What do we need in Australia to transform schools? A vision for education with the learner at its heart.

This week thousands of Australian school students will sit the NALPLAN tests – National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy. Results of these tests will form the basis of ranking Australian schools on the My School website.

“The US is taking a U-turn away from test-based accountability,” said Professor Darling-Hammond. ”We hope not to meet Australia heading in the other direction in seeking policies we have sought to move away from.”  (SMH: 1 May 2011)

Professor Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford is now heading up Obama’s education policy transition team. This team is seeking to learn lessons from Bush’ No Child Left Behind policy of 10 years ago. She expresses the view that: NAPLAN-style testing and reporting has failed in the United States by narrowing the curriculum and corrupting education standards.

Some of the results that were of the US policy have been:

  • National standardised tests
  • A curriculum focused on reading, maths and multiple choice tests
  • Schools and teachers rewarded or punished based on test scores
  • Student exclusion to get scores up
  • Schools that prevent students from taking tests
  • Scores that went up, but didn’t educate the children hurt the economy

A vision or aspiration that is expressed in the negative will produce policies and actions that are reactive, rather than proactive, that are defensive, rather that forward thinking. No child left behind is such an aspiration. This statement fails as a vision as it highlights what we don’t want to become.

In the lead up to the election last year in Australia, the Gillard Government’s education centrepiece was: Making every school a great school. Again, this does not speak of the learner. If the school, alone, is at the heart of the vision, the focus will be on policies and systems.

Professor Darling-Hammond was particularly critical of Joel Klein’s reforms in New York, the same reform on which the Education Minister, Julia Gillard has based Australia’s My School reporting system. We need the right vision for school reform, one that puts the child, the learner, their potential and aspiration for their future at the very centre.

What do we need in Australia to transform schools?

  1. A bold vision for school education that presents an aspirational goal that excites the nation.
  2. The priority on learning and the learner – recognizing that we are all learners, that we learn differently and a diversity of interests and passions are valued and celebrated.
  3. Recognition that in this globally connected world learning occurs anywhere and anytime
  4. A measure for quality teaching that is desirable and achievable, recognising that the role of the teacher is becoming vastly different
  5. An assessment program that guides practice and serves the needs of the learner, the teacher and the parent

Our vision for school education needs to present an aspirational goal that speaks to the hopes, dreams and potential of every young person.

In Australia we need:

A complementary* school system that recognises and develops the individual talents and strengths of each learner** .

The learning opportunities will prepare each young person with the necessary skills, experience and knowledge that will enable them to

  • find their unique place in the world
  • make a difference to their generation and the generations to come.

* Sectors working together

** We are all learners.


SMH  – (http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/naplanstyle-testing-has-failed-us-schools-20110501-1e395.html)

Making Every School a Great School –  www.alp.org.au

What is the new metaphor for school education? One that reflects where we are today, not where we’ve been.

Our society’s general perception of ‘What is a school?’ reflects the agrarian calendar and industrial model for work of the past.  

I am an advocate for change. Some of us are just wired that way, others need degrees of convincing and a few just get dragged along by their fingernails because it has become reality, but they just can’t let go of the past. Because of this, it is the mission of the change advocates like me to present the vision and rationale for change and a great metaphor helps the process.

Have you ever heard the leg of lamb story?

Sarah and Simon were newly married. Simon decided to cook a lamb roast for his new wife. As his father-before-him always did, Simon cut off the end piece of the leg before roasting. When he presented the lovingly prepared meal to Sarah she complained that the tasty end piece of the leg was missing. Simon explained that this was the way his father had taught him and his father before him. So Simon decided to go back to his grandfather and find out about the recipe. 

“Grandfather,” he began, “In our long family history we have shared the lamb roast recipe down through the generations, preserving our lamb-roasting heritage. I wanted to share this moment with my new wife, but she complained. Grandfather, why do you cut the end of the leg of lamb.”

His grandfather thought for a moment, “Grandson,” he replied, “My father taught me and it was during the war. We only had a very small home and a very small kitchen. The leg of lamb wouldn’t fit, the oven was too small, and so we had to cut it

I often wonder if we are holding onto traditions and principles, ones that are apparently sacrosanct to schooling, when in reality, they may have come about because perhaps “the oven was too small”.

A few characteristics of schools today:

Hours of operation: 8.30/9.00-ish to 3.00/3.30-ish, from Monday to Friday

School day divided into sections, with block of time for teaching structured subjects and smaller blocks of time for eating, playing and connecting with friends in an unstructured way. These sections of time are punctuated with bells, horns, hooters to signify a change in activity.

School year: Divided into terms, with vacation breaks and a longer break over summer

Students grouped according to age Secondary teachers are responsible for delivery of content according to the teacher’s expertise and qualifications.

Student grouping and teacher content expertise are physically organised into rooms along corridors, with equipment appropriate for the teaching of content.

Students and teachers housed in a purpose-built edifice, that keeps all the people within the same place.

Are these essential elements for a quality education?

Here is what I have discovered:

When compulsory schooling first began it was first scheduled around the agricultural calendar. The school day ended in the mid-afternoon so that children could come home before dark to milk cows, and do their other farm chores. Saturday was set aside for farm repairs, maintenance, harvesting, and planting. Sunday was a day for rest and religion. All family members were needed over the summers for harvesting, barn building, and other major farm projects.

The industrial economy began to replace the agricultural economy. At the beginning of last century the vast majority of the population left school between 12 and 14. The old structure adopted a new industrial model. Henry Ford’s assembly line became the model for operating schools. So from the one schoolhouse  cottage industry, schools operated like factories. Students, the ‘products’, moved through a series of teachers on an assembly line of grade-specific classrooms. Principals managed the teachers, like the foreman managed the workers.

If we have moved on from the agricultural and industrial metaphor for school, what then is the replacement?

What environment does a young person need to thrive?

A Community?

A Family?

An organic garden?

The web?

A highly creative business/corporation?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know on Twitter @AnneKnock with #newmetaphor

A new vision for a new paradigm: An open letter to the Australian School Education Minister

There is a groundswell for change, yet until there is a vision for educational reform at the highest level, then we are doing a disservice to the great majority of our young people and our nation.

Dear Mr Garrett,

It’s time. Time to shake up the school education system in this country. Not just for the sake of it, but for the sake of this generation and generations to come.

The world is different, young people are different. Technology has changed everything. Learning can occur anywhere, anytime – not just between the hours of 9am – 3pm, Monday to Friday for 40 weeks a year in a rectangular classroom with 30 others of the same age, learning the same thing at the same time.

So much of our education system reflects the past – mass production of the industrial era, the agrarian calendar and mid-20thC family structure. Our school system boxes education to fit a paradigm based on nostalgia, rather than relevancy.

This can change. We need a new vision for school and learning for Australia, one that challenges convention and stretches individuals to think beyond their own school experiences and toward a better future for this generation and generations to come.

Minister, you need to provide that vision. It will take courage, guts and determination. So to help out, here are a few things to put on the agenda:

Students are different: Technology has changed everything. Just about all they need to know can be accessed anytime, anywhere. Technology is no longer a ‘tool’, it is the environment in which they reside and social networks are their communities, we must embrace this rather than fear it. The look and feel of school and learning must inspire and engage to encourage lifelong learners.

Teachers need new role descriptions: If knowledge can be accessed anytime, anywhere – then the work of the teacher has significantly changed. ‘Teaching’ is now one skill amongst many. They also need to be coaches, guides, mentors and leaders. They must learn and apply new skills. Dispassionate, negative and bored teachers discourage and hurt kids, turning them off learning and coming to school. Australia should be attracting the top graduates to the teaching profession because they are passionate and called, not because they see teaching as a ‘lifestyle choice’.

Content and delivery structured to reflect the needs of the learner and the community. If students are different and we are asking teachers to work in new ways, then the prescribed content should be addressed. Successful adults are self-aware, therefore it is essential, to help students understand themselves as learners structuring the content and delivery of learning in a way that enables them to build on their strengths. Personalised learning is the key to this. Subjects, timetables, one teacher to 30 students, age-related grade groupings and content-only assessments currently reinforces the industrial-era approach to school. Radical change is required.

Buildings and furniture are crucial to providing the environment that is conducive to learning. Building design, air quality, temperature and furniture make a significant impact. Resources must be allocated to create inspiring, attractive and comfortable environments. Teachers will feel valued and students will want to come to school. Today, schools must look like the creative and collaborative workspaces in the city, rather than factories and prisons.

Education reform needs to transcend the three-year election cycle. Australia’s young people deserve better than this. We need a vision for learning with deliberate effort and dedicated resources to transform schools across the nation into places that are inspiring and creative places to learn. At the same time, schools still need to teach the skills and provide knowledge, scaffolding young people as they reach their potential and pursue their hopes and dreams.

There are many like-minded, passionate educators across our nation and around the globe. We are doing our best in our own contexts, yet so much more can be done once there is vision-led leadership at the highest level.

Minister, we are relying on you, for the future of this generation, the generations to come and the prosperity of our nation.

Kind regards,

Anne Knock

Passionate educationalist who personally knows the value of working in her strengths and fulfilling potential.

Aligning space with teaching and learning: Ideas from Kunskapsskolan

Successful schools align the space with teaching and learning – in other words, space supports and motivates new dynamics in the way that teachers and pupils work together.

(from The Centre for School Design) 

From: kunskapsgymnasiet.se

I am working on the itinerary for a study tour we are hosting in October this year, to take a group of educational leaders to places that have influenced our work at SCIL and learning at Northern Beaches Christian School. We will go to Europe and the UK, visiting award-winning museums and libraries, places where people choose to go to learn, that provide personalised and hands-on learning opportunities and are a place for community connection and fun. We will also visit schools that represent innovation in design and pedagogy.

I have been communicating with a peer from the UK.  In her last email, she wrote:

The other possibility for you to consider, as you are keen to experience innovation in education, is Kunskapsskolan which is based in Sweden and operates several schools in the UK… we have adopted some of their practices

It has been interesting to read about the Kunskapsskolan model and I discovered that this approach to school and student learning is consistent with the NBCS/SCIL direction.

What struck me from our visits and speaking to architects…is that it is an audacious imaginative vision of refurbishment and reuse of buildings. So, an old submarine factory or lightbulb factory or redundant space is completely gutted and re-imagined as a variety of learning spaces, rather than just classrooms. They are ‘classroom-plus schools’. (from The Centre for School Design)

From: kunskapsgymnasiet.se

Kunskapsskolan was established in 1999 and means “Knowledge School”. In Sweden it operates 30 schools for students aged 12-18. The model is based on a personalised learning focused on a student-centred approach to teaching. The Academies program in the UK facilitated the international expansion of the Kunskapsskolan model. There are three schools in the UK– Hampton Community College, Whitton School and Holywells High School.

There are now plans for the model to be implemented in *New York.

In a number of ways the Kunskapsskolan model operates along the lines of a primary school – one teacher may work with a student across a number of subject areas.

From the Kunskapsskolan UK website, here are the key points to the model:

Personalised learning focused with a student-centred approach to teaching

Each student develops a learning and attainment plan

Students of different ages may be on the same ‘step’ or working at the same level

Students to work at their own pace

From: kunskapsgymnasiet.se

Rooms for learning of different sizes are available for individual studies, for conversations in couples or small groups, or for a class with about 20 pupils

2-3 large scale lectures held each week

Parents are able to monitor the progress of their children through the online reporting system

Curriculum is delivered wholly through a thematic approach

Schools have an overall timetable and each student has their own individual timetable

Student welfare and behaviour management is rigorous and provides for ‘earned autonomy’

Students to work in a variety of ways

In Sweden, students are able to work from home from time to time

Schools do stay open outside the normal school day to allow students to spend time on their studies

Teachers spend the majority of their time as learning mentors

Curriculum resources are developed collaboratively across schools and shared through the portal

Cafe acts as a natural meeting place for pupils and teachers with space for both work and relaxation


If you would like to find out more visit:

Swedish site, with a link ‘In English’ – http://www.kunskapsskolan.se

Kunskapsskolan UK website – http://www.kunskapsskolan.co.uk

Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunskapsskolan


*Kunskapsskolan in the news – NYC is next: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/sweden_writin_rithmetic_1hx0vWOOmqQCH79USB1X3M

Crossing the Great Divide: Changing the generational paradigm (my generation)

Technology is an environment, not a tool and social networks are communities, not private clubs.

We decided to take a day trip one Saturday from Sydney to Mudgee. After leaving home early we stopped for breakfast at our favourite place in Blackheath, the Victory Cafe. I grabbed the newspaper to read over breakfast. On the front page was an article about a school’s response to students use of Facebook. Two comments struck me:

Mistakes made at 15 may be still retrievable by an employer 10 years …[students] are not fully mature, and the expectation that they will or even can foresee all consequences to their actions is unrealistic if not naive…Stupidities that were once forgotten now last, spread and damage in ways unknown before this decade.

Parents who are paying for the internet service have every right to insist they are a friend on Facebook. I would certainly insist on this until at least the end of year 10 if not later.


Great Dividing Range, NSW



As we resumed our journey after breakfast, I kept thinking about the two statements, we were traveling west and crossing the Great Dividing Range which runs down the eastern states of Australia. It is a range of ridges and mountains that had proved a challenge to our early explorers, a barrier as they attempted to travel west and explore the land beyond the coastal regions.

I began to see crossing this ‘Great Divide’ as a metaphor of a generational disconnect with technology and young people, that generation is my generation. So here are my *thoughts on the matter:

1. Mistakes in life are redeemable. Of course as parents and educators we seek to equip young people to make good choices, however, they will, from time to time make mistakes that could have a significant impact later in life. If kids are kids, as they have been down through the ages, we must also teach resilience and give them the confidence that setbacks can be overcome and not limit their potential.

2.  I am a Facebook friend to people in my community, across a range of ages. I do smile from time to time, as I read my friend’s daughter’s posts , but at least she has a good handful of responsible adults in her social network community. The best way to moderate young people’s social networking is to think of it as a community where we all belong, all ages. At our school we have a training program for parents to teach them how to use Facebook and encourage them and their wider family/community to be friends with their children. We also talk to parents about how many ‘friends’ are reasonable.

3. Speaking to my generation, that is anyone at 50, plus or minus 10 years, it’s time to get a fresh understanding of technology in our young people’s world. Back in 2007 I was interviewed by the The Australian newspaper concerning the government’s plans for Internet security, the paper quoted me:

Anne Knock, **46, of Maroubra, an executive officer with [Christian] Schools Australia, applauded the Netalert initiative as something that would protect children and “give parents tools that they can use to support their children; for kids, access to the internet is life”.

And I still believe it, even more so. Technology is a pervasive environment and social networks are real communities. Let’s adopt an approach that provides tools and empowers parents and promotes positive relationships for longevity.

*I do understand that the quotes in the newspaper were taken from a letter to the parent community, and recognized that the statements may have been taken out of context. So I am using them as a trigger for discussion.

** No longer “46 of Maroubra” – you can do the maths! And we moved in 2008.

From boulders to pebbles: How social media is growing a professional community

Many educators don’t understand the value of Twitter to their professional growth, especially how ideas of significance can be presented in only 140 characters. So I’ve asked a few of my colleagues about their social media experiences.

It’s interesting to see how the business-end of town is embracing social media. Here’s a quote from an article in FastCompany: *IDEO: Five Companies That Mastered Social Media’s Branding Potential (emphasis mine)

Social networks can breathe new life into old brands by enabling companies to build collaborative relationships with consumers like never before… The trick, a few innovators have found, is to let consumers lead the conversation.

Enabling an ordinary person to lead the conversation is a powerful element of microblogging on Twitter. In **Charles Leadbeater’s book We Think he talks about boulders and pebbles, a metaphor for the voice of the ordinary people.

Imagine surveying the media, information and cultural industries in the mid 1980s…The scene would resemble a large sandy beach, with crowds organised around a very few large boulders. These boulders were the big media companies…Now imagine the scene on this beach in five years’ time [about now, actually]. A few big boulders are still showing, but many have been drowned by the rising tide of pebbles. Some of the pebbles they drop are very small: a blog post or a comment on YouTube… A bewildering array of pebbles in different sizes, shapes and colours are being laid down the whole time, in no particular order, as people feel like it.

Let me introduce some of my colleagues – @markliddell, @Poska, @matonfender, @grant_harbor, @rethinklearn, @steve_collis, @GNav75, @misscmorrison

@GNav75 is the most recent to get on board with the microblogging idea and @steve_collis has been Tweeting since May 2008. Everybody else is somewhere in between.

I asked each of them three questions:

  • What keeps you coming back?
  • What’s been a great experience?
  • What would you say to educators who are sceptical about Twitter, or yet to embrace it as a learning tool?

Here are their answers:
What keeps you coming back?

@markliddell – The connections, the sharing, the great ideas, the innovation and the progress.
What’s been a great experience? Feeling part of the global education movement.

@Poska – Connecting, ideas, challenges, a forum to grow, investigate, learn and vent.

@matonfender – connecting with other educators who are innovating and sharing what they do.

@grant_harbor – Interesting/new ideas, challenging perspectives and my soapbox or voice does get heard!

@rethinklearn – The wealth of information, inspiration and shared passion.

@steve_collis – Relationships with other creative teachers; I want to know what they are up to and how they are going.

@GNav75 – Excellent way to tap into the latest history news (discoveries etc. are tweeted before they appear on blogs, let alone in the ‘old’ media) and also discovering great new resources and teaching ideas

@misscmorrison – I not only get professional discussion and networking, but everyday there is a new teaching idea!

What’s been a great experience?

@markliddellFeeling part of the global education movement.

@PoskaFinding resources and connecting my students to the wider world.

@matonfenderSharing about the Model UN unit I developed and hearing back from other educators about how unique it was and can we meet up to participate together in some related activities. Connecting with other teachers who want to do Project-Based-Learning and don’t know where to start. Developing global connections with other people, benefiting from

@grant_harbor Realising that there are other teachers out there that are passionate about the same things as me!

@rethinklearn Knowing there are others out there who share the same passion. Discovering and learning at my own pace and in my own time.

@steve_collis – Meeting teachers face to face who I have been conversing with on Twitter for months.

@GNav75 – Learning more about my colleagues’ interests and passions through following them on twitter.

@misscmorrison – Sharing at the #ELH conference via Twitter

What would you say to educators who are sceptical about Twitter, or yet to embrace it as a learning tool?

@markliddell: Having a Professional Learning Network (PLN) is a great learning. Twitter is one great way to build your PLN.

@Poska – It is difficult, time consuming and costly to grow a PLN by merely attending conferences. Using twitter you are connected to thousands of cutting edge educators at the click of a button.

@matonfender – Put the time aside, it’s worth it, be mentored so you know how to use it without being overloaded.

@grant_harbor – Firstly it take a little time to start but don’t give up! You don’t have to look at it every day but when you have time it’s always there to give you a rev up! Decide on what you want to tweet about and stick to that!
@rethinklearn – Creating your own PLN via Twitter is the best PD one can undertake. It is inspiring, current, ever-changing and doesn’t cost a cent!

@steve_collis – Clearly it has proven useful and inspirational for countless teachers, so it simply unobservant to be skeptical.

@GNav75 – There are many advantages. You feel connected to a wider learning community; you can access information and resources quickly; questions can be asked, dilemmas resolved. I would also add that you don’t have to tweet regularly yourself in order to get these benefits from Twitter.

@misscmorrison – Just do it!

So why not follow my colleagues and see what they have to say.


** @wethink

140 characters x 8 ways = Tweeting for purpose

I don’t really care what you had for breakfast.

I don’t have anything to say

Why would anybody follow me?

It’s just a fad!

A while ago I attended a seminar about learning, along with about 100 or so other educators. My colleagues and I are keen tweeters and we decided to take notes using the same hash tag – #bpl, which was relevant to the conference topic. It was great when we discovered that another person in the room started using the same tag. We shared a few ideas amongst us and commented on the seminar, developing a brief sense of community along the way.

I was sharing this over lunch at the seminar and a principal who then wanted to ask me about Twitter, qualified the question with the statement, “I don’t want to sound rude, but… What is the point of Twitter, I just don’t get it?” To those of us who use Twitter and enjoy the connection it brings, this is a familiar question.

As @AnneKnock my very first tweet was Finding friends on Twitter… on 26 December, 2009, 741 Tweets ago. At that stage it was a great way to connect amongst family, friends and my church community – they were doing it, so I joined in. This was, and still is, fun.

Now, a little over a year later I’m a keen Twitterer with a dual personality, I still communicate through @AnneKnock as a personal and semi-professional account, especially when I want to present my opinion on something. However, my primary account is @scil, the professional Twitter voice of Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL) which is the innovation, research and development unit within Northern Beaches Christian School

It’s important for me to be clear about the ‘voice’ that each conveys. @AnneKnock is a person and @scil is an institution and what I tweet @scil represents a number of people and the overall mission and vision of SCIL.

I answered the principal at the seminar – I like to be involved in the Twitter community because I want to connect with like-minded and passionate educators, I benefit from sharing resources and experiences and I make new friends from around the world around a common interest/cause. To use Seth Godin’s words, we are gathering a Tribe.

There are a few ways that @scil connects with the Tribe. The tweets usually fall into one of these types:

  1. Celebrating triumphs and overcoming challenges
  2. Sharing photos, videos, weblinks, great ideas and resources
  3. Circulating other people’s great ideas – RT (retweeting)
  4. Highlighting trends and developments
  5. Promoting events and opportunities
  6. Introducing a new tribe member
  7. Commencing a discussion on a topic using a hash tag – like #scil
  8. Using a hash tag at a seminar or conference to compile notes and opinions on the topic  from a range of perspectives

Great idea: I found with short video The Twitter Experiment at UT Dallas. Engaging students in a very powerful way using Twitter in class. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WPVWDkF7U8

If you’re sceptical find a friend who uses Twitter and set up an account, search for people in your professional world and just follow. It would be great to hear your feedback, so make sure you follow @scil and in 140 characters, let me know what you think.

You might just catch the bug.

Next Post: I’m asking my colleagues to tell me why they Tweet and what the professional learning network means to them.

Find out more about SCIL

Schools + Change: Resisting or embracing

Change often fails because the Rider can’t keep the Elephant on the road long enough to reach the destination.*

The journey for change at Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS) began in earnest about six years ago, when the principal, Stephen Harris, recognised a few key things:

  • The world is changing rapidly – at a pace never before seen
  • Schools must reinvent to better serve the needs of the learner
  • Too many young people were disengaged from school that reflected the industrial era model
  • The dynamic development of technology and its impact on society and learning must be recognised/harnessed/embraced

This led to a steady journey that is committed to equipping teachers, remodelling the physical environment and delivering learning in such a way that students become passionate and self-directed lifelong learners.

The Rider, the Elephant and the Path are the key elements of the Heath & Heath model for change in Switch*. Left to its own devices the Elephant is emotional, skittish, looking for a quick pay off and hungry for instant gratification. However, when the rider holds the reins and leads, providing planning and direction, working together with the Elephant’s energy and drive, change will happen.

The challenge for the Rider is that their flaws can be paralysing. If the Rider isn’t clear about direction, the Elephant will go around in circles.

What looks like resistance is often lack of clarity*

The most important thing that the Rider can do is provide crystal clear direction. Simon Sinek, author of Start with the Why** speaks about the law of diffusion of innovation (below), which shows how people respond to change. It makes me think where the term ‘Elephant’ came from. The role of the Innovator is to shift that great big hulking Early Majority and Late Majority, harnessing the support of the Early Adopters and ultimately dragging the Laggards along by their fingertips. Sinek states that the leader’s focus must be vision and the ability to communicate it and in so doing, provide crystal clear direction.


Law of Diffusion of Innovation



Heath & Heath’s framework for change gives the Rider three responsibilities:

1. Find the bright spots

There is a danger in seeing problems everywhere. The Rider needs more positive orientation – to move from problem focus to solution focus

Question: What’s working and how can we do more of it?

NBCS: Celebration – When there is a tangible shift in thinking or students success, this is shared amongst the school community and celebrated.


2. Script the critical moves

Ambiguity is the enemy of successful change. Goals must be translated into concrete behaviour and clarity dissolves resistance. The challenge for the Rider is not succumb to the temptation to script every move, just the essential ones.

Question: What are the critical moves?


NBCS: Furniture – If desks are in rows and the teacher talking from the front represents industrial-era model of school, then choice of furniture and the way it is arranged is crucial to the 21stC School. Teachers at NBCS are in no doubt about this, and considerable thought and direction is given to the physical aspects of the spaces where learning occurs.

3. Point to the destination

Show the rider where you’re headed and show the elephant why the journey is worthwhile.  Provide a picture of a future that hard work can make possible. Prepare the Rider to lead the switch and arm for ongoing struggles with her reluctant and formidable elephant.  The challenge is not to focus on the analysis of present

Question: What’s the destination?

NBCS: Vision – The principal speaks vision. Constantly. There is a buzz and excitement as teachers try new things and know that they are part of a movement that is seeking to transform schools and engage students in their learning.

* Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Switch: how to change things when change is hard (2010) Random House

** www.startwithwhy.com

Motivation: We don’t need more carrots or sharper sticks

What really motivates us to do good, meaningful, satisfying work? You may be surprised to know that science tells is it’s not just about the money. At the recent  Apple Education Leadership Summit, Dan Pink drew on the science of motivation to challenge commonly held assumptions about motivation and then outlined the three true motivators.

Outside the Charlie Brown Cafe, Singapore

Folklore or science? A study was undertaken by four economists in North America. Three groups were presented with physical and cognitive challenges with different levels of incentive. In each group the top performers would receive:

  • Small reward
  • Medium reward
  • Larger reward

What difference does a monetary reward make?

For straightforward, mechanical and rule based work – financial reward proved a motivating factor. Pink call this the ‘if/then’ motivator – same as the carrot and stick. However, for more complex, creative and conceptual tasks, if/then rewards  – financial or otherwise tangible – don’t work was well.

Much of what we are seeking for students requires greater cognitive thinking and is less mechanical –  which means the if/then rewards won’t necessarily motivate students, nor will they encourage the highest quality response.

Why do we keep getting more carrots and sharper sticks if this clearly doesn’t work? We are using folk law rather than science.

What happens when we reward an enjoyable activity?

Researchers observed children who chose to draw during their free play time at day care. The children were divided into three groups, each receiving:

  1. an expected award – draw to receive an award
  2. an unexpected award – asked if they wanted to draw, if they decided to they were handed a certificate
  3. no-award – asked if they wanted to draw, but didn’t promise a certificate at the  beginning, nor gave them one at the end

Two weeks later these children were observed at the day care centre through a one way mirrors at free play time to find children who loved drawing. The result:

  • ‘Unexpected award’ and ‘no-award’ drew just as much and with the same enthusiasm as before the experiment.
  • ‘Expected award’ showed much less interest and spent much less time drawing.

If-then rewards had a negative effect. A normally enjoyable activity had lost its joy.

It’s not just about the money

Teachers compensation is a global point of discussion. The current trend is suggesting a move to merit pay. The idea is linking teacher pay rates to student achievement.  This is only a relatively new issue, so there is only one rigorous study, undertaken in Nashville. The study commenced with two groups

  1. Ordinarily pay
  2. Pay measured against benchmarking maths scores on a scale, receiving up to $15k US bonus

It was found that the incentive had no effect on student outcomes

At what point in the creativity process do constraints become inhibitors?

Teresa Amabile, a leading researcher on creativity recruited 23 artists and asked them to select 10 commissioned and 10 non-commissioned works. Amabile gave the works to experts to review the pieces on creativity and technical skill. Their findings:

  • Commissioned & non-commissioned works were  identical in technical quality
  • Commissioned works were  significantly less creative
  • No difference in technical quality of either

Pink summarised that a few constraints are fine, but there is a point that constraints limit creativity.

In our schools there is little, if any non-commissioned work. How is this impacting creativity in schools?

What works in motivating people?

Money is definitely a motivator – so start with paying people enough to take money, as an issue, off the table. Then look at the other factors.

But what matters more than money  to encourage intrinsic motivation suggests:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose


Management is the problem. It’s an 1850s technology. “If classrooms, schools and people are managed effectively we’ll get compliance”. But more important than management is ‘engagement’. We don’t engage when we are being managed. It is only when we can achieve results under our own steam are we truly engaged. Who is the best boss you ever had? It is not usually a controlling one, but a boss who uses the language of autonomy and high standard. Compare this with best teacher you ever had.

Intrinsic motivation is at its height when we can have autonomy concerning our:

  • Time – when we do it
  • Task – what we actually do
  • Team – who we do it with
  • Technique – how we do it


This is the desire to get better, to improve. It’s satisfying and it’s fun. Biologists can’t explain the desire for mastery. It is experienced in:

  • What we were doing
  • How we feel
  • Why feel that way

Our most significant motivator is making progress at work. Do I want to come back the next day? If I am making progress I do.

People want to make progress, but progress relies on feedback and the workplace is often a feedback desert.  As an employee – does the right kind of  feedback help you with mastery? How do you think it would help your students?


Dan Pink related a story about his daughter doing her homework around the kitchen table. As a five or six year old she was excited by the grown-up concept of homework, but by 10 she couldn’t understand why. Pink was caught out by the question.

Folklore just says kids need to do homework.

This blogpost is my summary of the notes of Dan Pink’s presentation at the Apple Education Leadership Summit, 2011. As I read his book, DRiVE, I will think a little more about these concepts and share further (and briefer) thoughts from an educational context.

There are only 2 things that a leader must do…

When Martin Luther King gave that famous speech, he didn’t start with “I have a plan” but “I have a dream”. Leaders’ undeniable dual-foci must be VISION and the ability to COMMUNICATE it. That’s it. This was one of my key take-homes from the opening keynote by Simon Sinek who is leading a movement to inspire people to do the things that inspire them…start with the WHY.

This resonates deeply with me as I love to see and also help people to be engaged and passionate about what they do. I have this idealistic belief that there is a place for everyone in this jigsaw of life and if people can find their unique place in greater numbers it will make a difference in their life, their family, our community and beyond.

This weekend I have the privilege to attend the Apple Leadership Summit in Singapore. I am very grateful to Apple and our school for allowing me to attend. The conference in being held in Singapore’s School of the Arts (SOTA). For networking junkies I am in one of my optimum environments. Every time I turn around there is another person with a shared passion of reshaping learning and schools to engage passionate and lifelong learners.

As his bio in the conference blurb states, Simon Sinek writes, consults and speaks about the power of Why – the purpose, cause or belief that drives every one of us. Sinek frames his premise around that simple idea that to be a leader, we must have followers and followers, in most cases, choose to follow out of either manipulation or inspiration.

Manipulation can be seen in appealing to the ‘whats in it for me’ desires of the followers, their aspiration, or fear. There is often novelty disguised ad innovation.

Inspiration on the other hand is when a leader thinks, acts and communicates – they start with the WHY, the key aspect that distinguishes those with the capacity to inspire. Sinek drew a simple target diagram ( which I am unable to do in this WordPress app, so I will describe it for you).

WHAT is the outside circle of the target, HOW is the middle circle and WHY, the bullseye on the target diagram. Everyone knows WHAT you do, some know HOW you do it, but the most effective leaders can articulate the WHY. That’s why Martin Luther King said “I have a dream”, not “I have a plan”. He started with the WHY.

Those with the capacity to inspire thinks, acts and communicates from the inside out. Start with the WHY, to the HOW, then the WHAT. Not focusing on WHAT we do, but WHY we do it. If leaders can get this in the right order, then they can inspire inspire vision and effectively communicate it.

The clarity of WHY – what you know and believe.
The action of HOW – discipline
The consistency of WHAT – results.

Starting with the WHY shows authenticity and enables the follower to trust, risk and experiment – key elements of innovation.

According to Sinek the law of diffusion of innovation categorizes responses to innovative environments on a bell curve. On the left is the very small percentage of innovators in the world, followed by another small percentage of early adopters. This is followed by the early majority, late majority and laggers. Sinek described his parents as laggers – they only don’t have a rotation dialing phone, because you can’t buy them anymore.

‘Innovators’ and ‘Early Adopters’ and comfortable trusting their guts and will jump inboard ideas quickly. It is the two majority groups – both early and late that must be engaged to embrace innovation and this can only be achieved if they can feel it emotionally. Plans, steps, ideas are the WHATs and HOWs. These people must have the WHY inspirationally communicated.

From the conference bio about Simon Sinek: [His] unconventional and innovative views on business and leadership have attracted the attention of various high-profile international leaders and organizations and he recently became an adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world. He has written or commented for local and national press, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, NPR and BusinessWeek. Simon will relate the WHY to education: when students are inspired to do the things that inspire them, they optimize their learning