There Are Many Parts to Redefining Schools

Not About the Tool? @peterskillen

“Not About the Tool? @peterskillen” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

In a recent post, George Couros warned that technology in and of itself will not redefine education. Instead he argued that what really matters is agency. This got me thinking about all the things that get discussed as possible solutions. Maybe it is student action? Maybe relationships? Maybe passion? Maybe pedagogy? Maybe learning? Maybe trust? Maybe empathy? Maybe being a PIRATE? Or a champion? Or REAL? Maybe being based on evidence? Or being evidence-informed? These are just some of the solutions that seem ripe for the picking, but do they each in themselves redefine education?

On the question technology, I wonder if we need to reconsider what it might mean to talk about ‘technology’ and the ‘redefinition’ of education. I don’t think that the SAMR model has necessarily helped this. As Peter Skillen points out, the possibilities provided by technology have the ramification of inadvertently redefining the world that we exist in, whether we realise it or not.

Tools shape cognition. Tools shape societal structures in both intended, and unintended, ways.

The question then becomes about how technology changes things. It becomes a question of edtech ethics and technical democracy. For example, although a device like a Fitbit may provide instant feedback, that feedback in the form of data is a public commodity. Importantly seeing technology this way, it becomes a discussion about impact and influence. More importantly though it becomes a part of a wider conversation about education.

This all has me thinking, rather than worrying about the one thing, what if our focus was what constitutes a ‘good’ education? What if we considered choices more holistically? Although each part may play it’s part, maybe they all have some part to play in redefining schools of the future?

So what do you think in regards to schools of tomorrow? As always, comments welcome.

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What or How – which would you choose?

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Today I was asked the question about which I thought was more important, what work I do or how I go about it? This made me reflect on some of the challenges that I have been faced with in education. Whether it be teaching music, business studies, organising reports or developing timetables, I am not sure they were all things that if I had my way I would have necessarily chosen. However, I did each of them to the best of my ability. What mattered more to me though was how I went about it. Whether it be creating a environment of inquiry when investigating business or given the autonomy to develop solutions that are inevitable when forming timetables.

Interestingly, Simon Sinek captures this conundrum, suggesting that what matters least in. He instead argues that how we go about what we do is far more important. However, what matters most is why we do what we do. In regards to education, this why is discussed by Gert Biesta in his investigation of a good education.

I will finish with a quote from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, which I have just started reading on the recommendation of a colleague:

“Inside-out” means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self—with your paradigms, your character, and your motives. It says if you want to have a happy marriage, be the kind of person who generates positive energy and sidesteps negative energy rather than empowering it. If you want to have a more pleasant, cooperative teenager, be a more understanding, empathic, consistent, loving parent. If you want to have more freedom, more latitude in your job, be a more responsible, a more helpful, a more contributing employee. If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy. If you want the secondary greatness of recognized talent, focus first on primary greatness of character.

To me what Covey is touching on is that to deal with the what, whether it be marriage, parenting or being an employee, then you need to firstly deal with the how and why.

It is interesting when different people responding to disparate ideas come to the same conclusion.

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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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Learnification and the Purpose of Education

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I have started reading Gert Biesta’s book, Good Education in an Age of Measurement. In the first chapter, he puts forward the case of three key arguments for a ‘good education‘: qualification, socialization and subjectification.

Qualification is defined as:

The qualification function is without doubt one of the major functions of organized education and constitutes an important rationale for having state-funded education in the first place.

Socialization as:

Through its socializing function education inserts individuals into existing ways of doing and being. In this way education plays an important role in the continuation of culture and tradition—both with regard to its desirable and its undesirable aspects.

And subjectification as:

The subjectification function might perhaps best be understood as the opposite of the socialization function. It is precisely not about the insertion of “newcomers” into existing orders, but about ways of being that hint at independence from such orders, ways of being in which the individual is not simply a “specimen” of a more encompassing order.

These, Biesta argues, are not to simply be considered in isolation, but in how they interact:

The three functions of education can therefore best be represented in the form of a Venn diagram, i.e., as three partly overlapping areas, and the more interesting and important questions are actually about the intersections between the areas rather than the individual areas per se.

This focus on purpose is in contrast to what Biesta describes as the ‘learnification’ of education. This is where the sole concern becomes the individualistic process of learning, rather than the intent that is actually associated with this.

This discussion of purpose made me wonder about things like learning walks and annual review processes. What if the success or failure of something like a learning walk was decided before anyone even enters the room? What happens if a coach considers qualification as being the primary purpose of education and inadvertently applies this lens to what they see. Yet the teacher in question’s primary concern is socialization?

I am wondering if it is for this reason that we need something more than a set of standards to improve education. We need a holistic approach, like the Modern Learning Canvas, that incorporates all the different facets.

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What about you? What tools and techniques have you used to capture a rich picture of practice? As always, comments welcome.

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