So, 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:
- Michael Fullan: Leading quality change
- Linda Hill: How to manage for collective creativity
- Eddie Obeng: Smart failure for a fast-changing world
- Manuel Lima: A Visual History of Human Knowledge
- Barry Schwartz: The way we think about work is broken
Inspired by these talks, here are my …
Five reasons your school’s NOT transforming
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Schools need to say #YouMatter as much as Teachers
I was lucky in November 2015 to be in Miami for the fantastic Miami Device event. There I saw the inspirational Angela Maiers, the author and presenter of the now worldwide #YouMatter campaign. This is a vehicle she uses in a number of ways. The primary aim is to have everyone realise that they do matter and that they have significant knowledge and talents to offer the world. This understanding is something Angela encourages teachers to develop in both themselves and their students. She asks both teachers and students to share their learning and experiences in an attempt to help others and in doing so, realise the impact an individual can have on the world.
#You have to matter
This all makes me very happy and I think it’s a fantastic initiative to push within education. I personally boil school purpose down to: Making every student realise how important they can be in the world. I too have presented and run workshops on how being a connected educator empowers one’s professional life. It gives more meaning to any classroom moment one is willing to share. Teachers use blogs and social media to develop confidence to such a point they even begin to share the not-so-good moments. This acts as a way to encourage feedback and ideas from their followers so as to grow one’s practice.
#YouMatter is so important in a world where anyone can showcase their talents to the world and make connections to help build success around them. As a personal example, I failed English at school but have built a considerable following from my writing in just 4 years. I’ve used sharing and networks to realise my writing matters.
Challenge to schools
Here’s my question: Why do teachers and students need #YouMatter? Surely, schools are exciting places where empowered students get to spend everyday working on their passions and expressing their own talents in preparation for a rapidly changing world that demands they showcase what they can offer. Errr… ok, not every school. Um, … ok not most schools. And here lies my problem.
It is such a shame to watch teachers building relationships and working hard to let every student know they matter, when the school systems and structures are dedicated to doing the opposite. How can #YouMatter, if:
- everyone has to read the same book?
- everyone must stand when the bell goes?
- you have to stop what you are doing and start something unrelated?
- you’re never given enough time to immerse yourself in anything properly?
- your government has pre-decided what you need to look at?
It is so encouraging to see an increasing number of school leaders challenge all the aspects of education’s status-quo. In simple terms, most elements of factory schooling need to be removed from education and leaders must start thinking far outside the (factory) box, if we are to ever have universal success when saying to any young person: “#YouMatter.”
Priority no.1 for teachers ?
I’ve covered technical and workflow ideas on this blog a lot but it’s time to properly summarise a teacher’s first priority when the kids have iPads. Now here is where I have an issue with terminology…
Maybe not an issue of “Pedagogy” (As many know it)
Until a few years ago, I would have used the word pedagogy in this post but this now has the wrong connotations for me as it is linked more strongly to ‘teaching’ and not ‘learning’. To many I’ve worked with, the word pedagogy still implies “the way in which I deliver the content to the students”
The tiers collapse
The one-way ‘dumping’ of teacher knowledge into students has never inspired and is just not the way the world operates anymore. Traditional hierarchies of age, resource ownership and societal prejudice are being eroded and we need new generations to be adapting and not waiting for information from the tier above.
What really matters?
In numerous surveys and studies, employers and universities say they desire the following qualities, which many of them say often seem quite absent in young people:
- Creative thinking
- Independence / self-drive
- Problem solving strategies
- Confidence to try new things
These are all skills and traits that are not evident in many school leavers either because they were never given the opportunity to develop them or that they existed in elementary school but the classroom routines lacked a need for them and they were lost over time.
Try, fail and develop
Many teachers need to try something that I will admit is scary to think about. Namely, handing over the control of the classroom to the kids! All young people need to experience the pressure & excitement of sorting themselves out, especially within a team. The iPads add a further layer of possibilities and individual power for discovery and presentation and teachers will always be surprised by the quality of student output as long as some freedom is offered in what a team focuses on within a topic and how they demonstrate their findings.
They will fail some of the time but as far as what matters is concerned, these moments become the most important learning opportunities. Developing keen learners who see failure as opportunity must be our first target. This requires freedom and support from the teacher.
Let the kids decide
I have an apps page and make a point of talking about my list’s theme of general purpose and it not being content specific. But it should be the kids who make this decision. There are many apps that my students are excellent on that produce fantastic output in a format I’d never imagine but of course their peers respond to much more genuinely.
Also, in a major meta-data study by John Hattie, the number one driver in student performance was self-reported grades / expectations. (See Info-graphic – the full version can be found with a google search)
What I often do now…
- Divide my topics into important sub topics
- Get the kids into groups (3s works best for me but 4 if I have to)
- Pose a ‘driving question’ to the class that doesn’t have a specific ‘correct answer’ E.g. “Should everyone contribute to the web?”
- Offer supportive questions to spark the groups conversations and give them areas to look at.
- Get the groups into the habit of recording their discussions and discoveries in their favourite format. (Some group message, some audio record, some mind-map)
- Have a shared class “success matrix” for every group to add to which outlines what would make a successful group product in general when covering the topic, answering the questions plus also product quality.
- Challenge them to “AppSmash” their learning as a way of sharing with the class. “App-Smashing” is where content created in one app is used in a 2nd app. This forces a little more creative thinking in how to present their learning.
- Most of the time we then upload, share & comment on other groups’ creations.
Time consuming ?
My time is now spent crafting better and better questions for my class to deal with in ways that suit them best and give them a genuine experience of crafting their own learning and enjoying the process. If we continue to push the idea that you need a teacher to learn then we’ll maintain the same small percentage that develop a real passion for learning right through high school and beyond.