2017: In Review

Last year I wrote a 2016 in review to reflect on a year of professional learning and the blogposts that I had written. It was an interesting exercise, reaffirming the reason for writing this blog, which is more for personal assimilation than for any potential audience out there (the potential audience pressures me to assimilate). Three trends from reflecting on the blogposts I wrote in 2017:

Technology in the Back Seat

I’ve felt the ubiquity of technology (the second year teaching in a full BYOD environment) has made it less of driver around professional learning conversations. This came through my own refocusing on inquiry through the work of Kath Murdoch as well as the action research of my eFellowship.  The keynotes at uLearn also reinforced this shift. Eric Mazur’s focus on shifting from transferring information to assimilating information and Abdul Chohan’s articulation of the role of belief in change initiatives both moved away from the tool to the pedagogy.

The place of technology in education was really nailed for me by Richard Watson in his book ‘Digital Vs Human‘. He was very clear that technology needs to be purposeful and not driven by capitalism. Derek Wenmoth contextualised this when presenting the 10 trends, suggesting that any technology, any new trend in education, needs to be explored through lenses of ethics, citizenship, safety and equity. Using technology just to grab a student’s attention isn’t good enough in 2017. What is the point of presenting a new technology tool to a staffroom if you aren’t going to discuss how it impacts on student learning? Pedagogy is the driver.

The Politics of Diversity

In 2017 I continued to present the Safer Schools for all workshop also got to share this work at the CTU Pride Union Conference. I discovered the work of Peter DeWitt, which was inspirational to read. I was also very proud to peer review the vital ‘Supporting LGBTIQA+ Students’ inclusive guide on TKI. But it was Welby Ings and his book ‘Disobedient Teaching’ that really gave a political context for this work. He stated “waiting for permission means very little ever gets changed” and this work with promoting diversity is so often dependent on permission from straight white cis-males in leadership positions. My eFellowship research took aim at this in a way by working with teachers in the middle and making ripples to impact change. Going forward I want to hold this work with strong values while remembering being inclusive isn’t something that teachers need permission for.

He Tāngaga, He Tāngata, He Tānagata

The overwhelming trend in my thinking this year has been the importance of putting everybody (not just students) at the centre. From professional reading on this to a class EduCamp, there has been a clear theme of stories that has connected a lot of my journey in 2017. The eFellowship brought together seven stories to work alongside one another and the intersections between those journeys was often the most rewarding. One of those eFellows, Heemi, was exploring specifically indigenous narrative frameworks and story as data. Another moment this year that bought stories together was the ‘Learning with Our Community’ day. Having so many people from the community in the school inspiring the students with their personalised stories was a real special opportunity to be involved in.

Last year I drove away from Newlands College for the last time. After eight years I needed a change and shortly I’m going to be making my way to London to teach in a new system in a new country. I’m disappointed this comes at a time just as I’ve been woken up by Ann Milne who has helped me find my internal bias and my need for action to truly become a culturally responsive teacher. I’ve found through the process of reflecting on leaving along with Milne’s book and uLearn presentation this year that ‘people’ is the key to my educational philosophy. Something I tried to capture that in some of the last words I spoke at Newlands College:

Celebrate our differences, our uniqueness, our diversity. Champion our people, because it is the people that make this place so special. It is the people here that have made the difference to me. It is the people I will always remember. He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.

 

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Leading in a Culture of Change – Michael Fullan

51xmx2biowsl-_sx331_bo1204203200_The concept of Professional Capital, as written about by Michael Fullan, made a big difference for my understanding of leadership in 2016. I followed up my reading of the book with an action plan, and it interesting looking back how much of this has happened in my practice due to a shift in philosophy rather than returning to this document like a checklist.  Fullan presented at uLearn16 on new pedagogies in a heavy and provocative keynote, which was reinforced by a breakout on deep learning. Leading in a Culture of Change was written in 2001, and contains a lot of timeless content about leadership and change. Here are some thoughts from the book:

Leadership Development is more of a tortoise not a hare proposition: “leadership must be cultivated deliberately over time at all levels of the organisation” (vi). Change is a double edged sword: “when things are unsettled, we can find new ways to move ahead and to create breakthroughs not possible in stagnant societies” (1). Change can create fear, anxiety and danger; but also exhilaration, risk-taking, and excitement. Fullan’s model (below left) introduces the way that successful change through leadership can occur. The five areas are broken down in five chapters in the book. I’ve captured some reflection below on those five deep theoretical reasons why change occurs.

1.Moral Purpose

“Moral purpose is about means and ends” (13). The why we do things and the how we do them in closely linked the moral purpose and value underpinnings. In education I think this is evident in the way that schools are part of a community and not working in isolation. Nor is any one student treated as if they are isolated from connections. The lives of people within the organisation must be treated holistically with a view to not just making a difference to one individual, but to society as a whole.

Moral purpose is related to the idea of doing ‘good’. However, it needs to be acknowledged that there are multiple ways of going about ‘doing good’ – therefore reconiliation between views and perspectives is a fundamental part of leadership. Fullan argues that moral purpose will surface as a matter of course, but he warns: “although moral purpose is natural, it will flourish only if leaders cultivate it” (27).

2.Understanding Change

Change is inevitable; we live in a change society. There are no shortcuts to effective change:

  1. the goal is not to innovate the most
  2. it is not enough to have the best ideas
  3. appreciate the implementation dip
  4. redefine resistance as a potential positive force
  5. reculturing is the name of the game
  6. change is not a checklist, it is always complex.

The way we approach change in terms of leadership style is important. Fullan suggests six styles (above, right picture) but 1 and 5 have negative impacts on educational climates. A convergence of styles is needed for effective change.

3. Developing Relationships

“The single factor common to every successful change initiative is that relationships improve” (5). Fullan here talks a lot about purposeful interaction and problem solving, balanced with being wary of easy consensus. The emphasis on the micro means of developing relationships (in my context I think of corridor conversations, morning teas, the weekly raffle) was a key takeaway – something I haven’t previously explicitly placed within a leadership model. Emotional intelligence (EI) was unpacked and heralded as a fundamental component of leadership.

4. Knowledge Building

We live in a knowledge society, and knowledge is a social process. The example I responded to here was the notion that we can identify and share best practice fairly well. This occurs naturally in most PL programmes. But the breakdown is how this best practice is transferred or assimilated by the rest of the staff. Knowledge sharing and collaboration needs to be a value, but what mechanisms activate this value?

5. Coherence Making

Coherence making is a perennial pursuit. Leadership is difficult in a culture of change because disequilibrium is common (and valuable, provided that patterns of coherence can be fostered) [6]

Fullan argues that disturbance a good thing. There were echoes here of uLearn’s gone-by with Lichtman’s ‘get comfortable with discomfort’ and Spencer’s ’embrace discomfort’. The job of the leader is to create the learning context for the coherence to be made – not to solve the issues – but to bring them to the surface and address them in a collaborative space. The leader must pick their moments, but also remember that “unsettling processes provide the best route to greater all-round coherence” (116).

Convergence

Fullan concludes with three powerful interrelated lessons from the book: “the vital and paradoxical need for slow knowing, the importance of learning in context, and the need for leaders at all levels of the organisation” (122). I would offer a fourth: understanding and mastering convergence. Isolated skills on one specific mindset is not an appropriate leadership model. The modern ecology requires a convergence and understanding of the connections between the five capacities Fullan covers. The digital age makes this necessity more visible, and arguably more important as adaptability is key in response to exponential technology change.


Fullan, Michael (2001) Leading in a Culture of Change. Josey-Bass: San Francisco.

uLearn – Abdul Chohan

Keynote #3 – Changing belief: Apple technology in the classroom

Abdul’s storytelling approach to his keynote made him a joy to listen to. From the challenge of the laptop trolley to the tale of the photo he found of a innovative learning environment, he could certainly spin a yarn. From his time at Essa Academy and the Olive Tree Education Trust (see Olive Tree Free School) in the UK, his intent is to see mobile technology to support student learning.

James Hopkins captures this keynote in incredible detail in this blogpost. In reading this summary, the weight of the keynote became truly clear. Some parts that I at first dismissed as an Apple advertisement became clearer as an inspirational story of educational change.

An underpinning idea was the difference between behaviour and belief. To create change we need to focus on changing beliefs and the behaviour will follow. This resonated with me as it rung true of feedback we get internally from our Professional Learning structures. Some teachers talk of wanting tools and things they can try in the classroom: “good PD is when you can take something away and try it out in the next lesson”. Abdul’s affirms that the focus is right, on the thinking behind the tools and the strategies. The belief will lead the behaviour. Admittedly there needs to be a balance but this was reassuring.

Abdul unpacked the mentality of ‘we’ve always done it that way’ – calling the phrase the six most dangerous words in education. I would challenge that and suggest that ‘we already do it like that’ worthy of more concern. Resistance to change is one thing, thinking that change has occurred when it really hasn’t is another.

Takeaways and Observations

  • ‘Believe You Can’ – the motto of Olive Tree. The motif of belief came all through Abdul’s keynote; this philosophy must have a strong connection to the success his students have experienced.
  • Are we translating or transforming? While it can be limiting to think in binaries, this is a provocative reflective question.
  • Digital quotient – build your DQ, not your IQ. 
  • Teachers are the best app for students.

uLearn17 – Brad Waid

Keynote #2 – Engaging the “globally” connected student of today

Technology is changing – but not for the first time:

The key questions posed by Brad, as collected by Jo Robson in this blogpost were:

What are kids learning? Where are they learning? What is our role? Are we changing? How are we connecting with our 21st century learners? What is happening when the students leave the classroom? What are they sharing? Would they share what we are teaching? The role of educators is changing, yet have and are we actually changing?

Brad enthusiastic shared futurist visionary videos and personal anecdotes. He suggested a framework to help change the world, to make a difference to young students in education: RULE(e)

  • Relationships – a key driven behind learning (like here)
  • Understanding – what unites us is stronger than what divides us (like here)
  • Learning – fail…fail…fail…success (felt Karen
  • Environment – flexibility is key
  • (e)xpression – SHARE!

Several videos were shown through the presentation and there was a clear futurist lean to them. While the below wasn’t the video shown – it certainly does help capture current socialnomics trends:

Takeaways and Observations

  • Like Eric Mazur, a key theme that emerged was that the learning relationship is more important than the tool. 
  • We can leverage the technology for some really great outcomes – one example was Pokemon Go and the way that it go people active and outside. 
  • Comparison has been drawn with Kevin Honeycutt‘s keynote. I went back into my archives and found some of the gems I recorded in 2012:
    • “It’s a beautiful time to be a human being. Anything is possible”
    • “Even good kids will do stupid things if no one is watching: They need us on our digital playground”
    • “A student that asks ‘why do I need to know this?’ is asking a legitimate question!”
    • “How can we make it OK to invent? Do we have a culture that can sustain invention?”
    • “If we all we are doing it to prepare students to pass tests then what is the point? We are just building middle managers.”

uLearn17 – Eric Mazur

Keynote #1 – Innovating education to educate innovators

Eric Mazur keynote (collaborative notes) was a story that captured his journey from being under the illusion that he was the best Physics lecturer to someone that reformed his approach to teaching.

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As a Physics lecturer at Harvard, Eric was repeating the teaching style that he had experienced as a student. Transmitting knowledge by lecturing to the class. He told humourous stories of approaching teaching with a textbook such as finding a textbook that was out of print so the students couldn’t just teach themselves from their own copy. If you have the same textbook as the students, what do you teach them? If you are just going to hand out the lecture notes at the end of the class, what was the point of the class?

Capture

Learning, he proposed, is a two step process:

  1. Transfer of information
  2. Assimilation of that information

For example, the keynote transferred information, and the dialogue I had with colleagues after the presentation and the writing of this blogpost is an opportunity to assimilate that information. The assimilation is the hard part, but it’s the part that gets the least attention. How can we shift our pedagogy to focus more on assimilation. The curse of knowledge is that once you understand something it’s hard to remember the difficulty of learning it. His framework is displayed on the right. It is explained fully in this blog.  The learning takes place in the discussion phase.

At times I found myself wandering into a cynical state of mind listening to these ideas. I was listening for innovation, but all I heard was the learning process being broken down into a simple understandable formula. These moments were quickly challenged by reflection on my own classroom as I realise how little assimilation space I’m providing. Eric’s ideas seems simple because they should be. However, the default is transmission, and too often do I revert back to this. I feel very enlivened by Eric’s ideas and also confident that this is going to make a big impact on my practice.

Takeaways and Observations

  • If you are explaining something on the board – you aren’t engaging with your students. Face them.
  • Relationships again affirmed. Emotional engagement in the learning another key theme.
  • Mentimeter is a tool to help facilitate the framework; perusall is the platform Eric suggested.
  • How much are students dependent on a correct answer for emotional investment in a question? How do open ended questions fit in the framework? And most importantly: what skills do students need to be able to actively engage in this way?

uLearn17 Preparation

In the past I’ve found it really useful to synthesise lots of information about the upcoming conference through preparing this kind of blogpost (see uLearn15 and uLearn16). It develops my prior knowledge giving me the opportunity to get more out of the conference. This is just a post to process some of the prior information about the keynotes and key threads to get me in the zone. I’m doing this in a self-beneficial way but something might be interesting here – the preparation for ulearn16 post that Anne Kenneally put together is a much better general audience resource.

Conference Themes

  • Connect: Sharing knowledge and ideas
  • Collaborate: Working together and developing relationships
  • Innovate: Innovation and sustainability

Conference Strands

  • Learning digitally / Te ako ā-matihiko
  • Learning in communities / Te ako ā-hapori
  • Learning for success / Te ako kia angitu

Keynotes

The four keynotes this year have a range of exciting topics and perspectives to share:

Eric Mazur – Innovating education to educate innovators

I will show how shifting the focus from delivering information to team work and creative thinking greatly improves the learning that takes place in the classroom and promotes independent thinking.

Eric Mazur has a long successful history of promoting ‘interactive teaching’ or ‘peer instruction’. His website contains some previous keynotes which all link back to these themes. He is part of a team that developed Learning Catalytics, “an interactive student response tool that encourages team-based learning by using students’ smartphones, tablets, or laptops to engage them in interactive tasks and thinking.” It would be great to see this approach modelled in a uLearn keynote!

Dr Ann Milne – Colouring in the white spaces: Cultural identity and community in whitestream schools

She will challenge us to find and reflect on the white spaces in our own thinking and practice, and to actively work towards changing them.

I had the pleasure of reading Dr Ann Milne‘s book “Coloring in the White Spaces: Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools” recently and was absolutely blown again by the ideas in it. She talks extensively about colonisation, white privilege, systemic racism and has a very practical approach to changing things. The video below (plus a companion blogpost) and the her Q&A with Core Education give context to where Milne’s thinking is at. I’m expecting her keynote will lay down a real challenge to the NZ teaching profession.

Brad Waid – Engaging the globally connected student of today: A look at emerging technology, gaming and digital citizenship

Brad pushes us to look at the engaging factors students are faced with on a daily basis and how to leverage them in a learning context.

Brad Waid is a futurist with lots of experience with technology and education. His website shares some impressive achievements, recognising his leading thinking and ideas around technology and education integration. It is exciting for me to read about his interest in Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality as this year is the first time I’ve been exploring using immersive technologies in my Media Studies classroom. I’m interested in how his ideas might align or challenge Richard Watson’s book Digital Vs Human.

Abdul Chohan- Changing belief: Apple technology in the classroom

Abdul will discuss how the transformational redesign of learning with Apple technology has been essential for the success of every student and wider community.

The 4 minute video below captures Abdul Chohan’s educational perspective, which is clear through his journey of turning around ESSA Academy.  The story of what they achieved through mobile based learning is captured in this article and this conference presentation. To me the story speaks of the democratising power of technology and the importance of access in order to achieve equity. I’m interested in what angle Chohan brings to uLearn and how the story might be different for schools in 2017.

 

Peer Tutoring

This year as the Year 13 Dean, I’ve accidentally stumbled into the Peer Tutoring programme. Due to staffing for our weekly wa ako – learning to learn – periods, I’ve ended up running sessions on how to be a peer tutor. While some useful things were covered (how to build a relationship with a younger peer, questioning strategies, and some learning theories) I still feel like I didn’t capitalise on this opportunity, and I wonder how well the school is capitalising on this programme. So I turned to the literature.

nzcer_peer20tutoring_cvrJesse’s Pirini‘s book Peer Tutoring: A Training and Facilitation Guide offered some insight into some of the areas to think about when evaluating the peer tutoring that is already happening at the school. The conclusion of his book brought together the research and claimed the following as the most important in successful peer tutoring:

  • Strong, meaningful relationships between educators and students
  • promoting student agency through helping students to explore their thinking
  • setting goals by imagining a better future and then considering present obstacles
  • improving metacognitive competencies through peer interaction (73).

These four areas are reinforced by literature and provide a framework for supporting peer tutors. One of the cautions of approaching peer tutoring without a framework is it will be done the way people assume it should be done. “Often, this ‘natural’ approach reinforces an instrumental test and exam focus” (72). The shift is to make our tutors focus on the learning.

For this they need strong relationships and effective strategies. It was heartening to read about the reinforcement of relationships as the backbone to learning: “higher level thinking relies on basic emotional needs having already been met…A strong tutoring relationship underpins successful tutoring” (7). Pirini also drew on the idea of a tutoring toolbox – a collection of strategies to support student learning. The toolbox contain strategies such as:

  • Demonstrate a process of exercise
  • Give the student a task to do
  • Identify a specific problem
  • Determine an initial course of action
  • Contextualise a specific task within a bigger picture
  • Describe a basic process
  • Ask a deep explanatory question
  • Assess prior knowledge
  • Give specific descriptive framework

These strategies might naturally occur in a classroom, but there’s a danger of assuming that tutors will have picked up on this.

One of the shifts I reflected on from reading the book was making the programme student centred. A case study examined in the book puts forward the idea of a senior student leadership team who administer the programme by matching students and running the publicity. The other shift for me was the importance of training that is robust and ongoing in order for a tutoring programme to be successful. It’s too dangerous to assume, and it’s too easy to miss the learning opportunity here. My hope is we can use some of the book’s ideas to support some developments on what is already a solid foundation.