Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Here is the crux.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps!

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?

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.

There are a number of steps to this process including

  • 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)

Removing mediocrity

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[1]. 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”.[2] 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[3]. 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[4], “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”[5]. 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[6]). 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.

[1] Gillard D (2011) Education in England: a brief history,

[2] Chitty C (2004) Education Policy in Britain Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

[3] The Evolution of Education in Australia,

[4] Sir Ken Robinson, Changing Education Paradigms, 2010


[6] Lynchpin: Are you Indispensible? Seth Godin, 2010

Creative Commons Copyright: Intuyu Consulting 2011

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?
Any feedback?

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, CoachingImprovedWorkdiscussed four common reasons why people do not perform the way they should:

  1. They do not know WHAT they are supposed to do
  2. They do not know HOW to do it
  3. They do not know WHY they do it
  4. 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.DevelopingLdrWithin

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

  1. Identify the problem – quite often we attack the symptoms not the cause. Identify the real issues that lie beneath the symptoms
  2. 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
  3. 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
    1. Ask the right questions
    2. Talk to the right people
    3. Get the hard facts
    4. Get involved in the process
  4. 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.
  5. Collect problem causes
  6. Collect possible solutions
  7. Prioritise and select the best solutions
  8. Implement the best solution
  9. 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!

OneMinManIt is interesting when you start reading out of your field how many interesting ideas one discovers that are applicable to education.

Ken Blanchard is one of the world leading experts on management and leadership. He is the author of a series of books called the “One Minute Manager”. He, and his team, have sold millions of books and empowered managers and leaders in a range of industries worldwide in simple and effective approaches to developing leadership and managing their organisations.

In “Leadership and the One Minute Manager” I discovered an interesting table (see Figure 1 below) where the One Minute Manager discusses “Situational Leadership”. The principal behind the approach reminded me greatly of how inquiry–learning, project-based learning can be designed to empower and develop skills in young people. It actually reflects the essence of what Bertram Bruce from the University of Illinois pointed out about the stages that teachers must go through to develop skills in leading inquiry learning (Figure 2).

Figure 1

Figure 1

The table outlines the relationship between four developmental levels and the four leadership styles that a manager / leader would use with the person in that developmental level.

  1. Directing – for people who lack competence but are enthusiastic and committed. They need direction and frequent feedback to get them started.
  2. Coaching – for people who have some competence but lack commitment. They need direction and feedback because they are relatively inexperienced. They also need support and praise to build their self-esteem, and involvement in decision making to restore their commitment.
  3. Supporting – for people who have competence but lack confidence or motivation. They don’t need much direction because of their skills, but support is necessary to bolster their confidence and motivation.
  4. Delegating – for people who have both competence and commitment. They are able and willing to work on a project by themselves with little supervision or support.

So if one was going to develop independent learners who are responsible for their own learning teachers would need to use a variety of leadership styles. Teachers would also need to ensure that the students develop competencies and skills. They need to have the basic knowledge as well as the skills to use that knowledge.

Figure 2

Figure 2

However, how many teachers become stuck using one leadership style? Some are all about directing. Some are all about supporting or coaching. If a teacher does not use the appropriate leadership style to the student (and it gets even more complicated because students can be in different developmental levels for different subjects … and the One Minute Manager actually shares a story about this) then we can actually be counter-productive to learning.

What do you see? Tell us in the comments section of the blog.

Next week we will discuss another aspect of leadership … how do you actually set up your teaching to develop leadership.

I have had an interesting time this week as I went and visited a range of schools to observe teachers teaching (or should that be … provide a space for learning to occur?). I was able to sit in on a range of teachers and the variety of approaches they use to promote learning.

Before I get into the topic of teacher practices I think I must start by saying that good inquiry learning requires elements of explicit teaching, practicing, skill development, and inquiry. It is a mistake to think that you do not have explicit teaching or rote learning as part of the process. Why? Well … if you examine how the brain builds knowledge .. repetition is critical (look at anyone trying to learn a new sport). Explicit teaching is critical … you cannot develop critical thinking skills without having a knowledge base.

So let’s discuss practices …

The context where inquiry learning works best is one where the students (and teachers) are developing certain capacities and skills whilst learning about something. In a content focussed curriculum there is no focus on skills apart from that which has content understood.

They are two different paradigms and lead to two different outcomes.Kids Hands

In the paradigm of developing skills and capacities in our students … everything you or the students do is an opportunity to develop the skills and capacities. Let me give you some examples.

Example A

Two teachers were team teaching and while one led an inquiry into a particular topic the other teacher listened in and occasionally added reinforcement to what was said or added to the inquiry to help the students. It was excellent as I watched to see how the two teachers interacted with each other and with the students. The inquiry was engaging and had the students thinking and interacting. It was led purely by asking questions and the students responding.  There was even one point where the teacher had one of the students come to the front and share about a practice they had in the class (around literacy) for the other students. One practice I suggested afterwards … to support the learning of the students and to develop a capacity … was for the second teacher to write notes on the whiteboard of the inquiry as the inquiry runs. That way the students see a role model on how to take notes. If the teachers practiced this all the time and then later in the term / semester had the students taking notes as the teacher modelled it .. then they learn note taking skills much quicker (and improve literacy).

Example B

A teacher was running a game (called 10 seconds I beleive) where a person had to walk across the room and do it in exactly 10 seconds but without any watches apart from the timer the teacher held. The students then had to guest what time it was done in and the aim was for the walkers to get as close as possible to 10 seconds. This game was a great maths exercise as the students needed to work out “closeness” as well as strategies for thinking about marking time, etc. The teacher used her interactive whiteboard to put the numbers in a grid and had each student fill in their own grid before she filled in the group grid. It was a very rich exercise and I was really pleased about the range of practices and scafolding she had in the session. The one practice I suggested (again to continue to developing particular skills in the students) was to get up a second window on the Interactive Whiteboard and automatically graph the tries so the visually oriented students can see how it their tries are getting closer to the magical 10 second mark.

There are lots of examples of practices that teachers can invent standing in .. “what capacity will I build in my students now?”. Rather than leaving the training of internet research skills just to the ICT lesson … what about doing it in class interactively with the interactive whiteboard and show them your thinking as you search for information (use google, wikipedia, and a range of resources). Discuss about how some information is useful and not (have them say) as you look at things online. Have them give you the keywords to look up and inquire about whether they give good results or not.

A great inquiry learning unit will have lots of embedded practices that teachers have consciously placed in their to develop particular skills.

What are your practices … share your ideas in the comments section!

For those of you interested … two great links with great ideas.

1. : A website about one-to-one learning and the teaching practices you can use to scaffold learning as we enter a more one to one environment with technology

2. An excellent resource about neuroscience and the brain. It is a general website but some of the articles are extraordinary (e.g. Is Working Memory a better predictor of academic success than IQ?: Dr. Tracy Alloway summarizes a recent landmark study, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, which tracked children over a six-year period. Key finding: Working memory can be a more powerful predictor of academic success than IQ scores)

This week I thought I’d make a short entry but one that could be really useful for you. Yep … I am giving you stuff in this one!

When I lead inquiry learning workshops with teachers one of the skills that they highlight as important for young people growing up in a 21st century environment is planning and organisational skills. If we are going to develop those skills we need to systemize the process such that the students know what to do.

For example, at a secondary school I have visited, they have a set number of templates that they use to generate ideas, capture ideas, display ideas, use to link and mind map, etc. So they train the students to go straight to the templates (tools) when needed. This approach will develop the habits that build the planning and organisational skills. It also lessens the workload for teachers once their students have be trained!

There is no need to reinvent the wheel as there are many resources available on the internet. Here are some:


Search through for what you can use and adjust them to your needs.

The second part of this week’s blog is around De-schooling school and the future of education. I came upon two interesting videos (which I have attached from Youtube) by George Siemens, an educational technologies expert. The first video discusses how schools (and society) are institutionalised and because of this constraint limit what is possible in schools.

The second video, Robin Good (the interviewer), questions George Siemens about what he sees the future of education. George raises soem very interesting ideas and thoughts about the skills for the 21st century and beyond.

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.