A Leadership Strategy: Ask not what your people can do for you (rather, the other way around)

My part in the research project ILETC is looking at the role of the teacher, adapting and changing mind frames and practices to take the opportunities that the innovative learning environment affords. This cannot happen in a vacuum, it is effective and lasting when change is the result of leadership, clear vision and the collective pursuit toward a shared future.

just-add-techI noticed this picture on twitter recently. We just can’t add technology, or add new furniture and hope for the best. If we believe in enduring change for the good of society, then the iceberg metaphor applies. It’s all the hard work that happens beneath the surface that makes change go the distance. We are in an era of unprecedented change in education, one in which disruption is necessary in education, for a generation unlike those who have gone before. In their report for A Rich Seam, Fullan and Langworthy (2014) outline ‘new pedagogies’:

The ‘new pedagogies’ are not just instructional strategies.They are powerful models of teaching and learning, enabled and accelerated by increasingly pervasive digital tools and resources, taking hold within learning environments that measure and support deep learning at all levels of the education system.”

They explain that a new process of change is required, called “inherent change”, an almost organic process, “built around humankind’s need to… be doing something intrinsically good and… to do it socially”.

This ‘new change leadership’, necessary for these new pedagogies to take hold is not considered to be either top-down or bottom-up, it needs to be,“both and, it is also sideways. Ideas and energy flow vertically and laterally…. The role of leaders is to simultaneously help the organisation ‘let go’ and ‘rein in’”.

The Essential Leadership Model, outlined by by Knuth & Banks (2006) is based on Maslow’s Hierachy. It considers what the teachers need from the leader and outlines “a set of knowledge, skills and dispositions required for meeting those needs”. During the leader’s ascension, toward the apex there are key checkpoints, questions that leaders need to ask themselves for the vision realised. This is my simplified version of Knuth & Banks strategy:

First Level: Your actions match your words
Leaders model core values and principles. You are able to inspire trust and articulate vision. Principle-centred leaders inspire trust by displaying consistency between core values, words and actions.

Leader Checkpoint 3: Is your internal compass in or out of alignment?
If your words and actions don’t match there’s no need to go any further.

Second Level: My physical and material needs matter to you
The work environment is clean and attractive. Sound, air-quality and safety needs are considered. Teachers have the resources they need to do their job well.

Third level: I am appreciated for my contribution
Leaders actively foster a sense of belonging. Encouragement and recognition is personalised. They put a human face on policies and systems.

Checkpoint 2: Is it your priority to ensure the basic needs of your people are met?
Without valuing people, clear systems, policies and training for staff, a leader’s energy is consumed by chaos or disorganisation and probably interpersonal conflict.

Fourth level: We’re on a journey together
As a community we own the vision, good systems are in place and we are able to direct our collective energies to our core mission.

Checkpoint 1: Do you feel like settling?
It’s all humming along nicely now, let’s just enjoy this. The fourth level is considered the ‘false apex’.

The Apex: Higher order change
This is rarely linear, rational or comfortable. It is disruptive, chaotic and tested by ambiguity. Leaders here demonstrate adaptive leadership skills. This is where the disruption happens. Remember: it isn’t actually an end point.




Fullan & Langworthy (2014) – A Rich Seam: How new pedagogies find deep learning
(Ch 6 The New change leadership)
Knuth & Banks (2006) The Essential Leadership Model,  NASSP Bulletin, 1 March 2006, 4-18

Culture & values must relate to everything, even school uniforms. Especially for girls

As students in Australia get ready to head back (or even start) school, many are making sure that they have the right gear, in this part of the work this usually includes the school uniform. In an era that we espouse so-called ‘21st century’ education, characterised by ‘choice, autonomy and flexibility’, the school uniform seems somewhat anachronistic, at least on face-value. There are many deep and broad elements to this discussion, but in this piece, I’m considering it from a perspective based on my experience and observation.

The article in the Sydney Morning Herald (9 Jan) Why do we still make girls wear skirts and dresses as school uniform quoting gender research that dresses and skirts:

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-2-51-23-pm“restrict movement in real ways; wearers must negotiate how they sit, how they play, and how quickly they move. Skirt-wearing, consciously and unconsciously, imposes considerations of modesty and immodesty, in ways that trousers do not”.


It also goes on to talk about the negative impact of this on girls in being actively engaged in sport.

“A study conducted in one Australian primary school in 2012 found that girls did significantly less exercise over a two-week period when wearing a school dress than they did when wearing shorts.”

I don’t think that abandoning uniforms in Australia is on the horizon, some would even say that it is un-Australian to consider it, nor is cancelling dresses (or tunics, as they are called in Australia) and skirts from the list. It’s about ‘choice, autonomy and flexibility’. School uniforms are seen as important social-levellers and provide affordable options for families to dress their kids for school each day. This isn’t that ‘either/or kind’ of argument, but I will go into that a little later.

As schoolgirl both in primary and high school I was fairly ‘anti-dress’. In my younger years I loved Velvet, the 1960s outdoorsy-kinda-gal in the horsey TV show, National Velvet. In one episode I remember well, Velvet ran home from church and immediately changed out of her dress and into her riding gear. Velvet’s mother despaired that she spent more time in trousers than dresses. This was my story. Whenever I could, I would wear shorts and trousers, however my mother  was intent on me being more of a ‘lady’! (There were tears over this.)

Of course, there are many schools that provide options for girls, trousers and shorts in their uniform. As students get older and desire to follow fashion trends, often the options of the school-style trouser just doesn’t appeal, so the girls just go back to the tunic/skirt and blouse. In addition, some girls will wear a jumper/sweater in summer as the  button-up blouses make them feel uncomfortable. When schools only provide options that seem more 20th century in their thinking, then ‘choice, autonomy and flexibility’ are compromised.

So if a school uniform remains  the Australian Way: How might we…

  • Start thinking differently about the school uniform
  • Create a poliform, providing number of choices
  • Be a bit more on-trend with what we offer to students
  • Have school uniform guidelines that are more agile and flexible
  • Help parents to see that the school uniform rigidly applied does not ‘maketh the man’ nor the woman

I’m sure there are many more ‘what ifs’ in this conversation,  if we put our minds to it. This isn’t a ‘uniforms or no uniforms’ argument, but trying to find some common ground. All I know was that as a school-aged person, I was much freer and able to be myself when I could choose what I wore. As an adult, I’ve worked in an environment of a uniform, and I didn’t like it. Not everybody is like me, there are some who love the idea of not thinking about what they wear. If we truly desire an education system where we are enabling a personal approach to school and life, then our decisions need to match our values and desired culture at every point.

file_000-3I have come to realise, over the years, that wearing a dress is much cooler in summer, but there are some summer days when I will still wear pants or jeans as well. As an adult, I have ‘choice, autonomy and flexibility’.

Now, don’t get me started on ties!


(not expressing the views of my employer)

How schools can ‘Emulate Museums’ for engaging learning? (and it’s not how you might think)


The spatial challenge is to use space dynamically as possible.”
Montgomery (2008)

Four strategies we can learn from museums:

  1. Define the entry and exit experience for students
  2. Create ‘stoppages’ and maintain ‘flow’
  3. Design ‘circulation patterns’
  4. Curate the narrative, deliberately shape the learning experience

file_000-1What are your experiences of a museum as a user? Sometimes we are  captivated, amazed and inspired to learn more after the visit. At other times, from the moment we walked in ‘we knew’, an underwhelming experience awaited.

The concept of space as the ‘third teacher’ came from the Reggio Emilia tradition, when designed deliberately, space can inspire young minds. In 2010 VS Furniture/Cannon Design/Bruce Mau Design/ compiled a collection of ideas, The Third Teacher, encouraging fresh thinking around the context of school and learning. This publication quickly became an inspiration for many educators, with ideas such as: everyone can be a designer, make peace with fidgeting, think hands-on and emulate museums.

#16 Emulate Museums:  An environment rich in evocative objects  – whether it’s a classroom or museum – trigger active learning by letting students pick what to engage with.

In his paper “Space Matters: Experiences of managing static formal learning spaces”, Tim Montgomery (2008) looks the museum as inspiration for places of formal learning, within in the context of universities, but the ideas can equally be relevant to schools. The paper begins with looking at the seminar room, “four walls, desk and chairs”. When thinking about the opportunities inherent in a space, Montgomery cites Chism (2006):

Because we habitually take space arrangements for granted, we often fail to notice the ways in which space constrains or enhances what we intend to accomplish.

What can we learn from museums? The focus here isn’t necessarily the consideration of the artefacts, students displaying museum-quality outputs of their learning, rather the foundational thinking around engaging learners in self-motivating, curated learning experience.

file_000-2On entering a museum, or even prior to the visit, we receive or seek preliminary information, where will we go, what will we see and how should we navigate our way through. “In the museum and the classroom, entering can be disorienting, and yet ignored as not a ‘real part’ of the exhibition/seminar proper” (Montgomery 2008). Consider how important our arrival experience is, at anything we attend, even the classroom space. Often this is the make or the break of a successful event.

The exit is also as a spatial and pedagogical moment, and needs to be planned to finish well. In between, the museum experience itself is carefully curated, deliberately creating the environment to bring the visitors in and engage them.

The strategies of engagement are created through the notions of ‘stoppages’ and ‘flow’. Stoppages as the decision-points, providing choice as their interest takes the visitor, ‘conceptual, unhurried, exhibition pieces’ that capture attention.  Deliberate circulation patterns reinforce the narrative of the curated learning experience, recognising that people people move and learn in different ways – there can be similar flow patterns curated in the classroom.

Space reinforces the narrative. Space management is a question of how the museum guide, or the teacher, through the spatial context enables the learning process by including: paths and subdivisions, enabling choice around the physical process and determining the focus – is it sequential or thematic.

The priority of the museum is the visitor, and at the school, the student.

In spatial terms, it is implied that the student/gallery visitor is primary in the relationship; the teacher/curator’s job is to enable learning”. Montgomery, p.129



The third teacher : 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. (2010). New York : Abrams

Montgomery (2008) Space Matters: experiences of managing static formal learning spaces. Active Learning in Higher Education, v9 n2 p122-138 2008

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 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.