Posts Tagged ‘culture shifting’

For those of you who are new to this blog, we spend a lot of time working with teachers and schools at  the fore-front of shifting their school learning culture and their pedagogy. This week we had an revealing experience with one of the schools we are working with. It is early days in this school and the individual is receiving push back by internal (students, certain staff, etc) and external forces (e.g. parents). By the way this is normal as schools’ shift their practice and habits. I thought I’d post the reply by one of our consultants to the individual who is responsible for being the beacon of change within the school.


Hi X,

I experienced the same reactions (the whole range!) at the two schools at which I worked to implement Inquiry programs. Some of the students were very threatened by having to move outside their comfort zones – they had been very comfortable and used to the idea of the teacher doing all the work (in terms of the thinking) and them being positioned as recipients of information in the traditional classroom. They were very concerned about potential impact of ‘taking time’ away from traditional, discipline-based learning to develop the skills and competencies of inquiry. At one stage (I think I may have shared this story with you early in our planning last year) we invited parents and students to an evening meeting at the school to give us feedback about the Project – and it was very mixed, with strong opinions on both sides (and of course many who kept quiet on the issue). The bottom line was that, whilst we in no way minimised the students’ fears, we understood that we were the ones who had developed the understanding of the pedagogical principles underpinning the program – the students believed they knew what would serve them best in the ‘real’ world because that was their dominant experience of learning up until that point. You could say the same of many of the parents. We know what the research, the data and the experts say. Introducing Inquiry IS challenging, and I know, first-hand the feelings of stress, pressure and concern that teachers can feel during the process (particularly in the early stages of implementation).

The fact that some students are feeling uncomfortable is a good sign – it means that we have created something that is genuinely different and that there is obviously a need for, as the students must develop their awareness and competency in the skills needed for the twenty-first century world – skills and competencies that the VCE alone cannot provide. My understanding of the structure of the curriculum at your school was that the Inquiry Projects run separately from key disciplines like English and Maths so the students can be reassured that they will get their discipline-based, traditional preparation for the VCE in those subjects. What inquiry will do for them is develop the independent learning and coping skills that they will need to effectively deal with the stressors of experiences like VCE, university, living independently and later, to navigate the unpredictable and ever-changing jobs-market that they’ll be entering.

Without question, as part of my learning curve as I developed Inquiry in schools, the most important skill that I developed (out of absolute necessity!) was resilience. I had to look to collegiate support – particularly through those who shared my beliefs and an excellent mentor – to the research, to the work the students began to produce over time and to my own conviction that the work we were doing to transform learning into an active, thinking partnership was not only valid, but critical. On the odd evening, I would even watch video clips in the mould of Sir Ken Robinson’s ‘Changing Education Paradigms’ to remind me of our purpose and reasons for working to transform the student experience.

Rest assured that what you are all experiencing is very ‘normal’ and I have been there myself. We are already experiencing success because we are challenging staff and students.


If you are a teacher or in the leadership team at a school who is out to shift the learning culture at your school – then expect the push back! You ARE pushing people out of their comfort zones and challenging their thinking. Unless the school  is aiming for excellence and being extraordinary then the school will naturally devolve into mediocrity. It is your job to keep the vision alive.  It is also the making of you as a leader of developing exceptional learning. It is not easy. It is not simple. You have to have the determination and the vision to be the one causing the shift. The results and difference for everyone  is profound in the end.

Until next time!

Recently I wrote a  reply to a school who was asking me about Growth mindsets as a school philosophy and also how to go about framing the need for school cultural change. While I was writing it I realised how critical what I was writing was for many schools. As such I have included it for all of you. I would love any thoughts you have.

Do you know of a ‘template’ or model for a curriculum framework?

When you say “curriculum framework” it could mean many things… so I have found and edited a document (Useful Links for Planning the Transition to the Australian Curriculum) that could inform you for your question. It is partly put together by the Victorian Education Department so there is a Victorian Essential Learnings focus but the thinking and processes are equally applicable to what I believe you are up to.


Do you know of any schools who are using the “Growth Mindset” as their ‘philosophy’ of teaching and learning in some way? or pursuing it in a systematic way?

Developing a Growth Mindset can be considered a fundamental way of operating that underlies all contemporary programs. When you explore schools and classes that are high performing they develop a growth mindset in their students and staff. Perhaps the most integrated systematic approach to doing this I have heard about is “The Leader in Me” approach by Stephen R. Covey. Check out The concept is about applying and developing the 7 habits of highly effective people in students as part of the way that the curriculum is delivered. When you look at the Covey program after reading the book you see that what they are doing is building a growth mindset within the students by developing them in the set of strategies and thinking that a Growth mindset individual would have.

It is also worth checking out Masada College in NSW who implement this program in their Leading Learning Program (


I have also found articles about ‘Brainology’, a program teaching the Growth Mindset available from the USA. However, the Australian articles seemed to be about one main school. Are you familiar with that program? Do you know of any schools using it? Is it necessary to ‘buy into’ a program like that?Or would that be a good way to go?

Brainology ( is obviously Carol Dweck’s work implemented into a program. Whether one needs to do it depends on the school’s vision. One of the challenges about the questions you ask is that until you are clear about what the school’s vision for learning is then taking on any of these programs will just be another thing to do that “hopefully” will make a difference. Inside of knowing what the school is “building” then you can judge whether it fits with that vision or not. Could it be valuable? Probably. I haven’t come across a school using it yet in my travels.

It is also worth checking out how Kathleen Kryza and her wonderful team has used the Growth Mindset idea in their work of Differentiation. They have just created a book called “Give it a Go” which is all about creating growth mindsets in a class.


I want to include our recommendation that a ‘culture change’ could be needed at our school with regard to ‘teaching and learning’ and would appreciate hearing your ideas on how this could be ‘framed’ or expressed in the report/proposal.

Ok. Let me have a go at this. One of the conversations I am now having with schools is leading an inquiry into “what is student centred learning?” This reveals an enormous amount the perception of the teachers and the culture in the school. At one session I led it was interesting to hear teachers expressing opinions giving students more choice, more control, etc, When you looked at all the statements together what you got was sense of the teacher maintaining control and giving something to the students so they ‘felt like they had a say’.

The next inquiry question was “who is more important in learning in a classroom – the teacher or the student”, and we can draw a see-saw with the teacher and student balanced on either end of it. Of course, teachers answers vary depending on their perception.

Here is the crux.

The teacher vs student thinking is industrial age paradigm. In a contemporary learning environment everyone in the classroom is both at different times … and it is critical to realise that you need to THINK this way to have that occur. At different times you learn from your students just as much as they learn from you. We need to reinvent what it means to be a “teacher” because at different times you can be a teacher, coach, facilitator, guider, supporter, coordinator, organiser, and so on … but at all times you are a learner. In fact I believe in a school it is more appropriate to think of our roles along a continuum

Beginning Learner ——————————-> Master Learner

In particular areas educators are masterful … such as specific domain areas or even in how one learns. In others we are not … but the students have a certain capacity and competency in those areas. Other people may have a greater mastery in those areas and so we learn from them or have them partner us to achieve our goal. Our job is to partner the students to develop mastery of learning in areas that they are currently weak in such that they are prepared for an ever-changing world. That involves mastering the skills, thinking, understanding and mindset that will adapt and thrive in the world.

Can you become masterful without the doing? No. This is why student-centred learning is important. Student Centred Learning is a profound shift in the way that teachers think about learning and teaching. It is a shift in context from Teacher as the Driver of Learning (this is what I have to cover, this is what I must make sure they know, this is what I have to teach), to Educator Setting the Destination and They Drive. In this new culture of learning and what it means to be a “teacher”, the focus becomes about getting clear about what the learning destination (skills, understandings, concepts) and planning on how we can create an environment where the habits, practices, activities, learning experiences supports the student to drive where we believe they will develop what they need for their future.

“Teachers” move from being the Drivers to the Driving Instructors. They don’t have their hands on the steering wheel but sit beside the learners, masterful at understanding the rules of learning and the skills of learning, and provide what is required for the learner to arrive at the destination.

Unless the school has a clear overall destination in mind they will be making many side-trips to destinations that can leave the student confused, disoriented and ultimately not where they need to be. This is why it is critical to align school culture, practices and planning such that everyone is on the same page. At the moment many schools have not done the thinking and the curriculum planning to achieve this. A school needs to have a clear vision for who they are and what they are building, a clear scope and sequence of skills and understandings they are developing through the years, a clear map and plan of how they are going to do it, and also how they are going to measure progress towards the destination(s).

Assessment is not a destination … it is your measurement guide towards the destination. You could say it is your GPS!

I hope this helps!

I recently had an email conversation with a friend of mine in the USA who asked me what I meant when I told her that one of the areas we are now working in is “culture shifting schools”.  As I wrote my reply I had to really think about what our vision is when we work with schools. I thought it worthwhile to share with you what I wrote.

“To fill you in a little on culture shifting in schools … I recently wrote an article which addresses the shift in paradigms that is occuring at the moment (Age to Age article below in the blog list). In its essence we are moving into a new paradigm in the world and it is important to realise that people are still operating, thinking from, and acting from the old paradigm when new ideas are being brought in. This means we must first shift their context before bringing in new actions, structures, etc.

If we had to work with a new school (where we chose where to begin rather than if they just employed us for a specific task!) I would first find out if they have created a real vision for their future and uncover what they are building (what are they aiming to be best in the world in). It is critical for the school leadership team to have clarity in this as quite often we have found that schools have visions but quite often they are locked away in a drawer somewhere and it purely exists as words on a website or piece of paper to be brought out when someone asks.

From there we would have them describe what it would look like when that is delivered upon. This is important as the leadership team must be clear about what the entirity of the goal is and means. In fact, exemplary schools do this quite well.

Being clear about what it looks like, feels like, what things would be in place when that vision is accomplished, we would then look at where they are now against this future and then look at two things
1. What barriers would be in the way between now and the future
2. What projects (who, what, when, where, why) could be created to get from now to the future

Much like in “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, we can explore Level 5 Leadership, Having the right people in the right places, confronting all the brutal facts, and building a disciplined team, disciplined thinking, disciplined action.

We would then work with them inside of truing all their systems, teaching, processes, etc against this future such that they are delivering on them. I have seen many strategic plans that have great visions and ideas but their plans DO NOT address the constant measuring of the set actions against these visions. How do they know that the end result is definitely going to be that vision expressed in the world?

It is at this point that schools can assess what programs, professional development, staff resourcing and requirements, and so on are needed. What we have found is that it gives REAL clarity and direction to a school so they don’t beat around the bush so much when they are out to build the school they wish to build. It gives a context and direction that every stakeholder can understand.

Just to end this blog … one thing we have discovered is that schools are a wealth of experience and knowledge … they don’t need to spend huge amounts of money to get outsiders in to tell them what to do. Once they have clarity … it becomes about harnessing the extraordinary people who are already there. The answers are all there in the communities!

Until next time!

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