Great read: Disobedient Teaching by Welby Ings

A book that explains what’s important to humans and therefore schools.

I highly recommend this book for all classroom teachers and school leaders. It’s a powerful but easy read of excellent thinking and great stories from the varied, interesting, and impressive career of New Zealand Educator and Professor of Design, Welby Ings. I could write a review but Welby’s a much better writer and so I thought I’d just pick out my favourite quotes. Saying that, I recommend this book mostly for the amazing stories that are not included in this post – they make readers smile as much as they make them cry.

Productive Disobedience

“The identification of sophisticated disobedient forms of thinking has, since the 19th century, had a rather uneasy relationship with formalised organisations including education”
– Page 28

“One of the hallmarks of a creative person is the ability to tolerate ambiguity, dissonance, inconsistency, and things out of place. But one of the rules of a well run organisation is that surprise is to be minimised. Yet if this rule was to be applied to the creative process nothing worth reading with yet written nothing worth seeing with get painted nothing worth living with and using would get designed.”
– Page 29

“Instead [teachers] are taught to become dishonest didactical storytellers because creativity is often unstable and time-consuming in schools its poorer cousins are often elevated to a replacement status. These forms of lower-level creativity – embellishment and small-scale adaptation.”
– Page 31

We have learned to be creatively lazy. Because a few people expect us to think beyond adaptation we often expend creative energy just far enough to reach a working solution, then we settle for that. “
– Page 39

Marking and Grades

“When the inherent value of learning becomes negligible, marks become a substitute motivation. Despite being in obstruction they are experienced as concrete because in the end they are what is rewarded. Students work for them. They want to know what content will be in the test, if they study is directly related to the marking, they will understand its value and concentrate on it.”
– Page 53

Quoting William Ayers: “Tests can’t measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgement, commitment, nuance, goodwill, ethical reflection, or a host of other valuable dispositions and attributes. What they can measure and count our isolated skills, specific facts and function, content knowledge, the least interesting and less significant aspects of learning.
– page 55

“The difficulty is that standardisation assumes a high-level of convergence. The divergent, deep questioning and intellectually disobedient thinker either performs within the realm of the expected or pays a substantial price.”
– Page 55

“The student is forced to trade inside the limitations of what has been pre-imagined and predetermined. Many gifted children pressured by the over use of such testing get bored and angry.”
– Page 56

[As learners, we become] deeply dependent. We wait anxiously to hear how good we are because our So here in lies the problem if we don’t know how we learn then we remain reliant on somebody else to direct us. We depend on verification. We need direction and approval. Our intellect and its growth, arguably the greatest gift we possess, are sold out to somebody else’s value system and we are systematically massaged into compliance.
– Page 61

On compliant students: “she entered into contracts to perform what was asked, to check the criteria, to understand the values and to deliver the goods. She found all increasingly boring, but she got what she needed.
– Page 66

Moving beyond Marks

Three ideas about quality assessment are:

  • the importance of self evaluation,
  • reducing the impact of marking, and
  • the need for quality reporting.– Page 70

“With the assistance of my classes, I design assessment formats that provide two layers of reflection. The first involves personal critique by the learner the second involves peer group critiques of work.”
– Page 71

[When moving away from marks, be aware of existing mindsets] “Often students have become dependent on marks. They go through a kind of withdrawal when they are asked to generate assessments that really counts. They often prefer somebody else to take responsibility. They want rewards.”
– Page 71

“I hadn’t understood that the students had been shaped by 12 years inside a comfortable, hierarchical system that rewarded them based on their ability to dance to somebody else’s tune. They only knew external approval. Risk and responsibility may have sounded great, but these kids have been trained to be risk averse. They weren’t buying it they were afraid.”
– Page 159

“It also takes a lot of work to get the [alternative reflective and evaluative] system running smoothly because you need very clear bottom lines about respect and expectations. You also have to negotiate with colleagues who may see you not supporting a system that works comfortably for them and is the dominant approach of the institution inside which you are working.”
– Page 71

5 rules:

  • One people prefer to create when learning
  • The resources of 25 people are greater than the resources of one
  • People will take risks if you take away assessments
  • People prefer to solve problems than to receive solutions
  • People will put an order amount of effort into ideas or solutions that they believe are unique to themselves.
    – Page 154

Teaching and Teachers

“However much political handwringing over teaching undervalues the wealth of experience and insights that students and teachers bring to the dynamic of learning. Emotional experience, intuition, inspiration, courage, and passion are immeasurable. To accommodate such qualities, any system of learning has to accept as a premise that all participants are trading beyond experience. The starting blocks cannot be the same, and any expectation of comparable, standardised performance is illogical.”
– Page 83

Learning’s potential to occur is hugely enhanced when the human being rather than the outcome is placed at the centre of the process. The power of a teacher lies not so much in their ability to disseminate knowledge or meet outcomes as in their ability to transform understanding.”
– Page 83

“Good questioning meant a happy class, with hands raised in enthusiasm and a beaming teacher. Of course this is nonsense.”
– Page 171

“I have noticed when I watch great teachers that they generally behave inquisitively around people and they ask questions as a way of helping others to clarify their ideas. They ask us why we have thought something happened, or how a solution might be improved, or what is working with a process. Questioning insightfully then strategically reflecting back responses stimulates analysis and makes people beyond passive perception.”
– Page 171

“As educational institutions perceive talent, few innovators are attracted to professional structures that expect them to be a cog in a machine. Highly innovative people may train as teachers, but they rarely stay long in the systems.”
– Page 127

[Traditional, hierarchical schools] “are also less able to grow the generations of thinkers whose worlds and values differ profoundly from their own. Such organisations are unable to adapt core structures and values, so they are not flexible enough to operate at the vanguard of opportunity. They cannot naturally grow risk-taking leaders. Instead what they reward are people who can minimise disruption, read agendas, mouth the rhetoric of change, strategise time and resources and, most importantly, report strategically on their successes.”
– Page 127

“When young people are over cocooned, their development both physically and psychologically is stunted because they never developed experiences of failure and achievement but move them forward as human beings.”
– Page 87

[Quality feedback] – “This form of reporting that services as a consequence of learning together. It does not explain a mark. It accepts that we are not learning information and skills but using these things to develop as human beings.”
– Page 78

In our mistaken assumption that learning produces a valid, measurable product we end up rewarding only that which can be turned into performance. This is a senseless and toxic situation. Elevates measurement above knowing and no affective education system can develop from such a position.”
– Page 80

“Remember that the measure of performance is not the measure of learning. Learning is a process, not a product, and it is vulnerable.”
– Page 188


“Before global economies, digitalised worlds, and plural knowledges, the well-managed, hierarchical model could operate as a substitute for leadership. In fact such organisations could be almost leadless, run on the efforts of middle managers.”
– Page 139

“I rapidly realised that when working post=heroically you have to understand systems and learn how they are and why they function the way they do”
– page 160

“I learned that real change is incremental. It’s roots lie in understanding how people value things not in the sweeping revolution in a brightly coloured classroom.”
– Page 163

“So I have learned that enduring change is not a revolutionary coup: it is human. The change of human beings is far more influential and profound than the change of systems and I settle for this because it is deeper.”
– Page 163

“I have discovered that it is never effective to criticise people. On the surface this may sound silly. We are taught that telling it like it is is the mark of a strong person. Well that’s maybe true but it isn’t the mark of an influential person.”
– Page 168

“It is also through lack of courageous questioning the poor teachers and manages are able to remain in their positions.”
– Page 172

“Damaged environments – be the classroom schools or organisations – are populated with people who have been trained not to question. Instead, they are seduced into criticising and discrete, ineffectual, disgruntled pockets, but they do not influence change”
– Page 172

“If you want something to succeed, let other people take the credit. For instance, I have learned not to insist on an idea I introduced is attributed to me. If I wanted to take route, I have to be prepared for other people to believe that it is theirs and to claim it as such. In fact as they begin to develop it I will open the attributed to them. This approach results in ideas growing faster, achieve higher levels of fire in and helps people I am working with to feel valued.”
– Page 176

“This is why change has the greatest chance of occurring in an environment where people have been enticed into showing appreciation of each other, even when they disagree”
– Page 180

“Don’t micromanage them, they are professionals and capable of much more than they are able to exercise in environments clogged with obsessive reporting and accountability.”
– Page 188

The book finished on an excellent quote:

“A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

Oscar Wilde