Posts Tagged ‘education’

a-belief-is-not-merely-an-idea-the-mind-possessesHow much change has been occurring in your school of late? What is your experience of the change?

If we asked those questions of teachers in your school what do you think their responses might indicate? Would they respond in a joyful and empowered way or perhaps respond “yep yet another change”? I suspect for many teachers and leaders in schools there always seem to be some change initiative or another going on. Education appears to be undergoing a period of constant change, as it has for many years, and I don’t believe that this is going to be different for many years yet to come.

Given the constant changes occurring in our schools – whether they are driven by political, curriculum or pedagogical drivers – it is surprising to me that we consistently find that one of the biggest areas that schools seem to struggle with is managing the change that is occurring. Most school reforms or change initiatives fail because we don’t examine the underlying context or beliefs that exist within a school.

Let me give you some examples from our experience:

  1. A school has experienced a high turnover of senior leadership members in the past five years and have experienced “micromanagement from above”. The staff teachers indicate they have “change fatigue” and have little faith or trust in leadership at this point. Embedding new initiatives to improve student learning outcomes has been extraordinarily slow.
  2. A school has recently changed its senior leadership after a long period of stability and the new team wants to bring in a raft of much needed curricula and pedagogical change given the significant drop in student numbers at the school. However, there is a lot of “baggage” and resistance due to the “wrongs of the past”. Unless staff members have the opportunity to address and complete past issues again change will be slow.
  3. A school has a large number of teachers who have been at the school, and only that school, for decades. Whilst many of them are good to excellent teachers they aren’t necessarily interested in changing the way they teach or assess.

I could go on with a variety of examples but my point is that each and every school has individual challenges that need to be addressed to empower and enable positive change to occur. Some schools occur as fortresses against change, others are beginning to take down their walls, and others are flowing rivers where change has teachers meander from one initiative to the next and nothing gets embedded.

There is a wonderful old Sufi tale that tells of a man whose neighbors come upon him on his hands and knees under a street lamp. The man explains that he is searching for his lost keys. The neighbors immediately join in the search, but without success. When they ask the man if he’s sure this is where he lost the keys, he replies, “No. I lost them outside my door—but there’s more light here!”

Schools need to stop looking where the light is and start strategically searching in the most likely areas. They must uncover the invisible actors at play within a school – whether they are school structures, policies, past practices, teacher beliefs, parental beliefs, student beliefs, etc.  What are the causes of the way things are? What are the teacher beliefs about their students? What are the parental beliefs about their children? What are the staff beliefs about leadership? The more a school makes visible the underlying beliefs and context the more it can actually enact change appropriately within the school.

Case in point, Judith Lloyd Yeo in her book “Teaching in Mind: How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education” pointed out the following specifically about teacher beliefs:

  • Teacher’s beliefs profoundly influence their understanding of attempted reforms
  • The same words or phrases might signal quite different things to different teachers
  • Each teacher operates from a set of unexamined beliefs about the nature of teaching and learning, about knowledge, and about the purpose of education itself.
  • Teachers base their thinking and behaviour on unconscious values – personal, professional and those of the culture in which they live and were raised. Often personal values conflict with values of the school, school leadership, and even with a teacher’s own values regarding students.
  • Some practices never take root or cannot be sustained because the underlying beliefs have not changed.

For those of you who have worked with us before this is why we often start our professional learning workshops with inquiries that unpack teacher beliefs and habits. If you are interested in further reading here are some great articles for you to explore!

Cultivating Teachers’ Beliefs, Knowledge and Skills for Leading Change in Schools

Teacher Beliefs

How Teacher Thinking Shapes Education

Teaching Practices, Teachers’ Beliefs and Attitudes

The Beliefs-Behavior Connection: Leading Teachers Toward Change

Leading Change – Why Transformation Efforts Fail

A class begins, something is taught, hopefully something is learnt, the bell rings and then the next class begins. A unit of learning is begun, there are a range of activities occuring across days – weeks – months, hopefully something is learnt, then the unit ends and the next unit begins. A school year begins, a wide range of activities occur, assignments – possibly tests – are done, culminating projects are run with varying success, hopefully something is learnt, the year ends.

When one thinks about the flow of most of the learning that occurs within schools there is a particular pattern that arises – there is a beginning, a middle and an end. Sometimes the beginning, middle and end occur in one session. Sometimes it stretches across a few weeks and sometimes across the whole year. However, the habitual pattern is that there is a beginning, middle and end. So does it surprise you that over the years of schooling a learner could naturally develop the perception that learning is linear?

I had this insight recently during a conversation with a group of teachers at a primary school. The predominant unconcious context, and thus the subsequent habitual practices, within the school indicate that learning is perceived as linear by the students AND teachers. I then started exploring if that was the case in other schools, both primary and secondary, and found the same pattern. When I brought up my thinking with the teachers they all agreed. The way they often operate as educators could certainly develop a perception in their learners that learning is linear – start topic, do activities, end topic, next topic.

Learning, by its nature, is non-linear. The gaining of knowledge, whether by the individual or by humanity as a whole, is non-linear. Vygotsky coined the term “zone of proximal development” as a way of indicating that an individual learnt in a non-linear way. Piece by piece we gain knowledge and build a mental model through which we perceive the world. We begin with an incomplete model, given by our personal observations, the opinions and beliefs we grew up with. It is filled with misconceptions and misunderstandings. As we learn we slowly come to a more organised and consistent perception and interpretation of our world and how it works. The learning is non-linear but the explanations and ordering stem from an organised viewpoint . What often happens in schools though is that we “teach” in a linear fashion without honouring the non-linear nature of learning and thus engender a linear way of thinking about learning.


Context is Critical

“So what!” you may say – isn’t that the way schools have to operate?

Well, no.

As the saying goes, our context will eat our strategies every day of the week.This underlying context within the way that we teach will undermine any and all good evidence based initiatives because it stems from and leads to a particular mindset. How we as educators think abut learning influences our habits, our practices, and the way we create learning for others.

Let’s look at some of the common issues and complaints in schools that we could infer stem from this context:

All of these definitely have a range of underlying causes to why they occur but one of the common features is the way that teachers think about learning and thus operate as educators.

If we take the case that teachers have a big say in how learning is perceived by learners, then by shifting the context of the teachers implies we can shift the way learners perceive learning. Look around you at the dominant habits and practices of the teachers within the school.

  • What do they tell you about the context they hold about learning?
  • Do their habitual practices show that they are linking learning across lessons, classes, subjects, days, weeks, years?
  • Do they have anchor contexts and visible displays (which are constantly referred to) where students consistently and coherent develop the perception that they are exploring and building upon their understanding of the world?

If you think not then then the teacher context needs to shift to enable good pedagogical practices to occur.

If we begin by focusing on developing teachers to think from the context that learning is a spiral of increasing understanding and richness then I assert that these issues will start to shift. From this focus context teachers can begin to build habitual practices that are consistent with this context.

In Part II we will discuss what I mean by Spiral Learning and also give some simple HOWs teachers could use to go about shifting their context so as to develop a spiral learning context with the students.

Welcome to all of our new and old subscribers! As most of you probably realise by now – after all of our informative and resourceful newsletters – the team at Intuyu Consulting spends much of their time working in long term learning partnerships with schools. We love it because we get the chance to build relationships, we see teachers grow and develop their capacity as learners and educators, and we witness shifts in the mindset and thinking of staff, students and all who come in contact with the school.Why I am writing this note to you is to share the expanded descriptions of what we offer and to introduce some of the new areas we are now touching upon in our professional learning offerings. From 2014 we have four broad areas of professional learning offerings that we have described in four “Scope of Works” documents. Our intention is that we address the key areas the schools need support in as they build the best learning culture aligned with the vision of the school.

1. Developing a Powerful and Engaging Spiral Curriculum

In this Scope of Works we have articulated the steps that Dr Adrian Bertolini and Narelle Wood have found works best in schools designing and planning to create a consistent and coherent approach to developing skills, understanding and knowledge across a school. Our work addresses both the state curricula and the Australian Curriculum and our coaching addresses creating the rigor and discipline of planning powerful and engaging units. In the process of our consulting we have gathered a wide range of resources, coaching materials, and examples from the schools we have worked with that can be found on our Resource CD.

2. Frameworks for Effective Learning

Cathryn Stephens not only is a secondary teacher, a teaching and learning coach at a Victorian primary school, and a mad Collingwood supporter, she is currently half way through her Masters of Instructional Leadership with John Hattie, Stephen Dinham, Patrick Griffiths, and other leading educational experts. She has had many years of hands-on practice in implementing the findings from the latest evidence-based research of what works best with supporting students to be independent and effective learners. This Scope of Works identifies the process she has found works with introducing and embedding the thinking and structures to ensure a strong framework for effective learning. One of the extensions that Cathryn is offering this year is longitudinal coaching.

3. Developing a High Performing Professional Learning Culture

One of the clear issues we have been noticing in schools, and a number of principals and system leaders have acknowledged, is that school culture can hamper the embedding of pedagogy and performance. We’d go even further than that and say … Culture eats strategy every day of the week. Given that schools are increasingly being publically measured for performance it is important that schools explore and develop high performance professional learning cultures. This Scope of Works shares the range of workshops and facilitated conversations that we have found makes a profound difference to school cultures. The offerings range from being a critical friend supporting the leadership team to create effective strategic plans and annual implementation plans, through to leadership coaching, and one off sessions on building trust, tribal leadership, situational leadership and more.

4. Empowering Student Performance – Programs for Students, Teachers and Parents

These are a completely new set of offerings for 2014. The intent of the workshops is to provide expert coaching so as to empower students to have the habits and structures that will allow them to perform in specific domains. Not only are there student programs but sessions specifically design to empower parents so they can support their children. Workshops cover topics such as student skills, student leadership, writing, catering to talented and gifted students, junior science, and growth mindsets. Narelle Wood, who is leading this initiative, is working on her PhD in the area of teaching and assessing creativity, and she has been teaching both at the Monash University Education Faculty and in specialised Gifted Primary Education Programs around Australia.
If you are interested in discussing:
  • building a powerful learning culture in your school,
  • developing leadership for staff with positions of responsibility,
  • the issues pertinent to your school,
  • tailored options specific to your school,
  • contacting one of the schools we have worked with,
  • costing and dates,
  • benefits of what we can provide, or
  • even what it could look like
Please email me at or call on 0413 036 382.
Adrian BertoliniAdrian Bertolini

Many years ago when I used to teach engineering at university I had a passing interest in the field of shape optimization. It was a fascinating field because the idea of optimization in my particular area of expertise revolved around designing software that could optimize the placement of material so that, for given forces and stresses, the software would design the best and lightest shape of an object to withstand the given input.Shapeoptimization

It was interesting to watch how the material thickness flowed during the optimization process until the final shape was reached. The optimized shape would then represent the strongest yet lightest shape that would account for all the input conditions. Different input data would result in different shapes and the more accurate and representative the input data was the better and more practical the optimized shape became.

I bring this up because I was pondering recently what our education system, schools, and teaching is optimized for?

Let’s do a bit of a thought experiment to explore our thinking for a moment.  Imagine that we had the opportunity to begin from nothing and design an education system from the ground up.

Firstly, we must decide upon the input conditions. What will the education system be for? Will it be to prepare students for an every changing world where we don’t know what jobs they will be doing? Will it be to get them into university or college? Will it be to prepare them to be good citizens? Will it prepare them to be spiritual or respectful? Will it prepare them to follow rules and laws? Will it prepare them to be factory workers? Will it prepare them to do a trade? Will it prepare them to think in particular ways? Will the education system be a place that keeps them out of the way until they become adults?

You can probably add much more to that list and feel free to. However, you may notice that many are not mutually exclusive and all represent some of what we want the education system to do. And, much like optimization in my engineering example, differing input conditions will result in a different education system. I think that whatever we decide upon as the purpose for an education system it should cater for the current societal needs but also represent the most complete far-seeing future that would set up each individual for a positive and productively just world.

Once we have chosen the purpose we could then begin to optimize the structure of that education system to be able to most effectively deliver the purpose we have designed.

To accomplish the purpose of education over the time an individual is in the system would it require funding, schools, teachers, technology? How would we design funding for it? Who would have a say about its design, etc.? What evidence would we look at to support decisions that are made? What would ‘schools’ look like? Would we even have these things called schools? Would we have timetables? Classes? What would learning look like? Would it look differently at different developmental stages of the individuals? How would we cater for the spectrum of learners? How would it cater for different availability of resources? How could we cater for people of different cultural backgrounds?

The optimization would begin with the overall goal / purpose in mind and then each sub-section below it can be optimized for local conditions but still fulfilling the overall purpose. As localized input conditions change so will the structure. This naturally points to the system needing to be self-reflective and adaptable but consciously and intentionally aligned to fulfill a purpose.

So what is the point of this thought experiment?

Well, it is rare for any country to sit down with a blank sheet and do this work. I can count on one hand how many countries have deliberately done this. If you do a little digging you will find those that have done something similar to this thought experiment are the ones at the top of the PISA rankings. Most countries try to patch something on to old way of doing things and have competing purposes and structures. There is no reinvention or transformation – just Band-Aids and wastage. I am also aware that those that have the say in designing the education systems of a country quite often are not driven by a clear vision but by competing demands that have nothing to do with creating a clear vision. Setting out with a clear goal does make a profound difference.

I find that it is also rare for schools to do this work. Again you will find that schools that have created a clear purpose then have aligned their school structures to fulfill their chosen purpose will be palpably great learning cultures where staff, students and the community are in alignment. They will also perform effectively against all measures and will adapt well to changing conditions.

Many schools and their internal structures occur as a hodge-podge of ideas and structures with little integrity or alignment to deliver a particular purpose. There are staff holding out and hiding out – doing their own thing. There are inefficient professional development structures – ideas and leadership are not enhanced and grown. There may even be pockets of distrust between staff and leadership. Regardless of what the Education SYSTEM does a school can be internally focused and aligned. This makes a profound difference in and of itself.

I also suggest that it is rare for teachers to do this work for themselves. In other words, identifying what is their purpose then how are they going to align their structures and the creation of learning for their students given the external forces they face so they can accomplish their purpose. Masterful teachers are constantly adapting and developing themselves to do this. Again, regardless of the eduction system and a school and teacher can be internally focused and aligned.

I invite you to consider that in many education systems, schools and the way that teaching staff relate to their environment there isn’t enough alignment. Research shows that greater effectiveness can arise when there is greater alignment. You may not be able to change the education system or the way the school can operate at the moment, but how can you align yourself and your structures to more effectively accomplish your purpose for being a teacher or a school?

Unless you are consistently reflecting and aligning yourself and your structures to deliver your purpose as conditions change then bit by bit you are devolving your capacity to perform. At best you will become mediocre. At worst, counterproductive.

If you are a good school and interested in being a great school – the key is to create a coherent purpose and then alignment of structures throughout the school to achieve that purpose. If you are a good teacher and interested in being a great teacher then reflect and begin aligning yourself to your vision and what you are really out to create for your students and education as a whole. What you will find is that life and work will become much more purposeful and clear for you.

The following is an except from my book Exceptional that will be published later this year. For those of you who are first time readers – welcome. For those of you who are constant readers – welcome back for 2012!

Everyone has an opinion about education. I do. You do. Kids do. Parents do. Grandparents do. Teachers do. Politicians do. The media does. Radio shock jocks do. Billionaires do. There aren’t many days that I don’t hear some comment about education from someone. Unfortunately for a large percentage of the population much of it is misguided and uninformed.

You might believe that is a big statement – not really.

You have to consider on what people base their knowledge and understanding. Opinions are based on what people know from reading, listening, others people’s opinions, media, cultural background, and on their life experiences. Life experiences have the greatest effect on shaping our perceptions.

For example;

  • If you are a student and your Grade One teacher created with you that “mistakes are your friend” and then set up the learning environment to allow you to make mistakes and learn from them, then you would probably love learning all the time.
  • If you are a student and you failed assessment under test conditions, despite “knowing the material”, how long would it be before you decide that you “don’t get it” and progressively build an opinion about you and school?
  • If you are a parent who has had poor educational experiences you can unconsciously impart your beliefs and mindset to your children (“I’m no good at maths”, “school is hard”, “I hated homework”, “I couldn’t wait to leave school”, etc).  If you have an ingrained belief that maths is “hard” then, unless you deliberately tackle that self-belief as a parent, there is a pre-disposition for maths being “hard” for your children.
  • If you are a “Tiger” parent with a strong belief that it is only by working long hours and doing lots of rote learning that your children will succeed, it is likely you will drive your children incessantly to perform academically – sometimes to the detriment of other skills.
  • If were teased at school, perhaps bullied, maybe even had a humiliating experience, that would affect your perceptions of education and learning. This is the same if you grew up in a tough socio-economic environment.
  • If you as a teacher believe that you don’t need to adjust your teaching practice and the way you structure learning in the classroom for different students and different generations of students (“I’ve been teaching this way for 20 years and it has always worked”, “I’ve always produced good results with my students … well the good students … the rest didn’t want to work and that’s not my fault”, etc) then this will affect how you teach.

Whatever the life experiences, people form a mental model or picture of the way that education is and then hold on to that – sometimes for a lifetime. And it is quite challenging to shift that mental picture when you have a lifetime of reinforcement from looking through the lens you have looked through for years.

I still vividly remember one student from my first year of teaching Engineering at university. He approached me to give him some one-on-one tutoring for a subject he had failed twice previously and he needed to pass it that year to finish his Engineering degree. I agreed, looked up the textbook and set a problem up on my whiteboard. My intention was to get a sense of what he knew and what he didn’t know. In my mind I thought I had a chosen a reasonably simple example. As this student approached the board to have a go at answering the question I heard him mutter to himself “this is going to be hard”. I stopped him in the moment and asked him if he realised what he had just said. He said “No”. I repeated back to him what he had muttered and said “That’s what we are going to go to work upon – your belief that it is hard. I am going to make sure you start to see how to think about the subject so you can make it easy for yourself”. It was an extraordinary learning experience for me as an educator because I really had to get into his world and understand what his misconceptions and understandings were first before having him step into my thinking and methodology. It took time and persistence on both our parts. And yes he did pass with flying colours when he took the exam again.

In this discussion I am not implying or asserting that people’s opinions are invalid. They all have some validity – at least to them and their personal experiences and understanding. For that student who struggled to the point of failing that Engineering subject twice, it was reality that the subject was hard – for him. However, that is my point really. Our opinions and beliefs are mostly personal. Understanding and experience on the small scale. People’s opinions are rarely built upon exploring and coming to grips with the context and assumptions upon which those lessons and understandings were built.

This is also true about governments and the media. How many governments have implemented change programs without actually looking at what the research shows works in schools and for learning (No Child Left Behind policy in the USA, Merit Pay for teachers, and so on)? How many millions of dollars have been spent on what looks good and is politically impressive rather than what actually works? How many media organisations report on education and learning from a very narrow perspective? How many rank or discuss the quality of schools based purely on standardised testing that only measure very limited outcomes of student abilities?

It is not easy or common to look at the context or assumptions within which you learn and understand things. These contexts are like the air that we breathe. They are often so invisible to us and just part of everyday living that we don’t think about it.  Shankar Vedantam discussed a number of these “unconscious forces that influence us” is his book “The Hidden Brain: how our unconscious minds elect presidents, control markets, wage wars, and save our lives”. We will go into much more depth about unconscious biases and mental models at another time. Suffice to say right now that people’s opinions are quite often not based on hard facts and research but hearsay,  personal experiences, and unchallenged underlying assumptions.

If we are interested in creating and building educational systems that will allow / encourage / support ALL young people to become exceptional then we have to go beyond the normal everyday opinions about education. Notice the emphasis on ALL. We need to look at the contexts and assumptions that underlie our beliefs and actions.

What do you think?

If you are interested in our work and research see some of what we do on

This past week of visiting a range of schools has reinforced my perception about the critical importance of structures and non-negotiables in creating a powerful learning and working environment.

In everything we do as individuals we have habitual ways of operating, thinking, and organising ourselves. They are so habitual that we are unconscious to them. In fact, it is just part of how our brains operate efficiently – making the habitual practices we have unconscious. You don’t have to think about walking, you just do. You don’t have to think about speaking, you just speak (unless you are speaking in a language that you are new to and then you are often thinking about each word).

This is exactly the same in schools. The way a school operates is through systemic habitual practices. From what topic is covered when, to “bells” or “music” to signify the beginning or end of lunch or recess, to the habitual practices teachers have as they teach, to the way that staff and students interact. In fact, there are many programs and ideas that have been designed to create habitual practices in the classroom to improve learning: DeBono’s 6 Hats, Thinkers Keys, You Can Do It Program, Habits of the Mind, Bloom’s Taxonomy, using graphic organisers, etc.

Consider that systemic habitual practices are EVERYWHERE and that they are so unnoticed that you wouldn’t even think about it as something you do … “it is just the way that it is”. Consider that a number of those systemic practices have arisen, not because of any thought out strategy, but perhaps because they have always been there or someone thought it was a good idea.

Inside a commitment to creating an exceptional learning environment, extraordinary deep thinking is required to examine and challenge old habits, and implement systemic habitual practices that actually (with evidence and research) provide the learning environment you are out to build.

One school that I visited this week has been on this journey for the past 7 years. The primary (elementary) school lies in an area with generational poverty, sometimes up to 3 generations. Around 7 years ago the principal and the staff decided that it was insufficient for them to continue on as they had. While the results were OK nothing was shifting in the community and the students would end up caught in the cycle of poverty. The team created the vision for learning of “breaking the poverty cycle in the community”. A daunting goal, but one that the staff believed was worth their time and effort. This thinking aligns with creating a Level 5 Tribe as defined within the work of Logan, King and Fischer-Wright in Tribal Leadership.

The principal and staff looked at everything based in evidence. They began investing in a range of systems to be able to examine the student learning data. They started asking “WHY?” to everything they had done. They started looking at the progress of students through the school and what was missing. They looked at their habitual practices for professional development and paying replacement teachers (when out on PD). They looked at how teachers developed themselves. They started looking at every aspect of the child’s learning experience growing up in generational poverty. They then created what it could look like / feel like / sound like and started exploring the HOW. They created specific school-wide focuses and non-negotiables.

Here are some of their structures and the thinking.

  • Literacy and Numeracy are key focuses in the school. Research shows that by the time children from lower socio-economic families attend school they have heard only 10 million words of lower order thinking and language structure. This is compared to 40 million in higher socio-economic families. Actions?
    1. Some children use Fast ForWord to support the development of auditory processing abilities and linguistic development
    2. The use of a range of literacy programs from Prep – Grade 6 to build up all dimensions of literacy (THRASS, SWST, QuickSmart, etc)
    3. Focus on the language the every teacher and student uses in every interaction (built upon Ruby Payne’s work on the differing language between economic classes)
    4. In the lower grades, students have take-home readers but they only take them home after they have been read in class 4 times by the teacher. The repetition builds the decoding ability of children such that when they read them with their parents at home (some who struggle with these books) they can continue to build and grow.
    5. Awards are based on students taking ground in Literacy and Numeracy and they are given books as prizes. This builds up the library within the home – something these families can’t afford.
    6. The Principal has sourced getting black and white versions of books such that the children can take them home to keep. Again building the library at home. By the end of being at the school the child will have well over 100 books that are theirs.
    7. If the data shows that the children in grade 4 are struggling with a particular area in literacy or numeracy, then it is not solely a grade 4 issue. It is a whole school issue. The senior staff will go back and look through the data for the whole school and design a whole school action plan to eliminate the “missing” that all teachers will implement.
    8. The “bells” in the school are replaced with a musical version of the timetables which rotates through up to 12 times table. This has arisen because the school has the belief that learning is ALWAYS occurring!
  • Staff structures. Quite often the Principal and staff have to deal with many competing demands that have very little to do with the learning within the school. The Principal, Assistant Principal, and two Learning coaches (Literacy and Numeracy) share SAMs (Staff Administrative Managers) who handle most of the administrative day-to-day tasks thus freeing them up to focus on learning. The senior management are crystal clear that they are there to focus on the learning and development of each and every child. Inside of this, the professional development budget is rarely used to send staff out to PD but to fund in-house development. The Replacement Teacher budget is used to fund another position within the school to have extra teachers available all the time. Each staff must hand in an action plan by 9am Monday for how they are “value-adding’ to each of the students in their class.
  • Culture. It was critical that there was a consistent and coherent culture being built for the students and the staff. The staff are clear that their focus is student learning – all the time. This is not about covering certain material and ticking boxes, this is about whether the students have learnt what they need to learn to move forward. There are teacher rubrics that explicitly outline what the differing levels of the journey to a “great” teacher looks like / feels like / sounds like including room setup, how lessons run, building self-esteem, work displays, etc. The teachers are coached from these rubrics and supported in their development to achieve. Observational coaching and the viewing of other teachers are encouraged. The teachers are expected to develop mastery in consistently using the Covey “Leader in Me”, Habits of the Mind, De Bono’s 6 Hats, Thinkers Keys, Visible Learning in every interaction.

We could go on with a range of aspects but the point is that this school has done and continues to do the thinking to WHY and HOW they can achieve their goal. It hasn’t been an easy journey. The Principal is constantly looking for funding. The school receives visits from 200 schools per year. There were back-lashes and upset staff at the beginning. The staff does work longer hours than the norm. Yet … they are inspired, passionate, challenged, and fulfilled each and every day.

As you finish reading this I invite you to ask yourself some questions:

  • Is the school crystal clear about what its vision and focus (at most one or two areas) is?
  • Has the school identified, examined and challenged (WHY?) all the systemic habitual practices and measured them against the question “do these practices deliver, with researched evidence, the future that we are building”
  • Has the school identified, explored and implemented HOW they are moving towards the vision and fulfilment of the focuses?
  • Is there a high performance learning culture being built? How?
  • How is the school address the 3 major stakeholders in a child’s learning – student, staff and community (parents quite often)?

I promise you, if you begin to do this thinking and address these areas … your school will produce exceptional learners.

NOTE: if you want to see more examples, videos, audio files, etc they will be uploaded on the website ( soon!

As long time readers of our blog will know I am working with a number of schools to support them in creating a culture of high performance learning. If you read back through the blogs you’ll find some of the earlier discussions we have had around becoming clearer about what was their actual vision for the school and what that would look like.

We are now moving from the WHAT to the HOW. This requires us to explore WHO we need to enrol in the new vision and also addressing some of the barriers that can slow down the building of the culture.

Just as a reference for this blog, the school is “deeply passionate about developing passionate, inspirational and exceptional people” and be best in the world at “Building Learning Teams” which for the leadership group means “Groups of people with a common goal / vision, working collaboratively (learning from and together), removing mediocrity, developing 21st century social competencies, inspiring passionate and exceptional people”.

1. What are the groups you need to enrol and what is the access?

The intention of this discussion was to highlight the accesses and people the school would need to address if it was going to create an environment where everyone was on board with developing passionate, inspired and exceptional people. Every communication with these groups would have to be designed with a clear message and from the intention of developing the school’s passion. Any inconsistency of message will slow the process down. The aim is to ingrain a “way of being” into all the stakeholders of the school.

People come to the school with their own mindset and point of view about learning, what education is and should be, how to do things, how to communicate with one another, expectations about the students and the staff, and hundreds of opinions and thoughts. There is nothing wrong with that but they may be inconsistent with what the school is building. We certainly don’t want everyone thinking the same way … what we want is that there is clarity in what the school is building and that there is disciplined thinking, action and practice inside of that framework. A Cathedral takes time and effort to build.

Group Access
Leadership Team & Year Level Leaders Leader meetings, emails
Teachers Staff meetings, Professional Learning Teams, emails, Professional Development (PD)
Aides Aide Meetings
Parents Information nights, parent-teacher meetings, newsletters, expo nights, open days, breakfasts, community events, Parents & Friends discussion groups
Students Assembly, daily bulletin, class meetings, curriculum, student leadership teams, Student School Council, in-school TV, class practices, Ultranet, staff practices, student restorative practices,
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2. What will be the potential barriers and how will we overcome them?

The intention of this discussion was to highlight some of the barriers that normally exist to change in a school. Many of these barriers exist in all schools in one form or another. Quite often when we look at the barriers we have our opinions about why they are but the idea underlying this conversation was to actually look at what could be some of the possible causes to progress and explore what actions the leadership team could implement to address and overcome the barriers.

Issue Possible Causes Path Forward
Teacher Not Interested Don’t want to changeMediocrity

Loss of passion

Threatened by change

Don’t feel they are up to it (self-doubt)

Time Poor

Challenge themSupport the teachers to find their passion again

Educate them in the world of fixed vs growth mindset

Show them how (give them access to moving forward and changing)

Support them with a learning buddy

Educate them

Time Poor Work-life balance is poorDon’t have effective habits

School structures (very little time outside of student contact)

Ineffective habits with corrections, planning, meetings, etc.

Train staff to work smarter not harder (look at the major challenges and support the staff to shift habits)Share responsibility (perhaps with students and others?)

Shift teacher mindset

Training to have more effective meetings, planning, corrections (students self assessing more?, Feedback and Feed Forward strategies)

Workshops where teachers who have effective habits develop those who don’t

High Cost to Change Providing PDRelease for PD

Extra meetings
– people not listening or have opinions

–          Have no time to CHEW ideas therefore there is no transfer of practice

In-house PDsCreate developmental mindset

Have educational authorities come and work with the teachers in-house

Peer coaching to embed practice

Create learning resources

Intra-school videos: teachers make a video to share practice so teachers can look at in their own time or multiple times


Lack of Leadership Lack of planningLack of clarity in role description

Top-down driven (no what is in it for them)

Could also be a lack of trust

Sometimes teachers continue to do things that they no longer need to do

PrioritisingClear planning

Clear strategy and thinking

Educating the staff about what we are NOW doing and what will NOT do now (and what will STOP doing)

–          Now, Later, Never, NOT

–          Each is an opportunity to explore what they will do now, what they will leave to later, what they will never do (and maybe will have to have someone else do it), what they will not do (and have it done another way … perhaps by someone else)

Communication There seems to be many ways that communication is done within the school because people have different “learning styles” or pay attention to different things. Thus if you want to make sure that everyone knows about something then you have to send it out in multiple ways … and even then you aren’t guaranteed that people know.There is also no central hub for approved school wide communication


Need to develop simple habitual practices for communication – agree upon one form and have everyone do itHold people to account for reading material.

Develop a staff behavioural system (as you have in place for students). This will create accountability and habits. This is ultimately attached to their performance reviews.

Have clear lines of communication so there aren’t people dealing with communication that they don’t need to.

Give lots of positive feedback – acknowledge people!

Use 3 A’s to coach people

–          Awareness: listen first and uncover what the ACTUAL issue is

–          Access: give them access to changing their behaviour or taking action

–          Action: have them take an action in time and hold them to account for it.

When we began to explore all the potential barriers and what could be causing them it became apparent that there were many possible causes and also actions that could be implemented that would address many of the prime causes of the barrier.

One point I want to raise that I have found in a number of schools that we have worked with … many schools don’t appear to have a staff behavioural policy that holds staff to account for their jobs. Quite often they have a stepped behavioural plan for students when their behaviour is not acceptable but not for their staff. This is a big missing as most for-profit and not-for-profit organisations have these policies and they give the management a pathway for holding staff to account and for developing staff culture. People don’t always embrace change and you do need an accountability structure to ensure that staff are moving in the same direction as the school culture. The alternative is that when you are building a culture it will feel like you are herding cats!

Until next time!

One of the key challenges in any classroom is to have our students express their ideas in a concise manner, often under time-pressure. The emergence of micro-blogs such as Twitter has required people to quickly become adept at getting a message across (sometimes to an online audience of millions) in the most succinct way possible. Schools often work very hard to keep social media OUT of the classroom. My view is that not only is this unrealistic, but it is preventing us from creating rich learning opportunities and engaging students in development of key literacy skills for the twenty-first century.

Microblogging (a blogging mode that limits the number of characters the writer can use in one post) is a great way to teach kids to be concise in what they say and to select only the most crucial information. Selection of information is a critical skill that students must develop in order to successfully navigate the tidal wave of information coming at them through a range of media. Creating a class microblog could be a great activity for teachers of students in the middle years, as it encourages them to use social media in a critical way and gives them practice at being succinct! Have your students create a microblog on one of your topics (from Shakespeare to photosynthesis) and see what they have to say. An engaging way to begin the blog would be to post a contentious idea and then let them debate it online. As the teacher, you could act as the blog’s ‘moderator’, or have your students rotate through the role, which develops a sense of responsibility. Additionally, having students share the role of moderator (‘mod’ in social networking-speak) systematically, creates opportunities for collaboration, peer assessment and reflection on the role and responsibility of managing an online debate. Sounds like an incredibly rich twenty-first century class to me!

Troubleshooting: If your school network is down or you are having trouble accessing ICT; model resilience to your class by finding an alternative means of doing the same activity. Have the students create the microblog in a Word document, or even on poster paper using post-it notes (one post-it per post) A challenge could be to fit their post on the one post-it (see how miniscule the hand-writing gets!) They can make it electronic later. The most important things to remind them of are to keep each post to 150 characters and to remember that everything they say is going to be publicly viewed and discussed by the group; just as it would be on the Internet.
To conclude, my view is that social media is here, whether we like it or not! If you need further convincing, check out the clip: ‘Social Media Revolution2’.

Recently, the principal of Christian Brothers College in St.Kilda, Gerald Bain-King decided it was worth the risk – not to mention impossible to stop – social media entering classrooms at the School via mobile internet devices (MIDs). (‘School Principal answers call to ditch mobile phone ban’ The Age 30/5/11) Just like the Internet as a whole, bringing mobile Internet technology into your daily teaching and learning offers up endless, rich possibilities…and comes with unique and highly complex challenges.
In light of all the discussion about social media and its potential for use in schools, my question for the week is this: What are the opportunities for using microblogs in the classroom? What are some of the challenges that teachers and schools will need to manage and how might we begin to address these?

Please sound off below (and try to keep it to 150 characters!!)

Cathryn can be followed on Twitter via: #CathrynStephens

In this week’s blog I am exploring two areas impacted by the shift into an era of rapid change

  1. How to have school leaders empower their staff
  2. How technologies will shape education in the near future

Whilst much of this blog is from other sources the highlights are mine. Those of you who have worked with myself and the Intuyu team will realise that many of the conversations we have with you about high performance cultures and learning environments reflect the principles addressed by Simon Bailey.


Thriving in a World of Rapid Change

Author Simon T. Bailey, in a recent presentiation, has some advice for how school leaders can thrive in an era marked by rapid change and disruptive technologies:

Focus on people, process, and problems.

Too often in times of rapid change, school leaders tend to focus on the rapid change in technologies that are causing disruption when they should be paying attention to their employees first and foremost. “We can’t forget people in the midst of a shift,” he said. “Organisations don’t have ideas—people do.”

People often feel overwhelmed by change because they are emotionally connected to the past and to the old way of doing things, Bailey said. To be a successful leader in times of change, you have to make sure your employees are working in an environment where they feel supported enough to be creative—and that means getting them comfortable with adapting to change.

One way to do this is to listen instead of hear. “I know you’re busy, but take five minutes a day to really connect with someone on your staff,” Bailey said. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Ask employees about their concerns, and make sure they know you’re listening to them by repeating what they’ve said back to them. That will help them realize, “hey, he really gets me,” Bailey said. Also, don’t be sparing with praise. “Brilliance manifests itself when people are in an environment that celebrates them rather than tolerates them,” he said. Change is easier to accept when it’s something that we lead, instead if something that is done to us. So ask your employees for feedback, and empower your staff to make suggestions.

To inspire innovation, Bailey suggested a process known as “stop, start, continue.” In staff meetings, ask: What are the things we should continue to do? (These are the things you’re already doing well as an organization.) What are the things we should start doing that we haven’t done before? And finally, what are the things we should stop doing—things that no longer make good business sense? This process can help lead to a state of “vuja de”—a term that Bailey borrowed from the late comedian George Carlin, meaning the opposite of déjà vu. If déjà vu is the feeling of “been there, done that,” then vuja de is a feeling of “going there,  doing that,” Bailey said. In other words, it’s the ability to see what everyone else sees, but understand it differently— to experience the future in the present.

The innovation you bring about through this process should focus on meeting needs or solving problems that aren’t currently being addressed within your organisation or within education at large, Bailey said. “In the future, we will be paid for the problems we solve and the solutions we find, not just the products and services we provide,” he said, adding that most products and services ultimately can be outsourced. To focus on problem solving, ask these three questions, Bailey said: What’s the need? What’s the want? What’s your story? The answers to these questions will point to an end result that “brings about the shift that allows us to be relevant,” he said.


Technology trends and their impact on Education

As we head deeper into the Information Age and technology begins to shift the way that students and teachers collaborate, communicate, work and succeed, I thought I’d quickly outline some trends that will begin to impact the way we provide education.

1. Within the next year

Mobile Learning is already here and as the optic fibre is laid down around Australia and throughout the world the wireless ability of our mobile networks will increase and grow. How would the classroom and school look if lessons can be structured so students can immerse themselves in the topic of study at anytime and anywhere? What Apps exist that we can use to strengthen and differentiate the classroom? If there are gaps can we have students develop Learning Apps that will support their learning. They are digital natives and there some very clever kids out there (see 14 yr old boy who created a parking app for Sydney as is making a killing!).

Cloud Computing is only starting to happen, and there are many facets and evolutions to explore yet but the saying “the world is your oyster” fits the power of this shift. In recent blogs I showed some of the remarkable Cloud Computing websites which provide learning tools and virtual labs for all manner of areas. What would a school’s IT structure be if they no longer needed to buy the learning software but just access it in the cloud? Will there be a time where one of our tasks as educators is to pick and choose from the wealth of resources and relationships out their on the cloud and set up the virtual learning environment we need for this particular class or subject or unit?


2. Within 2 – 3 years

Game-based learning has had an infancy but in the next two to three years expect it to start to be adopted in greater numbers. We already have extrordinary games on the XBOX, Playstation, and so on that immerse you in a world and the player has to figure out puzzles, problem-solve, make decisions, and so on. With the Xbox Kinect we have the world first indicated in movies such as Minority Report and Avatar. You can expect that the world of game based learning will bloom. How will you use this to impact and enhance the learning environment?

Open Content is again in its infancy. With the trend to globalise information and make it instantly accessible to all, especially with Creative Commons licenses thriving and being used in all manner of ways, we will see organisations beyond Havard and MIT opening their doors. More and more organisations are in the midst of funding and creating open portals for the wider global public to enter.


3. Within 4-5 years

Learning Analytics – imagine if the system can analyse and measure the learning occuring in real-time and adjust itself to strecth and support the learning of the individual student.

Personal Learning Environments – in Orson Scott Card’s book “Ender’s Game”, Card created a world where six year olds had their own personal computing screens which they could interact with a personal avatar and world designed to enhance, support and train the students. Teachers and trainers would examine the student responses and support the computer programs work with the student. By the end of this decade the technology will exist for each student to have these learning environments. What will school become then? What will be our function?


What do you think?

This was reported on Mashable today and I thought it was worth sending out to this blogs readers!

Teachers already use Skype to connect with other classrooms around the globe, bring in guest speakers without asking them to travel, and take virtual field trips. Now, Skype is making it easier for them to do so.

The company launched Skype in the Classroom, a dedicated teacher network, on Tuesday. Using the platform, teachers can create profiles that describe their classes and teaching interests. They can also search a directory of teachers from all over the world by student age range, language and subject.

Since the beta version launched in December, about 4,000 teachers have signed up. Many of them have used the network to coordinate Skype projects with other schools. Teacher Kara Cornejo, for instance, used the directory to find five partner classes for a “weather around the world” unit she was coordinating for her fifth-grade class in Missouri.

“We use Skype all the time in my classroom. … I always had to find teachers over Twitter or some other resources,” she said in a video about her experience. “Now to know that Skype has their own directory is awesome.”

A “project” tab in the new version of Skype in the Classroom allows users to post and search for projects that, like Cornejo’s weather project, require collaboration. A map that shows teachers by location is also a new addition to the site.

Accommodating teachers is a natural move for Skype. Several independent sites have already established Skype teacher phone books, class collaboration directories and virtual language exchange programs to accommodate the growing number of educators who are using the videoconferencing platform as a learning tool.

“We saw that growth, and we wanted to find a way to support that community,” Skype spokeswoman Jacqueline Botterill says. “There are a number of online platforms that were trying to galvanize those communities, but they’re quite fragmented and disparate, so we’re trying to create one place where teachers can come together.”

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