What makes a happy school?

no_hierachy_in_learning-eduwellsWhat makes all humans happy?

How about feeling:

  • you belong
  • you’re appreciated
  • you’re approach will be supported
  • and you’re important.

The factory gets everyone down

As education slowly drags itself out from the pit of 19th/20th century ‘factory’ education, it seems obvious to me that these were and are unfortunately the sentiments missing from much of my experience, both as student and teacher. The system my colleagues and I were educated in was centred on the exact opposite of the above list. It is very important to the uniform delivery of exam material that everyone comply and any appreciation of individuality be stifled. This has not only led to a history of students wanting to avoid school if possible (“Snow day” anybody?), but also led to unhappy teachers treated as evaluated delivery mechanisms.

A happy Alternative

hpss-danielle-on-floor-copyTo the left is my teacher friend Danielle, using the floor to indicate her equal status as a learner amongst her students. The flatter the learning hierarchies in a school are, the happier everyone is: staff; students; and parents. Developing a culture where everyone is a learner and has something to offer others is key to happiness for all. I have visited many schools in New Zealand and I can report that the happiest and healthiest exist where the principal is clearly viewed as lead learner not lead expert. Personally, I’m often tempted to judge a school by how visibly reflective its principal is. Many principals in New Zealand blog publicly (Links below) about both their successes and failures. This has the knock on effect of making teachers and their students more comfortable to try, fail, and thus learn.

Negotiation your way to happiness

A key to happy learners is to ensure nothing is assumed to be definite. The teacher doesn’t always know the best approach to learning for the specific learners in front of them. Students don’t always know their own strengths and weaknesses. The most effective environment is one of negotiation and reciprocal accountability between teacher and student. In New Zealand, schools use the native Maori term of “Ako” in place of the word “learning” as it better describes this reciprocal nature of learning. [Video credit: Breens Intermediate school, Christchurch]

“The concept of ako describes a teaching and learning relationship, where the educator is also learning from the student and where educators’ practices are informed by the latest research and are both deliberate and reflective. Ako is grounded in the principle of reciprocity and also recognises that the learner and whānau cannot be separated.”

Ka Hikitia, 2008, p.20

This is just one example where New Zealand’s balanced appreciation for both our primary cultures (Maori and European) benefits the wellbeing of our schools and their communities. To maintain one’s teaching certificate in New Zealand, teachers have to provide evidence every three years of how they have further developed their own learning and collaborative pedagogical approaches.

Western society was built on rigid hierarchies and from politics to medicine and certainly to education, the faster we learn that flattening them creates solutions to our biggest problems, the better for all involved.

There’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education.


Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International keynote speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

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.


#EdTech makes no significant difference

Teachers like me, who are keen on the potential of educational technology to change schools are often the first to say “it’s not the technology that’s important, it’s what you do with it.” We also say things like, “It’s about creativity, collaboration and communication.” After all, I started this very blog as an iPad support site and spent the first 3 years discussing the wonderful things one could make on an iPad and how exciting all the apps and their technologies were. But regardless of how people are collaborating, creating, and getting excited, there’s one crucial thing to remember … technology makes no significant difference to learning.


EdTech output does not equal BETTER learning

To help explain where schools still often miss the point when talking about technology use, I’d like to mention two important educators.

john-hattieJohn Hattie: A New Zealander who has been Professor of Education and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia, since March 2011. He is the Author of “Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement.” an influential paper on what has a real impact on learning. In his list of nearly 200 influences on learning outcomes from an ever increasing meta-analysis of global educational research, you have to go to number 70 before you even get a mention of technology. Since it’s first publication in 2008, students self-reporting their own success has proved to be consistently the most influential indicator. This is something most schools don’t utilise at all whilst dedicating hours to training staff in technology.

derek-mullerDerek Muller: An Australian who has had success in teaching through video and even has a PHD in doing so. His extremely popular video on why #edTech has little impact on learning has had more than a million views. In the video below, Derek takes you back 100 years and runs you through the history of the claim that This will revolutionise education.” He highlights that if the goal and content of an activity is the same, the format makes no difference. His summary reminds us that the point of education is not to aim for particular output from students or simply deliver information, even new styles of input & output. “The purpose is to inspire, challenge and excite people to want to learn.” Another key point he makes is that learning is a social activity and is most successful when every individual feels they have a role to play within that learning. Teachers are only truely successful when focused both on the design of and the locus of control within a social learning environment. That requirement is what maintains teachers as so important.

Does tech still have a role to play?

how-technology-in-schools-has-changed-over-time-infographicPlease don’t be confused and think this is an anti-tech post. There’s nothing wrong with using technology as long as the classroom norm is that individual students expect to evaluate their own outcomes (Just as Hattie’s studies indicate) and preferably against calculated targets for understanding and impact that the students devised or negotiated in the first place. All learning must include the questions below, if it does, technology only opens up further opportunities, if it doesn’t, then technology only becomes the distraction that many fear it is.
Click the infographic to the left for a nice history of EdTech.

Questions for all learnERS

  1. Why am I learning this?
  2. How will I measure my own success?
  3. Who with and how might I best succeed?
  4. What are my next steps?
  5. How am I tracking my progress?

Technology will help answer all 5 questions but if they are absent from the mind of the learner, technology will not assist true learning at all. My primary concern as an educator now is who is driving the learning in my classroom, be they using tech or not.

I have covered many aspects of future education trends in my $16 book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education. Here’s the Ad:

The Amazing iPadpaloozaGC 2016

ipadpaloozagcI’ve just had a fantastic week on the Gold Coast of Australia at iPadPaloozaGC! Cathy Hunt (@art_cathyhunt) and her team organised the widest breadth of inspirational speakers and demonstrations I think I have ever seen at one event. I thought I’d focus my summary on that breadth, so lets take a look at the themes covered.

1. Creativity

The conference had so many sessions on the creative side of tech use in schools and encouraged the notion that technology was not about consumption and was far more engaging and effective when challenging young people to create and share. Paul Hamilton, Cathy Hunt, Simon Lees and Brandt Ward all ran pre-conference days on making and learning through problem solving and story telling. All four discussed how the technology encouraged constant review and reflection from young people and how tech’s speed of production allowed for rapid prototyping and iteration. This is what learning should always be about. Music, Film-making, robotics, Minecraft were also strong themes at the event and made for a dynamic and exciting atmosphere all-round.

2. Wellbeing and acceptance

michael-carr-greggMichael Carr-Gregg (@MCG58) was the Keynote speaker on day one and gave a brilliant, no-nonsense, info + advice packed talk on young people and mental-health. His advice covered so many topics including acceptance, depression & health. He highlighted how they all contribute to the success, or lack of, that children experience at school. He explained wrong assumptions held by adults regarding young people’s mindsets and also the way that technology has such a positive role to play in tackling issues of wellness. Put simply, if schools want to improve grades, they need to invest much more time and money in mental health. Brilliant stuff, Michael! You have immediately made my life better by introducing me to sleep apps and iPhone settings to improve my wellbeing significantly.

3. Accessibility

craig-smithI thought things had been pretty amazing on day 1 and then Craig Smith (@wrenasmir) and Christopher Hills (@IamMaccing) appeared on stage and blew my mind! Craig works extensively around the issue of accessibility and is an inspiring man to meet. He acts as a powerful reminder that the world is a far more complicated place filled with amazing people overcoming challenges daily that most people don’t even notice. Craig introduced us to a team of educators like Michael Harrison (@ozmsh) and David Woodbridge (@dwoodbridge) who are working tirelessly to raise awareness of the progress being forged by technology accessibility options, especially by the people at Apple. Craig was great but then Chris hit the stage and made me cry, laugh and tweet like a madman, sometimes doing all three simultaneously. Chris is a world recognised Final cut pro accredited trainer, phenomenal film-maker and now programmer, who just happens to have an acute form of cerebral palsy. His videos showcased his ninja skills on Mac software that would outperform most people regardless of that fact he didn’t use his hands! Craig let me in on an extra story about Chris where it was suggested Chris apply for extra test time during his Final Cut Pro accreditation, which Chris turned down only to go on to beat his assessor’s time !!! I haven’t blogged about technology for a while now but Chris and Craig reinvigorated my passion for the impact technology can have in changing lives for the better. thank you so much to both of them.

Here’s one of Chris’ videos:

4. Security

Troy Hunt (@troyhunt) took the stage for keynote of Day 2 and wowed us with a funny, slick and scary presentation on tech security. He showed us how vulnerable, ignorant, and easy to hack we all were, troy-hunt
whilst making us laugh and gasp. He was yet another significant change of theme and sent us all away with a sense of needing to do yet more education in the area of security and digital citizenship. Social media and online accounts have become such a daily norm that we need to keep up our discussion around safety.

5. FUN !!

Firstly, big up to Bella Paton and her fellow students at St Hilda’s for their amazing talented entertainment during the event. The number of delegates who said “That’s not live is it” when they first heard the girls’ singing and showed disbelief as they peered round the corner. Congrats Bella, You’ll be so successful, I’m sure! Now, something I don’t say very often but “thank god for Americans” My friends from the U.S, Carl Hooker (@MrHooker), Lisa Johnson (@TechChef4U), and Felix (@FelixJacomino) and Judy Jacomino (@JudyJacomino) bring so much energy to these events, they really send you home buzzing. They make you excited to be an educator and demonstrate in so many ways how teachers can connect to have such a bigger impact on young learners around the world. Thank you SO MUCH, all of you!

cathy-hunt-and-carl-hookerThat was one very special week and I can’t end this post with out saying how kind, talented and important Cathy Hunt and her work around the world is. This event exuded Cathy’s passion for education, creativity and fun. I know she’s worked so hard to make it happen and deserves all the praise she’s getting for doing so. Follow her NOW and get her books on iPad Art and you’ll be amazed at how she invigorates your love for creating and the potential Art has to change anybody’s life. Big congrats Cathy and even bigger thanks for inviting me to iPadpaloozaGC !!

I didn’t mention it too many time at iPadpalooza so I thought I’d just mention that there’s more on future education in my book: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education. [Watch the Video!]

Why are we still ignoring @SirKenRobinson?

It’s 10 years since Ken Robinson’s infamous talk on how schools kill creativity. In it, he mentions the entrenched hierarchy of subjects with Math and English at the top and Dance and Drama at the bottom. So … has your school changed? No? Mine neither. Change is hard but it’s time to take another look at what Robinson’s message was and maybe try to add a more practical perspective on why young people need this change to happen asap.


The Hierarchy generations

The current teaching profession was born and developed in a world based on long-standing hierarchies. These orders of importance were how the world operated and they had been fixed for hundreds of years. The world unfortunately still subconsciously behaves on the basis that, for example, the mind is more important than the body, and men are more important than women. To ask the current generation of teachers to significantly shift an engrained mindset is a big ask. Society still assumes that universities do the most important educational work and thus we allow universities to continue to drive the purpose of school. But Robinson highlighted ten years ago that earning a degree was becoming less connected with guaranteed success and fewer young people every year were convinced that academic success was worth working for.

Subject ego trumps learner

The problem we have with this change is our  understanding of why schools exist. The industrial approach to education has school communities (teachers, students, parents, and business) focused on the output from any aspect of school. English produces essays, which must be important because writing is all around us. Science looks at results and graphs and these have always looked important. Art produces paintings and these are just a nice-to-have and so Art must be of less importance. The factory model has always been preoccupied by production and teachers plaster their classroom walls with what students have produced.


By maintaining a focus on product, we loose focus on the process of learning and development and thus what each subject area in a school has to offer all individual learners regarding process and mindset. Young people do not see
school attendance as a matter of self-development but as a series of requests from teachers for output that matches exemplars. Robinson discusses the creative arts as important but his message is for schools to focus on the creative opportunities in all subject areas and preferably across them. The importance placed on the output of learning content has led schools to lose touch with students’ individuality and what they expect of themselves.

Why SOME subjects are MORE like gaming THAN OTHERS

When a subject’s content is held in such high esteem, a feeling develops where there’s little need to be creative or worry about what the students could add to the situation. This results in young people who wait to be issued material and challenges, at which point they will attempt to process them as requested and instructed. Like gaming, things appear in front of you and you are provided with tools with which you process those things and success is decided by a comparison between your processing of the situation and the pre-designed perfect example. Computer Games and most lessons are centred on the stuff and the tools. What’s invisible in the mindset of both gamer and traditional classroom student is the self. What’s most important to me at this moment? What would be the best thing to challenge myself with? What are my needs at this time? These are questions that students do not generally ask during English, Maths, Humanities and Science.

Self is part of the arts’ modus operandi

Dance, Drama, Music, and Visual Art ask “Who are you?” and “How do you operate?” as a matter of course. This is a regular practice that the current “top 4” don’t do enough of. In a world where employment will not be offered to possibly 50% of western society in 20 years time, we need to build confidence in young people in exactly who they are and what their strengths are in open situations. Confidence to invent, innovate, and contribute without requiring someone else to provide a starting point or even a job.


Ken was correct and as he predicted in 2006, he’s even more correct today. Knowing and confidence in what one has to offer the world is the key requirement in a rapidly changing future and the arts offer this to all. We’d be safer with them at the top of the hierarchy, regardlesss of what they output.

Here’s a nice video by Prince Ea, covering the same theme:




Whoever drives learning determines the destination

Whilst reminiscing with adults about our own experience of school, there are two types of story or description that emerge Classroom stories normally focus on the teacher, be it the way they talked, dressed or displayed terrible personal hygiene. Any other school stories include personal memories from trips, stage performances or embarrassing social moments. Now, notice here that stories that relate directly to the individual are outside the classroom, and most classroom memories do not relate oneself.

Where is the self in the classroom?

Who drives learning-eduwellsTeachers are often proud of their ability to build relationships with individual students but it’s the nature of and reason for that relationship that I want to examine. What I am about to write might frustrate some who see the nature of these relationships as the cornerstone of their practice. But like I have done many times, it’s the fundamental systems that schools use to deliver education that I am questioning and the way in which those systems impact on the relationships many teachers have with their students.

My thoughts this week relate to my recent discussions about factory style compliance being the driver for school practice and decider of success. When compliance with teacher issued work and rules is the primary concern during the school day, it has the tendency to shape the relationships of all those concerned. A topic that is talked about often is the difference between education and learning, where education is a finite something received from others and learning is a personal and authentic journey that doesn’t necessarily have an final destination. My feeling is that relationships formed within an environment of education do not recognise the individual beyond a need to comply with and complete work issued. An education predefines how learning takes place and so one-to-one relationships have to centre on either compliance assistance or issues outside the learning, like recent sporting successes or student hobbies. Relationships formed within an environment focused on learning are designed around the needs and passions of each individual to progress. In this way, education does not equip the individual for further learning as much as a personally driven experience that develops one’s own strategies and tactics.


I was invited to speak about change at another New Zealand high school this week where I did my best to explain the shift from educating the masses to developing individual learners and why the changing world was busy extending our need to do so. The thing I couldn’t stress enough is that whole school change is not worth attempting. The senior students in 90% of high schools have been trained to be educated by others and will often resent the idea of taking charge and being responsible for their learning.

So play the long game. Start with your youngest year group and have the teachers build a library of learning strategies and classroom expectations that have the learners consider “How might we or I progress towards this goal?” Challenge your students more to practice considering all the available options rather than waiting to be given them. Equip and empower your learners to be more independent but also self-aware in knowing when and how to seek assistance from those inside and outside the classroom.

Same workload – less stress

Confusion exists amongst teacher about student-driven learning. It requires just as much work from the teacher but the focus of the work is strategic and centred on resourcing students (example here) so they know:

  • how to go about being productive
  • how to hold meaningful discussion
  • how to evaluate information
  • how to think deeply
  • how to listen
  • how to communicate ideas
  • how to show empathy
  • and so on…

These questions must feature as the most common discussions in classrooms if schools are to genuinely recognise the individual learner. Once teachers are brave enough to start the long game and build better learners, the stress levels plummet. As a teacher in such a situation said to me last year: “why didn’t we do this 20 years ago!”

I have covered many aspects of future education trends in my book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education. Here’s the Ad:

How New Zealand education builds appreciation for cultural differences

donald trumpIf you look at current world events, such as #Brexit or #Trump, it’s not hard to conclude that ignorance of other cultures leads to prejudice and intolerance. Changing people’s prejudices is not impossible but ongoing conflicts around the globe show it’s difficult. The place to really tackle these unfortunate human habits and build a better future is to overtly address them in your nation’s education system. I wonder how your country’s education is tackling them? At what levels and in what form are these issues systematically addressed by your education system? IMAGE CREDIT

Not just tolErance but full appreciation

This is where I can proudly explain how New Zealand’s approach to educating appreciation for other cultures is both systematic and multifaceted. To be clear, New Zealand has not solved or completely eliminated issues around race, culture, and tolerance, but the initiatives it has implemented as integral parts of its education system have made a serious start at addressing these concerns. This small Pacific country has woven the development of cultural understanding into its education, from government level down to every classroom. It’s not just a topic in our curriculum but a requirement in how we approach everything at school. It also forms part of our professional development requirements to remain registered as a teacher, a process that expects growth every three years.

The two New Zealand schools in the video below are not typical as they are both exclusive schools teaching generally the children of the most affluent in the country. But because of this, this video acts as a good example of how prevalent cultural respect is in New Zealand schools. Even in the most conservative, traditionally “white” schools, the cultural respect is still successfully encouraged.

Why such a strong cultural focus?

nz curriculumsIt helps that New Zealand is bi-cultural with a founding treaty demanding the strong union between to strikingly different cultures. Our geographic situation also places us within easy reach of multiple asian countries making Auckland, in particular, a cultural melting-pot. Ive been to 3 schools that boast over 40 nationalities amongst their students. All government departments have an obligation to represent both Maori and Pakeha (European colonial cultures) equally in all processes and initiatives. This means we don’t just have one national curriculum translated in two languages but have two curriculums that share the same values and goals but outline very different culturally sensitive approaches to achieving them.

Developing culturally respectful learning

In New Zealand, teachers are expected to professionally develop to such an extent they are required to maintain a portfolio of growth and development in 12 professional practice criteria, Three of which directly relate to cultural respect and awareness. They are stated as:

  • demonstrate commitment to promoting the well-being of all ākonga(students). Take all reasonable steps to provide and maintain a teaching and learning environment that is physically, socially, culturally and emotionally safe. Acknowledge and respect the languages, heritages and cultures of all ākonga
  • Demonstrate commitment to bicultural partnership in Aotearoa New Zealand. Demonstrate respect for the heritages, languages and cultures of both partners to the Treaty of Waitangi.
  • work effectively within the bicultural context of Aotearoa New Zealand. Practise and develop the relevant use of te reo Māori me ngā tikanga-a-iwi(
    the language and culture) in context. Specifically and effectively address the educational aspirations of ākonga Māori, displaying high expectations for their learning

Teachers must provide evidence each three years that their practice has grown in respect to the criteria above. This leads to government and teacher driven supportive resources and networks that help teachers develop their practice in helping young people become respectful and appreciative of each other’s cultures and customs. I would go as far to say that there are few places on earth more peaceful and safe as New Zealand. Given its education system, this will only improve further in the future.

I have covered most aspects of New Zealand education in my book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining education. Here’s the Ad:



Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International Speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

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.


How compliance hurts all learning

Like many deputy principals around the world, I didn’t do very well at school. I was cheeky (not naughty) and hyperactive … every teacher’s favourite nightmare!  If I did the work, I always used the popular “bare minimum, last minute” approach. With no real world experience, and parents who had understandably given up trying to help, I couldn’t see any reason to comply with the prescribed workload. I knew I was capable and the teachers frequently told me so, but what I saw as simple compliance just didn’t excite me.

compliance-EduwellsIn my 15 years of teaching I have always sympathised with non-compliant learners but only in the last 5 years have I realised that compliance is not the only option for a classroom. I am currently working with the teachers in my school on a transition of staff and student mindset (it might take 5 years) that will hopefully have classrooms involving each learner in discussing and developing awareness of their own learning processes. Having students consider how they personally would best achieve the goals makes them feel appreciated as an individual and ironically (strict conservatives probably think this is nonsense) demands more from them. The alternative is to continue prescribing it for either entire classes or subsets of these (I’ve never been comfortable with teacher devised “differentiation”) and hoping for compliance.

Why not comply?

Success in school, something I knowingly chose to throw away, is predominantly a measure of your willingness to comply. If you sit quietly, follow all the guidance and complete the work, you will undoubtedly succeed with at least a satisfactory grade. Compliance was very important when preparing populations for factories and hard labour, but why comply these days with someone else’s learning program? If learners have evidence in their life that ‘playing-the-game’ means success or they have been conditioned to comply then schools generally achieve their assessment goals. Under the existing worldwide school compliance schooling, rich kids outperform poor kids and girls outperform boys. This explains why rich kids see ‘the system’ worth complying with and this explains why girls comply and thus “succeed.” But is compliance genuine success?

It is not hard to find evidence from industry, universities, and parents that even school leavers with successful grades disappoint those in the real world, who expect them to show initiative and make decisions, something classrooms have hardly shown a interest in. All young people are capable of initiative and decision making, they just get very little practice. Students taught as a class, think as a class and not individuals.

“Students taught as a class, think as a class and not individuals.” – Richard Wells (@Eduwells)

Compliance classrooms promote further undervaluing of students who’s lives already feel undervalued and hold back those who feel confident to suggest better approaches and stretch possibilities. From top to bottom, compliance hurts all learning and it’s time to start involving the young people in their own development. School as a journey of self-development is often as invisible to learners today as it was to me when I scraped a pass for compliance in 1995.

Want to read more?

I written more on this subject in my new book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining Education (Paperback and eBook)


Does your classroom make learning visible?

I had a fantastic planning day with the leaders in my school yesterday where we evaluated how conscious and engaged our students were in their own learning. The consensus was that our overall system was still very teacher driven and much work had to be done to encourage teachers to involve the students in, and make them more aware of the process of learning they were experiencing.


Why IS a Math test like a clay elephant?

I had a brief conversation with a 12 year old boy this month that went as follows:

Teacher: “What’s your favourite subject?”
Student: “Art”
Teacher: “What are you doing in Art?”
Student: “Making clay animals”
Teacher: “Why are you making clay animals?”
Student: “I don’t know, it’s like a math test. The teachers give you this stuff and you do it!”

Unless teachers make the reason for and the progress in learning something permanently visible to the learners, the tasks and activities just become “more work.” There are many tools teachers can use to do this:

  • Learning / goal matrix
  • Micro credits
  • Student reflection & planning time
  • Student designed assessment criteria
  • Peer-assessment
  • Peer critiques & discussion on progress

The more progress, however small, is visible to the individual, the more they will develop a growth mindset(My intelligence can grow and is not fixed). Once this mindset is present in a learner, many problems that schools have to deal with start to disappear. Motivation becomes intrinsic and extra effort is applied. This post by Peter DeWitt highlights the great work of Carol Dweck on proving that growth mindset does not come from simply applying more effort but is what generates more effort.

Elephant Maths-eduwells

Feeling involved as an active player in the learning process

The important consideration that came up in our discussion yesterday was the sense that the individual learner felt involved in the process. Offering every opportunity available for the students to make decisions and be responsible for the shape of the outcomes that achieve the goal, preferably a goal they set themselves. It was important for students to not be taught as a class because they would think as a class and not individuals. Understanding one’s existence as just a body in a class undervalues the individual and lessens genuine engagement beyond that of compliance.

Teachers need to ensure they are planning and developing environments where the individual expects to act as such, devising and tracking their own progress towards goals. Once the process of learning is made visible and the individual feels involved in that process,  answering the question “why are we doing this?” is much easier for everyone, including the teacher!

Note: Computer games are popular predominantly because they all make progress as visible as possible.

I written more on this subject in my new book A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand is reimagining Education (Paperback and eBook)




Making your classroom an incubator for global citizens.

Be it a classroom, a chat room or a war room, when do people choose to contribute to a situation? When you think about it for a moment, it’s not hard to work this out from experience. My first thoughts are:

  • Trusting relationships with the other stakeholders
  • A sense that:
    • you have something to offer
    • your contribution might succeed
    • one learns from any failures
  • Confidence to:
    • present your ideas to others
    • communicate and relate to new people

student teams01Developing these attributes and skills takes time. If you want to empower your students to feel they can use their school time to develop as contributing global citizens, your class lessons and projects need to have the above list as a foundation. You must also allow time for this development and not expect to be able to ‘teach’ it in a week or so. The confidence to contribute is not some thing one learns but something one develops through experience and feedback. To achieve these attributes, your class activities need to regularly be student driven, where the learners work together under expectations that they, not the teacher, need to formulate the best approach. They also need to develop habits in seeking and making productive connections with the right people, wherever they are in the world. Here’s my previous post on “What is Student-centred learning?

A networked world

What Teacher am IAnother understanding (that can be taught) is how young individuals are currently connecting globally to instigate projects and create products that are making a real difference. The examples below will showcase how becoming an active global change-maker, or a member of a change-network, can become a real possibility for anyone willing to purposely connect with others. It’s your classroom’s job to develop that will in your learners.


Book banner.001
Highlight to students that being a global citizen is an awareness that one exists as a node on a network. How important one is as a node is up to the individual but every node has an important role to play.
I have found that showcasing how young people are connecting to online ‘tribes’, centred on a particular issue or topic, and how they learn from that tribe through feedback on their contributions, inspires my students. This is how much of today’s global citizens operate and how much of the significant positive change takes place.

lemon aid

What difference can I make?

The more you teach your class as one unit, the less your students feel like individual learners and more importantly, individuals who might impact on global issues and change. To truly become an incubator for global citizens, the teachers job in the 21st century is to cultivate an empowering learning environment where students expect to take charge of both prescribed content and global impact, through their own development of networks, projects and feedback loops. This, like anything, takes practice and from as early as possible, this is the primary role of a 21st century classroom.


Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Deputy Principal in a New Zealand High School
Top 40 in edublog awards 2013
Top 12 Blogger – The Global Search for Education
Known for Educational Infographics (see Posters)
and an International Speaker.
Twitter :  @EduWells

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.



Why Teachers should act like Rookies not Experts

RookieAs a teacher, I found Curious Minds episode 41 with Liz Wiseman on Why Learning Beats Knowing, sparked a number of ideas that connected with my recent posts emphasising the need for self-learning practice in schools over that of receiving teaching. Liz explains with numerous examples, why a ‘rookie’ approaches problems and projects from possibly a better starting point than an expert might. I thought I’d offer you my takeaways from this podcast (although I highly recommend listening to the whole thing). Liz’s book is available here.

Be Rookie smart not Expert smart

The most important role a teacher has theses days is to model learning and encourage curiosity. If we continue to base classroom practice around our expert status, we present ourselves as the endpoint of any expectation or debate. Teachers develop better learners when they model trial & error. Nurturing a classroom culture where everyone, including the teacher, is in a constant state of personal development means expectations and possibilities are left open-ended rather than fixed to the teacher’s ‘correct answers’.

Rookie Smart


Hide your inner expert to inspire your rookies

  • Learner plateRookies make for better learners than experts.
  • Ability to learn has more value than what you know in the 21st Century.
  • Rookies aren’t weighed down with prior assumptions and have a larger need to seek and build new knowledge. This leads to new ideas and approaches to problems.
  • A rookie has to make smaller but more regular development steps, constantly needing feedback and assurance. ‘Expert’ teachers often make giant leaps towards known answers. The rookie’s baby steps require a rapid feedback loop, which leads to a more agile learning process more suited to the 21st Century economy/society.
  • Acting as if no expert exists in the room, rookies need to connect with others, which encourages collaboration and participation.
  • Lacking knowledge resources leads to more adaptive and resourceful approaches to problem solving and knowledge acquisition.

It’s time for teachers to ask their students:

  • What makes a successful rookie?
  • What do we need and where might we get it?
  • Who can help us? etc.

It’s best teachers present the idea that no correct answers exist in the room and even if they secretly do, it’s the challenge for teachers to guide in such a way that students might arrive at their own answers but hopefully in new and inspiring ways that the teacher can learn from. This completes a rather neat circle of learning.

Here’s a great video (via @geomouldey, via @Dwenmoth) that outlines many of the reasons why we need rookie rather than expert approach to classroom practice.

Book banner.001Want more ideas and initiatives like this one? My book A Learner’s Paradise by Richard Wells is full of them. Available now on Amazon.com