Posts Tagged ‘leadership’
Is your school’s narrative leading to the practices, structures and the results you want?
The Research on What Works
By now we have no doubt that you and your school’s practices would have influenced by John Hattie’s synthesis and analysis of what works (and what doesn’t) in educational research. His intent was solely to provide some basis for teachers, schools and educational systems to compare the actual research evidence on learning.
Whether one agrees with the “rankings”, the value of the “effect size” or not, they do give an indication of the relative effect that an approach is likely to have on student learning. You’ll notice that most of these variables in the table above are teacher-driven – which reflects the significant impact we know that teachers have on student learning experiences and outcomes.
Yet where are teachers currently driving learning? What could be influencing the embedding of great evidence based practice?
The Current Narrative
As part of workshops we ran throughout 2016 we spent quite a bit of time with teachers and school leaders unpacking the current perceived status or narratives within their schools. It is a nice exercise which can be quite revealing as it draws out the pre-dominant conversations within the school.
There were two clear narrative trends we noticed across most schools:
- A perceived lack of strategic thinking and planning across the school
- A perceived lack of clear communication and leadership across the school
Think about what this may be like for a moment. You are a teacher who is – day in and day out – interacting with a wide variety of students of varying capacity with the goal of supporting them to grow and progress in their learning and understanding. You try to improve your teaching each day and you occasionally go to external professional learning sessions and are lucky to embed one good idea you learnt from them. You don’t get the time you feel you need to interact professionally with your colleagues and often the meetings you do have devolve into administrivia and sometimes people disagreeing with one another. Curriculum days, if you have them, are either at the end of the year, start of the year or spent doing things that are not linked to curriculum but covering required well-being or other aspects (e.g. anaphylaxis, first aid, etc). The school leadership is working on embedding evidence based practice within the school but it is mostly a top down approach and the goal posts seem to be always moving depending on the latest “research”. The last time you really developed your capacity to be an effective teacher in a rigorous manner was when you were working on your teaching degree or when you did your Masters.
It is not surprising that the impact of these pre-dominant narratives often resulted in teachers and middle leaders feeling disenchanted, overworked and at the effect of constant change and initiatives. Furthermore, the systems within the school – those structures / practices / policies that create the work-ability within the school – are designed to keep the current paradigm in place. The result is glacial improvement or consistent mediocrity since the system is working against improvement.
Transforming the Narrative
Improvement or transformation comes with shifting the narrative within the school and aligning the school vision, systems, practices, processes and policies to achieve the common goals.
- It requires harnessing the school community to “all be rowing in the same direction” and making the goals and progress towards them explicit and visible (rather than owned by a few)
- It requires long term strategic thinking and planning and distributed leadership.
- It requires a shift in who people believe is responsible for learning and leadership within the school.
- It requires clear and constant communication and sharing
This is not easy and takes significant time but it has become more important as schools exist in a constantly changing societal and technological landscape. Hattie, in a recent presentation Shifting away from distractions to improve Australia’s schools: Time for a Reboot, suggest schools reboot themselves. We agree. If you re-look at the highest effect size data in the table above you will notice that they are pointing directly to the importance of teachers developing a shared common understanding and working together for a common goal.
This year many of our newsletters, articles, and workshops will be focused on what we see are the practicalities of rebooting your school and creating a narrative within the school that empowers learning and leadership. Our aim is to provide new contexts, new thinking and practical examples so you begin the journey of creating the school culture you have always wanted.
Some Questions for you to think about
- What are the current narratives or perceptions of teachers, middle leaders and students within the school?
- What do they say are the causes of these perceptions / narratives within the school?
- What is the future you would like to see for learning / school culture?
Transformational and Instructional Leadership
“Leadership only arises when people are given the opportunity to lead”
This was the main insight I took away from a recent professional seminar I was involved in at the University of Melbourne. It was an important insight for me because it connected some thoughts and ideas that I had been mulling recently about some of the schools we had been working with. I left the seminar wondering how much opportunity for leadership teachers and people in positions of leadership actually had within the day to day running of a school.
In my experience when teachers took on positions of leadership they were generally given time in lieu to be operating as leaders. However the complaint I have often heard when coaching individuals in these positions is that this time was often filled with administrative issues – not leadership. Even when people in positions of leadership had dedicated time to lead they weren’t necessarily automatically good at leading teams – they lacked a framework for leadership.
Effective School Culture
This has led me to think that the opportunity for the leadership that schools need and want will only arise within a well thought out strategic framework for leadership. Even more so, as I have read in Leithwood and Day’s research – at different stages of school cultural development differing leadership is need. Furthermore, if a school is interested – as I believe they should be – in developing an effective professional culture, then at different levels of leadership within the school there are different foci that are important.
This is a critical point that struck me when I spoke to David Gurr, a lecturer in school leadership from the University of Melbourne. David used the diagram below to point out the different needs and opportunities for leadership at various levels within a school.
The following descriptions I outline are completely my interpretations of the discussion I had with David – not David’s. You can read more about Lawrie Drysdale’s and David Gurr’s model of successful school leadership here.
Classroom teachers (Level 1) have a direct impact on student outcomes as they are directly interacting with students. At this level the work that mostly needs to be done with teachers is instructional. The support they need to develop their capacity revolves around developing effective curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. Just giving them time to do this is insufficient unless the teachers are highly effective planners working within a clear instructional model and instructional plan. More often than not the teachers need to be working within a framework that leads them to grow and develop their instructional capacity. They definitely need time to discuss curriculum, pedagogy and assessment and come to shared common understandings as a teaching team but within an effective instructional framework. Classroom teachers often don’t have many opportunities in their busy schedules to develop leadership. I am not saying they cannot be leaders but that leadership cannot develop without there being opportunities for it.
Middle leaders lie between Level 1 and 2 because they are moving into leadership. The challenge in most schools is that when one is appointed into a position of middle leadership there is rarely an effective structure for developing the leadership capacity of these individuals. Middle leaders have a less direct impact on student outcomes but they do have the opportunity to create the professional environment of learning and development for the classroom teachers to be effective. I have found that middle leaders are given time to “lead” but they often fall into the pitfall of becoming administrators and managers rather than leading the way. Thus they unconsciously become the barrier to change and growth within a school. Middle leaders transfer the school values and strategic vision into action at the level of the teachers. Thus having an effective leadership development program for middle leaders is crucial to developing a professional learning culture within the school.
Senior Leadership within the school lie mostly at Level 2 impact where they have an even less direct impact on student outcomes however they set the context and capacity of the school. It is their role to articulate the vision and direction of the school and facilitate the relationships and conversations such that a powerful learning and development culture arises. Without their visionary role and guidance the school can flounder. It is critical that these individuals think from the whole school perspective. One of the consistent pitfalls that I see often at this level is that they don’t plan strategically or effectively for the long term. At this level one cannot just focus on the day to day – which is vital to the short term success and running of the school – one needs to be planning for and playing the long term game of the school. The development that is needed here is building the capacity of the senior leaders to strategic plan and create what John Kotter calls the “guiding coalition” to have the strategic vision become alive within the school. Senior leaders need to develop their understanding of causing and managing change within a relational organisation.
Finally, great Principals not only have strengths at Level 2 but also Level 3. They set the context of the entire school and partner the senior leadership team to strategically plan and enact the school vision. Their job is NOT to micromanage the change but to empower leadership throughout the school. The principal is also the buffer between the external influences on the school and the school. They are the voice of the future to the community (internally and externally) whilst filtering the requests and demands of the educational system within which the school exists such that they minimize upheaval for the staff and students.
In the Part II I want to share a little about my journey of discovering the importance of effective school leadership and connect what we are seeing with the thinking above. In the meantime, some useful articles and research around this topic include:
It has been a couple of months since I last wrote in the blog but that is mainly because I have been sooooo busy. Much of the work I have been involved with recently revolves around working with a number of schools to take them from being ‘Good” schools to be “Great’ schools.
If you were on the journey of supporting a school going from ‘Good to Great’ where would you begin?
One of the areas I have begun exploring with a number of schools is the area of building a culture of learning that is palpable within the school. But what does that look like? In a series of inquiries with staff across a number of schools the key elements the staff identified included:
- Partnership: role-modelling, preparedness to learn from each other (teachers and students as well as teachers together)
- Shared vision with clear understanding
- Trust – knowing that you can mistakes
- People playing their role effectively
- Strong communication – speaking and listening effectively
- Respect/relationship building
- Openness to learning is imperative – ‘risk-taking, mistake-making’ culture
- Visible Learning – supports the notion of a learning partnership
- Listening to kids/each other in decision-making
- Resilience – being able a cope with professional feedback without feeling defensive due to highly critical self-perception
The essence of the feedback and research is that to build a culture of learning requires the building of a trusting community that involves learning partnerships and a powerful relationship to ‘failure’ and development.
I have previous written about the contextual shift required for the staff and students but that discussion did not consider HOW to build a developmental mindset in the learning community.
What we have begun to investigate at one high school is how we could develop structures to build resilience and intrinsic motivation as part of the everyday learning environment. The intention of the work we are doing together is to bring in structures, language, practices and conversations that will gradually support the development of resilience and intrinsic motivation in students, staff, parents and all those associated with the learning of an individual. This will take a few years to embed in the way the school operates but we believe it is one of the key planks of a culture of learning.
I have attached some articles and research below that links to this topic. How do you coherently and consistently develop resilience and intrinsic motivation in your school?
- Why finishing 4th beats winning
- Taking Developmental Considerations into consideration
- What is meta-cognition and can we teach it
- To get Students Invested Involve them in Decisions Big and Small
- Positive Education: Creating Flourishing Students, Staff and Schools
- School-wide Methods for Fostering Resiliency
- Bolstering Resilience in Students
- Creating a Positive School Environment
While you are at it, check out my Scoop.It page around High Performance Learning
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.
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!
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?
- Some children use Fast ForWord to support the development of auditory processing abilities and linguistic development
- The use of a range of literacy programs from Prep – Grade 6 to build up all dimensions of literacy (THRASS, SWST, QuickSmart, etc)
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 (www.intuyuconsulting.com.au) soon!
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!
I have realised over the past 6 months how few schools are actually clear about what their long term vision is. Part of the impact of this lack of vision and disciplined building of this vision is that schools can quite often be focussed on things that disperse their power and ability. They become like a thirsty person wandering in the desert – going from one mirage to the next. Teachers become inured to change and morale can suffer.
In an increasingly competitive educational and financial environment, and as part of the paradigm shift occurring as we move further into the Information Age, it has become critical for schools to be clear and focused in their vision and actions. Even more so is to develop a culture of disciplined people, disciplined thoughts, and disciplined actions.
- Empowering Level 5 Leadership (as Jim Collins speaks of in “Good to Great”)
- Getting the right people on the bus – getting a strong core group of leaders within the school who will be the team who will take responsibility to create and build the vision within the school community
- Creating a hedgehog concept for the school
- Creating clearly what it means, what it feels like, what it looks like when that hedgehog concept is accomplished
- Creating the non-negotiables as you move forward
- Confronting what is actually the current state of the school – what is working, what is not against the vision, mission statement, or hedgehog concept.
- And so on
What I want to share about this blog is how we worked with a leadership team at a school to create the hedgehog concept and began the process of uncovering their collective meaning, vision and actions to deliver on that vision.
A Hedgehog concept is idea that Jim Collins shares about in his book “Good to Great”. The idea comes from the story that the hedgehog succeeds because is only good at one thing – it rolls itself up into a ball with its spines outwards and it is protected against any dangers (such as foxes who have to come up with many strategies to succeed but rarely ever do). What Jim Collins found is that the most consistently successful organisations follow this concept as well. They adhere fanatically to their vision (Hedgehog Concept) and ignore taking on anything not consistent with it. This gives them an ability to remain focussed and able to develop consistent structures, approaches and culture.
There are three elements to the hedgehog concept:
- What can you be the best in the world at?
• Understand what you can and cannot be the best at
• Let your abilities, not egos, determine what you attempt
- What drives your economic engine?
• What has the greatest impact on your economics (reputation for a school)?
- What are you deeply passionate about?
• Great organisations focus on those activities that ignite their passion
You can see in the diagram below the result of doing this work with a school.
Some of the discussion that raged as the leadership team created the 3 elements was fascinating
- In distinguishing what they were deeply passionate about the team really cottoned on that this was not just a statement for students or learning but their bigger vision for all people. They wanted everyone (teachers, students, parents, etc) involved with the school to be exceptional, inspired and passionate. We toyed with the idea of “the best they can be” but distinguished this was limiting. How do we even know what people’s best is? We toyed with extraordinary but that is a quite oft used word that has lost its meaning for many. This led to exceptional – an exception to the norm.
- The team wanted to be the best in the world at building learning communities. I confronted the group this week to define what that actually meant. In the first few minutes of discussion it was interesting to note that different people had different conceptions about what that meant or looked like. WE spent most of the session doing the work to be really clear about what that meant. Here is what they created:
Groups of people with a common goal / vision
Working collaboratively (learning from and together)
Developing 21st century social competencies
Inspiring passionate and exceptional people
- The leadership team had to define some not-negotiable items in the shifting of the school to deliver its vision. These included:
o Working collaboratively
o Removing mediocrity
o Passion and Professionalism
o High levels of literacy and numeracy
o Making informed decisions on student learning
o Developing 21st century social competencies
o Every child matters
o All aboard or not on board
In the whole process it became clear that as questions and ideas arose it pointed to that certain structures, systems and thinking had to be embedded in the staff (including having the staff plan for delivering social competencies first and then strategically looking at the content to be covered and discussing how the content be used to develop the competencies).
The homework the leadership team is now working upon is to become clear about what each aspect of the hedgehog concept means and what it looks like. They will also share with another staff member who they consider to be a leader within the staff community. The purpose of this is to start enrolling the staff in a future being created and to ignite feedback and leadership. Finally, against the future and vision they have created, they will outline where they are now in that journey. This will allow us to plan the steps to achieve that future.
It is currently a frustrating and challenging time in education. It seems as if teachers and educators are speaking one language and having one set of outcomes for the students they teach, and politicians, the media, and parents are speaking another.
Because they are.
It is occurring because they are standing in different paradigms. We are in the midst of the biggest paradigm shift in the human existence and we all are experiencing issues that I suggest are normal to the shifting of paradigms.
To give you a sense of this and give some context to what the education system will be going through over the next few decades let’s look back at the last global paradigm shift.
Pre-Industrial Age to Industrial Age (up to mid-1700’s)
Prior to the Industrial Revolution (1770’s) a broad (or liberal) education was limited to the wealthier middle and upper classes who could afford tuition. For the most part education was provided by religious organisations and focussed on Latin, scripture study and Aristotle’s works (logic). This was appropriate to the social and economic structures of the time as it was the wealthy middle and upper classes that controlled trade and political power. There was no need to educate the large proportion of the population as they only needed sufficient education to ply their trade (which for most people was quite local). Life for the masses was subsistence living and life expectancy and quality of life was quite low for the majority of the population.
During the 18th and 19th centuries there were several important developments that led to the creation of the current educational system.
Firstly, following the Reformation, education theory took a leap forward with Comenius (1592 – 1670), amongst others, proposing the idea of human learning as a progression from youth to maturity and from elementary to advanced knowledge. This lead to the concept of universal education covering topics and subjects that were actually useful to the life of the increasingly urbanised towns and cities where the population had grown significantly. There was resistance to this movement as “too much schooling would make the working poor discontented with their lot”. The class system saw the education of the poor as a threat.
It was really the Industrial Revolution that spurred Governments into providing national education systems because industry required workers with more than limited reading skills and a catechetic focus. As the period of the new Industrial Age progressed and democracy widened, development of public education was slow. It took many years and an extraordinary amount of investment and political will to develop the educational systems. In countries such as Australia and the USA the push was for a common model of education to reduce ignorance (and thus crime) and create good, moral and law-abiding citizens. In the UK the public school system was initially developed in-line with the entrenched class system and later theories of “intelligence” to ensure a divided public education system.
Regardless of the country, public education focussed on what could be considered a factory-model with children in “date of manufacture” groups, “one size fits all” teaching and curricula, where most learning was by rote, memorisation and instilled in students “the advantages of being orderly, clean, punctual, decent and courteous, and avoiding all things which would make them disagreeable to other people”. To ensure quality control students were tested to determine if they knew what they needed to know to work in industry. As the prosperity of the countries grew, this industrial educational model embedded into the fabric of society and the systems and structures have become entrenched in how western society functions.
During this growing Age of Industrialisation this educational approach worked well.
It allowed for the economic and social rise of people from the lower classes. In the countries that educated their populations, there has been a huge leap in the quality of life and life expectancy for the masses. It expanded trade for manufactured goods and services beyond localised villages and created opportunities worldwide. It prepared people to operate in an industrialised and urbanised society. It allowed for countries to efficiently build their infrastructure and economic output around an industrial framework (as Seth Godin points out in “Lynchpin”, most corporations and organisations still follow the factory formula). It allowed for economies of scale by being able to educate large groups of people quickly using minimal resources.
For around two hundred years worked really, really well.
What there is to note is that in the shift of paradigms during the Industrial Revolution are:
- It took a while for the infrastructure, governmental systems, and educational practices to create the public educational systems to be formulated and then mature to be effective
- It took visionary political will working over a long period time to ensure the embedding of the paradigm
- There was resistance by people and organisations in power
- Economic necessity and profitability drove the change
- Education lead to the increasing democratisation of the countries as people gained the knowledge and wherewithal to create a more equitable system for all.
- Corporate, government and educational working structures and systems began to match the new paradigm for efficiency and prosperity purposes
- People were educated and trained to fit the new industrial paradigm
Industrial Age to Information Age (1980’s ff)
With the advent of personal computing, the internet, and social networking there has been another profound paradigm shift in humanity.
No longer is information scarce and knowledge held by the few. There is a wealth of information and knowledge accessible within moments. Experts around the world are at your fingertips on any topic you wish with increasing access to live feeds, videos, lectures, blogs, podcasts, webinars, and so on. And this will become progressively richer and expansive over time with better search engines, more validated and expert voices going online, and the exponential growth in computing technology and software.
No longer is trade confined to your local suburb, state or country. Individuals and organisations can develop niche markets and create sustainable income by reaching out to individuals and marketing worldwide. Companies can compete globally online. In some domains there is no longer the need to have the same bricks and mortar investment to run a successful company. Everyone now has access to creating businesses (not just those with capital, wealth or power).
No longer is media only the purview and voices of the rich and powerful. Individuals can express their views, argue and debate, follow the news, create the news, campaign, learn about what is happening in the world … all from home. A progressively greater number of voices will be heard and interests served.
I could go on but you know many of these things and probably see much more than I. In its essence we are at the beginning of a period of human history that is rapidly changing. We cannot predict what the world will look like in 10 years let alone by the end of this century.
What you should note however is that:
- It will take a while for the infrastructure, governmental systems, and educational practices to create the new public educational systems to be formulated and then mature to be effective
This will cause much of the debate raging in countries as they compare themselves via assessments like PISA and then explore and develop structures and systems that are forward thinking and prepared for the constantly changing world. I suspect that Finland’s model of education will lead the world for many years to come.
- It will take visionary political will working over a long period time to ensure the embedding of the information age paradigm
This is one of the challenges because we have yet to see people with the political will to challenge the status quo and plan for the long term future. In fact, the system of short terms for political parties and pandering to the status quo has resulted in a democratic system that only allows small incremental changes.
- There will be resistance by people and organisations in power
We are currently witnessing this quite a lot from the poor media portrayal of schools, politicians and parents still thinking purely from an industrial age concept of the world, and businesses trying to model the education system on their industrial model
- Economic necessity and profitability will drive the change
As prosperity becomes driven by opportunities arising from the Information Age Paradigm then this will become more so. I suspect that there will be a greater diversity of blended industrial and information models arising for companies and corporations. We never lost the need for agricultural structures and systems with the shift away from a purely agricultural paradigm.
- Education will lead to the increasing democratisation of the countries as people gained the knowledge and wherewithal to create a more equitable system for all
Notice the rise of organisations such as Avaaz, GetUp in Australia and Wikileaks. As people are more informed and able to collaborate and organise over vast distances there will be a resultant increase in the rise of equitable democracy.
- Corporate, government and educational working structures and systems will begin to match the new paradigm for efficiency and prosperity purposes
See Google, Facebook, Amazon, Zappos, Intel, etc. Their workplaces are models of creativity, fun, industriousness, and innovation.
- People will be educated and trained to fit the new information age paradigm
Educational systems and approaches will change. The one size fits all teacher directed model is already experiencing challenges and digital native students are no longer satisfied with boring, content-focussed education. I can imagine that within 10-15 years the development of educational hardware and software will match to address the wide student interests and academic variance that exists within our schools. Currently we are dealing with the technological challenges that our funding and infrastructure does not allow for.
It is interesting to note that educational approaches such as inquiry learning, divergent thinking, and differentiation has been around for decades (much like Comenius educational philosophy was around for decades) and is only slowly now being implemented in schools. However, there is no throwing the baby out with the bath water. Great education has always been great learning.
The work that we (Intuyu Consulting) focus on in schools is working with them to shift their thinking, staff culture, staff planning and structures to the new information age paradigm BEFORE they necessarily have the technology in place. Technology has always been an accelerator … not the answer. We empower the staff to be the creators of what works for them and their circumstance as they stand in the bigger picture. What we have found is that they are enlivened and begin to work with each other and the students to create exceptional learning, projects and results while still operating inside of the current educational and funding paradigm.
 Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history, www.educationengland.org.uk/history
 Chitty C (2004) Education Policy in Britain Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
 The Evolution of Education in Australia, http://www.historyaustralia.org.au/ifhaa/schools/evelutio.htm
 Sir Ken Robinson, Changing Education Paradigms, 2010
 Lynchpin: Are you Indispensible? Seth Godin, 2010
Creative Commons Copyright: Intuyu Consulting 2011
I just returned from running workshops in Queensland and the group of teachers and I had a fantastic discussion around safety, connection and learning.
Let me tune you in to how we got into it by reproducing a bit of the morning of the Advanced Inquiry Workshop.
Our brain is designed to to ensure the safety and survival of our bodies. So it is always scanning to ensure that the body is safe. Given that survival and safety is paramount for the brain … the learning environment must be safe.
But .. are our learning enviroments safe for the brain?
Fear is the foremost inhibitor to learning and growth. The brain, however, cannot distinguish between fear of failure /getting things wrong / making a mistake in a peer environment vs fear of dying or suffering injury. Research has shown that the physiologically they produce the same body reaction. This is understandable because the environment that we exist in has evolved from the dangers of survival out in the wild to the dangers of survival in the modern world.
What this points to is that we must go beyond looking at physical saefty issues like bullying or many of the overt factors that create an unsafe environment for learning. We need to also look at the systemic structures that the brain will interpret as a danger or survival issues.
One of the unfortunate byproducts of a content focussed traditional school environment is that we have created an environment of wrong / right, good / bad … a breeding ground for fear. Students over time adapt by unconsciously becoming passive learners as a way of mitigating this fear as they haven’t yet learnt the skills to mitigate the fear using their pre-frontal cortex or reasoning part of their brain to reframe their perception. By the time we become adults many of us have not developed the capacity to mitigate the emotions and feelings that fear drive up – notice how public speaking is still feared more than death!
When I shared that with the teachers that I had a face to face example of the passivity that our education system breeds with a large group of first year pre-service teachers only last week … they began to share about their experiences of students from year 8 onwards and how they developed themselves to overcome the fear suppressor with the students.
Social networking research indicates that unless the individual has very strong self-confidence and wherewithal to go against group behaviour (the fear of speaking up and being wrong or humiliated) they will be passive and go along with the beliefs of the groups they are in. A simple example of this is how we can be chameleon like when we are in different groups of people. Fitting into a group is a survival technique that is fundamental to design of the brain in most species.
So a learning environment must be safe and develop the self-confidence of the child to question, to challenge, to develop their own place in the world. Young people must learn how to fail and learn from those experiences without fear of consequences for failing (e.g embarrassment, teasing, bullying, etc).
How do we create this?
Well the very best teachers practice it all the time. They know that they must be connected on a deep level with the students. They actively build a safe environment. They share their lives and create mutual respect. They honour their word. They consistently role model behaviour and relate to the students as their learning partners. They create environments where it is Ok to fail and make mistakes. They sometimes ask the students for feedback so they can improve their ability to deliver lessons that are more inspiring or have the students learn better.
Even more than this … why inquiry learning is becoming a more spoken about learning approach is that it is not about right or wrong, good or bad … but it allows students to discover and voice opinions and try different things out in an environment of discovery.
You might realise my point by this time. Unless we move from a content focussed paradigm which is all about passing the test, getting things right, etc .. we will not be preparing students for a world that is profoundly changing.
If we want our students to be self-confident, risk-taking thought provokers who adapt to an ever changing social and technological environment then we need to shift OUR paradigm of education.
The leap isn’t large … but it is becoming more and more urgent.
In last week’s blog we begun a discussion about developing leadership whilst student’s are learning. This week we explore, what John Maxwell calls “the quickest way to developing leadership“.
F.F. Fourneis, in his wonderful exposition Coaching for Improved Work Performance, discussed four common reasons why people do not perform the way they should:
- They do not know WHAT they are supposed to do
- They do not know HOW to do it
- They do not know WHY they do it
- There are obstacles beyond their control
Despite that this was originally written about work circumstances it is apparent that this can also be said about students in a school situation.
The first two reasons are normally dealt with reasonably well within a classroom environment. We provide excellent explicit teaching on the WHAT and the HOW of doing specific tasks. Having well designed assessment rubrics go a long way to providing students with what they need to show that they have develop knowledge as well as skills and capacities.
Reason three, the WHY, is sometimes not addressed well in classes but can be developed with well designed “tuning in” sessions and linking to the students’ understanding in other areas. A strong WHY will have the students engaged, passionate and enabling strong transference of skills AND knowledge.
Reason four, however, is poorly dealt with by many schools, and in fact most people rarely develop the wherewithal to overcome the obstacles that life throws at them unless their survival is at risk!
[Interestingly, a social psychologist at a conference once shared with me how in a survey he performed of his clients he discovered that 6% changed their unproductive habits from advertising, 17% from an emergency (e.g. heart attack, cancer) while over 70% because a close friend or family member nagged them until they changed!].
One can consider that one major aspect of leadership is the ability to overcome obstacles to achieve the goals you set out to achieve. You look at any successful individual and you will find that they failed many times before they succeeded and what made them successful and leaders in their areas was that they learnt how to overcome or get around obstacles (the youtube video below gives some examples of this).
John C Maxwell in his book Developing the Leader Within You suggests that there are only two things that allow for powerful problem solving and leadership: the right attitude and the right action plan.
Given the importance of attitude to being a leader, next weeks blog will go in depth about the right attitude. At this point I just want you to consider that in a content focussed curriculum and school environment the right attitude of students is to give what the teachers want and what the assessments ask for that will give them the best marks. This does not naturally develop leadership.
With respect to the right action plan John Maxwell outlined the following process to develop the problem solving approach that will give people the ability to tackle the obstacles they face
- Identify the problem – quite often we attack the symptoms not the cause. Identify the real issues that lie beneath the symptoms
- Prioritise the problem – quite often we become stopped because we seem to have too many problems or things to deal with. Being able to list the issues and them prioritise them will allow students to grapple with the reality of the situation and learn how to deal with what is most important first
- Define the problem – defining what is the problem you will tackle (e.g. a critical question the students will tackle in an inquiry learning project) gives direction to the solution process. Maxwell discusses 4 steps to this aspect
- Ask the right questions
- Talk to the right people
- Get the hard facts
- Get involved in the process
- Select people to help you in the process – I have observed that many people try to solve problems on their own and get stuck. What I have found is that the answers always lie in community. Consulting as widely as possible will allow for solutions that you, as an individual, have never thought of.
- Collect problem causes
- Collect possible solutions
- Prioritise and select the best solutions
- Implement the best solution
- Reflect on and Evaluate the solution
You have probably noticed by now that this process IS the process of project-based inquiry learning. Pure inquiry learning, where the students choose a critical question to research and then go about in a discovery approach to answer their question, requires the skills and capacities I have just outlined.
What I ask you to reflect on is … how are you developing your students in the above process EXPLICITLY? Do you have rubrics that the students fill out to train them? Do you have particular practices you use in the class to do this? Do you have specific templates where the students can ritualise this process?
Feel free to comment on the blog!
Next week .. developing the right attitude!