Generous Orthodoxy and Educational Change

In Episode 9 of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, he looks into the concept of ‘generous orthodoxy’. The term comes from theologian Hans Fry, who said,

Orthodoxy without generosity leads to blindness, while generosity without orthodoxy is shallow and empty.

The challenge is finding balance between the orthodoxy of the past and a generosity to the world of the present. Putting this differently, you need to respect the body you are trying to heal. To illustrate this Gladwell uses the example of a Mennonite pastor, Chester Wenger, who had to give up his position in the church to wed his gay son, but also move the orthodoxy forward. The question that needs to be considered is what you might give up or recognise to bring about a change in orthodoxy?

You do not have to look very far online to find arguments why education is broken. Although change is always needed within any organisation, the danger of the ‘broken’ myth is that it portrays everything in every school as being wrong. This call for transformation maybe passionate, but it denies the reality of the past and in some ways the present. Subsequently, when the conversation moves to developing education there are many who are off-side. Although one solution seems to be starting a school from scratch, this does not seem realistic or sustainable. Another solution is to start by celebrating the strengths that already exist within education and working from there. Some recent examples of this are the various interviews on the Modern Learners podcast, with people like Pam Moran and Art Fessler, as well as Richard Wells’ book A Learner’s Paradise. 

Coming at the problem of ‘generous orthodoxy’ in his own way, Ewan McIntosh talks about the ideas of ‘rocks and whirlpools’. Borrowing from Leicester, Bloomer, Stewart and Ewing’s book on Transformative Innovation in Education, McIntosh talks about the dangers of being pulled too far either way.

If you spend all your time protecting the Rocks of the status quo in Horizon One then you risk becoming a dinosaur, isolated as the world sails by. But spend all your time thrashing about in the Whirlpools of Third Horizon innovations then people might perceive you and your ideas a little bit like Scotland’s national animal, the Unicorn – magical, mysterious but leaving people never quite sure whether the ideas become reality, never quite sure whether they can take you seriously. A balance between the two is where innovation lies: creative ideas that borrow from the heritage of the organisation’s founding values. (How to Come Up with Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen)

The challenge is finding a balance between creativity and the status quo, something that is unique to each context.

When I think about my experiences of education, there are many factors which contribute to change, including technology, student action, relationships, passion, pedagogy, learning, trust and empathy. Each aspect involves finding balance. For example,

  • Integrating technology is even better if you reconsider how and what you teach, but that does not mean that students no longer use pen and paper for some tasks.
  • Agency and autonomy is even better when it is not reliant on control and punishment, but that does not mean there are no collective values and expectations.
  • Open planned classrooms work even better if such spaces are adjusted to fit the needs and purpose of the learning at hand, but that does not mean throwing away all sense of order and structure.
  • Relationships with students are stronger when teachers give something of themselves, but that does not mean they lay out their whole life story.

The challenge with many of these aspects is that they take time. Students do not become autonomous because there are no more detentions and open planned spaces do not become functional spaces because the rows of tables are scrapped. Joel Speranza captures this dilemma explaining that we can do things fast, but unless we outlay the appropriate capital to back this, it will not be right. If you are going to do something, you need to do it right and doing it right usually takes time and commitment.

So what about you? What does change look like to you? Does it involve balance? As always, comments welcome.


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Do Great Teachers Make A Great School?


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There are a lot of people who argue that the answer when it comes to transforming education is to start again. For some this is revolution, while for others it means starting again by building something new. Often the reason given is the opportunity to work with like-minded educators. The problem with this is that starting a new school is an exception to the case while revolutions are very rarely glorious. Another issue with this approach is that it often blames teachers for the state of education. If only we had the right people in the positions then everything would be ok, right?

This focus on the teacher could be construed as an influence of the work of John Hattie. For as Ivan Snook, John O’Neill, John Clark, Anne-Marie O’Neill and Roger Openshaw share in their analysis of Visible Learning:

There are; in fact, two different types of research on ‘school effects’. One compares the relative contribution made by social variables on the one hand and school variables on the other. The former includes social status, parental education, home resources and the like; the latter includes all variables within the school: curriculum, principal, buildings and the work of teachers. These studies typically find that most of the variance comes from the social variables and only a small part from the school (including the teachers).

As Snook and co explain, Hattie largely chooses to ignore socio-economic status and home background. This choice therefore places teachers front and centre.

So short of starting again with a bunch of like-minded teachers, here are five ideas for developing education without the blood and violence:

  • Student Action: So often people give credence to student voice, but as Nick Jackson explains that this is not enough, we need to be advocating for student action. For Jackson this comes in the form of the Digital Leaders movement, for Cameron Paterson it is involving students within faculty meetings.
  • Community Engagement: If a part of success is what happens at home, then one answer in regards to developing students is actually developing the whole community. Many schools offer literacy sessions to support migrant families, while others simply offer the means of gathering, therefore developing the school into a community hub.
  • Strong North Star: In many of the supposed innovative schools that I have either visited or read about, there is usually a strong vision that goes beyond the ‘learnification‘ of education. Grant Lichtman talks about having a strong North Star to drive change. This often starts with leadership, but goes beyond senior leadership to involve the whole staff school.
  • Distributed Leadership: A part of involving voices across the board is actually giving them some sort of autonomy. One model or method which does this is distributed leadership. This is not where menial tasks are delegated throughout the team, but rather where all members are given the chance to lead. This opportunity is as much about process and interaction as it is about formal titles.
  • Develop Capacity: To often I feel teachers stagnate because they neither know where to go next nor do they have the tools to get there. Fine we have standards to guide use, but they have their limits. They often lack context and nuance. It is for this reason that the Modern Learning Canvas is so interesting as it not only starts with a teacher’s own situation, but it also breaks teaching down into clear parts that can be developed further. Coupled with coaching, these the canvas allows for self-determined teaching.

Although working with an awesome group of like-minded teachers might seem like the best answer to fix our woes if this is not coupled with a clear understanding of the purposes associated with education them what is actually gained? In Good Education in an Age of Measurement, Gert Biesta explains how our focus on measurements has limited the conversation. As he states,

One effect of this redefinition process has been the depoliticization of the relationship between schools/teachers and parents/students, in that their interaction focuses primarily on questions about the “quality” of the provision (e.g., compared to other providers; an effect of league tables) and individual value for money (“Is my child getting the best out of this school?”), rather than on questions about the common educational good (“What is it that we want to achieve as a community for the community?”).

What is clear is that we are in a time of change and disruption with recent events only compounding this. So what about you? What steps are you taking? What dreams are you giving birth to? As always, comments welcome.


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REVIEW: A Learner’s Paradise by @Eduwells

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It is easy to become disheartened when it comes to the challenges associated with change and reform in education. However, Richard Wells’ book A Learner’s Paradise: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand Is Reimagining Education provides hope. Throughout the book, Wells recounts his experiences teaching in New Zealand. Throughout he describes the trust invested in teachers, power of connections, celebration of culture and level of support provided via various government and nonprofit agencies.

To support Wells’ description of reform, he provides case studies of the following schools: Kid’s Domain, Taupaki Primary School, Breens Intermediate School and Hobsonville Point School. Whether it be student agency, use of space or fluid nature of the timetable, each school is going through a process of rethinking education in their own way. Interestingly, this is something called out in the recent Horizon Report.

One of the things that stood out in Wells’ reflection is that it was not something that happened over night. The changes to curriculum and assessment in New Zealand have developed over fifteen years and involved many adjustments along the way. This reminded me in part of the story Pasi Salberg details in his book Finnish Lessons. Salberg describes how it took Finland over fifty years to get to the point where they are at today.

In the end, A Learner’s Paradise provides a snapshot of what is possible. However, it is best seen as a conversation starter. Although Wells shares some advice, including questions to eradicate and actions to consider, it is not necessarily a step-by-step guide. I must admit I was left wondering about some of the intracies, in particular, the process surrounding the practicing certificate in New Zealand. The reality though is that this simply does not within scope of this book. A Learner’s Paradise is a book for all educators, not for its solutions, but as a provocation as to what change might mean within any context.

For a different introduction, I recommend Well’s book trailer:

DISCLOSURE: I was not paid for this review, while I purchased the book myself.


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Letter from the Future


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After eight years, I am moving on. I recently received a job supporting the drive for transformation through the use of digital pedagogies. A unique position that offers a great opportunity to work with schools and teachers from across the state.

Leaving a place where I have spent a quarter of my life, I am left reflecting on what I have achieved and the impact that I have had. This process also makes me think about what I might have done differently if I had my time again.

In regards to this, I was reminded of a post Doug Belshaw wrote a few years ago that was a letter to his past self. During the last few weeks as I have been on leave, staying at home with our newborn, I have been wondering what I would say to my younger self beginning at the school all those years ago.

So here is my attempt to write a letter to the newly married teacher who arrived from the bush all the way back in 2009:


Dear past self

I am writing from the future, hoping to help you so that you don’t make the same errors that I did. I wanted to say mistakes, but I don’t think that is fair. Although I adapted and evolved during my time, I think that life would have been different if I’d have known these things from the beginning.

So here are five things that I would recommend:

Keep on Moving

It can be easy in any organisation to be typecast as having a particular strength or skillset. Some see this as a good thing, but in the wider scheme of things it is a fixed point of view and may limit your possibilities. Therefore, whenever you get the chance, break the mould. Engage with different teams, observe different classes. Whatever it is, don’t let other’s box you in!

Don’t Wait

Often in schools there is a feeling that someone else will step up and do a job, someone else will help out, someone else will take on that role. Don’t wait for someone else to give permission to try something out, to make a change. Show initiative. Be innovative. Don’t wait for support in the form of someone else’s answers. Seek feedback on what you are doing and why you have chosen to do it that way.

Implementing Ideas is Never Black and White

Sometimes people will provide you with supposed ready made solutions, presented in colourful booklets, with a clear set of answers and plans. Don’t be fooled. It isn’t that these things won’t work, rather they will need to be unpacked, interpreted, made sense of as a team. Rather than starting the conversation with a statement encapsulating some simplistic solution, begin with an open-ended question that supports further engagement and inquiry.

Build Capacity, rather than Provide Solutions

You may be good at what you do, especially regards integrating technology, but unless you can get others on board then it will all be to no avail. You need to focus on building up the capacity of others. Sometimes this is about asking questions that might support them, other times it is being a plus one, that voice who celebrates the awesome stuff that other people are doing. Whatever it is, you need to be the support not merely the solution.

Get connected

I can not encourage this enough. You work in a multi-campus environment, with over 500 staff. Any opportunity you get, connect with others. This is a priceless opportunity, look out for different perspectives and points of view. Ask questions. Seek advice. In addition to this, get connected online. You have access to people all over the world. Engage with them. Share your ideas. Build on the feedback. You will benefit so much if only you put yourself out there a little bit.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Your future self.


So what about you? What advice would you give your past self if you could? As always, comments welcome.


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REVIEW: Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus by @Rushkoff


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It is easy to be mesmerised by the purported benefits of the digital age. The ability to easily and efficiently communicate, consume, connect and create though often comes at the expense of older more established modes and mediums, such as telephones and newspapers. A vision of supposed freedom and hope has been converted over time into the poster child of digital industrialisation and growth-based economics.

Grounded on the operating system built by the chartered monopolies of the 13th century, companies like Apple, Twitter, Google, Pearson and Amazon are in a race to become ‘the one’ company to rule them all. Sacrificing sustainability, the focus is on cashing in on short term gains via acquisitions and public offerings. This culture of disruption, of sprints, start-ups and pivots, often leads to a scorched earth policy of success at all costs. Whether it be the automation of jobs or the decimation of communities, change and innovation is not always positive or productive for the majority of people.

According to Douglas Rushkoff, it is not all doom and gloom though. For just as we can identify where these ideas of capital at all costs come from in the past, so to can we look back to find alternative solutions to such perils. Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus provides a vision for a future built around the exchange of value, rather than the extraction of capital. A future that focuses on a mixture of local and national currencies, as well as focusing on both family cooperatives and international corporations. A return to the ethos of the bazaar, that is spaces designed to maximise the exchange of value and the velocity of money. A digital renaissance if you like.

Similar in vein to David Price’s OPEN, Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus is a story for our time. With eye to tomorrow, Rushkoff provides suggestions and solutions already being explored by some today.  The choice though is left to the reader to make the next step to link these seemingly disparate ideas to help form a better tomorrow together.

For a different view of the book, flick through the slides for a collection of quotes:

While for a visual introduction, see the following clips:


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Vision for eLearning


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I was recently asked by a colleague about my ‘vision’ for eLearning and 21st century learning. Inspired in part by Gary Stager educational philosophy in 100 words, as well as my work with with DET exploring the EDUSTAR planning tool, this is the list of attributes that I came up with:

eLearning …

Is Transformative: More than just redefined, learning is purposeful and involves wider implications.

Is More Doable: Makes things like critical thinking and collaboration more possible.

Enables Student Voice: Technology provides a voice for students to take ownership over their work and ideas.

Involves Modelling Digital Citizenship: More than a sole lesson, eLearning should be about foster competencies throughout the curriculum.

I supported this with a list of readings to clarify where my thoughts had come from. Although as I have stated time and time again, it takes a village and recognising everyone in the village can be a futile act.

My concern with this whole process though is two-fold. Firstly, a vision is not created by one person, however compelling that may be. A point that George Couros makes in his book Innovator’s Mindset. This is a problem I had with the DET EDUSTAR training where a few random representatives were expect to be the voice of a whole school. While secondly, an eLearning vision needs to marry with the school’s wider vision for ‘learning’. The question then remains as to how we make a vision for learning and technology which supports the whole school with a common goal?

So what about you, what is your eLearning vision? How is it integrated within the wider school vision? As always comments are welcome.

 


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Predicting the Future Yesterday


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I recently got in a conversation with some colleagues about the future of education. It was the end of a long day and we pondering on how schooling might be different in ten years time. These are some of the ideas that were bandied around:

  • Detentions: If we have to depend upon daily detentions to maintain learning then who is really in control?
  • Workbooks: Is there really a place for endlessly answering other people’s questions?
  • Notion of Pass and Fail: If students focus is on whether they will pass or fail something then have they already failed? Maybe the focus should be on creating beautiful work?
  • Rubrics About Growth: Too often rubrics come to measure specific content and skills that are being covered at that point in time, how can these be adapted to be more growth minded? With an towards development rather than improvement?
  • Facilitators not Teachers: Instead of being the font of all knowledge, how can change the role of the teacher to being that of a facilitator, helping students find their own problems and solve them? The meddler in the middle, rather than the sage on the stage.
  • Projects not Menial Tasks: Why aren’t units of work focused on building and creating meaningful projects?

What was interesting was that all of the predictions made about the future, have already been enacted somewhere in the past. The question then is why are they not more mainstream? Why are such thoughts too often seen as the exception to the rule?

Will Richardson’s argument is that we are in need of drastic change in education. For some this means a revolution, while for others it is about support. Whatever the change is, it starts with one person trying to make a difference. Richardson suggests 10% at a time. Maybe this is bringing a new practice into the classroom, working collaboratively as a team on a problem or simply flipping the roles and becoming more of a learner. The next step after this is to scale the change and help it grow and spread.

Richard Olsen’s suggest that many of the challenges with change in education often come down to our belief about learning. Something that far too many take for granted. It is here then that the conversation needs to be had, to make visible as far as possible our thoughts, inconsistencies and beliefs. This then is part of the purpose of the Modern Learning Canvas. Not as a tool that pushes people in any specific direction, but rather helps them understand their present context and clearly plot the next iterative step forward.

As Matt Esterman highlights, we know the future is coming, next we need to seriously act on it. The first step with any change though is calling out the elephant in the room. Identifying the perceived problem and talking about the issues. However, the question remains, how might we make the changes for students today, rather than wait for another tomorrow?


For those looking for ideas and inspiration, here are a some books that have helped guide my thinking along the way:

Feel free to suggest more.


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Know They Context – Measuring Support Before Impact #twistedpair


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This post is my contribution to Steve Wheeler’s twisted pair challenge. Although not as esoteric as Wheeler’s pairings, it at least demonstrates the links between diverse ideas.


I’ll never forget reading about the spat that followed Collingwood’s loss in the 2003 AFL Grand Final. Having lost Anthony Rocca, a key position player, the week before, Mick Malthouse decided to trial Jason Cloke in the position of centre-half forward. A young player who had spent most of his 40 games in the back line, he was thrown into the fire and failed. With only a few possessions, the coach openly spoke about his disappointment as was David Cloke, a proud father, who spoke out about the comments. What stands out to me is the expectation that placing people in unfamiliar surroundings may magically pay off. (Add Glenn Maxwell batting up the order in India to that list, another classic example.) Maybe the player had spent time as a youth in that position, maybe they had shown some promise in a different context in different surrounds or was the right fit on paper. Whatever the reason, such sporting stabs in the dark, hopeful wishes you may like, often fail to proper more often than not.


A few years ago, I was faced with the arduous task of landscaping my backyard. Starting with something of a blank canvas, I drew up an outline of the space with circles and lines to mark the dimensions where the different plants would go. Sometimes it feels both arrogant and naïve planning out a space. After going to the local nursery, I decided to plant lilly pillies down the side of the property. The aim was to create something of a hedge. On the tag, it stated that in the right conditions a lilly pilly can grow up to 100 metres tall. After bringing in new soil, watering regularly and providing large amounts of fertilizer, two of the ten trees failed to take. In addition to this, even though they were all planted at the same time, those at the back grew twice as large as the those down the side. Another observation was that the irises planted near the dead lilly pillies also had struggled to take. This raised so many questions, such as the make-up of the soil, the sunlight in these spots, the potential of basalt beneath the surface and the mix of nutrients. The reality though is that I could have planted another tree in their place, desiring order and symmetry. However, more often than not nature does not work that way. So I left it. Admitting that just maybe the lilly pilly may not be the right plant for the spot.


So often we talk about knowing thy impact. That is, to evaluate the effect of our teaching on students’ learning and achievement. Although it is important to identify what is working and how we might be going. Another story that often goes untold is what impacts upon a teacher?

The easy solution in education that everyone jumps to is the desire to get rid of your worst teacher. However, I have heard many experiences where the supposed ‘worst’ teacher is the teacher who is also the ‘least’ supported. Don’t get me wrong, they are often provided emergency support. At the heart of the matter, they are left to plan alone, expected to create everything from scratch and provide little structured support.

Measuring thy context includes things such as: support provided, level of trust in the organisation, sense of confidence, opportunity to work in a team, size of the classes, the state of the learning spaces, when your classes are timetabled on and the list goes on. This is not a list of excuses, but rather a recognition of complexity associated with impact and its connection to context.

So what about you? What is your context and how does it impact you?


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Building on the Past – My (Belated) #Blimage Post

It is so important to be innovative, to look at a problem from a different perspective in order to create a new solution. What Adrian Camm describes as the ability to, “step outside of the normal and suspend our biases.” However, one of the challenges with this is giving some sort of recognition to the past, the normal, in our solution. It would be nice to think that we can start again, but as Dan Haesler touched on recently, “Your idea of innovation cannot be dependent on the removal of the immovables.” Although we may dream of such worlds, as I have said before, ideals are not always ideal.

One of the prime examples of this battle between the ideal and the seemingly immovable is furniture and structure of classrooms. Not a day goes by when a post comes through my steam about modern learning spaces. I look upon some of the ventures carried out by others in ore and excitement, wondering about the possibility of such spaces. However, this is not always the case. Schools and education departments are becoming more and more cash strapped, therefore breaking down the walls and bringing in new furniture is not always possible. Instead, we are forced to simply hack the space we have. Something that Ewan Mcintosh touched on in a recent post.

Having said all of this, such debate is all brought home when you read about teaching a hundred students under a tree in Africa. Of course, innovation is different in every context, but it is still a good reminder.

What about you? How do you balance the past with the future in bringing change and evolving the conversation? I would love to know. Comments welcome.


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Who’s Allowed to be Innovative Anyway?


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This weeks topic for #youredustory comes from Steve Brophy with the question being “What is Pedagogical Innovation?” Here is my addition to the conversation. More a question than a clear cut definition …


In a recent conversation about innovation and education reform, the argument was put forward that graduate teachers should not be expected to be ‘moonshot thinkers’. That is, thinkers who are pushing for the supposed impossible. The point was that if everyone had their heads in the clouds dreaming of a completely different answer, who is on the ground working for today. In addition to that, graduates must be allowed a certain amount of time to get their bearings before being asked to be innovative. I was left with the question, who should be innovative and is there an opportunity missed in encouraging graduates from the start? 

When I teach essays in English, I explain to my students that guides and strategies, such as TEEL, are not a rule, but rather a starting point. That instead of memorizing a structure, they needed to understand that all writing is structured for a reason, but ideally they needed to find their own structure associated with their intended purpose. Something that Austin Kleon explains when talking about voice, “The only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you.” I think that innovation is much the same.

I have seen too many graduates been spoon fed in their first few years only to then falter when the additional support disappears. The problem that occurs is that all the focus is placed on the what, with little guidance on the why or the how. My concern is that after their first few years, too many become indoctrinated and believe that the power of change rests with somebody else. Sadly, when I reflect on my experiences, I feel that I spent too many years in other people’s shadows believing that they would drive the change that I saw was needed.

I think that where this change needs to occur is with the whole program of graduate accreditation. In Victoria, graduates are asked to develop a portfolio in order to become provisionally registered. Too often this is seen as a tick box activity where the predominant question asked is what do I need to do, rather than why and how will it benefit me and my students. 

I was lucky enough last year to mentor a music teacher enrolled in an accelerated learning program where he was supported both in and out of school. For his registration process the university required him to complete an action-based research project. Although this seemed somewhat more rigid than the usual accreditation process, from my perspective it was much more meaningful. Instead of capturing an example of learning and teaching as most often do, he focused on assessment and reporting. Across the year I watched his practise move from being teacher centred to allowing students more flexibility as to how they chose to learn. This included a move to make music more hands on, as well as a move to involve more play and experimentation. I felt the true success was that it led me making certain adjustments to my own practise and pedagogy.

I understand that there may be a question of workload and a push to increase teacher retention rates. However, How does spoon feeding graduate teachers help? Couldn’t the extra time and support be used to really kick start pedagogical innovation from the start? Just wondering.


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