Why #EdTech and I are changing our brand

I have to be honest with you.

For more than a year, my blogging as iPadwells on the now extinct iPad4Schools.org has focused on education and leadership whilst I’ve struggled to add a weak connection to the use of iPads. As you can see from this site’s new look, I’ve given up and rebranded my work to match the material and professional development I now provide. [Img Cred]

Woman on iPad questionmark

I’m not the only one with this issue. 

Did you attend iPadpalooza or EttiPad or MiamiDevice this year? At all these events, teachers and speakers are expelling a lot of energy and words in highlighting that “it’s NOT about the device.” But like my old Twitter handle and blog, our names suggest otherwise. What’s happened?

“Ignore my name, it’s NOT about the device.”

Stop Go1It all started in 2011, the iPad was still either new or just a dream to most schools and we were all REALLY excited by its potential. I started my blog to help just 12 teachers in my school, who’d been bought them to trial. (Classic! Buy the teachers iPads but not the students). But they weren’t the only ones in need and soon iPad4Schools.org had 1000 readers a day.

Over the last 4 years, using social media, the connected educators of this world have been on a collaborative journey with a very steep learning curve. The more we have worked with device equipped students, the more we have moved our attention away from the technology and towards our change in expectations. The emphasis now is on the impact and extended reach that technology brings and not which specific device, app or workflow any individual might be using.

whiteboard on iPadMy current opening line to any student task is “find yourself a solution for …” I find the students are always capable and are used to searching for and sharing solutions with each other, even in the personal lives. They are also used to a fully personalised approach to life and have multiple solutions that achieve the same goals. I no longer discuss apps, except when a student highlights one to me. Some apps are really impressive but my primary goal is to cultivate independence and confidence within each student. This comes from the empowerment of personal choice and the collaborative approach.

When planning my rebranding and this post, It was great to see my friend Rabbi Michael Cohen writing about the exact same issue. Read his excellent thoughts here. The connected edu community are sharing and thus experiencing a simultaneous ride into 21st century education. Social media has provided a cheap platform from which to rebuild a global education profession and move everyone along at a similar pace. The great Mark Anderson in the UK has also just published the free iBook: “More Ed less Tech“. Can you see a trend emerging?

The issue we now face is the divide between the leaders and the followers. The change has been rapid and as the edtech community moves on from discussing technology, the majority of world education just starts to get their head around how it functions in the classroom. Many yet to make a start with BYOD or any one device per student initiative.

“Like Uber, It hasn’t replaced the need for a driver, it’s only changed who’s driving the system” – Richard Wells

The Uber app has angered thousands of taxi drivers. It hasn’t replaced the need for a driver, it’s only changed who’s driving the system. This is exactly what technology is doing to teachers in education. We just have to wait for the mindset of the average teacher to learn and appreciate what’s happening in front of their eyes. A teacher’s faith in their students is what everything hangs on.


Hey teacher, would YOU be a student?

If you ask me, the elephant in the classroom, especially high school classrooms has always been the fact that teachers would rarely choose for themselves, the daily experience they inflict on their students.  [Img Cred]

bored student

If you ask a high school teacher if they’d be happy with a daily experience such as:

  • an hour of trigonometry;
  • an hour of Macbeth;
  • an hour of plate tectonics;
  • an hour of tennis, followed by
  • an hour of chemical reactions
  • with no attempt to relate any of the learning.
  • oh, and do you want to sit in the middle of 300 teenagers for an hour long assembly?

Nearly all teachers say NO! (I’ve asked many)

So, two questions for schools:

1. What excuses do we have for creating a learning experience we wouldn’t choose for ourselves?

2. Why are we surprised at an increasing dropout rate and general switching off from school in a connected and active world of Facebook and Youtube?

An alternative with positive outcomes.

21C Classroom Layout


This year a visited a school that had re-purposed their existing physical classroom / corridor spaces, and redesigned their timetable to create a whole new learning experience. I could see within 10 minutes that the students were more driven and positive about school than in most schools I’ve been to. It did this by dividing itself into a mini-schools within the site. Rather than confine each student to a particular room from which learning would be ‘received’, every student had permission to design their own school day (every day) and had free access to up to 4 differently purposed rooms depending on what their needs were at any particular moment.

New use of school space

The 4 rooms that each child had free access to would include:

  1. a “Cave” (silent room),
  2. a pairs room (for peer tutoring),
  3. a group room (for project/teamwork)
  4. a tutorial room (They had to book into tutorials that the teachers ran on a rotation).

It was up to the children to use these spaces according to needs and be responsible for productive time management. Something that was very evident during my visit, where I could see that through practice and extensive experience in self-driven learning, the average student was more confident, organised and keen to discuss their progress.

New use of School time

Students are free to organised their own day. They had to book in to a certain amount of tutoring in a week but by choice could tailor the tuition to their needs. They negotiated injury projects at the beginning of terms and worked on them in teams. They were encouraged to work together and solve their own problems. They also booked out technology from a central hub when required, rather than assume that technology was a must all day, like some schools suggest.

New use of Teachers

Teachers rotate between giving tutorials and roaming as mentors. A nice touch is for the principal to be signing off the final projects. Teachers have more time to talk to students and guide teams in their negotiated inquiries. Teachers were happier through working with students who were intrinsically motivated to learn on projects designed by themselves. All the national curriculum and regular content was still covered and any direct teaching needed was available, just never in a one-size-fits-all approach.

Question the old, not the new

One simple piece of advice is to spend more energy challenging your school’s status quo, than any alternative that might be suggested. Turn around and challenge that “elephant” that so many teachers and even more students are talking about.

Time is Gold for Teachers

IMG_5351Hey teacher, wouldn’t it be nice to have a little more time to do things properly? Teachers around the world are expected to somehow fit professional growth in-between planning, teaching, marking and parent communication, and so I understand why many don’t get round to much professional development or reading. So it was especially exciting for me to be awarded a 2015 research fellowship by Core Education (NZ). This “eFellowship” is given each year to a small group of innovative teachers to allow them to connect, visit schools and work with Core’s phenomenal team of education experts to carry out a personal inquiry into an aspect of their teaching.

The team for 2015 were from both elementary and high schools, which itself made for more enriched conversations. Our inquiries covered a wide range of topics including professional networking, design thinking, community engagement and children’s curiosity & identity development, and deaf education. The team were (Follow these people):

CRD1YfbUYAAFUAlSteve Mouldey 

Camilla Brotherton

Philippa N Antipas

Vivita Rabo

Mel Wiersma

Steph Kitto

… and ME!

Inspiring experiences

1. School visits

2014-03-04 09.21.01Many aspects of the year were inspiring. The first of these was visiting schools. We were lucky to visit early childhood centres, Elementary, Middle and High schools. No matter where we were based personally as teachers all of this visits offered something significant and inspiring. Visiting other types of schools will always offer a teacher new perspectives in regards to what demands are placed on children at other stages. This can lead to a high school teacher realising that younger children are more capable than previously considered, but also an elementary teacher realising they need to do more to prepare their students for high school. What was particularly inspiring was that from ages 4 to 18, we witnessed examples of independent self management of both time and learning. All the schools we saw proved that young people can manage their own learning with successful outcomes at any age. School visiting should be a permanent fixture in all teacher’s professional lives and governments need to fund accordingly.

2. Mind-blowing minds!

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 2.45.06 PMAt Core Education (NZ), their team are very well experienced and do tremendous amounts of research in to education in New Zealand. This country is already a world leader in education and so working at the forefront here makes Core Education a force to be reckoned with! We covered EVERYTHING! Be it education’s need for research and social justice (Louise Taylor), cultural awareness (Deanne Thomas), cultural identity (Manu Faaea-Semeatu), future trends (Derek Wenmoth), learning space design (Mark Osborne), learning as play (Keryn Davis) the importance of universal design for learning (UDL) (Chrissie Butler), or research in education (Ann Hatherly), the team challenged us to rethink more deeply many issues faced by education today.

3. Inspired by peers

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 2.48.36 PMThe primary benefit of the fellowship was working so closely with the other 6 educators. Their significantly differing backgrounds brought so much depth to the team. Having the time to discuss all our specific challenges made for the type and depth of conversation educators rarely get to experience. I’m now roughly 5.74 times the teacher I was in 2014!

Why eFellowship?

Screen Shot 2015-10-24 at 2.49.01 PMIf you’re teaching and  don’t know of available fellowships / teacher grants near you, then hunt them out. I’m sure there are initiatives and funding in your country or state, they’re not always loudly advertised. 2015 has proved to me that getting your hands on some funding that means you have more time to connect with educators and properly dig deep into some professional reading and thinking will have a profound and positive impact on your future professional life. It will also give you confidence as a professional to seek further opportunities.

Through this experience, I am now permanently connected with a team of top educators spread across the country. We will now follow each others progress and continue to learn from each other in the future. We’ve become great friends – I’m getting more daily messages from these people than my family! 😀

Finally I want to thank the people at Core Education for organising a fabulous and inspirational year. I’d like to especially thank Louise Taylor and Ann Hatherly for looking after us and our research so expertly and with so much care! Here’s my post about my Research project.

If you teach in New Zealand then whatever you do, apply for the 2017 Dr Vince Ham eFellowship!

Why #EdChat is NOT just Resources and Ideas

What keeps so many teachers from professionally engaging  online? I’ve found it’s possibly not their confidence with tech, social media or educational debate.

This year, I’ve been privileged to be part of a research team put together and funded by Core Education in New Zealand. I’ve run a research project around teacher engagement with social media and to what extent it has real impact on classroom practice. My original plan was to monitor how 10 volunteer teachers would join and engage with the networks and how marvellous it would be to see it filter through to their students! Well, that plan lasted for about 11 minutes! My opening explanation to the volunteers centred on acquiring new ideas and resources and that it was social media that offered teachers cheap and convenient access to these new ideas.

After a couple of months, we had held lunchtime and evening Twitter chats and met for face-to-face discussions and I was disappointed by the majority of volunteers who hadn’t found an incentive to network at all outside these scheduled research meetings. So, our discussion turned to why people weren’t engaging in the online edchat.

What’s stopping you?

FINAL EFELLOW KEYNOTE4bSome felt the issue was time, but this was countered by the more engaged teachers definitely having more commitments in their life. Was it a lack of interest in pedagogical debate? No. Many of these teachers were in cluster groups around Auckland and even providing professional development to other teachers in the school. Was it a dislike for social media? Of course not! All the volunteers used social media on a daily basis in their private life. In fact, one participant who had not engaged in edchat used 4 social media sites a day!  I realised we had to refocus our discussions on something deeper.

“You have to know the network is a supportive group” – Teacher (NZ)

Half way thorough the year I held interviews with each individual. From these, strong themes developed around teachers felling isolated in their classroom and being uncertain about their own practice and where it would sit within a sharing network. This started the 2nd of three phases in this project where I focused on confidence in one’s own teaching as a decider for joining the edchat conversation or not.

“I would share but I’d have to be confident that what I was doing was ok.” – Teacher A

“I had a bit of self-doubt about what what to contribute” – Teacher B

“I don’t think I was well rehearsed with scripting the conversation around learning.” – Teacher C

The discussion around isolation highlighted the issue of not knowing how to position one’s teaching or attribute a value to it and this led to ambiguity about how and what one would contribute to a wider, especially worldwide, discussion online. This led me into a 3rd phase where I considered how teachers build an individual identity as a teacher rather than viewing the job as a single destination that all teachers are heading towards.

What teacher am I?

What Teacher am ISince 2007, New Zealand has had teaching inquiry and formal experimentation into one’s teaching practice built into our national curriculum document but for many teachers this has become a personal and not shared experience. So, they again have no real comparison with which to judge the value of their inquiries against other teaching. The discussions I was now having with the participants indicated that it was positioning oneself amongst the teaching profession within these online networks that caused them to pause, reflect and delay their input.

“I’m trying to articulate what my niche is. I spend hours thinking while I’m out walking, running, about my identity and I know I wont arrive at it now and I might be working towards it but it’s got me thinking exactly what I want to be identified by.” – Teacher C

Inspired by the work of  Manu Faaea-Semeatu, who’s been researching how people connect with people from other cultures and recognise the gaps in their knowledge about the different situations and priorities others might have. An inspiring talk with her led me to realise that recognising one’s own gaps in teaching knowledge is a starting point to look for ways to address those gaps. Where Manu asks questions about one’s individual cultural identity, connecting online asks questions about one’s teaching identity.

This is the deeper reason I think social media will and is impacting on teaching. Considering to join these networks is to consider where your teaching would sit within the conversation. These thoughts about values and practice and what we would present / give to others is what strengthens the profession. It is so much more than accessing and promoting resources and ideas.

A question for teachers: Are you teaching a classroom or your classroom?

There’s no denying that a teacher influences the form and style of their classroom. Teaching is not a job that develops towards a destination predetermined by the profession. I now wonder if many of the teachers not finding an incentive to join and share in the conversation haven’t yet viewed their teaching role as a personal and unique product that should really be evaluated against other teaching and developed through sharing it. They may have reduced their view of the role to something already fixed and known that they can slowly work towards on their own. Joining networks through social media helps teachers consider and develop their personal set of values and interests and build a better classroom environment based on their own reciprocal edchat discussions.

Joining the online edchat through social media is to start to consider and develop your professional persona and find your place within the network that expresses your own values and triumphs.

Five reasons your school’s NOT transforming

5 reasons your school isnt changingSo, maybe you’re on Twitter, your colleagues are on Twitter, you’re excited about ideas around new learning and your Principal might mention these themes in staff meetings. So why’s no real change happening in your school?

All this 21st century learning talk is happening but you’re still performing standardised tests, teachers are still teaching from the front of class and most are still predominantly isolated in their own classrooms. There’s probably a small group of “new learning” types who you know are trying the “Project-based-design-thinking-SAMR” type stuff but the school as a whole isn’t following their lead.

I recently came across a talk by Michael Fullan on making change. I thought this would be useful to share but it also reminded me of a TED talk by Linda Hill, which then led me to dig up 3 more TED talks which when combined might give schools and their leadership teams some real incentive and instruction for change. They also combine to indicate that progress will not be made with either top-down or bottom-up approaches but from a developing a new school culture towards shared, networked collaboration at all levels.

Here are the 5 videos:

  1. Michael Fullan: Leading quality change
  2. Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity
  3. Eddie Obeng: Smart failure for a fast-changing world
  4. Manuel Lima: A Visual History of Human Knowledge
  5. Barry Schwartz: The way we think about work is broken

Inspired by these talks, here are my …

Five reasons your school’s NOT transforming

  1. Your Principal is NOT seen by the teachers as an equal participant in learning.
    This I got from Fullan in his talk he gave in New Zealand about transforming the Canadian school system. He highlights that a principal behaving as an active learner was a surprise key indicator in his research into schools making significant and positive change.
  2. The teachers are unaware of the impact of 21C opportunities and challenges
    Eddie Obeng’s talk is both fun and powerful in explaining how so many people didn’t notice when all the rules changed regarding how success happens, how organisations are run, how work gets done and what skills & knowledge are required to survive in a world where the new scale people of all ages operate under is global. If we want to say we are preparing young people for the world, we need to wake up and take note that many of them are already making use of this new interconnected world that many schools are yet to accept exists.
  3. The school still operates as a hierarchy 
    Manuel Lima indicates how one of the changes that’s taken place without most schools noticing is that, after 2000 years, we’ve moved from seeing everything as a hierarchy and now view and operate everything in networks. This is also backed up in the Fullan talk. Lima’s talk will make your school consider if it operates as a 20th century hierarchy or a 21st century network. This is key to preparing both staff and students for the next 50 years. It also connects with Fullan’s theme about “social capital” or the quality of the group work and connections used by the teachers and with Obeng’s thought on everything now operating at a global scale, due to new online networks.
  4. Schools assume they must pay students to work with grades
    Complementing Obeng’s need for a new look at learning, Barry Schwartz introduces his concept of Idea Technology. He explains that one simple assumption introduced by Industrial Revolution removed all non-material incentives to work on a premise all people were inherently lazy and you wouldn’t get them to work without incentivising with pay. It made me think that schools adopted the factory model and it seemed only natural that you would need grades as payment for work without considering what work environment might be created to have people genuinely satisfied at school. A wonderful quote is : “The very shape of the institution within which people work, creates people who are fitted to the demands of that institution and denies people from the kind of satisfactions from their work that we take for granted.” If students work for tests and grades they are only prepared for exactly that environment. An environment that doesn’t exist outside academia.
  5. School leaders should NOT build a vision and inspire people to follow it
    Linda Hill says “Innovation is not about solo genius but collective genius.” She goes on to outline how the most successful organisations build organisational structures and cultures that are “iterative, inter-related and quite frankly messy.” She also highlights that investing in all the people to give them time to develop and collaborate around new challenges and ideas. It is also critical to build a culture where everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, feels they might have something to offer in improving the operation of or output from the the organisation.
    This is a huge issue for schools, where many teachers never bring problems to the leadership team because they don’t think it’s there place to suggest change. Schools are often not flexible or iterative enough to adapt to changes as they arise. A fixed-time vision for learning in a school issued from top-down can kill excellent ideas that surface during the period of time in question. What I took from Linda’s talk was that schools need to develop a staff culture for collaborative problem solving, discovery driven learning (and that’s the teachers we’re talking about) but run integrated decision making where everyone is confident to express ideas.

Adapt or loose your students

Schools lag further and further behind the pace of world change year-on-year and we need bold, aware, flexible leaders who know how to work with their community to collectively build a new culture of adapting to change to remain relevant. More children every year are finding alternative paths to early success and careers because their school was unable to adapt to their needs. Let’s stop wasting the potential of what might take place during a person’s school years and start operating the way the world does already.

School Transitions – Kings and Queens reduced to Pawns

Leaders become followers: I spent last week visiting and discussing a range of schools in New Zealand from early childhood (ages 2-4) to high school. A theme arose around the expectations teachers had of their students in each school and how it seemed less dependent on age or ability and more on a year level’s seniority in the particular school.

Kings & Queens reduced to pawns

Let me explain …

In the final year of early childhood, elementary, middle school and high school the teachers’ expectations of students were always set high, often dealing with leadership & independent learning opportunities, even in early childhood centres! This is due to them being the most senior year in their current context. The problem was that when those same children switched to the next school they were treated in relation to their new context, as the babies, and had lower expectations placed on them. This was happening at each stage of school transition and expectations on the new arrivals were often set lower than in their previous year.

A major problem

This is a serious issue with the various divisions in education systems and that a lack of communication between the schools leads to damaging transitions. Students spend their education switching from treatment as leader to treatment as baby at least 3 times.

Just imagine if we were to build on the self-esteem of the previous schools expectations and allow the students to reach their true potential? At the moment, we are dragging them back on a number of occasions making it hard for more to succeed over the first two decades of their life

Examples from last week:

  • Leading 4 year-olds by the end of kindergarten discussing what leaders do and say. A design zone to improve the layouts of public buildings in the city.
  • Baby 5 year-olds as new entrants in elementary school sat in lines on the mat and asked to all follow teacher.
    • Leading 10 year-olds at end of elementary asked to man the reception for half a day every week and act as the face of the school and create a short documentary on a social issue in New Zealand for a national competition. Plan a 1 hour assembly from beginning to end.
  • Baby 11 year-olds at the beginning of middle school taught by a teacher who said “I don’t share class activity online because at only 11, what is there to share?”
  • Leading 14 year olds, pre-high school assessment, running community projects to look at developing new approaches to clean waterways and their impact on the local environment
  • Baby 15 year-olds starting high school exams told to listen to teacher and get ready for tests
  • Leading 18 year-olds told to aide the running of the school and organise school events.
  • Baby 19 year-olds jokingly told by college lecturers to “forget everything you learnt at schools!”

Request to all teachers

Make sure you have in-depth conversations with your new students regarding their previous experiences and have them consider their pre-existing strengths. As senior students in their last school, they might have been treated like adults. Let’s stop dragging them backwards and loosing out on the potential they might have achieved if they ever got to control their own learning programme.

It takes a village to educate a child

What are the best ways parents can help teachers and that teachers can help parents?

The key secret to education is building and maintaining relationships. Here I mean all relationships between students, teachers, parents, administration, and both the local and world communities. Strong relationships give all parties status and recognition. Being recognised for anything is what drives most people to aim higher and do more. (Here’s 3 people who agree: 1,  2, 3)


iPadwells Pofile Pic 2015Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.


In this context, I want to keep things simple and effective. What teachers must do for parents is instigate student learning logs (in any format) and raise the incentives for parents to be involved in them. Documenting learning allows parents and teachers to recognise it and this raises learning’s status in the mind of the child. Parents need to be made aware that becoming participants in this recognition they will raise the achievement of their own children with only small but regular gestures and comments.

The power of affirmation: “Facebook conquered the world with just a ‘Like’!”

Now when I suggest learning log, I do mean ALL learning. Be it in a book or online, students should be encouraged to reflect on any significant learning they encounter, in on out of school. The new dance routine, the new Minecraft features, the local news event. This personalises the journey and makes these small daily achievements visible and available for further recognition. This also feeds more information to the teacher from both the posting and the parent comments. This regular two-way information is vital in building deeper relationships and providing yet further affirmation.

Why I suggest digital blogs?

We’re all busy people. It seems that prioritising time to genuinely recognise others in this fast paced world is becoming more and more difficult. Let’s not worry about how we might change the world and look at how we might benefit from the the tools to recognise even the smallest of achievements. Blogs allow students to auto-organise by ticking categories and using tags. Teachers can subscribe and only need show recognition once a week. The key is to have the parents and the wider family subscribe to the updates and use the “Like” and comment features to affirm the child’s learning. The subscription does all the hard work in keeping the family informed and the power of these small gestures should not be underestimated.

“Even for teenagers, don’t underestimate the power of a thumbs-up from grandma!”

The big benefit of digital is that many people in the life a child can provide these small gestures of recognition from their phone anywhere and at anytime. Schools need to harness the power of having a child’s learning widely affirmed by their own community, including peers, and move beyond the reliance on just their teacher as learning provider.

…oh and Edmodo’s a good place to start!

Who needs teachers when you have students?

Last week, myself and four of my students attended New Zealand’s Google Education Group ‘s NZ Student Summit. An event by students for students. My 9th graders were running a workshop on coding with MIT’s Scratch programme and they did a great job but what fascinated me more on the day was the workshops being organised and run by students from grades 1 to 4! 


It wasn’t that these children from ages 6 to 10 could code, collaborate inthe cloud, animate, blog and create radio advertisements, or that they were already running online reflection learning logs and explaining levels of thinking through the SOLO taxonomy!! What struck me was that even at the age of 6, tens of students had volunteered to attend a strange place to confidently run workshops for hundreds of strangers. 

When I was at elementary school, everything was devised, organised and delivered by the teachers and the idea that children might have something to suggest in what took place at school was not up for consideration. I, as an average student, therefore had to wait until I was 25 before I had the confidence to take charge of any situation!

The rules have changed

IMG_1366It is so exciting to see that so many elementary schools work on the principle that the children are there to take charge of their own learning (in fact that was the theme of a session). For these 350 students, the understanding is that one takes any opportunity one is given and sharing the experience is the norm. In this context, putting your hand up to run a workshop at a large event seems like common behaviour and so much less threatening than it would have been for my generation.

One session I saw was on collaborative development of animations in Google Slides. They were presenting from a TV with examples and demonstrating the tool, whilst the 30 attendees used their own devices to give it a go. They presented and assisted people so positively and confidently that if I’d closed my eyes it would only have been the chipmunk style voices that would not have me assuming they were already qualified teachers!

But it wasn’t just tech. There were children running workshops on writing, thinking and publishing. In these sessions, the audience engagement was visibly higher than I’ve seen in a number of classrooms possibly because they related more directly to learning from their own generation. One thing that struck me was how prepared most attendees were to ask questions and for assistance. I know this would not have been the case if learning from adults.

A challenge to High schools

One reflection that wasn’t so positive, was that high schools did not feature at the summit. My 4 students were the only ones of high school age. Now I’m not going to suppose a definite reason for this but here are some possible questions that need asking:

  1. Google Summit Students04Was it because it was hosted at a newly built elementary school and this was enough for the average high school teacher to assume it wouldn’t be appropriate?
  2. Is it that the culture in elementary schools is “let’s see what you can do” where as in high school it’s generally “you are here to receive my wisdom.” Does this leave high school students perceived as having less to offer in the process of learning?
  3. Have High schools been slower to make the shift to empowering the individual to take charge of learning? Would this summit not make sense to many high school teachers?
  4. Connected with the above, is it professional connections? The event promotion on social media would NOT have been seen by most high school teachers who also have been slower to connect with the profession through these networks. (Last years biggest NZ education conference (ULearn) attendance was 85% elementary teachers and less than 15% high school teachers)

Just a thought

The big question is what will high schools do in the near future with students who have already run conference workshops at the age of six and have higher expectations of themselves than to expect to slow down and accept the predetermined wisdom of self-important high school experts? 

Dear high school teacher, is your teaching closing doors on the potential of your students?

P.S. The keynote speaker was a 16 year old from west Auckland who, from the classroom, both passes his school courses and runs 2 companies collectively worth NZ$1.5 million !

Why High Schools’ biggest problem is Lessons

A major problem in High schools is their lessons. Those short 1 hour sessions that relate to a specific subject, where in most cases, the teacher stands and delivers ‘learning’.from the front. I’ve spoken before about teacher talk, so I wont go over it again but it’s time to challenge the timetable.

Here’s a summary of how my students have voiced their concerns about the typical high school day and also what I have observed as teacher:

High School's Biggest Problem

4 Problems with lessons

  1. 6195581056_281fa13715_zLessons cancel each other out: The unmentioned part of any high school teacher’s job description is to ensure that no student in their classroom is focused on what happened in the previous lesson. Students are to forget or at least change focus entirely to what is happening in their current setting. How are any young people to take anything seriously if our timetable doesn’t? [image credit]
  2. This clock had been circulating around our school with it's twin for almost five years now. It's twin hangs on our new administrators yard wall and this one was given to me a few months back and sat in my classroom. Each measures almost 3'X3'. They are cast iron and atomic. This one will now hang in my wall. 2010/05/28: Clocks are omnipresent in modern life. Make a photo of the clock, watch, or other device that you use most to tell time. #ds194Time to inquire: As a teacher who attempts to run student-driven classes, it is often the case that just as students really gain momentum, it is time to pack up and refocus on something completely different. Many, if not all, subjects in a high school could benefit from longer sessions to allow projects and challenges to embed and students to dig deeper. Our bell-driven factory model does not allow for this. [image credit]
  3. 7115374283_30d07f11c3_zRelations and context: So lets look at a common high school day:
    1. Plate tectonics
    2. Picasso
    3. Newton’s Laws of motion
    4. Macbeth
    5. Football
    6. Nazi Germany
      Is it just me, or is the idea that any human would be capable of ending the school day with a full retention of these 6 unrelated hours of learning absolute madness. The sad thing about much school content is that their are so many relationships that go undiscovered. I’ve been in cross-curricular planning meetings where colleagues have discovered for the first time they both teach the same topic. The saddest part of that story is that the students hadn’t even noticed! Schools must design a day of learning to make sense and add context to what’s being learnt. The factory model makes all learning abstract and doesn’t prepare young people for real life. [image link]
  4. 6040624392_5fe29b8dae_z (1)Allowing for Energy: Teenagers take time in the morning to wake and get going, are effected greatly by food intake and are expected to deal with hours of unrelated content all day. But despite this, most teachers behave and plan lessons as if it were the only lesson of the day. Teachers need to plan activity that allows for the time of day and how much the students have had to deal with during previous lessons. In a project or inquiry based environment, free from rapid context change, the students are free to manage their own activity type to match their energy levels at the time. [image credit]

Empowered and talented

iPads and technology in general empowers students to deal with their learning on their own terms and over their own timeframes. Young people are so much more talented than the traditional school structures assume they are. To segregate each hour’s learning from the next is possible the most damaging element of high school education.

An alternative?

Here’s a timetable from Auckland, New Zealand. You can see how 3 or 4 projects are on-going through the week but span beak and lunchtimes to allow for true progress and learning. [Image source]

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Demonstrating leadership in the classroom

Technology and new societal hierarchies are changing the demands on teachers and thus the opportunities for and style in which teachers should demonstrate leadership. Expectations on young people have also developed as the world evolves increasingly quickly. I wonder how many CEOs are now below the age of 25? It’s now less about displaying mastery over content and skills and more about demonstrating successful leadership by nurturing a creative and challenging classroom environment.


Author: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12 – Head of Technology at NZ High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters above)
Presenter and also a father to 2 beautiful girls. Twitter :  @iPadwells

This post is written as part of The Huffington Post’s The Global Search for Education: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs: A series of questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers. I’ll be sharing the link to her post that collects all of the responses. I’m excited to be part of this group of edu-bloggers.


I have just read an excellent article in Time magazine by Julie Lythcott-Haims, where she summarises her book about the growing dependency children have on their parents. She explains how middle-class parenting, in particular, has developed in such a way it helps foster this dependency. Julie highlights that children increasingly expect to be fully catered for in any event or situation. To quote Julie: “We have to deliberately put opportunities for independence in our kids’ way.” This problem often gets discussed at my school in regard to students’ lack of initiative in the classroom but I can’t help but argue that the traditional classroom fosters just the same level of dependency.

Demonstrating leadership whilst not fostering dependency

student teams02In a classroom where every child carries out the same task for the same outcome, the temptation is to lead by command and control. After all, everyone has to tow the same line. The underlying issue in this context is that every student is dependent on the teacher for every step of the task. “Turn to page 52,” “Answer questions 5 to 10,” “Draw a mind-map of …” In these situations, a student’s need for initiative and decision-making is limited to the tight confines of the page, question or requested specific output.

Like anything, humans learn best through experience and this includes leadership. To demonstrate the more modern requirements for transformative leadership, teachers need to show mastery for adapting, evaluating learning goals and building productive working structures. These need to be open enough to let the students take control over the environment where true experience is gained in managing time, information, decision-making and social interactions. This has had very positive outcomes in my school where it seems self-respect has developed and the extra ownership over the work improves attitude and productivity.

Design-Thinking-iPadWellsSince opening up my classroom to structures like Project-based learning or Design Thinking exercises, I have seen what student leadership looks like. When it’s normal for students to be dealing with self-expression, task management and working relationships, it will amaze teachers as to what young people are capable of. Regardless of teaching model, the basics of: set negotiated goals, offer working structures; expect collaboration and let the students drive, are much more likely to develop the leaders of tomorrow.

This is important as the problems these young people will face are likely to require a more collaborative and global style of leadership. In my classroom, the quality of output but more importantly, the level of understanding and ability to lead a scenario have never been better.