Book preview 01: A Learner’s paradise by Richard Wells

coverWow! I wrote and published a book! I was asked to write the book by edTechTeam after an online chat where I outlined what I had presented about NZ education at an event in Miami. My aim in writing the book is to inspire educators around the world to implement significant change based on the amazing initiatives that are forging adaptive, future-focused education in New Zealand. In this series of book previews, I’ll choose and blog my favourite examples from the book of how NZ systematically grows it’s educators and schools collaboratively as a nation. Thanks to those who’ve already bought it. BUY IT HERE!

Preview1: Teaching as Inquiry

The topic of professional development can spark conversations that go on for hours (Trust me, I’ve sat through hundreds of planning meetings). You can spend one meeting after the next discussing how to approach professional development as a school: Who needs what? Should there be elements of compulsory training? And the most frightening and misguided question: Which tech should we be using? In all the schools I worked in during the first decade of my teaching career, these marathon meetings led to minimal success.

Even today, many teachers’ vision for how learning should look is based on their own school experiences. Some see professional development as a sporadic series of (often – disappointing) events that they choose to or are asked to attend. What is most sad to me is when I meet student-centred teachers who, when providing training to other staff, do not use their normal classroom techniques because they know the audience of teachers are expecting and comfortable with the stand-and-deliver format. It is certainly not a bad thing that the number of education conferences continues to grow. But the attendees at these events tend to be from the minority of teachers who have developed some type of growth mindset. The majority of teachers I’ve worked with in schools, both in the UK and here in New Zealand, have yet to attend such an event and many wouldn’t see much need to.

Remember, the New Zealand system is fantastic, but Kiwi teachers are still coming to terms with it. The question for any education system, then, is this: How do we make having a growth mindset the norm amongst educators? In truth, it takes time to develop a culture where growth is the expectation, but including a systematic approach to developing this mindset as part of your national curriculum document is a good first step.

A National Growth Mindset

It is with great pleasure I can tell you that New Zealand is systematically solving the issue of nationwide, authentic professional development. The solution comes from making every teacher accountable for designing and reporting a personal inquiry into their own classroom practice. This is done through an action research model we call Teaching as Inquiry (TAI). Asking teachers to challenge and reflect upon their teaching automatically makes it more relevant and personal than if they were following a mandated lesson plan—or even simply following their own lesson plans from the previous year.

Teaching-as-inquiry_reference

This call for continual personal reflection and professional development is the opposite of any form of one-size-fits-all approach. The trick is to make teachers accountable for sharing their reflections with, at a minimum, others in their school and, more preferably, the world. The style of learning and area of growth targeted are chosen by each individual teacher and are expected to produce a measurable challenge to some aspect of their teaching. The purpose of TAI is to instil in teachers the belief that professional development is, and should be, instigated by the individual. It also promotes the idea that development and learning is continuous and not isolated to planned events.

Learning is personal

teacher chatThe best professional development comes from reflecting on one’s own practice and applying measurable challenges to one’s own teaching. It is a practice that empowers teachers to keep and improve the good stuff whilst throwing out the things that don’t make a measurable difference to learning in their classroom or school. Teachers are then encouraged to share those measurable challenges or inquiries with other educators, be it in one-to-one meetings with a “critical” friend or on a blog, as a growing number of Kiwi teachers now do.

TAI is a practice that is successfully developing a culture amongst teachers in New Zealand for collaborative reflection and shared growth. This culture, in turn, helps to build trust within the system as teachers are more accountable and transparent in what they are doing and trying to achieve. The sharing of TAIs also provides a library of ideas and resources to any educator willing to tap into the blogs and wikis created by their fellow educators. I created this diagram of the SITTI model to show how the TAI process fits with schools’ professional development goals and creates a vision for learning that includes everyone.

SITTI Model-EduWells

Want more great ideas and initiatives from New Zealand? My book A Learner’s Paradise by Richard Wells is full of them. Available now on Amazon.com

Is your classroom filled with students or learners?

In a connected world with Wikipedia and Youtube, and technology that deletes more and more workplace roles every week, what should schools be focused on? Many teachers simply feel they do a better job that the internet at tailoring material to ensure students pass assessments. Teachers still prepare resources to read, watch and complete. Students are given or access these resources and work through them over a set period of time. They are then assessed and conclude that they have either acquired (temporarily) the skills and knowledge or not. What’s missing from this experience? – Learners! One analogy question I have for schools:

Is your school serving fish on a plate or issuing fishing rods?

Learning-to-Fish-EduWells

What’s the difference between a learner and a student? A student goes through the motions of learning for the sake of school structures and assessment, whereas a learner knows the context of the experience, can measure their own progress and makes decisions on next steps. The next steps might include consulting with an expert, such as the teacher, but it’s a learner who drives the experience. Well, that’s what I do when I’m learning something these days and it’s certainly not what I did at school.

Like the vast majority of current school leavers, It was after school that I spent years having to learn how to learn and look after myself. The school day had never given me any significant reason to look after myself beyond abstract grades and thus the teachers operated on the basis I never would show any genuine interest. They issued everything I needed in bite-sized chunks hoping I’d re-enact it in the assessment. Learning is exciting, being a student sucks, and as Chuck Berry said in 1957 – “Soon as 3 o’clock rolls around, I finally lay my burden down.” I remember thinking exactly the same thing and know that most students still feel the same.

“learning is exciting, being a student sucks”

So what should schools be doing? Developing learners. If from an early age the expectation is that one will learn how to look after one’s own learning and this expectation remains consistent, teachers wont find they have to do all the ‘learning‘ preparation on behalf of the students as is happening today, even with university students. No matter how much teachers would like it, the standard factory model school (still the vast majority) is not designed to and thus should never expect to develop true independence. Any school’s successful students who seem more independently driven, will be so due to expectations  for decision making and showing initiative during experiences outside the classroom somewhere – think scout leader, sports captain or orchestra member.

Scaffolding how to go about learning and be productive is what teachers should be working on.

Making decisions about what, how and who to work with so as to produce and evaluate outcomes, should be the norm in any classroom at any age. Scaffolding how to go about learning and be productive is what teachers should be working on. We need faith that by placing “how to learn and be productive” at the heart of classroom thinking, the average student will gain experience in driving situations just like our best students receive outside the classroom. 2 Posters I use to continue the learning conversation are below.

How to Learn.001

Design Thinking - EduWells

How New Zealand builds the best and the brightest teachers

The conversation around diminishing teacher numbers and the quality of new applicants has been going on for some time. Here’s one from 1999! You only have to look at the stock exchange to realise that the brightest flock towards the money and teaching in most OECD countries, doesn’t pay enough. Until the shortage of teachers becomes the largest of political hot potatoes,  It might be decades before the public in general support significant rise to wages. In the meantime, rather than wait for the golden ticket, New Zealand has taken a systematic and pragmatic approach to ensuring quality teaching and learning.

PTCs

Teacher certification-Growth NOT compliance

Question: Will a teacher’s current practice and content be appropriate in ten years? Given the rapid developments in culture (transgender), communication (Social Media) and technology (Uber), values, skills and their subsequent requirements are also changing rapidly. To ensure relevant and quality teaching, one does not just require people to be clever and talented. An education system in the 21st century needs teachers who adapt and challenge their practice against such changes.  This is where New Zealand has hit the ground running. For over a decade now, teachers in New Zealand have been asked to provide a portfolio of evidence that confirms their quality practice every three years.

To many teachers around the world this would seem like an affront to their professionalism, but in New Zealand we are developing a new kind of growth-mindset culture amongst educators. Teachers are not asked to prove their compliance with a set of rules but show growth in twelve teaching practice criteria determined by teachers and the NZ education council. This turns conversations onto development and experimentation with new ideas and research trends. As long as a teacher is showing they are applying effort to grow their practice, that’s fine. Collected over three years, evidence of growth in these Twelve areas of practice is required.

How to encourage a growth culture

To complement this demand for professional growth, New Zealand has devised a development model called “Teaching as Inquiry“. As part of their professional development, all New Zealand teachers are expected to document small action research projects that target either weaker areas of their own practice or new initiatives. Teaching-as-inquiry_referenceThey are expected to use data to evaluate the success of these new ideas and can often be found running several each year, as part of their teaching. This makes the planning and implementation of teaching a much richer experience that generates critical thinking discussions between teachers.

I believe it makes for a more positive debate when people discuss the potential growth of current teachers, than that of asking how do we attract better people? New Zealand has developed a model based on growth-mindset and there’s very much a national sense of collaboration and support between government agencies and schools. I am proud and excited to work with all New Zealand teachers.

Want to know more? My book is out next month! A Learner’s Paradise by Richard Wells

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Richard Wells Author pic SMLAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Leader 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 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.

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DIY – Breakout #Education

There are crazy people in Auckland who pay to be locked in a room and forced to escape. Why? Because it’s fun! The people at EscapeMasters provide problem solving escape challenges for parties and corporate team-building. There’s also an app version where clues around the room combine to be your key to escape. So, how are educators using the popularity and opportunity these game ideas present? How could schools possibly get away with locking children into a room? Well, the people at BreakoutEdu have solved the problem.

breakoutEdu2

Breakout Education

Breakout Education is a gamification of teaching and assessing knowledge and skills. You can purchase or build your own to whatever complexity you require. Instead of breaking out from a room, participants attempt to solve and combine the clues around the room to break into a padlocked box. The box, obviously, is filled with treats. BreakoutEdu.com offer products that include multiple types of padlocks. This allows you to invent numeric, alphanumeric or directional solutions that the clues might lead to. When I was introduced to it by EdTechTeam, we had to solve 4 different types of padlocks!

Limited time = simpler problem

I decided to give this a go but with 1 hour lessons periods, I thought one padlock would do. I bought a metal box and a 4-digit numeric padlock. I then created a simple enough set of clues that would lead to the 4-digit solution that might be introduced and solved in one hour. My problem worked like this:

  1. Four picture clues that point to four numbers used in my sum
  2. Each number is coloured in the clue
  3. 2 more clues point to how the colours are paired-up in the sum
  4. One clue reminded the children about the order of operations (The order of the sum)
  5. 3 clues combined to draw out the position of numbers in the sum

I divided a class of 24 kids into 3 teams of eight. I think teams of 5 or 6 would be best. I found with 12-year-olds, I had to remind them to write down in one place, everything they had discovered so far. This included “You have found numbers, colours, pairs of something and order.” It took one team of eight 12-year-olds 40 minutes to piece together my clues and break into my padlocked box. For mine, they needed phones or iPads as I’d used URLs and QR codes as clues. I also ‘hid’ a clue in ultraviolet ink and quietly left a UV light in a jar on a table. I’ve attached the slides of clues below that you could use as a template or just print off and use as it is.

More complexity and topics

Clues can be made really tricky. Such as, making a QR code from a plane journey that stops at a number of airports, whose airport codes are an anagram of a required number in the sum! Using URLs, QR codes or AR to get to Google streetview points where clues can be found at street level in other places around the world. Science can use material clues to point to atomic numbers in the periodic table. The potential exists to involve any type of content, so get creative!

ALP book banner

 

Schools & the Death of the UBER career

Everyone is talking about UBER. There are now sites dedicated to “The UBER for X“. It is a popular analogy for presenters and bloggers because it epitomised modern technological disruption. UBER is a great example of how questioning the status quo and connecting dots between existing ideas can have such significant global impact in just a year or two. A similar thing is happening with telephone operators v.s SIRI type technology.  But for me, it’s the next chapter that most interests me: The death of the UBER career.

UBER timeline-Eduwells

I thought presenters, bloggers, and teachers might find a simple timeline useful. Please feel free to use this but please give me a mention:-)

People? What people?

This article discusses how many of the major car companies, alongside Google and UBER (that’s quite a team!) are lobbying the U.S, government to ensure their driverless cars (it’s not just Google who are making them) can cross state borders and be recognised as ‘legal drivers’. Given the safety, cost-saving and productivity gains offered by driverless cars, I think most people will be surprised at how quickly they embed into society in the developed world.

The UBER story is more about entire new industries being born and dying in the same decade, than it is about the death of old industries. The speed of change is getting faster and this is a new norm that schools must be aware of when discussing their purpose for existing. How quickly people can learn new knowledge and skills is far more important now than any particular knowledge or skill. This needs to have a huge impact on what gets practiced and emphasised in classrooms around the world.

best-apps-of-the-year-uber

The most expensive thing in any industry is it’s people. Most companies are working hard to remove the requirement for employing people. Amazon already have robot organised factories passing products automatically to drones for delivery! Losing your job because it’s cancelled all together is now so common, the U.S has introduce new employment insurance products to help people out.

What does this mean for the classroom?

The classroom is now a place to practice collaborating to learn. The questions that students should be allowed to ask and run with might be:

  • What should I be working on?
  • Who with?
  • What will we need?
  • Who can we call? (Ghostbusters?)

Practicing these questions and improving one’s collaborative productivity is going to be key to surviving the 21st century job market. This will help people continue to remain employable as well as up-skilling them for developing their own careers and businesses in a market where that itself might become a necessity. This does mean that if students in a classroom are currently reliant on a teacher for what to do and how to do it, they’re in big trouble!

Google Classroom in one minute

Here’s a one minute post with a one minute tutorial. I’m busy at the moment encouraging colleagues to start using Google Classroom. The reason I’m pushing it is that for the majority of teachers and especially the less technically inclined, it removes so many of the regular problems with choosing and setting up various apps and platforms for communicating and sharing files in a BYOD school. So here’s my summary poster that explains the key elements of each of a classroom page.

Make BYOD easy with Google Classroom:

  • A class is up and running in 5 minutes – no technician / admin required
  • Classroom automatically organised Drive folders for you
  • No more emailing required
  • Students can submit any file type for an assignment
  • Messaging can happen as a class or privately to one student
  • Multiple teachers can run a class
  • Mainly use assignments as they have the most options
  • Try to get most student work created from within an assignment

Alice Keeler has load more advice on Google Classroom

Here’s my poster:

Google Classroom Pages-eduwells

Cultivating boys that read

I’ll start with my own story to highlight a huge issue with reading that many boys struggle with. I find when people discuss whether they read or not, they tend to assume the discussion is based around fiction. In this sense I never read as a child. This will amaze many but due to a 1980s focus on self-discovery learning in UK elementary schools, I was permitted to not read if it suited me. I managed to avoid reading a whole book for my entire education. I read so little, I can tell you exactly what I managed before the age of eighteen:

  • at 6, I finished my last full ‘reader’ called “Roger red hat”
  • at 13, I fought through a third of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, before putting it down.
  • at 14 I confused myself on holiday with about 30 pages of an apocalyptic fantasy novel
  • at 16 I was forced to read scene from Macbeth to my English class

boysreading-eduwells

An unread college boy

At university (strange that I actually got there in the first place), I specifically chose an american literature elective to force myself to read a whole book. That’s right folks, I was 19 when I completed Catcher in the Rye, my first full book. The key reason for my trouble with reading was that, like many boys, I was always active, showing-off and inclined towards creative and/or physical activity. Books just required too much sitting down. I was never given a justification for dedicating serious time to someone else’s story. I may be nature or nurture, but boys struggle with empathy more than girls and I think it makes it harder for young boys to empathise with characters and really immerse themselves in the story. So what follows are the thoughts of a “non-reader.”

3 Ideas for encouraging boy readers

1. stick to the facts

Someone recently suggested to me that all men are somewhere on the autism spectrum, which from my experience, might be true. This is a more clever way of saying: all boys will obsess or get geeky about something. It might be sports, music, or Star Wars facts but details are everything to boys. A boy who lives near me discusses the facts of Star Wars far more than any narrative it might have. Parents and teachers can encourage this and arrange social groups around non-fiction interests to encourage boys to seek out more information, and thus read. Remember too, that websites and magazines also count as reading. Build a boys reading club around a magazine subscription in their topic of interest.

2. little and often works best

As a boy, I can tell you we like things simple. We’re not complicated animals. We like things to be quickly resolved and so books of short stories, that can be picked up knowing resolution with be arrived at quickly, seem more approachable than the thought of investing deeply in long complicated . Ensure boys have short story collections available so they can complete the narrative quickly but more often.

3. laugher satisfies

Comedy links to my previous idea. Funny situations and jokes are more immediately satisfying that other emotions, that can take longer to cultivate in a story. Comedy has the ability to entertain on each page and so keep a boy with shorter attention span hooked. Again, comedy also requires less deep empathy than love or pain. Find the funniest books you can.

My future? I now read more than ever, but sill not much in the way of fiction. My blogging keeps me reading, my Time magazine subscription keeps me reading, and the Curious Minds podcasts keep me reading.

boy reading

Image credit

_____________________________________________________________

eduwells-profile-drawnAuthor: Richard Wells
Teaches grade 6 to 12
Leader 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.

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What teachers could learn from startups

I was privileged recently to be invited by New Zealand Education innovator, Chris Clay to a Startup Weekend in Auckland. This was a very strange experience where I knew nothing about startups but my badge said VIP. I decided this stood for very ignorant person.  An opening statement by host Rowan Yeoman (@yeoro) was “realise everything is an assumption.” This was aimed at the participants to encourage them to question everything they held as fact. This might include such things as what they think customers will like, how much it might cost, who the business will need on staff, and what problem their ‘solution’ might solve. Rowen pointed out that a startup often fulfils it’s namesake and acts as a starting point that quickly morphs into a completely unforeseen type of business with a whole new customer base. So, like normal, this made me think of the classroom.

IMG_0459What teachers could learn from startups

The evening made me think about all the assumptions that education lives by. I thought I’d make myself a list of school modus operandi that rarely get questioned. As I pondered this, I realised that my examples came from all areas and aspects of education.

School administrations rarely question such things as:
  • Our results are good so our students are learning
  • Our community don’t want change
  • Our school vision impacts on who we are
  • Which ‘customers’ are catered for by their decisions
Teachers rarely question:
  • the need to organise students’ workload
  • the need to divide the day into manageable lessons
  • the priority of numeracy and literacy
  • if the relevance of their teaching has changed
Students are rarely encouraged to question:
  • the structure of their school day
  • the justifications for what they are offered to learn
  • the format of their assessment

IMG_0456

Let’s start-up questioning in schools

The issue for me is that ingrained assumptions have led the majority of the education sector to build an opposite environment to startups. They not only don’t question their own assumptions enough but many schools have such a prescribed day assigned that they don’t develop genuine questioning habits in their students. It was a little sad to see such an energised learning experience like this startup weekend being organised for adults, when the format of most lessons (assumption alarm) is relatively a closed deal before it starts.

The Startup Weekend was an agile experience where the process of problem finding and solving was allowed to develop naturally during the event. This is something that schools could learn from. To watch such an open-ended environment excite and drive learning was inspiring. I just hope a growing number of educators will realise that they can use such an approach to develop a new type of learner who expects to get teams organised so that goals, academic or practical, are achieved. I’ve done much experimenting with student empowerment in the last 5 years and I can confirm that people of almost any age are capable if teachers are willing to watch them work together to build their own learning successes, even if that’s not “the Uber for schools

Are teachers stealing problems from learners?

My school’s team of counsellors invited a speaker to provide professional development on the introduction of our student mediation program. Some students were going to receive training on how to become mediators of their peers’ problems. The training focused on the types of questions you ask as a mediator and the difficulties people found in not automatically trying to solve the problems they were listening to.

Owning Problems

The speaker asked the teachers to roleplay a mediation situation and discuss a problem that a teacher was having at the time. The aim was to become better listeners and through the example mediation questions, empower the problem-owner by letting them realise their own solution. In discussion afterwards, there seemed general agreement that it was:

  • Important to let the person work it through themselves as otherwise we might not truly solve the problem
  • Interrupting with suggested solutions would switch ownership of the problem from the victim to the mediator, disenfranchising the victim from the solution.

A parallel with teaching

My simple conclusion at the end of the session was that the relationship between teacher and learner should be exactly the same. Teachers should pullback from providing solutions in classrooms as this means that learners never own the challenge. This itself is a challenging proposition as I am suggesting that once students see a teacher trying to provide solutions, they understandably struggle to truly engage in the experience.

This does question:

  • Worksheets
  • Lecturing
  • Flipped Teaching
  • Lesson plans around content
  • Textbooks (The answers at the back!)
  • etc.

It’s time for teachers to build their practice around prompting questions and not guiding solutions. This makes for a better and more meaningful journey for the learners.

A matter of context?

The strange thing from me is that some teachers have their practice of teaching content and solutions so ingrained that the struggle or refuse to see this parallel. Where they have some faith that young people might be able to solve their own personal and social problems, they still maintain a notion that without a teacher, few learning solutions would ever eventuate. This of course is the common issue of relinquishing one’s power base and stepping down from one’s stage. It is as human to want a sense of power and especially an ego boosting ‘stage’ in the classroom, as it is for anyone to interrupt mediation with solutions to people’s personal problems.

It’s time for teachers to shift their practice to one of mediating learning. Plan and structure the learning environment and questioning, not the paths that learners must follow to arrive at predetermined solutions as this reduces the depth of the learning experience.

Grow your career like a rockstar

There is ongoing development in New Zealand of our “Teaching as inquiry” model. It was added to our new national curriculum in 2007 as an expectation that teachers formally record inquiries into aspects of their practice which they felt required challenge, research and improvement. This was quite a new mindset for the any profession to realise. Self-development is often an alien concept to generations brought up on formal education where learning is delivered at you. I’ve lost count of how many teachers have uttered the words “When will we get PD on this?” The information age is also new and so the world now expects people to rely less on face-to-face contact with experts. The self-driven learning mindset also matches New Zealand’s preferred inquiry-based learning model for students. But the understanding that one drives one’s own learning is crucial for another reason.

Employment Gigs

Employment “Gigs”

Gig: noun; plural noun: gigs
a live performance by a musician or group playing popular or jazz music.
a task or assignment.
“working on the sea and spotting whales seemed like a great gig”

I was listening to the excellent Curious Minds podcast by Galye Allen and she was interviewing Karie Willyerd on how to future proof your career. Karie used the term “gig” when referring to a job to emphasise how people were now viewing employment roles. This struck me as an excellent term to use with my students.

“It’s important to picture your future career as a set of music gigs. The current average means that each Gig (job) will last less than 4 years and will require a particular set of songs (skills). Like a musician, it is critical to write and learn new songs and instruments to ensure you stay fresh for future gigs. Like a rock star, you need to learn how to work with others and adapt / improvise during each gig. 
Develop this mindset and you’ll shine a rock star!” – @EDUWELLS

Job satisfaction & technology

I’ve blogged before on discussing careers with students in the plural and not singular tense. It is well documented that the job market now is increasingly fluid. This is for two reasons:

  1. People of all ages (Karie was quick to discourage the myth that it’s only millennials) now expect more satisfaction from work and often move on when it’s not forthcoming,
  2. Technology now significantly changes the employment landscape every year, predominantly with a lessening of available posts.

It is time for teachers to realise why both “teaching as inquiry” and growth mindset are so important but also why it is critical we pass on this approach to our students, who arguably need it more than we do!