Posts Tagged ‘future of education’

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,
Community Work experience, Kindergarten newsletter, School newsletters, community radio station, newspaper, school website, local schools, word of mouth, School fete, school concerts, choir, excursions, Human Powered Vehicle, Aerobics / Dance Competitions, Out-of-School Care, Student Tours, Student Teachers
School Council Council Meetings, Minutes, Community Dinner
District Level
Word of mouth, PDs, workshops, Principal Coaching program


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!

It might seem odd to begin a blog post with this title but hopefully you will find that the analogy is quite apt.

We all live in houses. However, the style, the quality, the fittings, the size, and the neighbourhoods that our houses are in are all different. It seems to be a trend in most countries that many people aspire to the larger house, the higher quality fittings, the expensive neighbourhoods, the more impressive styles, and so on. It would be a rare person that aspires to a small hovel.

The aspiration of living in one of the grander houses drives many people to act to raise the money, work hard, and commit to mortgages so they can live in one. Certainly in Australia we have seen the rise of larger and larger houses on smaller blocks of land.

What’s the point of this conversation?

Well, consider that all of our conversations are housed in contexts and the size, quality, style and conversational neighbourhoods of these contexts are what drive actions and motivates people.

If an organisation or a school or a class is living within a large context then what you would find are actions that are consistent with an inspiring compelling context. The context automatically creates an environment where people want to take action – they are compelled to live a bigger life, taking large actions, produce higher quality efforts and products – stretching themselves.

If you are living in a hovel of a context then the actions are similarly small.

This blog arises because I have been working with a range of schools over the past few months that I have begun to notice the variations in contexts that different teachers and schools are housing.

It is crystal clear which schools and teachers have created large mansion-sized contexts for themselves and which are operating inside of small outhouse contexts.

Schools that are creating and building large contexts and aiming for being world-class educational institutions (regardless of the current status of facilities, funding, teacher experience, government or corporate support) have staff who are inspired, creative, working collaboratively, experience being valued. Their classes, while rarely perfect, demonstrate students who are thinking and acting big. Both staff and students have a purpose and they are working together in a disciplined and structured manner to accomplish that purpose.

The schools that struggle quite often lack the larger context. The senior management have not clearly articulated the large vision that their school stakeholders can aspire to – they are living inside a contextual hovel. Sometimes they have a large vision but that vision lies in a filing cabinet somewhere – the vision is a merely an architectural plan.  Sometimes the vision is on display on posters and various signages around the building but the systems and practices from which the school operates (the curriculum, the staff interactions, the stakeholder relationships, the classroom activities, etc) do not reflect that vision – the builders are not following the architectural drawing. Sometimes you have an environment where some teachers and administrators are operating from the vision and some are not – your house will be inconsistently built with some great parts and in other parts it is apparently shoddy work. In fact, what one will find is that trying to build a fabulous house on top of shoddy or inconsistent work is virtually impossible.

If you are going to build a cathedral it is a long term goal. You have to have quality architectural plans. The vision must be articulated clearly. You have to refer to them all the time as you build it. You have to have quality builders working together, communicating and collaborating together, people with different strengths and skills in a team – all of them valued. You will need a group that leads the process who is clear about the vision and the plans, everyone aligned on the plan and the steps that will lead to the finished product. You need to have a team that confronts and overcomes obstacles together – sometimes working out solutions that no one else has thought of because the challenges that this group faces are profoundly different from others. There has to be a high level of trust and everyone being collectively responsible for the journey.

If you look at any major undertaking, any architectural construction that has a lasting impact and survived over large swathes of time, this has been what has driven the process. In fact, if you look at any major undertaking in any field you will find it is the same.

Why not operate this way in schools?

In fact, to build a high-performance educational environment you would automatically follow this approach. Just look at Finland. Just look at Singapore. Just look at those schools, school systems, and teachers that you admire.

My questions to you are … what house do you live in? What are you building – a cathedral or a hovel?

Have you ever had an “ah-ha” moment?

Archimedes did, apparently, when he stepped into his bath and noticed that the bath level rose by the volume displaced by the volume of his body. Archimedes yelled “??????!” (or Eureka which is Greek for “I have found it!”) before he went running through the streets half-naked excited about his discovery!

Insights come to us seemingly only at certain times and the process doesn’t seem to be reproducible. But insights is what is at the core of our learning and the learning of all human beings. What if we could make it reproducible?

David Rock in his recent book, Quiet Leadership, has given us an insight into insights.

David discusses recent neuroscience research that suggests that there are four stages to insights. The following is my paraphrasing from David Rock’s book and other researchers.

The First Stage: Awareness

Consider that the brain forms mental maps that gathers the information it has stored into some cohesive whole. As a way of accessing the information and ordering it has organised the information and patterns it has discerned into some map and then uses these maps to interpret and relate to the world.

In this first stage the brain is immersed in new information. It could be new perspectives about something we are examining in a class or heard on TV or are currently reading in a book. New information is essentially being processed and the brain is attempting to fit these ideas, thoughts and concepts into its current mental maps. As the brain attempts to integrate the new knowledge it begins to see that there is a dilemma because the new knowledge is creating a different mental map than the one that currently exists but the brain has not yet worked out how to reconcile this conflict by creating a new metamap or by reconfiguring the existing maps.

The Second Stage: Reflection

If one is to develop a consistent process of having insights and thus more productively then there needs to be more second stage “reflection” time in our days.

MRI scans show that people’s brains give off alpha-band waves just before they come up with an insight. Alpha waves correlate with people shutting down inputs from their external senses and focusing on internal stimuli. When we perform tasks that engage the conscious, logical mind we decrease the alpha-band waves. So reflection is NOT helped by asking your students to reflect by writing down their reflections (which is what many teachers do). The writing process should occur after true reflection.

Studies have shown that during reflection we are not thinking logically or analysing data; we’re engaging a part of our brain used for making links across the whole brain. We are thinking in an unusual way, tapping into more intelligence than the three to five pieces of information we can hold in our working memory. We are allowing the brain to think across the whole dataset of ideas, images, thoughts, knowledge to connect and reconfigure its mental maps without any new input from the conscious or working memory.

A simple process to reflect is to sit still and close your eyes (this removes about 70% of external stimuli) and focus on your breathing. Listen to the way you inhale and then exhale for about 60 seconds. Then open your eyes just a fraction and close them again. This sends you deeper into the alpha-band state. Listen to the way you inhale and then exhale for another 30 seconds and then open your eyes and write down your reflections. During this period you don’t think about anything logically just focus on your breathing.

By the way, we have all experienced this process naturally. Quite often we have insights when we are lying in bed before we go to sleep or when we wake up. It is in the quiet “non-logical”, “non-thinking” times that we suddenly go … “ah-ha”!

Third Stage: Insight

At the moment of insight our mental maps have been reconfigured or a new mental map has suddenly snapped into existence. In this moment the body releases various neurotransmitters like adrenaline as well as possibly serotonin and dopamine. This is why there is a sudden excitement and a rush throughout the body.

At the very moment an insight occurs, the brain gives off strong gamma-band waves. Gamma-band waves are the only frequency found in all parts of the brain and are seen when the brain simultaneously processes information across different regions. Gamma-band brain waves signify various parts of the brain forming a new map.

Fourth Stage: Action

The intense motivation from having an insight is short term. If you can get people to take tangible actions while the insight is close at hand, even just to commit to doing something later, this will be a big help to ensuring new ideas become reality. If you don’t take some action then and there the insight and new mental map is not reinforced and the insight is lost.

What I invite you to look at today and in your teaching (or working environment) is how are you setting up a reflective and insightful environment for yourself and others?
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