Schools + change: the elephant is definitely in the room

In the Heath & Heath* metaphor for change the biggest thing to shift is the elephant. A very small rider atop a huge hulking elephant can direct it down the path, but the elephant must actually take the steps. The Heath brothers suggest a process ‘Motivate the Elephant’:

–        Find the feeling

–        Shrink the change

–        Grow your people

As I have written previously, the process of change at Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS) has been strategic and deliberate in moving toward developing a learning environment that seeks to engage students so they are equipped to tackle the challenges and leverage the opportunities of a changed global environment.

The mission of SCIL (R&D centre located within NBCS) is Lead the Change. When educators visit the school they can see for themselves the outcomes of the forward thinking and vision-led leadership of the principal, Stephen Harris. Yet, just like the figurative ‘elephant in the room’ – the significant change that the school community has undertaken is not always evident at first glance. Our visitors see uniquely designed learning spaces, colourful and unconventional school furniture and students motivated and engaged in their learning, but the tipping point in making the change in practice across the school has been the immense work to changing the mindsets of the school community.

How did the leadership of the school manage to positively impact teachers and effectively bring them on this journey of change?

Find the feeling – At NBCS everyone is a learner and in the C21st School the teachers are learners alongside the students. A culture of learning is just one aspect of the change journey, however, it has been a crucial mindset to establish. Systems and processes in the school reinforce and heighten the significant role of the teacher as experts in learning.

Shrink the change – It is tempting for anyone who visits to seek to radically reinvent their own school overnight, yet this will be unsustainable. Teaching is a complex and demanding role. If teachers are forced to make wholesale changes in a short space of time, then it just won’t stick. As an example of one aspect, NBCS has the ‘open space learning’ model in place. Yet for the critics, this is cyclical, it was tried and then it failed in the ‘70s and then in the 80s – why should 2011 be any different? Why? Because the world is very different, technology is pervasive and young people need schools to step up. The change has been shrunk at NBCS  through embarking on a collegiate and collaborative approach with incremental success, acknowledging and celebrating milestones.

Grow your people – As the school grew in numbers and in its changing approach to learning, teachers were provided ample opportunities to grow. Each Monday afternoon the NBCS Professional Learning Community (PLC) kicks into session. This is a non-negotiable part of the school week for staff. From 3.30 – 5pm a variety of workshops are offered, primarily presented by staff at NBCS. All professional learning must be true to the schools values – meaningful, engaging, personalised and collaborative. Staff at NBCS are given opportunity to develop PLCs for their peers, and SCIL Associates regularly submit conference papers in their field of expertise. It is encouraging to overhear passionate professional conversations between teachers intent on taking responsibility for their own growth.

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


How can you help the elephant to change? Shape the path

Travel is one of my passions, especially cities. I love being where the people are, negotiating my way around a city, perhaps a in language I’m unfamiliar  with (embarrassing my family in the process) and imagining what it would be like to live there.

When I play this imagination game, life in the city, be it Venice, London or Copenhagen, is so much more glamorous in my mind than it would be in reality. So often when we return, I try to cook what I’ve eaten or proudly place a keepsake that serves as a memory trigger. But it is never quite the same.  That’s because I live in Australia and not Venice, nor London or Copenhagen and Australia’s journey is vastly different.

My work is very interesting and unique. I am privileged to host many passionate educators from around the world who seek to transform learning in their context and decide to come to Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS) to see what’s happening here. My role is with SCIL* the school’s research and development centre and I am their point of contact and seek to make their visit as productive as possible. Many are interested in the school’s focus on learning, the place of technology and learning spaces, yet they seem to leave with so much more. But like my travel imagination, the context at NBCS is usually different from their own and what visitors see today is the fruit of a deliberate and strategic process of change that has occurred over the last six or seven years.

Unconventional Furniture


The external and visible elements such as open spaces for learning, somewhat unconventional furniture for a school, mobile-desks-caddies for teachers and students working independently on a Blooms/Gardners learning matrix are not elements that can easily be picked up and replicated in a new setting without the contextual elements being addressed. But taking a few steps back can make these transitions successful – they are part of a greater process, parts in a strategy.

Smart Caddies: For teachers on the move


As I mentioned in the previous post, the approach presented by Chip and Dan Heath** serves as a bite-sized model that supports the process of change. The three parts of the model are:

  1. Direct the Rider – provide crystal clear direction
  2. Motivate the Elephant – engage people’s emotional side
  3. Shape the Path – adjust the environment or situation to make the change inevitable.

Each is critical to the process, but often the neglected part is shaping the environment. There is much discussion on importance of providing direction and bringing people along the way, however, we will achieve greater success is the path that the elephant takes is made clear and obstacles removed or overcome.

The Heath Brothers identified three parts to shaping the path:

–        Tweak the environment

–        Build habits

–        Rally the herd

Each of these has been significant in the journey that the principal, Stephen Harris, has taken over the past few years.  Here’s some examples:

Tweak the environment – introduce furniture for learning spaces that doesn’t look like school furniture and teachers can’t default to rows of desks; no teachers desks in classrooms, ‘Smart Caddies’ give teachers mobility and inter-faculty connections build. They also replicate the mobility of life and work today.

Build habits – Change itself has become a habit, a part of life at NBCS; PD for staff is held  every Monday afternoon and is an integral part of the weekly routine; digitally based systems for communication ensure staff familiarity with using technology.

Rally the herd – Present all-staff PD in a way that is consistent with the values of learning: personalised, engaging, meaningful, valuable and fun. Celebrate achievement regularly, Teaching teams connect as they plan and learn essential habits of collaboration and teamwork that is modelled to the students

This is very consistent with the culture at NBCS. Change is implemented subtly, almost organically. There is much to learn about the process here for any organisation, not just for schools.


Professional development at SCIL



*Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning

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

Schools + Change = How do you eat an elephant?

…One bite at a time.

When I started school it was the mid-1960s. I remember the controversy over Miss Crackenthorpe’s mini-skirt and her overall personification of the fashion of the Swinging Sixties. As a little girl I was in awe. I also vividly remember school life, the way that the classroom was arranged, learning ‘social studies’, spelling lists and reading, especially “Look at Spot” and “See Spot run” and the smells, particularly squashed banana.

One particular teacher, I remember in primary school, arranged us in rows according to our place in the class. I came about 6th, so I was positioned in the back left corner, pity help those at the “bottom of the class”, they were right at the teacher’s desk, where she actually spent a lot of her time.

School was fiercely steeped in the industrial era, cookie-cutter thinking and reflected the way that work was organised. At school:

–        The teacher did the teaching and determined what was to be learnt

–        The textbook was the curriculum

–        There was only one working/learning style

–        Only the best student work was displayed

–        Students learnt alone

–        Teachers had their own classroom

–        Didactic teaching was the norm

–        For every student there was a desk and for every desk there was a chair

–        Performing arts and sport were extra-curricula to the real work of schools

–        Buildings were designed with separated closed spaces along a corridor

–        Corridors provided the focus  linking the repeated, regular sized classrooms

–        Books were kept in libraries, which were protected by librarians

This list and elements may still characterise some schools today. Yet we live in a different era where pervasive technology and the breadth of career and life choices has necessitated change in how schools are designed and the learning that occurs, and as  *Marc Prensky highlights in ‘Engage Me or Enrage Me – What Today’s Learners Demand’ (Prensky, 2005,p.2):

Rather than being empowered to choose what they want … and to see what interests them … and to create their own personalized identity – as they are in the rest of their lives – in school, they must eat what they are served. And what they are being served is, for the most part, stale, bland, and almost entirely stuff from the past. Yesterday’s education for tomorrow’s kids.

So we want tomorrow’s education for tomorrow’s kids. But how? The process of change in schools and education is akin to turning around the proverbial ocean liner. Where do we start?

Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to change things when change is hard (2010) presents a bite-sized model that supports the process of change, drawing from The Happiness Hypothesis used by psychologist Jonathan Haidt:

Our emotional side is like an Elephant and our rational side is like its Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the rider holds the reins and seems to be the leader. But the Rider’s control is precarious because the Rider is so small compared to the Elephant. Anytime the six-ton Elephant and the Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose… Changes often fail because the Rider [planning and direction] simply can’t keep the Elephant [energy to endure] on the road long enough to reach the destination. (p. 7)

The Heath brothers have a basic three-part framework for change:

  1. Direct the Rider – provide crystal clear direction
  2. Motivate the Elephant – engage people’s emotional side
  3. Shape the Path – adjust the environment or situation to make the change inevitable.

How can this model be directly applied to the school context. You will have to wait for the next post.

*Quote lifted from:


Queensland Floods: One story, one couple, an inspiration

As a departure from my normal theme I thought I’d share the story of D1 and D2, salt-of-the-earth Aussie battlers who were hit by the ‘severe weather events’ that characterised summer in Australia this year.

They'll make it.


D1 moved to Queensland to start afresh about 20 years ago. D&D married later in life, a tough life, but they are absolutely committed and devoted to one another. D1 is my husband’s brother, my brother-in-law. He’s greatly loved by our two sons. His sign-off from our too-infrequent phone calls is always “love youse all!”

As we watched the rains and then floods in Queensland, Google maps showed that Fernvale looked like it was close to a big body of water – that body of water was the Wivenhoe Dam. So as it reached an unbelievable 190% it was likely that this body of water would impact quiet residential areas, and it did and D&D lost pretty much everything.

Back in December the invitation to D1’s 65th arrived. In the past 12 months he had overcome bowel cancer and been through chemo and was coming out the other side. The invitation said, “Please come and help Dave celebrate LIFE!”

Our first response was to say a resounding “yes”. When our sons were married D1 always made the effort to come down to Sydney

Bill showing the water high mark in D&D's backyard

,for their wedding,  it was the least we could do. So that week we booked our flight for 5 February to celebrate life with D&D.


Of course, the party was cancelled because there was no home to hold it in, but we were going anyway. So instead of the 42degrees of Sydney as the climax of the longest heatwave in history last Saturday, we were basking in the relative coolness of Brisbane at 34degrees.

We arrived with armfuls of groceries and other goodies, along with a gift from friends who were so touched by D&D’s story from my Tweets in January, that they sent me a not-insignificant gift to just show them that people cared and wanted to do something tangible.

We knew that while stoic, D&D were actually struggling, it’s been incredibly tough. People’s kindness would just undo them. In particular, D2 was so overwhelmed by our friends’ gift, “These people don’t even know us.” This wasn’t the first kindness that D&D had received. They have been blessed by kindness, and likewise, they are paying it forward. Their neighbour’s house isn’t liveable, so of course, as soon as D&D’s house is, then their neighbours are moving in.

The kitchen in the carport


The frustrating thing for many people in Queensland is the insurance dilemma. One neighbour will have insurance cover from their policy, the next just won’t – same water, same flood. The insurance company has criticised D&D for working on their house. I don’t know about you, but if my house was washed away, my dignity could begin to be restored by getting stuck in by cleaning it up and making it a home again  – and then sharing it with my neighbour who’s house still isn’t.

Force of the water pushed the fence over


We were encouraged by stories of perseverance and courage that so often come out of events such as these. It is in the midst of adversity that great strength and community come to the fore. We know that D&D will be OK. They are determined to be.


Says it all, really.



Professional development that gives voice

How do you engage more than 100 teachers, ranging from K-12 and across the faculties? The un-conference is the solution. There are no formal presenters, no PowerPoint presentations and no agenda, other than one big important question that is relevant to everyone. Here is what some teachers said at the end of the day:

  • This is a really engaging way to start the year
  • I enjoyed the option today of taking today where our passions are
  • Productive and practical
  • Format was amazing
  • I enjoyed sitting next to and talking to people I don’t normally see
  • Our ideas are valued

Over the past 10 years Northern Beaches Christian School (NBCS) has undergone significant change, addressing People, Places and Pedagogy. The school has a reputation for

  • Facilitating pedagogy that engages and excites our students as life-long learners
  • Shaping the places and spaces for learning that enable and support the pedagogy
  • Ongoing and regular professional development that equips teachers to meet the challenges of 21stC learning

We are constantly exploring how to effectively deliver and engage our teachers in professional learning that is meaningful to their work and consistent with our own values. But how can we encourage and direct our people to develop in their teaching practice and then put them through didactic lectures for our in-house PD?

Last year we discovered an approach called Open Space Technology, developed in the 1980s by Harrison Owen which has been in used in a wide variety of contexts. The approach has successfully engaged groups of between 5 and 2000 people and harnesses the knowledge, expertise and experience of everyone who’s there, not only relying on the wisdom of a handful of expert presenters.

Here is a broad overview of the process: 

With the participants seated in a circle the process is described and a significant question is presented.

Any participant can choose to facilitate a discussion around a topic which is briefly presented to the group and posted  on the ‘Marketplace’. Venues are assigned to each workshop and the participants peruse the marketplace to see which discussion will interest them in the workshop sessions.

Between 30 minutes to an hour is allocated for the workshops and during this time groups discuss and record their key points on large sheets of paper, which are displayed in the main space.

The final workshop for the day is an opportunity to take action. A similar process is undertaken, however, in this session each workshop is a call to action on topics that enthuse and inspire. Again, action points are discussed and written up.

At the close of the day, before the space is closed, there is a time for participants to reflect and share key ideas or take-aways. The notes are then typed up and distributed and key ideas prioritised for implementation.

At the staff conference before the start of the academic year we engaged our entire staff, all 140, around a question that asked:

What great ideas do you have to enhance the learning culture at NBCS in 2011?

12 workshop spaces were set up around the precinct of our main auditorium. The ideas generated ranged from…

How can we use every day experiences to promote learning in science?


Identifying sites for visual arts display/exhibition, both internal and external across the campus.

This web 2.0 world means that we can all contribute. The web is no longer pushing information out to me, I can and do upload my ideas to the world. In a similar way the Open Space approach gives voice to the people in your school and recognizes the value and contribution that each individual brings.

Raising everybody’s game: Teacher quality essential for effective learning

The most significant impact on student achievement is teacher quality. From the many hundred of research studies focusing on the importance of teachers for student achievement, two key findings emerge*:

  1. Teachers are very important; no other aspect of schools is nearly as important in determining student achievement
  2. It has not been possible to identify any specific characteristics of teachers that are reliably related to student outcomes. From this international study this includes: salary rates, experience (After about five years in the profession), certification or qualifications.

Dylan Wiliam believes that teaching could be improved through very simple methods, as reported in The Guardian** this week.

Instead of relying on grandiose policy initiatives we should be raising teachers’ skills. Wiliam, “teaching guru”. He doesn’t mean:

–        Recruiting better qualified teachers, since there is no correlation between effectiveness and qualifications

–        Weeding out a small minority if “incompetent teachers”, which wouldn’t affect most children’s education

Instead, raise everybody’s game. The most effective changes are cheap, low-tech changes that will improve teachers’ lessons.

Wiliam’s ideas were presented in a two-hour peak time documentary The Classroom Experiment which was broadcast on BBC 2 in September 2010, and described as “utterly gripping”. The program contained the elements of his educational thinking, product of 25 years research. These include:

Ban “Hands up”: answers always come from the same students and the teacher has no idea whether the others understand anything.,


–        Write each child’s name on a lollipop stick (Aus: paddlepop stick, US: popsicle stick) and pick at random the ones to answer the question

–        Tell students to hold up answers on mini-whiteboards which give a snapshot of what the whole class is doing

–        Hand out green, amber and red paper cups. Children can hold up to show that they understand what you’re telling them, find it difficult or haven’t a clue.

Stop awarding grades each time a student hands in work: Make constructive comments to ensure children read and act on them.

“We’re addicted to grades. I’ve got nothing against grades at the end of the school year. But telling students after every piece of work that they are at levels 5 or 6 or whatever, is bizarre, perverse.  The national curriculum levels were meant to be descriptions of the totality of achievement over an entire key stage, not judgement on individual pieces of work.”

Assessments should be part of a conversation with students that helps teachers decide where the lesson should go next. It should be “assessment for learning” not “assessment of learning”.

Assessment: “I was talking to a teacher recently who, instead of putting comments on students’ essays, wrote them on strips of paper, got the students in groups and them asked them to match the comments to the essays. A delightful twist, which re-engages students in their learning. I’m constantly surprised by teachers’ ingenuity.

Teacher-based learning communities: Teachers meet regularly to discuss the development of formative assessment and related ideas, putting together the right combinations of ideas and support for teachers. It can’t be done at teacher training as it involves high-level pedagogical skills, which can only be developed when controlling a classroom.

Looking at things from the learner’s point of view: “I’ll buy video equipment to shoot things in classrooms. I want to train students to do videos from the learner’s point of view. I envisage students and teachers working collaboratively on school improvement, rather than treating it as something teachers do to students.”

Who is Dylan Wiliam?

He was a semi-professional musician who dedicated himself to teaching after he realised he couldn’t make a living from occasional gigs in pubs. He found he was then enjoying teaching more. Because he taught maths, a “shortage subject”, Wiliam enjoyed a rapid rise. From Deputy Head of Maths to research at Chelsea College, London. A lectureship in mathematics education followed, then became Dean of the school of education. Until recently Deputy Director at the London University Institute.

Now that “I can match my present salary on just 40 days consultancy a year” Wiliam can envisage a future as a freelance, self-financing academic.


*The Economic Value of Higher Teacher Quality, Eric A Hanushek, National Bureau of Economic Research, Dec 2010

** The Teaching Guru us Optimistic About Education, The Guardian, 18 January 2011. For the full article:


Australian schools: From Good to Great…and then maybe Excellent! Learning from Singapore

“As the skills of educators rose, we needed to change our approach in how we managed them. We could no longer prescribe what they did, we had to treat them like professionals who had good judgement, knew the students well and could make their own decisions.”

Encourage peer-led creativity and collaboration of professional educators through loosening of centralised guidelines for teaching and learning.

I’ve been reading McKinsey latest report on schools – How the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better*, an analysis of 20 systems from around the world, all with improving but differing levels of performance, examining how each has achieved significant, sustained, and widespread gains in student outcomes, as measured by international and national assessments.

Australia has been ranked Good** and our progress has remained stable. Just good, not great and definitely not excellent. Singapore is at the top of the list of sustained improvers within the study.

The four performance levels for school systems in the report are:

  • Poor to Fair: Achieving the basics of literacy and numeracy
  • Fair to Good: Getting the foundations in place
  • Good to Great: Shaping the profession
  • Great to Excellent: Improvement through peers and innovation

The report shows that the journey from good to great recognises the higher skills of educators and the need to decentralise pedagogical rights to schools and teachers. Singapore decreased central guidelines on teaching and learning, moved from rigid prescription to greater flexibility as the system performance rose.

So here is a 40 year snapshot of Singapore’s journey to excellence:

1959 – 1978: Survival driven

This period focused on an enrolment place for every child and was a time of massive building work. For a time one new school was built each month. Singapore achieved universal primary education, however 30% did not progress to secondary. English proficiency was low and educational wastage high.

1979 – 1996: Efficiency driven

“Our challenge was how to achieve above average outcome from below average inputs.”

During this stage streaming was introduced to reduce dropout rates and ease the burden on teachers.

The Curriculum Development Institute was created in 1980 to develop a suite of supporting materials for teachers. The same off-the-shelf resources were used by all teachers. Teaching was highly prescriptive with a mass-production mindset – textbook bound and examination driven.

The late 1980s saw the introduction of school formats with greater autonomy. Independent schools were established in 1988 and autonomous schools in 1994. And thus began the move from rigid prescription to greater autonomy.

By 1995 Singapore was among the top-performing school systems in the world and in 1996 the Curriculum Development Institute closed its doors as it was “no longer needed”.

1997 – Present: Ability driven

In 1997  Singapore Government launched “Thinking Schools Learning Nation” (TSLN). This saw a shift in focus to enable students to reach the maximum of his or her potential. Schools were given much greater flexibility and responsibility for how they should teach and manage their students, such as:

  • Freedom in classroom practice
  • Principal decision rights in school management matters
  • Introduced school clusters to create peer forums for leadership development and sharing effective practice
  • Changed school inspection model to a more collaborative focus on self-assessment and quality assurance
  • Intensive work to strengthen the calibre of teachers
  • System in place to accommodate three career tracks: Leadership, Teaching, Senior Specialist
  • Narrowed recruitment to the top third of each graduating cohort
  • Expanded PD to 100hours/year
  • Created mentorship pairing for school leaders
  • Strengthened networks of Professional Learning Communities where teachers collaborate, review and improve practice.

“Prescribe adequacy, unleash greatness”.

What can we learn for schools in Australia? If we want to move from good to great it is time for change:

More – professional collaboration and learning, coaching and mentorship, school autonomy and attracting the top graduates to the profession.

Less – prescriptive curricula, centralised control, and one size fits all.

Finland took 25 years and Singapore 40 years. It won’t take Australia that long, as we have already made significant gains.

Good to great, great to excellent? Yes we can.


** PISA units score cut off – Good 480-520. Australia is represented within a stable cohort of 43 systems not used in the sample,

Creating an [online] impression… its not all bad!

This blog is fun to write, as it gives me an outlet for my thoughts and ideas and I’m very grateful that you take the time to read it. I do get excited when I look at the stats.  In December I had my most views to the blog in one day (30th) at 25 and 141 for the month. Now I know this is an amoeba compared to the Huffington Post which has 28,000,000 – Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors*.

Interestingly, the hits outside the day of the posting usually come from searches that led people to, these have included:

great change in emotions

factory work in 1900s Australia

1950’s office layout with workers

women going to work in the 1900

These people gained a first impression from something that I wrote weeks or months ago without ever having met me in person. The online potential of the first impression is out of control.  Many cautionary tales been written about this, but there is also much to be gained from creating the right online impression.

In the SMH | My Career section in yesterday’s edition there was a great article called ‘Mind your manners’ by Kim Kind.  She writes that when social media is used in the right way it can help candidates stand out from the crowd. Here are a few points from the article:

  • A student liked to Tweet about her studies. When she was employed as a graduate in a consulting firm, she continued to be active on Twitter and to promote her new organisation. Her ability to promote the firm and how great it was to work there had given her an excellent profile at the highest level of management.
  • If you are able to write with authority and intelligence about a topic connected to your profession, tweeting or blogging can attract attention and help build a network**
  • Discussing a blog you’ve been writing can make a positive impression in an interview and position you as someone proactive
  • Joining groups in your field of interest on social networking can also help build your profile
  • Google the names of high-profile people in your industry to see if they are on Twitter or LinkdIn, join the same groups as them. It’s really about getting to know where the people are that you want to work with and joining in their conversations**

A word of caution: You wouldn’t risk your professional brand by being inauthentic across a table from a potential employer – why would you do it online?

Start writing, start blogging, actively Tweet, join a professional network and connect…and be authentic. You will learn so much and never know who you might meet or where the adventure may take you.

*According to the eBizMBA Rank – Top 15 Most Popular Blogs, Jan 2011

** Anne Bartlett-Bragg,  Managing Director, Headshift. Quoted in ‘Mind your Manners’ by Kim Kind


A New Year commitment to professionalism: the 4 Ms of the ethical professional… from Gardner’s 5 Minds for the Future

What comes to mind when we think of the ‘professional’?






Over Australian summer I am reading and contemplating Howard Gardner’s book 5 Minds for the Future. He asserts that there are five minds that we each need to master that the fast-paced future demands*:

  • Disciplined mind
  • Synthesising mind
  • Creating mind
  • Respectful mind
  • Ethical mind

The chapter on the Ethical Mind challenged me to think about what it means to be a ‘professional’. Gardner describes the professional as: Committed individuals who embody an ethical orientation in their work*

He explains that professionals are a highly trained group of workers who perform an important service for society. The professional undertakes good work which is:

  • Excellent: quality, highly disciplined
  • Responsible: implications for the wider community
  • Engaging: meaningful, provides sustenance even under challenging conditions

A good worker must have an ethical mind: Serving in an impartial manner and exercising prudent judgement under complex circumstances, professionals are accorded status and autonomy*. The word ‘professional’ goes hand-in-hand with ‘ethical’.

A professional is ethical, she has a set of values and principles that are each consistent and “they sum to a reasonably coherent whole.” A good worker is transparent and will adhere to values and principles even when they go against their own self-interest.

Gardner states that teachers serve as crucial role models.  We have probably rarely stopped to consider that at school, students are involved in their very first and greatly impacting ‘work experience’. Think about that, not only are we teaching students, but they are picking up habits of, and attitudes toward, working life.

Are you committed to carrying out ‘good work’ and willing to keep on trying to achieve that end when the going gets tough? Here are Gardner’s four ‘M’s to becoming a professional in the ethical sense of the term, signposts to the achievement of good work:

  1. Mission: What are you trying to achieve by your activities? Identify your values, principles and goals and stick to them.
  2. Models: Are you exposed to individuals who embody good work? Learn from them, whether in person or through reading their work.
  3. Mirror-test – individual version: Honest self-evaluation. Look in the mirror and assess whether you are proceeding in ways that contributes to your mission. Two tests of your achievements:  Would your mother approve? If the editor of a newspaper printed it would you be ashamed or proud?
  4. Mirror-test – professional responsibility:  There comes a time where it is necessary to call colleagues to account, should they behave in ways that are unprofessional.

As you commence this New Year, renew your commitment to professionalism. Undertake good work that is excellent, responsible and engaging.

*Gardner, Howard, (2008) 5 minds for the future, Harvard Business Press, Mass

I am sharing some key ideas from the book at


This morning I read “Global lessons from Finland’s schoolrooms” by Pasi Sahlberg…

“Finland has a different approach to student testing and how test data can or should not be used. Finnish children never take a standardized test”

Since I was a child I have taken pride in my Finnish heritage. In the first decade of last century my grandfather came from Finland on a clipper, jumped ship in Sydney and fell in love with the woman who was to become my maternal grandmother.

So as a child, encouraged by my mother I cheered for Finland in the winter (and often summer) Olympics and any other sporting match where Australia wasn’t a player, I had a doll dressed in national costume and began a lifelong friendship with my second cousin, Kaija, which continues to today. A few years ago my husband and I visited Finland and spent New Year with Kaija and her family, and we stood on a frozen lake with fireworks where it was -26°C. At that time I also discovered my Finnish roots through enjoying the exhilaration of the sauna.

Now, as I represent the educational community, I have a renewed sense of pride as Finland has established an international reputation for educational achievement of her students. This morning I read an opinion piece in the International Herald Tribune online about Finland’s achievement in the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) study.

The article “Global lessons from Finland’s schoolrooms” is written by Pasi Sahlberg, director general of the Centre for International Mobility and Cooperation at Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture and a former World Bank education specialist.

Pasi Sahlberg makes a number of observations:

25 years ago (which isn’t that long) Finnish students were below international average in maths and science and there were significant learning differences between urban/affluent/rural/low income

Finland is one of the few nations that have accomplished both a high quality of learning and equity at the same time. Students do well regardless of socio-economic background.

Finnish students never take standardised tests

Standardised tests are not used to compare teachers and schools to one another

All teachers are required to have higher academic degrees that guarantee both high-level pedagogical skills and subject knowledge

Teachers, students and parents are all involved in assessing and deciding how well schools, students and teachers do what they are supposed to do.

Politicians and administrators are informed about how well the education works by using sample-based learning test.

Finland has created an inspiring and respectful environment in which teachers work

Parents and authorities hold teachers with the same confidence as doctors

Teachers in Finland work as autonomous professionals and attracts some of the most able and talented young people into the teaching profession.

When I have met Finnish relatives I regularly quiz them about the education their own children received and their anecdotal comments back up the points made here. In addition, children don’t start school in Finland until they are seven years old. They do go to preschool, but this has a strong ‘play’ focus, without formalised pre-reading and pre-numeracy activities.

It’s time to start thinking about schools, the teaching profession, curriculum and assessment differently. We could achieve a lot in 25 years… maybe in less time if we can learn from what Finland has already done.