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.

 

The final word on making an impression: Reinventing that negative first impression

If a first impression makes such an impact, can a negative one be turned around? Well, of course the first impression can’t be changed, but the message I have conveyed about myself can be reinvented, but this is a little harder.

Do you remember a time when you tried so hard to impress your new colleagues that it backfired?

Did the New Years Eve party photos make it to a friend’s public Facebook page?

Maybe you bumped into someone when you were having a bad day?

Or maybe, just culturally, things are done differently.

I started Year 10 at a new school. It was the late ‘70s, I came from the beaches to the ‘burbs and it was the era of ‘Puberty Blues’ (and I came from Cronulla). Blonde, tanned and the shortest school uniform you were likely to see. Regardless of reputation, it was just how you dressed when you lived at the beach. And as what normally happens when you start a new school, you cycle through a few groups of friends until you find the ones that you feel comfortable with and they feel comfortable with you.


After a few months, with a great bunch of friends, one candidly said to me, “you’re not at all what I thought you were like when you first arrived at our school.”

These things do happen, even unknowingly, and can put us on a negative footing. I’ve heard it said that it takes 12 good impressions to erase one bad. So before you go counting interactions and schmoozing that new boss, co-worker or potential mother-in-law, here is a more helpful way to look at it.

Build your track record.

I heard a speaker, a number of years ago make a distinction between being judgemental and looking at a person’s track record.

It can be slow, it doesn’t involve schmoozing, it is about being yourself and building the correct reputation through friendliness, having a can-do attitude and applying the four key elements of a first impression:

Visual impression

Body language

Vocal usage

Language

It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. Then maybe someone will say to you, “you’re not at all what I thought you were like when we first met.”

Women hold up half the sky*, so how can I make sure I’m carrying my load?

It is with a degree of trepidation that I venture into this thought-territory, but I think as a 21st Century woman I have a responsibility to this emerging generation of women. The business and the not-for-profit sector would directly benefit from great women in positions of responsibility, but we (the women-folk) can also be better prepared for these roles, through formal and informal training, coaching and mentoring.

NGOs in countries that suffer from extreme poverty, religious fundamentalism and general chaos, see women and girls that are uneducated and marginalised. Yet it is commonly acknowledged that to change the future of these nations is to focus on women and girls as a crucial means to fight global poverty and extremism. As New York Times** put it, women aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.

It is so easy for us in the so-called developed world to become complacent, yet we aren’t so good gender balance either. I just listened to the TED talk by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO entitled Why we have too few women leaders. In the US women comprise 13% of parliament and have 15% representation on for-profit boards and 20% on not-for-profit boards.

There is now research that tells us of the benefits of women in leadership positions:

Correlation between high number of female senior executives and stronger financial performance (McKinsey)

Three women or more on a board makes a defining difference (Fortune 1000)

Fortune 500 companies with more women on their boards turned in better financial performances than those with fewer female directors (2007 Catalyst Report)

Companies with gender diversity outperformed their sector in terms of return on equity, operating result and stock price growth (McKinsey)

And in Australia’s top 200 companies only 8% of key executives and directors are women  (2007 Catalyst Report)

So what can each of us personally do, at least within our own sphere of influence?

Sheryl Sandberg offers three very practical points:

  1. Sit at the table. We tend to underestimate our capabilities. So when offered opportunities to participate, engage and shine.
  2. Make your partner [spouse] a real partner. Couples with equal earning and equal responsibility have half the divorce rate.
  3. Don’t leave before you leave. We often make plans far in advance and quietly back away instead of maintaining the momentum until it’s time to leave (such as maternity leave).

In any situation in life there are things we can do and others beyond our control. I can’t personally make an immense difference to the top companies in Australia or around the globe, but I can improve my own skills and encourage and mentor other women.

What can you do? (At least watch the TED Talk)

*Old Chinese saying

** Saving the World’s Women, 17 Aug 2009, nytimes.com/2009/8/23/23Women-t.html

Time to think inside the box

The other day my artist friend, Leanne, tweeted: Structure releases creativity.

I replied to Leanne: Agreed. I think true creativity comes when we actually think inside the square, that we take it to the edge, but within limits.

Leanne tweeted back: Yep, I feel freer to paint now with the sound principles I’ve learned than when I was free to paint anything but had no guidelines.

So now it’s time to start the radical Think inside the box movement. Originally the phrase “think outside the box” came from the nine dots puzzle, to link all dots with four straight lines, while not lifting the pen. The only way to can be solved is to extend the lines beyond the square of the puzzle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More commonly now, thinking outside the box, or the square, is viewed as lifting the lids or constraints and exploring unchartered space.

 

 

 

 

But it can be a flawed premise for creative thinking.

Paola Antonelli, curator of design at Museum of Modern Art in New York told the New York Times:

What designers do really well is work within constraints, work with what they have

How can design, innovation and creativity sit comfortably with the word “constraint”? In fact, limitations, restrictions and requirements are in the DNA of the design challenge.  Constraints can make the creative process more difficult, but set parameters will guide and provide a sense of purpose and direction.

Too much freedom, it turns out, actually can be one of the worst constraints for a designer notes George Kembel, co-founder of Stanford University d.school design program. He explains further, what’s interesting is that if you give someone an unbounded challenge and say, ‘You can design whatever you want, with no restrictions,’ it then becomes too hard to find a place to get your footing.

One final example, Yves Behar, Swiss industrial designer who is responsible for XO Laptop: For me, it is a big part of what makes design exciting. If someone says to me, ‘We’ve got to design an $100 laptop, and no one has done this before and in order to get there we’re going to have to approach this problem completely differently’ – as soon as I hear that, I start believing we are going to do it.

So embrace the constraints of creative thinking and join me in the think inside the box movement, the place where creativity, design and innovation can really shine.

Reference: Quotes and references to Antonelli, Kembel and Behar are taken from Glimmer: How design can transform your life, and maybe even the world (2009) Warren Berger and featuring the ideas and wisdom of design visionary Bruce Mau

Do you want to see Leanne’s art? Look here…http://leanne1966.wordpress.com/

The pressure is on (me): The 4 elements of making a great first impression

The impression I make in any situation reflects the effect I have on people and also the feelings I leave with them about me. Ideally, I want to make an impression that is positive and lasting and one that can potentially influence a network of people, and also build my reputation.

Imagine this scenario: You are about to enter a room where the first impression counts and this particular situation is crucial to your future or your organisation’s success.

It may be…

  • A job interview
  • Pitching for a contract
  • As the customer service frontline face (voice) of your organisation
  • A keynote speaker at a conference
  • Meeting your new boss and co-workers, your child’s new teacher or your potential in-laws

Each of these relationships will be much easier to manage in the longer term if there is a positive first impression. There are parts of these situations that I can control and other parts that are out of my control.

I have two married sons. Their wives are the most amazing young women, I love them as my own daughters. When I was their age many of my friends didn’t have particularly positive or natural relationships with their in-laws. So when each of my sons introduced a new friend to my husband and I we were very conscious of the impression we wanted to make – warm, welcoming, accepting. This girl could potentially be with our family for life, so we made a decision to trust our son’s judgement  and like the girl. We were all making a crucial first, and potentially lasting, impression, but I could only take responsibility for my part.

Brent and Dent in A Leaders guide to influence: How to use soft skills to get hard results (2010), summarise the process like this:


Question: What do I focus on when I need to make an impact with a positive impression?

Answer: Those that I can control. The four elements of a positive impression

It may be considered superficial, but these elements can impact the way we are received.

  1. Visual impression: I generally choose to dress with the ‘audience’ in mind, that is, whoever I may meet that day and the impression I would like to convey, I call it “one level up”. I feel more self-conscious and uncomfortable being under-dressed, than over-dressed. Of course I wear jeans on “Casual Friday” at work, but they will be in very good condition. Generally speaking, the visual impression that people receive will be impacted by your personal grooming, they way you carry yourself and your facial expressions.
  2. Body language: Once we have the ‘packaging’ right our unspoken communication is probably more powerful than we probably realise and a walking advertisement of what we are thinking or feeling. Posture, gesture, facial expression and eye contact can give away information about us, and can also let people know our intentions.
  3. Language we use: The power of the words we use shouldn’t be underestimated. They should be clear, appropriate, direct, descriptive and relevant. Generally, I try to think ahead and plan some common threads of conversation.
  4. Vocal usage:  It’s not just what we say but how we say it. HR training for customer service staff recommends using musical elements to convey interest, helpfulness and sincerity. This includes accent, pitch, pace, pause, rhythm, volume and resonance.  We can train our voices to be more receptive.  (http://h2training.com/telephone_tips.pdf)

The impression I make, focusing on these four elements, is successful if I am above all else comfortable with being myself. When I am at ease  the other person will also feel more at ease.

They say we only have one opportunity to make a first impression, which is true, but there are times when we need to resurrect a relationship when the first impression didn’t quite go as planned (or occurred before you read this blog post). So how have you turned around a crucial relationship when it got off to a bad start?

 

You have 7 seconds*: The right impression

About 15 years ago I applied for a teaching job. I had been at my school about eight years and felt I needed a change. After forwarding my written application I was grateful to receive an interview. As the principal showed me to the door at the conclusion of the interview, I will never forget his comment, “Thanks for coming, I really appreciated your sense of humour.” I knew immediately that I created the wrong impression and wouldn’t get the job. I even remember how casually I sat in the chair, I guess I was just having a chat. I gave the wrong impression.

A few years later I applied for another (similar) teaching job, along with 200 other applicants. This time I was successful, securing one of the three positions on offer.

What made the difference? I created the right impression. On both accounts my written application did its job and landed an interview, but on the second occasion I presented in such a way that I was able to convey who I was, show my suitability for the role and the school, and project the right impression, which incidentally, including my sense of humour but in a much more measured way.

The interview situation is probably the most intense context to make a first impression. Over the years I’ve participated on many interview panels and have learnt and observed from the way that people present. We probably under-estimate the many components that make up the first impression, it is so much more than just the words we say.

An impression is an effect, that feeling or image we may retained as a result of an experience. In other contexts it is a mark produced on a surface by pressure, like when I imprint my hand in sand.

I make an impression

I form an impression

And sometimes I’m unimpressed

And most significantly, we make a first impression, but only once. Some impressions have greater consequences than others. That first impression is absolutely crucial.

The impression we make in any situation reflects the effect we have on people and also the feelings we leave with them about us. Ideally, we seek to make an impression that is positive and lasting and it can potentially influence a network of people, thereby building our reputation.

In this series I will reflect on a few key elements of an impression:

  • The elements of a first impression that I can control
  • The impression I seek to make on others
  • The impression that others make on me – “a mark produced on a surface by pressure”
  • And ask, “Can I resurrect a negative impression?”

Add a comment, I’d love to know what you think or whether you disagree.

*Tom Peters,  The Little BIG Things (2010)  “we all have 7 seconds to make a first impression.” (according to Fox News uber-spin doctor Roger Ailes)

Coming up next: The Pressure is on (me)

 

“Hard is soft. Soft is Hard” …What really matters?

In 1982 Tom Peters co-wrote In Search of Excellence. This book became an international best seller which, according to Wikipedia, “one of the biggest selling and most widely read business books ever, selling 3 million copies in its first four years”. By Peters own admission* the biggest takeaway from that book was the simple motto: “Hard is soft. Soft is Hard”.

In the cut and thrust of our full lives it does seem beyond reason that content knowledge, as well as technical, strategic and financial skills could possibly make way for the interpersonal, but these are the skills we need for success in life. They transcend any particular discipline and context. Things like:

  • People and relationships
  • Influencing
  • Core values
  • Showing appreciation and gratitude
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Team-building

This is the real “hard stuff”. It makes sense that deliberately focussing on these skills has a positive affect on the workplace. In the corporate world recruitment no longer solely focuses on business skills but recruits are assessed on a range of soft skill competencies, including how well they relate to and communicate with others.

Here’s the challenge for school leaders, these skills need to become core to the PD programs if we are to:

  • model skills to students
  • provide balance in this high-tech, electronically connected world
  • recruit and retain graduates in the profession
  • grow and develop the next generation of leaders

It is another example of moving away from the factory model of work and schooling, where hierarchy is softened and the dignity and contribution of all are valued.

Let’s see soft skills become a core element of professional development for educators.

(* in his most recent book The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence)

scil on the road – Abraham Guest School, Wigan UK

I visited Abraham Guest School in Wigan last week. The school has developed innovative science projects as part of Project Faraday. The school has sought to change the paradigm of science teaching from one that focusses primarily on the laboratory as the default learning space for science education. I was afforded such wonderful hospitality from the team at Abraham Guest School and appreciated the generosity of time and spirit.

Feature article in local Borough News

Project Faraday was a major research and design project to radically rethink how science is taught in schools and develop designs for new science facilities in UK schools. The project sought to encourage more young people to study science at university and to explore the ways in which the whole school building and its grounds, not just the laboratories themselves, can enable and enhance innovative and interactive methods of teaching science.  (http://www.goved.co.uk/projects/faraday).

Abraham Guest School have implemented some interesting approaches to the teaching of science that break out from the notion that science needs to be taught in a lab. There are three main aspects to the project.

  • The Knowledge Garden
  • The Pod
  • The 60 year clock

The knowledge garden is located in the school grounds, just outside the science teaching areas. It is a living recycling system providing opportunities for students to explore the natural world; ecology and biodiversity in an immediate and continuous way. The water from sinks and toilets is carried outside and filtered through a reed bed to the constructed outdoor wetland that harbours plant and animal life while recycling water on site.

Reed filtration system

Knowledge Garden supports numerous experiments in natural sciences, including biochemical oxygen demand, reproduction studies (plant and animal), nitrification and PH levels.  Students using Knowledge Garden will be engaging in long-term project management and collaborative learning. (Source: Sean McDougall)

Knowledge Garden Pond

The Pod provides a stimulus and visual immersion space that can excite and interest the students. The school’s on site content developer provides videos that almost surround the students as they view it from inside the Pod. For example, forces and motion are brought to life as students are transported into a rollercoaster simulation.

External visual stimulation and inside visual immersion
Inside the Pod

The third part of the Faraday project is the 60-year clock. This “clock” won’t tell the time but will capture data from this period in history. Pupils will respond to questions, then the data will be gathered and stored to compare responses and see changing patterns over time. This will be collected using biometric technology.

Due to technical difficulties the clock isn’t yet up and running. Once the right  screen and associated technology is acquired the data will be displayed for all to see on large screens in the school’s communal areas.

scil on the road – DOK Library Concept Centre, Delft

DOK, Delft best library in The Netherlands – celebrating stories

DOK is challenging the notion of library. Located in the commercial/retail precinct of Delft, within a pedestrian zone, it is the site of a former supermarket. As we wait for the doors to open at 10am, so do members of the local community. In the age of the electronic and the instantaneous, DOK has become an important part of the local fabric. A place where people gather, learn, connect, are entertained and inspired.

The culture is to make the library inviting and attractive and a place to belong. This is achieved through different spaces to work, read and relax. There is a cafe at the library’s heart and the coffee and cake can be enjoyed in the library. Interesting spaces are set up for children. Romantic fiction has its own red tinted room. There are no rules to be silent at DOK, but there are quiet places.

Almost like a spine, running through the middle of the building is a staircase, leading to a cafe area and onto the stage for community events. Concerts and activities are held most evenings and the library networks with cultural institutions in Delft. The community can receive benefits with their library card, like discounts for local theatre productions.

Furnishings have been selected carefully, with communal tables, quiet ‘caves’ and interesting comfy sofas and chairs. It is bright and inviting. New media is also available, xbox, wii and audio/video resources are available. This place is really a lot of fun, with friendly staff. DOK has addressed the issue of making libraries relevant in the 21st century, recognizing that it is a sector that has been slower to change. The leadership pushed through change and over time the staff could see the difference that it makes to the community.

The innovation section within DOK develops programs for all of Holland. DOK has been particularly clever at connecting with their community in tangible ways. The surface touch table has a unique software program developed within DOK that enables the community to look at the history of their street and precinct through a vast album if photos from the past and present that have been digitally linked to geographically within Delft.

All this within “the prettiest town in Holland”.

scil on the road – DOK Library Concept Centre, Delft

DOK, Delft best library in The Netherlands – celebrating stories

DOK is challenging the notion of library. Located in the commercial/retail precinct of Delft, within a pedestrian zone, it is the site of a former supermarket. As we wait for the doors to open at 10am, so do members of the local community. In the age of the electronic and the instantaneous, DOK has become an important part of the local fabric. A place where people gather, learn, connect, are entertained and inspired.

The culture is to make the library inviting and attractive and a place to belong. This is achieved through different spaces to work, read and relax. There is a cafe at the library’s heart and the coffee and cake can be enjoyed in the library. Interesting spaces are set up for children. Romantic fiction has its own red tinted room. There are no rules to be silent at DOK, but there are quiet places.

Almost like a spine, running through the middle of the building is a staircase, leading to a cafe area and onto the stage for community events. Concerts and activities are held most evenings and the library networks with cultural institutions in Delft. The community can receive benefits with their library card, like discounts for local theatre productions.

Furnishings have been selected carefully, with communal tables, quiet ‘caves’ and interesting comfy sofas and chairs. It is bright and inviting. New media is also available, xbox, wii and audio/video resources are available. This place is really a lot of fun, with friendly staff. DOK has addressed the issue of making libraries relevant in the 21st century, recognizing that it is a sector that has been slower to change. The leadership pushed through change and over time the staff could see the difference that it makes to the community.

The innovation section within DOK develops programs for all of Holland. DOK has been particularly clever at connecting with their community in tangible ways. The surface touch table has a unique software program developed within DOK that enables the community to look at the history of their street and precinct through a vast album if photos from the past and present that have been digitally linked to geographically within Delft.

All this within “the prettiest town in Holland”.