with libraries, are important learning spaces as well. The community choose to visit, school groups book in and the learning is unstructured and inspirational, where curiosity is sparked. At NEMO I observed that the most productive experiences for the children seemed to occur when they were with an interested adult, guiding them and asking questions. The children loved the giant bubbles – being able to pull a bubble around and over. You could see the children working it out, thinking about how it worked and experimenting with techniques.

Amsterdam City Library was part of the architect-led walking tour and was described to us as a “public building with books”, a place where people were welcome, busy with community activity, with a thoughtful and interesting design.

We also visited libraries in Delft, a 50 minute train trip from Amsterdam.  Completed in 1997, TU Delft commissioned Mecanoo to design a library that would be the heart of the university and give a face to a campus the size of a city district. The library is meeting expectations two decades after its opening, with regular tweaks and iterations to make the space meet the changing needs of the learners.

I really want to thank the 15 amazing people who said “yes” to joining the study tour. It wasn’t just the places we visited, it was the rich dialogue, the shared problem-solving and the laughter along the way that made it all work. I have such a wonderful opportunity and feel very blessed to be able to lead these tours. 



What happens when 16 architects & educators travel together in the wintry north? Part 1

We met for dinner in downtown Helsinki on a Sunday night, our first night. We walked from our hotel through snowy streets to the restaurant, where many of us took the when-in-Rome option and chose reindeer from the menu. It was the first time we’d all been together as a group. By Thursday the group was laughing with incredulity that we had only known each other for a few short days.

IMG_8760 (2).JPG

When I first planned this tour I was hopeful to have about eight people, and overwhelmed when I cut off registrations at 15. From 24 January until 5 February we went from Helsinki, Copenhagen with a side trip to Sweden, Amsterdam and then a handful went onto Geneva. The vision for the tour was to visit places and spaces for learning and to meet the people who use it, which fits my DNA. I love exploring interesting spaces and seeing how it works for people.

IMG_7610In education, as in many fields, there can be the showpiece architecture that is not practical for people, or there is the beautifully designed and functional space where, over time, an ineffective culture minimises the potential of the possibilities.

On these tours we experience this range of responses. The first school we visited Viherkallio School in Espoo, outside Helsinki, was a wonderful example of strong leadership growing the desired culture. The school was built in the 1960s and hadn’t had a significant structural refit, but it worked well and was responsive to the needs of the community.

The last place we visited on the tour, Rolex Learning Centre at Lausanne University was a purist piece of architecture, that seemed too sophisticated in design to achieve the desired function, and needed modifications and retro-fitted elements to make it work.

We visited the Aalto Design Factory, born from a research project focused on creating an ideal physical and mental working environment for product developers and researchers at Aalto University.

In Copenhagen and Amsterdam we took part in architecture-hosted walking tours. The Orestad urban project on the island of Amager, out of Copenhagen, was intended to create a new urban hub, yet to date has yet to live up to expectations. There has been significant infrastructure projects over nearly 10 years, with the expectation that 20,000 people would live in Ørestad, 20,000 would study there and 80,000 would be employed, this has yet to be realised. Perhaps the “if you build it” philosophy doesn’t always play out.

IMG_7949.jpgThe Amsterdam architect-led tour around the developing Oosterdok harbour revealed the thinking and planning that is connecting this city in a new way. A constant ferry links the Overhoeks district across the Ij River and the new orientation of the transport hub of Amsterdam Centraal facing the river, is ensuring that the area known for the landmark Shell building becomes a new vibrant hub, with the Eye Film Institute taking centre stage.



A “Learning Spaces” tour needs to visit more than just schools. We need to explore the places where active and unscripted learning occurs, understand where people live and work in the 21st century and allow time and space for the group to process and download their thinking.


Innovating Education 101: From hierarchical to collegial leadership #innovatorsmindset

Just like the shift from the factory model of schooling, leadership in education (and in life) is transitioning from command and control, centralised power to shared and collegial model. The innovation trajectory of Atlassian, originally an Australian start-up, is remarkable and it has topped the BRW best place to work. Atlassian understands the idea of change and agility:

“When I hear companies say they want to preserve their culture, I get worried because those things will always evolve with the people you add,” said Jeff Diana, the chief people officer.

IMG_1990Nothing stands still. Innovate or perish, or at least kill-off that spark of curiosity within every child starting school.

I’m enjoying reading George Couros’ book The Innovators Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity, published just a few months ago. He wrote:

If we want innovative students we need innovative educators

And add to that, if we want innovative educators we need innovative leaders.

Past (and even present) practices and approaches are unsuited to future aspirations. Think about successful companies and ideas that have broken or disrupted existing models:

Uber vs Taxi monopolies

Airbnb vs Hotels

Netflix vs Pay TV & Free-to-air TV

itunes vs Video stores

Kodak vs digital/phone cameras

Disruption often takes most of us by surprise. 10 years ago free-to-air TV schedules dictated our viewing choices, quality drama was meted out on a weekly basis. Today, networks are struggling with the options available (realistically, to capture the advertising dollar) and need to rely on sport and reality/game shows to keep the populace tuning back each week.

The Collins Dictionary word of the year 2015 is binge-watch and aptly describes our viewing habits today. We no longer wait for the TV networks to tell us what and when to watch it.

The age of innovation therefore, requires new leadership. In Australia, our public broadcaster, the ABC, has just appointed a new General Manager -Michelle Guthrie. For many the ABC is a much-loved and culturally-protected public institution, TV without advertisements, supported by taxes and accountable to the Australian people. Ms Guthrie comes from Google and before that other commercial pay-TV networks. While the ABC has been a leader in streaming its digital services, it’s ongoing competitive prospects are not so certain. There is likely to be disruption in order to innovate, she did work for Google after all.

Whatever the industry, leading innovation requires a new mindset to be able to cast the vision, chart the course and bring people along. But what is essential is shifting thinking and, as Couros calls it, embrace the innovator’s mindset.  Innovative students, taught by innovative educators require innovative leaders to kick start and maintain the forward -thinking culture. It requires educational leaders to leave some things behind and to embrace a new way of working, thinking and relating. 

So with respect to Bill Ferriter’s What do kids want to do with technology? graphic (along with Couros’ own iteration), I’ve further hacked concept:



Innovating Education 101

(This has been prepared to share as a resource for a talk I recently gave.)

The key to change is developing strategy by asking three simple questions…

  1. Where are we now?
  2. Where do we need to be?
  3. How do we get there?

When I was in school it was like this:

  • One teacher for each class
  • Everyone facing the frontSlide23
  • Students grouped according to chronological age
  • School day chunked into 40 minute slots
  • Bells and schedules to organise the day
  • Teacher and textbooks knowledge authority
  • Command and control to maintain order
  • Stand and deliver to impart content
  • Limited computer access

But wait, isn’t that the experience of many children today?

It is true that for many young people their school experience is much the same as someone who finished school in 1978. This model of education was designed for the industrial era. Pragmatic thinking, preparing students for that ‘job for life’ with a finite set of skills. The 21stC is a different era altogether – it’s open, shared, collaborative, creative, entrepreneurial. The OECD report mentioned below says that the kinds of skills that are “the easiest to teach are also the easiest to automate, digitise and outsource”.

Changing the nature of an institution like school is the same as turning around an ocean liner, but if that vessel was headed for danger, no matter how difficult, how long it took, it’s worth turning it around for the sake of the passengers.

In the same way, turning around education is also worth it for the passengers – the future of our young people depends on it. The world has changed. Life outside of school in connected, it’s in real time and, while there are risks and concerns, there are also immense opportunities. If we can provide the optimal learning environment, if we can engage young minds in the joy of learning.

A new set of skills and rethinking the learning environment is necessary. Here’s what others say what is required:

None of this underplays the need for a rigorous curriculum and an emphasis on literacy and numeracy remain a priority. It is not so much the ‘what’ but the ‘how’. Engaged learners are hungry to acquire skills and seek out the resources they need, especially when the learning coincides with their passions.

What we do need to focus on, as Sir Ken Robinson has pointed out in his most recent book Creative Schools: Revolutionising Education from the Ground Up, we need to focus on the art of teaching and identify what is worth knowing (not just for the test). He also outlines eight competencies: curiosity, creativity, criticism, communication, collaboration, compassion, composure, citizenship.

At Northern Beaches Christian School we have embarked on this journey, under the visionary leadership of Stephen Harris. We are seeking to create a learning environment that is relevant to a changing context. Like many schools around the world, we see the need to radically disrupt the existing paradigm. We think about school as three spaces: cultural, physical and virtual.

What is normally associated with “school” is put under the microscope to determine its relevant in a changing world. Not everything goes out the window, after all, we still need to prepare our students for an external 3 hour handwritten exam. The basics of education matter. NBCS has 1300 students and the academic achievement of the 2015 final year students has exceeded our expectations.

At NBCS the disruption includes:

  • Rethinking the school day – 4x 75minute learning sessions
  • Shared learning spaces – about 80% across the school
  • Shared staff and staff-student spaces. Even the principal shares “an office” with 10 others
  • Cross-curricula learning
  • No bells
  • Non-typical school design and furniture
  • Focus on quality relationships – everywhere!
  • Professional-like spaces for creative subjects

FullSizeRender (1).jpgIt’s a school that in many ways doesn’t look like a school. (Click the pic to see a video).


Where to start? One simple thing is to start to change mindsets. Stop saying I have taught. Instead change the focus, ask…

Have they learnt?