Complexity + Community

My PhD thesis is titled The Beauty of a Complex Future, exploring the success and sustainability of change in the workplace, focusing on the teaching and learning environment.

There are valid reasons why it’s important to shift from a machine-like factory model of school to one that is more human and organic. But this is not just relevant to education. Right now, we have the opportunity to rethink many aspects of everyday life, to realign our priorities.

What do I mean by complexity?

In earlier, simpler times, life was a little more certain, less ambiguous. We could make plans and we thought the future was predictable. In the 21st century, technology added a layer of complexity. But in 2020, this amplified exponentially. Complexity theory helps us to navigate the ‘uns’ – unknown, unpredictable and uncertain.

A Lesson in Complexity – Mechanic or Organic

Machines are necessary, in the right place. I want my espresso machine to predictably make a great cup every time. It is predictable, a machine is just the sum of its parts. Communities need to be more like an ecosystem, if we try to use the mechanic-mindset, our communities will just break.

Complexity theory functions as an adaptive system, like ants in an any colony. Through their complex interactions and feedback loops, agents (the people in our communities) work out a way forward, through trial-and-error. Agents collaborate to prototype and test, they respond to feedback. Fresh innovation and creativity emerge from grassroots interactions, which is less likely to be achieved by top-down directives.

Embracing complexity means rethinking the ‘how’. Decision-making and problem-solving are the vehicles through which we navigate life. Everyday we face decision which require a response:

Based on Cynefin Knowledge Framework (Snowden & Boone, 2007)

Seeing the world through the lens of complexity has led me to consider the constructs, the expectations, and the rituals that govern our lives.

The Complex Community

I wanted to lay this foundation before getting to the heart of this post. I am talking about culture.  Schein (2009) suggests that we often oversimplify culture by describing it as ‘the way we do things around here’.  Instead he suggests that “Culture is a pattern of shared tacit assumptions that was learned by the group as it solved its problems” (p.27). When common attitudes and behaviours are reinforced these are then taught to new group members and integrated into the fabric of the group. In short, we do things the way they have always been done, we keep perpetuating the known.

How might we approach complex challenges?

I have been part of faith communities all my life, I was raised in the factory-era of church, with its cause and effect scenarios, its top-down leadership directives. The metaphor of the body is often used to describe the people in a faith community, one body, but it is comprised of many parts. While we can identify the parts of the body, we can’t take it apart and reassemble like a machine. This ‘body’ is greater than the sum of its parts. Human-centred faith communities successfully navigate complexity, rather than complicate things.

What does this mean? (Perhaps another post!)
In short, a community of people, interconnected, self-organising and ‘as one’. 

there are many parts. But there is only one body. The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  In fact, it is just the opposite. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are the ones we can’t do without. (1Cor. 12.20-22)

Perhaps we need to consider community with fresh eyes in 2020.


Design Space Design Culture

I appreciated being invited to co-host #AussieEd Twitter chat this Sunday night. Here is the video to explain what it’s all about.

Introducing Design Space Design Culture

I believe there is a misconception around the design of learning environments, the ‘Kevin Costner Principle’, because ‘if you build it’, it doesn’t necessarily follow that ‘they will come’.

That’s because it’s not about the building, but how the building meets the need of the people – this may be the current, pressing need, or an aspirational vision for the future.

We design environments for people and we then must co-design the culture to create the transformation we seek to see. Otherwise, human behaviour maintains the known and comfortable.

Each question block below is an active link to a short video provocation.

Within our communities, we accept the default and we put up with frustrations because it’s meant to be that way. I want to encourage you to fine tune your observational/user experience radar.

Look at your everyday circumstance and see what’s not working, what could be better and what changes you would make.

Now that you’ve worked on your radar, think about the learning environment. If you’re in this chat, it is likely that you’re passionate about student engagement and sparking their curiosity. We know that learning is a social activity, that sharing ideas and rich dialogue leads to deeper engagement.

Think about how you and your students might co-design a space that serves your aspirations.

This is the hardest part and where a focus only on ‘design space’ without considering ‘design culture’ lets us down. As the space serves learning and social connections, I begin with a ‘user experience’ lens on the learner – who are they, what are their needs? The critical thing in transforming culture is recognising the changes we as individuals, and then collectively, need to commit to.

What do we need to ditch, maintain and embrace as we transform culture?

Remember when a visit to the bank, was a humanless queue to be endured, with the only person you spoke to was the one with the frown behind the glass. But then banks awakened to humanity. I have had bank-people approach me, ask about my needs and take me out of the queue to assist.

Which structures, systems and schedules are ripe for redesign?

Here’s one quick example: Timetable. Does a 5x 60 minute schedule serve deeper learning and engagement?

When the new building is under construction it is the optimal time to co-design the desired culture. Too often I see this as a last minute, “we’re moving-in in two weeks”, or worse, an afterthought, “now we’re here, what do we do?”. I have seen too many designs not meeting aspirations, because there’s not the attention to the human elements, the culture.

Edgar Schein, a leading voice on culture outlines three levels of culture:
artefacts, espoused values and underlying assumptions.
Schein, E. (2009) The Corporate Culture Survival Guide

Pasi Sahlberg speaks about this as small clues “often hidden in the complex fabric of values, behaviours and cultures that determine what teachers and students do in school”

Sahlberg, P. (2018) FinnishED Leadership: Four Big, Inexpensive Ideas to Transform Education
Lindstrom, M (2016) Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends

Here is a link to a post I wrote about small data last year: What’s all this talk about small data?

Where to start this week?
Your newly fine-tuned radar can start to look for these culture clues. We can begin to design culture by looking at our own context.

I often do this, as a fresh pair of eyes when I visit schools. I look for what I can learn from the artefacts, especially the signs that are displayed. There are many things (artefacts) you may walk past every day, that shout loudly about espoused values and underlying assumptions.


Re-imagining Professional Learning Gatherings: From ‘stump speeches’ to ‘sprout stories’

If we have learnt anything in recent months, it is that we need to look at our world with fresh eyes and develop new ways of working. I have been inspired by The Art of Gathering: How we meet and why it matters by Priya Parker.

How do we create the environment for authentic professional learning experiences?

I have worked in the PD field for many years and two principles consistently guide me:

  1. Create an environment consistent with what I believe about learning
  2. Recognise that the smartest person in the room is the room itself

For some time I’ve been struggling with the passive-participant-conference as a predominant model and its return on investment. Real transformation unfolds when we deliberately disrupt the model and commit to change, otherwise we will default to the familiar experience.

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More ‘sprout stories’ than ‘stump speeches’, please

First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room…

the conference is the keynote

That’s what the marketing material tells us, it’s all about the headliners and their stump speech, the pre-planned presentation given many times over.

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The ‘stump’ is the strongest and most durable part of the tree, firmly planted in the ground. The ‘sprout’ is the newest and weakest part of the tree, it is still forming. Everyday struggles of the ‘sprout stories’ speak of authenticity, lived experience and vulnerability,

it is people’s sprouts that are most interesting – and perhaps prone to making a group feel closely connected enough to attempt big things together

(Parker, p.203)

Who else is thinking like this?
I asked around…

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Responses reinforced that a fresh approach is required…

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What are we looking for?

  • Learning across disciplines
  • A focus on creativity, innovation and disruption
  • Listening to the stories of real people
  • Putting learning back at the centre
  • Collaboratively learning and creating together
  • Places for informal connections that spark and sustain innovation
  • And a place to be vulnerable, because this is where we truly learn.

How do we start?

A carefully curated gathering that starts with why, maps out the how, before we nail down the what. Traditional ‘event management’ prematurely focuses our attention on locking in the logistics and the headliners before we deeply understand why we need to gather at all.

WHY: Pursue laser-like clarity of purpose, Parker notes that “Specificity is a crucial ingredient”, align the gathering to a purpose, an identified need. But ‘The school year always begins with a staff conference‘. Have you genuinely asked why? Without realising it, routine can easily become the enemy of purpose.

HOW: Engaging hearts and minds begins before we gather and continues after we leave. A focus on facilitating ‘sprout stories’, along with collaborative tools to support dialogue, this develops ideas and inspires action.

WHAT: The logistics and event details must serve the WHY and the HOW. We do need to be fed and comfortable, within a space that is fit for purpose.

Adapting to the new, changing our habits can be clunky, uncomfortable and time consuming. We make mistakes and our progress seems slow. Instincts tell us to stick with what’s familiar (“just book the stump speech”). But change-makers know that the transformation process is worth it.

This approach can be applied internally to your organisation, or to address a community-wide problem It can be face-to-face or virtual/online.

The Facilitator: Why does this matter?

The skill of the facilitator is to shape the group dynamics and the conversation, to create an inclusive learning environment where people can think, dream, argue, trust and connect. The role begins before the event to meaningfully scaffold the purpose, and can continues beyond.

Would you like to explore this idea?

There’s a contact form on my homepage or direct message me on Twitter or LinkedIn.


What do students say about at-home learning?

This seismic shift has occurred without the luxury of time. The global pandemic, the pressing need for social isolation have meant that the shift to online-home-remote learning has been abrupt and somewhat brutal. Schools are working it out, and making adjustments along the way. Shifting from the physical place of learning, to virtual learning environment cannot be a cut and paste exercise. The context of each learner is unique – their home, their family, and of course, the individual.

Two newspapers, Sydney Morning Herald and New York Times recently sought feedback from students about their experiences of home learning. More than 70 student responses were recorded. After the initial excitement of home learning, students report feeling overwhelmed and socially isolated.

Students commented on challenges for parents trying to work while supervising learning at home, older students with responsibility for younger siblings, their ADHD and anxiety, as well as the fear and uncertainty of the global situation, which is taking its toll. A number of students responded positively, and were thriving with self-paced learning, they appreciated being able to put together their own schedule (and to sleep-in!). Others mentioned that after the initial excitement, they now miss the ‘everyday’ of school. They missed their friends, the routines and being able to ask questions and receive immediate feedback, rather than waiting for an email reply. The responses showed the unique context of each student.

The outward signs of engagement and wellbeing are not as evident via video-conference, when teachers and students are in physical proximity. Empathy for individual learners unique context is critical. There are those who are adapting well, yet this cannot be assumed for all students. The key is to keep learning, tweaking and adjusting, as we learn from our students.

In summarising the data, there are seven key areas to consider:

A strong theme emerged that students felt that they were overloaded and overwhelmed, some feeling like their workload had doubled. Other students noted how much they enjoyed self-paced learning and it was working for them.

There were many comments about missing social contact with friends. From working together, to playing handball, catching the bus and “just seeing my friends everyday”.

Students like the idea of being comfortable. One student whose school required school uniform at home, wore PJs out of sight of the camera.

A number mentioned the difficulty of being alone, especially those without other siblings around. The global situation is also weighing on some of the students.

Motivation seems to be associated with how students feel about being away from their friends, distractions around them and the level of encouragement received from their teachers. some were self-motivated, and appreciate the opportunity to work at their own pace.

Home and family circumstances differ so greatly, even within this small sample. The impact on student learning included the quality of devices and connectivity, responsibility of supervising younger siblings, and the positive and negative of being with family for extended periods of time.

Students are grieving the loss of memories. Many have been looking forward to their senior year, only to feel like it’s been taken away.


In 2020 go online to connect and learn: 5 ways to an experimental culture

‘Social distancing’ becomes the new normal. Sport, cultural and community gatherings cancelled. After streaming the entire Netflix catalogue, tackling the Hilary Mantel trilogy, we also need to connect with other humans and keep working and learning. Yet how ? We get online, human-to-human. They say that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

Can you empower your community to engage in innovative learning and work in the digital space?

I’m a glass-half-full kind of person, who sees opportunity within difficulty.

  • What can we learn?
  • How can we try out new ideas?
  • Can we actually experiment?

This idea of experimentation in education is a difficult concept to adopt, because who are we experimenting with? Kids. But this situation is an opportunity because we are definitely not in business-as-usual mode. Everything we need to do to engage kids in remote learning is an experiment.

There are those in education who enthusiastically embrace the opportunities of the digital era, and those who view face-to-face as the only way to properly educate, and lots of people in between. But, as we are finding out, in 2020 we cannot ignore the potential of the digital world for human connection and learning. It’s time to dust-off that LMS, if it’s been a repository that is required to hold the content and breathe new life into it

Building an culture of experimentation

This month’s edition of HBR is about building a culture of experimentation. Asking the question of business, why don’t we experiment more? The same could be asked of education.

I can tell you that the central reason is culture… often find that the obstacles are not tools and technology but shared behaviours, beliefs, and values.

From: Building a Culture of Experimentation, by Stefan Tomke Mar-Apr 2020

It’s that all important culture of shared behaviours, beliefs and values. Innovating through experimentation is an opportunity that is before us now. Tomke offers the how…

  1. Cultivate curiosity – this is exploratory, some things might work, others won’t. Being curious means accepting that reality.
  2. Data trumps opinion – if you try something and more students stay online and engage with the learning, there’s your data. If not, try something new.
  3. Democratise experimentation – why have layers of approval, instead trust your professionals and empower them to experiment.
  4. Be ethically sensitive – a balance between ‘going crazy’ and not getting tangled up in red tape.
  5. Embrace a different leadership model: Set a grand challenge, put in place systems that support experimentation, be a role model, and

“recognise that words alone won’t change behaviour”

This is an opportunity. I’m exploring experimenting PD delivery. I hope that we can come out the other side of this with new ideas to engage learners and we are changed for the better.

PS… I know that there is a digital divide, inequality in online access. As I am working from home more at the moment, I will be donating my unused mobile data, through my provider, to those who need it.

“I hate seeing myself on video” It’s time to get over it!

Interesting times! The prospect of working and learning remotely increases daily. This means, that for schools the learning management system is critical for students to access their learning.

I’m a glass-half-full kind of person. Amidst the sadness and difficulty of this global health crisis, it will bring new ideas and innovation. That LMS gathering (virtual) dust in the (virtual) corner will finally realise its potential. I wonder what education in 2021 will look like?

Of course, there are great content providers who can step in, but at some stage, many educators will need to provide video lessons for their student, I can hear it now…

“I hate seeing myself on video” (I do!)

Well it’s time to get over it. As I explain in this video (I’ve got to put my money where my mouth is, don’t I).

Keeping it real.

So to keep it real, this was a one-take, no notes to read. Obviously, the content is something I’ve thought about and the message was clear in my head

With my very ‘sophisticated’ video rig, consisting of a chopping board, gaffer tape and a stack of cookbooks on a chair, I got the job done.

I could have obsessed over it, and kept re-taking until it was perfect (which I have done in the past), but I think I got the message across.

Perhaps more succinctly, here is my rationale for getting over the dreaded video…

  1. I don’t see what you see (Did you know we have a ‘mirror-face’?)
  2. The person on the video is the person everyone else sees (This is my internal monologue, on repeat)
  3. It’s not going to be perfect (There is a list of things in this video that I’d do-over)
  4. This isn’t about me (Well, I did put on some lippy and brushed my hair)

I know I’m not talking to everyone, some of you are fine about video, but for those who struggle… you can do it, I did.


If culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast… what’s for lunch and dinner?

…culture has design for lunch and devours your precious vision for dinner.

Our efforts to create change, to impact mindsets, habits and behaviour, and to embed new ideas, stands and falls on the culture of the users. Sinek encourages us to ‘Start With Why’, but the process of creating a sustaining culture also requires sufficient attention to the ‘how’ before embarking on the ‘what’.

I was the staff development day presenter, I was facing a hostile crowd. The leadership had a vision (the ‘why) for a community learning space for the Year 9 cohort. For many months, these teachers had been watching the new building (the ‘what’) take shape in the heart of their campus. The staff walked into the new space for the first time that morning. Rumour abounded. I became the object of their fear and frustration. One random outsider (me!) presenting workshops the day before school started was unlikely to address the desired culture (not the optimal ‘how’).

Culture is described as ‘the way we do things around here’. It is evident in shared values and beliefs and supporting behaviours. Culture explains how a community is knitted together and how it is experienced, positively or negatively. The desired culture of a school or organisation needs to be the product of strategic design, if not, it develops by default. This depends on whether or not the leadership has deliberately articulated the vision and then followed through with advancing complementary practices.

The physical place of work and learning is the container for human activity. When embarking on a new project, design intentions present a tangible expression of the vision, providing clarity on the ‘why’. From that starting point, the aspirations can be expressed in the desire for innovative buildings and spaces, with flexible and adaptive furniture and technology. This is an important start, but what is the strategy to transform human practice and establish organisational norms in today’s changing workplace? Without deliberate attention to the ‘how’, it is likely that default practices will be shoe-horned into the new design. It’s like how is the neglected middle child in the ‘Start with Why’ family.

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The ‘how’ is the scaffold of culture, and rests on two elements:

  • Strategy for growing people
  • Organisational and system processes to support the vision.

In my experience these critical factors are often hastily addressed in the weeks leading up to the planned completion date, or worse, they are an after-thought. Ideally,from the moment the vision is given breath, the ambitions for the new workplace culture and supporting organisational structures are integrated into every aspect of organisational life, with time carved out for strategy, planning, communication and professional growth.

I love working in that essential ‘how’ space.


Shaking your mental kaleidoscope: Learning from far-afield

In her book, Think Outside the Building: How advanced leaders can change the world one smart innovation at a time, Elizabeth Moss Kanter (EMK), explains that advanced leaders start from the premise that there are many solutions to a problem and that by changing the angle on the kaleidoscope new possibilities emerge. EMK encourages advanced leaders to travel ‘far-afield’, she writes,

Each year at this time, I’m planning the Culture Learning Design tour for October. I’ve been getting on with it, contacting my network of colleagues around the globe, lining up places to visit and people to meet. I know that each year there are people who have been planning to come along. But this year, the landscape has changed. As I write this in March 2020, the outlook is uncertain, regarding international travel.

Rethinking the Itinerary

With this in mind I have thought afresh about the itinerary. Inspired by small nations – Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland and Scotland – each of these are making their mark on the world, transforming education and learning spaces. Each of these countries are also somewhat lower traffic areas for tourists. More importantly, they have something to offer as we apply kaleidoscope thinking to the challenges we face:

Why do Finland, Denmark, Iceland consistently appear in the list of the Top 5 happiest nations in the world ?

Why is Estonia creeping up the ranks in Maths, Reading and Science? What is the national commitment to lifelong learning?

What can we learn from local experts?

What’s happening with ‘Future Schools Scotland’ to reinvent learning?


Expression of Interest: March-June: From now to 30 June, I will be encouraging expressions of interest.

Registration July-August: I have shifted the registration dates. This year, I am holding-off confirming the tour until July-August, as I am sure by that time, we will have a clearer picture of the implications for travel.

What If…? I will be ready for 2021.

For more information head over to Culture Learning Design Tour 2020


You want to revolutionise school? Apply kaleidescope thinking – same components, different possibilities

Short version

We often feel like our systems are so rigid that innovating is a pipe dream. Schools and organisations that have disrupted the status quo operate within the same constraints but apply ‘kaleidoscope thinking’. A kaleidoscope is made up of fragments of coloured beads and pieces of glass, and mirrors, using the incoming light to create the magic. As the casing is rotated, angles change to catch the light, each of those elements create a sequence of patterns. If you dismantle the kaleidoscope there is a finite set of elements. But together there are endless configurations.

This week I’ve been reading: Think Outside the Building: How advanced leaders can change the world one smart innovation at a time by Elizabeth Moss Kanter (2020)

Entire industries have been disrupted through applying the principle of considering what’s possible through rearranging the fragments, catching the light, looking from new angles.


Reframe the situation
Set the kaleidoscope on a new pattern
Create a new combination of pieces

“Creativity is a little like looking at the world through a kaleidoscope”. 

Read more (you know you need to!)…

Our systems, structures, policies can become huge roadblocks. We might hear visionary speakers, see schools who are pushing boundaries and say,

“Yeah, but…. we can’t do that because <insert administrative bureaucratic/policy reason here>”.

Great innovations occur when people discover new ways of working that can revolutionise the system. If we truly believe that the factory model schools, cells and bells are no longer relevant, then tweeting about it, sharing an inspiring podcast or TED talk won’t change the situation. It needs action. The schools pushing boundaries have much the same constraints as anybody: hours in a day, curriculum regulations and teacher recruitment. Yet they manage to see the opportunities rather than the challenges.

Last year, I was sitting in a meeting at a school that is already operating with a timetable of 100 minutes over three learning sessions across a day, with cross-disciplinary deep dive project-based learning. The principal was still pouring over the curriculum regulations, looking for wriggle-room to make learning even meaningful and authentic for students.  This principal had the same pieces to play with as the traditional school down the road, but he was applying kaleidescope thinking.

This week I’m listening to an audiobook,

Think Outside the Building : How Advanced Leaders Can Change the World One Small Innovation at a Time - Rosabeth Moss Kanter
Think Outside the Building: How advanced leaders can change the world one smart innovation at a time
by Elizabeth Moss Kanter, published Feb 2020

Elizabeth Moss Kanter (EMK), uses the term ‘kaleidescope thinking’.  It’s a helpful metaphor. A kaleidoscope is made up of fragments of coloured beads and pieces of glass, and mirrors, using the incoming light to create the magic. As the casing is rotated, angles change to catch the light, each of those elements create a sequence of patterns. If you dismantle the kaleidoscope there is a finite set of elements. But together there are endless configurations. “Creativity is a little like looking at the world through a kaleidoscope”. Kaleidescope thinking allows us to see patterns emerge from the same pieces of reality, the incoming light and changing the angle of kaleidoscope create the magic.

“a new combination of pieces”

This is how the creative ideas emerge. Entire industries disrupted through applying the principle of considering what’s possible through rearranging the fragments, catching the light looking from new angles.

I am a big fan of car share service GoGet. As an independent worker, I don’t have a car, but rely on my own legs, public transport, ride share and car share, depending on my transport need. Car share differs from car hire in that:

✓ Within a 10 minute walk from home I can select from more than 10 different vehicles
✓ The power to access a vehicle is tag on my keychain and an app on my phone
✓ I can use a vehicle on an hourly basis, as I need it

GoGet was looking at the same pieces as traditional car hire:

People need a car
Cars need fuel, insurance and maintenance
There need to be an administrative back end
People may need to speak to a human
But they managed to rearrange the pieces differently, with greater convenience.

As EMK writes,

Where can you…

Reframe the situation,
Set the kaleidoscope on a new pattern, and
Create a new combination of pieces?


When we talk about student centred and teacher-directed learning, do we mean poles, continuums or pendulums?

Each Friday I reflect on what I’ve read, learnt and pondered during the week. Sometimes I think my job is to ‘Read for Australia’ and then I need to share.

Short version:

Every school, organisation, group and family have a culture. Often culture is centred on language and terminology that becomes embedded into our vocabulary. Sometimes, however, we need to step back and think about what we actually mean.

What do we mean by student centred learning and teacher-directed learning. Research presented here suggests that the teachers in the study weren’t perceived as student-centred as they thought they were.

But how do we view this idea of student centred learning and teacher-directed learning cultures? As polar opposites, as a continuum of a journey or a pendulum that swings from one side to the other?

Leading me to ask:

What about all the knowledge and experience a teacher brings?

Are teachers really controlling the student-centred learning environments anyway?

Do we believe that all students can become self-directed autonomous learners?

What do you think?

If you want to read more:

My main interest is culture. Every school, organisation, group and family have a culture. The family ones often run deep. To this day, there are ways of thinking that were part of my family culture that ‘pop-up’ in my mind, things that no longer fit with the way I see the world today. Often culture is centred on language and terminology that becomes embedded into our vocabulary. Sometimes, however, we need to step back and think about what we actually mean.

Take for example the notions of ‘learner centred’ and ‘teacher directed’ cultures. In our ‘progressive 21st century’ sense of education, one has become the preference over the other. But is that justified? The premise is that student agency can have expression in a student-centred learning environment.

In their paper “Agency, responsibility and equity in teacher versus student activities: A comparison between teachers’ and learners’ perceptions” Mameli (2019) and her colleagues sought to investigate whether there was a “match between teachers’ and students’ perceptions of what they are doing in the classroom”. As I read, I asked myself the question:

When we talk about teacher-directed and student centred, do we mean poles, continuums or pendulums?

First, they unpacked what is meant by the key terms:

Agency: “an individual’s ability to transform the social practices in which s/he participates”

Teacher-directed: favouring a compliant form of action, described as a “responsive or domesticated agency”. Activities of learning, as the name suggest are dependent on the teacher – didactic teaching, tests, teacher-led discussions and completion of teacher devised tasks.

Learner-centred: The teaching and learning processes are founded on collective co-constructed knowledge and “teachers concede part of their instructional power to learners”. Activities of learning include collaborative activities, reflective thinking, investigations and exploratory discussions.

As the title of the paper suggests, they were looking at ‘perceptions’ of student-centred learning to support agency, responsibility and equity. There was a disconnect between the perceptions of student-centred learning by the teachers and as it was experienced by the students. It was reported that teachers in the study over-emphasised their capacity for student-centred learning to foster agency, responsibility and equity. This led to the conclusion that for this study “teachers, in their everyday practice tend to accept and legitimise mainly domesticated forms of agency”. The teachers in the study already considered themselves to be learner-centred, yet this was not affirmed by the students.

Do we as educators perceive what we are doing is supporting student agency, but only a domesticated form?

Is that OK? Is it reasonable? This gets me to the ideas of poles, continuums and pendulums. When I was teaching, I hoped that the learning environment I set up was student-centred, empathic, focused on learner needs and collaborative. But I have to admit, there was a sense of peace and order that I enjoyed during ‘handwriting lessons’ each week. It was responsive to the teacher and probably a domesticated form of agency, but there was also a collective calm.

So how do we view student-centred and teacher-directed learning?

Poles: It’s one way or another, student-centred and teacher-directed learning cannot co-exist.

Continuum: If our professional life is a journey I can plot myself along a continuum, heading in a direction.

Pendulum: There are times my class would be student-centred and other when it is teacher-directed learning.

How do these questions resonate with you?

What about all the knowledge and experience a teacher brings?

Are teachers secretly controlling the student-centred learning environment, anyway?

Do we believe that all students become self-directed autonomous learners?

Are we talking about either/or or both/and?

I would love to hear about the reality of your context.
Email me via this website or reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn.


Mameli, C., Grazia, V. & Molinari, L (2019)Agency, responsibility and equity in teacher versus student activities: A comparison between teachers’ and learners’ perceptions. Journal of Educational Change (Published online 21 January, 2020)